Family roadtrip, poem on the side

I keep muttering “Somebody loves us all.” It’s the last line of “Filling Station,” one of my favorite Elizabeth Bishop poems, and also the title of Damien Wilkins’ latest novel, a terrific book Chris and I have been reading. I recently pored through Bishop’s Collected Poems, too, to prepare for a seminar on her work. That’s probably why I keep chanting those words. It’s not an obscure blogger’s desperate mantra or anything.

My ten-year-old called me on it. “What does that mean anyway? Does that mean God?” In retrospect, his tone was probably suspicious. He’s a rationalist.

Well, it could refer to God, I said, and then I told him about Bishop’s poem. There’s a gas station, an Esso station, which is an old name for Exxon. It’s run by a family, and although it’s very dirty there are signs that someone has tried to brighten the place up—wicker furniture out front, a doily, a hairy begonia.  That’s a flower, I said. The poem ends: “ESSO—SO—SO— / Somebody loves us all.” I babbled on that the line is mysterious, that it could signify just a wish for love, but that the “somebody” might also be someone in the family, expressing her devotion through begonias, as people do. Bishop lost both of her parents when she was very little, I finished, a little breathless, and took another bite of toast. I looked at my son’s freckled nose and pointy chin, thought about how beautiful he is, and reached over to trim the bruised bit off his apple.

He looked back at me fondly and said, “Esso—so—so stupid.”

Milk and honey

Writing programs are often accused of producing homogenized, pasteurized work—whirring poems around in the workshop blender until the fat and flavor are consistent throughout, heating and cooling them to get rid of the interesting little microbes. Some strong teachers do produce student imitators. This can happen if your “teacher” is John Keats or Mina Loy, too, because when you fall in love with someone’s work the echoes tend to bounce around in your own lines.  I’m now reading books that resulted from MA theses at the International Institute of Modern Letters, listening for a house style and other family resemblances, but what I’m finding is as mixed as the metaphors in this dreadful paragraph. That is, IIML graduates are writing different kinds of poems. If there’s a common aesthetic it’s one of porousness and exchange. As one example, take the last poem in Hinemoana Baker’s first book, Mātui | Needle. 

“Whenua,” dedicated to “Ariki Noel Riley, b. 26.9.2003,” highlights the significance of place. Baker’s notes gloss the title as “land” and “placenta” in Te Reo Maori. Her mixture of languages roots the poem in Aotearoa. Further, the poem centers on the Maori practice of burying a newborn’s placenta and umbilical cord, a tradition emphasizing the relationship between human beings and the earth. The poem’s home is this moment—identified to the day—and its people are the “we” of the final stanza, participants in a resonant ceremony.

“Whenua” is also full of contrasts, though, between a commitment to place and the constant movement of the poem’s speaker and perspective. The poem begins

      Some other year on this day

      I paid forty-five thousand dinar

      for Season Fruit and when it came

      it was an apple on a plate.

Here is vagueness, reticence, imperfect communication, as the speaker travels through an unnamed Adriatic country. She walks by the sea; she mounts a train. Each of these moments is grounded and simultaneously shifty. The apple is “in season, utterly,” as are the local pears and radishes a few lines later; the sea is “without tides”; the train is “stationary.” The voice itself, though, is dislocating, mimicking travel’s weirdness. While Baker’s language is pared down and plain throughout most of the piece, her punctuation and capitalization are irregular and her narrative proceeds through fragmentary images.

 The fifth stanza produces the biggest dislocation. Suddenly Baker remembers a phrase pencilled by her father into a Bible—“may the earth swarm with you”—and she is examining a “sac”:

       we hold it up, each has a turn

       our ears sizzle, we make

       pronouns with our mouths, it hangs

       heavy as a beehive from our fingers.

 The poem is ebbing: from the wandering woman back through the sea to the placenta; from the apple back through the pollinated flower to the beehive; from I to we; from dispersion to Genesis. “Whenua”’s mystery makes it beautiful even if you don’t work out those correspondences, but its symmetry is deep and lovely too.

I wouldn’t say that Baker chooses home over travel in this poem. She juxtaposes them instead through image and diction, implicitly arguing for the importance of place and community wherever you are. In the 1991 essay “Dirty Silence,” her teacher Bill Manhire wrote that “poetry should embrace and welcome the great impure worlds of language and experience from which it makes itself” and that poems should be “sociable and surprising in their behavior.” Collage, conversation, code-switching, and multilingualism don’t belong to these islands alone, of course. Nevertheless, contemporary poems in New Zealand most seem akin to one another when they refuse to speak clearly or stand still.

Talk, talk

Several times since I arrived in New Zealand, people have characterized my manner as refreshing and open. Leaving aside my obscure alarm at the word “refreshing”—am I reminding people of American soft drinks?—I think a lot about what that comment means, especially since at home, on the east coast of the U.S., I’m told I seem reserved. Because the Kiwis I talk to are mainly poets, references to conversational style often lead to a discussion of American poetry versus poetry in New Zealand, sometimes with Australia or England thrown in as a third term.

Although these writers learned a British canon at school (if they were taught much poetry at all), they read a fair amount of American verse. It’s not the same selection you’d see on a U.S. shelf. Robert Creeley, who spent a fair amount of time in New Zealand, is important; poets identified with the Language School visited and influenced the Auckland scene; several women poets say that the daring verse of Sylvia Plath and Sharon Olds holds great power for them. American music reverberates in local writing. In Anna Jackson’s American Poetry and Poetics course at Victoria, a wavy line connects Ezra Pound to Elizabeth Bishop to Anne Carson. There are threads between those three, but one link is their expatriatism and ambivalence about national identity. I don’t know many U.S. poets and scholars who read Pacific verse as widely and thoughtfully, but when they do, it’s often in the context of postcolonial studies. I also see strong mutual interest between some indigenous American and Maori and Pacific writers, though getting the books across the water can be a challenge.

Since Bill Manhire has written about nearly every issue that interests me in New Zealand poetry, here’s an excerpt from his take on the relevance of U.S. poets to New Zealand writing, from the 1987 essay “Breaking the Line”: “I want to mention one other aspect of Whitman’s poetry which I find important – and this is the way in which he offers what he writes as a conversation with the reader… This idea of the poem as conversation, as intimate address from writer to reader, has been very important in American poetry. I think you can see signs of it in the work of several New Zealand writers since the 1960s.”  The rest of the essay is well-worth reading; it gives a useful account, for example, of the particular anthologies of American verse that reached these islands in the 60s and 70s. His comment about conversation, though, particularly interests me because it’s a key term in how I’ve come to define community. A sense of belonging is a side-effect of frequent, substantive talk among a group of people, often via multiple media. Talk might not always result in a “we-feeling,” but it’s probably a prerequisite.

 The problem with thinking about poetry as conversation is that it’s generally one-sided, not responsive to talk-back. Yes, living poets exchange drafts and those verses exhibit cross-influence. Page poets revise for their editors and performance poets adjust their set-lists for live audiences. I’m guessing that writers just as often get a charge of connection, though, from the solitary reading of printed text by authors long dead. Whitman, eerily, addresses future readers, reversing the usual flow, and perhaps Manhire is correct that this is an American way of writing. The talkiness of some contemporary U.S. verse owes a debt to Whitman. There’s a surreal, jumpy, elliptic mode that’s popular too, though. And a stream of sound-driven poetry that captures my ear.  

While I worry this over, I notice that I sound increasingly strange to myself, my vowels and r’s oddly exaggerated. Not bubbly and corn-syrup sweet, though, and I haven’t yet confessed any family traumas on syndicated talk shows or reality TV. Why are my poem-drafts developing that self-correcting tic that started with Bishop (say it!)? Who do I think I’m talking to?

Birds of Aotearoa New Zealand

The farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations

Couldn’t give it away.

And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle

The magpies say.

Bill Manhire and Harry Ricketts characterize Denis Glover’s 1941 ballad “The Magpies,” quoted above, as the best-known poem of New Zealand. Glover briefly tells a story of “Tom and Elizabeth” and their failed farm; the second half of each stanza consists of that peculiar refrain in magpie-language, nonsense words “said” rather than sung. Manhire attributes “doggedness” and “reticence” to the “stubborn, impure music” of the magpies, qualities he discovers throughout New Zealand verse. Ricketts also reads this recitation classic within a larger tradition, linking it to the traditional ballad “The Twa Corbies.” Glover’s rural matter-of-factness, the way he juxtaposes human catastrophe with nature’s persistence, makes me think of Robert Frost’s phoebes in “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things”—my poetic reference points are relentlessly American—but Glover and Frost are both talking back to those Romantic skylarks and nightingales and a flock of other bird-bard correlations. Since I’m concerned in this blog with contemporary poetic conversations, though, here’s a quick look at two twenty-first century counterpoints to Glover: Mary Cresswell’s “Travel Notes (Island Bay)” from Millionaire’s Shortbread (2003) and Robert Sullivan’s “Took: A Preface to ‘The Magpies’” from Shout Ha! to the Sky (2010).  

Cresswell’s answer to the magpies’ nonsense-language is a surface translation of the original’s first verse: “the magpies said,” for example, becomes “thème à gout pays s’assiède.” A mock-pedantic editorial note informs us of the poem’s provenance: this is a “schoolyard rhyme, recalled by Miss Maire McKay of Island Bay, aged eighty, who was taught it by a nun from the Home of Compassion. Miss McKay’s whole generation knew and loved this rhyme,” a “charming ephemeron” now forgotten. (Note the internal rhyme even in the prose note: Cresswell, who emigrated from southern California to New Zealand in 1970, writes highly sound-driven verse, often rhymed and metered.) Literally, she says, the French words refer to “the discomfort of sitting on a poacher’s pruning saw.”

“Travel Notes (Island Bay)” is a puzzle—to solve it you must be familiar with “The Magpies” and have a very good ear (unless, maybe, the poet emails you to let you in on the joke). It’s an expression of delight in sound for its own sake. It’s also a challenge to the masculine lineage of Important Poets that Glover refers back to and generates. Cresswell admires Glover’s poem enough to poach it, but she never mentions him. Her work, unlike the settler labor of Tom and Elizabeth, is schoolyard play. Poetry comes to her through a line of unmarried women. They are Unimportant but they remember how things really happened.

Sullivan, a poet with Maori and Irish ancestors, identifies “The Magpies” as a poem of settler culture immediately, through the title of his response. “Took: A Preface to ‘The Magpies”” appeared in Sullivan’s 2006 essay for Landfall about the dominance of Pakeha and male writers in anthologies of New Zealand verse. His essay plays through the possible meanings of “took” in Glover’s first line, “When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm,” and his poem picks up that issue too by beginning with a bad treaty and displacement. The magpies themselves, Sullivan observes, are a species introduced to Aotearoa by Europeans via Australia; as nest-raiders who harry native birds and threaten their populations, they become ready emblems of colonial dominance and destruction. He rhymes the magpies, “pecking and squawking, frazzled and screwy,” with the native “tui”: both species are excellent mimics whose voices define these islands’ soundscapes. Sullivan ends by translating the tui’s wardle-doodle into Maori: “Do you mean korero, uri, arero, wairua, ruruhau perhaps sir?” Talk, descendants, tongue, spirit, shelter. Take that, Mr. Glover sir.

In his essay, Sullivan writes, “I happily admit that I ‘took’ great pleasure in the task” of writing a preface to Glover’s famous verses. Both he and Cresswell genuinely honor Glover’s resonant poem even as they fault its premises, or at least, I feel both impulses in their response-poems.

Cresswell’s strategy illuminates how Glover is also making a surface translation by converting the magpies’ sounds into human syllables; there is talk out there we can’t fully understand. I have read that the song of the tui contains passages of seeming silence because part of its range is beyond human hearing. I know I often return to a poem I read or even taught years ago and discover a whole new music in it, and sometimes I’m embarrassed at my failure to hear it sooner. This is why even the cleverest readers and writers need conversation, within and beyond poems themselves. Good mimics and critics amplify notes I hadn’t heard before and that’s a great pleasure too, even if I can never catch the whole melody, much less translate it into my own tongue.

Poems including history

I asked Robert Sullivan at a recent reading about the role of history in his poems. He replied, “I’m making a genre argument that historians are, like poets, imaginative writers; that poetry is also well equipped for these conversations; and that the historical can also be personal.” (I suspect those semicolons are all mine, but I’ll save my comments on orality for another day.) I admire his point—accounts of the past are never neutral and there’s no reason they need to be prose. The “poem containing history,” though (Ezra Pound’s phrase), is usually epic or long poetry. The brevity of lyric requires different modes of argument. Even in a lyric sequence with narrative elements, any tale is full of skips, blanks, recursions; metaphor and music have their own logic and can’t always accommodate names, dates, and other factual details.

So how can a lyric poem contain history? When in “Indian Cartography” Deborah Miranda remaps California, she embeds a narrative of colonization in her list of place names: “Tuolomne, / Salinas, Los Angeles, Paso Robles, / Ventura, Santa Barbara, Saticoy, / Tehachapi.” The displacement suffered by her family is the very ground of the poem, the landscape she assumes, and her poem constitutes an imaginative return to those waters, that earth. Words themselves, their textures and etymologies, widen a poem’s field. That’s also true in “The Day Lady Died” by Frank O’Hara, with its train times and brand names. The speaker grabs “an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets / in Ghana are doing these days” and suddenly race is in the poem, many lines before Billie Holiday sings. Think even of Emily Dickinson’s “Publication – is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man –.” The first word sends you in one direction, chasing after the agoraphobic belle of Amherst, but this is a politically astute New Englander writing in the middle of the nineteenth century. After images of auctions and whiteness, she concludes her four quatrains with the ringing imperative: “reduce no Human Spirit / To Disgrace of Price –.” Of course she’s thinking about abolition. It’s tricky; I say she’s condemning slavery but you could also accuse her of using that vast, terrible trauma as a metaphor for her own situation. That’s one risk of opening a newspaper inside your stanzas. Your poem can gain power, or the world can shrink absurdly.

There are stories inside words themselves, but collage and direct quotation are also important strategies; visual elements such as typefaces, margins, and gaps can signal temporal and spatial shifts; titles, dedications, and notes can carry some of the burden of context. Within the lines, verb tenses and pronouns also involve highly-charged decisions. The poet is always in the poem somewhere, but how far inside the frame does she stand? In one of Robert Sullivan’s sequences about Captain Cook, “For the Ocean of Kiwa” in the book Voice Carried My Family, he represents the Polynesian members of Cook’s various crews, beginning well inside the frame. Addressing one of those men, Mai, Sullivan protests, “I just can’t take the middle of your throat. / Who would I pay for the privilege?” (28). Nevertheless, he keeps stepping back, out of the picture. That anxious “I” appears only once in the following poem, and by the next, the first person pronouns belong to those Polynesian crew members, speaking in the present tense.

When fictionalizing a real person’s voice in a poem, I think it’s best to acknowledge the transgression as Sullivan does. However, when I brought up that issue on Wom-po, The Discussion of Women’s Poetry List, a couple of writers, Eve Rifkah and Pat Valdata, explained why they disagreed. Valdata wrote, “if you have no personal connection to the people involved then it seems self-serving to make the poem about your own life and your own issues” (Fri, 18 Mar 2011 16:40:26). Many problems unfold from our contrasting views: what stories does a person own? Are there tales a privileged European-American like me should never presume to tell? Is there an extra burden on poetry as a genre (as opposed to, say, historical fiction)—is it inevitably personal? And anyone writing history as lyric has to decide what her goals are, what kind of experience she wants her readers and listeners to have. A poem engaging the past can provoke, evoke, give answers, or leave disturbing questions hanging in the silence.

Addressing history in a poem is one way of constructing a community. The affiliation is through time rather than, or as well as, across space. Some might say that cross-temporal community can’t exist because one side of the conversation is always already over. I talk to dead poets all the time, though, and their poems are complex enough to present new answers. And I recently heard a similar point made by digital archivists who are trying to change the ownership of history by making original documents available online—letters, maps, early printed texts, often in nineteenth-century Maori. One of them said at the end of his presentation, almost as an aside, that he often felt guided by the tupuna; his ancestors collaborate in the project. Some documents pop up just as you need them; others hide, or the computer breaks down. “You know they want you to tell the story,” he said, smiling, “because they allow you to.”

Metaphors for Community

Is there a word for this? I visualize a pale field crisscrossed by radiating lines, each representing some affiliation or influence. This web is speckled with nodes or tangled places where a great many lines converge, and of course the pattern isn’t fixed. Some nodes keep darkening, gathering power, pulling more threads through their hubs. Is that what I’m thinking of, those maps in airline magazines, full of red curves that indicate routes? In any case, the nodes in my imaginary model are people, and the busiest ones are the network-builders: editors, teachers, organizers of reading series, and also the less obviously powerful people who just persistently stay in conversation with other writers and readers.

That’s a variation on the familiar web/weaving/net metaphor, and it has become a cliché because it really is a helpful way to imagine the bonds in a social group. The tighter and denser the connections, the stronger the fabric. Images of mixture are another option: the melting pot or alloy versus the salad, quilt, choir, family, or sedimentary rock. The latter seem better figures for community because they preserve a sense of the individuals who comprise the whole. However, I was just reading an unpublished article by Victoria University scholar Heidi Thomson about Keats’ letters—how he seeks to create co-presence through his writing, an intimacy that can seem intensely physical even though it’s made of words. She highlights his portmanteau word “interassimulate.” The word suggests that as friends interact, they assimilate and simulate. Sympathies, interests, values converge.

On Monday I attended a lecture and a reading by Robert Sullivan. He discussed the figure that obsesses him: spirals in three dimensions, “two points connected in a curvilinear fashion.” He pointed out the ubiquity of spirals in far-flung artistic traditions, though Maori and Celtic versions are particularly important to him, and noted that the curves seem closer if you look down on the spiral from above. His poetry circles back spirally through the literary past and the history of his ancestors, demonstrating community with his family and teachers through time. Like my web-that-I-can’t-name-in-a-word, the spiral, too, keeps moving.

I’m puzzling over metaphors because I’m puzzling over structures. Arguments are linear, but writing about a community for an essay or book chapter, I want a way of organizing my thoughts that simulates the complicated interdependence of the elements in my case study. I don’t want to focus narrowly on one poet, or a pair of them, because communities contain multiple nodes. I could describe the network from multiple angles, but where do the actual poems come in? Communities aren’t of literary interest unless they germinate poems people want to read and hear, but individual pieces rarely encapsulate what a community is about and it can be hard to see the very fine silks of connection between them. Can an essay resemble a net or a spiral and still be a clear and useful bit of teaching/reporting/talking?

“heaviness of the cave, the hive”

In Bill Manhire’s poem “Kevin,” “the cave, the hive” is an imagined space: maybe the far origin of voices on the radio; maybe the room around you as you listen in the dark; maybe the old-fashioned cabinet housing mysterious machinery. In any case it’s dim, enclosed, and haunted. I first heard “Kevin” at a City Gallery reading shortly after the recent earthquake in Christchurch. The full text is here, along with a discussion by Alan Riach. Riach didn’t have the information Manhire provided at the reading—that his friend Kevin suffered from multiple sclerosis and was losing his vision—and I find the poem a little darker than Riach does, but his account of its compassion and resonance sounds right to me. “Kevin” is agnostic about what happens when the lights go out, suggesting, as it turns from terror to consolation, that “Eventually we shall all go / into the dark furniture of the radio.”

I chose the phrase as a blog title because it sounds good (slant-rhyme of buzzing v’s); because I love the poem; and because I’m working out the relations between place, poetry, and a sense of community, and the words “cave” and “hive” conjoin different ways of understanding lyric space. One suggests solitary hibernation and the other crowded industry—introspection versus connection and collaboration.

It also seemed apt because Bill Manhire is such a force in literary Wellington. I came here to study twenty-first-century poetic communities of various kinds, but the particular draw at Victoria University is the International Institute of Modern Letters, a creative writing program founded and directed by Manhire. He was the country’s first poet laureate; he ran an influential workshop long before the IIML was organized; and he’s been particularly resourceful about nurturing New Zealand literature and raising its international profile. Many of the nation’s best younger poets have some connection to the institute. Timing, location, and other factors contribute to its success, but Manhire seems responsible for a lot: the structure of courses and degree programs; strong hiring and selective admissions; canniness about fundraising, university politics, and literary markets; and dedication to fostering a sense of writing community that extends, for many, well past graduation.

Manhire created this poetic hive but in the caves of his poems, sociability is suspicious. When not wandering through a national park and thinking, “please God / no more Americans” (“Global Track”), he’s describing Wellington coolly as “full of distant figures on the street.” He’s companionable about isolation, if that makes sense, as when he writes “I live at the edge of the universe,/ like everybody else” (“Milky Way Bar”). The neighbors are always noisy and his frequent use of the second person creates intimacy on the scale of a letter or murmured conversation. What I’d say about them for now is that they’re porous but not sociable, except in the way that every published poem is a potential instrument of connection.

Meanwhile, Manhire just auctioned off a yet-to-be-written poem to benefit the children in Christchurch. Some IIML grads have new books out, including Chris Tse, who read at a launch party yesterday in the library’s center for Maori and Pasifika studies. The institute’s latest newsletter includes links to news on National Poetry Day and the value of solitude. And here I am in a closed office above Kelburn Parade with blog retention issues, because I can’t decide whether “poetic community” is an oxymoron or something I need, and whether poetry can be a cave and a hive at once.

Framing the House

The first poem I hear performed in Aotearoa New Zealand is by a loud Australian Spoken Word guy. He’s ginger-bearded, ruddy, wearing hiking boots and a hat he stole in Nepal. His poem, “Behemoth,” begins with a wordless roar. I recognize the cast that follows, more or less, from other open mics I’ve attended in the States: there are comic rhymes, plainspoken elegies, sexy daring poems, and clever thoughtful ones. A silver-haired woman reads with crisp elocution, but others mumble into their beards. Some have memorized their work. I stare at a sooty-clothed Hamlet because, backlit by sunny windows, I could swear his ears are pointed, but I must have Weta Workshop’s latex-lobed elves on the brain. People of diverse ages, races, and fashion sensibilities listen appreciatively.

It is Sunday February 20th, exactly a month after I arrived in Wellington to inhabit the role of Fulbright Senior Scholar for a season. It is less than two days before the 6.3 quake that devastates Christchurch. I have been drinking tea with poets, poring through the university library, and establishing an internet connection, finding the supermarket, and consoling my teary kids about their new schools. Suddenly I have three interesting readings to attend in one week: this one at the Ballroom Cafe in Newtown; a meeting of the New Zealand Poetry Society at the Thistle Inn in Thorndon; and “Poets in the City,” a splashy event at the City Gallery including poets laureate and other popular and well-known writers.

During a ten-minute intermission talk buzzes cheerfully up to the exposed rafters. I chat with the friendly strangers at my table: a Kiwi sculptor, a New England poet-photographer, and an antinuclear activist from Bolivia. The blackboard menu lists kumara soup and other items that suggest I may be in a foreign country. I order bruschetta and a local pilsner.

The main event, “Nga Ngaru Mai I te Moana Nui A Kiwa: Waves from the Pacific,” is convened in Maori by poet and storyteller Moira Wairama. A band of three male singers and musicians, The Whanau (“family”), occupies a window seat; the three other poets are women who know each other from Writer’s Block, a cross-genre Wellington workshop for Maori and Pacific writers. Their hour-long performance is an enactment of community. Poems alternate with songs in a prearranged flow; no one grandstands or tells anecdotes; the members of the group clearly know and enjoy one another’s work. I don’t realize until afterwards how differently arranged this reading is than others I have attended. Instead of one poet reading several pieces in a closed program, the focus moves from person to person, highlighting the conversation between different authors’ work.

I’ve known for a long time that I don’t know how much I don’t know, but this event drives that knowledge home. I’m sure I’m supposed to recognize “special guest Pikihuia” but I can only make wild surmises. Maraea Rakuraku delivers feisty poems about mispronunciations of her name, which I suspect I’m mispronouncing (I’m double-checking the spelling now). Alice Te Punga Somerville, a new colleague of mine at Victoria University (I’m the one who’s new), delivers a poem called “The measure of a man’s worth.” It’s full of references I have to look up later and ends with a hot local controversy: the Waitangi Day opening of a new wharewaka on the waterfront, without the waka it was built to showcase, because, as Alice puts it,

our ocean-going navigating vessels
will not fit
the whare you’ve built to house them

I’m listening to her pronouns, the mixture of languages, the tone that is both factually plain and sharply pointed. Community is defined by the social scientists I’ve been reading as a function of geographic proximity; relationships that generate social capital; member participation in defining norms; and frequent, substantive communication. Often nostalgic, even mythic, “community” sometimes seems to preclude difference and dissent. Certainly it is characterized more than anything by a “we-feeling,” a subjective experience of belonging. I have been warmly welcomed, and in some sense poets are always my tribe, but I barely speak the language and have a lot more reading and listening to do. This virtual space makes a pretty flimsy whare, but I hope it will be big enough to house some thinking about poetry and community in and beyond Wellington—why writers forge or join groups and institutions, how those networks interact with other groups, and the inclusions and exclusions implied by poems themselves.

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