Poetry Postcards: Vaughan Rapatahana’s Atonement feels good snug in your palm


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Atonement Vaughan Rapatahana, ASM/Flying Islands, Macau and MCCM Creations, Hong Kong 2015

This is a gorgeous looking pocket book of poetry that feels good snug in your palm. It includes artwork by Pauline Canlas Wu and Darren Canlas Wu’s musical score of one of the poems. The poems serve disconnections and connections on people, place, politics, the weather, and love. There is a glorious marriage of lyricism, musing, image building that has anchors in numerous legacies (language poetry, myth, diverse lexicons). It is the language that prompts such evocative and delicious poetic sparks. Unlike many poets, Vaughan has not switched on the big-word filter — so the vocabulary is arcane and arching as much as it is everyday and accessible. I love that. It is like this palmful of poems is part rap, ragtime, jamming, spooling, riffs, sweet chords, minor keys, jump cuts, out-takes, in takes, double backs and so on. The playfulness is also there in the visual choices as words stutter and stretch and take diagonal turns. Whiffs of concrete poetry, language poetry abound, but you can’t simply reduce these poems to sumptuous word play. You might get led anywhere visually and aurally. An elephant trope replays Hong Kong. A Māori myth sets up shop in a Chinese context. Cantonese, Māori, and French interrupt and feed the English. You might feel like you are in the company of poetic cousins at times: Janet Charman, Jack Ross, Michele Leggott, Sam Sampson, Roger Horrocks, Leigh Davis, Steven Touissant. There are philosophical traces and political barbs. Musical hooks. Self confession. Concealment. This book is an utter delight.

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Atiawa, Ngāti Te Whiti) lives in Hong Kong with homes in Philippines and New Zealand. This is his fourth collection of poetry. He has a Doctorate from the University of Auckland, has won several awards and has published in a variety of genres. He is the co-editor of Why English? Confronting the Hydra (Multilingual Matters, UK), a follow up to English Language as Hydra (2012).


Recordings of poems at the University of Auckland




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