Monday, January 14, 2013

Life of a Poet ~ Simon Grady

 Kids, I'm sure you have made your way to the blog Now Is Never Wrong - writing on non-duality, where Simon Grady's smiling face beams out from the sidebar.  He graciously invited us to drop in for a visit, so we are zipping across the hemisphere to the South Island of New Zealand, where the scenery is spectacular enough to keep anyone smiling. Simon is serving NZ's popular drink, Fresh Up, and seating us near a bowl piled high with kiwi, oranges and avocadoes. Yum!

Poets United: Simon, you live in a very beautiful country. Want to give us a peek into A Day In the Life?

Simon: I am married to my second wife, Laurinda-Lee. I'm not sure if I should say this, but I sometimes jokingly call her “middle wife”. That's probably a fair reflection of our humorous, irreverent relationship. I don't think you could joke like that unless you had a lot of love and very little insecurity!

Laurinda Lee
The first time we went to Bali,
Laurinda didn't get to pet a tiger cub.
I promised her we would go back one day.
Here is the fulfilled promise.

Neither of us has ever had kids, but we both work with young people, Laurinda-Lee in a Deaf Education Centre, and in school hours I work in a school unit for disabled young people.

Mostly they have cerebral palsy, but not exclusively. I'm a teacher aid there, which means helping the kids with their learning needs, eating, toileting etc. It doesn't pay much, but I feel like the richest man in the world. After school I look after a teenage boy called Charlie. Charlie is the happiest human being I have ever known, which is saying a lot since he has very little motor-control and spends most of his life harnessed into a wheel chair. We go out to the beach, or race through shopping malls too fast, or I text for him, sometimes offering a little advice, like “Maybe it's a little early to say she's sexy”. But mostly just verbatim. Charlie is a star.

I learn more in an afternoon with Charlie
than I ever did at school.

Poets United: Charlie sounds amazing! You both do such meaningful work, helping  kids be happy. Way to be! Have you always lived in the city?

Kids playing in a back street in Bali

Simon: Apart from travel and a brief stint in Sydney, I have always lived in Christchurch, (in the southern main island of New Zealand, called in the pragmatic Kiwi way “The South Island”. And, yes, the main Northern island is called “The North island”.

Christchurch is on a plain between the South Pacific Ocean and the Southern Alps. It really is a beautiful place. 

google image

Poets United: It is beautiful, indeed.

Simon: On September 4, 2010, we were awakened at 4:30 am to a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. Fortunately no-one was killed, mostly due to the time of day it hit. But there was extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure. Five months later, on Feb 22, 2011, a far more devastating quake struck. It was smaller at 6.3, but this one was a bulls-eye. It struck right on the city at 12:51 pm on a Tuesday. 

image from

This time 185 people were killed and buildings collapsed, including the tower of our beautiful cathedral. image

Poets United: How terrifying it must have been.

Simon: We were without power or water for weeks. Three quarters of the buildings in the CBD had to be demolished. 

There have been over 10,000 aftershocks since the first quake. A 3.6 rattled the house last night just after midnight. The roads are still a mess. The story of the quake is a whole saga which would take pages to tell. Suffice it to say, it had an almost surreal quality, and despite a tired and frayed populace, a beautiful city is slowly beginning to rise from the rubble.

Poets United: It sounds traumatic. But I hear New Zealanders are resilient, and am happy to hear the city is on the rise. Did you grow up in Christchurch?

Simon: I grew up on its edge. Some of my favorite memories are of playing in the apple orchard next door to our house. Apple fights and adventures. I had a really happy childhood.

Poets United: Were you a reader as a child, as so many poets are?  

Simon: Yes I was definitely a reader. My father was a print journalist and an author of historical non-fiction, mostly about whaling in New Zealand. So words were always around. The house was full of books, which I devoured. Both non-fiction and fiction.

Poets United: When did you begin to write poetry?

Simon: I wrote my first poem when I was about eleven. But I started writing “all the time” when I was thirteen. I wasn't exposed to poetry as a child, so I would have called my poems “lyrics”. My first influences were The Beatles, especially John Lennon, Queen and the Sex Pistols.  I wanted to be a rock star. Except I can't sing, and I have no musical talent. 

Later, I gravitated to what I consider the literary rock triumvirate of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. I've seen  both Dylan and Cohen live twice, even in this little outpost. I'm sure this way in to poetry affected my poems a lot. I didn't discover poets until much later. Allen Ginsberg, James K Baxter and e.e cummings were three I immediately liked. Especially Ginsberg. I think he was a saint.

Holy Water - a sacred site in Bali.
They say if you see a snake in the water,
don't tell anybody!

Poets United: Did your writing coincide with your spiritual journey? Your work has a very Zen quality to it.

"all poetry writing is a spiritual journey"

Simon: In some ways all poetry writing is a spiritual journey. 

Poets United: I love that! And it is so true.

Simon: I did practice Zen meditation on and off since about the age of 24. (I don't mind saying I was born in 1968). I've always been attracted to minimalism, the music of Philip Glass or Steve Reich for instance. So that aesthetic carries through to some of my poems. I like efficiency in writing. 

Basho blows me away with his haiku. The spaces his words create. Creating a gap between words for the reader to fall into. It's all in their own head really. The poet only has to trigger  a memory of experience in the listener. Like if a smell reminded you of your school lunchbox you'd be right back there. You don't have to describe the school.

Poets United: I’m intrigued by what you write on your blog about your spiritual journey. What started you on this path?

My first time in India. (I had hair!)
I didn't know then how that wonderful country
would keep drawing me back.

Simon: Funnily enough, I think the catalyst was my love of astronomy and cosmology. (I even have a tattoo of Albert Einstein, it's a geek tattoo!). The more I discovered, the more I started to think 'there's something conscious going on here.' I started to read about non-duality and it resonated. 

"there's something conscious going on here"

I had always been a spiritual seeker, but most things left me unconvinced. I was a staunch atheist for a while, but that seemed less rational than agnosticism. That’s just my take on it. Then gradually there was a shift until one day it just kind of flipped. I know that sounds vague, but I'm more explicit on my blog :) I'm not a seeker now. That doesn't mean I found the answer to every question, it just means the questions subsided. I'm a much happier person now!

Sri Ramana Maharishi.
If I had a guru, it would be Sri Ramana.
Unfortunately, he passed away before I was born.
His words live on in many books~a truly illumined soul.

Poets United: You sound like you are in a very good place. I note you are a published poet. Do you regularly submit work for publication?

Simon: I'm probably an odd ball in that I've had one poem in a poetry magazine, and one poetry book published. I was helping this publisher, Derek Shaw, of NikauPress with pre-press stuff (my job for twenty years, before I started working with young people). He had published some of my dad's books and we were talking about poetry. He said he'd never published poetry before but he'd pass my work around to some poets he knew. Anyway the response was positive so he published “Shabby Epiphanies” in 2005. It was a case of “who you know”, but I saw it as a foot in the door.

Poets United: Pretty cool, nevertheless, Simon. What impact would you say the blogosphere has had on your writing?

Simon: I had a poetry website since the early days of the net, about 1995. I switched over to blogging because it made more sense, especially for poetry. I was also blogging pretty heavily back in 2010 but I go back and cull quite regularly. Some people might be aghast at that, but I have a casual relationship with my poems. Sam Hunt (famous NZ poet) once said his poems were like his children. Mine are more like a garden. I plant them with care but they get pruned regularly.

Poets United: Do you have any writing goals for the coming years?

Simon: Honestly, no. I see myself more as a former poet. I mean I'll keep on writing. Anyone who writes knows that's just what they do. But I have absolutely no ambition as a poet now. A lot of my newer stuff isn't even poetry, really. Just thoughts in a kind of verse form. For now I'm just happy blogging  away!

Poets United: I love the reciprocity of blogging, too, my friend. What is at the top of your Bucket List?

Shiva child.
Spirituality permeates every aspect of Indian life. 
Here, a child is dressed as Shiva.

Simon: I've actually completed most items on my list, seen the Pyramids in Egypt, the Valley of the Kings, the Taj Mahal, dived on the Great Barrier Reef, jumped out of a plane, seen the Sistine Chapel, Venice, The Colosseum, Kathmandu, Bali. Now I'm happy doing my work. I would like to travel to India with my wife, because I've been three times but she's never been. It's such a special place to me, so it would be great to share it with her.

The Taj Mahal
On each trip to India, I've gone to see the Taj.
This magnificent monument to Love
is simply breathtaking!

Poets United: You have seen so many wonderful places. I hope you and your wife take that trip to India. When you aren’t writing, what else might we find you doing?

Simon: Hanging out, reading. Playing indoor soccer (badly). Watching a movie. Hiding from my dog, under a blanket, while my dog ignores me.

Laurinda Lee and Sophie

Poets United: What happy faces! How lovely! Any causes especially dear to your heart?

Simon: Many, wherever equality, freedom, justice, peace and the environment are concerned, that's my cause.

Poets United: Anything else you’d like to share with Poets United?

Simon: Sure. I suffered depression for almost a decade. There's so many people who can tell that same story that I want to reach out to them. 

Depression is so common, and it's such a robber of joy and life. If there's one thing I learned which I would like to humbly pass on, it is this: watch what you take in. I mean movies, music, books, friends, everything. If it pings your conscience, that's a sure sign it's taking you further into depression. 

Expose yourself as exclusively as possible to things and people that make you happy. 

That might sound self-evident, but that old expression “misery likes company” is so true.

If I had known this sooner, I could have saved myself a lot of suffering.

Poets United: Very wise advice, Simon. Thank you for sharing that. It is true, our mind believes what we tell it. I am glad you are happy now. This will give others hope, and point to a way out of the maze. Thanks so much for speaking with us, and for allowing us this look into one poet's life.

Such an interesting visit, for our first interview of the new year. One more gentle poet, making his trek. Isn't it true that the people behind the pens are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. Sherry, thank you for interviewing Simon. I had read Simon's work on the Poetry Pantry, but never realized he came from New Zealand.

    Simon, I was in New Zealand..... Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown, and I think Mt. Cook National Park if it is there that one can see fjords! I love your country and would return again in a heartbeat!

    It must have been awful when that earthquake hit!

    I agree that poetry writing is a spiritual journey and also see the wisdom in exposing yourself to people and situations that make you happy!

    Question for you: Are you anywhere near the area where The Hobbit was filmed? Will you see, or have you seen, The Hobbit?

    1. I will see the hobbit, under normal circumstances I would have see it by now, but you know how the holiday season can be :) as for locations, yes there are some within a few hours drive of home, I hope I recognise them in the movie!

  2. Simon, I really enjoyed reading about your life. Your work with young people is inspiring. Thanks for the wonderful interview Sherry.

  3. I have great respect for Simon's poetry and his perspective. And now that I've read this interview, I think I'd be lucky to call him friend. An amazing person you've helped us better know, Sherry. Another reason to love this community.

  4. sherry thanks for interviewing, it's great to have the conversation through you.

    Simon, it's been wonderful to chat to you (it feels like that with this conversation). what you say resonates with me, it's wonderful to realise how similar we can be across the planet.

  5. I have never been on your blog, Simon. But after reading about you, I feel I'm going to really love your poetry or any literary work. I strongly feel we should keep watch on what movies, books, music we take in. As a kid, I've always strongly disagreed with my dad to read a newspaper, which for at least my region is full of murders, rapes, dirty politics, etc. and so I wanted to keep bay with them. I still do not read a newspaper or watch any news channel for the same reason. Thanks for stating that, now I can be more sure that I have always been right :)

  6. After reading this luscious interview, SHerry, I went immediately to Simon's blog where I recognized myself hiding under a blanket, in amazement at the seamlessness of live, and enthralled by words:
    "Out reality is like a movie
    which consciousness makes
    to know itself. . . "
    Simon! I have not been paying attention, but I sure will now. Pleased to get to know you.

  7. Thank you Sherry for sharing Simon with us! I am moved beyond words-this is rare, lol! Wow, so open and honest-thank you Simon for sharing your world with us! I look forward to reading your poems and love your view on life~ ATB

  8. A delight to be introduced to Simon. I am refreshed by his outlook on life and on writing. Writing (not) publishing) is an extension of life...
    Happy 2013 Simon

  9. Another wonderful interview. Nice to meet you Simon - heading over now to your blog!

  10. Yay! I'm so happy you all enjoyed meeting this wonderful poet. I have the BEST job!!!

  11. This was wonderful. I have read Simon's work and enjoyed it---Thank you to both of you!

  12. Dear Sherry and Simon - I believe it was Susan who nominated this interview as luscious and so it is! I want to eat it with the proverbial spoon. But, there is more, each highlighted quotation brought tears to my eyes - there is an exquisite sensibility and essence that is just shining from this interview across the seas - having me shiver in the aftermath of the quake - here on Long Island where we are still recovering from the much lesser trauma of so-called "Superstorm Sandy." I can imagine the post-traumatic chill in having your lovely homeland so literally shaken. Throughout the interview - there is just this incredible peace and yes, I believe Sherry commented in the interview - happiness. I will be visiting your blog - Simon and thank you and Sherry for this wonderful introduction to a shimmer of your world.

  13. Thanks for this introduction to Simon's world, Sherry. I used to work with disabled children -- the most rewarding and fulfilling thing I ever did. Hats off to Simon and middle wife! :) I'll be visiting it soon.


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