Tag Archives: Albert Wendt

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Albert Wendt’s ‘Packs’

 

 

 Packs

 

We try to breath as long as technology

and medicine can stretch it

and don’t know why we are wretched with anxiety

 

Every dawn in Samoa the neighbourhood packs of dogs

cracked open our sleep:  barking  howling  yelping  screeching

Theirs was the desperation of hunger and ill-treatment

I needed to quench the undeniable accusation in their howling

 

Now back in our safe Ponsonby bedroom the spring dawn sprawls

across our bed and refuses to leave but it will be swallowed up

eventually by the morning and our need to walk out

into the embracing routines of our tidy lives

 

The packs will continue to stalk us with their slow howling

 

No set plan or final intention

Just let go – just let it go  all of it

even the accusing packs

 

It will not come again

 

©Albert Wendt  (August-Sept, 2017)  (November 2018)

 

Albert Wendt has published many novels, collections of poetry and short stories, and edited numerous anthologies. In 2018, along with four others, he was recognised as a New Zealand Icon at a medallion ceremony for his significant contribution to the Arts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Writing Life: Twelve New Zealand Authors – a reading by Albert Wendt and a review

 

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The Writing Life: Twelve New Zealand Authors edited by Deborah Shephard

Massey University Press, 2018

 

 

 

Albert Wendt reads ‘Used-by Date’

 

 

Twelve authors talk to biographer and historian, Deborah Shephard, about writing and living. It is a captivating new book. Deborah has done an excellent job drawing out stories and raising issues; from what it means to write alongside domestic and money-earning demands to coping with both success and failure. She is familiar with the authors’ books and the context of the times in which they were written. The interviews often feel like a warm and stimulating conversation rather than a pre-prepared interview. John McDermott took stunning photographs to accompany the text.

Joy Cowley’s interview is essential reading. I didn’t realise how tough things were for her in her first marriage and how writing became increasingly important. The depth and range of her revelations moved me. I have been a big fan of Joy’s writing for decades. Along with Margaret Mahy she has also shown me that writers can be generous beyond the writing desk – in the way they listen and back younger or emerging writers (from the child to the adult). Joy was motivated to write New Zealand children’s books because it was really hard to find local examples.

Writing was something I just did. Wanting to be a writer, well, that’s like wanting to be a breather. I just lived stories.

Joy said she used to think people were like apples that fell from trees when they withered and dried but that she now thinks of people as onions – beautifully layered. This is an apt description for the interviews, for the writing life.

Deborah undertakes the interviews on the author’s turf, often over several days, and that makes a difference. We discover that Fiona Kidman has images of her writing mentors on the wall: Robyn Hyde, Katherine Mansfield, Margurite Duras. When they talk about Fiona’s mother and her knowledge of china, there is some Royal Doulton with pansies on the wall . That this is the china that featured as decorative end pieces in Fiona’s poetry collection This Change in the Light adds layers for me. I feel present in Fiona’s kitchen and I am reminded of her terrific poems about her mother.

 

My way of communicating with the world from when I was a very solitary child was through the written word.

 

Fiona’s interview covers family, friendship and feuds, love and terrible loss, along with the origins of her novels, the way she brings them to life and the way her writing process has changed over time. Her novels catch me immeasurably with their humaneness, their warmth and empathy; and the meticulous attention paid to details (think dialogue, setting, signs of the time). I have just read her latest, This Mortal Boy, and I recommend it highly.

In her interview Fiona returns to the 1970s, a time when women were reassessing their roles, finding their voice, standing together and speaking out. I was fascinated to read the back story to her debut novel, A Breed of Women – the way an early unpublished novel, ‘Club Litany’, was shelved because ‘it wasn’t a book I was quite ready to live with’. That novel formed the basis of A Breed of Women – the novel that affected so many women at the time. Fiona talks about entering ‘some new hall of knowledge’ and the women who gave her both the confidence to write and the tools to explore feminist issues.

I was particularly drawn to Fiona’s struggle to find a way to put Māori in her novels  – Fiona grew up close to Māori communities and married a man with both Māori and Pākehā ancestry and has a daughter with Māori and Pākehā ancestry.

Again I am riveted by the conversation; the way it takes me back to Fiona’s writing and the way I reconsider what it was like to write in a particular time in a particular place.

 

Owen Marshall’s interview begins with Deborah reading his poem, ‘Missing person file – Jane Ella’, aloud. The poem features his mother and his slender memories of her; she had died when he was young. She is also there because Marshall had adopted her maiden name as his writing surname. His father remarried and had six more children to add to the initial three. Owen wanted to stay at secondary school beyond 5th form so was allowed to if he paid for it and contributed a small sum towards the household. Fascinating – the commitment to learn when many of his friends were reluctant. Like his father he savoured books and academic learning along with outdoor activities.

I loved the way Owen described the relationship between experience and invention in a novel or short story:

Much of that is my own experience, but burnished and reformed by the process that is fiction writing.

And that Owen prefers the novel to autobiography when he is asked about his short memoir:

The memoir is based on two short pieces I did for Sport magazine and takes my life only to the beginning of the nineties when I left full-time teaching and became a professional writer. I did enjoy revisiting an earlier time and earlier self, but the experience hasn’t given me a desire to write my autobiography. I prefer to be seen through the prism of my work.

 

Albert Wendt, like Joy Cowley, has gifted us literature across diverse genres and has offered  extraordinary  support towards other writers, both emerging and established. In the interview he keeps some things private out of respect to the living but he draws us close to his lineage, to parents and grandparents, to the way writing both takes flight and becomes grounded. In a talk to students at his old school, New Plymouth Boys’ High he said:

 

Our lives are made up of great joy and love and also great pain and suffering and change. At times we feel like giving up. But this is the only life we have so we have to try and survive it, and enjoy it. Live it with integrity and honesty and to the best of your gifts.

 

I want to pin this to my wall. Like many of the authors I have read so far, the writing life is a life of both challenge and joy. It is also a life of reading, and in most cases from an early age. Albert is no exception. He read the Bible and then the School Journal before hiding himself away in the secondary -school library. Then his sixth-form English teacher gave handouts of The Waste Land.

 

I’d never heard of The Waste Land but when he began reading, shit, it was like listening to music and the way my grandmother chanted. We studied the whole poem for the next two weeks and my attention was held right from the beginning.

 

Albert talks about the way he has always been political; and of his willingness to write about and challenge racism. He talks about the way politics infused Sons for the Return Home. I remember reading this book the year after I had left school – and thinking, as it settled inside me, this is what writing can do. Albert said:

 

When I write it’s mainly for myself. I’m writing a book that I would like to read. It has to mean something to me and if it has some impact on the public then good, but that is not my aim.  At the time I wrote Sons for the Return Home I had become politicised, and I still am, but I was interested in exploring colonisation, what it does to people, both the colonised and the coloniser.

 

I am also fascinated by the process of  writing and the way it differs from writer to writer. Albert speaks of writing poems:

 

I deliberately set out to make them feel effortless, but to achieve that sometimes I had to rewrite and rewrite, or leave it for a few days and then go back to it. With my new collection From Mānoa to a Ponsonby Garden I decided to write a set of poems fourteen lines long each, and centre each one on this garden and this house and Reina, our cat, me, and any other creature that entered the garden, and see what happened. I was doing what I do with my paintings, deliberately limiting the colours, and the bloody poems began to take off. And instead of having short lines I decided to have fourteen fairly lengthy lines and make them appear just casual, and closer to prose.

 

I love this book. I love the way it returns me to writing I am familiar  with and lives that I am not. It reminds me that the writing process is addictive, sustaining and for many a necessary joy. It is not a criticism – because I found the interviews I have read immensely satisfying – but at the end of each one I wanted to enter the room and carry on the conversation myself.

I shall read the other interviewed authors over summer: Marilyn Duckworth, Tessa Duder, Marilyn Duckworth, Chris Else, Patricia Grace, David Hill, Witi Ihimaera, Vincent O’Sullivan and Philip Temple.

 

Massey University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 readings from VUP’s Short Poems of New Zealand

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Short Poems of New Zealand, edited by Jenny Bornholdt, Victoria University Press, 2018

 

 

 

Angela Andrews reads ‘Grandparents’

 

 

 

Tusiata Avia reads  ‘Waiting for my  brother’

 

 

 

Lynley Edmeades reads ‘The Order of Things’

 

 

 

Brian Turner reads ‘Sky’

 

 

 

 

Albert Wendt reads ‘Night’

 

 

 

VUP page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Poem: Albert Wendt’s ‘And so it is’

 

 

And so it is

 

we want so many things and much

What is real and not? What is the plan?

 

Our garden is an endless performance

of light and shadow  quick bird and insect palaver

 

The decisive wisdom of cut basil informs everything

teaches even the black rocks of the back divide to breathe

 

Blessed are the flowers  herbs and vegetables

Reina has planted in their healing loveliness

 

The hibiscus blooms want a language to describe their colour

I say the red of fresh blood or birth

 

A lone monarch butterfly flits from flower to flower

How temporary it all is  how fleeting the attention

 

The boundary palm with the gigantic Afro is a fecund nest

for the squabble of birds that wake us in the mornings

 

In two weeks of luscious rain and heat our lawn

is a wild scramble of green that wants no limits

 

Into the breathless blue sky the pohutukawa

in the corner of our back yard stretches and stretches

 

Invisible in its foliage a warbler weaves a delicate song

I want to capture and remember like I try to hold

 

all the people I’ve loved or love

as they disappear into the space before memory

 

Yesterday I pulled up the compost lid

to a buffet of delicious decay and fat worms feasting

 

Soil  earth  is our return  our last need and answer

beyond addictive reason  fear and desire

 

Despite all else the day will fulfil its cycle of light and dark

and I’ll continue to want much and take my chances

 

©Albert Wendt

March-April 2017

 

Albert Wendt has published many novels, collections of poetry and short stories, and edited numerous anthologies. Last week, along with four others, he was recognised as a New Zealand Icon at a medallion ceremony for his significant contribution to the Arts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Manhire and Albert Wendt recognised as Icons

 

 

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Last night The Arts Foundation recognised Bill Manhire and Albert Wendt as Icons. Both  Bill and Albert have produced writing that is a significant part of our literary landscape, yet both have done so much more. Their mentorship of and generosity towards other writers is noteworthy. Their writing stands as uniquely theirs, offering nimble and wide ranging voices, an ability to tap into the humane, the surprising, the musicality of the world. I find their poetry utterly nourishing.

Congratulations from Poetry Shelf on this well deserved honour.

See here for more details. The other Icons were: artist Billy Apple, composer Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead and sculptor Fred Graham.

 

Albert’s poem ‘New Coat’

Bill Manhire talks to Poetry Shelf

Albert Wendt is reading at The Thirsty Dog

 

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Talofa, Everyone,

I’m giving a poetry reading at the THIRSTY DOG TAVERN, 469 Karangahape Road, Auckland, on Tuesday 3 April, starting at 8 pm. Musicians will also be performing.

COME AND ENJOY THE EVENING WITH US. Ia manuia le aso.

Al Wendt

A week of poems: Albert Wendt’s ‘New Coat’

 

 

New Coat

 

This late summer morning is learning how to breathe

while Reina embroiders on the lanai shaded by our rainbow umbrella

 

Pete and Willie of Villa Magic have taken five weeks to burn

scrape and sand off our villa’s century-old skin  and replace it

 

In the kowhai a lone cicada’s love call sounds like the imperious

snapping of fingers ordering our villa to rise up

in its new coat of iceberg white

 

and plum trimmings: its radiance will wrap round Reina’s

fingers and needle

and the morning will breathe in admiration

 

© Albert Wendt April 2014