NZ Poetry Day Interview: Sam Te Kani / by Time Out Bookstore

Suri sat down with a familiar face from All Tomorrow’s Poets 2016, Samuel Te Kani. Sam is a writer and artist who works with a variety of different mediums. You can find his work on Pantograph Punch, Vice New Zealand, The Wireless and at various art shows in Auckland and Wellington.

Suri: So Sam, what have you been up to these days?
Sam: Well, the Vice show, ‘Sex With Sam’ so that took up quite a bit of time before Owen and I went to Wellington. We’re meant to be filming again this month, but no-ones hit me up, so I’m just going to wait for them to do that. There ends up being a lot of invisible labour around that stuff, like I don’t necessarily have a production credit, but they do expect me to go out and create content with them. That has to be negotiated with them.

Suri: What does the show centre around?
Sam: It’s just me talking to people about sex, so the title’s very self-explanatory. We’ve done three episodes; one at The Basement cruise Lounge. I was talking to Stu, he’s one of the owners, so just talking to him about what the BDSM culture’s like here and what goes on at a cruise lounge. Then we talked to a guy at the University of Auckland who’s looking at porn and porn addictions at a research level; I think his name’s Chris Taylor. Then we talked to Pierre who works at one of the Peaches and Cream [stores] down K Road, the one on the corner that I didn’t realize still has one of the cruise spaces out the back. I thought that once they’d been taken over and franchised, they would have shut those spaces down, but they’re still operating. We did not expect to find that when we went in. At the back of that, in the corner, there’s a porn cinema and you can pay twelve bucks and go out the back, watch some porn, fuck a stranger.

Suri: Did you watch anything there?
Sam: Yeah, we did. They cut that out for the episode, though. I was thinking while they were doing the interviews there, whether they were going to have to subtitle it, blur out the huge queef that was going on behind us, but they just cut it out altogether.

Suri: That’s a shame, that would have been cool to have in there.
Sam: Yes it would have been; very ambient.

Suri: You have your hand in so many different art mediums
Sam: That’s entirely accidental. I’ve just been chugging along, doing little freelance things; the hustle. The sex blog I did ages ago- that provided a bunch of opportunities once that became semi-popular. You know Le Roy by DDMMYY? Through the sex blogs, they were like ‘Woah this is rad, do you want to contribute?’ and I was like ‘sure!’ That was the first time anyone had asked me to write for them. I contributed to three issues and then he went and published the whole blog in a one-off called LR: Stories We Tell Ourselves which was rad. I’ve written for art shows. One of my short erotic sci-fi stories went to this art show with Dan Nash and Tim Webbie down in Christchurch. It was in the show rather than just being part of the publication. Also writing for publications alongside art shows, mostly for Artspace; then was in a an art show for Artspace last year. I’d never done anything in a visual medium before. I made a Lady Gaga sculpture with a black demon sitting in a pink coffin filled with dirt.

Sam: It was amazing, it’s sitting in my room now.

Suri: Do you have a photo? I’d love to see that.
Sam: Yeah I’ll take a photo and send one to you haha. The sculpture itself which is a giant black demon that’s got plastic vines and LED lights on it, is in one corner of my room, and I’ve taken the pink coffin; it obviously doesn’t have dirt in anymore; and used it as a bookshelf in the other corner of my room.

Suri: Multipurpose
Sam: Yes, utilities.

Suri: I feel like Lady Gaga would love that
Sam: I know, I did call it Garden of Failure though, so I don’t know how she’d feel about that. But I love her and the whole idea was that the Artpop album, which was a commercial flop compared to Born This Way which was a huge album for her; after that her career got really weird, and it was almost like that failure gave her an opportunity to be more free. I had Lady Gaga and the album as a visual reference for the work, but then it was also like Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure. Gaga’s career trajectory definitely ties in with that.

Suri: What drew you to poetry?
Sam: I never actually wanted to write poetry and a lot of the readings that I’ve done have been like poetry nights and I’ve either read a piece of fiction or an essay. I don’t even really write poetry but there are aspects of my experimental prose that you could call poetic.

Suri: Are you reading any good poetry books at the moment or have you come across anything recently?
Sam: I’m mostly reading sci-fi at the moment. I’m reading this tome called Helliconia and it’s about this planet called Helliconia and one seasonal year on this planet is like 1800 earth years. There are aspects of it that are very Game of Thrones like the idea that there are long summers and long winters. It pre-dates Game of Thrones by about 20 years. I feel like George R Martin is definitely aware of Helliconia.

Suri: Have there been any poets in the past that you’ve loved or enjoyed?
Sam: The one poetic text where I was like ‘oh, that’s rad’ was The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. Really, really liked that. It’s very prosey but definitely counts as poetry. Also the classics, like The Odyssey, The Aenid. The Aenid’s the one with Dido, right? Dido’s like crying out for her dead lover on a cliff. Oh, I also loved Sylvia Plath in school. Sylvia speaks to the 14 year old in me.

Suri: Same, so moody
Sam: Yeah so fucking moody, oh my god.

Suri: I’m such a sucker for misanthropy, especially in poems
Sam: I’m there right now girl, after my 50 hour week.

Suri: We’ve also been talking to our poets about the irreverence in poetry nowadays. I found that with your last reading at All Tomorrow’s Poets, your ability to be clever and not take yourself so seriously, was really refreshing. Now you have people like Hera and Tayi who write about sex so audaciously.
Sam: I do like that. I love that. I do think poetry itself takes some of the formality of language and exposes its fluidity so it can really disassemble what we might take for granted as formal codes and liberate them. I guess it makes sense then, that in a contemporary form, poetry is a lot more open to talking things like sex and a modern pathos where everything is in flux and there’s a volatility to living in the times that we do right now where institutions that have stood as monoliths post-War are now kind of like dying.

Suri: Jamie (de Jong) wanted to ask our other poets about their writing process. Do you have any advice?
Sam: Muscle memory; I think a lot of writing boils down to muscle memory and getting used to sitting down and writing every day

Suri: Do you have any questions you’d like to ask our other poets?
Sam: If you were microdosing, what would you be microdosing with?

Sam will be performing at Time Out's All Tomorrow's Poets on National Poetry Day. Check out the event details here.