Flash Frontier: Your work, both poetry and art, carries an environmental kaupapa. Has this been a theme through your whole life?
Piet Nieuwland: Yes, my concern for environmental issues began from an early age especially around water quality and forest destruction. Eutrophication of the Waikato River and its tributaries showed something was out of balance. Proposals for conversion of beech forests to pine plantations in the South Island and logging of pristine native forest in the Central Northland Island and Northland were particular concerns that led to my forestry and conservation career. This is reflected in my poetry and art.
FF: How do your work and aesthetic connect at the intersection with environmentalism?
PN: Networks of interconnection of all life forms and ecosystem processes appear in my artwork. The language of biology, geology and natural processes are infused into my poetry along with the Māori naming of the whenua.
FF: When did you start painting — and what form did those early pieces take?
PN: I recall painting on canvas with textile inks in the mid-1980s. I also used heavy internal wall coverings salvaged from skip bins during a demolition of buildings in Auckland. There were also crayon, pastel and pencil drawings on card. These works were a celebration of the birth of my daughters Lucy and Rata. Some of these early paintings had the names of people or places featuring on them and were usually linked to poems.
FF: When did you write your first poem? Has your writing changed over the years?
PN: Around age 8 I wrote my first poem about architecture when my parents were building a new house in Hamilton. My writing has changed over the years as my vocabulary increased and diversified. I studied science and maths at school and did a forestry degree at university. The language of policy and management work in conservation has its own emphasis and characteristics. Analysis of submissions from hundreds of people leads to picking up new perspectives and ways of saying. I have for the last few decades been particularly interested in reading work translated from any other language. All of this is reflected in the evolution of my poetry.
FF: Tell us about the new collection and the art exhibit – how did this collection come together?
PN: After having several hundred poems published in journals all over the place, I felt like having my own book published by a publisher and so compiled a collection. Fortuitously, after including several poems in Taj Mahal Review, Cyberwit also offered to publish my book. The new poetry collection is part of recent work. The art exhibition gathers together work from recent paintings and drawings and much earlier work.
FF: What’s next for you and your creative expressions?
PN: I’d like to do another art exhibition, definitely another poetry book, something at Whangarei Fringe Festival and more recordings. Collaborations would be great to build synergies.
Three poems and three paintings from Piet’s new collection
Together with your black lashes
The morning star and kotare sing at dawn Beside the celestial pool, cypresses sway The wave is a river in the sea of existence A circumference of flowers that bloom for the fruit On the bank, a thousand glimmers, a mirror The heart is a current that flows haunted by lamentations On paths across distorted areas of unnamed reefs Hastening to a dialogue with the dead With souls of the living, carnal and supernatural The night beyond memory In the soft instants when we learned Secrets of evening wind, firmament of stars Mythological decades
The sky explodes
Into natural sound-bytes, shattering pulses awaken, cumulus into ultra-cumulo nimbus, hot, now cool, showerheads blossom, bloom abundant, lightning tarantellas leap catapult and leap in a surround sound boom box downpipe gush along a plastic Pacific drum song Splash, gurgle, rivulet be bop drip drop, alluvial masterpiece in ying yang-ing, hydro logical cycles, the evaporation counter point of rivers, of static discharges electric into cloud umbrellas A vortextural ambush
In the flat oceanic silence below Manaia
on Turanga o Nga Manu Takutaimoana the warming land pulls a sea breeze in clichéd glass smooth breakers emerge, picked off by a lone rider while not busy, there is activity here, swimmers frolic, horse riders gallop, karoro scavenge, oystercatchers forage there are arrivals and departures, long shore drift and in the foam, exchanges of kisses apocalyptic love is on tour and the elliptic moon on fire La Nina leaves kororareka scores starved this is not just a description of the world, some multiple realities manifest or a context for the unexplainable, the hits and misses what we get right and what is still to fathom never-the-less this life is still unmistakably a biological process with invisible vectors of wind and gaseous proportions what makes up the remains of waves of quantum entanglement here