By: Christopher Cookson
There seems to be something about rivers and poets. A certain William Shakespeare grew up near the Avon River in sixteenth Century Elizabethan England, and his words have endured down the centuries to both entertain, and to torment many a generation of students obliged to analyse his verse. Unfortunately for Blenheim, Christchurch has already claimed its river as the Avon, although not content to allow Canterbury to reign unchallenged, Marlborough does have its own Avon River, a picturesque little stream, apart from after heavy rain, that is a tributary of the Waihopai River.
It's rather hard to imagine Marlborough's Avon as the source of literary greatness, although undoubtedly there have been cockies or their wives in the remoteness of the valley who have put pen to paper.
What Blenheim has instead, is the Taylor River, not named for some craftsman of words, but rather the local village blacksmith, a craftsman of iron, Joseph Taylor, who explored what was then known as the Omaka, and in the process lent his name to the river along with a tale of his apparently terrifying encounter with wild pigs.
Though Mr. Taylor apparently left no great literary legacy, the river that bears his name has begun to take on a rather poetic characteristic.
The Taylor River Writers Walk began in 2010 as a collaboration between local school children and the Marlborough District Council with the first poem installed on a plaque on a stone alongside the river. In subsequent years, as the river reserve has been further enhanced with plantings, so too have the poems extended further, leaving a lasting legacy from the children of Marlborough. I've very much enjoyed children's poetic interpretation of the river.
Although there has undoubtedly been controversy over costs, Blenheim now has an outstanding performing arts facility on the bank of the Taylor River in the form of the ASB Theatre, and for many years, at the confluence of the Taylor and Ōpaoa Rivers, local Thespians have entertained audiences as the Boathouse Theatre.
As the river reserve has been improved with paved paths, poetry, and plantings, it has become an increasingly valuable facility for Blenheim residents and visitors alike.
A couple of years ago in 2016, I published a book of poetry and photography about Blenheim's other significant geographical feature, the Wither Hills. At that stage, I didn't know what the reception for a book of that form would be, however I received very positive feedback, and fairly respectable sales. A number of people asked me if I would write another book, and it was inevitable, when I started thinking about a possible subject, the river became a strong contender.
I enjoyed compiling 'Tales of the Taylor', not just because of the written word, and photography, but because of the joy of ongoing exploration of the river, and unexpected discoveries I made along the way. In the process I learnt a bit about some local iwi traditions about the Marlborough landscape. Their oral traditions are as rich and vibrant as anything in English, and I'm sure Shakespeare himself would have been impressed at the pride Māori take in skilled oratory.
New Zealand's own Mental Health Foundation recognises the importance of connecting with nature, and while British writer, Merlin Coverley in his 'The Art of Wandering' argues that writing and walking are intimately connected. There's no doubt I've found that to be true along the banks of the river, and I'm sure I'm not alone, as many Blenheim residents also enjoy the river reserve.
Poetry, like a great deal of art is very subjective, and what one person appreciates, someone else may find mediocre or worse, but to my way of thinking all art is an expression of the creator in some form or other.
Perhaps individually, Blenheim doesn't have its Shakespeare, but maybe collectively, as residents regardless of age, if we allow our river to inspire us with words of verse, Blenheim can become known as a town where literary creativity flows as freely as our famous wine.
Marlborough already has a critically well received book festival, but perhaps it's time to take it beyond just books, and the few who have already gained national recognition, and make Blenheim a place to celebrate both existing and emerging literary talent in all its forms.
We've got the amphitheatre down by the river, an ideal place for live poetry, two theatres along the river for stage performances, and a great convention centre for exhibitions and workshops. There's also talk of eventually constructing a new library and arts centre near the river.
What do you think?