“Twelve Hats” Annual 2
For a while, I’ve been making men out of clay. But maybe I’m almost done with that. Maybe I’m getting back into drawing instead. Sometimes I have an exhibition to show everyone what I’ve been up to. Sometimes I work in schools, chilling in the art room. Sometimes I work in other people’s studios, helping with their projects. This year, I decided to do something new: write poems at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. Poems that are so far all about making men out of clay.
When I was young, I liked stories with animals in them. The Redwall series, in which medieval mice have chapter-length feasts. Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, in which philosophising rats start a kind of cult based around electricity. Is that right? I don’t remember. I read My Side of The Mountain, then went up into the bush to look for hollow trees to live in. I read Beak of The Moon by Philip Temple, a novel in which all the characters are kea, and something called Alligators and Music by Donald Elliott and Clinton Arrowood. There were beautiful drawings of alligators playing all the instruments in the orchestra.
But my favourite illustrations were Michael Foreman’s. Always dusk, everything bruised. Trick a Tracker, about animals who skateboard so hunters can’t track them. His artwork for Terry Jones’s Fairy Tales has stuck with me: so many rows of tiny sharp teeth and noses that hang like mangoes. Terry and Michael also gave us The Curse of the Vampire’s Socks – a boy named Horace eats himself. “Much to his mum and dad’s dismay/Horace ate himself one day.” Oh man, that delighted me. I still have my same raggy copy.
Old Blue by Mary Taylor also has beautiful drawings. It’s the story of Don Merton and his team saving the black robin from extinction. I revisit this book often, I tear up a bit. Don Merton was my hero, and I’d planned to be a conservationist. Today there are 154 kākāpō. But when I was nine, there were only fifty-three. So that’s something.