Just back from my trip to the deep South as part of the Southland Arts Festival. I had an absolute ball.
The events I was part of were organised through the Dan Davin Foundation, which does a fabulous job of promoting literature in Southland. The reading (‘Poetry in the Stack’) was first, and I was sharing the stage with Tim Jones, my stablemate Kay McKenzie Cooke, and Invercargill poet Lynley Dear (who wrote a poem a week for the Southland Times for fifteen years!). Most poets are used to numbers at readings being small, with the usual rule of thumb being that it’s a good turnout if audience members outnumber readers, and very good if they outnumber the combined total of readers, readers’ partners and members of the organising committee. So it genuinely was a pretty good turnout. Especially considering that we were on at the same time as the Breakers’ basketball final, AND the Highlanders playing the Blues in rugby. Oh, and there was something or other going on in Blighty that seemed to be on TV a bit. Something about a dude and a dress …Both Tim and Kay have new books on the way, so it was great to get a sneak preview. After the reading we retired to a local pub for dinner (and to watch the end of the basketball). I ended up sitting next to Hamesh Wyatt, who is that rarest of rare creatures: a poetry reviewer. We had long discussions about books we loved, books we loathed, the horrible things that can be done to poetry and the overlap between reading, writing and the proper pouring of Guinness. (Although it’s possible that the last conversation was one I had with myself – it was late; and I had a surprisingly large number of empty glasses in front of me.) Hamesh had reviewed The Summer King for the ODT – a pretty damn good review too. Not (just) because it was positive, but because he’d really thought about the poems, and what I’d tried to do in the collection. So meeting him and being able to pick his brains a bit about how he goes about the reviewing process was the icing on my already very-well-garnished cake.
Next morning was Tim’s Speculative Fiction workshop. People just kept coming and coming, and Tim had to keep stopping to go find more tables and chairs. Big spread of ages too – there were three or four kids (around 14 years old or so), as well as an interesting assortment of men with beards, women with glasses (not only me), and men with both glasses and laptops (but not beards). Tim put us through a couple of writing exercises, and I think everyone finished the afternoon feeling strong urges to get themselves to a quite corner to start work on their various Magna Opera. (Damn you Tim, I’m going to have to clone myself.)
My workshop was the following day. Not quite so many people as Tim (she said, airily), but we had a great time rummaging through the poems. As usual, my ability to predict how long each section would take was shown to be a mixture of wild optimism and broken voodoo, but people who started the session quietly and nervously were wading in with great enthusiasm by the end. Can’t ask for more than that.
On the way to the airport I had a lovely long talk with festival super-organiser Rebecca Amundsen about other ideas she has for the festival’s future. Let’s just say that there are some seriously good plans in the works, I’m jealous as hell, and I’m going to be keeping an eye on GrabbaSeat around this time next year!
The chickens were some of the Funky Chickens on display around the city. I so wanted to bring one of them home with me …