I have just mapped in my mind all the places I would like to be on Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day – I always love what Nelson comes up with, Featherston, Napier, Central Otago … and of course all the big cities. But this year I will be in Wellington hosting a lunchtime event at Unity Books (getting to hear some women read I have never heard before yeah!), then hearing some AUP New Poets hosted by Anna Jackson at Book Hound (also hearing poets I have mostly never heard read before) and finally going to Show Ponies (R18) (wow! what a line up!) at Meow.
I love the way bookshops, cafes, bars, universities, marae, schools and libraries are increasingly inventive every year in designing events and competitions – and poets appear all over the country. You could for example have brunch with Chris Tse in Hamilton!
Check out your route by clicking on the link and see below for mine!
Climate change and the plight of refugees are the focus of some of the 150+ events in this year’s Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day, taking place on Friday August 23.
Our annual celebration of writing and reading poetry embraces both the personal and political in a dynamic programme of events and competitions nationwide – from parks,
beaches, pavements and public transport to cafés, bars, bookshops, schools, university campuses, libraries, RSAs, community centres, marae and more.
The record number of events include:
Auckland’s ‘I Feel at Home, Away from Home – Blackout Poetry Workshop’ – that gives voice to our migrants and refugees; and the Theoradical Hobohemians hosting
‘An Interview with Charles Bukowski’.
Wellington’s ‘Show Ponies: A National Poetry Day Extravaganza’ – a late-night gig, featuring award-winner Chris Tse and other poets posing as popstars for the evening.
Wairarapa’s ‘Climate Positive’ – poetry, song and stories of positive action against the climate crisis with performance poets Extinction Rebellion.
Christchurch’s ‘Poets in Our Tūranga’ – a six-hour poetry marathon at the new Tūranga Central Library, featuring more than 40 local poets and writers, and 2019 Ockham
New Zealand Book Awards poetry category finalist Erik Kennedy.
Dunedin’s ‘Changing Minds: Memories Lost and Found’ – a poetry competition for adults inspired by their experience of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.
Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day includes appearances by the winner of the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry in the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, Helen Heath, who will deliver a workshop at Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch on Saturday, August 24.
Poetry category finalist, Therese Lloyd, will take part in a celebration of Paula Green’s magnum opus, Wild Honey: Reading New Zealand Women’s Poetry at Unity Books in Wellington.
In the lead up to August 23, Phantom Billstickers will bring poetry to our communities with an epic street poster campaign. All four 2019 Ockham poetry category finalists, including Tayi Tibble, will feature in Phantom Billstickers’ national super-size Poetry on Posters campaign.
Nicola Legat, Chair, The New Zealand Book Awards Trust, says ‘One of the themes of this year’s events is a focus on social issues. Events focused on climate change and the issues facing refugees are among them, and this shows how relevant and useful poetry is as a way of confronting and addressing some of our wicked problems.’
Held annually on the fourth Friday in August, #NZPoetryDay sees poetry royalty join forces with poetry fans from all over Aotearoa in an action-packed programme of slams and rap, open mic and spoken word performances, pop-up events, book launches and readings. There are 24 poetry contests to enter. Many of the programmed events will be open to the public and free to enjoy.
Established in 1997, National Poetry Day is a popular fixture on the nation’s cultural calendar and one that celebrates discovery, diversity and community. For the past four years, Phantom Billstickers has supported National Poetry Day through its naming rights sponsorship.
For full details about all the events taking place on Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day, including places, venues, times, tickets and more, go here.
Jordan grew up in Timaru on a healthy diet of Catholicism and masculine emotional repression. He fell in love with words the day his high school English teacher read a James K. Baxter poem aloud to the class. When he’s onstage he feels 27 years of anxiety slip away into the accepting embrace of a crowd who spend every day fighting their own silent battles.
Jordan has performed at festivals across Aotearoa and has had his poetry published in various literary journals, but he wants to publish a book sometime in the near future so a tangible piece of his vanity will outlive him. He has performed at LitCrawl Wellington, and is a performer and organiser of Welcome to Nowhere festival. He spends his spare time writing about pop culture and interviewing musicians, angry that his parents never made him learn an instrument as a child.
Evening begins, as usual, with an open mic.
Tracey Slaughter, Conventional Weapons, Victoria University Press, 2019
You can read Jack’s launch speech with bonus images here, but here’s a taste:
‘So while it is technically true that this is Tracey’s first stand-alone poetry collection, it’s very misleading to see her as any kind of newcomer to the game. She’s been publishing poetry for more than two decades now, and it’s high time that we started to see her, like Raymond Carver, as someone equally adept at poetry and the short story.
But what kind of a poet is she? Words like ‘bodily,’ ‘visceral’, ‘grimy and dirty’ have frequently been used to characterise her work, and particularly these poems. There is a lot of sex in them. There’s also lot of desperation, pain, and sheer horror of the void. As Hera Lindsay Bird remarked on the dust jacket of another recent VUP book, Therese Lloyd’s The Facts, ‘it won’t make you feel better.’
But all that implies a kind of shock value: a quest for extremity for its own sake. But you have to read deeper and better than that if you want to begin to understand some of the many things Tracey is trying to do in these poems.
As always, she’s extremely, wonderfully literary. Mike Mathers’ Stuff article about this book states that: “If the collection had an overarching theme, it would be one of giving voice to a group of strong female characters of different ages.”’
If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates?
I couldn’t read as a child. I didn’t read a book till I was 20. My father read me all sorts of crazy stuff. However, I did read poetry. Because it was short and the sounds were wonderful. I read Keats and Shakespeare and the war poets very young, maybe around ten. It’s slow music, really, poetry. I had no idea what many of the words meant. I liked the beat, the rhythms and the small stories of those poems. I remember carrying little poetry books around everywhere, like they held some secret. And they did!
Around that time my mother sent me to an old woman in Avondale for elocution lessons. My mother thought I was swearing too much! ‘Ain’t’ and ‘not never’ etc. Old Mrs Davy was paid to ‘straighten me out.’ Huh! What she did was teach me the beauty of reading poetry, aloud. She made The Highwayman provocative and wild and fun!
C.K. Stead and Allen Curnow were milestones too, because they read to me at university, and made poetry go beyond the page into a life. And Riemke Ensing because she was wildly passionate, and she unpicked poetry like my father ate flounder; sucking the juice around every small bone.
Later I found a seductive freedom in the voice of Hone Tuwhare’s No Ordinary Sun – in Jenny Bornholdt and Paul Muldoon, and Simon Armitage’s Seeing Stars. Check out his poem, Song – perfect beauty.
What do you want your poems to do?
I guess I write to see and hear more about the world I’m in, to be surprised and bear witness to its wonders. I want these poems to be true to their geography, and their people.
When I wrote Walking to Africa, I wanted the poems to stand tall and be loud, and tell the world that adolescent depression is Shit!
In this Large Ocean Islands sequence I want the poems to go beyond the cliché of Pacific Islands, beyond the beachside resorts, to their stronger, truer and older heart.
Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?
For me each poem is loaded with the story of its writing, and the wider events that surround it. ‘Large Ocean Islands’ is part of a bigger work in progress, and I’m still being challenged to balance the whole, and to give each poem its place and an integrity of its own too.
‘The White Chairs’ is the ‘oldest’ poem of the sequence. You could say it belongs.
UNDRESSING THE LIVES OF THE SILENT HEROES
ADORNED IN SPECTACULAR SUNLIGHT
In reply to C K Wright’s The Obscure Lives of Poets; Revelation lives on a large ocean island
Three serve time in New Zealand. Two in fruit canneries
where golden peaches become the names of their children; Queenie
and Bonnie, who is really Bonanza. One mama brings a nectarine
stone through airport customs in her underwear. Another time,
between two breasts of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Neither flourish.
One thousand roosters with insomnia. One survives the storm that takes
his only son, spends his days in view of the sea, much of it riding.
The sound of one mango falling. Three named after the fathers
of the fathers of monolingual seafarers who came ashore, and left
behind narrow eyes and a new mode of cranial wiring. One of ten
is taken and becomes one of fifteen, unrelated; family ties mapped
back to uplift and shift and fire. One too many three legged dogs.
One joins the police because he believes he can take his dog to work.
One walks around Avatiu harbour at night looking for stars
that have slipped their leash, fallen into the sea. He will be there
to rescue them. One family, the size of fifteen islands connected
by ocean currents. One dances in the lagoon, waist high
in blue, and bouncing for the effect it could have on his waistline,
but only after sunset, and only on the neap tide. One big family.
One maintenance man is sent to prison for acquiring money
that did not belong to him. He has a penchant for high
performance running shoes and real diamonds.
One teaspoon of pawpaw seeds alleviates diarrhoea, and maybe hook worm.
One hands a machete to his son, says just get on with it boy,
not meaning the taro patch or the elephant grass or the palm fronds
hanging over the windows, pulling a blackness over his house.
One Ian George painting is not enough; one stone turtle on the rough grass.
One stays on even after his wife and kids leave, sleeps on a mat
on a friend’s deck, till the mosquitos find him, and immigration says
there is a fine for that sort of behaviour. One wave after one wave.
One island is all one needs to join the dots. One small paradise
emerges in the path of the old navigator, and sets the scene
for growing silent heroes in spectacular sunlight.
There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you?
I remember Jenny Bornholdt saying how a poem’s form finds itself in the writing, and I think that’s true. In Cyclone Season, the unrelenting heat and the way it lingers for weeks here, triggered a list of observations, repetitive and often banal.
Every day I write ‘stuff’ on my phone. Anything. Sometimes I’m amazed how something so ordinary here is spectacular, and starts a chain of surprise and insight. Like seeing a man at the lagoon at dusk with two small turtles in a tub of water. Watching him later taking them out swimming with him, like they were his children.
Poems are like vehicles; they have doors and windows, and they take you places.
Listening and watching, closely, ruminating, tasting, breathing them in – and sometimes being courageous – that triggers poetry.
If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?
I’m not sure I am seeking to be ‘alluring’ in the poems I write.
In Large Ocean Islands I’d like the reader to see the wonder of the Cook Islands, and honour it. Each small island is big, and delicate and vibrant, and heavy with old wisdom. Sometimes I get a glimpse of something here that is so far removed from where I come from it feels like I’ve moved in time to what ‘we’ were before consumerism and capitalism and industrial economies. There’s a deep truth and a beauty here, that’s both joyous and heart-breaking.
You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?
Seamus Heaney, Robin Hyde, Yehuda Amichai Hone Tuwhare … OK, not a ‘real’ dream then? So many great poets to choose from! Let’s go with… Selina Tusiatala Marsh, Chris Tse, Tusiata Avia, Glenn Colquhoun …
Jessica Le Bas has published two collections of poetry, incognito (AUP, 2007) and Walking to Africa (Auckland University Press, 2009), and a novel for children, Staying Home (Penguin, 2010). She currently lives in Rarotonga, where she works in schools throughout the Cook Islands to promote and support writing.