Wednesday, November 28, 2012

He wahi taoka. He wahi taima: A special place. A special time.

Travel Poetry gets a bad rap. Do you ever see poetry published in main travel publications? Nope, I never see any.
I guess editors don't want it because verse needs space around it. Great poetry can't be swamped, unlike straight narrative which can have more info crammed into the allotted space. Do editors think precise info has to be presented to the reader, rather than encouraging the reader to interpret meaning for themselves?

Shame on editors for not grabbing the style, and encouraging writers to explore poetic interpretations of place and time as much as the narrative writer or the photographer. It quietly surrounds and journeys with the traveller expanding their dimension of experiences, and should be just as much a part of our travel publishing as the best picture or narrative of place. In fact the best poetry has a longer staying power in our written history and conscious memory than the best travel narrative. The earliest travel writers were after all poets - the Iliad and the Odyssey are still well read classics.

And having learnt the joys of Tennyson, Burns, Wordsworth (gee, I've even been to his house) and the host of other great poets, do we ever forget their words?

You can still recite your favourite poems...but can you recite any travel narrative?

I'm sure it can't just be me. I keep going back to "Worst Journeys: The Picador Book Of Travel" and re-reading Carolyn Forche's 'Return', and each time find something new in her poem. As for the narrative authors in that collection- once read, their story is laid aside or forgotten. I don't need facts - I need impressions.

So why is travel media obsessed with narrative or list articles?
How many ways can a place be written about after all?
More and more travellers writing about the same places....the future doesn't bear thinking about...that word 'boring' is hovering on the horizon....

Ho hum, let them scramble all over each other. I'll just explore my way of doing things.

Even so, it's quite an unjustified situation, as wherever one looks poetry abounds - if you open your eyes.

During our recent 3 week trip around the South Island I was really impressed to find poetry wherever we went. I didn't search for it, it was just there waiting to be seen. Prose records and displays history in museums, it is framed on heritage hotel walls, etched in granite on roadside memorials and walkway markers, or chiselled on headstones of long neglected cemeteries of remnant gold or coal towns.

Click on these pics and bring them up full size in slideshow format and enjoy.

Denniston open-air coal mine museum. West Coast.

After reading this, don't you feel as if you have imagined just a little of how a coal miner felt in those days of hard, dirty and claustrophobic work with danger lurking all around you? Would a narrative have conveyed the same feelings?
Denniston  Read here.

Now try this article- Nugget Point Walkway - by a noted NZ traveller and writer, and not once does she mention the sterling effort our Department of Conservation has undertaken along the Catlins Coast walkway to provide walkway markers that entice you with information in a unique poetic manner!
Space constraints? Well if so, then print publishers are failing to adapt to the unfettered possibilities offered by online publishing where formats can be more expansive.

Nugget Point Walkway to the lighthouse.
Along the walkway there are many markers displaying poetic interpretations of the experience, but have you ever read a travel article that mentions these? That travel writer would be looking for a unique pitch for a story, and yet she ignored this angle!

I feel they add an extra dimension to the walkway experience, encouraging the reader to stop and imagine more about the environment and the forces of Nature that shaped this coast. You pay a lot of money to travel, so why ignore all the offered ways to enjoy a place?
Read the markers so you can always recall this place through the words in your memory. You can take away more than just pictures...your own impressions.

Here are pics of just two of the many markers.

Nugget Point walkway markers, Catlins Coast, Southland.

Positioned so you can look up from the words and see the pounding surf, the wheeling flocks of seabirds setting out or returning to rookeries on the cliff faces, the swirling of bull kelp in the wind-driven crashing waves, or the gentle, almost musical rippling of wind-shorn manuka and kamahi vegetation sheltering yellow-eyed penguin or seal pups.

 He wahi taoka. He wahi taima. A special place. A special time.
Nugget Point Walkway markers, Catlins Coast, Southland, 

The newly created Lake Dunstan, behind the Clyde Dam (completed 1993), flooded most of the old gold mining and sluicing operations throughout the Cromwell Gorge. At a roadside lay-by at the northern head of the lake, just before you reach Cromwell, is a memorial to the gold-rush era pioneers.

Here again, an important fragment of our history memorialised in poetry: a narrative just wouldn't convey the same immortal reverence or importance somehow.

Memorial to our early gold miners, Cromwell Gorge roadside.

St Bathans
St Bathans, in the Maniototo, Central Otago, is reached by a detour off the main highway north of Alexandra. The Loop Road takes you to this historic gold mining village where a few of the original buildings remain. Built of mud brick, the Vulcan Hotel (formerly The Ballarat) stands proud, offering overnight accommodation, ghost included, and great cooking by excellent hosts. Your tour guide around the man-made lake through sluice-tailing mounds of the gold workings, now eroded into a Cappadoccia-like troglodyte landscape, will be the hotel's dog! 

While enjoying coffee and muffins, and a great conversation with Jude, we spied these framed newspaper cuttings.
Once again, poetry brings a deeper immersion in an historic place- yes, you'll hear the ring and clatter of picks and shovel if you just let that imagination have the rein...

Vulcan Hotel, St Bathans, Otago. 

Vulcan Hotel, St Bathans, Otago.

We explored NZ's early history, investigating old coal mining centres, wandering the remnants of goldfields, and browsing country museums.
And each museum memorialises, like a temple of reverence, the history of these small rural communities where families lost their sons, wives lost husbands, and young women faced a life of spinsterhood: a whole generation of men lost! From a population in 1914 of 1,150,000,  just over 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas. A staggering 58,000 casualties ( including over 18,000 dead ) incurred!
Static displays of photos, equipment, and personal diaries and letters record the huge personal loss to these communities. In each museum, maps show the farms and villages that lost so many young men, and women, who are buried on the far side of the world in Belgium, France, Egypt, and at Gallipoli in Turkey. These displays brought home to us an appreciation of the deep effects on our young country's development subsequent to the First World War.

And of course one of the most remembered of war poems is proudly but poignantly displayed in every one of our country museums, drawing one's mind to imagine the bitter consequences of that great human folly.

In Flanders Fields.
By John Macrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn,saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from flailing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Yes, poetry surrounds the traveller. Seek it out, or better still, write it and let's get some published!
He wahi taoka. He wahi taima.

Yeah OK, glad you read to the end. Was supposed to be a few pics of poetry we found on our travel but it ended up a rant on the wider issue of the lack of travel poetry being published today!


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