Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Falst Talkin' PIs, Orality and Identity: the unintended consequences of reviewing

I'm writing a review of Selina Tusitala Marsh's brilliant first collection Fast Talking PI (AUP 2009) for the press, and as I'm reading María Sabina's Selections (Ed. Jerome Rothenberg, Poets for the Millennium, University of California Press 2003) and it's mention of Sabina's influence on Anne Waldman, to whom the title poem is dedicated, so I decide to be all presumptuous and ask Selina about any connection here. Great discussion follows, and is below.

-----Original Message-----
From: Ross Brighton
Sent: Tuesday, 7 April 2009 7:07 p.m.
To: Selina Marsh
Subject: Fast Talking PI
Hi Selina-
I'm reviewing Fast Talking PI for the Christchurch Press, and was wondering, regarding the title poem's dedication to Anne Waldman, are you familiar with the influence of the oaxacan shamaness-visionary María Sabina's chants on her work in "Fast Talking Woman"?

Ross Brighton

On Wed, Apr 8, 2009 at 11:44 AM,
Selina Marsh wrote:
Hi Ross
I know Maria Sabina was a formative influence in Anne's performance works and chants, but haven't really looked into the extent of her litanical influences - but will do so eventually since I'm in the middle of writing a piece about the effects of 'Fast Talking PI' and what it really is that people, regardless of whether they're PI or not, respond to. Its like how Bernstein famously noted that you don't know what you've done until you've done it! I think where Waldeman is deeply into avante garde language poetics, my piece works breaks out of a context where voice and representation of the PI can still become so stilted that merely by virtue of claiming space it effects people. I've cut and paste an email I received the other day regarding the title poem, written by a Cook Islander (I've removed his details), to show you what I mean!
Cheers and all the best

"Saw your piece on Tagata Pasifika last week and wanted to wish you
Congrats on bringing out the book Fast Talkin PI. Had a listen of
the audio version but listened on a website -
(Tried NZEPC but being.... 'a computer illiterate PI, a cant afford
a computer so i use the libraries PI'... i didnt know how to work
the site..haha) First impressions of the audio version of the poem -
Brilliant and brought a smile to my face!..Had a distinctly Pacific feel
to it and felt inclusive as it had a very modern relevant take on
Pacific Identity - I felt like the poem represented me all of us as
Pacific Islanders in 2009 at present and wasnt an out dated version
of our identity as Pacific Islanders .
The play on PI stereotypes were cunningly clever!..Made me chuckle
in moments thorughout the poem (Only a Pacific Islander could get away
with some of the topic matter you presented) and at the same time
when topic matter of social injustices against Pacific Islanders e.g.
the Dawn raids were raised, struck a cord of anger and sadness.
It conjured different emotions and reactions and in that respect perhaps
is the poems greatest strength - as it makes you contemplate the issues
raised in the poem and for me as a New Zealand born Pacific Islander
makes me try to make sense of the social, political and cultural landscape
i have inherited and am apart of - my identity, and in essence helps me
to navigate a destiny that matters to me and not be defined by
stereotypes whether they be positive or negative.
Moments actually gave me shivers down my spine!.Very inspirational
to hear a modern Pacific point if view and to hear it be done well. Well done!
Looking forward to having a proper read and disection of the text
afterall 'im an intellectual wanking PI, im a disect a poem and rip
it to shreds PI, im a have to make myself feel brainy PI'..haha
I think this line "Im a...PI" will be stuck in my head all day..Thanks for the that.haha"

-----Original Message-----
From: Ross Brighton
Sent: Wednesday, 8 April 2009 2:30 p.m.
To: Selina Marsh
Subject: Re: From Selina: Fast Talking PI
Hi again-
Thanks for that - the context in which i was thinking of Sabina was the obvious oralaity of your work, and the politics of transcription - Jerome Rothenberg is realy good on that (along with the politics of translation, both literal and into the western catagory of "poet") in the introduction to the selections of Sabina in the Poets for the Milenum series he co-edited with Pierre Joris.
If you want it, here's a bit of my take so far, as a liberal academic Palangi:
The way you have 'captured' the spoken is really impressive, as Deleuze and Guattari state (if i may jump on the poststructuralist band-wagon) "however important the writing machine is to the imperial bureaucracy, what is written retains an oral or nonbook character".
The negotiation of various histories languages, vernaculars and subjectivites in the book is massive, and gives voice to a multitude of pluralites without being pigeonholed as "representative" of any specific "minority" position and i mean this without negating the specific Pasifika subjectivity of the book (if i remember rightly in her introduction to Recyclopedia Harryette Mullen reports on a fellow Black writer in one of her classes complaining regarding 'language' poetry that "we need our subjectivity"), ie you speak through the book without "speaking for" anyone in the patronising manner such a statement takes within popular socio-politics and 'post-colonialism'.

Any thoughts?

On Wed, Apr 8, 2009 at 2:59 PM, Selina wrote:
Hi Ross,
Wow - I'm guessing this isn't for the local rag...Ha! Regarding representative non-representativity, I really like Mestiza writer Gloria Anzaldua's thoughts on existing in the 'borderlands' as a person of mixed blood. It reflects the particular situation of the afakasi Pasifika diaspora and offers insights into the politics of identity.
I find that performance of the written word, either live or when read in the head, momentarily captures the intangibility of shifting identities and the necessity of living between worlds in that liminal space. Anzaldua argues these spaces are transformative, occupied as they are by who she calls the "Los Atravesados" (just sayiing that word gives me tingles on the tongue!): "the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed.those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the "normal" ('This Bridge Called My Back').
I've found that the orality via chant in my work, alongside its relationship to music and rhthym forms bridges across commonly divisive demographics making the work a bridge builder. I've recounted in a Radio NZ interview with Kim Hill (its posted somewhere) the response of Murray Gray (organiser of Going West Literary Festival) after hearing me rehearse. He announced in front of everyone: 'I'm a slow-talking palagi, all the way from Titirangi!' I had a silver sea of grey haired palagi folks come up to me with their own versions: they became honorary PIs! Certainly I take pride in being Pasifika, but its not to the exclusion of the pride I feel as any one of the other mixes that comprises me - and that's what I feel to be one of the most emancipatory things about my work: I don't pigeon-hole nor succumb to the pressures I felt of 'having to choose' when I was growing up.
Anyway, thanks for your interest - send me a copy!!



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