On Wednesday 26 June we celebrated the end of my term as New Zealand poet laureate with a lunchtime reading and an evening book launch at the National Library in Wellington. It may sound strange to say that we 'celebrated' the fact that my time was up – what’s to celebrate? It’s been a great couple of years, now they’re over. What was being celebrated was the opportunity for another poet to have the opportunity, and what we’d done during my time.
I say 'we' because it’s been the involvement of other people that’s made the last two years worth celebrating. A short list will include:
The organisers of the book fair, and of the Smart Talks series, at the Old Library, Whangarei; Massey University’s 'Writers Read' series at Albany; the trustees of the Orpheus, Whatipu, for commissioning a poem commemorating the shipwreck; Metro magazine, for commissioning an ode to Auckland Town Hall; Auckland Central Library, for hosting a number of great events; the poets who took part in those events in Auckland, and also at Matahiwi, here in Wellington, and in Blenheim, including John Newton, Robert Sullivan, Cilla McQueen, Hinemoana Baker, Amy Barnard, and Marty Smith (at Matahiwi); Murray Edmond, Mary Paul, Iain Sharp, and Michele Leggott (Young Knowledge, Auckland); Amy Brown, Lynn Jenner, and Aleksandra Lane (Words on Edge, Wellington); Bill Manhire, Bernadette Hall, and Sir Andrew Motion (The Place of Poetry, Wellington); Cliff Fell, Dinah Hawken, and John Newton again (Writing Home, Blenheim) – and lots more along the way; partners in those key events, especially the new zealand electronic poetry centre (nzepc) at Auckland university; students at Auckland University, who took my poem 'Shadow Stands Up' for a ride on the green Link bus; the hosts of Going West, Poetry Live, spit.it.out, and Auckland Writers and Readers Festival; the University of Waikato, for inviting me to give the Frank Sargeson memorial lecture; He Whanui o Matahiwi, ko Te Matau a Maui te Whare Tipuna, especially Tom Mulligan, who challenged me to write something for Matahiwi based on Psalm 23 (not finished yet); Jacob Scott, he tohunga whakairo, for the beautiful tokotoko, and Tama Huata for blessing it; Sir John Buck, for the support, and the superb wine (still got some); Tony Chad at the Upper Hutt Library; the very special people at the National Library – especially Peter Ireland, Reuben Schrader, and Keith Thorsen; Cressida Bishop, at the Millenium Gallery in Blenheim; the organisers of the Christchurch Writers Festival; the IIML for inviting me to judge the NZ Secondary Schools Poetry Prize, and to select the Best NZ Poems for 2012; my publisher Auckland University Press, and the wonderful team there, especially Anna Hodge and Poppy Haynes for the editing, Katrina Duncan for her book design – and Phil Kelly for the great cover design and photographs for The Lifeguard; and, importantly, the National Library and the Department of Internal Affairs for their generous support for the Poet Laureate programme – which has been a wonderful experience and honour for me, in many practical as well as intangible ways.
I asked Bill Manhire if he’d take on a renga challenge to be the last of these memorable collaborations, and he agreed; and to posting the result as a final blog. Here it is. It feels like a good place to finish and to thank all those listed above, and many others, for being generous, and great company. Quite a few of us had a wonderful lunch when this started in 2011, and we had a great dinner after the book launch on 26th. Think of the renga as a toast.
Fred’s footpath signage on P Road
promises lunch-time flâneurs
'coffee, food, friendship and fun'.
I’m good for friendship, thanks,
but give me a jumbo 'fun'
& does that come with sides?
– which takes me back to Upper Willis Street,
where the Settlement once sat,
a place called FAT ALBERTS
whose circular roadside shingle
had somehow spaced itself to FATAL BERTS;
so that maybe you smile but don't go in.
'Going in' is what we need to be doing,
even so – smiling, why not,
optimists that we are,
and hoping for a generous helping of fun,
'the whole enchilada' as we say,
sizing up 'Bert's' fatal consequence,
because it's dark down there, darkening,
and Judy's gone 'to the fish market',
she of the shining brow – but no,
suddenly she's back, fixing a fresh drink,
saying she thinks she knew you
in some other life, one you don't recall but
hey, where are we going with this?
There is no 'other' life, only this one,
in which Bella, aged three,
jumps in at the deep end
though she can’t swim
yet, but believes she will, when Bert...
but Bert has left the premises,
left the poem – he never learned to swim.
He walks beside the ocean,
on sand that talks of driftwood
– it bleaches and it sinks, it's binding –
and wonders what that stranger meant by
"... a quick snack shack
above the high tide wrack,
a take-away before the under-tow,
an oyster bar at Piha we’ll call
the Walrus and the Carpen-tar..."
Name of Fred? Said he did 'fun'?
But undertow's already making sense
– time to mention the tides!
Time to mention the moon! –
especially with someone way out there
at what could be the horizon
waving and calling “Clowns!” or “Kleos!”
Kleos! Claus! – could that be Bella,
already 'in the swim', so young
and out of her depth, beyond the reach
of Ruth’s moony tides or lighthouse brow,
the mother who just let the kid
go on believing in Santa Kleos
as if that might be reach and depth enough,
meaning it's just fine to be all at sea:
the big boat lowers a little boat
and now we're all being winched aboard
to make small talk to a captain
who knows that fathom means embrace
your cruise ship, fathom its delights,
its string trio and buffet lunch, its deck quoits
and quartermasters, its bowsprit parting
the fog with moist kissy sounds
like the cheek-pecks of amorous matelots
or the splutter of chilly champagne flutes!
So, yes, it could even be Fred and Bert,
old chums 'not in narrow seas'
drifting around these islands,
on deck in their deckchairs yet raising a glass
to the coast where 'renga' becomes
a clump of cliff-face rengarenga,
that juicy lily whose baked rhizomes
may be relished with friends, and whose flowers
can be plucked just for fun.
Ngorera: 'Me whakatupu
ki te hua o te rengarenga,
me whakapakari ki te hua o te kawariki.'
Be nourished by the fruit
of the rengarenga, and mature
like the fruit of the kawariki.