WORD Christchurch 2023: In absence lies essence – Roy Montgomery and Clementine Valentine

I am in the front row for this beautiful night of music, poetry, and remembrance. Or to be more correct, the front pew. The venue is St Michael and All Angels Church, not far from Riverside. It is a Victorian-Gothic church with a dark timber interior, made of matai (native black pine). The interior smells faintly of incense, the proper churchy kind. It feels like the perfect place to listen to some atmospheric music and to launch Roy Montgomery's new poetry collection Endurance - an ode to his late partner (curator of Antarctic photography Kerry McCarthy). 

The night starts with music. Roy plays the guitar and seamlessly moves from one piece to the next; the church fills with sound. It's melancholy and rich and instantly makes tears spring to my eyes. 

Clementine Valentine play. They are a band of two women (sisters named Clementine and Valentine) and one guitar, but there are sounds and synths in layers underpinning their soaring vocals. It's a bit spooky and ancient and fills the church. 

After our musical interludes, Roy goes on stage to officially launch his book. He was tempted to talk to us from the pulpit, but instead stays down on our level. He is grateful to WORD Christchurch Programme Lead (and music lover) Kiran Dass for thinking him into the programme. He pays high tribute to Peter Vangioni of Kowhai Press who typeset and created the book itself, and to artist Ronnie Van Hout whose work also features in the book. 

The object is a book ... I'm also here to object to death. All words object to death; words require breath. 

Part of Roy's mourning tribute to Kerry is the album of poetry and music Camera Melancholia. Roy has always worked on music first and lyrics later, or not at all. To write the book, he had to quiet his mind and ask about essence and absence.

This book - with its black paper and black type that can only be read when the light is right - is the second part of his tribute. The black on black aesthetic underpins it - Southern Gothic, him and Kerry being from Christchurch and Dunedin and wearing a lot of black, Malevich's Black Square, White Light / White Heat - Velvet Underground, the cover of the Anarchy in the UK single, and his own work with The Pin Group. 

But it is not the end of the brief or the end of her story - it is catching a breath to object. 

Roy reads the poems - not from the book, as the black on black will be unreadable in this light. Curator's choice, The Angel of History, Diamond Harbour, Waiting Room, Trip Wire - they are sad and angry and starkly powerful works. I am crying, not the only one no doubt. 

In absence lies essence. 

Roy Montgomery and Clementine Valentine: WORD Christchurch Festival 2023 St Michael s and All Angels Church.

Event photos

Roy Montgomery and Clementine Valentine

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