Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On the other side of the lagoon


Paul Janman and the 'Atenisi Foundation for the Performing Arts took Tongan Ark to Wellington last weekend, building on their success at the Auckland International Film Festival. The historian Mark Derby, who spent time in Tonga as a young and hungry journalist in the late 1970s, sent me this report from Wellington:

 As you may have heard from Paul J, his film screened to a capacity and rapturous audience here last night. Its final seconds, as gleaming and muscular young men moved down both aisles towards the screen in perfect sync with the soundtrack, were in themselves a dramatic triumph. Paul spoke afterwards in his measured and very effective manner, and those I have spoken to who heard him were deeply impressed with the whole production and wish to support its further distribution.

While my friend Paul has been continuing his conquest of the world, I've been pacing about our house in West Auckland with a thick blanket wrapped around me like an ugly ta'ovala and a head full of dihydrocodeine, complaining about the winter weather which agitates the old injury in my left arm, and fantasising about flying north into the tropics. The other day I decided to write a sequence of poems about the land and seascapes of Tonga - about the lagoons and coconut trees and hot mudflats - in the hope that it would transport me north imaginatively.

In his recently published book On Tongan Poetry Futa Helu, the hero of Tongan Ark, describes a genre of poem called laumatanga, which is dedicated to praising the beauty of particular places. Helu notes the intense focus of the laumatanga:

Tongan nature poetry differs from many other poetical traditions in that it is never generalised Nature, never Nature in the abstract, that the poet speaks of or addresses, but it is always a particular manifestation of Nature, concretised Nature, an actual island, a particular beach, a specific lagoon, and so forth. And well it should be, for the Tongan is noted for his concrete-ness (which in some cases is taken to be a weakness in conceptualisation) and his sense of oneness with his locality - his localness.

In one of the many fascinating asides in On Tongan Poetry, Helu contrasts the particularism of the laumatanga with the 'subjectivism' of English Romantic poets like Wordsworth and Blake, who allegedly lost sight of the outer world because they were so preoccupied with their ideas and feelings. Helu argues that in the nineteenth century Tongan poets developed their own 'classical-romantic' style, which allowed them to express some of the same cosmic sentiments as the English romantics without succumbing to subjectivism. If Wordsworth and co. could only have learned from their Tongan contemporaries, Helu sighs, their careers might have taken a different and healthier course.


The poem reproduced below began as an attempt at a laumatanga-like celebration of Fanga'uta, the great lagoon which eats into Tongatapu, the largest island of the Kingdom of Tonga, but soon went astray. I can't, I confess, keep 'subjectivism' out of anything I write.

Tonga's modern and ancient capitals of Nuku'alofa and Mu'a stand on the west and southeast edges of Fanga'uta, but the swamps, plantations, and small villages of the northeastern side of the lagoon feel remote, and are regarded as part of the 'uta' ('bush') regions of Tongatapu.


Thousands of American troops occupied Tongatapu during World War Two, annexing plantations for their camps and airfields and turning locals into their porters. Most of the Americans were whites from the racist deep south of their country, but a few were black. This oppressed minority was dispatched to the northeastern side of Fanga'uta Lagoon, far from the bars of Nuku'alofa.

In more recent times the far side of Fanga'uta has been a favourite playground for archaeologists investigating the Lapita people, who sailed east from Melanesia three or four thousand years ago, settled along the coasts of Samoa and Tonga, and eventually evolved the culture we call Polynesian. The Lapita people left fragments of their pottery, with its delicate white patterns on violent orange grounds, in the mud of Fanga'uta, and a few years ago the Canadian archaeologist David Burley annoyed a lot of Samoans by arguing that Nukuleka, a modest village on the eastern side of the lagoon, was the 'birthplace of Polynesia'.

Field Work on Tongatapu

Can you imagine the Japs landing today
on the eastern side of Fanga'uta lagoon?

Seventy years ago black Yanks were dug in there,
looking through binoculars for the promised migration,
for flocks of Zeros
and humpback-sized subs.

To the north, beyond the lagoon's yawning jaws,
a fleet of islands - Pangaimotu, Fafa, Fukave,
'Atata - performed manoeuvres in the heat-haze,
as another tide made a tactical
withdrawal. Coconut trees shook their learned heads
tiredly.

Today Canadian archaeologists are camped in the east,
at Nukuleka, 'birthplace
of Polynesia'. They dig even deeper
than soldiers.

If a cruise ship arrives from Vava'u
and unloads a battalion of the enemy
armed with deckchairs and slabs of beer
then the archaeologists will defend their trench
to the last toothbrush
and the last stone-shard.


[Posted by Maps/Scott]

32 Comments:

Anonymous Jono said...

Beware the dogs of Pangaimotu
search instead
the corner of your eye
for brightly coloured crabs

10:29 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tonga...what state is that in?

10:38 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

I took was at the screening and can only but concur word for word with Mark's report. It's a beautiful story and a beautiful film.

12:55 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

"I too", rather.

12:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry. Poetry rhymes.

2:59 pm  
Anonymous Carl Weiss said...

Does Futa Helu suggest that the Tongan and English poets were in contact in the early 19th century? Surely this is a fantastic notion!

4:45 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Scott, how mobile is your left arm? Do you feel pain when you move it or at rest? What is the medical description of what causes your pain? You don't want to be on narcotics a strong as that all your life unless you can avoid it.

I am on medication for a condition
(effectively a inherent neurasthenia associated with "panic attacks" which are a kind of minor epileptic "attacks" [called 'kindling' bysome neurologists]);(or similar condition)) that while not serious or painful is limiting for me.

(All those sedatives and analgesics have similar action and are de facto narcotics.)

So my empathy, such conditions are not always understood by friends and relatives, but they are very real.

Your injury was caused by a car accident originally I believe? Bryony Jagger had a lot of neuraglia etc following a car accident and lost her capacity to "hear" music and so on...although she seems to be bit better I heard in any case...

6:00 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:26 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"...Tongan poets developed their own 'classical-romantic' style, which allowed them to express some of the same cosmic sentiments as the English romantics without succumbing to subjectivism. If Wordsworth and co. could only have learned from their Tongan contemporaries, Helu sighs, their careers might have taken a different and healthier course. "

I disagree strongly with this devious ‘sleight of hand’. Helu was an ingenious and very significant thinker and man; but his views of Romanticism are clearly limited. (Even Harold Bloom is deeper, but there are many other writers - Abrahams and the Frank Kermode of 'Romantic Image'.) It's a vast subject. Wordsworth was far from merely subjective. He and his sister were always describing particular things as well as talking about ideas. The Romantics set the scene for the later modernists - such as Williams Carlos Williams (who in fact is also far less "objective" a poet than is often glibly touted...his "no ideas but in things” is misquote (or out of context and misunderstood, as is his “[a poem is]…a [small or large] machine made of words…” comment..” after all machines with all their concision are also things that can an do "go wrong", as Doctor’s know well (and Williams was a doctor well versed in science and art): and in his Imaginations you see a far more complex man ranging from the poet-doctor and objectivist to the surrealist...

I'm wondering if Helu was a genius or cunning bullshit artist who hadn't even read The Prelude. He may have had a deeper understanding of poetics if he and his Tongan brothers and sisters took a good hard look at English poetry and it's great tradition. Take (even) a poem such as Daffodils, & challenge anyone to write a better poem and they will almost inevitably fail...and those daffodils were real flowers in a real place just as WCW's broken green glass was in the grounds of real hospital with "black wings"...but then there is Coleridge's "experiments" with (narcotics!) and WCW's 'Kora in Hell'... and I wait for anyone (in the world history of literature up to today) to better Keats at his best.

I hope he wasn't arguing that the Tongan brain is (or was?) different from an English or American one.

On begins to have doubts...



6:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard. Your comments seem offensive.

6:53 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Anonymous said...

Richard. Your comments seem offensive. "

So what? You mean because I dare to make a criticism? Offensive about what and to whom? Helu's comments were offensive to me.

7:27 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Helu and his crowd had been studying the Romantics for some time at this point with little reciprocal engagement in Tongan poetic ideas from Europeans.

In terms of the preference for 'objectivism' - yes the Romantics shared an interest in 'things in themselves' but I think there may be a misfire of emphasis here. If we think more broadly about the loss of a kind of objective union between not only man and nature but man and society then I think we see the real 'object' of Helu's assault on European consciousness. It is more than a simple rejection of Cartesian duality.

Futa once told me that 'if Tongans are to contribute anything to the field of universal history... it will be in the area of humanitarian values'. I can't help but think of those poor Romantic blighters heading into the swing of the industrial revolution. Subjectivity becomes an ironic defense mechanism against social disintegration. The modern English pastoral is born.

If the 'fonua' or locality is the fundamental institution of society and of philosophical thought then beautiful places are twisted with social and political meanings that 'we' presently have very little knowledge of. I think Scott's poem is, in this sense a very apt attempt at understanding 'Laumatanga'.

11:40 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

This is a big topic that Helu and you have simplified. The Industrial Revolution has no effect on Romanticism (as a movement). (Think of Turner's depiction of steam and the tremendous energies and later think of Futurism and soon right into the 20th and 21st centuries... Or earlier to later such as Blake and then Rimbaud writing of slaughterhouses and factories and roses in the same passages, and the exquisite depictions of evil by Baudelaire. Then Henry Miller, Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis (o.k. a bit oblique, but..), Joyce.) And, which consciousness? Hazlitt was very much in favour of the French Revolution, Wordsworth changed his views (but his insight into nature and indeed the human mind and experience is still deep, and it is no accident that J.H. Prynne quotes him.) Turner thrived n the industrial revolution. We have the Sublime and we also have humanitarianism in his depiction of the slave ship sinking and black people drowning [in contrast the Religious work of the Renaissance is inhuman in its Humanism. There is Goethe right through to Arnold and Browning and Eliot and Pound are influenced by Browning as clearly was Smithyman for one). (And what does he say of Poe and the great satire of Swift as well as the work of Donne, the Metaphysicals, and Milton?) Subjectivity to objectivity [neither to extremes or madness and so on result] is part of the human growth, even progress, and Helu would have done well to have shown more respect and humility. As soon as Japan was discovered and "opened up" by Admiral Perry there was big interest and influence from east to west. It cant be said that European writers, artist etc (Romantics or not took no interest in Polynesian culture.) Wordsworth had subtle philosophy which transcends while it remains in the "real" and I can see links to Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Nietszche even Derrida or Marx (a great fan of Goethe's Faust) but there is no duality needed (actually Descartes is less of a "dualist" than his detractors make him, he was a great scientist-thinker who invented the vital system of Cartesian (from his own name of course) coordinate mathematics whereby algebra and more "abstract" mathematics could be depicted graphically, (of course his "proof" of God is no doubt a worry).

As to the Industrial Revolution and mass production - you cant have you cake and eat it.

But of course we Europeans can learn from the art of Tonga, but we don't have to stamp on William's kindly face.

None of this is to detract from Scott's poetic work! Or Tongan writing but Helu is wrong in this case re Wordsworth. [had he read 'The Leech Gatherers'? THAT's is a biting political statement about the lot of oppressed and poor people in England]. He is throwing the baby out with the bath water* which I hope neither of you two young whippper snapper fathers do!

*[I'm sure E P Thompson would NOT have!]
I admire Albert Wendt's poetry and his novels very very much and I bet he has read his Romantics!

There is in fact STILL something romantic/Romantic about the Pacific Islands.

These things work two ways.

1:03 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I meant (for me)the great poet Pope (not a Romantic of course) not Poe although Poe comes into the picture also! Poe was not a very good poet but his stories influenced surrealism and symbolism.

But it would be rare man (such as Melville?) to go as "far" as such places as Tonga and to realize the depth of Polynesian culture. Some did. It is still only the few who embrace other cultures as much as (well you have Paul)...

1:12 am  
Anonymous Le'o said...

I wish Futa was here! He always appreciates and love criticism and discussions. His publications had achieved its purpose as it generates all sorts of motions and it would have been interesting to hear his response. After all the validity of a statement is intangible as everything revolves and evolves with this world. Nothing remains the same, that's the law of nature, and so as all states and beings in all forms. Good Day Gentlemen.

7:17 am  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

I taught classes in Swift, Goethe and Donne at 'Atenisi and Futa was a great fan of all of these writers. His interpretations weren't perfect of course and teaching kids from the bush, he aimed at the kind of clarity that could sometimes err on the side of reductionism. I think your comments are valid - particularly about the plethora of counter-examples and complexities.

But he was generally an extremely humble man and something of a Tongan nationalist. I guess it comes with the territory of a small nation that has been so humiliated by palangis who appear to know everything, tell the locals what to do and then bugger off.

But there is little doubt that Tongans are less socially and materially alienated than palangis and it is reflected in their poetry.

Sometimes it's infuriating actually to see them grovelling to the hierarchy or refusing to indulge in abstract thinking. But I think terms like 'cunning bullshit artist' betray a degree of strange resentment on your part, considering the great efforts on Futa's part to understand where you come from.



9:49 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi folks,

I'm actually at fault for any confusions in this discussion - I gave an example of one of Helu's fascinating and provocative claims about Englit without really explaining that claim in detail!

Believe it or not, Richard, Helu actually claims Pope as 'a fine Tongan poet', and asserts that Tongan poetry in general is more in line with 18th C than Romantic, 19th C English poetry. So he's not isolating Tongan poetic tradition from English tradition, so much as taking sides with one part of the English tradition against another.
I'll post properly about this later, but in the meantime read On Tongan Poetry!

10:03 am  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:53 am  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Yes Futa certainly had a 'classicist' and 'objectivist' agenda against what he saw as the effusive individualism of much of western art - in particular the Romantics. He was particularly critical of the anxieties of the existentialists. Even Wordsworth's Daffodils, brilliant as it is, is quite a lonely poem from a Tongan perspective.

Unfortunately Tongans have been roped into the broader human crisis now as I tried to illustrate in Tongan Ark.

10:54 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I saw red when I saw the crit. of WW as I know Comrade Map's (personally) doubtful attitude towards The Romantics, and I missed the classical-Romantic mix. [Shelley is great (The West Wind) but often becomes too diffuse and much the same can be said of Swinburne although he is a special case...)...and Browning also "resolves" things somewhat with some irony and dramatic speech. Eliot, influenced by him, James and Jules la Forgue (as well as just about everything ever written) synthesizes. Milton is "objective" while Shakespeare's "objective correlative" is or are his plays

The duality is thus 'resolved' in Modernism, to some extent, hence Scott's poem.

The B/S artist comment was a googly I bowled to get some debate rolling on poetry for once...

(Actually it may have been by RT 119 I'm not sure. he is rather subjective (lol!) and emotive. You may have heard of some of the emotive emails he sends in a counter attack to a certain poet's Imaginative and (drug-induced, influenced?) emails and fabulations to Richard 3)

Helu certainly points to one main issue in poetry in general and that is the interaction of "abstract" and supposedly "subjective" thoughts or issues. But there is no way anyone can operate without both of these.


2:51 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I've just finished reading a book by V.S. Ramachandran* (he is Neurologist) on the brain, consciousness, the self and art etc (how these are or might be actually generated in the brain (and the body of course) and there is a part of the brain that if disabled, while everything else is usually o.k. it means the person cant understand any metaphoric language or any idioms. Everything is translated completely literally (I have to say I have trouble with metaphoric language etc, I frequently read what everyone else easily sees as metaphor or a pun quite literally myself)) ...that is why I like my totally abstract-real poem 'The Red'

But we need kind of "abstraction" to understand "redness" from instances of red (sorry to use this example which is coincidentally my poem and the very common usage of philosophers to explain this issue...!)

I recall along discussion with Olwyn Stewart about WW and whether he was better or not that Bryon! She is into philosophy and poetry etc, be interesting to see her wade in....
here...

2:52 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Shelley and Blake (at his best he brilliantly combines "abstract" and concrete words as in 'Tyger' were perhaps the most 'revolutionary', Keats the most "realistic, Coleridge the deepest thinker an at time a genius (Pace and de gustibus Comrade Tiso)

A lot of my own "later" poetry has been accused by Richard 58 and others of being too abstract but I started with quiet subjective-objective-real (that is my subjectivism didn't lead me soaring with the angels) poems but what I then did I think was kind of "pseudo-philosophy"** [I and also poetry where the words themselves become "real" (actually they are real-abstract gestalts if you like)

* 'The Tell-Tale Brain' by V. S. Ramachandran. He has a great description of the famous dancing Shiva (Vishnu also?) sculpture, and the time that Rodin, electrified by it, went into a kind of trance in front of it and started trying to dance like the Eternal Maker Creator and Destroyer of Worlds!! There is man going out side his own culture!

[As did Oppenheimer at Trinity US]

**
if moon was man
then woman would be world —
setting out for day trip across a vacuum
into that ancient dialogue
whose clear concisions,
so Euclidean,
become
ever more half-forgot -

let me explain: because
things get too good
and as DNA mutates constantly,
then everything has become
as blind as a stone
that inhabits the basis.

The "joke" is that there is on real explanation offered nor can there be... but the totality of the poem's "construct" remains (as my ex said when I read it once, of the "constructs" that I loftily mentioned, that there needs to be emotion (underpinning any creative work) and I took that into account in future things), so I am nodding towards the Language poets as well as vestiges of symbolism etc
But I also wrote poems about particular trees or places although none as good as those phenomenological-real-'abstract' things by Williams Carlos Williams.

But each time I read about Helu I think, “not again”, and I’m irritated, but then I start seeing all kinds of interesting aspects to what he had to contribute. Someone of no account wouldn’t irritate us...

And indeed Le'os comment is very good on that. Dialogue seems to be in the spirit of Helu and Greek philosophy and indeed Polynesian philosophy (debates or "harangues" on and off the malae etc) and in the larger family group, which we have sacrificed or lost ('alienation' after the "individualism of The Enlightenment and Romanticism and our so-called "freedom" under Capitalism...and yet it brings some psychic and creative (as well as material) gains.

2:55 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

" He was particularly critical of the anxieties of the existentialists. Even Wordsworth's Daffodils, brilliant as it is, is quite a lonely poem from a Tongan perspective.

Unfortunately Tongans have been roped into the broader human crisis now as I tried to illustrate in Tongan Ark."

Yes, I see. Is that anxiety more universal...that is, is it something we have always possessed? I know that in the group or the "crowd" we can subsume some of that (some of it is I suspect actually inherited and is a part of the total bio or neurological structure or what we are.) 'Daffodils' has been satirized a lot of course, and it is 'about' the experience of one man, one lonely man. Again I think it is trade off. The individual versus the group. The old problem or dilemma. But 'The Leech Gatherers' and quite few others start to look outside the self. Obviously the self is always there. Yeats used masks as did the Japanese and Greek dramatists.

3:03 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

This document, which I understand that Paul and Echo helped to prepare, represents an attempt by the elderly Futa Helu to spell out his aesthetics:

http://portal.unesco.org/culture/es/files/29489/11347324813community_art.pdf/community_art.pdf

It shows the very strong influence of classical aesthetics over Helu. He tries to define art in terms of classical qualities like harmony.

Helu argues that art represents the perfection of life - that an artist takes some part of the flux and flow of life and makes it permanent and beautiful, by giving it a harmonious form.

Helu seems to me to try to fill out his argument by turning to the ideas of the early twentieth century art critics Clive Bell and Roger Fry. Bell and Fry asserted that a successful artwork had a physical effect on its viewer - they were talking mostly about painting and sculpture - due to the harmony of its forms. This physical 'charge' stimulated the mind of the viewer, so that he or she thought and felt in an aesthetic way. A maths sum or a newspaper headline would make the same viewer think in a quite different, non-aesthetic way.

Helu tries to understand both the great art of Europe and Tonga in terms of his neo-classical aesthetics. He thinks that a great lakalaka and a Michelangelo sculpture both take the stuff of life and perfect them by putting them into harmonious, and therefore beautiful, forms.

I'm not a great fan of any sort of general theory of art, so it'll be no surprise that I don't find Helu's general theory convincing.

Helu seems to leave no place for entire subgenres of art - conceptual art, installation art, found art - and his notion of harmony would seem either to have to exclude a huge amount of great artworks or else be made so loose and fuzzy that it is almost meaningless.

If we say that both a Michelangelo sculpture and a Jackson Pollock painting are examples of harmony, are we not diffusing the meaning of the word? Can we call both The Wasteland and Paradise Lost harmonious compositions?

I think that the real significance of Helu's general theory of art is the insight it gives us into his own thinking. It doesn't show us what is and isn't art, but it does show us Helu's likes and dislikes. As such, it's well worth reading.

I also think that Helu drops some of the severities of his general theory of art when he gets down to brass tacks and discusses individual works of art. The essays in On Tongan Poetry seem to me marvellous subtle and undogmatic, even if Helu's enthusiasms and dislikes do show through.

10:38 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Here's my Laumatanga in the mix:

Quadrant Rd

The golden fillings hurt
within my modern teeth
at the point of Quadrant Road
in an Onehunga freeze.

Afi, Api, Ahi... home fires,
and the eternal return, home

where with streaming water
my son ignites,
the browning leaves
of the tui’s honey source

and he diverts me,

from thoughts of the bridge
or the sex of black rock
and turquoise, the open
mouth of the Manukau.

Or the rottenness of age
or my mind in fragments
slouching, from the green wheel
of some unseen potter.

Afi, Api, Ahi... home fires,
or the eternal return, home

in time,
this planetary child,
will know the meeting
of a dissolving sea and sky
over the graves of Onehunga.

10:39 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Richard,

I think Helu's preference for the neo-classical poets of eighteenth century England - for Pope, Swift, and Gray - over the Romantics of the nineteenth century is a reflection of his neo-classical view of art, as well as his experience of the role of the poet, or punake, in Tongan life.

The Tongan tradition of 'collective lyricism', which saw the punake producing work for recitation on public occasions rather than scribbling away in a garrett, is more compatible with the neo-classical notion of the poem as a carefully crafted statement than the Romantic idea of a poem as an urgent but sometimes inscrutable message from the subconscious (I'm simplifying neo-classicism and Romanticism here, but you get my point).

I don't think Helu's anti-Romanticism necessarily makes him an anti-modernist stuck in the eighteenth century. Many of the great modernist poets were opposed to what they saw as the sentimentality and subjectivity of Romanticism, and wanted to create a poetry which was 'hard' and 'objective'.

In the note on Further Reading attached to On Tongan Poetry I suggest that Helu's approach to poetry might be likened to that of Donald Davie, who denigrated Romanticism but valued modernist poets who focused their work on the hard details of the exterior world and history, like Basil Bunting and Pound, and Christopher Middleton, the avant-garde Briton seems to want poets to see themselves as makers of sturdy objects, rather than as autobiographers.

10:47 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Jono,

is it really true that there are wild dogs on Pangaimotu Island? I thought it'd be too small! I'm a bit worried about going back there now!

10:53 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Great poem Paul!

Preference is always wrong, a writer or art it needs to eb open to any kind of art and or ideas. It seems to me he was conservative in many ways. I still think Davie over-simplified things in his imaginary museums (although he is an interesting writer and critic for sure). You have to study the line via Chaucer right through Shakespeare, Donne et al, Milton and Classicism (Greek and English) right into modernism and post-Modernism which blows all the Insulars out of their complacent boxes. Hopefully young Tongans wont be taking Helu's "insights" into art too seriously. Fry I am sure wasn't necessarily anti-Romantic and some of his aesthetic applies to WW. (I share some of Fry's ideas...) [Much as I admire Pope (though no one would want to write like him nowadays except for satirical works, and that applies to Romanticism etc) but I think you could write like Shakespeare in any age or time...but Gertrude Stein is the one to study) ]

Again you are now making an argument to fit these new ideas you have. Tonga is a "new" place, Tongan culture is new to us, it must always be or have been better or we'll offend the Tongans etc etc. Political correctness, why not? - it helped ...... get up the tree. Throw out Romanticism and Personalism and Confessionalism, throw it all out. Kick that ugly stupid old dribbling-winging-bastard-dementia ridden Taylor out, and Baxter and Smithyman...

Throw out all the poetry except that coming out of Tonga!

Middleton is great indeed (esp. his prose poems and satires) but he takes his writing too far, it becomes dry. Stephen Crane, Berryman, Bishop, Marianne Moore, Eliot, Stein, Schuyler, Ashbery, Loney (!!), Wystan Curnow (now I'm talking), Murray, Womanhire (sorry!), Leggott and even Wedde and the early Tuwhare, and Silliman (even Hill and David Jones), Heijinain, the Howe sisters and Bernstein etc would be nothing and no one without Romanticism (and of course Objectivism) which was a huge liberating movement, not just Shelley writing about Mt. Blanc, and includes Beethoven, Goethe...now I am also big fan of Pope and Swift etc but I still deeply value Keats and Blake et al. You are all cutting corners and making Tongan poetry fit into some kind of template. Show me some good Tongan poetry I haven't seen any yet.

I am sure it is there but it wont come by any formula of Laumatanga or because it is Tongan as such -it will be by an eccentric individual Tongan who breaks the rules and tells Tongan traditionalists to get stuffed - as long as he or she knows what the total tradition is. It will be a creative mix of ideas.

Fry was wrong about mathematics, solving or creating say a theorem such as one by Euclid is very much like the experience he talks about in regard to art. [It I think it may connect us partly to the limbic region of the brain, including the Amygdala etc as well as the frontal lobes etc and might well be "close" (in its operation) to whatever enables us to draw etc etc etc ad infinitum.]

However a purely Classical approach to Art (poetry is Art) will get no one no place. Learn from such as Pollock, Rebecca Horn, Len Lye, McCahon, Hotere [now THERE is a great artist], or Julian Dashper.

I'll look at that thing by Echo and Paul.

2:40 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"A revealign anecdote":

I recall studying Romanticism in one paper about 1993 and there was a strange visitation by an American "expert" on the subject who gave a lecture and various of the illuminated professors at AU attended and showed great reverence and apparent comprehension, but the "lecture" was, while it was in English, was totally incomprehensible to me...

I agree with Eagleton that literary theory, esp. that which is meant to teach us something, should at least have a certain concreteness to it. It was not as if we stage 3 students were studying the equiv. of theoretical physics under say Born or Oppenheimer! I didn't meet any student who had the slightest idea what the bloke was talking about!

This is different from what I DO admire about Helu - that is his relatively oblique and deliberately "round about" way of speaking, and the way he uses a degree of ambiguity. He does have a degree of openness which in a strange way combines with his conservativeness (I think in this he is a bit like Barthes who was, as Sontag says, in many ways, deep down, a conservative (not in a bad sense), and his best writing is emotional and neo-personal, and is in the tradition say of Montaigne, who influenced Shakespeare. His best essays are like prose poems. The emotion is there as in his 'Camera Lucida' but it is "filtered" so to speak and modulated.

Like Helu, right or wrong, he makes people think.

2:57 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Yes, Futa has an interesting ambiguity. I have a copy of his book Herakleitos of Ephesos here for you and I'm sure you would enjoy it.

The book that he wrote in later life 'The Art of the Community' is an interesting summary of his views on the communal aspect of Tongan art making but it is a bit ropey as he was in and out of lucidity while writing it. It needs a good edit. Echo and I only helped to authorise some of the plates in it.

Helu actually has an interesting essay called 'Metaphor and The Ambiguity of Poetical Terms', which addresses some of the issues you raise - he sees the poet as a kind of peeping aspirant to an overarching unity through metaphor.

Sometimes he was a staunch individualist and something of a romantic (I've heard stories of his tearful translation to a crowd of Keat's 'On a Grecian Urn'. Sometimes he was immersed in the group on a very fundamental Tongan level - the unity of mind, nature and society.

The man was a paradox and as such was very provocative as you say. We don't take his word as gospel but he was an oroginal window on a little known world.

8:21 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes, good points Paul; Helu sounds a very interesting man. It seems that already from places such as Tonga, Samoa and other Pacific islands and indeed from the increasing range of people from all over the world (where when I was young (50s to 60s) we had far more Europeans as percentage of the total population): it seems that as that is indeed that is the way cultures and civilizations progress (if we can call it that!), we will find our next Shakespears, Picassos and Einsteins* etc coming form outside of the European tradition, and indeed that is already happening. We are seeing many more professionals, trades people, educationalists artists, from all over the world, from places once considered "backward" by the mainstream European viewpoints.

Feta Helu's capacity, like many of say the Greek Philosophers, was to inspire. The listing of people in cruel and elitist "orders of merit" as Auckland Grammar and Palmerston North Boys High schools do is what makes me shudder and want to vomit...give me the genius of the "failures" of Atenisi over those miserable (and often developing psychotic) "successes" anytime...but we still have to have some practical wisdom to impart! So learn how to use spades and spanners also!

In that film what I saw was a kind of English "tradition" of mucking on and getting through almost because of one's failures...all this winning and succeeding and film stars and whether the All Blacks win or not is artificial, Atenisi seems a timeless place where ideas are generate, and from here people can go out and remake the world in whatever way; "fail" or "succeed" the terms are relative (success, in brief is being happy - intelligence is basically how happy you are most of the time...not "achievements" or how many big words one knows or whether own can square a circle while talking a lot of airy nothing! But we need theorists and good practicians also

And the kids were laughing a lot. That is a good sign.

Helu is on one YouTube giving a long speech (he was ill at the time) and while there is respect (and patience) there is laughter and people go on with their chaos or order...will it continue? It [Atenisi and Helu's heritage etc] is a symbol or major sign or and indicator or what can happen.

Looking to the future with such liberating ideas we don't need to worry about European Culture. We now have a new international culture arising.

We are, as Pakeha, of often too locked into material possessions and "success". Dr Wayne Dyer in his book "Your Erroneous Zones" advises people to learn to fail. We can also think of Diogenes and the "dog philosophers" (C. K. Stead has Jesus Christ being influenced by them in his excellent book 'My Name was Judas').

I would be interested in seeing the book on metaphors etc I haven't got the poetry book yet.

*But we are also interested, beside all these august "names", in the "ordinary" working people in general and how they can be participant, creative, and happy also. It is as Helu realized, a mix of the individual and the group etc We can enjoy Keats or learn how to cook a great meal and take pride in either thing, or learn how to fix a car or whatever skill we need. Learn how to live in the group and by ourselves inside that group.

9:31 pm  
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6:34 pm  

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