1. In Praise of Hondas & Failures
A diverse cluster of poets read brilliantly in the New Zealand Poetry Sampler. They included Harry Ricketts, Anna Jackson, and Robert Sullivan. Among my favourites were Ricketts’ clever celebration of misadventure, ‘On Failure’. Another was Sullivan’s subtle elegy for a beloved car, amongst other things, ‘Honda Waka’: ‘That Honda has seen a high percentage/ of my poetry./ Now I have left it behind.’
The pavilion’s programme of writer talks was full of such rare collisions. In other sessions I was intrigued by such different voices as Justin Paton, Carl Nixon, and Bronwyn Hayward on the arts in Christchurch after the earthquakes, Elizabeth Knox on her coming novel (wow), Nalini Singh on immortality, and CK Stead on the reflection of Katherine Mansfield’s real genius in the letters and journals.
2. The Scroll & The Kumara
For the Transit of Venus event Hinemoana Baker had read some appealing poems involving UFOs. At the handover ceremony she appeared with novelist Milton Hatoum as the weirdly beautiful guest scroll was handed to next year’s guest of honour, Brazil. It was a moment where four different languages and literary voices—German, Māori, English, and Brazilian-Portugese—bounced alongside and into each other. Another high moment was Bill Manhire’s brilliant opening speech, which featured a dig at a visiting Kiwi politician whose educational background included a seldom-celebrated literary degree, Manhire pretending to presume that this reticence stemmed from the Kiwi reluctance to brag about one’s former achievements: ‘Even the political kumara, it seems, does not boast of its own sweetness.’
For me the New Zealand Text and Culture Marathon at the Weltkulturen Museum offered something different again, the expanded time-slots and intimate atmosphere allowing conversations to go deeper and reveal more. As chair, Harry Ricketts made new inroads along the ‘borderlines’ of poetry by Jenny Bornholdt and Anna Jackson, and my own fiction.
But my personal highlight of the entire week was an address by Tina Makereti that she’d crafted as one of the museum’s resident artists. Addressing a tauihu that had been brought to Europe many decades before and then separated from its story by the World Wars, she took listeners to a place where its presence in a museum so far from home was not as unsettling or saddening as expected, the taonga not lost or neglected but valued in both places, its presence creating a relationship between distant people. This was a moving literary experience. You can read more about it here.
Others to interact with the collection as resident artists included Hamish Clayton, author of the excellent Wulf, Bryce Galloway, creator of the zine Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People, and Heather Galbraith, who with Bryce curated an exhibition of New Zealand zines, including our very own Hue & Cry.
My grateful thanks to the following, who among others helped made this extraordinary experience possible: the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University and the Research Office, Victoria University Press, the Publishers Association of New Zealand, Weltkulturen Museum, and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.