Tag Archives: #AWF17

further unsettled thoughts on the Old Guard @AWF17 after reading two reviews


‘Hera did not get a chance to read another poem (until I invited her to do so in question time) or to talk about the way her book offers so much more to the reader. The quirkiness, the sharp surreal detail, the blurred borders, the fluency, the sense of confession that may be grainy truth mixed with grainy lies. The exuberant joy in language. The electric switches and dovetails as the poem moves.’ PG

I wrote a short piece on The Old Guard New Gard event at AWF17 because for whatever reason Andrew Johnston did not give equal airspace to Hera Lindsay Bird. He had a conversation with Bill Manhire that roamed wider and deeper. I filled several notebook pages with thoughts to return to.


What has intrigued and unsettled me is the way some people are still immune to the fact a woman is given less talk-space in a public forum.


David Larsen sung the session’s praises but made no mention of the lopsided allocation of time; the simple fact Andrew invited Bill to read two poems (one longish) and Hera one felt wrong. Unlike David, I do not think there was a deep and wide ranging engagement with what Hera’s poetry is doing. From her mouth. By hearing her poems.

It felt like David was at another session: ‘They’re an uneven pair, in that Manhire has vastly more past to talk about, and all of it’s so interesting that the session could easily have edged into being MANHIRE! (…and Bird.) Johnston didn’t let that happen’

This statement almost implies the New Guard, with less life and writing experience, has less to talk about. I don’t think it works like that. And it did happen.

David also wrote: ‘Bird talked more than he did about the specific character of her work, and also about its reception and what the experience of sudden fame has been like.’

Again I felt the conversation was limited and did not expose the variety of things Hera’s debut collection is doing.


Briar Lawry’s review on The Booksellers site also remains blind to the partial eclipse of Hera but catches the conversation flow.


I do not know why the sideline happened, and I do not think it was deliberate, but I am drawing attention to it because it seemed like a replay of the Old Guard of New Zealand poetry where men ruled the poetry roost and women’s voices were sidelined, and even worse, denigrated, devalued and not given prominent visibility in the fledgling canon. And that felt like such an irony.

I have experienced several examples of being sidelined by a male poet in a public forum but I was not and am still not prepared to hang out personal anecdotes. However I am prepared to challenge or highlight ways in which women are disadvantaged by men in our literary landscapes.

A few thoughts on the Old Guard and the New Guard #AWF17


Hera Lindsay Bird copy (1)

Hera Lindsay Bird (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the Ockham NZ Book Awards and winner of the Sarah Broom Poetry Award 2017)


I am currently writing a book on New Zealand women’s poetry which means I have spent the past year exploring the way women have come into their own on the poetry stage.  The Old Guard and the New Guard session featured Hera Lindsay Bird and Bill Manhire  in conversation with chair, Andrew Johnston.  Hera and Bill decided the labels were fluid as indeed they are. I loved that!

I wrote a swag of notes based on Bill’s conversation and readings and scarcely anything on Hera because for some inexplicable reason she was sidelined on stage.  She got to talk about the fizzing international reaction to a couple of her provocative poems and to read one of them (after saying these poems were her least favourites in the book). Bill was invited to read several. Hera did not get a chance to read another poem (until I invited her to do so in question time) or to talk about the way her book offers so much more to the reader. The quirkiness, the sharp surreal detail, the blurred borders, the fluency, the sense of confession that may be grainy truth mixed with grainy lies. The exuberant joy in language. The electric switches and dovetails as the poem moves. It felt like Hera had 20% of talk time but maybe that was not quite accurate. There was scant if not zero engagement with what her poetry is doing beyond the shock factor. The audience would have had difficulty taking away diverse entry points into her poetry after this event.

The session felt like a step back in time where if a woman speaks it is claimed she is dominating.

I don’t know why this happened but in my view there is no excuse because it appeared to be downright sexist. There are of course countless other possible reasons. Gender issues aside – panelists need equal time in the spotlight and a wide-ranging engagement with what they do.

I loved what Bill had to say and I plan on sharing that at a later date.




Sarah Laing, Adam Dudding, Anne Enright and Teju Cole #AWF17 ‘I am writing an account of what I love’ TC



Going to the Auckland Writers’ Festival is a chance to reboot/reboost in the company of other readers and writers. This year’s programme is so very enticing, and if I had the stamina and time I would be there all day every day as is my usual habit.

This year I don’t have the stamina sadly and am in that selfish time-hungry state of writing a big book where trips into the city are both drains and topples.



However I caught up with a few sessions yesterday and I am glad I did. First up Geoff Walker steered a warm and lively conversation with the authors of two books I have recently adored: Sarah Laing (Mansfield and Me) and Adam Dudding (My Father’s Island). Perfect chair that drew a fabulous mix of confession and ideas on writing memoirs.


Secondly and most importantly I went to hear Anne Enright in conversation with Kate De Goldi. I have just been on a month-long road trip in Ireland where I read Irish fiction, poetry and history and came home with a rucksack of books to read.There was something rather extraordinary letting the writing overlap with the landscape, the weather, the people and vice versa. It was an extraordinary experience. I loved hearing Anne read, and I loved the excursions into the specifics of her books, but I hungered for a conversation that roved wider into life, writing, books, Ireland, Irish writers. I was going to ask a question at the end on what books of poetry or fiction she thought I should have had in the hire car. Luckily it came out of someone else’s question and was chuffed that I have her favourites ready and waiting, bar one or two. I have to say I went to the best bookshop in the world in Dublin! How does Ireland sustain so many fabulous bookshops?


Meanwhile I wavered between home/bed or Teju Cole and opted for the latter because I loved Open City and reviewed Know and Strange Things for SST last year. I loved it to the hilt! I came out of Teju’s session filled with the joy of writing, books and being alive. Some  writers you admire, some writers challenge you, some writers confound you. Some writers deliver awkward and unsettling disconnections, others a suite of nourishing connections. With Teju it was the latter. Uplifting. Utterly uplifting. Teju makes it very clear, with such honeyed fluency, why books matter in this endangered world.


Here are some of the gold nuggets I gleaned – I won’t put quotes as may not be exact:


Description shifts something that is in the world. Description shifts us as no longer simply passive recipients of the text but as active participants.

Writing Open City, I could not tailor it for a market as I could not imagine that market. It gave me utter freedom.   (I adore this sense of freedom to write what one wants, craves)

I write every book as though it is going to be my last.

How do you become ‘you’ inside your work? That’s my voice – that’s interesting. That’s who I turned out to be.

On reviewing (this is my raison d’etre on this blog!!!!): I am  writing an account of what I love. I’m an enthusiast. I give an account, so that if you don’t already love it, you might have a chance to. (he is not drawn to negative criticism)

All terrain retains some ghostly memory of the things they have endured.

Any great city is a burial ground for people who have largely been forgotten. (the dispossessed)

( I loved hearing the drone tweets written Post 9/11 where he took the first line of a classic book and then introduced bombs and devastation. Like Teju said, both funny and cripplingly serious.)

(He talked about the pleasure of writing / reading work that ultimately consoles as well as unsettles.)

Theory is like haute couture  – you laugh at it now and five years later it hits the streets.

I am fond of Iceland, Switzerland and new Zealand as they are diametrically opposed to what I know.


This sequence of severed quotes barely touch upon the joy of being there. It was over in a flash.