John Pule interviewed by Marian Maguire, 1999.
John had been in Christchurch in October of 1999 working at PaperGraphica Print Studio. While at the studio he drew directly on to Bavarian lithography stones towards a portfolio of new lithographs that fuse word and image.
MM. John tell me about these litho drawings you’ve been working on.
JP. The text for these drawings was written back in 1990 and they are included in a novel that I wrote in the same year called ‘The Shark that Ate the Sun’, and it was chapter 16 and it’s called ‘Restless Spirits’.
MM. So you’ve broken the text up into sections, eleven sections that run through the lithographs to make the whole suite, but each section makes sense on its own.
JP. Each section is almost like a small theatre where the words take on the role of props or the words almost play a stage. It looks like a stage and everything happening around it are the props and maybe the actors. So when you look at each drawing it is completed in its own way by all these different things that need to come together to make it all happen.
MM. You’ve been working on art, writing and painting, for a long time and I know in your early work you mixed them together and then for a long time you didn’t, you separated them. Now you’re mixing them together again.
JP. I started translating my writing from English into Nuiean back in the late 1980’s and I stopped doing it for like nine years and I only started using it again as a form of communication.
JP. Well words . Nuiean , English, language as a way to work out all these things that go on inside my head. The combination of mixing words and images together has been a site where a lot of artists have tried to blend them to look like one picture but they tell almost two different stories so when you read words, word gives different meanings, describes colours, describes actions, whereas images they almost stop within their … they almost have a, you know, attitude problem.
MM. Because they cut the imagination off?
JP. Yeah they stop straight away.
MM. Do you want to talk about the subject of the chapter?
JP. The chapter is called ‘Restless Spirits’. It has many different layers in it because it talks about my background and it also talks about the problems that my people faced when they arrived in New Zealand. And it also talks about some of the issues of American and British nuclear testing in this part of the world.
MM. In your writing you tend to mix up poetry and prose and the prose moves from things that are more poetic to more like story lines which I guess is useful for imagery because you can pick sections that aren’t as literal.
JP. Well poetry offers something very different from prose. Prose is the really long way of trying to explain something whereas the poetry is pretty straightforward. And in this section it is written in a dreamlike kind of sequence quickly describing the upheaval and the ordeals of what goes on, what happens to a people when a dominating power turns up at their doorstep without permission.
MM. But it is also written in quite a personal way not a…
JP. A very personal way. It’s not in a different person because….
MM. Written through the eyes of a boy.
JP. Yeah Well when I was a teenager. There’s lots of reference to mythology, to birds, to land, ocean, there’s a lot of oceanic imagery in it.
MM. So there’s an intertwining of mythology and what’s happening right at the minute.
JP. Yes, it’s very contemporary but it’s also mixed. Mythology and contemporary issues are the same thing. There is really no difference. Because we are always creating and making up new things as we go along. It’s a very powerful piece and the reason why I picked it is because it’s almost bleak in its description of the present but I think it’s also triumphant at the same time because it doesn’t really fall into the use of second rate language in which to describe the ordeals.
An extract from Restless Spirits:
Who are you, my lover whispered, because when you sleep I keep falling from a bridge. I am lost. I hold her close. We hold each other close. We hold the lost very close. I waited for twenty-six years until finally a dog barked, and since I lived alone I always had something to say. I am the love poet, the ugly poet, the war poet, a giant in a tiny soul. As I walk back and forth from working in a factory I stop at a party and get drunk until the moon is in my pocket and the street leads to paradise at the end of the highway. I decide to live in a phone box for the night.
I was so drunk I forgot my name, forgot the name of my country, forgot my village, my people, my sister’s children, and where I live.