Southland, I love you

Just back from my trip to the deep South as part of the Southland Arts Festival. I had an absolute ball.

The events I was part of were organised through the Dan Davin Foundation, which does a fabulous job of promoting literature in Southland. The reading (‘Poetry in the Stack’) was first, and I was sharing the stage with Tim Jones, my stablemate Kay McKenzie Cooke, and Invercargill poet Lynley Dear (who wrote a poem a week for the Southland Times for fifteen years!). Most poets are used to numbers at readings being small, with the usual rule of thumb being that it’s a good turnout if audience members outnumber readers, and very good if they outnumber the combined total of readers, readers’ partners and members of the organising committee. So it genuinely was a pretty good turnout. Especially considering that we were on at the same time as the Breakers’ basketball final, AND the Highlanders playing the Blues in rugby. Oh, and there was something or other going on in Blighty that seemed to be on TV a bit. Something about a dude and a dress …Both Tim and Kay have new books on the way, so it was great to get a sneak preview. After the reading we retired to a local pub for dinner (and to watch the end of the basketball). I ended up sitting next to Hamesh Wyatt, who is that rarest of rare creatures: a poetry reviewer. We had long discussions about books we loved, books we loathed, the horrible things that can be done to poetry and the overlap between reading, writing and the proper pouring of Guinness. (Although it’s possible that the last conversation was one I had with myself – it was late; and I had a surprisingly large number of empty glasses in front of me.) Hamesh had reviewed The Summer King for the ODT – a pretty damn good review too. Not (just) because it was positive, but because he’d really thought about the poems, and what I’d tried to do in the collection. So meeting him and being able to pick his brains a bit about how he goes about the reviewing process was the icing on my already very-well-garnished cake.

Next morning was Tim’s Speculative Fiction workshop. People just kept coming and coming, and Tim had to keep stopping to go find more tables and chairs. Big spread of ages too – there were three or four kids (around 14 years old or so), as well as an interesting assortment of men with beards, women with glasses (not only me), and men with both glasses and laptops (but not beards). Tim put us through a couple of writing exercises, and I think everyone finished the afternoon feeling strong urges to get themselves to a quite corner to start work on their various Magna Opera. (Damn you Tim, I’m going to have to clone myself.)

My workshop was the following day. Not quite so many people as Tim (she said, airily), but we had a great time rummaging through the poems. As usual, my ability to predict how long each section would take was shown to be a mixture of wild optimism and broken voodoo, but people who started the session quietly and nervously were wading in with great enthusiasm by the end. Can’t ask for more than that.

On the way to the airport I had a lovely long talk with festival super-organiser Rebecca Amundsen about other ideas she has for the festival’s future. Let’s just say that there are some seriously good plans in the works, I’m jealous as hell, and I’m going to be keeping an eye on GrabbaSeat around this time next year!

The chickens were some of the Funky Chickens on display around the city. I so wanted to bring one of them home with me …

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9 thoughts on “Southland, I love you

  1. …and so a grand time was had by all. Well I guess you know the old saying, ‘the further south you go in New Zealand, the friendlier the people get.’ I was thinking about this event on the weak-end (yes,it was) and the thought was I would rather be there than here.

    Oh, I find it almost impossible to believe that you returned without a Funky Chicken!

    • The only thing that prevented me was the fact that the department store where you had to register your bid (it was a silent auction) was always closed when I was free to go there. Sigh …

  2. Thank you so much for coming and sharing your wisdom with us! ^__^ Like I said at the time, anyone who can teach me how to love a poem once I’ve decided to hate it on sight…well, that person’s a damned miracle worker, that’s for sure. (Yes, I am thinking of “Imperial” here!) I do have to admit I haven’t delved into “The Summer King” yet, but in my defense I decided to take your advice about not devouring it in the gluttonous manner I reserve for novels. I’ve a weekend at the Millbrook in a couple of weeks, I think your poetry might be best enjoyed after a long massage and a good dinner. ❤

      • Ha, shall I try and make it worse by admitting that I decided I had done right in signing up to the poetry workshop on the Sunday mostly because within ten seconds of your first reading on Friday my ears were totally in their happy place? I’ve never been a fan of poetry, but I do tend to respond better to it when it’s read to me — and you have an absolutely incredible way of reading poetry and prose aloud. I can only think offhand of one poetry reading I enjoyed more (and it’s mostly because I have a terrible sense of humour; one of my university lecturers was reading Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover” to us in class, and I was paying about absolute zero attention until the terribly wonderful moment it turned into something rather like one of Nick Cave’s murder ballads. Oh, I am a Bad Person!).

        …but I think I’ve now succeeded in stalking you quite enough, and ought to go back to pretending to write some more. ^_~

  3. I’m looking forward to “Magnum Opera 1: Magnum Opus”, by J. Preston, with bated breath. I predict an interstellar epic in which engineering and venery play equal parts – you could call it, after George O. Smith, “Venus Equilateral”!

    More seriously, though, thanks for playing such an active (and exemplary) part in my workshop, and I’m glad to hear yours went so well.

  4. It was really cool to read poetry with you Joanna and to chat and laugh along with you – you are a very funny and entertaining person! Scintillating conversation and repartee abounded – it must be your Aussie flair! Love it. I hope it’s not too long before we can once again share a bit of the limelight together, as well as some after-function conviviality.

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