I left Sydney at dawn on Wednesday 28 March 2012 headed South-east over the Tasman Sea, aiming for New Zealand, on an Emirates A380 Airbus, a massive double-decker airplane that drives like an aircraft carrier full of warm mud.
I had been invited to attend the Short Takes on the Long Poem symposium at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, right at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean. If you look South-west into the setting sun from San Diego and fly at thirty thousand feet for fourteen hours, there it is. From Sydney you do the opposite, more or less, except that is a much shorter trip. You can read hundreds of pages of poems and commentary and see dozens of sparkling photos on my Main Site here.
If the Allen Curnow poem I talked about in my latest post looks back on the fifties, that whole post-war “You’ve never had it so good” period, then it seems logical to go on to discuss further “state-of-the-nation” poems commenting successively on the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties, and (finally) the twenty-tens.
This is the list I’ve come up with. Not all the dates fit perfectly, but at least it provides some sort of a coverage of styles, ideas, voices and views, over the last fifty years of New Zealand poetry. Each one of them will take a fair amount of contextualising and unpacking, but it’s the only way I can think of to give you a reasonable overview of where we’ve been and where (possibly) we might be going.
At the recent Short Takes on Long Poems symposium in Auckland (see Jack Ross's take here), Jacob Edmond, whose comic-serious talk concerned the literal weights and volumes of long poems, kept asking a single question of other speakers. “In what way is the work you're talking about local?” Or, in the case of my presentation, “Do you think your videos [of people in Hawai`i saying back lines of George Oppen's ‘Of Being Numerous’ as best they could] localize the poem in some way?” Jack Ross argues that the symposium would have been too international had it not included the work of Robert Sullivan and John Adams, writing the interstices between Maori and Pakeha in Aotearoa / New Zealand. This discussion felt like home to me, albeit set on a different stage and peopled by very different writers and critics than is the case in Hawai`i. But of course these distinctions are hard to keep or enforce when (like me) you can leave Auckland at 7 a.m. of a Monday morning and arrive in Honolulu at 7 a.m. the same morning. Yet Lucas Klein, a scholar and translator of Chinese poetry, quoted the Chinese poet, citizen of New Zealand, and resident of London, Yang Lian, as saying: “There is no international, only different locals.”