‘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.