Welcome to Turbine | Kapohau 19
Haere mai and welcome to this cluster of rooms, each of them porous enough that a reader can enter them, strong enough that a reader can be housed there. It is a gift to come across such spaces.
This year’s Turbine | Kapohau fiction pieces blend the surreal with the funny, the horrifying with the benign. Heads wobble, balloon-like. People vomit. Yellow-toothed twenty-somethings fall in love with ambivalent Russians. The Wellington bus system is examined. Such is the stuff of life.
The best kind of character, says Nicola Barker, is noble and chaotic. The kind that inadvertently kills his brother by locking him in a fridge, then later feeds his hand to an owl. And so we find ourselves introduced to the bizarre girl who keeps mice and a plethora of books in her pockets at the centre of Dara Flaws’ story ‘The Mayor’s Daughter,’ as well as the spellbindingly odd, movie-obsessed Gia in ‘The Upset’ by the fabulous Mikee Sto Domingo.
In non-fiction we find a similar kind of reverence for the strange and unexpected. What feels warm, luxurious, turns out to be a worm or a carrot. We mull on patterns woven deep, tracing the intricate paths of immigrant families, cherished resins, Otago skinks. In ‘27 Organs’ by Alie Benge, the heart becomes a gory, wet, kicking thing; our capacity to give and to feel love is held under a microscope.
Yet ordinary life is examined with a hypnotic attention to detail in these pieces, as well – like the experience of being stood up, so deftly realised by Rebecca K. Reilly in her piece ‘The Hill.’ Good fiction holds up a magnifying glass to life, daring us to look at it in its entirety; its worn, soft edges as well as its ragged parts. This year’s writers do just that – whether it be in the form of daring to speak of difficult things, such as in Elaine Webster’s ‘Fantasy Endings for a Bad Romance,’ or daring to let yourself break promises, explored in the wonderful ‘Nanny’ by Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall.
As beguiling as it might be to neatly collect 2019’s pieces under one unifying theme, together their writers have created a diverse patchwork quilt of stories that capture the experience of a wide range of people in a wide range of places – keeping true to this journal’s te reo name, Kapohau: to catch/capture the wind or vitality of a person, place or object.
This issue’s poetry traces the tentacle’s root, the tendril’s arch, the impulse of reaching across and daring to become and inhabit what is seen. Queer childhood, hybridised creatures. The point is I imagined/myself doing/what the dancer was doing. These are ropes thrown across chasms, gossamer threads across minute fractures.
Answering makes the thinking stop, Anne Carson said. Living happens when your thought moves. To reside in the unanswerable is not to sit there, but to hover, to tread water, to move with the constancy of a hummingbird. Words are never still, though they appear to be. Imperceptible, 80 wing-beats a second, warped into stillness by the eye’s limits. That’s the uncanny propeller these pieces have as our eyes move across them.
Suddenly we are able to look at both the unspeakable things and their ornate shrouds. Earthquakes in tiny gestures. Sweet flowers both cloying and cherished. This means communion, too: with whenua, whakapapa, pounamu; with beacons and adopted mothers. Distant tangata who tamumu their stories in an ear; Dorothy Wordsworth guiding a young woman through the Anthropocene.
Surface and undercurrent: head lice defying it, rats drowning in it. The overwhelm of water full of a thousand different things; microbes, fish eggs, bones, cells, plants, decay, all of it. Absolutely all of it. Elsewhere, Dillard-esque solace in observing all that water contains, in accepting its undefined boundaries: the bottom of the pond for the cormorant’s eyes only. From the underside/the river holds nothing/I know about. Water’s surface a site of multiplicity, of endless changeability and renewal, of ancestral souls moving without the tattered roles of gender, of flesh sub/merged.
Do all lovers feel as though they’re inventing something? This is where water can catch fire too: there are love poems here. As with the sea, these are the kind that offer both the calmness of gently lapping waves and the terror of the sheer force possible in that same body. Permeable/to the inverse ratio/of your perfection. Time collapses, as does a lung, by exactly ten per cent. The beloved are carefully examined, illuminated by flickers and glows, their sandwiches prepared with infinite care.
Elsewhere, Emilie Hope has captured the vivacious and passionate spirit of this year’s Victoria University/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence, Lynda Chanwai-Earle. The breadth of Lynda’s life and work is extraordinary: from poetry to podcasts to plays, Lynda has always been uncompromising in finding a way to tell the stories that matter and to give a voice to others.
Perhaps one of the most valuable moments is when Emilie and Lynda discuss the response to the horrific shootings in Christchurch this year. The perverse though perhaps well-intentioned ‘this is not us’ slogan is deftly dissected for what it truly was: a denial of New Zealand’s racist legacy, an attempt to erase rather than address as a means of moving forward. The most unspeakable things must be spoken about. Bill Manhire’s ‘Little Prayers,’ written in the wake of the attacks, asks that we let the closing line be the opening line, that we let ourselves be open to grief and shame.
We would like to thank Rachel O’Neill for her masterful web skills, Chris Price and Kate Duignan for being our tireless word-shepherds this year, and finally, Katie Hardwick-Smith and Clare Moleta for their administrative superpowers.
—Janey Street & Manon Revuelta
ABOUT THE EDITORS
Janey Street and Manon Revuelta have both been booksellers for many years. This year, Janey wrote a long Microsoft Word Document and Manon made a scrapbook.