Last night I went to the launch of Tusiata Avia‘s second collection, “Bloodclot”.
It was a good launch – a bit of a who’s-who of the female portion of the Christchurch literary scene. Held upstairs in the Debating Chamber at Our City O-Tautahi, (which used to be the Christchurch Tourist Information Centre when I first visited Christchurch). The book was launched by Victor Roger, the 2009 Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence, and Tusiata’s cousin. He welcomed everyone in Maori (” the language of this land’s original inhabitants”), English (“the language of our fathers”) and Samoan (“the language of our mothers”). Then Tusiata gave her usual stunning performance, reading poems from the new collection, which she describes as “automythographical”, charting the adventures of Nafanua, the Samoan Goddess of War, come to roam the world as a half-caste girl from Christchurch.
The launch finished with a traditional Samoan dance – Victor having stated that he expected all the Samoans to get up and join in, and as many Palagi as felt so inclined. It was lovely to watch, but somehow felt … unwelcoming. I’d hoped that some of the dancers would do something to bring in a few of us Palagi – single people out, pull them in to the dance and smile to let them know it was ok. But they didn’t, and so I stayed where I was for fear of either making a dick of myself or inadvertently doing something culturally insensitive. Isn’t that stupid? And not helped by the presence of a camera crew!
Haven’t had a chance to read the book properly yet. I’m looking forward to it – she’s someone with a huge amount of talent, but she walks a difficult line. On the one hand is Tusiata the Performance Poet, bringing the Samoan clichés to life. And then there’s Tusiata, the first of the new wave of Polynesian poets, writing on behalf of her people. Both of those roles are important, and both very dangerous – so easy to become your own echo, to go on writing the same sort of thing because it’s funny, because it sells, because you can do it in your sleep, because that’s what they know you for. But there’s a third Tusiata, who I met many years ago when she came to a meeting of the Airing Cupboard – a poet with imagination and passion, who doesn’t give a damn what anyone else expects of her. Who has her own stories to tell. Original. Brave. And restless.
It’s going to be interesting to see who and what else she becomes.