Writing on Writing and Vanuatu

Cyclone Vanuatu (2015, catkin press) A very small book of tanka about Vanuatu and Cyclones.

draft 2 cyclone coverI was in Vanuatu for several years as a CUSO volunteer and had the opportunity to visit many islands and stay in many villages.  I was there through two major hurricanes as these storms were labelled at the time.

rob mclennan, ottawa publisher and writer, asked me ages ago if I would write a piece for his ongoing On Writing series, and yes, I promised to do that. Yet despite many starts, the thing just wouldn’t get going.  (perhaps this will finally be a start, rob…)

Early this year I started to write poems about Vanuatu. Few had ever heard of this South Pacific country until Cyclone Pam in March.  I think it’s difficult for us, pampered and protected as we are, secure in our technological ‘advanced’ societies, to imagine the devastation in such a country. We are better equipped to understand the destruction in a caribbean country like Haiti, one that we, or someone we know, has visited. A country that is somewhat like ours. After all, a former Governor General of Canada was born there.

Vanuatu is so different from us geologically, societally, linguistically. It is very far away, on the other side of the world. I’ve been in touch with linguists from Tanna, looking for details about the local languages there, to use in a series of prose pieces that, hopefully, will form the structure to the poem series. Vanuatu has over a hundred distinct languages, as well as the three official languages of French, English and Bislama, but it is the indigenous languages that fascinate me. the island of Tanna, known for yasur, its live volcano, itself has very many languages. The more linguists share their knowledge of such languages with me, the more intrigued I am. The more I would be a linguist in another life.  Or not. But speaking this morning with other Canadian poet/linguists, the fascination has been fertilized. Hopefully that garden will prove more productive than my actual gardens this year, will produce words that will produce lines that will have meaning and perhaps understandable syntax…

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