A woman is standing under Erebus.
She has wrapped all her gifts around her,
A bulky mammal able to feed her young.
See the red flag with its purple shadow,
the flagged road curving towards tomorrow.
There is shelter here, off to the right,
a bunch of metal rods and a cloth.
You wonder if it’s going to be enough.
Bernadette Hall’s eighth collection of poems The Ponies was published in 2007 by Victoria University Press. In 2006 she was Victoria University’s Writer in Residence and spent a very happy year based at VUW’s International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington. In 2007 she held the Rathcoola Residency which gave her 6 months writing time in a cottage about 20 minutes from Blarney in Co. Cork, Ireland. This year, along with Fiona Farrell, she is teaching Creative Writing at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.
Hall comments: ‘In December 2004 I travelled to Antarctica on an Antarctic Arts Fellowship from Creative New Zealand which I shared with my friend and artistic collaborator, the Dunedin painter Kathryn Madill. The experience was life-changing for us both. For me, it marked the end of my professional life as a high school teacher. And the embarking on the risky life of a full-time writer. Maybe this is one of the effects of Antarctica. It changes you.
There is a photo on my white desk. I am still amazed when I look at it. There I am, dressed in blue ECW’s and moonboots, backed into the lower slopes of a glacier. A tiny, insignificant figure in a vast, roughed up whiteness. The whiteness is not fixed and passive, as you might expect. It’s alive and changing. Even the smallest ice crystals tick as they rattle across massive plates of blue ice. And in all that silence your ears can hear them.
Outside the constructs of “civilisation”, “culture” and “home,” I remember feeling something very like relief. You can’t deny your own frailty and insignificance in that wilderness. You’re put in your place. You’re forced to acknowledge that the skua and the seal are far better fitted to survive than you are. So much for human superiority. And somehow you feel the reality that at some point or other you’re going to have to make a friend of death. And that feels like courage and truly growing up.
I felt unique down there so close to the Pole. Even now the memory fills me with excitement and energy. How many people get to stand where I was standing? It was terrifying and exhilarating. A bit like this writing life.’