Who needs New York?
One of the nerve centres of Dunedin literary culture is the Circadian Rhythm Cafe, a narrow cosy space where I was lucky enough to perform as a guest last year, on a night when local luminaries Peter Olds, Bill Direen, David Eggleton, and Richard Reeve graced the stage. Comrade Direen is about to swap his pen for his guitar for a few weeks, but he managed to send me this report from a recent gig at the Dunedin, where a line-up of six local scribblers read for their work for an appreciative audience. I was particularly pleased to learn that Peter Olds - New Zealand's first beatnik, adopted son of James K Baxter, reformed pisshead, and Otago Peninsula Zen sage - is still writing and performing his work. I did a long interview with Peter last year, and he's given me permission to put it on the blog next week. In the meantime, here's Bill's report on last week's gig, along with a few photos taken on the night:
SIX DUNEDIN POETS presented by Stuff Legend
Six poets currently living in Dunedin took the stage last night (Thurs Nov 13th) at Circadian Rhythm Cafe. Although the gig followed the great exodus of students from the city, and in spite of five of the six being men, a good number of local poetry lovers of both sexes turned out for a spirited and multifaceted event.
Peter Olds, the most experienced of us, read first, and in a break with his policy of recent years, gave a sample of his work from nearly four decades. Most of these were drawn from the only selection of his work available, It was a Tuesday Morning (Hazard Press, 2001). Smiles of recognition could be seen as Olds revived poems that had long lain silent. ‘Psycho’, an ode to a car and its passengers and drivers who “roared along Ponsonby Road drunk on rum” was delivered with a self-critical tone devoid of nostalgia. Olds has now reached the stage where he can return to poems written when there were destructive elements in his lifestyle. You could have heard a tatt-needle drop. I read recent work (in English of course) inspired by translations (into French) by former Oulipo poet Michele Metail. The originals which she studied and translated were ancient Chinese; the form, called Huiwenshi, can be read backwards as well as forwards, or even in circular fashion. Chinese is more polysemic than English. Any Chinese character may be noun, verb, adverb or adjective but this is rare in English. My Huiwenshi were not translations, they adopted the form. I had taken them as far as I could without reading them to anyone and wasn’t sure how people would react. Feedback was constructive.
M.C. David Eggleton introduced the surprise guest of the evening, Jeanne Bernhardt. Her poems steamed along, though she shrugged them off a little and I suspect that her mind is more in prose mode at present given the recent launch of her novella Fast Down Turk: a study of depression, drug addiction, descent into poverty, hallucination, and a sequence of rather ugly sexual encounters. So it was great that she then gave us an extract from it. Her publisher was not present to sell copies, but I think he would have sold a few! David called for a timely break and the first readers mingled, taking in reactions to their work. Richard Reeve was seen gingerly imbibing naturally brewed beer, which is perhaps a local cure for the Norah virus attack that had obliged him to take this week off work.
After the break, David Karena-Holmes introduced his environmental philosophy and outlined the calamity which New Zealanders and world citizens are facing. He read poems which he had printed out in collectible single-poem editions. Most of these carried an ecological message enriched with his native lyricism. He is concerned with inner spaces as well as outer ones:
though vast we find
the universe, the mind,
even of the blind,
must be just as vast.
( ‘A Star in Space’) The compere himself took the stage and did not mess around! Eggleton’s intense declamatory lines steadily wove together a fairly bleak depiction of consumer society. An impassioned performance by the Kiwi ranter.
Then the aforementioned Reeve let his shirt all hang out so that it resembled a stylish soutane. Neither the virus nor beer had blunted his style. He read with commanding apocalyptic cadence.
There was something for everyone. Jeanne Bernhardt’s poems and the chance to hear an extract from her speedy (cracky?) novella. David Eggleton entering his prime, finding a middle way between expression and impression. The assertive Reeve (who must be thanked for instigating the evening in the first place). David Karena-Holmes’ ecological diatribes. As for Olds and myself, local writer Lani Cole had this to say the following day:
Really liked the variety and the atmosphere last night. Loved hearing Peter Olds read the poem that got my 6th form boys thinking art could be relevant to their lives and enjoyed hearing everyone else. Your own poems were fine, entertaining pieces; I can hardly imagine the work that went into them.
The evening finished with spontaneous encores (is there any other kind?) from Olds, Bernhardt, Reeve, and your bleary-eyed writer. Afterwards, “Nunc est bibendum.” [Now is the time for drinking!] Then off to Auckland for the beginning of The Bilders tour!