Queens Birthday honours letter felt like a big “hug”

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By SHELLEY TOPP

Bernadette Hall received a letter asking if she would accept a Queen’s Birthday Honour for services to literature it made her feel like she had been given a big hug.

“Of course I would (accept), given that it is for being linked to the community which is very important to me,” the Amberley Beach writer says.

“I felt really elated and deeply grateful for all the work that has been done by marvellous people who have helped me in a wide range of arts projects,” says Bernadette.

“I think poetry sits very well in the community as long as people get to hear it and understand that it’s a bit like music.”

Two formal letters arrived soon after the first enquiry. One from the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy and a “really lovely letter from John Key stressing my contribution on a national as well as a local level”.

“That is an amazingly wonderful thing to be told.”

Bernadette, known by friends as Bernie, did “of course” tell her husband John the exciting news that she had been made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit.

But a fear of becoming the only person, out of all those honoured, to spill the beans prevented her from telling anyone else.

Her husband was thrilled for her.

“Over about 30 years or more he’s had poetry on his doorstep, in his house,” says Bernie.

“He’s got used to it just as I’ve got used to his passion for old cars.

“Our lives have been expanded so much by the friendships and the delight that comes from being involved with other artists and lovers of the arts.”

The Halls have three adult children, two in Canterbury and one in Melbourne, who were also thrilled to learn the news.

“They are very proud. We had a family party with the Canterbury ones at the Copper Road (cafe in Amberley) to celebrate.

“All three plan to join John and I at the investiture which will probably be in Wellington.”

No date has been set yet for the big day.

“Our four grandchildren are also very excited. The three-year-old sent me a kiss by phone which was delicious.”

Born in 1945 Bernie published her first book of poems, the critically acclaimed “Heartwood”, in 1989 and has been widely lauded for her work since then.

In 2015 she was one of three recipients of the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement, Poetry, and received $60,000 for her “outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature”.

She has an MA in Latin from Otago University, has published 11 collections of poetry, is also an award-winning playwright and has held residences and fellowships at the universities of Otago, Canterbury and Victoria.

She was also a secondary school teacher in Latin, English and Classical Studies for many years.

Six of her poems “The Lay Sister”, “The History Of Europe”,”The White Dress”, “Under Erebus”, “Leda at the Billabong”, and “The Fox”, have been included in the International Institute of Modern Letters’ annual publication “Best NZ Poems”.

Bernie co-founded the influential Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch in 2008 and is now its patron, but remains a tutor and mentor to students as well.

Her most recent work, “Maukatere, floating mountain”, is a single poem sequence celebrating life near Maukatere (Mount Grey) in Hurunui, a place Bernie cherishes.

“I belong to the Friends of the Library and the walking group, The Mountain Goats, so I’m beginning to understand the landscape. That’s important in my writing. And, being an avid gardener, I’ve been able to turn a section of sand and bits of car parts into a beachy garden.

We both love living in the Hurunui,” says Bernie.

“Our move out to Amberley Beach in 2003 has been crucial to my writing life.

“Here we’ve had the space and the freedom and the friendships that have been so supportive.”

Bernie has a strong involvement in the community and organises the hugely popular Writers’ Tea Party in the Amberley Library every year, and other Friends of the Amberley Memorial Library-inspired projects, including the 2017 Summer Storytimes at the Amberley Library.