Five Quick Questions with Airini Beautrais

AiriniAirini Beautrais lives in Whanganui. She is the author of four collections of poetry. She answers our five quick questions in the lead up the 2018 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.

1. What is it that attracts you to poetry as opposed to other storytelling forms?

Poetry as we know it is often written in some form of verse, either free verse (divided into lines but with no metrical or numerical structure), traditional forms, or contemporary variations on these. It is also often segmented into relatively short units – even in the case of a prose poem sequence. These formal features offer a vast array of possibilities in the structure of a story. Shifts between time, place, speaker and so on can happen more easily and more suddenly than in conventional prose. Poetry is also often associated with lyrical writing, which gives the storyteller opportunities to focus on specific moments, to include information that may not be dramatic or exciting at first glance, or to be linguistically weird. I do enjoy writing prose fiction as well, and the non fictional essay can also be a storytelling form. I think while poetry offers a different range of resources to other genres, there is always going to be some overlap. My feeling about genres is that they are fluid and evolving, and there are also lots of possibilities involving ‘hybrid’ forms.

2. A lot of your work deals with episodes from ‘real life’ and involves research into diverse subject matters. Is research always a core part of your work?

The last two poetry collections I have written have involved a huge amount of research, but this isn’t always how I work. It can be quite daunting and can also bring a sense of heightened responsibility which may act as a damper upon the creative process. On the other hand, it’s fascinating to learn new things and go sleuthing for information, and there’s a big temptation to include large amounts of peripheral or irrelevant detail simply because it’s interesting.

More recently I have been working with fictional material. I think it’s always advisable to read widely in the field you are writing in, and this counts as a kind of research – how did other poets/ writers approach the same subject or form, and what can I learn from them? What will I do differently?

3. How do you go about the research process? And how do you balance ‘facts’ with the needs of the story you are telling? 

I go about it in a meandering sort of way. I’ve talked to people, gone through archives, trawled the internet, read lots of stuff from official histories and scientific works to school reunion pamphlets and handmade zines. Sometimes research could be taking a walk around a site and recording sensory observations.

There will always be a certain number of ‘facts’ that aren’t in dispute, but the majority of information about the past is inaccessible to us – we weren’t there and didn’t experience it. I find ‘fact’ a risky thing to negotiate. In Dear Neil Roberts I ended up writing a lot from a personal perspective, reflecting on a tragic event through the lens of my own life. In Flow I incorporated elements of fiction, as well as personal experience, alongside poems based on the historical record. These decisions stemmed from a reluctance to try and write an authoritative account of historical events.

4. What are you working on now?

I have a fictional sonnet sequence in incubation, which is part soap-opera storyline and part interrogation of the sonnet tradition. I have also been working on a collection of short fiction, which is turning out to be quite feminist and quite dark.

5. Tell us a little bit about the workshop, what should people expect?

We will be looking at a variety of examples of poems and lyrics that incorporate story. Our main focus will be on writing, sharing work and giving feedback. The work will probably be quite raw and rough and a certain amount of detachment from one’s fresh creation will be helpful. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but hopefully workshop participants will find ways that work well for the material they have chosen to write about. I hope we will all have fun.

In a workshop, everyone brings their own feelings, opinions, knowledge and experience to the room, and we all have something to learn from each other. I am looking forward to being at the retreat, meeting people and sharing ideas.

Register for the 2018 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat here

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3 Quick Questions with Anahera Gildea

AnaheraAnahera Gildea (Ngāti Raukawa-ki-te-tonga, Ngāi te Rangi, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Āti Awa, Kāi Tahu) has worked as a drama teacher, an art teacher, a visual artist, a performing artist, a florist, a stilt walker, and a journalist. She answers our 3 quick questions in the lead up to teaching ‘Alternative Structures – Working with A Trauma Narrative’ at our upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.

1. You’ve worked in a diverse range of creative professions. Is writing something that’s always been part of your creative process?

I think it’s fair to say that I have always been a narrator – narration has always been part of my creative process – regardless of whether or not I have engaged in the act of writing that down. Words and how they can be both manoeuvred or wielded in order to construct a feeling/response event, has been instrumental in my creative process and so in that sense, yes – writing has always played a part.

As a dancer I would often work with either words, or an imagined narrative, to tell a story with my body. In drama, obviously, words and story are the building blocks of what you are making; it’s just that often a part of that narrative is either being constructed with others in rehearsal, and/or onstage. Performance is a story that takes place in very close proximity to its audience. Journalism is a kind of story (often delivered in written form), visual art is another kind of narrative, etc., etc.

In my work as a teacher, I interact predominantly with students who are experiencing challenges both emotionally and academically. What I find my ‘actual’ job is, is to re-narrate those students, to both themselves and others. To find an alternative angle on the story they are living, or to construct with them a completely new one.

​2. ​You’ve got a strong interest in how form affects and/or limits the needs of a story. In your own writing practice how do you consciously push these structures, notions of time or character out of the way so you can write the story in the way it needs to be told? 

Frustration has been the key to my experimentation with form. It was out of need, rather than any kind of intelligent curiosity, that I began wrangling with the ‘architecture’ of stories. I’m often writing content that has distressing, conflicted, and unresolvable elements and that is delivered by similarly complicated characters. Not only that but all of my creative work is written in reference to, or under the cerements of colonisation. It’s impossible for it to be otherwise and I am keenly aware of that. The English language is only versatile if you are expressing certain concepts. Because I was often trying to express Māori concepts, I found myself desperate to identify ways that I could ‘stretch’ or manipulate English, in order to make it serve me.

3. You’ll be talking about the ‘speed of creativity’ at the upcoming Retreat. What does it look like for you? 

Unique, permissive, and irreverent. The difficulty of locating our own specific process is, for me, about the complexity of stepping outside of stereotypes, the expectations of others, and of our inner critical and product-driven selves. We are often obsessed with ‘product’, with what we can produce, what that looks like, and how others receive it. For me this is counter-productive and disregards the fact that process must invariably precede product. We are often, either consciously or subconsciously, attempting to force our process into a kind of slavery. We want to yoke it and set it to work in order to help us create product. And, on some level, this seems like a reasonable expectation. It’s just that in all my years of teaching art and creativity, and in my own personal experience, I have never seen it successfully work like this. Learning to move at the ‘speed of creativity’ means learning to welcome process for its own sake.

Find out more about the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.

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3 Quick Questions with Pip Adam

Wellington-based writer, teacher and podcast curator Pip Adam answers three quick questions in the lead up to her workshop ‘Weather the Weather’ at our upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.

1. What attracts you to writing about the contemporary or the immediate?

I am quite interested in the lack of hindsight in writing the immediate. I like the way it hasn’t quite settled yet. I realised, actually today while I was talking to someone, that the scariest thing for me is to be asked my opinion on something that I don’t know the general consensus to yet. And I think this is part of why I like to write the contemporary because it is a scary place, it’s a place under construction. I love having to take a stand on that. Even pragmatic things like, Snapchat or Instagram Stories? Which will people be using by the time the book is read by anyone? The New Animals is based on a day in September 2016. I was still hopeful, it still felt like, there wouldn’t be a Trump presidency. So yeah, the book to me feels like it has this gaping hole which I love – it’s a scar of writing it so close to the election. I could have, and was tempted to, go back and insert some knowing authorial observations but I didn’t because I like how completely mis-footed that now seems in a book set in 2016.

​2. ​You often seem to create complex writing constraints or agendas to guide your work. Has this always been part of your writing practice?​

Yes. I think it has. I started writing poetry. I loved form. I still love it. And I think I’ve carried this love of constraint into my fiction writing. I think it comes from not being very naturally gifted or artistic. I like to build ‘rules’ – rules make me feel creative because I have to problem-solve my way out of them. I also think I am often building rules that help me break conventional narrative. Like narrative is a rule, well a set of rules and it is hard to break those rules in a vacuum but if I am replacing them with other rules I find it more productive. I often say ‘rules’ and ‘constraints’ but they are not ever a list of rules, they are usually things like a sound – all the words need to make this sound. I usually have a touch stone and everything has to fall in line with that. Like for The New Animals it was a song by The Cake Kitchen called Tomorrow Came Today and I listened to that while I wrote (nothing but that) and everything had to be in that mood. The mood it called up in me – from that time in my life, which was a very desperate time. So yeah, that was the rule – despair.

3. This year your workshop is all about the weather. What motivated you to focus on this element specifically?

I am really interested in how ubiquitous and at the same time politically charged the weather is. We have had a hot summer – a terrifyingly hot summer. We were always told when I was hairdressing and working in retail that the weather was a ‘safe’ thing to make small-talk about but this summer has just shown how it isn’t like that at all. Like when someone says to me, ‘It’s been hot, eh?’ I’m meant to say, ‘Oh. Yeah.’ But this year, when people have said this I’ve wanted to hold them and cower and cry. And apart from my dramatic response there is this weird sort of elephant in the room when someone says this, like if someone says, ‘Oh remember when summers were always like this?’ that has new political weight.

Also, I love the sensual element of weather. The way it runs over us and we live in it, in our senses. I like the idea of stopping and noticing and then trying to put that noticing into words.

Find out more about the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat or read another interview with Pip Adam.

Photo by Victoria Birkinshaw

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