Category Archives: NZ Poetry reading

A southern poetry reading and poem sampler: Carolyn McCurdie on Rhian and Robyn

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Rhian and Robyn

You know that something is going on when the café is not just packed, but has a crowd three-deep along the back wall. The Dog with Two Tails Café and Bar in Dunedin is usually full for the Octagon Poetry Collective’s monthly readings. But for the March readings, I was the host, and I knew that the word had gone out. I knew that people were juggling dates in their diaries to be there. They’d told me. And the reason was the same for all – Rhian Gallagher.

I was as aware as anyone that Rhian hadn’t read in public for a while, and so was feeling chuffed that she’d accepted my invitation to be one of my two featured poets in March. My second guest was Robyn Maree Pickens, a young poet, less well-known, but with a growing history of publication and a growing local following. Some of the crowd had come to hear Robyn as well.

From a host’s point of view, one of the many advantages of featuring much loved poets, is that other poets turn up in numbers, and the quality of the open mic readings is pretty impressive. This Wednesday night, it was great. We encourage new readers. Established poets also take their turn at the mic and set a standard that lifts everyone’s game. Over time, you can hear wobbly beginners develop confidence and an individual, deft use of words.

I divided the evening in two. After the first half of open mic readings I introduced Robyn. When I’d invited her to read, she’d expressed doubts that her work was ‘good enough’. I had no such doubts. She’d also said how nervous she was. Well, on the night, it didn’t show. Her poise was flawless, or looked that way to an outside observer. The standard of her poetry, and the way she presented it earned well-deserved hearty applause from a poetically discriminating crowd. Robyn Maree Pickens. Watch out for that name.

Then more open mic readers, a break, and time to introduce Rhian. People settled. People hushed. Rhian has a kind of reserve about her. She will undoubtedly think this report is over-blown. It ain’t. Her voice is quiet, measured, and the reserve means that she almost removes herself, and the words take over. And suyes. Rhian Gallagher is an exceptional poet. She finished reading. No one wanted to leave.

 

Carolyn McCurdie 2017

 

Into the Blue Light

for Kate Vercoe

 

I’m walking above myself in the blue light

indecently blue above the bay with its walk-on-water skin

here is the Kilmog slumping seaward

and the men in their high-vis vests

pouring tar and metal on gaping wounds

the last repair broke free; the highway doesn’t want

to lie still, none of us want to be

where we are exactly but somewhere else

bending and arrowing

the track a tree’s ascent, kaikawaka! hold on

to the growing power, sun igniting little shouts against my eyeballs

and clouds come from Australia

hunkering over the Tasman with their strange accent

‘get out the sky mate!’ I’m high as a wing tip

where the aches meet the bliss

summit rocks exploding with lichen and moss –

little soft fellas suckered to a groove

bloom and bloom – the track isn’t content

 

©Rhian Gallager 2017

 

All the way

 

To whet a structure like this:

a temple; a palace; a tomb;

I bring my roosting being down

from an adjacent planetary system,

and feel the dew lining each blade

of grass.

 

I offer fresh pineapple chunks

and pointy rose quartz crystals,

twelve distinct species of lichen,

and a harvest of fine salmon bones.

 

I bend unpruned effusion; quiver

like a minnow free; become human sap

that slips out the side of the mountain.

 

I smell what bees taste; feel my forehead

crease into the occasional sun; greet

the raindrop that finds my eyelid; trace

the soft down dune of your neck; drift

into immense fields of information:

microbial, arboreal, mycorrhizal. Palpating

organs that bring salt to the pore; lift

heat from the asphalt; hold the glisten

in an ear of corn.

 

Till we are limbed-loose and I live all

the way through to you; tendered

to the meat-earth; to the black peat;

the mantling mica, oracular bracken, ur-apple.

Craving, lifting into this flowering temple.

with an end, flax rattling their sabres,

tussock like miles of heads

drying their hair in the stiff southeasterly; the track wants to go on

forever because it comes to nothing

but the blue light. I’m going out, out

out into the blue light, walking above myself.

 

©Robyn Maree Pickens

The Poet Laureates are heading to Dunedin in May – from my experience it’s unmissable

 

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I got to see the Wellington Writers and Readers Festival version of A Circle of Laureates – and it was a rare and special occasion. I just loved it to bits, as did everyone in the packed-out room. I can’t recommend it highly enough.  My post on the event.

 

At the Dunedin Writers Festival in May:

A rare treat: nine of the ten New Zealand Poet Laureates will gather to read their work, with Rob Tuwhare joining them to represent his late father, Hone Tuwhare. Twenty years ago, John Buck of Te Mata Estate Winery created the Te Mata Estate Laureate Award; in 2007 the government took over funding of a Poet Laureate and vested responsibility for the Award with the National Library. This session of New Zealand’s poetry elite features Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Smither, Brian Turner, Jenny Bornholdt, Rob Tuwhare for Hone Tuwhare, Michele Leggott, Cilla McQueen, Ian Wedde, Vincent O’Sullivan and current Laureate C.K. Stead. Fergus Barrowman (Publisher, Victoria University Press) will MC the event.
Tickets can be booked here.
In association with the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. 

Tusiata Avia’s book launch gave me the goose bumps

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Fale Aitu / Spirit House Tusiata Avia, Victoria University Press, 2016

Last night I drove into the city into some kind of warm, semi-tropical wetness —like a season that no longer knew what it ought or wanted to be — to go to the launch of Tusiata Avia’s new poetry collection. Tautai, the Pacific Art Gallery, was a perfect space, and filled to the brim with friends, family, writers and strong publisher support. I loved the warmth and writerly connections in the room. I have been reading Tusiata’s book on planes as poetry now seems to be my activity of choice in the air. I adore this book and have so much to say about it but want to save that for another occasion. I was an early reader so have had a long-term relationship with it.

 

the launch

The room went dark and an MIT student, bedecked in swishes of red, performed a piece from a previous collection, Blood Clot. Mesmerising.

Tusiata’s cousin and current Burns Fellow, Victor Rodger, gave a terrific speech that included a potted biography. I loved the way he applauded Tusiata not just as a tremendous poet, but as a teacher and solo mother. Her names means artist in Samoan and he saw artist in the numerous roles Tusiata embodies. Writing comes out of so much. He identified her new poems as brave, startling, moving and political. Spiky. I totally agree.

Having dedicated her book to her parents, Tusiata said that it was hard to be the parent of a poet who wrote about family. When she told her mother what she was writing, her mother embraced it. She opened her arms wide. She said the skeletons need to come out. The atua. Tusiata’s speech underlined how important this book is. It is not simply an exercise in how you can play with language, it goes to the roots of that it means to be daughter, mother, poet.  It goes further than family into what it means to exist, to co-exist, in a global family. When a poet knows how to write what matters so much to her, when her words bring that alive with a such animation, poise and melody, it matters to you.

Four poems read. Lyrical, song-like, chant-like, that place feet on ground, that open the windows to let atua in and out, that cannot turn a blind eye, that hold tight to the love of a daughter, that come back to the body that is pulsing with life.

Yes I had goose bumps. You could hear a pin drop.

Fergus Barrowman, VUP publisher, made the important point that these poems face the dark but they also face an insistent life force.

Congratulations, this was a goosebump launch for a goosebump book.