Monday, December 02, 2013

HeadworX book launch report:rugby poems and legends

 “HeadworX Publishers and Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop released two new books at Quilters Bookshop, Wellington, on Saturday afternoon, 30 November.

 Speakers Niel Wright and Bill Sutton

Bill Sutton, scientist, former politician, Hawke’s Bay poet and organiser of the recent Hawke’s Bay Poetry Conference, launched Mark Pirie’s Sidelights: Rugby Poems, while Niel Wright launched A. Stanley Sherratt’s Polynesian Legends (unpublished in book form since 1924) on behalf of the co-publisher Dr Michael O’Leary (who had prior commitments).

Niel Wright read an excerpt from Michael’s introduction to Polynesian Legends (reproduced in full below - available in printed form and online), and spoke about the importance of acknowledging our poetry from the 1920s period. The book he said came with an endorsement by Vaughan Rapatahana, one of our leading cultural commentators in the area of Mäori literature.

Bill Sutton, speaking about Mark Pirie’s book Sidelights, applauded Mark’s continuing efforts to bring sport and literature together. Sutton stated that sport was widely acknowledged to be an important component of New Zealand culture, but was only rarely celebrated in our poetry. He finished by reading one of his own poems about Richie McCaw inspired to do so after reading Mark’s poems in Sidelights.

Mark Pirie (left) thanked the speakers and the printer Tony King who did the cover for Sidelights and finished off the speeches by introducing his new book and reading. He noted the unusual fusion of rugby and poetry - two areas of New Zealand society not often connected.

He then read a selection of poems from the booklet (available in printed form and online) written between 1993 and 2013, which he said was important to him (his book is dedicated to his grandpa Tom Lawn) allowing him to acknowledge his grandfather’s presence in his life as a former Canterbury representative forward of the 1920s.

Mark said one of the best-known traditions/rugby experiences in New Zealand was that of buying a rugby ball for children/nephews/grandchildren/cousins. Mark’s only memory of his grandpa (who died when he was several years old) was of receiving a rugby ball from him:

The Ball

“i remember kicking
this ball around the yard

it was a tan rugby ball

i would spend hours
running up and down
the yard chasing
this ball while
avoiding those ‘scary hairy’ spiders
and ‘blood suckers’

and then one day
i asked mum where the ball
had come from

and she said it was from
my Grandpa

and to this very day
i always remember that ball

as the only piece of evidence
that my Grandpa existed.”

An enjoyable afternoon was had by all.

Here is Michael O’Leary’s excerpt from his introduction to the book, Polynesian Legends by A. Stanley Sherratt:

“Sherratt’s imaginative interpretations of Mäori myths published in the 1920s during his time spent at Kaiapoi are significant works for his time period. There may be no other comparable work that is as powerful as his in early telling of Mäori legends in poetry. The ‘Thirty Polynesian Legends’ presented in this volume date from February-
September 1924 when he serialised the work as a sequence published in the Christchurch Star newspaper. Sherratt was the most prolific of the Star group of poets during the 1922-26 period. He also wrote shorter lyrics or individual pieces for the Star from 1923-24 outside of his legends. Wellington literary scholar, poet and publisher Mark Pirie, the editor of this Sherratt collection, has recently produced a book of mostly unknown and previously unacknowledged Star poets in his broadsheet/12 (special issue, November 2013) published by The Night Press, Wellington.
Sherratt uses Sir George Grey’s Polynesian Legends and Maori Myths as his primary source text. Grey compiled his collection of Mäori myths and legends, Ngä Mahinga a ngä Tupuna (also published in translation as Polynesian Mythology), with about a quarter of his material taken from the manuscripts of Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikaheke, also known as William Marsh. Te Rangikaheke was a famous chief of Ngati Rangiwewehi, in the Rotorua district. The son of a celebrated priest, he was born about 1820 and died in 1893. In his 1967 book, Te Arawa, D. M. Stafford tells us that Te Rangikaheke was ‘one of the more turbulent characters of Te Arawa’. Grey also made extensive use of the works of Te Rangikaheke in his collection of songs, Ngä Möteatea.
Like J E Ollivant’s Hine Moa, the Maori Maiden (1879), A Perry’s Hinemoa and Tutanekai: A Legend of Rotorua (1910), J McLauchlan’s Legend of the Dauntless Rimu and the Princess Hia Wata (1912), Charles Oscar Palmer’s Hinemoa: A Legend of Ao-tea-roa (1918), Marieda Batten’s Maori Love Legends (1920), James Izett’s Tutanekai and Hinemoa (1925) and Johannes C Andersen’s Tura and the Fairies (1936), several writers of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century produced literary works in the English language, both poetry and prose, inspired by Mäori myths and legends. Many writers published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society as with John McGregor, James Izett and Elsdon Best also adapted, retold and interpreted legends; so too did James Cowan and A W Reed in the 1950s and 1960s. L F Moriarty made a poetry collection of them in his Verse from Maori Myth and Legend (1958). A full list is given by Linda Hirst in her Select, Annotated Bibliography of Publications on The Myths, Legends and Folk Tales of the Maori (1973).
Other writers since the 1950s who have written contemporary takes on these myths and legends in poetic form include Adele Schafer, F Wynn Williams, Barry Mitcalfe, Dora Somerville, Hone Tuwhare, Simon Williamson, Richard Adams (UK), Robert Sullivan, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Glenn Colquhoun and Apirana Taylor. A careful search of newspapers, books, periodicals and school annuals will no doubt bring up further names.
In the present volume, 30 POLYNESIAN LEGENDS c1924, Mark Pirie republishes a long sequence of poems in which Sherratt takes the creation story and turns it into a well-crafted and plausible interpretation of the story of Mäui. The thirty sections of the book are of different figures and events revealed in the creation story and are made up of stanzas of varying lengths. Each section has its own heading and the stories come from mainly the Waikato and Te Arawa tribal areas.
Like Ollivant and a host of other writers in English, Sherratt is fascinated by the story of Hinemoa and a whole section is dedicated to the love story between her and Tutanekai. In section 27, titled ‘HINE-MOA, THE MAIDEN OF ROTORUA’, in the first stanza Sherratt predates the ’60s rock god Jimi Hendrix:

Out of the purple haze beyond the lake,
Clear and sweet as the sounds the song birds make,
Breaking the silence where the earth met sky,
Came the sweet music of Tutanekai.

Sherratt’s sequence, however, begins at the very beginning, as they say, with what is the best known of the Mäori myths and legends, the creation story. ‘LET THERE BE LIGHT’ (No. 1) tells how Rangi, the sky, and Papa, the earth, were parted by their children who were being suffocated by their parents’ love for each other:

The children of Rangi and Papa
(The offspring of heaven and earth)
Had lived many years in a darkness—
The darkness that shadowed their birth.

The poet then takes the reader through a tour de force of Mäori myths and legends before reaching the exciting and climactic story of ‘THE SORCERER, KIKI, IS SLAIN BY THE CHIEF TAMURE OF KAWHIA’ (No. 30), with the victory of good over evil.

Surrounded by good genii, did he
Come boldly forth to make a victory;
Enchanted the enchanter—freed the land
Of evil magic’s fell, destroying hand.

While there is more than a hint of good old Christian referencing in the telling of these myths Sherratt’s work does illuminate and is authentic to Aotearoa’s legend telling tradition. His work is powerful and original for its era and is written in a tougher modern epic style to earlier poets such as Blanche Baughan, Arthur H Adams, Tom Bracken, "Roslyn" [Margaret A. Sinclair] and Alfred Domett (most of who appear in The Treasury of New Zealand Verse [1926]) or near contemporaries like Marieda Batten, Johannes C Andersen or James Izett.

Michael O’Leary”

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