Best New Zealand Poems 2001


Bernadette Hall


BERNADETTE HALL was born in Central Otago in 1945 and now teaches and writes (plays as well as poetry) in Christchurch. She has had five collections of poetry published, the most recent being Settler Dreaming (Victoria University Press, 2001). Over the last 10 years, her work has been included in a wide range of anthologies and literary journals, such as Landfall, Sport, Soho Square (Bloomsbury). In 1991, she was writer in residence at the University of Canterbury and in 1996 held the Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University, Dunedin. In 1997, she spent three months at the University of Iowa, USA, representing New Zealand as a member of the International Writers Community which gathers there each year. For 10 years, she was poetry editor of Takahe, a New Zealand literary magazine which publishes poetry and short stories from both local and international writers.

“My lay-sister is an amalgam,” Hall comments. “She springs from anecdotes related to me by a number of Catholic Sisters, now in their 60s, who as modern free spirits recall with amusement and regret the strict discipline and fear of the ‘world’ which marked their experiences as religious novices in convents of the 1950s. Irish Catholicism, as the famous French missionary to these islands, Suzanne Aubert, noted in the late 19th century, brought some strange aberrations with it to this particular British colony. Disciplines and penances became more conservative, sometimes bizarre, after the huge loss of confidence in ‘civilisation’ that marked the end of World War II.

“I was brought up, a post-war baby, in a small-city Catholic community that was proud, theatrical and pretty much enclosed. The Sisters who taught me were highly educated, fastidious, impressive women, all mind and spirit and no body. So I have had to learn to love the body and to trust the ‘world’ — to become real in the way in which my lay-sister is real. Lay-sisters were not fully professed members of a religious order. They lacked education and gentility, but they did most of the donkey work. Stories about them often mention their humanity, grit and good-humour. I love my lay-sister and it’s these qualities in her that I hope will touch readers.”



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