LIVING ART: Former Southland poet Gary Elford. (published in the Southland Times 21/9/2011)

Gary Elford might have spent the past 19 years teaching food technology but his outside hobby has now turned from a dream into reality with the launch in Riverton of his first poetry book.

Beneath the Sugar Loaf is a collection of poems that are reflections of the former Southlander's thoughts, memories, and experiences.Elford, originally from Australia, spent 30 years living in the south before recently shifting to Christchurch, and for the past 15 years has been writing and performing not only his poetry, but playing the banjo, guitar and "a bit of everything else", at South Island folk music festivals.

The name of the book came from a mountain in Australia where his ancestors were from.

The poetry is called bush poetry, which is folk poetry – stories of people and places. "People should be able to pick them up and somehow associate with them," he said.
A self-proclaimed "inspirational" writer, he has to do or see something that gives him inspiration to write about it. "The whole lot of stories are based on fact and true life, life experiences, and experiences other people can associate with as well."

The idea for the book was different from most poetry books because "in this modern sort of age we're all a bit short on attention spans and we love to pick up a CD."
He put together a selection of about 12 poems with Riverton illustrator Tui Johnson, and recorded a CD of him reading the poems. "I haven't seen anyone else do that concept," he said.

The idea to get himself published came about after four of his poems were published in a book of poetry called From Bard to Verse: Contemporary New Zealand Bush Poems, and he decided to have a go on his own. At the same time, his grandmother passed away at the age of 95, and with her died a lot of old stories, inspiring Elford to put the book together as, a "piece of living art".

"A lot of this was written for the family as well," he said.

It had been a long process to get things right, and Elford said although the artwork and basic layout were finished in February they had received final copies of the book only in the past two weeks.

He is in the process of writing another book of Southland poems, which he plans to have published by February. Beneath the Sugar Loaf is available from Trevor Daley Music Works.