Sunday, September 2, 2018

WORD 2018 Part 2: Get John Campbell to introduce every literary gala

Reason: he will spend weeks becoming intimately familiar with the work of the writers and come up with a long-form essay introduction that ties all their works together then bugger off back stage and let them do their thing.

The gala event is a literary festival at its worst and best. At its worst, it strings writers together for no better reason than their commercial appeal, their ability to draw an audience. At its best, it makes their work resonate even if it's not designed to or supposed to. Or maybe the skill of the festival director is to produce such accidental encounters on purpose. Which brings me to my second point.

Get Rachael King to direct every literary festival.

Reason: this year's programme is scintillating. Every session I've been to has grappled with some difficult or urgent topic. Even ones that you shouldn't be able to debate successfully over the course of one hour like, say, the politics of fiction. Some sessions, such as the one on the body – which included eight writers over the course of ninety minutes with four chairs to sit on between them – seemed ludicrously ambitious, almost an attempt of the life of the moderator, but worked as coherently as the much more traditional format of the lecture delivered by Barbara Else. In fact, Else's call for 'better fictions, more enabling fictions, fictions not an expense of others' encapsulates the success of this edition so far. Its theme, it seems to me, is one of solidarity, and every session has demanded of the writers that they work together or they would fall apart.

Some things I learned on my second day at WORD 2018:

Everyone should get to see and hear Sonya Renee Taylor perform 'The Body is Not an Apology' in full voice in a packed theatre at least once in their lifetime.

'The Tweed' by Robin Robertson is an excellent poem about giving a back rub to Hugh MacDiarmid and 'Megatron' by Hollie McNish is an excellent poem about having given birth to a child.

McNish and Emily Writes on Motherood were so funny they made their session chair cry. They performed in front of an audience stacked with babies who were exceptionally well-behaved.

I want to hear a lot more from comedian and poet Ray Shipley, who besides coordinating the Faultline Poetry Collective 'crochets for cash and makes a very good cup of tea'.

Rajorshi Chakraborti read a wonderful passage from his novel The Man Who Would Not See about omniscience being the defining characteristic of the divine. I could get behind the idea of God as witness and record you can turn to not just for comfort but also for corroboration that some things that only you know about really happened.

Finally, at the Art Gallery I was introduced by my friend Lara Strongman to many wonderful works but none more so than the Portrait of a Landgirl by Juliet Peter (1944), which I photographed badly.

1 comment:

Duangjai said...

You are making me wish I had managed to attend more sessions!
P.S. Ray also works for Christchurch City Libraries :)