Friday, 15 February 2013

The Writers' Walk in Dunedin

 Dunedin seems to be a city dedicated to poets and writers - not just in the past.  One of NZ's finest contemporary writers, Vincent O'Sullivan lives here now and there are lots of others.  Sitting at a street cafe, I found myself ear-wigging a forceful conversation at the adjoining table, involving an author who was writing a book about Amundsen, who died on a fateful rescue mission that killed more rescuers than the party they were trying to rescue.  It sounded as if it was going to be a very interesting book. Then I had a great evening with two of the Tuesday Poets who live there - Claire Beynon (who is a wonderful artist as well as a poet) and Orchid Tierney.  We've been exchanging poetry every Tuesday for two years, but this is the first time we've been able to meet.
Claire, Orchid and Kathleen

Dunedin is a very Scottish city.  The architecture is very familiar to anyone from the northern part of Britain - the cathedral in particular looks very Scottish.
 Unlike NZ generally, it seems to have been socially unequal from the beginning.  One writer said that it was 'a city where the rich inhabited the hills and looked out to sea and the poor inhabited the flat and looked at each other'.   And it still has a reputation for parochialism.  In 1983 author and editor Dennis McEldowney wrote that 'Dunedin is a place where it is front page headline news if someone has a fire in their wardrobe'!

But it has a very good university - Otago - that fosters writers through the Robert Burns Fellowship.  It has very high ideals, formulated by another of NZ's big authors, Charles Brasch, 'Part of a university's proper business is to act as nurse to the arts, or, more exactly, to the imagination. . .  Imagination may flourish anywhere.  But it should flourish as a matter of course in the university, for it is only through imaginative thinking that society grows, materially and intellectually.'  I felt like shouting 'if only'!  Imagination often seems the last thing our education system nurtures.

The Scots brought  the poetry of Robert Burns to the city - his nephew, the Rev Thomas Burns co-founded the settlement in 1848 and was minister of the first church.  Rabbie's statue has pride of place (and provides a good roost!) in the centre of town.


Many of New Zealand's most famous writers have held the fellowship and are commemorated on the 'writer's walk' marked by bronze plaques in the pavement.  They include Janet Frame:

The 'gifted, bawdy and religious poet' James K. Baxter (check him out)
 
Lauris Edmond (memoirist and poet), Fleur Adcock and  the Mauri author of Whale Rider, Witi Ihimaera  who's work I didn't really know at all, though I have seen the film. But I suppose that's the purpose of a Writers' Walk - to introduce you to writers you might not have come across.

 I really like this city and the surrounding landscape.  I could live here!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a wonderful place.

    You could live there?

    What about Italy? A tough choice

    ReplyDelete