Saturday, November 09, 2013

Hawkes Bay Poetry Conference (November 1-3)

My trusty steed

I had hoped to have a complete pictorial record of the conference, but unfortunately the camera died on me shortly after my arrival in Hastings, so you'll just have to put up with these few atmosphere shots of the journey down, rather than the complete rogues' gallery which might otherwise have been possible:

Morning: Distant View of the Hauraki Plains

Once upon a time these drives were as easy as pie for me. Now Auckland to Havelock North, 540 kilometres-odd, 6-hours-on-the-road, leaves me as weak as a kitten. Still, never mind, there were some treats on the way. This medley of images from Taupo, for instance:

Taupo: the lake

Taupo: the town

Margaret Sweeney's Great Feat

Go Margaret! And then there was my brief stop-over in Napier looking for second-hand bookshops (though actually the best one I found was in Hastings, just down Heretaunga St., near the city centre):

Napier: the sea

Napier: the town

And then there was the fact that my room in the (aptly-named) Angus Inn Hotel was full of Rita Angus prints (together with one by Frances Hodgkins):

Rita Angus: Fog, Hawkes Bay (1966-8)

Rita Angus: Boats, Island Bay (1961-2)

Frances Hodgkins: The Pleasure Garden (1933)

But what of the conference itself? Well, it seems invidious to single out particular participants and readers from so many: four full plenary poetry readings, each with 12 ten-minute slots; four discussion panels, each with four speakers and a chair; a brilliantly inspiring opening reading by the poet laureate, Vincent O'Sullivan, together with a fine speech at the Saturday "working lunch" by Harry Ricketts ... I also enjoyed the trip to John Buck's Te Mata winery, so long associated with the poet laureateship (in fact, it might be said to have begun there).

It was a banquet, a feast, of all sorts of poetry: performance, personal, professional and perfunctory. I felt myself flagging at times, but as time went on it began to feel as if something was actually happening here, as if the sheer experience of immersion was having some cumulative effect.

Thanks to the organisers, Bill Sutton in particular, but also his able lieutenants from the Hawke's Bay Live POetry Society: Marie Dunningham, Trish Lambert, Dave Sharp, Carole Stewart and all the others who helped with the small groups sessions and the lunchtime discussion on Saturday (apologies for anyone I've left out).

It was wonderful to run into so many old friends: Rosetta Allan, Fiona Farrell, Bridget Freeman-Rock, Siobhan Harvey, Janet Newman, Sugu Pillay, Vivienne Plumb, Helen Rickerby, Barry Smith, and (of course) Alistair Paterson. Also to make some new ones (many of them people I'd corresponded with but never met): Doc Drumheller, Benita Kape, Maris O'Rourke, Nicholas Reid, Gus Simonovic, Pat White, Niel Wright ... together with many others.

I'll conclude, then, with a little verse I found myself scribbling during one of the sessions (I won't say which one):

The Counterfeiters

All New Zealand poetry
is crap

said David Howard's pal
on our ritual roadtrip north
to the Unicorn Bookshop

Oh I don't knowThere's Smithyman

He wasn't impressed
of you are trying to be as good
as Jenny or Billnot Homer or


I had to admit he had
a pointbut what street-cred did
he have?
He'd spent the whole journey
wanking on
about André Gheed ...


I have to say that that remark from David's friend has stayed with me, which is the main reason I saw fit to share it with the assembled poets at the conference. What's wrong with setting our sites a little higher than the norms we've become accustomed to?

If these kinds of meetings become more common among New Zealand poets, who's to say what we mightn't achieve in the future? Right now my hopes are particularly high.

Postscript (23/11/13):

Here are some pictures of the event, taken (for the most part) by photographer and poet Carole A. Steward, and posted on facebook by the irrepressible Gus Simonovic:

Janet Newman introduces the panel on
Form and Content in Contemporary Poetry:
r-to-l: Ben Fagan, Niel Wright, Jack Ross, Mary-Jane Duffy & Gail Romano.

Jack spouts on

The redoubtable Alistair Paterson

On the road to the Te Mata winery:
(note Gus Simonovic on the left, & Jack talking to Nicholas Reid in the middle distance)

John Buck shows us round the winery


Benita said...

Thank you Jack for sharing your impressions of Hawkes Bay Poetry Conference. What an incredible audience. Hugely honoured to have been a part of it. The Hawkes Bay team certainly did poetry- New Zealand poetry and poets proud.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Thanks Benita,

It was certainly very nice to meet you again and reminisce about the Tauranga Poetry Festival in 1998 (was it?)

best, jack

Helen Rickerby said...

"I felt myself flagging at times, but as time went on it began to feel as if something was actually happening here..." My thoughts exactly! I was sure I would have to sneak out often because surely I wouldn't be able to sit through _that much_ poetry. And I did feel a bit battered by it at some points, but I did feel like something was happening. I found that there was such an openness and positivity, and joy and love and stuff even, perhaps. I've been trying to put my finger on just what it was that was happening - especially after what you said in your reading - and it occurs to be now that perhaps there was an uncharacteristic lack of cynicism. I also enjoyed the lack of hierarchy about the whole thing. I think only the poet laureate got any more time than anyone else.

Benita said...

I think you've done a good summing up Helen. I think also a lack of intrusion on the part of the organisers, other than time-keeping and a little housekeeping from time to time. Variety, I suppose, kept me alert. The fact that it was left to find its own dynamics.

Richard said...

Vincent O'Sullivan is the Laureate now? He is a considerable writer. The first thing I read by him was 'Let the River Stand'. He read at Poetry Live one night in 2009, and it was well received. Good to see Alistair Patterson is still getting about.

The 'All NZ Poetry is Crap' is the kind of provocative thing said. We are still a little on the 'outside'. But it doesn't matter.

I have only read a few lines of Gide's diary, which I got as James Schuyler praises that in his poems. But nothing else by Gide.

Some of the poetry coming via the University Presses is not that good. Or maybe not my cup of tea. But we have many great poets (and other literary people), young and old.

Certainly we have to look to other writers outside NZ.

I don't like driving long distances (especially as mostly I proceed in old dodgy cars). It can be quite tiring.

In 1968 I drove from Auckland to down their and back through the Ureweras and then I decided to go to Kaitaia and back to Auckland. Possibly the longest road trip I have ever done. When I was in Auckland the (even then) old Austin A40, broke an axle. The British cars were never that good. But I had given it a good workout! The rough roads especially in the Ureweras I think did the trick.

Thanks for the report. The vistas look great.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Bill Sutton has written in (via David Howard) to say:

"Dear David,

Yes sleep, and getting away for a few days, has had its beneficial effects. I'm starting to get restless again. And now have nearly finished catching up with the torrent of post-conference emails.

Thank you for your kind remark, and for referring me to Jack Ross's blogspot. I am normally very backward in consulting such sources, but this was especially helpful. As luck would have it, Jack's 10 minutes of poetry was almost the only plenary contribution I missed hearing most of, because I was being interviewed by a HBToday journalist. It was worth it to read her report the next day, with two nice colour photos.

Several people have talked about starting to feel 'something important' was happening. And I'd like to think I was one of the first to voice this, as MC on the Saturday evening, when I referred to getting a 'second wind' for poetry in the middle of the 3rd plenary session, and the feeling of collegiality that had developed.

We must build on this achievement before it is seized by the powers that be, and the other powers that would be, for their own purposes. Which are, one suspects, only very loosely aligned with poetry.

Best regards, Bill Sutton"