Category Archives: NZ author

Poetry Shelf classic poem: Jordan Hamel picks Ria Masae’s ‘Jack Didn’t Build Here’

 

Jack Didn’t Build Here

 

This is the house that Dad built.

Foundation laid with stories

from sitting under the ulu tree

to learnings from palagi scholarship:

for wife, for offspring, for aiga.

Sunday School teachings echo in his mother-tongue

dotted with Oxford Dictionary words.

 

This is the house that Lange built.

Southside Prime Minister. The only home

in the hood with a pool. He invited the locals

– his Mangere locals – over to swim

and understood the pressures of fa’alavelave,

cos he brown on the inside like that.

 

This is the house that Mum built.

Chandelier hangs over the heads of churchy

poker players, cheating and laughing on

the woven fala. Celebration trestle tables

laden with islands of sapasui, oka,

fa’alifu taro, palusami, and umu pork

surrounding a pavlova cheesecake.

 

This is the house that Key built.

Double-glazed windows within a security code gate.

His pool stretches across his Parnell palace

where riff raff are never invited to take a dip,

instead he swims regular laps to drown the reality

of midnight figures huddled inside torn sleeping bags

outside glaring high-fashion mannequin stores.

 

This is the house that I built.

Now in State House central. Wallpaper designed with parents’ language

smudged into Samoglish. One post carved from

the ancient va’a of bloodline ocean wayfarers.

Other post, a mighty kauri etched with Hans fairytales,

and Chinese script I feel but I can’t translate.

 

What house will Jacinda build?

Will her house accommodate the next generation?

Will it enable my daughters to build their own homes

of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs

in this palagified City of Sales?

 

Ria Masae, originally appeared in Landfall

 

 

poem appeared in latest Landfall 237

 

Note from Jordan:

I was lucky enough to see Ria Masae perform poetry last year and I’ve been a fanboy ever since.  I fell in with love this poem when I read it in Landfall instantly because of how it delineates the relationship between the personal and political. While those with power have the ability to create structures and systems that shield them from one or the other, the two spheres of experience are inherently and inevitably reciprocal.

Ria shows us the house as a place of learning, eating, sharing, a place to nurture Whanaungatanga. But she also shows us the house as something unattainable, surrounded by barriers and surveillance, somewhere that can spread fear, otherness or indifference. We spend our whole lives as house guests: we consciously and subconsciously pick and choose experiences and lessons as we build our own, deciding who to invite in, how we speak inside, what wallpaper to put up. Ria has built a house that is a sum of her, her knowledge, her language, her whakapapa, her space within a nation, where the treatment of its guests fluctuates with the whims of those sitting at the head of the table. Ria ends with a question:

What house will Jacinda build? Will it enable my daughters to build their own houses/of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs/in the palangified City of Sales?

This ending resonates in a time where Aotearoa is asking more of it’s leaders, asking how they will allow rangatiratanga to flourish, how they will create a sustainable future and undo the harms of colonialism and capitalism, how they will celebrate and protect the unique experiences and histories of all its guests, how they will rectify their positions of power and privilege with the whenua they stand on. Ria will have an answer to her question sooner or later. In the meantime, I’m getting a grappling hook, a balaclava, a bottle of whisky and going for a midnight skinny dip in John Key’s forbidden pool, who’s coming with me?

 

Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based poet and performer. He was raised in Timaru on a diet of Catholicism and masculine emotional repression. He is the current New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and has words published or forthcoming in Takahē, Poetry NZ, Mimicry, Sweet Mammalian, Glass Poetry, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and elsewhere.

Ria Masae is a writer, poet and a spoken word artist. Her work has appeared in various writing outlets such as, Landfall, Circulo de Poesia / Circle of Poets (Mexico), and Best NZ Poems 2017. She is a member of the South Auckland Poets’ Collective.

This year Ria was accepted for the 2019 New Zealand Society of Authors Mentorship Programme in which she is working on new material for her sole poetry collection. She is also compiling poetry to be published by Auckland University Press, alongside two other emerging poets in a book series, New Poets #6. This is due to be released next year.

 

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Landfall page

Poetry Shelf review: Kirsten Warner’s Mitochondrial Eve

 

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Kirsten Warner, Mitochondrial Eve, Compound Press, 2018

 

Kirsten’s Warner is a writer, poet, journalist and musician and currently chair of the Auckland Society of Authors. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction from AUT and won the Landfall essay competition in 2008. She performs as a musician with partner Bernie Griffen in the folk-blues band Bernie Griffen and The Thin Men. Makāro Press published her debut novel The Sound of Breaking Glass in 2018. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals and  anthologies. Her debut chapbook Mitochondrial Eve also came out in 2018. This slender collection is the kind of book you can spend ages with. I read it on the plane to Wellington and once I got to the end of the book I returned to the beginning and read it again. Goodness knows what the passengers either side of me thought. They wouldn’t have known I was poetry rich with a stack of books waiting to be read in my bag.

The six poem titles resemble a narrative framing device: beginning with heartbreak, then moving through dailiness and despair, to a degree of release:

 

The Location of Heartbreak

Plant a Red Hibiscus

Channel Surfing

S. O. S.

In a Nutshell

Off the Leash

 

Each poem is exquisitely layered as things are held at arm’s length, obstacles loom, the real world intrudes bright and harmonic, words are lithe on the line. Here is the first stanza of the first poem that pulls you into threat and challenge through the rhythm of walking with its pauses and asides:

 

I surface dismantled

heart-sore here in the area of the left breast,

certain the most meaningful part of life

is lived while dreaming

and that to awake is to fail to fall

into an abyss of light.

 

from ‘The Location of Heartbreak’

 

The heart-threatened core (of the poem, of self), unsettling and hard to reach, is like an insistent pulse that keeps me reading:

 

I step over cracks so I won’t marry a Jack

resist walking out into traffic

we don’t have a bath and I’d have to find blades

and it’s an end I want not intensification

someone to find me before I drift away.

 

The second poem, ‘Plant a Red Hibiscus’, returns to the rhythm of ‘feet on the pavement’, but changes pace as the speaker takes charge of a bulldozer. Always the incandescent  core, like a burning wound, enigmatic, exposing; the poet never still. Here is the musing speaker at the bulldozer’s helm; I am holding my breath as I read:

 

Things that also might be worth living for are

small dark orphan babies who need arms to hold them

I would sit for hours.

Gathering fallen leaves,

we are all compost exchanging molecules and air.

Plant a red hibiscus.

 

Spread good dark soil, pick up dry leaves, hold a baby.

 

I don’t make assumptions about the speaker in the six poems. She might be the ‘Egyptian Goddess stalking the town!’ She might be part poet, part invention, part delight in different voices. The poem ‘In a Nutshell’ samples role hopping from Eve with mitochondrial disorder (misbehaving cells that can’t burn food and convert oxygen to energy) to Katherine Mansfield in her German pension, Suzie Wong getting STDs, Carmen Miranda breaking into song, Mata Hari watching time flying over rooftops, until the final glorious, puzzling stanza that hooks the stitches of everyday into the whip and pain of existence:

 

When I eat nuts

I am Nut

the whole shebang

born of ululation

moisture and fire crackers.

I have no consort

he’s outside

drinking

fagging

shooting up

hocking my starry dress

trying to get back up me.

I bear down

without drugs

swallow the night

virgin again

every morning

to make school lunches

and hold up the sky.

 

This hallucinogenic, rollercoaster, gut punch of book runs through me like fire. I love it.

 

 

Kirsten Warner WordPress page

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Brian Turner – an unpublished poem and a new book

 

In the Middle of Nowhere

 

On a late winter morning when driving east towards Ranfurly

pale grey fog’s smothering most of the land from Wedderburn

to Naseby, Kyeburn, Kokonga, Waipiata, Hamilton’s, Patearoa

and beyond. And I’m thinking how often we’re told we live

in the middle of nowhere: that nowadays people everywhere

are categorised, seen as somewheres, anywheres, or nowheres,

and that, in particular, this place is empty, needs more people.

So it goes. In ‘Furl’ I shop at the corner Four Square, pluck

some cash from a money machine, buy a long black and two

thick egg and chive sandwiches at the E-Café, fill up with gas

at the garage and set off homewards. Then, when re-entering

the Ida Valley and emerging into sharp sunlight, and wondering,

yet again, whether what is ever present always feels burdened

by the past, everywhere one looks – north south east and west –

bulky hills and shining mountains glisten with heavy snow.

And, oddly perhaps, so-called nowhere’s nowhere to be found.

 

Brian Turner

 

Brian Turner was born in Dunedin in 1944. His debut collection Ladders of Rain (1978) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. He has published a number of collections including Just This which won the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry in 2010. He has received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry (2009) and was NZ Poet Laureate (2003-5).  He lives in Central Otago.

In April Victoria University Press published Brian’s Selected Poems, a hardback treasury of poetry that gains life from southern skies and soil, and so much more. When I am longing to retreat to the beauty of the south, I find refuge in one of Brian’s poems. The economy on the line, the exquisite images, the braided rhythms. Read a poem and your feet are in the current of a gleaming river, your eyes fixed on a purple gold horizon line.

 

Once in a while

you may come across a place

where everything

seems as close to perfection

as you will ever need.

from ‘Place’

 

Yet the joy of reading the Selected Poems is also in the diverse subject matter: the acerbic political bite when he considers a world under threat, the love poems, poems of his mother and his father, the elegies, the humour, the storms, the seasons. In ‘The mixing bowl’ the mother is kneading, she feeds her son cakes and scones, along with ‘a rough and tart / unstinting love’. The final stanzas catch my heart:

 

But I did not know

it would be so hard

to watch her grow,

enfeebled, toward oblivion,

her hands and face

yellow as floury

butter, her arms

white as gentled flour.

 

I love ‘In Ladbroke Grove’: a woman in a London cafe is surprised he is writer because she didn’t ‘know there were any in New Zealand.’ When she asked where New Zealand was ‘he refused to answer that because too many know anyway’. Ha!

I emailed Brain earlier in the year to see if had any new poems -and he said he had hundreds. ‘In the middle of nowhere’ is one of them – a Turner taste before you read the glorious Selected Poems. His poetry might carry you to the middle of nowhere (a fiction of course!) but his poems are rich in the sumptuous experience of somewhere. His poetry somewhere is vital, humane, illuminating. His Selected Poems is an essential volume for me and I want to keep quoting poems to you because they are so rewarding. Instead I  recommend you pack the book in your bag and take time out for a Turner retreat.

 

The dead do

sing in us, in

us and through

us, and to themselves

under their mounds of earth

swelling  in the sun, or in their

ashes that shine

as they depart on the wind.

from ‘After’ for Grahame

 

Victoria University Press page

 

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Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Sugar Magnolia Wilson picks Hera Lindsay Bird’s ‘ Kiss me harder, Abraham Lincoln’

 

Kiss me harder, Abraham Lincoln

 

In poems you can do anything you like. You can start fires, or break the law. You can break the law by starting fires. You can set fire to the house of your worst enemy. In poetry, you can have worst enemies. In real life, I’m still working on it. In terms of candidates there’s that dickhead at the salad bar, not to mention the girl who used to ring me up and scream at me, but I’ve got a new phone number now and as much as I hate the salad guy, I’d like to think that I’m a contentious citizen who wouldn’t intentionally try to burn his house down. Besides, I don’t have his address. But I’m totally onto you, salad man! In poems you can make out with whoever you like, even if they died forever ago. In poems you can say, ‘Oh Abraham Lincoln, kiss me harder.’ I have a friend who’s angry at poetry because he says it makes life more beautiful than it really is, which is a dumb reason to hate anything. Hating poetry because it makes life more beautiful is like hating ketchup on your burger because it makes your burger more delicious than it really is, or hating the swans on the lake, for making the lake seem more peaceful. Fuck off swans! How am I supposed to make an accurate emotional assessment of the lake with you gliding around like a toilet paper commercial? Sometimes all I want is a poem that feels like real life. Something directionless and frightened, without any literary subtext, or clever double meanings. Clever double meanings are like those magic eye puzzle. You can get really good at seeing the hidden picture, but in the end you’re still the asshole sitting in the library at lunchtime saying ‘I can’t believe you guys can’t see the dolphins,’ to no-one, because your friends all left hours ago. Sometimes all I want is the poet to come clean and say, ‘I have no idea how to live.’ Sometimes I just want to list some things that I like. That song ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King.’ The names of lipsticks. Poached eggs on a stack of potato cakes. Houses. Flowers. Swamps and the monsters who live in them.  The internet.

 

Hera Lindsey Bird

The poem originally appeared in Sport 40, 2012 in a slightly different version.

 

 

Sugar Magnolia Wilson on ‘Kiss me harder, Abraham Lincoln’

I had a dream a few weeks ago that I asked Hera why she’d changed the line “Fuck off swans! How am I supposed to make an accurate emotional assessment of the lake with you gliding around all serene?” to “Fuck off swans! How am I supposed to make an accurate emotional assessment of the lake with you gliding around like a toilet paper commercial”. The first iteration comes from an issue of Sport back yonky-donks ago, I think 2011 or 2012. So, I assume it was a poem written in her MA year at the IIML. It was the first time I’d read anything by Hera, and I think the first time I’d really read anything by a young New Zealand poet that really spoke to me. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew that people under 300 could have poems published in New Zealand.

I think the toilet paper version is what’s in her book, and I feel like that line got snazzed up, but, I wish it hadn’t been snazzed. I love how not loud this poem is, how it’s almost bored. I read this line in a book once that said all beautiful girls are bored. And I think this is the poem version of that, a beautiful, bored girl. I love how it’s not trying to prove anything big or deep, but at the same time it stands up and says ‘you fucking know what? Poetry can be whatever the hell you want it to be” – it hits right at the heart of what old white dudes have been telling us poetry shouldn’t be since forever. But I’m totally onto you, poetry book guy! I think I took this poem too literally. I literally wrote a poem for my MA manuscript which was JUST a list of things I liked – my friend Ada, miso soup, small glittery things in dusty corners. No one in my class liked it. But I did and it was a confusing time.

I also love that this poem is like Dorian Gray, and Keats is Dead so Fuck Me From Behind is like his bloated painting in the attic. Or maybe this poem is like Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men, and Keats is Dead is like his coked-out body lying on a velvet bed with a neon orange party hat on? See? It’s way harder than she makes it seem.

Anyway. It’s one of my all-time favourite classic NZ poems. It’s changed the way I write and I am so grateful to have encountered it when I did. I also love the poem Hooting, but Paula says I’m only allowed to write about one (she didn’t, I’m just too lazy). But read it here

 

 

Sugar Magnolia Wilson is from a valley called Fern Flat in the Far North of New Zealand. She completed her MA in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington in 2012. Her work has been published in literary journals such as Turbine, Shenandoah, Cordite, Landfall and Sport. She is co-editing an anthology of the new generation of New Zealand poets with Hannah Mettner for AUP. Auckland University Press published her debut collection Because a Woman’s Heart Is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean earlier this year.

 

Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet from Wellington. Her debut collection Hera Lindsay Bird was published with Victoria University Press in 2016, and Penguin UK in 2017, and a Laureate’s Choice Pamphlet ‘Pamper Me to Hell & Back’ came out in 2018. She is an Arts Foundation new generation recipient, winner of the 2011 Adam Prize, the 2017 Jessie McKay Prize for Best First Book, and the 2017 Sarah Broom Prize.

 

 

Karlo Mila’s ‘Moemoea (Composed for Poets for Ihumātao)’

 

Moemoea (Composed for Poets for Ihumātao)

I have a dream….
Not a Martin Luther King dream
more of a waking life dream
where you’re in a parallel universe movie of your own making.

In my dream,
Jacinda is walking in knee high gumboots
the tall, skinny, expensive kind
you used to have to order from Great Britain
and that I could never pull over my big Tongan calves.

She is wearing a red, red raincoat,
not like a Kathmandu one with a zip.
It’s more of a cape,
fire-truck red, lipstick red, Labour party red.
More of a red-riding hood cape
and it is billowing in the whipping wind.

And the way she struts it could be a Horse Polo ad
but it’s not, cos she and her gumboots
are on the whenua at Ihumātao
and she’s not walking alone,
flanked, either side is Nanaia, Kiritapu, Willow-Jean
and Louisa who has the reddest lipstick of them all.
They all have knee high boots and red jackets
and there is Carmel, taller than the rest,
even though her boots are flat,
who used to rent our family home.
And there is Jenny, with a red flower behind her ear,
who used to be married to my ex-husband.
And there is ‘Anahila, my mate,
with her righteous Tongan afro, and Poto too.
And in my dream the soundtrack is Beyonce playing
“Who rules the world? Girls!”
And behind them is Jacinda’s baby-daddy
pushing Neve Te Aroha in an expensive water proof pram
which is just as well, cos there is thunder and lightning
as these women walk.
And it strikes me that he is the perfect,
mana-ful, woke male.
The lips of all these women are pursed.
Not like in selfies, but like they are purposeful.
And in my dream they are walking in slow mo
and Marama is there in her reggae beanie, laughing,
saying, what took you fellas so long.

In my dream,
Jacinda has read Dr Rawiri Taonui’s article
and as her plane landed on the Auckland tarmac
she thought for the first time
about all the bodies, all the bones, the koiwi
the ancestors who had to give up everything,
a clean awa, their land, kai moana, unpolluted ocean,
who had to give too much to the city of Auckland,
even their graves.

I dream Jacinda truly felt
that this history stinks like sewage
as she drove into the shit-show
that has been the water treatment plant.
And she visibly flinched when she saw the Proclamation
issued by corrupt Governor Grey
with his fake news about dangerous attacking natives
as he coveted Waikato-Tainui having the best land, flour mills, most fertile export businesses,
and imported and gathered 16,000 British imperial and colonial troops
telling the natives to surrender,
or they’d be ejected.

I hope she knows
the archeologists say
this is an OG settlement place
Where to quote Alice Te Punga Somerville
where Māori
“Once were Pacific”
and evolved, over centuries,
Right here,
from us
into them.
And I’m waving a Tongan flag
at this small way that we are connected
and in my dream
Pita Turei is not comparing me to Captain Cook
for doing this, but he’s down there on the atea
saying ‘haere mai’ Jacinda,
and he looks so beautiful,
with his feathers in his hair.

And in my dream, at this very moment
he turns into a bird
and then he is joined by an army of kahu
from Okahu Bay
a whole field full of black hawks
with surveyors pegs in their beaks
and a burning papa kainga in their eyes.
And yeah, maybe, a park for all New Zealanders
is not enough, although it was gifted generously after the occupation of Bastion Point.
And there are overlapping interests here
not just the fact that blood joins
in so many mokopuna,
but cos the kaupapa of Tino Rangatiratanga
is an overlapping interest.
And even Paul Majurey says, tautoko.

And then all the maunga are there,
cos Pihanga led the way
and just like Pania
she’s quite the mountain.
It’s Mana Wāhine on display
and there’s the red line up of women
walking in the mud
and I don’t know where Willie, Kelvin and Peeni are
but it’s my dream and I don’t need to know.
Willie is def not doing the fingers at the crowd
behind the glass doors at Parliament, like I saw him do last week.
Just cos men who have had their children taken by the state heckled him.
And to be honest
I’m sure uplift kaupapa is over,
it’s time for uplifting.

And in my dream, all the boots on those women
are now thigh high and they are all wearing
ei katu of red flowers
made by my friend Ta’i,
cos it’s Cook Islands language week
and cos every woman looks more beautiful in an ei. Everyone.
And they are saying Kia Ora, Kia Orana.
And I am looking at Pania, Qiane, Amiria and the cousins.
Rihanna is singing, shining bright, bright like a diamond,
but not a blood diamond.
And Qiane says: “We don’t speak on behalf of Mana Whenua. We are Mana Whenua.”
And there is a sign in the sky,
not a tōhu but a billboard
and it says,
“Aotearoa, New Zealand. This LEADERSHIP is in dispute.”
And there are one hundred thousand likes on Facebook
and laughing, dancing GIFS and
emoji’s with love hearts in their eyes.

And then suddenly it is silent
and in my dream Jacinda stops
and takes off her gumboots
and is barefoot, skin to land,
and tears stream down her face
and she says, I can hear it,
I can feel the whenua singing.

Once you know it,
you cannot unknow it.

We do not hurt the things we love.

And in amidst that magic,
somewhere online
a give-a-little page
has gone viral
and people are buying back
Ihumātao, square metre by square metre,
and the soundtrack is playing Midnight Oil
and the donations pour in
Asians for Tino Rangatiratanga
the Muslim community
the Tongan church congregations
who give more than they can afford
because that’s how we roll
and the amounts are printed online
and even Don Brash donates because,
no he doesn’t, because not even in a dream!
But nobody cares,
because he is old news
and now girls rule the world.
And Jacinda stands up and says
to the international community
This is a win for climate change.
This is a win for indigenous people everywhere.
This is a win for community.
This is a win for New Zealand.
This is a win for Auckland.
This is a win for the whenua.
The soundtrack is playing ”We are the people”
by Louis Baker.
And even Tina Ngata says,
she did better than Helen Clark.
And on TV
beautiful Kanoa Lloyd
rapturous in red
sits there
queen of the prime time universe
and with a smug side-eye at her colleagues
she interviews Joe Blogs
from the heart of Remuera
about why he gave a little
and then he explains
that after coming to the whenua himself
and taking the tour with Pania
and reading about the history
he finally understood
that the people of Ihumātao
had given enough
to make Auckland great.

And it was time to stop taking.

Or living off the back of benefits
Of unjustly taken land.

It was time to give a little back.
He said. Actually, it was time
to give a lot.

And somewhere,
in Tāmaki
all the birds waiting
with surveyor pegs
in their mouths,
both extinct and living,
spat them from the
choke in their throats
and the black hawks
began to sing.

And all the people everywhere,
who can hear the dawn chorus of the dead,
locked in psychatric wards and prisons cells,
began to hum a happier tune
instead of feeling lament.

And somewhere,
Te Whiti, Tōhu, Te Kooti, Rua, Rewi, Tāwhiao,
Eva, Whina, Ngāneko and all the ancestors,
began to sing.
Knowing now,
the tongues of birds.

And us ordinary ones,
without the gifts of sight or sound,
if you listen carefully
you can catch a fragment
of that waiata,
you can hear it
in the refrain of
Rob Ruha’s new song,
and it
sounds like
freedom.

 

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Karlo read this poem last night at Poets for Ihumātao – on the whenua.

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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jess Fiebig’s ‘Summer’

 

Summer 2016

 

that summer was heavy, thick

I felt myself weighted,

struggling to move through air

it was underwater with open eyes

breathless and pressurised

seeing everything through

the blur and sting

of sea water

 

my new breasts were tight and hard in my chest,

and I had to sleep on my back for the first time;

my body was an unfamiliar collection of bones,

brittle as shells, and freshly bleached hair.

 

it was an achingly empty summer,

it was bitten, itchy skin,

damp thighs rubbing on denim,

it was bare chested and freckled,

salt licking new scars

 

it was the season of lemons

softening in the bowl,

damp fur, and fingernails bitter and green

from tearing and linking

daisy stems

 

it was clotted black blood, sprinklers,

strawberries and razorblades,

it was warm, long nights alone

 

it was the summer of the 6 am hate poem,

the first summer the soles of my feet

grew thick and hard

and as I watched shadows stretch

and felt cool wind come off the water,

it was the summer

I fell in love with

myself.

 

Jess Fiebig

 

 

Jess Fiebig is a nationally-recognised poet, educator and performer living in Otautahi/Christchurch, New Zealand. Her writing has featured in journals such as Aotearotica, Catalyst, Landfall, takahē, Turbine, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook and Best New Zealand Poems 2018. Jess was commended in the 2017 and 2018 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competitions and was highly commended in 2019 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. Her poetry explores themes such as madness, sex, love, family violence, friendship, drugs and dislocation. Jess teaches creative writing and is a tutor at the Christchurch School for Young Writers.  Jess’s website.

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Sudha Rao’s ‘Manuhiri’

check layout 22/ 7

 

Manuhiri

(Visitor)

1

Her grandmother told her she was a child of Manu,

manushi, daughter of humanity, blessed

to be a visitor when she crossed the sea.

 

The wooden gate is a threshold with arms outstretched

in protection, the slow wash of green waters rhythm.

Rising notes of another tongue is the wailing of her mother tongue.

 

Her back, a billowing canvas is taking shape –

her grandmother’s tapping, tapping the geo-graphy of her

in colours of the monsoon rain.

 

She is dusk, light with all the distance around her.

She crosses the threshold and offers her grandmother’s verses,

a garland of old earth sounds for the new.

 

 

 

 

2

Blissful waters surround pain washed up over and over again.

She sits among silent voices, bodies twitching to utter

shame for carrying skin, coloured by others.

What’s a brown skinned woman to do

at the gates of a marae? The solidarity of colour

bears differentiation.

He opened to a stance defying rule, he said I am

connected to islands by water, I am connected to you

by colonisation.

The gates opened enough for her to raise her head.

 

 

 

3

Nga Mihi

Korihi Te manu, takiri mai i Te ata 

Ka ao, ka ao, ka awatea

Tihei Mauri ora

Kua tau tenei manu hei manu, hei manuhiri, hei manu hari 

Ko te takahanga waewae, ko te rere o te kupu

Ka tangi te ngakau, he roimata aroha

Ki te manawhenua, no koutou tonu te whenua nei.

He awe ko toku mama, he awe ko toku papa 

Ma te huruhuru te manu ka rere 

Ka rere i te ao, ka rere i te po, ka rere ki toku whenua ake 

Ma Te ahi ka te manu ka ora. 

Tena koutou katoa.

 

4

When the kuia holds her hand, a sacred place ignites.

You are a seed of the old banyan tree swept

from your grandmother’s lap.

Transplanted here, I see birds’ nests, singing insects and shoots bearing the weight

of you. I see strong branches making light of your path –

see how they are dropping roots –

she feels the earth quiver under her feet.

 

5

Across the table, she hears raging clouds roving

to make wave upon wave to become sea overhead. White peaks roughed up on waters

below are screeching

gulls. How can she say that she is a visitor

on a  warm beach with sand beads

sketching a canvas stretched in her head?

 

 

 

6

She is a mirror of herself.

She is not a mirror of herself.

She is a scooped grain of memory,

of a love-song for a life lived

between her worlds.

 

 

 

 

 

1  The mihi for Manuhiri was prepared for me by Matt Gifford. It is made of two parts – the first is Māori proverb, the second part of the speech is an introduction of me to the hosts at the marae. The translation is as follows:

 

Nga Mihi (speech)

Part One – Maori proverb

Korihi Te manu, takiri mai i Te ata

Ka ao, Ka ao, ka awatea

Tihei Mauri ora

The bird sings, the morning has dawned

The day has broken

Ah! There is life.

Part Two – my speech introducing myself Matt references me as bird

Kua tau tenei manu hei manu, hei manuhiri, hei manu hari

Ko te takahanga waewae, ko te rere o te kupu

Ka tangi te ngakau, he roimata aroha

Ki te manawhenua, no koutou tonu te whenua nei.

This manu (bird) has descended as a manu (bird), as a visitor, as a dancing visitor

Through its dancing feet and its flowing words

Its heart cries, the tears of love

For you the home people, this is your land.

He awe ko toku mama, He awe ko toku papa

Ma te huruhuru te manu ka rere

Ka rere i te ao, ka rere i te po, Ka rere ki toku whenua ake

Ma Te ahi ka te manu ka ora.

My mother is a feather, my father is a feather

And it’s by their feathers this manu (bird) takes flight

Taking flight to the day, and flight to the night, From its own home land

Where the home fire burns, and gives this manu (bird) life.

 

 

Originally from South India, Sudha Rao lives in Wellington and has had a long standing involvement with the arts, primarily as a dancer. In 2017, Sudha graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University, Wellington. Since 2012, Sudha’s poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies. These include two editions of Blackmail Press (2012 and 2014); an anthology of New Zealand writing, Sunset at the Estuary (2015) and in the UK anthology Poets’ quest for God (2016);  Landfall, Otago University, Dunedin (2018),and an anthology of migrant voices called More of us published in March 2019. In 2014, one Sudha’s poems was on the Bridport Poetry Competition’s shortlist. Excerpts of her prose work, has appeared in Turbine (2018) which comprised part of her MA thesis Margam and other excerpts were read in two sessions on national radio RNZ (2018). Sudha is part of a collective of Wellington women poets called Meow Gurrrls, who regularly post poems on YouTube

 

 

 

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