Tusiata Avia and Maxine Beneba Clarke on friendship and reading beyond the colour – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Do you remember the excitement of finding a true friend in high school days? When you were lost but then found yourself by finding a friend? When you realized there is someone else out there, who likes the same weird books as you do, listens to the same music and shares the same humour and passion for so many other exciting things? The one you could talk to late into the night and (nearly) never run out of things to say? And when you did, it was nice and comfortable to just be quiet. Together.

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Tusiata Avia (Image supplied)

I came across such friendship at this year’s Auckland Writers Festival. Though it revealed to me on the stage, it was clearly not staged. Christchurch born poet Tusiata Avia and Maxine Beneba Clarke, Australian poet and writer, were like two shy girls, who have gathered in their hideaway, somewhere far from the adult’s world, to share their most precious and beloved sweets with each other. Sitting behind the coffee table on the stage, they were begging each other to read another poem. And another. And another – almost forgetting about the presence of the audience.

There was something truthful and playful in their relationship, in this game of exchanging tiny little gems. In the era of authorship and general egocentrism, it is very rare to see such genuine friendship amongst authors. Most of the time, we read about one single author, we listen to her or him speak on the stage about their work. So having two minds and hearts tripping on each other with such sincerity was really refreshing.

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Maxine Beneba Clarke (Image supplied)

Maxine and Tusiata read poems from their award-winning books. There was a big stack of them on the table, with stationery stickers in various places, marking pages populated by voices that wanted to be heard. Gifts that Maxine laid on the table included her newly released poetry collection Carrying the World, a collection of short stories Foreign soil and three other collections of poetry. Tusiata brought along her Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Bloodclot and freshly launched Fale Aitu | Spirit House, all poetry collections as well.

Voices captured in their work are voices of diaspora. Many different voices, who speak many different Englishes. But for Maxine as well as Tusiata the main reason why these voices need to be heard and their stories told lays in the human experience and not in the cultural aspects these voices bring with them. So they are both getting a bit tired of culturally and racially focused receptions of their work, when their intention is to show something universal, something human. “It is not a great position to be in,” says Tusiata. “If you are a ‘writer of colour’ you are pigeonholed at the beginning of every presentation. People need to identify you before they engage with your work.”But at the same time, she confesses, that identification is unavoidable, as “poetry is so personal and our personal paths are about where we are from.”

Cover of wild dogs undermy skirt  Cover of Fale aitu -  spirit house

They are not the only ones raising their concern about the biased reception of work from ‘writers of colour’. During the Sunday session titled The Diversity debate, Marlon James declared, half jokingly, half serious, that he will not be attending any sessions about diversity any more. Pettina Gappah earlier that afternoon talked about the burden that sort of labelling gives to ‘coloured writers’: “This label comes with expectations of what you talk about in your work.”

I could feel myself being challenged after each of the sessions. They made me think of myself as a reader and my own reception of work written by ‘writers of colour’. And they also made me wonder, if true friendship happens, when we look at the world above and beyond pigeonholes of colour, sex, race, ability, language, culture, age and socio-economic status. According to Maxine’s inscription in my copy of her book, that may as well be true. “From my heart to yours”, it says.

Which, when read again, it could also sound like a tutorial on how to read.

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Brave

Last Friday I was invited to the Aranui High School Music Block as the “library representative” to BRAVE- Daisy Poetry Promenade and her very special guests. Being the uncultured and not very creative heathen that I am, I wasn’t in the slightest prepared for this mind-blowing space collaboration of Samoan heritage, arts, music, and the poetry of Daisy herself. Just to put things into perspective, I know Daisy in a rugby-sense, that power that she exudes so effortlessly on the rugby field is ever present in her art, music, and this poetry promenade.

Daisy - Photo Credit: Joseph O'Sullivan Photography
Daisy. Photo Credit: Joseph O’Sullivan Photography

There were six stages in the promenade, our group of 60-odd was split into two groups and as we passed each other from stage to stage you could sense both the anticipation of the next space and excitement fizzing over from the last visited space.

In the first space: Vasa (vasa is the Samoan word for sea or open ocean) – Daisy’s family took centre stage with husband Seta Timo picking a traditional Samoan hymn on the double bass, followed by daughter Hadassah – all of seven years old – relating her experience as a second-generation NZ born Samoan in the poem “I am a teine Samoa.” Daisy and Hadassah spoke of the fibres of their lives being interwoven like a fine mat, this for me, was the perfect analogy of the richness and beauty of the whole performance.

The different stages wove the strands of Daisy and her life thus far, showcasing the musical Pasifika talents of Christchurch including DJ Infared – fresh off an international DJ tour, Christchurch’s premier session band – The Judah Band, Nathan Phillips, Zion Tauamiti, and some massive gospel talent with Lady Julz representing South Auckland. Each stage was threaded together by Daisy’s poetry, and there was also an emergence of new poetic talent incorporated in Annabel Ariki and Maddie Mills of Cashmere High School.

The integration of the Samoan culture was something to behold, captured by Joseph O’Sullivan and John Ross. O’Sullivan and Ross emboldened some of Christchurch’s pe’a, malofie (pe’a or malofie is the Samoan tatau – tattoo –  for men) and malu (Samoan tatau for women wearers – including Daisy) to tell the tales of their tatau through videography and photography. The moving full-length contents of these interviews and some of the images will eventually be gifted to high schools in Christchurch to include in their Samoan Language curriculum.

In parallel to Daisy’s oratory capabilities, the last stage was a re-enactment of a si’i alofa, which is a gift giving ritual that takes place at a wedding or funeral. The si’i alofa is usually a place where the chiefly Samoan language is spoken, they speak poetically and in metaphors and make reference to history, myths and legends, and the natural world. Like the si’i alofa, in the words of Daisy herself, at the centre of it all is love.

This collaborative space project was enabled largely through the love of many people; people that share a love for the arts, Samoan culture and ultimately the drive, vision and love of one woman, Daisy Lavea-Timo who is well beyond Brave. This show is one that will no doubt be shared on all creative platforms and stages not just here in Christchurch but further afield.

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Cover of The Elocutionist Cover of Ua tālā le ta'ui

Samoan Language Week 2015

Tālofa. Samoan Language Week 2015 will take place from 24 to 30 May. Here at Christchurch City Libraries we are celebrating with several events.

Events at our libraries

Samoan Language WeekStorytimes

Monday 25 May
Upper Riccarton Library, 9.30am
Tuesday 26 May
Fendalton Library, 10.30am
Wednesday 27 May
Hornby Library, 10.15am
Thursday 28 May
South Library, 10am
Aranui Library, 11.15am
Friday 29 May
Parklands Library, 10.30am

Koko and computers

Thursday 28 May
Take part in a free computer (and cocoa) session at South Library, 1-2.30pm

Samoan language resources

Find more information about Samoan Language Week and about Samoan language resources on:

Samoa_Language_Week_2015

Celebrating Samoan Language Week

Samoan Wk 4

Talofa lava everyone! Yesterday we had a great Storytime session at the Upper Riccarton Library celebrating Samoan Language Week. Make sure you check out our next two sessions at South Library (Thursday 29th May at 10am) and Aranui Library (Thursday 29th May at 11.15am).

Omai uma! Everyone welcome!

Samoan Wk2