posted by Michele

It hasn’t happened before but it should happen again: the gathering of laureates in Wellington last week for Writers on Mondays was a landmark occasion. The National Library put out 270 seats and there were people standing shoulder to shoulder at the back as Chris Szekely and Kate Camp got the evening underway.

John Buck detailed the 2008 Te Mata wines we’d been putting away in the foyer beforehand (poetry for the palate). He then launched the two CDs (Bornholdt and Manhire) that inaugurate a series of spoken word recordings from Braeburn Studio/Jayrem Records. Jacob Scott brought the National Library’s tokotoko onstage and explained its design before handing it around for everyone to see and hold. He also introduced Hone Tuwhare’s tokotoko, the famous dipstick made from a piece of an old Te Mata wine press and now in the permanent collection of the Southland Museum in Gore.

Then the laureates were called one by one to give an account of their personal tokotoko before reading. My transformed pool cue (Te Kikorangi) was followed by Brian Turner’s hockey stick (yes, says Brian, it’s a functional walking stick that got him around after a hamstring injury). Jenny Bornholdt’s tokotoko features female symbols of nurture and growth that did not deter her children from using its carved grip as a makeshift gun (these sticks live in the world and take their chances). Elizabeth Smither’s elegant cane, surmounted by part of a Holden gearshift and a carved whale tooth, was next. The poet admitted she liked driving fast but left us to work out the tooth for ourselves. Finally Bill Manhire spoke about the gravitas of the sticks and their function of focusing concentration and eloquence. His tokotoko, the first of the Te Mata sticks, was made from a piece of that same wine press to commemorate Te Mata’s centenary and the inauguration of the laureateship in 1996. There’s a sizeable stone from the Tukituki river on top of it and Bill has become expert at wrangling the stick through airport security post 2001.

The poetry? A great pleasure to hear everyone read, and an audience to die for. Some of the poems that were read appear below, courtesy of the poets and their publishers.

Pictured from left: Brian Turner, Jenny Bornholdt, Bill Manhire, Michele Leggott, Elizabeth Smither. Photographer: Caroline Garratt. National Library of New Zealand

posted by Michele

This new
quiet life.

At the end of the day -

three lines
a cake
Peggy's son's
peas, Jane's damson

Jenny Bornholdt
From Mrs Winter’s Jump (Random/Godwit, 2007).

posted by Michele
Visiting Europe

We rush around and look at famous stuff.
Once in the Louvre, late afternoon with my six-year-old son,
— he has truly had enough — we meet the Mona Lisa.
It’s 1981. I lift him above the world’s admiring heads.
That lady, I say — we don’t know why she’s smiling.
What do you think she’s thinking about?
Money, he says.  Money.

Bill Manhire
First published in The Times Literary Supplement.

posted by Michele
The Way Is Is

That you love nature is easy to say
until you learn that unless you act accordingly
it will call you to account in the end.
                                                   That’s why
we’re required to make the connection
between the sound the wind makes
when it starts the leaves quivering
and the way the white canes of sunlight
line the spaces between the trees
on a summer’s morning.
                                   It’s a case
of working out what’s here
for the long haul
and if we want to be part of it.
It’s marvellous, abominable, confusing,
exultant: the way things are,
the way is is.

Brian Turner
From Footfall (Random/Godwit, 2005)

posted by Michele
Cole dresses his mother

Like Elizabeth I in the film with Helen Mirren
undergoing a gynaecological examination. The

sleeve of her dress comes off, a petticoat is yanked up
a bodice divided. So does dresser Cole, aged

two, assemble and bring to his mother who
has dressed him for 735 days, buttoning

his sleep suits, the necks of his T-shirts
with unknowable slogans, tying the tapes of

his track pants (size 3, leg length 30cms)
her bra, her jersey, her knickers, her jeans

not in the royal order. He hands the jersey
first and indicates she should lower her head

then the knickers, tiny and lace-edged,
the bra, wire-stiffened. He drags

a teddy from a drawer, an angora
bolero, sequin-edged. And she, laughing

like an hysterical queen – she can conceive
the august Elizabethan doctors say

she is found fertile still and can produce an heir –
bra over her shoulder – Cole has brought two –

jeans hastily pulled over knickers, undoing
his precedence – hugs him to her, her delight

who returns delight to her every day
in the reciprocity of mutual dressing.

Elizabeth Smither

posted by Michele
FROM poppies and plane trees

two nights ago we missed
a question about a cricket team
we called them the Immortals
they were the Invincibles    the difference
between undying and unconquerable
mori et vincere    we were close
but we were not perfect    the question
slipped between two possibilities
a good guess and much on our minds
the question of mortality
where we are going when we’re going
to the island between sea and sky
cerulean a word I liked a lot less
when I learned where the emphasis went

now we look ahead
from the deck where the sound of doves
carries through the trees    what
are their names    have they always
made this flight between possibilities
hanging on tight to a perch
that might be a globe or a prow
or the start of a seedhead that falls
whump onto the roof in autumn
we journey we are lost and found
over under behind around
preposition proposition no position
so clear as the conversation
of the department of conversation
on a day-trip forever to come

the soft red wine
with the beautiful name    big funnels
and two notes on a French horn
to clear a way through the sails
of the five o’clock races    a child
waving about in the tree-tops
the dog snoring under my feet
in one head is a winged victory
in one hand a stick that bounces chisels
filled with strangeness
we begin the simultaneous paths
scent of picked basil extending
delicately through a notebook
making for the front gate    heat
under salted water coming
to the boil    and the curious weight
of granite hollowed for a stone pestle
holding on tight to the world

Michele Leggott
Forthcoming in The Centre for NZ Studies Bulletin.

hand to hand: five laureates at the national library

posted by Michele
Poet laureates Jenny Bornholdt, Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Smither, Brian Turner and I are scheduled to gather at the National Library in Wellington on Monday 4 August to read and to honour the seven tokotoko (talking sticks) associated with the laureateship. Jacob Scott, who carved the tokotoko, and John Buck from Te Mata Estate will also speak.

Hone Tuwhare’s stick has been brought to Wellington for the occasion and CDs by Jenny Bornholdt and Bill Manhire will be launched. If the winter storms let up sufficiently to allow more than seagulls into Rongotai on Monday, a great night of poetry and stories about sticks is in store.

Free entry, all welcome.

Reception at 5.30 pm in the Main Foyer of the Library, followed by reading and launches 6 – 7.30 pm in the Ground Floor Reading Room. MC Kate Camp. Hosted by the National Library as part of IIML’s 2008 Writers on Mondays series.

Matua tokotoko of the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award
Artist: Jacob Manu Scott
Photography: Julia Brooke-White