Not your average poetry reading event – National Poetry Day, Tauranga 2014


On National Poetry Day, 22 August, lots of truly wondrous and wondering people were caught in the act at the Mauao Performing Arts Centre – framed by a ritual opening, closed with maiden warriors, the evening showed off how much our townscape and landscape, especially, claims the attention of local writers and, as it turns out, musicians.

This was not your average poetry-reading event. Starting with an awe-fully weird evocation of a mythic landscape and an apocalyptic vision from Archaeo and the People’s Temple (the Temple providing some wonderful deep-noted supporting chants and drums), and finishing with a real-history lament invoking the circumstances of the battle of Te Ranga, the evening spanned a varied mix of the personal and the polemical.

Romancing the maths, Joanne Rye and Rob McGregor offered a pictorial vision of the Fibonacci formalities of their relationship, formalism that was followed through by those who offered rhyme, a pantoum, a rap, and (even though she (Jenny Argante) said it wasn’t really) a ‘granny rap’. Another formalistic approach involved no words at all: the long, strong, deep currents of a series of taiaha moves gave the audience a chance to reflect on what silence has to offer.

Poetry as performance definitely has its problems. Your correspondent is eager to be impressed by authenticity, sincerity, and the truth of the recital: some odd clunkiness, when it allows the auditor to reflect on the power of the words to surprise the person uttering them, works for the poem rather than against it. Women of Words Janice Giles, Shona Ellen Barnett and Emily McCarthy laid this out for us with commendable courage and some skill. Illustrating, as the Northern Horde attempted, parts of the epic Beowulf, offered an opportunity to consider how well the old words and story have survived: but on the whole the poetic energy was not well served by these contemporary efforts to represent the drama. On the other hand, Marcel Currin was definitely able to show that you can weave a neat rhyme, carry a ukulele, and be cool.

It has to be said that, for the evening as a whole, musicians, rather than poets, held the floor. This led the TPC to contemplate the advantages of setting words to music. On National Poetry Day, are we allowed, even, to consider the relationship? On the basis of this evening’s experience, the answer is yes. The operatic qualities – a true fusion of musicality and words-in-a-line – of Mana Farrell and the Maiden Warriors brought the evening to a high-level climax where Te Ranga taku whenua was commemorated in reo, the martial plaints of the tin whistle, and the fluttering acoustics of the short poi, offering the fatal prophesy of piwakawaka and the sound of distant drums.

Fatal prophesies, distant drums, and recollected emotions (preferably in formality) are the stuff of poetry. Poetry Day 2014 in Tauranga Moana lived up to it.

From Your Te Puna Correspondent.


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