On National Poetry Day, last Friday night, I attended a reading by 6 NZ poets in the Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland city. This was a popular event - around 60 people attended - and in the black foyer the poets reading under a spotlight rose to the occasion.
As a regular event organised by Siobhan Harvey, this was MC'd by Penny Summervale and Rosetta Allen. The theme of this reading was autobiography in poetry, which prompted comments from the poets and the choice of poems.
Readings began with John Pule, who read several poems in a shy but entertaining fashion, including a moving one for his father - "the rising saliva of misfortune."
Sue Fitchett was next, and quoted Milosz, saying "we do not witness our poetry, our poetry witnesses us." She was a confident performer, using concrete gestures as though laying her words down on the paper as she spoke. She commented on her poems as bones in a lot of white space, so that the reader is prompted to see what is not there, not remembered or non-existant. As she read her sequences, each poem growing smaller, each surviving word became potent.
Iain Sharp was entertaining, possibly the audience's favourite of the evening, with his dry self-poking humour and expressive voice. He began with "The Iain Sharp Poem", commenting that a review by Lauris Edmond saying that his favourite subject was himself is true. Further poems were also entertainingly read, included this line "it's all crap anyway, he cackles, & scratches his protuberant gut."
Siobhan Harvey read next. She said that a newspaper had called her a Confessional poet, and that she would embrace that mantle & move on. She read several recent poems about her son, which had many striking lines, such as "his brain is fluent with storm / his tongue is slick with blue-bladed invective." Siobhan finished with her self-described motif poem, "Waiata tangi for Cris & Cru."
Riemke Ensing was a witty performer, clearly prepared for the evening, and gave a personal, open performance of several memorial poems, including for Charles Brasch ("certainly there's more to life than words & pounds of fudge to keep you satisfied") and her brother ("this almost impossible promise of spring"). Riemke commented that she had almost given up writing, but as a reader of her work, I hope that she will find that even though "conditions of writing could not have been more dangerous", this is when the truest and most alive work can happen.
The final reader was Harry Ricketts. Harry commented that the idea of autobiography in poetry began with the Romantics, quoting a critic that "Wordsworth liked to confess to virtue, Byron liked to confess to vice". His casual, energetic, even fidgety reading of several poems springing from a book in a secondhand bookstore, two paintings, and experiences with his son, showed that autobiography could be, as he mentioned, a spring to the creation of a poem, and not necessarily the content.
At the end of the evening, the results for the 2012 Emerging Poets Poetry Competition (Auckland University Press & Divine Muses IX) were announced, with first prize going to Elizabeth Welsh, and second prize to Alana Bruce. The judge's report by Anna Hodge can be read here