On Friday 9 December, I went to a concert, the result of which surprised me and led me to reflect… This is about the influence of another poet and my own writing.
Ten years ago the poems of a well known (but sadly departed) New Zealand poet, Hone Tuwhare, had been set to music and performed. Now, many of the original composers and singer-songwriters had gathered for a one-off tenth anniversary performance of the works. A celebration of the poet, and a tribute to those who were no longer with us to perform, Graham Brazier and Mahinārangi Tocker.
One of my favourite poems, “Rain” was performed by Don McGlashan. His interpretation and singing a perfect fit for the poem. I cried. The woman beside me cried. It was one of those moments – the music set the tone, an expectation, a plaintive longing, and then the words followed, intimate and sensual.
Tuwhare had a way of bringing the natural world into direct connection with the human, through devices of personification and metaphor, and a way of speaking directly to the elements, for example: “I can hear you making small holes in the silence/rain… and I should know you by the lick of you…” 1, “… the lone tree guarding the point from the sharp-tongued sea…” 2, and “We are stroking, caressing the spine of the land… Squirming, the land wriggles in delight…” 3.
As I listened, I was aware that my breathing was shallow, my chest was tight. My emotions shifted from initial recognition and connection, to a feeling of affirmation, and the tears came. I accepted that my tendency to animate the natural world, to give voice to trees and birds and the land, was a valid way to write. I’d always wondered. Here were Tuwhare’s words on stage and accepted by hundreds of people. It was a validation.
(And possibly a point of origin. I was first introduced to his work when I was 15, at school. Perhaps what I absorbed then has informed my subconscious ever since).
But then, something unexpected happened. I had felt such a strong connection that I cried, but then I began to question whether there was really anything left for me to say. It was as if Tuwhare had said it all, and quite possibly with this one poem. I left the theatre feeling as though I should just throw away my pen. I knew this was an over-reaction, but still, it made me question what I was doing, and whether I really had a voice of my own.
Later, I realised I needed to take my ego out of the mix. If I am true to myself, I don’t write to compare myself to others, to be recognised, acknowledged as clever, or unique, however satisfying that might be. I write because it is something I can do. I write because I like it. I write because it helps me understand myself. I write because it’s a creative process and I am bringing something into being that didn’t exist until I placed one word after another. I write because it’s been with me since I was a tiny child. I write because when I’m writing I feel as though there is nothing else I should be doing.
Today I re-read many of the pieces I’ve posted here this year. I’m surprised by how much I’ve done, since this is the first year I’ve committed to writing like I really mean it. There are pieces I love, pieces that could do with some editing, pieces that are a bit self-indulgent, pieces that might be better off as prose. But its done and its here and its mine, and if Tuwhare’s work in any way lies behind some of it, then I’m happy and grateful to have his influence, and to have him as one of my poetic god-parents.
So after feeling conflicted, I’ve cycled back to feeling affirmed. I’ll keep writing because others have told me that I can say things in a way that means something to them. So I’ll keep writing for them, and for myself, because it makes me feel real.
1: “Rain” from Come Rain Hail, 1970
2: “Friend” from No Ordinary Sun, 1964
3: “Papatuanuku (Earthmother)” from Making a Fist of It, 1978
An early burst of assertiveness,
“Do not change the words but if they are not spelt right correct them please”,
written when I was about seven at the end of a poem of questionable merit
(though it showed I had managed to master rhyme and rhythm at that young age).
©Claire Griffin 2016