Reading Poetry at Madras Cafe Books in Christchurch (feat. North)

Last night, I was a guest reader, together with Fiona Farrell and Victoria Broome, at the first weekly session of the Canterbury Poets’ Collective Autumn Readings Series at Madras Cafe Books in Christchurch.

I had a terrible cold, but a good time. I was going to post a full and judicious report, but I discovered tonight that Catherine of Still Standing on her Head had got there before me, so I am going to recommend that you read her excellent report. I’ll just throw in a few additional comments:

  • I liked the venue. Madras Cafe Books does what it says on the label: There’s a cafe, with seating inside and out, and behind the cafe, a bookstore. The food at the cafe was delicious (I was very bad and had a mocha slice), and although the bookshop isn’t large, it has a good selection of interesting books from both New Zealand and overseas. Definitely recommended.
  • I was impressed by what I saw of the Canterbury poetry community (I’m not sure how many people came from out of town). There was a very good turnout, people were certainly friendly to me and seemed friendly to each other, and the standard of the poems read at the open mike part of the evening was high; there were many contenders for the prize for best poem from this section, won by Joanna Preston. It was great to meet poets I only knew by name or reputation, such as John O’Connor and James Norcliffe, as well as those I had met before – and I was especially pleased to be able to thank Fiona Farrell for including my story “Win a Day with Mikhail Gorbachev” in Best New Zealand Fiction 4.
  • It isn’t easy to read poetry to an audience when you have a sore throat. I was surprised my voice held out; I guess adrenalin got me through. Hardest of all the poems to read was “North”, from my first collection, Boat People. I do the Yorkshire-y bits in a variety of Yorkshire accents, and it isn’t easy trying to sound like the Clitheroe Kid when your voice is threatening to give way. Maybe I’ll put up an audio file one day, but in the meantime, here is North, inspired by my visit back to the land and accents of my birth in 1989 – with apologies to Harvey Molloy, who has had to put up with my lame renditions of accents not entirely dissimilar to his when he’s heard me read this poem.


On Ilkley Moor
I parked me red
Ford Laser hatchback
and gazed to the north.
Rain and smoke stood over Wharfedale.

It was all in its appointed place:
stone houses and stone smiles in Ilkley
the wind on the bleak
insalubrious bracken.

I was waiting for memory
to make the scene complete:
some flat-vowelled voice out of childhood
snatches of Northern song.

For memory read TV:
Tha’ve broken tha poor Mother’s heart
It were only a bit of fun.
Bowl slower and hit bloody stumps.

Tha’ll never amount to much, lad. In cloth cap and gaiters,
car forgotten, I pedal down the hill. Hurry oop
or tha’ll be late for mill. Folk say
I’ve been seeing the young widow Cleghorn.
Well, now, fancy that.

In my invented character
I trail my falsified heritage
down the long, consoling streets.