new zealand electronic poetry centre


Ian Wedde

 Statement for Twenty Contemporary Poets

Ian Wedde

Published in Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack, ed. Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets. Wellington: Victoria UP 2009, 56-57.

I like destabilising, paradoxical propositions about writing. This is because of what I prefer to do as a writer who just assembles words, and as a writer whose words are sometimes read; also because of what I like to read. I like to read unreliable narrators but I prefer their unreliability to be intelligently willed; and I like to write using unreliable narrators, hoping that this unreliability will be seen for what it is: an invitation to play.

I get bored by writing that doesn’t want to play – that leads me through sign-posted territories, pointing out the signs as we go. I get just as bored by writing that doesn’t know when it’s lost the plot. I like writing that is political because it is completely useless. I also like writing that is political because it is committed and activist, and wears its cause on its sleeve. I don’t enjoy the sense that I have been pre-identified as a complicit reader whose sympathy has been taken for granted. On the other hand, I love writing that is affectionately occasional, or that (like the ode) has a more or less direct form of address. Writing that hopes readers will empathise with its writer can be a problem in the same way that a likeable but persistent drunk at a party can be; but then, so can writing that asks to be disliked.

The essay, fiction, screen and television scripts may all negotiate these kinds of paradoxes, but poetry, for me, is what tests unstable propositions about writing the hardest. It’s what makes me pause longer, think harder, be dissatisfied more often both as a writer and as a reader; as a consequence, poetry is also what gives me the most satisfaction. Usually the satisfaction is perverse: poetry is what happens when emotional and intellectual pleasure and a sense of assent are won against the grain in some way. Poetry is an intensely focused mode of perception, not so much of some material reality as of perception itself – that complex, unstable, sometimes nonsensical, and often paradoxical process through which we relate to the world. Poetry can seem to make that simple, which is the source both of its conceptual lucidity and of its disarming charm. Because their lucidity and charm are won against the grain, poetry’s moments of assent can be rapturous and irresponsible; that’s what I like about them.

I was a late starter when it came to New Zealand poetry, though I read and wrote poetry obsessively from quite a young age. I remember very well the poem by a New Zealand poet that first made me sit up and pay attention (I was in my last year at high school). It was R.A.K. Mason’s ‘Old Memories of Earth’. Mason’s blunt, falling cadences, his austerely correct form that hid itself behind a gruff simplicity, were incredibly compelling. The effect of the poem was complex and disturbing, and it went on being destabilising long past its final full stop and emphatic, monosyllabic rhyme.




Last updated 11 May 2001