Ternion Vaughan Rapatahana (Liverpool: erbacce-press, 2017)
Vaughan Rapatahana travels and lives in three distinctive places: Aotearoa, the Philipines and Hong Kong. His poetry reflects an impulse to travel because the linguistic movement, whether aural or visual, is paramount. Words dart, dash, stretch, stutter, link, break down, break apart. There is vertical uplift and downward slants. Such linguistic playfulness is not simply a matter of exercising the dimensions and possibilities of language; each poem travels with a movement of heart and mind.
There is the hiccup of letters and words in ‘my father’s death’, a poem that faces the hard-to-say in fits and starts. Physical detail anchors the experience:
the young oldest son
there to witness
his shrivelled size,
the estranged demise
-astray the slim single bed
The diverse subject matter embraces the movement of a global traveller, with several languages sharpening the line, hooking place and experience, opinion and identity. He rails against the weakness of English (‘railing against’). He rages against blinkered if not blind identity views: ‘why/ are we/ mis interpreted/ all the time?’ (‘I carry a rage’).
The detail is pungent and thick on the line – especially when place is at the poem’s core:
hong kong, you old bastard;
your flabbergasted lips
basting the back alleys
in jisms of sputum,
disabling sophomore solons
garbled in yellow
under colourless sun.
from ‘hong kong town, 2015’
What I love about Vaughan’s poetry are the multiple jigs: the way death brushes against life, humour touches against sharp-as-axe political edges, confession corrupts reticence. Poetry is a way of cooking up a brew that resists boundaries, rules, decorum, models. I especially like the scene at the fence where poetry is the topic pf conversation:
you cookin’ up another one
of those bloody poems of your’s mate?;
offered my gap-toothed neighbour,
through the interrupted picket fence.
‘reckon,’ I said, stirring up
a bit of everything on the page,
so to speak.
from ‘boil up’
The neighbour hopes the poem hasn’t got any of ‘those clever-dick tricks’ when he wants ‘plenty of/ good old carrot & onion words’. I love this poem. On the one hand, Vaughan is responding to the age-old incomprehension at what a poet does, but it also gets right down to the guts of how he brews a poem. There are clever, tricky acrobatics on and off the line that signal intellectual engagements with the world, but there is also a Hone-Tuwhare-like cheek and an absorption of an everyday physical world. We might get ‘cacophonous condiments’ along with ‘a little watercress on the side’ and a good stir of Te Reo.
Murray Edmond claims the collection as ‘a rich feast’ on the back cover and I agree. The poems spark in myriad directions that touch mind and heart, and I can think of few local examples that are so linguistically and creatively fluid.
Postscript: Vaughan’s must-read poem for Tusiata Avia and Fale Aitu / Spirit House resonated so deeply I felt like crying. A poem like this underlines the way we write within poetry communities, not in estranging isolation, but in arm-to-arm states of poetry and human connection. I love that. I love this generous embrace.
manuia Tusiata, manuia
this is the best body of poetry
I’ve hugged for years.
from ‘fa’afetai Tusiata’