NZ 6-Seater: A Chapbook Curated by Ian Wedde

By | 1 February 2013


Floating Ribs by Selina Tusitala Marsh
Flood Monologue by Anne Kennedy
experiments (our life together) by Michele Leggott
Conversation with My Uncle by Murray Edmond
from ‘High Lonesome by John Newton
I Spilled My Story by Sam Sampson

Invited by Kent MacCarter to convene a 6-seater of local poets from this neck of the Pacific woods – New Zealand – I faced the usual short list of questions we all try to avoid answering:

1. What do you mean, ‘local’?
2. What do you mean, ‘Pacific’?
3. Can I invite my friends?

I live in Auckland again having left in 1969 when I graduated from Auckland University. I like the place – Auckland, I mean. It feels like home. When Donna, my partner, and I came up from Wellington to scout for somewhere to live in the blistering summer of 2010, we stopped for a cold beer at a popular bar called Chapel on Ponsonby Road, took a sip, and felt, ‘Yep.’ Later, I had a swim at a little bay near where we live now, and looked across the warm, murky Waitemata at the pink Chelsea Sugar Refinery. I’d relocated.

Chelsea Sugar Refinery

Chelsea Sugar Refinery | image by Ian Wedde

When I catch the green Link bus to the university where I’m currently working for a couple of years, I usually walk part of the way through Albert Park. At the time the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in the Bay of Islands north of here in 1840, Albert was married to Queen Victoria. My father had the same name. One day when I walked through it, Albert Park was filled with Asian students in gorgeous graduation silks. Their parents had given them big bouquets of flowers. Over at the Student Union, Pacific Island fafafine entertainers from K Road were belting out show numbers in front of a short brass section. One of my students was an intense Russian guy. When asked to write a brief text about something someone close to him believed in passionately, he submitted a lengthy deadpan piece about Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of heteroglossia and the carnivalesque. I asked him if he considered Bakhtin to be ‘close’ to him. ‘I live in the Pacific,’ he said, in his special flat way.

I don’t know everyone in New Zealand who writes poetry, but I know many of them. I know the six poets I’ve invited to contribute to this chapbook and count them among my friends. One, Selina Tusitala Marsh, is a Pacific Island woman; she describes herself as being of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish, and French descent, which is pretty post-subaltern Pacific. Her famous book Fast Talking PI (2009) has an apt title. She’s a kick-boxer as well as a Professor at Auckland University, and she recently represented Tuvalu at the Poetry Olympics in London – in poetry not kick-boxing. Marsh’s live poetry performances are something else – and you can hear the kick-on of Pacific hip-hop inside her Thai kick-boxing manual ‘Floating Ribs’.

Anne Kennedy lives part time in Auckland, and the rest in Hawai’i where she teaches writing at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. It’s hardly a secret that she’s a screenwriter as well as a poet – one day I hope she’ll revisit the Bounty story, one of the great Pacific narratives. It’s never had the kind of quick pass scenographic precision Kennedy brings to her writing, though everyone loves the floppy 1962 version with Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian. She’d get some air in the old thing’s sails, and it wouldn’t matter if she wrote a long poem or a screenplay. What’s more, Kennedy would think about the viewpoint ‘from the beach’.

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