A Poetical Friday

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The Poets Respond to the Quake reading, held by University of Canterbury, celebrated National Poetry Day on Friday. Winners of the My Quake Nightmare competition were given the opportunity to read their poem.

The poems enticed listeners to consider the quake from various aspects, giving us insight into how people were emotionally affected by the quakes, and the ongoing struggles of surviving in Christchurch. There was also an underlying theme of the way people pull together to get through crisis times, especially in the poem Block Party (the author’s name I regretfully forget).

We were delighted to discover our CWG member, Helen Mongillo, was a winner of the competition. Despite the nervousness she showed before the event began, her reading was executed beautifully. The poem itself took us back to the day of the quake. It showed the way people became selfless, and did all they could to help others, despite danger to themselves. It also aptly captured the fear we all now live with: when will the next one be, and how much more can our buildings take?

The event was MCed by Jeffery Paparoa Holman, who also read some thought provoking poems of his own, such as one regarding the death of a language; it was particularly relevant due to Maori Language Week last week and the continued declining numbers of Te Reo Maori speakers.

We were also treated to readings from Helen Lowe and Ben Brown, both of whom read wonderfully. Ben Brown reminded me of Glenn Colquhoun, as they both perform, rather than simply read their work. Definitely a pleasure to listen to. Helen Lowe’s poetry struck me as ethereal. I hope she one day publishes an anthology of her poetry so I can buy a copy, though she did tell me some poems are available on her blog site.

Helen Mongillo has kindly given us permission to post her photo and winning poem here. I hope you enjoy her poem as much as we did.

Helen Mongillo reads her poem at the Poets Respond to the Quake event.

My Life, by Helen Mongillo
Normal day.  Email, photocopy, edit.
Floor rolls.  Filing cabinet drawers move towards me.
Must get out.  Can’t walk.  Falling files.  Crawling.
First aid course memories, “It’s alright!  It’s going to be fine!” I call from hands and knees.
Sobs from under nearby desk.

Evacuation.  Wait!  My cell phone.
Crawl under desk.  Tug, tug at my hand bag, pinned under heavy metal cabinet.
“Kirsty.  Can you help?”  She steps on books and files.  Yanks metal.  Bag free.
Down four flights.  Stairwell waterfalls.  Must be bad.
Kilmore Street crowded. Text kids. Where did these bruises on my arms come from?

Back to work.  Second floor, two story, pre-1970’s building, near city centre.
What if there’s another one now?  This tiny toilet.  Cinderblock wall.
Forgetting.  Caught off guard again.  Hold desk edge; do I go under?
Laughter.  Cursing.  Eventually no comment at all.  The strangest.
Why do I stay here?  It’s my life.

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