You never know when something special is going to happen. We’re lucky to have too many events and moments of entertainment and distraction, we cannot possibly get to a fraction of them – so how would we know about all the special things we are missing. And the horrific slaughter in Christchurch just this past weekend is the latest reminder that life is precious, that privilege is a big part of what keeps many of us seeming so safe.
There’s a monthly poetry event that’s been going in Wellington for years – Poetry at the Fringe – it features music, storytelling and poetry and in the usual way it’s in two parts, first half is the open-mic and after a short break there’s a featured poet or performer.
There was a thought to cancel yesterday’s event and then the decision to carry on. One of the featured performers chose to not be there.
I went along yesterday for a couple of reasons. I’m dipping a toe back in the water myself, getting up and reading poems again after about 15 years off. I’ve never really stopped writing poems but I definitely stopped sharing them for a long time. Probably wise. And now I’ve just decided to get back into it – sharing poems on my site and now appearing at a couple of open-mic shows. And if that’s not wise I no longer care.
But I was also at this to support my friend Emily – she was the nervous headline guest. Nervous, because she doesn’t consider herself a poet. But she more than proved she has those chops, and great words when she performed yesterday. She nailed it.
It was a fun event. A real mixed-bag of a room – some dedicated regulars, some first-timers, and what a range of ideas and ages and stages and styles.
Given the events of Christchurch the open-mic started with poems of response and reaction, people trying to understand and unpack, hoping to show support and love. Any cynicism towards virtue-signaling or it being too soon was instantly quashed. It was just so obvious the intent – kindness. Sadness. Frustration, empathy. There wasn’t even a quiet-rage about any of these works. Just belief in humanity and a huge hope. Sympathies being expressed. It was lovely.
There were poems that were off-topic – and on a range of general topics then, from haiku and epitaphs to blank verse and rhyming yarns. An Irish ballad was sung…
There was a tone-deaf and misguided attempt to relate the need for gun-control in the wake of the Christchurch shooting with Michael Jackson’s innocence. No, really. The poet playing MJ’s song ‘Bad’ through her headphones for people to hear as she read repeated phrases around cancelling guns (they are bad) and giving Michael Jackson a chance since it was all apparently just hearsay. (He is good?)
That was the one clunker I’d say. But as is the way with open-mic events the poem was allowed to stand. It was delivered. And people showed a respect to the poet for the attempt.
It also gave me a bit of a laugh given I had a Michael Jackson poem in my bag; was slightly on the fence about reading it too, but had pretty much thought, fuckit, I’m gonna read it. The fact I followed the gun-control/MJ’s-not-BAD poem so closely meant it was too good to not add my 2c. Both sides of the argument…
So I read that. And then a recent poem about Eddie Van Halen.
My stuff seemed to go over okay, I was quite content with bombing. I’ve reached a stage where I just don’t care how it’s received – I’m confident with the work. But I was sure grateful to hear that some people liked the words and the delivery. At the half-time drinks-round a few audience members and some of the other poets came up to me to say nice things. I’ll never take that for granted. I’m just not out to seek it, as such.
Emily Writes’ set of poems was excellent. She balanced humour and satire with deeply serious works. She riffed on a kids book about animals that had all of the creatures at the zoo masturbating. She celebrated wine-mums, mocked wealth in its ugliness and read a very emotional piece about Christchurch.
Then Jessie Moss took the stage to perform songs. These were well received of course. She had good banter between the songs, a nice voice, strong material – it was all good and going so well.
And then for her final piece – everyone was time-conscious as the plan was to head to the vigil at the Basin Reserve (which many of us did) – Jessie decided to read a poem that was written by her grandmother, published in a limited edition press in the early 1950s.
It was a long, strong piece about motherhood. It had many prescient themes.
This would have been special enough. The day would have been special enough up to this point – all of the work from all of the people, all so different, but focused, engaged, engaging. But then Jessie couldn’t contain tears, within just a few words. She announced that she might struggle.
Like that, Moira, co-host of the event, and Emily and another woman (I think her name is Jane, and she is hard to see in that photo, but you can spot a fourth figure, a supportive hand) instinctively moved to the stage to hug Jessie and to co-read the poem. As Moira got it started this gave strength to the words and to all on stage. To all in the audience too. Moss was able to get through the poem – stopping at times and Moira would pick up the piece.
It was beautiful.
Such a show of strength through vulnerability, a microcosm of community forming just like that.
A beautiful moment.
I’m glad I was there to see it, to feel it, to hear it – to capture a good-enough photo of the moment too.
My thanks to all the poets and performers involved.
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