Going West, and loving it

Back from my weekend in Greymouth,and I had a fabulous time. And, strangely, I may not have been the only one.

For starters, the venue was amazing. The Left Bank Art Gallery used to be a Bank of New Zealand branch – one of those lovely old buildings, the same style as the old Post Office building in Cathedral Square. But the nifty thing is that they’ve whitewashed letters, so that what you read is “A New Land”. And the inside is lovely too – great high ceilings, and lots of light and space and air. And an amazing collection of art works, including some gorgeous jade carvings, and lovely paintings. Three pieces in particular that really caught my attention were two paintings by Rachael Hirabayashi, the first of the “Pioneer Series” and “Under the Lake”; and “Waterpill”, a sculpture by Rory McDougall. I would have happily brought any of them home with me … except I have no wall-space anywhere (occupied by bookcases instead). But “Under the Lake” is exactly what I was trying to do with my poem “The Lake” … and if I’d had my brain working properly, I would have said so during the reading.

Speaking of which … the reading was really well attended. The great and good of Greymouth – including two local politicians – all came out on what was a rather unpleasantly wet and windy night. And it was one of those nights that just felt really fun. The audience seemed happy to be there, laughed at my jokes, applauded the poems. And bought books too, which is always a pleasing confirmation. (Some people even left the venue to get money, and still returned.)

Jokes aside, I was humbled by the warmth of the audience. I had half expected most of the crowd to be there to hear the two High School acts (who were pretty darn good), but they all stayed, and most came up to me at some point during supper to say that they’d enjoyed the poems. I still don’t quite understand how I managed to get that sort of response, but a huge part of the credit must go to Greg O’Connell, who spent the last six weeks publicising, organising, and fund-raising. He even managed to get sponsorship from local businesses to cover the costs … hats off to Greg, and to all the businesses of Greymouth who put their money where my mouth is (so to speak). Again, departing from joke-mode, Greymouth should be seriously proud. It’s not every town that puts such a high store on the arts. Although as Greg told me, the West Coast has the highest proportion of artists per head of population of any district in New Zealand, so it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

The next day was the Poetry 101 class. For the first time, I was teaching more men than women – 5 to 3! And again, it was incredibly well organised. Lunch was catered, and Greg had even arranged for a mobile coffee van to station itself nearby. And then there was the cake … truly, I wasn’t this spoilt at my own booklaunch! All seemed to enjoy the class, and everyone produced at least one really good piece of work, which counts as a definite win in my book. And to top it all off, there was a gift-box, filled with chook/DarkFeatheredArt-themed gifts from the Word of Mouth poetry group and the weekend’s sponsors. (Did I mention that I was also extremely – verging on obscenely – well remunerated?)

In short, if you ever get invited to Greymouth for a reading, class, or anything even slightly arty, (and especially if Greg or the Word of Mouth guys are involved) – leap at it. Go West, young poets. You’ll thank me for it.

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