Audio

Anahera Gildea Reads “Sedition — a letter to the writer from Meri Mangakāhia”

February 12, 2018

Don Share: This is The Poetry Magazine Podcast for the week of February 12th, 2018. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine.

 

Christina Pugh: I am Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. On The Poetry Magazine Podcast, we listen to a poem or two from the current issue. This month, the magazine is entirely dedicated to poets from New Zealand.

 

Don Share: Anahera Gildea is a visual artist as well as a writer. In her poem in the February issue, she mixes in some Māori.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: Gildea herself is of Māori heritage, and she often writes about the struggles of the Māori against the colonists.

 

Anahera Gildea: Māori were sentences to varying periods of incarceration, especially due to what was considered seditious language. They were literally done, and these were often fictitious allegations, just ways to have the rebellions set aside or put out of the way.


Don Share: Her poem is called “Sedition - a letter to the writer from Meri Mangakāhia”. Meri Mangakāhia fought for women’s rights in New Zealand around the turn of the 20th century.

 

Anahera Gildea: She was fearless in her ability to stand up agains the establishment, which is kind of a characterization of many of those important people in Māori history. This poem really was my conversation with her encouraging me to be fearless in the same way, to be fearless in language.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: Here’s the poem.

 

Anahera Gildea: (speaks in foreign language) My name’s Anahera Gildea. This poem is called “Sedition - a letter to the writer from Meri Mangakāhia”.

 

Here’s what I had in mind, kōtiro, this

clipping at words like overgrown maikuku — 

return the blankets of domestic life; don’t fold

washing or wear shoes, polish these rerenga kē.

 

Eh. But this world.

I s’pose neither of us planned to be in politics,

never did do what others told us to — 

wahanui though, go on, get

 

your sedition on girl,

your agitator, your defiant speak

to each other eye to eye — 

Māori been jailed for nouns, phrases;

 

butcher up a clause, get buried

in Pākehā kupu, then dig that

out like the old people. No one approved

of their language either.

 

Christina Pugh: This is interesting as a kind of manifesto poem in the form of a letter from this historical figure to the poet. It’s as if she’s really channeling or activating this kind of imagined voice from this activist to enliven her own language. It seems to me that’s part of the defiance of this poem, is to include the Māori language in some of the lines in ways that really work.


Don Share: That question of approval of the language is a world wide issue and at the moment in contemporary poetry, it’s something that people are talking about. The kinds of Instagram poets we experience and the vast interest in them raises questions of if there’s some kind of cultural approval necessary to power poetry along just as one instance of this issue. I think it’s historically quite different in a place like New Zealand or Australia, many other cultures where people have been relegated to a certain status and are surviving that relegation. One way of survival is to pass on language, the traditions, including the traditions that appear to be damaging or seditious to a majority dominant culture. This is a very powerful current that the language creates for us in this poem and in many other poems in this issue.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: The language and the words aren’t just necessary for survival, they’re necessary for protest to, to really react to what’s happening. I love in particular the verbs she uses in this poem, the “clipping at words”, “polish these rerenga kē” sentences.

 

Anahera Gildea:

butcher up a clause, get buried

in Pākehā kupu, then dig that

out like the old people.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: That reminds me of the common protest phrase that people say; “They tried to bury us. They didn’t realize we were seeds”. In this poem she’s really talking about being buried in language, particularly New Zealand language but then digging out those words of the old people and reviving them, seeing the growth that comes out of that.


Christina Pugh: It really emphasizes this idea that a poem can have an activist role. In our tradition, things like perhaps some poems that came out of the Black Arts movement and so on. But it’s really very powerful here.

 

Anahera Gildea:

get

 

your sedition on girl,

your agitator, your defiant speak

to each other eye to eye — 

Māori been jailed for nouns, phrases;

 

Christina Pugh: The idea that the use of this language would actually land someone in jail is pretty powerful here, and it lends I think a huge urgency to what’s going on.

 

Don Share: The urgency is also something that has along with it a kind of efficiency. The poem is actually rather spare. When you think of a letter, an epistolary poem, you think of something that might be very sprawling and conversational. This is very precise: “clipping at words” is part of the political strategy of necessity in this poem.


Christina Pugh: Yeah, even the formal choice to write this in quatrains as opposed to say as you were suggesting something like a more sprawling verse paragraph suggests that it’s a kind of winnowing away of language that might be superfluous, that might not support or be useful in this political struggle.

 

Don Share: You can read “Sedition — a letter to the writer from Meri Mangakāhia”

by Anahera Gildea in the February 2018 issue of Poetry Magazine, or online at poetrymagazine.org

 

Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all four February episodes all at once on the full length episode on Soundcloud.

 

Christina Pugh: Let us know what you thought about this program. Email us at podcast@poetryfoundation.org, and please link to the podcast on social media.

 

Don Share: The Poetry Magazine Podcast is recorded by Ed Herman and produced this week by Curtis Fox and Catherine Fenelosa.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this poem comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.

 

Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.

 

Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.

The editors discuss Anahera Gildea’s poem “Sedition — a letter to the writer from Meri Mangakāhia” from the February 2018 issue of Poetry.

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