celebrating a long apprenticeship

Next Wednesday, 12.30pm, Theatre Lab 5D14, Massey University Wellington my dear friend Maria McMillan and I are giving a talk/poetry reading. It’s my first duty as visiting artist at Massey. We’ll be repeating it the following Wednesday 24 April, 6pm, at the Palmerston North City Library.

I invited Maria to share the reading with me because we have been friends for almost twenty years and it has been a friendship with our shared love of writing at the core. Indulge me while I tell you a little bit about our history.

We met just after finishing university, and quicky bonded over our love for poetry. We both took it very seriously, sharing books, discussing poetry, sharing our own writing with each other, even sitting and writing together. Our relationship was intense at it’s beginning and we were soon devoted friends.

A couple of years into our friendship, Maria left for her OE and a year later, I followed (with my husband Fraser) and we lived with Maria in Brixton, London.

Our time in London was wonderful – we called ourselves ‘Girl Germs’ and we wrote a lot, went on geeky literary pilgrimages (I actually cried when I sat in Virginia Woolf’s writing shed in Rodmell, Sussex), joined the Poetry Library on the South Bank, went to poetry readings (most notably Carol Ann Duffy and (for me) two of the ‘Liverpool Poets’: Brian Patten and Roger McGough who I adored as a teenager) and read at Open Mike Nights – all over London, but the best ones were always at The Poetry Place in Covent Garden. You were limited to read just one poem (always a good idea for Open Mike nights!) and the famous read with alongside the newbies. You never knew who might appear. Once John Cooper Clark popped up! For a while Maria interned with Michael Horowitz. Exciting times for poetry nerds.

Here is Maria outside the Poetry Cafe with our friend, American poet Debbie Urbanski. (These days Debbie owns a Letter Press Studio – the Box Car Press.) 

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Anyway – like most friendships in your twenties (when you have no kids or mortgage) we had many great nights out together…

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We danced together…

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We played a lot of hacky sack together…(in London we lived in overcrowded flats where people were sleeping in the living room or sharing bedrooms, so we made trips to nearby parks for hacky-sack compulsory for all flatmates. Hacky sack is both great for letting off steam and for discussions about stuff going on in the flat that cannot get tense because…dude, you are playing hacky-sack – it’s a collaborative game! Hacky sack stopped us all killing each other many a time.)

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We went on adventures together….

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Maria was a very patient model for my try-hard arty photo shoots:

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We wore each other’s clothes. (Particular old men’s jerseys from op-shops were in hot demand. The kind that was old and worn enough to have lost all stretch around the bands. Holes were desirable, too, for scruffy street-cred.)

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But the thing that means the most to me, looking back, is how we shared writing. We both had an unassailable passion for writing, we were doing it by ourselves – outside of any academic institutions – we learned a lot together. The bed-rock of peer support we gave each other was a great ground for growth and experimentation. 

Anyway, neither of us found particular success (in terms of traditional writing institutions and publications) during our twenties and it wasn’t until we hit our thirties+ that we moved from underground to the more expected terrain (publication in literary journals, anthologies and finally, publication of our own books.) We were not wunderkinds. But I am really grateful for our long apprenticeship and for the opportunity we had in our twenties to be zealots for poetry! To be poetry fundamentalists! To be so passionate and nerdy without the self-consciousness and self-doubt that academic creative writing programmes often breed. We were not cool or understated or moderate or measured or even particularly talented but we were passionate and dedicated and optimistic and eager to teach ourselves and each other. I love that about us-as-we-were.

Anyway, when we were ready, we DID study creative writing – I did the Writing Programme at Whitireia Polytechnic and it was invaluable beyond words. Maria did courses at the International Institute of Modern Letters which I know she feels really helped her develop her work.

This winter Maria has her first book coming out with Seraph Press (who are my wonderful publisher also) ‘The Rope Walk’, and next year she has a book coming out with Victoria University Press, ‘Tree Space’. As you may know, my first book ‘The Comforter’ came out in December 2011.

So, yes, this talk is something of a celebration for me of our long apprenticeship, and a long and wonderful friendship, too. Girl Germs Forever!

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