‘A foot between two whenua’: Morgan Godfery Interviews Hana Pera Aoake

By and | 1 August 2021

MG: One thing I like about Compound Press, your publisher, is that with an independent press you get more control over the book than you otherwise would. Can you tell us the ways that you exercised control over the book?

HPA: I am mostly a visual artist, so I saw publishing a book as making an object. I really wanted it to feel nice, as in how it felt in your hands, so the paper stock had to have a certain texture and the design had to make sense. Chris from Compound Press makes beautiful books by hand and uses recycled paper, which really appealed to me to work with him, because I knew it would be special. I mostly really wanted to use some fonts by the Samoan-New Zealand designer Joseph Churchward, especially Churchward Maaori. So, Chris bought and used it and also Churchward newsprint. I wasn’t going to have images but Chris really liked the embroideries I was making, so suggested adding them and I’m glad we did. I also made a bunch of bookmarks. It just came together and I’m grateful to him and that I worked with an independent publisher, who loves books more than anyone else I’ve ever met.

MG: The last question. How did you go about picking what essays and poems went into the book?

That took a while. I basically sent my publisher all of the writing I liked and we edited a few collections together. I think he wanted to put in a few older pieces, but I felt stronger about newer writing I had done and also wanted to write two new essays, which became ‘The only way out is through’ and ‘We were like stones, like weeds in the road’. The latter was written for Chris, which was really me trying to articulate how much my politics had shifted after having to move back to Aotearoa during the literal plague and how being in a country like Portugal had caused a big radical change in my thinking. In Lisbon, I was studying and every week we essentially looked at this idea of the apocalypse, from a very western, clinical perspective. It felt strange because when you are living in a city like Lisbon where inequality, precarity and desperation is so enshrined it’s hard not to think in this very ‘end of the world’ mentality, even before COVID-19. It’s a place so weighed down by the density and trauma of its past, that it struggles to find a clear path towards the future.

2020 was a difficult and horrendous year for almost everyone on the planet. Australia was on fire and causing our glaciers to turn brown. It was a weird time trying to put together a book, so I re-read a lot of work by the Jewish-German philosophers Günther Anders and Hannah Arendt to keep me relatively sane. I kept going back to these lines by Anders in his Theses for an Atomic age, where he says ‘Therefore don’t fear fear, have the courage to be frightened’. He goes on to talk about having a ‘… loving fear, not fear of the danger ahead, but for the generations to come.’ I’m still holding on to these words, especially now that I’m pregnant and afraid for the future this baby will encounter. I think it would be naïve not to be.

When we were putting this book together, I started to realise in a very concrete way how interconnected so many struggles were, for instance the global catastrophe of mass incarceration and how this affects marginalised people everywhere. I wanted to write about these complexities, but wanted it to be grounded in Te ao Maaori, because I think the most beautiful part of being Maaori is our fluidity and ability to never be static, but to always be growing and learning. Despite how fucked the world is we can always centre back to this ancient body of knowledge or matauranga and feel grounded. I hope that in a small way this book achieved some of what I was trying to illuminate.

MG: Thank you, Hana. Before we finish let me mihi to you as well, obviously you’re my partner but I want to mihi to you as a writer first. I was always a fan of your work, its insights, its urgency, its provocations, and also its beauty and power. I knew as a writer first. I’ll see you later today.

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