Book Review: Transit of Venus / Venustransit, by Hinemoana Baker et al

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_transit_of_venusFour years ago three New Zealand and three German poets went on a journey to Tolaga Bay to witness the transit of Venus, an event that occurs in pairs every 120-odd years. Famously, Captain Cook landed on that very spot during a transit of Venus some 250 years ago, for what is regarded as the first friendly encounter between Europeans and Maori.

Now the poems written on and around this trip in 2012 have been curated in a marvellous collection in German and English, some with a Māori component. A number of poems are juxtaposed with their respective translation, some remain within their language; an added air of mystery for monolingual readers. Many of the poems delve into the mysterious, pick up on the goddess theme, such as Uwe Kolbe’s total mythology mash-up Venus, Ein europäischer Transit … , or bring the surroundings into the poetry; and then there is the odd (very odd) shanty.

Just as the Transit of Venus can only be observed through a telescope, many of the translations involved an intermediary to aid with clarity between the languages. Translations were collaborated on via skype, which means the poems went up into space before landing back on earth in their altered form. It is this complex web of interaction and intermediacy, which makes this project so interesting.

The collection is rounded off with a profile of each poet and an interview with the three German poets, at least one of whom had never been to New Zealand before. Another first encounter for them.

This collection is exciting on so many levels. The reader does not need to know all the languages involved to be able to enjoy the interplay, but it sure adds another level. What we have here is a voyage of discovery, an experience of proximity and distance in time, space and language. A connection forged between two continents. May it persist and prosper.

Reviewed by Melanie Wittwer, English/German translator

Transit of Venus | Venustransit
by Hinemoana Baker, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Glenn Colquhoun, Uwe Kolbe, Brigitte Oleschinski, Chris Price
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739797