This month, Iona Winter joins the Flash Frontier team of editors. As Guest Editor for the AWA issue, she selected this month’s highlighted stories. Here, Editor Vaughan Rapatahana talks with Iona about her whakapapa, language and the way we might find meaning in our writing.
Vaughan Rapatahana: Can you please tell us your tribal affiliation(s)?
Iona Winter: I whakapapa Waitaha (Te Wai Pounamu), via Moeraki and Karitāne – long story short, they’re the ancestors I feel most aligned to, as a peaceful people. And I whakapapa to Scotland and Ireland; my ancestors there were displaced from ancestral lands repeatedly. I guess I also hold, in a roundabout way, my late son’s ties to Pawarenga (on his Dad’s side).
VR: Can you also please tell us something about yourself? Writing career and genre(s), including your latest collection and current projects?
IW: Since childhood I’ve written things down and have always been a storyteller (ask my whānau!). Life being what it is, though, I went down another path (mental health mahi) and returned to creative writing when I was 40. Nowadays, I’m finding ways to live with a permanent disability and suicide bereavement, so writing is my main gig: toikupu, flash fiction, short stories and essays. I love mixing form and challenging conventions, probably because I’ve got a rebellious streak (another thing my friends and whānau will attest to). Currently I’m working on a new collection of toikupu, and a creative non-fiction project exploring my experience with suicide bereavement – I figure if someone’s going to write about what’s happening in Aotearoa, it might as well be me. then the wind came (2018), Te Hau Kāika (2019) and Gaps in the Light (2021) are my three published collections.
VR: I know that you do would like to, and in fact do write i te reo Māori. How important is it for you to write in te reo, please?
IW: Writing with te reo has always felt important. Growing up, my Pouā was stern (in a loving way) about using te reo and pronunciation. And although I’m not fluent, I find in my creative practice that kupu Māori seem to arrive on the page, either that or I’m urged to find new ones. I love the lyrical nature of te reo and, as most of what I write is read aloud, I see it as another avenue for readers and listeners to experience te reo woven through a creative piece. Maybe it’s also a sneaky way to challenge people to use it more too! While this is a contentious kōrero for some, for me it’s important to keep stretching myself in terms of how I communicate.
VR: Relatedly, how important/vital do you think it is for Kiwi writers, especially Māori, to write in te reo Māori? Or at least attempt to?
IW: I’ve always said, I’d much rather someone try to use te reo authentically than be afraid of getting it wrong. Often people worry about pronouncing kupu Māori, but to that I’d say, please try. It’s our national language, and there are plenty of awesome resources available. Learn some new kupu, get curious about how you can create a piece integrating some te reo that you didn’t know before, or there’s always the possibility of having a kōrero with a Māori writer about ‘how’ they do it.
VR: Do you think there are specifically Māori themes that flash and micro fiction could well articulate, please?
IW: Ooh that’s a great pātai. I think using te reo to express our relationships with nature can be particularly potent, as is the expression of emotion.
VR: Do you think you might have a piece of flash fiction, micro fiction, or a prose poem for us to include, please…? That would be great too.
by Iona Winter
I am the black morass of grief.
Mahuika style I drove my posts into this whenua, claimed you to my breast, only to become ruptured.
Other people’s sequined gourds gather in womblike spaces all swollen, organic, and complete — while my arms are sliced with an immaculate obsidian flake.
I am te pō.
The light that is sleek before and after, an exclusive intimacy more potent than my skin.
And this mamae inside my darkest recesses is enough to throw me backwards, over wrought iron balustrades onto parquet floors where blood spills, the stains indelible.
It’s not okay that I had to bring my only child home in a fucking box.
I am the pou with a howl that has yet to emerge.
Because in the shape of his hand lay a river, and in the warmth of his heart a universe.
At the junction of gates that demand a decision, a breeze travels through ancient gaps, like life forcing hope into an unlit void.
I am the woman who sits hillside, facing into the four winds. Knowing this whenua will not cease to reverberate, from a magnificent kauri felled too soon.
Iona Winter (Waitaha) writes in hybrid forms, and is Poetry Editor for the Otago Daily Times. The author of three collections: Gaps in the Light (2021), Te Hau Kāika (2019) and then the wind came (2018), she is widely published and anthologised internationally.
Iona has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing (AUT), and is currently working on a creative non-fiction project which addresses the complexities of being suicide bereaved.