Frankfurt book fair – Transit of Venus – Glenn Colquhoun’s poems to Ernst Dieffenbach

Did you know that New Zealand was guest of honor at this year’s biggest book fair in the world?! Each year the fair invites a guest of honour and New Zealand has broken all previous records as Guest of Honour at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. More than 90,000 people visited the New Zealand pavilion over the last weekend. That is so impressive!

I am very happy to have been working with one of the wonderful writers who represented New Zealand at this book fair – Glenn Colquhoun. He was part of the ‘Transit of Venus’ collaboration and created stunning work that he presented (or better performed) in several cities in Germany as part of the festival. Glenn’s poems are written to Ernst Dieffenbach who was a German naturalist employed by the New Zealand Company to survey New Zealand’s flora, fauna and landscapes.  He sailed to NZ in 1839 and remained in the country for the best part of three years. Shortly after returning to England he published a two volume report on his travels which recorded his observations and adventures. They also contained the second grammar of the Maori language ever written. These volumes were the basis of six poems that Glenn wrote in his memory and honor.

But Glenn not only wrote beautiful poetry he also gave each poem a rangi (tune) and a physical form.

Glenn Colquhoun: In choosing this style of the poems I wanted to make the point that New Zealand has two poetic traditions, one based on a written European literature and another on oral Maori forms. To a great degree these traditions have remained separate over the last two hundred years; poems and songs are composed, performed and used differently in both cultures. I wanted to cross this divide and combine elements of both traditions. Specifically I wanted to show that our literature in English can be refreshed and invigorated by it’s engagement with an extant oral tradition. Much is often made about how Maori have been impacted on by Europe but I wanted to show that Europe has also been impacted on by Maori. I wanted these poems to look as if an oral tradition had breathed into them on the paper and made them fat.


And this beautiful work I photographed. That was an utterly exciting and challenging task as I wanted to give them their very own space and let them float and glow inspired by Brian Brake’s photography of ‘ Maori Taonga’. In this gallery you see some results and the six vibrant poems – or the ‘six little fat men’ as Glenn calls them

For more info on the Transit of Venus project and Glenn Colquhoun, Hinemoana Baker and Chris Price’s work for the Frankfurt Book fair go to:




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