Tag Archives: Hinemoana Baker

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Hinemoana Baker reads ‘Aunties’

 

 

 

 

Hinemoana reads ‘Aunties’

 

 

 

Hinemoana Baker, of Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa along with English and Bavarian heritage, currently lives in Berlin. A poet, musician and playwright, she graduated with an MA in creative writing from Victoria University of Wellington in 2002. She was the 2009 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence, a writer in residence at the University of Iowa International Writing Program (2010), Victoria University Writer in Residence (2014) and held the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency (2015–16). She has published three poetry collections and several CDs of sonic poems.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Bill Nelson picks Hinemoana Baker’s ‘Sound Check’

 

Sound Check

 

you sound just like that woman, what’s her name

she sings that one about the train

check one two one two check check

ka tangi te tītī tieke one two

 

she sings that one about the train

can I get another tui over here

ka tangi te tītī tieke one two

my secret love’s no secret any more

 

can I get another tui over here

at last my heart’s an open door

my secret love’s no secret any more

that sounds choice love what a voice

 

at last my heart’s an open door

you got a voice on you alright

that sounds choice love what a voice

you know the crowd’s gunna soak up the highs

 

you got a voice on you alright

had a bit of a band myself back in the day

you know the crowd’s gunna soak up the highs

i’d up the tops if I was you ay

 

had a bit of a band myself back in the day

check one two one two check check

i’d up the tops if I was you ay

you sound just like that woman, what’s her name

 

Hinemoana Baker from mātuhi / needle  (Victoria University Press, 2004)

 

 

From Bill Nelson: Sometime in 2009 I heard Hinemoana Baker read ‘Sound Check’ and it has stuck in my mind ever since. I think the reading might even have taken place on a mid-range PA system in a dingy carpeted room, some people laughing in the next room. Although I could be retrofitting that memory and it was in Unity Books or something. Anyway, at the time I noticed the outstanding music in the poem, and then wit and humour, and finally, the way the drama escalated as it continued.

Unusually, the poem is entirely in dialogue. A man is speaking to a woman who is trying to do a soundcheck and sings bits and pieces into a microphone. There’s no other description of the room, or the man, or the woman, or any other sounds. And yet through the poem’s pitch perfect choice of dialogue, the man is conjured up before us. A man we’ve probably all met. A pissed bloke in a pub, who likes to talk shit, knows a little bit about everything, probably from some other generation. He leans with his elbow propped on a tall felt-covered loudspeaker at one side of the stage, a beer in other hand, maybe a cigarette too. By contrast, the woman in the poem is a collection of song fragments and meaningless numbers, and it’s harder to picture her clearly. We know little about her, other than she seems like an incredibly professional musician, with a grasp of te reo Māori and a penchant for love songs.

You don’t have to try very hard to hear the music. It’s a pantoum, so there’s the repetition of course, but also the rhymes are particularly great and bang home like a drum, and there are bits of song lyrics that are italicized like they are meant to be sung. The complexity of the staccato sound check syllables juxtaposed with the rambley-bloke language of the man speaking is also really interesting and ramps up the conflict. Different people and different rhythms, looping in and out and over each other. It’s the kind of poem that is always going to be read out loud.

Pantoums are great at showing how context is important for language, how one line put against another can change it’s meaning entirely, or more accurately, provide two equally true meanings. The poem starts and ends on the same line said by the man, ‘you sound like that woman, what’s her name.’ And what seemed like an innocent enough question at the beginning, a bit idiotic perhaps but friendly enough, becomes patronising and infuriating by the time we get to the end. We cringe as he says it a final time, after a string of condescending comments and feeble compliments. He’s sounding more drunk, unable to remember what he already said two minutes ago, and I imagine him wandering off to the urinal, a poster of the gig that night right in front of his face. And he stands there with one hand propped against the wall, squinting his eyes, still unable to remember her name.

 

 

 

Bill Nelson’s first book of poetry, Memorandum of Understanding, was published by VUP. He is a co-editor at Up Country: A Journal for the NZ Outdoors and his work has appeared in journals, dance performances and on billboards. He is currently living in France. You can find more about him here at billmainlandnelson.com.

 

Hinemoana Baker  of Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa along with English and Bavarian heritage, is a poet, musician and playwright currently living in Berlin. She was the 2009 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence, a writer in residence at the University of Iowa International Writing Programme (2010), Victoria University Writer in Residence (2014) and held the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency (2015–16). She has published three poetry collections and several CDs of sonic poems. Hinemoana’s website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hinemoana Baker tells her kingfisher story at The Bear in Berlin

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This is like many good stories that hold you tight: heart-moving, funny, generous. Hinemoana tells her story of a kingfisher and trying to have a baby. I just love it.

 

 

‘I went to ‘The Bear’, true stories told live each month here in Berlin. I told a story and ended up being chosen as the night’s winner — a great honour among the amazing storytellers there.’ Hinemoana

You can listen on YouTube

Poetry Shelf interviews Manon Revuelta

 

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girl teeth Manon Revuelta, Hard Press, 2017

 

Manon Revuelta’s chapbook, girl teeth, prompted me to track her down and do an email interview over about a month. It was such a pleasurable conversation I didn’t want it to end. 

 

Paula: A number of years ago I picked your poem as the winner of the New Zealand Post Secondary School Poetry Competition. While I had to ponder for ages on the shortlist, your poem lifted above the rest and stuck to me with its glorious intricacies. It was a clear winner. In my speech on the night I borrowed from Ruth Padel and talked about the poem’s ‘chewiness’. All these years later I discover your chapbook, girl teeth, and am once again caught in the luminous effects of your writing. Can you build a little portrait of your writing life in the intervening years?

Manon: Thank you Paula, these are such kind words. It was such a lift to win that prize. That was all the way back in 2008, a whole ten years ago and my final year of high school. Since then my writing life has continued as more of an undertow, as I think it does for many. I studied English and Film in Auckland, where I took some wonderful courses with Lisa Samuels and learned all about language poetry. I also met Greg Kan, who became a good friend and as a fellow poetry nerd introduced me to some tremendous writers like Ariana Reines and Aase Berg. After university, I worked as a bookseller at Time Out Bookstore for a couple of years. That was such a blessing; I got to read a lot and organise poetry events and work amongst the most loving and inspiring group of people. I moved to London a few years ago, and when that became too exhausting and I fell in love, I moved to Berlin, which is where I am now.

 

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It’s taking a very long and occasionally dispiriting time to sort out what I’d like to do to earn a living, as I don’t think poetry is that. I’ve worked in countless subsidiary post-graduate roles from check-out girl to nanny to unpaid intern, but writing seems to be a really comforting constant in my life and all these things in their own ways have come to inform what I write and allow freedom for it. I have had poems published here and there, and last year my dear friends Anna and Owen published girl teeth, my first chapbook, with Hard Press. That was the accumulation of a couple of years of writing, and a very special project to me.

 

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Paula: I can really identify with this! London was a significant struggle and turning point for me as a writer (there were more to come though!). I find poetry fits so beautifully in the gaps of living – for me doing my degrees, being a parent, earning a living – yet it is so essential that poetry is larger than a gap. When I read your collection I am immediately struck by the right-hand pages that are uniformly devoid of text like little white pauses. It is akin to the silence after a piece of orchestral music that allows what you have heard to reverberate. The poems themselves are a satsifying mix of silences and sumptuous detail. What matters as you write a poem?

Manon: Oh London! It’s a beast. Everyone you meet seems so driven and everything is moving at such a fast pace and sometimes that means you’re inspired to seriously think about what you want and other times it means you just drown in everything you don’t want. I agree, it is important for poetry to be larger than a gap… but it’s sometimes barely possible for it to exist at all and I’m impressed that it makes its way in.

I suppose what matters to me as I write a poem is just that it at some point causes that indescribable glint? And that I can feel attuned to what that is for me, not someone else, and most importantly, enjoy the process. Poetry is my only opportunity to do strange things with language; to turn it into something elastic. For a long time I was really interested in formalism, and then swung the other way entirely, and I guess I have wanted to reconcile those… Italo Calvino quoted Paul Valery (I only seem to have read him in quotes) who said “one should be light like a bird, not like a feather”. I think that’s a great and far too quotable way of putting it, this velocity we respond to and attempt. That being said, I wouldn’t want to ever apply a rule to anything. I don’t know! You always find new ways of achieving things.

 

Paula: Italo Calvino is great – he is what inspired me to study Italian until there were no degrees left. I love his Six Memos for the Next Millennium. He has a lecture in there called ‘Lightness’. There is also quickness, visibility, multiplicity, and exactitude. He died before he wrote the sixth (consistency) or delivered any of them. I love your quote and fits your writing. There is both economy and agility on the line.

 

are poems shells

bone caves

gentle blunt beaks

lived in and left

for others to crawl into

Your first poem, ‘Shells’, is a delight. It reminded me of what Hinemoana Baker wrote on the back of her book, waha | mouth: ‘I’d like to think that opening this book to read is like standing at a mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand.’  Your tropes pull in multiple directions. On the one hand a poem might be held to the ear like a shell and who knows what you will hear. On the hand there is the mysterious dark space that Hinemoana draws upon. Do you ever relinquish music and mystery?

 

Manon: Yes that’s exactly where I got it from! The ‘Lightness’ lecture. I really love that book.

I liked posing a sort of question in that poem; I feel uncertain sometimes what poems are, what they are for. There is this intense inhabiting when writing and then they can later feel like such foreign things. Not in the sense of being possessed by some genius that flows through you; just that writing is a thing you are present in and then the written thing feels almost like a by-product. Mary Ruefle writes about a friend of hers whose poems, after time has elapsed, “look like handkerchiefs. Something I needed to blow my nose in, wipe some tears with, with a little lace at the edges and my initials in the corner. Poetry is so weird.”

That’s an incredible quote from Hinemoana; I love that image of a flame held up to illuminate a tiny part of something immense. I think the last two pieces in the chapbook, the more essayistic ones, were an effort to cast a wider light on things, to relinquish some mystery. Poems can be quite ciphered and condensed, which I love, but it felt good to write something more sprawling.

 

Paula:  What poets feel close to the way you write? Are there poets who write so differently to you but whom you admire?

Manon: That’s tricky… I can only look at what I like, rather than see if my work is close to it. I know some poets I’ve been reading lately are Carl Phillips, Anne Carson, Jean Valentine, Dorothea Lasky. I have always carried a torch for Paul Celan. There are of course poets who write differently to me but whom I admire greatly- perhaps someone like Alice Notley- her poems are very long! Also Hera Lindsay Bird. She makes me laugh and weep, a rare combination, at least in poetry.

 

Paula: I am moved by the arrival of a mother (your mother?) in the poems.

 

as a girl i watch my mother’s earlobe

pulled down by an earring and

the tiny hole

i can see right though and

i plant the sea there

from ‘girl teeth’

 

A mother (your mother?) reappears in the more essay-like longer poem, ‘Duchess’. There is such tenderness at work here, surprising in detail and revelation, it refreshes how we as adult daughters can write (our) mothers. Your Louise Bourgeois quote sets up the poem: ‘She shows herself at the very moment/ she thinks she is hiding’. Elizabeth Smither has a breathtaking poem, ‘My mother’s house’, in her latest book, Night Horses, where she watches her mother move through the house from her car.

What drew the mother, her various visibilities and invisibilities, into your poems?

 

Manon: Perhaps as a starting point, I have always been close with my mother; she is an incredible woman and occupies a huge space in my heart. I also think mother/daughter relationships are always to some degree complex and fraught and intense. There are so many invisible histories that make up what is visible in ourselves, our lives… I think in recent years I became fascinated by tiny signs of my mother’s influence coming through in me, and started to think about the deeper roots of my behaviour habits. A sort of psychoanalysis, I guess, which in turn led to an analysis of my mother, and of her mother, and of the ripple effects trauma can have in generations; the inheritance and expression and rectifying of those effects in and on the (particularly female) body. I was reading a lot of women who were interested in these ideas too; Louise Bourgeois’s journals, Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. It’s also both disturbing and important to me to look at the way femininity is constructed, and so much of that for me has happened through my mother, and by her mother, and so on. It felt very right to try to map these things out in writing. Is motherhood/daughterhood something you’ve explored in your poetry?

 

Paula: Yes! My first book, Cookhouse was criticised for its domestic focus, as unworthy of poetic attention, but the key thread, the white-hot core, was maternal. My doctoral thesis explored the maternal as it asked whether it made a difference if the pen held by an Italian writer was a woman. I argue for hinges and connections and the power of ‘and’. I am also interested in the ripple effects that pass from mother to daughter (and daughter to mother) but that also pass through generations of women writing. We have inherited so many freedoms, as both daughters and writers, yet we still face a need to speak out on myriad issues that affect women detrimentally. I write about this in my new book within the context of reading New Zealand women’s poetry.

 

Breadcrumbs

What a rarity

to appear in my own map

like when

I’m watching my hands

wash each      other

or pulling a rope of my own hair

out of a drain

like its     pondweed

or even seeing the ham

chewed into something different

when I spit it into a napkin

 

Your poems are like lacework; they hook the personal along with intense visual detail and a delight in thought. Are you cautious about self revelation? About appearing in your own map? Do you have any taboo areas?

 

Manon: Well you can probably tell I like banality! I hope we are moving on from a hierarchy of ‘poetically worthy’ material … I know Lauris Edmond was really criticised for writing about domesticity and motherhood too, and she is still overlooked. I guess, I hope, all that fuels a fire and a revision. Your book sounds so wonderful.

I don’t feel cautious about self revelation, I think it would be strange to be writing poetry if that were the case. But it also isn’t really something I do on purpose. I think it feels very free and private, even though you kind of know it isn’t? It can be a bit unsettling (in a nice way) when that all gets turned inside out and you publish something, but I don’t think that makes me omit things. I love reading writing that is TMI, so that reassures me.

 

Paula:  Is there a poem in the collection where the stars aligned and it particularly resonates for you?

Manon: I think the essay about the week with my grandmother resonated a lot. We had only met once before and weren’t able to speak each other’s language, so it was quite an intense experience, observing the ways disconnected families connect, speaking in the absence of words, the shapes we make out of silence. There were all these things that seemed to slot in with it; going to see the ruins of a nearby castle, my reading surrounding rocks and this story of Pyrrha. It was initially conceived as a voiceover for a film – which is still in progress – so it feels like an ongoing project with things falling into place. It also resonates in the context of living in a place where I don’t speak the language properly.

 

Paula: I loved that poem. There is a poetic finesse that depends on fluidity, storytelling,

sharp images, slow-pitched discovery and absolute tenderness.

 

So: still alive. And so henceforth:

another cup of instant coffee and

toast, another bath, clothes put

on, cooked lunch, another long

afternoon nap while I go out

walking. We don’t know what to

do with each other: we sit together

at her table eating over-ripe

bananas, peeled grapes, carefully

de-pithed segments of mandarins.

The refrigerator humming. She

examines my hands in her hers.

from ‘Bec/Nid/ Vent/Rêves Beak/Nest/ Wind/Dreams’

 

PaulaWill Berlin slant your writing?

In my research for my book I have noticed New Zealand poets living overseas have such different relations with home in their writing (Katherine Mansfield, Fleur Adcock, Lola Ridge). Some are nostalgic and the poem becomes a surrogate home while others are almost patronising. I am intrigued to read what Hinemoana Baker produces in Berlin. Will poetry ever become a way of writing home?

Manon:  As far as writing from Berlin goes, I think I haven’t changed what I’m doing at all… at least as you say, the poem feels a surrogate home wherever one goes. The only thing is that living here allows a lot more time to write (cheaper living than NZ = working at a day job less, etc.) so I do feel I can have more of a balance.

 

Words open and close and open;

breathing through their sutures.

from ‘Bec/Nid/ Vent/Rêves Beak/Nest/ Wind/Dreams’

 

Your book is a joy to read Manon. Thank you so much for the conversation. I want everyone to race out and find a copy of the book. It is my chapbook of 2017.

Hard Press page

 

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The Next Word at the Alexander Turnbull Library is a poem oasis

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All photo credits:  Imaging Services, Turnbull Library

 

Hannah Metttner and Brendan O’Brien have curated an exhibition of contemporary poetry at the Alexander Turnbull Library. The key aim is to offer an overview of the past thirty years in various spots in the gallery. There is an art video put together by Hana Pera Aoake and and a carousel showcasing a James Brown poem on the ground floor.

The little reading room is a poetry treat.

The curators have drawn from the poetry riches of the Alexander Turnbull Library to set up reading pathways between poems and poets, in the books on display, yet the eye is also drawn to poetry as visual object. You land upon a poem and alight upon an exquisite image. There are countless possibilities for travel: politics, aesthetics, music, confession, place, time, edge, rebellion, love.

Poetry is lovingly tended.

I am reminded that our poetry families are distinctive and diverse with many connections and necessary bridges. Nina Powles’s set of booklets, Luminescent, was a 2017 highlight for me; then again I am struck by the way so many of these books have glowed (Morgan Bach, Hinemoana Baker, Hera Lindsay Bird, Hannah Mettner, Chris Price, Joan Fleming, Bernadette Hall with Rachel O’Neill).

I love the way a book falls open at a poem in the glass case and we must stall on that to give a single poem devoted attention.

There are posters and prints and trips back in time (Sam Hunt, Ian Wedde, Hone Tuwhare, James k Baxter).

I went into the room after doing my final book checks at the library and it felt like an oasis, a place of retreat where the joy of poetry is the joy of stalling and savouring.

I highly recommend a visit before it closes on March 24th.

There is a lunchtime reading (12:15-1) on March 22nd with Chris Tse, Therese Lloyd, Anna Jackson, Gem Wilder and Sugar Magnolia Wilson. I am tempted to fly down!

There also some postcards on offer including my Suffragette poem.

One visit is not enough! I plan to loiter there before our Call Me Royal event next week.

 

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Stephen Burt’s Letter from NZ celebrates local poetry

Letter from New Zealand

by Stephen Burt
complete piece here at PN Review May-June, 2017
‘To live in Christchurch at the end of 2016 is to encounter, daily and seemingly everywhere, construction: cranes, scaffolds, burly workers in lemon-fluorescent vests, bright orange cones, PVC pipes jutting up from the ground, all of it part of the ongoing, city-wide multi-year recovery after the earthquakes of 2010-11. The fences and pits are a great inconvenience, a melancholy sight for those who grew up in what was (I’m told) the most sedate and stable of NZ cities. For me, on the other hand, the construction is mostly inspiration: I see a city that’s putting itself back together, a nation that has recognised (and chosen to pay for) a shared public good, while my own home country, the United States, is tearing itself apart.’

Poetry Shelf interviews Ian Wedde: ‘writing – or thinking about writing – poetry really is a tremendous pleasure’

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With Donna in Berlin, New Year 2013/14.

 

You have to start somewhere

in these morose times,

a clearing in a forest say,

filled with golden shafts of sunlight

and skirmishes. A little later

your itinerary will take you past

weathered churches on plains that stretch

as far as the eye can see.

 

from ‘The lifeguard’ in The Lifeguard (2013) and Selected Poems

 

To celebrate the arrival of Selected Poems (Auckland University Press, 2017), Ian Wedde agreed to talk about poetry with me.
Born in Blenheim (a twin of Dave) in October 1946, Ian has lived in Bangladesh, England, Jordan, France, Germany, now lives in Auckland with his wife Donna Malane, a screen-writer and novelist, they have five children and five grandchildren, has published seven novels and sixteen collections of poetry as well as books of essays and assorted art books and catalogues. Most recent book is Selected Poems (AUP, 2017) with marvellous art work by John Reynolds. New Zealand poet laureate 2011-12, Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (poetry) 2014.

 

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Cover and internal art work: John Reynolds

 

The Interview

PG: Did poetry feature in your childhood? What activities delighted you as a young boy?

IW: There wasn’t a lot of poetry in my childhood, though my father chanting John Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’ as he rowed across Waikawa Bay in the Marlborough Sounds was memorable – the rhythm was right but the words were deeply weird to me, which was what I liked.

 

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

 

PG: What were some key influences when you first started writing?

IW: A link between the deeply lost-in-it world of reading stories and the hypnotic secret ecstasy of writing things, or trying to. Also the fascination of not understanding either what I was reading sometimes (I happened on Browning’s ‘Sordello’ by accident) or why writing was so mesmerising. Also Kipling, because of the poems associated with the Jungle Books, which I was addicted to.

 

PG: Or at university?

IW: At university I was obsessive about getting my hands on contemporary American poetry after or off the shoulder of the great modernists – post Pound-and-Eliot if you like. Post-Beats, for that matter. William Carlos Williams above all, though of course Spring and All and Kora in Hell were published in the 1920s – but those early books like Spring and All and Kora in Hell incorporated prose and poetry, they seemed to be experimental and interesting in ways that the accredited modernist masters were not. I loved Williams’ humanity and love of sparrows and weedstalks, but also the marvellous delicacy of thought that articulated his lines. Robert Creeley was important, his frugal counterpoint; Denise Levertov’s makeover of the exhausted lyric; Gary Snyder’s ecological ethic that made for a new kind of eclogue; Frank O’Hara’s urbane vernacular and before long Ted Berrigan, especially Berrigan’s Sonnets. John Ashbery’s ‘The Tennis Court Oath’ amazed me. Also French poets, but always sheeting back to Rimbaud. Pablo Neruda in bulk, his marvellous relish for the sensuous world and its political demands on our responsibilities. Elizabeth Bishop’s The Complete Poems. John Wieners because he broke so many rules without showing off.

 

I study my son’s face, to treasure it.

Each day (now, & now) it’s changed & I’ve lost

what I love, loved.

from ‘Paradiso Terrestre’ in Earthly Sonnets for Carlos (1975) and Selected Poems

 

PG: The birth of your first son prompted Earthly: Sonnets for Carlos. While some New Zealand men have written fatherhood poems (notably Graham Lindsay) I cannot think of another extended sequence such as yours. The prolonged contemplation allows greater complexity when facing what might at first seem unsayable – the miracle of a new-born baby. Did your son’s arrival throw your relationship with writing in the air?

IW: I usually threw my infant son in the air. It was a time of wonder. I also walked around with him quite a lot at night, those rhythms shaped how I thought and how the poems moved.

 

PG: What draws you to the longer sequence?

IW: A disinclination to get to the point in timely fashion or to admit there is one worth ending with. There are dear friends whose conversations and phonecalls I love because they do go on. Mostly I like giving in to the drifts and swerves of language that takes me to places I can’t get to by intention. A tendency rapidly to lose interest in the self-centred, anecdotal lyric in which a certain kind of modesty often strikes me as sham.

 

PG: Have other things elbowed your writing—refreshed, transformed, derailed, sent askew in good ways, sparking in new directions? A book or theory or idea or chance encounter or unexpected experience?

IW: Probably art more than anything, and music. The ways in which our perceptions of phenomena trigger thought I find fascinating and seductive. I’m an easy weeper – I’ve been known to sniffle during the opening credits of movies just because it’s so amazing that we can do this stuff. I love art in its many guises because at its best it can be so capable of subversion – of subverting representation as mimesis, subverting personal testament, or markers of class and taste – and because at its worst it can be all those things, and boring to boot, especially as cultural capital. Music perhaps because it’s just off the camber of what language does in poetry, unless of course we’re talking about poets as song-writers, that fabulous ancient lineage. During the time I spent in Jordan in 1969-70 the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and others was a revelation – how it had a vast, loyal, politically disenfranchised radio audience of Palestinians and at the same time reached deeply into classical histories, reached the audiences of the Egyptian singer Oum Kalsoum and spoke to intellectuals such as Edward Said.

 

(..) If trees &

suchlike don’t tell on me I understand

my son will & soon, too. His new blue eyes

see everything. Soon he’ll learn to see

less. O the whole great foundation is sand.

But the drought has broken today, this rain!

pecks neat holes in the world’s salty fabu-

less diamond-backed carapace & doubt comes

out, a swampy stink of old terrapin.

What shall I say? ‘I hid nothing from you,

but from myself. that I dream, little one,

 

from ‘for Rose’ in Earthly Sonnets for Carlos (1975) and Selected Poems

 

PG: For me Sonnets for Carlos is a collection imbued with love deep within the roots of the line. Yet when I regard the expanse of your writing across the decades, love seems to be an active ingredient whether it is for the dead poet Horace, blistered peppers on the hot plate, the beauty of a city street, family or the wide stretch of home. Do you agree? What do you see as active ingredients that have endured?

 

Late autumn’s good up around

The neighbourhood mountain’s misty flank in the morning

When the piss-trail of the morning’s promenade’s fresh

And even an old dog can still feel

The sac of earth trembling under his running feet.

 

from ‘5.4 To Mount Victoria’ in The Commonplace Odes (2001) and Selected Poems

 

IW: ‘Love’ is an easy word to utter and an even easier one to claim. Looking at what’s in this new book of selected poems, what I think I see repeated quite often is a claim that I ‘love’ the commonplace world – William Carlos Williams’ world of sparrows and weedstalks, if you like. I love appetite and enjoyment and relish and so the preparation of meals and so forth. I love thought that has a vigorous appetite, that enjoys tasty discussion. But I think you have to love this kind of ‘love’ knowing it comes at a cost, that grief or anger are its stalkers. I think there’s quite a lot of anger and frustration in my poems.

 

PG: In your introduction, ‘Enjoyment,’ you talk about the joy of writing poetry. That feeling must be contagious because in my view your poetry is a joy to read. For some writers, writing is a dark and painful process while for others it is energising. Do you also have patches like these? Do you have writing patterns, routines or rituals?

IW: For me writing – or thinking about writing – poetry really is a tremendous pleasure, at once a kind of rapture or abeyance of self, and a complete deployment of the self’s capacities. I’d never describe it as painful, though it can be tough when the critical phase kicks in and you realise that your rapture has generated a steaming heap. But then there’s a certain pleasure in consigning the pile of shit to its bucket. Much of what I write starts with walking around with a little notebook, and in a sense nothing in the notebook is ever wasted, even if what happens to it ends up getting chucked.

 

PG: You refer to the pleasure generated when ‘a poem veers off, carried along by a momentum that’s not quite mine, towards a direction neither I, nor the poem’s reader, is anticipating.’ There is a sense of writing into the unknown, but could you conversely say you write into into the known in unpredictable ways?

IW: No, I’m really talking about how my let’s call it ‘overarching concept’ can be highjacked by language itself – I go along with that, in a sense, and try to keep a very light hand on the tiller (as in that mixed metaphor).

 

PG: I am thinking, for example, of The Commonplace Odes and Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty where home infuses the poems in searing physical detail along with home-nourished states of mind. I rate these two books in my handful of sublime New Zealand reading experiences ( I am thinking too of the way your books have been long-term, book mentors along with those of Michele Leggott, Bill Manhire, Bernadette Hall, Cilla McQueen). The language is pitch perfect but it is that glorious tension between the known and the unknown that elevates me—along with the roving intellect and the physical beacons. I am reminded of Kafka’s yearning to read books that, like an axe, cut through the frozen sea within us. Do you have a book in your oeuvre that has particularly worked for you?

IW: Do you mean books I’ve read? I think there have been lots of them, over time. Perhaps the one that keeps on being non-negotiable is Rimbaud’s Oeuvres complètes (Gallimard, 1972) and subsequent translations, including those by Samuel Beckett, John Ashbery and Jeremy Harding, among others. Rimbaud’s pronouncements in May 1871 at the age of seventeen in letters to Georges Izambard and Paul Demeny that ‘I is somebody else’ (Je est un autre) remains for me one of the most potent codes with which to approach the way in which the poet (at seventeen) can become a ‘drunken boat’ that morphs into the child the poet was ten years earlier, playing with his toy boat on a pond, and finally the ship that swims under the frightful gaze of the prison hulks that incarcerated the Communard prisoners of 1871 that were the seventeen year old Rimbaud’s heroes. But if you mean one of my own books that I think has come close to that kind of sorcery, then pass.

 

Beauty

you’re the trouble I’m in

because there’s a lot of sweetness in my life

with that rude kind of magnificence

as when they hung Le Bateau upside down,

unusually animated and sparkling.

Happy birthday Montgomery Clift:

where did I see this guy – in Red River

or From Here to Eternity?

Accept and you become whole

bend and you straighten.

 

from ‘A hymn to beauty: days of a year’ in Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty (2005) and Selected Poems

 

PG: The allure of language in its slippery elusive glory, its ability to make music and bear all manner of freight, is a potent force for the poet. When a poem succeeds for you, or comes close, what is language doing? Do you have a poem or two that continue to resonate at the level of language? For me, there is an ongoing musicality, an enviable musicality, that provides shifting keys harmonies and chords.

IW: I think any poem that’s worth reading ‘resonates at the level of language’, which is to say the language doesn’t just do what it’s told to, rather it subverts or distracts the task of making itself understood. ‘Musicality’ in the language of poems can be a distraction or, at worst, an indulgence, an invitation to the categorisation ‘poetic’. I like the idea of meaning-chords as riffs, vertical rather than linear.

 

(..) the lovely world has everything I need,

It has my kids, my sweetheart, my friends, it has a new book

With mouth-watering risotto recipes in it,

The kind of plump rice you might have relished,

Horace, in the Sabine noon, yellowed with saffron.

‘The zen poet’ is another of you, he wrote a poem

About making stew in the desert which changed my life.

A good cookbook is as good as a book of poems

Any day, because it can’t be any more pretentious

Than the produce you savour with friends as night falls.

 

from ‘1.2 To the cookbook’ in The Commonplace Odes (2005) and Selected Poems

 

PG: In ‘To the cookbook,’ we read that ‘A good cookbook is as good as a book of poems.’ Women have long been denigrated for domestic traces in their writing. I take issue with this on so many levels. Food, including the cooking of food, adds a sensual zest, like finely judged salt and pepper, to your poetry, and indeed opens fascinating windows upon relations between food, life and writing. How do these connections work for you? Are you offended if I describe some of your poems as mouth-watering?

IW: Not in the least offended. It’s a compliment, thank you. And then, Neruda’s ‘Ode to Tomatoes’ is one of the most slyly political poems ever written, as is Gary Snyder’s ‘How to Make Stew in the Pinacate Desert’.

 

PG: The word subversion crops up in your introduction. You relish subverting expectations of what language ought to or can do. Do you see other subversions at work?

IW: I try to subvert myself, not always with much success.

 

PG: The Selected Poems underlines how important your reading life is and how it has sustained and infiltrated your writing life. Name three books from any time or any place that have mattered deeply.

IW: Geoff Park’s Nga Uruora: The Groves of Life; May Gibbs, The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie; Ovid, Metamorphoses.

 

PG: Name three New Zealand poetry books that have resonated with you.

IW: Nga Moteatea (4 vols.); R.A.K. Mason, Collected Poems; take your pick of poets who are also song-writers, we have some great ones: Hinemoana Baker, Teremoana Rapley, Bill Manhire, Dominic Hoey known as Tourettes, the Dam Native crew, lots more in this country.

 

PG: Have you been attracted or influenced by any poetry movements? Or conversely repelled?

IW: Constantly.

 

If I wanted to translate

silence I would have to be

deaf, to remember silence

I would have to recognise

its opposite, for instance

singing, a miracle, not

too much to ask I hope, and

why wouldn’t I hope, why not?

 

from ‘Shadow stands up’ in The Lifeguard (2013) and Selected Poems

 

PG: In your introduction you suggest it is over to the reader to make sense of the way your writing has changed—over to us to decipher the recurring motifs and predilections, the side steps, the shifts in attention and concerns. Time and age are under the spotlight right from the start, in the first poem addressed to Matisse. Just one question then. Do you feel you have greater freedom at 70 when you pick up your writing pen?

IW: I have less compunction about putting the pen down and going for a walk. With or without my notebook.

 

Henri Emile Benoît Matisse je vous salue!

Let me tell you a secret.

Your work goes on.

I’d only seen your things in art books

bite sized. I dreamed there was a bright room

in my head somewhere

which you were making real stroke

by counterpointed stroke

& where I would some day retire

to an armchair in the corner:

the final element of a composition

that perfectly described itself.

 

from ‘Homage to Matisse’ in Homage to Matisse (1971) and Selected Poems

 

Auckland University Press page

Radio NZ review

Herald piece with Greg Fleming

Discussed in Anna Jackson’s essay on the Epistle Poem

 

 

 

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