Harry Ricketts is a poet, biographer, editor, anthologist, critic, academic, literary scholar and cricket writer - and he's coming to Carterton.

Wairarapa Word is hosting a special talk / poem reading from Mr Ricketts. It will be at Tarragon Bar and Cafe, High St, on August 3 at 3pm.

Recently Mr Ricketts co-edited the anthology Essential New Zealand Poems.

Before that he had published over 25 books of poems, literary biographies and essays.


Mr Ricketts has a fascinating history - he grew up in London, Malaysia and Hong Kong, studied English at Oxford University, and taught at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Leicester before moving to New Zealand.

In 1981 he took up a lectureship in the English Department at Victoria University in Wellington and for many years has run a popular Modern Poetry course, combining British, American and New Zealand poets.

He is now a Professor in the Department of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies at Victoria University.

Wairarapa Times-Age caught up with Mr Ricketts for a chat.

Q: When did you get the bug for writing?

A: When I was about 15 I was reading [John] Keats and was just intoxicated with his writing. Could just drown in it.

Do you remember the first thing you wrote which you were really proud of?

In my mid 30s I wrote a poem about my 6-year-old daughter at the time. I was waiting for her to come home and worrying about her becoming a teenager. It's called "your secret life".

What was the most important thing you learned at university?

Don't sleep with people who have more problems than you do.

What do you get out of writing poetry?

It makes you think about everything differently - a wanky answer I know ...

Who is your favourite poet right now?

A Northern Irish poet called Derek Mahon. Very dark and witty and very very skilful.

Why are you so fascinated with cricket?

[laughs] There are four answers to this one. One, it was a way of getting my dad's attention. Two, I was pretty good at it so I got some kudos at school ... I was a fast bowler in those days. Thirdly, It's a rich game, very complex. Four, It risks boredom, but you can stand there for two days and then boom, something will happen which turns the game on its head.

Is the English language dying?

No. It's morphing into something strange, complex and wonderful.

Are there still young writers out there that are pushing the boundaries? Has social media killed writing?

There is certainly more writing available. We are drenched with it and it can be very self indulgent. There's no filtering process [for who can put their work out there]. But, yes, there are definitely still good, young writers. I've been reading Hinemoana Baker and Courtney Meredith. Feisty and subtle writing which is a hard combination.

For you who are/ have been the most interesting writers in New Zealand.

Margaret Mahy, Allen Curnow, Bill Manhire and Bernard Beckett [A Wellington secondary school teacher who published the science fiction novel Genesis in 2006].

Can people write good poems if they aren't suffering?

Shelley said "we learn in suffering what we teach in song".

Do you care about money?

Not as much as I should probably - but I did come from a middle class family and always had pocket money. I just need enough to get by.

Where does your inspiration to write come from now?

It comes when I'm doing something else, when I'm not even thinking about it and an idea will come. It comes out of memories and phrases. I heard the phrase "the man with the eyes" somewhere and that got me thinking. It's about exploring imagery.

Where did the inspiration come from when you first started writing?

It was almost involuntary. Lots of people write when they are teenagers but stop in their mid 20s. Some of us feel we should keep going. I don't mean that in the "Oooh I must write something" kind of way - I find that quite repulsive.

Many writers say they feel flat when they have finished a book or a poem. Do you?

I feel really good! For about three and a half minutes [laughs]. It's a bit like sex - I guess some people feel depressed afterwards but it's thrilling to have something there that you didn't have before.