Excerpt from a Reading Journal, 2011
The best thing about this year has been all the exposure to New Zealand poetry and to New Zealand poets. It’s a privilege to be able to put a voice to the words on the page, or even to be given the push to read those words in the first place. I have no doubt by now you know I’m a philistine. I have very little idea of what I’m doing when it comes to poetical analysis, and I usually just know what I like, and all the rest is guesswork.
This book feels like this year has felt. Welcoming to an amateur, willing to give you a chance and a little push to read some good stuff. I’m also glad I’m reading it now, at the end (well, not quite the end, but at the end of the reading journal at least) where I can flick open a page and recognise a face (Bernadette’s photo is particularly nice!), but still be awed or delighted by the lines that go along with it.
I read the chapter on performance poetry first, because I am having trouble with performing my own poems. I liked this line ‘On some occasions, a poetry reading transports the listener in a way akin to a music concert where the body reacts with caught breath and prickling skin; on others, the reading taps into the buried pleasure of a child listening to stories and poems.’
I would love to cause that kind of reaction in people. I felt like that once or twice this year. When listening to some of the ‘Year’s Best Poems’ poets reading at Te Papa. When listening to Tusiata Avia perform. When listening to Ms Harjo as well. And even, now and then, when listening to people in my class read out their work. Often when we did read, it was things that were half finished, but even then sometimes you could hear the underlying power of the idea they were putting forth.
I actually fancied myself quite a good reader, but I completely flubbed my first public (well, to the combined classes) reading. Worse, I wasn’t entirely sure why I flubbed it. I didn’t think I was all that nervous, no more than I had been before speaking publicly on other occasions.
So, I ended up blaming the poems. Which made me spiral into a pit of depression for about a week until I dug myself back out (with help from my supervisor).
Part of the problem might be illustrated by the book. In this chapter, they describe the poets as having ‘husky tones’ (Cilla McQueen), a ‘sing-song lilt’ (Robert Sullivan) and even foreign accents. I can’t quite see how my voice fits my poetry and I’m not sure I want people to associate one with the other. Whenever I read Marianne Moore’s poems I hear her voice. Do I really want people to hear mine when they read mine?
But, I want to be able to do it. This chapter doesn’t offer any advice to the poet, of course, it is describing what is already out there. I’m just going to have to bumble forward on my own for now.
But the descriptions of the ‘musical texture’ and ‘infectious music’ of a reading do inspire me to try and think of it – my reading – as something extending from the poem, rather than a surface the poem is displayed upon. Maybe that will help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Sawaya recently completed a Masters in Creative Writing through Victoria University of Wellington. She has been published in Magma magazine and in the 4th Floor Literary Journal. Her blog can be found at http://lastlittlebird.blogspot.com. She is this year’s winner of the Biggs Poetry Prize.