WORD Christchurch: Soundtrack Or, Dancing About Architecture

WORD Christchurch: Soundtrack, or Dancing about Architecture

‘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 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.’

Soundtrack.jpgChris 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

WORD Christchurch: Manly As, with Dominic Hoey, Omar Musa and Chris Tse

What does it mean to be ‘manly as’? Jarrod Gilbert led Dominic Hoey, Omar Musa, and Chris Tse in a discussion on masculinity and their work, trying to unpick this tricky question. As we discovered, it’s not a question that’s easily answered. But a great conversation was had, and it left the audience with a lot to think about.

Courtesy of the WORD Chch twitter stream

An audience member at the end of this session suggested that perhaps rather than talking about masculinity in the singular, we need to think of masculinities. Of multiple ways of being. The three panelists were a great example of this, each displaying his own concept of masculinity, and each exploring masculinity in different ways in their work and in their lives.

Australian Omar Musa did a great job reminding us that intersectionality isn’t a word that is restricted to feminism, as it was coined for. He brought into discussion things such as race, religion, class, and economics. He spoke thoughtfully about a broad spectrum of topics, coming out with such comments as: ‘Something like gangster rap comes from Reagan era, Reaganomics…that’s not to excuse misogyny against women, but it doesn’t come from nowhere.’ And: ‘I’m asian australian but I’m also muslim australian. Asian men were almost desexualised in Australia. [My choice was] between being asexual or violently sexual.’

Auckland poet, writer and musician Dominic Hoey complimented Musa’s sentiments well. When asked whether he feels positive about masculinity in 2018 Hoey answered: ‘At least these conversations are happening and people are talking about feminism, but it’s hard under capitalism, someone’s always gonna be at the bottom.’ Hoey does a lot of work with youth in Auckland, and his challenge with boys and young men is “trying to explain to them how patriarchy is fucking them as well.” In his debut novel Iceland, Hoey has written a main character who is hypermasculine and violent. This was a deliberate act. ‘I wanted to show how he came to that point.’

Image from Chris Tse’s twitter

Wellington poet Chris Tse, resplendent in a floral romper, talked a lot about masculinity in the gay community. ‘What’s held up as the gold standard of masculinity in the gay community is a super buff white man.’

On discussions like Manly As? Tse comments ‘I think we are naive to think there’s a point, a nirvana, where none of this matters any more.’ A realist, Tse hopes for things to be at least ‘a little bit less shit.’ He sees his latest collection, He’s So MASC, as a contribution towards this goal: ‘Writing this book and just being who I am is hopefully helping other people.’

Manly As? showed that we cannot afford to keep our heads in the sand on these topics. As Musa said, ‘These things – masculinity, femininity, testosterone – they affect our lives whether we like it or not.’ Toxic masculinity and the patriarchy does very real harm to our societies, our communities. When asked by Gilbert what the goal is, Musa responded, to applause, ‘I’d just like to live in an Australia where two women a week don’t die at the hands of men.’

Reviewed by Gem Wilder

WORD Christchurch: Black Marks on the White Page: A Roundtable

Black Marks on the White Page: A Roundtable

One of the great things about festivals like WORD is that you not only get to hear from your favourite writers, you sometimes also get to sit in discussion with them, to learn from them in workshops and masterclasses. The Black Marks on the White Page roundtable was a session like this, a chance to hear from the experienced contributors to the book, but also to sit in conversation with other Māori and Pasifika writers.

Co-editor of the anthology, Tina Makereti, introduced the session as a talanoa. I am going to borrow from BMOTWP contributor Jione Havea to describe talanoa: ‘For the sake of ones who do not understand the lingo, ‘talanoa’ is a word used in several (but not all) Pasifika languages; it refers to the (three in one) triad of story, telling and conversation.’ This roundtable session definitely lived up to this definition of talanoa.

First up: story. We heard from Makereti, Nic Low, Paula Morris and Victor Rodger. Each discussed their thoughts on Black Marks on the White Page and what it meant to contribute to it. Makereti talked about the process of collaborating with co-editor Witi Ihimaera, who she described as having ‘big visions.’ Morris describes the anthology as ‘subversive.’ She says of the book, and its impact ‘We’re reshaping the Pacific.’

Rodger carried on with this train of thought: ‘Spectrum is a word I use a lot of. For a lot of people it means quite a narrow thing, but for me there’s a huge spectrum [of Pasifika experience].’ Low expanded on this, explaining that what has been expected of people generationally being put in the box of ‘Maori writer’ or ‘Pasifika writer’ has been restrictive. ‘We have global perspectives. The boxes that we’ve all been put in are totally artificial.’

Low and Rodger then read excerpts from their pieces in the anthology, both captivating and amusing tales, subversive and witty.

Telling. The second part of the roundtable session consisted of three short writing exercises. Low’s was to do with the context of our writing. He described it as ‘useful for honing in on your subject matter,’ which it really was. Rodger’s exercise was plot focused, and Morris focused on characters. With these three short exercises under our belts we came out more equipped and enthusiastic to get stuck into our own writing projects.

Conversation. After working through the exercises the talanoa moved on to more open conversation, the asking of questions and the sharing of ideas. As is typical of many talanoa, the session carried on well past it’s scheduled time slot. Long may these talanoa continue, and carry on throughout our communities.

Reviewed by Gem Wilder

Nic Low will be part of Nerd Degree on Sunday
Paula Morris is in Mortification at 5.30pm Saturday
Paula Morris introduces Go YA at 11.30am Sunday

 

WORD Christchurch: Starry, Starry Night

WORD Christchurch: Starry, Starry Night

‘What a nice guy!’ Poet Hollie McNish exclaimed of host John Campbell as she took the stage. Campbell was in his usual fine form, gushing over each of the gala night’s participants, generating excitement for who and what we were about to see. He picked up the festival’s theme of adventure, and wove together his introduction, equally generous in his praise of each of the seven storytellers, poets, writers, activists, and filmmakers.

Starry-Night

First to take the stage was Joseph Hullen, a Ngāi Tahu storyteller. Hullen was a perfect choice to ground the proceedings, a local who talked of the increased visibility of his iwi and their story in post-quake Ōtautahi.

Next up was Scottish poet Robin Robertson, who read grim poems that captivated the audience. Robertson has been blessed with the kind of voice you could easily listen to for hours, slow and deep, with just the right amount of gravel. He dedicated his final poem to programme director Rachael King, who has brought all of these seemingly discordant writers to her city and bound them together in the epic event that is WORD.

Documentary filmmaker and author Yaba Badoe (Ghana/UK) read the first chapter of her book A Jigssaw of Fire and Stars. The story told of haunting dreams, of a perilous sea journey that ended in destruction, of hope lost, and histories that replay over and over, demanding to be heard.

Hollie McNish announced she was going to read two poems about the most adventurous person she knows – her daughter. They were poems full of love, fear, anger and hope. She then read her poem ‘Polite’ as mentioned by Campbell in his introduction, a hilarious yet poignant tale about a teenager giving her boyfriend a blow job.

Wellington novelist by way of India via Canada, Rajorshi Chakraborti, talked of his latest book, The Man Who Would Not See. He told the tale of researching the personal family story that was the basis for the book. Intended as a work of non-fiction, Chakraborti’s investigations changed the course of his family’s story, meaning he had to switch forms and instead write a novel.

Following Chakraborti, UK author Philip Hoare read two short sections from RisingTideFallingStar. The first told a tale of rotting deer carcass, brutal in its descriptions of the natural world, but switching into fantasy at the end. Then came a piece about a performance of breeching whales, and the audience felt we were right there on the boat, marvelling at the sight.

Sonya Renee Taylor (USA) was a powerful end to the evening’s proceedings. She read a section from her book The Body is Not an Apology, then performed two poems. The first, about her mother, was heartfelt and emotional, leaving more than a few audience members teary eyed. The second, a rousing, powerful, and unapologetic rendition of the piece her book is named for, filled the Isaac Theatre Royal with her presence. It demanded attention, and lifted everyone’s spirits.

John Campbell then retook the stage to remind the audience that what we had seen that night was uniquely special. ‘We go to so many events,’ led Campbell, ‘where we watch the same thing. I’ve watched so many rugby games and seen the Crusaders beat the Hurricanes over and over again.’ Appealing to hometown hearts is always a winner. ‘But what we’ve seen tonight,’ he continued, ‘will never happen again. These seven artists will never again share a stage. They will never again be in a room together. And that’s special.’ And indeed, it was.

Reviewed by Gem Wilder

Other times you can see some of these folks:
Mortification (Robin Robertson – Saturday, 5.30pm)
Hollie McNish and Hera Lindsay Bird: Poetry Stars
Te Ao Hou: Weaving indigenous identity back into Ōtautahi (Joseph Hullen, 2pm Sunday)
The Politics of Fiction (today, 4pm – Rajorshi Chakraborti)
Soundtrack, or, dancing about Architecture (Sunday, 11.30am with Philip Hoare)
Robin Robertson: The Long Take (Sunday, 2.45pm)
The Freedom Papers ( Yaba Badoe – Sunday, 2pm)

WORD Christchurch: Fast Burning Women – Selina Tusitala Marsh and Tusiata Avia

Fast Burning Women
featuring Selina Tusitala Marsh and Tusiata Avia

Selina Tusitala Marsh’s list of accomplishments needs a fair amount of time allocated to it’s recitation. Marsh is no layabout, and as her friend Tusiata Avia says after introducing her, ‘That CV is from earlier this year so you probably have to add about ten more things to it.’ tusiata selina.JPG

The focus of this session was on the juggling required of a woman in Selina’s position: Poet Laureate, lecturer and researcher, mother, runner, Writers in Schools ambassador, traveller, friend, wife, aunty….the list goes on. How does one keep so many plates spinning? How to stay a multi-tasking fast-burning woman without becoming a burnt out woman?

The pairing of Avia and Marsh meant we got a personal insight into just how Marsh is able to keep going. The two are friends, very similar in lifestyles and values, perfectionists who push themselves hard. Their closeness was evident in the easy manner in which they joked with each other, while championing and advocating for each other at the same time.

Avia opened up about her own story of burn out that saw her bedridden for 18 months. Incredibly, on the days she was able to get out of bed, she would still force herself to work. It wasn’t until the exhaustion started affecting her mentally and emotionally that she started turning down work. But how does someone get to this stage? A statement by Jesse Jackson that resonated with Marsh goes some way to explaining: ‘If you want to succeed as a person of colour you have to be excellent all the time.’ Avia points out that women of colour need to be doubly excellent.

And so how does Marsh not burn out? What tools and tips does she have for those of us who feel the mother guilt, who battle perfectionism, who are working under the weight of the communities we represent? Who does she look to for inspiration? Her answer came in the form of Oprah Winfrey’s book What I Know For Sure. As Marsh read it she realised what was missing from her own life, in comparison to Oprah, was a trusted friend, a sister to call on, and most importantly, a soundboard. Someone who got it. ‘I was Oprah without a Gayle.’ So Marsh and Avia embarked on what they call their earbud relationship. One where they call each other almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and check in, providing advice and counsel.

With Avia at the end of the telephone, Marsh is able to carry the tokotoko of the Poet Laureate wherever it takes her. She is able to ask for what she needs. She is able to share her load. Marsh noted: ‘When I was able to redefine what support means to me and my life, that’s when I found support.’

Both Marsh and Avia continue to write and create through the many challenges they face. An audience member asked Avia how her illness had affected her writing and she begins with coyness, saying she hasn’t written much. ‘That’s not true,’ Marsh corrects her. She knows Avia is working on a new book, and you can see the pride she has in her friend, Shine Theory in action. Marsh is working on a graphic novel (‘I’ve always doodled; Spike Milligan is my idol.’). She wants to make poetry accessible to all communities.

Leaving the session my friend remarked that most New Zealanders don’t know how lucky we are to have Selina Tusitala Marsh as our Poet Laureate. Everyone who attended Fast Burning Women knows, and we also know how lucky Marsh is to have Tusiata Avia at the end of the phone line, spurring her on.

Reviewed by Gem Wilder

Tusiata Avia will appear in two more events during WORD Christchurch 2018: 

Black Marks on the White Page: A Roundtable
Sonya Renee Taylor: The Body is not an Apology