trout [ 8 ] September 2000
Robert Sullivan



Kia ora.

Recently I was lucky enough to contribute to the 23rd annual conference of the Association for the Study of New English Literatures (ASNEL) in Aachen, Germany and Lieges, Belgium. I also gave poetry readings in Aachen, and the University of Frankfurt. My thanks go to the conference organisers, Peter Marsden of Aachen University of Technology, and Geoff Davis from Frankfurt University.

There was a dazzling array of academic presentations on the literatures of Africa, the Carribbean, and Oceania, and a very large number of writers were present from around the world. One highlight for me was meeting the South African contingent, especially hearing the works of Don Mattera and Leseko Rampolokeng. Mattera writes love poetry partly to avoid an expectation of protest poetry in his part of the world, while Rampolokeng concentrates on rap style lyrics in order to reach his younger generation.

Jack Mapanje, exiled in Great Britain from Malawi, and Lindsey Collen from Mauritius, took part with me on a human rights panel which examined literature and human rights. I was honoured to be included as unlike them I have not directly experienced overt oppression in my life. Mapanje was imprisoned for references in his poetry to the Malawian dictator, while a close friend of Collen was murdered for his views.

My contribution concentrated on historical injustices to the Maori people, and how they translate into modern life in Aotearoa / New Zealand. I was heartened by the presence of Powhiri Rika-Heke, from Nga Puhi (my tribe) in Aotearoa. Someone to speak Maori with! It felt very special to have her there -- real companionship in a completely different culture.

Of course it was great to meet up with the Australians, and I struck up a friendship with a very fine Australian poet, Andrew Sant. I was also very pleased to be introduced to the work of Peter Goldsworthy. Another new mate, Bernard Cohen, who has won Australia's Vogel fiction award, has some work in this issue of Trout.

There were other fantastic writers. Karen King-Aribisala from Nigeria who sings like an angel, and did so on the opening night reading (fortunately for my nerves she read after me), and Lawrence Scott from Trinidad (ditto -- he sang too!).

The main thrust of the conference was a crisis in the use of the term Œpost-colonial‚. For colonized peoples this crisis is almost amusing. Maori people continue to be colonized, so the term ought to be 'neo-colonial' or some such. Lee Maracle, of Stoh:lo First Nation, was very supportive when I was attempting to describe the experience for Maori on the
human rights panel. She understood. The situation is the same in Canada where she comes from. For some people colonialism is something one has to negotiate and compromise with everyday.

Not all of the ideas I picked up were from my fellow writers. The idea of privileging academic discourse with philosophy and theory for instance. Indian tradition makes no such distinction between poetry and philosophy, which struck me that of course Maori tradition is very similar! So watch this space.

After the conference I spent time in Italy, checking out the Uffizi in Florence (the Botticelli room is a big wow, and an oh), dining with friends on the banks of the Arno, visiting the splendours of Rome, and having a very enjoyable lunch at the home of another conference delegate, staying briefly in Ravenna to gaze at the mosaics, especially Galla Placida's
mausoleum (fantastic), and finally Venice.

In France I stayed in Menton with the Katherine Mansfield Fellow, Stephanie Johnson, her partner Tim Woodhouse, and their three children, and just marvelled at the generous necessity of having this literary Shangri La for writers to aspire to (Creative NZ have just set up a residency in Berlin as well).

From there I had just enough time to buy a burger in Paris, and whoosh through the chunnel which slows to a chug on the English side, to stay with a very good mate in London, who showed me all the sights only a close friend could. I even had time to visit my grandfather's birthplace in Ireland.

Ah. On the return home I stayed with Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, who has poetry in this issue, at Cape Croker reservation which is in the most beautiful beautiful part of the world.

And then HOME.

Hope you enjoy this Trout!
Robert Sullivan (for the Trout editors)


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© 2000 Trout &
Robert Sullivan

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