Friday, January 20, 2017

L'Ile Volee

Bernard Laussauce has written about The Stolen Island for OutreMer1re, a radio and television service and website aimed at France's dependencies in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

'We are not customers': Denys Trussell's Fairburnian rebuke to Auckland council

Denys Trussell is a living link to what we might call the heroic age of New Zealand poetry. In the decades after World War Two New Zealand was, as Allen Curnow said, a 'hard homeland' for poets. Instead of the grants and residencies that are today up for grabs, the state offered poets and artists of all kinds discouragement, and sometimes persecution.

Poets like James K Baxter and ARD Fairburn responded to the strictures of their society with satire and polemic. They became public figures, as they lambasted the philistinism of their age.

As a young man Denys Trussell befriended many of the important poets of the postwar era, and wrote a biography of ARD Fairburn. In his poems and his essays he channels the anger and energy of Fairburn and Baxter, and as the head of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors he does battle with the philistines of our era, who tend to use neo-liberal economics rather than religious dogma to justify their assaults on the arts.

Today's New Zealand Herald quotes a polemic that Trussell has directed at Auckland Council, which is considering sacking fifty of the city's librarians. Trussell objects not just to the prospect of redundancies but to the way that Auckland's councillors think about libraries, books, and readers:

Libraries are not supermarkets, but complex social institutions...We are not customers. We are readers and citizens in question of knowledge, information and the pleasure of books

You can find more of Trussell's polemic here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Same name, different islands

Last night I put Tonga TV's news item about The Stolen Island on this blog; an hour or so later I got an e mail from Pacific genealogist and historian Christine Liava'a, who was bewildered by what she had seen.

Christine wanted to know where Tonga TV had gotten the still pictures that accompanied its piece. Most of the pictures were, she pointed out, 'utterly irrelevant' to the story The Stolen Island tells. My book describes the raids on the Tongan islands of 'Ata and Niuafo'ou by Tasmanian and New Zealand slavers in 1863. Both 'Ata and Niuafo'ou are high, rugged islands, but Tonga TV featured a series of shots of a coral atoll.

It seems to me that a confusion of names can be blamed for the presence of the coral island in Tonga TV's report. While the 'Ata of my book lies about one hundred and fifty kilometres south of the Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa, another 'Ata sits just a couple of kilometres offshore in Nuku'alofa harbour, inside a coral reef. Whereas the second vowel in the southern 'Ata has a short 'a' sound, the coral 'Ata ends with a long 'a' sound.

Although it is tiny and uninhabited, 'Ata the atoll has an important place in Tongan mythology. According to many oral traditions, the island was one of the first pieces of Tonga to emerge from the sea. Soon after 'Ata had emerged from the water, the skybound god Tangaloa 'Atulongolongo turned himself into a bird and dropped a seed onto it. After a small plant grew from the seed, Tangaloa 'Atulongolongo pecked at the plant's root. When a worm oozed out of the broken root, the god pecked at the worm. The worm broke into three pieces, from which three men emerged. Tangaloa 'Atulongolongo brought these men wives from the spirit island of Pulotu; the men and the spirit women together created the Tongan people.

I suspect that the staff at Tonga TV ran a google search for images to go with their report on The Stolen Island, and then confused the 'Ata of my book with the geographically proximate and mythologically potent 'Ata of Nuku'alofa harbour.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

On telly in Tonga

The news team at Tonga's national television station has put together this piece about The Stolen Island.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Drinking the darkness

Angus Gillies has just done a facebook post about The Stolen Island. Here's his post along with my reply to it. 

Have just finished reading Scott Hamilton's new book The Stolen Island, Searching for 'Ata. And it's a bloody great read! It's a true story about slave-trading in the Pacific Islands in the 1860s and particularly what happened to 144 men, women and children kidnapped from the island of 'Ata in Tonga. I love the way Scott takes us along as he skillfully uncovers the old story and finds and talks to the descendants, all while modestly painting himself as an Inspector Clouseau-like character. Kiwis might be surprised to discover that some of Auckland's wealthy families had Pacific Island slaves in the 1800s. My favourite line from the book is from Scott's Acknowledgements: Friends, we drank the darkness, and became visible.

My reply: 

Malo for your kind words Angus. The phrase 'Friends, we drank the darkness, and became visible' comes from the great Swedish poet and Nobel laureate Tomas Transtromer. 

I use the phrase while paying tribute to my friends Sio Siasau and Serene Tay, who helped me explore some of the ancient, pagan, and perhaps haunted sites - ruined forts, sacred groves, godhouse platforms - of Tongatapu back in 2013, when we were all living on the island. Since then Sio has become internationally famous for sculpting and painting Tonga's old gods and powers. He drnk from the forbidden culture of his pre-Christian ancestors, and by doing so created himself as an artist. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

'Nothing at all!'

It's that time of year again. Kindergarten is out for a few weeks, beer and wine are flowing on the balcony, and friends are knocking on the door. Conditions are not good for blogging, and the only thing I can hope to write is the occasional poem.

I've been scribbling a series of sonnets addressed to my friend Sio Siasau, who spent much of this year in New York City. It turns out that Sio had been writing a series of poems of his own in America: I'm very curious to see how they read alongside my epistles.

Here's one of my 'Sonnets for Sio'. It was written with the assistance of my oldest son.

Chapter 63
So now you are writing poems, Sio! 
Like a watch ticking in a coffin
the blank page is patient. You bend your neck
and squint, and notice the pits and crevices
in the paper, and blink at its glare. 
                               Coleridge crossed 
the same white desert, looking for the oasis
of Kubla Khan. Xanadu was a date palm
shading a mudpool, a civilisation
of flies. 
           Aneirin is awake and at the table
beside me, tinkering with his lego while I type.
He looks at the almost blank screen and asks
'What are you doing Daddy?'. 
I tell him I'm crossing a white desert 
with only a cup of lukewarm tea to sustain me.
I ask him if he'd like to travel with me, to join
the poem, and he replies 'No! I want to say nothing, Dad,
nothing at all!' 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Talking to the ABC

I've done an interview with Aussie public radio about the slave raid on 'Ata and its consequences.