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Book interview: Poetry Live! anthology, with editors Sam Clements and Jamie Trower

Flash Frontier: Congratulations on compiling a collection that celebrates forty years of Poetry Live! It must have been a daunting task to collect and collate these poems. What do you think this anthology most reflects about the Poetry Live! community?

Jamie Trower: First and foremost, it was an immense privilege being able to edit this anthology with Sam. At the start of the journey, we both knew we had a big job to do. The blessing is that Sam and I are so alike in our deep understanding of how poetry journals should look and feel for a reader. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to create a book with. We had the weight of 40 years of Poetry Live! on our shoulders and were excited to get to work. This collection reflects so much of what Poetry Live! is: hard work, love, family, the pleasure of reading a poem for the first time or revisiting a favourite from years ago. Poetry Live! is an institution of brilliant, beautiful minds. This Twilight Menagerie reflects a community that is still going strong forty decades on.

Sam Clements: The anthology would not have been possible without Jamie and his sharp eye and fine poetic gifts. We were blessed to discover an organic and shared underlying vision for the collection. Interestingly, while we received some 240 poems, the task of selection was a pleasurable one, due to the rich variety of styles, forms, and themes in the submissions, and the overall sound to high standard of them. These factors, as well as the decision we made as emcees to select one piece from each submitter, sustained us through the reading period, though it still required care to select works that sat sympathetically with each other, and that contributed towards the formation of a narrative arc that reflected the many voices of poets from across four decades and from several generations.

The collection reflects the great depth and breadth of gifted creatives we have seen at Poetry Live! over many years, of all ages. Leading poets of national significance sit alongside unknown, fledgling, and emerging ones. The art of poetry writing is still very much alive, as evidenced through the heart and soul that comes through in the writing.

FF: What was the biggest challenge as you moved through all the tasks of creating this anthology?

JT: I would say that the main challenge was finding the right rhythm. Sam and I felt that we needed to balance the anthology not so much by when the poems were written but how they were written. The submissions were generally strong, and they certainly showed a depth of creative thinking. It certainly showcased the heart and soul of what makes Poetry Live! great.

Working through the design and construction of the book, we found the obvious set-backs – time constraints, Covid-19, general life commitments. But we thrived at the challenge. One of the biggest challenges I had was finding that flow between the poems. I work as a writer for M2 magazine too, so working during the day and then editing this anthology at night got tiresome at times. But, with Sam’s support and co-editing, the outcome is, we believe, a fine collection.

SC: A project of this size is inevitably one requiring great flexibility and adaptability. We began this project as a team of five emcees, but covid lockdowns, personal commitments, and various crises led to a need for control of the production timeline to be placed in the hands of two emcees designated as editors. The biggest challenge for me was perhaps more the liaising side of things. Communicating with the printers on cost, design, and production timelines; collecting and collating submitter and public orders; packing and posting orders; and organising marketing and interviews.

FF: We wonder how it works, translating poems that are spoken at live events to the page. Was that a particular detail that required special attention? Did you specifically want to bring the same kind of energy from a Poetry Live! night to the page?

JT: Of course. The spoken word is, after all, what we’re about at Poetry Live! We want poems that can dance, sing, sizzle and crisp on the page. We want that light and breath. We have so many well-known performance poets among our troupe, and some lesser-known, still-emerging names. In reading through the submissions, I kept my eyes peeled for that balance of emotion and composition. It’s been great to read, edit and experience these poems which found life on a stage somewhere in the journey of Poetry Live!

SC: Interestingly, all poems submitted and selected translated well to the page. Some submitters sent in a poem or two of their three on the long side and more suited to live performance, but most contributors were sensitive to the nature of the submission call, and aware that their work would appear in an anthology of special celebration. Each poem has its own energy, and would read as easily live as it does in the collection. The poems spoke to us with their own distinctive qualities without us needing to look to engineer or translate something of the vibe of live poetry onto the page.

FF: Can you give us some highlights from the volume?

JT: There are so many good, well-defined pieces in this collection. I think a highlight is the stunning picture of Poetry Live! founder, David Mitchell, taken by renowned Swiss photographer Max Oettli at the front of the book. I think that is a gem for us. Dave’s name (for us) stands amongst the greats, so it was perfect to get this never-before-seen treasure of him. I also love the facsimile article at the back of the book from the New Zealand Herald.

SC: There are many little gems in the collection that come from poets at all stages of their writing careers. Poets of national note, such as current poet laureate David Eggleton, or Lynda Chanwai-Earle, leave their distinctive touch in their respective pieces ‘At Auckland Airport’, and ‘Kiribati’. David with his colourful portrayal of rich ethnic diversity in the hustle and bustle of a place of greetings and farewells, and Lynda with her poignant dedication to the victims of the 2018 MV Butiraoi tragedy. Poets little known, such as Lyall Moore and Ila Selwyn, paint beautiful nostalgic evocations of time and place – the former of Karangahape Road, the latter through the warm bathing charms of memory and memorabilia. Richard Taylor’s poetic brilliance shines in his witty, sharply erudite poem, ‘After Dinner Speech’. Exciting new poets to watch, such as Luka Venter and Dean Hiakita, portray the intimacy of familial relationships in their charming respective works, ‘Exodus, Liquid Gas’ and ‘Moment in Time’. But there are many other delightful, memorable, and captivating pieces – something for every taste.

FF: And because this is a short fiction journal, we want to ask: is there a narrative element to this collection? Is there a story arc to discover as the reader moves through the pages?

JT: The only arc I can think of is that of discovery. Things are surely found in these pages. Little secrets, or observations of the world. Poetry, in its myriad forms, is such a beautiful way to express emotion. We at Poetry Live! have been drawn to its splendour in different ways, but it’s the fact that we are all here, and we all stay is why this anthology is so magical. This is years and years of poetry-goodness!

SC: A repetitive motive through the collection is perhaps the notion of journey, of discovery, of the importance of cherishing special moments and memories. Of recognising that even in the corridors and passages of darkness and loss there is always the indefinable light, hinted at, felt, or seen, however distant. That life is a rich tapestry of pain, grief, joy and elation. That poetry is about the conveying of deep emotion and personal interpretations of the world, that today remains as powerful and potent a vessel for the communication of inner thoughts as it has throughout human history going back to the widely considered first poet in recorded history, Enheduanna, a princess and priestess, writer and poet, who lived in the 23rd century BCE in ancient Mesopotamia.

FF: Do you think Poetry Live! has changed over the years? How does it look today, compared to forty years ago?

JT: It’s most definitely grown in a myriad of different ways. All poetry-enthusiasts (from all walks of life) have walked through its doors. From its first days in 1980 to now it has stretched and moulded the minds of many artists. It has also very much become a place of refuge for many – their second home in a sense. That’s what I loved about Poetry Live! when I first began going. That sense of whānau and togetherness.

SC: Poetry Live! has grown greatly over the decades. It has become a home for poets and lovers of poetry from all walks of life, ethnic groups and identities, young, old, middle aged. It has become a place of nurture and growth for many poets. A place providing the opportunity to develop craft, learn, collaborate, seek feedback, and make new, often lifetime friends. From its early days, when it was largely a bastion of male poets, it has become far more diverse and embracing of difference and the gender diverse, which in turn has benefited enormously the institution that is Poetry Live!

FF: What’s next for Poetry Live!?

JT: So much! Sam and I are releasing the eBook version of This Twilight Menagerie next month. We’re also looking at making Poetry Live! an incorporated society.

SC: We are in no doubt whatsoever that Poetry Live! will continue to play a prominent role within the Auckland-Tamaki Makaurau and Aotearoa-New Zealand cultural landscape for generations to come, as it keeps building on the legacy of founder David Mitchell, and his vision of a weekly poetry and live music evening that provides all the opportunity to share, listen to, and enjoy creative output in a stimulating performance environment. We’re also in the preliminary stages of investigating the possibility of making Poetry Live! an incorporated society, given its rich history and importance as a cultural institution of national significance.


About Poetry Live! currently in 2021

Poetry Live! is on hold for the lockdown period but taking place on FB Live every Tuesday at either 8pm or 7pm. We encourage people to join our FB page, and submit poems for one of us five emcees to read!

About the book

This Twilight Menagerie can be ordered by email at poetryanthology40@gmail.com or by order request through your favourite bookstore.

Sam Clements’ work has appeared in Landfall, Kingston Jamaica’s Sunday Gleaner and Flash Frontier. He performed as a poet at Auckland’s 2019 Fringe Festival in the production Psychopomp, directed by multi-award-winning actress Willa (O’Neill) Cameron, with poets Peter Le Baige, Rose Northey and Katerina Makri, NZ guitarist Nigel Gavin, and guitarist/singer/songwriter Sonia Wilson (Franco/US), that featured the Vogue Italia portfolio photography of American Alana Clarke (Cleveland, Ohio). He has collaborated and performed with Ben Ferdandez of the Ben Ferdandez Jazz Quintet and has read during recitals featuring world renowned violist Milisavljevic, principal violist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, APO Principal Viola Robert Ashworth and pianist Sherry Grant. He has a background in academia, the performing arts and politics, and has been an MC at Poetry Live! since 2019.
Jamie Trower is a poet, journalist and motivational speaker from Auckland, New Zealand. He works for M2 magazine as a writer, and in his spare time scribbles on Post-it Notes about life, death and everything in between. He is actively involved with poetry around New Zealand. He has been published nationally and internationally, in places such as Corpus: Conversations About Medicine and Life, Ingenio, Tarot, Atlanta Review, Poetry NZ and Best New Zealand Poems. In 2015, he launched his first full collection of poetry, Anatomy, with Mākaro Press. His second book, A Sign of Light, was launched in 2018 under The Cuba Press.

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