Nouns, Verbs etc with Fiona Farrell: WORD Christchurch Spring Festival 2020

Local Clever Girl who became a Famous Woman, the wonderfully multi-talented Fiona Farrell launched her latest work at Scorpio Books last night; a work of poetry, humbly titled Nouns, Verbs etc.

Nouns, Verbs, Etc

Nouns, Verbs, etc is Farrell's fourth book of poetry, and its a 'Best Of'; including some of her greatest hits, taken from Cutting Out, The Pop-Up Book of Invasions, The Inhabited Initial and adding a few gems we may not yet have had the pleasure of reading.

Publisher Rachel Scott (Otago University Press), in introducing, said she had heard Farrell described as a national treasure. She spoke of how her client's 'busy brain' is wired to reflect us back at ourselves.  

Presenter Morrin Rout outlined how, in Nouns, Verbs etc, 'each word holds its place, does its work'. The poems are succinct and accurate: works to 'delight and surprise' without overanalysing.

The book reflects Farrell's attention to refinement, a love of and respect for language, and Farrell's ability to question everything from her personal life to how limestone is formed through thorough research.

Fiona Farrell, taking the podium, began with thanks: to Otago University Press, the amazing Rachael King (WORD Programme Director, author and mother), the WORD Team, Scorpio Books and all New Zealand's amazing poets including James Norcliffe and Bernadette Hall.

Drawing a metaphor between the 'wobble' of her mother marking objects for inheritance with elastoplasts, Farrell said she had been 'a bit washed out' after the earthquakes, and when her publisher ran with her idea to do a 'best of' she thought it was the right time.

The Broken Book

Fiona read three poems for the audience: 

Drive, invoking the feeling of being at the mercy of forces beyond us, in a snow-filled wintry drive over the hilltops of Banks Peninsula back to Otanarito;

The beautiful The Horse, from The Broken Book, which evokes at once the comfort, solidity and yet unpredictable nature of the earth:


quivers under bare legs.

He stamps one hoof.

Quiver and stamp

Quiver and stamp on

a blue day and you small,

straddled across the back

of a big beast. And

that is how the earth is.

and 'Tap Dance' from a time when Farrell was young and in love  ‘I’d like to be a button on your overcoat...

Cutting Out

Fiona Farrell has penned drama, novels, non-fiction and poetry and is one of our most-loved local writers: the author of Decline and Fall on Savage Street, The Skinny Louie Book, and Six Clever Girls Become Famous Women (which we read online during lockdown), to name a few.

In 1995 Farrell was the recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship, a residency in Menton, France. In 2006 she spent some time in Ireland under the Rathcoola Residency, responding to the Irish 'Book of Invasions' with her own version:

The Pop-up Book of Invasions

Farrell's themes are often at once political and personal, regional and global, including love and birth and death, war and emigration, history and landscape. She wrote, in a dedication to Akaroa Library in The Inhabited Initial that 'two things often come together.'

The Inhabited Initial

Farrell's poems, 'simple in their complexity', says Morrin Rout, are an expression of beautifully crafted imagery and the directness of New Zealanders: a unique blend of humour, self-criticism and slang; a mix of reflections written for friends, a genuine concern for the planet and the hypocrisy of west; what makes us human.

The Skinny Louie Book

The ocean both confronts and inspires her - 'the primordial,  from which we have emerged?' muses Rout.

Farrell's Earthquake Series includes 'The Broken Book,' originally intended to be a book about Farrell's many walks all over the world.Its mixed up, intentionally, with works that capture the feeling that nature is not so solid; a force perhaps beyond our control;

The Quake Year, a book of interviews with Canterbury Earthquake survivors;

'The Villa at the Edge of the Empire', which links Christchurch's experience of disaster with the rise (and fall) of other cities:

The Villa at the Edge of the Empire

and its fiction twin, Decline and Fall on Savage Street, which is based on the long life of a house with a turret on the edge of an unmistakably Christchurch river:

Decline & Fall on Savage Street

Fiona Farrell is appearing in no less than four events at WORD.

Fiona Farrell

WORD Christchurch