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Being protective of your poems

an interview with Stacey Teague
by Jackson Nieuwland


How do you identify yourself?

I’m a New Zealander, Māori and a woman :)


What relationship does your writing have with those aspects of your identity?

Everything I write comes from my experience as these things. It’s important for me to include Māori language and themes, and to explore and represent my heritage and culture in my work.

Growing up, I was not encouraged to embrace being Māori. It felt like something I had to minimise my whole childhood. To be ashamed of myself in that way is a direct result of colonisation. I grapple with my identity because I am white passing, and I acknowledge the privilege that comes with that, but I am a Māori and I want to feel that. My Aunty told me all Māori are a fruit salad (mixed), and that it doesn’t matter what percentage you are because we are all Māori and that is what is important. We hold our culture and our whakapapa within us. That’s why I write about it, because it is in me.


I would assume that a large percentage of the people who read your writing are not New Zealanders. How do you think they respond to the New Zealand and Māori themes in your work?

That’s an interesting question! I honestly don’t know! I like to think that even though I write about those things that the ideas and feelings are still universal. To me, it feels strange to write while thinking about how people will respond to it. I used to be more willing to put my work out into the world for all to see, and now I am quite precious. Poems are my little inside things, and they express what feels vital to me at the time.


What do you think caused that change in how willing you are to share your work? And has it had an effect on how you write?

In 2010/11, I found other writers on the world wide web who encouraged me and helped me to find my voice. I was just young and naïve and open to things. As I’ve moved through my twenties I find that I am more guarded with myself and what I share. My poems are still vulnerable, but I write more sparsely and I am protective of my poems. Lately I’ve really been questioning why I write and what my motivations are. Is this something we are supposed to be sure about?


I hope it’s not something we’re meant to be sure about because I’m definitely not. There are so few things I’m certain of to be honest, but I would say that it’s normal for our motivations for writing to change over time. In terms of community, do you see yourself as part of the New Zealand writing scene? Or even a New Zealand writing scene?

I don’t think I am! I haven’t properly lived in New Zealand since 2012. I don’t really submit to New Zealand publications, and I only have a peripheral knowledge of what is going on in the New Zealand writing scene. It’s strange because my writing in a way is pretty New Zealand-centric. I lived in Australia for three years and became apart of that scene which was great. Australia is a good place to be an emerging writer and I think there is a lot of support for that. I never really felt that from New Zealand, especially where I lived (Auckland). Communities are so important for writers because writing is often so solitary. What is your view on the New Zealand writing scene?


From what I’ve seen, I think that Australia is probably a better place to be an emerging writer than New Zealand. There are a lot of New Zealand writers whose work I love and admire, but I think there are definite issues with the literary scene here. If you don’t follow a certain path or meet certain criteria it can be very hard to get your voice heard. There are some gatekeepers who I think have way too much power, but of course, the people who make it through the gates don’t usually see it that way. That being said, I’m really excited by the work publications like Starling, Mimicry and Salty are doing to get new voices out into the world. The term emerging writer feels quite strange to me. What does it mean to you?

I really agree with you there, gatekeepers are a big problem. When you are in that position of power you have the responsibility to make voices heard that need to be heard. More often than not, that doesn’t happen. Of course the only way to change that is to start up your own publications and reading series and etc., which we have both done at various points!

It immediately made me think of this tweet:

Tweet from @RobertoGMontes that reads: 'If you are still emerging after ten years of poetry please contact your doctor as this may be a sign of a serious medical condition.'

It’s a funny term isn’t it? I suppose you cease to become an emerging writer when you have a few books published that have been successful. But I mean, what does success look like for a poet?

To be honest, success makes me anxious. I don’t know if I could handle everything that came with that. I want to write and I want to learn things about myself through that. I want to help other people write and make their voices heard. Beyond that I don’t know.


You mentioned the publications and reading series you’ve started. How did those projects come about and what was your experience of them like?

I started a print journal many moons ago called Hands Like Mirrors that focused on young New Zealand and Australian poets. We did two issues of that.

I did a reading series in London called tbqh, which was fairly low key.

Most recently I was a co-director of Subbed In, an independent literary arts organisation based in Sydney. I’m no longer involved in it since I’ve moved away, but Dan is doing an amazing job, and in addition to putting on events and publishing books, they’ve now started an online literary journal, ibis house, you should submit!


What impact did being a part of those projects have on you? Did it change how you think about writing/collaboration/community?

Yeah it definitely did!

Earlier I talked about how it is a big responsibility to programme events and publish people’s work, and it was a learning curve for me. I realised that I want to support other people in their writing, especially new and young writers.

It changed my perspective knowing more about what goes on behind the scenes.


What are you working on at the moment? Do you have any plans for the future?

I’ve been quietly working on a new collection for a while. Though I don’t feel in any rush. It will be out in the world when it wants to be, if at all.

My plan for the future? That’s a little less clear. I’m returning to New Zealand at the end of this year after being abroad for the year. I feel mixed about it. There’s part of me that feels like I should stay somewhere for a while, but that’s hard for me, for whatever reason. I will try to stay somewhere.


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