Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Volume 38 Number 8. 1975
The Culture Vultures Gather — 4 New Zealand Poets
The Culture Vultures Gather
4 New Zealand Poets
Denis Glover, T.O.B. (The Old Boozer), Sam Hunt, F.E. (Flamboyant Exhibitionist), Alan Brunton, R.U. (Relative Unknown) and Hone Tuwhare, M.E. (Maori Eloquent), played to a packed house on campus last Friday night. T.V. came to snatch the excitement of the Occasion, and the crowds came to swim in a sophistocated sea of Kultcha. The show was everything extensive advertising had cracked it up to be ... swank, sonorous. and serious. Those who came were treated to a classy night out, and were, needless to say, seduced by the shameless trivia.
A normal critic would perhaps take into account the significance of the size of the crowd, the atmosphere of Importance of Event, the status of the poets. Their review would reel with such words as 'superior', 'sublime', 'stoic', 'stimulate', etc. We are usually bored by the stilted superficiality of these reviews, just as many of those present on Friday night were, in truth, insatiated Philistines who could not tell you, if asked, when they last read a Denis Glover poem. But The Show was all.
First on, T.O.B. The Old Boozer, comes huffing and puffing up to the platform. A crane is needed to hoist him onto the stage, for old T.O.B. these days is like A. A. Milne's tubby teddy who cannot see or reach his toes. Denis begins to read in a voice that is barely audible from the back row, destroying any belief one may have had in his verse with that pretensious Gloverian tone that reeks of poked pinkies. T.O.B. is too plump and tired to get off the stage when his last Sings Harry has been dutifully muttered, and remains on the platform groggedly addicted to the limelight for the rest of the evening.
Next on is F.E. Flamboyant Exhibitionist, who leaps onto the platform with the showy zest that T.O.B. sadly couldn't muster. F.E. is not really a very good poet, the whole audience intellectualises silently. (Hunt's occasional rhyming of a word here and there does not turn simple prose into brilliant poetry). But F.E. is excitingly showy and zesty, as has been said before, and many wouldn't have come to the show if Sam hadn't. F.E.'s phallic arrogance and sexy sham excites even the males in the audience. Few can resist his strenuous stimulation.
Alan Brunton our Relative Unknown, creeps onto the platform following F.E.'s magnificent gymnastical exit-stage-left. Everyone relaxes and sleeps during this part of the show with the exception of a few hasty and embarrassed clapping motions in between the verses that are just to remind R.U. that the audience has not totally dropped out ... R.U. thanks the crowd for their good intentions, but instead of leaving rather foolishly carries on! This red-headed brilliant ex-adolescent prodigy did not excite 3% of those present and that's the truth. The 2% who were excited consisted of the two female friends who accompanied R.U. to the show.
Hone Tuwhare, Maori Eloquent, picked up the tatty pieces that his three pakeha friends had left all over the stage, and rendered a little sincerity to the mess. If there is such a thing as spontaneous laughter rather than intellectual smiles at a poetry reading, M.E. evoked it. The trendies in the crowd, excited at M.E.'s Maoriness, turned to their neighbours and whispered that they too had a best friend who was Maori. Hone Tuwhare came the closest of the four to present both wit and argument at this show. His easy honesty struck the nerve ends of my estranged conscience, and for a while it seemed that the whole excursive event had been worthwhile.
The four poets do a quadruple ditty at the end for a nightcap. Amazingly, R.U. elicits some laughter with some shocking verbal porn and immediately everyone turns back on to this poet. T.O.B. reads one of his futile Sings Harry poems in a rather futile monotone and F.E. causes two teenagers to gigle at his fatuousness. Hone Tuwhare, M.E. again strikes the nerve ends of my estranged conscience and the show closes.
On the way out, Wellington Kultcha Vultures socialise, intellectualise and criticise a most suitable conclusion to a most trivial evening of duffusion and elusion.
If those Wellingtonians interested in poetry do not believe that we live in a time of media triviality and cultural decadence then they certainly have become victims of that triviality and decadence. Perhaps one of the most universal, beliefs that poetry should both please and instruct came from Aristotle and was reiterated by Sidney many centuries ago. We have not come very far. Our cultural development epitomises our technological development, that is, very clever but also very unthinking and irresponsible. This to me is a contracted definition of the type of decadence we live in. Some poems by a couple of those four New Zealanders strike notes so deep in the reader that they cannot fail to instruct. But most of those poets, subjected to a need to pour on the showmanship by the very nature of poetry reading as entertainment fell short of any significant message. It is indicative of the failure of poetry both as entertainment and instruction that the most capable poet in writing, Denis Glover, appeared so abominably incapable when forced to be verbal. Conversely, the most appalling poet on paper, Sam Hunt, gives an illusion of brilliance and competence when verbal.
Poetry today is an anachronism. Until our society orders itself around moral and political goals and aims, the beauty of the written word will remain just a frill on the dress of the educated elite.