The Subtext of a Week in New Zealand
A boat to an island. A dog cranes his neck. Friends and strangers. Everyone holds a camera. Wind through hair. The water churns, a wake behind us. Strange in this moment I think of death and the wake after a funeral and the churning that disturbs calm waters. And I know that all life is a waking from one form of sleeping or another. A disturbance from dreaming.
The boat lands and it’s hugs and old friends and soon-to-be-friends and tequila shots on the dock and it’s coming home and it’s being known. I have been here before. Not this Island. But with these people. The hungry. Even if some don’t realise it quite yet. I brush the sleep away from the corner of an eye. Choose to slow down. I know that if I blink I shall miss this. The way time plays tricks on us so that what is days is all of a sudden done. Not yet though. Not yet. There is an island to explore.
The gathering begins. I am not sure if you have ever been to a gathering like this before. On the outside its all film and photography and artistry. But this is just the outer. The crust. On the inside there is molten, there is heartbeat, a deeper artistry. Within every text there is always the subtext. This is what we read here. On the island. One story upon another upon another. The subtext. The words beneath the words. We read each other.
He says he takes photos, what he means is he chases after life and beauty and all things that hold great depth. He shoots films, but what he is really saying is that he battles fear and everyday fights to bring something worthwhile to the world. She prints t-shirts with her hands and the ink stains and its wood shavings on the floor of their work studio and its all dripping in love and chasing and the holding of each other. He says he is an undertaker and that the undertakers of the world are a hidden class and I know I am hearing words from all those things hidden deep away in our world. She shares stories of pain and abuse and the photos that brought escape and giving birth to a child that saved her and its in the disciplined processes of a wedding photographer that I find someone so dedicated that it hurts. These artists, so in love with creativity and what it does in the world, what they can give to other people, their tears flow at the thought of those they capture with their camera. Beneath every wedding photo shown is a life time of story. Beneath every portrait there is a person and this person, in all their pain and their light, this person is glorious.
This is the people I have come to surround myself with for the week. There is more cameras than a Chinese bus tour. More alcohol than a German one. There is more love and vulnerability and a willingness to be seen than many experience in the entirety of their adult lives. And it is this that makes all the difference. A week gathered in a circle of belonging. It changes you.
And my job. I share poetry. Perform it, yes. But more than this. I sit there and write poems everyday. Name the things that too often remain unspoken. The words are swirling and there is a flowing that only ever comes when you put yourself under pressure. I invite them to come and tell me their story and offer to translate it into the poetry. And they come. They open the book of their life and read from its pages and they ask me to write within it. It is more than an honour and I hope to God that I am able to capture something of their life. I cannot think of anything more humbling. More generous. More worthwhile to do with my words.
So I write and I write and I write until the words are all colliding and jumbled and then its too much and so we go diving, not literally, but we do swim in night time waters with bio-luminescent explosions like fireworks under the dark surface and we stare at the glow worms making constellations along the path and there is a dolphin swimming out in the sea and I go kayaking with a new best friend and the rain is falling making circles on the surface of the ocean and seals are bathing and there is a wondrous singing and we eat and we eat and we eat and we talk and we talk and we talk and we drink and we cry and we laugh and we dance and we walk through forests and stand beneath waterfalls and we hold each other and we know that this is what it is all about. This one life that we have. That all the other stuff does not matter. All the stress and strain and the money and the tension, it is not that we can cast it off and forget it all, rather, it is seen through a new lens, a more spacious lens. Gracious lens.
And then time does its work and suddenly we are catching the boat back over the waters , the dog still craning his neck and I still stare out at the wake and at the mountains and the ocean and we all head back to reality and I am missing these friends before I even say goodbye. Then its cars and planes and leaving and our lives are changed but it is hard to articulate in what way. We just know that we are different because of this. This week. This island. This gathering. These people. Beneath all of this, beneath such a week, beneath the text, in the bowels of the subtext, in the wake of all that has been there is a churning, a movement on the too calm waters, a breaking, a dying, a waking, a breathing gasp of something new. A little bit more soul. The water churns, a wake behind us.