Review: The Pathos of Space

25 NZ Poets on UK Poetry Archive – NZ Launch, 7 July 2012

Reviewed by Angela King

“The pathos of space, where the heart lies” – Riemke Ensing, The Crossing.
The isolation of New Zealand from Europe and the Americas, and the complications of migration and inheritance have been a significant theme for many local poets, and this was shown again at this reading.
This project, driven by Jan Kemp and Siobhan Harvey, involved increasing the presence of NZ poets on the Poetry Archive website, which Siobhan described as a “key European poetry resource”. New poets now there include Riemke Ensing, Ruth Gilbert, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Smither, with a handful of poets including Hone Tuwhare and Cilla McQueen yet to be uploaded. The aim was to represent the classic poets, and begin to include mid-career and upcoming poets, each with an author’s page, commentary, links, and text and audio recordings of their work.
Burbank College in London hosted a launch the day before, and now in the Drawing Room of the elegant Pah Homestead in Auckland, half a world away, the unity of the online world was celebrated with readings of six poets’ work. The room was full to capacity, and as the speakers stood in front of a tall white bow window, the winter sun outside highlighted visitors to the building walking past, sometimes peering in at us, mostly passing by unheeding, looking at the outdoor sculptures instead.
The readings began with Professor Mac Jackson, who represented Charles Brasch and read the only poem available in Brasch’s own voice, Brian Rudd. Professor Jackson gave a classic restrained and clearly spoken performance, carefully modulating the emotional tone of the poem, to the audience’s warm appreciation.
Riemke Ensing followed, reading four poems that have been uploaded to the Poetry Archive website. She mentioned the strangeness of revisiting poems written almost 40 years ago. In her unemphatic  performance the drama of her work was downplayed, but pleasingly, her recordings online show a richer sense of emotion, and a tangible interaction with her work.
Alistair Paterson then gave us the benefit of his huge stage presence, reading several of his poems that are online, as well as a recent poem inspired by Piha, in a passionate and confident voice. The repetition of words and phrases in his work, with different intonations and associations, belied the apparent simplicity and made his reading enjoyable and challenging.
Siobhan Harvey performed several of her poems, all from her collection Lost Relatives, that are on the website. Her slow, rich performance with careful enunciations and heavy silences built a tension into her work that followed on with common themes of migration, communication, cultural clashes and inheritance.
Siobhan was followed by Diana Bridge, who commented in her quiet, wry way, that she felt her voice was too “standard”. Still, her carefully-enunciated and modulated performance made the most of her thoughtful poems, all with multi-cultural influences and settings, and with her short introductions to each which gave an interesting sense of what sparked her work.
The last poet was Anna Jackson, reading the beginning and ending sections of her revisioning of Dante’s Inferno, The long road to teatime. Anna apologised for the apparent hubris of some lines, commenting that as an unpublished poet at the time of writing, she needed to convince herself of being a new poet as well as a first-time mother. Her somewhat skittery, charming performance, with expressive facial gestures, made an apt ending to a session that had begun with the sonorous Brasch.
This launch was an enjoyable session, with an opportunity to talk to the poets afterwards. Despite the perception of the online world as an easy way to bridge cultures and locations, it was clear that this does not resolve all difficulties of communication and understanding. Indeed, as the audience filtered out to join the other visitors at the Pah Homestead who did not attend the poetry launch, it seemed that poetry is not just a way to communicate, but also a culture that needs bridges to other worlds.

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