Hidden Words

It became a lockdown adventure. I hadn’t really looked carefully before for these words that lay embedded in various nooks and crannies along the capital’s picturesque waterfront. But it was a lot of fun looking for hidden treasures of poetic quotes and typographical sculptures written by many prolific New Zealand writers. Much to my surprise there were many Wellingtonians walking about on this crisp Sunday afternoon. For a moment it didn’t feel like a lockdown and Wellington didn’t seem so lonely or isolated. But the quest to look for these lively words written by poets, novelist and playwrights about living in this beautiful capital took on a new life force of it’s own.

The Wellington Writer’s Walk was an initiative of the New Zealand Society of Authors. Typographer, Catherine Griffiths and award winning architect, Fiona Christeller had had created 23 concrete plaques with select quotes. They were generously speckled around the waterfront from wooden benches to alcoves nestled within piers.

Denis Glover 1912 – 1980

From ‘Wellington Harbour is a Laundry’ in Come High Water, Dumore Press 1977

The harbour is an ironing board:

Flat iron tugs dash smoothing toward

Any shirt of a ship, any pillowslip

Of a freighter they decree

Must be ironed flat as washing from the sea

Denis Glover’s work appealed to me with his use of metaphors. He had written poetry from an early age and it was evident his love of the outdoors and the ocean having acquired experiences in hiking, yachting and as a naval combatant during WW2. He was renown for his lyrical voice in the literary world and in 1954 he moved to Wellington where he worked as a copywriter, typographer and typography tutor.

Jack Lasenby

Jack Lasenby 1931

I want to live among people who believe in truth and freedom…I want to discuss ideas…I want books…

From The Conjuror, Oxford University Press 1992

Jack Lasenby’s quote was honest and simple. I appreciated his input into storytelling for children enhanced with a New Zealand flavour. His career was varied, from deer culling and possum hunting to teaching and editing. He was editor of the School Journal and lecturer at Wellington Teachers’ College. He began writing full time in 1987 covering a ride range of genres, including adventures stories and fantasy.

Joy Cowley 1936

Light dances on hills and office windows

And shakes it skirts over the harbour

In a wild fandango that attracts

The pale mouths of yachts in droves

From the poem ‘After the Southerly’ from Writing from the Heart, Storylines 2010

Joy Cowley’s quote resonated with me – I liked the concept of skirts of light dancing over the hills and harbour. She is renown as a prolific writer of children’s fiction, novels and short stories, which have been used for New Zealand’s school reading programmes as well as in the USA. In addition, she has spent considerable time visiting schools, delivering writing workshops and assisting teachers with students who have early reading difficulties. Her efforts extended beyond New Zealand’s shores to Asia and in small villages in South Africa writing books culturally appropriate for those young readers. In 2005, Cowley was made a DCNZM for her services to children’s literature.

Katherine Mansfield 1888 – 1923

Their heads bent, their legs just touching, they stride

Like one eager person through the town, down the

Asphalt zigzag where the fennel grows wild…

the wind is so strong that they have to fight their

way through it, rocking like two old drunkards

From ‘The Wind Blows’ in Bliss and Other Stories, Penguin Books 2001

I always enjoy walking down Tinakori Road in Thorndon. After all it was where I first lived when I moved to Wellington. What particularly appeals to me is the artist’s quotes nestled in Tinakori Road’s pavement. Further down the road is Kathernine Mansfield’s house; the birthplace of a famous New Zealand writer. Katherine Beauchamp was born and raised in Wellington before travelling to England in 1903 to further her education. She returned to New Zealand briefly in 1906 before soon returning to England again in 1908. She soon immersed herself in the European literary scene of the Bloomsbury Group and travelled widely. Katherine continued to write stories with a New Zealand focus, which initiated her international reputation as a writer. Under her penname Mansfield, she was at the forefront of developing narrative techniques. Unfortunately she died at the young age of 35 from tuberculosis. Her birthplace in Thorndon serves as a reminder of home and place of significance for her readers.

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