Imaginary Toads in Real Gardens: I – Prelims (2001)

David Howard, ed.: Complete with Instructions (2001)

Imaginary Toads in Real Gardens:
Poets in Christchurch



Complete with Instructions. Edited by David Howard. ISBN 0-473-07646-2 (Christchurch: Firebrand, 2001): 33-61.

[16,900 wds]

I – Prelims

Imaginary gardens with real toads in them.
– Marianne Moore

Poetry Wall (Colombo Street)

The gardens are real enough. It is, after all, the Garden City – the city that shines, as Julia Allen reminded me, her own face shining with characteristic wide-eyed intensity, as we sat in a pretentious little French café just off the Avon. I, too, had seen that disconcerting message plastered up around the walls during my brief sojourn in the mainland capital. Shining why? Shining how? With communal and artistic fervour, the dry glare of drought, the radioactive sheen of successful business acumen?

As I spoke to more and more poets in Christchurch, how accustomed I became to that invitation: ‘Let’s sit out in the garden’ – Rob Jackaman’s green, overgrown, Marvellian shades; John Allison’s lofty patio in Lyttelton … Others I met more conventionally in bars and cafés: Julia Allen, Kenneth Fea, David Gregory. Then there were those who preferred the shelter of a study or garage: Graham Lindsay, Mike Minehan, John O’Connor. The image of the secret garden, though – hidden away from the sun-glazed street – dies hard in Christchurch.

And the toads? Not a particularly complimentary way to refer to any group of writers, of course – but then, calling them ‘provincial’ is an insult, too. It implies that there is a centre somewhere from which they are cut off, and to which they are forced to turn for effective recognition. Calling them ‘regional’ is far more acceptable. There is a counter-myth which sees poetry and poets drawing their strength, Antaeus-like, from native soil – even native soil recollected in exile.


Complete with Instructions. Edited by David Howard. ISBN 0-473-07646-2 (Christchurch: Firebrand, 2001): 33.

[269 wds]

Complete with Instructions (2001)

No comments:

Post a comment