Never mind the frangipani
As the managing editor of brief, Michael has the job of making sure guest editors like myself deliver their issues on time. I had felt a measure of safety, as my end-of-January deadline came and went, because Michael has lived for a couple of years now in Vietnam, and therefore can't turn up outside the window of my study in the middle of the night, or catch me boozing with Hamish Dewe at the Te Atatu Tavern. I had reckoned, though, without comrade Arnold's epistolary powers: in a series of plaintive e mails he has made me feel that I am letting down not just Creative New Zealand, the organisation which is now funding brief, but the whole of New Zealand literary tradition. What, he has wondered, would Charles Brasch, the punctilious founding editor of Landfall, have thought of my tardiness? How would the great Kendrick Smithyman, who always met deadlines and always expected prompt replies from editors, have thought of the slow pace at which I am replying to contributors to brief 44?
I'm now scrambling to get the manuscript of brief 44 off to Michael, so that I can redeem myself in his eyes, and in the eyes of the mighty dead.
But the slow gestation of brief 44 doesn't just reflect my innate laziness: since I announced that I was giving the issue the theme of Oceania, I've received a lot of fascinating and, I think, important material. Some of the submissions have come from regular donors to brief, but many others have come from writers who have never graced the journal's pages. I've commissioned a few of the contributions, and dipped into archives and nineteenth century newspapers to find some of my material, but most of the texts I've collected have turned up, readymade, in my postbox or my inbox.
In the argument with Hamish Dewe that I posted here last month, I made it clear that I didn't want brief 44 to succumb to what Andy Leileisu'ao has called 'the frangipani tendency' in contemporary New Zealand culture. I didn't want poems or stories or essays which used hackneyed imagery - coconut palms, majestic seas, smiling kids, and, yes, frangipani - to evoke some fantasy of the South Seas.
I wanted the contributors to brief, who have historically been overwhelmingly palangi, to heed the call of the late great Epeli Hau'ofa, and think about the Pacific not as a vast ocean insulating a series of islands from each other, but as a highway continually traversed by history and culture. New Zealand palangi intellectuals are used to thinking of themselves as isolated, and are almost obsessed with comparing themselves to British and American scribblers: what would happen, I wondered, if they began to think ourselves a real part of the continent Hau'ofa called Oceania, and looked for inspiration to Futa Helu and Konai Helu Thaman, as well to De Lillo and Pound and Pynchon? I think the texts I've collected for brief 44 have the potential, when placed side by side, to begin to answer this question. brief is not a programmatic, campaigning publication, and the material in the forthcoming issue doesn't promote a particular interpretation of Oceanian culture and history. Indeed, some of the texts I've collected come at the theme from very unusual angles. The Yorkshire-Kiwi artist and writer Rachel Fenton, for example, delighted me by submitting a poem written in her native Barnsley dialect, along with a note that comparing the repression of the dialects of regional England with the marginalisation of many Pacific languages. Michael Morrissey, always the joker in any pack, fired me a text which described the way the Pacific looks from the moon, and the way the seas of the moon look from the moon. Jack Ross delivered a lapidarian essay analysing the Anglo-Saxon obsession with Antarctica and the cold waters of the very south Pacific, and describing how this obsession had worked its way into his under-appreciated debut novel, Nights with Giordano Bruno. Murray Edmond produced a memoir of his life as a radical young man in early '70s Grafton, explaining how a fascination with the nineteenth century Pacific of Moby Dick and the battles of the New Zealand Wars affected his youthful writing and protesting.
Other contributors have approached the theme of brief 44 less obliquely. Vaughan Rapatahana has used an interview and poems to slam linguistic and economic imperialism in the Pacific, Okusi Mahina has explained the principles of the ta va theory of space and time, which he developed in an attempt to do philosophical justice to Tongan thought, and Paul Janman has celebrated the life and work of Futa Helu, the builder of 'Atenisi University and Tonga's pro-democracy movement.
The clock is ticking and the cables are twitching, but you can still send submissions to brief 44. Fire those texts to email@example.com before the end of the week...
[Posted by Maps/Scott]