Highfaluting, gutter-crawling art is everywhere.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Next Friday is National Poetry Day. But it’s okay if you don’t love poetry. We all love different things.

Of course, poetry is not just one single thing.

A friend of mine, who is Welsh, wrote on his Facebook page, “So my daughter just said my breath smells like Welsh words.”

That’s poetry.

We should dispel any notion that poetry is an exclusive, esoteric, intellectual pursuit. No way. Poetry mud-wrestles with language. It chews up words and spits them out in different colours.

To celebrate National Poetry Day there’s a poetry and music night at the Mauao Performing Arts Centre. The prior evening there’s a poetry function at the Tauranga Art Gallery.

The two nights offer very different poetry experiences. One is free and will be rambunctious and a bit messy. The other will no doubt exude a lot of class, with a $10 entry fee and poets performing alongside the glorious carved Black Rainbow Steinway piano.

With a poetic stake in both events I say let’s embrace the whole spectrum. You can revel in poetry with a glass of chardonnay or you can soak it up with a noisy beer. Poetry can be highfaluting or it can be gutter-crawling. Doesn’t matter, it’s all legitimate artistic expression.

One of this week’s many tributes to Robin Williams quotes him as saying, “I dread the word ‘art’.” Personally I think here are few things more worthwhile than the arts, but I am totally on board with his resistance to any form of cold snootiness.

Williams, backstage before appearing in Waiting for Godot: “No art. Art dies tonight.”

I can apply that sentiment to poetry too, paradoxically, because I love poetry so much. ‘No poetry. Poetry dies tonight.’ You have to love your art enough to take risks with it and set it free from its own convention.

I love the risk that Owen Dippie took with his mural of Vermeer’s Girl With The Pearl Earring. Such a simple yet audacious idea to spray-paint a Renaissance masterpiece onto a wall on little old Cameron Road.

For you, Dippie’s mural might be a work of art, or it might merely be a nice picture, or it might even be a crime against the classics.

For me, it’s a light in the darkness. It’s the one piece of public art that provokes in me the most love for my city.

My heart skips a beat every time I see it peering out from the muddle of the ordinary streetscape. The pleasant surprise I get seeing it each time evokes emotions that I can’t really put into words, but I think that’s the whole point. Art declares to me that life is interesting and beautiful and mysterious. I love that I can have that experience on the way to the Elizabeth Street traffic lights.

There’s a contrary view, of course. That famous experiment where world-class violinist Joshua Bell played his Stradivarius in a Washington DC subway and no one noticed. It raises the question: do we have to be in a palace to properly appreciate the royal jewels?

I love to play classical piano. The optimum place for that is a hushed auditorium with beautiful acoustics and an expectant audience. But earlier this week I listened to a girl play a classical piece on the street piano outside Creative Tauranga. Her tune mingled with the city centre to create a unique moment of human expression that can never be replicated in a performance hall.

What’s my point? There is no true art and true art is everywhere. Let’s gobble it all up, starting with the complementary flavours of poetry.

Malady Poetry Night, 21 August, 6.00pm at the Tauranga Art Gallery (bookings essential, phone 5787933) and Caught In The Act, 22 August, 7.00pm at the Mauao Performing Arts Centre.


First published in Bay of Plenty Times 15 August 2014. Reproduced with permission.