I wrote a poem in response to the attack on two Christchurch mosques on Friday 15 March 2019. It is the only way I feel capable of responding. For me as a Christchurch writer, it feels necessary on some level to take responsibility as a human-being who lives here here in a community where I have seen love, neighbourliness and strength in the hardship after the earthquakes, but also a community that this attack grew out of.
I turned to Tusiata Avia's poem "I cannot write a poem about Gaza" (Manifesto for Aotearoa New Zealand 2017) as I searched for words for my own poem. Her poem is a response to the Palestinian plight in Israel. It came to mind because it is about another atrocity against another group of persecuted people and it is impossible to be unmoved when you read it. I cried as I wrote my poem and again after reading it in the RNZ studio. Poetry is a personal response that in its making can be transformative and healing. I hope that this poem may be so for some readers too.
Here are the words and the recording Radio New Zealand made of the poem:
Audio of my reading on Radio New Zealand 18/3/19
I cannot write a poem about Christchurch
—after Tusiata Avia
I cannot write a poem about Christchurch because I do not speak 160 languages.
I cannot write a poem about Christchurch because there is Brougham St, Moorhouse Ave, Linwood Ave, there is Countdown, there is Hagley Park, there is Hagley School, there are people banging on the door of Canterbury Museum wanting to get in.
I cannot write a poem about Christchurch because I do not know how to ram a car off the road
and I do not know how to haul him out the passenger door, and I do not know how to touch his hands.
I cannot write a poem about Christchurch because what does Rebuild the Cathedral mean, what does We are Striking for Climate Change mean, what does Kate Shepherd’s memorial mean, what does the Christchurch Art Gallery in lockdown mean?
I cannot write a poem about Christchurch because I do not understand Kia Kaha Kia Kaha Kia Kaha Kia Kaha.
I cannot write a poem about Christchurch because the only time I have been inside Masjid Al Noor is when a man strapped a Go-Pro to his head and my son and my neighbour’s son and my friends’ sons inside their schools slouched below the curtained windows watched a man through his White Supremacist eyes see the people on the tiled floor and take a gun and
I cannot write a poem about Christchurch because people are taking their shoes off. Because a sermon is being given. Because people are on the floor. Because he is looking for his father. She is clutching her arm with a gunshot wound. Because police are outside the hospital with machine guns. Because this is a developing situation.
Because this is not who we are.
Because this is who we are.
Some other writing for Christchurch from New Zealand writers:
Johanna Aitchison wrote the poem "Red Painted Bicycles" (scroll down) in response to the mosque attacks.
Jess Fiebig's poem "Elegy for Christchurch" also in response to the mosque attacks (please see The School for Young Writers facebook page - scroll down)
Toby Morris's graphic art "This is us"
Laura Borrowdale's article "Reflections from living over the fence from New Zealand's mass shooting"
Witi Ihimaera's karakia for Christchurch
Janet Frame's poem "When the sun shines more years than fear"