Swimming to the centre
New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre
Kia ora ano (Hello again; literally 'be well again')
In this Commentary I want to outline two very important electronic resources pertaining to Aotearoa-New Zealand poetry and poetics, which are not poetry publishing sites per se, but which are available to freely peruse and to contribute scholarly articles to (most especially to Ka Mate Ka Ora, which I will cover far more fully in #2) and to view recent trends, listen to poets reading their own works and so on. These sites have been established via the University of Auckland — my own institution of tertiary studies waaaaay back last century — and indeed some of the people responsible for these sites had a fair bit to do with my studies then. More of which later. This Commentary is less of a critique and much more of an introduction to these valuable sites — themselves introductions to many aspects of poetry in the skinny nation.
Nau mai, haere mai ki te kete whiti o Aotearoa (Come on in to the poetry basket of Aotearoa): www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz
NZEPC (New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre) has been running now sice July, 2001. The rationale was and remains to 'set up an electronic gateway to poetry resources in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Pacific region.' Michele Leggott was — along with Brian Flaherty — one of the initiators of NZEPC and both continue their roles as facilitators and editors of this site. She notes, as regards the genesis of this rather LARGE site, that 'We looked at EPC (Buffalo), started in 1995 by Robert Creeley, Charles Bernstein and Loss Glazier, and immediately recognised a model for getting poetry and poetry-related material from Aotearoa / New Zealand and the Pacific region online. We started in 2001 with some grant money from the Vice-Chancellor's Development Fund and a core of committed colleagues at the University of Auckland. From the outset we determined to combine online activities with on the ground events in Auckland and elsewhere. The big idea behind nzepc is permeability. We want to be able to move between worlds and to manifest anywhere there's something poetically interesting going on.'
Michele Leggott. Michele was Aotearoa-New Zealand's first ever Poet-Laureate (2007-2009.)
More, when I asked just whom the site was/is designed for, she replied, 'Anyone wanting information, audiovisual or full text resources for poetry in the region. Some parts of the site are more specific: Pasifika Web is dedicated to a range of indigeneities; Ka Mate Ka Ora is our poetics e-journal; the Tapa Notebooks archive local and overseas poetic journeys; Six Pack Sound focuses on contemporary audio, and so on. But everything is free, downloadable and publicly accessible. '
That said, it is pertinent to list below just what makes up the Contents.
o Authors Resource: pages for information about selected poets from New Zealand and the Pacific region, with some full-text electronic publication. Each page includes a photo, bibliography and biographical notes, poems and prose by the poet, and selected critical and audiovisual material. These pages are developed in consultation with each poet (or his/her estate) and the relevant publishers.
o Digital Poetry: A chronology and examples of digital poetry in Aotearoa/New Zealand since 1995; also links to selected poets’ blogs, net/art text, critical resources and software tools. [This includes Brian Flaherty's own excellent digitality - link as at the end of this spiel]
o Essays and Interviews: A selection of full-text commentary, research and criticism by poets and critics and links to existing online material.
o Features: A selection of nzepc-edited pages featuring poets and poetry with a New Zealand connection. nzepc symposiums are documented here.
o Ka Mate Ka Ora: a new zealand journal of poetry and poetics nzepc’s refereed journal, established 2005 and edited by Murray Edmond and Lisa Samuels. [As noted, the second part of this Commentary will focus on this particular site]
o Opening the Archive: A guide to poetry-related materials in the libraries and manuscript collections of Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Pacific region.
o Pasifika: a Representation of Pacific poetry with an emphasis on audiovisual resources, coordinated by Selina Tusitala Marsh. [Selina will feature in a later Commentary]
o Six Pack Sound: A collection of recordings by poets working in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific region, with notes by poets on their selections.
o Tapa Notebooks: A collection of manuscript notebooks generated by nzepc activities and housed in Special Collections at the University of Auckland.
o The Poetry Project: Michael King Writers’ Centre at nzepc, bringing communities together through poetry. Resources for schools and documentation of student work.
o Events: A record of nzepc's live events, with posters and photographs . [Pertaining to the monthly Lounge live readings held at the University of Auckland]
o Links: E- zines, poetry sites, e-books, publishers and contact details for print and e-publishing. A selection of online poetry resources relating to Aotearoa/New Zealand practices, and some international poetry sites. The list is in two parts: (1) sites with full-text electronic publication of poems, and (2) sites for print resources.
Brian Flaherty - digital poet par excellence Roger Horrocks - eminence gris
Now, of course, Professor Emeritus Roger Horrocks was also involved with the initial set up of NZEPC, as he explained to me, 'I was very happy to be part of the team that set up NZEPC for this reason: that we have all entered a digital era that makes it crucial for each local poetry community to establish a presence on the Internet. It is sometimes claimed (by supporters of globalization) that the world is now “flat” because of the Internet, but that is a myth. American culture is much more strongly established than other western cultures in the digital realm, and people are starting to assume that ‘everything is on the net’ and ‘if it isn’t on the net, it doesn’t exist’. That is a dangerous idea. Large areas of New Zealand culture and its history are NOT yet on the net, and we have to change that situation.
Roger stated further that, 'I have been involved (in each case, as one member of a team) in three startups – NZEPC, NZ On Screen (which seeks to put the history of New Zealand film and TV on line, and Te Ara (a NZ encyclopaedia on line). For me, a crucial aspect of these sites is that access to them is FREE. We live in an age when public service radio and television and free public libraries are all under threat (certainly they are in our country) because they are hated by right-wing neoliberal politicians. We must fight back! Free access sites like NZEPC are part of that fight.'
New Zealand Poetry: All of which led me to ask about my own particular hobbyhorse regarding Aotearoa-New Zealand poetics, whether there is indeed such a thing, given that perhaps there is just too much going on in this skinny country to be able to even make a cogent response? In other words, what is the state-of-play in the nation?
Roger felt quite strongly that, 'I think NZ poetry is going through a very conservative phase. I enjoyed being part of magazines in the old days such as Parallax, And, and Splash which specialised in ambitious experimental writing. Today I know of no magazine of this kind in our vicinity. There are probably more people writing poetry today than ever before, but it seems to me that the great majority of them keep to the middle of the road, moving along familiar lines. I am not aware of any significant new developments in recent years. I don’t think this is just a local phenomenon – I see it also in other countries. Ours is a great age for amateur activity – anyone can become a poet or a filmmaker or a singer overnight, and put it out on the net, often with dreams of going viral and becoming famous. The fact that the number of writers has increased is a very positive development, but as far as I can see, much of the work is familiar and predictable. A flood of stuff, but seldom is a reader amazed or challenged. [Roger also wrote for the seminal early poetry mag, And, and a link is provided below. Indeed he wrote some seminal material on the poetics of Aotearoa, back in the day, which are soon to be published via the fine Atuanui Press, who in 2014 also published several of Murray Edmond's own discourses on poetry and poetics - oh, and my own novel, Toa, in 2013, of course.]
Michele, ever diplomatic and composed, noted quite sagely that, 'Let a hundred (thousand) flowers bloom. There's a lot of room and many conversations to be had. '
This particular dialogue regarding an Aotearoa poetic will continue throughout this series of Commentaries...remembering that it has been ongoing for decades and that there has always been somewhat of a compartmentalization between Centre and Margins. Rest assured, this writer sees a hugely wide-ranging spectrum of poetical approaches, some of them not 'covered' here in the NZEPCentre, primarily because they are new, very experimental, other-languaged and perhaps peripheral to an 'academic' approach. NZEPC has to be somewhat selective. As the entrance ticket to the site states - 'It aims to coordinate existing archival and publishing information, and to present some full-text electronic publication of poetry and commentary.'
Selective also because of the sheer pragmatic reality of attempting to cover everything involved in New Zealand poetics - the task is massive, impossible without a full-time custodian - some of the links, for example, no longer fire -and/or someone like Funes The Memorious (from Borges.) It is to their vast credit that Brian and Michele - and their support ropu (group) - have managed to capture so much already and that they continue to do so. As just one example is Michele's stalwart work arranging the Lounge series of live readings frequently held in central Auckland and under the umbrella of NZEPC, as regards notifications of events and photographic coverage of these readings. Ka mau te wehi (Amazing).
Which leads me to sum up by asking her what else would her and Brian like to see on the site, time considerations aside? Their response, 'We are planning a site redesign, to better reflect where poetry has moved to in the 14 years we've been in operation. One thing we want to do is make the vast content of nzepc more apparent to visitors. For example, our symposiums in Auckland, Christchurch, Bluff, Florence, Melbourne and Sydney are all accompanied by anthologies that document the event and extend its possible audiences.'
Watch this space.
Sam Hunt, Alistair Campbell, Jan Kemp, Hone Tuwhare - running to the Centre?
( I well remember this 1979 tour by these fine New Zealand poets.
And the 1975 one with Sam, Hone, Denis Glover and Alan Brunton)
On a biographical tangent:
I earlier pointed out that I had had dealings with all three of the fine poets and academics so intricately immersed in NZEPC. Before I direct the interested reader to sites including more about them and their work, I just want to say that Roger Horrocks was my very patient Ph.D supervisor years and years ago ('Existential Literary Criticism and the Novels of Colin Wilson' was the title of the thesis), while Brian Flaherty was the indefatigeable librarian who not only put up with all my never-ending requests for arcane Wilson material, he also actually found it. Wilson himself, while no poet - something he was the first to admit - wrote Poetry and Mysticism, which is another text I will return to at a later stage. Another striate.
Michele Leggott encouraged me to record my own poems for NZEPC and to attend and read at a Lounge event this year, 2015, for which I am most grateful. Another with what seems endless patience and consideration.
Finally here, I am well aware that there is another very valuable online resource based in the nation's capital city of Wellington at Victoria University, namely the HUGE NZETC website http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz , which goes well b e y o n d poetry. I may be too Auckland-centric also , but then again I was fortunate to have attended the university there from 1971 onwards and was privileged to have had not only Allen Curnow, MK Joseph and CK Stead and Roger as lecturers, but Kendrick Smithyman and Riemke Ensing were also tutors in that English Department. Jim Baxter was a presence in the late, lamented Kiwi Hotel too....Stephen Chan was very much a presence per se.
Michele Leggott - Here is Michele's fine poem Matapouri from last years collection of 'best New Zealand poems'
but perhaps a far wider-ranging web link to her undoubted significance to New Zealand poetry is from the NZEPC site itself.
Brian Flaherty - here are Brian's innovative digital poems.
Brian, of course, is a major player in the well-established online poetry journal, Trout.
Roger Horrocks - here is information re: Roger's new poetry collection entitled Song of the Ghost in the Machine from 2015.
and here is one of his earlier vital essays, The Invention of New Zealand from 1983.
Roger wrote several other low-key but essential essays back then, such as No Theory Permitted on these Premises; A Short History of the 'New Zealand Intellectual', Relocating New Zealand; Off the Map etcetera...he was also the editor of my own first two rather execrable collections of poetry at a time when self-publishing wasn't much on the radar, now 29 years ago, when I was driving forkhoists around Mt. Wellington.
Kia ora ano.
Ka kite ahau i a katoa ā kō kō ake nei ( I'll see you all soon)