18 August 2009

A Launch Becomes A Farewell: Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, 1925-2009

We set out to launch Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand on Monday night, and ended up farewelling a great New Zealand poet as well: Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, who died aged 84 on Monday.

Other obituarists have done a good job of describing Alistair Campbell's life and work. I did know know him personally, though I was lucky to hear him read twice, but his collection Kapiti: Selected Poems, 1947-71 is one of my very favourite books of New Zealand poetry, and remains an inspiration.

Of course, the Voyagers launch was not planned to be a commemoration of Alistair Campbell, but it turned out that our lineup of readers, and our lineup of poems, encompassed many connections with him, so that one series of readings served two ends.

Most of the readers read two poems from Voyagers: one of their own, and one by another Voyagers poet. The full lineup was:

Puri Alvarez: "Saturn's Rings" + Meg Campbell, "The End of the World"
Marilyn Duckworth: Fleur Adcock, "Last Song"
Chris Else: "Hypnogogia" + James Norcliffe, "the ascent"
Robin Fry: "Lift-off" + Peter Bland, "An Old Man and Science Fiction"
Niel Wright: Ruth Gilbert, "Still Centre"
Tim Jones: "Good Solid Work" + James Dignan, "Great Minds"
Rachel McAlpine: "Satellites" + Harvey McQueen, "Return"
Jane Matheson: "An Alien's Notes on first seeing a prunus-plum tree" + Simon Williamson, "Japan 2030"
Harvey Molloy: "Nanosphere" + Richard von Sturmer, from "Mill Pond Poems"
Michael O'Leary: "Nuclear Family" + Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, "Looking at Kapiti"
Mark Pirie: "Dan and his Amazing Cat" + Louis Johnson, "Love Among the Daleks"
Vivienne Plumb: "Signs of Activity"
Helen Rickerby: "Tabloid Headlines" + Tracie McBride, "Contact"
Mike Webber: "My Personal Universe" + David Eggleton, "60-Second Warning"

We heard poems by Alistair Campbell himself, by his first and second wives (Fleur Adcock and Meg Campbell), by his sister-in-law (Marilyn Duckworth), and, as Mike Webber revealed, by a descendant of Te Rauparaha, about whom Alistair wrote so often and so memorably. What's more, Nelson Wattie, Alistair Campbell's biographer, was also present, and came up after the readings to give a moving account of Alistair and his life.

It was a good feeling to be part of a launch that managed to be both a celebration of a new anthology, and a commemoration of a great poet's life and work.


Kay said...

It is fantastic when an event takes on its own strong character. Campbell was one of NZ's great poets for sure. An early influence on me as I sought out kiwi poets to compare with the much more internationally well-known overseas poets I had started reading in the 60s. He fitted the bill admirably and gave me pride in NZ poetry.

greatkiwipoet said...

How I wish I hadn't had to miss it! It sounds like it was a totally awesome event.