Thursday, February 09, 2012

Never mind the frangipani

The fibre optic cables connecting Hanoi to Auckland have been twitching over the last week, as Michael Arnold has sent me a series of decreasingly relaxed e mails about the state of the forthcoming 44th issue of the Kiwi literary journal brief.

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 before the end of the week...

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are a lot of words i could use to describe michael morrissey but 'joker' is not one of them

miserable bugger more like

4:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taming the Tiger: a personal encounter with Manic Depression, by Michael Morrissey

This is the story of one man's experience of manic depression. Award-winning author Michael Morrissey gives the reader a frank account of his journey through two serious bipolar episodes. Despite the seriousness of the illness, he tells his story in a riveting and lively manner. Michael's manic delusions include a fantastical get rich diet scheme intended to make him the richest man in the world and enable him to save very endangered species on the planet; levitating from the lawn; and being the Messiah - alas no miracles performed. While in Malaysia, he tries to give an inappropriately irreverent speech at a Chinese Wedding and on arriving back in Auckland succeeds in saving 4000 books from pulping. Later, he spent time in a psychiatric unit where he reports, Everyone inside seems mad except yourself. Fellow sufferers will find a compassionate understanding of what they are going through, just as Michael found encouragement from other writers. This book should be compulsory reading for psychiatric professionals to help them understand how they should regard and care for their patients. The general reader will find much of the story amusing and revealing. Some will find their attitudes towards mental illness radically challenged. This is a well written and original story which deserves a wide readership. Michael has succeeded in taming his 'Tiger' and he shares his struggle in an honest and moving way. Michael Morrissey has published twenty books of poetry and fiction and has a lifetime's experience as a writer. This book is probably his most important work so far.

5:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'By all means let us appease the terse Gods'
- Geoffrey Hill

12:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott, I'll spread the word among New Caledonians in Paris. Our soundman is from there. BD.

8:43 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks Bill. I tried to get your old bandmate Andrew to let us use some of his dissertation on Caldoche literature, but to no avail. It is a terrible shame that there is virtually no contact between Caldoche and Pakeha cultures: we have so much in common. I know that the Caldoche have a reputation for being uber-rednecks, but Andrew was able to find some quality literature in their midst.

My mate Sebastien Bano, who was the subject of an interview here last year (, lived for a year in New Caldonia, and has some very strident views about the place. He's also a fan of your work...

10:25 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Micheal's recent things in Brief have been excellent. I really enjoyed his piece about his house and the associated adventures and misadventures.

I read his The New Fiction before I went to a class he had about 1988 or so in Short Story writing.

He has had a lot of success in the past - but has not always been them most amicable of persons, and I am only one to have had some disagreements with him - but if there are those who have cause for acrimony re M. Morrissey - I feel that should be put aside. A lot of his work involves satire or irony or humour. I feel he is writer of outstanding talents.

Perhaps some of his mordancy or seeming "hardness" and sometimes his quite selfish-seeming egotism can be connected to mental suffering- it is good he had come out about that- as he has indeed to me.

I have also suffered from nervous breakdowns and psychological problems through my life.

But we all admire writers who, with or without such "reasons" have attitudes or opinions and take actions that are or seem incompatible with their work or with what we might think a major writer should have. The main thing is a writer's work. I know Morrissey is always diligent and very hard working and he is not attached to a University, so for such writers the going is tough.

Imagining the Pacific from the moon is an Einsteinian leap of writerly genius in my view. Morrissey sometimes does that.

10:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

some ppl on this site, eg richard, would enjoy this game lol

11:29 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I would indeed - I love games and
I love Stalin - he was so good at eliminating degenerates. He did a wonderful job, and like Hitler and Chaplin he had a beautiful mustache.

12:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Scott, re: New Cal. Davel (our soundman ) was French, not sure what you mean about Caldoches. he had worked in NZ though, so will know of the different situation. His neck was brown, not red. He once did sound for George Benson!!! Psychologically French, but I suppose racially Karnak, if you want to isolate csome of his genetic or grand-parental background. Have put the word out, anyway, in the vines.

1:05 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like Richard has revealed himself to be a Stalinist. How weird.

10:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HD: I think you need to be clear about the difference between exchange and appropriation. If you want to take something from another culture - fine. Picasso stole from the Africans, Pound stole from the Chinese. But appropriation is not the same as genuine exchange.

I agree with HD. You know a lot about NZ history so you must know about the history of white NZers trying to construct a fake identity for themselves and distinguish themselves from Britain by stealing from Maori culture. There can't be equal exchange between colonised and coloniser, NZ is part of Polynesia because they stole part of it. Pacific cultures are just another thing they can steal, NZ writers might have been slow to exploit the opportunities but other parts of NZ society - like eg the advertising industry or corporate rugby - have not been so reticent.

I think you should include something about national literature by Frantz Fanon

1:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW comparing attempts by the English government to teach standard English to English people with colonial cultural genocide is not a new or startling idea. It is a standard complaint of right-wing BNP-style rhetoric in England. There is really no comparision

1:32 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Interesting comment, anon, but very negative - and not something that would be be endorsed in many parts of the Pacific. Futa Helu and his Tongan co-thinkers in the 'Atenisi school loudly denounced the idea that there could no equal exchange between Pasifika and European cultures: to them such a view was deeply patronising, because it implied that Pacific peoples would always be the victims of Europeans. The 'Atenisians wanted to assimilate Europe to the Pacific! You should check out Paul Janman's film about 'Atenisi

9:06 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

And I don't think it's fair to associate complaints about the marginalisation of English dialects with the BNP: what about the efforts of the likes of Basil Bunting, or DH Lawrence, or Hugh McDiarmid? I think that, with names like that on her side, Rachel Fenton has nothing to apologise for. Nor would I necessarily liken the problems faced by Pacific languages in places like Auckland - problems with the Leo Bilingual Language Coalition is doing so to combat - with 'cultural genocide'. Genocide is a big word.

9:09 pm  
Anonymous August moon harvest - the scythe fits the throat said...

You are going to have to give up the schizophrenic story line. Which one an I dealing with now.

Anything added to the work of Christ on the cross means that what Christ did wasn’t good enough, that we have to add more to it to make it adequate.

That is spitting in God’s face, treating the death of Christ with contempt as useless.

Man’s problem is that he likes to be in control and that includes of his own salvation and God. Trusting God completely like that is hard for a control freak to give up, but without the unbridled trust in God to do for us what we CAN’T do for ourselves, we can never be free.

It’s tragic. A tragedy.

I was unaware of that as my Catholic school experience was mostly all nuns as I remember. Fuck they were hot bitches.

But a while ago I got tired of God. I got sick of his lies - and his truths. So I decided to kill him. I went back to the Big Bang and scalped the bugger. I felt cruel - he was only an infant then. But what the hell.

I decided to look around for something else to worship. Something I could really count on… And immediately, I thought of the sun. Happened like that. Overnight I became a sun-worshipper. Well, not overnight, you can't see the sun at night. But first thing the next morning, I became a sun-worshipper. Several reasons. First of all, I can see the sun, okay? Unlike some other gods I could mention, I can actually see the sun. I'm big on that. If I can see something, I don't know, it kind of helps the credibility along, you know?

11:10 pm  
Blogger Rachel Fenton said...

"BTW comparing attempts by the English government to teach standard English to English people with colonial cultural genocide is not a new or startling idea. It is a standard complaint of right-wing BNP-style rhetoric in England. There is really no comparision"

In my defence - as your comment did strike me - pun intended - more as an attack than a riddler for debate, Anonymous, trollish, even, I should like to add a few points of my own.

I am more than a little disturbed by your mention of the BNP - is this your token conversation line to all people from England?

I'm not sure the BNP are interested in preserving regional dialects, I'll assume you're the expert and defer to you for verification on that. As far as I am aware, dialects are appropriated without discrimination between all immigrants.

In any case, it shows your insular thinking.

Your assumptions about me - and I take your comment personally (unless aimed at all English) - really reveal more about your own propensity to stereotype rather than bringing anything new to the table. The basic post -colonial theory you've wrapped your comment in (I'd guess "Empire Writes Back", Ashcroft et al) is not new, I'd say it's out-dated.

"comparing the repression of the dialects of regional England with the marginalisation of many Pacific languages" - You've assumed so much from one paraphrased introduction.

The poem itself actually acknowledges the Empire's role in making many minor tongues extinct, historically, and recently the role of technology viz the cultural genocide you so emphatically refer to. With the latter it is more a comment on the USA as Empire, something (as Tariq Ali notes) America would deny. It also puts me, the poet, in personal relation and makes a comparison (is this not what poems do?) Poetics I am guilty of, BNP affiliation? No. As a Yorkshire woman welcoming others to my own cultural heritage I am not in need of re-invention.

Finally, may not have reinvented the wheel, I didn't set out to, but I have made a valid comment on my personal experience of how one culture attacks another, and so have you.

I look forward to your opinion when you read the work you've criticised me for.

11:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barnsley as an island in the Pacific. Intriguing.

1:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How interesting that you deleted my comment while you allow comments from actual nazis on this website. But this does confirm my original opinion, I definitely won't be buying your magazine or reading your blog again.

FYI poet, NZ is a settler colonial state, you are part of a settler colonial state and you are laying claim to the oppression of the poeple whose dispossession you benefit from. I'm not sure how you think this appropriate. You are not a special snowflake uniquely above the context of this country.

White people in this country will be a minority before the end of this century, who's the dying race now? :)

1:21 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Repost, anon - I didn't delete anything! Sometimes blogger plays strange tricks.

As the archives of this blog show, I'm against the notion of pure snowflakes:

If you take a look at some of stuff going in to brief 44 (cf you'll see we're actually celebrating European culture. Futa Helu is a great Euroepan intellectual, and his 'Atenisi Institute was a lot more European than most European universities...

1:05 pm  
Blogger marco said...

miserable bugger more like

11:10 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home