‘I love words so much they blind me.’
Tayi Tibble caught my poetry heart with her debut collection – Poūkahangatus – and the hearts of a galaxy of poetry fans. Rangikura is snaring my heart again. Gloriously so.
Why is it so good to read this book? It is stepping into liquid currents of words, river currents of ideas, images, feelings: incandescent, life-affirming, fast flowing. The poem is the water current and the lightness current, and it is the vessel-on-the-water current. I am climbing in, word splashed, and drenched in joy. The poet is deep diving, skimming the shallows, riding the rough, revelling, honouring, exposing.
Feel the vernacular, the te reo, the melodies along the line, and it is so skin-prickling good.
The first part reclaims the girl. This is girlhood and it is feminism. It is dangerous and vulnerable, mermaid girls racing the boys in the water, girl bonding, girl bounding, the step-brother test, horoscopes, delivering kittens, armouring the danger-girl, becoming winter, the East Coast map carried inside. A road map of adolescence. And always the scintillating rapids of writing. Bliss.
And I remember the year
we were the two strongest ‘girl swimmers’
in our syndicate. This meant
we were forever forced to race
the boys for Western feminism
and you would always win,
even against the boys who were so like men
the teachers treated them as if they were
more muscle than human.
from ‘Lil Mermaidz’
The middle section is a sequence of she he prose poems, a shift in key, a miniature novel in verse, where love is threaded at a distance, and we all might have different things to say about the he, about the she, the tyranny of separation, and the tyranny of waiting. The sexiness of everything. Hierarchies. The love affair, the love relationship, ah what to call this, as dialogue and desire unfold in restaurants and hotel rooms, and the restaurants are sweet and soured with taste and preference. I am almost eating the rice and peanuts (well not the meat), relishing the ‘tacky’ surroundings. And it is sharp edge reading this love, this like love like suite. Think of the way you might look at a photograph and everything is sharp edged with life. And light. And yes the dark shadow jags.
The third section returns to free verse, freedom to break the line, to make it clear that sometimes politics is personal, and that maybe politics is always personal, and that poetry is the the whenua, the maunga, the ocean, the awa. Poetry is sky and breath and beating heart. Tayi’s poetry is grounding liberating speaking out singing. This is what I get when I read Rangikura. It is poetry, but it is also life, more than anything this is poetry as life.
Tayi’s collection is framed by an opening poem and a last poem, ancestor poems, like two palms holding the poetry tenderly, lovingly. Hold this book in your reading hands and check out the electricity when you stand in the river, the ocean. Reading Tayi spins you so sweetly, so sharply, along the line, off the line. I love this book so much.
I sat in the lap of my great-grandmother
until the flax of her couldn’t take it.
So she unravelled herself and
wrapped around me like a blanket
and at her touch the privilege of me
was a headrush as I remember
making dresses out of sugar packets,
my bro getting blown up in Forlì,
my grandfather commemorated under one tree
even though he forced himself into our bloodline
and then abandoned me and me and me.
from ‘My Ancestors Ride with Me’
Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou) was born in 1995 and lives in Wellington. Her first book, Poūkahangatus, won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award in 2019.
Xoë Hall: xoehall.com
Te Herenga Waka University Press page
Paul Diamond review on Nine to Noon, RNZ National
Faith Wilson responds to Rangikura at The Spinoff
Kiri Piahana-Wong review at Kete Books