Auckland, July 16 (AFP): Some 200 poets, writers and academics — all living in exile around the world — are to gather for a conference in Auckland this week to explore the link between exile and creativity.
It is the mix of scholars, writers and creative artists — in a kind of temporary, collective exile down under — that will make “The Poetics of Exile” conference a unique one, says Mike Hanne, coordinator and Associate Professor of the centre for comparative literature at The University of Auckland.
Hanne, who spent more than a year contacting writers and poets through universities and websites around the world, is thrilled at the high number of guests from 40-odd countries willing to travel so far for the three-day conference, starting tomorrow and to be opened by Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Academic papers will be read, along with poetry readings, visual art exhibitions, video screenings and a concert.
Themes taken up by contributors include: exile, memory and forgetfulness, identity and exile, the theology of exile, language and exile, and the sense of exile experienced by indigenous people.
While living in exile is a painful experience, Hanne said that the conference will reflect the diversity of ways that artists and writers, from India, Afghanistan, Israel, Indonesia, China, Nigeria and Cyprus, deal with and express their pain and their identities.
Explaining the grounds for holding the conference, he quotes Palestinian-born scholar Edward W. Said: “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience.
“While it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement.”
Among those travelling long distances to participate are Chinese poet Yang Lian, who first sought refuge in New Zealand when he fled China in 1989, though he now lives in London, Czech poet Bronislava Volkova and Fijian Indian writer Sudesh Mishra.
Also present will be First Nations Canadian artist Dolleen Manning, Iraqi writer Saadi Simawe, Nigerian poet Chris Abani, Tamil dramatist Elangovan and Argentinian musician Guillermo Anad.
Local contributors include Jewish photographer Marti Friedlander, who came to New Zealand from war-ravaged Europe in 1958, young Bulgarian-born poet Kapka Kassabova, Vietnamese-born painter Minh Truong-George and such recent arrivals as Iraqi poet Emad Jabbar and Ethiopian-born poet and activist on behalf of refugees Yilma Tafere Tasew.
Over the past 100 years, New Zealand has offered a long-term home to individuals and groups seeking refuge from repression, discrimination, natural disaster and war in just about every continent, Hanne said.
“This country has been enriched by the arrival of people fleeing such diverse situations as Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe, East Asia and Latin America, war in Africa, West Asia, Indonesia and former Yugoslavia, and coups in Fiji.”
But in today’s climate of riing anxiety at an immigration policy that has permitted thousands of people, mostly wealthy Asians, to settle in New Zealand, Hanne said he felt the conference would be a vehicle to air stories of tragedy and trauma that prompted many people to seek a home elsewhere.
“Its an opportunity to review the extraordinary creative contribution that people who have lost their homeland so often make to the country they settle in.
“Specifically, its a chance for New Zealanders to understand that refugees aren’t just people who need help to fit in, but people who have much to offer.”