Tag Archives: New Zealand

Poetry Down Under

Three years ago, I was on my way to New Zealand where I was booked to do nine poetry readings, when the visit had to be aborted because of an accident. So I was very pleased to have another chance to go Down Under this winter, and as we were taking a holiday in French Polynesia (see previous blog) and visiting a number of relatives, I decided that one reading in New Zealand and one in Australia would be enough this time.

In New Zealand we stayed with my sister-in-law, Sarah, in Taupo and swam in the lake each day, enjoying the crystal clear waters – and especially the fact that the temperature of the water was 27 C. I also enjoyed the fact that although the weather was blazing hot, snow could be seen on the tops of the mountains at the other end of the lake, so the first thing I did each morning was to stand at the window and check that the mountain tops were still white.

Lake-Taupo

Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand, initially formed during a huge volcanic eruption over 25,000 years ago. A further massive eruption some time between 180 and 232 AD ejected so much material that it seems possible that it was responsible for the red sky that appeared over Rome and China in the time of Pliny.

A New Zealand poet, Geni Johnson, had kindly invited me to read to Taupo’s Literary & Poetry Society, Live Poets, at a restaurant in town. IMG_0903 There was a good audience, including a couple of people who happened to have flown in from the British Council in Shanghai (not specially to hear me, I hasten to add). A few open mike slots gave me the opportunity to hear some local poets, and they were all very appreciative of my reading.

Moving on to Australia, thanks to Oversteps poet Glen Phillips, I received a IMG_1047wonderful welcome in Perth. Glen was the joint author with my predecessor, Anne Born, of ‘Singing Granites: Poems of Devon and Gondwanaland‘, which was the second book I published after I took over as Managing Editor of Oversteps Books

Because of other commitments, much activity had to be packed into just one day. In the morning Glen took me to visit his research department, ‘Landscape and Literature’, at the Edith Cowan University campus at Mt Lawley. Here I met and talked to a PhD student and learned something of the work being done there.

Glen then transported me to the CTV Perth radio studio for a half-hour interview conducted by Peter Jeffery. The quality of an interview is always dependent on the skill and professionalism of the interviewer, and Peter was fantastic, putting me entirely at ease and covering a great deal in the half-hour without making me feel rushed.

IMG_0923I had been invited to give a reading in the evening to the Fellowship of Australian Writers and Western Australian Poetry Inc. The meeting was to take place in the Writers’ Centre which is located in Joseph Furphy’s house.  I was driven slightly out of the city to what appeared to be a deserted wood, where there was one other car parked. I approached the house down a leafy footpath with some trepidation, thinking it was a long way to travel for a tiny audience; but I was delighted, and astonished, when we opened the door, to find the room heaving with people, with not a spare seat to be seen. I have no idea where they had all come from, or where they had parked their cars, but they gave me a wonderful welcome.

Water cart

This furphy, or water carrier, stands outside the house. It was made in the nineteenth century by J Furphy & Sons, and used to transport water to animals, and also to douse bush fires – though I think this amount of water would stand little chance against the horrific bush fires that have raged over Australia recently. People tended to congregate around the water carts and chat, rather as employees do around water fountains today, which is probably why the word ‘furphy’ is used by Australians to describe an unreliable rumour. John Furphy was the brother of the Australian writer Joseph Furphy, who wrote under the pseudonym Tom Collins, and his house is preserved as a Writers’ Centre.

Not surprisingly, this distinguished audience was highly receptive and appreciative, and at the end they not only gave me a fee, but also bought all the books I had with me, which lightened my luggage for the return journey considerably. I was pleased, in the course of the evening, to include a mini-launch of Glen Phillips’ latest collection, ‘Land Whisperings’, which comprised poems he had written as part of his PhD thesis and also includes some of the poems he wrote for Singing Granites. 
with Glen & X

With me in this picture are Oversteps poet Professor Glen Phillips and Dr Trisha Kotai-Ewers, both of whom are former Presidents of FAWWA.

So I have good evidence that poetry is alive and well in the Antipodes. At the end of this busy, happy and interesting day I received pressing invitations to return to Perth for longer, which I’m sure I shall do at some stage in the future.

 

 

Poetry in public

This is the day when I should have arrived in New Zealand; and the first of my readings there was to be this evening at the charmingly named ‘Thirsty Dog’. Because disaster struck us half-way over the world, I can’t do this reading, or any of the others I was due to give in the next couple of weeks. Charles Hadfield and Hilary Elfick will be reading at most of the events I was going to, and they are kindly going to present some of my work to those audiences. So, instead of standing up and sharing my poetry, I thought I’d reflect on poetry readings in general in this blog.

All through my adult life I’ve had the privilege (and sometimes the burden) of giving countless lectures, talks and sermons. In recent years, however, I have far, far preferred to give poetry readings – and I’ve been extremely fortunate to be invited to read all over Britain and in several other countries as well. If by any chance you’re interested in where all these readings have been, you can find them on the Poetry page of my website (www.marriages.me.uk). I get a tremendous kick out of giving readings: writing can be a rather solitary occupation, and suddenly, at a public reading, one has the opportunity to engage with other people, to make them laugh or sigh, and to feel the energy of a common delight in poetry flowing back and forth between reader and audience. It really is a wonderful feeling when other people share and enjoy one’s poetry.

I’ll pick out just a few of my favourites to give a flavour of the range of opportunities for poets to share their work.

I was stunned and excited to be invited to read for a whole evening at Little Gidding a few years ago. The thrill this event gave me, obviously, was because of my life-long love of Eliot’s Four Quartets. The reading took place in a large and crowded, but cosy drawing room; and I was encouraged to go on reading for over two hours.

With Orta San Giulio in background

Poetry on the Lake in northern Italy is one of the highlights of the year for quite a number of poets. Like others, I first went because I was successful in their annual poetry competition – and then I was drawn back year after year. The readings are not so much large public events as good poets getting together to share their work with others who are on the same wavelength.

A & CA

 

The list of participants is star-studded, and in a beautiful venue in the sunshine (well, mostly in the sunshine), friendships develop and inspiration flows.

A reading on Sacro Monte

One morning at the festival is spent reading at the various shrines on the Sacro Monte. Then, at the end of the weekend we are also treated to a wonderful piano recital in the Casa Tallone, a thousand year old building on the island, where Tallone pianos used to be made.

There are dozens of excellent poetry and/or literature festivals in Britain. Sadly I haven’t yet been invited to read at Aldeburgh, Ledbury or Stanza, but I’ve read at most of the others. I’ve been fortunate enough to read at Ways with Words at Dartington for several years running; and I read at The Space in another part of the Dartington Estate at the end of my poetry residency with dancers and choreographers from the Ballet Rambert. For a poet who is crazy about dance, this was a wonderful opportunity to indulge in some of the best things in life.

Freiburg reading

Venues at the festivals vary, and one of the more interesting ones at which I read was the Freiburg City Festival in Germany. The challenge was to read on a podium in the city square, and although seats were put out, I doubted if anyone would come to sit on them to hear a poet reading in English. However, I was mistaken, and before long all the seats were taken and there was a crowd of onlookers standing as well.

Audiences for poetry readings range from the polite to the wildly enthusiastic. There was a nice example of the latter, when Carol Ann Duffy read at the Torbay Poetry Festival this last autumn and she received a well-deserved standing ovation. I had a particularly warm and enthusiastic audience at this last year’s Guildford Book Festival, when I read and Peter Terry sang a selection of lieder and English songs. Music can work well with poetry readings, and when I read with a couple of other poets in the Lewes Linklater Pavilion recently, our readings were interspersed with guitar pieces.

A reading at WalpoleAs well as festivals, there are many other opportunities for readings. I’ve read in a number of bookshops, at the launch of magazines and anthologies that include poems by me, the launch of my books, prizewinners’ events, as the entertainment at parties, and regular poetry events such as the Troubadour in London, the Uncut readings in Exeter and pub gigs such as Tradewinds on Dartmoor. Other great venues have been the Edinburgh Fringe, the Walpole Old Chapel in Suffolk, the Dower House at Morville Hall in Shropshire, Slimbridge and Leighton Moss bird reserves and at university venues. There’s also usually an opportunity to read after giving a workshop or judging a competition. If you’re looking for readings, the possibilities are endless..

* Sea sandals

And yes, as every poet knows, giving readings is the best way to sell one’s books. In general, the major gatherings of poets do not lead to large sales, as most of the audience have plenty of poetry books already and are probably more interested in selling their own than in adding to their groaning bookshelves. Other audiences will snap up the books and delight in having them signed by the poet.

Then there is the issue of payment. Most poetry events are fairly cash-strapped, and some others have no compunction in exploiting writers if they can get away with it. It is unusual not to receive at least one’s expenses, and there are some shining examples of organisers who value and reward their poets. Among these, Patricia Oxley, the Editor of Acumen and organiser of the Torbay Festival, is one of the best. Of course one writes, and reads in public, for love. But it is amazing how much more valued one feels when someone like Patricia shows her genuine respect and appreciation by paying a proper fee. And several more of the events at which I’ve read have been kind enough to reward me quite generously.

After so many readings this last year, and the fact that I expected to be away now, I rather feared there may not have been so many in 2013. However, the invitations continue to flow in, and between now and the summer I have already been booked to appear at the Wenlock Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Poetry Festival, the Bath Week of Good Poetry, the launch of a magazine in Swindon and at Ways with Words.

Pity about New Zealand, though!

Dipping my toe into blogging

Image 

This blog will include both information about and samples of my own writing, and news about my work as Managing Editor of the poetry publishing house, Oversteps Books Ltd. In the more immediate future it will take the reader with me on a long sea journey to New Zealand, where I’ll be appearing at various poetry events in February 2013.