Tag Archives: selina Tusitala Marsh

Poetry Shelf poem festival: Wonder

 

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Gregory Kan wrote a terrific article for Verb Festival on writing his book-length poem Under Glass (longlisted for 2020 Ockham New Book Awards). It prompted me to choose ‘wonder’ for my February poem festival. I love Under Glass and picked Gregory to read at my Poetry Live Session at the Wellington Writers Festival in March. He talked about writing trauma yet resisting the need to make a spectacle of it. He also spoke of  ‘an increasing drive and demand for the narratives of women, Queer and Trans people, people of colour, immigrants, refugees, etc., etc.’ but that we don’t need tokenism. Pronouns and symbols, things, the paths we follow as readers, wonder, love, empathy – these are open, mobile, able to be reformed, replenished in the form of a poem. Alienness and alienated are two different experiences:

 

I think everyone experiences alienness, i.e. encountering something in the world that one finds alien. To me, alienness is the experience and feeling of one’s internal models of reality being exceeded and/or disrupted. And I don’t think alienness always needs to be framed negatively. It is also a condition of the most beautiful things in the world, such as empathy, love and wonder. All these experiences that begin in the encounter of the unknown. Impossible gaps and impossible bridges. The beauty and terror and noise of being in a jungle.

But not everyone experiences being alienated. Those who are particularly privileged stand at the centre of their respective worlds, and may not often experience what it’s like to be on the other side of those borders. I wanted the text to be able to invoke, at times, the sensation of being outside, even in the places that we find most comfortable and familiar.

Gregory Kan

 

Poetry is wonder. So is science, dance, music, mathematics, sport, growing things, cooking things, the landscape, sky, crashing ocean, having a family, breathing clean air and watching the sun rise.  These things fill me with awe, they challenge, raise questions, leave me lost for words, curious. I witness beauty and I marvel. But I also witness tragedy ignorance violence hatred greed and I wonder. I wonder at humanity. Poetry is a place of retreat when I don’t quite understand, when something puzzles, when something astonishes. Poems set me wandering, with skin pricking, with uplift. Reading and writing poems can be transcendental, like experiencing a rush of utter well being. I completely agree with Reihana Robinson that poetry can fill children with wonder – and that that carries on to adulthood!

 

 

A festival of poems: wonder

 

 

 

 

Their own mind was a kind of wunderkammer, and they kept themselves in the smallest box of all. A parrot with a bird’s keen eye for colour and flash, its memory of jungle and the blue infinite. How eloquently they decorated the tiny space, a slow but relentless process of removal. First one object disappeared and then another. But they were still there, the last to leave, curating their beautiful absence.

 

*A place where a collection of curiosities or rarities is exhibited

 

Alison Glenny

 

 

 

I think the beginning of anything

is always a secret.

I love myself when my mind is fucking the hinges of events.

 

Gregory Kan

 

 

The Houses  II

 

On the asphalt a gas light pools: a child looks out

Swinging against the slotted fence and grey,

And eats the three nasturtium seeds: all day

She kept them in her pocket for the doubt

They might be poison, as her sisters say.

But now their delicate, dubious taste can sting

Her tongue curled: snails’ horns curl: they drop and cling

On round nasturtium leaves, green-saucered here.

 

Now she has evening all her own; the hot

Cream scent of cabbage palms, trying to flood out

Like man’s love, or the Blessed Sacrament:

Sunset peaks over her, a copper net,

Wind like God’s breath goes past her in a shout:

Behind this street shine houses that are not,

Playmates she loves, or loved: but then forgot.

 

Robin Hyde

from ‘The Houses’ in Houses by the Sea and the Later Poems of Robin Hyde, ed Gloria Rawlinson, Caxton Press 1952

 

 

 

Poem to my nearest galaxy

 

Yes, I had forsaken curiosity, let it

dull. Now, a most delicate bell,

it chimes as if a monk at meditation’s

end gently tapped the brass, a call

 

to wake. Stirred. Beguiled.

Not simply interested. Agog. The stars

above (if they’re above) recede

in an ever expanding universe

 

and here by your side at midnight

I’m startled childish by wonder.

Galaxies? Infinite question, red-shift

reply. But you, you helped me remember.

 

Sue Wootton

from The Yield  (Otago University Press, 2017)

 

 

 

Wonder

 

Is one

of my core values.

 

It sits in the twelfth

House of Soul Growth

and the Unconscious.

 

Wonder might end

the marriage.

 

Wonder is the Shotover

Moonlight mountain

marathon trail

 

each step pushed

on by the destiny

toe edging its way

along the barren

ridge line

and what the Bible knows:

 

That mountains

and marriages

are earthed scaffolding

for Atua

seeded in the lava ash

of Pouliuli

sown in the rays

of Ra

grown under

the cratered cracks

of Mahina

where thigh-splitting

Va lies supine

between us

watching the woman

coming to the end

of herself

at 2000 metres elevation

at the 41st kilometre

after the seventh and final

water station

 

when each step

is a leap

towards or away from

an infinite love.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh

 

 

 

                                                Dance of Sina

 

You are a tiny flutter, a marigold on water

flung out calling the dead. You are the Tūī

across four winds, an armour of feathers

bone and light soaring over mountains

climbing the day.

 

You are the core, spilling seeds deepest

blue, head first into soul. You are blood

woven into silk piercing night to sun. You

are a child. A child at sea anchored on your

mother’s lips.

 

Coral holding the shore, fingers caressing Tāmaki

river. Young girl breaking into woman unfurling

on the Waitematā. You are Sina, sung from

the bones of ancestors, always swimming

towards the sun.

 

Kim Meredith

 

 

What to say and how to be *

Lively eyes lively eyes lively eyes
Square as a box white hair on top
Darrin is thinking HARD about Hiroshima

His teacher has set an
Assignment. It is August 6 three days
until Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki

History is such a funny idea

The fact of men and maybe women men and
maybe women in tiny offices and laboratories
scattered in some other continent
scheme a burning up of people
A burning up of people

And so Darrin writes

All Japan is waiting for
WONDER WOMAN
in your star tights

She is craven she is the last twig
on the cliff-face the last air before
going under that final fast car of rescue
Get away get away sinking wreck
punctured lifeboat wretched sickness

Her grace betraying comic perfection

as if a child could stroke her arm
and be imbued with safety and love

Darrin is wishing for WONDER WOMAN
in her star tights

to catch the falling weapon
in her saving arms like a baby
an infant who is truly a Little Boy

To save all children from

a brief but never-ending childhood
To save schools and satchels and bentos
and laces from ashes more ashes

To save shy smiles and perfectly
folded ‘kerchiefs
Ah! The etching of dark shadows

Shadows fall on Darrin’s classroom

35 small years after Enola Gay rose up
from Tinian amid floodlights and cameras
to fly into history

this funny thing called history
counting a quiet 43 seconds

Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick

 

* As a teacher of 11 to 13 years olds at one period in my life I loved the way poetry exploded in the hands and hearts of children who otherwise may have been overlooked in classroom chaos.

 

Reihana Robinson

(First published as ‘After the fall or the power of reading’
in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal Hong Kong)

 

 

 

Fireflies

 

Last summer I sat amongst a swarm of fireflies while night fell into place around me. I wanted to know if one firefly could ever fly far enough from the rest to see the pulse of their collective light. But there was no one to ask. I raised my arm and held my fingers outstretched towards them but the movement caused them to disappear in a flickering panic—

just as I imagine she might have walked every night to a spot in the bush, not far from the house, where there is a mossy bank riddled with holes and crevices and inside those crevices there are clusters of glow worms, pinpricks of bluegreen light, brightening as her eyes adjust to the dark. She reaches out to touch them and the lights extinguish so suddenly she is not sure they were even there at all.

 

Nina Mingya Powles

from Whale Fall a chapbook in Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017). This chapbook focuses on Betty Guard (1814 – 1870) who arrived in Aotearoa as a 15 year-old-bride and was the first Pākehā woman to settle in the South Island.

 

 

 

Cambridge Trilogy

 

KETTLE’S YARD

 

The kingdom will have its own colours,

and the unfashioned light will let itself be mastered

in a bottomless, Brancusi pool.

Metal refined by its own thinking force

retains that mercury peril,

continues

to reflect the furious pleasure

of a man being listened to, the one who explains,

art become epiphenomenon of explanation,

a nuclear residue cheaper to tame,

grace nostalgia

strident, even here

where the Gaudier-Brzeska

holds the uncomfortable end of her posture,

sinews bright in the light nursery,

and light in the pits

and mistakes.

 

 

JESUS GREEN

 

The kingdom will have its own spices

whose fore-scent is the privilege of a retriever

lifting her nose at last from the carcass.

When assorted corvids take her place

I will not whisper any of their names

to the tutelar of the college.

The blue

roman candle advance of liberated students,

crossing the moat, appear from this distance

to embarrass the jogger,

the avenue

of plane trees a parlour

for homeless

who paddle through bugs like playing a harp,

plucking and smoking at once,

labour given lightness by caution.

I follow the sun down the darkening aisles

as if it were criminal.

The wind is animal with cannabis.

 

 

ST. MARY THE LESS

 

 

The kingdom will have its own currency.

I cannot see any from the pew,

but I know the rivers of this country

sing with cancelled sterling.

Like silver under water

mercy

will flicker through the feeling

of the reader

infinitesimally warming the air

until all of our salvos begin with forgive me.

We pray today

in a national rope

for the brokenness of what we do

here

in memory, pray

the discordances

of an amateur choir perform that brokenness better

than harmony, pray like the nonagenarians

cough

and infants bray

from the back

the Angelus domini.

 

Steven Toussaint

from Lay Studies Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet 

 

When people fall in love with love

they fling themselves in the abyss

Marina Tsvetaeva (translated by. Elaine Feinstein)  

     

 

(Animals)

 

Languages we never learn to speak,

although in books they taught us how to read:

tiger, tapir, timber wolf—T was all of these—

each a name in which I find myself again,

I, who see him coming from the hill.

Now I turn the barbecue to ‘full’.

     

(Bridle)

 

These words: throat-lash, brow-band, bit—

how a horse gets broken in.

Each night I am unbridled.

Never try to understand a marriage.

It’s beyond the wonder of all but the finest

gentlemen: how the bridle’s said to fit the bride.

 

(Cattle)

 

Heedless ones who never knew

their names, the oxen were unyoked in

Happy Valley, where the years will pass

easy as eels in a creek. I was of the alphabet they made,

slipping across the wet grass at night—

eel among the cattle, gone in a scribble of water.
(Dog)

 

No one knows but the dog—

dog-sense, dog’s-chance, dog’s life.

So why should I care if he has changed

His name—for if he reads, he must read backwards.

I is what I am. No more or less. So, go on,

say what you will—but go and spread the word.

   

(Earth)

 

Consider the earth he works up rich beneath the plough,

or a tilth of crumbly soil—

didn’t Virgil say these were best for corn?

‘Earth yields to us its bread, each cartload

drawn into the barn by slow-

moving oxen.’

 

(Fires)

 

Even when the fire was lit, I knew that

sex would never be the thing.

Say that this is true—

an alphabet of husbandry might burn in other ways.

G would be for glimpses of this,

even as he flared beneath my skin.

 

(Glimpse)

 

I will make myself absolutely clear—

whatever glimpses you gain of me,

as string of letters, or random word, it was

nothing would ever be easy. Believe me when I say,

to be the good husbandwoman, I tried at every turn

to turn myself into any other thing.

     

(Husbandry)

 

Only when he’d love and

care for all the animals on this, my farm;

only when he could name and

number all the cravings of my body—only in such

fidelity would he learn to play their song, though

even then, I’d keep an eye on him.

 

(Information)

 

Something’s trying to tell me that

something’s going on. Oh yes.

This morning at sunrise he woke me with his

‘old ways’—then laid them on the floor.

He placed them where the sun’s first beams would alight

on them and opened the blue window.

 

(Jump-cut)

 

Whenever he wanted anything,

I recited this, my alphabet to him.

Fevers of words fastened in the needy

evening of his brow, a projection of

letters that flicker in this jump-cut to his eyes,

lifting his eyelids silent as a rose.

 

(Knowing)

 

In the first glimmer of knowing that

nothing will come of nothing,

life was all we could make

of those swiftly passing days: I was the golden

violin that he would touch into

echoes­, as the echoes gathered us in.

 

(Lovers)

 

Whisper it once more in my ear. Oh, that

I would have you hold me still,

tenderly touching me into my skin:

how is it that we render our souls to

love’s fine place, in the rivery light of this:

oh, the pillow and the kiss.

 

(Money)

 

Vouchsafe for me these days of

eminence, though in my bag lies nothing but

a worn-out empty purse. Oh,

nothing will come of the nothing that

declines with each transaction. Oh,

I stared back at the checkout girl. And oh I

     

(Nothing)

 

waited for the earth to take me in,

as though this were the

nub of it all, the rub of the nothing

that plies between the echo and its

testament to what I pledge to you,

out of the hills, and echoing over again.

 

(Over)

 

My name is this: the day that passeth over.

Ancient in the making, now it will be broken over.

Keepsake, my heart, oh will you ever make it over?

Easeful now, I wake when the night is over.

Ashes in the wind: and then its fragrances blew over.

Carry me, sir, carry me on, into the going over.

 

(Providence)

 

Apple-blossom drifting down the creek.

Still the rooster wants to crow, though

evening’s almost here.

Forgo these things, though fate or commonplace

ordain us with this dream—our conveyance into

rapture, or the idea that provides.

 

(Quotidian)

                                                             

As though this were the remedy for everything—

delight indeed will arise

unto these indigo-tinted skies;

latitude will restore us to the brightness of

the sun, to the spindle of this dreaming

earth that turns for everyone.

 

(Release)

 

Release me into the somewhere of the dream—

you will remember where, when you were

brother to me.

Unhook me from the steely world of

tractors, sheep-shit, shearing shed—

I am the one who has already gone into the giddy now.

 

(Sky)

 

Cherish the way you held me in your arms—you, he . . .

as usual I confuse the one with the other,

nattering my way through the rain, seeking out

the tarradiddle, the silver-tongue that touched

me once with truth: my good husband was

a pillar whose love could hold earth and sky apart.

 

(Tarantella)

 

Knowledge is this, with the heart in mind:

everything you ever did can always be undone.

Absolution never is never quite complete.

Cast yourself in the spider’s web:

a day would come and then the dust would settle.

Some days we would dance the wildest dance.

 

(Underworld)

 

Easier by far to see where the stars let out.

Friday. And then he said he really came from

Orion’s belt, the buckle star: Epsilon Orionis.

Riding in the hills that afternoon, he declared another name—

Alnilam . . . O you of the three Maries, I said. And then,

declare that name again . . .

 

(Vespers)

 

Usually at around this time it comes to this:

leaves in the poplars start to rustle,

the Empyrean gives forth its heron to the roost.

Except for this, the evenings are ordinary.

Round here they say the poplars are a kind of a people, too.

You’ll believe it when you hear the heron speak.

 

(Whisper)

 

It was thus that I came to quietude.

Came into the silence

and the redress of the mind. For

no one thinks to ask

of me what the horses say,

nor guide them on the way, although . . .

 

(Exhale)

 

Let me take you back to when

you first could take this in, this breath that is

my husbandman and this my

alphabet—and I, oh I whose breathing

knew of each his suck and sigh of life, each eddy in the

ebb and flow, wherein I now exhale.

 

(Yet)

 

a day would come when he would be gone.

Commend to me to these last things: a rustic table,

a bowl of fruit, the music-box that sang

‘Sally is my sweetest heart’. As though the mountains might

exalt his name, even as he flees through

falling shadows and the warbler’s plaintive voice.

 

(Zero)

 

Oh and only when the last of words is

ruled and underlined, only when you see the

love that learns itself again,

only when you find the text that declines into the

vertical, will you read in its acrostic that

everything is this: the sweetest of the nothings that are love.

 

Cliff Fell  (Last Leaf Press, 2014)

 

 

 

 

The contributors

 

Cliff Fell is the author of three books of poetry. The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet came out in 2014, published as a chapbook by Last Leaf Press, with illustrations by Fiona Johnstone and photographs by Ivan Rogers.

Alison Glenny‘s Antarctic-themed collection of prose poems and fragments, The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. In 2019 she was, with Lawrence Patchett, a recipient of an Ursula Bethell writing residency at the University of Canterbury. She currently lives in Kāpiti.

Robin Hyde (Iris Guiver Wilkinson) (1906–1939) was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and moved to Wellington with her family in 1907. She was a poet, novelist and journalist. She worked for the Dominion before becoming Lady Editor at the Wanganui Chronicle, and subsequently the New Zealand Observer. She published three poetry collections (and one posthumously), along with two anthologies of her work (edited by Lydia Wevers and subsequently Michele Leggott).

Gregory Kan’s latest collection Under Glass was longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2020.

Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FNZRS), former NZ Poet Laureate, is a Pasifika Poet-Scholar and graphic mini-memoirist. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland and lives on Waiheke Island.

Kim Meredith (Samoan, Tokelauan, and Portuguese descent). Her poetry and short stories are founded on reclaiming space for the female narrative and have been published in Aotearoa, Hawaii and Mexico. She has collaborated extensively with partner Kingsley Spargo performing to audiences in New Zealand and China. She is co-producing an upcoming album on spoken word and soundscapes ‘Swimming Toward the Sun’ due for release later this year.

‘Dance of Sina’ was written for her daughter Courtney Sina. Courtney was named after her maternal grandmother Rita Sina. Rita Sina was named after her paternal grandmother Sina le pua (Sina the flower). There was a sense of awe and wonder about Sina, continuing her journey down the family line. This beautiful and incredible creature daring to push boundaries and seeking out her own path.

Reihana Robinson:  2019 highlights included poetry readings for Mākaro Press with Jo Thorpe and Elizabeth Welsh (including Poetry Live in Auckland and the Fringe in Wellington), as well as reading at Lounge Poetry at Auckland University and with the remarkable Bob Orr at Carson’s in Thames. Reihana is working on her next collection tentatively titled ‘Grassfire’ but may end up with the title ‘NO’.

Steven Toussaint is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the IIML and is currently studying philosophical theology at Cambridge. He has been a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow and is the author of poetry collection The Bellfounder and the chapbook Fiddlehead. His new collection, Lay Studies, is longlisted for the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Sue Wootton lives in Dunedin. Her most recent publications are her novel, Strip, which was longlisted in the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and her poetry collection, The Yield, which was a finalist in these awards in 2018. She will travel to Menton, France, later this year as the 2020 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow.

Selina Tusitala Marsh celebrates her Poet Laureateship tenure with a poem and a power point

 

Dear Selina

You have given us so much  as Poet Laureate – you have sparked poetry and poets all over Aotearoa and beyond its shores – you have shared poems, your own experience and opened up what poetry can do. Poetry matters to so many more people because of you. Thank you three times thank you. I look forward to reading your new books, hearing you perform again and talking poetry. Meanwhile enjoy your time as Poet in Residence at the Queensland Poetry Festival – you deserve this time with a much clearer calendar! I embrace you dear friend, dear poet.

Aroha nui

Paula

 

 

Writers on Mondays at Te Papa: 4 poetry highlights

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Mon 16 Jul – Mon 1 Oct 2018, 12.15pm–1.15pm

Poetry is at Te Marae, Level 4, Te Papa

 

Cost Free event, every Monday lunchtime

 

 

Full programme here

Winter Eyes: Harry Ricketts

July 30, 12.15–1.15pm

Harry Ricketts – a poet, editor, biographer, critic, and academic, is joined by editor and Victoria University Professor of English Jane Stafford to discuss his latest work.

Harry has published over thirty books, including the internationally acclaimed The Unforgiving Minute: A Life of Rudyard Kipling (1999), How to Catch a Cricket Match (2006), and Strange Meetings: The Lives of the Poets of the Great War (2010).

His eleventh and most recent collection of poetry is Winter Eyes (2018). Winter Eyes has been described as ‘Poetry as comfort, poetry as confrontation’.

These are elegiac and bittersweet poems of friendship, of love’s stranglehold, of the streets and buildings where history played out.

 

 

 

Poetry Quartet: Therese Lloyd, Tayi Tibble, Chris Tse and Sam Duckor-Jones

August 6, 12.15–1.15pm

Come and hear the new wave of New Zealand poets in a reading and discussion chaired by poet and essayist Chris Price.

These poets write works of boldness with an acute eye on relationships in the modern world. Therese Lloyd’s The Facts, Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou), He’s So MASC by Chris Tse, and People from the Pit Stand Up by Sam Duckor-Jones are diverse and exciting books of poetry.

Each writer engages with language in innovative ways to explore and reimagine love, trust, intimacy, and the politics of being.

 

 

 

Pasture and Flock: Anna Jackson

August 13, 12.15–1.15pm

Pastoral yet gritty, intellectual and witty, sweet but with stings in their tails, the poems and sequences collected in the career-spanning new book Pasture and Flock are essential reading for both long-term and new admirers of Anna Jackson’s slanted approach to lyric poetry.

Jackson made her debut in AUP New Poets 1 before publishing six collections with Auckland University Press, most recently I, Clodia, and Other Portraits (2014). Her collection Thicket (2011) was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards in 2012. As an academic, Jackson has had an equally extensive career authoring and editing works of literary criticism. She is joined by poet and publisher Helen Rickerby for an exploration of her career as poet, essayist and critic.

 

 

 

Best New Zealand Poems 2017

August 20, 12.15–1.15pm

Best New Zealand Poems is published annually by Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters.

Get ready for Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day on 24 August by coming along to hear seven of the best read work selected for Best New Zealand Poems.

Poets Airini Beautrais, Chris Tse, Marty Smith, Liz Breslin, Greg Kan, Makyla Curtis, and Hannah Mettner are introduced by Best New Zealand Poems 2017 editor Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Visit the Best New Zealand Poems website (link is external) to view the full selection.

 

 

 

 

National Library’s Peter Ireland on the tokotoko event for our Poet Laureate at Matahiwi

 

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Poet Laureate, Selina Tusitala Marsh, with fue and ‘Tusitala.’ Photographer: Fiona Lam Sheung

 

Poet Laureate, Matahiwi, tokotoko

 

Last weekend at Matahiwi marae near Clive, Selina Tusitala Marsh received her very own tokotoko. Since her appointment as Laureate in August last year she has been inseparable from the National Library’s matua tokotoko, loaned in anticipation of Jacob Scott creating hers. During that time Selina has shared this taonga with ‘three thousand pairs of hands’ from students of St Joseph’s school in Otahuhu – on the tokotoko’s first public outing – to those of Barack Obama on his recent visit to New Zealand. It’s been on protest marches, on half marathons and has even been dunked in a river – by accident, I think. All of this is a far cry from the tokotoko’s more sedate duties of sitting in a display case at the Auckland office of the National Library, and there can be no going back now! This preamble to last weekend speaks volumes for where Selina has taken the work of the Poet Laureate; it’s ‘out there’ like never before.

John Buck of Te Mata Winery in Hawkes started all this off in 1996 when he initiated the Te Mata Estate Laureate Award. Together with the honour, each Laureate received a tokotoko and a generous stipend of wine – and still do. The National Library took over responsibility for the Laureate in 2007 and Michele Leggott was the first Laureate appointed by the Library. Michele joined Selina last weekend with friends and fellow poets Tusiata Avia and Serie Barford. Selina’s family and the National Library were there in good numbers. It was quite a party all in all.

 

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Selina and family with Luka her brother with the guitar, leading a waiata. Photographer: Elizabeth Jones

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Jacob Scott having just unveiled ‘Tusitala’ before presenting it to Selina. Photographer: Elizabeth Jones

 

Selina has been working closely with Jacob on the creation of her tokotoko and was amazed, as we all were, with what Jacob has made. Selina’s tokotoko – ‘Tusitala’ – is carved out of maire, our heaviest indigenous wood, sharing that distinction with the matua tokotoko, to which it has other carved features in common. It is splendidly crowned with a fue or Samoan orator’s fly whisk – and clearer of the air of any unsympathetic spirits. To aid in what will undoubtedly be a lot of travel, the tokotoko is made in several sections and the fue, which was a gift to Selina from His Highness Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi, unscrews off the top.

I’m restricting myself to korero about the tokotoko because it is central to the way Selina thinks of her part in the Laureate story, and it feels right to allow Selina first go at capturing the spirit of the weekend. There was poetry aplenty, there was the most talented lot of students performing in Selina’s honour, and cool days on the edge of spoiling rain held at bay I’m sure by the warmth and breadth of Selina’s smile. There was Poets’ Night Out, the public reading on Saturday night in Havelock North, another round of pizza at Pipi café, kaumatua Tom Mulligan presiding with his special brand of manaakitanga and pride in what the Laureate means for Matahiwi. It was thrilling, exhausting, scintillating, as words blazed a trail across the firmament of poetry – and I badly need for it all to happen again this weekend. Most of all there was warmth and celebration and aroha by the bucketful. To close, a salute to Selina, our brilliant ‘Fast Talking PL.’

 

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Matua tokotoko in foreground joining protest against new marina on Waiheke on penguin nesting ground. Photographer unidentified.

 

Peter Ireland, 20 April 2018

 

Peter Ireland has ‘minded’ the Poets Laureate for the National Library since 2007. They seem not to have minded.

 

Māori television clip

NZ Herald and Hawkes Bay Today clip

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comfort and discomfort: A fragmented Writers and Readers Week diary

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All mixed-quality photos without credit by me

 

 

Back home after a head-and-mind-rich time at Writers and Readers Week in Wellington. I loved the change of venue to the waterfront cluster: Circa Theatre, the Festival Club tent, Te Wharewaka o Pōneke, the Michael Fowler Centre and Renouf Foyer along with a few outlying places such as The National Library. The diversity of the programme, as it moved across genre and person, was terrific. With four sessions in each slot, like the Auckland Writers Festival, it was impossible to get to everything you ticked. And that is what festivals are about: an explosion of taste and flavour.

At festivals, I love supporting my friends, going to local writers (especially poets),  much loved international writers, but I also like stepping out of my comfort zone and trying things that are completely unfamiliar. You could say that opting for discomfort along with comfort – because you never know what gold nuggets will gleam – is a festival must.

Things didn’t quite run to plan and I came home with a fragmentary notebook and novels unread as you will see.

But warmest congratulations to Mark Cubey and his team, because this was an excellent occasion that had audiences, including me, buzzing with delight. Thanks for the invite!

 

My fits and starts diary

 

Thursday

I have my checked-in bag with books for every mood because I am off to Wellington’s Writers and Readers Week to mc and read poems at Call Me Royal and chair Capital Poets, Bill Manhire and Mike Ladd. Having sent off my ms on reading New Zealand women’s poetry, this is my poetry treat. I want to go to every poetry event and read novels in the gaps.

I leave the heat and humidity of Auckland’s West Coast and step out into the wet and cold of Wellington. It is a sweet relief to feel like moving and thinking again.

First up is a bus ride to Rimutaka Prison to participate in a writing workshop with some prisoners thanks to Write Where You Are Collective. On the bus are a mix of organisers, festival people, balloted public and a handful of writers. Waiting for the bus, I am asked to speak at the end – what I thought of the event and about writing poetry – and I am really nervous! I have run countless workshops but have rarely if ever been a participant. I summon Hone Tuwhare’s ‘Rain’ and  Y12-me to find courage. I say that while we are not allowed to take the writing out, I am also not going to share the details of the experience in public. And I am not. However the general mood I carry back into the city is absolute enthusiasm for what has taken place. This is special and I would do it again at the drop of a hat.

Next up my hotel room – the chemical cleaners are so strong it triggers an allergic reaction that just grew worse over the five days. I know not to stay in this hotel again – luckily the hyperactive Wellington wind is able to blast through the window each day. My post-writing treat suddenly becomes a matter of survival and definitely not luxuriating in a hotel room reading novels or writing lucid accounts of the sessions for my blog. (I had to flee several sessions with a coughing fit fighting for breath and attendees were wondering whether to call an ambulance.)

I arrive at the VUP book launch late but love the tail end of Damien Wilkin‘s launch speech celebrating new books by Vincent O’Sullivan, Therese Lloyd and Gigi Fenster).  I am sitting here in a toxic chemical haze and the little readings flick about like little hallucinogenic butterflies. I buy the two books, that I don’t have, to read at home.

The Gala Night, Women Changing the World – is kaleidoscopic in range and impact and I am still on planet hallucinogenic butterfly. Renée gets an almost-standing ovation. Selina Tusitala Marsh shares a poem for Teresia Teaiwa (1968 – 2017) to whom she dedicated Tightrope, her most recent book.  I am reminded how important Oceanic foremothers are for Selina, not just as a poet but as a woman forging her way in the world. This is breath-catching (dangerous in my state!). Along with Selina the highlight for me is hearing Harry Josephine Giles read their body twisting, word slipping, gorgeous glorious evocation of life and living. Check out graphic artist Tara Black‘s take.

I am at Loretta eating snapper pie with freekeh topping and it is comfort food cutting through the toxins. I am wondering if poetry is comfort food as much as it is discomfort food and that we need both and everything in between. At the moment I crave comfort.

 

Friday

I have coffee with Jane Parkin who is going to edit my book. We have never met before but it is such a pleasure to talk about the pleasures of punctuation. I didn’t tell her I used to read grammar books and dictionaries in bed at night when I was primary school. I am thinking grammar and punctuation is always on the move – I am so excited she is going to go through my writing with a fine-tooth comb spotting all the infelicities. As a poet I often use a punctuation mark as a guide to breathing and pause. How will this change in prose?

Next up Sarah Laing talks with two American comic artists, Sarah Glidden and Mimi Pond. The conversation flows between the personal and the political with revelation and reflection and I buy both books risking an overweight bag. Tara Black is in the front row drawing her fabulous renditions of a session.

This festival puts comic and graphic novelists centre stage, both local and international. I like that. Check out Tara’s review and images.

This is where my good plans go awry and I have to opt out of a few things. Sadly.

I am lying on the bed with the wind gusting in. I feel like I am in the cleaning cupboard.

I make it to Tusiata Avia in conversation with her cousin Victor Rodger (and an excellent chair not named in the programme). This is mesmerising stuff. I instantly connect with their need for some kind of truth. Truth got a bad rap when I was at university because it is mobile, unreliable and hard to pin down. Yet when I hear or read a writer working from the truth of their experience, (however you see that) it just gets me. Check out Tara‘s review and images.

Tusiata talks about her epileptic history, perhaps for the first time in public, and how she might have an aura on stage. She reads her epileptic poem and it feels tough and vulnerable and full of music that replays a fractured inner state. I want more poems but I am loving the talk. She reads a poem that responds to an ongoing painful knotty experience of Unity Books wanting to check her bags fifteen years ago, on two occasions, because they suspected her of shoplifting. She has mashed up an email from them to show her point of view, to show how racism is embedded in the unconscious way we speak and communicate. She puts pronouns on alert. My heart is breaking because I don’t know how to fix this rift knot. I love Tusiata. I have family connections that link me and Tilly back to my daughter’s parents. I love Marion, bookseller extraordinaire. I don’t know what to do to help.

I have to stand on stage and mc tonight and celebrate poetry and I can’t breathe.

My first book, Cookhouse has a poem, ‘Listing the breathless women’, that I wrote in hospital when I couldn’t breathe.

who will live in this place of white sheets

when the stories built to terrifying pitches?

I have missed The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award. I have missed the Bloody Difficult Women and I loved Kirsten McDougall‘s Tess so much.

I put on a blue dress and a Parisienne necklace Sue gave me, and Tusiata’s pounamu bracelet. I told a prisoner that when I get nervous, I picture something in my head that I love, or wear something someone has given me (usually a gift from Michael). Then I am fortified to go on. When you lose your breath you lose your voice and I am wondering if I will be a ghost on stage even with the necklace and the bracelet.

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Photograph credit: Mark Beatty, photographer, The National Library

To be in the Alexander Turnbull Library, at Call Me Royal, with a fine showing of the librarians who helped me find my way through the archives is restoring; to catch sight of dear Elizabeth Jones for a second is restoring. And Peter Ireland the Laureate guardian, ever helpful, ever supportive of poetry. I lay my stones for Selina Tusitala Marsh as a gift for her mana, and then let her do the talking and the poems. We write and speak from an embrace of women. The ‘Unity’ poem for the Queen, the way it came into elusive being, always captivates. Again the pronoun strikes: the ‘i’ and the ‘u’ in ‘unity’ is genius.

I am wondering what the audience makes of us. The way we hug and perform because this is a poetry whanau. We have many connections and we are all driven to write and stand on stage and open up poetry for the ear, heart and mind. The space between is alive with what we think and feel. Check out my photo gallery and intros here.

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Photograph credit: Mark Beatty, photographer, The National Library

 

I am back at Loretta having another snapper pie and talking about poetry with Helen. All I need is comfort food in this state of discomfort. Maybe that includes poetry.

 

Saturday

I am eating poached eggs with Bill and Marion and the conversation sets me up for the day like a good slow release protein. I miss Charlie Jane Anders and Samin Nosrat. I miss fun and games with Harry Josephine Giles. I miss the amazing Charlotte Wood because I am about to go on stage with Mike Ladd and Bill Manhire, the Capital Poets. First I need to lie down with the window wide open.

 

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I have an early lunch with Selina and Serie, and we bump into Rachel McAlpine, whose poetry I write about in my book. Four poets, by chance, in Cuba Street,

 

 

When I agreed to chair the Capital Poets session a month ago, I thought these poets were chalk and cheese, and I wasn’t quite sure how Bill was a capital poet bar the fact he was a good one, and he lived in Wellington. But as I ran on the beach each morning, I began to find connections. I decided they both write with an economy that is paradoxically rich and they both write from attention to humanity, not necessarily blazing on the line, but as a vital core. MIke’s poetry often takes me to a sharply rendered scene that is so bright (or dark) I get goosebumps.  Bill can transport a reader into a more mysterious interplay of dark and light, full of glorious movement, offbeat or sideways, so you find and lose and find your bearings. Another kind of goosebump. Goosebumps are an excellent, but not the only poetry barometer.

Being a chair, in a space that feels like a lounge, means it is like you get to talk poetry at home with quite a lot of strangers listening. I find it fun. You set up a conversational field and go exploring. I cheekily got Bill to pitch Wellington to a stranger in 60 seconds which he did with good grace. I really liked the idea of a city where you constantly bump into things around corners. But as always it is the poetry readings that get me – and I can now play Mike’s poems in my head in his voice and that makes a difference. I can hear his fascination with sound and the way politics always find a way in. Bill read a brand new short poem with Colin Meads and some good rural vocabulary before turning a corner and letting us laugh-bump into the ending.

I spent two and half years writing my book, and when I sent it off a few weeks ago, I felt there was so much more I could explore and write. Same with a festival session; the time goes by in a whizz and we barely scratch the surface of conversation.

 

Paula Morris gets to talk to Teju Cole and it feels like balm and challenge as we see his photographs and hear the story behind them. I could have listened for hours. I reviewed his tremendously good essays for The NZ Herald ages ago – so it was a treat to listen to that mind roving. Paula is just the right mix of adding comments and getting the speaker talking.

Next up Blazing Stars: Hera Lindsay Bird and Patricia Lockwood with Charlotte Graham. I miss most of this session. I sit down in the front row with a bunch of writers but have a coughing fit to the point I can’t breathe and have to walk out. Embarrassing! The festival people are so kind bringing me things. I sat on a chair outside and then at the back. I am back with the hallucinogenic butterflies. Charlotte is wearing a butterfly dress and Hera and Patricia seem to be in some kind of butterfly bitch challenge. Hera reads a poem with psychedelic metaphors. I desperately need a stunt stand-in to pay attention and write things down for me.

I eat roasted fish and fig pie at Floridita before going to bed. I am thinking about my new poetry collection and how I need to blast it to smithereens. Then I might see what to do with it. This happens at festivals. It gets you thinking about your own work and all its failings and possibilities.

I miss Outer Space Saloon. I really want to go.

 

Sunday

Fruit at Loretta and a coffee to pull the bits of me together. If I wasn’t making this my Poetry Day, I would be off to hear the fabulous Ursula Dubosarsky.

 

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Essa and Tayi

First up The Starlings – a festival highlight for me. Chris Tse is also in the audience supporting these young writers. The session features 9 writers aged under 25 who have been published in Starling (now up to 5 Issues). The journal is edited by Francis Cooke and Louise Wallace. They mc the session with Sharon Lam, Rebecca Hawkes, Claudia Jardine, Tayi Tibble, Emma Shi, Joy Holley, Henrietta Bollinger, Sophie van Waardenberg and Essa Ranapiri. The poetry resists homogenisation as it travels across distinctive and diverse moods and revelations, challenges and connections. I love it – and will be posting poems from this across the next month or so when I reignite Poetry Shelf next week. See my photo gallery here.

 

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Apologies to David Larsen because I don’t know how to mute my camera – just took photos at start and end.

Second up, my other festival highlight: Harry Josephine Giles in conversation with Chris Tse. The poetry  –  with its meshing up of Scots and English, its filthy patches and rollercoaster rhythms, its musical effervescence and its little heart taps  – is astonishing! No other word for it. Great chair, fluid talk, happy audience. I go out and buy all their books so I can do a feature on the blog if I dare. This session was like a dose of breathing medication and was the only time I wrote screeds in my journal.

One sample: ‘When your body is at odds with what is normal – not that anyone is normal – I can play with this. I can muck around with it.’

I like the idea of mucking around much better than blasting to smithereens. At breakfast when I asked Bill if he was writing he said he was mucking around. I thought of Tom and the Hired Sportsmen who were expert at mucking around before they ate greasy bloaters. Poets like mucking about.

One other thing. Harry Josephine was at pretty much every NZ poetry event I went to. I loved that. There was a handful of Wellington poets at the Laureate event – but mostly it was poetry readers not poetry writers. I wondered why this was. Harry Josephine was there talking to the locals.

 

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Next up Patricia Lockwood is talking with Kim Hill and I get another coughing fit – the breathing medication has worn off so I have to walk out several times. It is like they are talking on another planet and I can’t make head nor tail of anything. I decide you need oxygen to listen.

I am sitting outside in the wind sun wondering what makes writing matter. What makes a poem matter when this one over here doesn’t. I can’t think of a single thing. It seems to depend upon the individual. Some kind of mysterious alchemy. I told the prisoners music is always the first port of call for me. Actually I told Bill that on stage when he said music mattered. The first hit from a Manhire poem is music.

 

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Marae and Vana

I am off to Helen Rickerby’s Seraph Press launch of Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation. We are welcomed on with a little powhiri and a big mihi.  Editors Vana Manasiadis and Maraea Rakuraku acted as mcs. This is my third festival highlight. An utterly special occasion, uplifting and challenging, as I listen to Te Reo and English versions of each poem (Anahera Gildea, Alice Te Punga Somerville, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Tru Parahaa, Michelle Ngamoki, Dayle Takitimu, and Maraea). I will be posting a poem from Maraea on the blog. 

I am reminded, how on so many occasions at this festival, I witness the creative strength of women (wahine mana), not just in the poetry families/whanau, but across genres. Maybe because poetry is such a poor cousin in the book world, the bonds are forged tighter.

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Helen Rickerby from Seraph Press

 

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I miss the editing session with my new editor, because I just can’t duck out of this one. Like I said, when you are on the verge of breathing collapse you crave comfort. That doesn’t mean poetry without edges, because this poetry has raw cutting edges, sharp spikes, but it also feeds upon humaneness, writing with heart, hankering after truth. In a lopsided endangered world that can be a vital tonic.

 

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I bump into Elizabeth Knox and her fabulous skirt. She is long overdue for a Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, just saying.

 

I made the Poetry International event where post accident, highly medicated Chris Price does a stellar job as mc/chair. This feels like a risky format combining reading and questions with nine poets, both local and international. As you would expect, several resist the brief in their 6 minute slots. But you end up with a glorious explosion of words and thoughts and poems. I jot this down from Bill after saying he had read a lot of American poetry: ‘I feel uneasy about my enthusiasms. I feel I’ve reverted to the local.’

 

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The final thing and I am at Anna Jackson and Chris Tse’s AUP book launches in the crowded Circa foyer. I did an email interview with Chris over the past weeks so I know his book well and love it to bits. His speech moves the socks off us when he says he wanted his friends and family to be proud of him and that he hopes the book will fall into the hands of those who will see themselves in it. I am equally in love with Anna’s book, a Selected Poems, that travels through decades of writing with new writing at the end. Anna and I are in the middle, or near the end, of an unfolding email interview that I will post soon.

This was my experience, slightly skewed by being on the edge of a breathing precipice. Elizabeth Heritage wrote up the Harry Josephine session like I wish I could have done!

 

There is always a bridge between ourselves and the page, between ourselves and the reader and speaker. Sometimes we skim across it with ease, with all kinds of sparking connections. Other times the bridge falters and it is hard to find a way. Then there are the occasions where crossing is like an impossibility and the page, the reader and the speaker are utterly out of reach. It happens to me. I wait. It may mean I need to retune the way I walk.

 

Wednesday

I am back home grateful for the invitation to participate. Happy to be back to the quiet and the wild and the chance to write new things.

There is a strong chance this blog is riddled with mistakes – let me know so I can correct. Meanwhile I am off to sleep.

 

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A photo gallery: Call Me Royal

I am about to post my big but fragmented New Zealand Festival Writers and Readers Week diary but first two photo galleries. First up: Call Me Royal.

These photos were taken by Mark Beatty, one of the The National Library photographers, and they catch the spirit, warmth and generosity of the event so beautifully. It was an utter privilege to mc, to read poems with Jenny Bornholdt, Serie Barford, Tusiata Avia and our Poet Laureate extraordinaire, Selina Tusitala Marsh. I have put my intros at the end.

Grateful thanks to Peter Ireland, Chris Szekely and the National Library team. This was special.

All photographs courtesy of Mark Beatty, The Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library

 

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My mihi

The Poet Laureateship began under the administration and vision of Te Mata Estate with Bill Manhire the inaugural Laureate and has moved through to the six poets appointed by The National Library. Each Laureate is gifted a tokotoko, a walking stick, a personal fit, carved by Haumoana artist Jacob Scott. This to me is like the Laureate role – each recipient shapes the role to fit their own predilections and circumstances, from the Laureate blog, to poetry written, to a book published, to engagements and visibility within our reading and writing communities.

I jumped for joy on Poetry Day when I discovered Selina was our new Laureate; she is invigorating how the tokotoko is held, how the role is shaped. Of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English and French descent, she was the first Pacific Islander to graduate with a PhD in English at the University of Auckland – where she is now Associate Professor.

 

In her debut collection, Fast Talkin PI, Selina lays a circle of stones to acknowledge the embrace of women from which she writes, from which she throws the calabash for us to catch the seeds. I want to lay a circle of 6 stones for Selina.

The first stone is the gift of her poetry from her effervescent, award-winning debut with the title poem already a classic, and far ranging poetry that establishes movement on the page and charismatic movement in performance. To the second collection, Dark Sparring, written out of strength and lightness, out of her adoption of Muay Thai kickboxing and the death of her mother from cancer. The kickboxing is like a trope for poems that are graceful, startling, strong. This book lifts you out of your senses as she lifts grief out of her body and translates it into word music carrying us to the sun and moon and clouds. Selina’s latest book, Tightrope, longlisted for the book awards, travels in myriad directions, in ways that soothe, challenge and delight, that move us along fecund highways between sky and earth.

The second stone is the poetry mana Selina carries to young writers (I have witnessed this as I follow in her slipstream at Auckland schools) and to emerging writers – because she liberates the word. She stands, speaks and sings poetry, from self and wider communities and lineages, with such passion and drive the audience is compelled to read and write.

The third stone is Selina’s drive to bring Pasifika women poets to our attention – with a groundbreaking book in the making.

The fourth stone is the way she has carried poetry from our shores, in multiple translations, at myriad festivals, representing Tuvālu at the London Olympics Parnassus event, and as the 2016 Commonwealth Poet performing her commissioned poem UNITY for the Queen.

The fifth stone is the life of the poem in performance that Selina has made utterly her own. I am thinking of two mesmerising performances of Dark Sparring. At her launch, Selina was accompanied by Tim Page’s musical layerings, and she interrupted a kickboxing poem with a round or two of sparring in the room. It was breathtaking. On the second occasion, Selina read at the Ladies Litera-Tea without musical accompaniment and without a round or two of sparring. What struck me about this performance was the way silence was a significant part of the poetry palette. Again breathtaking. And of course there was the performance for the Queen that so many of us adored on the internet.

The sixth stone is the circle itself, the poetry connections and friendships, the poetry whanau that links us readers and writers that Selina tends with aroha and prodigious energy. Let us offer a warm to welcome dear friend and poet, Poet Laureate, Selina Tusitala Marsh.

 

The second half 

Jenny, Serie, Tusiata, me, Selina

Jenny Bornholdt, a much honoured poet, anthologist and children’s author, is a former Te Mata Estate NZ Poet Laureate. VUP has paid luminous tribute to her poetry in her recent Collected Poems. The book showcases Jenny’s intricate movements in the world – close at hand and roaming wider, and on the page itself, with large themes such as love, loss, illness and family, and smaller attentions such as a cotton shirt, a tea towel or a blanket, the large animating the small, and vice versa. You might get a conversational tone, with images unfolding like origami, surprising turns, linguistic agility and ample room for pause. You will always get a necessary heart beat, because Jenny’s poetry refreshes our relations with a living world, both complicated and vital. When I had to pick my ten favourite NZ Poetry books for a newspaper once, I picked Jen’s The Rocky Shore, but I could have added Summer or Mrs Winter’s Jump or These Days.

Tusiata Avia, of Samoan lineage, a poet, performer and children’s author, currently living in Christchurch, is a significant presence, a poetry beacon say, for emerging Pasifika poets.  She has carried that beacon on her overseas travels. Tusiata originally staged her debut collection, Wild Dogs under My Skirt, as a one-woman show – but we can now see this must-read book performed at the festival by a cast of six. I went to the goosebump launch of her latest collection, Fale Aitu / Spirit House, and like slow release food resides in your blood, this became my favourite book of 2016. The book releases skeletons, darkness and pain, yet in doing so, the roots of being daughter, mother, poet are tended with such animation, such love, such a willingness to be open, self reflective, world reflective, these poems, this book, matters so very very much.

Serie Barford is a West Auckland performance poet of Samoan and European descent with four published collections. Her poetry, both political and deeply personal, is rich in evocation. You can absorb her poems through senses as you bite into flavour, catch the lull and lift of melody, smell the poem’s very essence. You get to travel with heart and with challenges laid down. Her most recent book, Entangled Islands, with both prose and poetry, emerges from a tangle of family, motherhood, partnership, colonisation, history, communities, migration, childhood memories, culture and love, most importantly love. Connections are nourished: between words, things, people, places, events. Disconnections are acknowledged. As with Jenny’s poetry, the essential undercurrent, the fuel in the pen, is love.

 

 

 

In conversation with Selina Tusitala Marsh

 

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Tightrope, Selina Tusitala Marsh , Auckland University Press, 2017.

 

 

Let’s talk about unity

here in London’s Westminster Abbey

 

did you know there’s a London in Kiritimati?

Republic of Kiritibati, Pacific Sea.

 

We’re connected by currents of humanity

alliances, allegiances, histories

 

from ‘Unity’

 

 

To celebrate Selina’s new poetry collection, Tightrope, and her appointment as our current New Zealand Poet Laureate we email-conversed over several weeks. Selina is of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English and French descent. Her debut collection, Fast Talking PI, won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry. She was the first Pacific Islander to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland. Last year as Commonwealth Poet she performed ‘Unity’ for the Queen at Westminster Abbey.

I leapt for joy when I found out our new Laureate was Selina. Firstly because I am in awe of what she writes and she is a good friend. Her latest book catches you from first to last page on so many levels. Secondly I follow behind her at schools and I can see how she has utterly inspired teachers and students, whatever the level. This is poetry gold. Thirdly I leapt for joy because that now makes it 5 women poets  out of the 11. Did it matter to me that a woman was picked -yes it most certainly did. Selina has talked about the way she wants to have 1000 hands touch the tokotoko – how she wants to bring the poetry of brown faces to the spotlight. When I look about and see how whitewashed we are in so many ways – what gets published, what gets reviewed (check out the latest list of best poetry books 2017 in The Listener), what gets put stage centre at festivals, journal content etc – I leapt for joy that we have Selina. Hone Tuwhare and Sam Hunt are the two poets that are so beloved by our nation. I predict Selina is our third. I am currently writing a book on NZ women’s poetry and while my aim is to showcase the poetry that so often gets eclipsed by theory and dogma and bias, I also, at times, talk about the woman holding the pen. She has existed in the shadows. She has been maligned and misunderstood and devalued. I want to give women poets presence where it seems apt because their stories have so seldom been told. So while I think the poem is the first most paramount thing, I also think it is important to navigate the difficulties and triumphs women have faced as poets over the past century in New Zealand; how their poetry has been denigrated and erased due to gender or race. To have Selina given this golden opportunity to write further into our sightlines is heartwarming.

Paula Green 10 October 2017 on Facebook

 

Our conversation

 

 

Paula: I have spent a stormy Sunday morning lying in bed reading your new poetry collection, Tightrope, from cover to cover, and now I want to read it again slowly as an email conversation unfolds between us. The reading experience moved shook soothed challenged diverted me with the ooh and aah of recognition pain delight. In other words, the poems take you so many places in so many ways. I love it!

 

Gran’s jasmine

delicate pink

 

heavy and sweet

clings to the bone

 

from ‘Kiwitea Street in the ’80s’

 

The cover is striking with the tightrope moving from top to bottom rather than stretched taut across a horizontal line. I had held up my piece of red wool at your book launch, but it is only now, I am wondering why it holds a vertical line. It as though the rope stretches from the sky (heavens) to the earth (grounding), or from earth to sky. It is like an upturn, an overturn, and is infinitely resonant in its red to green glow. Why this placement?

 

Selina:  Instinctively insightful as always Paula.  In part, it references the living conditions of what I think of as the first poem of this land – the poetic parting of Papatuanuku, Earth mama and Ranginui, Sky dad, and the struggles of living before, during and after their separation. What does it mean to live in between such aroha, such passion, such angst?  Sometimes, like this morning, it means submitting to Tawhirimatea’s restlessness in the driving wind; other times, it means tuning into a mist-like longing in the light after-rain.  I’m often in between.  As a middle child I’m used to it and have finely honed skills of negotiation. Inbetweeners possess tightropish qualities:  a tender balance between joy and pain; the toe inching forward of a line that demands feeling before seeing.  That’s why the line is raised (much to Michele Leggott’s joy, who proclaimed at the Devonport Library launch recently that it was one of few books which she could hold up to an audience and know it was rightside up!)  Because I feel my lines.  Because that’s what brings me out of the abyss.  It’s also what gives depth to the abyss.

Unity is an underlying theme in the collection, as well as being the title of the poem for the Queen.  Unity is what’s needed in ‘the struggle’, however you define it in your life at that point (evoking the brothers’ struggle against the darkness imposed on them by their parents).  Unity is what my poetry seeks to create.  Unity of the multitudinous stories that constitute our memory, which in turn, form our history, ‘the remembered tightrope’, to quote Albert Wendt. The morphing colours of that beautiful vertical rainbow line (thanks Katrina Duncan and Spencer Levine) evokes the many hues of our lives that refuse to be forgotten.

 

Al,

I’ve taken a black vivid marker

pressed it against your page

and letter by space by word by phrase

inked across your lines

streaking pouliuli pathways

wending in and out of the Void

 

from ‘The Blacking Out of Pouliuli (1977)’

 

 

Paula You climb reverse-wise through Albert’s quote, so to speak, in your three sections: from the abyss to the tightrope to the trick. It seems the poetry pollinates the inbetween space between forgetting and remembering. He places this in view of history, but is it also personal?

‘We are what we remember, the self is a trick of memory … history is the remembered tightrope that stretches across the abyss of all that we have forgotten.’ Maualaivao Albert Wendt

Selina:  History is deeply personal, after all, it’s ‘written by the winners’, as I first saw in my undergraduate years graffettied under Grafton Bridge as my bus was heading out to Avondale (and later attributed to Churchill).  I’m reading a delicate collection of poems titled ‘Luminescent’ by Nina Powles at the moment (PG: my review here). 5 chapbooks are stacked in a fold out box (Seraph Press does a beautiful job) and each of them speaks back to women figures – some famous (I especially like the poem ‘If Katherine Mansfield were my best friend’) and some lesser known (to me), like ‘The Glowing Space Between the Stars’ responding to the award-winning New Zealand cosmologist Beatrice Tinsley (1941-1981), who ended up at Yale University teaching on galaxy evolution.  Where was her history in school?  Nina’s personal, poetic connection with five (early) New Zealand women is helping to build this history.

I think that’s why I so love Al’s line ‘the self is a trick of memory’, because that’s the personal self (‘Queens I Have Met’, a way to memorise moments), the communal self (‘The Dogs of Talimatau’ – how did all those dogs really die?) and the national self  (from the New York poems, see for example ‘Inward Hill, New York’ – what happened to the indigenous people of Manahatta? – to Oceania’s ‘Atoll Haiku Chain’ – Tahiti’s stories fan the flames of its history of colonisation, nuclear testing, and protest.  That inbetween space between forgetting and remembering though, is probably most potent in the abyss of death, but ‘Essential Olis for the Dying’, the poem written for my beloved colleague and ‘shooting black star’ Teresia Teaiwa (1968-2017), to whom this collection is dedicated, appears in the ‘Tightrope’ section.   That’s because, to quote Al again, ‘we are what we remember’, and we choose to capture moments of relationship that are ephemeral by nature, that’s the act of tightrope walking.

We choose, inch by inch, what we will feel beneath our toes, how we will balance ourselves in the air and keep our centre of gravity so that we can keep moving forward.  Certain moments, particular memories, we will throw across the abyss of time in order to reach back while moving forward.  Other things will recede into the background – we think we’ll never forget, but then we do.  We lose shades of it, pieces of it, and even though the loss stays, even that, the depth of it, the pain of it begins to diminish over time.  Maybe it’s meant to.

 

Take this cardamon

to ease you into the next plane

not the one taking you back to Santa Cruz

or Honolulu or Suva

but the next plane.

 

from ‘Essential Oils for the Dying’

 

Paula: I also love Nina’s collection and the way she is casting light on these five diverse women. That you dedicate your collection to Teresia Teaiwa resonates deeply, on an individual level, but also because you are part of a weave of women writing, speaking, sharing. You don’t write out of a vacuum.

I was particularly moved by, ‘Apostles’ and the way it challenges on so many levels. Alice Walker lays down the first challenge:

 

Alice Walker said

before placing a red

cushion in the middle of the road

that poetry is revolutionary.

 

You recount events that speak to such a claim. I am musing on way you highlight the example you accidentally found when googling lime; a brown skin woman mob tortured for sorcery. Not famous; one woman suffering. Do you think poetry can make a difference?

 

A brown woman is sitting

her back to us

bare on a corrugated

iron dock

noose round her neck

wrists bound

machete bites

mar her back

one gash so deep

its creviced meat

blackens

in the smoking air.

 

from ‘Apostles’

 

Selina: ‘Apostles’ is my answer to that question, which is answered by a question back to Alice Walker, poet, writer and activist extraordinaire: ‘Alice, how can a poem possibly revolutionise?’  Then Kepari Lenara, the name of the young woman murdered by mob, appears and fades over the following lines. These visually echoing whispers evoke the power of orality at the heart of poetry.  Poems are meant to sit on the tongue, be spoken and sung, flung into someone’s ears.

One of my favourite lines of all time is by poet and lyricist Rangitunoa Black: ‘A fire burns on the tip of my tongue, I should cry to put it out.’ That’s the power of poetry, that it matters, that it creates fire and movement out into the world.  It’s why the Poet Laureate Matua Tokotoko (parent tokotoko) is so gorgeously poetic. The parents have three detachable sections to them (to enable easy travel!).  It comprises of a mama section (which has a hand written poem by Hone Tuwhare in its belly) and a papa section (which has a grooved tip).  When you rub them together – ahi!  Smoke! Isn’t that what poetry is about?  It’s why I’d love love love to have a flint embedded in my own tokotoko so in performance, I can strike it and create that spark.  A living metaphor.  A heightened engagement with the audience.  An interactive poetry.  That’s the difference poetry can make.   And poetry has made a tangible difference in my life.  Poetry enabled me to articulate my turangawaewae (standing place) at university as nothing else could. Poetry can make a difference.  That’s why I take it out to schools, community halls, corporate boardrooms.  For the difference it can make.

 

Paula:  And you take it to your sons in ‘Warrior Poetry’. It is like a letter coming from the gut, saying this is what I do, but it also feels like an energised song-chant-poem for teenagers, especially boys, who skirt books and poetry.

Putting together a poetry collection, boys

is like the NLR nines

Eden Park, 45,000 packed

you’ve got 90 pages of lines

to work the eclectic crowd

into some kinda synthesis – some kinda wonderful

 

from ‘Warrior Poetry’

 

Poetry does many things in your collection – even act as a little spot of revenge! Ah! the revenge poem.

Selina: Poetry for all occasions right?  You see, often in a difficult, embarrassing, confronting, uncomfortable situations, my first reaction is to smile (my kickboxing trainer used to call me the ‘Smiling Assassin’).  It’s only later when the brilliant retorts, the intellectual one-liners, the sardonic replies, come to the tongue. Or I should write, the pen.  And poems can carry the weight of my anger or angst; they can take the push-pull of my righteousness and ambivalence (at the same time); they can turn a moment of indecision about what just happened or shock at someone’s rudeness or felt gut-disempowerment and re-story it ways that return power to me.  Call it ‘the revenge poem’ or call it ‘the re-storying painful or uncomfortable events poem’, whatever you call it, its at all of our fingertips!

 

My moana blue Mena

My Plantation House shawl

My paua orb

My Niu Ziland drawl

My siva Samoa hands

My blood red lips

My va philosophising

My poetic brown hips

 

from ‘Pussy Cat’

 

Paula: Five poets were Te Mata Estate Poets Laureate, with Bill Manhire (1996) and Hone Tuwhare (1997), the first two. In 2007 the National Library took over the administration and appointment process and selected Michele Leggett as the first New Zealand Poet Laureate. You are the sixth Laureate appointed by the National Library with the change in title.

Looking back across the Laureate blogs and tenures, each Laureate seems to shape the role to fit him or herself, just as the tokotoko is carved by Hauamoana artist, Jacob Scott, to fit the individual. I love the idea that you will shape the role to fit – what matters to you as Poet Laureate?

 

Selina: In 2 weeks I leave for Samoa where I’m judging the Pan-Pacific Tusitala Short Story competition, giving the keynote for the Pacific Arts Association, running two writing workshops, and performing on opening night.  While this was arranged well before becoming Poet Laureate, I am taking the Matua Tokotoko with me and ‘they’ (the parents) will feature.  Usually behind lock and key in a glass case at the National Library in Wellington, I have instinctively known, as a person from the Pacific, the taonga, the national treasure, that I have in my possession.

Polynesians know the mana such taonga possess.  Material objects become taonga as they are passed on and down; as they pick up the stories, histories, and genealogies of those who possess them.  I will have reached my goal of a 1000 pairs of hands touching the Matua Tokotoko in Samoa (I’m currently at 977) since the Award was announced on August 25th.  Everywhere I go people are enthralled with the story of its making – but it’s not really common knowledge.  That’s what I want to do, at least among the diverse communities I engage with.  Most are not aware of what the Poet Laureate is, nor what the tokotoko represents.  Each Laureate has helped increase awareness in their own circles, in their own way.  That’s what I’m doing now.

After visiting Hawkes Bay and finally having a korero with carver Jacob Scott from Matahiwi Marae, we’re really excited about bringing my tokotoko into the world.  This trip to Samoa will also enable my Samoan treasures to be included in its making.  One idea was that I source (that means ‘cut’) some wood from my grandfather’s house in Elise Foe, the original ‘Tusitala’, to include in the carving.  Then when I visit Vailima, Robert Louis Stevenson’s plantation house, I do the same there (with permission from the owners) and source material from the other ‘Tusitala’ to somehow incorporate.  I’d like to bring home a stone from the river my mother used to bathe and play in. I’d like to include some other historical objects.   As poets are wont to do, I will wait for synchronous moments to come – I know these material stories will make themselves known to me.

This is part of a journey and Mike Hurst, along with his film-mate Andrew Chung, and Tim Page are the guerilla film / photo crew capturing formative moments in order to make a lovely documentary – more on that later!

I guess this is a round-about way of also addressing the question: ‘What does it mean to be a Pasifika Poet Laureate?’  It means doing this stuff.  Taking the Laureate-ship along in my Pacific-infused life (we are, after all, in the middle of the Pacific), not just in incidental ways, but in deliberate, epistemologically-informed ways that centre Pacific worldviews, at least, as far as I see and experience them in my life as a Pasifika poet-scholar.

So, as the Poet Laureate, people matter to me, stories matter to me, especially when those stories have existed on the margins of mainstream consumption.  Creativity and freedom matters to me, honoring my own unique poetic voice, and continuing to grow it matters to me.  I have two years to work on these things that matter to me: to continue taking poetry ‘to the people’ and to continue growing poems!

 

We are about to step

on stage at Aotea Centre

in front of a sold-out

crowd of two thousand

I ask

How would you like to walk on –

before me or after me?

You say

Let’s just do this

and take my hand.

We stroll on

side by side

to a standing ovation

your hands become doves

 

from ‘Alice Walker’ in ‘Queens I Have Met’

 

 

Auckland University Press page

Poet Laureate blog

NZ Book Council page

Watch Selina perform ‘Unity’ at Westminster Abbey here

Gina Cole picks ‘In Creative Writing Class’

‘The Dogs of Talimatau’ at The SpinOff

Selina picks Tusiata Avia’s ‘This is a photo of my house’