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Getting their life stories down into words

TAIRĀWHITI POETRY GROUP: Writers finding their voice and passing on stories to the next generation. From left, tutor Regina de Wolf-Ngarimu, Molly Pardoe, Rarangi Kohere, tutor Bubbles (Katrina Reedy), Polly Crawford, Suzanne Pinfold, Tangi Jones, Paddy Noble and Kristin Bannerman. Those on Zoom, Trish Lambert, Benita Kape, Barney Crawford and Claire Morgan. Picture by Paul Rickard

Every day people are getting down and dirty with ink, learning to craft their lives into words with the TaiTech Writing Group.

“Much in the creative writing world is competing for a wide audience, publishing and prizes. For me, creative writing is not competitive, it is personal, collaborative and inclusive,” said Bubbles (Katrina Reedy), who created the course.

Bubbles guides the students through writing modules, exploring the different ways to transform memory and ideas into words. This month the group is taking on poetry.

“What differentiates poetry from prose is the end of the line,” Bubbles told the class at Hoea! Gallery, where she has a poem of her own on display.

“With poetry you chop it off where you want it.

“It’s playing, carving, painting, with words.”

Bubbles started writing after she walked into Tairawhiti Technology Trust Hub (TaiTech) in Kaiti Hub and offered to tutor a writing course.

It was 2019, Bubbles had just finished a Diploma in Creative Writing at Massey University and she was ready to give back to the community.

“TaiTech offered me a six-week slot from the end of July to the start of September 2020. Here in April 2022 that six-week course is still going.”

“I like contributing. I can’t garden, sew, cook (very well for large groups) but I can write and I can teach, so writing and teaching writing to beginners in the literary arts is my contribution.”

Bubbles says writing is not easy but anyone can do it.

“It takes a love of being creative, a love of listening to our history and telling our stories, a want to leave a legacy for your own, for future generations.

“All it takes to get started is something to write on and something to write with, memories and/or imagination and a reason to write. My reason is my tamariki and mokopuna. My stories are theirs.”

Claire Morgan heard about the programme by word of mouth when she was taking computer courses at TaiTech. She was asked to join the class but declined.

“I was not educated enough for a writers’ group,” Morgan thought at the time.

But after a second invitation from writer Gillian Moon, she joined the group and her work is now published in Kaituhi Rawhiti: A Celebration of East Coast Writers.

“I’ve been a (closet) creative writer all my life, writing a journal and numerous letters and emails to friends and family all over the globe.

“This writing group has opened up a whole new world for me. I didn’t know how exciting it would be, and these few months have been only the beginning.

“Even though the standards are high it’s not been as intimidating as I’d feared.”

The course is as much about self-discovery as it has been about writing.

“It challenges me because it takes courage. For me to find my identity, my voice.

“My self-confidence grows and it’s great when I witness others doing the same thing.

“Gisborne has a powerful community of wonderfully talented and creative people. It’s been a remarkable set of coincidences that seem to have kept me moving forward ever since I moved here six years ago.”

The course has grown beyond Tairāwhiti. Just like school classes and work have gone online, now writers Zoom into the classes.

Daphne Zooms in each week from Queensland.

“I got involved with the writing group in September 2021,” she said.

“I responded to an invitation to join the group from the Gizzy Local Newsletter.”

She is Bubbles’ aunt and said she had to give the course a go.

“I wanted to write stories for my family so they’d have something to look back on when I’m no longer here, and I wish my parents had done that for our family. There are so many talented writers in this group to learn from and I love hearing their stories/writings.

“For me, Zooming in each week is like being at home among my own people in Te Tairāwhiti for those few hours.”

Molly Pardoe was planning on writing her memoirs when she heard TaiTech was creating a writing course. That was two years ago.

“I’m still there and absolutely enjoy every session as there is much to learn.

“It is wonderful to be able to share and acknowledge similarities and cultural differences in our life journeys. We share life stories, we sing, we write, we laugh and we eat.”

Molly hopes to share her life story with her mokopuna.

“The older we get the more we feel the importance of being able to leave our stories for the younger generation— of how we lived in the 1940s to now. Life was so simple and uncomplicated. Long drops, no television, no cellphones, no supermarkets, no takeaways, but our communal living was rich in culture and whanau.”

Wairoa writer Trish Lambert said having a creative outlet can heal the soul.

“I would encourage everyone to get the words down. So many of us are put off writing and especially put off poetry by unpleasant school experiences.

“Many people use writing as therapy, a way of dealing with the hard stuff in our lives that we maybe don’t want to talk to friends about.”

And the story is not over. After two years Bubbles wants to continue highlighting local writers and Māori writing, helping them tell their stories to the next generation.