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Crouched on a stepladder near the crowd, with a zine tucked into my hands and my camera at the ready, I got that feeling I get when I’m part of an audience who are hanging on every word. The stool grew increasingly uncomfortable, and the noises of the Vic Books café soundtracked the event, but as I was pulled into different spaces by the words of each poet, these things simply lay the foundations, the distinctions, of the Vic Books National Poetry Day event.
It’s very rare that I find myself spending an hour and half, straight, listening to poetry. National Poetry Day, in its eighteenth year, had once again given us an excuse, the country over, to indulge in the beauty and musings that poetry inspires. As the poets read, the crowd grew slowly around the audience, as people collected their coffees and scones from Vic Books, captured by the energy of the crowd, and there they stayed. The audience was entranced by the words that people had crafted, laboured over, or words that had poured out of them in a late night, last minute moment of clarity.
The Vic Books National Poetry Day event focused on fostering those poets who were students at the IIML. Students of the Master’s poetry or creative nonfiction programmes were invited to take part, along with several ex-students, and current teachers. Their teacher Cliff Fell shared his poems, and one in particular he had written in honour of the students during a workshop he took them on. His students sat behind him as he read, and their faces showed cautious embarrassment, and appreciation.
Each poet had their own style, and each was distinct from one another. Every poet made me laugh, or smile; a wit and power of the form was present in everyone. Jane Arthur’s work dealt with neuroses and anxieties in hilarious and beautifully meaningful ways. Sam Keenan’s poems were driven by the correspondence between her mother and father, and featured Mansfieldian floral imagery.
Anna Jackson read thematically appropriate poems from her recently published collection I, Clodia. Alex Hollis’ works were intelligent and entertaining, comments often drawn from pop culture, with a poem dedicated to recycling—a topic she cares deeply about (as do I). Nina Powles’ poems expand upon a theme from her previous collection Girls of the Drift, as she explores lives of historical women from Wellington.
Ashleigh Young read several works, one inspired by a walk stuck behind two men who walked at a glacial pace. Her ability to draw beauty and pause from moments like these is, for me, the charm of her work. Sarah Webster’s poetry was a moving mixture of love and punctuation—her images were intertwined with grammatical language.
Louise Wrightson’s work was dedicated to food, and food that she has eaten in different countries; her words are inspired by senses and the places she sees. Faith Wilson, who was recently published in Sport, packed a punch; full of money and whakapapa, her poems truly are “slicker than your average”.
Harry Ricketts, a lecturer at the IIML, as well as for the English Department, was a particular favourite. He is a regular customer of Vic Books, he can be regularly seen marking essays and reading notes as he drinks his flat white. He is a part of our shop. Most of the poems he read were from his most recent collection Half Dark. His poems in this collection are technically driven, but are informed by his life.
“A modern creed” was, as he tells the crowd, inspired after a Saturday morning ritual he shares with his wife and a few friends, wherein they play a game of ping-pong at the rec centre, and then recover at Vic Books, where they muse and meditate and discuss. “I believe in God the mother, sharer of crystals and echinacea, and in all things organic and gluten free.” His other poem, published in the zine, was written for his stepson, who passed away recently. This poem reconnects them through maginations on a page; shared memories through words, and what one might have meant. After the reading, the poets milled about, talking to their friends who came along, and I saw Harry sit down with one of his students to go over some things.
National Poetry Day is a wonderful occasion to support those who have found a home in poetry and dedicated to it, who have revealed little bits of themselves. I saw my friend after the event, our eyes were glassy with excitement, and without saying so, we knew, the light had gone on.
Poetry is not a commercially successful profession to pursue, for the most part. Poets do it out of love, or need. Poetry books also range from $20-$30, and make exceptional gifts, or a weekend treat to whet your wandering mind.
Jayne’s top Five NZ poetry collections:
- Half Dark—Harry Ricketts $25
- This Must be the Place—Annabel Hawkins $30
- How to be dead in a year of Snakes—Chris Tse $24.99
- Girls of the Drift—Nina Powles $20
- Failed Love Poems—Joan Fleming $25
All available at Vic Books.
Thanks to the organisers of National Poetry Day 2015—NZ Book Awards Trust and Booksellers NZ.