Letter to a young poet

I started writing poems and songs when I was very little, there are funny family photos of me at 3 years old on a mic, with a keyboard guitar, singing my heart out. I’m still singing my heart out in new and compelling ways that make me want to get up in the morning but there are plenty of mornings they don’t warn you about in high school, in university, in the corporate world – mornings where you face the page wondering what’s the point of it all?

I often wanted a manifesto like the small one I’ve assembled below when I was just starting to get published and I was performing my works to brand new audiences who didn’t know me from a bar of soap, when I was doe-eyed and overwhelmed by the opportunities around me, when I thought I would implode if I didn’t write, when my poems felt like fireworks blowing up across the page. I had no idea how threatening a young poet could be to people who had taken a very long time to establish themselves, I had no idea how threatening an opinionated young brown woman could be if you placed her on the world stage, and I definitely had little idea that I would have to learn how to be that person and to safeguard my heart from the rushes, falls and bursts of life.

For someone who speaks up often, I still find it takes all of my strength to separate the life my work has taken on by itself and the woman who stares back at me in the mirror. I have allegiances to spirits, I have faith in the education that encouraged me to become a critical thinker, but I also give myself permission to challenge my critical thinking, to close read texts and sometimes to just read with total unquestionable joy.

I’ve made it because I always knew what ‘it’ was for me – my mother was the first poet in my life, she used to read her poems to me when I was a girl and now I read my poems to her and that feels richer and more brilliant than all the gold in the world. My brothers tell their English teachers that their sister is a writer and they share their stories, speeches and poems with confidence. I open my book and there’s my grandmother’s dedication, she travels all over the world, something I knew she always wanted to do when she was alive. My cousins and my friends feature heavily in my works, they are a new history alive and breathing, inspiring beyond words. My parents are passionately on this journey with me and they always will be, that’s more than enough for anyone to say about their craft, and now and then my poetry performs little miracles of its own accord like the wonderful translators, publishers, editors, producers and artists brought into my life purely through my writing. The family of people around my words are the real creations of my works, an abundance of special characters that I couldn’t have written better myself.

1. On making new worlds with your bare hands: don’t stop to consider this one

2. All kinds of people will walk into your life, it’s not your place to mend or keep or hoist or canonise them

3. Mix with minds that challenge you, if you find yourself in the company of the cooing/ nodding variety.. move on

4. Take a good look at your lover, are they an intellectual exercise machine? (be honest)

5. Feel things, put them on the page, look at the page on different days, look at the days on different pages

6. You are as good as you think you are

7. Poetry is art, expect (pray) that not everyone will ‘get’ it

8. Make friends with visual artists, they can see the scenes that you can only feel that they only wish they could articulate – win/ win friendship

9. For each great project have a list of great people to bug on the days when you feel defeated and blue

10. The tutor who harshly marks your writing isn’t the be all and end all, one day you will hit your stride and it will be effortless. In between, do yourself a favour and watch funny films, get lots of fresh air and spend time perfecting family recipes

11. The best days have a day after and the worst days do too, the day-afters are gifts to start again.. and again

12.  Write from your gut, your gut is unrepeatable, your experiences are historical one-off works of art waiting to be written

13. Read a lot, feast on the classics, dive into different kinds of poems often, challenge the part of you that pulls away from certain forms, you don’t have to love everything but it pays to be informed

14. There is nothing ordinary about your life, nothing that could be improved or diluted, you have everything you need to be great.

© Courtney Sina Meredith 2014

 

 

Edward Snowden Worldwide Reading – Akl

snowden flyer - working draft 1

Liberty & Recognition for Edward Snowden: Worldwide Reading – Akl, facilitated by the internationales literaturfestival berlin and supported by writers around the globe including Noam Chomsky, Ulrich Schreiber, Martin Amis, Irvine Welsh, Claribel Alegria, Michael Ondaatje, Marina Warner and many more.

Join us for an evening of texts about surveillance in support of Edward Snowden with writers Serie Barford, Amber Esau, Courtney Sina MeredithMichael Onslow-Osborne and Albert L Refiti at Beatnik Publishing on Monday 8 September 2014, 6.30pm.

On the same date other readings will take place in Germany, Great Britain, Iceland, Colombia, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa and USA.

With this worldwide reading, we call on the United States Government to recognize that Edward Snowden’s revelations are of essential importance for the safeguarding of democracy in the digital age, and thus that his actions must be seen to be covered by the Universal Unwritten Rule of the Ethical Right. Washington should therefore immediately lift all legal charges and complaints against Snowden, so that he can return home safely as a free man.

We further demand that the Member States of the European Union, in recognition of the importance of his revelations, immediately grant Edward Snowden asylum in the EU, for as long as he may need it and at least until the US Government has lifted all charges against him.

Finally, we ask that the Nobel Committee consider Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize – in recognition of his amazing, selfless service towards democracy, freedom and peace for us all.

Tumult

He has a round face
eyes like his mother
a nose like his father
both of their faces layer his skull
both of their souls peer out of his mouth.

He has a voice that carries
his voice moves through the TV
he can be heard at night
shattering the sky
he can be seen at dawn
gathered in plastic.

I watch his face
inside his voice
unlike his mother
unlike his father
not the elders
swinging flags

no, the cold sun
the sullen moon
who moves too,
even for this son.

 

 

 

Deep down

I can feel myself talking, with my hands. Funny, on the bus on my way into town I had both hands in my pockets gripping change. Now my hands are dancing through the air, flicking invisible satin ripples up into the corners of the ceiling. I’m talking about my play, something unearthed from the seabed, my seabed, yes – poetic to imagine myself as having land and oceans and depths alike to the city of Atlantis and there is where I had to prise Rushing Dolls (my play) from the evil clutches of erm, the source of all things? The unforgiving creative ‘spring’ that I have seen dry up in a nano second only to be replenished days later with inane un-spring-like cautionary tales, blunt objects, swimming ideals, basically rubbish.

This is an interesting moment to have in the middle of an important meeting, I stop to imagine, mid-flight (speaking with my hands) how wonderful it is to believe that everything is there, deep down. It makes my head spin. Perhaps my ex on the other side of the world is desperately sorry – deep down? Perhaps the production of mediocre art that no one can properly critique because it is speaking to a political or social narrative that we all agree is very trendy and cutting edge or important (so therefore artistic responses are very trendy and cutting edge or important) is actually interesting deep down! I might be wrong about a slew of morons dotted across my life line, when you look at my palms you can literally see them guffawing. Maybe, everyone is talented, deep down?

After the meeting I read through my play at home, I turn the pages and breathe in the scent of the book, I look at my photo on the back cover – I decide that young woman interests me. Is she consistently effective in hauling, skyward, ancestral treasures passed down through generations? Is she interested in where it comes from, or simply grateful. Does it matter?

There is a lot of stillness, booming silence, between creating something and having the desire to develop and edit and ruthlessly kill off characters, ideas, brand new towns and their requisite heavens. Getting Rushing Dolls match fit is exciting, I have a new little team that give me a sense of community around the characters, people who know them and love them like I do. It feels strange and brilliant to realise that we are very close to finding a home for this work, a bit like when you are standing just in the right spot one day to see the light hit the trees in golden bliss, as though you have lived your life not a second ahead or behind, you timed everything perfectly for this one imperfect awakening.

 

 

Forever

It’s been forever since I checked in.

Mostly I’ve been listening to The Kills, enjoying the strange new sun, encountering doom less often, learning how to untangle my doubts from the footpath. Chatting on skype, organising my life through my phone, missing the alerts, over analysing fairly simple occurrences, falling into season 5 ‘Good Wife’ addiction, losing my cool with google maps, getting fish pedicures, freaking out over claims the fish carry viruses, flip flopping in love, flapping out of love, flying straight back. Taking photos of anything I eat that includes something green to show my mum her little girl is looking after herself, finally starting to notice the abundance of fences, wondering if the fences keep the children in or the adults out, or the gardens in and the dogs out, or the basketballs in and the traffic out? Wondering a lot. Wandering down familiar roads recalling when they were strange. Counting how many months I’ve been away on both hands. Stretching my hands out looking for signs of wisdom, following the lines of my palm into the air, onto my wrist, out past the street. Eliciting conversation in terrible places, surveyors outside Sainsburys, cat woman shaking on bus, lost tourists. Clingy symmetrical vines. Treating mango like hunks of gold, like Charlie treated chocolate, talking about ‘home’ as though I am living in exile, a refugee of paradise. Understating my homesickness with the aid of said flip flop love and my discovery of half-pints, now there’s a way to drink a lot in polite little bits. Uncovering a mass of unresolved fears, joy, ideas, tendencies, habits, meeting people two years younger than me and hearing myself say ‘enjoy it’ as though I am 100. Reading my poems wondering who wrote them. Writing new poems wondering who reads them. Articulating brand new truths in a daring, happy fashion. Gormless revelation of poet as living creature. Wondering a lot. Using the self checkouts at express supermarkets, feeling very pleased with myself. Walking through markets feigning confusion, oh no, here I am at the Turkish delights, I am so confused, I guess I will get some (brilliant!) getting used to meeting more Kiwis than I ever did in New Zealand. Getting doubly used to strange urges for jafas and pineapple lumps, I never had these urges at home. Getting triply used to the complexities of home, to return to leave again, to become a home of my own and for that to be just fine. Divulging in great rants new age truths, happiness bar graphs, Ted talks that have changed my life (in the last week) why I can’t stop watching the live stream of the Pistorius case, how much I finally understand the effort it takes to be miserable, how little effort it takes to smile, the absence of enough words to track the insanity of love, how fond I am of falling, how much I want to fail forward, how little time I’ve spent on the outside of my ideas, what it has been like to drown in the promise of ones own abyss, the ships there parting space like waves of lacquered black, and it was cool and it was real to swim down to the bed of myself, all those times to prise unearth some grain of buried fate.. look look.. look at this flake of gold I pulled myself a part for, see how it catches the light?

Working on a dream: old year resolutions

I love Bruce Springsteen, his song ‘working on a dream’ that he played as an opening act for Obama got me thinking today. In case you haven’t heard it, here’s a favourite line of mine:

Now the cards I’ve drawn’s a rough hand, darling
I straighten the back and I’m working on a dream

It’s traditional come December for most of us to start thinking about the year ahead, the next harvest – what we hope to achieve and so on. I’m quite inspired by the notion of working on a dream, and instead of looking forward, today I’m looking back and I wanted to share with you some of the best moments, memories and friendships – a few old year resolutions!

1. I’m thankful to have the right to marry my girlfriend, in my own country. It astounds me how many people are willing to pipe up against the dreams, aspirations and civil rights of their fellow countrymen – but those very people will not show the same vigour of passion and energy when it comes to simply making their communities better places to be. If you have the courage to judge strangers, wouldn’t it be amazing to see that courage channelled towards positive causes too? One can only hope, and I do.

2. I have a dear friend in Indonesia, a brother more than a friend, his name is Mikael Johani and like me – he has the same poetry bug that we both can’t recover from ;) When we met in early 2012, comrades within the same poetry festival, I remember watching him perform some works and my heart was flying a bit. He had this amazing tattoo on his arm and it wasn’t finished, a handsome prince. On our last day together, I put my malu on his tattoo and I knew we would be bound for life.

fregata

Mikael being an incredible human, surprised me a month later with this image. Needless to say I was blown away! As he turns his arm, you see the frigate birds are flying the prince into the future. I will always be a part of him, and he will always be, a part of me. That’s an incredible friendship I reckon!

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3. In a recent job interview I was asked what the most important thing is to me, conducting myself professionally, it was one of those strange out of body experiences – I heard myself say ‘responding to opportunity’ and I realised much of my life has been built on this premise. So what does it mean to respond to opportunity? I think it has something to do with faith, something to do with follow through, and a lot to do with passion. Every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.

4. I write about my family a lot, what I probably don’t share enough – even with myself, is the immense hardships we’ve come through to be who we are today. I met up with a friend last week, it struck me from her impression of my writing that things must be beautiful and rosy all the time. I’m proud of the battles we’ve won, I’m proud of the fact that I can always talk to my parents no matter what – that doesn’t mean that I’ve always understood the world like that. There was a time when I couldn’t be completely open and just myself, I thank all the higher powers for getting me through long periods where I did suffer in silence. I think about my own internal wars with anxiety, depression and many dark clouds that I waded through. Looking for the light means being the light. That’s my greatest realisation of this year and one thing I’m so incredibly happy to finally understand!

5. The privilege of trial and error, this is a big one – living in a world where I can try, fail and get back up again for another round is an immense gift. We forget in our little first world bubbles, what a gift failure is – what an opportunity it is to test and extend yourself. I’ve never been big on numbers, I love words, but I’ve decided to strengthen that part of myself and how glorious that I can? We have little idea what it’s like to be within the confines of a life without ample food and water, shelter and love (and wifi~!) it isn’t about changing the world – it’s about changing attitudes. Being conscious of the fact that you are living someone’s dream, that someone somewhere – falls asleep in squalor every night just wishing they could be clothed, cared for and understood the way you are – that is a truth that comes with a responsibility to treat your existence with tenderness. The more amazed you are by your own working limbs, your crazy mind and changing moods, how bountiful and whole your time on this planet has been – only then can you begin to comprehend the profound struggle of others, and maybe, just maybe, you might choose to do something about it.

6. I have a partner who drives me nuts, some days we’re like a symphony, other days it’s how I imagine under water metal would sound: cray cray! I read somewhere that you shouldn’t expect your needs to be met by anyone but yourself, under any circumstances. I can see how that ideal gained traction, and why so many people have a preference to believe in an extreme user-pays neo-liberal existence that exceeds market mentality, over flowing into our personal lives and how we engage with others. I can interpret just how clean cut it seems, how safe to imagine that any bad feelings are your own, along with the good ones. The difficulty is, humans aren’t solitary creatures. I like to think of myself as being a solitary jungle tiger, but the reality is far from it. I absolutely look to have some of my needs met by my partner and when they are, it’s a bit like Christmas and New Years rolled into one. I am learning what it means to love someone, and you don’t love them alone – every time we fight my mother knows about it, and on the weekend when she surprised me with flights to Budapest for my birthday my best friends immediately knew about it. I am just another human, trucking along trying to make sense of things. I don’t know when I will publish my next book, or when I’ll have my next residency, or international tour, or the next time the BBC might interview me to 40 million listeners. What I do know is how soft and vulnerable I am, packaged into black boots, black Ray Bans, black tights and a very London black coat. If a bomb fell, I would fall with it too, and if the earth shook I’d be dancing on the walls. And you know what? That’s actually great. It takes humanity to work on things you can’t see or explain. I hope all of your dreams come true, if you make an old years resolution list – you might be surprised to see just how many already have :)

Happy old year! x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Believing in something real

I visited the grounds of a local church today, it happened upon me, one minute I was walking past a shop and then I spied some trees. I wanted to pay my respects to a statue for fallen soldiers, there were fresh flowers and little hand written notes. Walking to the centre of the garden, a few homeless guys walked past, one of them smiled at me and came and stood by my side while I read the plaque. He had a few teeth missing but a nice warm coat and huge brown eyes. He cleared his throat like a kaumatua and took his beanie off, bowing his head and surveying the bright wreaths. After a few moments in silence he turned to me and asked to see my hand, a few other people in the small park were looking over concerned. I could see men on the church steps huddled together, their eyes squared wondering if my new friend was about to take off with my bag, or stab me in the side and take my Ray Bans.

I showed him my hand, my tatau, that’s what he wanted to see. He reached out gingerly, his fingers were tobacco stained. I told him it was ok to touch the birds, he barely let the full print of his index finger rest on my knuckle, but he said he was daring himself to, because unlike my birds he would never know the sky. He hadn’t been on a plane before, or sailed across the sea, he had no idea what the sea felt like, or what it looked like, from the sky. I told him about my culture, my family and what the symbols meant. He started nodding, stepped back and put his beanie back on “oh you are lucky, you believe in something real.” Then something extraordinary happened, he thanked me for being kind, he said kindness was greater than food “you have a culture, you have something real that believes in you.”

He went to walk away and stopped for a moment, looking back, “you know, everything is close for you, I just live here, this is all I’m going to be. Most people just want to be warm, but you might have a family and people who look for you at night if you don’t come home. Don’t forget how close you are little sister.” And he walked away, puffing on a smoke shaking his fist at the sky.