Celebrating our Ockham Poets:
Q & A with Hinemoana Baker, finalist in the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry
Poet, performer, writer and recording artist Hinemoana Baker hails from Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Āti Awa and Ngāi Tahu on her dad’s side. Her Tauiwi ancestors came from England, Australia and Germany. She is the author of four collections of poetry and producer of three albums of original music, field recordings and text. Her most recent book, ‘Funkhaus’ (VUP, 2019), was a finalist for the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Today, Hinemoana lives in Berlin, where she was Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence in 2016. She is completing a PhD in Cultural Studies at nearby Potsdam University. More info at www.hinemoana.co.nz.
Photo credit Ashley Clark – Instagram @ashleyclaarrk
1) How do you think social media has changed the way people read, watch, listen to and/or discuss poetry?
It has become much more difficult to say ‘the author is dead’. The online personality and presence, what you could call the digital charisma of the poet is in many cases front and centre. It’s common these days for publishers to expect poets to run their own social media marketing campaigns to sell their books and raise the profile of themselves and any events they may take part in. For some all this comes naturally, for others not so much.
2) How do you find the poetry community altered by the pandemic? Has this had a large effect on your writing?
The pandemic has altered almost everything about me, my life and my perspective. I would not be overstating things to say that I am forever changed. It has had a huge effect on my writing, because it has had an enormous impact on my health and well-being and on my sense of basic safety. It has been disheartening, at times devastating, to watch from afar the rise and rise of New Zealand’s unique brand of Covid Nationalism. The country’s official and medical response to the pandemic have been so spot on, from quarantine to lockdown to the incredibly clear and effective communications strategies. I am so relieved that my whänau and friends there have been safe from Covid harm. It’s truly a fucking triumph. On the other hand, returning citizens and residents have become and continue to be a political football, as well as the targets of shocking abuse online and in person. It’s certainly not been all roses, but I’m very grateful for the way Germany has looked after me during this very frightening time.
3) How would you describe your kaupapa as a poet?
I’m not sure I could say I have any kind of kaupapa as a poet. Usually when I hear that expression, ‘kaupapa poetry’ or ‘kaupapa music’, I assume that we’re talking about overtly political work, usually with a mana motuhake/tino rangatiratanga angle. And while all that is definitely right up my alley, and many of my poems can be read that way (and I hope they are because I want them to be), I wouldn’t say I am a writer of anthems, odes, or battle cries.
4) How does your shortlisted book reflect, redefine or depart from the concerns and subjects of your previous work?
‘Funkhaus’ is the first book I’ve written entirely offshore, but I think a lot of the themes I’ve been drawn to all along are still alive in these poems. The idea of home as a verb, rather than a noun, is probably an evolution that is particular to this book.
5) What contemporary poets are you reading right now? Poetry collections on your bedside table?
I’m constantly re-reading Tusiata’s incredible collection ‘The Savage Coloniser Book’, and Alice Miller’s gorgeous volume ‘Nowhere Nearer’. Both of them set me on fire but in different ways. Tusiata makes me want to roar and cackle, Alice throws light and warmth into winter.
6) What role do you see for celebrations of poetry like Phantom National Poetry Day?
What makes me happiest about them is that it invites us to slow down a bit. A lot of the time, reading poetry takes a different kind of attention, a different reading muscle, if you like. The slower you allow yourself to be as you receive it, the more you will be rewarded.
7) Have you discovered new poets or new poems on one of Phantom's poetry posters? How do you feel about getting poetry out to the community in this way?
Well, because of my absolutely vast knowledge of New Zealand Poetry (heh heh) I rarely discover new poets on the posters, but I often discover new poems from the poets I already truly love! I’m a massive fan of anything that puts poetry in front of the public, and these posters are no exception. I love that they’re a sudden and random art intervention in the lives of cities and citizens around the world. Long may this continue.