Poetry Shelf poets pick: Johanna Emeney celebrates Maria Yeonhee Ji’s ‘HAPŪ WĀNANGA’



for Tawera & Sharron



From Parihaka you can see it                                 maybe hope is a kind of haunting

the shape of women learning                                             maybe it is a dazzling thing

how to startle the red earth the whenua                            like the threads of a kaitaka

that will be buried but not left behind                                      that have been woven

how to labour in the present                                with something I can only describe

tense with the weight of a future                                                                    as breath

and the sound of tupuna knocking                                      the wind has an ache in it

the marae fills with the first language                                           it sounds like a river

I recognise but do not understand                                       whose blue end is coming

but the kuia teaches me how to harvest moonlight                 where the world begins

pulling the threads from harakeke                           is this enough to remedy the past

draped over her lap like a question                         the world doesn’t stop to answer

I roll the silver between my fingers                                    rain rolls off the mountain

the strands fray into more questions                    but they say you don’t need an atlas

made up of tinier pieces of doubt                                           the size of the universe

she takes them and rests them on her calf                                  to make sense of this

handrolls the fear into a muka of light                                      approaching moment


Maria Yeonhee Ji



This piece by Maria has everything I seek to admire in a poem. First of all, its structure is entirely emblematic and relevant. It does something different without being gimmicky and gratuitous. For me, the white space is possibility. It is an invitation to hope. It is a suggestion that I may read the poem two ways. Most importantly, it is a birth canal of sorts for “the approaching moment” upon which the poem ends—but does not end.

“Hapū Wānanga” has an easy unity of theme and imagery. Indeed, one of its themes, the solidarity of women—sensed especially in this place of ancestors—is highlighted by the motif of weaving. There is a blended spirituality and corporeality to this poem which hinges on Maria’s ability to make magic from the concrete to “harvest moonlight” like the kuia who shows the speaker part of this new world.

This poem is also special because it signifies Maria’s last year publishing work in Signals, the journal of the Young Writers Programme. Ros Ali, my colleague at the YWP, taught Maria at St Cuthbert’s College, and Ros and I have both enjoyed Maria’s company at many workshops and master classes over the years. This is a beautiful valedictory poem as Maria goes off into the world of medicine (and the world of more writing, of course). Ros and I wish her every success.

Johanna Emeney


Johanna Emeney is a senior tutor in Creative Writing at Massey University, where she has worked since 2011. She also leads community writing projects with migrant young people and older adults with her friend, Ros Ali. They have worked together on the Michael King Young Writers Programme since 2009. Jo has published two collections of poetry (Apple & Tree, Cape Catley, 2011, and Family History, Mākaro Press, 2017), as well as an academic book called The Rise of Autobiographical Medical Poetry and the Medical Humanities (ibidem Press 2018). Her latest publication is a chapter on poetry for the Routledge Companion to Literature and Disability (2020).

Maria Yeonhee Ji is a writer and junior doctor based in Tāmaki Makaurau. She holds an MBChB and a BMedSci (Hons) from the University of Auckland, and dreams of adding a Masters in Creative Writing to this list someday. Her writing has appeared in several publications, including The Pantograph Punch, takahē, Signals, and Starling.




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