I’ve got poems for Christchurch. But are they provocative, as advertised?
On Wednesday I’m reading poems at Scorpio Books in Christchurch alongside Helen Jacobs, a Christchurch poet whose work I like very much. You may know Helen by her other name, Elaine Jacobssen. Please come along, ye Canterbury readers and writers! If not for me, for Elaine.
The thing is, Elaine and I are billed as “Provocative poets”. That’s got me combing through my book, How To Be OId, for poems that might be called provocative.
Now I can’t speak for Elaine who is 90+, but at 80+ I will not be flaunting my sexual availability or deliberately saying outrageous things on Wednesday. I’m over that, and when I was guilty as charged in my youth, it was, at least occasionally, accidental. (I know, that’s not very convincing, is it?)
True, I do speak about the unspeakable, namely old age with its expected challenges and general weirdness and unexpected pleasures. And I hope I speak with a kind of tenderness. After all, to hate old age would be to hate myself.
So I’m hoping to provoke not outrage but memories, new thoughts, certainly laughter and perhaps a few tears. I share more than the fact of growing older with you: I spent my childhood in Canterbury, moving to Christchurch for high school and university and one year teaching at Christchurch GHS. And I regularly visit my many family members there. So expect some poems that are close to home!
Join us at Scorpio Books, 120 Hereford Street, Christchurch
on Wednesday 7 April at 5:30pm
for poems and refreshments — and Q&A.
Meantime let me share this quintessential Christchurch poem about the Hulme-Parker murder. I will certainly read this one on Wednesday, because many people still have strong feelings about this event that happened more than 50 years ago, when I was 14. It affected me far more than I realised at the time…
My Crush On Death
Some deaths were real (apparently) but most were in detective books. People died in libraries and shearing sheds and country clubs in beds and baths and bell towers. Agatha and Dorothy and Ngaio spun their dainty tales of death. Murder was a puzzle, amusing till the day they sat me down for a chat so weird that the air got squashed and I didn’t know whether to faint or sob and the blood sank into my feet. I was fourteen when I found that a real life murder isn’t fun and it isn’t a puzzle. For everyone knows who done it and murderers can be girls fresh out of your own classroom girls you tried to be nice to but in your heart you do not like. That’s when I learned that murder hurts everyone, even the public who go feral with theories and fear even the murderers who had been so vain about their work and I learned that every teenage girl must be prised away, sliced away from her best friend in case they go all lesbian and kill their mothers too. That’s when I learned to feel guilty for not seeing what was obvious for only writing twice to Juliet in jail guilty for not saving her, guilty for retreating when our mothers tried to make us friends guilty for not liking her model horses guilty for not feeling as guilty as I should because it was all my fault. That’s when I learned that life is not a book. And that was how I lost my crush on death. Two wise women set me free at fifty. Only then was I allowed to talk and talk and talk and talk and weep.
Rachel McAlpine — from How To Be Old, Cuba Press 2020