Airini Beautrais

Airini became interested in the book-length poetic sequence after writing a long poem about the anarchist Neil Roberts.

PhD awarded 2016

Airini became interested in the book-length poetic sequence after writing a long poem about the anarchist Neil Roberts, who blew himself up outside the Whanganui police computer in 1982. The experience of writing this poem led her to consider the challenges involved in composing a long poem or poem sequence, including the degree to which a text is narrative, the uses of verse forms, and the ways in which historical and/or political material can be presented. Airini's PhD project was designed with the further exploration of these issues in mind.

Airini's creative project was a three-part sequence of poems drawing on histories of the Whanganui river region, with a focus on social and environmental issues, particularly the impact of Pākehā colonisation. The three sections corresponded to the catchment area, main body and mouth of the river, employing variable approaches to chronology and narrative coherence.

The critical component was titled 'Narrativity and Segmentivity in Contemporary Australian and New Zealand long poems and poem sequences'. Case studies of book-length poems by six writers working during the period 1990-2010 explored the question: what possibilities are offered by verse form, that distinguish poetry from other narrative media? Specifically, the thesis considered how segmentive aspects of verse form, including sections within a book, poems within a sequence, line breaks, stanzas, and meter, affect the narrativity of a text - or the degree to which it is narrative. The notion of segmentivity as poetry's underlying characteristic was developed by Rachel Blau du Plessis in her 1995 essay 'Manifests'.

Writing the two components concurrently led Airini to conclude that while segmentivity has no specific direct or inverse relationship to narrativity, the two variables may be employed in a multitude of ways, opening up a vast array of creative possibilities in the field of the long poem or poem sequence. She hopes to continue working in this form in various ways in the future.

Airini is the author of four collections of poetry: Secret Heart (2006), Western Line (2011), Dear Neil Roberts (2014), and Flow: Whanganui River Poems (2017), all published by Victoria University Press. Secret Heart won the NZSA Jessie Mackay award for best first book of poetry at the 2007 New Zealand Book Awards, Dear Neil Roberts was longlisted for the 2016 awards, and Flow was longlisted for the 2018 awards. Airini's poetry, short fiction, essays and works of criticism have appeared in a range of print and online journals. In 2016 she was shortlisted for the Sarah Broom poetry prize and won the Landfall Essay competition.

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