Category Archives: Aotearoa poetry

Poetry Shelf Celebrates: Winners of Given Words 2021 read their poems

The winners of the Given Words competition for Phantom National Poetry Day were announced last Friday 17 September. The director of Given Words, Charles Olsen, invited poets Pat White, Savarna Yang and Aine Whelan-Kopa, to read their poems for NZ Poetry Shelf.

All entries had to include five words chosen from the te reo poetry film Noho Mai, which features a poem by Peta-Maria Tunui. The poems could be written in English or te reo Māori or a mix of the two, with the five words being: pō/duskhau/breathtūpuna/ancestorshiki/raise, and karoro/black-backed gull.

The winners and one special mention were selected by Mikaela Nyman, Michael Todd and Charles Olsen. Their comments on some of the poems along with a selection of 45 poems by both adults and under-16s can be read on Given Words, along with a reflection on the use of te reo in many of the poems by Peta-Maria Tunui.

Pat White was the winner of ‘Best Poem’ for his poem ‘After visiting the IC ward.

After visiting the IC ward

You might think at dusk
that a black-backed gull, and the terns
would be flying for the rookery.
The fishing folk with an empty basket
might trudge homeward, instead of
standing longer on those moving dunes
dividing shore between offshore tūpuna
and inland ancestors, here sea birds
just like words tie the waves’ surge
to lives between two worlds.

Another chance to keep going as if
every breath matters, coming to
rattling rest, as waves do over shell
and pebbles shifting over and over
the planet’s body, one grain of sand
at a time. Your bed occupying
a place between light and dark
the soul poised to raise a voice
in praise of one more day
giving thanks, flying in the mind
to where uplift drafts will raise
pin feathers of an albatross wing
tipped slightly to infinite nautical miles
over the breaker’s lip, reflecting
water movement into light carrying
driftwood to be dragged home.
for burning like the flicker of
life burning in your chest.

Pat White

Savarna Yang, aged 13, won ‘Best Poem by Under-16s’ for her poem ‘Eventide’.

Eventide

alabaster moths flutter
on indigo shadows of dusk
I press my toes into cold sand,
listen to the inbreath and outbreath of sea
and I remember my tupuna tāne,
how he died moored to a ventilator,
breaths drowned in risen tides
far from his whānau

the moon spills silver over ocean ripples
I raise my face to the sky
through a blur of tears
the first stars form an outline of wings,
tips of white against the black
I imagine my tupuna
flies free as a karoro

Savarna Yang

Aine Whelan-Kopa received a Special Mention for her poem ‘Hiki te hoe’.

Hiki te hoe

I got goosebumps today
When Tāwhiri breathed
And I heard the words
When I opened my heart
To tūpuna
They whispered
Hoea te waka
Hoea te waka
Hoea te waka
Like a chorus
And on the beat
It hurt like hope
But felt like home
I’m sorry I ever told them to go
Hoea te waka
Their words sing on
In my puku-heart
As wiriwiri
In my head-heart
Sways the pūriri
In my heart-heart
There’s aroha
And that’s everything
It pumps my veins
Out of and into
The pull
The row
The drag
The flow
Hiki te hoe
Hoea te waka
I’m moving on
Out of te pō
Upon
Cool waters misty
Like a lake before dawn
Hoea te waka
To where karoro flies
Hoea te waka
To where the green flash glows
Hoea te waka
To where the four winds blow
Ngā hau
Hoea te waka
Along the long awa
Guided by whispers
And one hundred tuna
Black and blue
Hoea te waka
By starlight
To sunlight
With Hine ā Maru
And you

Aine Whelan-Kopa

About the Poets

Pat White lives just out of Fairlie in the South Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand. There he works as a writer and painter, with his wife Catherine, a musician and painter. He has published a number of volumes of prose and poetry since the 1970s, including; How the Land Lies, (VUP 2010) prose memoir essays, Watching for the wingbeat; new and selected poems (Cold Hub Press 2018). He was editor of Rejoice Instead: Collected poems of Peter Hooper (Cold Hub Press, 2021).


His entry in Given Words honours the experience of a son who was in an Intensive Care Ward four years ago. ‘Such events hone our appreciation of every breath, and the need of each of us to give thanks for the miracle of ordinariness that is daily life. This afternoon the sun is shining, soon it will be time for a glass of red wine while sitting looking at the mountains to the west. Who knows a poem may be gifted on a gust of wind … if we sit quietly enough?’

Savarna Yang is thirteen years old, home-schools, and lives near Ōtepoti, Dunedin. You can often find her spinning and weaving wool from her pet sheep or baking mountains of cookies (especially over lockdown). She plays football for her local team but unfortunately they have lost every single game this season… She loves writing short stories and reviews.


Of the inspiration for her poem she says, ‘My grandparents live overseas, in Australia and China. I haven’t seen them for a long time and maybe I won’t get to see them again. In Aotearoa, we had an elderly friend nearby we loved like a grandparent. They died in hospital during lockdown when we could not visit to say goodbye.’

Aine Whelan-Kopa lives in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and grew up in very small rural, coastal towns in the Hokianga and Taranaki. She is of Ngāti Hine, Te Hikutu o Hokianga, Ngāpuhi and Irish descent. Being bi-racial has been challenging and impactful, writing and art are ways for Aine to express herself and explore her identity. The mix of te reo Māori and English in her poetry is a natural extension of the way she talks.
Aine is a student majoring in psychology and aims to use art therapy to help children affected by trauma. Whānau, whenua, atua and taiao are the cornerstones of her connection to Te Ao.


Hiki Te Hoe was written as a note to self that in order to get to where you want to go you need to pick up the paddle and start to row. Aine loves running and chocolate equally, because life is about balance.

Poetry Shelf review: Ora Nui 4: Māori Literary Journal (New Zealand and Taiwan Special Edition)

Ora Nui 4: Māori Literary Journal (New Zealand and Taiwan Special Edition), published by Anton Blank, edited by Kiri Piahana-Wong and Shin Su. Cover image: Hongi 2012, Idas Losin, oil on canvas, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts Collection.

How to construct a piupiu for your Waitangi day celebrations

First the karakia to gather the family; the strength
of your fibre depends on them.
Next, measure the pattern and score with clear, even cuts—
if you don’t do this yourself, your enemy will do it for you
with year after year after year of protest.
Expose the muka, the soft threads that will be so pale, so raw,
that they will take on any colour they mix with.
Pliability and adaptability are a gift. Don’t let them use it against you.
Instead brace yourself, if your thighs can take it, and roll towards the knee.
Boil these family strands until buttery smooth
right down to the vein; the skin of nature.
Sit close to that pain. It can sing.
Then, by the threads of these taonga tuku iho,
hang them where they are visible, until dry.
They will curl in on themselves, shiny side hidden
and become hollow chambers in a flaxen silencer.
Finally, cold plunge them into dye.
Constant interaction may result in uneven colouring,
ignore this—do not cry for them here—
their warpaint will be revealed, their pattern set.
Those hardened tubes will have become whistle darts
capable of long distance warning
ki te ao whānui.
Let their percussion begin.
Let them whisper in the ears of your children.

Anahera Gildea

Anton Blank begins his introduction: ‘This issue of Ora Nui is a jewel; light dances across the words and images sparking joy and wonder. It is filled with contributions from my favourite Māori and Taiwanese writers and artists.’

Ora Nui 4 is indeed a vital gathering of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, essays and artwork, lovingly assembled by editors Kiri Piahana-Wong and Shin Su. When you bring together a range of voices in a literary journal – with distinctive melodies, admissions, experience, challenges, silences – conversations ensue. Electric and eclectic connections spark and inspire, both within the individual written and visual contributions, and across the volume as a whole. How much more heightened the connective tissues become when contributions are also drawn from Taiwan.

We are in a time when to slow down and listen, to linger and absorb, is the most satisfying advantage. This is, as Anton says, joy. Reading and viewing Ora Nui is to move between here and there, between love and longing, amidst myriad ideas, feelings, melodies. As Kiri underlines, Ora Nui is ‘all the richer for creative pieces spanning an incredible range of topics’. Shin astutely suggests that ‘when finished with this edition of Ora Nui, you the reader will be in possession of an empathetic understanding of the lives and histories of a great many people’.

Familiar names leap out at me: Aziembry Aolani, Marino Blank, Jacqueline Carter, Gina Cole, Amber Esau, Anahera Gildea, Arihia Latham, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Vaughan Rapatahana, Reihana Robinson, Apirana Taylor, Anne-Marie Te Whiu, Iona Winter, Briar Wood. And then – one of the reasons I am attracted to literary journals – the unfamiliar Aotearoa poets become the gold nuggets of my reading: Gerry Te Kapa Coates, Kirsty Dunn, Teoti Jardine, Hinemoana Jones, Michelle Rahurahu Scott, Jean Riki, kani te manukura. Add in the Taiwan voices, the fiction and the nonfiction, and this is a sumptuous reading experience. I am especially drawn to the mesmerising movement and harmonies in Etan Pavavalung’s artworks and poetry, that are internal as much as they are physical.

I travel from the spare and haunting heart of Jacqueline Carter’s ‘Picton to Wellington’ to the aural and visual richness of Amber Esau’s ‘Manaakitanga’. I want to hear them both read aloud, to be in a room with the voices of these poets, in fact all the poets, filling the air with spike and soothe and light. Anahera Gildea’s poems reach me in a ripple effect of sound and song, contemplation, challenge and sublime heart. Reading the collection, I draw in phrases, images and chords that boost a need to write and read and converse. To connect.

For example, this extract from Stacey Teague’s exquisite grandmother poem:

Every Christmas
She would knit me dolls
with yellow dresses,
bright like egg yolks.

She had budgies, chickens, a cat called Mopsy.

She liked the TV show, Pingu.

On her headstone, it says:
‘Ko tōna reo waiata tōna tohū whakamaharatanga’.

My Narn sang waiata with her guitar
until her voice stopped.
Traded her guitar for
a dialysis machine.

from ‘Kewpie’

 

The artwork is stunning. Take time out from daily routine and challenges, and sink into a double-page spread of art. I keep greturning to Nigel Borell’s Pirirakau: bush beautiful (2006) series. The artworks are an alluring and intricate mix of acrylic, beading and cotton in bush greens on canvas. Or his Hawaiki Hue (2010), an equally glorious mix of acrylic, dye and silk on paper.

This is an anthology to treasure.

Read NZ Q & A with Anton Blank here

Oranui Publisher page

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Serie Barford reads from Sleeping with Stones

Sleeping with Stones, Serie Barford, Anahera Press, 2021

Serie reads ‘The midwife and the cello’

Serie reads ‘Piula blue’

Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a German-Samoan mother and a Palagi father. She was the recipient of a 2018 Pasifika Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Serie  promoted her collections Tapa Talk and Entangled Islands at the 2019 International Arsenal Book Festival in Kiev. Her latest poetry collection, Sleeping With Stones, was launched during Matariki, 2021.

Anahera Press page

RNZ Standing Room Only interview

Kete Books Grace Iwashita-Taylor review

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Frankie McMillan’s ‘Girls Raised by Swans’

Girls Raised by Swans

We swim like foster children, our necks held high, we swim with open arms knowing water will always want us back, we swim like brides with beautiful feet, we swim like Russian thoughts.

We swim in caravans of water, we swim amongst floating chairs, a toaster, we swim with a lampshade on our heads and when the current surges west, we swim out into the open with the eels.

We swim like we are missed, we swim like we are bridled, we swim under bridges and when the boats come calling, we swim low, through scum, through ropes, we swim like rich people, always laughing.

Frankie McMillan

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short story writer who spends her time between Ōtautahi/ Christchurch and Golden Bay. Her poetry collection, There are no horses in heaven, was published by Canterbury University Press.  Recent work appears in Best Microfictions 2021 (Pelekinesis) Best Small Fictions 2021 (Sonder Press), the New Zealand Year Book of Poetry ( Massey University), New World Writing and Atticus Review.

Poetry Shelf video: Vaughan Rapatahana reads at Medellin Columbia Poetry Festival

Vaughan Rapatahana begins many of his poems with a whakataukī. He is reading English versions of his poems that are then read in Spanish, but I love the way he brings in te reo Māori. Words say so much that are lost in translation, especially in poetry where each word is a rich vessel – words such as karakia and whanaunga. Vaughan’s poems consider death, place, whānau, significant issues such as global warming, the treatment of Māori. One poem particularly moved me: ‘Talking to my son in a funeral home’. Vaughan wondered why he keeps writing poems about and for his son who committed suicide 16 years ago. He shares his recent epiphany: that he writes of his son to keep his son alive. Later he reads a second poem, ‘The Zephyr’, a list poem, that is equally compelling (‘The zephyr that is my lost son still frisks me’). Ah. Ah. Ah. He reads a love poem he has written in te reo Māori to his wife, because he says he finds it easier to write how he feels in his first language.

To hear this coming together of te reo Māori, English and Spanish – a poetry meeting where words are held across distance to draw upon depth and intimacy – is a rare and glorious treat. Thank you.

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines, and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish. Additionally, he has lived and worked for several years in the Republic of Nauru, PR China, Brunei Darussalam, and the Middle East.

You can read Vaughan’s knitting (love) poem here.

Vaughan Rapatahana reads and responds to ‘tahi kupu anake’

Poem: kia atawhai – te huaketo 2020 / be kind – the virus 2020