I probably would have skipped this session if I hadn't been rostered on as an usher. I find myself suspicious of political poetry, in New Zealand, at least. Perhaps it's because I feel we are a little removed from the world's most burning issues, which means that political poetry can become a philosphical rant.
"If you are interested in ideas, you are a philosopher, and if you are interested in language, you are a poet" I was once told. How do you successfully encompass both?
There were six poets on the panel for this session. Four of them were young (or youngish) women of at least part Maori or Polynesian descent. Two were older white males. The focus was on a new anthology, Kaupapa: New Zealand Poets, World Issues. I haven't read the book, but reviews I have seen suggested that the contents were rather uneven - perhaps for the reasons I suggest above.
The four women were somewhat of a revelation to me. Their poems tended to focus on issues of language and identity. I hope I have done them justice because I don't have the book and didn't take notes. One of them, Hinemoana Baker, also read work by two other poets from the book. I'm not sure if "read" is the best word to use for these young women as their readings tended more towards a complete performance than most of the poets in the festival. Tusiata Avia adopted a variety of voices for her poems which included topics such as prostitution and New Zealand's apology to Samoa as delivered by our Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Karlo Mila's poems on the funeral of the King of Tonga and subsequent riots were enhanced by an accompanying slide show
presentation which I found very moving. I'm considering adding some of her published work, which comes with lush illustrations, to my poetry collection.
Hana O'Regan read in English, but her poems were originally written in Maori. Although she read with great passion, I was less impressed by these than by the poems of the other three women. I suspect that they would have been more successful in the original Maori and that they had lost something in translation.
Of the two men, I don't have much to say about Jeffrey Paparoa Holman - I think that I would need to study the text of his poems to fully appreciate them. It was easier to recall James Norcliffe's reading as I have read some of the poems that he read before. His work is more detached and philosophical than that of the women, with a touch of wit. Enjoyable but less passionate.
All in all a very worthwhile session. What interests me is that not only did we have a concentration of Maori/Polynesian writers in one session, but that these are writers we don't generally hear very much of in Christchurch - although Tusiata at least has read here on a number of occasions. It would be good not to have to lean on the "political" label before getting a chance to hear some of them again.