Transit of Venus: Hinemoana Baker, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Glenn Colquhoun, Uwe Kolbe, Brigitte Oleschinski & Chris Price
In June 2012 the planet Venus became visible from the Earth as it crossed in front of the Sun. Three German poets and three New Zealand poets joined together to watch and record its transit. This collection brings together their observations: poems, a short essay and an interview about their encounter with Venus, their fellow poets and their travels. Most of the pieces can be read in both English and German: all six poets came together for a second time in Berlin to translate each other’s work.
Hinemoana Baker opens the collection with a song from the mother of Maui to the planets. In a series of poems she conjures Venus in different guises: as Kōpū and Tāwera, later as a goddess connecting Sun and Earth, and finally as a twentieth-century UFO. Elsewhere, Venus is a black dot or an absence: the first poem by Ulrike Almut Sandig has crowds of onlookers searching the skies disappointedly as Venus remains hidden from view. Chris Price evokes a female figure fleeing from camera lenses while her pursuers try to film her movements and assess her dimensions.
Other poems look back to historic transits: ‘Whakapapa 2012’ by Uwe Kolbe recalls the arrival of Captain Cook who made landfall on the same stretch of New Zealand coastline after observing the passage of Venus from Tahiti. Six poems by Glenn Colquhoun are dedicated to another explorer: Ernst Dieffenbach. His song cycle employs sound and rhythm to chronicle the German naturalist’s ascent of Taranaki, his botanical contributions, and his pet weka. A poem by Brigitte Oleschinski reaches further back in New Zealand history to first human settlement, charting the arrival of canoes bringing people, mammals and gods. She evokes contemporary New Zealand as a place where ‘Auch die Kleider / fliegen’: ‘Even the clothes / are flying, and they bark a little, inwardly.’
Several poems play with the theme of translation. The parallel versions of ‘meine Liebe’ and ‘my love’ see the poets Ulrike and Hinemoana encountering their English and German doubles, misrecognizing their mirror image and switching roles. A found poem by Chris Price explores transfer between the two languages of New Zealand through a seventeenth-century English-Māori manual. She follows it with ‘The Audition ’ in which a musician tries to join a New Zealand band called the High Rising Terminals – a poem about identity and belonging in local varieties of English.
These are only some of the pieces in this multi-voiced, multilingual collection that provides new perspectives not only on faraway objects but also those much closer to home.
Victoria University Press, 2016, 144 pp including colour plates.
See below for more information and recommendations.
About the Poets
Hinemoana Baker is a Wellington poet, musician and teacher. She is the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence in 2015–16.
Ulrike Almut Sandig is a Berlin poet who works with various composers and musicians. She has received numerous awards and scholarships, most recently a scholarship from the Berlin Senate. Her recent collection Missing Witness was translated by Bradley Schmidt.
Glenn Colquhoun is a poet, children’s writer, and GP. In 2014 he represented New Zealand on the Commonwealth Poets United poetry project which celebrated the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Uwe Kolbe is a poet, translator and lecturer who lives in Hamburg. He has received many prizes and awards, most recently the Heinrich Mann Prize from the Academy of the Arts in Berlin and the Meran Poetry Award. A sequence of poems entitled ‘Transit’ is included in his most recent collection Gegenreden; most of these were written in New Zealand .
Brigitte Oleschinski is a Berlin poet, essayist and performer. She received the prestigious Peter-Huchel-Preis in 1998. She is best known for her poetry collections Mental Heat Control (1990), Your Passport is Not Guilty (1997) and Geisterströmung (2004).
Chris Price is a Wellington poet, nonfiction writer, musician and teacher. Her most recent poetry collection is Beside Herself (2016).
About the Project
The Transit of Venus Poetry Exchange was organized by the Goethe-Institut New Zealand, the International Institute of Modern Letters, and the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, and was supported by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the New Zealand government through Manatū Taonga – the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s Cultural Diplomacy International Programme, and the Publishers Association of New Zealand.
You can watch a short film by two of the ‘Transit’ poets here…
The ‘Transit of Venus’ poetry project was part of a wider celebration of New Zealand literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2012. This month we recommend two related books: some Grim(m) fairy tales written especially for New Zealand and the German-New Zealand volume of Sport.
Es war einmal... Grim(m) Fairy Tales for Aotearoa New Zealand
Goethe-Institut New Zealand 2015
Everyone knows the fairy tales collected and published by the Brothers Grimm: ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Snow White’, ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ and many more. This anthology presents twelve new tales written especially for contemporary New Zealand: ‘Cuperalla’, ‘Maui and the Taniwha’ and others featuring bellbirds, a cry baby, magic trees and goats… The stories were selected from over three hundred contributions by New Zealand writers.
Sport 40: New Zealand New Writing 2012 with
Contemporary Writing in German
Fergus Barrowman & Sally-Ann Spencer 2012
This special New Zealand-German volume of Sport features over 400 pages of new writing from New Zealand and German writers. It includes poetry and prose from ‘Transit’ participant Ulrike Almut Sandig as well as new translations of work by Durs Grünbein, Jenny Erpenbeck, Robert Gernhardt, Maja Haderlap, Alexander Kluge, Jan Wagner and many others. New Zealand contributors include Pip Adam, Elizabeth Knox, Tina Makereti, Bill Manhire and Chris Price.
Text: Sally-Ann Spencer
Copyright: Goethe-Institut New Zealand, 2016