It’s usually when I’m shopping, and a retailer wants my email address, that I briefly wonder why I chose ‘at-the-bay’ as my nomenclature. I sometimes invoke Katherine Mansfield to see if the person I’m talking to is a fan, but more often than not I’m left explaining the @ sign and the word at to follow and then, clarifying a hyphen versus an underscore.
It wasn’t meant to be pretentious. We moved to live in Days Bay, Oruamotoro, some 35 years ago, with our young family. Our lads, now fully grown men and fathers. Somewhere in the fog of mothering them through teenage years, I took up writing doggerel to interrogate the journey of one son with a green mohawk, the other with dreadlocks (in my plans, they should have been school prefects with short back and sides). How grateful am I to our sons, who jolted me from my suburban fantasy and propelled me into writing. Somehow, in this rhyming verse, potential was spotted by Greg O’Brien, and I was invited to be part of one of the very first undergraduate Poetry Courses up at Victoria University (Te Herenga Waka). A fire was lit.
I followed up the poetry and enrolled in Harry Rickett’s short fiction course. I was beginning to get the hang of this writing lark… and so it was that at the ripe old age of 50 I enrolled at Victoria University to do a BA English Literature. It was here, for the first time, I encountered the work of Katherine Mansfield. You might very well gasp at this idea, but there it is. And here was I, living on the hill, high in the bush, up a zig zag with no drive-on, looking out to towards the point where Katherine Mansfield’s family holidayed.
By now I am a total devotee of Katherine Mansfield, and this is how my life became littered with KM symbols. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, my Twitter handle is @atthebay, and my blog is acurioushalfhour.com. A poem I wrote ‘At Katherine’s Bay’ was first published in the Listener and has had airings in other anthologies. It’s a modern riff on the tale of ‘At the Bay’ by Katherine Mansfield bringing Stanley Burnell, Jonathan Trout, Linda, Beryl and the Kembers into the 21st century. Another poem ‘How too weird’ inspired by my time running a reading group at Arohata Prison, is a riff off ‘Her First Ball’. This poem is published in an Edinburgh University Press Journal ‘Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf’.
So, you can see that my living here in this locality has been an inspiration. I’ve attended KM Conferences both here and in Melbourne and marvelled at the minutiae of themes on which scholars can both write and wax lyrical. I recall a wonderful presentation on the ellipsis. I’ve also assisted the New Zealand Society of Authors with walking tours of both Wellington and Days Bay for eager KM devotees to ooh and aah and quote her most quotable passages, as we imagine both Katherine Mansfield, her family and her characters, blurring the lines between Harold Beauchamp and Stanley Burnell, the children in the washhouse with Katherine and her siblings. And as for the Kembers…
At Katherine’s Bay
Water washes over the road
at Eastbourne while
latte spume licks the heels of
city jeeps. The southerly lifts sand
and little blue penguins invade
the investment, once were holiday homes
where Katherine stayed and Stanley Burnell’s
children played their part,
native bush and real estate collide
in Sunday kaleidoscope sunshine.
Jonathan Trout isn’t shouting out
from the waves nowadays
he sits instead, in the shelter of the boatshed
and watches Stanley catch the ferry.
Linda feasts on eggs florentine
and Beryl’s no longer afraid
the Kember’s brittle laughter
can be heard over barbecues
and in the bush, if you listen carefully
from somewhere in the shadows
you can hear Jonathan saying,
It’s all wrong, it’s all wrong.
This poem has been published previously in the Listener, an Edinburgh University Journal about KM and in a Godwit (Random House) anthology, Essential New Zealand Poems.
Maggie Rainey-Smith is a novelist, poet, short story writer, essayist and book reviewer. About Turns was the first NZ novel to be chosen by Whitcoulls as a Guaranteed Great Read, and Daughters of Messene has been a bestseller in Greece. She was short-listed for the Landfall Essay Competition in 2004 and Joint Runner Up in 2014, winning the Page & Blackmore short story competition the same year. Her poem ‘Formica’ was longlisted for the 2019 Fish Poetry Prize, judged by Billy Collins. Maggie’s poems have been published in leading journals and anthologies but Formica, published this year, is her first collection. You can find her collection here.