Friday, May 15, 2009

Albert Wendt and the Adventures of Genre

Albert Wendt, who was Citizen's Chair professor in the English department here for four years (2004-2008), returned last night to give a reading in the Marjorie Putnam Sinclair Edel reading series. He was introduced by our chair, Mark Heberle, in English, welcomed by poet Robert Sullivan in Maori, chanted to by three Hawaiians, and then opened his (English language) reading by thanking everyone in Samoan. His partner, Reina Whaitiri, sang some lyrics from Bob Dylan along the way. He read from recent poems, and from his forthcoming novel, The Adventures of Vela, published by Huia Publishers in Aotearoa.

Some moments:

--Wendt commemorated many recent deaths, including those of Epeli Hau`ofa and Hone Tuwhare. He described his poem about Hone Tuwhare ("Hone in Las Vegas") as part of an essay that might become a book on his travels on the north American continent. The essay/poem/book extract was a kind of inverse travel writing: the indigenous Samoan and his Maori wife travel to Las Vegas's inversion of the real and the imagined. A line that stuck out for me: "All our journeys are about other journeys," which may have been a quotation from Tuwhare.

--"Envy the moon--it goes and returns. People go, but do not return." Samoan proverb.

--Wendt knows the Samoan stories because his grandmother told them to him when no one else was around. He grew up in a fundamentalist Christian community where such stories were not to be spoken out loud.

--He described the way in which he takes real characters, the goddess Nafanua, for instance, and gives them new stories, and said this would get him in trouble with many Samoans.

--Wendt's character Vela is a poet adopted by Nafanua, although he does not want to be adopted by her. He is given immortal life so that he can chronicle her life (so you need to doubt the truth of his stories).

--Adoption is a major theme of the verse novel. Wendt let slip that in the sections on adoption T.S. Eliot plays a large role. T.S. Eliot, who "adopted" other poets' texts gets adopted by Wendt? I look forward to reading the book to see what this link between Eliot and adoption means, and how it plays out.


Sheri Swaner said...

I would have loved to have been there.
The stories, songs- bringing so much life.

Thanks for posting this.


susan said...

A note from Carol Abe of UH Press that the American release of _Vela_ in July will be published by them.