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Jennifer Compton
New Zealand

Jennifer Compton was born in New Zealand in 1949 and usually lives in
Wingello on the Southern Highlands of NSW. Spent six months in Rome in 2006 in residence at the Whiting Library Studio. She is a poet and a playwright. The Big Picture, her most recent stage play, was premiered in Sydney and subsequently produced at Circa Theatre in Wellington in 1999. Her most recent book of poetry. Parker & Quink, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2004, and a chapbook called Roma has just come out from PressPress.

Fifteen Degrees Cooler Today

The dragon breath west wind blew
all the peaches off the tree so the
war of the parrots – chinking! is not
on today. I did not know birds fought.
And all around the big world, people
talking the big word. People talking
God. As if it mattered. As if it meant
something. And I’m sure it does. I am.

Auckland – I’m Sure it has Changed! I’ve Changed!

Auckland wasn’t called the City Of Sails when I lived there. Many moons ago.
I remember that it was called the Queen City. After Elizabeth, our Queen.
Queen Street ran like a river from Karangehape Road down to the wharves.
I found Auckland to be a rather thrusting, pushy, full of itself sort of place.
When I arrived, aged 17, people could tell I wasn’t from around there. 

Speaking of moons – it was in Auckland I saw the men walk on the moon.
I was stage managing a play at Central Theatre and there was no way
I could get out of rehearsal and find a TV set to see the big show.
But Bruce hired a TV set and brought it to the theatre so we could watch.
We gathered around, awe struck – hardly a word said. What could you say?
Then we got on with the show. The moon in our minds differently now.
The next day was Monday – the local rag spelled it Moonday.

Central Theatre Drama School was in Remuera. It was a posh suburb then.
Maybe it still is. So it was hard to find a cheap place to live. Hard to live.
But Bidi and I found this big old mansion that was due to be pulled down
so a room there was as cheap as hell. I celebrated my 18th birthday there.
We were feeling dramatic so we threw on some drag and posed for pics.
I gotta tell you, this place was well past its heyday but I was 18 and Bidi, 20.

Before that I lived down the road from the Intercontinental Hotel. Spiro Agnew
stayed there. You could not get near the place while he was in residence for
the swarms of demonstrators. Auckland confused me because it was political.
Wellington, where I was born, is the capital city, but it is hardly political at all.
I had no opinion. In Auckland, to be in the swim, you had to have an opinion.

This is the backyard, view of the clothes line, palm tree, another block of flats.
I didn’t live here long. When you live in poverty you are always on the move.
Found a list of my Auckland addresses in an old notebook and it is as long
as my arm. Don’t remember half of them. But this is the view from the window.
Have no idea what the address of this place is. It was near the Supreme Court. 
Auckland had some very pretty corners. Mostly I found it to be very sprawly
and inhospitable. As I say. Auckland and I could not agree with each other.

I used to walk through Albert Park on my way to the Barry Lett Gallery and
the Babel Coffee Bar, just off Queen Street. I’d buy a slice of French bread
with salami and sit and scribble in a book. One day, the wife of the owner
of the Babel bought James K. Baxter to my table. Some conspiracy afoot.
But I refused to talk to him. I just kept on writing. He smiled like a conspirator.

The desolate wharves in winter. Bidi would say, when poverty was biting deep
“Well, we shall have to go down to the wharves and slut our boxes.” Ship girls.
That’s what they were called. It never came to that. Got damn close though.

I think I was just desperately lonely in Auckland. If you can ever say just about
such a depressing state of being. I was ready to leave. A friend fixed me up 
a job as a stewardess on a ship leaving for parts unknown. Instead I travelled
to Wellington, auditioned for a play, and met the man I was going to marry.
I walked into the rehearsal room, looked at him and a voice in my head said –
“I’m going to marry you!” - But all that was a very long time ago. Last century.