Just back from a wonderful visit to Dunedin. We got to celebrate Wild Honey last night thanks to Massey University Press, Kay Mercer and Dunedin Libraries, and Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb and the University Book Shop. There was a great turn out of poetry fans, and a set of readings that prompted both laughter and tears. We even got to hear Fiona Farrell sing! The occasion felt even more precious because that afternoon local poet, Elizabeth Brooke-Carr, had passed away, and so many local poets were together. Jenny Powell read one of Elizabeth’s poems as a tribute.
Heartfelt thanks to the readers: Sue Wootton, Carolyn McCurdie, Fiona Farrell, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Diane Brown, Jenny Powell, Eliana Gray, Emer, Lyons and Emma Neale.
Wild Honey continues to place women’s poetry under a warm and receptive light. I was humbled by the joy, the warmth and the generosity in the room. I am humbled by the way it continues to be an open home.
Emma Neale’s introduction was so good I want to share it with you – plus a few photos taken by Kay.
Wild Honey introduction
Tena kotou katoa
Ko Emma Neale toku ingoa ….
What a fabulous, upbeat reason for us all to be together tonight. It is very happily my role to introduce Paula Green to you all and talk a little about Wild Honey.
I noticed at around page 200 of Wild Honey that in my reading habits, I was inadvertently reflecting the structuring principle of the book. For those of you who haven’t looked into it yet — the book gathers small communities of women poets in separate rooms of a capacious imaginary house: so we move from the Foundation Stones of 19th-century authors Jesse Mackay and Blanche Baughan and of early 20th century writer Eileen Duggan, through to spaces such as the study, the music room, the hearth, the hammock and the garden, where Paula reflects on the thematic concerns, the psychological spaces, the poetic techniques, and also the lives of the writers she gathers there.
I realised last week that I’ve been carrying the book with me into every nook and cranny of my own house – brushing my teeth while reading it – burning dinner while cooking from it, or rather, by miming cooking while actually travelling deep into the passageways and chambers of the book itself. I didn’t twig to all this until I found myself nearly braining the family rabbit with it, as I tried to dish out pellets and straw to him in his outside hutch while Wild Honey was still tucked under one arm. Clearly this potentially book- and rabbit-wrecking approach is a mark of how compelling the prose is – capable of supplanting a cell-phone as the glued-to object to stare at. I suspect this won’t just be true of fellow poetry obsessives: the prose is pellucid, generous, and welcoming.
The book embraces myriad voices; it’s receptive to multiple styles, and it actively celebrates the writers it discusses. It doesn’t pit one writer against another, try to champion one above another, or upbraid writers for perceived political derelictions, but it listens attentively to what each writer has to say, and aims to capture and characterise the tone of their preoccupations. It’s a history of women’s poetry here in Aotearoa, yet one that is also a memoir of reading, as Paula laces the analysis with vivid personal responses and descriptions of how reading other women’s work has bolstered and boosted her — not only as a professional writer, herself interested in aesthetic questions, but as a person moving through time, dealing with love and loss, memory and projection, physical injury and philosophical problems, seized by the beauty of the natural world, shocked by social toxicity … it’s a vast and varied coastline of human experience.
I think it’s important to say that even as we encounter generations of writers here, learn of their preoccupations and savour the sensuous aspects of their expression, one of the delights of reading this book is finding Paula’s own poetic signature throughout. It travels with you like a piwakawaka flitting along at shoulder height on a hiking trail – so you can start to feel kind of blessed and graced yourself with the ability to communicate in the same free, light and spirited way … until you actually try to express all the things this book achieves.
Wild Honey is so embracing, so capacious, that what I would really like to do before starting the readings and our conversation, is to ask everyone here —but particularly the poets — to both congratulate and thank Paula for her diligence, her energy, her curiosity, her own creative gifts and above all tonight for her generosity. You can whoop, clap, dance, sing, stomp your feet – pull out a clarinet or a trombone if you have one — just make a bloody great non-library- like racket.
Introducing …. Paula!
PS The welcome racket was splendid! – pg