NWF: The Great Debate: Toby Manhire, Michele A’Court, Paula Morris & Leilani Tamu with Te Radar


Te Radar

Okay, I’ll admit it – after the release of the now-infamous NZ Book Council research report, I was disappointed that these four debaters emerged from this session with their limbs still attached. The moot “Do New Zealand Books Need Special Treatment?” has become so topical in the past week that the organisers of the National Writers Forum must have been delighted by both their foresight and brilliant luck. I myself reveled in the pre-glow of what I hoped would be a bitter bloodbath, ending with Te Radar’s tender hand floating across the tops of long stems of golden wheat. But Te Radar isn’t Russell Crowe, and this was no Gladiator.


Overall this session was less battle to the death and more battle of the wits, and boy, did Manhire come out swinging. Leader of the affirmative team, Manhire suggested that, yes, New Zealand books do need special treatment – in almost every sense of the phrase. Not only do they need to be stroked, cared for, given attention, and lovingly durasealed – and New Zealand writers given resources and plenty of biscuits – but sometimes New Zealand books also need “special” treatment – their prices slashed as they’re chucked into the Whitcoulls cheap basket.

Paula Morris followed up with a compelling argument from the negative team, stating that Manhire and A’Court are both “strange and volatile people”. She argued that New Zealand books aren’t basket cases, and that they need to be given the opportunity to stand up and skirmish with international titles on general fiction shelves – very sensible.

Michele A’Court responded on behalf of the affirmative team, explaining that reading New Zealand’s special books gave her permission to be a writer. Separating New Zealand literature was not a way to weed out New Zealand titles from the good books, but to wave, to say “I’m like you, come and find me.”

Leilani Tamu replied with a poignant anecdote of her child’s first take-home reader – about the importance of engaging with and bonding over a love of story, not identity. New Zealand books need to assert themselves, she said, because they are worthy of the world stage.

What do I think? I have no bloody idea. The treatment of New Zealand books is currently so contentious, with so many credible arguments for each side, that it’s not an issue that I feel my small voice would progress. Perhaps, as Te Radar said, “it really doesn’t make any difference who won this debate”. Another brilliant you-really-had-to-be-there session by the National Writers Forum.

Event attended and reviewed by Emma Bryson

Image of Te Radar from: http://johnsonlaird.com/our-mcs-entertainers-speakers/Te_Radar


Going West Festival: The Poetry of Place, with Paula Green, Kerry Hines & Leilani Tamu

pp_kerry_hinesPaula Green’s NZ Poetry Shelf is a blog I pop in on regularly. Green claims that she only writes about poetry that she enjoys, which makes her reviews a breathe-easy and pleasurable read. She reliably sniffs out great local poetry, so my interest was roused when she announced that both session guests, Kerry Hines (right) and Leilani Tamu (below), had been subjects for her blog. Hines and Tamu are very different writers. But Green expressed that both drew uncannily similar responses in her reviews. As if to echo the uncanny, when asked to read from their collections, each chose poems with a titular ‘beach’. In both cases, the poems were atmospheric, and anchored to place.

Concept of place features heavily in both writers’ work. It is discussed that place can be temporal as well as spatial, and that place is often about people, politics, and the memories people have of place that morph over time.

pp_Leilani_tamuKerry Hines’ collection, Young Country, draws inspiration from the images of nineteenth-century photographer, William Williams. These haunting photographs were presented to us in a slide-show, and feature alongside the poetry in her book. Leilani Tamu spoke about the photography (one photograph in particular) that set her on her poetry journey, along with influences of writers such as Albert Wendt and Karlo Mila.

These two poets are informed by their academic interests – Leilani’s Master thesis was titled ‘Re-defining ‘the beach’ – the municipality of Apia, 1879-1900’ and Hines’ doctoral thesis, ‘After the fact: Poems, photographs and regenerating histories’. Each poet spoke about the importance of archives to their writing process, the importance of libraries.

These are two poets I’ll be sure to keep an eye on.

Event reported by Elizabeth Morton

Young Country
by Kerry Hines
Published by AUP
ISBN: 9781869408237

The Art of Excavation
by Leilani Tamu
Published by Anahera Press
ISBN 9780473290047

Book Review: The Art of Excavation, by Leilani Tamu

cv_the_art_of_excavationAvailable in bookstores nationwide. 

Leilani Tamu’s first book, The Art of Excavation, is a little unusual in that it comes with substantial notes and a glossary of terms. Glossaries aren’t so unusual, but combined with the statement from the author and the breakdowns of many of the poems the reader has an easy in to the collection. I don’t usually enjoy it when authors explain poems or collections to me but I did enjoy this and I can definitely see the benefit for readers who may be unfamiliar with poetry or not yet sold on the concept.

Speaking about a collection’s accessibility is often used to compliment poetry that seems simple or is otherwise not very challenging to the reader. Tamu herself uses the term accessibility but I think that rather than being poetry that is boring or simple she’s working very consciously to make the themes and concerns of the book available to all readers who might pick up the book.

The book’s main concern is the Pacific and the history and future of it. It’s refreshing to read a collection dealing directly with colonisation and its impacts because if often feels like art in New Zealand can gloss directly over the surface. My only slight regret here is that it is often not Pākehā writers who take on those themes but instead writers who directly experience colonisation each day because they don’t have the luxury of thinking it was an historical event. By writing about the past and the future together Tamu is challenging the common narrative that colonisation is over and done with. This may be obvious to some readers but to me is one of the centrally important ideas the collection presents.

Tamu writes in an open and lyric style that mixes many different styles of language and register. The moments I was most pleased by were the ones where the register switched from high to low or back again. It doesn’t feel like a trick but an acknowledgement of the complexity of the topics being dealt with and for me was a good jolt. This register switching is an acknowledgement of the kind of lived experience of contemporary culture, alongside the “high” historical or literary perspective. There are some really lovely lines in the collection and sometimes they even rhyme which I rarely found pat. A particular favourite for me was this phrase, best read aloud:

‘you tear open ancient fissures
and cast aside superficial stitches’

There are moments of dark humour, sections that focus on history and obviously many political aspects. Tamu writes to her ancestors and her children. Sometimes it seems like she’s writing to herself or to other versions of herself. I did at times want Tamu to really dig in more deeply to some of the themes and really get going but I hope that her second collection will add to the work she has started in this collection.

Reviewed by Emma Barnes

The Art of Excavation
by Leilani Tamu
Published by Anahera Press
ISBN 9780473290047