Category Archives: NZ poems

Poetry Shelf review: AUP New Poets 6

 

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AUP New Poets 6 Ben Kemp, Vanessa Crofskey, Chris Stewart, edited and introduced by Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press, 2020

 

 

 

Salt my song …

I have to love you,

and this farmland upon which I live.

I evolve here.

 

One day I will journey to the sea,

become that river and dissolve into the essence of I.

 

Ben Kemp from ‘The Esssence of I’

 

 

The Auckland University Press series devoted to new poets was launched in 1999 and featured the work of Anna Jackson, Sarah Quigley and Raewyn Alexander. Each volume features three poets, a number of whom have since published highly regarded collections of their own (for example Chris Tse, Sonya Yelich, Reihana Robinson). Anna Jackson took over as editor with AUP New Poets 5 (Carolyn DeCarlo, Rebecca Hawkes and Sophie van Waardenberg).

Volume 7 will be out in August, but first I want to mark the arrival of AUP New Poets 6: Ben Kemp, Vanessa Crofskey, Chris Stewart. The collection was launched on Poetry Shelf during lockdown, level four, with a series of readings, poems and interviews. This was a challenging time for new books when many of us felt tilted as readers and writers, and our major contact with the world was via our screens. The events and mahi that did occur during this time is pretty special. There were opportunities to hear people read and talk about things beyond our local venues. Getting to hear the three poets read at the online launch expanded tha audience, and am keen to make online readings an ongoing feature on Poetry Shelf.

 

However we are now at level one, the sun is shining after endless rain and thunder, the political point scoring is on mute, I am listening to opera divas in my earpiece, the bread is cooling, and I can return to the collection with more focus. For me, reading during level four was like collecting gleams and shards. This word stuck, that phrase, this image. I had the attention span of a gnat. Now I am luxuriating in the way a sequence of poem unfolds, the way it takes you surprise and transports heart and mind. Still at a snail’s pace.

AUP New Poets 6 includes three very different poets – delivers three different reading impacts. Truth is such a dubious word, unstable, hard to pin down, we all know that, but truth seems to matter so very much in a world threatened by liars, catastrophe. I love the way the poetry moves into the truth of their experiences, thoughts, admissions. To be reading at such a human and humane level is significant. I want this complexity of comfort and challenge. Of how being human is neither formulaic nor flippant. This poetry is witty, vulnerable, challenging, complicated …. yes!

Anna Jackson’s lithe introduction (which I read after reading the poems as is my habit) confirms her role as an astute and surefooted editor of this series, with her fine eye for poetry that holds and satisfies attention regardless of the world that bombards.

 

Chris Stewart’s sequence, ‘Gravity’, navigates the miraculous within everyday settings. He faces big subjects such as birth, death and love, and rejuvenates them to the point your skin pricks as you read. He embeds the physical in order to evoke the intangible, the hard to say. There is darkness and there is light.

The title poem is a gem (well they all are!) as it stencils birth on the white page:

 

I hear nostalgia for the womb

the way light misses the hearts of stars

we glove the light in our skin

find sleep in solar wind

wrap ourselves in the gravity

of your arrival

 

from ‘gravity’

 

The agile syntax (‘we glove the light’) signals a heightened state, the sense of miracle, the wonder. I am hard pressed to think of a poet who has evoked birth, fatherhood, parenthood, so beautifully. I am reminded of Emma Neale’s power to deliver wonder and awe in a poem. Turn over the page, and again there is a shift between light and dark, a sense of awe:

 

the first time we bathed

our daughter in the lounge

it was dark except for the fireplace

she lay between us and flickered

 

from ’embers’

 

This is poetry at its rejuvenating best. There is rawness to the point of wound, such as in the poem, ‘a tooth emerges’. The father is wakened by a teething baby at night. The poem spins on the page, a spinning vignette of fatherhood, sharp, on edge, knowing. Here are the final verses:

 

now I am sore tooth pulled

from a soft bed

 

my swollen nerves erupt

you only see my crown

 

but my roots are still

embedded in the bone

 

Ah. Every poem in this sequence hits the right potent note. One poem links the health of the newborn to the health of a genealogy of grandmothers. Yes, family is the glue that holds the sequence together, along with the poet’s astute and probing gaze into experience. A couple of poems near the end situate the poet as son, and the ominous mother father portraits hold out dark hints. There are holes in the telling, dust-like veils, and startling images. These poems are why I keep reading poetry, and why I very much hope Chris has a book in the pipeline.

 

Vanessa Crofskey’s poetry was already familiar to me but her sequence, ‘ Shopping List of Small Violences’ widens my appreciation of where and how her poetry roams. She braids the personal and the political as she moves into the truths of her experience. As she does so, writing poetry is testing and playing with form, discovering form. I am reminded of how language shapes us as much as we shape the languages we use. It comes down to our mother tongue, to languages that are imposed, expectations on how we use language, and our own private relationships with how we speak ourselves. How we might stutter or provoke or soothe or struggle with words.

Just as with Chris’s sequence, the poet produces poems that matter greatly, that broadcast self along myriad airwaves. There is political edge and personal vulnerability. One poem fills a passenger arrival card, another completes a time sheet. There are white-out poems and black-out poems, shopping lists, and graphs. As she navigates form, she navigates being comfortable in her own skin.

The poem ‘dumplings are fake’ sits on the page with verses and measured space, moves with a conversational flow and that characteristic probe into self. There is wit at work, but it is also serious – reading poetry becomes a way of listening.

 

i’m so authentic i use chopsticks to eat macaroni

watch  hentai on my huawei

and go to ponsonby central to eat chinese

 

i don’t carry hot sauce in my bag but i do bring soy to the party

my favourite movie of all time is studio ghibli

and my dad is the white side of the family

 

every time auckland council says ‘diversity targets’, my phone vibrates

i get suggested ads for the national party in chinese

and that think piece on bubble tea is a redirect to my

dot com slash about me

 

Again I am very much hoping there is a book in the pipeline.

 

Ben Kemp’s The Monks Who Tend the Garden with Tiny Scissors’ also assembles poetry as a way of listening. Ben currently lives in New Guinea with his diplomatic wife and three children. He was born in Gisborne, has Rongowhakaata roots, grew up in Manutuke and Matawhero, lived in Australia for six years and ten in Japan. For me his poems are deeply attached to home, to a way of grounding place, of establishing anchors. Of being home when home is mobile. The sequence establishes a series of bridges between Japan and Aotearoa. He carries Aotearoa into every poem, regardless of the setting, while his experience in Japan also deeply permeates his point of view. The poetry welcomes both here and there.

Ben’s poetry is alive with physical detail, sometimes ornate, sometimes shimmering with the deceptive simplicity reminiscent of haiku or tanka. From ‘Food to Song’:

 

Rekamaroa,

a bed of hot riverstones,

under the earthern blanket,

steam rises, the buttery smell of pork belly.

 

Perhaps the most  gripping poem is the longer ‘The Essence of I’, an ode to Walt Whitman. Reading this, I am hoping there is a book in the making.  I find the poem deliciously quiet, slow paced, speaking of homeplace and ancestors, oceans and rivers. Astonishing. There is love and there are longings. I keep reading Ben’s poems and adjusting what I think poetry is and what it might be. Poetry, for example, is a way of becoming. And listening. And building bridges. ‘The Essence of I’ signals a way of becoming.

 

Underground are the ancestors lined up in single file,

feathers in their hair, with paintbrushes for fingers and flutes for mouths.

In the darkness that is their light they are whole,

yet the line they form is for me,

carrying the burden of my impatience, they vent it.

I often pierce my hands through the earth, arms dug deep,

softer in the tractor tracks, we tough hands.

The movements in hand, saying we love each other …

 

The northeastern tip is the desert,

I hitched a ride on that wind-blowing orchestra,

and I found a well,

my consciousness, and perfect white sunlight on a vast bed of sand …

The well was filled with embers, breathing smoke,

I sat for days contemplating its meaning to me,

these loose and odd snippets.

Why burn? Why burn?

 

AUP NEW Poets 6 is a glorious read. Exactly what I want to be reading now. I am hungry for poetry that offers facets of humanity, of humaneness. The anthology brings together  voices speaking in multiple poetic forms, across multiple subjects, in shifting tones and hues. Glorious, simply glorious.

 

 

AUP NEW Poets 6 launch: listen to the poets read here

Auckland University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Wanting to believe in the butterfly effect’

 

Wanting to believe in the butterfly effect

 

I collect a box of groceries from cold storage,

take it to the drop-in centre, break open bread rolls

 

fill them with salad, cheese, mayonnaise; leave goofy notes

about extra cucumber for beauty treatment, or vegans,

 

in the hope that giving migrates invisible currents

to distant continents, pollinates oil barons’ and despots’ hearts —

 

They feel their hearts!

 

Yet our children watch polar ice-caps collapse on TV;

learn to say sixth mass extinction with furious fluency,

 

choose to walk to school all weathers, forego meat and dairy food,

their eyes the soot of burnt-out stumps.

 

Other days, they kneel with us, postures half hopeful, half bereft,

to press electric-white seedling roots, skinny wires

 

into the rich, dark sockets of a field’s edge, to try to light

cool lamps of leaves, to banish the creeping dread

 

that even planting trees might be as impotent

as fingers kissed to magpies, green forbidden on first-time brides.

 

Our young sons help us squash the sluggy pearls of grass grubs

that would eat the seedlings in their new-born cribs

 

but as the news reports that fresh forest fires blacken

the planet’s treasure map, one boy asks, in a toneless blank,

 

‘Why do people even have children?’

The other hugs me, his body’s slim shuttle

 

shaken with the gravity of the mind’s strain.

‘You shouldn’t have had us, Mum.’

 

But we had you because we loved the world.

 

Stern young faces gavel-blunt, their twinned silences

sentence me as yet another militant of double-speak:

 

In order to show our love for the planet,

we wanted children who could grieve for it.

 

Emma Neale

 

 

Emma Neale is the author of six novels and six collections of poetry, the most recent of which is To the Occupant (OUP, 2019). She works as a freelance editor in Otepoti/Dunedin, where she also occasionally teaches creative writing. This year she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award, a prize given biennially for a distinguished contribution to New Zealand poetry. She is the current editor of Landfall.

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: Janet Newman’s ‘My daughter returns’

 

My daughter returns

 

I meet her in a hotel carpark

separated by traffic cones,

call an austere hello

across a conveyance of air

where anything transmittable

falls to the ground,

resist the urge

to sink to my knees

with the want to hug and hold

one who is afterall a measure of me,

let her go quietly

to the quarantined room,

make the lonesome drive

down the unlit road

where the only ease

is the silky moon

settling a lightness

on the surrounding sky

above the island rising

mountainous from the sea

hugging in comfort

what looks to me

like the broad shoulder

of the horizon.

 

Janet Newman

 

 

Janet Newman is based in Horowhenua. She has a PhD in creative writing from Massey University for her thesis entitled: “Imagining Ecologies: Traditions of Ecopoetry in Aotearoa New Zealand.” Her poetry collection Unseasoned Campaigner was a runner up in the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Award and will be published by Otago University Press next year. She was the winner of the 2017 IWW Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems, the 2015 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition, and the 2014 and 2016 Journal of New Zealand Literature Prize for New Zealand Literary Studies.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf poets on their poems: Vaughan Rapatahana reads and responds to ‘tahi kupu anake’

 

 

 

 

Vaughan Rapatahana, Te Ātiawa, commutes between Aotearoa, Hong Kong SAR and the Philippines. He writes in multiple genres (chiefly poetry, criticism and commentaries) in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English. He graduated with a PhD (on Colin Wilson) from the University of Auckland, and has published several poetry collections both here and overseas. Atonement was nominated for a Philippines National Book Award in 2016 and he won the Proverse Poetry Prize the same year. He edited Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato poetry (2019).

Vaughan is a terrific champion of poetry in Aotearoa – he shines a light on poets that deserve far more attention than they currently get, particularly in his articles posted at Jacket2. He has also edited multicultural books of poetry with poetry exercises for secondary schools (Poetry in Multicultural Oceania – Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3, and the most recent teaching resource Exploring Multicultural Poetry 2020). He is a much admired poet in his own right.

 

My review of Vaughan’s latest collection, ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes,  Cyberwit 2019

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Michele Amas’s Walking Home

 

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Michele Amas Walking Home Victoria University Press 2020

 

 

Hold your own hand

Not the idea of it

or the theory of it

Hold your own hand

with your own hand

Hold it

See how confident

how knowing it feels

how held it feels

It will cross the road

with you

It will be your older brother

sister it will be your parent your lover

It says I’ve got you

relax now

 

from ‘Walking Home’

 

 

Michele Amas (1961 – 2016) was a poet and actor. In 2005 she completed an MA in Creative Writing at IIML and was awarded the Adam Prize. Her debut collection After the Dance appeared the following year and was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award. Ken Duncum has edited a posthumous collection, Walking Home selecting poems from across the decade, including the final poem she wrote. In his introduction he writes:

Michele jotted down fragments, phrases, verses, anywhere and everywhere – it was how she did her thinking and feeling about things, herself, the world – and this effort to feel and understand was never more pressing than in the last two years of her life. Most of the poems in this book were written without thought of publication, but those in the last sequence, ‘Walking Home’, are particularly like bulletins from Michele’s soul, naked, without artistic pretence, reminder notes to live (in all senses of the word).

There is something immensely appealing about writing for the sake of writing, without publication or public attention, just as there is something enormously moving when a writer faces their own mortality. We approach the need to be published and to garner attention in so many different ways. Our relationship to writing, when faced with life-threatening illness, is unpredictable. I am deeply curious about writing as a way of warding off death, as a way of achieving equilibrium, and making connections in the most difficult circumstances. I found the final collections of Sarah Broom and Rachel Bush deeply gripping because they created poetry, at the edge of death, that is  luminescent with life. I am equally moved by Walking Home.

Reading Michele’s collection reminds me that reviewing can be so much more than a recap that reduces the magic of an unfolding book or critical judgement in terms of both success and failure. I am interested in the effect a book has upon me as reader, upon how it makes me think and feel, on how it affects relationships with the past and the present, with both the world at large and more intimate settings, with my private circumstances. The capability of poetry is vast. Yet what happens when we are reading work that the author never really intended for the public domain? In my extensive research for Wild Honey, I so often came across women who wrote for the sake of creating, and were disinclined to name it poetry / poems. I feel close to these issues, and agonise over what to put in a review of this book. I take this book personally. I write reviews as a form of intimate engagement with what I read.

The opening poem ‘The Documentary’ resonates sweetly with gaps and loops. It is both rich and economical, and the perfect entrance into a collection of such exquisite layering. The  poem becomes talisman.

 

A grandson takes a stone

from a southern Pacific coast

carries it in his wallet

across the world

to place on a grave

 

Poetry is also something we might carry. Here I am at the start of the book, brimming with both sadness and delight. We might carry the poem and the stone as solace, as keepsake, to mark the graves of those we lose, to hold when we are close to death. This feels like the hardest review I have ever written, and so yes, I will call it an engagement. The mark of a poem that catches is when you keep reading it over and over (like when you play an album or song over and over as only that will do). I keep playing this poem over and over, marveling at the scene. Here is the end of the poem:

 

Hear our chorus

our bony percussion

our grandson, our grandson’s sons

hear us claim our future

and our escape

Do not be caught unarmed

bring your film, your press, your theatre

your manuscript, your piano, your pencils

bring your keepsake gift, your promise

bring your stone

 

And so through the gate, into a collection that offers vignettes of prismatic life, from the way it is not easy to be happy to the story of an actress whose baby is taken because the courts decide an actress is less stable.  Perhaps by choosing to write for the sake of writing as opposed to the sake of publishing, you can eyeball dark and light without filter or expectation. Writing as a form of liberation.  ‘This Is About You – Isn’t It?’ is a poem of deliberate mishearings and imaginings, and accruing feeling.

 

He’d build things for you

like lakes

for your swans.

 

I wanted you to be married

so that I could be married –

I guess it’s as simple as that.

 

Many poems in Walking Home are written out of the flaws and complexities of living and loving as mother and lover. I adore the three ‘Tender Years’ poems, where mother addresses daughter, and exposes hurts, dislikes, yearnings, wisdom, epiphanies, experience. Poems cut through just diverse and distinctive experiences, often changing key memorably. Hanging out the everyday washing in ‘Separate Lines’, the two neighbours don’t discuss war or religion, but the poem takes us beyond ‘safe ground’:

 

Tonight at six we watch the war

think of the washing out

of mud, of blood, both sides

will dress from a laundry pile

a fence between them

two separate lines

 

Ah. I just want you to read this book. This multi-toned glorious book with every note pitch perfect, with roving subject matter and delving points of view. I have thunder and storm outside as I read, and a threatened national border, toxic political point scoring, and I am reading poems that fill me with joy and melancholy, and then more joy. Mostly joy. Transcendental. Transporting. I once read a review of Sarah Broom’s final collection Gleam that incensed me to the moon and back because the reviewer suggested the book’s relationship with near death would always affect the reader, and that was far more potent than the poems themselves. The reviewer had missed or eclipsed the exquisite poetic effects. Walking Home offers a equally breathtaking reading experience.

I get to the last poem, ‘Walking Home’, and this is broadcast from serious illness, drawing us to the way illness ripples out to affect those close by, to the way the poet learns to hold her own hand. The poet confesses she reads a poem backwards, but the poem is long, which means things are topsy turvey with answers arriving before questions, and admits she wants ‘to read this disease backwards’. The unease, the uncertainty is there in the fragments: the what to do and how to be, the entreaty to her daughter, the fear, the ‘age’ disappearing at arm’s length, the pain and lack of appetite, the writing, the writing of pieces that may or may not be called poetry, in the eye of the poet. What matters is the love of writing in these gleaming self exposures (to borrow Sarah’s title), and now, as I hold this book close in the storm, the love of reading matters. I adore this poem so much.

 

The idea being

we walk each other home

 

so let me

 

The idea being

there’s no physical address

it’s a concept, right

 

so let me

 

 

This is an astonishing book. Quiet, raw, physical, getting deep into the truth of things. Astonishing. I take this book personally and I will carry the poems with me and I am utterly grateful Ken Duncum and Victoria University Press have risked its publication.

 

Victoria University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Chris Tse’s ‘Ghost poem #3—The other side of the glass’

 

Ghost poem #3—The other side of the glass

 

I was working a sausage sizzle fundraiser

on the day George Michael died. His ghost

sat with me in my car while I scrolled through

social media exploding with grief and links

to his greatest hits. George took my hand

and told me not to cry before asking why I

smelt of burning flesh. Are we in hell? he asked.

Lower Hutt, I replied. My sunburnt neck

pulsed with residual heat or perhaps it was

the spark of a memory of watching him

perform at Sydney Mardi Gras in 2010 flanked

by shirtless cowboys, leather daddies and

policemen in latex pants. I think about it

all the time. Every now and then I crave to

feel that night again, slick trepidation running

down my spine every time I locked eyes with

another guy, hoping my smile would be returned

favourably. A certain beat can unlock the body

heat of that glittering night and all the other nights

of careless yearning since then tumbling

from limb-crushing dancefloor into the crisp

3AM air with his voice still ringing in my ears:

You’ve got to go to the city.

You’ve got to reach the other side of the glass.

Some of us are neither sunburst nor shade

but a symptom of formative summers caught

somewhere in between like hands pressed against

the edge of the rest of our lives. The glass was

my own making and all my future wonders were

one swift and decisive thought away. I wrote all

my desires in my breath for anyone to read them.

 

Chris Tse

 

 

Chris Tse is the author ofHow to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC. He is co-editing an anthology of LGBTQIA+/Takatāpui New Zealand writers due to be published by Auckland University Press in 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: Ruby Solly premiers a video for her new album Pōneke and a wānanga with essa may ranapiri

 

Today we have a poetry and music video premier from Ruby Solly with film created by Sebastian Lowe and Viktor Baskin, as well as a wānanga around toi kupu, music, and writing into place between Ruby Solly and essa may ranapiri.

 

The video can be watched here:

 

 

 

Pōneke can be streamed and purchased here

 

essa may ranapiri Kia ora Ruby

I’ve been reading your poetry forever (since before I even knew you) and have been so privileged to hear you play and sing in public, and these songs on Pōneke are just giving me so much life recently! Just stilling those anxious jitters I’ve been struck with after the end of lockdown. It feels so of the outside as well. To me the songs create this river where you dip in and out of such a strength of emotion, I go from chilling and vibing to crying and humming along; face wet! It feels like something I’ve been needing for a long time. And there also poems that go with each one!

Before I ask you anything about the album could you talk a bit about how you got to where you are, your whakapapa and journey here to this time/place?

 

Ruby Solly Kia ora Essa!

Kā mihi nui for opening this wānanga space. I was a reader of yours before we met too! I love how we get to be woven together in this way, it’s very special to me. I really like the idea of these pieces forming a river as when I was recording them, I looked at a lot of old river routes from pre-colonial times. I like to think of the water under the concrete and how it can be heard in these pieces. After I finished the album I was actually gifted some of the original river stones from the Te Puni Stream which runs under my street, which joins up to the Waimapihi which features on the album. Was a perfect taonga to be given to mark being able to bring those songs and sounds out into the world again.

I whakapapa to Kai Tahu and Waitaha on my taha Māori, but I also have Jewish, Irish, Scottish and English whakapapa within me. I whakapapa back to Waihao as my tino marae in Te Wai Pounamu, from the Rōpa whānau. I was really lucky to grow up on the foot of Mount Ruapehu where I learnt koauau from my primary school teacher, Maria Kuppa, which was my first time meeting ngā taonga puoro. I started playing cello when I was about seven when we lived in Taupo, which also features on the album.  I started playing taonga puoro again at university under the korowai aroha of mentors such as Al Fraser, Ariana Tikao, and Rob Thorne. I’ve lived in Pōneke for seven years and over that time have been lucky to receive teachings on our whakapapa here from Kai Tahu kaumātua, as well as learn from locals and historical records about this place and how my histories are placed within it.

 

essa Sounds like the album is such a culmination of things for you, everything is of course, but it’s cool to pay attention to the whakapapa of our mahi so thank you for sharing that e hoa.

So the songs are lyricless but you wrote these little pieces of toikupu to go with the waiata (which i love!) it really gives context to the music but they work so well as pieces of music themselves. They are full of stories from around the region, what was something (or some things) you learnt that really stuck out to you and why?

 

Ruby Completely, I think with me when I get an idea it’s not necessarily a poetry idea or a music idea or an art idea; it’s just an idea in and of its self and I get to grow it into whatever direction I choose depending on how I treat it and feed it.

I did! It was hilarious because I wrote these very dry factual explanations of each track and then showed one of my cousins who pointed out how academic and dry they were. I’d just finished my masters so I was in this very academic Pākehā writing frame of mind and it reminded me to break out of that. I thought about how so much of our histories have been given to us and passed down through toikupu and song, and that maybe this work is adding to that tradition. I wrote all the poems in one big day during lockdown, but I had all the info in my head from the descriptions I’d written previously which took a lot longer. That’s often how I work as a writer anyway with a research and thinking phase taking up a lot of time and the actual writing just coming in at the end, I call it the internal blackboard a lot to explain it. The original descriptions can still be seen on the bandcamp page though in case that style suits people better.

I think the things that stuck with me the most were the places that I could whakapapa too, which says a lot about representation within arts and the importance of it. Pieces like the two Karaka poems / songs, and the ones with tohu from ōku mātua tūpuna like Koukou are so special to me. Something I love about taonga puoro is the presences that show up for you when you play, and learning to not only read those tohu but play with them.

I thought about you for this wānanga because one, I love your work, and two, because I’ve heard you read some hōhonu, beautiful pieces about place and your connection or disconnection with it. I love the way you unpack these things like taking things out of a messily packed suitcase, then show us everything inside then pack it neatly so we can see the whakapapa behind these feelings. It really inspires me as a writer and an artist. For you personally, how does writing about place affect you as a Māori writer?

 

essa I just want to speak to something you were saying at the top there before answering your question. It’s so true that the lines between forms are colonial constructions and it makes so much sense for me for this art to take on many forms, I often have paintings and poems and songs that speak to similar things like a little family work. I don’t know I just think that smooshing of form is really cool!

Writing about place is everything really, it hurts a lot, it challenges me, it makes me feel everything I lack, but also it’s everything we are and will be and have been. Because it’s all about place right? The whole state of things is due to where we are placed, where we are displaced. I wrote a poem about my marae, a place I have only passed on the highway or “visited” via the google maps and the work really does summon something, like just putting words into the world establishes some tenuous connection point. Like a little gift from my ancestors. But also I do worry I fetishize that disconnect sometimes, make my life about the things I don’t have rather the opportunities and connections that I can make. It’s also funny as well because growing up I feel like a lot of things teach you that place doesn’t matter like all the names of the streets are some dead colonizers from Britain and the shows on TV are American, none of us present on the box. It has really been a learning experience for me over the last ten or so years finding place or even coming to see it.

And that is another thing about Pōneke that I really love is how it seems to cuts through that noise – that hypermarketed, hyper commercialised, there is always an ad waiting noise, especially with the melodies that keep returning and returning (we see that spiral again) and the all that incidental sound of place itself. And also it’s so layered, taonga puoro, instruments, found sounds, voice, and bird’s song. Would you be able to talk a little bit about the recording process?

 

Ruby Yes! The idea of art, or just expression in general being placed into different categories is really colonial when you boil it down. Being able to communicate across mediums and languages is a strength we have inherited from our ancestors that we continue to build upon.

I feel that sense of being challenged. Place is so… present in te ao Māori, we’re asked where we’re from before we’re asked who we are which is both a beautiful thing, and a very complicated thing for those of us who have not been privileged to have that relationship with turangawaewae cultivated in the physical sense. Writing into a place is a very Māori way of creating I think, and yes, it hurts to do it and to move through it. But it definitely gave me a deeper sense of understanding and helped me work through the kind of fetishizing that can happen with any diaspora. I’ve heard it referred to as “competitive pain” within our Jewish diaspora, and I really wanted to be able to choose how I presented that pain and how I wove it with all the other emotions that come with it, the full spectrum of it.

Thank you! When I create complete works like a book, or album, or a large piece without a major prompt I like to try and have it so even if no one was ever to see it but me (and my descendants possibly); we would still grow and learn from it. Then I decide whether I want that to be shared wider. I think in many ways that can cut out the subconscious desire to make something to fit the norm or to serve others, which in many ways serves people who don’t always have their needs met in media usually.

For the recording process I recorded taonga puoro within the different environments, responding to them in real time. Then I layered up cello at home afterwards to support the taonga puoro. Some tracks have some extra layers of sounds from the places when I wanted to really tune in to particular sounds like the gulls on Matiu-Somes island for example (they were also dive bombing me so I had to have a few goes). The whole thing was actually recorded on an iPhone four which I haven’t told anyone until now because I was super whakamā about it! But I learnt a lot about recording and took principles from how jazz bands recorded around one singular microphone in the 1920s with things being placed different distances from the mic. The mixing really added to the sound too which was done by Al Fraser.

 

essa I have listened to a lot of pro stuff recorded on phones there is a lot of life in those kinds of set ups I think! There is even a strange ideology I think behind those pristine soundproofed spaces set aside for recording, it benefits the subject matter so much for the recordings to done in the spaces they’re responding to!  The mix is awesome, brings it all together so well, Al did a great job!

Some final questions, what would you want people to take from this record if just one thing?

Also you have a book of poetry coming out next year do you feel there is an overlap between that work and this?

 

Ruby Completely! It’s given so many people so many more options! I think as well it can be used as a tool to remove the ’sacred room’ element of recording where we try to eliminate all noise in a studio, and through that it can bring the environment back into the music as a contributor. I think acknowledging the space you’re in and all that brings is a big part of te ao Māori and it feels really good to be able to look at recording in that way as a method of decolonizing the recording process. Al is awesome! We both had finishing off the album and all its components as a sort of lockdown project, and it was so good to have someone who really understood the work and how I’ve developed as a player and a person through it.

I think if I could pick one thing for people to take away… it would be an increased ability to listen to and feel histories in places, with more of a sense of presence. To show people that idea that the repercussions of the past are still here, and we kind of get to look back at them in a way where we see the good and the bad all mixing together, and we get to decide where we go with that information. I’ve had lots of conversations with friends and whānau recently about matakite and te ao wairua, and I think my path into that world is being able to hear places and their histories. It’s deep work to be able to share that and I feel grateful to be walking on that path.

I do! I think for me there again is that creative process where there is a seed of an idea or an experience, and I get to choose what I feed it with and how I grow it. With the book, I started writing it long before I realised. So many of my pieces were about growing up on mount Ruapehu and Turangi, or my family histories and relationships, and then I just saw this thread with my connections to Kai Tahu and all these other people and places through my Dad and that was what was growing as the book. I’m excited for people to read the book because it does that same thing I think, it acknowledges that there is the good and the bad and all of it is our history and has lead to us. There’s a real narrative of me starting to see and hear that through my childhood and figuring out how I choose to live with it. I’m super fascinated too with the parts of our culture we don’t always acknowledge. Things like how we raise children, or the things we value, or the way we structure our speech. I think those things are often the parts that colonisation struggled to remove, and through them that’s often how we find and reclaim our ways of being and so much of our matauranga. Dad used to get me to swim down this river every summer, while everyone else had boats and life jackets, because he wanted me to be a strong swimmer because it was a survival skill for us and our environment. Little pieces like that are often misunderstood, but can be great gifts. I’ve saved myself from drowning many times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf poets on own Johanna Emeney reads and discusses ‘Night Nurses’

Each week Poetry Shelf invites a poet to read and discuss a poem of their own that has mattered to them.

 

 

 

Johanna Emeney reads ‘Night Nurses’ from Family History Mākaro Press 2017

 

 

Johanna Emeney’s two collections of poetry are Apple & Tree (Cape Catley, 2011) and Family History (Mākaro Press, 2017). Her nonfiction work focuses on medicine and poetry: The Rise of Autobiographical Medical Poetry and The Medical Humanities (Ibidem, 2018) “Disability in Contemporary Poetry” in Routledge’s Companion to Literature and Disability (2020). She was 2020’s editor of Poetry New Zealand, and judge of the Open section of the New Zealand Poetry Society’s annual competition. Jo has a background in English Literature, Japanese and Education—subjects which she read at Pembroke College, Cambridge. She is a senior tutor at Massey University, Auckland.

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Vaughan Rapatahana’s ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes

 

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Vaughan Rapatahana   ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes  Cyberwit 2019

 

Vaughan Rapatahana, Te Ātiawa, commutes between Aotearoa, Hong Kong SAR and the Philippines. He writes in multiple genres (chiefly poetry, criticism and commentaries) in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English. He graduated with a PhD (on Colin Wilson) from the University of Auckland, and has published several poetry collections both here and overseas. Atonement was nominated for a Philippines National Book Award in 2016 and he won the Proverse Poetry Prize the same year. He edited Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato poetry (2019).

Vaughan is a terrific champion of poetry in Aotearoa – he shines a light on poets that deserve far more attention than they currently get, particularly in his articles posted at Jacket2. He has also edited multicultural books of poetry with poetry exercises for secondary schools (Poetry in Multicultural Oceania – Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3, and the most recent teaching resource Exploring Multicultural Poetry 2020). He is a much admired poet in his own right.

 

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from ‘te araroa foreshore, mid-winter’

 

 

Vaughan’s latest collection ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes appeared in 2019. It is a sequence of six parts that go deep into human experience, draw upon multiple languages and exhilarating linguistic effects. You will move with the sky, rain, trees, from home to home, from the Christchurch attacks to collecting driftwood, to a Waitangi dawn. I am hard pressed to find a local poet as linguistically agile and testing, perhaps Michele Leggott, although in a very different way. The aural intricacy, with its infusion of te reo and English, is like entering poetry cascades, poetic thickets, where you start with sound and are then delivered to radiant cores of experience, anxiety, ideas, feelings, observations, memory.

 

In ‘alien poet’ the speaker admits:

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The poet is linguistically on the move. Lines are kinetic: words fade, elongate, go bold, change font or size, jam against a wall of white space, cram together, relish the the pause, the silent beat, the jumpcut. The movement affects the ear and the eye, and it feeds into the poet’s admission he is so far outside the spectrum as he writes in English. The movement also links to both heart and mind, because these poems, deeply knotted and deftly crafted, present fracture alongside connectivity, jarring alongside assonance.

Vaughan is writing with his tongue in multiple worlds – we are who we speak – we are how we speak – we are, we speak. At times, the lexicon is difficult, unfamiliar words gleam on the line. It reminds me that any language can appear brittle on the tongue, with meaning stonewalled, and with vital little keyholes. But also that poetry, as this collection shows, can adopt the honeyed fluency of conversation.

 

The collection begins with the section ‘ngā wāhi/places’, the ground to stand upon, to return to, to step off from. The first poem ‘Waitangi, 2017’ transports us to a particular occasion where we hear the karanga, the karakia, where noses press in hongi. The aural movement resonates. The words tough, soft consonants, hard consonants (‘that scurfy scrub’). The poem itself is the ‘cascade escalier’. I grew up in Northland, and have had many visits to Waitangi, and always find it is a place you feel. I feel Vaughan’s poem.

 

the karanga guitar solo

sustained ethereal,

is a cascade escalier

we strive to scale

in our unkempt scansion.

 

The second section ‘ngā whanaungatanga/relationships’ is also an occasion to feel poetry. The poet moves in close to a violent father who drank, the love of his Filipino wife, grief at the death of his son, his daughter distanced in Australia. He is tracking the cycle of birth and death, and the bridges of living. The poems exude heat, strong feelings, vulnerability, pain grief love. At a time when our world feels so wobbly and uncertain, scary even, it matters to be able to read these poems, to feel these poems, where the poet is exposing his relations, wobbly and steady, with those closest to him. Intimate. Exposed.

 

let me  r e c l i n e  by  the fire

that is your heart,

insulated from

the squalling of

those squalorous hovels,

which

you never permit

to ruin,

your

magnific

haven.

from ‘inhabit’

 

What I love about this book is that it is demanding and prickly, yet utterly welcoming to me as reader, in fact to me as human being. A kaleidoscopic glorious trajectory of life and living that is scrutinised. What does it mean to be a father, an Asian father? To call several places home? To live in Aotearoa ‘with our increasingly multi-cultural crew’? He asks whether it is ‘time for a new name, stressing our interconnections?’  His relationship with issues that matter are never monotone but strike sharp and sweet, political and personal. The poem ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ is like a blessing, ‘we are birds singing several different waiata‘. It searches for conjunctions, connections.

 

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Another poem, near the end of the book, in the section ‘ngā toikupu/poetry’, strikes a more strident note. This is a section where the poet grapples with what it is to write poetry (‘sometimes / writing a poem / is like / driving /  a / bus / under  / water’ – the words fall, stretch, flick back on page). It is writing on the edge, on the outside, face to face with ignorance. It is resisting form, going for the barbs, going for the honey, refusing the tropes.

 

I don’t want

(on the occasion of reading for p.e.n)

I don’t want to hear any more prattling lyrics about

verdant trees dancing beneath scudding clouds.

screw that shit.

                                                              kinfolk are being massacred in christchurch.

I don’t want to read any more verbose verse

rambling forever on about a lost love or three.

screw that shit.

                                                              kiribati is sinking steadily into the sea.

I don’t want to see any more pale-pampered poets

clutching a microphone like a baby’s bottle.

screw that shit.

                                                              kids continue to live in cars in winter

 

I do want us all to rage fulsome

& to rant articulate.

to highlight the brave ones,

such as Wang Quanzhang

struck and stuck in RSDL

for the past few years,

scarcely seen since:

& even then as a wan wafer

of his earlier self.

 

while Behranz Boochani

remains remote

on Manus, six years plus

thanks to Australia

& its white-folks-are-us

code.

 

ko te toikupu te waha, te kaha

kia kōrero te tika mō ā tātou ao

āke ake ake

āmene.

 

[poetry is the voice, the force

to speak the truth about our world

forever and ever and ever

amen.]

 

    1. RSDL = Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location. A recent PR China, rather sinister modification of incarceration without trial, often without evidence & certainly without informing the family of the victim.

 

 

The roots of Vaughan’s poems feed on the then, the now, and the what will be. It is a collection to spend time with, to listen to, to look up words in the dictionary, to muse on your own burning experiences, to absorb the weather that smashes, and the wind that calms. You can’t package this book in a neat and tidy review, you can’t leave yourself out of the reading, it feels like a reckoning, it is a book that glows with humanity and, at the moment, that matters more than anything. One person’s poetry, one person’s experience, one person’s views, have the ability to touch so very deeply.

 

Listen to Vaughan read a new poem

Vaughan’s ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’

Vaughan on  Poems from the Edge of Extinction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Airini Beautrais’s ‘Last days’

 

 

Last days

 

In the last days of the supermarket

I walked through the fresh section,

wet-stained bins where there used to be fruit.

 

In the bakery my son said ‘Can we have meringues?’

They looked dubious but I said OK.

The coffee was long gone, the only tea was herbal.

 

I had better leaves at home.

‘Can we have Fanta?’ the kids asked,

‘Yeah ok,’ I replied, no use worrying about teeth.

 

There weren’t many shoppers, and no one re-stacked shelves.

In the frozen aisle all I could hear

was the low growl of the freezer motors

 

and my son saying ‘Ice cream!’

Whaddya know, they still had his favourite.

We could eat it before it melted.

 

No such luck in the wine and beer.

I knew I had a bit of whiskey in the cupboard.

‘Can I have a Turkish?’ my son said

 

in the confectionery section, ‘Yeah, you can

have a Turkish,’ I said, and his eyes lit up.

It was still so good to see that.

 

When the internet went down there was half an hour

of screaming, and I said maybe we’ll try again later,

although I knew that was bullshit. Then the phone

 

network dissolved and we lost touch

with the grandparents.

When the power blackout came I said let’s pretend

 

we’re camping and we got out the gas stove

and made a fort out of blankets.

I made them each a milo.

 

No bath so we went straight to bed

and read Harry Potter seven with a candle

up to where Harry sees the silver doe in the forest.

 

Every time they said one more chapter I said OK.

When the candle burnt out I said snuggle up.

One head on each of my shoulders.

 

‘Tomorrow can we go to the pond?’ asked the eldest.

‘Sure,’ I said. I’d told him fantastical things

in the past, like that there really are fairies

 

inside trees, that willow is a magic wood,

and that crystals can calm us.

The sky seemed thicker than I’d ever seen it,

 

and I didn’t like the noise, or lack of noise maybe,

that hovered behind the car alarms and occasional dog.

I knew the streets were lined with rubbish,

 

I heard the wind breathing in the last leaves.

‘Sleepytime,’ I said, and the boys slowly went quiet.

I missed the cats, the way their feet would press into my back

 

as I lay in bed. My arms were going dead

from the weight of my children’s minds.

I lay there and breathed.

 

Airini Beautrais

 

 

 

Airini Beautrais is a writer and teacher based in Whanganui. She writes poetry, short fiction, essays and criticism. Her work has appeared in a range of journals and anthologies in NZ and elsewhere. Her first book Secret Heart was named Best First Book of Poetry in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2007; it was followed by Western Line (2001), Dear Neil Roberts (2013) and Flow: Whanganui River Poems (2017).