Southland's Dan Davin Literary Foundation is the heartbeat of Southland's literary arts. This month the members, in conjunction with the Invercargill Library, took part in organising an arts festival in Invercargill, and invited writers from Dunedin to take part. The invited poets (yours truly among them) duly headed south last weekend. Invercargill, has clean, wide streets, an informal, friendly atmosphere and is famous for its 'Bank Corner' where polar winds blow in straight from a wild Southern Ocean to knock over little old ladies and turn umbrellas inside out and back the right way again. A re-visit for me is always a trip home; Southland being my old stamping/stomping ground. These days it's looking just as tidy as it ever was, but maybe even more spruced up, and with a quiet pride perhaps best epitomised in the concrete, sculpture of an umbrella which also doubles as a sundial
and celebrates both Invercargill's light (the longest twilights in New Zealand) and of course its famous, green-paddock-inducing rain.
ABM and I had the pleasure of Emma Neale as a travelling companion. We stopped for a coffee and some lunch in Gore (where I was amused to note that what we would call paninis, are known there as toasties. No pretensions that side of the Clutha River) when lo and behold! some of the other poets also taking part blew in the door - Jenny Powell, Jeanne Bernhardt and David Howard and his partner E. It was so good to see them all - even if the context of Main Street Gore felt a little strange.
A benefit of writers getting together for festivals and the like, is the chat that goes on. As we sat over coffees and burbled on, J said it was important to celebrate where you're at and not fret over whether or not you are writing. Even if it takes two years to write again, so friggin' what? I needed to hear that. I could've turned around right there and then, completely happy in the knowledge that I'd heard all I needed to hear for the weekend.
After booking ourselves in at the arts-fostering apartment hotel 'Living Space' where we were all generously provided with a free room for the night, we made our way to the library with the other three invited poets, Peter Olds, Richard Reeve and Michael Harlow. At the library we listened to Southland poets reading their poetry. This was a real treat. Following this were tributes to Ruth Dallas, a noted NZ poet who was born in Invercargill and who died earlier in the year.
A hearty nosh at the Speight's Bar that night was followed by us doing our thing at a poetry reading, and the next morning the panel. Among other things, we discussed which poets we felt were inspirations for us; the state of poetry in the south; is there a southern voice? ... I guess the question about the state of poetry in the south; which included comparing south to north; provided the most reaction / response. (Some of us also at that point just realised that it was all being video-ed - oops!)
As J pointed out (from the audience) isn't it better to be free to be ourselves, to keep flying under the radar, rather than have all the exposure, with attached expectations, that the more northern lights 'enjoy'? (A little like being Indie poets I guess ... ) There was a lot more said, but I'll leave it at that - except to say I believe I can speak for all of us writers from the south and state that southern pride is alive and well. Anyway, isn't it part of being a writer to belong to some 'school'? East v West in America; Canterbury v Oxford in the UK? etc. etc. We poets can be a tricky, sensitive lot. Maybe defining our patch keeps us on edge and alert - which in turn keeps our writing vital.
Richard's third collection, 'Incontinents', was launched after the panel. Emma launched the book with a pertinent, insightful introduction. Richard's writing is awesome, and I do not use that term lightly. I am in total awe of his ability as a wordsmith.
Sunday afternoon I was side-kick for Cilla's poetry workshop, and again it was a pleasure to hear the southern voice coming through the writing, and to help spark some ideas as to how they can develop their writing and their voice. Cilla was just back from Dunedin after receiving an honorary doctorate from Otago University. Congratulations to another one of New Zealand's very best poets.
It was a great weekend, I felt privileged to have been a small part of it.