A Transpacific Poetics (2018)

Jack Ross, ed.: Poetry NZ Yearbook 2018 (March 2018)


Ted Jenner / Jeremy Roberts /
Laura Solomon / A TransPacific Poetics

A TransPacific Poetics. Ed. Lisa Samuels and Sawako Nakayasu. ISBN 978-1933959320. Brooklyn, NY: Litmus Press, 2017. RRP $30.00. vi + 198 pp.

Lisa Samuels & Sawako Nakayasu (ed.): A TransPacific Poetics (2017)

Whether Lisa Samuels and Sawako Nakayasu’s book really qualifies as a ‘poetics’: a kind of manual for Oceanic writing in general, or simply as an anthology of interesting pieces from different spots in the Pacific is not, to my mind, a question of overmuch concern.

For myself, I’d prefer to take it in the latter sense, and to forget about some of the larger claims made for the work as a whole – in particular in Samuels’ opening essay, ‘What Do We Mean When We Say Transpacific.’ She does, after all, concede that ‘Imagining a transpacific poetics includes imagining a right to participate in its articulation’ (4), and it’s that kind of openness and inclusiveness which constitutes this collection’s greatest strength.

There’s a great deal here, and I despair of having something worth saying about each of the contributions. Instead, I thought I might just single out a few pieces which interested me particularly, while stressing that another reader might compile a completely different list of highlights from so eclectic and idiosyncratic a compilation.

Jai Arun Ravine’s ‘The Romance of Siam,’ for instance, does a wonderful job of interrogating the iconography of Thailand via Yul Brynner’s start turn in The King and I, together with similarly spurious texts from multiple sources.

Murray Edmond’s essay ‘Tattooed Rocks at Whāingaroa: a Personal Archaeology of Knowledge through Poetry’ is right at the other end of spectrum. Beginning with a series of poems dedicated to Edmond by poet-historian Scott Hamilton (and included in brief 47), Edmond runs through some of the allusions there: to Hamilton, ‘the place where I grew up,’ and its curious nexus of international influence (through The Rocky Horror Show, among other things) and provincial torpor:
What had happened in the Waikato over the century from 1864 to 1964 was a process called ‘settlement.’ Settlement implies moving into an area and taking it over, as Pākehā did, and also ‘settling down’ or ‘coming to rest.’ The Hamilton I grew up in during the 195s and 1960s was a place that had ‘come to rest’ – or so it seemed to me.
Edmond’s series of riffs on the themes which have informed his writing from then to now – von Tempsky, Samuel Butler, Robin Hyde and Richard O’Brien – is perfectly designed to give us a kind of late-twentieth-century Kiwi pantheon of influences.

It’s not so much its originality as its familiarity which makes it such a touchstone here. It’s hard to imagine anyone interested in New Zealand writing or culture on almost any level who couldn’t find points of entry in Edmond’s generous piece.

Along with another few essays such as Eileen Tabios’ fascinating account of the growth and origins of ‘Hay(na)ku’ – originally meant as a Filipino variant on Haiku, but now a popular independent form with its own anthologies, journals and websites; or Stuart Cooke’s examination of the continuities between Australian Aboriginal and Chilean Mapuche poetry, Edmond’s piece guarantees some practical ways in to the larger topic of continuities in Oceanic writing.

Lehua M. Taitano’s remarkable poems from A Bell Made of Stones; Barbara Jane Reyes’ poems from Poeta en San Francisco; and Sean Labrador y Manzano’s ‘Breaking up with H. D.’, with its repeated refrain of ‘[what eviscerates you?]’ constitute particular high points for me. I might never have encountered any of these authors had it not been for the liberal eclecticism with which Samuels and Nakayasu have assembled their book.

Other texts which strike me more discordantly or with a less immediate sense of recognition might well appeal just as strongly to other readers. There’s much to be said for adopting the smorgasbord rather than the fixed-course banquet approach to an assemblage such as this, success through selection rather than necessary approval of everything included.

Perhaps I might conclude by quoting a few lines from Susan M. Schultz’s sequence of prose poems ‘Memory Cards’:
Time takes them away; I take my time. The former is more true than the latter. I am taken by it, but what I improvise will be my riff and bridge.


Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018. ISBN 978-0-9941473-3-2 (March 2018): 317-19.

[695 wds]

Poetry NZ Yearbook 2018

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