Rings Star Turns Fans On To Poetry
By Ann-Marie Johnson
1 December 2003
Glitterati met literati at the Paramount theatre at the weekend - not to mention hundreds of people who would not normally dream of paying $50 to listen to poetry. But when Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen is one of the poets, normal Saturday-night entertainment pales in comparison.
The event was originally scheduled for the City Gallery but was moved to the Paramount theatre because of demand.
Surprisingly, there were plenty of men in attendance, including Weta boss Richard Taylor, accompanied by his partner, Tania Rodger. But the audience was overwhelmingly female and they were there to see only one man.
However, local poets Bill Manhire, Tusiata Avia, Hinemoana Baker and Cliff Fell took the stage first. Though they might have felt like support acts, their work was met with warm applause.
Then it was Mortensen's turn. He wandered on to the stage wearing a Maori bone carving and clutching a sheaf of paper and a couple of books, apologising for being so disorganised that he had not made final decisions on the work he would share.
'To be sharing a stage with these four poets is more than an honour, it's like a dream really.
'One of the most pleasant surprises I had during my time in New Zealand...was finding how much poetry there was here relative to the size of the population.'
He said he had taken boxes of New Zealand poetry back to the United States, and included one or two New Zealand poems whenever he did poetry readings. True to his words, he started with Manhire's poem How to take off your clothes at the picnic.
During his half-hour appearance, he read about a dozen poems. Several he had written himself, including some penned while he was in New Zealand. Some were by poets writing in Danish and Spanish (he speaks both languages fluently.)
The audience hung on every word - even those they could not understand.
Manhire, Victoria University's creative writing course director, said the event had raised more than $50,000 for a fund to offer financial assistance to students doing the course.
'Tonight's event has grown bigger than we ever believed it would. I'd like to thank Viggo because his generosity in all this is beyond belief,' he said.
Afterwards there was nothing but praise, especially for the local poets, whom many in the audience were discovering for the first time.
'I thought they all did a brilliant job,' Australian visitor Deirdre O'Neill said.
Wellingtonian Liz Rowe said: 'It was really good. I thought the New Zealand poets were fantastic - and it's the closest I'm going to get to any of the Lord of the Rings stars.'
The bookstall set up in the theatre foyer reported steady sales of all the poets' work, showing that the event had created new fans for New Zealand poetry. You get the impression that is a result Mortensen would be more than happy with.
Last edited: 29 June 2006 14:20:17
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