Five Poets And A Prize

Five Poets And A Prize involved the reading of five poets’ work plus the presentation of the 2016 winner of the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award. Funded by Victoria University Press and the New Zealand Poetry Society, this award is given to a poet who has contributed greatly to New Zealand poetry.

Frances Edmond, Lauris’ daughter, starts the readings with one of Lauris’ own pieces: a poem titled In Position. She then introduces Dinah Hawken, a past recipient of the prize, as the first reader. Her poems are exact yet grand, and she explains that many of the poems she’s reading are about women and children, since they remind her of Lauris.

It is this threading of Lauris’ memory with each writer that makes the event feel whole. Bob Orr, the next poet, knew Lauris personally and reads samples of his latest book, Odysseus in Woolloomooloo. I loved the way he introduced his poems, sometimes giving an insight into the story and inspiration behind his pieces.

I especially loved listening to Claire Orchard read, since I enjoyed her debut poetry collection, Cold Water Cure, which was inspired by the life of Charles Darwin. Orchard reads snippets from this collection while also expanding the reason for this focus on Darwin: an interest in comparing the similarities between Victorian life and her own.It is this imaginary correspondence between Orchard and Darwin that fuels her pieces.

The fourth poet, Chris Tse, recently had his poetry collection How to be dead in a year of snakes shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards. Before the event, I’d never read his work, but such a striking title promises good poetry. Tse definitely delivers; his voice is strong and steady, detailing the metaphor of the snake found in man and humanity.

Next up is Harry Ricketts, and his first poem is a fitting piece that’s both about Lauris and BATS,the theme and venue of the event. In between his readings are small interludes where he talks about his own interactions with Lauris, including a little story about how someone in a café declared that Lauris definitely looked like someone famous… before deciding that she had to be Janet Frame.

The variation between these five poets covered a stunning breadth of place and time from both well-seasoned and newer writers. And when Frances Edmond announces that the 2016 winner of the award is Bob Orr, the audience bursts into applause. Shocked and humbled, Orr gives his thank yous. Like all great writers, he simply loves to write, stating, “I thought I’d just come here to read some poetry”. Overall, the event was a lovely selection of five poets who I will definitely be reading more of, including the worthy winner of a brilliant prize.

Attended and reviewed by Emma Shi

Five Poets and a Prize: Dinah Hawken, Bob Orr, Claire Orchard, Chris Tse and Harry Ricketts
BATS, Saturday 12 March
NZ Festival Writer’s Week

Five Poets and a Prize: The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award

Five Poets and a Prize: The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award, Chaired by Frances Edmond
Tuesday 11 March, 12.15pm, Hannah Playhouse

The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Distinguished Contribution to Poetry in New Zealand is a biennial award which is jointly administered by Lauris Edmond’s literary estate and the New Zealand Poetry Society. The award was last presented in 2012 to Riemke Ensing. Ensing, along with Michael Harlow, Vivienne Plumb, Jenny Bornholdt, and Geoff Cochrane, read at the session, which culminated in the presentation of the award.

After a brief introduction by Frances Edmond, Epp_riemke_ensingnsing (right) opened the readings with a poem by Lauris Edmond, something she’s been doing since receiving the award. Ensing’s reading was generous and affectionate, especially the poem about her partner of fifty years who passed away in 2009.

Next to the podium was Geoff Cochrane who has that enviable talent of wooing the crowd while being entirely genuine. Cochrane opened with the statement that this “poetry caper” had been pretty good to him, because at the age of 62 he’d been able to buy his first suit. He went on to read poems from the most recent issue of Sport, and gently poked at Creative New Zealand for not funding the issue (asking the audience to go out and buy a copy). Cochrane’s reading style is so wonderfully measured and deadpan that he must be one of New Zealand’s best, and the Hannah Playhouse was heavy with the silence of attention.

love_poems_pamphletAfter Cochrane was Vivienne Plumb, and her quirky reading was irresistible to the audience. Plumb started by reading poems from her self-produced pamphlet “Several love poems by Vivienne Plumb,” which she handed out to the audience after the session. Plumb went on to read from The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and other New Zealand Icons (Seraph Press), to much laughter.


The most popular was probably “luncheon sausage”:

you can eat a smiley face out of it/ or put it into the oven and
when the edges curl up break an egg into the centre/ i remember
having to eat it when i was a child/ my mother sliced it onto
school sandwiches that were spread with tomato sauce/ it was very
pink/ and never tasted like real meat/ for safety reasons the deli
staff are no longer offering a free slice of luncheon sausage to the
children/ as several elderly persons have been for a bit of a skate
on the discarded pieces/ so it is now considered a fully fledged
supermarket slip hazard
– luncheon sausage, from The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and other New Zealand Icons (Seraph Press)

Michael Harlow was up next, and pp_michael_harlowwas a poet I had not had the pleasure of seeing read. Harlow was born in the United States and moved to New Zealand in 1968. Since then he has published multiple collections of poetry, been the editor of the Caxton Press, the poetry editor of Landfall, and is a former recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. Harlow is also a practicing Jungian psychotherapist, and read a poem drawn from his clinical practice. While Harlow only read three poems, they were intense and lyrical.

The final reader was Jenny Bornholdt, who has previously received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award. Bornholdt read from her most recent collection Hill of Wool (VUP) with her usual gentle authority. After reading some shorter poems, Bornholdt read “Poem About a Horse,” a wonderfully funny and touching poem about memory, story telling, and our use of animals to represent and symbolise human concerns.

And who won? Laurice Gilbert, President of the New Zealand Poetry Society, made the announcement and Michael Harlow made his way to the podium to accept the award.

by Sarah Jane Barnett, on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Thank you Sarah for your fantastic work on this festival – our Writers Week coverage has been enriched with your inimitable talent on board.