Category Archives: NZ Literary Festivals

Going West was a hit with me

 

Going West is a festival that devotes itself 100 per cent to showcasing an eclectic range of New Zealand writers: local, ultra-local (Westies), from out of Auckland. It draws upon fiction, poetry and nonficton and never fails to delight.

Due to the fire in the roof of Titirangi hall the festival moved into the beautiful ex Waitakere council chambers – better parking, not so far to drive for me, excellent green room, cosy space for sessions but I missed the hall and the bush and the village. As a temporary last minute venue – which must have been such stress on the team – it worked just fine.

As usual the food and shared conversations were excellent. Usually I go the whole weekend – but this year, just the Friday night and Saturday was possible. It means I sadly miss out on a suite of sessions today.

On Friday night we got to see our new Poet Laureate, Selina Tusitala Marsh in performance and, just as she sparks the poetic hearts of students in South Auckland (and elsewhere), she sparked the poetic hearts of festival goers. She delivered her Laureate ‘thank you’ speech again, a speech which acknowledges the people that have supported her, in the form of a list poem.  She read her poem for the Queen with generous anecdotes to accompany it along with the revenge poem (he who shall not be named did not shake her hand), and the poem on three Queens, the last being Alice Walker.

The tokotoko was passed round for everyone to touch and imbue the stick with individual mana. Skin prickling for so many of us.

Every New Zealand Poet Laureate has gifted something to poetry fans. Selina, one of our beloved poetry icons, with the charisma of Sam Hunt, Hone Tuwhare and Glenn Colquhoun, is one of the most important Laureate choices to date. Those of us lucky enough to hear her on Friday night, will know just what treasures we have in store.  It matters, as she says, that she is a brown face. It matters to every brown poet, every fledgling brown poet, and every student white and brown, who has yet to discover the liberating power of poetry.

It matters because Selina’s poetry shows how words can make music in the air, build vital connections to heart and mind, and challenge how we view the world.

If you get a chance to see her over the next few years – take it!

 

In a perfect and unplanned arc, Bill Manhire, our first Poet Laureate, and another beloved poetry icon, was part of the final session of the night. With jazz musician Norman Meehan, vocalist Hannah Griffin and Blair Latham on sax, we got to hear tracks from their new collaboration: Small Holes in the Silence. I have heard them before but the magic intensifies if anything on a subsequent hearing. The alchemy of word, musical score and manuka-honey voice is simply exquisite. It is absolutely breathtaking.

The next day, in our session, I described how listening to their new album/book, Tell Me My Name, is like a flotation aid. You listen and you lift above domestic routine, chores, head clutter. So yes, I floated home, adrift still in the after-effects.

 

Saturday was a long day, a good day. I had only managed a few hours sleep for various reasons so felt  like I was in between here and there, wwhich is the theme of the festival. On the way I passed so many ALTERNAT ROUTE signs I wondered if I would find my way home through all the detours that might then be in place. I felt like I was entering a found-poem trap and I would get stuck in it.

Sitting on stage with Bill and Norman for our session was a bit like sitting in a cafe – I wanted Norman to hit the keyboard and play melodies here and there. I loved the idea of him playing something while we listened to see what word score unfolded in our heads.  The inverse of Norman taking Bill’s poem and seeing what melody surfaces. It was fun to talk – people just happened to be listening!

Sadly I missed Diana Witchel and Steve Braunias – but I am going to make up for that and read the book: Driving to Treblinka. The audience loved this session.

I did hear Dame Anne Salmond in conversation with Moana Maniapoto and it was for many of us, an extraordinary thing. The conversation just flowed – it felt unafraid of anything: wisdom, human warmth, tough stuff, vulnerabilities, empathy.

In 1960 Anne met Māori and asked herself: ‘How come I’ve grown up in this country and know nothing about these people and this world?’

Eruera Stirling advised her: ‘If you are really interested in Māori Studies then the marae is the university for you.’

Anne: ‘I am a scholar but there’s a lot of stuff you can’t learn with your mind – you have to learn through your skin.’

Anne: doesn’t necessarily agree with the idea of one world with different views but prefers perhaps the  idea of a ‘mulitverse with different realities.’

Anne: ‘You can’t be an expert on the Treaty if you can’t speak Māori.’ She said  it would be like someone who couldn’t speak French acting as an expert on the French constitution.

Anne: ‘If the river is dying I am too.’

This is why I am both a reader and writer and a festival attendee. Because someone like Anne in conversation with someone like Moana can blast apart my thinking and feeling.

I have a copy of Tears of Rangi by my bed to read.

 

I got to hear Sarah Laing and Johanna Emeney read and talk. I have to say I love both the books (Mansfield and Me and Family History) and have written about both.  I love the way they showed that poetry/memoir does not need to stick to facts (Airini Beautrais said the same thing in her interview with me). The gold of this session was hearing the multi-talented Sarah read an extract with an enviable array of accents. Wow!

Loved hearing tastes of Pip Adams and Kirsten McDougall’s new novels – and the way the unreal can unravel the real in such innovative ways. They worked double hard not to spoil the reading experience, for those of us who still have the treat in store, by giving too much away. Just little tempting clues.

Loved hearing the very articulate Linda Cassells talk about the genesis of the Allen Curnow biography she edited after the death of her husband, Terry Sturm, and the way Bill Manhire stepped into the gap, with CK Stead ill,  read us a few poems, and shared a few anecdotes.

Thanks Going West. This was one very good festival – I was delighted to participate as both reader and writer.

 

 

 

 

Lovely to be at Word Cafe in Raglan

This is the cosiest literary-festival hall I have been to. The organisers have worked hard to make such an inviting space. Yesterday I got to hear Sarah Laing give and illustrated talk on her Katherine Mansfield graphic model and it was inspired and inspiring. Loved seeing how the book took shape and how life, doubt and discovery sparked its final form.

Looking forward to my poetry session at 11.30 this morning.

 

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The Ladies’ Litera-Tea -‘like warm honey in your mouth too good to swallow’ Urzila Carson

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The Ladies’ Litera-Tea is an annual event organised by bookseller taonga, Carole Beu, and the Women’s Bookshop: eleven authors, a full auditorium and an excellent afternoon tea with delicious cakes and savouries. It usually lasts about five hours if you include the book signings. I always come away with a bag of new books, often unexpected choices.

This year I felt like I was walking the fine line between voice and no-voice, with a fuzzy head and a sway that wasn’t to do with reading poems on stage. Luckily I was third up so delivered my poems and then sat back to listen. Usually I take notes to replay on my blog but all I seemed to do was doodle as a counterbeat to the feasts of words.

My head isn’t up to scholarly focus today so I am in bed blogging and reading.

Not sure why there were so many doodle birds. Birds were barely mentioned. Apart from Billy Bird. Or hats. Apart from the steampunks and their creative shed and steampunk hats.

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First up was Catherine Chidgey talking with exquisite clarity about her new novel, The Wish Child. I loved the way she made something of obstacles and detours and can’t wait to read the book. Next up Helene Wong talking about: Being Chinese: A New Zealand Story. This is also on my must read list. It feels like essential reading particularly in view of the enduring racism Helene faces.

 

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Helene Wong and Marilyn Jessen (Marilyn went on a road trip tracking creative spaces)

Helene recounted an anecdote that resonated (with a few details missing). She was at an undergraduate Chinese paper with a fairly indifferent bunch of students. The white middle-aged bloke started reading a poem in Cantonese. Helen was captivated by the undulating pitch and tones despite not understanding a word. She was struck by this ordinary white man’s pleasure in the Chinese language. His ‘gesture of respect astounded’ her. She almost ‘wept in gratitude’ that he showed so clearly Chinese culture is not to be ashamed of.

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Emma Neale and Paula Green

There is no right formula for authors on stage – especially in view of what to say. I can go either way – just hearing the work or also hearing anecdotes and inroads into the writing experience can hit the spot. I loved the way Emma Neale talked about lexical exhaustion on completing a novel. She borrowed a quote from a musical composer who replayed his piece when asked to explain his work. Emma said she had decided to let the extracts do the talking. I agree with Emma on ‘the joyous creative anarchic energy’ of Billy, the central character of her new novel, Billy Bird.  I have just finished this book and it is a top fiction read for 2016. So beautifully written, so moving, so funny, so gobsmackingly good.

 

The very lovely, very inspirational, Yael Shochat wrapped up the first half. She was celebrating the arrival of Ima Kitchen. I was hooked on the video of grandmothers in the kitchen in Israel making lunch. At half time, the queue for Ithe cookbook never stopped. Both cafe and book are terrific additions to Auckland’s eclectic food scene. We have had such a wide cultural culinary seasoning for decades and it adds so much to who we are as a city. When I arrived back from London in the 1980s my tastebuds were popping. Will be cooking out of this book tonight!

 

a f t e r n o o n    t e a    interlude    was   worthy of    a n       a f t e r n o o n    t e a  p o e m

sweet lamington and asparagus roll

the poem unfolds like spanikopita

spinachy peppery cream on the tongue

 

(thanks Yael, so delicious)

 

A long time fan of Kerrin P Sharpe’s poetry it was such a treat to hear her read for the first time. I adore the mother poems in her new book, Rabbit Rabbit – the audience did too as it was oohs and aahs and beautiful (just as I heard after the lyrical fiction of Emma Neale). I also loved the entry points gave into the book as it provided me with new discoveries.

Having recently (two posts back maybe!) gushed to you about Ashleigh Young’s witty  debut collection of essays, Can You Tolerate This?, a highlight was hearing her read. She selected a section from ‘Big Red.’ I have quoted several times from this essay, so it felt like a favourite album was playing and I was word perfect. Wonderful!

 

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Emma Neale and Gina Cole (in the 6pm shadows!)

 

I was hooked on Gina Cole’s ancedotes, lucidity, warmth and story extracts all pivoting on the “L” word: lighthouses, law, literature. Her new book, Black Ice Matter, went in my shopping bag! I want to post about this soon!

 

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Janice Marriot’s book on Grandparents Talk also went in my shopping bag. It  was good to meet a poet who has writtn some of my favourite poems in the Treasury!

Finally a dose of laughter. Urzila Carlson used her new book, Rolling with the Punchlines, to deliver a stand-up routine/reading/musing/confession that was pure gold. Like most of us she was anxious about following on from people so much wittier or funnier or more erudite. She says it best. She had been hearing all this writing that was ‘like warm honey in your mouth and too good to swallow.’ She then compared it to an effervescent something on the tongue [and then a riff on that]. ‘Holy shit,’ she says ‘What am I doing here? I should leave. I should say I’ve got to get a flight with Ashleigh.’  But then she had us in fits of laughter, tears streaming for twenty minutes, with a few piercing moments of inbreath and gasp at something sad or hard to talk about. Such a tonic.

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It was a rollercoaster occasion: warmth, ideas, humour, sad things, happy things, connections. I think I came home with six new books.

 

Thanks Carole and the Women’s Bookshop – it was a very happy audience.

 

 

 

 

Three cheers for Going West’s 21st

 

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My Place/ View

‘Now our literature shapes how we see ourselves and our cultures – challenging stereotypes’

Albert Wendt Going West 2016

 

There was a lot of talk about place and where you come from at Going West this year. I live in West Auckland but seem to come from many places so don’t think of myself as a West Aucklander. I have anchors here and anchors elsewhere, but I have strong attachments to my local literary festival. I like the way it embraces a literary whanau. We share very good food and we share stories.

 

Like other New Zealand writers I am very grateful for the local festivals that celebrate local writing no matter the degree of international presence. Earlier this year I flew to Wellington to see The National Library’s fabulous Circle of Laureates event. It was a very special occasion but I was hard-pressed to find many other local fiction or poetry events at the festival. I see this as such a loss – not just for Wellington readers and writers but for all of us.

Auckland seems to be upping its game at their major festival. The dedication to New Zealand writing of all ilks is tremendous. It is a huge festival, overwhelming in terms of crowds and choice, but every year I come away rejuvenated as both reader and writer.

 

Going West is one of our key local festivals —  100 per cent devoted to New Zealand writing that crosses a range of genre, subject matter and format. This year was no exception. With new programme directors (Nicola Strawbridge and Mark Easterbrook) things were slightly different but the end result immensely satisfying. My only regret was the little poetry slots that used to pop up between longer sessions. I missed those.

The sun shone, the food was as good as ever, and I came away with a stack of books to read. Hearing Damien Wilkins read from Dad Art (two extracts) and share ideas and anecdotes with Sue Orr was so good, I raced to get the book. I loved the detail, the humour, the premise of the book, the absolute warmth and human pulse. This book deserves a wide readership.

I got to hear Emma Neale read as the Curnow Reader with her pitch-perfect melody, tender eye and acute detail of family  (among other things). Emma was also in conversation with Siobhan Harvey about her new novel, Billy Bird, and again an extract from the book and a fascinating conversation made me race to get the book. Already I am drawn to this curious boy who thinks he is a bird. Emma will also read from this at The Ladies LiteraTea in October.

Albert Wendt gave a terrific speech on Friday night that rattled our literary complacency. Where are the Pacific voices? he asked with both fire and poetry in his belly.

I missed the Poetry Slam but saw Robert Sullivan in conversation with Gregory Kan and Serie Barford. Thoughtful questions that included rocks, sediment and the thorny issue of revealing family. I came away thinking if I were a book-award judge this year I would honour This Paper Boat as it resonates so deeply with me.

Then there are the sessions you have no familiarity with. I loved a session on NZ rivers, for example, and came home with books on that topic (Dr Marama Muru-Lanning).

I ended the festival (I missed the beer session sadly) with the conversation between John Campbell and Roger Shepherd. A perfect close for me because it took me right back to listening to music in Auckland in the 1980s when I wasn’t listening to music in London (82-86). It was funny and sad and surprising and nostalgic and inspiring. How lucky we are to have John on National Radio bringing us stories that matter and ask questions that matter even more.

 

Thanks Going West. It was a privilege to be a small part of your festival on stage and a member of the audience over three days. I came away exhausted yet full. Festivals like this ( I am thinking of the ones in Nelson and Wanaka too) matter. Congratulations team – it was a fine occasion – like a family picnic in a way. There was warmth, prickly questions, delicious connections, challenging ideas, good stories told, a generosity of ear and mouth. Bravo!

 

PS I went early one morning so I could breakfast on delicious Turkish eggs at Deco, the Lopdell House cafe. Great view. Very good food and coffee! Highly recommended.

 

Going West Festival programme now out

 

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This is the first festival with new programme directors.  The programme offers the usual eclectic mix of conversations in a great setting with good food. A family festival, in a way.

There are a few poetry highlights but gone are the little poetry interludes breaking up the sessions. I miss that.

 

Emma Neale is the Curnow Reader.

Albert Wendt is giving the keynote address.

Serie Barford and Gregory Kan are in a session with Robert Sullivan.

On Saturday night there is the poetry slam with judges yet to be announced.

 

I am chairing a session with Sue Orr and Helen Margaret Waaka: ‘In Small Places …’

 

A few things I don’t want to miss:

Emma Neale: What happens when trauma transforms our children? Emma Neale offers up a lyrical exploration of parenthood that is both funny and disarmingly frank. She’ll discuss her new novel with writer Siobhan Harvey.

Damien Wilkins and Sue Orr in conversation on writing, teaching and Damien’s Dad Art, a vibrant novel about the capacity for surprise and renewal.

Barbara Brookes shares the story behind her ground-breaking A History of New Zealand Women with Judith Pringle, looking at the shaping of New Zealand through a female lens.

Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd joins lifelong music fan John Campbell to share his memories of the label’s early days and the spirit of adventure and independence that took its sound to the world.

 

Full programme here.

I agree! ‘Inaugural Ruapehu Writers Festival wildly successful’

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Helen Rickerby has just posted a slide show from the Ruapehu Writers Festival. And this:

‘We’re still on a high from the fabulous experience that was the inaugural Ruapehu Writers Festival in Ohakune last weekend. We were pretty sure it would be a fun and worthwhile event, but it exceeded our expectations in every way. Several participants, including Elizabeth Knox and Paula Green, said it was the best festival they’ve ever been to!

From the opening event on Thursday, which was opened with a karakia by Hune Rapana of local iwi Ngati Rangi and was MCed by Johnny Greene, Head of English at Ruapehu College, we started to suspect we were in for something special. As those of you who were there will know, on Friday, as more and more people arrived, we enjoyed session after session of articulate and brilliant ideas and readings. By Friday afternoon, the room we used for most sessions had reached its capacity of 80–100, and the spill-over people were lounging in the hallway or sitting on the deck, listening through the open French doors. Also through open doors we could hear the bubbling of a stream across the road, and a couple of times a day the speakers needed to pause for a few moments while a train went past on the nearby Main Trunk Line.’

For the rest of the piece and the slide show see here.