Lindy Laird talks to Piet Nieuwland about his poems and a bunch of other Northland poets dead keen on exposing themselves
THEIR meetings are held once a month, at night. They approach from different directions, enter the side door. They come to scratch a collective and private itch, arriving for their common purpose with often uncommon thoughts composed meticulously.
The meeting begins, they take their turn to stand up, say their piece.
And having revealed something core of themselves -- whether in lathering emotion, stinging satire, deconstructed sentimentality, delivered with contrived or veritable veritas -- they sit back, exposed, and allow each other to pick over their bones.
And then they go home.
All right, we admit we've taken far too much poetic licence in introducing Poets Exposed, the poetry reading, discussion and critique gatherings at Whangarei Old Library's Te Studio.
"Performance" might be too high-flying a term for some who merely want to "read" their work; for others reading it is indeed a performance, a spoken and aural artform.
They're a diverse bunch, not at all pointy-headed academics discussing esoteric stuff such as what poetry actually is; no long winded dissertations about "a primal form of language, an ancient form of literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm ...", etc.
"No we don't get into that. I don't think there's an academic among us," says founding member Piet Nieuwland.
They are artists, writers, consultants, unemployed, business people, unemployed business people, retired this and that, student this and that. When they can't entice a guest poet along (once Glenn Colquhoun came) they feature one of their own, such as high-profile criminal lawyer, and poet, Arthur Fairley.
Nieuwland has been writing and performing poetry for decades, at the start most often not in Northland -- although it was as a young man working in forestry management in Kaikohe that he started reading at a local jazz and poetry club.
Around that time there "was such a lot going on", Nieuwland says, a lot of fuel to stoke the creative outlet, and fire. He's talking about nuclear weapons, the Springbok tour, Treaty of Waitangi, conservation -- issues that influenced and were reflected in New Zealand's art, music, literature, politics and international relations at the time, and which have added to the lexicon.
Nieuwland would also go to poetry reading gigs at central Auckland's late, lamented Globe Hotel and Gluepot, to name a couple of venues, and became hooked.
"I thought that's what I have to do. I went home, packed up and moved to Auckland to be a poet."
He's recorded on The Globe Tapes, compilations of 20 poets who read their work at Poetry Live! at the Globe Hotel in Wakefield St during the early '80s. When the Globe got gobbled up by a hungry city the poetry group disseminated, and work eventually brought Nieuwland back to Northland.
Years later, he's still writing and performing poetry, sometimes at Auckland venues, has been published here and there, and is one of the Poets Exposed helping compile the Fast Fibres Poetry Chapbook.
While "fibre" alludes to threads, mettle, modern communications and more, "chapbook" does not refer to the fact the poems are mostly written by men (two female contributors are Jac Jenkins and Riemke Ensing). It's a style of pamphlet from the 16th century which published all kinds of ephemera, religious tracts, social commentary, popular and folk literatures. It's again a popular term for small, (usually) poetry publications.
The word's passage across the centuries is fitting because poetry -- its structure and forms, reputation and purpose, the big stuff and the rats and mice of it -- has also changed, survived, at times been more or less expedient, and become far more widely translated.
As an artform, for entertainment or simply a means of transmitting information, much can be either lost or gained in translation. In most old cultures, it was not prose but the spoken word that, along with visual art, once conveyed culture, Nieuwland says.
That's partly why he enjoys reading his work aloud. He can convey the poem's, let's say, fibre more directly. He can switch words if changes occur to him during the reading. The listener receives the poem and is, of course, invited to think about it but is not really asked to "translate" it.
"New Zealand society is much more diverse now than it ever was before and poetry is one way of giving us a view into other people's existences," Nieuwland says.
As well, it can be just plain entertaining.
Fast Fibres Poetry Chapbook will be launched at the Poets Exposed meeting next Thursday , at the Old Library. The next day, on National Poetry Day (Friday, 22), an event called Poetry is for Everyone will take place at the Old Stone Butterfactory: Secondary school students 4-6pm; Local and visiting poets 6.30-8.30pm; open mic 9-11pm.