The Robert Burns Fellowship
The Robert Burns Fellowship is New Zealand's premier literary residency. It was established in 1958 by a group of anonymous Dunedin citizens to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Burns, and to perpetuate the community's appreciation of the part played by the related Dunedin family of Dr Thomas Burns in the early settlement of Otago. The Fellowship aims to encourage and promote imaginative New Zealand literature and to associate writers with the University.
The annual, 12-month Fellowship provides an office in the English Department and not less than the minimum salary of a full-time university lecturer. It is open to writers of poetry, drama, fiction, biography, autobiography, essays or literary criticism who are normally resident in New Zealand, and who, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, have established by their published work, or otherwise, that their writing would benefit from their holding the Fellowship.
Previous Fellowship recipients since 2008
Robert Burns Fellow 2013
David Howard says he was “astonished and honoured” to learn he had secured the fellowship for 2013.
“The Robert Burns Fellowship is my exact and exacting contemporary. I was born in 1959, when the inaugural fellow, Ian Cross, was at his desk,” he says.
“Over my lifetime Burns fellows have produced some of this country’s most compelling and, it must be said, eccentric work.”
David Howard is also a winner of the Gordon & Gotch Poetry Award, the NZ Poetry Society Competition, the NZSA Mid‐Career Writers Award, and the University of South Pacific Press Poetry Prize.
David Howard's major publication is The Incomplete Poems (Cold Hub Press, 2011). He also has a long-standing interest in collaboration. In 2004 his long poem There you go was set by the Czech composer, Marta Jirackova. In 2007 Brina Jez-Brezavscek presented her electro-acoustic setting of The Flax Heckler at a new music festival in Slovenia. And Johanna Selleck's setting of Air, Water, Earth Meld was premiered by soprano Judith Dodsworth at The University of Melbourne in September 2009. David's work with the visual artist Peter Ransom, You're So Pretty When You're Unfaithful To Me, was launched by Holloway Press at the Going West Festival in September 2012.
Here is a brief outline of my current project.
THE MICA PAVILION
I view poetry as a way of knowing; it is primarily an attempt to understand rather than an aesthetic endeavour. The informing question of my recent work is: What can we know if not the past?
In his monumental The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge University Press, 1985) David Lowenthal observes that: ‘The more strenuously we build a desired past, the more we convince ourselves that things really were that way; what ought to have happened becomes what did happen. If we profess only to rectify our predecessors’ prejudices and errors and to restore pre-existing conditions, we fail to see that today’s past is as much a thing of today as it is of the past; to bolster faith that the past originally existed in the form we now devise, we minimize or forget our own alterations.’ So ‘knowing’ is a hazardous process rather than an assured state.
While the institutional and informal racism endured by Chinese migrants in the nineteenth century is a matter of public record here, in the twenty-first century popular suspicion of Asian immigration and investment is growing again due to the economic and therefore political dominance of China over our traditional trading partners.
One month into the Fellowship I have already fleshed out a skeletal synopsis:
Despite the opposition of their respective families and friends, a young Kai Tahu woman is courted by a Chinese migrant who chases gold but more often finds mica in the Otago of the 1850s. She becomes love-sick, dies, and wanders the underworld. All the while her erstwhile but faithful lover sees her in dreams. The intensity of his commitment causes the goddess of the underworld, Hine-nui-te-po, to return the beloved to her partner.
- This rather operatic outline is borrowed from the sixteenth century Chinese classic The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu. I am using the Otago goldfields as a way of exploring the perennial tangle that is desire, placing the body in the body politic, and plotting New Zealand’s complex position within an increasingly Asian-centred business world.