Even in a weakened state, the storm could raise winds and water disconcertingly high. It reminded me of a poem I dug out of Kendrick Smithyman's archive and published as part of a book called Private Bestiary in 2010. In Smithyman's text, heavy winds and rain make the normally murmurous Waitemata Harbour into something ‘monstrous, incalculable' and 'contemptuous’, and cause random landslides on the edge of the neat new suburbs of the North Shore. The safety that New Zealand's largest city seemed to offer the poet becomes ‘unreal’, and the suburbs are suddenly a place where humans ‘test’ their ‘limits’.
Today, roads blocked,
Four slips on Albany hill
with subsidings predicted.
Any prospect west is rained out,
More rain is headed that way.
A view of our circumstance is narrowed: this
side, unreal safety.
Down in the valley men console
in a thoroughly public bar.
Wind roves easterly, sea’s
quarter where nearest the gulf.
Beyond is Ocean, a dominion
known to be monstrous, incalculable, contemptuous
of our offering, not entirely indifferent to us.
We are a myth of our making.
Locally there’s a record of slipping.
At the crest drivers are advised
to watch for edges falling out.
Oil drums and a wooden frame -
limits of safety, with a view
denied to farmers and foresters.
We test the limits. We project.
Speaking in figures we are taken over.
[August 28th 1965]
The ‘thoroughly public bar’ mentioned in the poem is probably the Albany Hotel, which was, along with Smithyman’s beloved Puhoi Tavern, a popular watering hole for the North Shore literary community in the decades after World War Two. In his biography of Smithyman’s friend Maurice Duggan, Ian Richards reveals that Smithyman and many other writers held a whiskey-drenched wake for ARD Fairburn at the Albany Hotel in 1957. I needed a couple of whiskeys of my own after yesterday's dunking.
If the storm was disconcerting for Aucklanders, then it must have been terrifying for ni-Vanuatuans on islands like Efate and Tanna. I was very sad when I checked the website for the Vanuatu Daily Post this morning, and found that the paper hadn't been published for three days. You can help ni-Vanuatu by donating to the Red Cross.