Retrospective on a Residency – Makereta Brown

“Poetry, Pandemics, and Panic Post-Residency” by Makereta Brown

The year since my 2019 two week Emerging Pasifika Writer’s residency at the Michael King Writers Centre has been nothing if not an exercise in adaptability. I remember driving down the hill on that last sunny afternoon, rosy in the confidence that my project would be finished by New Year 2021. How wrong could I have been?

In the period I was resident on Mount Victoria, my initial project changed from a novel to a bricolage including poetry, essays, and a novella. A person’s upbringing influences their individual perspective; and I realised it would be impossible to recount the experience of World War One Fijian soldiers without further examining my own experiences as an adopted Fijian girl raised as a kaivulagi (pakeha) in New Zealand.

However, the necessary international travel plans to research this much more complex project rapidly came undone in 2020, thanks to Covid-19. The year also brought a family crisis. Initially this combination seemed devastating and I was unable to write at all for several months.

I’ve since found in retrospect, however, that 2020’s kaleidoscope of traumatic events has merely reset the context of my project. Background family changes, pandemics, international politics, indigenous awareness, and movements such as Black Lives Matter  have added nuance; and though “Ko Rokotavo Taku Ingoa” (working title) will now take a little longer to complete, I think it will be the more interesting for the delay.

Meanwhile, I am so grateful for the time I spent at the centre last November/ December. It was a golden opportunity to do nothing but write and research in Devonport where much of my plot is set.  It was also a treat to be in the company of other writers. I enjoyed reconnecting with one face from my past, author Sarah Ell, who I happened to have been at school around the same time; and meeting poet and author Sue Wootton, whose friendship and unofficial mentoring since have done much for my confidence and discipline. I owe Sue particular thanks in her capacity as co-editor of Otago University’s Corpus NZ Blog in which I had various essays published this year.

I have also had poetry published in Takahē (97) Magazine and Cauldron Anthology; and placed 3rd in this year’s Cambridge Autumn Festival Short Story Competition. The distractions of the omni-present virus have not proved completely un-constructive either. I have nearly completed a collection of poems on the topics of aspects of aging in a changing society which I hope to publish in print next year.

And finally, the work continues on ‘Ko Rokotavo Taku Ingoa’, the project which brought me to MKWC in the first place. My thanks for this as we all move forward into another year:

Full Charge

Full charge in the fire of battle.

Cannons boom like waves on the reef.

The ancestors watch; their blood is fire.

They grin, teeth white in smooth brown faces. War is sacrifice.

Rush-hour under neon lights.

Engines shriek, cyclonic, demonic …

The ancestors watch; their blood is ice.

They weep, teeth white in smooth brown faces. Diaspora is learning.

Cibi* in spot-light.

Drums crash like surf in the arena.

The ancestors watch; their blood is hope.

We chant, teeth white in smooth brown faces.

Remembrance is resurrection.

*’Cibi’ pronounced thee-mbee (The written ‘c’ in Fijian is pronounced somewhere between ‘t’ and ‘th’ as in ‘that’.)

A cibi is a Fijian ceremonial war-dance, like a haka. It is only performed by males and translates as “a celebratory victory dance”. It is performed both before and after a battle. The Fijian rugby team does a cibi before international matches.

 Extract poem from “Ko Rokotavo Taku Ingoa” © M.L.E. Brown 2020