Tim Jones has interviewed David Howard here. In the course of the interview David states, in the context of a scathing indictment of globalisation, that "Following New Zealand's political reorientation, our poetry has turned from British to American (rather than indigenous) models. This is change but not the liberation that many claim."*
What? Aside from the criticisms of Bill Manhire (which seem to have more to do with the IIML, and by extension VUP and Sport - for which the criticisms should probably be leveled at Fergus Barrowman - than his poetics) there is little or no actual discussion of what this means. Sure, anyone can see the Ashbery influence in Manhire's work (though to be honest I haven't really read much post 1990 - his work seemed to go downhill around then), but what does that mean?Strangely David praises Michele Leggot's DIA, saying that it "deservedly won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry" in 1994. Michele took her Doctorate in Canada, on the work of American poet Louis Zukofsky. Her first work was published in Canada, and she is heavily influenced by US (and Canadian) language writing, and has been instrumental in bringing US poets to NZ to expose students to a larger range of practices (two talks given at the University of Auckland by Lyn Hejinian are available here and here).
As I've already stated the criticism of US influence in NZ is nothing new (and Allen Curnow's beloved Eliot and Auden were Americans, much as Eliot would have liked it to be otherwise), and besides, what, really is the alternative? Politics of regional genesis seem trite and petty. Just compare Auden to, say, Bruce Andrews, and you will see there are a multitude of different "America"'s, and such a matrix of practices extends beyond the US borders into Canada, the UK ... and has it's genesis in Fin de Siècle Europe.
As such, and in light of the fact that any pretence at autonomy (or regional "authenticity" - though Patrick Evans may disagree) is willful blindness - simply the importation of the idea of poetry (and with it the Greek Poesias) renders the attempt futile), what is the alternative to such? The fact that we now have global, instantaneous communication means that any attempt top cordon off the cultural precinct of our corner of the word (while subsequently trumpeting the "world class" qualities of our arts) is regressive in the extreme. I for one would rather join the world than engage in the CNZ brand of platitudinous marketing of "NZ identity".
*Obviously I'm writing this as a Pakeha writer. I would feel very uncomfortable appropriating "indigenous models" for my work, without the kind of full cultural engagement that I do not feel is possible; and even so I feel that such could easily turn into a kind of cultural tourism - cultural practices as commodities for consumption. The same kind of surface use of Maori idiom that one sees used by people who don't speak fluent Maori - meaning that the use of the word does not have the kind of full semantic underpinning and nuanced understanding of connotation as well as denotation that would be utilised if the word was English.
My first dharma talk: on talking to strangers
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