Wednesday night was the first session of the CPC Spring Poetry in Performance Readings in their new venue, the CPIT Students’s Association Hall. As was inevitable, there were lots of earthquake poems. In some ways the surprise was that there was anything other than earthquake poems in the open mic section! It really hit me all over again just how much hunger there is out there for work about the quake – not voyeuristic hunger (although there’s probably plenty of that too), but the real need to see and hear that someone has been able to capture what you/we’ve been going though and put it into words. Community is part of it – the knowledge that we aren’t alone in our grief and anger. But also there’s some sort of reassurance in finding that it is possible to use words, to use poetry to tame and contain some of this … this thing that has swallowed us up. This thing that we’re living through, and seeing the world through.
For some reason I keep thinking of Jonah and the whale – don’t try and pursue the metaphor too far, but it’s that sense of being swallowed, and the experience putting a palpable barrier between all of us and the world that still exists outside. Of being still in the middle of it, however well we superficially seem to be going on with our lives. And because some people – and we’re among the lucky ones – are lodged somewhere not too bad, perhaps tucked in behind the baleen plates (assuming it’s the right sort of whale) and well-anchored there (well, at least until the whale takes its next gulp). And then there are others who are treading water in the whale’s stomach, and slowly being dissolved. (I did say not to follow the metaphor too far.) Poor city. Poor province. Poor people. (Poor whale.)
Driving in to the readings was yet another exercise in loss and shock. Every time I go through that part of town there’s a newly cleared space, and you try to remember what building it was that used to be there. I think the sight of the Basilica is still probably the worst (and the picture doesn’t even come close) – something about those shattered concrete angels, the way it looks as though any god that ever lived there has abandoned them. And us. Then you see the section of dome nestled in the grass, like an egg tipped out of its nest. You just want to gather everything up into your arms and weep over it.
And then, when I was safely inside the hall, listening to the poems, there was another reminder. No, not another tremor. But from where I sat, when I turned my head to the left I was looking straight at the Grand Chancellor as the sun was going down. There were no ghostly fingers of doom stretching across the city – nothing so melodramatic. Just … an inescapable reminder. It’s the only tall building left in that part of the viewscape too now, and it looked so lost and tired.
It was appropriate that the Open Mic winner was an earthquake poem – Ian McCartney, with a beautiful piece. I don’t think Ian could hear it, but when he finished reading there was one of those moments when everyone just sighed together. A really good example of ‘tell the truth, but tell it slant’, and how healing that can be for the listeners, as well as the writer.
And we’ve finally had our house given the once-over by EQC. It was a bit of a comedy of errors to begin with (don’t ask), but two or so hours later they were done. It’s quite nerve-wracking – they check every single wall, use torches and laser sights to see all the cracks and bumps and bulges that you had no idea were there. The result? Our house is fine, but is well into the Fletcher Zone – between $10,000 and $100, 000 worth of damage. (The phrase used was that we were over the $10K threshold “by a country mile”.) So now we just wait for the official documentation of all the defects to arrive, and then it’s a case of working with Fletcher (or an accredited tradesman) to get the work done. I think every room in the house pretty much is going to need to be given some work, as well as the brick cladding outside needing to be redone in a couple of big chunks. Unfortunately the one room I desperately want to rip out and redo – the upstairs bathroom – has almost no damage at all. (Curses!)
And no, we weren’t the 100,000th inspection. (Sigh!)
I’ll leave you with a link to some of the most recent footage of the Red Zone. If you know – or knew – Christchurch at all, it’s quite bewildering. If you haven’t been to the city before it just looks like any demolition site. Until they pan past a building with broken windows and shredded curtains.
See you at next week’s reading.