Hinemoana Baker: “Something I’ll Carry With Me For A Long Time”

by Guest Contributor    /  September 23, 2010  / No comments

Hinemoana Baker on the 2010 Jazz Poetry concert


Hinemoana Baker singing at the Jazz Poetry Concert, Photo © Renee Rosensteel

Ngā mihi tuatahi ki ngā iwi kāinga, ki ngā kaitiaki o ēnei whenua: tū tonu mai, tū tonu mai. In the first instance, I greet and honor the traditional owners of these lands: may you and yours flourish and thrive.

My trip to Pittsburgh, and the Jazz Poetry concert in particular, was something I’ll carry with me for a long time. Not the least of this was sharing the stage and the creative improvised moment, with Oliver Lake and his Big Band, some of America’s top jazz musicians. I had been anxious before I arrived that I didn’t have chord charts or a score for the song poem I wanted to perform (I can’t read or write music). When the rehearsal started, I spoke just a few words to Oliver about the grief in the song, and how I’d love the musicians to try some multi-phonic, extended playing, especially in the first part of my piece. Such brilliant listeners as they are, that’s all Oliver and the band needed.

They brought mood, momentum, adventure, peaks and lulls, and a deliciously unresolved feel to both the spoken and sung texts. Performing with these highly skilled practitioners, who also know how to have huge amounts of fun on stage, was an honor. It was also humbling to meet the writers and learn some of their stories: of imprisonment and torture, of facing extraordinary difficulties and cruelties with courage, and the determination to continue creating work. This is not to say that there aren’t people in my own country of Aotearoa/New Zealand, including writers and artists, who have experienced brutality and oppression, both historically and today. One shocking incident in 2007 saw the remote indigenous community of Ruātoki locked down while the police Armed Offenders Squad in black riot gear raided houses in the middle of the night, holding machine guns to people’s heads. Though it is a place of enormous personal freedom for most of her citizens, in some ways my country still has a long way to go. But hearing the stories of the persecuted writers certainly gave me a new perspective on my own daily, writerly worries at home, which simply revolve around how to get time to write, how to get cash to write, and how not to let my neuroses get in the way of either. A privileged set of problems to have…

Having met Khet Mar from Burma and talked with her about her sometimes horrific journey, I still find it difficult to really imagine how her life has been, as a human being, let alone as a writer. However, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to meet her and have that conversation, and to widen my world, and my world view, through an all-­‐too-­‐brief time spent in Pittsburgh, City of Asylum.

Read Baker’s bio.

Read Baker’s poems.

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