Wednesday, 9 October 2013 8:06am
Jovial email conversations with the 2014 Robert Burns Fellow Majella Cullinane have forced this year’s incumbent to contemplate the approaching end of his own year of unalloyed, uninterrupted creativity.
“It’s been the best writing year of my life; there is no qualification on that statement,” Purakaunui poet David Howard says. “There is no period of my writing life that has been so focused on the work or during which there have been so few distractions. This is the most generously paid Fellowship of its kind in the country, so it’s also the first year I haven’t had to worry about money.
“I welcome Majella, but I will walk away with sadness. It’s cliché time – all good things come to an end...”
The poetic fruits of Mr Howard’s year, however, will be a constant reminder of his Fellowship’s true value.
He began his tenure with a flurry of activity at the Hocken Library, pulling together the research and typescript of A Place to Go On From: The Collected Poems of Iain Lonie (due for publication by Otago University Press in the 2015-16 season).
With Harry Ricketts of Victoria University, Mr Howard has begun co-editing the Selected Poems of Bill Sewell (1981-82 Robert Burns Fellow). His work has also featured in the Spanish language literary magazine Revista Replicante, along with that of four other New Zealand poets, whose poems were translated by Otago Languages and Cultures senior lecturer and best-selling Mexican novelist Rogelio Guedea.
Other poems composed this year have already been accepted by New Zealand literary journals Landfall and JAAM, the Otago Daily Times and the US online journal Truck.
But his energies have been channelled most significantly into two epic works.
The Mica Pavilion is an almost operatic piece in four acts inspired by Peony Pavilion by Chinese Ming Dynasty poet Tang Xianzu. The Mica Pavilion describes the life and death of a Kai Tahu woman who falls for a Chinese gold miner in the Tuapeka gold fields of 1874.
In The Speak House, the influence of Mr Howard’s favourite childhood writer Robert Louis Stevenson “came back with a vengeance”. Set in the Samoa of the 1890s, the poem explores the Scottish author’s activism and involvement with the rebel leader Mata'afa Iosefo, and ends with Stevenson’s death in 1894.
Mr Howard says, “The Speak House is 754 lines long, The Mica Pavilion is 863 lines. To a novelist it’s not much – as a poet it is an enormous amount; I find them fecund. I haven’t been less tough on myself while writing – every line has been worked and reworked – it’s just that, because of this Fellowship, I haven’t been interrupted.”