As I reported in March, I was delighted to be invited to take part in the Readers And Writers Alive! Festival in Invercargill on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 April.
And the whole thing couldn't have gone better. The weather was fine and warm - I was wishing I had packed shorts and jandals, not long-sleeved shirts and jackets. The Festival organisers, and behind them the Dan Davin Literary Foundation and the Invercargill Licensing Trust, do a great job of looking after both presenters and participants, none more so than event organiser Rebecca Amundsen, backed up by Foundation chair Hamesh Wyatt and the helpful & friendly Invercargill Public Library staff.
Arriving just before lunch, I spent Friday afternoon walking the same paths I used to take as a child forty years ago, until the heat of the sun got too much for me and I retreated indoors for wi-fi and poetry preparation.
The Friday evening poetry reading involved four poets: in reading order, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Lynley Dear, myself and Joanna Preston.
The crowd was small, due to a triple threat of competing attractions, none of which had been scheduled when the workshop schedule was planned: the Royal Wedding, the Highlanders vs Blues game, and the Breakers' deciding final against the Taipans. But the audience appeared to enjoy it, just as I enjoyed hearing all the poets and taking a good number of my own Southland poems for a spin. Afterwards, we headed out to Waxy's for a highly entertaining dinner.
On Saturday the 30th, I ran a workshop called "Writing Different Worlds" with twenty participants, including Kay and Joanna, which covered the range of speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and those more elusive beasts such as fabulation, magical realism and metafiction. One participant came up with a great example of metafiction (fiction about fiction) as her response to a writing exercise. Participants ranged in age from 14 to a considerable number of multiples of 14.
Two things struck me about this workshop. The first was the talent and enthusiasm of the writers present, which shone through in the results of the two writing exercises I set and also in the many questions and comments that people made. Most people got the chance to read out the work they had done during the exercises. The overall quality of work was high, but even better, I twice had one of those intake-of-breath moments when, within a few sentences of hearing new work by a writer I'd never met before, I realised that they were - or had the potential to be - really, really good. That doesn't happen often, and it's a great feeling when it does.
The second thing was the sense of isolation many of the writers expressed. I remember feeling isolated when I lived in Dunedin and was just starting to take writing seriously; in Invercargill, three hours' further down the line, the feeling of being cut off from the "main centres" of New Zealand writing activity is even stronger. The Festival plays a valuable part in countering this tyranny of distance, but there is room for a lot more to be done.
Full many a rose is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air
... or so said Thomas Gray. There are roses indeed blooming in Southland; it would be a great pity if their sweetness went to waste.
Kay McKenzie Cooke and Joanna Preston have both blogged about the good time they had at the weekend (it was a pity I couldn't stay for Joanna's workshop: despite all the mischief she had threatened, she was an exemplary participant in mine!)
Workshop participant Claire has also posted her report of the workshop, and it sounds like she enjoyed it too.
*Tip o' the hat to John Keats for the title, via Dennis McEldowney.