Poetry is turning up in surprising places in the region right now. Gone are the days when you just leafed through a book to get your poetry fix. Now you are just as likely to find a poem attached to an actual tree leaf - or stuck in your bike helmet - as happened to me at the recent Greytown Arts Festival. And at Aratoi, there are handset and printed poems hanging on the walls, blurring the boundaries between fine art and poetry, in a new show called gnossienne. Having met some of the people involved, I think this is only the start of a fresh new wave of poetic phenomena on our doorstep.
New Wairarapa resident Madeleine Slavick is one of the key instigators, and along with Gaye Sutton (well known on the Glistening Waters circuit) and Simon Fleck, they arranged a handful of writers to deposit poetry in unlikely places including trees, street fixtures and even shop mannequins during the Greytown Festival.
"We approached people on the street and asked whether they would like a 'long white' - one of Simon Fleck's poems - or a 'short blue' - one of mine, which is seven words long," says Madeleine. Simon Fleck's poems have since been set to music, and are available online from Phantom Records.
Madeleine says the idea for the 'Free Delivery' project - dubbed 'guerilla poetry' - reminds her of the 'Happy Action' group in Hong Kong, which puts diverse objects into public spaces. The author, editor and photographer, who lived in Hong Kong for 25 years, clearly loves the potential of poetry to be shared in different formats. In fact writing, and the way it seemed to be woven into everyday life here, was what attracted her to New Zealand in the first place.
"I really appreciated how alive writing, reading and poetry in this country, and the fact that there is such a large reading public here," she says. "Poetry is alive on the streets of Wellington, even engraved into the waterfront area around Te Papa. James K. Baxter, Janet Frame, Alistair Campbell, Fiona Kidman and Sam Hunt are pretty much household names."
"I used to live in Newtown, which hosts several music and poetry events and I became friends there with the founders of PANZA, an archive to store all the poetry ever published in New Zealand."
Since moving to the region about a year ago, and meeting poets at National Poetry Day in July 2012, Madeleine has had an exhibition of photographs and books at The Village Art Shop, led a reading with eight other writers at the Greytown Festival, set up a critique group in her home, contributed to the Festival's Community Quilt, maintained her daily blog, and helped set up the twice monthly 'Monday Poetry' nights at Greytown and Martinborough Hotels.
Monday Poetry is a public event for "anyone and everyone interested in language," she says. The newly formed group, held alternately at Greytown Hotel (on the second Monday of each month) and Martinborough Hotel (on the last Monday), recently featured excerpts of a novel, short prose pieces, various poems by members and others including Glenn Colquhoun, Irish poets, and Mary Oliver. Recently, a farmer-guitarist performed a gentle unplugged rendition of Pink Floyd.
Simon Fleck, based in Featherston, acts as host and welcomes people to share what they have been reading or have written, whether that's poetry or some other form. "It is a free event in a relaxed setting in which people can test things out aloud, but there is equally no pressure to perform," says Madeleine.
Madeleine was at the opening of gnossiene (pron. nos-ee-en) in which Pat White's handprinted poems and Catherine Day's drawings are hung around the walls. Along with a number of other visitors, she was interested in the pages of poetry as works of art in their own right: "The poem-prints are the work of five people: Pat White as writer, Catherine Day and Sydney Shep as designer-printers, and Nadine Ribault and Jean Anderson as French translators," says Madeleine. "The two languages are interwoven in non-traditional ways across the page."
The centrepiece of the show - mounted on a custom-made table - is Catherine's four metre long 'rubbing' of one of the floorboards from Randell Cottage, Thorndon, the writer's residency which Pat was awarded in 2010. The rubbings and poems are themed around Randell Cottage, and the pioneering family that originally lived there. The floorboards Catherine traced came from the decking of an early settler ship.
The poems and drawings together form a striking art installation, and highlight the flexibility of poetry as an art form.
Pat this week left for remote Waterfall Bay in the Marlborough Sounds, to take up the six week Seresin Landfall residency. He plans to work on a collection of prose and poetry with the working title 'Watershed stories'. He is the fourth writer to be awarded this residency.