Time and residence a luxury for writer

Michael Steven
Michael Steven
When Michael Steven returns to Dunedin, he usually crashes on a mate's couch.

But the poet and author of the acclaimed Walking to Jutland Street has found himself in much more lavish digs for his present stint in the city.

Steven is the University Book Shop's (UBS) summer writer in residence and will spend six weeks ensconced in the Robert Lord Writers' Cottage, in North Dunedin.

The 41-year-old lived in Dunedin for more than three years from 2010 but now calls Auckland home.

With a young son keeping him busy, Steven had been squeezing in writing sessions in a garden shed at the end of each day: in the fleeting hours before the toddler woke up and then when he had gone to sleep.

The residence allowed him a rare chance to devote himself wholly to his work.

''It's weird having the time. It's a luxury,'' Steven said.

He was similarly enthusiastic about the cottage.

''It's perfect. It's got this courtyard with kowhai trees. It's fantastic.''

The stay comes on the back of him being awarded a Todd New Writer's Bursary of more than $20,000 through Creative New Zealand at the end of last year.

Still, Steven was reluctant to label himself a poet.

When people ask him what he does for work, he is unflinching.

''I'm an electrician.''

It is not untrue. Steven's trade is what pays the majority of the bills.

''It's writing I probably obsess about more than anything else but I still can't say that's what I do,'' he said.

''If people know you're a poet, you've let your guard down.''

Steven is not driven by a blinkered aspiration to become a full-time writer.

''I think it's fairly important for writers to be out in the world. I don't think it's always helpful to be around academics and institutions. The writing I like best is full of the world,'' he said.

UBS general manager Phillippa Duffy said while the 30-plus applications for the residency were of a high standard, Steven's 20 pages of new work stood out.

She commented on the ''musicality'' of his writing and the authentic voice that shone through.

Steven will join fellow poets David Eggleton, Emma Neale, Majella Cullinane, Richard Reeve and Victor Billot for a poetry reading at UBS on January 30.

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