Kerrin P. Sharpe (Victoria Birkinshaw)
Animals feature a lot in your new collection Louder, but is there a special reason why you decided to open with poems about elephants, and why they reappear later?
When I was young, my father took me to the Wellington Zoo most Sundays so that I could ride on the elephant Kamala. I loved that elephant and hated it when the zoo keeper put his steel hook through her ear to lead her away. One day when I was waiting in a unisex barber to have my hair cut, I saw a photo in a magazine of an elephant with his tusks hacked off. I felt angry about that and decided to write a poem to ‘speak up’ for elephants; after all they have no voice of their own to defend themselves. Elephants therefore appear a bit in my new collection, Louder, and often they are associated with a barber – perhaps that’s just my weird sense of justice for elephants!
There’s a recurring thread of parenthood throughout the book. For you, is parenthood particularly linked to environmental concerns?
I think I use the theme of parents/parenthood throughout the collection to convey the meaning of passing on to new generations our responsibility to care for and treasure the world we all live in.
Could you talk a little about your interest in the duality of the first and third world in these poems?
First of all I need to say I am not a hugely political person and terms like ‘first’ and ‘third world’ are terms that don’t register a lot with me. I do however respond instinctively and emotionally to events that happen in our world. If there is one strong theme that underlies most if not all my poems in Louder, it is that of giving a stronger voice to those who are often unheard wherever they live in our world so many of the poems are set in different parts of the world because hunger and exploitation don’t just exist in any one part of the world be it first, second or third world nations.
How do you feel this collection sits amongst your others? Did something trigger a desire to write about environmental destruction at this moment?
Louder is quite a different poetry collection from any of my three previous collections of poems and in a way when it began to take shape as a collection it almost surprised me at what I had written. In fact when I submitted it to VUP I was quite surprised at how Fergus characterised it at the time. Did I really write this? The subject matter of many of the poems in the collection has been described by people who have previewed it as ‘political’ and even ‘confrontational’ and for those who know me well, that doesn’t sound at all like me!
And yet I would like to think that beyond the subject matter of the poems, the stylistic and sectioning of the collection strikes it out as new and innovative. My writing this time has been strongly influenced by overseas influences; for example Alice Oswald a wonderful English poet. Some of Bill Manhire’s recent innovations have also intrigued me and no doubt have also influenced some of the stylistic experimentation in the collection.
Are these poems a lamentation for a planet that is irretrievably broken, or do you think there is hope for the future?
No I don’t think the poems in the collection are intended to convey a future without hope. Some of the poems no doubt have a certain sadness to them; some even a sense of anger at the injustice done to people who do not have a voice to defend themselves, but the poems more often than not also offer possible solutions and reason for hope within them. Perhaps even unconsciously I am hoping my readers will read the poems and be inspired to speak more loudly on behalf of those whose voices are often unheard in the melee of a chaotic and dynamic world where we all jostle with one another to have our voices heard.
Louder will be launched at Scorpio Books on Wednesday 29 August as part of WORD Christchurch Festival.