TM and I are just back from Berlin, where I was taking part in an event called the Berlin Sofa at the English Theatre. Peter Rider, the New Zealand ambassador to Germany, invited me to join him so we could present a short program on NZ lit, with lots of readings and chat.
We divided our presentation into four sections - The Edge of the Universe; This Sporting Life; Islanders; and Flying Kiwi.
The Edge of the Universe - our unique place in the world
‘New Zealand begins with sea and ends with sea. Understand this and you begin to comprehend New Zealand and the New Zealander.’ Maurice Shadbolt
Poems by Bill Manhire (‘Milky Way Bar’); Allen Curnow (‘House and Land’), and Denis Glover ('Home Thoughts'); part of the story ‘The Doll’s House’ by Katherine Mansfield; the final page of Making Peoples by historian James Belich; and two novel excerpts: The Matriarch by Witi Ihimaera and Tu by Patricia Grace.
This Sporting Life - our national obsession
‘Apart from history, there are only two spheres in which New Zealand has been a world superpower. One is the export of protein. The other is sport.’ James Belich
Excerpts from two novels - The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones and Lovelock by James McNeish, and my father's favourite poem, ‘Referee’ by Hinemoana Baker.
Islanders - voices from the edge
“In a country inhabited for a mere one thousand years, everyone is an immigrant or the descendent of an immigrant.” Michael King
An excerpt from the novel Going West by Maurice Gee, and poems by Selina Tusitala March (‘Guys Like Gauguin’); Sonja Yelich (‘talking to a brick wall’); Tusiata Avia (‘Aunty Lapo’a calls Nafanua and talks about her holiday’); Alison Wong (‘Chinese Settlement, Arrowtown’ and ‘One Hundred Pounds’); and Karlo Mila ('Sacred Pulu').
Flying Kiwi - writers (and books) that roam
“The islands are moving.” Dylan Horrocks
Excerpts from two novels - The Conductor by Sarah Quigley and Rangatira (by me) and from the essay ‘NZ Return’ by the late, great Nigel Cox.
In addition to the readings, we showed various clips, beginning with clip of the All Blacks' haka (there was method to this madness - believe me: we wanted to talk about oral traditions, and also about exploring NZ BEYOND the All Blacks), then a short film about our books and writers made when New Zealand was invited to be 2012 Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair. At the end of the second section, just before the break - for a good deal of NZ wine - we showed an amazing clip of Jack Lovelock winning the 1500 metres and breaking the world record at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, with a commentary by Harold Abrahams. At the medal ceremony, by the way, the anthem played was God Save the King ...
During the 'pause' we played some footage from the Diversity Stage at Polyfest, so people could see the range of cultures and languages represented in Auckland high schools. You can see the 2012 performances here. At the very end of the programme, after we talked about possible futures for NZ lit, and emerging new voices. So of course we couldn't resist ending with a clip of Joshua Iosefo's 'Brown Brother' speech. You can see the original and the TV3 version on YouTube.
The event was quite a success, I think, with a good-sized audience of both native English- and German-speakers. Peter Rider was an excellent reader, and I hammed it up, as ever. Lots of audience members wanted to hang around and talk afterwards. We wanted to include more excerpts, but time was limited, of course. The audience especially liked the third section, even though there were numerous cultural references (and words from various languages) that were new to them. People were willing to make the imaginative leap, and to immerse themselves in the unexpected, the unfamiliar ... Unlike a certain profoundly ignorant Danish politician.
I loved being in Berlin. I like the way cities jolt me out of routine, the way they swarm over me with their new noises and sights and smells. (And tastes, too: let's not forget currywurst.) The picture above is us in the dome of the Reichstag. Below are a few more Berlin pictures - random, of course, as I can't seem to manage anything orderly these days.