What I've learned about New Zealand/Aotearoa poetic invention (so far)

What I've learned so far about poetic invention in New Zealand/Aotearoa, or rather in the Auckland area of the North Island, since the two separate islands have a lot of separateness between them.

I have learned that the fledgling apparatuses of written poetry by Pacific writers are full of tricky potential. Dialect, certainly, is a mode of experimentation safely sidelined-though-interesting-isn't-it since Robert Burns insisted. Dialect gets at so many troubling aspects of invention: lexical mobility, usage contingency, 'which is to be master,' all that. And dialect use is central to much local invention, here.

I have learned that you can't tell a Pacific writer by his or her color-name. (An obvious lesson, but you wouldn't know that from the way depiction and selection sometimes happens here.) A recent anthology with the (for me) misleading title Niu Voices: contemporary Pacific fiction 1 contains poems as well. The anthology's editor was surprised to hear that 'fiction' isn't necessarily an umbrella category that includes 'poetry'; I was surprised at her surprise, but that is perhaps the subject for a conversation about genre categories. As I was about to say, some of the anthologies' writers are area persons whom I assumed were 'Pakeha,' the term for a Euro (mostly Anglo) Kiwi. Mostly this was a name assumption, on my part.

Kiwi is the term for any New Zealander; though some Maori call themselves Maori rather than Kiwi, and some people distinguish only between Maori and Pakeha, which is problematic since it leaves out the increasing numbers of, say, Asian Kiwis, not to mention the Samoan (pronounced with a long first 'a') and Tongan Kiwis. And others. And so far as Maori go, there are many individual iwi, or tribes, and some people use their iwi names to avoid the conglomerating effects of the single term Maori.

Meanwhile, back at the poetic invention ranch, I am slowly developing a notion of Archipelago Poetics, a conceptual circumstance rather than necessarily a geophysical one. More to come, on that score, at the Global Poetics seminar arranged by Jacob Edmund & just mentioned here by Charles.

I have learned that many writers do try to bridge the gap between Pacific writing inventiveness and a what I suppose could be called an identity-blend inventiveness, associated with often Pakeha or Euro-passing Kiwi experimentalists who blossomed in the 1960s, or as a result of the 1960s, and got more radical still when American Language poetry provided yet more permissions. On the Pakeha side, Murray Edmond edits a new online critical poetics journal, Ka Mate Ka Ora, that depends from the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz), established by Michele Leggott on the model of Buffalo's EPC. Ka Mate Ka Ora loosely translates as 'to be or not to be', without the suicidal implications, but with murderous ones (Robert Sullivan explains the history of the term in the journal's first issue). This new magazine provides a good example of that effort to blend Pacifica invention with more occidentally-based invention, this time in a critical context.

From the Pacifica/Pasifika side, as one example, there is Albert Wendt and his 2002 book The Book of the Black Star (Auckland University Press, which under Elizabeth Caffin has been a boon to New Zealand poetry for many years). This oversized black and white paperback looks like a hard-ink, deeply etched and etched-over version of Bob Brown, or more like Bob Grenier's Transpiration/transpiring with heavier inks and more drawing. Wendt mixes intense inks and circular, spiral, furry, solar drawing in and through the strong words. Samoan 'Le fetu uliuli' mixes with 'blue vocabulary of exploration' mixes with Close Encounters of the Third Kind 'As dawn dances across Ponsonby,' a fashionable Auckland inburb (my term for living areas so close to urb that they really can't be called sub). Wendt is a Samoan New Zealander, now living in Hawai'i. He seems to be a gruff counterpart to the much-loved Hone Tuwhare (pronounced 'tufalay', with the accent on the second syllable), another example of Pacifica invention.

Tuwhare's much-published and much-revered poetry surprised me because it can be seen to index the extent to which the literate population is fairly invention-ready, when it comes to poetry. Sure, there are poems of his that are simple observations - but the same can be said of, say, David Bromige's sweet moments, for all his experimental pedigree. I see this invention-readiness in my students, in these first few months of being in this land.


Ton van 't Hof said...

Thanks, Lisa - Hone Tuwhare was new to me: http://www.honetuwhare.co.nz/

Anonymous said...

Actually it wasnt the editor who added 'fiction' to the title. It was me.

And as for name assumption, bit of a non-issue I think. What makes you think the names don't have any Pacifica to them just because they sound European.

Lisa Samuels said...

My apologies if my message was unclear. I was trying to say that I was learning that Anglo/Euro sounding names DO often belong to those who have Pacifica ties as well.

Nor did I indicate that it was the editor who added 'fiction' to the title. Rather I wrote that I was interested in her genre thinking in this regard.

Best wishes, Lisa

Jacob Edmond said...

The term "Kiwi" isn't neutral, but often connotes a "melting-pot" ideology that ignores the history of Anglo-European repression of Maori and the theft of their land. The term "Pakeha" can be associated with a particular ideology that would claim a privileged relationship to the land for European New Zealanders, but equally could be taken as an inclusive term to refer to all “tau iwi,” non-Maori peoples residing in Aotearoa/NZ.
As I understand it, "Tuwhare" (like most—but not all—words in Maori) is stressed on the first syllable, pronounced “TUfare” using, very roughly, European open vowels, i.e. TOOfahreh. The r is softly rolled (a flip of the tongue rather than a full roll) so may sound like its close cousin l.