The Beautiful Afternoon
In The Beautiful Afternoon, award-winning poet and short-story writer Airini Beautrais plumbs history, literature, Star Wars, sea hags, beauty products, tarot, swimwear, environmentalism and pole dancing to deliver a virtuoso inquiry into how we become, and change, who we are.
Beautrais surveys the many influences on her life, from Lord Byron and Dante to Dolly magazine and 90s R&B, with intense curiosity and a fierce intelligence. Whether saving the planet in her Quaker childhood and activist youth, surviving the lonely years of early motherhood, or confronting the fears and freedoms of midlife – in which she writes about the body becoming a poem and human touch beginning to feel safe again – Beautrais’ lucid examination of experience reveals that the personal is inescapably political.
Throughout these wide-ranging essays her vigilant critique of entrenched patriarchal control turns anger to resistance, as a woman finds a way out of its grip, back to herself and the world.
‘Airini Beautrais is an intellectually rigorous and emotionally fearless examiner of the influences and experiences that have left their marks on her body and her mind, from Renaissance poetry to armpit-shaming, the Wellington punk scene to Quakerism. Candid, tender, at times self-lacerating, she roves fluently across the encounters and juxtapositions that make up a life, from the fleeting pleasures of daytime sex, to getting into fancy moisturiser as an anti-capitalist feminist, to studying Dante’s Inferno and the quiet fuck-you of planting exactly the garden she wants to. Never not honest about hard things, especially the brutality that can happen in intimate relationships, you sometimes ache for her in her loneliness, but it's impossible to pity her. She doesn’t need it. Hers is the freedom that comes from taking the time, and the effort to look directly at herself and take her own measure as a writer, as a woman. Beautrais writes with a luminous, matter-of-fact intelligence about life's disappointments, and also life's consolations – writing, poetry, pole-dancing, magnolia blossoms – with a level of care and attention that is in its own way a kind of liberation.’ —Noelle McCarthy, author of Grand
Airini Beautrais was born in Auckland in 1982. Her debut work of fiction, Bug Week, won Aotearoa New Zealand’s top fiction award, the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize, at the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. She is the author of four collections of poetry, including Secret Heart (VUP, 2006), which won the Jessie Mackay Award for First Book of Poetry at the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. In 2016 she won the Landfall Essay Prize. Airini is also a science teacher and dance instructor. This is her first collection of essays.
Cover: Todd Atticus