Monday, December 27, 2010
smells like warm ewe
you take my hand
lead me over its spine
to our bed moored
in the small
of the back
now we are riding a raft
the sky is golden cream
the sheep gently arches
outside the buses
arrive, unload, reload, depart
there’s light rain
inside we make our own weather
Monday, December 20, 2010
Susan and I are swapping poems as part of the Tuesday Poets "Secret Santa". Susan hails from Portland, Maine - so I'm very excited to be gifting poems across the other side of the world! Her poem is deceptively simple, and paints an innocent picture on the surface. But I love the way the dark and narrow "base" reveals itself to us as we read, jerking us back and then forward in time. You can read more about Susan (she does many more things than just poetry!) on her blog here. Which is also where you can find my poem, posted on her page!
Thursday, December 2, 2010
tick tock tick tock
so short a time
to remember 29 lives.
five days of hope
stretching longer and longer
thinner and thinner
And now we stand here
in the street
beside our cars
listening to birdsong
Two minutes of our lives to consider
years that others have lost
words stopped mid sentence/mid larynx/mid thought
by the sudden sharp cough of methane
No more than the earth's reflex
as we, like Maui
climb steadily along the innards
seeking the black richness of her intestines
grinding out her insides
rolling in the dark muck
while some outside
chuckle over their billions
and poor people in China
wait for coal.
But to ask why
and for what
and to where
is for another day.
Today I give you two minutes of my words
to remember all those you have lost.
It was declared that today the nation would observe two minutes of silence to commemorate those lost in the Pike River explosion. I was painting the house when the radio fell silent. It seemed too short for two minutes, and soon after RadioNZ Concert announced "a return to normal programming" which included a moving clarinet concerto and a news item about how the traffic in Napier (Napier?) stopped and you could hear the birdsong. Somehow all this mixed in my head and this is the result. I performed it tonight, on K Rd, under a smooth grey sky and to the rhythm of an electric guitar and some drums.
As a matter of interest, I'm not the only one writing poems about Pike River - this effort has reached $315 on Trademe so far. Just goes to show how people still reach for poetry when it comes to expressing extreme grief or joy.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.
Translated by Coleman Barks
I was in Wellington on Sunday and went to see the exhibition on at the City Art Gallery - Roundabout. An amazing feast of ideas. My attention was caught by this poem, written on a wall in explanation of the exhibition's themes. I love the way it circles, eventually distilling its wisdom of what it means to be human.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
OK, so this post is a little late, but I feel justified as I've been writing a poem-a-day for a week. Well, ditties, actually. They are my tribute to my friend and fellow poet, Chris Tse, who to overcome his hereditary trichoincompetence has pledged to wear a different designer moustache every day in "Movember" and raise money to battle men's health issues. You can see his blog here. And if you click on the comments section, you'll see my silly rhymes.
I'm working in Blenheim this week and one of the galleries is showing a selection of works and words by Claire Beynon, a fellow Tuesday Poet. It's a wonderful collision/collusion of words, paint,image and idea - and there's reference to blogs, too. Check out her blog, Waters I have Known.
Monday, November 1, 2010
surrounded by shards
into the shower
emerge from the foam
naked and once again
the suit fits
but sits askew
my face different
under this sky
that tumbles pink painted blooms
as I drive to work
it seems familiar
but even the seagulls screech differently
and once more
the teeth of the sea
turn into tongues
this isn’t really your place.
Tasmania, September 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
he treasures this
tenderly grazes it
and ancient hi-fis
holds it like a flag
before his daughters
tells them they must
go to university
so they can care for him when he’s old.
he has made his name
of human breath
knows each rhonchi
by its sound
feels the depression
of young ribs
his rosewood desk
he can give back
the lightness of air
it was a chair
it did not need
he touched its curves
added a cushion
it became his throne
on long days
it called to him
when he sat down
he smelt incense
and dumplings cooking
in ancestral halls.
he left the towers
of Hong Kong
their 1970s beehives
asked his lady
to trust him
with a flat tyre
on a backroad
some Maoris stopped
he was worried at first
he still hates the thought
of force-fed pavlova.
in his daily life
tells his three daughters
to walk every day
always to breathe
and stay happy
at night he checks email
for news of his mother
keeps his passport
knows he could leave
at any time.
he tells his siblings
become more important
as you age
he likes to think
they still listen
to their older brother
once a year they return
home like birds
fight like tigers
eat like pigs
kiss their mother
hope for another year.
More of my Human Archeology series, this time in honour of my dad. It was at times difficult, renegotiating the relationship between us as I gradually claimed my adulthood. But it's beeen worth it, and as I get older I realise more and more what my dad had to give up (and still deals with) to give us a life in NZ. This is posted in honour of my dad, and of the Metonymy exhibition, which has just finished with a memorable performance night.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I agree absolutely the matter of Asian immigration
Demands serious attention. After all, Mr P Brown, the true definition
Of a true blue Kiwi, like yourself, is, firstly,
A love of the All Blacks. Not in the literal sense
Unless you’re down the Loaded Hog on Friday night,
But I mean, really love the All Blacks, who were robbed
Of their right to the World Cup.
Secondly Mr P Brown, I know you can sing
The national anthem in both English and Maori
After all, true blue Kiwis like yourself, Mr P Brown,
Can. Maori is, of course -
the language of those poor bottom dwelling bastards
soon to be displaced by 'mini societies of Asians'.
And we all know the Asians rob people.
It was probably them that robbed the All Blacks.
And now they’ll rob
Those poor brown people of their rightful place to be
At the bottom of New Zealand society.
I feel your pain, I really do, Mr P Brown. I feel it here.
Better, far better, to have a flood of brown people here
With a name like Mr Brown, Mr P Brown, who can blame you
For being a defender of the poor oppressed in our society.
Like Winston Peters, who’s never played the race card, ever.
He’s brown. And you work with other brown people too.
They clean your office toilet, flush your shit down the loo.
An Asian cleaning your loo just wouldn’t be patriotic, would it,
Mr P Brown?
There’s no telling what the Asians would do if they became
Substantial. The greater the number,
The greater the risk.
Sell substandard goods from China?
Our Prime Minister’s only a woman,
She couldn’t tell the difference.
Real quality is Kiwi-made. Macpac packs, Pumpkin Patch.
Those Asians will never integrate.
All they’re interested in are the A’s and
Sending their kids to our best schools.
Their kids won’t ever be Kiwis.
Having them here would only cause
Division, resentment and friction. And not the kind
Of friction you get, Mr P Brown,
By putting your hands down your pants.
Oh and – you can always tell an Asian by the way they look.
They’re yellow, you see. Squinty eyes, and
always in the library. None of them can drive.
And none of them speak
English properly. That brings me to my third point –
All true blue kiwis speak English, don’t they,
Mr P Brown? Even the brown people.
They signed the Treaty in English, after all.
And my last point, the most important. A true blue
Kiwi is born here, Mr P Brown, right here on this soil,
Part of the whenua, they say. So people
Not from this land have no chance
Of integrating into our just, free, and above all,
Tolerant society. No chance at all, Mr P Brown.
I mean, we wouldn’t want a mini-London
On our hands, would we, Mr Brown?
There’s no telling what they’d do,
These immigrants. They should never have been allowed in.
There’s no telling what they’ll say next.
I'm obviously not done with political poetry. So I found this recently.... a poem I wrote and posted in 2008 after the (now happily silent) Peter Brown of NZ First let loose some flatulent comments regarding Asian immigration. Unlike the current limp-wristed response, his comments immediately and deservedly drew a retort from media and National party members. I ended up performing this poem a lot - always to a delighted and sympathetic response.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Have to say something for Paul Henry. He's done a great job of getting me riled up and off my arse to write. Here's a blog just posted for The Big Idea - in which I discuss what role artists and poets have in responding to current events. And that last poem was fun, but not nearly as cathartic as I'd like. I feel a rant slam poem coming on.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Man (interrupting excitedly): Mandarin!
ME: huh? No. The avocados...
Man: (pointing) No? No. Cantonese.
Me: I just want one avo...
Man: (stabbing with one finger) Fujian!
Why would you think I was from Fujian?
Man: Oh, well there's this guy at work, see. Mr Lee. He's from Fujian. He doesn't speak Cantonese or Mandarin, he speaks Fujian...nese.
Er right, fifty cents.
Me: Um, I can't remember the right response...
Man: Never mind, jie jen, see you again.
Me: Er, um ok, see you again.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Paul’s such a dag, he’s such a lark
He’s never serious, never thinks
Why get so mad it’s just a laugh
You PC types are all so daft
It’s light relief – no call to think
Paul’s such a dag, he’s such a lark
Don’t blame it on the TV staff
They don’t like audiences to think
Why get so mad it’s just a laugh
Don’t let those cheeky darkies start
Their claims that Kiwis need to think
Paul’s such a dag, he’s such a lark
Immigrants like him? Pure class
It’s guys like him who make us think
But don’t be mad it’s just a laugh
The world’s a place that’s far too hard
I’d like to teach my kids to think
Paul’s such a dag, he’s such a lark
Why get so mad it’s just a laugh
Ironic that one of my first attempts at a villanelle (one of the more intellectual and difficult forms) would be prompted by Paul Henry, but that's what indignant anger will do! I thought the villanelle would be a good form because of its repetition. It also gives me an excuse to post a (hand covers mouth) rhyming poem, something which seems oddly appropriate for a poem about TV.
In case you haven't been following, English immigrant Paul Henry, host of TVNZ's Breakfast programme, asked John Key yesterday on live TV whether our Governor General, NZ-born Sir Anand Satanyand, was "even a New Zealander". Our valiant PM's only response was a weak laugh. Apart from a villanelle, my response is a strangled Gaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
pretty, who swallowed a cherry?
they watched her
while her throat narrowed
to the size of a bullet.
the tongue of the clock
was pulled out by time.
the hands slid to the ground
and lay there, exhausted.
the silken arytenoids
in the forbidden castle
were drawn closed,
in the dimmed drawn breath
of the hospital room,
the flower children watched
their garlands wither.
four men came to see
the golden-haired princess.
they knelt down on top of her
and fed her life through a tiny tube.
they plucked her cherry
out by the pip
and pipped death
at the post,
they gave her the kiss of life,
and the princess awoke.
In one of the stranger reversals of my writing career so far, the above poem was recently published as a case report in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, complete with a picture and commentary by a distinguished infectious diseases expert. I wrote the poem a few years ago after seeing a real case.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
she’d get lost
in the twists
of his gyri
and he’d refuse
navigation was never
her strong point anyway
but it was worth it
for the days
they both went
in the same direction.
once he could run
beyond the streets
of Blockhouse Bay
in and out
of the bellows
knees like pistons
but these days he’s
feeling his advanced age
of thirty three
says he’ll marry her
since he can’t run
one for sitting still
one for walking
one for sleeping
one for standing
the pigeons throw
shadows on the walls
he sees the wallpaper
knows it’s time
to change it
he likes watching
unfurl from the earth
feels them moving
as he runs
feels as if he holds
the earth in his arms
knows he’ll fight
with his life
to watch her
their new house
there’s a puriri tree
with a broken swing
and two ducks
who may one day
his mother approves
of all these details
whether a bunny
on the lawn.
they don’t agree
about the dog
or the tiles
in their kitchen
he doesn’t agree
with her taste
for the wedding
but he doesn’t say
what matters is the way
she moves her mouth
on his lips
the pigeons perve
through the window
as they strip.
This is one of the sets of sonnets for my project with artist Paul Woodruffe, selected for Metonymy 2010. Our project, called Human Archaeology, investigates the layers of history around each individual, and the stories they tell about themselves and the people close to them. There are ten slipcast ceramic figures in all - two representing myself and Paul, and the rest representing people dear to us - "companion figures", if you like. Mark is my fiance.
People are encouraged to "excavate" the mummies, delving past the surface and into their cavities where they will find these poems. If you're in Auckland, please visit the exhibition at Corban Estate Arts Centre in Henderson - there are 25 works where an artist has worked with a poet or writer to produce a completely new piece - all very different and surprising! And 56 pairs worked together in total - some of the pairs also produced performances which will be showcased in their lovely ex-church, on Saturday 16th Oct.
Please go to Tuesday Poem for more poetic goodness!!
Friday, September 10, 2010
The reason I quibble is that I think we are moving out of that generation now. I mix with a lot of fresh, joyously vibrant 20-somethings (and feel old and somewhat like I'm hiding my true age sometimes). Many of them are doing arts as their first career choice and have supportive, proud parents.
My parents are supportive too - in a slightly confused way - they're still not too sure about the path I'm taking, but they see that it makes me happy. I'm also different to Andrew and Alison in that I did actually take the professional path first. And that wasn't due to goading from my parents (although people assume that all the time). I really wanted to be a paediatrician, I chased the dream and enjoyed it, and it was only after I knew I'd get there that I realised I needed something else too.
So... are Asian artists more tortured than Western artists on this? I don't really think so, particularly not today. We're still underepresented in the NZ arts community, but rapidly growing as a group, and in a diverse range of fields. Yay!
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
crammed into a small island
Big trucks on Big roads
drawing tight bands
across the belly of the land,
land that shudders
at the memory
of natives driven to destruction
trees this year
not this election year.
Big heaters and Big power bills
to keep those home fires burning
Big people in Big houses
staring at the empty sea,
by all this space.
Tuesday crept up on me so apologies for posting a 'raw' poem which still needs a little baking. I've been working on the northern coast of Tasmania recently, and this poem explains a little of what I've been hearing and feeling - it's a lovely coastal spot, but marred by history and the fact that the big multinationals still have so much power here. They're pulping the native forests and mining in the National Park and the majority of the local population seem more interested in talking about their new cars and houses. I suppose NZ's not much better...
Monday, August 9, 2010
I've just joined a new online poetry group, Tuesday poem . It's a wonderful way to get a fresh injection of poetic energy going into midweek (though I can't remember the last time I worked a "normal" 40-hour week). And for those of us with lazy poetic bones, it's a great stimulus for a stretch!
So: here's my inaugural 'Tuesday poem': actually a set of six sonnets, written as part of a larger project studying the archaeology of the person.
dive for words
read the pulsation
forget you can’t
what you call memories
others call dreams
you reach out
she once learnt
to tell the direction
of the wind
by wetting her finger
holding it up
to the sky
trying to understand
what cold was
now she’s been
that heart attacks
that blood must balance
on both sides
a healthy heart
tilts face upwards
like a question.
inside the liver
there are many suns
an inland river
ships and towns
factories and abattoirs
a small girl standing
at a frosted window
a smiley face
that first day
she stood alone
in the playground
wet the wood chips
the following week
some big boys
she lost her first tooth
after that she learnt
to keep her mouth shut
her words whole
later spat them out
the principle of
exchange is like
two lovers kissing
the old Toyota
a warm uterus
Visit Tuesday Poem for more poetic lusciousness...
Saturday, July 3, 2010
With the other Emerging Leaders and the Blake Medallist, Ray Avery.
With my personal spy, Mark
A couple of months ago I received a phone call at work from one Sir Ron Carter, one of NZ's iconic leaders. The news he had for me was (he said)very exciting but also top secret - so secret that even the hotel room was booked for me under a different name. But now the secret is out and I can reveal that I am a Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leader for 2010.
This is an important milestone, not only because I get a nice heavy trophy (for a rock it's very pretty) but because it's made me realise that I am being watched. Not in an uh-oh way, a nice way. Both my old school and my old university nominated me for this award. And though I'm still not sure what made them pick me over thousands of other achievers (was it the unusual arts-medicine work? the community involvement? the interesting path I took?), I am very, very grateful that people were looking out for me.
The wait gave me time to adjust my thinking. I was feeling weirded out for a while, and worried that the exposure from the award would affect the way I work. But now I've decided to think of it as a tap on the back. "You've been noticed, now step up and do some work."
There are a number of cool things I'm discovering. First, the award gives me a label. I'm now an "Emerging Leader", as identified by a nationally respected Panel. Though some aspects of that elitism sit about as uncomfortably as the corset I wore under my formal dinner gown, it does mean that people have some way to relate to me. This was illustrated by a "Women in Leadership" cocktail party I attended on Wednesday, in which I felt completely foreign. Nearly every other woman in the room was a CEO or high powered politician. They seemed puzzled that I was there, even though I'd taken off my scarf and had the foresight to put on makeup. But I was tailed around the room by the St Cuths staff (who were acting like proud mother hens) and when they introduced me to these powerful women as a Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leader, the fog cleared and everyone started talking to me. Bingo! The award is like being given the keys to a different part of the house, one I never really thought of exploring before. But it only opens the doors. I still have to walk through.
The second cool thing is that I get to talk. And I do like to talk. Apparently I'll start getting asked to go to schools and organisations to talk about leadership. I'm not exactly an expert(I've never really studied it). But the 'label' will give me the kind of believability that is also a huge responsibility. Yikes. As I said, I do like to talk, especially to kids, and watch them watch me openmouthed that a woman who moves her face so much when she talks could also be a leader... um, right, I'll stop talking now.
Posh Awards dinner - "after" photo
Thursday, June 10, 2010
NB: What I've posted below are my notes. In reality it went so fast I had no time to look down, so here's what I actually said....
I have a split personality. Sometimes I’m a poet, sometimes a short story writer, sometimes a performer, occasionally a novelist. Sometimes I’m a paediatrician and sometimes a researcher. You might think it’s difficult doing all these things but actually they support and enhance each other. I think of each skill as an item in a toolbox – so for each story or situation, I pick the best tool (or two.). Today I’d like to share a few waypoints on my personal journey, and show you some of my favourite tools.
1. My career as an artist is only three years old. Three years ago, I experienced an awakening – of sorts. Like many, it was triggered by a personal tragedy. After a period of numbness, I responded by trying to find the stories in my life that would hold me together.
2. So this is my crazy family – like all families, they are beautiful, mysterious, demanding, frustrating and energising – often all at the same time. This picture was taken by me on the day my nephew took his first steps. It was also a day when my family came together to celebrate the impending marriage of my youngest sister. And for me as a writer, this is where my stories start – the family.
3. And the female relationships in my family are often the most interesting. This is a recent photo of my aunty feeding my grandmother, who’s in her 90s. On my aunty’s lap is my grandmother’s great grandchild. In the background is my younger sister. So there are four generations of women in this photo. I’ve found that again and again I’m drawn to exploring interrelationships and the ties that bind – willingly or unwillingly. The bloodlines and what draws us together, as families, as humans.
4. So the first tool I discovered was poetry – on the page. I started making small chapbooks. This one was a family affair – with drawings by my sister and nephew, and poems about my family.
5. And I also found poetry – in performance. This is Tim Heath, one of my friends, in full performance mode at Poetry Live. He’s competing in one of the regular Poetry Slams. Poetry Live has been around in Auckland for thirty years and isn’t going away anytime soon! Currently it’s on at the Thirsty Dog in K’Rd on Tuesday nights starting at 8 pm – I’d encourage you to go along.
6. So then I discovered theatre. Here’s Jin Wenxin as the Daughter in Mask, the first of my short plays to be professionally produced in the Manawatu Festival of New Arts in 2008. As the playwright, I was inspired by the storytelling traditions of traditional Chinese Opera, although my knowledge of this is still from the position of an outsider. It helped me understand how to explore intergenerational relationships through the language of vision and movement as well as words – a new tool for my writer’s box.
7. This led to Lantern, my first full length play, produced in 2009. Unsurprisingly, it’s a family drama – based on a NZ-Chinese family. In the process of writing this play I was able to play with a multistranded, multicharacter approach to storytelling, over a longer period of time. I learnt ‘on the job’ how to construct narrative which benefited the novel I’d begun in 2007.
8. I also learnt about collaboration, in this case with a director and actors – leaving the space for others to ‘complete the gesture’. Here, Andy Wong and Li-Ming Hu embody a young NZ couple. I learnt how rehearsal needs a collaborative approach, but with recognised roles.
9. Collaboration also happens with the audience in theatre – in fact community involvement in storytelling is one thing that makes a story more powerful. This picture is of the Lantern Project, in which members of the public were encouraged to leave their own poems written on paper lanterns. Eventually over 400 small lanterns, with poems, covered the walls in The Basement theatre foyer. It was easy to get that many poems – stories need to be told.
10. There’s also a lot of collaboration within the arts community. This picture is from Metonymy, an “artistic blind dating” service dreamed up with fellow poet Christian Jensen and artists Hannah May Thompson and Makyla Curtis. We matched 33 pairs of artists and poets in both our first and second years, resulting in two well attended exhibitions, several new books, and a number of enduring partnerships.
11. Workshops and teaching have been another new skill set. Whenever I’ve been out at schools and the community to teach, I’ve found that the learning is two-way. Here some kids at the Glen Innes school holiday program at Youthtown do “visual poetry” in the form of chalking stories about themselves.
12. And there’s also performance in collaboration. During the People in Your Neighbourhood (2009) project organised by the British Council NZ, I had a brief moment as a rock star while performing with ghuzheng player Yao Chen and the UK-based Urban Soul orchestra. Here’s a picture of me performing at WOMAD to a crowd of over 5,000. The track – spoken word, traditional Chinese instrumentals and Western orchestrals – features on a CD and album downloadable free from the British Council website.
13. I find writing in collaboration very satisfying. Here I am with Robbie Ellis, Catherine Norton and Frances Moore, at the Bay of Islands Arts Festival a few weeks ago. Robbie set some of the poems from Banana, the chapbook I showed earlier, to music. Just to show we’re into mixing it up culturewise: the premiere of Seven Banana Songs took place in an 140 year old Anglican church, with a Chinese-kiwi poet and western composer and singer.
14. In my most recent project, I’ve found all these ‘tools’ coming together. This picture from historical archives shows survivors from the SS Ventnor, which was wrecked off the coast of the Hokianga harbour in 1902. The ship carried an unusual cargo – 499 coffins of Chinese who had come to NZ to work but had died before they could be repatriated to their home villages.
15. When I was exploring the strands of this story, I found myself back at the bloodlines – the ties that bind and connect us. This is an image used for promoting The Bonefeeder which is by Nagpuhi, Irish and Scottish artist Penny Howard – who traces her bloodlines back to the Hokianga. Penny and I met on Metonymy.
16. The Bonefeeder is the story of a young man who travels to the Hokianga in search of his great great grandfather’s bones. The play was first produced at the end of last year at Auckland University, and this picture shows Mike Ginn in the title role with Ben Teh as his much older relative…
17. …and the ghosts of dead miners haunting their every (mis)step. This project added another tool to my toolbox – direction. I was able to experiment with the traditions of Asian theatre and European forms such as Greek theatre, as well as physical theatre.
18. Doing this, I found out how to write poetry without words. Theatre is poetry on stage as well as on the page – working with all the elements – lighting, costumes, actors’ bodies.
19. I also collaborated with live musicians – a group called New Nature who I’d met through the People In Your Neighbourhood Project – and composer Andrew Correa. We’re currently excited about rehearsing for an outside ‘promenade’ version of the play, to be performed at the Hamilton Summer Gardens Arts Festival.
20. And this is my last image – a new baby awakening the stories and memories of her great grandmother. It’s a reminder that all the tools of a writer are no use without a story that matters. These are (for me) all family stories at their heart - The Bone Feeder is a ghost story that turned after several rewrites into a family drama.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
There were 130 of us, from 22 Pacific nations.
Princess Anne came to the closing plenary in Tonga, to watch and comment on our presentations.
The Fiji Study group presentation - a series of devised monologues with choreographed "dance" (I directed).
Baby Boa! (I liked - but not so everyone in my group).
Sweet arch...in a tunnel of sugar cane
Our welcome kava ceremony in Fiji.
The amazing, cool and totally wonderful Fiji Study group!!
Sunday, January 31, 2010
On Friday morning, I got up early, squashed the last few items into my suitcase, drove to the hospital, handed in my loan car keys, did the morning ward round, handed out some boxes of thank-you chocolates and left for Timaru airport. Seven hours and three planes later, I was in Kerikeri in the Far North, being the “walker” on stage for Nimby Opera’s lighting plot.
Being “on tour” with an opera company (for one leg of their North island tour) has been both serene and fun. As was the case initially with the People in Your Neighbourhood tour last year, I feel I’m here on false pretences, as I’m not actually performing. ( I did actually perform at WOMAD in the end.) Some of my “Banana” poems have been turned into a song cycle by a Wellington composer (and friend), Robbie Ellis. The world premiere took place today, at a 140 year old Anglican Church, the Anglican Mission Church in Waimate North.
Robbie and I deliberately didn't communicate over the score and the first time I heard it was today. I admit to being a bit nervous, but I shouldn't have been. Robbie did a very sensitive job of interpretation and I even found myself in tears at the first song, which was about my grandmother's slow slide into dementia. The audience (mainly well heeled retirees) were quite responsive too, although the music wasn't always the "classical" fare they were used to (Robbies sudden appearance in a spiderman costume at the end of the last song bing a case in point).
Yet another type of collaboration I have experienced, now. It's exciting and rewarding.. though I can't help feeling like I did no work, seeing as most of the poems were written 2-3 years ago.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
I'm currently working about halfway down the East coast of the South Island. Timaru is one of those places which rates its attractiveness by how close it is to cool places(Hamilton and Palmerston North are others - sorry if any patriots are reading.) But truly, it is quite charming to be in a small town miles from anywhere else. There are certain advantages - but more about that in a future post!
One of the 'nearby' attractions is Mt Cook, NZ's tallest mountain, only 2 1/2 hours away and therefore irresistable... and there's a salmon farm on the way there, too. So that was where I went on Jan 4 which in the warped world of the salaried worker is a stat day off. It's picture-postcard landscape, especially the McKenzie Country (named for a famous cattle rustler/honest drover, depending on which history you read). At this time of year, the road verges are awash in iridescent blue lupins, fluffy sheep and alpacas (yes, alpacas) roam the pastures and the tussock waves golden from the clifftops. Get the picture? That's no match for the blueness of the lakes though - too cold to swim in but that doesn't matter. I swam with my eyes instead.
Despite the utter beauty of the mountains, it turned out to be a day spent thinking about even bigger things - space. There's a planetarium at Mt Cook, useful because the Big Boy is famed for its grumpy weather and there has to be something else for all those camera-toting tourists to do. We arrived while it was blowsy and raining, so we sheltered under the big dome which shows movies about outer space.
Space is amazing. Space is immense. Space is disturbingly wonderful because at a certain stage my brain is turned inside-out from thinking about all the big numbers and apparent contradictions in astrophysics. I mean, when someone is explaining it with plenty of metaphors, I get it, but there's only so much meningeal trampolining that can take place before my mind spits it back out. But I really like the exercise.
Anyway. To the point of this apparently random post. As I was watching these movies, and later that night when we were standing on top of a hill beside Lake Tekapo peering at the universe through telescopes, I started to think about my place in all of this. And what my characters would do if they were confronted by the enormity of space and the smallness of their own existence.
To a certain extent, I work by splitting off parts of myself and animating my own characters (sounds like sci-fi horror I know), so really this was about what I do when confronted by how small my place in the world is. The reaction differs depending on my mood, but it's also driven by my underlying character, which is turn is shaped by my experiences (which I can sometimes influence) and my genetics (which I can't).
Looking at Mt Cook reminded me of a past experience which has influenced me a lot, although I often forget it. My close childhood friend, Lizzy, died while climbing Mt Cook. I was 23 when I heard she'd fallen on the descent from the summit. A few days later I received the postcard she'd sent from Mt Cook village before setting out. And at the funeral her parents passed onto me two things: a gold plated brooch of an ice axe Lizzy had owned and a photograph processed from the camera found with her body. In the photo Liz, sitting on the summit, is watching the sun blush on the white slopes below her. Her face is turned towards the camera and she has an expression of fulfilment.
Liz was an adventurer in the fullest sense of the word. Throughout our childhood and early adulthood she'd astounded me by how she ran at things (sometimes carrying me literally on her back). We must have looked an odd pair, seeing as she was strongly built, good at sport and about a head taller than me. She seemed to have an effortless energy when it came to doing things she wanted to do, not merely dreaming about them. And so, staring at that last picture of hers, I decided to take her as an example and do the same.
I'm proud to say that lot of the big things I've done since then bear her mark. Most of the big backpacker trips, across Europe, Asia and South America, were influenced by the thought of what she would have dared to do. And, even if I didn't literally think "what would Lizzy have done?", probably most of my life changes (such as taking up writing) were probably born out of what by now had become my own habit. So thank you Lizzy, and thanks for showing me how.
The Milky way, from the top of Mt John, Lake Tekapo
Saturday, January 2, 2010
So here are some photos I prepared earlier... about two weeks ago in fact. Don't worry, marination of the ingredients for this long is intended. I made a "field trip" to the Chinese Scholar's Garden in Hamilton and took these working shots so that I know what environments I'm writing The Bone Feeder (promenade version) for. It's pretty exciting to have access to a garden, especially one as obviously wandering as this one... fun!
Incidentally I paid a visit to the new Dunedin Chinese Gardens yesterday. They too are very impressive - it's easy to see why they cost $9 million - given they were constructed in their entirety on a site near Shanghai before being broken up, shipped over and reassembled by the original Chinese artisans. Not so these gardens in Hamilton, but the same sentiments, ideals and design concepts nonetheless went into their making. These Chinese gardens on the other side of the world have a special significance to the world of my play, being made by people with a deep longing for the culture and refinements of the place they come from but nonetheless determined to make a place for themselves in their new home.