You came to writing a bit later in life. What motivated that decision?
About 10 years ago, there was a major earthquake in Canterbury, New Zealand, and that upset me a great deal. I was from Christchurch, which was the epicentre of the earthquake, and there were people killed because of it.
I had a friend who was a musician and writer and I went to his second hand bookshop and told him I was very upset and asked what could I do. He suggested I write a poem about it. I told him that I didn’t really know how to do that, but he insisted I write a poem anyway.
What happens then?
He suggested that I write about a jewel, a ruby, or something like that. When I got home, I wrote a poem about a girl called Ruby who was 17, she worked in a burger place, she had a boyfriend and they were going to see the film Django, and I knew exactly what she looked like and who her friends were.
I developed that story into a poem and I took it in to my friend and he put it up on the wall in his bookshop. He suggested I write another one and I wrote about the colour red partly because he was a Liverpool supporter. He put that poem up on the wall as well, and wrote his own poem White in response.
You then go on to write poetry?
Well I sort of do a lot of things. I believe in taking anything I do seriously, so I kept writing. I dived straight in from then on. I had an idea for an event, a spoken word event called “Spit it Out” which I organised with lots of friends and helpers as part of Auckland Fringe Festival, and it won an Impact Award at that festival. I set up a poetry and spoken word event called “Inside Out” which has been going for 10 years now. It‘s for writers, poets and musicians as part of it (delete) and it has been very successful. I also organised, with a team, a three day conference which had all sorts of poetry and spoken word as part of it, from literary poetry to spoken word to vispo (visual poetry) to discussions to workshops to cine-poetry. We had all of that plus young people rapping and it was one of the first of its kind in New Zealand and that took place in 2017. A lot has happened over the last decade.
Before we go on, do you have any early memories of being attracted to the arts?
My parents were immigrants and they learned English here. They were Second World War refugees from Croatia. We grew up in a house where we didn’t hear English but rather a mixture of languages. I think now looking back on that it was an advantage because we got to learn to love language generally, the sound and rhythms of language, and the use of words. I learnt a number of languages in school, French, Latin and German, and I studied English at University.
After I graduated, I worked at various jobs, one of which was as a Librarian at a school, which I loved; I think though that when I came to writing at the time I did, it was a reawakening. I had gone to various courses at University and I did like Shakespeare, but I had never moved into writing my own work, so when the chance arrived it was something I was able to really commit to.
You also set up an information flier?
When I started I didn’t know anything. I had to teach myself. I had to find out where the spoken word and poetry events were, I had to find out what competitions were available to submit to. I had to find out who the writers were. I designed a template where I would add all the information, the event, the time and the day, the date, where events were being held and what it cost to go to them; all the information anyone would need to become involved or at least attend events. I would send it out every two weeks to around 500 people. The flier became very important because there were many people who, like me, needed information and so they were happy that there was a something which gave them all the information they needed. I did that for many years and I still get people asking me for information today even though I don’t produce the flier any longer.
And you set up a regular event?
As I said, I set up “Inside Out” which is really an open mic for writers, and that was and is open to anyone who writes; poetry, prose, flash fiction, music reviews, anything that writers wanted to share with people. There are musicians who come as well as guests and it has been going for ten years.This year I am also a 2022 Ockham Collective Arts Resident in Auckland and this allows me to use a space, the company which sponsors that position provides that space, for all the residents to be able to conduct education and outreach.
I am a huge fan of cross-pollination of the arts. The arts residents group has musicians, a harpist, a violinist, a double bassist, a choir master, an actor, and other arts practitioners. We recently had an event where an actor performed my flash faction, learning the work and becoming the character, acting the piece rather than my just reading the story. Again, collaboration to me is very exciting.
See more of Anita Arlov’s work at the links below