Spring has arrived at last, and the sun is shining! But the final day of winter here in Christchurch was a cold and wet one, so it was nice to be holed up in the warm and welcoming Hell Fire Club in Lyttelton last night for an evening of performance poetry as part of the WORD Christchurch Festival.
We heard from three poets at the top of their game, expertly hosted by local Ciáran Fox, who kept things moving along in tag-team fashion.
First up was Michael Pedersen from Leith in Scotland, winner of a Robert Louis Stevenson award, amongst others, who kicked off with the title poem from his recent collection Oyster. Tall, wiry, and charismatic, with a mop-top haircut and mellifluous lilting Scottish brogue, he was the epitome of self-assured creativity and Celtic coolness. This was a tour de force in embodied performance. He was animated as he spoke, his body moving around to the rhythm of his poetry, bobbing up and down slightly, leaning forwards into the mic to emphasise certain syllables and cadences, as words tumbled out of him effortlessly.
After a short set, it was the turn of Dominic ‘Tourettes’ Hoey from Auckland to entertain us with his unique brand of kiwi slacker wordsmithing. He started with a few short poems written “in the car on the way here” read from scraps of paper that he tossed aside as if they were useless ephemera rather than carefully constructed one-liners from a literary master-craftsman. It wasn’t always clear where his conversational interjections ended and the poems began, as Hoey didn’t seem capable of saying anything that wasn’t charged with an undercurrent of unpretentious poetic meaning.
Before return sets from Pedersen and Hoey we heard all too briefly from a surprise guest, the incredible Omar Musa who gave us just one very powerful poem about his homeland re-imagined as “Un-Australia”.
Inevitably, one of the themes that emerged from all four poets who took the stage was the role of the arts in modern society, and the mood seemed gloomy and combative, but not without some upbeat moments. At one point, Ciáran invited us to imagine an empty stadium for a Crusaders game. “Where is everyone”, they would ask? “Down the road at the poetry reading” would come the reply. The audience loved it. We can only dream!
It’s a long time since I’ve been to see live poetry, but last night I was transfixed and entranced and based on the richness of the experience, I’m sure I will be going again very soon, and much more often. In fact, if the quality continues to remain this high, I can imagine becoming an obsessed regular.
Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018