Monthly Archives: August 2019

Poetry Shelf on Poetry Day: On launching Wild Honey

 

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Last week I launched Wild Honey in Auckland and Wellington and I have never experienced anything like it. It was a long time in the making – four years writing and researching – and several decades reading New Zealand poetry and germinating ideas. I faced all kinds of hurdles – notably a string of accidents and illnesses – that made the project tougher. But ever since I was a young girl words have been a primary love. Writing gives me energy, it makes me feel good, it connects me with the world when I am primarily drawn to a quiet, private life. Through my schooling years you would have to say I was misfit – for all kinds of reasons – and I had little confidence in what I could do. To be an awkward teenager and have my Y12 English teacher tell me in front of the whole class I would never get anywhere in the world writing as I did was a cruel blow. I pretty much failed school and all my writing was stored in secret notebooks.

A turning point for me was going to university in my thirties and studying Italian. I first thought I would do one paper but I ended up doing full degrees until there were no more to do. Moving into another language was the best thing I could have done. I loved reading Italian literature, watching Italian movies, spending time with the ideas and art of the Renaissance, and the women poets, but the language itself was an essential joy. To speak in different rhythms and musicalities (always rhyme) was an epiphany.  To read Dante, Calvino, Ramondino, Durante and copious women poets and novelists refreshed my relationship with English. I just had to write poetry. I still didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere but writing was both my anchor and my sails. I discovered the poetry of Dinah Hawken (Small Stories of Devotion in particular), Fiona Farrell and Michele Leggott, and so began my personal quest to read as much New Zealand poetry as possible. I read poems regardless of gender but I was committed to reading poetry by women because poetry by women had been served so badly throughout the twentieth century.

I want to thank my extraordinary Italian lecturers with whom I studied, wrote theses and taught – Bernadette Luciano, Mike Hanne and Laurence Simmonds – who allowed an awkward nonconforming student to find her way and excel. Wild Honey is in such debt to you. My Italian years shaped me as a writer unlike any other.

And now Wild Honey is out in the world. I have created events to celebrate its arrival,  done interviews with attentive reviewers and am watching the book find its way into the hands of readers. It is both wonderful and overwhelming. Nerve wracking. Exciting. Exhausting. Energising.

I don’t know how to explain it but there is still a bit of that shy awkward girl in me – who favours staying at home with family and having one-on-one conversations with friends rather than big social / public occasions.

At my launches I invited around twelve poets to read one of their own poems and a poem they love by a local woman. In the middle I had a brief conversation with Selina Tusitala Marsh (Akld) and Helen Heath (Wtn). In both cities the poets reading offered a kōrero: for me, for the book, but most importantly for women. And they were all speaking from the heart; starting with the book but going beyond the book. Helen suggested that Wild Honey was just the beginning. More books would be written. More houses built. I love the prospect of different perspectives, different houses, different structures, different voices.

Dinah picked out the word ‘household’ and talked about the way Wild Honey was ‘holding’ women together. To me it felt like the whole room was ‘held’. In Wellington the readers crossed generations: from Fiona Kidman, Rachel McAlpine and Dinah Hawken to Sugar Magnolia Wilson, Tayi Tibble and Gregory Kan (reading one of his magnificent Robin Hyde poems). I can’t underestimate how significant this was: to have our poetry elders embracing our young voices and to have our young poets blown away by women who have paved the way. The audience too was a terrific gathering of poets of multiple generations.

It made me want to do more – to bring poets together across generations, cultures, styles, schools, cities and so on. To pay attention to the way poetry is multiple conversations, connections, communities.

In Wellington, mid event, Anahera Gildea got on her phone and asked Hinemoana Baker to send her Ihumātao poem from Berlin. Hinemoana was now in the room. We loved that. We were crossing oceans and then being carried to the whenua where poets are gathering. A similar thing happened when Grace Iwashita Taylor read in Auckland.

A key point with Wild Honey is that poetry establishes many resistances, homages, repetitions, discoveries, existences, differences, residencies. It is ‘an open home’ to borrow a phrase from Sally Blundell’s terrifically attentive Listener review.

At my Wellington launch I confessed I had deleted all the toxic anecdotes from Wild Honey – the scenes where men have muted or sideswiped me or other women – because I wanted my book to work differently. I wanted my book to lay down a challenge, not through toxic attack and deconstruction, but by writing out of love and connection. Is it possible? Can you write a book that challenges authority and injustice by writing out of kindness? Can you refresh the academic page by creating hybrid books that call upon scholarship, research, autobiography, biography, history, close reading, a resistance to vapid jargon and women-deleting theory? My time with Italian women writers and philosophers showed me you can think and write outside the academy as well inside it.

That night, the night of my Wellington event, I was awake pretty much until dawn, overwhelmed by the aroha in the room and musing on my book and its intentions. I started crying without knowing why. I was thinking that sometimes we do have to challenge authority and injustice in strident voices. I should have said that out loud. I was also mourning the exceptional women who aren’t in my book – the rooms and objects I had to leave behind. In the middle of the night it feels unbearable.

In the light of day when I am still overwhelmed and astonished at what I have written, I keep returning to the idea that Wild Honey comes out of the awkward girl and the love she felt for words and their power to restore and energise and connect.

In Auckland we were running over time (not excessively!); everyone was saying things that needed to be said but, because we were in Auckland Central Library with an 8pm closing time, I felt I needed to ditch my conversation with Selina. The kōrero to that point was heartlifting. Young Pasifika women acknowledging their place in the room, in Wild Honey and in poetry communities. Courtney Sina Meredith began the event by reading a  poem by her favourite poet, her mother Kim who was in the room. Johanna Emeney concluded the event by reading a poem that pays tribute to her mother, no longer with her, and Elizabeth Smither’s ‘My mother’s house’. A maternal full circle. Breathtaking, evocative, moving. Each poet invited another woman into the room through the poems they picked (Tusiata Avia, Lauris Edmond, J C Sturm, Robin Hyde, for example).

At the mid point, when I told Selina we needed to ditch our conversation, she stood up, pulled me next to her heart and said we were going to talk. She said, however, before we talked, she and I would stand in silence for 30 seconds and then invited everyone to send me their love. I have never experienced anything like it. A packed room looking back at me with warm, loving faces. People I didn’t know. People I did. I was reminded that when I was in the radiotherapy machine I had imagined a cocoon of light spinning around me and I attached each hug I had received to the spinning light and the cocoon became one of love and when I left the room I felt light and enlivened.

Wild Honey is bigger than me. On the day of my Auckland launch I baked a loaf of bread as I usually do each day (I bake grainy seedy breads in a bread maker and sour dough loaves).  But I had forgotten to put in yeast, sugar and salt so I baked a hard brick! I began musing on how Wild Honey was like a sour dough loaf. l gathered flour, salt and water but it was activated by the wild yeast in the air. There is something in the air – I’d say globally – voices that are insisting women are brought into the light: in politics, sports, comedy, music, literature, film, law, human rights, equity, equality, education, positions of power, on airspace and so on.

Wild Honey is not just a matter of what, as Selina said, but a matter of how. If we are trying to govern out of kindness, we can also critique out of kindness. There is a woman holding the pen and her ink is imbued with her story, her imagination, her vision of what a poem might do, of what the world can be. I want to move closer to that woman. I don’t like all the poetry I read, I might not understand all the poetry I read, but I will slow down and  find ways to move through a poem. I refuse the position of authority – I am an author minus the ‘ity’ bit.

That reviewers such as Kiran Dass (The Herald) and Sally Blundell (New Zealand Listener) have slowed down and read Wild Honey on its own terms has moved me profoundly.

Soon I hope to sleep through the night again – but today on Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day I want to acknowledge everyone who made Wild Honey possible. Massey University Press and Nicola Legat who worked with such passion and patience to make the best book possible. My friends and family who got me through all manner of hurdles with enduring support. I hit rock bottom writing this book as my friends know and the end result would not be possible without their aroha and backing.

But most importantly, on this day when we celebrate poets and poetry in Aotearoa, I raise a glass of champagne to all the women who have written poems before me, all the women who write alongside me, and to the poets of the future, whatever their gender. My book is in debt to your wild honey. Today I toast you. Happy National Poetry Day!

Aroha nui

Paula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf on Poetry Day: essa may ranapiri’s ‘it’s 2019 and things like this are still happening’

it’s 2019 and things like this are still happening

pull the rock wall down in large chunks
the calendar didn’t make
that which hangs over the whenua
just disappear did it?
this nation state of
white-is-right
of slash-and-burn of
divide-and-conquer

New fucking Zealand
in all its truest colours

five years of struggle
or is it two-hundred-and-fifty-five years
without end without end without
a single word from the mouth of power
that can be trusted

(Jacinda I hope you didn’t think you could escape the poem unscathed)

fighting against a company that keeps a name of an honest job
to mask the fact they’re colonisers chasing a profit motive
scaffolding a claim out of iwi-consultation
gone gold-panning for the first race traitor they can find

on this land?!

where the sky has come down to hide our whereabouts
in the fog
Ranginui weeps at the sight
we have always belonged
in the āke ake ake! that pushes solidarity through the mist
we are connected to so much more than a margin

the pigs have some nerve to suggest
we’re trespassing here

and the drums

and the drums
are going and they’re standing crisp in blue uniform
all ordered to be here
just doing their jobs
what is the labour value of guarding a paddock
what is the bonus you get from terrifying our tamariki?

and the drums are going
and we’re singing
mana motuhake
we’re standing arms locked together
in the spirit of Parihaka
the pole of a flag to hold onto
our independence
in the disappointment it’s still happening here
on the land
we are kaitiaki
and we will not let you exchange Her mauri for a paycheque
in 2019 and every year after that
until you fucking stop
until you understand
where we stand is where we will always
stand
on the whenua that we are
and are one with

 

essa may ranapiri

 

essa may ranapiri is a river full of run-off and a mountain that is money-gated, tangata takatāpui trapped in a colonised world. Their first book ransack is out from VUP now., please buy it they’re so poor. They write these poems to honour their tūpuna, they will write until they’re dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Paula Green reads four Eileen Duggan poems

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I read Eileen Duggan’s:

‘When in Still Air’, ‘The Solitary’, ‘The Song of the Kingfisher’ and ‘The Tides Run up the Wairau’

from Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 1994 -reprinted this year in VUP’s Classic Series

 

Victoria University Press has recently reissued Eileen Duggan’s (Selected Poems edited by Peter Whiteford. Eileen was one of my three foundation stones in Wild Honey: Reading NZ Women’s Poetry (Massey University Press, 2019) and this was a go-to book for me, along with the extensive reading I did in the archives. I am delighted to see it back in print. Eileen also has boxes of unpublished writing – poems, letters, essays – lovingly stored at Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington Archives.

 

Here is an extract from my Duggan chapter:

It hurt Duggan deeply that her primary aim to write New Zealand, rather than her ancestral home of Ireland, was undervalued if not overlooked. In an undated letter to Alexander, she wrote: ‘I think Jessie and I were not of the past. New Zealand was our dream; it still is mine. Whatever they take from us we had the joy of the work and of the ideal and we knew the countryside — which, not the cities, is the real New Zealand.’[i] When a critic claimed that no real New Zealand poem existed, Duggan was cut to the bone: ‘My depression was generic as well as personal. I remembered that some of us had worn our bodies out and lived on the crust-line for the ideal of a national poetry.’[ii]

One of Duggan’s most anthologised poems, ‘The Tides Run Up the Wairau’, exemplifies her need for poems to be simple, musical and layered. Heart is entwined with the river of her birth; the poem represents the ebb of salt and snow, the river origins that stick with her in the Wellington streets.

The tides run up the Wairau
That fights against their flow.
My heart and it together
Are running salt and snow.

The poem, though, is also a veiled confession where love, like the childhood attachment to river and paddock, is hinted at. The lines are open to interpretation, but Duggan’s rebuttal of love as a young woman came to mind as I read.

[i] Duggan letter to W. F. Alexander, undated, ATL MS-Papers-0423-6.

[ii] Ibid.

 

Eileen Duggan (1894–1972), of Irish ancestry, was born in Marlborough and grew up in Tuamarina, near Blenheim. Duggan graduated from Victoria University of Wellington with an MA First Class Honours in History in 1918. She briely taught as a secondary-school teacher, and as an assistant lecturer, before devoting herself to writing full-time. She wrote essays, reviews, articles, a weekly column for the New Zealand Tablet (from 1927) and published five collections of poetry. Three collections were published in the United States and Britain to international acclaim. She left a substantial body of unpublished material, which Peter Whiteford drew upon for Eileen Duggan: Selected Poems (Victoria University Press, 1994). Duggan was awarded an OBE in 1937 and was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1943. She lived most of her adult life with her sister, in Wellington.

 

Poetry Shelf classic poem: Jordan Hamel picks Ria Masae’s ‘Jack Didn’t Build Here’

 

Jack Didn’t Build Here

 

This is the house that Dad built.

Foundation laid with stories

from sitting under the ulu tree

to learnings from palagi scholarship:

for wife, for offspring, for aiga.

Sunday School teachings echo in his mother-tongue

dotted with Oxford Dictionary words.

 

This is the house that Lange built.

Southside Prime Minister. The only home

in the hood with a pool. He invited the locals

– his Mangere locals – over to swim

and understood the pressures of fa’alavelave,

cos he brown on the inside like that.

 

This is the house that Mum built.

Chandelier hangs over the heads of churchy

poker players, cheating and laughing on

the woven fala. Celebration trestle tables

laden with islands of sapasui, oka,

fa’alifu taro, palusami, and umu pork

surrounding a pavlova cheesecake.

 

This is the house that Key built.

Double-glazed windows within a security code gate.

His pool stretches across his Parnell palace

where riff raff are never invited to take a dip,

instead he swims regular laps to drown the reality

of midnight figures huddled inside torn sleeping bags

outside glaring high-fashion mannequin stores.

 

This is the house that I built.

Now in State House central. Wallpaper designed with parents’ language

smudged into Samoglish. One post carved from

the ancient va’a of bloodline ocean wayfarers.

Other post, a mighty kauri etched with Hans fairytales,

and Chinese script I feel but I can’t translate.

 

What house will Jacinda build?

Will her house accommodate the next generation?

Will it enable my daughters to build their own homes

of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs

in this palagified City of Sales?

 

Ria Masae, originally appeared in Landfall

 

 

poem appeared in latest Landfall 237

 

Note from Jordan:

I was lucky enough to see Ria Masae perform poetry last year and I’ve been a fanboy ever since.  I fell in with love this poem when I read it in Landfall instantly because of how it delineates the relationship between the personal and political. While those with power have the ability to create structures and systems that shield them from one or the other, the two spheres of experience are inherently and inevitably reciprocal.

Ria shows us the house as a place of learning, eating, sharing, a place to nurture Whanaungatanga. But she also shows us the house as something unattainable, surrounded by barriers and surveillance, somewhere that can spread fear, otherness or indifference. We spend our whole lives as house guests: we consciously and subconsciously pick and choose experiences and lessons as we build our own, deciding who to invite in, how we speak inside, what wallpaper to put up. Ria has built a house that is a sum of her, her knowledge, her language, her whakapapa, her space within a nation, where the treatment of its guests fluctuates with the whims of those sitting at the head of the table. Ria ends with a question:

What house will Jacinda build? Will it enable my daughters to build their own houses/of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs/in the palangified City of Sales?

This ending resonates in a time where Aotearoa is asking more of it’s leaders, asking how they will allow rangatiratanga to flourish, how they will create a sustainable future and undo the harms of colonialism and capitalism, how they will celebrate and protect the unique experiences and histories of all its guests, how they will rectify their positions of power and privilege with the whenua they stand on. Ria will have an answer to her question sooner or later. In the meantime, I’m getting a grappling hook, a balaclava, a bottle of whisky and going for a midnight skinny dip in John Key’s forbidden pool, who’s coming with me?

 

Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based poet and performer. He was raised in Timaru on a diet of Catholicism and masculine emotional repression. He is the current New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and has words published or forthcoming in Takahē, Poetry NZ, Mimicry, Sweet Mammalian, Glass Poetry, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and elsewhere.

Ria Masae is a writer, poet and a spoken word artist. Her work has appeared in various writing outlets such as, Landfall, Circulo de Poesia / Circle of Poets (Mexico), and Best NZ Poems 2017. She is a member of the South Auckland Poets’ Collective.

This year Ria was accepted for the 2019 New Zealand Society of Authors Mentorship Programme in which she is working on new material for her sole poetry collection. She is also compiling poetry to be published by Auckland University Press, alongside two other emerging poets in a book series, New Poets #6. This is due to be released next year.

 

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Landfall page