Ko Whitireia te maunga
Ko Porirua te moana
Ko Ngāti Toa te iwi
Ko Whitireia te Kura Matatini
Nau mai, haere mai, hoki mai ki te kāinga o te kupu – a warm welcome to 4th Floor Literary Journal 2009!
This year’s journal is bristling with talent and energy. If I was to draw out any themes or directions from this collection, I’d be tempted to begin with something that could be called longing. There are poems and stories which seem to elegise lost time, treasures, even words: Rachel Bush’s ‘She has a
title’, Mary-Jane Duffy’s ‘Silence’, Justine Eldred’s ‘back’. Other writings take a slightly darker, some would say more realistic, view of what is gone: Michelle MacKinnon’s ‘Photographic Memories’, for example. As Kevin Johnston writes in ‘A fancy affair’: ‘he looks at me with Eyes / and Mouth that say / the Holiday is Over . . . ’
A sense of loneliness – or anticipation of loneliness – is alive for me in the work of Lynn Davidson, Mandy Hager, Anahera Gildea, Maggie Rainey-Smith and Barbara Else. The action happens in familiar territories or relationships – Cuba Street, the narrator’s home, mother/daughter, father/daughter, sister/sister, husband/wife – but the parameters, the borders, are in flux. There are disappointments and threats at large, the protaganist ‘becomes a ghost’, as Georgia Todd writes, ‘leaving with her song.’
The world conjured in Holly Jane Ewens’s ‘In Rehearsal for Deus ex Machina’ is ‘a city in silhouette / tacked to the slightest of frames’. What is seen and what remains unseen? Jo Thorpe asks the reader to follow ‘the wind-spool . . . Then, when you’re nearing core, embrace the beautiful danger . . . ’
Apirana Taylor, ‘adroit songster’ that he is, takes us to the far north into Waitangi territory, as well as into other poignant histories. The poem ‘Stellar says’ and the short story ‘On Being Sophie’s Father’ draw parental vignettes with a deft touch. ‘We are in the soup / we are swimming . . . ’ writes poet Helen Heath. ‘The silence between us feels bloody huge, like maybe we’ll learn to talk in another decade or two,’ says Fay Cameron’s fictional but very recognisable protagonist. ‘I’ve been told fourteen-year-old girls are like this.’
Ceridwyn Roberts’s ‘Sink Beneath the Sun’, Whai Conroy’s poem ‘Body of Christ’ and Natasha Dennerstein’s ‘Dark Spirits’, though very different in tone, are fine examples of how memory (fictional or not) can come to life in the hands of a skilled writer. There’s a role for ritual and epiphany in these pieces, too, something also expressed in the trilogy of poems by Kay Corns. ‘I’m going to cosy up to God . . . ,’ she writes, yet in ‘Devotion’, ‘Miracle’ and ‘Wooden’, it’s not so much religiosity that comes to the fore for me, but a sense of sacrifice, yearning, piety, striving and, perhaps most satisfyingly, humour and pathos in equal measures.
It’s also true that much of the writing in this year’s 4th Floor finds its fulcrum not in nostalgia, or an aching for what is absent, but in a celebration of what is suddenly present, often in surprising ways. Reina Kahukiwa’s orange girls are a wonderful example, as are Sinéad Martin’s nunataks. This is arguably poetry’s stock-in-trade – the moment when a writer makes us look once, twice, then look again. Whether it’s Lorraine Singh’s river-crossing ‘Orangutans’, Puawai Swindells-Wallace’s e.e. cummings-esque ‘first moon / solid’, Mercedes Webb-Pullman’s trout with its flesh of pale blue, or Lynn Jenner’s elephant vanishing at the Hippodrome, there are many intriguing creatures and events beckoning here, keeping each other good company.
Elizabeth Coleman’s ‘Shivers’ describes a woman’s intense feelings of falling in love, surprising her at the age of fifty-four. Charmaine Thomson’s ‘Licorice’ speaks of a day when ‘we hid in the loft all afternoon / leaning into window sills’. As Bill Nelson writes in his poem ‘Describing home’: ‘Those old trees touching the grass / are all the people who take the risk we took . . . ’
4th Floor is thrilled to present these contributions from the 2009 student body, and also from students who’ve studied at Whitireia in the past, many of whom have published books of their own. We’re also privileged this year to host writings from several of the tutors and guest speakers who help build the Whitireia creative writing programme: Rachel Bush, Lynn Davidson, Apirana Taylor, Mary-Jane Duffy, Maggie Rainey-Smith, Barbara Else, Elizabeth Smither, Mandy Hager and Jo Thorpe. Tēnā koutou, tuakana mā.
Many thanks to publishing students Bianca Kofoed and Katie Scott for their work in copy-editing, content-managing and publishing this site, and to Rachel Lawson who supervised their sterling efforts. The team also thanks Pip Byrne, Lynn Davidson, Mary-Jane Duffy, Lian Hathaway and Tamati Kaa. Ngā mihi mahana ki a koutou katoa.
And a big mihi to you, too, Dear Reader – tēnā koe, thanks for visiting. Make sure you come back next year.