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April 6, 2006 | by  | in Books |
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World Words

Writers International is Wellington’s first multi-ethnic writers’ group – a place where refugee, ex-pat and new New Zealand writers who are unfamiliar with this country’s publishing formalities are welcome to share their work. World Words is a collection of the work which has been through Writers International meetings. The first two thirds of the book and short fiction, and the last third, poetry.

With members from America, Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iraq, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain, etc., contributions are predictably eclectic, not only in terms of setting, subject matter and cultural view point, but also in terms of language. All writing is submitted in English, but, as Shaefer points out in her preface, “the stories in this book reflect a variety of Englishes” – no matter where you learn English (whether it is your first language or not) it will contain idiosyncrasies, which are a product of your cultural upbringing. This is not to say that all Iraqi writers produce lyrical ballads, or all Spanish writers write about love. Another point that this collection aims to demonstrate is that although culture colours all writing, a good writer can still have a unique style.

If you are after an eclectic read, note this title in the margin of your lecture pad – you can indulge in stories involving stalkers, bio-gas, aliens (fur and sabre teeth, not just foreign), salsa dancing, illicit young love, and a cobbler with no feet within the first 40 or so pages. Eclectic, yes, agrees editor Shaefer, but all the work in this collection is unified by a theme of culture. I don’t know what culture means to you, but Mr Collins (of the large shiny dictionary) boils it down to “the total inherited ideas, belief, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action”. You could unite chapters from Moby Dick, Middlemarch, The Diary of Adrian Mole and My Friend Flicka with a theme of culture, simply because they involve people behaving and thinking like people. It doesn’t mean the writing will have anything important in common.

The poetry, an assembly of translated Arabic, political verse and love lyrics is equally varied in subject, setting and language. However, the strength of the writing also varies throughout the whole book. Mixing the writing of established poets and novelists with new writers’ work is perfectly reasonable, collections like JAAM and Sport prove this. I’m not sure, but I think doing this successfully involves creating a context that suits each piece of work – a strong running theme, a coherent pattern of mood or style. Like exhibiting paintings in a gallery – works that are too small or weak to survive on their own need the right sort
of company.

I don’t believe World Words achieves this. Although I enjoyed many of the short stories and poems separately, or could imagine enjoying them in a different context, the collection as a whole took a lot of energy to finish reading.

T.M Shaefer, Kevin Cudby and Catherine Boyle
$34.95 Writers International (NZ)
in association with HeadworX

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