By Airini Beautrais
This is a tough call as I think to be any kind of writer you need to read more like five hundred books. However these are a few of the books that spring to mind as having influenced me at particular times of my life. Firstly my mum was a big William Blake fan. If I had been a boy it’s quite likely I would have been named Blake. Probably my first introduction to his work was a recording of ‘Tyger tyger’ made in the 60s which was on a nursery rhyme tape we had. When I was a teenager – maybe 15 – I read the Songs of Innocence and Experience and enjoyed it.
Apart from the psychedelic illustrations, the exploration of societal morals and the mystical element appealed to me. I think most of the religious ideas went over my head. My favourite poem was ‘The sick rose,’ which appealed to my melodramatic persona.
Also as a teenager I read James K. Baxter’s In fires of no return. This was the book I most often lent to friends or took to poetry readings. It was written when Baxter was quite young himself and although it seemed terribly clever to me at the time I think there is a great youthfulness to it. This volume contains the often quoted ‘High country weather,’ but other poems that stayed with me were ‘Blow wind of fruitfulness’ and ‘Let time be still.’ It also contains a nice piece about Virginia Lake which was one of my childhood haunts.
I think it helps to have role models who are close to home, and another New Zealand poet who I was taken by as a beginning writer was Jenny Bornholdt. I have a lasting memory of borrowing Waiting Shelter from a tutor and reading it on a couch on a wet and windy Wellington day, looking out the window at the garden. I remember a sense of homeliness, hope, sadness. I like the deceptive simplicity of Bornholdt’s writing and how she approaches the everyday.
When I was studying for my masters I discovered a world of books, many of which are treasures. One of my favourite writers is Anne Carson and the first work of hers I read was Autobiography of Red. Carson often uses figures from Greek mythology in her writing, something I had never warmed to before. Autobiography of Red takes a character from the Herakles legend, Geryon the red monster, into modern day American life, where apart from being red and having wings he is an ordinary young man going through the usual hassles of heartbreak and self-searching. Together with his lover Herakles he has some interesting adventures and does a bit of thinking about volcanoes.
Poetry can be all kinds of things but a lot of people don’t find it much fun. By the looks of things James Tate does. I love his writing for its unabashed tackling of the nonsensical and its great inventiveness. The book Worshipful Company of Fletchers is full of fantastic lines such as ‘I know nothing of this so-called baseball,’ ‘He realised he was gazing into the eyes of a lemur and would be terribly late for his meeting’ and ‘My name is Spoimo, which I find strange.’ This is poetry which speaks to my condition.
Airini Beautrais is a young writer who grew up in Wanganui and is currently homeless while travelling Europe. A highlight of this trip has been discovering the large New Zealand section of the Scottish poetry library in Edinburgh. Her first book of prose poetry, Secret Heart, won the NZSA award for best first book of poetry. She hopes to write more as she gets older.