Writers across Aotearoa remember the poet and fiction writer Geoff Cochrane, whose sudden loss is immense to our literary landscape and to the people who knew and loved him, says Gill Ward.
‘Geoff Cochrane wrote poetry, novels and short stories. He published 22 books and in 2009 he was awarded the Janet Frame Prize for Poetry, in 2010 the inaugural Nigel Cox Unity Books Award, and in 2014 was made an Arts Laureate.
Today many writers, readers and lovers of poetry are still reeling at the sudden loss of this well-known Wellington Poet.
When we first started Poets to the People in Lembas Café, Raumati South, over 15 years ago Lindsay Rabbit persuaded Geoff to read for us.
My main remembrance of this is a beautiful poem he wrote for his sister Mary. I have several of his books.
Strangely, at our last session of a group I organise re Aotearoa poets and their poetry, we chose Geoff to study that month. Little did we know.
There were some who had felt ambivalent at times about Geoff’s poetry but after reading many of his poems to choose one to bring along we had a wonderful selection.
A tenderness towards people who suffer
One thing became clear: the sense of tenderness and understanding Cochrane had about people in difficult situations.
Check online to read the many tributes and interviews with Geoff that others have written.
This poem was one which moved us all. It is about his writer friend Nigel Cox who died in 2006
The poem was chosen as one of the best New Zealand poems in 2007. You can see the observation and compassion as Geoff watched his friend blow out the non-existent flames for his little daughter,
A marquee stocked with gleaming cheerios.
Children and a friendly, broad-backed dog
(table to the kids’ unmannerly elbows).
The tall man with the little paunch is ill,
but we’re here on this blustery coast
to celebrate his fifty-fifth birthday.
The wind-minced sea has darkened.
It’s time for the cake with the single candle,
but the northerly has strengthened
and the candle can’t be lit;
taking the cake from his daughter’s hands,
Nigel pretends to blow
the unlit candle out.
His wobbly gait is not yet a totter.
He’s touched and grateful, but also very tired.
The wind-minced sea has darkened to purple.
(Photo: Grant Maiden)
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