Life's essence in collection

The Tribune 19 Jan 1997

[Paula Harris (left) and Philippa Elphick (right)]

PAULA Harris and Philippa Elphick are StreetWomen - two Palmerston North poets who together have produced a collection of their poems in a book under the title "Sweet Clarity".

PAULA Harris was blown away when she won the Whitireia Poetry Award in 1995.

Entering her poem Pounamu, it was the first time Paula had entered a poetry award. "I was blown away. It gave me a buzz" she says "and it gave me a lot of confidence as about 600 enter a year and a lot of well known poets enter," says Paula.

Pounamu is not in the "Sweet Clarity" collection. "Philippa wanted me to put it in but I said no, no!" She says she wanted to show there was more to her than just one poem.

Paula says she's always written poetry, but has been developing her style and concentrating a lot more seriously on it in the last three or four years.

She says ideas just come to her "words that people say will stick... inspiration hits at the strangest times, usually at three in the morning... and it's very fickle, there can be nothing for a month then I'll write five poems in two days".

Paula has had poems published in Spin, and one so far this year accepted in a Wellington student magazine.

She says she's played with short story writing and for the past two winters has written a basketball column for the Manawatu Sports News "but poetry is my preferred medium, my first love."

Paula says her poetry is very real, about real life.

She primarily writes the poems for herself, to express herself. However, she and Philippa published the collection for "anybody on the street... we wanted anybody to be able to pick up the book and find something to relate to no matter what background they have, regardless of their age, gender etc... and I think we've accomplished that."

Paula and Philippa met about 18 months ago at an Open Learning Centre writing group they both attended where they "just sort of clicked".

"We both have very different lives but there is a common thread in our poems in the collection - we're both living our lives as single women in the 90s," Paula says.

Unlike Paula, Philippa Elphick only seriously began writing poetry when she joined the Open Learning Centre's writing group.

However Philippa has always had a love of literature and reading poetry, particularly some of the more well known New Zealand female poets such as Lauris Edmond.

"My interest in literature, and reading a lot of poetry inspired me to write... I've always had an interest in the writing process," she says.

Philippa gets her ideas from "living, meeting people, contact with people.. a lot about relationships, to a large extent I write about my own experience, things that have happened to me or that I've seen happen to others" she says.

Poetry is the only genre which Philippa writes. She says she likes the brevity, clarity and succinctness which can be achieved through poetry.

Philippa and Paula have had a lot of positive feedback on their book, "from people who seem to have enjoyed the poems, that's been a big satisfaction to me" says Philippa.

She says they have been able to identify themselves as individual poets through publishing the book themselves.

"There's a gatekeeper, conform to what publishers want or don't get work published... but we've shown that you can go after funding and publish a book that you're happy with."

Philippa says they had some controls, but "we were able to publish a book which looks the way we wanted it to. We were in the drivers seat, we did what we wanted and sent that message out to others that it can be done."