The first recipient of the Spinoff Review of Books Writer-in-Residence Award, held in association with the Rise Pop-up Apartments in Wellington, was poet Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor. How did she get on in ? Here’s her report.
I say that Wellington is my favourite city in the world. I say this with a nod of my head, with a smile, with the kind of confidence that comes from being 22 and not really having ever left the North Island. And people for years have laughed, muttered that the rain comes in sideways and the wind can turn you inside out, and have you seen the rent? And I just nod and wait, and then they look up and to the left, where the internet says we store our memories, and after a few more seconds they concede: “You can’t beat Wellington on a good day.” My residency coincided with an entire month of good days. I think it rained twice, late at night. I was smug.
My apartment at Rise Hostel was flash. Roomy, comfy, a 15-minute walk from everywhere. The team at the hostel were so welcoming. Chamanthie and Danielle made me feel less like a tiny tiny fish. I was greeted by a cup full of pens and a big desk. For the first week or so I sat on the floor often and let the imposter syndrome do its thing, all of my doubts and fears like heavy black static. And then I got up and back to writing. I managed to finish what I think is my first poetry collection, put together a website for my work, and write some new poems for the next manuscript. But mostly I learnt to get up off the floor more quickly. This sounds like a small thing. I don’t think it is.
I spent my days meeting other writers, the ones I have long admired, and whose work I have been following for years and years. I was able to go to The Wellington Feminist Poetry Club evening, a reading at Pegasus Books, a Poetry in Motion poetry evening to hear amazing fresh work, and meet other poets for coffee, cocktails, and dinner. A huge thank you to those writers and friends who greeted me with so much warmth and kept me from feeling all of the homesickness: Olivia, Sam, Daniel, Mark, Kirstine, Tayi, Essa, Rebecca, Mitchell, Claire, Jordan, Ella, Ruby, Eleanor, Annaleese, Joy, Chris, Paula, Francis, Claudia, Jackson, Caro, Sinead and Michelle.
One of the highlights of my residency was the Chipped Teeth on Crystal Glasses poetry evening hosted by the brilliant writer and hostess, Rebecca Hawkes. I was able to read my work in front of many of my heroes, and hear some of them read their work in the flesh. Rebecca, Tayi Tibble, Joy Holley, Nikki-Lee Birdsey, Eleanor Merton, and Hannah Mettner shared such inspiring work, and I was reminded again of the magic that comes with really incredible poetry. The party bit kicked off and I got to chat calmly with even more of my heroes, often unwittingly, until they shared their names and I fangirled awkwardly. And everyone was so warm and kind that I didn’t even wake up at 3am reliving it afterwards. It was magic.
Other highlights were the meals with Tayi, Rebecca, Jackson and Caro at Egmont Street Eatery and Rogue Burger. The first, lunch with Tayi and Rebecca at Egmont Street Eatery, complete with delicious cakes and bubbly. I think I could live there, under one of the table, with the raspberry crumbs. The second, dinner with Jackson Nieuwland and Carolyn DeCarlo at Rogue Burger, with the best burgers and friendliest chefs I think I have ever met.
I spent most nights on the waterfront beside Denis Glover’s “Wellington Harbour is a Laundry” writing notes for poems that I hadn’t finished living in. This confession seems overworked now that I write it, like the voiceover in some kind of corny indie film. But that’s what I did, I wrote and I watched the gulls and the Interislander’s blue belly skim the ripples. And people in suits played hopscotch on their way home, and told each other the kind of stories we tell when we’re tired. One guy graffitied the hull of the boat to propose to his girlfriend, but he ran out of space and so it just said, “Will you ma-! Will you maaaa!” and he laughed himself all the way down to Te Papa. And every night there was a busker who played the electric guitar and he played all the classics. Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Dave Dobbyn, The national anthem. I packed up my notebook when he played the opening lines of ‘Eleanor Rigby’. I’ve got enough of those kind of poems.
The month passed in a blink. I packed my bags, ready to go home — to the wonderful family and friends who sent me messages and kept me from homesickness — but sad that I can’t somehow stitch Hamilton and Wellington a little closer together. The residency was invaluable for my writing life, and I have learnt so much. It feels like a big turning point.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.