Patricia Prime is co-editor of the New Zealand haiku magazine, Kokako, reviews/interviews editor of Haibun Today, and writes reviews for Takahe, Gusts and Atlas Poetica, and for several Indian magazines. Jaydeep Sarangi had a conversation with her.
J.S.: Please let us know about your childhood.
P.P.: I was born in London, England at the start of World War II. I have two sisters and a brother and we were all evacuated during the war. My father served in the army in Germany, while my mother stayed at home to look after a new baby. I began primary school in my last year of evacuation. Later I passed the entrance examination to a Catholic Grammar School, which I left at the age of eighteen with three A-levels. I had also taken a course in shorthand and typing and began work as a secretary in a publishing company as I wanted to become a journalist.
J.S.: When did you start writing poetry? Can you recall the moment and instant which had inspired you to compose maiden verse?
P.P.: There are two answers to this question. The first is the private one of manipulating language in the way many people do in their teens when I sent poems to women’s magazines and the children’s pages of newspapers, and my work appeared in the school magazine. Writing became more of an interest for me later in life after I had immigrated to New Zealand when my then teenage daughter and I attended a creative writing course at night school. I later went on to take a correspondence course through The Writing School in Wellington. This course taught me the basics of playwriting, articles, short stories and novels.
The first poem I had published in New Zealand was called “Street Kids” and was printed in a journal edited by Bernard Gadd, with whom I later co-edited the haiku magazine Kokako. The poem was inspired by seeing teenagers in the streets sniffing glue, graffitiing and sleeping roughly in the streets.
J.S.: What is your main source of inspiration?
P.P.: My answer is that a basic knowledge of poetry and its structure is necessary for an understanding and an ability to judge the elements of a poet’s craft. Profoundly different as they are, I have been influenced by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and modern writers such as Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and Philip Larkin. Of course, we also have many wonderful New Zealand writers such as C. K. Stead, Bill Manhire and James Brown.
J.S.: What are the basic propositions to call a piece of work as ‘poem’ (not prose)?
P.P.: Rhythm of a piece is basic to poetry. There are rhythmic patterns that we use as poets to peck out meaning and phrase from the strings of words we hear. To create and shape these rhythms and to manipulate them are part of the poet’s job. There needs to be basic knowledge of metre, beyond the terms “blank verse” and “iambic pentameter” and some knowledge about the formal structure of poetry beyond “couplet” or “sonnet” and knowledge about rhyming words. These formal structures no longer seem to be a part of contemporary poetry and nowadays poems seem to consist of chopped up lines of prose. Poetry now seems to be a more spontaneous expression of one’s feelings in which little skill in structuring the verse is required. Dr. H. Tulsi, an Indian editor, maintains the structured verse publication Metverse Muse, which publishes only traditional verse and runs a strict verse contest in each issue. Every edition also presents a workshop article on a particular form i.e. the Shakespearean Sonnet, by Bernard Jackson.
J.S.: Who are your mentors?
P.P.: I can’t say that I have any mentors. I’ve worked mainly on my own, teaching myself from books and from reading other poet’s work. As a reviewer, I read books by writers from the USA, Great Britain, Australia, India and New Zealand so my range of reading is all-encompassing. My own personal reading is also very wide but I have not belonged to a writing group for many years. I probably favour the American poets, such as John Ashbery, Lyn Heijinian, Susan Howe, David Antin, Jori Graham and Susan Howe.
J.S.: Who are the promising poets (in English) from your part of the country?
P.P.: We have many talented poets in New Zealand, both those of the “old school” and more contemporary writers. Of the latter, I admire the work ofpoets Gregory O’Brien, Siobhan Harvey, Anne French, Richard von Sturmer, Bernadette Hall and Sam Hunt, among many others.
Two excellent publications, together with CDs of poets reading their work, issued in 2006/2007 by Auckland University Press, edited by Jack Ross and Jan Kemp, are Classic New Zealand Poets in Performance and Contemporary New Zealand Poets in Performance. I would recommend these two collections to any aspiring poet.
J.S.: You have been writing for nearly three decades. Do you see any change in form and contents in New Zealand poetry in the last 30 years?
P.P.: Poetry has “come of age” in New Zealand. When I first started writing there were hardly any books of poetry being published and only two or three journals where one could have work published. The publishing scene hasn’t changed drastically: journals have come and gone over the decades and there are still only a handful of poetry journals available. However, the publishing scene has changed rapidly and more and more books are becoming available from up-and-coming young poets. The poetic scene in New Zealand has also changed as new forms have been introduced, the M?ori and Island languages are being used more often in poetry and there are new freedoms of what ideas can be expressed in poetry. Sam Hunt performs his “road songs”, Bill Manhire records his poems accompanied by music on CD, and the novelist, Keri Hume (famous for the Bone People) uses plain-spoken storytelling in her poetry. Humour is also being used more often, as is typography, prose poetry and new ways of setting out poems.
Many Maori poets/writers have had their written and oral literature published in the landmark anthology, Te Ao Marama, edited by Witi Ihimarera. These writers have embraced all the media available – song lyrics, protest poetry, rap, theatre, radio, television and film. Many of them explore contemporary life on the city streets and in the countryside, with vibrant work that bursts beyond the expected to challenge both M?oriand Pakeha concepts of identity.
J.S.: What according to you are important markers to look at Indian English poetry?
P.P.: As a reviewer of several books of Indian poetry, I would like to see more attention paid to the correct usage of English: so many poems are spoiled because they are incorrectly worded. If only poets would have someone competent in English edit their work, I’m sure they would find a more profitable market for their work overseas.
I also believe Indian poets could broaden their subject matter more: there is plenty of poetry published about love, nature and relationships. I would like to see more about the culture, myths, gods and goddesses, history, music, drama and the cities.
J.S.: What are key concerns in your poetry?
P.P.: My focus now is primarily on the Japanese forms of poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun, tanka prose, renku and tanka sonnets and on collaborations with other poets. In these forms the emphasis is mainly on nature and its juxtaposition with human nature. In more traditional poetry, my personal concerns are to find insight and meaning in life, with their power to alter our way of thinking. Deeper meanings and emotions are to be found in everyday life than most people give it credit for, so I’m looking for new ways to express my feelings.
J.S.: Your poems are infested with images of death, darkness and waiting. Would you explain why use these images more than often?
P.P.: I experienced separation from my family during the war years, then more devastating separation when I left my country to come to New Zealand and settle in a new country with my young family. Shortly after arriving my husband died and I was left with four young children to bring up by myself in a country where I knew no-one. The same year, I lost both my parents, then the following year one of my sons died in an accident. It was a devastating time and the only way I could come to terms with so much grief over a short period was to write about it. After my husband died I had to find work in order to support my family and found a position at a kindergarten where I could be at home with the children during the school holidays. I went on to study at evening classes for my teaching diploma and later on studied for my degree in English and Education extramurally at Massey University.
J.S.: Do you consider yourself as a confessional poet who takes an inward road while writing?
P.P.: Confessional poetry is the poetry of the personal or “I.” This style of writing emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s and is associated with poets such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Lowell’s book Life Studies was a personal account of his life and family and had a significant impact on American poetry. Plath and Sexton were both students of Lowell and his work influenced their own writing.
Private experiences with feelings about death, trauma, depression and relationships were often addressed in this type of poetry. In New Zealand, writers such as Katherine Mansfield and Robin Hyde often wrote in an autobiographical manner. Confessional poets/writers did not merely record their emotions on paper; craft and construction were extremely important to their work. While their treatment of the poetic self may have been groundbreaking and shocking to some readers, these poets and writers maintained a high level of craftsmanship.
In my own work, because I’ve gone through war, separation from family, hardship, loss and death, I tend to use references to all these emotions in my poetry. They stand as an amazing resource for a writer and one can run through the gamut of emotions from love, relationships, making new friendships, moving to a different country to the psychological trauma of losing one’s life partner.
J.S: ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’, W.H. Auden once said famously. How do you read this axiom?
P.P.: I don’t think any poet would agree with Auden’s axiom. There have been tremendous poems about war: they may not change anything, but they give us “pause for thought” and may incline some people to consider their options before committing violent acts against others. There have also been wonderful love poems: Shakespeare’s sonnets, for example, which are often quoted. There are the Japanese “death” poems and there are many books of poems for special occasions which can be used for weddings, funerals and the like.
J.S.: Working within the broad post-colonial and post-modern literary/ critical paradigm, as an academic and commentator, how do you view these dominant strands in English Studies in the Indian metropolitan universities of the first two decades of the New Millennium?
P.P.: Post-colonialism, of course, affects many countries, including New Zealand and Australia. It may designate, and denounce, the forms of economic, cultural and literary oppression that have succeeded modern colonialism, sometimes called “neo-colonialism”. The term tends to point out that co-operation, assistance, modernization and the like are in fact new forms of political and cultural domination that are as bad as the former imperial colonialism that was the way of life in many countries in the past.
Long periods of forced dependency necessarily had a profound impact on the social and cultural fabric of these societies and led to them being forced into styles of literature that were alien to them.
It’s only very recently, in my own country, that Maori and Pacific Island writers have found their voices and I was delighted to hear recently that two Maori writers had won prestigious prizes for books written in their native tongue.
Regarding English Studies in Indian universities, I am in contact with several Indian academics and it is gratifying to see many superb writers emerging from academia. India has a wealth of very fine novelists, among them Arundhati Roy, Rabrinranath Tagore, Vikram Seth, V. S. Naipul and Salman Rushdie.
J.S.: What would be your advice to the budding poets?
P.P.: My advice to aspiring poets is to read, read, read and write, write, write. Attend workshops, readings and perhaps join a writing group.
J.S.: Is only writing your main sort of engagement?
P.P.: For relaxation, I like to go to the cinema, theatre and art galleries. I also have a family and grandchildren that I like to see and entertain. I enjoy travelling and have, in the past, been to Australia, Hong Kong, China, Tibet and Macau. I am hoping to go on a trip to Japan in 2013 with a small tour group to walk in Basha’s footsteps.
J.S.: Who are important poets and literary editors you know from India?
I have been involved with many Indian editors over the past three decades. Some of those that come immediately to mind are Pronab Kumar Majumdar, Dr. I. H. Rizvi, Mandal Bijoy Beg, Dr. D. C. Chambial, Dr. Biplab Majumdar, Dr. H. Tulsi and Prof. I. V. Chalapati Rao. The Indian poets I have come to know and admire include the following, Dr. H. I. Rizvi, Prof. R. K. Singh, K. V. Raghupathi, Dr. Mohammed Fakhruddin. Dr. Manash Bakshi,Dr. Sunil Sharma, Dr. Shaleen Singh and many more.
More about Patricia Prime :
-Patricia Prime is co-editor of the New Zealand haiku magazine, Kokako, reviews/interviews editor of Haibun Today, and writes reviews for Takahe, Gusts and Atlas Poetica, and for several Indian magazines. She has interviewed poets and editors for Takahe and for the online magazines Haiku NewZ, Simply Haiku, Haibun Today, Stylus, and for print journals. She is on a panel of judges for the Presence Seashell Game, for the Metverse Muse traditional poetry competitions, and the Take Five Tanka Anthologies 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. Her poetry, interviews and reviews have been published in the World Poetry Almanac (Mongolia) in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. She is a member of GIEWEC, the Guild of Indian English Writers, Editors and Critics and is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the New Fiction Journal, and the Editorial Advisory Boardof the International Journal on Multicultural Literature. Patricia writes haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose and has published her poetry worldwide.
Her most recent publications are three chapbooks, in collaboration with fellow poet, Catherine Mair: East Cape based on a journey around the Eastern Bay of Plenty, a collection of tanka called Stolen Time and a collection of haibun, Morning Glory. A booklet of short haibun, (Quartet) in collaboration with three other poets from Australia, the USA and the UK was published in 2010. She has published several books of collaborative poetry: Sweet Penguins, The Place Where, Every Drop Stone Pebble (a collaboration of haiku with two other poets) and Duet (haiku with an Indian poet). Patricia has published a collection of poetry, Accepting Summer, and has edited an anthology of new and established poets from New Zealand called Something Between Breaths. She has written several articles on poets, including the Canadian poet, Michael Ondaatje, and the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud.
Besides reviewing, writing poetry and articles and conducting interviews, Patricia also writes the traditional Japanese forms of haiku, tanka, renga, linked verse, cheritas, tanka sonnets, tanka prose and haibun, sometimes in collaboration with other poets. Her own poetry interests lie mainly with the Japanese short forms of poetry, but she has had mainstream poems published both in New Zealand and overseas.