Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift: writers remember Iris in Whanganui

Poet Janis Freegard poses with Robin Hyde

Poet Janis Freegard poses with Robin Hyde

On Saturday 17 August I was in Whanganui for an event with the intriguing title Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift. The renowned New Zealand writer Iris Wilkinson, better known by her pen name Robin Hyde, spent a year in Whanganui in 1929–30. She worked as reporter on the Wanganui Chronicle, creating scandal in the district by refusing to follow conventions and by her affair with a married man. According to one of her Whanganui associates, Hyde’s ‘dangerous gift’ was her ability to very quickly make people either love or hate her.

Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift was organised by Whanganui-based writer Ann-Marie Houng Lee in association with the Sarjeant Gallery. While Hyde is best known as a prose writer, she was also a noted poet, and this literary soiree was held in conjunction with New Zealand Post National Poetry Day, which occurred the day before on Friday 16 August. There was also a related exhibition at Whanganui UCOL’s Edith Gallery. Also entitled Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift, it consisted of art works by Whanganui UCOL students in response to various Hyde poems.

Robin Hyde in 1936

Robin Hyde in 1936

National Poetry Day also happened to be the day of the most-recent large Seddon earthquake. The quake was strongly felt in Whanganui and the Sarjeant Gallery, which was to have been the venue for the event, was promptly closed for earthquake inspection. Undaunted, Ann-Marie Houng Lee organised a new venue at the Element Café, in the beautiful old bank building on Victoria Avenue.

Around 80 people turned up to hear the distinguished list of presenters. Mary Edmond-Paul, editor of Robin Hyde’s autobiographical writing collection Your unselfish kindness, gave the audience insights into Hyde’s life and writing.

Historian and self-confessed Hyde fanatic Redmer Yska spoke of Hyde’s life in Northland, the suburb of Wellington where he also resides. He gave a moving rendition of Hyde’s poem ‘The white chair’.

Wellington poet Janis Freegard gave fine readings of a number of Robin Hyde poems, along with some originals from her own works Kingdom animalia and The continuing adventures of Alice Spider.

The day was capped off by a performance from poet Glenn Colquhoun. Glenn presented his own poems, including a number in te reo Māori. His poems all dealt with the subject of longing, through which he explained his love across the ages for Robin Hyde.

There was an enthusiastic response from an audience that included people of all ages. While most were locals, a few had come up from Palmerston North and also a number from Wellington. My congratulations to Ann-Marie Houng Lee and everyone else who made Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift such a success.

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