Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Gordon gets us singing about the Sun Brown King

Gordon and Phatbob

Aisling, Chelley and Ellen

Outside Aotea Square

The wonderful ScreamBlueMurmur, a performance poetry group from Belfast, have been tiki touring around the North Island for 3 weeks, and gave their last performance tonight, in a University lecture theatre. They bring a style of performance poetry not seen in Kiwiland much these days - deeply felt, socially conscious poetry, and yes, dare I say it, political. (This is not to say that we don't do socially conscious poetry here. We do - and it is deeply felt - but it just doesn't go as broadly through history and theme as this stuff.)

Although ScreamBlueMurmur also do a lot of weaving in and out with rhythm and narrative, their work is quite unlike that of the Literatti, the only Auckland equivalent. They don't have much recorded background music, but generate it during performance in the form of beats or chants, even getting the audience to join in. Watching them is like participating in some sort of humanistic ritual, and oddly uplifting, even though the subject matter is often dark - discrimination, racism, misunderstanding, war.

The five poets in ScreamBlueMurmur - who put themselves on the line financially to pursue their dream of touring the world with their poetic messages - are all very different in terms of personality, as are their poems. But somehow they manage to blend together (though they tell me that they do have their disagreements while rehearsing)to form a thought-provoking mosaic of images. Poems that I remember in particular are Aisling Doherty's Fairy tales of the Sisters Grimm, and Phatbob's I've Lived Some, as well as the haunting two-hander Mirror Image by Chelley McClear.

ScreamBlueMurmur were hosted by our local Socialist Party (who by their own admission didn't know much about poetry tours, but did know about socialist messages). And much as I abhor the use of poetry for political gain at least these guys delivered on their promise to host the travellers and give them as many performance opportunities as they desired - in schools, in pubs, on maraes, even at small rural community dinners. The visitors also generously invited local poets to perform with them wherever they went, so on their last stop, I was one of the guests, as were Shane Hollands and Miriam Barr. And it was a good gig, even if the lecture theatre seemed ginormous and the lights rather clinical - a good response from the mainly student crowd (my Peter Brown poem is getting quite a lot of outings at the moment,to much reaction).

It's so good to see visitors in little Auckland, from another part of the poetry sphere. (It's not as isolated here as you might think actually). And I haven't even mentioned the work that these guys do in terms of "linking". They started a worldwide poetry event called LovePoetryHateRacism (Auckland was one of over 30 cities to take part this year). And they also go out of their way to make personal connections and offer a reciprocal tour to those poets lucky enough to see their show. Hope to see them again soon!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Poetry sponge

Just recovering from a week soaking in poetry, poetry,'s National Poetry day (week) and I MCed or performed in 6 events over 5 days.

Tuesday was Poetry Live - Polynesian Poets and the Resurrection night, where everyone came as a resurrection of a Dead Poet and performed a poem as that poet.

Wednesday was In Praise of Ideology, a collaboration with Steve, Eddie and Jess from Makeshift Magazine and a totally awesome gig with musicians and spoken word artsits in the cozy Wine Cellar - and a great crowd, too, considering it was a rainy Wednesday winter's night!

Thursday was the only day I wasn't performing personally, but my play Lantern was on for its second showing at Smackbang Theatre.

Friday, National Poetry Day proper, was a busy one with lots of overlapping events - I made it to three: Ponsonby Poets on the Pavement, with poetry readings in the shop window and chalking on the streets;

Poetry@Central with book launches by Poet Laureate Michele Leggott at the Central Library;

and The Divine Muses, organised each year by the lovely Siobhan Harvey (below), where I was one of a lineup of 9 poets to read poetry (I was Eratos, the Divine Muse of Love, and read my entire Cardiac Cycle).

Saturday was Winter Warmers at the Auckland Art Gallery with poetry and song,

followed by a quick trip home to get ready and change into Slammistress Renee for the Montana Poetry Slam. Whew!!

Needless to say I spent today recovering, and enjoying other people's art in the form of films at the Film festival, which was also on in town - plenty to choose from culture-wise at the moment!

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Setting up

The capacity crowd

With my mum and my sister, after the show

Cast and Crew: Tony, Gary, myself, Peter, Li-Ming and Andy

The two performances of Lantern at Smackbang Theatre have been sold out, with double curtain calls for the actors both nights. Even accounting for an audience largely made up of friends and well-wishers, it's a great result and prompts me to aim for a full season of Lantern - a process which will take many more months, much more money and a lot of work. But I tend to think it's worth it, even if just for the experience of learning to put on a play.

The performances come at the end of three intense weeks of workshops which morphed into rehearsals - a strange situation since normally you don't redraft a play and rehearse for a production at the same time. But then that's just the way it seems to have happened.

In fact, the whole writing process for Lantern has been quite organic. When people ask me how I came to write the play I say it was "accidental". Bullshit, they say. Of course, you don't just accidentally write a 3-act play, but you can follow a series of leads and go by instinct and by the reactions of those who see your words. And it's true that the writing of Lantern was pushed along by various random conversations and apparently unconnected decisions I made, going back two or three years ago, so you could say it's been an "accidental" process, in the same way that you could say some people are "lucky" - in other words, they look out for opportunities and then they take the right ones.

Anyway, back to organic development. It's been neat to work with people like Gary, Tony, Andy and Li-Ming, who often bring a different take or interpretation to my stories. Writing theatre is more of a collaborative process, than an autocratic one -very different to poetry!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Slam radio

I was on National Radio today talking about Montana Poetry Day. Being described as "the queen of Slam Poetry in NZ" is a massively inaccurate, if flattering description, as there are plenty of other fab female slammers out there who have done far better than me in slams. It is true however that I am one of the more prolific slam organisers in Kiwiland. And there's a busy week ahead - at last count I am involved in organising and/or performing in 6 performance poetry events over 5 days.... whew!!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Portraying stereotypes in scripts

My sister's short film, Take Three, is being shown at the NZ International Film festival this week. Without appearing to be my sister's biggest fan (well... OK, maybe I am), I find this a sweetly subversive model of how to undercut stereotypes in film and TV.

Several plays I've watched in the past two months take aim at stereotypes, and unsurprisingly Lantern also comes out swinging. So I've been thinking, and talking about, stereotypes a lot. I've observed that the main danger in taking aim at a racial stereotype is that in seeking to overturn it you have to first of all portray it. And that means that if your subversion or ironic statement doesn't quite work, you end up perpetuating rather than subverting.

It seems to me that subtle humour works far better in this situation than melodrama or heavy irony. Audiences don't like being told they're wrong, but NZ audiences seem quite willing to laugh at themselves and in so doing realise their silly assumptions. (reference Billy T James, Brotown etc). The problem with doing it subtly, of course, is that there will always be people who won't get it and think that you really are laughing with (rather than at) the stereotypes.

Comedy-drama is my form of choice at the moment because of all these reasons: it is subtle, it is gently persuasive, and it leads rather than forces people to think. NZers seem to like to laugh, but from what I gather is played on primetime TV they haven't been encouraged to be very discerning about where they get their laughs from. At which stage I am about to turn all sniffy and start making snobby references to "quality of writing" which I am by no means qualified to make, so I'd better stop there.