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Emergency - Taste before Eating and The Uprising

Notes on the two works by Marilyn Webb and Dinah Hawken


EMERGENCY: ‘Taste Before Eating’ and ‘The Uprising’



Two urgent works by two Aotearoa contemporaries.

Taste Before Eating (Marilynn Webb, Ngā Puhi, b.1937) dates to 1982. 

The Uprising (Dinah Hawken, b 1943) from 2013 Paekakariki. 

Both works speak today.




The prints in Taste Before Eating are more than prints.

Protest poems. Personal records. Synesthesia.

The titles alone can be heard, touched, smelled, though never tasted.

Drowned Clutha Pudding.

Mining Crumble.

Aramoana Soup.



Webb pairs each hand-painted print with a horrific poem-recipe, words as ingredients.

Her intended reader: Robert Muldoon and the government of the 1980s who were ‘thinking big’ with dams, refineries, factories and disaster-scars. 

 ‘Find a dead albatross, a dead swan, a dead shag, a dead heron,’ begins Aramoana Soup, in response to the proposed aluminium smelter in the Dunedin Harbour coastal settlement, a breeding ground for a huge range of aquatic life.

The recipe ends, ‘… serve the soup at blood heat in aluminium bowls. Finally, add the cost of the electricity incurred in making the soup to the diner’s bill.’

(Read the whole recipe here.)




I’ve seen-read Taste Before Eating three times in three months.

On the last visit, Webb was present, her vice quiet, slow, certain.

About fifty of us took in the series in an hour, a portable amp in tow near her feet.

She read Aramoana Soup aloud, saying that the anti-smelter campaign was the first time a group of artists (herself, Ralph Hotere and others) worked in unison on a protest. The activists won: the smelter was not built.




Now in her eighties, Webb continues her printmaking-activism. 

“It’s always on my mind,” she said.

A current project in Fiordland: to travel by boat with the Department of Conservation “to bring images to public notice”.

Recently seen in Dusky Sound: a tourist boat eerily near the national park.




I once shared a meal with Dinah Hawken and other writers.

I do not remember our menu.




Dinah Hawken’s The Uprising begins:


Here we are a skinny country 
in the largest ocean on earth 
spell-bound, windswept, lashed.

The land is like a canoe heading south 
to an icy continent or heading north to equatorial islands. 
No one seems to know.


And ends:

The land is like a knife, out 
of its sheath and glinting in the sun. 
I’d like to hold that pointed knife.

I’d like to speak with that knife. 
I’d like to save a home, a tribe 
and a heritage with that knife. 


But all I can do is rise: 
both before and after I fall. 
All I can do is rally,

all I can do is write 



I’m getting warmer like the ocean 
with this thin-bladed knife. I’m a full-time 
mother with a fish-wife’s tongue.

Under my grip is helplessness 
and under that grip is an earth-bound love 
for this particular place in the ocean

whose shadow is on the wall 
in my firmly gripped hand. 
I vote with the hand that holds

this knife. I vote for the fish, the bird, 
the ocean and a raised land shaped 
by explosion, erosion and willful life.

(Read the whole poem here.)



Dinah Hawken writes that, "Love of the natural world was my motivation in writing “The uprising”, even though the poem was also a response to a commission by Lloyd Jones for the Griffith Review edition of New Zealand writing, Pacific Highways. So the Pacific theme was set.

"It happened that I had just read a very good, and alarming, book about the world’s oceans (Ocean of Life: How Our Seas Are Changing by Callum Roberts) and so issues of pollution, climate change and overfishing were strongly in my mind and in my feelings."




I have recited The Uprising twice.

Once, on the day of an arts and climate science lecture – I wept upon finishing the sequence.

Again, on Arbor Day, also World Environment Day, at a pub -- the drinkers quieting, seemingly agreeing, somehow voting.

And I invited Dinah Hawken to read The Uprising here on National Poetry Day, at an event led by Extinction Rebellion Wairarapa.




I asked her about the use of ‘6a’ and ‘6b’.

It felt like a government or law document.

‘Your thought about the bureaucracy is interesting,’ she said.

‘I think 6A could be colluding with their slow way

and 6b could be taking action into our (many) hands…

Like changing the language from climate change [6a] to climate emergency [6b].




The day I emailed this text to her, she replied,

‘Funnily enough there is a print by Marilynn Webb above the bed I’m sleeping in at the moment - in the Caselberg Trust house in Dunedin:

Going through Fiordland - Doubtful Sound.’ 





Written by

Madeleine Slavick

13 Jan 2020