Your new collection Islander is very much about the feeling of being between places, even though the places you mention as home – New Zealand, Australia and now Edinburgh – are very much present in the poems. Can you tell us what this idea of ‘home’ means to you in relation to your new work?
I have a slightly different feeling about home these days. Aotearoa New Zealand is at the centre of me – I am made of it – but I can no longer entirely believe in a single mapped homeland. I am interested, both in my life and in my poems, to explore things (preoccupations, ideas) in different contexts, from different viewpoints. I like to see how meaning is influenced by context, how it is a process, and following from that, how belonging is a process. I think if I had learned other languages I would have understood this earlier in my life! I think poems are, have always been, a demonstration of the fluidity of meaning. Rilke in an untitled poem ('1, 45 Book of Hours') wrote about this fluidity. He was writing about God and everything:
Often when I imagine you
your wholeness cascades into many shapes.
You run like a herd of luminous deer
and I am dark, I am forest.
Which makes me think of Bill Manhire’s ‘Poem’ (from The Elaboration):
When we touch,
Forests enter our bodies.
The dark wind shakes the branch.
The dark branch shakes the wind.
Everything moves everything else. For me, Scotland moves New Zealand and New Zealand moves Scotland. But I guess how things move and are moved is different for everyone. I think I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole! Anyway, I have written the poems in Islander with these ideas about home/s drifting around in my mind.
How has this movement between homes and landscapes affected your approach to craft in your writing?
I have explored the idea of multiple identities and places of belonging through reading poems and writing poems. My PhD looked at poetic repetition and how it opened up nuances of, and possibilities for, meaning. Each repetition is a new iteration, because it’s in a new context and at a new moment. The more I look at it, the more it seems to me that poetic repetition shows us – it enacts – how meaning is always in process, like everything else. Well, poems altogether do this, but I feel that the technique of poetic repetition does it in a unique way. I hope that my poems contain multiple viewing places. Certainly I have worked more consciously with repetition in Islander.
‘Light’, particularly ancient light, is a recurring word in your poetry. Why is that?
In Paula Green’s lovely review of Islander on Poetry Shelf she talks about how, in the poems, light touches and connects all of Earth’s days: ‘Here the light of this day touches the light of that day which touches the light of the day before all the way back to ancient times.’
I like the connectivity of light, how it comes from deep time and connects us to our human and earthly lineage. It is the thing that reveals form. Living in Scotland I am more than ever aware of light, the slight shock of it disappearing so early in the day in winter. How darkness drops down in the mid afternoon, and usual daytime things begin to disappear! And other times, especially in spring and autumn, how the light is rich and golden and throws dramatic spotlights on things – a bright green hillside, a stone wall, a piece of road.
Time as a personal experience rather than a clock-measured thing is another idea that recurs in Islander. One poems asks: ‘just do me this favour, / stop divvying up past and future /here and not-here’. Poetry seems a useful form to explore the feeling of time – what do you think?
Yes, I do think that. We do feel time differently; it changes depending on what we are doing. And there are moments of complete absorption when it disappears altogether. Back to my preoccupation with poetic repetition, I think that poetic repetition carries the sound of our earliest chants and incantations and spells. And the sounds come to the poem newly alive and relevant, not as a shadow of something past. So when we hear repetition in poetry we hear something about the ways in which we belong geographically, spiritually and culturally to the earth.
Occasionally I hear something on the radio or a podcast about physics and for a fraction of a second I understand something about time, how it’s not utterly regular, that it interacts with place and context somewhat like we do and like language does. These things I know nothing about, these cloudy hunches, I have risked wondering about them in the poems.
Islander is for sale at the best bookshops and online here. $25, pb.