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:
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:
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):
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):
All New Zealand poetry
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'd spent the whole journey
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.
André Gide: The Counterfeiters [Les faux-monnayeurs] (1925)
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.
On the road to the Te Mata winery:
(note Gus Simonovic on the left, & Jack talking to Nicholas Reid in the middle distance)