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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

Ora Nui 3 – a symphonic treat of art and writing

 

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Ora Nui is a journal edited by Anton Blank devoted to Māori experimental literature;  writing that pushes the borders of identity as much if not more than it pushes the ‘how’ of writing. The latest issue draws upon issues of identity, nationhood and migration and includes a diversity voice.  Amy Leigh Wicks and Jan Kemp, for example, place European perspectives alongside those of Vaughan Rapatahana, Reihana Robinson, Robert Sullivan, Jacqueline Carter, Apirana Taylor and Marino Blank.

I think Ora Nui takes apart the whole notion of experimental and transforms it; I am thinking of writing that is testing something out, that might be tethered or prompted by experience, that doesn’t necessarily demolish stylistic traditions, and might have productive talks with them. Experimental writing is often aligned with the avantgarde, however this journal refreshes the experimental page. The journal promotes conversation that tests who and how we are and gives space for voices – some with traditions of marginalisation – to speak from the local and converse with the global. Anton Blank writes: This collection is a glorious celebration of diversity and change.

The cover showcases an image from from Lisa Reihana’s astonishing art installation, Pursuit of Venus (she has assured me we will get to see this again in New Zealand). I have propped the journal on a shelf so I can fall back into her mesmerising work. The image is the perfect gateway into writing that navigates questions of identity and belonging from multiple vantage points.

 

What I love about this journal though is the utter feast of voices and sumptuous artworks –  I cannot think of anything that has challenged, inspired or awed me in such diverse and distinctive ways. The poetry is symphonic in its reach and shifting keys. Here is a small sample of some of the poetry treats – I am till reading! I have just flicked to the back and got hooked on the lines of Robert Sullivan’s fruit poem, Reihana Robinson, Apirana Taylor, Briar Wood …. and then still sipping breakfast coffee, back to the dazzling currents of Reihana (especially ‘What is a nation?’).  I just bought a book of Reihana’s poetry – I am so hoping there is more in the pipeline.

 

Jacqueline Carter‘s  poetry often tenders a political edge. The poems included here underline her ability to get you rethinking things. These poems dig deep and resonate on so many levels.

 

‘The paepae

of the city’s children

 

is littered

with waewae tapu

 

people

who haven’t

 

been welcomed  on

 

people

in fact

 

who aren’t welcome at all’

 

from ‘Aotea Square’ (you just have to read the whole poem!!)

 

 

Rangi Faith pays homage to Janet Frame as he imagines the seat she sits in on a train; I have never read a portrait of Janet quite like this, and I love it.

 

‘When I was six years old

& running around the backyard

of our brick house in King Street,

a train steamed across the old airport

between us and the sea

carrying Janet Frame the poet.’

 

from ‘Janet Frame Passes through Saltwater Creek’

 

Rangi moves further south to pull Hone Tuwhare into a luminous rendering of place.

 

‘this place was always good for a waiata

to sing softly, or loudly if you preferred,

andto drum your tokotoko in time

to the incoming tide

on the earth’s Jurassic skin.’

 

from ‘To Hone at Kaka Point Seven Years On’

 

This is my first encounter with Teoti Jardine‘s poetry and I am struck by its clarity, its fluidity, its striking images.

 

.My Great Great Grandmother

wove her korowai with clouds.

and braided bull kelp lines

to hold the tide.’

 

from ‘Kuihi’

 

Kiri Piahana-Wong ‘s lyrical poetry holds the personal close, with both movement and stillness, little pockets of thought. I was drawn to her recounting Hinerangi’s broken heart and death.

 

‘On the day I died

it rained. Not just any rain,

but rain accompanied by

a sapping, brutal wind

from the southwest, the

kind that wrenches doors

from their hinges,

breaks down trees

and fences.’

 

from ‘On the day I died’

 

Two essays really struck a chord with me:

Dr. Carla Houkamau’s  ‘Māori identity and personal perspective’

Paula Morris’s ‘Of All Places: A Polemic on “International Book Prizes”‘

 

This is a substantial journal, a necessary journal, a must-read issue, and I have still so much left to savour. Bravo, Anton Blank for getting  this writing and this artmaking out where we can see it. I wish I could linger and share my engagement with every piece but must get back to writing my big book. I now have some new women to bring into my writing house. Thank you.