Remembering Rhys Brookbanks
Rhys interviewed me when I visited Dunedin back in September 2007 to do a reading and to promote my book of poems To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps. We met in the cafe of the Otago Museum and talked for an hour or so about Doctor Who, the war in Iraq, the comparative merits of Auckland and Dunedin pubs, and - occasionally - poetry.
Rhys was a poet, but his literary enthusiasms differed from mine in several respects. I regarded live poetry with suspicion, believing that it could lead its practitioners to rely on charisma and cheap rhetorical effects; Rhys, on the other hand, regularly read his work in Dunedin's pubs and cafes. Rhys thought that in the twenty-first century poetry was in danger of being seen as fusty and irrelevant; I thought that poetry could only be relevant if it kept its distance from the culture of the twenty-four hour news cycle and from the frenzied discourses of texting and twitter. I named Kendrick Smithyman as my favourite New Zealand poet; Rhys declared that Smithyman's texts were pointlessly obscure, and said that he much preferred veteran performance poet David Eggleton's quickfire polemics.
Out of the chaos of our conversation Rhys produced a very readable piece for the Otago student magazine Critic. In his article, which bore the brilliant title 'Doctor Who, Jim Morrison, and Verbal Wankery', Rhys gave my book a generous summary, but didn't capitulate to my opinions about poetry. He noted my admiration for Kendrick Smithyman, for instance, but had a poke at Smithyman's alleged over-reliance on 'long words and abstract ideas'. I admired Rhys' ability to engage with my work and enthusiasms without losing sight of his own opinions. I wouldn't have been capable of such subtlety when I was twenty-two: in fact, I don't know if I can find such subtlety even now!
At the end of our chat I gave Rhys my details, and invited him to have a few beers whenever he made it up to Auckland. It's terribly sad to think that he won't have that opportunity now.
Footnote: You can read the distinguished Canterbury poet David Howard's elegy for Rhys Brookbanks here.