Category Archives: NZ poetry interview

Poetry Shelf interviews More of Us contributors

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More of Us, edited by Adrienne Jansen with Clare Arnot, Danushka Devinda and Wesley Hollis, Landing Press 2019

 

In New Zealand, it’s the weekend.

The streets are very quiet.

 

Anni Pinedo Bone  from ‘The weekend and the carnival’

 

More of Us was launched shortly after the Christchurch mosque attacks. When many of us were unable to speak – as we sought ways to come together, to listen, to show kindness, unity, solidarity, empathy – the book became even more important.  The editors have assembled a terrific range of poetry that navigates loss, dislocation, home, families, food, place. It includes 46 writers from 29 countries, from award-winning poets to high school students, all now living in New Zealand. I am moved by this book. I cry at the unspeakable wounds, I rejoice at the moments of joy.  I would love to see this book in every secondary school. I would love to see this book in every lounge because it is an aid to appreciating difference as much it is an aid to forging connections. It is a gift. Thank you.

I sent a list of questions to a group of the contributors and let them choose what they wanted to answer – grateful thanks to Adrienne Jansen for helping me do this.

 

Why do you write poetry?

Nicky Subono: I write poetry as a way to express what is in my mind and heart. It helps me process and accept things in life and also hope that my writing can inspire or help others in tough times.

Yazan El Fares: I write because writing is often the best way to express things that a person may feel or want to tell. So I chose poetry to express what I feel and share it with other people.

Sevgi Ikinci: I love all the strands of poetry, it focuses on what wanted to be said, it’s sharp and concise. It has sound which can be delivered by writing. It can be romantic or rebellious. Also, I find poetry so delightful due to its ability to deliver different meanings for different people. When my emotions came out in a form of poetry the first time, I was thrilled. It became the way how I express my deep emotions and thoughts.

Reza Zareianjahromi: For a long while now I’ve wanted to find the perfect combination of words to describe some visceral sensation deep inside – I’ve so far failed. But the closest I’ve ever gotten to it is through poetry.

 

 

My uncle switches to a music channel.

The music is fire!

My uncles stand up, and my aunties –

they’re all ready to start that dabke,

Syria’s best dance, where people stand,

shoulder to shoulder, holding hands.

 

Yazan El Fares     from ‘My dance story’

 

 

Like music, the poems in this anthology sound good, they make me feel the world, they make me think the world, they make my senses spark, they take me into scenes outside my knowing and I am grateful. What do you like your poems to do?

Nicky Subono:I would like my poem to communicate to individuals / be relatable to those who are struggling to find their identity/ coming to terms with living in different worlds and also help them realize and appreciate the place where they can call home.

I would like my poem to highlight diversity and embrace inclusivity.

Tofig Dankalay: Change others’ views and perception of the world and prejudice of people and places that they have never met or seen.

Yazan El Fares:  I like my poems to make others feel what we feel and try to think of other people and how do they live. I also want to send a message to people through my poems that each one of us has their own culture and beliefs but we all are human being.

Sevgi Ikinci: Additionally, poetry is a peacemaker. It tells people from different parts of the world, you feel so similar, you are so similar.

Also, I love that the poetry can be read so many times and it gets even tastier.

Reza Zareianjahromi: I like my poems to make you think of dreaming. I want the dimly lit visuals of a dream to come through, the half-lucid state of your mind that produces not necessarily very fantastic and wild imagery, but instead images that are strange enough to be believable and at the same time completely alien. I want readers to get a sense of that familiarity we have with the things we see in our dreams – and I want them to realise that even though they sense this familiarity, the experience is a wholly new one each time.

 

Was I like this?

No, I wasn’t, but I was

just a bit quieter, reserved and afraid.

I couldn’t tell anyone who I really was!

 

Sevgi Ikinci   from ‘Was I like this back in my home country?’

 

 

Are you drawn to certain subjects or feelings when you write?

Nicky Subono: yes, personally, I tend to write more when I feel like there is a message I wanted to express and in hope to reach out to people. It is my own way of communicating my feelings and thoughts.

Tofig Dankalay: My own constantly and forever changing views of the world as part of the universe: Where New Zealand we’re at the end of the world at sometime and at the centre of it right now…

Yazan El Fares: Yes, most of my writing revolves around my mother country and the memories always drawn me.

Sevgi Ikinci: Not objects so much, I think my drive is intense emotions.

Reza Zareianjahromi: I write quite a lot about people’s suffering. I feel a lot of people are dangerously indifferent to it. I also draw quite a lot of inspiration from my dreams, as evident from my previous answer. A good amount of the poetry I write is connected to my Iranian roots.

 

 

I remember how my first experience of lettuce

prepared me to compile a recipe book for salads

 

 

Sudha Rao  from ‘Making a salad’

 

Do you find certain motifs or symbols keep appearing in your poems?

 

Tofig Dankalay: The nature, the universe, the different species, objects, that abide by the same physical and universal forces and laws.The engineering species poet within me.

Sevgi Ikinci: I am not sure. Maybe not.

Reza Zareianjahromi: A lot of my poetry is quite personal. I write quite a lot of things for myself, and never intend to share it with others. So, I guess most of my poetry has a very personal motif and intention behind. I’d like to think of them as fragments of how I felt about a certain thing the exact moment I sat down to write, and that feeling can change rather quickly or take on an almost absurd form in my writing.

 

 

I became a stranger to my own identity,

an Indonesian who never felt

she belonged in her own land.

I was a blooming flower

surrounded by poison ivy.

 

Now I am a bird

flying towards the clouds.

 

Nicky Subono from  ‘Overboard’

 

This anthology reflects diverse migrant and refugee experience. Has your migrant or refugee experience affected the way you write? Did you write poetry in your first home country in your first language?

Nicky Subono: Yes, my life experiences has played many parts of what I write, and because English has become my first language, I tend to think and write in English.

Tofig Dankalay: Of course, it’s a huge part of it. I was born in a war zone. I have no birth certificate, I was a UN refugee at age of 5 in SudanThen, I moved with my family to Middle East. I got my Bachelor degree in Engineering in Jordan. Moved to New Zealand in a Skilled Migrant Category Visa (SMC). I am a refugee, expat, migrant, and a resident. I am all of that.

Yazan El Fares: Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to write in my country. All my writings are coming from my migrant background and they all talking about a child who was 10 years old when he left his own country, relatives and friends. This is because of the war which doesn’t have mercy on anyone.

Sevgi Ikinci: My migrant experience affected my writing but I don’t think it affected the way. And yes, I’ve been writing poetry for a long time. I started writing in my language and after a few years living in New Zealand, first my poetry started appearing in English.

 

Reza Zareianjahromi: My parents are both scientists. Because of their careers, I’ve moved around the globe a fair amount. Therefore, my migration experience is not only an experience but also a fundamental part of who I am as a person. Without it, I wouldn’t be me. So yes, the fact of my moving to new places constantly has shaped a great deal of my writing. I never wrote poetry in Persian, but I have always enjoyed reading Persian poetry.

 

 

We be pack of crow. Black bird perched upon scorched

branch. Perched upon broken building. Perched upon

snapped wire. Perched upon this doomscape.

 

Reza Zareianjahromi from ‘What we be?’

 

 

Was there a poet or poets that affected you in your first home country? Has a poet from Aotearoa caught your attention?

 

Sevgi Ikinci: Yes, possibly a few of them affected my writing from my home country.

Reza Zareianjahromi:  Saadi, Hafez, Rumi, and Ferdowsi are all great Iranian poets. I can’t say any poets from Aotearoa have caught my eye (other than the really great ones is the collection!), but then that’s my own fault since I have not yet read much New Zealand Poetry. Other influences on my work are Charles Bukowski and Leonard Cohen.

 

I am an alien.

Call me names.

You called me all names.

Why not human?

Call me human.

 

Tofig Dankalay   from ‘Call me human’

 

Which poem in the anthology really got under your skin, or moved your heart, or challenged your ideas, or gave you goosebumps? I would find it impossible to pick one so do mention others.

Nicky Subono: I loved reading ‘Call me Human’ by Tofig Dankalay because it is very raw and amazingly heartfelt… I can feel the pain within the words and it is very moving to me because I always believe that we are all belong to one race, which is humanity.

 

Reza Zareianjahromi: ‘The Imprisonment of Ap-Kain’ by Laurens Ikinia. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something tremendous about that poem. I don’t know why. (Note from Paula: I agree!)

 

1.Stone

 

I would stand by you,

if there was no stone.

There is no sound,

that would awaken me.

I would have tasted how you felt,

if I were there.

There is only one chance

to be away from the stone.

Laurens Ikinia    from ‘The Imprisonment of Ap Kain’

 

The interviewees

Tofig Dankalay: I was born in Eritrea in 1974, but I grew up in the Middle East. I speak Arabic and love Arabic poetry, which has influenced me. I have lived in Auckland, New Zealand since 2016. I have an engineering degree and am currently studying towards a Masters in artificial intelligence (AI) at Unitec University while working full time.

Yazan El Fares: I am Mana College in Porirua. I have been a part of the student council in 2018, and I enjoy playing football. I am interested in going to university in the future to do dentistry. I am from Syria and have been in New Zealand for two years.

My name is Sevgi Ikinci. I’m originally from Turkey and have been living in New Zealand nearly eight years now. I work as a finance professional, though writing is my passion. I’ve been writing mainly poetry and short stories. I took creative writing courses from AUT in 2018.

Nicky Subono: I am a writer and a beauty entrepreneur. I am a New Zealand permanent resident, originally from Indonesia. I first moved to New Zealand and became a kiwi at the age of ten. After being abroad for eight years, I have returned to live in Wellington. I obtained my Diploma in Creative Writing from Whitireia Polytechnic in 2009.

Reza Zareianjahromi: I was born in Iran, a country torn to shreds by a botched Islamic revolution. I am angry. I am sad. Confused. I miss my home and want it to be free from the bickering crows ripping it to pieces. I look forward to the day when I have children of my own, and they do not have to witness their country in ruins. My love for poetry stems from classical Persian poetry – especially the work of Rumi, Hafez and Saadi.

 

Landing press page

RNZ National interview

Two poems from the anthology

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews the 2019 Sarah Broom Prize finalists: Michael Steven

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If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates?

– James K. Baxter Pig Island Letters

– Allen Curnow Continuum

– Robert Creeley For Love

– Robert Lowell Life Studies; For The Union Dead

– Elizabeth Bishop The Complete Poems

– Cesare Pavese Selected Poems, Penguin Modern Poets

– Richard Hugo Making Certain It Goes On

– August Kleinzahler Sleeping It Off In Rapid City

– Denis Johnson The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millenium General Assesmbly

– Fanny Howe Selected Poems

– Philip Levine The Simple Truth

– William Bronk Collected Poems

 


What do you want your poems to do?

I hope something of our beautiful and difficult world’s damaged rapture remains in my poems, long after the impetus or occasion for their being written has passed.

 


Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?

I’m still a poor judge of a poem’s strengths, and perhaps an even poorer judge of its weaknesses, but of my entry poems ‘Summer/Haszard Road’ is the one I have the most love for.  (This poem will appear on the Sarah Broom website)

 

There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you?

Here are some memorable triggers:

Cooking and drinking with Malcolm Deans. Spring drives through the Lower Kaipara. Jewel heists in Dubai. Hawkers markets. The Proustian memory avalanches set off by listening to certain records. Flying from Auckland to Dunedin. Driving from Auckland to Dunedin. The spice merchants of Kochi. The industrial plains of Penrose. Tank farms. Musty churches. Junk stores. Museums. Dusk in Taupaki. Coffee and indica. My son.

 

If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?

Embodied. Emboldening. Empathetic.

 

You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?

John Forbes. Ed Dorn. Anne Sexton. Seamus Heaney. Elizabeth Bishop. Ishion Hutchinson.

 

 

Dropped Pin: Three Lamps, Ponsonby

for Ryan Moroney, poet of Papamoa

This poem I started writing ten years ago
to say thanks for buying me breakfast
after a night of rough red and hydro.
Waiting for coffee, outside Cezanne,
the heat climbing high into the twenties,
our brains were slow rebooting that morning.
You’ll remember we shared a table with Monica.
Unduly caged by dubious DSM definitions,
by a psychiatrist’s repeat prescriptions,
she gulped cans of cola through a white straw,
gut-dragged on John Player Specials,
and muttered “Yes, dear,” to our questions.
Ryan, I like to think she was healed a little
every lunchtime in All Saints church,
when the minister threw open the doors
and she shuffled inside the chapel
lumping her cache of shopping bags
stuffed with paperbacks, woollen jumpers,
fortnight-old copies of The Herald
along the aisle and on to the transept
to her daily appointment in the organist’s seat.
I remember one of her small communions,
how the delicate first notes of a minor adagio
by Schubert were held in the humid air
by a common and accessible grace
on a lost afternoon, outside the chapel.
In that district of ghosts we once knew,
Monica is long gone; the minister, too.
Her playing stopped time but was heard by few.
You said goodbye, and went south again.
Her last recital you missed by twenty minutes.

 

 

Michael Steven was born in 1977. He is the author of four chapbooks and the acclaimed full-length collection Walking to Jutland Street which was longlisted for the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (Otago University Press, 2018.) He was recipient of the 2018 Todd New Writer’s Bursary. His writing has been described as “expansive and earthed and spirited.” He lives in West Auckland.

 

at Jacket2 Catherine Dale, Orchid Tierney and David Howard write on Michael Steven (with poems)

Otago University Press Page

 

The Sarah Broom Prize session: Michael appears at the Auckland Writers Festival with the other finalists where Anne Michaels will announce the winner. Saturday May 18th, 1pm, Waitākere Room, Aotea Centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews the 2019 Sarah Broom Prize finalists: Nina Mingya Powles

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Photo Credit: Sophie Davidson

 

 

If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates?

My poetry reading history – by which I mean paying attention to poetry and seeking it out on my own terms – begins with Anne Carson, whose long poem “The Glass Essay” was introduced to me by Anna Jackson in my final undergraduate year of uni. Her translations of Sappho in If Not, Winter and her shadowy, hybrid work Nox suddenly split open for me the limits of what poetry could mean. That’s when I began to feel at home in poetry, maybe because I’ve always been drawn to things that can’t be explained.

Very quickly in my literature degree I realised that the ‘Western literary canon’ we studied was the product of a violent colonial legacy. Instead I felt a pull towards the fringes of contemporary poetry, where I found poets doing extraordinary things with poetic form and linguistic boundaries, especially in The Time of the Giants by Anne Kennedy, The Same as Yes by Joan Fleming, and Lost And Gone Away by Lynn Jenner.

But it wasn’t until I discovered Cup by Alison Wong during my MA year that I recognised something of my own childhood and background in New Zealand poetry. Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe, published in 2016, was the first poetry book I ever read by someone half-Chinese like me. Ever since, I’ve been building my own poetry canon made up of works that negotiate displacement, loss, diaspora, living between cultures, and the ongoing damage caused by European colonisation. Schizophrene by Bhanu Kapil, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Whereas by Layli Long Soldier, and Poukahangatus by Tayi Tibble are all books that I would like to carry around me at all times like talismans to keep me safe.

 

What do you want your poems to do?

I want a poems that are spells for curing homesickness, I want poems that are notebooks and witness accounts and dream diaries, I want poems that create a noticeable shift in the temperature of the air and transport you to your grandma’s kitchen.

 

 

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Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?

I knew that when I saw a kōwhai tree in full bloom in a garden in north London, close to where I was working at the time, I would need to write about it because it was the only thing I could do. It was spring and in spring I tend to feel really melodramatic about things. I don’t think the poem is melodramatic, though; I think it ended up somehow capturing what I was feeling, in fragments: both very far away and very close to home at exactly the same moment.

 

There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you? 

Recent poem triggers: silken tofu, being near the sea, tracking sunlight across my tiny garden in order to figure out where particular plants will grow, a house on fire by the side of the motorway, chocolate ice cream, dreams about whales, Chinese supermarkets, reading, reading.

 

If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?

(This is too difficult and I wish I could ask someone else). Dreamlike, downpour, heatwave.

 

You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?

It would have to be a few American and British poets who I’ve discovered only since moving to London, because I want them and their work to travel as widely as possible. But I wouldn’t want to read alongside them because then I would be too nervous / too in awe / tearful to listen properly. Ocean Vuong – because sometimes at poetry readings he bursts into song. Also Tracy K. Smith, Raymond Antrobus, Bhanu Kapil, and Rachel Long.

 

Nina Mingya Powles is of Pākehā and Malaysian-Chinese heritage and was born in Wellington. She is the author of field notes on a downpour (2018), Luminescent (2017) and Girls of the Drift (2014). She is poetry editor of The Shanghai Literary Review and founding editor of Bitter Melon 苦瓜, a new poetry press. Her prose debut, a food memoir, will be published by The Emma Press in 2019.

 

You can hear Nina read ‘Mid-Autumn Moon Festival 2016’ here

Poetry Shelf in conversation with Gregory Kan

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Photo credit: Time Out Bookstore

 

 

Gregory Kan’s poetry has featured in various literary journals including Atalanta Review, Cordite, Jacket, Landfall, The Listener and Sport, in the annual Best New Zealand Poems, and in art exhibitions, journals and catalogues. His debut collection, This Paper Boat (Auckland University Press, 2016) was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His new collection, Under Glass, has gripped me as much as his debut. While his first book was unified by themes – he contemplated the poet Robin Hyde, his family, ghosts – Under Glass is also unified by form. A dialogue develops between a sequence of prose poems and a sequence of verse poems. The former features a protagonist moving through a strange and at times estranging landscape with its blazing sun. The latter establishes an interior landscape where the speaker struggles to make sense of things in a glorious interplay of gaps, knots, silence, physical things, ideas, yearnings, dream, hinges, contact, light, dark. The title underlines the way everything trembles and meaning is both prolific and unstable. The glass is a barrier, a way through, transparent, a longing to see, breakable, dangerous, a distortion, a view finder. I loved this book, this poetry haunting, and set about an email conversation with Gregory over nine weeks with pleasure.

 

 

 

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Gregory Kan, Under Glass, Auckland University Press, 2019

 

 

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Paula: Your new book is beautiful,  mysterious and haunting, I really like the idea of skirting its edges rather than breaking through the ‘glass door’ of its making. What psychological, physical and heart states did its writing place upon you?

Gregory: Writing the book was a process of discovery from start to finish. For me, writing poetry involves a set of transactions or exchanges with the unknown. It is a fragile but ecstatic space to inhabit. I was privileged enough to be on the Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellowship when I wrote the bulk of it. I bounced a lot between our place in Wellington and the Sargeson Centre in Auckland. Perhaps that complemented the liminal, the interstitial states that come to characterise a good portion of my work: in-between, incomplete, on-the-edge-of, peripheral, fragmentary, perforated with holes. Radically finite. Distant but not disconnected. The Sargeson Centre is a beautiful but haunting place in and of itself. There’s a long bookcase in the apartment lined with portrait photos of all the previous fellows. At night there is nobody around except for passers-by and the occasional reveller in Albert Park. Ghosts everywhere. There is sometimes nothing more haunting than the process of writing, and the artefacts of writing. The overwhelming sense of the past in the present meant that my sense of linear time dissolved severely. I went looking for things to see if I could escape them.

 

Paula: Hmm. I wonder if all writer’s residences are like this? I had a similar experience at the Robert Lord cottage in Dunedin.

As I read the various hauntings in your collection three motifs stood out: the map, the mouth, the maze: ‘I started marking the walls with my knife / so I’d know where I’d been.’

The reading of the poetry took me into a maze of sea, land and self. I got ‘lost’ in reading. And that was a joy. The unconventional ‘maps’ were the navigational points. I am reminded of the blurb on Hinemoana Baker’s book, waha | mouth: ‘I’d like to think that opening this book to read is like standing at the mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand.’ So much for skirting the edges! Here I am drawing in close on a stanza like this:

 

Today the world overwhelms me.

I feel a garden

growing in my mouth

and eventually touch stone.

I am afraid of appearing sentimental about sentimental things.

 

Was the mouth also important as you wrote? Along with the maze and the map?

Gregory: Thanks for sharing that image from Hinemoana Baker’s book/blurb. I love it. Yes, I suppose the mouth marks several interrelated ideas for me: gap/hole/gate, threshold/limit, transition/passage, entry vs. exit, inside vs. outside, private vs. public, and a lot more. Someone, I can’t remember who, writes about the mouth being a place where the soft inside opens up to meet the outside. At the same time, I should qualify that this wasn’t part of any conscious or conceptual intent when I was writing the book. It’s something that I can see in hindsight. On the other hand, the map and the labyrinth were both entities I was conscious of letting loose in the strange game of writing the book. In retrospect, I think of all these entities constitute the problem-space of finite agents, with finite resources and knowledge, trying to understand a volatile and alien world.

It’s always fascinating to me, the differences between what one anticipates, speculates and discovers, when writing. I look forward to hearing about what other people notice when they read the book!

 

You think I don’t know you anymore

and I never read your emails

but I wonder if we have the same nightmare

about some final thing

for which there is no forgiveness.

 

Paula: I think the movement between the unconscious and conscious that a poet leaves in a poem contributes to the way a poem is both fertile and open. And that is exactly why Under Glass is a joy to read; mysterious yes, musical yes, multilayered yes. The movement is also heightened by the open pronouns. Who speaks? Who is playing? Who hides? In your last collection you engaged in self-revelations by way of Robin Hyde. Do you do so here by way of ambiguous pronouns? Or are the speaking characters both porous and invented?

Gregory: Yes, the “I” and “you” in the book are varying mixtures of real, imagined and abstract. I’ve been interested in the fragility of the address and of the self for a long time.

Both the “I” and “you” in the book are fluctuating identities. Some of the poems involve addressing real individuals in my life to begin with, but then depart from them. Sometimes they are completely abstract and/or imaginary addressees. The “I” also shifts within and from each poem. In all these ways (and many others besides), there is an intense fragility to the transmission of information and intent. I wanted to challenge the transparency of the lyric poem and the lyric “I” and “you” in this particular way. I wanted to push it to a kind of limit, to de-privatize the self. I wanted something both incredibly personal and incredibly abstract.

 

 

Paula: Such movement, such uncertainty, fluctuations, flickers. Reading this has sent me back to the book to follow those tremors. Conversely, do you think a poem or a line or even a word can offer a temporary but comfort-rich anchor? For me: ‘Every day the coast looks the same, as/ though I haven’t moved’.

Gregory: In order to write, I need to believe so. I need to believe that hope and overcoming are as universal as hardship. We have seen how a single event can completely rewrite the way we see the past, and the future. Despite such an event, some good things persist, and some new good things can even grow. While a lot of my poems imply a world of flux and uncertainty, where little can be taken for granted, I hope they can also provide a sense of solace, of possibility. The exceeding of limits and thresholds. The possibility of change and doing some good. The strength of being together and moving with others. The relief from pain.

In an idealised model of the world, there is an answer to every question. There is a reason for every event. Things can always be explained, if not anticipated. Everything is as it seems. But this is not the world I know. I think many of us experience a world far in excess of this idealisation. Flux and stability, pain and comfort, despair and hope, uncertainty and understanding – they walk together. The book is in a constant dialectic between entrapment and escape.

 

Paula: Indeed. The event in Christchurch tilted us at such a human level. I am a great believer in hinges as opposed to confrontation, connections rather than disconnections.  For me that is what marks the pleasure of my reading experiences, such as your book. What poetry books have offered you solace or connection or breathtaking possibilities over the past year or so, but at any point in your life?

Gregory: I agree. The world can be seen in terms of its disconnections, animosities – its radical otherness. But I see that as the enabling space for bridges, for empathy and understanding. This is the condition for knowledge and for being together with others, for the grasping mindsoul looking for an island to rest on, awash in a dizzying ocean.

As for poetry books, there are so many! Since we’ve been talking about my book, I’ll use that as my constraint. Reading and writing are almost indistinguishable for me (you gotta eat to live), and these books were absolute pillars when I was writing Under Glass

Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu | Spirit House. Soul-slaying. I often lament the lack of action and politics in New Zealand poetry. I sense a general sentiment that politics in poetry is “too prescriptive” or “ham-fisted” but I think that’s a cop-out. Those are not reasons to remain silent. My opinion is that our poetry community needs to speak up more, to do more work, to not be lost in the complacency of this privileged bubble of liberal high (and white) culture. Race, class, gender – they’re all here, beautifully woven into Tusiata Avia’s work. She’s not fucking around.

Anne Carson’s Nox. A sparse and fragmented work. Grief and memory. Love. Such a beautiful object, too. What she makes of the scant traces of her brother.

Raul Zurita’s Dreams for Kurosawa. Otherworldly. Heartbreaking. A very strange combination of elements: traces of trauma under the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, and ghosts everywhere.

Mary Burger’s Sonny. This book has been very influential to me – even since my first book, This Paper Boat – in form, in diction, in tone, in subject matter. I think it was Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle who recommended it to me. It showed me the power of plain prose and diction, and the power of arrangement and organisation. Like me, Burger is invested in interrogating and pushing the limits of the writing of selves. Like me, she is also invested in interrogating the conditions and limits of knowledge. The writing about her past collides with that of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who was credited for being the “father” of the atomic bomb.

 

Paula: This is a terrific list. Thank you. I have been thinking about the fingertip traces your book has left on on me – that sometimes act as tiny questions and that sometimes resemble little melodies. Did writing this book raise a question for you – large or small? In the process of writing or upon completion?

Gregory: All kinds of questions. A lot of self-centred ones, especially if I’m in an anxious mood. Will people accept this book as poetry? Is it even any good? Did I do my best? What constitutes success for this book, and for myself? What does my poetry mean to me? These are questions that have no real answers, and I’ll be taking them to my therapist, ha.

And some bigger, more difficult questions, after the book’s release and after Christchurch. What are the possible functions of poetry in our contemporary world? At one of its lowest points, poetry, for me, is so often an institutional and institutionalised form of nostalgia and conservatism. Why is it so enamoured with its own past? I don’t know if I’ve encountered another medium that is as hell-bent on dogmatically validating itself based on historical precedents and norms. At another low point, poetry is a site of postmodern whimsy, irony and impotence. If I were being charitable, I can understand that perhaps this is driven by the belief that almost everything can be and is subsumed under the totality of capitalism, and that resistance involves finding the most non-utilitarian, non-functional gesture possible. At other times, I think that this is simply a sneering cynicism. And I find that to be incredibly lazy and dispiriting. When our world is confronted by planetary annihilation and the increasing visibility of fascism and white supremacism, these attitudes are unacceptable to me. So what does it mean for poetry to adapt, and move forward?

What should the New Zealand poetry community be asking itself? I am afraid of particular kinds of silence. The silence of grief and shock, and the impossibility of witness and testimony, is of course understandable. But why do I also have the sense that there is also the silence of privileged complacency and passivity? The roots of colonialism – and the conditions of white supremacism – run deep, and I believe it’s our responsibility to start digging in our own backyards. It is a necessary labour for all of us.

 

Paula: I utterly agree. A necessary labour for all of us.

What do you like to do as a counterbalance to poetry?

Gregory: I work as a programmer and that offers me a world with a lot more certainty. There is still a lot of creativity and imagination involved in programming, especially in how you approach a problem. There is a caricature of programming that implies there is always a correct way to do things but that isn’t accurate. There are many possible solutions to any one problem. However, in the context of my work, the ends of programming are often certain – the problem itself is usually fairly determinate. What you are trying to get out of the program is usually fairly determinate. With poetry, utility and ends are always in question, and I may never know ultimately what “purpose” or function a poem serves. So having this kind of existential stability in my working world as a programmer can be a real comfort, as a point of difference. At the same time, there is such a thing as speculative programming, but I don’t yet have the intent, vision or skill to get there. In saying all of that, sometimes programming and poetry can feel very similar to me, both language-driven, both world-building. From that perspective my escapes become more recreational and indulgent ones. I love hanging out with my partner and watching Netflix. I love playing video games. I love watching trashy horror movies. Also activities that involve my body to a greater degree than the mind – swimming, cooking, listening to music, playing with the cat, eating, sleeping!

 

 

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Auckland University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf in conversation with Elizabeth Welsh

 

 

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Elizabeth Welsh, Over There a Mountain, HoopLa Series, Mākaro Press, 2018

 

Elizabeth Welsh’s debut poetry collection, Over There a Mountain, is an exquisite read: surprising, absorbing, complex. She is an academic editor working for international university presses, she founded the online journal The Typewriter, and co-edited Flash Frontier. Her poetry has appeared in local and overseas journals and in 2012 she won the Auckland University Divine Muses Emerging Poets Award. She lives in Auckland with her family.

The collection brought Anne Kennedy’s marvelous Time of the Giants to mind as Elizabeth has also produced a long narrative poem made of glistening pieces and fluent lines. There is a sense of magic at work, a myth-like underlay, seams of real experience, and a satisfying blend of true and invented settings. This is the story of a daughter whose parents are mountains  – who puzzles and struggles and faces what it is to be a mountain daughter, to be with a mountain mother and a mountain father. This is fable but this is also satisfyingly human as the mountain daughter navigates how she is formed ‘by’ and ‘outside’ relationships.

Over There a Mountain was one of my favourite poetry reads of 2018.

 

Over-there-a-mountain-cover

 

 

It’s hard to know how to be    with a mother who is

a mountain. It’s hard to feel how to be   with a father

who is a mountain. It’s hard to understand how to be.

It’s hard to explain that luminous bond, that bewilderingly

stretched distance.

 

 

Paula: Narrative and character mattered so much as I read Over There a Mountain. What poetic effects were you drawn to as you wrote?

 

They were slow-moving, glistening tail-lights

in the guttering of a kasrt dawn.

 

Elizabeth: Yes, both narrative and character are central to Over There a Mountain, given its form as a narrative poem. It was actually near to completion when the poem evolved and settled into a book-length narrative (albeit split into three distinct parts – the mountain-daughter’s childhood, adulthood and last years), tracing the arc of the mountain-daughter’s life and eventual transformation. As it is involved in, or at least plays with, contemporary myth-making, the oral quality and auditory effects were particularly important to me. When I was unable to find a specific sound or rhythm, I took liberties with words, much to the confusion of my publisher at times. I remember ‘alpinic’ and ‘huffly’ both resulting in interesting discussions.

 

Paula: I love the liberties with words, the sonic playfulness, because that added to the mysteriousness, the strangeness. You hear mystery. Poetry is all the better for made up words.

I was totally captivated by the protagonist daughter – the underlying daughterness – and her electric movements. What discoveries, joys and struggles unfolded as you wrote your way into the daughter?

 

Her mountain-father found it easy, catching sight of her

in a bottle-green jersey scaling a vertiginous cliff, shoulder

blades painted with a dipped sphere of wet Cheshire moon;

 

she became all manner of oceans.

 

Elizabeth: Thank you – I’m really pleased you felt that way about the mountain-daughter. It was an interesting exercise, as I fell pregnant and gave birth to my daughter around roughly the same time (tracing my notes back, it appears the mountain-daughter began to emerge about a year before I fell pregnant when I was living far from home in south London). Whether it was timing or synchronicity or chance, I became increasingly fascinated by familial bonds and ways to refigure, disrupt, defamiliarise them. The domestic is traditionally wrought as such a safe, sanitised space, but is so expansive in its reach; it maintains such a hold on us, even as we age. And the mountain-daughter is both us and not-us, she struggles in ways we don’t and struggles in ways we do; at times, it was quite liberating to construct her character. The particular challenge for me was tracing her ‘daughterness’ – I love that word(!) – throughout her later years as a chronicle of growth, with grafts and accretions, trying to do justice to the shape her inheritance would take. I’m sure we never lose our sense of being the child of our parent(s), whatever form that relationship takes.

 

They told her the mountain stories as love stories, taking

her each dusk to pick bear’s garlic together. Not touching,

they bobbed like pendulums as she murmured: we just keep

hardening and hardening and hardening until all we are

is unfolded, thrown wide.

 

Paula: I love the way I build a setting for the narrative in my head that draws upon my own mountain experiences. Did you have real places that loomed large in your imagination?

 

Sleeping afterwards in the southern heat of a midday sun,

she dreamed of Tākaha Hill, Pancake Rocks, both faint

and singing outlines.

 

Fa!

 

Elizabeth: The collection is deeply rooted in the New Zealand landscape, so there are quite a number of real places that surface throughout the poem. But while parts of the poem are specifically geographically located – including Mount Saint Bathans, Punakaiki, Mount Peel, Tākaka Hill, Mount Aspiring, Dolomite Point, Miranda and Picton – a significant portion of the narrative is deliberately hazy as to its precise location. The Southern Alps, around the Mackenzie country, particularly Lake Tekapo and Mount John, as well as Arthur’s Pass, heavily influenced ‘the mountain-daughter’s childhood’. And the edge where the Waitākere Ranges meets the Tasman Sea provided inspiration for the final section – that wild, untamed, rugged topography ‘what is this line of sea she came to? […] Bucking the empty trug to the picketed boundary of sopping, wolfing dunes’.

Also, venturing globally, a very fortunate and well-timed encounter with the ancient Montserrat (and the Benedictine Abbey there, complete with Holy Grotto), a multi-peaked mountain range that is part of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range in Spain, spurred on the narrative and general ‘mountain thoughts’.

 

Paula: Ah maybe that is one part of the strong connections I feel with the book – like a channel for subconscious attachment- because I see the tail end of the ranges and smell the Tasman Sea from our place and I drive around the Mackenzie country and Central Otago with my partner artist.

Do you have a cluster of poetry books with which you have strong goosebump connections? Whatever they might be?

Elizabeth: Oh yes, I know what you mean – that feeling of simultaneous exhilaration and unease/disquietude. Poetry collections that I have felt an extremely strong kinship with over the years and which, without doubt, have hugely informed my creative practice include Maggie Nelson’s Bluets – these fragments/propositions change me, confront me every time I read them with their candour, urgency and meditative illumination – Anne Kennedy’s Sing-Song, Mary Oliver’s Swan, Alice Oswald’s Dart – the primal, polyvocal, experimental quality of this poem still haunts me – as well as Woods etc., Fleur Adcock’s Tigers, William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, Anna Livesey’s Ordinary Time – this collection is a true gift; it lived within arm’s reach when my daughter was very young – Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Mary Stanley’s Starveling Year, H.D.’s Helen in Egypt and for its shimmering poetic sensibility, Jessie Greengrass’ Sight.

 

 

 

 

Paula: I love this list! I haven’t read Jessie Greengrass. I have been musing on activities that augment poetry writing. For me: running, walking, gardening, cooking and of course reading. Listening to music. What activities enhance writing for you or keep it in balance?

Elizabeth: So much of my life is filled with motherhood at the moment, which enriches and enhances my writing and thinking and being in every way (although actually getting words to paper can be somewhat challenging). In particular, baking bread with my daughter each week is such a therapeutic act for us both and always leaves me poetically inspired. Tending to our garden and wild span of bush also slows me down and reminds me to be patient, to be present.

 

Two mountains encase a flushed fire,

two mountains eat hot soda damper with their daughter.

 

 

Elizabeth reads from Over There a Mountain

Mākaro Press page

Extract at Turbine / Kapohau

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf conversation with Sugar Magnolia Wilson

 

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The night sky is full of

stars but

we are more clever than

most – we know

they are just

      burned bones.

 

from ‘Spent’

 

 

Sugar Magnolia Wilson is from Fern Flat, a valley in the far North. In 2012 she completed her MA in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. Her work has appeared in a number of journals, both in New Zealand and overseas, and she co-founded the journal, Sweet Mammalian, with Morgan Bach and Hannah Mettner. Auckland University Press is launching Magnolia’s debut collection, Because a Woman’s Heart is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean on March 13th. The new collection is a reading treasure trove as it shifts form and musical key; there are letters, confessions, flights of fancy, time shifts, bright images, surprising arrivals and compelling gaps. Lines stand out, other lines lure you in to hunt for the missing pieces. There is grief, resolve, reflection and terrific movement.

 

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Paula: Tell me about the cover of your book. I just love it. I love the way it is rich in miniature things, a little like your poems are.

Magnolia: Isn’t it totally amazing? When I first received the email from Keely O’Shannessy with several cover design options, I was so blown away by it that I almost couldn’t see it. It was weird, like I was looking at running water in a stream or something and I felt like I might faint. I guess I’d never expected her to ‘get’ my work so completely or so quickly, I was prepared to have to go back and forth to fight for a cover I loved, but that never happened. My friend Kerry Donovan-Brown said it’s like someone took a blood sample from me, put it in a petri dish and looked at it under a microscope, and that the cover is what close up Magnolia Wilson blood looks like! Haha. I wish! Best compliment ever. It’s what my dream blood looks like. I wish my blood was jewellery.

And yes, rich in miniature things. One external review of my book mentioned that I seem to be obsessed with accumulation in my work, and it’s true. Lots of little collections of pins and clips, of food in bowls, jewellery, flowers. I grew up as an only child and I lived a rather sylvan kind of life. I loved to collect bits a pieces and when I was nine Mum, Dad and I travelled around the world (yes, lucky me), and I came home with a giant collection of buttons from different countries. I think it’s an innate desire to hang on to what is beautiful in life, to have proof that beautiful things happened, and is probably tied into grief somehow.

 

Paula: I first heard you read poems from this book at the National Library Poetry Day celebration and your ‘Dear Sister’ poems – they open the book – blew my socks off. The letter-writing voice drew me in, the sparkling detail, the mood and the mysteriousness. Where did this haunting sequence spring from?

Magnolia: I can kind of trace where they have come from, but like most creative stuff, the true meaning flutters off just before I can pin it down. So, ‘Pen Pal’ was written in 2012, and that’s a letter sequence, and I think that’s where I got the love for the freedom and mystery that epistolary poems allow, and in that same year I wrote a poem called Anne Boleyn, which is also in the book. I started writing the ‘Dear Sister’ sequence with the idea that is was Anne (pre-Henry) writing to her sister, Mary. But, I wasn’t trying to be factually correct I just sort of followed what the letter writer had to say. Slowly it morphed away from being Anne and simply became a woman from another time, struggling with a sense that she was immensely powerful but with no place to express that power. Hence the onset of a kind of ‘madness’ or, more accurately … going full Sybil / turning into a ‘witch’.

 

Paula: It is such a magnificent way of building a voice in a poem – fierce mixes with doubt, vulnerability, tenderness. This was poetry that I felt. Can you tell me a couple of poetry books that you have felt?

Magnolia: One of the first books of poetry ever gifted to me was Mary Oliver’s collection, American Primitive. My dad set off and travelled around the States after my mother passed away, and he must’ve come across it in his travels and sent it to me with the inscription, Magsie darling, I know you will love this. And I did! It makes me grieve for the majesty of the natural world. I love the way she honours the idea that beauty and love are inseparable from pain and the brutality of nature.

I also love that she is a Christian woman. Usually I would run a mile from a ‘Christian’ poet (probably because I am a bit basic in my thinking and have stereotyped Christians, as though there aren’t a billion different variations on what a Christian can be), but she was Christian in some kind of arcane, pagan way that I love – or that’s what I like to imagine, at least. Also, Mary Reufle’s poetry always makes me feel a lot of hard-to-put-words-to/liminal-space feelings. Her work is a kind of déjà vu. Also, Atsuro Riley’s collection, Romey’s Order, is completely beautiful and was a huge influence for my Pen Pal sequence – the tender, ever so delicate construction-work a child does to build their world.

 

Paula: Poetry may or may not be something you feel as either reader or writer; it might be a matter of music and mystery, story or ideas. Yet so often a poem knots a complex (scarcely visible) string of effects. Take your poem ‘Home Alone 2 (with you)’, for example. At the core of this poem are multiple loves (a movie, a lover, a mother) and a punch-gut moment. And the after effects last and the questions surface. This is the joy of poetry. You move in and out of self-exposure in the collection. Do you have limits? Is it a form of discovery?

 

Christmas time and we’ve been out all night.

You’ve been speaking mix of Korean and English,

the way you do when you’re drunk – and

because English is your second language

people can’t be sure if you’re

talking over their heads or if

you’re freestyling your own

kind of poetry.

 

from ‘Home Alone 2 (with you)’

 

Magnolia: Interesting. Yes, I definitely have limits. And not purposeful ones for creative constraint etc. They’re the limits of being the specific person that is me with my specific voice and set of issues, trying to write poetry. It’s 100 percent a form of discovery for me, a way of making sense of my world and of growing. I think going back to my interest in accumulation, of objects and imagery, I think maybe it’s a kind of armour.

 

The lake has a long memory a long

memory, a large imagination.

 

When my mother left the spring

on our land didn’t change. The water didn’t

stop didn’t stop bubbling up from below.

It didn’t cover itself in a shawl of blackbirds

to indicate grief.

 

Each litre of water that came up

was different from the next and the next

and each time and each time after that

when I took a drink a drink I became

a deep blue lantern teeming with invisible life.

 

from ‘The lake has a long memory’

 

In my poetry I definitely move between self-exposure/vulnerability and then away from it, and I tend to build my poems up and up with imagery like a larva building itself a protective pupa, in order to do its work within, safely. Lol. I think in my poems I build a space where I can work things through, maybe without confronting them directly. And I find that my poems keep on revealing things to me. ‘Muddy Heart’ is an old poem, but only two weeks ago I finally ‘got’ what it was saying. I read it out in an interview and suddenly I was like whoa! That’s what it means! It was so clear and I’d never seen it.

Maybe it’s totally obvious to the reader, I don’t know, but to me I only just got that it was about feeling abandoned by my father after my mum died. I think all creative work is like this, a process of many lives and many mini-deaths, which allow for new life and new understanding in turn.

 

Muddy heart

 

You’ll lie down one day on the field behind

your house and your heart will turn

to mud.

 

Dandelions will push up through the earth, your

blood mingling to a rich beet-coloured soil,

your bones some kind of ash like your father uses

around the strawberry plants.

 

Clover and pennyroyal will take seed on you.

You’ll call out in the fading light for your father,

who is, after all, just over the fence in the house – but you’ll

sound like the long grass, the frogs, the dogs herding cattle.

When eventually he comes looking for you,

how ever many years later

 

there will only be the green flush of land down toward

the road, the river and a patch of grass

where he will tend to st from now on.

 

Paula: It is such a layered sensual poem; I can feel the earth and smell a sharp kick of dandelions just as the image of the father in the fading light who ‘eventually comes looking for you’ is also a sharp heart-kick. And the potent last lines. I adore this poem. The main story might be missing but the feeling is acutely present.

What do you find hard when you write poetry? What gives you pleasure? Does doubt aid or hinder?

Magnolia: I think doubt is something I’m always struggling with in terms of writing. Before I did the IIML masters course, I never really thought much about writing, it was just something that happened to/for me from the age of nine! The IIML course was mostly a blessing and partially a curse. There’s a lot of shit poetry floating round in the world. Honing your editorial eye/ear is key if you want an audience for your work and want to grow as a writer, but, thinking critically about my work pushed me into a place where I felt like nothing was really good enough. I’m only now, seven years on, getting free from that thinking, I am no longer giving fucks.

I am a lyrical, image-laden, nostalgic, confessional poet and that’s totally fine. What I find hard when I write: getting started! I have so, so many failed starts at poems. For every one poem there are maybe 10 or 20 failures. What gives me pleasure: when the creative duende / spirit shows up, and writing just happens in a way that seems outside of my control. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it makes all of the failed attempts worth it.

 

Paula: Ah yes, I don’t think doubt ever leaves. But that mysterious hard-to-describe poem flow can be such a joy. Have you read any poetry books in the past few years that have given delight? Challenged you? Taken you outside your comfort zone. Given your pure reading uplift?

Magnolia: I’m more likely to love individual poems rather than have entire favourite collections. The poems that’ve struck me in some way or other recently (but aren’t necessarily ‘new’ works) have been: Kiki Petrosino – Witch Wife. Alice Te Punga Somerville – time to write (for Larry), Hannah Mettner, her whole book Fully Clothed and So Forgetful, Emma Barnes – all her poems but especially Ohio. Lynn Jenner – many poems, Rebecca Hawkes – the cave draws u in like a breath, Michael Steven – a sequence of poems he wrote about his son, August. Nina Powles – in the end we are humanlike. Jenny Bornholdt – Flight. Anna Jackson – her whole incredible chapbook, Dear Tombs, Dear Horizon. Faith Wilson – Lynette #1. Cynthia Arrieu-King – her whole book People are Tiny in Paintings of China. Alice Oswald – the whole collection Dart. Morgan Bach – her two new poems in Sport. SO MANY MORE.

 

Paula: Ok – books for me to track down there. I haven’t read that poem by Nina for a start. Where was it published? I love reading books outside my comfort zone, that are nothing like I will ever write in terms of style, form and content, but I also love those books that refresh my own writing preoccupations. What are key things when you write a poem? Could you narrow it down to three words?

Magnolia: The Nina one was published in The Shanghai Literary Review online.

Three words: really quite random! I don’t know how I write poems. It seems like a bizarre miracle every time it happens, and then I’m convinced I’ll never be able to write another one again.

 

Paula: I know that feeling – and the way you can pick up an old poem and it reveals new and surprising things to you (as you did with ‘Muddy Heart’). That feels like another miracle. Was there a poem in the collection that just arrived with ease and flow (almost in one sitting) and another that was much harder to form?

Magnolia: ‘The sleep of trees’ was a poem that was just ready and waiting to be written. There had been fragmented, short incarnations of it the year leading up to writing it, but they never worked, and then they all magnetically found their way into that poem, and it was written in about fifteen minutes. And then edited a bit over time.

 

this is the sleep of mothers – of

five thousand lit candles burning hot in the

dark hall of the body, eyes open

and flaming over the bars of a cot

the sleep of babies – restless turning

a sweet and angry clock

bending in space as it draws earthward, pushing

out and protesting against

                            the constraints

                                the boredoms

                                    the repetitions.

from ‘The sleep of trees’

 

‘Glamour’ also kind of wrote itself. Harder to write – Newton gully mixtape – trying to capture the feeling of growing up in the 80s and visiting fashionable Aucklanders, the party scene my parents were involved in, but the emptiness of the scene at the same time. Don’t think I nailed it – because of course, it was way more nuanced than that. Lots of love and happiness too.

 

Paula: Your collection offers poetic pleasure because it has music, space and heart and that makes it both open and fertile. I was flying home from Wellington musing on your book and was drawn to the two-part ‘Conversation with my boyfriend’ where you ‘translate’ your experience together from English into Korean, and from Korean into English, not as language translations but as experience translations. I was thinking then how every poem is a form of translation – so capturing the 80s scene is like a flickery translation. I guess if you think of poetry as translation it becomes something new and intriguing with fragile lines to the original experience-thought-feeling.

 

You are always full of rice because you eat rice and you love rice and

your skin feels like rice when we hug – our bodies mould together

and we are a bread yin and a rice yang and although traditionally

Korean people don’t eat bread you are more than hungry to have me.

 

from ‘English into 한글’ in ‘Conversations with my boyfriend’

 

 

We should always be filled with rice: cooking it and eating meals

together, and rice is important before we die, too. We hug and your

skin is learning to love rice, or, at least starting to star the healthy

map of rice. Traditionally, Korean people don’t eat bread, but there

are now many patisseries in larger cities, and many children long to

be pastry chefs, and I am not so sure about this.

 

from ‘한글 into English’ in ‘Conversations with my boyfriend’

 

I loved the way as I closed the book the two translations merged; yin overlaying yang, yang overlaying yin. Would you ever see a poem as translation or at times as performance/acting out or as walking into discovery (like some poets do) or as an opening of the writing valves into a mysterious process (as you indicated above) that is never the same and simply happens?

Magnolia: Love the fact that they close over one another! Hadn’t even noticed that. I think all of those things are true about poems – they are translation, performance, an act of discovery and totally mysterious. Art is a way to translate human experience and I think life is a constant act of translation, layer upon layer of meaning being filtered through our own specific set of circumstances, beliefs and experiences, that have been filtered through someone else’s before us, and will go through someone else’s after us. That’s why I am not really into black and white dichotomies – left vs right, Labour vs Nats, the right thing to say vs the wrong thing to say, male vs female. Life is way, way too nuanced and strange for such basic framing. Hannah Mettner passed on the most excellent quote about poetry to me, by the poet Robin Robertson and it sums up all my moods: I’ve always thought that writing poetry has very little to do with the intellect. It’s not something one can explain and chat about very easily: certainly not about the making of it. It’s very resistant to explanation. It comes from a place that is occult, in the sense of being hidden. It attends to some of our deepest anxieties and hopes in the same way that dreams do.

 

Auckland University Press page

Magnolia reads ‘Betty as a Boy’

 

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2 poems and a conversation – All of Us by Adrienne Jansen and carina gallegos

 

homework

 

she waits

for her children

to fall asleep

before she opens

their schoolbags

and studies their homework.

they learn

so much faster

and she’s falling behind.

they speak her language

with an accent now

and she can’t

understand what they say

when they speak

among themselves

in their new

mother tongue.

 

carina gallegos

 

 

 

Lost in translation

 

Lev has learnt

the word in English.

Rabbit.

He points at the book

and says in his thick accent

‘Rabbit.’

It’s freezing cold,

frost on the window.

‘Rabbit’ comes out

in a rush of smoke.

‘No’ I say,

‘that’s not a rabbit.’

I point at the book.

‘It’s a pig.’

He breathes heavily,

clouds of white steam

rising around him.

He goes to the window.

A dog is running

on the white grass.

‘Rabbit!’ he shouts

‘Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit!’

and bursts into tears.

 

Adrienne Jansen

 

 

©Adrienne Jansen and carina gallegos All of Us, Landing Press, 2018

Watch a clip from the book launch

 

 

Adrienne and carina  gave me kind permission to post their conversation which forms the  introduction to the collection.

 

Where did these poems come from?

Adrienne: I wanted to write a series of poems from two perspectives: what does someone from Syria, for example, experience when they go to a railway station, compared to what I experience going to a railway station? What would happen if we each wrote about our experience of the railway station?

So I started to write a series of poems that were about ‘there’ and ‘here’. One of the reasons it appealed to me was because I didn’t want to take on the voice of the migrant or refugee. I might be recording the stories and experiences they’ve told me, but I’m not taking on their voice.

Now you can talk about where your poems came from.

carina: my poems aren’t imagined either, they’re just sharing the experiences that people have shared with me. they’re the observations of ‘here’ and ‘there’, when you work with people or communities from refugee backgrounds, you hear these stories over and over again. the stories go on for days and people experience them in their heads every day, and to tell them in a poetic context brings them alive in a more succinct way. but we don’t get to experience the ‘there’, we only experience the ‘here’.

coming from a migrant background it was easy for me to relate to some of their stories too.

Adrienne: Both of us are retelling the stories that we’ve heard and heard and which we think are very important to pass on, and in this case, we’re recording them in poetry.

carina: exactly. it’s storytelling poetry.

that was the other part of the vision – that we were going to write poetry that was accessible to a wide range of people. it wasn’t conceptual poetry, it wasn’t difficult, it was poetry that a lot of people could read and understand, even if there were other layers of meaning, even if there were stories between the lines. there was something there, regardless of whether you could read between the lines or not.

Adrienne: Tell me why you don’t use capital letters.

carina: because i don’t like capital letters.

Adrienne: Because … ?

carina: ever since i was a little girl i’ve had an issue with authority (that’s a longer conversation). i don’t mean for the lack of capital letters to be an obstacle for people. it’s quite common for poets to play with capital letters and punctuation and with the aesthetics of letters and words. i love full stops and commas and use them in a very traditional way. i just don’t like capital letters. i don’t even use them to spell my name.

Adrienne: So that was a challenge for us, how to combine two quite different styles. I use capitals and punctuation because I see them as a kind of small signpost to the reader and a kind of fine-tuning for the writer. That would be my approach.

But there are other differences in style too. Like yours – would you describe your style as Latin American style? It’s more discursive.

carina: we talk a lot. latin americans, i mean.

Adrienne: You talk a lot. Right. And of course, New Zealanders don’t talk so much. This could be very interesting!

carina: we’re long-winded people.

Adrienne: That’s why you’ve got longer poems than mine. We’re both being true to type.

 

carina: and there’s also the weather factor. we’ve been told that in the poems it rains a lot. the weather here is not tropical. if we lived in central america or south america, we’d be writing about mugginess or bad hair days. but in new zealand the challenge is the weather, even for people who were born here. it’s the cold weather that challenges people.

Adrienne: So that’s why it rains a lot.

carina: that’s why it rains a lot.

Adrienne: In the poems.

carina: because in new zealand it rains a lot.

 

From All of Us, published by Landing Press November 2018

 

Carina Gallegos has a background in journalism and development studies. She grew up in Costa Rica, moved to New Zealand thirteen years ago, and has worked with refugee-background communities since 2011. She lives in Wellington with her family.

Adrienne Jansen has published numerous books (poetry, novels, nonfiction). She teaches on the Creative Writing Programme at Whitireia Polytechnic. For ten years she was part of the writing team at Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. She lives in Wellington.