Poetry Shelf review: Patricia Grace’s From the Centre: A writer’s life

From the Centre: A writer’s life, Patricia Grace,Penguin Books, 2021

‘I made up my mind writing was something I would always do’

Patricia Grace

This is the book I took with me when I got my first covid vaccination, and that I have been reading through the side effects, after the first, and now the second. I ended up at ED after the first injection, and the utterly wonderful nurses and ED doctor did numerous tests to make sure all was well. I was a witness to the infinite patience, kindness and expertise of frontline staff, no matter who turned up, no matter the challenges and complications. I was in awe and I was thankful.

I was also in awe of and thankful for the book I held in my hand. It took me out of pain and smashed over tiredness, into another world for hours, into exquisitely crafted writing. This book is quiet, honest, searching, exposing, wise. It is the life of a writer and that in itself is fascinating, but as Patricia will say, writing doesn’t coming out of nowhere, it comes out of living. So this is also a book of living. Writing and living, woven like kete.

From the Centre lifted me. This book is still lifting me. I would love every young Māori writer to read this, and indeed every young woman finding her way with words, against all odds, and indeed every young writer navigating the rugged terrain and the blessed epiphanies life holds out.

And it comes down to the power of story, the power of our own stories to shape us, our own voice to risk and settle and dance and challenge. To read widely like ranging eagles and soaring night bats, to read from a very young age, to hold books close, to celebrate the stories that matter to us. To find our own ways to make words sing and mourn, and to share the worlds we carry: past present future, imagined lived.

This is also a book of beloved whanau, of language, connections, multi-facted aroha. You get drawn into the light – into the light Patricia shines on childhood, the teenage years, being a mother, a daughter. And these experiences are sharped edged as much as they are filled with joy and discovery, because as child, teenage and adult woman, Patricia navigates the relentless racism, the patronising, demeaning, limiting attitudes and behaviours directed at Māori across time. Read Emma Espiner’s terrific review that discusses this (link below).

If I were to pick one book I have read this year and suggest you place it on top of your book pile this it is. I also recommend the terrific podcast from AWF 2021 where Patricia is in conversation with Nic Low (link below).

Penguin Books page

AWF 2021 podcast: Nic Low and Patricia Grace in conversation

Patricia Grace in conversation with Kathryn Ryan – Nine to Noon RNZ National

Extract in The Guardian

Emma Espiner review at Kete Books

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