Interview with Albert Wendt: 4
12 August 2002
Brandy Nālani McDougall
B: Lali and Nuanua – they anthologise the work of indigenous writers whose countries did not have national anthologies at the time. Where did the idea for their compilation come from?
A: I’ve been teaching literature most of my teaching life. You have to have anthologies, materials for the students. Anthologies are a good resource, so I started putting one together. They also helped the writers who were in them to get their work known. We went around to collect the materials, got it together and then we had textbooks to use in the classroom, and for other people to use, too.
You have to have it to make sure a literature develops and is promoted. Then you have to teach it, and then you have to get the writers published. You have to have a magazine to publish their work and publishers to publish their work. Then if you’re a teacher, you have to have a text from which to teach.
I don’t make money from them, but I get the satisfaction now from knowing that the young people, the students now come to university out of high school with a text, and that Pacific writers are read – at least some of them.
So, the next anthology is Whetu Moana. It’s about 400 pages. We’ve collected poems from Polynesian poets all over the Pacific, including Hawaii and New Zealand. The biggest section will be by Maori. We’re exploring the concept of Polynesia, itself, which was initially a colonial concept – what is happening in Polynesia and how is it reflected in the poetry. The poetry in there ranges from fairly conventional or classical types of English formal poetry to rap, depending on how the country is, out of which the poet has been influenced. We’re going to have a large variety of style, even within New Zealand – the age group will range from Alistair Campbell and Hone Tuwhare to poets barely in their twenties. There are going to be poets in it who were never published before, poets who people have never heard of. We’re really excited about it.
B: What is your hope for Whetu Moana?
A: Well, afterwards, we’ll use it as a textbook. We’ll teach from it. Hopefully other tertiary institutions throughout the world, and even high schools, will order the book and use it to teach our literature in Russia, Japan, and Germany. A lot of our stuff sells well in Germany – and in America at different universities. As you know, there’s an enormous interest around the world of our history.
B: Have you noticed any differences between the work submitted for Nuanua and the work submitted for this latest anthology?
A: Yes, there’s a big difference. See, Nuanua was confined to the countries in the Pacific, but it didn’t include Hawaiian or Maori writing. This time we’re including Maori and Hawaiian work, and it makes a huge difference because the strong centre of Pacific writing is with Maori writing here in New Zealand. So we’re going to have Maori writing and Hawaiian writing in this one. You can really see the American influence on the writing in Hawaiian culture, the way the language is used – but it’s been indigenised, it’s been made indigenous. It’s very exciting – I’m looking forward to it coming out at the end of the year.
B: Terrific. In the introduction to Nuanua, you mentioned decolonisation as the continuing inspiration for much of the writing throughout the Pacific, is that still the case?
A: It still remains one of the main sources – even in Whetu Moana, because as you know, the biggest Polynesian groups, Maori and Hawaiians, are still in a colonised tradition. A lot of their work is very political, very anti-colonial. Quite right that it is – a lot of it is angry.
Whereas in the other Pacific countries who have been supposedly independent, a lot of their poets now write about corruption, and they attack the elites or their leaders. Of course, a lot of poetry will always remain about the things that human beings are moved by, like love, death, celebrating children, and the sunrise – and quite rightly so – and a lot of it is also very political because of the situations involved.
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