The second destination on my recent New Zealand visit was Christchurch, where I conducted three readings in local libraries. The readings all took place in a day, and a rather cold and bleak day it was. That morning, I wandered down to the Hummingbird Cafe in Cashel Street for my coffee and some breakfast. After the earthquakes of the past couple of years, the Cashel Street mall area, like Christchurch more generally, has been entirely transformed.
Many of Christchurch’s buildings are still awaiting repairs or demolition, and the Red Zone in the CBD is still fenced off, accessible only to construction workers and others involved with the recovery process. I didn’t realise until I arrived just how devastated the city still is by the quakes. The recovery process will take years. In the mean time, shipping containers are being put to ingenious use throughout the city as temporary retail space. Cashel Street is now home to a whole ‘container mall’, with lovely gift and fashion stores, a bookstore, and cafes operating out of converted containers. The effect is surprisingly stylish; a short stroll through the container mall is a striking reminder of how the need to improvise can provoke great creativity. From my discussions with locals, I drew a strong sense of their resourcefulness and strength, but also of their weariness at the recovery process, at the endless uncertainty about the kinds of repairs they will need to do to their properties–and whether they can be repaired–and what kinds of financial compensation may be available to them.
Thanks to the coordination efforts of the Canterbury libraries’ events manager Sargia, I read at libraries in Papanui and Upper Riccarton. At the latter, I read once for the general public, and then for students at the local high school. What a wonderful library it was, too: bustling with students and toddlers and mums and older people, and with a cafe and heaps of comfortable reading spaces. The students were not only an attentive audience, but also asked fantastic questions afterwards. It was my very first school reading, and now I can’t wait to do more. Later, at Papanui library, I read to a small crowd that included some teenage girls–not students, just girls who were hanging around–who listened attentively and clapped after each of the poems, and, kindly, didn’t even laugh at the mention of “pink thongs.” (I decided on the spot not to change the term to “jandals,” though I knew I was risking terrible mockery.)
I returned to Auckland for a day and a half to do two final readings. These were organised by Gus Simonovic at Printable Reality, an organisation that aims to bring performance poetry to a broad audience at a range of events. To that end, I was one of a whole swag of poets who read at an international yoga festival at the gorgeous retreat centre Kawai Purapura.
Later that evening, we capped off the weekend with a reading at the Library Bar, a book-themed Auckland bar with very appealing decor (pictured). There were poets and performers from all over, all of them amazing. The one who blew me away was David Kelley, an American singer-songwriter based in Auckland. I could have listened to this guy all night.