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Transcript of the 2021 Artist in Residence's video – Elizabeth Welsh

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[Piano music plays. Auckland Council pohutukawa logo in the top right. Shots of scrub on the foreshore and mangrove wetlands. Screen title reads Wild Āwhitu wetlands. Elizabeth Welsh steps through the foliage while reciting her poem.]

Elizabeth: tidal

Lift up that sand to flow,

transported northwards by stealthy wayward currents,

taut bands flexing,

swilling dune lakes washing to unknown shores,

deposited by the sparring tides and reforming on the open Āwhitu peninsula.

[Elizabeth walking on the boardwalk while looking out at the scenery. She is then at a house, sitting at a picnic table and typing on a laptop.]

Elizabeth: I generally call myself a poet, a papermaker and an editor. I have also written prose but my main area of writing is definitely poetry. I’m writing a piece of poetry… one a week, and I will create a piece of paper for every week. And then I intend to bind together into a small book, handbound. I’ll have the poems letterpress printed onto my handmade paper and they will form a collection of my weeks.

[A series of shots of Elizabeth's handmade paper with poems typed on it. Text on screen reads 'The Awhitu Regional Park wetlands are situated on the edge of the Manukau Harbour. The wetlands transition from freshwater to saline. Through restoration and natural regeneration, this area now has some of the most significant coastal wetlands and salt marshes in the Manukau Harbour.' Shots of Elizabeth wandering through the wetland admiring the rushes.]

Elizabeth: One of the things I love and that made me particularly keen to work with the rushes and has given me inspiration for my poetry as well, is the movement of them. And you can see the shapes that are indented into the rushes, and how much they move. And you can see it throughout the wetland, this side as well, just this little edge. But some of them are massive undulations and it’s so beautiful, so poetic, that really drew me to the rushes.

Elizabeth: This is a wetlands area that I’ve come to every day, with my family and alone to write, and it is so isolated. And the growth is so verdant… and at the whim of just nature, no human intervention. It feels wild and… alive… and that’s always something that inspires me with my writing, to start from that place of wildness.

[Elizabeth walking through a fence and through clearing out to the beach. Views of the beach and Elizabeth speaking interspersed with Elizabeth sitting at the picnic table by the residence with her laptop.]

Elizabeth: I do stick to a routine, so I always write every day and I do tend to start quite early in the morning. The morning is generally my best time for writing, that’s when my ideas flow best for me. So I tend to get out in the morning and then and I think just observe. I don’t write a whole lot, if anything, I just like to be present and notice what’s growing, what things look like, have a visual sense of where I’ve walked. And then I return and will write for a period… and then stop… and then return to it. Sometimes you need to walk away, have a break, walk back to it.

Elizabeth: I think the one thing I did try to balance with the poetry was not just pastoral appreciation, but I did try to use it as somewhat a vehicle to open peoples’ minds to the plight of the wetlands and that they are very special places and why they are so significant ecological systems. And that they are at risk of dying out completely and that they are spaces that we need to nurture.

[A man swinging a young child on a rope from a tree then panning to Elizabeth typing at the picnic table. Senior Park Ranger Bronwen Lenmann accompanies her as she collects twigs and leaves. Shots of Elizabeth talking in front of ferns and walking through the shrub with Bronwen.]

Elizabeth: So what I would like to do is collect the rushes and the pohuehue from the wetland area with a ranger and use that to make my sheets of internal paper for the poems to sit on. I like that the rushes regenerated themselves, that they grew up without needing planting, that that’s a natural process that our wetlands will undergo if we allow them to regenerate. So it to me was a symbol of strength and flexibility and growth and life and regeneration. So that was really at the heart of both my poetry and papermaking in terms of my plant material inspiration.

[Elizabeth walking along the beach and collecting shells by an abandoned stretch of boardwalk. Shots of the her walking down the beach on a different day. Views of the beach, mangroves, shoreline and rushes.]

Elizabeth: So I have visited Āwhitu a number of times prior to the residency with my family, but it felt by the end of the residency like what I had known of Āwhitu was a tiny speck and now I knew the full landscape. I didn’t know it at all I realised. It allows you to understand that you’re never going to know a landscape, that it’s its own special place and that having been to a place once or twice… there’s always more to know and to explore and to discover and things that have changed. And it gave me a very small glimpse into what it might be like to live in the rhythm of a landscape so intimately, but that landscape as an environment is not something that we ever have control over or can know completely and that that’s wonderful.

[Elizabeth walking on a boardwalk and speaking to the camera in front of the foliage. Panoramic views across the park as she begins to recite a poem.]

Elizabeth: It’s been a treasure really, you wake up thinking that you can’t quite believe that you’re here and that you can just walk out and be among it. It was like sharpening a pencil almost, it honed my senses and it honed my thoughts, and it allowed me to focus in such minute detail on something that has been a preoccupation for a long time. And it gave me the time and the space… and the mental space, not just the physical space, to indulge and engage in coming to grips with writing about the wetlands. It was a gift to have that and life out there was poetry.

Elizabeth: the depths of Awhitu

the twitching rushes seem to sit patiently on the surface

of the rank spring sediment-filled water

emitting sibilant moving sounds

that mollify the senses, betray

the patterns of the labyrinthine depths below.

[Duration of video: 9 minutes 49 seconds.]

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