love, war and last things

posted by Michele

       Now let’s talk.
       What city would you finally say we are?
       (Rachel Blau DuPlessis)

Where do we go when we enter a poem? what kind of space is poetic space, and who is there with us as we journey through it? These are some of the questions which prompted Brian Flaherty and I to assemble an array of poems and prose and make a digital bridge between here (Auckland, New Zealand) and there (Florence, Italy) for presentation at the 15th annual conference of the New Zealand Studies Association in Florence, 2-4 July 2008.

When we launch the site in Florence, a few hundred metres from the Ponte Vecchio, a roomful of people at the conference will become the first travellers on our bridge. They will choose which city (Auckland or Florence) to depart from, step into its digital grid and select a poet and a poem to travel with. The trip may include audio, text and/or visuals. The poet may be contemporary or historical, and the material relevant in a variety of ways to New Zealand connections with Italy. Our objective in Florence is to find out what happens as breathing travellers engage with digital presence. We called the project ‘Love, War and Last Things’ to accommodate the multiple foldings of time and space that might ensue.

When our first travellers reach the end of their trip, they will find themselves in the other city (Florence or Auckland) surrounded by more poets and poems for travelling back over the bridge. They (and those who come after them, logging into the site anywhere in the world) may continue crossing and recrossing digital space for as long as they wish. When travelling ceases and reading begins, there is a list of authors, titles and full texts to consult.

Who is on the bridge? We began by asking four poets with an established digital footprint and New Zealand or Italian connections for work that we might transform for presentation on the web. New Zealanders Paula Green and Jack Ross, who read and speak Italian, contributed recent texts and worked with us on their digital transformations. American Rachel Blau DuPlessis, who spends part of each year in Umbria, wrote a text in anticipation of her return visit to Australia for a poetry conference at almost the same time as ours. Nga Puhi writer Robert Sullivan who supervised the University of Hawai’i’s 2007 summer study programme in Florence contributed work from a sequence drafted there in his Tapa Notebook. That notebook joins the collection at the University of Auckland as another one goes to Rachel Blau DuPlessis ahead of her departure for Melbourne. Perhaps the crossing and recrossing of poetic trajectories will continue for a while yet.

’Love, War and Last Things’ is an nzepc feature and will go live 4 July 2008.