On Tuesday March 12, we’ll be rolling into Masterton. It’s our first stop on this tour, so if there’s any night on which we’re most likely to fall over, drop things, and make your heads explode into flames with embarrassment it will be this one. But this could be entertaining for all, so come along. We’ll be reading at Hedleys Books from 5.30pm. Come along from 5pm if you like, as we’ll have wine and things.
Local writer Pat White will be chairing our event. Pat is a terrific essayist, poet, and painter. We’re looking forward to talking to him, because not only is Pat a great writer and reader but he is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
Pat completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University in 2009. His most recent book, How The Land Lies, is a memoir in essays, detailing the places, lives, and landscapes Pat moved through in his search for where and how he wanted to live. Pat has been extremely prolific over the years, with poetry collections that include Signposts (1977); Bushfall (1978); Cut Across the Grain (1980); Acts of Resistance (1985); Dark Backward (1994); and Drought and Other Intimacies (1999); and Planting the Olives (2004). He has recently started a blog too.
The other day I sent Pat some questions about what it’s like to be a writer in the Wairarapa.
What’s the best thing about being a writer in the Wairarapa? And if you could change one thing about it, what would it be?
The best thing for me is the sense of space in which I work. Being out of the mainstream means there is less distraction, in theory at least. For me, writing about place and identity, there is a strong sense of the local here that, in the end, opens out to a larger world of the mind.
If I could change one thing, it may just be that a few more distractions, such as writers’ visits, would be a worthwhile energy boost – new ideas, challenging readings of our work, and so on. What we gain from electronic media doesn’t replace a glass of wine and a good talk with someone face to face, in my world.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happening in the Wairarapa at the moment on the literary front?
Interesting, but not such a happy thing, is the squeeze being felt by bookshops as e-books and electronics take a swipe at the market. We’re lucky in having very good bookshops, which answers the question below as well.
We are awash with reading groups, WEA-type readers who meet to discuss literature. It would be interesting to see how many of them turn up to the Rocky Outcrop event, in other words – the question of involvement with contemporary writing that is not ‘big time’ has now been asked. What do ‘new’ writers need to do to attract attention to their work?
There are poets, such as Madeleine Slavick (who is going to be in Hong Kong reading her work in March), trying to get readings going, and I have heard that perhaps a venue could be starting up in Carterton.
Is it important to you as a writer to have a good bookshop close by?
I have shopped at Hedleys for twenty years, both privately and at one stage as Carterton Librarian. It is difficult to imagine the main street of Masterton without that shop. Free libraries and good bookshops are a way of measure the cultural heart of a town, or a region. Wairarapa is fortunate, but like many parts of New Zealand there is a sense of losing ground as media hype assaults the access to variety in books available, as with other things – if it isn’t advertised heavily, there are problems selling.
What are you enjoying most about what you’re writing at the moment?
I have a lot of poetry to work with, and I always enjoy that process. It is probably time to put some into the marketplace, to let it swim on its own, so to speak.
Also a rewrite of a biography about Peter Hooper is under way. He died in 1991, and was a life member of Forest & Bird, a West Coast conservationist and activist, teacher and lifelong follower of H D Thoreau … among other things. He published a volume of my poetry called Acts of Resistance, and wrote award-winning poetry and fiction. Even writing about the man provokes thoughts of the planet and how we are treating it.
What are you finding most challenging about what you’re writing?
Commas are my problem! Alternatively, there is so much to do outside. A question about writing problems invariably sets up a book-size answer. We embed a process and trust that the mere act of writing will carry us through, don’t we?
What are you reading? What’s it like?
I am also reading the essays of Robert Bringhurst: The Tree of Meaning. They combine language, ecology, and philosophy into seemingly simple prose that is awash with association and thought. I highly recommend these essays, and have bought their companion volume Everywhere Being is Dancing.