We are all roaring with laughter—not a polite chuckle in sight. I mean tears streaming, snorting, thigh slapping, high pitched, cross your legs before you have an accident laughter. Hell, it feels good. Emma, Kirstin and Kiri started this Writers Group in Point Chevalier four years ago, Anna joined later, I joined three months ago, and Mary’s new tonight. So, perhaps that’s the joy of laughing so hard—it joins us together, affirms that we have things in common, that we like each other. I love these girls already.
The reason for our laughter? We’d agreed to bring along a poem from our teenage years.
Earlier that evening I’d scrambled around the attic looking for the black ring binder that contained laboriously typed pages and pages and pages of poetry written between 1994 and 1996, when I was aged 17 to 20, studying journalism at AUT. The poems abruptly stopped in March 1996 when my father died, my pen stunned into silence for years after. I’d thought for a time that the poetry in that black folder might win competitions, make me famous, or at least find me my very own Ted Hughes. Ducking beneath the rafters I flip up the lid of a cavernous cardboard box, push aside old diaries weighty with concert tickets, photographs and song words, lay my dusty model portfolio on the floor, and lift the split plastic bag of letters Mum and I exchanged when I lived in London. I sneeze and wipe my eyes. Under all that detritus of my young life, there it was. I grab the black folder and my model portfolio and climb back down the attic stairs, feeling rather excited about the prospect of sharing my youthful Plath-esque darkness and self-awareness.
Later that night, at Emma’s house—the heater on and the wine/tea poured—Kiri, bravely, went first. She blushed as she read the poem she’d written at 15, about lust and longing, about a boy she admitted she couldn’t remember the name of. Her words were tender and sweet and kind—as are the words of the children’s book Kiri crafts these days.
Anna’s poem was deep and socially aware, about sexuality and virginity (sexuality is NOT an option). She laughed until she cried. We roared. Strangely, her current work retains that crisp self-awareness, a social understanding of the things that matter.
Mary, a journalist, is shaking with laughter, her cropped blond hair bright against flushed cheeks. She didn’t write teenage poetry, she tells us, but kept journals about boys and theatre and colossal self-consciousness. Something for next month, perhaps, Mary?!
I’m next. I read out this a poem called—gulp—’Bastard’, my cheeks growing warm, my underarms prickling. This is awful, I realise as I read. Really awful! Out loud I snort, barely able to mutter through laughter: “I was reading too much Sylvia Plath at the time!” An excuse for the naïve and angsty words that it seemed, at times, I chose because of how they sounded and not because I was aware of their actual meaning.
Emma read her rock-ballad song lyric poem, and beneath the heartbreak (Let me sleeeeeep….) was a revelation: even at 19 her writing was this rhythmic, her heart pulsing through the words onto the page. Read these to see what this rock balladeer writes these days:
Kirstin didn’t want to read. But felt better after hearing our former selves pour out their teenage hearts. Hers was an ode to her obsession, the original Renaissance man, Michelangelo; love gushing through words, trying to find a way through the years, back to him, to be by his side. This ability to see through time, and her love of art and form infuses the scripts she writes today.
As if we hadn’t had enough laughs, I pull out my Maysie Bestall-Cohen model portfolio and we discover three out of six of us had a crush on the same boy who was the male model in the Dr. Martens ad I shot for Pavement magazine.
We flip through the pages and laugh at the 90s hair and makeup, at the nipple poking out of the pale green crochet top in what could only be a hair competition shot. We almost lose it when Emma shows us her photo in a faded 1999 NZ Fitness magazine—glorious in legwarmers and a high-cut leotard. That version of her had competed in the 1999 NZ Aerobic Championships.
Laughter, they say, cements common ground, good feelings, something shared. What it also did tonight was show us that no matter how embarrassed we are of these earlier versions of ourselves, something of who we now are hangs in the spaces between the words we’d written all those years ago. Something to be held in your hand like a stone collected from your favourite beach, to be polished and examined and held close to your chest next to where your heart beats. For in those spaces between, in the heat of that stone warmed by the sun, is the you you would become. The you who sits in this circle tonight, long after your children are asleep, with a group of women fast becoming friends, roaring with laughter.
- The author would be extremely happy to see further examples of dreadful teenage poetry posted below.