Paula Green with Jane Arthur, Lynn Jenner, Simone Kaho, Gregory Kan, Karlo Mila, Tayi Tibble and and special guest, US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.
Prompted by the arrival of Wild Honey, Claire Mabey (Verb Wellington) invited me to curate a session for NZ Festival of the Arts Writers programme. It morphed into a Poetry Shelf Live session at Claire’s suggestion. I have always wanted to do this and would love to curate seasons of Poetry Shelf Live in other places, even my hometown Auckland! But I am a big fan of the poetry verve in our capital city, and have multiple Wellington attachments, having lived there twice in my life (I started school at Petone Central way back when).
So am delighted to be hosting this session!
Picking just a handful of poets was hard as there are so many recent poetry collections that I have adored, along with poets whose work has inspired me for a long time. And it’s something special to have American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo read with us.
As a prelude to the reading, a few of the poets answered some poetry questions.
Why write poetry?
Gregory Kan: Poetry is a way for me to process the world and also to build new worlds.
Simone Kaho: My mother used to read me and my brothers and sister bedtime stories, and we all loved reading growing up. When I first came across poetry at school, I saw how much energy there was in it. It seemed to me, to be a wild and condensed version of stories in books. I was drawn to the way a poem could tell a story, or create powerful emotion with very few words. I liked how much the writer collaborates with the reader to create meaning. It looked like magic to me and I had to try and see if I had some in me.
Jane Arthur: I think it’s because my brain suits short, intense bursts of thoughts and words, thinking about poem-sized ideas and doing poetry-shaped crafting. Which is why it’s bizarre and terrifying that I am working on a children’s novel right now.
Because poetry is an arrow.
Because it can also be as wide as a sea.
What attracts you in a poem as a reader?
Gregory Kan: Leaps of the mind, eye and imagination.
Simone Kaho: I like poetry that is dark and funny, but in any poetry I’m looking for the moments where you have to stop and look away from the page, to savour what the poem has said or done. I find in many poems, times where there’s a feeling of spiritual connection. What the poem is saying becomes so true for you it’s like you are experiencing it yourself, you suddenly blend with the poet and understand, deeply, something they are saying or feeling. This can happen in any type of poetry, but for me, it’s probably more likely to happen in poetry that is slightly narrative, or grounded in the real world.
Lynn Jenner: I like the poet to tell me about what they know and what they have learned in their life. I like politics in poems. Other than that, I probably like what everyone likes; surprising language, some building up of themes and some swing and lurch in the rhythm and cadence.
What matters to you in a poem as a writer?
Gregory Kan: Movement beyond what I know.
Lynn Jenner:It is important to feel that the poem has done enough, that it has brought something into the light and examined it quite a bit. Because of this, I tend to write long-ish poems! I also aspire to write poems that have an emotional punch to them.
Jane Arthur: Authenticity, voice, surprise.
Simone Kaho: When a poem works, to me, it’s like it holds it’s own energy. You can read it back and see things you didn’t necessarily intend at the time of writing, and it communicates new things back to you. It feels a bit distant – like a memory of being in that moment.
I just hosted a festival of tree poems on Poetry Shelf – do you have recurring things in your poems?
Lynn Jenner: Trees, actually, and people dying. Also people talking.
Gregory Kan: Funny you should mention the tree poems – trees!
Jane Arthur: There’s a constant oscillation between rage and apathy. At least, those were the two states I found myself in while writing Craven, and I can still sense them when I read it now.
Simone Kaho: Yes, trees is a recurring them in my poems. Also family, the natural environment generally, and how it feels to be human. Lately, I’ve been writing poetry that is perhaps more overtly political – it’s talking about gender dynamics and trauma.
Name 3 to 5 books that you have loved at different points in your life.
Lynn Jenner: Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark; Amos Oz, Tales of Love and Darkness; Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murad; H.G. Sebald, The Emmigrants
Gregory Kan: Nox by Anne Carson, Sonny by Mary Burger, Dreams for Kurosawa by Raul Zurita, Penury by Myung Mi Kim. Just off the top of my head. But really there are so many.
Simone Kaho: Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain, In the line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst, Bunny – Selima Hill, All of Tusiata Avia’s books, The Book of the Black Star – Albert Wendt
If you were to host a festival poetry session with poets from any time and any place who would you include?
Lynn Jenner: Adrienne Rich, Bill Manhire, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Leonard Cohen, Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney, Rumi
Gregory Kan: I don’t know!
Simone Kaho: The poets in this reading definitely. Selima Hill, Tusiata Avia, Albert Wendt, essa may ranapiri, Hone Tuwhare, Jacquie Sturm, Maya Angelou, Staceyann Chin. I could go on to include 100’s but these would be my first picks.