When I agreed to guest edit the second edition of the Aotearoa Affair Blog Carnival I had no outline other than the theme of Past Myths, Present Legends, although I was sure I wanted my edition to be as much a visual fe[a]st as it was a blog fest. This is my chance to share my perspective.
I see the world in pictures. Stills. When I read, I see pictures. When I write, I translate the picture into text to give a sense of its having motion; a series of photographs, snapshots, real or imagined, become narrative; history merges with fiction to create, if not myth, something incredibly close to it (and extremely near). Indeed, this edition might easily have been titled History Games.
Maori have a phrase “i mua” which simply put means “the past is in the future”, it’s a concept Ngapine Allen explains in her essay “Maori Vision and the Imperialist Gaze”. Allen writes: “The Maori reality is that what you can see is in front of you. Hence, ancestors, viewed from a Western Historical perspective as ‘behind’, are, from a Maori perspective, ‘in front’. Conversely, the future is something you cannot see and is therefore behind you. To conceptualise this, you must reverse your notion of history.” (Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture and the Museum. Ed. Barringer & Flynn, Routledge, 1998. P. 144)
In Past Myths, Present Legends, writers and artists collude to bring you the visual word from Germany, through time and place, to New Zealand, all connected in tangential, elliptic, and surprising ways; a round table of ideas. Pull up a seat, feast your eyes and satiate your minds.
Rachel J Fenton
Past Myth; Present Legend
Present “Legend Award” nominee, poet and novelist Helen Lowe is first guest at the table where she writes about “Maori myths and legends in contemporary New Zealand SFF” and points out “a few recent favourites”, including Karen Healey’s mythical interweavings in her 2010 novel, Guardian of the Dead, where she combines traditional Maori elements with Greek myth.
Lowe does a great job of highlighting New Zealand authors who have made waves with their Maori myth inspired tales.
The legendary actions of one Maori woman provided inspiration for cartoonist and graphic novelist Chris Slane who, with historical research and vision, gives his graphic account of Kahe Te Rauoterangi, a figure of less obvious though no less impressive legend than Maui in Slane’s graphic novel, Maui: Legends of the Outcast. Kahe Te Rauoterangi swam approximately 11 kilometres from Kapiti Island to the mainland, with her daughter strapped to her back, to warn allies of a threatened attack. Although she survived the crossing, her daughter died shortly afterwards evoking imagery of the folk song ‘The Banks of Green Willow’ for European readers and landing Kahe a place in New Zealand folklore.
Myths Past; Future Progressive
Reincarnation is the name of the game for award winning Auckland graphic novelist and Bro’ Town creator Ant Sang in his fusion work and what HarperCollins describes as “a masterful interweaving of kung-fu myths and legends”: Shaolin Burning is “Old China like you’ve never seen before. When the Shaolin Temple is destroyed by the Emperor’s army, only five monks manage to escape alive. Or so the legend goes.”
The legend of the mighty sword of Tintagel born legend, King Arthur, goes somewhat awry in popular culture but proves inspirational for a host of speakers, from cricketers to politicians. Writer and researcher Scott Hamilton is Reading the Maps where he writes about those who verbally wield Excalibur, focusing on “the many local incarnations of the Excalibur myth”.
Not everybody is kung-fu fighting, however, even if they are cricket mad. Where legend goes, narrative is sure to follow, over sea, from North to South, crossing hemispheres, over time.
Arguably Grimsby’s finest export, Wellington based writer of poetry, short fiction and novels Tim Jones brings three very different offerings to the mythic table, “Fallen”, with German translation, from Books in the Trees, taken from Tim’s poetry collection Boat People:
“They grew, these Southland towns, on the graves
of the children of Tane.”
But from Maori creation myth and mankind’s search for knowledge Tim transports us to the realm of another poet, New Zealand-Cretan Vana Manasiadis, whose debut poetry collection, Ithaca Island Bay Leaves, marries Greek myth and New Zealand, Island Bay, history.
Down the coast from Tim’s elbow is Christchurch fusion writer to watch Andrea Quinlan, writing in the pages of her Rainbow Notebook “about May Queen rituals in history, film and fashion”, the inspiration for two of her poems appearing in her forthcoming chapbook, We Speak Girl, published later this year by Dancing Girl Press. Also published in brief, Gaga Stigmata and Delirious Hem, Andrea writes “how past myths and legends can be changed and updated in the present in creative work to both celebrate and critique history.”
Myth and history, or mythistorima, are features of Tim Jones’ final post for us, given a humorous twist in Fifty Yards From Middle Earth which Tim describes as: “a flashback to 2000, when hobbits, elves, dwarves and legendary kings walked the earth – more particularly, they walked the forests of Mt Victoria and popped in to watch the cricket at the Basin Reserve during the filming of The Lord of the Rings.”
Middle Earth to Earth’s End
Adrian Kinnaird has been involved in the New Zealand comics community as a cartoonist, writer and blogger for the last 15 years. He’s also worked as a freelance illustrator for Macmillan Education, Weldon Owen and Scholastic US. In 2009 he founded From Earth’s End, the first blog dedicated to New Zealand comics and popular culture. Updated weekly, it features comics news, issues and events, as well as interviews with cartoonists both local and international. The blog was voted ‘Best Comics Related Website’ at the Black River Digital Eric Awards in 2010, and it’s where you can find him interviewing comic and graphic novel writers, including Ant Sang and Chris Slane, at this flashback to the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.
From flashback to flash forward, cinematography is the key for New Zealand photographer, filmmaker and screen writer Himiona Grace, soon to begin filming The Pa Boys. This feature is set to follow Danny, Cityboy and Tau who “form a three-piece reggae band called The Pa Boys. With girlfriends Jo and Puti they set off on a tour of small town New Zealand with the aim of reaching Cape Reigna, the northern most tip of the country. The Pa Boys is a story of journeys. The physical journey as The Pa Boys tour and the journey that Danny and later Tau take to Te Reinga, the gateway to the spiritual realm of Maori. It is a story that explores the strength of friendship, the importance of whanau, whakapapa and history. It is a story of the search for identity and how it is possible to live in two worlds, Maori and Pakeha” (Paepae). Grace also writes on his Indiginz blog of Tane’s role in creating life between Rangi and Papa, Sky Father and Mother Earth, beautifully illustrated with his photographs of Rotorua scenery.
Tomppa is a German freelance artist who lives near Berlin and specializes in comics: “I invent and market characters and stories, such as the German superhero ‘Der Engel’ (‘The Angel’) or the award winning character ‘The Counselor'”, written for The Stan Lee Foundation. Tomppa says “the Foundation stands for bringing education to all people in need! No matter what ethnic race or social level, developing people by educating them.”
He also talks about the design brief for the competition: “the winning design is supposed to be an action figure or statue, so I thought it should be a character the Foundation wants to be connected with; a character that symbolizes their goals.” Tomppa follows with a note on consideration for “The Counselor’s” audience. “Take another look on the Foundation Website. Look at the photos there. People, mostly children, with books. Comic books and others. So my next thought was it should also be a character children can connect with, so no fierce costume or huge armour. No special superpower to hurt or kill anyone. Knowledge is power!” (Tomppa)
In his blog, Tomppa reflects on the themes his work is about: “Past myths, present legends, and what about fairytales?”
“Calvinist morality and patriarchy” are revealed to be the underpinnings of fairy tales, fables and legends in short story writer, travelogue author and anthropologist, Trish Nicholson’s essay “How the Brothers Grimm Came to Write Fairy Tales“, which leads the reader from the German village of Hanau to happy ever after.
The brothers’ takes on folk stories “were intended to educate as well as to entertain,” just as Nicholson does.
Another writer who seeks to entertain is Martin Porter, a poet also familiar with two worlds, or at least two St Heliers (or should that be three?). Born and brought up in St Helier, Jersey, he spent six months in St Heliers, Auckland before moving to the winterless North of New Zealand and settling in Whangarei. Of his poem “St Helier Migrates after his Martyrdom”, Martin says, “I migrated St Helier in time, maintaining the original myth of him being beheaded by Saxon invaders only to pick up his head and walk away before transporting him forward to the 19th century and New Zealand, then on to present migrations. In some ways the myth has become real, with migrants cutting themselves off at their historic roots. The poem has irony – the saint becomes the invader”. You can read Martin’s Poetry Notes and Jottings and decide for yourself.
From beheading to bed-heading. Past myth and a dream provided inspiration for New Zealand comic writer David Tulloch whose six page comic Fire Sale came to life through collaboration. David says, “The Fire Sale story was written specifically for Skreem, an artist who prefers to remain an enigma. I had worked with Skreem on an earlier story and had a vivid dream (a rarity for me) of Prometheus stealing fire all in Skreem’s art style, so I whipped up a script and Skreem produced something even more vivid than my dream”.
“The Awakening” is courteously provided by Chilean-Kiwi graphic novelist and comic creator Gonzalo Navarro who combines traditional historical facts, mythology and modern concepts in Aotearoa Whispers.
Set in Christchurch, Navarro’s graphic novel includes full texts in both English and Te Reo Maori. His story is concerned with colonialism, identity and heritage and is the result of his love affair with New Zealand and Maori culture. It follows the journey of a thirteen year old boy, Kahi, as he discovers a coin which leads him to the past and, finally, to himself.
Raewyn Alexander has an environmental take on Past Myths, Present Legends, she says, “there are myths about travelling and some say we cannot change the way we travel and save the planet, but I want this to be the legend – we can change our ways and go on in better ways than before”, which might be termed urban re-mything. She documents her attempts in her Poetic Journey to America.
Urban myth in the making is at the core of Dargaville writer Maureen Sudlow’s eerie remembering in “Haunted”, where Kiwis Soar and are frightened of ice-cream vans; “a memoir with a bit of intrigue”.
Once Upon a Time, the Long Way
From soaring to soiree-ing with The Aotearoa Affair Editors. Dorothee Lang is a writer, web freelancer and traveller, and the founding editor of BluePrintReview, an experimental online literary and visual arts journal. Author of the travel novel Masala Moments, Dorothee has published written works and photography in The Sunday Herald (India), The New Yorker (USA), Zeit Online (Germany), Transitions Abroad (USA) and many other journals and magazines.
In Once Upon a Time, An Empty Page, Lang transports us to Konstanz to experience “one of the oldest German literary works: a (anti)heroe’s tale”. The “Hildebrandslied” or “Hildebrand’s song” is “an old legend that points at the reality of the region beginning to turn into ‘Deutschland’ in the 15th century. Before that, Germany was a patchwork of changing borders, and endless wars. It’s maybe not coincidence that the warrior legend is one of the earliest literary works in German.
Halfway round the world from Dorothee Lang is the other editor of the Aotearoa Affair Blog Fest. Michelle Elvy lives and writes in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. Involved in several flash fiction projects this year, she’s the founding editor of Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and is about to embark on a winter journey to Auckland for her latest project, “Flashback: A New Zealand History in Micro Moments”, for which she recently has received the New Zealand Society of Authors /Auckland Museum Library National Research Grant for 2012. Here she gives us two reflections by the light of her Glow Worm, one taking us back to once upon a time in Berlin and the other taking us through a watery dreamworld and an encounter with sailing legend Bernard Moitessier.
No stranger to sailing through dreamland the long way is this editor’s alter ego Rae Joyce whose epic graphic poem, Escape Behaviours, has been described by one reader as:
“mythical epic, a not-so-common adverture story and the reality of everyday life. It seems like the epic style and the appeals to the Gods are about attributing a higher meaning to the whole journey. This is something I think about a lot with my own life – whether everything has some overall significance, above the situations we’re in. It’s an interesting question and one you pose quite well in combining the three elements (an epic, an extra-ordinary life and an ordinary life). Maybe everyone has these three threads to their existence – it’s given me some food for thought” – Alan Chapman.
Making Legends; Making Love
Mairangi Bay based writer, editor, and teacher Jack Ross is the author of City of
Strange Brunettes (1998), Chantal’s Book (2002), & To Terezin (2007), as well as three novels, a novella, and two collections of short stories. His editing credits include (with Jan Kemp) the trilogy of audio / text anthologies Classic, Contemporary & New NZ Poets in Performance (AUP, 2006-8), but he writes in his Imaginary Museum about the myth of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, in “Homage to Roland Huntford”. Drawing on a vast array of research, Jack’s post makes for compelling reading and a warning to those who dare to question the myth.
Dunedin writer Mike Crowl has filled his Scribble Pad with thoughts about legends and past writer Sir Walter Scott. Mike says, “it’s about the claiming of legends; Scott’s making them his own”.
Making legends their own, or rather becoming legends, is the stuff of contemporary legendary figures such as Steffi Graff, the lady captivating centre court at Blick Von Deutschland, Oregon writer and photographer Maurice Oliver’s tribute to all things German. Sometime traveller of New Zealand, Maurice clearly has a love affair with the country although why nobody told Graff Agassi was supposed to marry me I don’t know.
Writer, art teacher and gallery curator Vaughan Gunson says he takes his cue “from Bob Dylan’s later writing, where the object of love is various and shifting,” at Falling Away from Blue. Gunson lives in the small town of Hikurangi, north of Whangarei, a place perhaps not synonymous with legend. “Hikurangi used to have a coal mine, then a limestone quarry, followed by a dairy factory. It’s now home for at least two poets.” But in “Big Love Songs No. 45 and No. 46”, from a series of unpublished poems inspired by love poetry from the Renaissance to present day popular song, Gunson transports us from past to present “In a slim space of myth”.
Love is a fitting note to end on: love of story, love of myth and love of all things creation. The creators who’ve made this edition of the Aotearoa Affair Blog Carnival possible through their generosity and vision have shared not only their ways of seeing but by gathering together on the same page have made new connections visible and enabled us all to inhabit, at least for a little while, the spaces between myths, the tabula rasa where today was legend.
My thanks go round to all the contributors, artists, filmmakers, researchers, poets, and novelists, for making this Blog Carnival not only a sensory feast and a memorable get together but a table where there’s room for everyone.
Be a part of the next carnival…
We are now inviting contributions for the third edition of the blog carnival, which will be a special all-nations edition in celebration of World Book Day on 23rd April, the theme is “BOOKS FROM OTHER PLACES”: “We are inviting blog entries about books written in another language or in a different place from your own home country. Embrace the foreign, the different, the strange. Write about the experience of reading another culture. Share something that opened your mind to another place, and join this cross-cultural celebration of words.” Again, the whole edition will be blog-based, with links leading to the single features. The hosts for the April carnival are Michelle Elvy in New Zealand and Dorothee Lang in Germany. The deadline for contributions for the World Book Carnival is 15 April. For more details, visit How To Join.