10 May 2009

Poetry adventures in Palmerston North

The major reason my week was a bit crazy was because, as I said last week, I was guest poet Stand Up Poetry in Palmerston North. Very exciting.

We made it into a bit of a road trip – I went to work for a couple of hours in the morning and then headed up the coast. I’d planned what I was going to read beforehand, but changed my mind about a few things on my way up, when I ran them through with Sean between Levin and Palmerston North. One of the ones I decided to sub in was ‘Vital melancholy’, which turned out to be the right thing as when Helen Lendorf was introducing me, she read out the end of that poem. So people got to hear the whole thing.

Anyway, after perusing the excellent stock at the nearby Bruce McKenzie bookshop, we popped in to the library – where Stand Up Poetry is held, and met Helen, who I’d previously only met online, and several very lovely librarians. We also managed to get the datashow working, which meant I was able to use PowerPoint slides to accompany a couple of poems at the end.

We wandered off for sushi and when we came back there were dozens of people already there and listening to a live two-man band (a New Zealand music month event). And all the open-reading spots had long gone – they restrict these so the event doesn’t go on all night. They’d stretched it to 13, from their usual 10, and they were all filled up quarter of an hour before the event started.

The open reading was lovely – there were so many different kinds of poets and people, and at different stages of their writing careers. There were young students, young actors, older comic poets, older farmer poets, serious, funny, rhyming, free verse. It seemed much more ‘grass-roots’ than the Wellington poetry scene. And it was all held together by Helen’s encouragement and organisation. A really good atmosphere. Two particular highlights were a poet called Felicity – who spoke quite quietly, but whose poetry was gorgeous – and Glenn Colquhoun. It was really cool that Glenn, who has a three-month residency in Palmerston North, joined in the open-mike. He’s an amazing performer – go and see him if you get the chance.

After a short break, where coffee and cookies were available, Helen introduced me and it was my turn. I stuck mainly to poems from My Iron Spine, which for some reason seemed the right thing to do. I was really pleased that the audience got the humour in my poems – they laughed in (most of) the right places, and afterwards one young woman who was there said she like how my poems swung from funny to sad like a pendulum.

I did my last two poems – ‘Elizabeth Siddal’ and ‘Artemisia Gentileschi’ – accompanied by PowerPoint slides of appropriate images. With Elizabeth Siddal I was able to show some of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and drawings that had inspired me when I wrote the poem. ‘Artemisia Gentileschi’ is even more closely tied to images – the poem is basically (my version of) the artist talking about some of her paintings, while really talking about her life and experiences. It’s much easier to see the images they’re right there in front of you, rather than trying to imagine them, and people seemed to really enjoy it.

Have any of you ever used visuals when performing your poems? Because it went down so well, I think I’ll try it again. I’ve been asked to read at the October meeting of the Poetry Society (yay!), so if I can get some equipment together I’ll try to use some visual, or maybe even audio-visual aids.

I know of several other Wellington (or nearby) poets who are heading up to Palmy for Stand Up Poetry – you’ll enjoy it and they’ll make you very welcome.


Mary McCallum said...

It sounds a great night Helen. I love poetry with appropriate slides. Karlo Mila does a wonderful presentation using slides of the gorgeous paintings in her book.

Anonymous said...


Cathy was just in Palmerston North and came back to tell me about a great book shop she had found there called Bruce Mckenzie. Ha! Synchronicity.

Me too. I love it when words and other things are mixed. I always thought that The Doors were cool because there was sometimes a bit of their shows where Jim chanted his poems and the band chimed in and they back projected images on a screen.