Poetry Shelf review: Ngā Kupu Waikato: An anthology of Waikato poetry






Vaughan Rapatahana is a terrific champion of poetry in Aotearoa – he shines a light on poetry and poets that deserve far more attention than they currently get, particularly in his articles posted at Jacket2. He has also edited multicultural books of poetry with poetry exercises for secondary schools (Poetry in Multicultural Oceania – Book 1 and Book 2); and he is a much admired poet in his own right.

Vaughan’s latest project is a much-needed anthology of poetry from the Waikato region. As editor his criterion for submission was that the poet had lived in the area for a minimum of one year. Themes are multiple but the river is a strong presence in the collection as a whole, while the 41 poets are stylistically and culturally, as well as politically and poetically, diverse. They range from our poetry elders (poets whose work we have loved across decades) and the electricity of emerging voices; from Bob Orr, Murray Edmond and Vincent O’Sullivan to Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor and essa may ranapiri. There is an introduction by Dr Mark Houlahan from the University of Waikato.

Here is a tasting platter:

Stephanie Christie’s poem, ‘H-town’, is aware she lives on ‘land that was taken’, that like her parents she tried to leave but she has returned:


but here I am

writing poetry, prospering

in the city’s glittering vision

and the milk in my coffee

the twisting river –

O, jewel of the Waikato.


I’m the child of the future

in whose name the work

was done. History persists

in every one of us.


Many of the poems are home or origin anchors. Olivia Macassey’s is like a song, held together by the repeated line – ‘I am from’ – that opens each stanza, the physical detail gleaming:


I am from the dry hollows

below the cabbage tree and the mahoe

where other trees wait with us to grow up, the rātā

curling its thoughtful fingers;

and like the fat female eel,

I swim out and return.


Other poems evoke a sense of place to such a degree you become embedded in place as you read; the way a physical location reverberates with such intensity you are transported to a version that builds in your head. Again it forms a physical anchor. In ‘Frost’, a skinny backbone of a poem, Mohamad Atif Slim does just exactly that:


the river in



will be steaming

like hot soup.


the neigbour’s horse

grunts. his breaths are


puffs of

spun sugar.


a dog



inside my house

it’s still,


and still



For Bob Orr, in ‘Waikato karakia’, the river becomes glorious song, a chant, a loving homage that calls the river rhythm into being on the line.


Here is the river

here is sunlight on the river

here sunlight weaves harakeke patterns on the river

here by the unending course of the university of the river

I saw a broken branch waving a green leaf on its way down the river

Fairfield Bridge up to its concrete knees  in the river

a museum of dreams reflecting the mysterious fact of the river


Murray Edmond, in ‘Matakitaki, 1822’, draws back into the region’s heartbreaking massacres, a queen’s visit, a rugby club.


here was the place of our greatest slaughter

an old green shed in a field of grass

an old green shed in a field of grass



bronze words on a monument



And some poems are fiercely political – shifting our view point so we may no longer carry disabling historical narratives. Reading the collection is like sitting by the river through all seasons, feeling the way it runs through the blood of the poet writing, a lifelong current, carrying anecdote, beauty, history. It is both the spine and heart of the collection that draws me in closer again and again. A Waikato treasure.



singing the old songs

This is the way the old story keeps passing though


Reihana Robinson from ‘O Moehau Mountain (How much can you take?)’















3 thoughts on “Poetry Shelf review: Ngā Kupu Waikato: An anthology of Waikato poetry

  1. Pingback: Ngā Kupu Waikato and Scoria book launches in Northland. – Pavlova Press

  2. Pingback: Poetry Shelf review: Vaughan Rapatahana’s ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes | NZ Poetry Shelf

  3. Pingback: Poetry Shelf poets on their poems: Vaughan Rapatahana reads and responds to ‘tahi kupu anake’ | NZ Poetry Shelf

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s