Beside Herself

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6 October, Arts Inc. Heretaunga
Readers and Writers, HBAF 2017

This evening is well supported by a largely older audience (she is famous, you know). Two armchairs on a dais face us, a classic ‘interview’ set up. Jenny Dobson is our MC tonight. She introduces Chris Price and her partner Robbie Duncan and sits down with Chris before reading us ‘Transit’. This poem neatly brings us to the 2nd Transit of Venus in 2012 and discussion on the collaborative poetry project that Chris, one of two New Zealand and two German poets, participated in.

Chris engages us with her accessible manner, introducing her latest book of poems, Beside Herself, published 2016 by Auckland University Press. Her lovely voice, with unaffected diction and easy manner, also reveals a woman quietly in charge, not needing to prove anything. Nice.

We start with her poetic ‘light side’ that she refers to as “ditty and jingle”. These are “the ones that fall helplessly into rhyme”. First ‘Antipodean’, then, set to music, ‘Trick or Treat’ that refers to both the magical green flash, rarely seen when the sun disappears into the sea, and the black spot of Venus transiting.

The ‘dark side’ begins with ‘Hasta la Vista’ and darkens with ‘The Kingdom’.

Chris explains that lyrics have to hold hands with the music, but each poem has its own music that can be over-ridden if set to music wrongly; these poems retain their integrity, their musicality speaks audibly in the room.

Robbie’s turn:  He calls Chris his “long-suffering” partner; their bedroom has been a sound studio. They were in gigs together but he lost her to poetry (she says she has now gained him to poetry). They are a natural fit, they complement each other throughout the show as he accompanies her superbly, first on acoustic, and then electric guitar.

Chris is a fan of Leonard Cohen’s dark side. She has chosen one of his songs that literally has the old Greek gods, a lesson on facing loss with dignity. She reads ‘The Gods Abandon Antony’ and then sings a part of Cohen’s song in her warm, rounded alto. I am reminded of Joan Baez, a little bit country ballad; it’s beautiful.

The Fusebox is a collection of writings to inspire and kick-start new writers or rejuvenate writers in mid-career. Chris reads an essay from it on the relationship between words and music. She speaks of listening for her poems like hearing “the faint gunfire of neurons”.

Losing family and friends to death prompts Chris to write words that can express the feelings of grief and loss, but not just for her. She reads ‘Dido’s Lament’ over oscillating loops of electric guitar and then sings. Both fill the room with weighty sorrow, elements of longing from Fado mixed with the somber depth of a medieval chant. Chris’ last poem is one to lift us up, ‘Spell for a Child to Remember’.

The hour has flown. I have been captivated and can’t help but think there would be many, younger, who would have loved this presentation. More a sharing than a show, I am deeply impressed by the quality of its essence. We are asked if we have any questions. No one speaks. For myself, Chris has already answered more questions than I knew how to ask. I buy the book.

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