Wild Dogs and Other Creatures: Tusiata Avia at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival

Chaired by David Eggleton, pp_tusiata_aviaWild Dogs and Other Creatures was a chance to hear poet Tusiata Avia (right) in action. The event began with a lengthy appreciation by Eggleton of Avia’s work so far. He discussed her two previous collections, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt and Blood Clot, and also noted her tendency to portray Samoa as a kind of paradise, but with something festering below. Avia also noted that she is quite an intuitive writer, and Eggleton suggested that in fact her poetry almost reads like a diary, though there was a strong dramatic presence to her poetry which lent itself to the performance of her work.

cv_wild_dogs_under_my_skirtDespite this rather in depth introductory talk from Eggleton, it was clear that the audience was hungry to hear Avia perform her poetry. She first performed four pieces from Wild Dogs, and right from the beginning her experience on stage came through. Three of the four poems were in different voices − two from the voice of a child − and Avia changed her voice, stance and accent to match the different voices, really acting the poems out in a tremendously engaging way. She then read two poems from Blood Clot.

However, for me, the most engaging performances were those of her new poems, which she hoped to have included in a future collection. One of these poems described a woman’s conflicting emotions regarding being raped twenty-five years earlier, and the poem, and Avia’s performance of it, was truly moving. This poem, and one of the earlier poems she read which discussed child abuse, showed Avia’s total lack of fear about confronting difficult issues − in fact, she later said that she felt she had a (self-imposed) role as an artist to bring things to the surface.

Her magnetic performances were cheered and applauded by the audience, and I can only hope that she can return for a future DWRF. It’s also worth noting that she was one of only a very few non-Pakeha/European writers invited to the Festival, and certainly she was the only one to headline her own event. The very warm appreciation of the crowd at Wild Dogs showed, however, that work about Maori and Pasifika people would be welcomed, and quite rightly celebrated.

Event attended and reviewed by Feby Idrus, on behalf of Booksellers NZ 

  • Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (VUP) 9780864734747
  • Bloodclot (VUP) 9780864735935

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