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While on my trip to New Zealand I took the chance to read at one of Auckland’s Open Mic sessions. Inside-Out at Cafe One2One on Ponsonby Road is a well established monthly reading slot for local writers, and musicians. On the 14th of November 2018, as usual, I suspect, the room was packed and buzzing.

It’s quite alarming, I found, to contemplate reading to an audience as far round the world as you can get without starting on the journey home. What do they care about? What will they understand? What will amuse them? Rile them? Wind them up? Move them? And will it do it for the right reasons? How the hell does one choose just what to fill that five minute slot with? It was unnerving too, to find how similar the event was to  the Carlisle (Cumbria, UK) Speakeasy and Litcaff events I’ve been familiar with over the last dozen or so years. And amid those similarities, of course, the startling differences, of expectation, attitude, and perception, like the explosions of palm leaves that force their way through the canopies of ‘ordinary’ looking trees in what might be an English countryside. Walking on a turf headland forty minutes drive from the city, was like being on the coast near Whithorn. Crossing the fence line on the usual sort of stile, we stepped into what seemed a sub-tropical forest. Difference, and similarity in life, as in Art.

So, I’d taken a fistful of books to read from, made a dozen plans that I tore up, ended up reading one story, and one poem. The story, A Last Visit, taken from Talking To Owls (published by the excellent, but now retired Pewter Rose Press in 2012 – I have a couple of dozen copies left: Paypal me £6 GBpounds, and your address and I’ll send you one), but previously unpublished, and rarely read in public. The poem, All Things Are Connected, from Acumen‘s 60th anniversary anthology, and before that in #56 from 2006. In both cases, they seemed to understand what I was getting at. I should put that poem in a collection, if I do another.

Reading old work gets more enjoyable as I age with it, and reading new work less so! I had a new ‘work’ to read on the 14th, though, for a game they play here is to give you a fistful of words on a printed form, and ask for a piece of micro-fiction or poetry to go into the draw. Hell, I thought, why not? All Things itself came  out of a not wholly different exercise. Five of these raw pieces would be picked out of a hat, and guess what, mine was one of them! We each got a prize too…in my case Ivy Alvarez’s poetry collection Disturbance (Seren Books,2013),about which more perhaps after I’ve re-read it.

There isn’t, in my possession, an image from the reading, but if one turns up, I’ll post it! As an alternative, here’s a Kiwi forest, familiar, and unfamiliar.

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What I really liked about New Zealand wasn’t the spectacular scenery. The scenery was spectacular. I liked the way palm trees and tree ferns exploded like green fireworks from the centre of what looked like ordinary forests (by which I mean, the ones I’m used to seeing). I liked the way you could look down into the craters of Mounts Eden, and Rangitoto, the former spewed of red rock, the latter of black. The dust of Rangitoto, which was as black as coal and as fine as flour dulled our shoes with a grey patina and each step we took ground out a teaspoonful more from the pumice-like scoria. And the phrase itself has such a rhythm about it – The Dust of Rangitoto – there’s got to be a ballad/poem in there somewhere!

But we have scenery. We even have volcanoes, though not dormant ones, and Arthur’s Seat is a plug that you look up at, rather than down into. At Waiotapu the hot springs were colourful and spectacular, and smelly, but the vents you could stare down into and not see the water that you could hear boiling below were, to my ears, the most spectacular (which is a mixed metaphor you might recoil at – though I rather like it). What struck me most there was the way the birds were nesting in the volcanic cliffs’ letting the geo-thermal heat do the work of incubation while they flew in and out of the rock vents catching the insects that lived even there. By the mud pools, where min-geysers (guysers, the Kiwis call them – yis!) threw handfuls of grey gloop a few feet or even only inches up into the air, and the concentric ripples of their falling back moved slowly outwards, the pool-edge bushes grew close enough to get coated in the hot, killing, grime. Life pushes in as far as it can go, and sometimes further. We’re not alone, then, in such follies.

But what I really liked, apart from the wonderful coffee, and the Asian food, all along Ponsonby Road, or on the more edgy ‘K’ road, that turns downhill towards the CBD, was the fact that in New Zealand, the drivers don’t just wait patiently for you to cross at the zebra crossings, they actually wait for you to get to them! And on the lights controlled crossings in the CBD, with not a car in sight for two hundred yards in either direction, the pedestrians wait, equally patiently, for the green man to expose himself. This isn’t waiting the way the Germans are said to, because it’s the rules, or doesn’t seem so, but seems instead to be, well, because they can, and who’s in a hurry? Now that’s what I call civilised.