Tag Archives: Airini Beautrais

Poetry Shelf Friday words: Airini Beautrais on poems she’s found helpful

 

A few words about some poems I’ve found helpful

 

In dark times it seems inappropriate to make any claims for the efficacy of poetry, or any art form, in effecting social and political change. It might also seem too soon or too difficult, or impossible, to express an immediate response to violent and traumatic events through words. But there are also innumerable instances of poetry being a vehicle or outlet at times of heightened emotion: funerals, commemorations, public events, tragedies. The artwork, or the poem, is not a solution to a problem, or a proposal for a better world, but a way of comprehending or addressing an issue. Some of the poems by New Zealand poets I come back to time and time again were written in the twentieth century in response to the nuclear threat. Like Dinah Hawken’s sequence ‘Writing Home:’

 

. . . The U.S has gone obsessively

ahead with another nuclear test. Crudely, profanely

 

they gave it a name. ‘Mighty Oak.’ Do they truly believe

they are doing something beautiful?

 

Or Hone Tuwhare’s ‘No Ordinary Sun’:

 

Tree let your arms fall:

raise them not sharply in supplication

to the bright enhaloed cloud.

 

Over the last week I have been thinking a lot about the poems and the music I have found comfort in during times of deep distress. I have struggled to make it through, and make sense of, the entirety of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. However, during a period of trauma in my own life I read and re-read Canto 116. These lines in particular stand out:

 

I have brought the great ball of crystal;

Who can lift it?

Can you enter the great acorn of light?

But the beauty is not the madness

Tho’ my errors and wrecks lie about me.

And I am not a demigod,

I cannot make it cohere.

If love be not in the house there is nothing.

 

Why turn to such a complicated and politically conflicted poet as Pound, and why the Cantos, which has been described as a ‘fascist epic’, when looking for threads of humanity? Because there in those lines is the recognition of failure to comprehend or to put pieces together: ‘I cannot make it cohere.’ And the inescapable reminder ‘If love be not in the house there is nothing.’

 

Or there is another great American long poem, Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, which constantly reaches out to the community, nation and world around the speaker. What a weird, and nowadays odd-sounding, piece of writing Song of Myself is. And yet it’s full of passages that are profoundly comforting, like:

 

I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe, and am not contain’d      between my hat and boots,

And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,

The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.

 

How can we think of the earth and stars as ‘good’ in a time like this? But how useful, not to be contained between one’s hat and boots: to invoke the communal spirit.

 

Or, perhaps conceived more in reference to the natural environment, but also relevant to human concerns, is Gerald Manley Hopkins’s ‘God’s Grandeur’, which even in bouts of committed atheism I’ve deeply loved:

 

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –

 

In similar vein is Philip Larkin’s poem ‘The Trees.’ I’ve been thinking of this one in particular this last week, because I saw it painted on a wall last time I was in Christchurch, in October of last year. Tim Upperton and I had gone to Christchurch for a poetry reading Tim was involved in. We walked around town and found Tim’s old house, and looked at all the pop-up gardens that people have planted in the spaces left by the quakes. There’s something about community gardens I find always raises my spirits. The idea of people growing something together goes against all antisocial tendencies. There’s also something subversive about planting shared, not-for-profit vegetables in an area traditionally kept aside for commerce. On a corrugated iron wall adjoining a plot of raised beds and worm farms somebody had painted, in big splashy letters, in test-pot colours, Larkin’s poem. Larkin is another poet it seems odd to turn to for solace. A lot of his poems have the opposite effect. Perhaps the simple force of ‘The Trees’ comes in part from a contrast with the poems that surround it. If Larkin’s collected poems were all about trees coming into leaf and other such subjects it might sound naff. But a darkness creeps into the poem in the first stanza:

 

The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.

 

And it goes on, and ends, and the poem painter’s letters got bigger and bigger towards the last line:

 

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

 

This must have seemed pertinent to the person who painted it, making a communal space in the wake of the earthquakes. Like the other poems I’ve quoted, it doesn’t give us an answer. It gives the reader a place to rest. In discussions of poetry and politics, people often quote W.H. Auden’s line from ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’, ‘For poetry makes nothing happen’. As is often the way with popular quotes, the next bit gets sidelined, but it’s the good bit:

 

. . . it survives

In the valley of its making where executives

Would never want to tamper, flows on south

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.

 

 

 

Airini Beautrais grew up in Auckland and Whanganui. She studied ecological science and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington, and worked for several years as a science teacher. Her first book Secret Heart (VUP, 2006) was named Best First Book of Poetry in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2007; it was followed by Western Line (VUP, 2011), Dear Neil Roberts (VUP, 2014) and Flow: Whanganui River Poems (VUP, 2017). She lives in Whanganui.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Airini Beautrais is reading at the Serjeant Gallery Whanganui

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‘I’m reading at the Sarjeant this Sunday, and talking about connections between artworks in the collection and the poems in my book. This event is in support of the Sarjeant redevelopment. If you’re nearby, please come along. We are so lucky to have such an amazing gallery in Whanganui. Also, we have a rich history of visual art here, and a lot of people have made work about the river. I’m quite excited about being able to show people a glimpse of what’s in the collection. I got to visit the collection store in the process of putting this event together and it’s mindblowing. Thanks Jaki, Jennifer, Raewyne and the Sarjeant team for bringing this together.’  Airini Beautrais

 

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Writers on Mondays at Te Papa: 4 poetry highlights

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Mon 16 Jul – Mon 1 Oct 2018, 12.15pm–1.15pm

Poetry is at Te Marae, Level 4, Te Papa

 

Cost Free event, every Monday lunchtime

 

 

Full programme here

Winter Eyes: Harry Ricketts

July 30, 12.15–1.15pm

Harry Ricketts – a poet, editor, biographer, critic, and academic, is joined by editor and Victoria University Professor of English Jane Stafford to discuss his latest work.

Harry has published over thirty books, including the internationally acclaimed The Unforgiving Minute: A Life of Rudyard Kipling (1999), How to Catch a Cricket Match (2006), and Strange Meetings: The Lives of the Poets of the Great War (2010).

His eleventh and most recent collection of poetry is Winter Eyes (2018). Winter Eyes has been described as ‘Poetry as comfort, poetry as confrontation’.

These are elegiac and bittersweet poems of friendship, of love’s stranglehold, of the streets and buildings where history played out.

 

 

 

Poetry Quartet: Therese Lloyd, Tayi Tibble, Chris Tse and Sam Duckor-Jones

August 6, 12.15–1.15pm

Come and hear the new wave of New Zealand poets in a reading and discussion chaired by poet and essayist Chris Price.

These poets write works of boldness with an acute eye on relationships in the modern world. Therese Lloyd’s The Facts, Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou), He’s So MASC by Chris Tse, and People from the Pit Stand Up by Sam Duckor-Jones are diverse and exciting books of poetry.

Each writer engages with language in innovative ways to explore and reimagine love, trust, intimacy, and the politics of being.

 

 

 

Pasture and Flock: Anna Jackson

August 13, 12.15–1.15pm

Pastoral yet gritty, intellectual and witty, sweet but with stings in their tails, the poems and sequences collected in the career-spanning new book Pasture and Flock are essential reading for both long-term and new admirers of Anna Jackson’s slanted approach to lyric poetry.

Jackson made her debut in AUP New Poets 1 before publishing six collections with Auckland University Press, most recently I, Clodia, and Other Portraits (2014). Her collection Thicket (2011) was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards in 2012. As an academic, Jackson has had an equally extensive career authoring and editing works of literary criticism. She is joined by poet and publisher Helen Rickerby for an exploration of her career as poet, essayist and critic.

 

 

 

Best New Zealand Poems 2017

August 20, 12.15–1.15pm

Best New Zealand Poems is published annually by Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters.

Get ready for Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day on 24 August by coming along to hear seven of the best read work selected for Best New Zealand Poems.

Poets Airini Beautrais, Chris Tse, Marty Smith, Liz Breslin, Greg Kan, Makyla Curtis, and Hannah Mettner are introduced by Best New Zealand Poems 2017 editor Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Visit the Best New Zealand Poems website (link is external) to view the full selection.

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: AWF guest Airini Beautrais reads ‘Listening’

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In case you don’t get to hear Airini Beautrais read at the Auckland Writers Festival this weekend – you can hear her reading a new poem.

 

 

 

Listening

Your love’s a country I will never see

again, a horse that will not take the bit,

a dusty dress I am too fat to fit,

(read: passionate – you’d bust too easily),

a box I’ve locked and then misplaced the key,

a post card I will never receive, a hit

I simply missed, a dog that will not sit,

a prize catch on the hook that wriggles free.

But still I am a wide receiving dish,

listening, listening to signals from the sky

until my ears are thrashed. The cries of birds,

the groans of growing trees, movements of fish,

the rumbling earth, crowd out the sounds that I

am searching for: mute thunder of your words.

© Airini Beautrais

 

 

Airini Beautrais lives in Whanganui. Her most recent book of poetry is Flow: Whanganui River Poems (Victoria University Press, 2017). ‘Listening’ is from a work in progress, a narrative sonnet sequence.

 

You can catch Airini at the Auckland Writers Festival:

Friday May 18th 5.30 until 6.30   Homage to the River   Upper NZI Room

Friday May 18th 6 until 7.30   Call on O’Connell    90 minutes literary mayhem on O’Connell Street

Sunday May 20  10.30 – 11.30 The Art of the Poem with James Brown, Choman Hardi and Terese Svoboda.  Upper NZI Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poets on Tour: Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan take to the road, July 2017

Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan have written up their poetry road trip. I am so hoping this becomes a thing – two poet friends on tour with new books.    

 

 

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both Victoria University Press, 2017

We’ve known each other since the early 2000s, and both of us have been writing poetry for even longer than that. Some common threads in our work include feminism, social justice, environmentalism, and an interest in the possibilities of form. Over a cup of tea one afternoon in Maria’s lounge we agreed that as we both had books coming out this year, we should go on tour. Maria had been working hard in non-poetry related paid gigs, Airini was battling some difficult personal circumstances, and some time on the road reading with other women poets seemed like just what the doctor (of creative writing) ordered.

Somehow the tour got planned amidst the mad mess of everyday life. Sarah Laing kindly agreed to let us use her drawings for promotional purposes. Airini made a DIY poster with the help of scissors, glue, wallpaper and blu-tack. The word went out. The car got packed.

 

On Friday 14 July Airini held a book launch for Flow: Whanganui River Poems, at the Whanganui regional museum. Maria was the main support act on the night, reading from her recently-released The Ski Flier (Airini had also read at Maria’s launch a month earlier). Jenny Bornholdt read a poem by Joanna Margaret Paul. Other local booklovers read some favourite Whanganui-linked poems. VUP publicist and talented novelist Kirsten McDougall gave a fantastic launch speech.

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Accidental ankh, Dannevirke

In the morning it was coffee, porridge and a quick trip to Whanganui’s famous SaveMart ‘The Mill’. Then onto the back roads of the Manawatu with a battered road atlas and smartphones which were largely ignored. We made it over the Pohangina Saddle, and lunched on launch leftovers in Dannevirke, where we discovered a church with a possibly accidental (we think maybe not) ankh – a perfect opportunity for posing with our books. On to Napier where it appeared we had entered a time warp. Airini’s dirty old Honda suddenly looked new alongside the vintage cars sweeping around the waterfront, driven by flappers and dapper gentlemen. The thought occurred to us that it was Deco weekend.

 

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Beattie and Forbes Booksellers with Marty and Emily

Beattie and Forbes Booksellers is a must-visit independent bookstore near the sea in Napier. They opened up on a Saturday evening so we could read, with Marty Smith and Emily Dobson. Old friends and new turned up, along with members of local poetry groups. It seems that anywhere you go in New Zealand, there’ll be a poetry group of some sort, and a reading will draw at least some of them out of the woodwork. A highlight of the evening was Emily reading a poem owing a debt to her young daughter, called ‘Thea’s ‘gina song,’ which ended ‘It’s a ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-BAGINA!’ Both Marty and Emily are accomplished poets and readers and it was a privilege to read alongside them.

 

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Maria at Waiomu Cafe

 

Sunday 16th we set off from Marty’s picturesque country house, on our big drive through to Thames. The roads had opened, but were still lined with snow.  We made it to our reading at Waiomu Beach Café with five minutes to spare. The café is in a beautiful spot and draws in regulars driving around the Coromandel coastal road. It’s run by Maria’s cousin Julie, who was an amazing host. Airini also met some extended family members at the reading. More FM were there, and interviewed us. We read in the outdoor courtyard, adjusting our volume according to the passing traffic. Over the road, a cop issued speeding tickets. A kereru landed in a tree alongside. We posed for more book photos under the pohutukawa, took Julie’s dog for a walk, and enjoyed the scenery.

 

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The Big House, Parnell with Tulia and Emma

Thames seems like the kind of place one could stay in forever, but on Monday morning we carried on to Auckland.  We parked the car and went to hear a reading at the Auckland Art Gallery with Steve Toussaint, Simone Kaho, Elizabeth Morton, Johanna Emeney and Michael Morrissey. Everyone read well, but a disgruntled audience member booed, hissed and heckled during question time at the end. Chair Siobhan Harvey did an excellent job of shouting him down. We looked at each other and wondered if this was how poetry readings always went in Auckland. But our reading that evening at the Big House in Parnell, with Simone Kaho and Tulia Thompson, was a very warm and homely affair. Many of the house’s 25 occupants joined us by the fire to listen and talk, and housemate Emma also read some of her poems with us.

 

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Airini at Poetry Live, Auckland

 

Tuesday night’s gig was Poetry Live, at the Thirsty Dog on K Road. Like the Big House, Poetry Live is an institution that’s been going for decades. We were lucky to be there for the farewell to regular MC Kiri Piahana-Wong. There was a great turnout and the venue and audience were friendly and welcoming. We read by turns in our guest poet slot, feeling like proper rockstars against the backdrop of a drum kit and stage lighting.

By Wednesday we were tired, and ready to head home. We stopped for tea and toasted sandwiches in the Pink Cadillac diner in Turangi. We parted ways at the Desert Road, after which Maria had some variable hitchhiking experiences, and Airini zig-zagged back and forth around the mountains navigating road closures. We’d had a great time and were looking forward to the second leg.

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Vic Books in Wellington with Pip and Freya

 

The next leg kicked off on Friday 28 July with a lunchtime reading at Vic Books. We were joined by superstars Pip Adam, reading from her brand spanking new The New Animals, and Freya Daly Sadgrove, whose poetry is performative and highly entertaining. Maria read her poem, inspired by Pip, ‘In which I attain unimaginable greatness,’ in which the narrator attains superhero powers, achieves amazing feats, and at the end declares ‘This is how I begin. This is my first day.’

 

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Palmerston North with Helen and Jo

Palmerston North City Library on Saturday evening was possibly the highlight of the tour. The library is a great place to read, hosting numerous literary events throughout the year. The big windows feature poems by local Leonel Alvarado, and pedestrians have a way of peering in through the letters, wondering what’s going on in there. We’d decided on a dress up theme of ‘80s trash with our fabulous co-readers Helen Lehndorf and Jo Aitchison, which got us some funny looks in New World, but definitely improved our performances. Helen’s hair was particularly spectacular. We had a small crowd but a great vibe. A kebab and whisky party kept us awake until the wee small hours.

 

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Maria at Hightide Cafe

Helen’s chickens laid us our breakfast, and we revived ourselves with bottomless pots of tea. Maria’s superpowers became evident when she managed to drive us safely to our last gig, Poets to the People at Hightide Café in Paraparaumu. The sun was setting over Kāpiti as we drank coffee and listened to the open mike. Again, this is an event that’s been running for years, and there’s a sense the regulars know and love one another. We went home to a beautiful roast cooked by Maria’s partner Joe. The tour was over, but the fight continues! We had some great conversations in the car over those two weeks, and some good catch-ups with family and friends along the way. There was a lot of fighting talk, a lot of laughter and also a few tears. A big part of the tour was affirming ourselves as poets, mothers and radical women, and by the end of it, our unimaginable greatness was hard to deny.

 

Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan, September 2017

 

 

my conversation with Airini

my review of The Ski Flier

VUP page for Airini

VUP page for Maria