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Sometimes (in libraries or bookshops), poetry gets classified as “non-fiction”, which always interests me. It seems to imply that it is real, true or factual. Sometimes, of course, poetry is all these things and sometimes it is completely fictional or even absurd.
Poets often play with the truth to make the poem better. I’m thinking of a conversation between Sam Hunt and Hone Tuwhare that Hunt relates in his recently published memoirs “Backroads”. He’s referring to Tuwhare’s poem “Flood” that finishes:
“Shall I be able to ford
the river soon: visit
a lean Aunt?”
Hunt says he asked “Who was your lean Aunt, Hone?” and received the reply “I don’t know; it may have been my mother.”
But, of course “visit my mother” wouldn’t work nearly as well as “visit a lean Aunt”.
So, it pays not to take poetry too literally. Certainly, much of my own poetry is completely fictional, although I often weave reality and imaginings together. I would be alarmed to think people were regarding some of the things I’ve written as factual, or that when I write about “she”, I’m always really referring to myself. For the record, I don’t suffer from trichotillomania (a complusion to pull out one’s hair). Also for the record (because people sometimes think the “you” in my poems refers to my current partner), I don’t cook chicken for dinner for Peter and me. Nor do I think for one moment that the astronaut artist Alan Bean is putting backyard dirt on his paintings. I’m sure he is a man of integrity; the poem is purely speculative.
But most poetry has a kind of truth about it, even when it’s not factual. Does that make it non-fiction? No more than a novel or a short story, perhaps. I think poetry sits best in a category all of its own.
Speaking of poetry, tomorrow (Sunday 21st Feb 2010) is the first of the Ballroom Cafe monthly poetry sessions.
Sunday 21 February 2010, 4pm – 6pm
Ballroom Cafe, cnr Adelaide Rd and Riddiford St, Newtown
This will be a regular Wellington event on the 3rd Sunday of the month – a mix of open mic, music & guest poets. A fine complement to the regular Poetry Society gigs on Monday nights. I’m looking forward to it!
OK, with 2009 already a distant memory, here is part 3 of poetry books I read and enjoyed last year. No doubt I’ve missed a few along the way, but here goes:
‘Firesprung‘ and ‘Keening with Spittal Tongues’ by Kathleen Kenny (Red Squirrel Press). We saw Kathleen read at the South Shields Museum last August and I really enjoyed hearing her poems. You can read a couple on the Red Squirrel website. http://www.redsquirrelpress.com/index.php?firesprung
‘Further Convictions Pending’ – Vincent O’Sullivan (VUP) – I confess I hadn’t read much of Vincent O’Sullivan before. I won this in an NZ Book Council giveaway (thanks Book Council!) and am now on a very pleasant voyage of discovery.
‘The Song of Lunch’ (CB Editions) and ‘A Scattering’ (Arete Books) by Christopher Reid. Christopher Reid read at Te Papa last year. A Scattering is a sad, but beautiful book, about his grief at the death of his wife (more on that here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/6957867/Christopher-Reid-a-poet-who-was-inspired-by-grief.html)
Lighter and more fun (but still with its dark side) is The Song of Lunch, about a man who meets up for lunch with a former girlfriend but things don’t turn out as he imagined.
‘Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand’ (Interactive Press, edited by Mark Pirie and Tom Jones) – well I have to mention Voyagers, seeing as I’ve got a poem in it. See here for more details and sample poems. Lots of gems in this book. One of my favourites is Vivienne Plumb’s The Last Day of the World which begins “That will be the day none of the eggs will cook. There will be strange phenomena” .
‘On the Eve of Never Departing’ by Richard von Sturmer (Titus Books). Not a poetry book (more of a memoir), but his language is so lyrical and beautiful, I thought I’d sneak it in. There’s an account of the launch here: http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2009/09/titus-turns-twenty-one.html I remember seeing Richard and his partner performing as the Humanimals in Auckland back in the early eighties and being terribly impressed.
Also not a poetry book per se is Sam Hunt’s ‘Backroads’ (Craig Potton Publishing) which Peter got me for Christmas – again it’s a memoir, but with lots of great poems (other people’s – like James K Baxter’s - as well as his own) and great photos.
Peter also gave me Glenn Colquhoun’s latest: ‘North South’ (Steele Roberts) – with illustrations by Nigel Brown, a tale of Celtic gods and goddesses meeting their Māori counterparts. http://steeleroberts.co.nz/books/isbn/9781877448638
So – that was 2009. Here’s wishing everyone a poetic 2010!