new zealand electronic poetry centre

Dinah Hawken



Introduction to Where We Say We Are

Originally published in Where We Say We Are: Letters, Postcards, Poems by Dinah Hawken, with Marianne Ackerman, Ken Bolton, Valerie Hunton, Richard Mansfield and Yukie Sugiyama (Wellington: Whitireia Publishing / Daphne Brasell, 2000)

This book is neither one thing nor another. It is a book and it is the outcome of a project. A ‘bright idea’ in 1996 fired me into asking five others to write to me four times on the same days (21 st March, June, September and December) in the following year – 1997. I wrote a letter on those days as well. I suggested that we wrote about where we were as we were writing on those particular days. I thought, I admit, that some magic would arise from this invisible conjunction of days, written about, and from, distant, different locations. I was thinking that what we are, and who and what we have around us, is telling and always worth telling. In these familiar places we are living our lives and it is there we often experience the same ordinary, and sometimes exotic, things. Chairs, for example, and soup. Birds, illness, staplers, flowers, loneliness, music and rain.

So this is my book and it is our book. I initiated the project and when the letters were in I bound them together with connecting pieces of my own poetry and prose. Although I have, as a consequence, ended up becoming the ‘main character’ the book is primarily a collection of letters by a collection of people. Of the five of us, since one dropped out early on, only two of us, Ken and I, would call ourselves writers. Another, Yukie, has written with the limitations and charm of beginning English. Richard is my real life son. What I hope – in a world where differences are threatened more and more by our inter-connectedness – is that our distinct voices keep showing through. To be connected and distinct is of course what most of us most want, most of the time. My personal purpose in carrying out this project was to consolidate my own awareness of the wider geographical environment that I live in, the Pacific region, filled with the huge Pacific ocean. In 1997 my husband Bill and I spent 6 weeks in Vanuatu, where he was working, and on either side of our visit there we spent 10 days in Fiji. A few years earlier we had visited the Cook Islands. I asked the others, as well, what sense they had of living in or around the Pacific. So this is also a book about the Pacific, although it has no ‘true’ Pacific islanders contributing to it. It is also a book about poetry, the environment, our work, friends and family. It has a travel book travelling through it and it keeps coming deliberately back to the places, at home or abroad, where we say we are.

It seems fitting that this collective writing venture has been published as a project by a group of students working together in the Daphne Brasell Whitireia Publishing course. A friend of mine happened to be doing this course in the year 2000 and has adopted our project as a group assignment. I am delighted to have it published in this collaborative way, making enough copies for interested friends and family. Thank you to everyone: to Valerie, Ken, Yukie, Richard, Mike and Marianne. To Berys, Daphne, Helen, Jenny, Martin, and Robert.

[ . . . ]

Dinah (from Wellington)

. . . I think that’s everyone. I think of us like this at the moment:


. . . so the first date is in 10 days – 21 st March. The loose idea is to write about where you are writing from etc. and what is in your day. 200 – 500 words, tho’ that is flexible too. And yes feel free to keep it a little while to tinker with, but I don’t know whether it is ‘art’ or diary or letter.

Dinah Hawken

Last updated 13 December, 2004