Word catcher

22:21, Feb 24 2013

Literary fans at Friday's Writing Home poetry reading at the Millennium Art Gallery in Blenheim can "welcome home" the special guest, 2011-13 New Zealand Poet Laureate Ian Wedde.

Blenheim-born Ian will be joined by fellow poets Cliff Fell, Dinah Hawken and John Newson and each will give five-minute readings and reflections about their concept of "home".

"There are different ways of thinking about home," the poet laureate says in a telephone interview this week from Auckland. In a book he is still writing, The Grass-Catcher: An Essay about Home, Ian ponders the paradoxical questions: "Where are we when we're at home? and "How will we know when we get there?"

Auckland has been home since 2010 and follows earlier years in Wellington where he shared a big old house with his partner, children and many of their friends. Other bases have been London, France and Bangladesh - which was called East Pakistan in the 1960s when his parents moved there from Blenheim with their young family.

Wedde is the author of 14 collections of poetry, several novels, essay collections and art books. Asked how writing prose compares to poetry, he says the latter is less about writing stories.

He personally finds writing poetry more difficult than prose. "It's more about finding the most penetrating way of investigating something, investigating an idea, seeing where the process of writing will take you.


"For me, it requires the most critical attention - and at the same time requiring you to loosen up the most.

"You have to be really, really hard on yourself. It's easy to write drivel and chop it up. I'm not interested in reading or writing that."

Wedde subjects range from everyday situations in his own or others' lives, to global issues. A new poetry collection, The Lifeguard: poems 2008-2013 looks at what is happening with the wider socio-ecological environment.

Stories told in published novels or poems have no higher status that those in the daily news media, he says, although books can have a longer life.

"A great novel is read over and over . . . but it also changes. It's different every time it's read. When Charles Dickens was alive and writing he was a huge, popular figure of his time. But what [his contemporaries] read was different to what we read today."

Wedde, 66, has earned National Book Awards for both his fiction and poetry, has held writing fellowships at Otago, Victoria and Auckland universities; was the 2005 Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton, France, and was awarded an ONZM in the 2010 Queens Birthday Honours for his writing.

Being named the 2011-13 New Zealand Poet Laureate still came as a complete surprise, he says.

The two-year term comes with an expectation to be a public advocate for poetry, give readings and talks to school children.

"I've found it great to be involved in that way and I've liked the opportunity to involve other people."

He has a clear vision of what happens when his term as laureate finishes at the end of June. "It will be nice to pass the baton on to whoever is next, wish them well and hope they have as interesting time as I did."

Writing Home starts at 5.30pm on Friday at the Millennium Art Gallery, Blenheim. Entry by koha.

The Marlborough Express