Autumn in Christchurch is poetry time. Tonight* was the first in the Canterbury Poets’ collective series of Autumn Readings. For the next seven weeks, we can look forward to some excellent poetry from guest readers and BYO poets (“bring your own” for those not familiar with New Zealand vernacular – applied in the past to alcohol, but these days given a wider meaning).
Tonight started off particularly well as just inside the door I had a stack of books thrust at me, with the invitation to “take them, they are free”. I rarely turn down free books. These were from the estate of the late John Summers – here, I have to plead ignorance, but a glance at the books tells me that he was a bookstore owner, poet and fiction writer and also published his autobiography in two volumes. With luck, the fact that he had enough copies of his books sitting around his house for everyone present to be given a free copy of each of his five books doesn’t mean that they are not worth reading. I will find out shortly.
There was a particularly good turnout tonight, around forty to fifty, and latecomers struggled to find seats. No one is turned away, however, and chairs were produced from stacks in corners and passed overhead. The evening started with an excellent crop of open mic readers, and then three guest poets read after the break.
Firstly, Tim Jones, whose blog I enjoy reading, but whose poetry I was not familiar with until now. Tim claimed a sore throat, but it didn’t show. He was an excellent reader (which is a different thing from an excellent poet, although he is that, too). He was easy to here and read with expression and enthusiasm from his two collections, Boat People and All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. The latter was named for marketing reasons, he says. And indeed, it is a title that encompasses all the genres which most readily fill our bookstore shelves – sports, cooking and gardening. If the title has truly helped it sell more copies, it is well-deserved. Tim read poems about his father, about returning to his birthplace in Yorkshire (he left at the age of two) and a number of poems that are rather harder to catergorize – and to remember. That's not the fault of the poems - I’m not good at remembering poems after one reading. I enjoy hearing poems read aloud, but for a full appreciation, it’s good to hear them more than once, and to get a chance to read them too.
That wasn’t a problem with the other two readers. Fiona Farrell read from her book “The Pop-Up Book of Invasions”. I had heard her read these poems before, at her book launch, and had also read the book. Rehearing these only added to my appreciation. These poems resulted from a six month stay in Ireland when she was awarded the Rathcoola Poets Residency. She read two longish poems. The Lament of the Nun of Beare was Fiona’s rendition in English of the earliest Irish poem. It was followed by “Genealogy” which is a poem based on some of the descriptions given of Irish immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s – terms like “degradation”, “squalor” and “ape-like”. Two poems, however long, weren’t enough for the audience, and Fiona was persuaded to read a third, The Way of the Dishes which tells of her visit to a place connected with an Irish saint.
The final guest reader was my friend Victoria Broome who is a member of our small poetry group, the Poetry Chooks. Victoria is in her second year at the Hagley Writers Institute where Fiona is her tutor. This course was a new one last year, and caters for those who want to study writing more seriously, without quite the commitment of a degree course . Victoria read from her course portfolio including a number of poems I had heard and enjoyed before. Two of these were based on a class visit to the Antarctic wing of the Canterbury museum. Other poems were less familiar and I look forward to hearing them again.
The evening concluded with the announcement of the winner of the popular vote for the best open mic reader. The readings are held at the Madras Café Bookshop and David, the owner, kindly donates book vouchers as prizes each week. This week’s winner was Joanna Preston, who was coincidentally my own personal choice. Does this prove that I have excellent taste by picking the winner, or does it prove that everyone else has excellent taste by agreeing with my opinion? Joanna’s blog is one of my regular reads, you will find it at A Dark Feathered Art (and Joanna keeps chickens – you can’t go past a person who likes chickens). I’m looking forward to the launch of Joanna’s first published collection on Montana Poetry Day later this year.
*Actually, all references to "tonight" should read "last night" as I had to delay posting this due to internet problems.