Poetry Shelf review: Nicole Titihuia Hawkins – Whai

Whai, Nicole Titihuia Hawkins, We Are Babies, 2021

One of my hopes for Whai is that it shares a message that we aren’t ever just one thing. We are as expansive as Te Moana Nui a Kiwa and beyond.

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins, VERB Wellington Q & A

I never used to read endorsements on the back of books but now I do. Once I have finished reading my own paths, bridges and delights. I read them because in the past year or so, they have been astonishingly good. Little kegs of poetry community boost. If I put them together in a book it would underline why I read, write and comment upon poetry in Aoteraroa New Zealand. Eye-catching reminders on what poetry can do. Above all: short, tangy, sweet windows that send you back to read the collection again (in my case), with gusts of refreshing new air.

Emma Espiner, essa may ranapiri and Karlo Mila take delight in Whai

I have things to share about Nicole Titihuia Hawkin’s debut collection Whai, but one part of me wants you to find a quiet nook and find your own bridges and poem trails. I love it so much – the way from the first page the rhythm pulls me in, a rhythm that is life and that is writing. We are welcomed into a space that is whanau, marae and connection. That is breathing the past, the present and the future. That is fed upon potatoes from warm earth, and by words that are nourished on warm tongues. It is discomfort, it is scars and it is let down. It is to be held close and it is to sing. Oh so much to sing, with waiata the energy force, the structure, the passed-down precious melody that sings mother father ancestors, the earth, sings names and naming, singing out in protest, singing in te reo Māori.

Nurture the hypothetical
cultivate an organic perennial
to grow, to tend, to prune, to water

Even in the longest days
sun can come shining in

Looking at you
marks a change
of the seasons
my heart on the precipice
of full bloom

from ‘Companion Planting’

Ah, so much to say and feel. There is light and there is dark. There is the hidden and there is the out in the open. It is blazing and it quiet and it is movement.

I have been thinking how certain poetry books catapult you from the everyday – where the wifi streams, kina shells gleam, periods arrive, bulbs are planted – and moves you to interior realms. Intimate, hard to pronounce, a heart pulse. How the occasion of reading becomes both personal and necessary.

On my blog, my poetry engagements often send me into luminescent poetry. Luminescent because poetry shines multiple lights on humanity, and this matters. It might be one woman writing and living, transforming and translating: navigating experience, existence, ideas, sensations. Getting political. Embracing the personal. Staying sharp, tender, deeply relevant. Nicole does exactly this in Whai, and it’s sublime.

I don’t know enough about the tipuna I’m named after
but when I read she was a weaver
I feel her stitching tāniko
into the bodice of my insides

She says it doesn’t hurt that much
When I breathe in
hundreds of tiny holes expand
but her pattern holds its place
like the ocean holds the stars that got us here

from ‘Rainbow Piupiu’

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins (Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Ngāti Pāhauwera) is a novice writer, avid home-baker and proud aunt. She lives in Pōneke and works at a local high school teaching English, Social Studies and tikanga Māori. Nicole is also involved in pastoral care and facilitates Kapa Haka. Nicole has collaborated with other writers to host ‘Coffee with Brownies’, which are open mic events for people of colour to share their work in safe spaces. She co-hosted ‘Rhyme Time’, a regional youth event, with Poetry in Motion, to encourage a diverse range of youth to perform their incredible poetry. Nicole has work published by Overland, Capital Magazine, Blackmail Press and The Spinoff Ātea and credits her courageous students with inspiring her to write.

Whai was longlisted for the 2022 Mary & Peter Biggs Award for Poetry.

Follow Nicole on Instagram.

We Are Babies page

VERB Wellington Q & A with Nicole

Poetry Shelf: We Are Babies pick poems – ‘Rainbow Piupiu’

Poetry Shelf: Emma Espiner picks ‘Typecast’

Elizabeth Heritage review at Kete Books

2 thoughts on “Poetry Shelf review: Nicole Titihuia Hawkins – Whai

  1. Pingback: Poetry Shelf on live streaming the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2022 | NZ Poetry Shelf

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