August 2014 – Taragon Café Carterton
If you are new to poetry or just the occasional visitor to the art form (like me), Harry Ricketts is probably as accessible and pleasant a portal as any poet you are likely to meet. The afternoon starts off though with a short Open Mic session with local poets reciting one poem each. These seem to get better with each poem, even though the poets were placed in no particular order. I don’t know any of them personally, or their work, so can’t really comment other than to say their poems illustrate how varied is the art of poetry, and how many imaginative uses the various forms of poetry can be applied to.
This point is underlined further when Ricketts takes to the floor. To begin with, he kicks his shoes off to read in his socks, a habit he finds comfortable when delivering university lectures as well. He starts off by pointing out how he likes to begin by choosing a poem that puts him at ease. In this case it is one Ricketts composed when his daughter was young, and looks ahead to when she is a teenager, even though he admits that poets generally eschew writing poems about family, let alone reading them in public. It quickly becomes obvious that Ricketts doesn’t follow the rule book as he moves on to a limerick which he tells his listeners are generally frowned upon by the poetry fraternity but which he admires.
Humour is often present in one form or another throughout the reading, whether good natured or sardonic. His “ode to failure”, he says, is a direct response to the cult of success which was prevalent around ten years ago. Among the many positive traits of failure, the poem points out, are “that there are so many ways to fail,” and “so much more to savour.”
His eulogy for “Noddy”, remembering an Oxford friend from years ago, is an apology for believing there will “always time to catch till there wasn’t any more.” Nowhere is Ricketts’ engagement with the world through poetry more overt than in his poem on the pleasures of watching cricket at the Basin Reserve in Wellington. He read the same poem as his submission on the proposed motorway extension that would have seen traffic pass within metres of the Basin if it had been given the go ahead.
Ricketts has “always enjoyed poems that tell stories” and one of these is about “Aunty Bees Quality Preloved Books – Bought, Sold and Exchanged”, and specifically a book he bought there that had originally been given to Anne Faulkner for Third Prize in Attendance at her school’s prize giving in 1953. Ricketts conjectures all sorts of reasons for why Anne would receive such a lacklustre award.
Ricketts continues to engage, entertain and surprise his audience to the very end. His appropriation of the Creed from the Catholic Mass I rewritten to express the philosophy of a person of shallow and upwardly mobile character.
And lastly, a riposte to Phillip Larkin’s This Be the Verse which famously starts with the line “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” – Ricketts countering that while that may be so, everyone’s had a lifetime since to sort things out, so this should be used as an excuse for being a prat now.
Here’s a good interview with Ricketts in the Wairarapa Times Age just prior to the event – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/wairarapa-times-age/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503414&objectid=11299233