Tag Archives: Hinemoana Baker

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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Eleven NZ women’s poetry books to adore and some fiction – Happy International Women’s Day!

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Book Award lists should promote debate. Ideas and issues should be raised. As long as judges and authors don’t come under personal attack. It is a time of celebration, let’s not forget that, but it is also a time when diverse opinions may draw attention to our healthy landscape of books.

I have just started writing a big book on poetry by New Zealand women. I have carried this project with me for a long time, and it something I care about very much indeed. It is a book I am writing with a great sense of liberation and an equal dose of love.

I bring many questions to my writing.

The shortlist for poetry and fiction in the Ockham NZ Book Awards includes 0ne woman (Patricia Grace) and seven men. There are no women poets.

This is simply a matter of choice on the part of the judges and I do not wish to undermine the quality of the books they have selected. However, in my view, it casts a disconcerting light upon what women have been producing in the past year or so.

Women  produced astonishing books in 2015. I reviewed their poetry books on this blog and praised the diligent craft, the exquisite music, the sumptuous detail, the complexities that challenge and the simplicity that soothes. I have lauded books by women that have moved me like no other, and that have contributed much to the possibilities of what a poem might do.

I am gobsmacked that not a single one made it to the shortlist.

Men have written extraordinary poetry in the past year, but so too have women.

Today is International Women’s Day. In celebration of this, here is a selection of poetry and fiction I have loved in the past year and would have been happy to award.

This list is partial. Please add to it.  Some of these women are my friends, so yes there is unconscious bias. Some of these women I would recognise in the street, some I would not.

 

Eleven Poetry Books by women to adore

(I have reviewed all these to some degree on Poetry Shelf or interviewed the poets)

Emma Neale  Tender Machines This is a domestic book that is utterly complex. Yet it moves beyond home to become a book of the world. The music is divine. I am utterly moved. The Poetry Shelf trophy is yours Emma.

Joan Fleming Failed Love Stories Poetry that dazzles and shifts me. This book is on replay!

Holly Painter Excerpts from a Natural History Startling debut that blew me out the window and made me want to write

Sarah Jane Barnett Work Poetry that takes risks and is unafraid of ideas. Adored this.

Johanna Aitchison Miss Dust Spare, strange, surprising, wonderful to read.

Anna Jackson I, Clodia and Other Portraits The voice gets under my skin no matter how many times I read it. So much to say about it.

Jennifer Compton My Clean & The Junkie This narrative satisfies on so many levels.

Airini Beautrais Dear Neil Roberts Risk taking at the level of politics and the personal.

Morgan Bach Some of Us Eat the Seeds Beauty of the cover matches the surprise and beauty of the poetry within.

Hinemoana Baker waha/ mouth This poetry lit a fire in my head not sure which year it fits though. But wow!

Diane Brown Taking My Mother to the Opera This is poetry making pin pricks as it moves and gets you chewing back through your own circumstances.

 

…. and this is just a start. Ha! Serie Barford with her gorgeous mix of poetry and prose.

Yep I am going over board here just to show you that women have footed it with the best of the men. Whichever year you look at, a different set of judges would come up with a different mix of books. Yes let’s celebrate that worthy shortlist but let’s also remember that canon shaping only revels in and reveals part of the story.

 

Fiction (I haven’t read so widely here and have a wee stack to get too – Laurence Fearnley and Charlotte Grimshaw here I come!)

Anna Smaill The Chimes This book – plot character, setting, premise, events – still sticks to me. The sentences are exquisite. Some books you lose in brain mist. Not this one.

Sue Orr The Party Line I see this book becoming a NZ classic – a novel of the back blocks. The characters are what move you so profoundly. So perfectly crafted.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry and the Transit of Venus: a NZ – German collaboration

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‘Come on, let’s push the inflatable out

on the night’s wide waters, see

how far it goes.’

Chris Price from ‘Venera’

 

Three German poets came to view the transit of Venus with three New Zealand poets at Uawa/ Tolaga Bay on June 6th 2012.

They observed the black dot. They wrote poems.

In the same year they met in Germany and translated a selection of each other’s poems  before performing together at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Victoria University Press has just published a beautiful edition of the poems, in both English and German, with images, notes and interviews.

The poets:

Hinemoana Baker, Glenn Colquhoun, Chris Price

Uwe Kolbe, Brigitte Oleschinski, Ulrike Almut Sandig

 

It is as though poetry is the inflatable that six poets pushed out into the ‘night’s wide waters’ of writing; into the passage of the black dot, the thought of Cook’s eye trained all those centuries back, into the little repetitions of stone or buttercup or light.

As you might expect no poem cluster is the same.

Each lift and slip of the inflatable is as much a lift and slip for the reader as it is the writer. A voyage of discovery, in a way.

I especially loved the way the poems took me back to that once-in-a-lifetime experience. How to make poetry of such things?

I was also drawn to the pairings of poets and the way they translated each other’s work.

As the ever enthusiastic Rick Stein says: There should be more of this. What other projects can we invent that bring poets together in such fertile ways?

 

The poems are simply and intricately addictive. Congratulations and thank you VUP! The book is a little gem.

 

VUP page

 

Hinemoana Baker is a Wellington poet, musician and teacher. She is the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence in 2015–16.

Urike Almut Sandig is a Berlin poet who works with various composers and musicians. She has received numerous awards and scholarships, most recently a scholarship from the Berlin Senate.

Glenn Colquhoun is a poet, children’s writer, and GP. In 2014 he represented New Zealand on the Commonwealth Poets United poetry project which celebrated the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Uwe Kolbe is a poet, translator and lecturer who lives in Hamburg. He has received many prizes and awards, most recently the Heinrich Mann Prize from the Academy of the Arts in Berlin, and the Meran Poetry Award.

Brigitte Oleschinski is a Berlin poet, essayist and performer. She received the prestigious Peter-Huchel-Preis in 1998. She is best known for her poetry collections Mental Heat Control (1990), Your Passport is Not Guilty (1997) and Geisterströmung (2004).

Chris Price is a Wellington poet, nonfiction writer, musician and teacher. Her most recent poetry collection is Beside Herself (2016).

 

 

 

 

The Berlin Writer’s Residency: Poetry Shelf Interviews Hinemoana Baker – I need to feel surprised by the language but not distracted by it.

 

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Photo credit: Robert Cross

Hinemoana Baker is an acclaimed Wellington-based poet who was recently awarded the Berlin Writer’s Residency. She descends from the South Island’s Ngāi Tahu and from the North Island’s Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa. She also has English and Bavarian lineage. Victoria University Press has published her three poetry collections: mātuhi | needle (2004), kōiwi | kōiwi (2010) and  waha | mouth (2014). She has produced five CDs of poetry and music. Hinemoana was the Queensland Poet in Residence, has participated in the Iowa International Creative Writing Programme and was Victoria University’s Writer in Residence in 2014. She is currently convening a Poetry Workshop and with Tina Makereti co-convenes  a Māori and Pasifika Writing Workshop at IIML in Wellington.

 

Congratulations on receiving the 2015 Berlin residency Hinemoana. This seems like a golden opportunity to talk about poetry and writing, but first, what projects do you plan to work on while you are there?

Thank you very much Paula, I really appreciate the congratulations. It still doesn’t quite seem real yet, but I’m booking my tickets this afternoon, so it must be, right?? In Berlin I hope to finish a new collection of poetry. As is the way of writing projects, I will also be continuing work on a family memoir called ‘Dear Mother Basillise’, which is proving to be an even more gigantic undertaking than I had thought at first.

 

Poets often suggest writing a poem is an act of discovery as opposed to the rendition of a predetermined plan. Being in a foreign city is also an act or discovery but it may involve a bit of planning. What sorts of places and experiences attract you?

Several things. I spent a week or so there in 2012, and I was compelled by the history of the city, and fell in love with its present-day self, too. The markets, the many dogs on the streets, the public transport, the way people seem to walk so much slower than they do here.

Also, my mother’s ancestors are from Oberammergau in Bavaria, so travelling there will be much easier from Berlin. I visited once in my 20s, but I want to go again. It’s near the Black Forest, and it’s where the residents have staged the Passion Play every ten years since 1634, in return for god having spared them from the plague. The play brings many tourists to the village. The script has a history of anti-semitism, though some changes have been made to that over the years. I feel a million miles away from a place like Oberammergau, in almost every way, and yet my close ancestors sailed here from there (via Hamburg).

I am keen to experience the arts culture of Berlin, music and poetry and sonic art and burlesque and everything else. I want to join the Berlin Pop Choir and do tango. I want to eat grilled fish sandwiches at the market every weekend and drink Weiss Bier. I want to bike everywhere. Walk around in snow. Visit friends (and hopefully woo publishers) in Italy, London, Manchester. Drift through the Christmas Markets and museums and art galleries. Be anonymous.

 

What effect does travel have upon your writing? Can you write on the move? Or do you absorb and store and write later when it comes to poetry?

I write best when I’m on the move. Trains work best for me. I think it’s something to do with there being boundaries around the length and nature of the experience. And someone else is driving.

 

When you started writing poems as a young adult, were there any poets in particular that you were drawn to (poems/poets as surrogate mentors)?

I wrote poems and stories and even a few chapters of a novel as a young child. I don’t remember being really transformed by poetry until I was a teenager, though. Alistair Campbell and Fleur Adcock and Hone Tuwhare and Leonard Cohen, I memorised poems and said them aloud to myself until I cried. I had a wonderful English teacher at Waimea College who really encouraged my own writing.

I read a lot of Enid Blyton and Doctor Seuss as a kid, and I turned out ok. I was pretty much an only child, so I played a lot on my own or with my next-door-neighbour skater-boy friends. I liked skateboarding. I liked music. I became addicted to Louis Armstrong at a young age, and then Kate Bush when I turned 12.

 

What New Zealand poets are you drawn to now?

So many! I’m going to choose three here (refer to comment about time and boundaries above). Lynn Jenner – her latest book, Lost and Gone Away, is sustaining me at the moment. A person on Facebook whose user name isn’t, I don’t think, her real name: Hangi Pants. Heh heh. She posts poems in her feed once a month or so and I hang out for those days. It’s such good stuff. And Bill Manhire. If I had written ‘Hotel Emergencies’ I would probably just put my pen down and spend the rest of my life feeling smug. Thank god Bill hasn’t done that.

 

I agree on ‘Hotel Emergencies!’ Name three NZ poetry books that you have loved.

OK three different poets this time. The Bengal Engine’s Mango Afterglow by Geoff Cochrane. Star Waka by Robert Sullivan. Wild Dogs Under My Skirt by Tusiata Avia.

 

What about poets from elsewhere?

Sharon Olds, Joyelle McSweeney and Joy Harjo.

 

What poets have mattered to you over the past year? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have sparked you as a writer.

My friend and art mentor Siân Torrington has begun writing more alongside her visual art. Her courage and determination towards freedom are things I’d like to emulate. Also her work ethic. I have been very moved by Rilke and Pablo Neruda, whose work I’ve only really started to investigate in the last couple of years.

 

I love the way your poetry is anchored in the real world in a way that makes physical detail luminous yet does so much more. This is what I wrote in my review of your most recent collection (waha | mouth): ‘your poetic melodies remind us that there are other layers of reality embedded here, layers that sing and tremble in the candle light — joy, pain, recognition, trust, narratives that we inherit and carry with us.’ What are some key things for you when you write a poem?

I have to feel like the poem is being co-written in a way – by me and by the poem itself. I need to feel surprised by the language but not distracted by it. I want to feel after I’ve written it that it has taught me something about the nature of life, or love, or the heart, or politics, or power, or just language.

 

Do you see yourself as a political poet? Overtly so or in more subtle ways?

No, not really. But I see myself as a person who is acutely aware of the dynamics of power. I am not as well-versed in local or global history and politics as I would like to be, but I’m constantly learning and reading. When that learning moves me and/or transforms me, it will no doubt make its way into my poems in some way.

 

In 99 Ways into NZ Poetry, I talked about the way the opening poem of your debut collection mātuhi | needle acts as a mihi. It invites us as readers across the threshold into the meeting ground that is poetry but that is also a surrogate marae. Now I see your poetry (as a whole) laying down invitations. Labels are tricky things but do you see yourself as a Māori poet? What differences does your Māori inheritance make to your writing?

I think the one thing my Māori self contributes to my writing, whether I like it or not, is a keen sense that there are feelings everywhere. People and places are alive and sensate and usually in some state of pain or longing. There’s a saying I heard once, I can’t remember where, but it was someone indigenous speaking about someone else ‘acting as if she has no relatives’. My relatives are everywhere, and not just because I have a big extended family.

 

The titles of your collections juxtapose English and Māori underlining these two personal lineages. Do you see this relationship as a rope (entwined, frayed, strong)? A bridge with different rhythms of traffic?

I’m not going to do it any more, this bi-lingual title thing. I’ve done what I wanted to do with it. Which is to, somehow, lock the different voices together for a moment.

 

You are a terrific musician and performer of your work. It shows, too, with the writing on the page. There is an exquisite cadence that draws upon silence as much as it does the shifting melodies. Do you write poetry as musician as much as you do as wordsmith?

I think in the end the thing I’m most interested in is sound. Adding meaning to the mix is a bonus, but it’s hard to keep meaning contained, and it can get a bit out of hand. I hope to make good and interesting sounds in people’s heads and in the air with what I write on the page.

 

Do you think your writing has changed over time?

Yes, but only in that I’ve gotten more confident.

 

I love the way you are unafraid of heart. Your poetry has a beating pulse that is both warm and inviting and utterly human. As a reader there are electric connections between my heart and the heart of the poem. How does heart matter to you as you write?

I try and make poems that matter, in the sense that people might care about them, because they might get that heart feeling from them. What you’ve said here is very honouring, Paula.

 

Is there a single poem or two in your collections that particularly resonates with you?

‘Rope’, because I didn’t even hear the ‘rape’ rhyme until a few hours after I’d written it. And ‘Magnet Bay’, because it was the last holiday I had with my ex-partner Christine, and I remember walking that beautiful land with her and playing taonga pūoro in the sun.

 

Your two books are beautiful to behold. How important is it to you that a poetry book is an object of beauty in view of its ‘look.’

I like a good cover image! And I like the book’s arrangement and font to be reader-friendly and readily available.

 

As my review attests, I loved your last collection. Did you make any discoveries as you wrote it?

You’re very kind. I discovered as I wrote it that it is very hard for me to write about things as they are happening. Sometimes I can do it – I wrote the Terrorism poem in kōiwi while that appalling crap was still going on. But mostly I have to wait. The experiences I had in the years writing waha will probably turn up in my next collection.

 

In the blurb for this book you wrote: ‘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.’ I adore the comparison of the act of reading to holding the light of candle to a poem where something will always remain in the dim shadows, barely sighted, inaudible. How do the light and dark of poetry matter to you?

Like all the binaries – tension/release, light/dark, sad/happy – it’s the dance they do that makes art, for me. If you believe in binaries, that is.

 

What irks you in poetry?

Cliché.

 

What delights you?

Courage.

 

Is doubt a key part of the writing process along with an elusive horizon of where you are satisfied with a poem?

I don’t know if it’s a key part, but it seems to be an unavoidable part of my process. There’s some kind of off-balance precarious posture I manage to achieve between giving up altogether and re-working obsessively. It never feels comfortable or certain, and it never feels reproducible. After finishing a poem, I’m often certain, I’ll never be able to write another one.

 

The constant mantra to be a better writer is to write, write, write and read read read. You also need to live! What activities enrich your writing life?

Walking the wild coastline of Wellington, and her streets and waterfront, her Town Belt. Visiting with other artists’ work whenever I can. I teach creative writing sometimes, and that always makes me fall in love with language all over again.

 

Some poets argue that there are no rules in poetry and all rules are to be broken. Do you agree? Do you have cardinal rules?

Cardinal rules, no. Guidelines, yes. They’re really the same as for other kinds of writing. Show don’t tell. Concrete images. Verbs and nouns are often more powerful than adjectives. Etc. But there are some that pertain to poetry in particular I suppose – especially around line breaks and stanzas etc. That said, if I did have a cardinal rule, it would probably be ‘Don’t publish a poem your writing group hasn’t seen.’ One day I might break this rule but it’s served me well so far.

 

Do you find social media an entertaining and useful tool or white noise?

Yes.

 

Finally if you were to be trapped for hours (in a waiting room, on a mountain, inside on a rainy day) what poetry book would you read?

Something by Robert Hass – I’d have lots of time for re-reading, and Robert Hass very much rewards re-reading…

 

 

Hinemoana’s web site

Victoria University Press page

Victoria University page

NZ Book Council Author page

 

 

Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English — I flipped a question that I carried with me through my doctoral thesis

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Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English editors Robert Sullivan and Reina Whaitiri (Auckland University Press, 2014)

I am curious as to how many Māori poets we can name beyond a handful, beyond the much loved Hone Tuwhare. Open a New Zealand literary journal and do we still fall upon a Pākehā bias? The arrival of Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English (2014) presents us with a selection of writing that celebrates a wide and vibrant field. The editors, Robert Sullivan and Reina Whaitiri have brought a glorious range of voices into the spotlight.

Robert, of Ngāpuhi/Irish descent, is a poet and anthologist, and is currently Head of the Creative Writing Programme at Manukau Institute of Technology. Reina, of Māori/ Pākehā descent, is also a poet and an anthologist, and has taught English at the Universities of Auckland and Hawai’i. Along with Albert Wendt, Robert and Reina edited Whetu Moana (AUP, 2003) and Mauri Ola (AUP, 2010).

Puna Wai Korero is a moving feast. The poets selected come from a variety of locations, circumstances, backgrounds, writing preferences. The choices of style, tone, subject matter and poetic techniques are eclectic. There is humour, inward reflection, love and loss. There are poems of the marae and poems of elsewhere. There are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. There is politics on the quiet and politics loud and clear. There is grief. There is home. There are familiar voices, there are those that are not. There are writers known for their fiction.

Through all this, I flipped a question that I carried with me through my doctoral thesis (does it make a difference if the pen is held by a woman?) to ask: Does it make a difference if the pen is held by a Māori. Do some writers deliberately and gloriously foster a Māori voice (perhaps, where the poet stands and writes from, how the poet stands and writes from, how the oratory traditions of the marae inflect the poetry, how genealogy inflects the poem and so on). I spent seven years hauling my question through politics, law, history, psychology, familial relations, art, literature, history, patriarchy within an Italian context and the Italian language. Over the past months, I have held a book that drew me in close to all of these things within the miniature frame of a poem and within the context of Aotearoa. You can view the poems within whatever cultural luggage you bring to them (a Western paradigm of how to write a poem and how to break a poem, both cemented by tradition and innovation). Or you can step out of that luggage and approach these poems afresh, and in doing so open out the ways in which we can make and read and hear poetry.

This was the first joy of reading this anthology — navigating the burgeoning questions for which I felt inept at answering.

The second joy, the equally sustaining joy, was the discovery of new writers along with a return to those well loved (whenever I visit secondary schools I share my James K Baxter/Hone Tuwhare anecdotes that kickstarted me on the path of poetry in 1972). A wee taste of what I have loved: a tingle in reading Hilary Baxter’s ‘Reminiscence,’ the heart and gap in all of Hinemoana Baker’s poems, the sharp kick of Arapera Hineira Blank’s ‘After watching father re-uniting with sons in prison,’ the utter joy of Bub Bridger’s ‘Wild daisies,’ the force of Ben Brown’s ‘I am the Māori Jesus,’ the insistent catch of Marewa Glover’s ‘Pounamu,’ the evocative laying of roots in Katerina Mataira’s ‘Restoring the ancestral home,’ the pocket narrative in Trixie Te Arama Menzies’s ‘Watercress,’ the piquant detail of Paula Morris’s ‘English grandmother,’ the subtle shifts in Kiri Piahana-Wng’s ‘Four paintings,’ the verve and aural steps of Vaughan Rapatahana’s ‘Aotearoa blues, baby’ (I want to hear him read this!), the sumptuous detail in Reihana Robinson’s “God of ugly things,’ the poetic and political and personal stretch of Alice Te Punga Somerville’s ‘mad ave,’ all of JC Sturm (especially ‘At times I grieve for you’), Robert Sullivan (especially ‘Voice carried my family, their names and stories’), Apirana Taylor (especially ‘Te ihi’ and ‘Haka’) and Hone Tuwhare (especially, most utterly especially ‘Rain’).

This is a book of returns, to be kept on every shelf. Bravissimo!

Hinemoana Baker is three quarters of the way there. Can you help?

A letter from Hinemoana Baker on current support for her funding campaign via Boosted:

‘Three quarters.

I still can’t find the proper words to say thank you for this.

I am over 3/4 of the way towards my fundraising goal to allow me to keep writing my family memoir ‘Dear Mother Basillise’.

I am still blown away by the number of people who say ‘sorry it couldn’t be more’ when they write their messages alongside their donations.

I am beyond stoked that there are 133 of you who feel strongly enough about me and this project to give so much towards it already.

There are 15 days to go to reach our target of $15,000.

As you may or may not know, unless I reach the full total, all the donations are bounced back to the generous folks who gave them.

So – please give something if you can, and/or feel free to share this link with anyone who might be interested in supporting ‘Dear Mother Basillise’:

http://www.boosted.org.nz/projects/dear-mother-basillise