Poetry and music go together like candles and churches, and what’s better than poetry and music? Poetry and music in the cavernous St Peters church on a stormy night. Lōemis Festival’s recent event Epilogue, born out of the mind of Festival Artistic Director Andrew Laking, brought together some of the city’s finest ensemble musicians and a murderer’s row of local poets for an evening of original composition that was at times ecstatic, somber, thought-provoking, soothing and so much more. Local wordsmiths Nick Ascroft, Chris Tse, Rebecca Hawkes, Ruby Solly and Harry Ricketts were all given the opportunity to write and deliver original poems in this reimagined requiem mass and their words the space and scope they deserved.
The event page promised an echo of the original idea, that follows the same rise, fall and atmosphere, and it delivered, interspersing music and the spoken word. The event begun with a composition from the ensemble and they punctuated every poet’s performance, creating room for breach and reflection and time for the poems to wash over the crowd and reset the mood for the next poet. The church was dark and moody and still throughout, while this made for the perfect audience experience it made it impossible to take any notes during the show, as a result I’m just going to gush about all the wonderful performers who took the stage.
Nick Ascroft was the first poet to take to the pulpit. He delivered two new poems that were personal and inventive, hilarious and heartbreaking. While I’ve been a fan of Nick’s wit on the page for years it was great to have the opportunity to see him read in this context, not only did his poems set the tone for the evening but his opener ‘You Will Find Me Much Changed’ has been lounging about in my head ever since. Next up was everyone’s favourite poet crush Chris Tse. Dressed in dapper attire apparently inspired by a fancy can of water, Chris, much like Nick used repetition to build his sermon, like a mantra, an incantation. It reverberated off the stained-glass windows and when Chris finished with his piece, entitled ‘Persistence is futile’, I got so upset I have to wait until 2022 for his third collection.
Rebecca Hawkes was next, accidentally dressed as Kath from Kath and Kim due to a wardrobe malfunction but it didn’t matter. Rebecca is the type of poet tailor-made for an event like this, she can conjure imagery that spans the grotesque to the sublime and she has a performance style that colours those images so vividly you feel fully submerged in her world. Speaking of complex other worlds, Ruby Solly is one of the masters of weaving them together and that was on full display in her performance. Ruby also played taonga pūoro with the ensemble before her reading just to remind the audience how talented she is. The last poet of the evening was Harry Ricketts, whose Selected Poems is out in the world right now. Harry’s ‘The Song Sings the News of the World’ closed out the evening, and while it wasn’t necessarily the most complex or challenging poem of the evening, it was the perfect ending, prompting all those watching to look forward and wonder, leaving the audience with a sense of hope.
Overall it was the perfect evening, poetry and music together as they should be, in a venue built for ritual. Epilogue is the type of event that showcases what poetry can be when it’s not confined, stretching it and moulding it into something unexpected, the type of event Andrew and his VERB co-director Clare Mabey excel at producing. I sincerely hope Epilogue doesn’t live up to its namesake and we get to see it again in one form or another.
Music by Nigel Collins and Andrew Laking, in collaboration with Simon Christie and Maaike Beekman. New texts written and read by Chris Tse, Rebecca Hawkes, Harry Ricketts, Ruby Solly, and Nick Ascroft. With Dan Yeabsley (reeds), Tristan Carter (violin), and Dayle Jellyman (keys).
Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based writer, poet and performer. He was the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and represented NZ at the World Poetry Slam Champs in the US in 2019. He is the co-editor of Stasis Journal and co-editor of a forthcoming NZ Climate Change Poetry Anthology from Auckland University Press. He is a 2021 Michael King Writer-in-Residence and has words published in The Spinoff, Newsroom, Poetry New Zealand, Sport, Turbine, Landfall, and elsewhere.
Jordan Hamel’s poem ‘You’re not a has-been, you’re a never was!’