A poet’s unofficial National Poetry Day NZ 2020

Two happy young women holding poems, two happy older women reading them

Happiness is a warm poem: Margaret Austin and Rachel McAlpine share poems in Cuba Street, Wellington, on unofficial National Poetry Day 2020 NZ

My unofficial National Poetry Day 2020 NZ was sharing poems with random strangers, finding a mythical book shop and buying outsider book-art.

The day began with printing and trimming the poems my friend Margaret Austin and I were going to share with city pedestrians. I was full of confidence having done this slightly daft thing once before, and Margaret launched into the project with enthusiasm.

We went into a couple of cafes but mostly we accosted strangers on the footpath.

“Did you know it’s National Poetry Day today?” (Of course not.) “Would you like a poem?”(Yes was the norm, No the exception.)

I approached people young and old, in hoodies, dresses, suits and visibility jackets, bearded, bald, beanied and ear-podded. I could not identify any discernible poetry type of person and to my astonishment, about 75% were positively enthusiastic! We were both asked quite often to read a poem aloud: these were highly personalised readings.

We gave away our 100 poems (and a few little books) in about 40 minutes. Next year, we could easily double that number because in Cuba Street at least, poems appear to be pop pop popular.

Phew! After a quick sandwich and coffee at The Milk Crate I went down a side lane that I had often hurried through but never paused to examine. It’s off Cuba Mall and doesn’t even have a name, as far as I can tell. Blow me down, there I found not only the phenomenal Pegasus Books, which I had been virtually unaware of until today…

photo of a book store room. 9 shelves high stacked with books

One room in Pegasus Books, a very special book store in Wellington, New Zealand

… but also Roar! an outsider art gallery which I used to frequent until they moved… somewhere. Now they are tucked away close to Pegasus Books, just off Cuba Street. On a high, I bought a work by David Boyle, who continues to make me “read” books in new ways. His Books and Rabbit (?) will feature in a cat influencer post tomorrow. (Ursula is pondering her review as we speak.)

Finally I got to the Post Office and discovered that my book, How To Be Old, if parsimoniously packaged, would cost only $4 to post to Korea or indeed anywhere in the world beyond Australia and the Pacific Islands. Score! $4 is much less than the $9 that I expected, and this has excellent implications for people outside of New Zealand who want to order How To Be Old. Postage will not be prohibitive. Message for writers and publishers: good things come in small books.

Yellow book wrapped with a mock $4 to anywhere stamp

My book How To Be Old can be posted anywhere in the world for $4.00‚ NZ dollars BTW!

So that was my National Poetry Day in Wellington, New Zealand. Appropriately happy, as now I’m officially a poet once again after years as (ahem) an expert in digital content. Welcome back, me! The old me, in two senses.


14 thoughts on “A poet’s unofficial National Poetry Day NZ 2020

  1. Marvellous! What a great way to spend the day, sharing poetry. My scalp prickled when I read of the mysterious lane off Cuba Street. It reminded me of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry, in which there is a lane off Cuba Street, inhabited by characters who have escaped from their books. Pegasus Books and Roar! look inspiring.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Wow, what a coincidence. I have just bought that book on Kindle thanks to you. I was thinking of a book about a love story in a bookshop involving? C S Lewis? Was it 22 Chalmers Lane? Aaagh, come back memory, all is forgiven.

      1. Charing Cross Road – not sure of the number.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Of course. 84. Helen Banff and Frank Joel, according to my secret source beginning with W.

  2. Nyla Carroll says:

    What a wonderful day! I always check out Pegasus Books when I am in Wellington – am sure you will return! Great post Rachel – Happy National Poetry Day….

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I surely will. I bought a Charles Bukowski collection for nostalgia and curiosity. Thanks!

  3. Looks as though you’re having great fun!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It truly was a fun thing to do, and so much more so with a friend.

  4. cedar51 says:

    How amazing to have such a fruitful day – poems distributed, stores found, art found – so looking forward to my Auckland region being able to let us “go further” than the local ‘hood. – Catherine aka cedar51

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It was an exceptional day for sure. But most of my plans change daily because of level 2 lockdown. Stay strong!

  5. alison41 says:

    Pegasus books looks like a wonderful book store. What a splendid day you had!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I can’t imagine a more wonderful day–sharing poems and finding a book store. I also realized that you are not as tall as I imagined or the people enjoying the poems are all very tall.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m a short person who feels tall.

      1. Elizabeth says:

        Well you seem tall in your poems!

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