Monday, August 20, 2012

Stokes Point Revisited

Auckland Harbour Bridge
[photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd]

A couple of years ago I posted a photo-essay about Stokes Point in Northcote, scene of some proposed literary inscriptions celebrating certain late great North Shore writers ... I was therefore quite intrigued, on picking up the NZ Herald the other day, to discover that the project had indeed gone ahead:

The Stokes Point Pillars
[photograph: Stephen McNicholl (NZ Herald (26/7/12)]

Poetry and musings under the bridge downtown
[text: Matthew Dearnaley (NZ Herald]

Steve Mutton
[NZ Herald]

One reason it interested me is because I was one of the "literary experts" who advised on the choice of texts and authors for this "Trestle Leg Series," as it's now been called by artist Catherine Griffiths and landscape architect Cathy Challinor, who headed the project.

In fact, seven of the eight authors now up on those pillars were suggested by me, as well as five of the texts. The Transport Agency manager substituted his own choice of Smithyman poems, and so (I see from a recent blogpost) did the Janet Frame estate. Apart from the quote from Te Waatarauihi, the rest are more or less as they appear in the anthology Golden Weather: North Shore Writers Past and Present, co-edited by Graeme Lay and myself.

But really, who's counting? I had plenty of fun with the project - first shaping the choice of texts, then giving what I thought was quite an amusing account of the process of selection in an essay for yet another anthology: 11 Views of Auckland, co-edited (this time) by Grant Duncan and myself.

Having now paid a follow-up visit to Stokes Point, though, and despite Scott Hamilton's laudatory review of the whole project, I do have to say that I have my doubts. The graffiti has already started to appear (though I sincerely hope that the word "white", written under Robin Hyde's poem, was not meant as a comment on the whole tenor of the series ...)

first graffito of spring

Of course the plan was always to regenerate the whole park, and this avenue of "literary pillars" was never meant as much more than an invitation to sample the rest of the beauties of the reserve ... It's therefore only appropriate to reserve judgement until the whole thing's completed.

I am a little dubious about how well those texts are going to last, though. It's great to have some celebration of literary figures in Auckland to march the writers' walks in other cities (Wellington's waterfront, Dunedin's Octagon), but those texts have - for the most part - been cast in bronze. I realise that carving them onto the pillars would have been prohibitively expensive, but will this work as well?

In any case, I thought it was important to get a good look at them while they're fresh and new, just in case anything does happen to them along the way. There seem to be some people actually living in their vehicles under the bridge supports at present. How do they feel about this new tourist attraction?

the residents

One thing's for certain. I wouldn't have missed this Stokes Point project for the world. It's been so entertaining from start to finish that it richly makes up for all the hours I've spent on it, first to last. Judge for yourself:


the approaches
[all photographs: Bronwyn Lloyd]

a home away from home


You are being watched ...

the series starts small

... & ends big


1 - A. R. D. Fairburn, "The Cave"

Fairburn (a)

Fairburn (b)

Fairburn (c)

Extracts from A. R. D. Fairburn's poem, "The Cave." The letters in red are supposed to add up to some kind of continuing text, or at least that was the original idea. In this case it reads:
"the sea hoards its bones"

2 - Robin Hyde, "At Castor Bay"

Hyde (a)

Hyde (b)

It was quite difficult to find anything appropriate to quote from Robin Hyde. I know she only spent a short time on the Shore, but her stay in that bach in Castor Bay is also the subject of a memorable piece of prose, "A Night of Hell." The text chosen to be put in red here appears to be:
"autumn's pining"

3 - Janet Frame, "The Road to Takapuna"

Frame (a)

Frame (b)

My plan was to include something from Janet Frame's account of her stay with Frank Sargeson in the famous army hut at the back of his bach on Esmonde Road, but instead - in consultation with the Frame estate - they've put in an interesting, hitherto uncollected poem (at any rate I can't find it in either of her published volumes of poetry), "The Road to Takapuna." The text in red here is:
"we drain our thoughts into the sea"

4 - Kendrick Smithyman, "Building Programme"

Smithyman (a)

Smithyman (b)

Smithyman (c)

Smithyman (d)

Kendrick Smithyman was a great cat lover, so it seemed only appropriate that this very friendly moggie should come up to make our acquaintance as we photographed his poem. The text in red here is:
"the skyline is not what it was, nor are we"

5 - Te Waatarauihi (1860)

Te Waatarauihi (a)

Te Waatarauihi (b)

This korero by Te Waatarauihi, chief of Te Kawerau in 1860, is "addressed by the inclusion of speech punctuation," according to artist Catherine Griffiths. The text in red here is, accordingly:

6 - Frank Sargeson, "A Great Day"

Sargeson (a)

Sargeson (b)

Sargeson (c)

I did wonder if the project designers would have been quite so keen on this extract if they'd known that this particular Frank Sargeson short story ends with one man trying to drown another man on a reef out in the Rangitoto channel. It's a fine piece of writing, in any case. The text in red here reads:
"was another world"

7 - Maurice Duggan, "A Small Story"

Duggan (a)

Duggan (b)

I really love Maurice Duggan's work, and it was a great satisfaction to include him in this series. The text in red here reads:
"each day had its own rules"

8 - Bruce Mason, "The End of the Golden Weather"

Mason (1)

Mason (2)

Mason (3)

I don't feel any compunction about including this piece from Bruce Mason's immortal one-man play, but I am rather sorry that we couldn't find room for his equally great namesake R. A. K. Mason. The text in red here reads:
"they threw them all together in a heap and stepped ashore"

So there you are. Was it all worth it? Only time will tell. For the moment, though, I do urge you to drive over and check it out if you live anywhere near here. There can be few such projects to be seen anywhere, I'd have thought.


Pamela Gordon said...

Hi Jack, I didn't actually discuss in my blog the fact that the Frame estate had substituted another Frame quote for the project, so thanks for raising the subject. To our eyes, the original selection stood out as quite inappropriate to the wider project, for two reasons: the excerpt didn't talk about the physical environment of the Shore at all, it was focussed entirely on an apparent submission of Janet Frame to Frank Sargeson's superior writing prowess, and it also misrepresented the passage it had been excised from, by having the sting in its tail cut away. Here's the proposed quote for the pillar:
>>In spite of my caution, I had been sure that as soon as I came into the room he would say, ‘I’ve read your story. It’s good. Congratulations.’
Mr Sargeson poured two glasses of his favourite Lemora wine and I sat on the high wooden stool opposite him while we drank our wine.
‘I read your story,’ he said. He took the pages, scanned them, and read aloud, ‘“Every morning she rose . . .”’ He looked sternly at me. ‘Rose? Went up to heaven, I suppose? Why not say, simply, “she got up”. Never use rose.’
I listened contritely, realising that ‘rose’ was unforgivable.<<

(Janet Frame, from An Angel at My Table)

And here's the rest of the passage that would not have been included on the pillar, and which completely changes the meaning of the above, and establishes the moment at which Frame (fortunately) realised that Sargeson was not 'on the same page' as her, and that she was best not letting him interfere with her work. Quite a different impression to the Bowdlerised quote!:

>>‘The story is quite good of its kind,’ Mr Sargeson said. I felt a surge of disappointment. I resolved not to show him more stories, and I kept my resolve, later showing him only the beginning of my novel.<<

Frame wrote many marvellous descriptive pieces about the North Shore. We presented a range of these for consideration.

As I said in my blog post, Frame's associations with the North Shore preceded and outlasted her friendship with Frank.

The 'Golden Weather' anthology that you drew the qwuotes from had unfortunately already been printed in 2004 before the Frame estate was able to make the point that there would have have been less hackneyed ways to represent Frame's literary relationship with the Shore than to dredge up the old chestnut of Saint Frank and Janet the handmaiden.
Cheers, Pamela

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Pamela,

The poem certainly seems more appropriate to this context.

best, jack

Richard said...

It looks lie a great project Jack. The graffiti is a part of the process, as is deterioration and weathering. It's a start. More local writers to come?

Good on you for doing a lot of the work on those anthologies etc

Did R A K Mason live over there in his later years? He originally from Penrose. I also love Bruce Mason's TEOTGW (and the movie, have you seen it?) and R A K I sued to read over and over as teenager.

I've also read a lot of Frame but I felt that Sargeson was the better writer overall (although he and Mansfield specialized in short stories). But it is many years since I read her books so I may have forgotten.

A good project - great to see. It adds depth. The engineering beauty of the bridge combined the beauty of art and literature.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

I don't know if there will be more. It'll be interesting to see if they extend the series ...

Yes, Ron Mason lived on the shore for most of his later life. Out the back of Mairangi Bay, in Matipo Rd, at one stage.

I originally had a passage from Hone Tuwhare's great elegy for Mason earmarked for one of the pillars, but we weren't given permission to use it.

Richard said...

I once had chance to meet Mason but for some reason passed it up. It was in my "protesting days" and I had rather lost interested in writing at the time. But as a teenager I read his poems over and over. We also had Tuwhare's 'No Ordinary Sun' I have only read another book by Tuwhare ['Oooo...!!'] and to be honest it disgusted me, full of references to sex and eating food (which, unfortunately for the reader, he links to sex) and sensuality as if that was all life was or is.

But I haven't looked at his other books, I have seen his poems in anthologies.

But I do admire that first book.

Which book was the elegy in?

Bob Orr also wrote a poem (he told me once he was going to) about Mason throwing his poems off the Auckland wharf.

The poem of Tuwhare's I would recommend is his one about how he worked as welder* (by the big doors) in his first book. I was going to train as a welder when I was at the Railways but I had to start as a gas cutter and it was hard to get a place.
I think Tuwhare is very significant poet like Curnow and the fact that he [Tuwhare] was a working class and a communist as Mason was, is probably the sticking point. Also, that has Maori AND very political and class conscious.

*Boilermakers use welding skills.

Dr Jack Ross said...

I actually think it might have been better if Oooo ...!!! had remained unpublished - it was late work, and so far below the level of Tuwhare's earlier books.

I actually discuss his Mason elegy on one of my commentary pages on the Jacket2 site
[]. & I do know the other one you mean - a very fine piece.

Richard said...

That's great thing you did on Tuwhare (and Mason in Jacket2). Those poems of Hone are the ticket. he gets it right. At his best he was one of our best (poet and person).

Telling poems about Mason. Just right.

I probably told you the story of my meeting him and finding that he too had written poetry on the railway wagons at the Railway Workshops. I was there in 1969, he in 1929! He said that he was writing a poem on there once (in chalk) and some one said "Who do you thing you are, Shakespeare?" and he said "Who's he?" (he really didn't know at the time). We had a good laugh at that (mind you it was good answer even if he DID know)...!

Ralph Hotere is a great artist. I must get that book Mihi.