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:
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.
Golden Weather (2004)
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.
11 Views of Auckland (2010)
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 ...)
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?
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:
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"
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"
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"
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"
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:""
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"
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"
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.