Poetry Shelf review: Hana Pera Aoake’s A bathful of kawakawa and hot water

A bathful of kawakawa and hot water, Hana Pera Aoake, Compound Press, 2020 (reprinted 2021)

The opening poem, ‘Perhaps we should have stayed’, in Hana Pera Aoake’s collection of poetry and prose is like a chant, like a manifesto for self, like a list to pin to a fridge or a heart, to keep you moving and remembering, and thinking and feeling, and the title keeps repeating like an insistent beat, and it is political and it is personal, and it is sideways and direct, and it is searing and it is balm, and I can’t stop reading it, and I have read it five times in a bath with mānuka leaves that drift in on the wind.

PERHAPS WE SHOULD HAVE STAYED.

SOMETIMES THE LONGING MIGHT KILL YOU.

OTHER TIMES IT MIGHT BE THE EXHAUSTION.

IT’S GOOD TO BE YEARNING.

MAYBE YOU YEARN FOR SOMEONE OR MAYBE YOU

JUST YEARN FOR SOMETHING BETTER.

WATCHING BODIES FROM VERY FAR AWAY

THROUGH A SCREEN  DOES NOT GIVE YOU A SENSE

OF WHO SOMEONE REALLY IS.

PERHAPS WE SHOULD HAVE STAYED.

THE IDEA OF HAPPINESS IS JUST CAPITALISM.

Hana is writing this book from Lisboa, from that far away point, where writing becomes the connective bridge to the land that they hold dear, and as you read you move across the memory bridge, from the waterfront there to the water here, from the Portuguese river to the line of police removing Ihumaato protestors. The prose piece is rich in direction, building in momentum like the Pacific ocean flowing and the voices of the protestors, never ever losing sight of the sea, and it is an umbilical chord and it is a cry, an insistent poetic cry to do better.

Elsewhere there is a yoga teacher that reminds the writer of a vegan flatmate ‘who didn’t clean and was really racist and ate all my food, and had a trust fund’. There is puking and there are drugs. There is a cameo in Sex and the City. There is a Lisboa square where the Jewish were once slaughtered. There are emails to write and fliers to be designed. There is an empty womb. There is all this and there is so much more. Hana’s language is the most super-charged gloriously exhilarating uplift of words you can hope to meet, that draw in Te Reo Maaori and Portuguese, and pay attention to rhythm, so that you are itching to hear it read aloud, because this is prose and this is poetry, and yes this is song. Song from the heart, from the whole body, moving and yearning and finding a way to be.

Yet if this collection is song, it is also an incisive and vital probe, drawing on reading, ideas, history, the present and the future, challenging Western discourse, asking questions, musing on what ‘constitutes a common’, on the co-option of Maaori concepts by Paakeha, on the inseparability of body and mauri, on the damaged world, on the power of myth.

As a Maaori I feel death all around; not just because fantails follow me most days, but because I carry dead bodies inside me. I name them as I name myself, my rivers and my mountains. I ache at night thinking of my grandmother dying alone in a rest home during this pandemic.

from ‘We were like stones like weeds in  the road’

Chris Holdaway (Compound Press) has produced an exquisite book, using mid-20th Century typefaces designed by Samoan New Zealander Joseph Churchward. Hana has produced a collection of writings that within 83 pages take you out of yourself into a state of wider contemplation and deeper mourning and intricate learning and necessary action. This book I hold to my heart.

Hana Pera Aoake (Ngaati Mahuta, Tainui/Waikato, Ngaati Hinerangi) is an artist and writer based in Waikouaiti on stolen Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Waitaha lands. They are keen to restart the land wars and love eating kaimoana and defacing colonial property.

Compound Press page

A poem on Poetry Shelf, ‘Going on Strike’

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