Tara Black recorded this at the Manawatu Writers’ Festival this past weekend. Copyright Tara Black, all rights reserved.
This was one of the warmest, most welcoming, and most inspirational sessions of WORD Christchurch 2018. To Hana O’Regan (Kāti Rakiāmoa, Kāti Ruahikihiki, Kāi Tūāhuriri, Kāti Waewae), Hemi Kelly (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Whāoa), Miriama Kamo (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāi Tahu) and Jeanette King – ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.
King, a Pākehā scholar of bilingualism, chaired the session. O’Regan, one of the leadership team at Te Rūnunga o Ngāi Tahu and an internationally recognised reo expert, said she’s excited that te reo Māori seems to be having a cultural moment: ‘We need that passion.’ Kelly, a translator and AUT lecturer, said there’s a massive growth in people wanting to learn te reo, which he attributes to the fruition of initiatives put in place 30 or 40 years ago. Well-known journalist and broadcaster Kamo said she’s pleased to see all the goodwill, but cautioned that te reo ‘has gone from severely endangered to endangered’. She would love to see Aotearoa’s history taught in schools, not so we can feel guilt but so we can all understand together.
O’Regan spoke about the benefits of learning te reo Māori. ‘You enhance the cognitive ability of your child if you raise them in two languages.’ We need to get over the propaganda that te reo won’t help you get a job, travel overseas, etc. ‘The world has been opened up to me because of my language and my work within it.’ Kamo agreed, saying that jobs are changing, and that if you have te reo you’ll have job security, since NZ employers are increasingly requiring it, particularly in the public sector. ‘The world will change around you but you’ll be okay.’
King articulated a nervousness that a lot of Pākehā feel, that by trying a bit of te reo you’re being tokenistic and racist – particularly if you trip up and get it wrong. The panel all said this was not so. Kamo said ‘I love to hear people trying.’ Kelly said that te reo is our language for all New Zealanders, and O’Regan added: ‘Learning the language is a sign of respect. It’s not tokenistic or belittling – quite the opposite!’ The next generation will benefit from us now trying and pitching in, and having their language upheld and reflected back to them. ‘Go grab all your relations, and get them all doing it!’
O’Regan admitted that, even with all the excellent reo resources we have these days, it can still be hard to find places and spaces to practise your reo. I myself am learning te reo Māori and am in that very awkward phase of sort of being able to string a phrase or two together but not being confident enough to attempt actual conversation with other humans. So I would like to issue a general invitation now to everyone reading – please come and join me in my Awkward Reo Club, either online or if you see me in Pōneke. I recommend the following:
- This post on The Spinoff listing free and cheap reo classes around the country
- Ask your employer to provide reo Māori classes as professional development – if you’re in Pōneke I highly recommend Kūwaha Ltd
- The bilingual podcast Taringa (which has probably the best intro music of any podcast ever)
- Te Aka Māori dictionary (free online http://maoridictionary.co.nz/ or a few dollars for the app)
- The Facebook group Starting in Te Reo Māori
- Make your shopping list bilingual – I did this using Te Aka and my copy of Māori at Home by Scotty and Stacey Morrison. My fave so far is wīti-pīki (weetbix)
I was particularly heartened to hear Kamo say ‘I’ve been on a lifelong stop-start journey with my reo’, and that it’s fine to not be that great at it, especially right away. I went straight out and bought Kelly’s book A Māori Word A Day and got him to sign it for me. I am delighted to discover that the first word is āe (yes) and the second is aihikirīmi (ice cream). Nau mai, haere mai!
Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage
Before this session about Brexit started, a strange and annoying man in a purple top hat came and started talking to me. As the session began, he started shouting “boo!” and telling me what to type. The woman next to me told him to go away (kia ora Charlotte!). He slunk off, muttering something about free speech (his not mine).
David Slack did a good job of chairing this popular session: British Muslim author Ed Husain and Scottish crime writer Denise Mina, both lively participants with a lot to say. They weren’t the only ones – boy did we, the audience, have reckons. Sometimes when question time comes round the chair has to coax the first question out of us. But here as soon as the lights went up so did at least a dozen impatient hands.
Husain, a former Islamic radicalist who has also worked as an advisor for Tony Blair, told us he was optimistic about the post-Brexit world, reminding us about the positive effects of Henry VIII’s break with Europe to create the Church of England. He spoke reverently of British democracy with a fervour that bordered on the un-English, pointing out repeatedly that it was more important to honour the democratic process than to remain in the EU.
As well as being NZ-born Pākehā I am also British – specifically, I am English. I remember when I learned about Brexit. It was very upsetting – I put my cup of tea down so suddenly it probably almost spilled. Good heavens, I may have stated aloud. What the gosh-darned heck do you fellows think you’re up to. I turn my back for five minutes and you leave the EU! And after the London 2012 Olympics went so well. Someone hold my crumpet.
Like, I suspect, most of the audience, I took Brexit personally. If you’ve been following the Brexit news at all, the ground covered by Husain and Mina was pretty familiar. But I was struck by Mina’s characterisation of Brexit as a ‘big baggy bundle of grievances’; lots of personal annoyances and affronts wound up by scaremongers and misinformation into a spasm of protest that was against a lot of things without being for much in particular. ‘People were looking for some sort of social rupture to make them feel alive.’
Mina also made the interesting point that the UK still needs migrant workers in the care sector, and since they can’t come from Europe as easily they’ll instead be coming from Africa. Because care work is so intimate, it will hopefully lead to more people of different ethnicities becoming friendly. Mina sees this as a potential challenge to the racism that has become more open and violent since Brexit: ‘I’m quite excited by that’. She also pointed out that, since the EU is essentially neoliberal, leaving will mean that Britain can have more control over its labour models, amongst other things.
I had to duck out a few minutes early to dash to the FAFSWAG Vogue workshop, but my spies tell me that the purple-hatted chap returned to angrily disrupt the end of question time. He was irritating and rude, but it was an apt reminder that, in this crazy thing we call a democracy, his vote counts just as much as mine. Voilá: Brexit.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage
Maybe it was because this event came directly after the divine Sonya Renee Taylor – a truly impossible act to follow – but this session did not live up to my expectations.
Karen Healey was interviewing Ted Chiang, a celebrated Chinese-American science fiction author whose short story “Story of Your Life” was turned into the excellent film Arrival. Healey is a lively and intelligent stage presence and she did her best, but Chiang was immovably ponderous.
Chiang spoke about how most people’s perceptions of science fiction are formed through Hollywood movies, which are stories of good vs evil that generally end with the status quo being maintained – thus making it very easy to create endless sequels. Real science fiction, though, specialises in a different type of story: the world starts out as familiar, then something changes and the world becomes unfamiliar, never to return to its previous state. His favourite film is The Matrix, because by the end, the world is radically different. (He doesn’t like the sequels though. Fair call.)
Chiang said he is primarily interested in philosophical questions and thought experiments – and he did indeed come across as very academic. His vocal delivery was slow and tending to the monotonous, with pauses after most words. We spent a lot of time in silence waiting for him to say his next phrase. Healey asked Chiang whether religion – a common theme in his work – has any personal relevance for him. The answer was ‘no’.
I must also give Healey credit for the excellent way she dealt with a particularly troublesome audience question. You know the type: an older man, first to the mic, with a rambling question-that’s-more-of-a-comment. He seemed to be ramping up to some sort of climate change denial rant, but Healey cut him off in a way that was direct and effective but still civil. Ka rawe koe!
To be honest I would have left if I hadn’t been reviewing – but never mind. I needed some quiet time in between the loud and glorious The Body Is Not An Apology and the high-energy Adventurous Women. Onwards!
Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage
The Body is not an Apology is available in bookshops nationwide.
Seeing a fat woman on stage talking about how beautiful she is feels drastic – decadent – almost illegal. Experiencing Sonya Renee Taylor being genuinely not just okay with her fat body but loving it was a shock and an enlightenment. There’s another way. Body shame is neither natural nor compulsory. There’s another way. HOLY COW. At one point she joked ‘I’m not Jesus’, but I have to tell you, I’m not sure that’s true.
Taylor is a queer fat black American performance poet and businesswoman who’s residing in Aotearoa for a few years as part of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. She is the creator and leader of The Body Is Not An Apology movement, which preaches radical self love. This session was programmed and chaired by Tusiata Avia, who opened by inviting us to feel the mana whenua under our beautiful bodies. Soon we were also feeling the aroha as we basked in Taylor’s and Avia’s combined presences.
Radical self love is related to body positivity and fat acceptance but has a wider remit and greater ambition. Taylor says that her goal is nothing less than to entirely dismantle the oppressive systems that tell us that some bodies are better than others: racism, ableism, transphobia, fatphobia, and so on. Radical self love starts by looking inwards – ‘We cannot create externally what we have not created internally’ – but is expansive and contagious. Unlike self-confidence, which is fleeting and individualistic, radical self love means that ‘I never doubt my inherent enoughness even when I’m not feeling pretty’. Radical self love is solid even when everything on top of it is shaking.
Taylor said that there is no such thing as a toddler with body shame: we are born ‘magnificent and full of wonder’. (Later on, British poet Hollie McNish would make the same point.) The shame we seem to all end up feeling is learned and comes from what Taylor calls the ‘body terrorism’ of the global body shame profit complex: everything from the diet and beauty industries to pat-downs in airports.
One of the hierarchical systems Taylor wants to destroy is the widespread belief that ‘healthy’ bodies are better than ‘unhealthy’ ones: ‘Health is not a state we owe the world.’ And in the meantime, while most medical institutions are operating on the mistaken assumption that being fat is inherently unhealthy, ‘fatphobia is killing people’.
Taylor is an extraordinary stage presence. She is loud in the very best sense of the word: confident, generous, and captivating. As with Comfortable In Your Skin (which Taylor was also a part of), it felt like one of those magical festival events where exactly the right people had found themselves at exactly the right event. We were a responsive audience, often clapping, clicking, murmuring agreement – even crying a little. We ran over time because Taylor and Avia both shared with us their poems: Taylor’s ‘The Body Is Not An Apology’ and Avia’s ‘Apology’, both on the same theme. We clapped and clapped and clapped, and then all rushed out to buy Taylor’s book and get her to sign it for us. Taylor has given us the gift of an alternative path, and I could feel her words go right to the heart of me. Ngā mihi nui e te rangatira.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage
The Body is not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love
by Sonya Renee Taylor
Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers
‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ Martin Mull’s quote gave this session its subtitle, and described how difficult the task set to the four speakers was: to present new writing on the music that has provided the soundtrack to their life’s work, or just to their life. Immediately each writer was given an almost impossible task, as host Kiran Dass sympathised, that being, who and what to write about? Over the course of Soundtrack it became evident that music is integral to the lives of these four writers.
Nic Low shares the chaotic music that was the soundtrack to writing his first, terrible (his judgement) novel for two months. He lost his ability to speak. pic.twitter.com/hv0PKynGIN
— WORD Christchurch (@WORDChCh) September 1, 2018
Nic Low talked about growing up in a musical family, his claim to fame as a baby being ‘the ability to sleep through drum solos.’Low’s contribution to today’s soundtrack were the two CDs he took with him on the Avoca Residency in 2007. One was
electronic/dubstep compilation Tectonic Plates Volume 2, disc 2. The other, American jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp’s Soul Song. Low would play these two CDs, and only these two CDs, on repeat as he wrote his first novel. ‘It’s never been published and it will never be published.’ Low’s attempt to get out of his head and channel the “wild energy” of the music was perhaps a little too successful. ‘On the plus side, listening to two albums on rotation I got a real consistency of tone, and on the downside, I got a real consistency of tone.’
Chris Tse’s addition to the soundtrack lightened the tone, and gave us some pure pop joy. Though as we heard from Tse, it turns out pop isn’t all just sugar sweet, but contains some spice when you scratch below the surface. Tse spoke of how Kylie Minogue’s 1998 album Impossible Princess was the beginning of what is sure to be a lifelong love affair with the Pop Princess. Tse presented a solid case in favour of Minogue, talking about her versatility and ability to reinvent herself. Tse says this discovery of Minogue’s music while in high school ‘Put me on the path to accepting who I am.’
Pip Adam wrote about The Front Lawn’s ‘national anthem of loss,’ Andy. Before reading her essay the song was played in its entirety to a silent, attentive, and traumatised theatre. As Adam wrote of the song, ‘It’s not just sad – it’s innocence visited by tragedy.’ She spoke of her research into the song, an autobiographical work by band member Don McGlashan. Adam wanted to know why not just the lyrics, with their ‘genius of the late casual reveal,’ but the music, sounds so sad. This is the genius that Adam has to offer; the ability to take things to the next level, to never stop enquiring ‘why?’ And then to take her learnings and use them in her own work, comparing the rhythm of the song and its protagonist’s beach walking to swimming scenes in her latest novel, The New Animals.
Philip Hoare read a piece on profound loss and grief. It was a journey of discovery for those of us listening, as the more Hoare read the closer we came to figuring out the identity of his musical subject. Hoare never spoke of David Bowie by name, only ever referring to him as He, with what sounded like a capital H. Hoare’s piece drove home just how affected we become by the artists we love. We claim them as our own, and develop close personal relationships with them through their music. Of the last time Hoare saw Bowie live he writes ‘I didn’t know I was saying goodbye.’ Hoare goes to see Bowie’s Pierrot the Clown costume, only to find it ‘hollow like the shell that a butterfly leaves behind.’
Hoare explained how ‘great artists…give you so much more than music, they give you culture.’ All of the writers’ pieces today spoke to this. Their essays were not just about music, but on the transformative power great music can have.
Reviewed by Gem Wilder
As elsewhere this weekend the political is explored as the personal and the ways in which we make sense of the world and seek to make it better were explored by Julie Hill in conversation with Brannavan Gnanalingam, Pip Adam and Rajorshi Chakraborti.
I left the sessions on Alt America and The House of Islam with nagging questions about the ways that the politics of the world and the fictions of fascist and radical propaganda are impacting on individuals, and the way that personal fear is driving people towards destructive ideologies. I’ll not go so far as to say I found the answer to all those questions in this session, but the work of the authors here felt like a powerful example of the way that humanity can respond with empathy and thoughtful care, even in the face of terror and misinformation.
There was an echo of the discussion between Kate De Goldi and Charlotte Grimshaw in I and I and I here of the exploration of the ideas of truth and self in Grimshaw’s Mazarine, which looked at the microcosm of the family, truthfulness, communication and power, alongside the macrocosm of the world of “fake news” and a rising tide of facism.
Grimshaw discussed the experience of growing up with a father who wrote, and seeing the events of their lives fictionalised over and over again, and through her protagonist (an author herself) raises the question of where the self resides and whether and how we exist. Grimshaw discussed how her personal creative process is anything but introspective, that she writes almost as if the stories are being told to her by aliens, though De Goldi’s responses showed the degree to which her work does inspire introspection, investigation and reflection in the reader on the existential matters at hand.
Rajorshi Chakraborti spoke of his interest in writing stories of the ‘existentially incompetent’ – Grimshaw’s work seems to move towards further layers of abstraction in terms of existence, while Chakraborti, Gnanalingam and Adam all spoke in their own way of using their fiction and indeed the political act of living day-to-day to take people who suffer disenfranchisement and oppression from the abstract and into the consciousness of those who engage with them. If fascism and extremism arrive out of the dehumanisation of Others, there was a sense in The Politics of Fiction of the way that we can tell stories and live our lives in a way that reminds us of each individual’s humanity and how precious that is.
Reviewed by Brett Johansen