new zealand electronic poetry centre


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Tapa Notebooks



The Poetry Africa festivals have evolved an informal and highly effective custom. The 20-odd poets gathered annually in Durban for a week of intensive reading and talking in venues ranging from schools and libraries to parks and prisons are asked at the first-night reading to produce a poem to read on the final night of the festival. Collaborations and mixed-media improvisations ensue; the only stipulation is that the piece somehow reflect the week of the Durban experience. Days go by and the poets work all over the city. The last night is euphoric and the performances reach heights and plumb depths nobody can predict; 20 individuals have become a company. Everyone goes home knowing that the key was having to write there and then, no excuses, relying on others for a translation, a laptop, a drum or a dance.

Chris Abani was in Durban in May 2002. By the time he arrived in Auckland for the Poetics of Exile conference in July 2003, Egypt and Antwerp poems had joined his Durban one. It didn’t take long for the next piece to manifest. Chris read ‘Auckland: Some Notations of Value’ on the final night of the conference and University News picked it up to accompany an article about Poetics of Exile. Later nzepc presented Chris with two tapa-covered notebooks, one to keep, the other to return with the poem inscribed. Yang Lian, also part of the conference, was presented with two notebooks as he left Auckland. The Tapa Notebooks Collection was off the ground.

Chris Abani’s notebook returns now, with the poet’s best wishes and his Auckland poem inscribed. Yang’s notebook has also made the journey back. When the poets themselves return, more pages will perhaps be filled, then and there.

Michele Leggott
July 2004



Chris Abani, Poetics of Exile conference, Auckland July 2003
credit: Godfrey Boehnke

Last updated October 11, 2004