Saturday, July 23, 2011

National Poetry Day

The US gets National Poetry Month, but here in New Zealand we get one day. For some reason, Poetry Day events in Christchurch always seem to be held in the day time. If I lived in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin or a number of other places, there would be evening events to go to. But for the last few years I have always been working on a Friday and hence unable to participate.

At last I have Fridays free. Which means I was able to attend the reading held at the University Bookshop - a wonderful shop that I would frequent more if it weren't for the issue of parking, as all parking on campus is permit only. It was a treat to be in a proper bookshop, one that doesn't give prominence to cookbooks and "biographies" of sports stars. And a treat to hear readings from local poets Kerrin Sharpe, James Norcliffe and Tusiata Avia, followed by a performance by singer-songwriter Adam McGrath of The Eastern.

There were earthquake poems, of course. But not too many. Tusiata Avia read her poem describing her drive to pick up her daughter from her inner city preschool, in grid-locked traffic after February's quake. Her journey turned into a hero's epic, in which her street turned into a river (that part at least, would not be exaggerated at all). Hordes of drowned wildebeests made an appearance, and she drove for five days. It was a powerful poem, full of emotional truth if not literal truth.

James Norcliffe's earthquake poem referred to "The Death of Seneca". It's always hard to remember poems hear once, however the phrase "the earth shrugged" sticks with me. Jim's poems, he said, were rather dark, but the commentary that comes with them is always spiced with humour, and the audience had plenty of opportunities to laugh.

Kerrin Sharpe spent a year at the International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington. A number of her poems were set in Wellington. I particularly enjoyed "Sewing the World". Her mother, apparently, was a milliner. This poem was full of references to stitches such as feather stitch - but also to the streets of Wellington - a bonus for me as I spent the first half of my life there, and each street name triggered a visual picture in my mind. Although there is nothing in the way of straight forward fact in Kerrin's poems - she has a magical way of looking at the world.

Afterwards I browsed the bookshelves and found a small selection of "Revived Editions" i.e. second hand books. Most of the city's second hand bookshops have been casualties of the earthquake. So I was delighted to find some excellent poetry books here at very reasonable prices, and brought three home with me.

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