Jack Ross, ed.: brief 32 (July 2005)
i.m Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003)
Peter Harrison: Joanna Margaret Paul (2002)
Do librarians ever actually look at (let alone read) the periodicals they order? I’ve now had numerous requests from the Hocken library (by phone), AUT (two letters) and the Auckland Public Library dunning me for their “missing” #31 (or #30 – depending on which side of the double-issue came out of the envelope first, I suppose). I realise it’s frustrating and complicated of me to run two numbers into one, but I can’t honestly see that I’m shortchanging anyone. Never mind, never mind … Think happy thoughts.
“Courage!” was the last word in the last letter I received from Joanna Margaret Paul. The generosity and support she showed me then meant a great deal. They mean even more now. When I heard of the tragic circumstances of her death, the undignified absurdism of being drowned in broad daylight in the busiest tourist site in Rotorua, the Polynesian Pools, it seemed almost impossible to believe. She was one of our most original (and most unsung) poets, a painter who’d never really received her due, an artist in the fullest sense of the term: one whose life reflected her art in every particular. She combined a voice of compassion with a spirit of misrule. She was an environmental activist a philosophical anarchist, a natural mystic and a religious extremist …
The idea of a special issue of brief seemed like a natural one. She was a strong supporter of (though fairly infrequent contributor to) this magazine, and she shared our passion for the rough democracy of the Xerox machine. There was, of course, no point in covering the same ground as the various other commemorative projects: the wonderful exhibition “beauty, even,” assembled jointly by the Wellington City Gallery and the Sarjeant Gallery in Wanganui; the projected Selected Poems planned by her literary executors Bernadette Hall and Charles Bisley. I thought the most useful thing I could do was to try and contextualise her work a little, provide some critical and biographical framework for the twin meteors of Imogen and Unwrapping the Body – almost the only writings which have been easily accessible hitherto.
The discovery of just how much of a legacy she left behind (the poems alone fill four large boxfiles), has obviously complicated this task. It will all take a long time to assess. In the meantime, thanks to the generosity of the Paul family and her literary executors, I hope the work (both published and unpublished) that I’ve been able to include in this issue will make it clearer just why this loss is such a tragic and untimely one …
… editor Jack Ross at brief, and Riemke Ensing as envoy, must share the accolade for publishing if not the best, then the most important poem this year. That prize must go to the chain of versions of Ahmed Zaoui’s ‘In a Dream’ (brief 31, Spring 2004); of which the most successful, to my mind, is the version given by Ensing herself. …
Why the most important poem? For its role as a nexus of politics and aesthetics. … ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’, WH Auden once wrote; yet he then continued ‘it survives / In the valley of its making’. I’ve always read that continuation as a counter to the first statement. That is, although poetry alone might make nothing happen, it can italicise the collective voice of any particular cause. The poem can also persist beyond the circumstances which carved it out, to speak to us across apparent barriers of era, gender, sexuality, and culture. …
… through Riemke Ensing’s essay in brief, the cry of the soul is [also] brought up against the hard wall of poem as technical artefact, an object made in language, a social construct, as the translators debate and struggle with how to render it best in English. In the history of this poem, the post-modern and the traditional each must have their due. It seems to me that the poem is a vital presence on our poetry radar, even though the difficulties in rendering it effectively, fluently, and fully in English means that no single version could make it one of the year’s best.
– Emma Neale, Best NZ Poems 2004
I must confess that it gave me extraordinary satisfaction to read these wise and generous words from Emma Neale. Of course there’s something hubristic in the whole idea of a “Best NZ poems” website, but when that rubric can be stretched to include David Howard’s “Harrier Suite” from brief 30, not to mention a commendation of Olivia Macassey’s haunting “Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” from brief 29 (although Livvie indignantly denies the charge of being a “postmodernist” – sentimentalist, we agreed, would meet the case much better), then there’s certainly no point in claiming that brief isn’t being given a fair hearing.
The satisfaction, however, came mainly from the realisation that someone actually understood what we were trying to do by including quite so many versions of Ahmed Zaoui’s poem. The first time I heard Riemke read it (at an Amnesty International gathering) I knew I had to try to get it for the next brief – that this was the only magazine whose format and, dare I say it, editorial policy would make such an assault on the staid world of the New Zealand lyric possible. Yes, the purpose behind it was largely political (Mr Zaoui was still in jail at the time), but Neale is quite right to detect an almost equally subversive aesthetic intention behind it.
All in all, it seems like a nice note to be going out on. This will be the last issue of brief I put out for the foreseeable future. Alan Loney founded and edited the magazine for three years (1995-98) and ten issues; John Geraets for three years (1999-2002) and eleven issues; I’ve now done it for three years (2002-2005) and nine issues. It’s time for someone else to take over. That new editor will be Scott Hamilton, who will no doubt have a lot more to say on the future direction of the magazine in the next issue, #33. Be sure to renew your subscriptions in good time so you can find out. No bucks, no Buck Rogers, as the man says in The Right Stuff …
As the former editor of Salt, and a man as notable for political conscience as aesthetic acumen, Scott seems to me ideal to carry brief into the new millennium. Ave atque Vale, then.
brief 32 (2005): 3-4.
[Reprinted at New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre
brief 32 (2005)