Poetry Shelf review: Dinah Hawken’s There is no harbour

There_Is_No_Harbour__22619.1544066853.jpg

cover image by Marian Maguire

 

When I trained in social work

in 1968—the year we saw Earth from space—

I found the History of New Zealand

could shake me like an earthquake

and make me cry.

 

from ‘”All the history that did not happen'”

 

Dinah Hawken’s eighth poetry collection, There is no harbour (Victoria University Press, 2019), presents three entwined Taranaki strands. The first comprises her family history during the years of early Pākehā settlement, the second a brief history of the Taranaki wars and the third reveals her thoughts and feelings as she researched and wrote her long poem. Dinah always gifts her poetry with musicality, breathing room, heart and contemplation. This new book is no exception. It is an addictive mix that inspires me as both reader and writer.

In her brief frontnote Dinah writes:

The completion of the poem has not lead me to any sense of resolution. It has led to something less measurable, perhaps more valuable—greater clarity, particularly of the depth of injustice Māori have endured in Taranaki. At the same time it has strengthened my attachment and my gratitude to my great and great-great grandparents, whom I know as essentially good people. And it has led me back to Parihaka: to profound respect for Te Whiti and Tohu, the art of leadership, the art of passive resistance, and their refusal of human war.

Dinah brings together family voices, anecdotes, settings, facts and musings to re-present history in poetic form—history that was hidden, manipulated and muted in the past. She stands as a Pākehā in multiple places, searching for other points of view, other ways of seeing and feeling. I am looking through her poem view-finder and the effect is significant. I am mourning the arrogance and the atrocities, I am celebrating the courage.

 

Tītokowaru

fired his tūpara in the air

in front of 600 people

threw it down at his feet

and kicked it.

 

The evil weapon, he said,

which has caused so much mischief and ill-will

and been loaded with the blood of men,

should never hereafter

be taken up again.

 

from ‘1867, “The Year of the Daughters”‘

 

As a poet Dinah utilises economy on the line to build richness above, between and beyond. That plainness of talking makes the impact even stronger, deeper, wider.

 

Wherever you looked at it from,

whoever lived inside it,

a whare was a welcome shelter.

One in which a family could sleep,

in which a child could be born.

 

It was the kind of house

that could easily

go up in smoke. And it did.

 

from ‘Oswald, from his notebook’

 

How to imagine the past? How to imagine the cruel past? How to imagine the day and its sheen of sun on the leaves? How to imagine both sides of  an unforgivable war? How to imagine how to proceed in your Pākehā skin with your Taranaki family tree and the ancestral tree in Britain?  This is what Dinah does as she creates her chain of connections towards the present and back into the past.

Individual lines stand out and they feel like entrances into the stories I /we need to hear:

 

‘I am the beneficiary of injustice.’

 

In one poem the voices of Robin Hyde, Virginia Woolf, J. C. Sturm and Te Whiti sit side by side.

 

In 1940 Virginia Woolf said:

 

Unless we can think peace into existence

we—not this one body

but millions of bodies yet to be born—

will lie in the same darkness and hear

the same death rattle overhead

 

from ‘Found Poetry’

 

I adore this book, this contemplative, self-vulnerable exploration that faces a past that makes me feel shame, but that offers empathetic heart-lines out in the open. I can’t take it all in, in my first reading. I have read it again, and then again. There is no harbour is a vital reminder to bring our stories into the open and to keep finding ways to build peace in our homes and our villages and our cities. And our hearts. I want you to read it and find your own connections, your own lines to treasure, because this is a poetry book that matters so very very much.

 

‘Loss of possessions is a kind of freedom;

loss of land is exile’

 

This is what it comes down to:

Taranaki land was stolen.

My people—at first lost—were then

steadied by it. Pakakohe

were wrenched from it.

They were promised reserves,

instead they were jailed.

 

When you come down to it

everything comes back

to the vital, absorbing land.

And although a poem

can enclose you

like the rocky arms

of a Cornish cove,

justice is so much stronger than injustice

and this poem

has no solace to offer:

it is a phrase or two in a story

being written and woven together

by numerous, various,

generational hands.

 

©Dinah Hawken There is no harbour

 

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 thought on “Poetry Shelf review: Dinah Hawken’s There is no harbour

  1. Pingback: Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Therese Lloyd picks Dinah Hawken | NZ Poetry Shelf

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