Tag Archives: Karlo Mila

Poetry Shelf celebrates the Ockham NZ Book Awards Poetry longlist: Karlo Mila reads from Goddess Muscle

Karlo Mila reads ‘Letter to JC Sturm’, from Goddess Muscle Huia Publishers, 2020

Dr Karlo Mila is a New Zealand-born poet of Tongan and Pākehā descent with ancestral connections to Samoa. She is currently Programme Director of Mana Moana, Leadership New Zealand. This leadership programme is based on her postdoctoral research on harnessing indigenous language and ancestral knowledge from the Pacific to use in contemporary leadership contexts. Karlo received an MNZM in 2019 for services to the Pacific community and as a poet, received a Creative New Zealand Contemporary Pacific Artist Award in 2016, and was selected for a Creative New Zealand Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Residency in Hawaii in 2015.

Goddess Muscle is Karlo’s third book of poetry. Her first, Dream Fish Floating, won NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2006. In 2008, Karlo collaborated with German-born artist Delicia Sampero to produce A Well Written Body. Karlo’s poetry has been published in in many anthologies, in a variety of journals and online. 

Huia Publishers author page

Poetry Shelf review

NZAL review (Lana Lopesi)

@RNZ Karlo talks with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon

Poetry Shelf review: Karlo Mila’s Goddess Muscle

Karlo Mila, Goddess Muscle, Huia Publishers, 2020

 

Paintbrushes in our hands

drafting our dreams,

remembering the chants,

writing the poems,

relearning the language

composing the chants,

cooking the dinners,

carrying the children,

paying the bills,

fighting the fight,

with our tax-paying,

car-driving hands.

 

A collective of artists

narrating a story

we can bear to live in.

Creating an image

of ourselves

we can love

to look at:

 

from ‘Our Generation : ‘Āina Aloha’

 

Karlo Mila’s new poetry book is the most gorgeously produced collection I have held in ages. It feels good. It looks good. It is a pleasing shape. It has abandoned the reigning tradition of black ink upon white page in favour of a wider colour palette for both font and background. Sometimes I have to peer in close to read as though the physical act of reading is as important as cerebral connections and heart boosts. It continues to matter to me as addicted poetry reader at the moment: the effects a poetry collection has upon you as you read and as you move away. How satisfying when poetry uplifts heart and stimulates brain, soothes tired bodies and sets us swaying.

Several artists contributed work for the book and, as the acknowledgement page underlines, these vibrant works are personal: Delicia Samero’s portraits of Karlo, a collaborative mural Aloha ‘Āina and Naomi Maraea’s depiction of Hikule‘o.

I adored the 2021 poetry longlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards having been so affected by the eight books I had read and reviewed. And now I can add a ninth sublime read: Karlo’s Goddess Muscle. The collection ignites every reading muscle: from heart to mind to breathing to memory to pulse. Karlo engages with light and dark, fragility and strength, relationships, family, sisterhoods, writing mentors, life mentors, political issues. Her words meet the line, create the lines like a movement of water, lap lapping in your ear, across your skin, with ebb and tide, the words in debt to water fluency as they flow gentle and honeyed, or hit sands, rocks, obstacles. Such sweet flowing lyrical currents. Always audible, always mesmerising. This is poetic craft at its most agile.

Dark, lovely cowrie-shell eyes,

who’d expect the lies,

unless you flipped that fragile shell over

to the serrated crack

of the backside,

where the sea slugs reside,

that weak pink flesh on the inside.

Everyone’s got a living surprise,

the part that they hide.

 

from ‘The Tale of Hine and Sinilau’

The book begins with a gathering, a gathering of lineage, ancestors, relations. This becomes place, somewhere to write from and to and because of. The gathering involves balance, re-orientation. The gathering (both noun and verb) becomes writing and this is what writing can do.

It is their

soft singing,

cellular love songs,

the chanting lyric of bloodlines,

accompanying you

all the way

through the lonely.

 

from ‘Your People Will Gather Around You: Love After Love’

The ocean is paramount, not just in the water fluency of the lines, but in the recurring motifs and the personal attachment. “Oceania’ is an ocean homage, image, self-defining: ‘I call on the memory of water’.

Karlo acknowledges writers and loved ones who have sustained her, who are the essential oils of writing. She lights a candle for Teresia Teaiwa in ‘For Teresia Teaiwa’. I am moved to tears as I read this loving tribute to poet who affected and inspired so many others.

I will light this candle.

The spendy kind,

cradled in glass,

that burns for days

smelling of coconut and vanilla

and I will say prayers for you

even though my prayers

are like bad poems

and are often wordless.

 

I hope,

at the least,

you will feel the

long-burning

flame of my intent,

warming the space

between us.

The tribute poem to JC Sturm cuts to the bone of reading, sidestepping Baxter and his sickening offences, Karlo taking a road trip to Jerusalem with her own broken heart and her mother, moving under his over-present lines to Jacquie. How I love this poem, this mihi: ‘But moving under all that surface skimming / was you.’ The poem to Hone Tuwhare is pure delight. The sonic torque (can I say that, think sounds spinning on word axes) is sensational.

You boilermaker,

fabricating lyrical weld

from blast furnace

of sun,

slowed,

stopped and

set

on white horizon

of page.

 

from ‘A Conversation with Hone Tuwhare’

Karlo’s love poems have always gripped me and I favoured them in Wild Honey’s ‘Love’ section. This collection faces broken love, longings, touch, loneliness, attachment with shifting intensities, hues, admissions. There is someone at the end of the poem, an addressee, a beloved, a lover lost, a lover found, and Karlo never forgets that. The poems are layered, intimate, deeply personal. I am still held in their grip.

Goddess Muscle is crafted like a symphony, an experience of shifting life seasons and subject matter, so as you read the effects are wide reaching. Karlo faces significant political issues: climate change, the Commonwealth, colonialism, racism, Ihumātao, ‘the daily politics of being a woman, partner and mother’. She faces these global and individual challenges without flinching. The resulting poems are essential reading, never losing touch with song and heart, always insisting in poetic form how we can do better. How we can be a better world, recharge humanity. I would like to see these poems read in secondary school.  You can read ‘Moemoeā: (composed for poets for Ihumātao)’ here.

Goddess Muscle is a gift. I can barely account for how it will stretch your reading muscles, your beating heart, your enquiring mind, your compassion, your music cravings, your empathy. Karlo has extended her own poetic muscle and offered poetry that is wisdom, strength, refreshed humaneness. Thank you. Thank you.

If we were truly to reorient

to life as relatives,

commonwealth

would mean more

than what we might cling to

in the face of a dangerous

and uncertain future.

 

Let us not

use the word ‘commonwealth’

to try and insulate fate

with the soft fur of fine-feathered friends.

 

No,

let us spread our wings

to a much wider vision than that.

It may be the end of the world as we know it

but let us not fear

the remaking of another one.

 

To the young people I say,

there may be no jobs

but there is plenty of work to be done.

 

So let us harness our collective wisdoms:

divers, different and divergent.

Let us create an atmosphere

of kindness and love

for even the air we breathe,

fresh water, trees, people, ocean.

Let us create a dream house,

a great place to raise a family.

 

For therein lies the fate

of an extraordinary family of relatives.

 

Where what we have in common

is all of us.

 

from ‘Poem for the Commonwealth, 2018’

Dr Karlo Mila is a New Zealand-born poet of Tongan and Pākehā descent with ancestral connections to Samoa. She is currently Programme Director of Mana Moana, Leadership New Zealand. This leadership programme is based on her postdoctoral research on harnessing indigenous language and ancestral knowledge from the Pacific to use in contemporary leadership contexts. Karlo received an MNZM in 2019 for services to the Pacific community and as a poet, received a Creative New Zealand Contemporary Pacific Artist Award in 2016, and was selected for a Creative New Zealand Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Residency in Hawaii in 2015.

Goddess Muscle is Karlo’s third book of poetry and has been longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2021. Her first, Dream Fish Floating, won NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2006. In 2008, Karlo collaborated with German-born artist Delicia Sampero to produce A Well Written Body.

Huia Publishers author page

Poetry Shelf – poets on their own poems: Karlo Mila reads ‘For Tamir Rice with Love from Aotearoa’

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Brilliant longlist of Ockam New Zealand Book Awards just announced

Poetry Shelf has reviewed

The Savage Coloniser Book Tuisata Avia, Victoria University Press

Far Flung Rhian Gallagher Auckland University Press

National Anthem National Anthem, Dead Bird Books

Wow Bill Manhire, Victoria University Press

Pins Natalie Morrison, Victoria University Press (an interview)

This is Your Real Name, Elizabeth Morton, Otago University Press

I Am a Human Being Jackson Nieuwland, Compound Press

Magnolia, NIna Mingya Powles, Seraph Press

CONGRATULATIONS to all the poets. This is the best longlist I have seen in years. I have loved all these books to a sublime degree. I am also delighted to see a mix of university presses and smaller publishers, and those inbetween. I plan to review Hinemoana and Karlo’s books over the coming weeks (Goddess Muscle, Karlo Mila, Huia Press and Funkhaus, Hinemoana Baker, Victoria University Press).

Ockham New Zealand Book Award page

Poetry Shelf – poets on their own poems: Karlo Mila reads ‘For Tamir Rice with Love from Aotearoa’

 

 

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Karlo Mila reads and responds to her poem: ‘For Tamir Rice with Love from Aotearoa’

 

 

Dr Karlo Mila (Tongan / Pākehā) is an award-winning poet, mother, writer, activist and researcher. She is the Programme Director of the Mana Moana Experience at Leadership New Zealand. The kaupapa of this programme is to vitalise and prioritise Pasifika ancestral knowledge in contemporary contexts. Karlo lives in Tāmaki Makaurau with her three sons. Her third poetry book, “Goddess Muscle” will be launched this year by Huia Publishers.

 

 

Poetry Shelf Live and the Wellington Writers Programme

 

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‘We are making our grandchildren’s world with our words. We

perceive a world in which everyone sits at the table together, with enough for everyone.

We will make this country great again.’

 

Joy Harjo from ‘Advice for Countries, Advanced, Developing and falling’ in An American Sunrise (2019)

 

 

 

A weekend in Wellington is always a treat – especially when there are writers and readers events on. I had a blue-sky, social-charging time and I loved it. Laurie Anderson on the Friday night delivered an improvised platter of musical quotations with a handful of musicians that together created a wow blast of sound and exquisite individual turns on percussion, strings, keyboards. Ah transcendental. Just wonderful. Read Simon Sweetman‘s thoughts on the night – he describes it far better than I can.

One bowl of muesli and fruit, one short black and I was all set for a Saturday of listening to other authors. First up Coming to our Senses with Long Litt Woon (The Way through the Woods) and Laurence Fearnley (Scented). Laurence is on my must-read stack by my reading sofa. Her novel engages with the landscape by way of scent, sparked perhaps by by her long interest in the scent of the outdoors. I loved this from her: ‘Writing about the South Island is a political act – I’m digging my heels in and see myself as a regionalist writer’. I also loved this: ‘I’m not a plot-driven novelist. I tend to like delving into sentences. I like dense descriptions. I imagined the book as dark brown.’

Next went to a warm, thoughtful, insightful conversation: Kiran Dass and Jokha Alharthi (Celestial Bodies). Fabulous!

And of course my poetry highlight: Selina Tusila Marsh in conversation with USA Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. I had been reading Joy in preparation for my Poetry Live session and utterly loved her writing. This is how I introduced her on Sunday:

Joy Harjo is a performer, writer (and sax player!) of the Muscogee Creek Nation. She’s the current US Poet Laureate with many awards and honours and has published nine poetry collections, a memoir, a play, produced music albums. She lives in Tulsa Oklahoma where she is a Tulsa Artist Fellow. Reading Joy’s poems, words are like a blood pulse as they question and move and remember – in place out of place in time out of time. I have just read Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and An American Sunrise. This was what I was thinking when we have to endure the multiple offensiveness of Trump in our faces even at the bottom of the world to pick up Joy’s poetry is a balm that takes you behind and beyond and above and below into a different USA and it is heartbreaking and wounding and the poems might be like rooms where you mourn but each collection is an opportunity for breathtaking body anchoring travel that allows you to see and feel afresh. Joy’s poetry is so very necessary, If you read one poem this weekended read ‘How to Write a Poem in a Time of War’ from An American Sunrise.

But if you went on Saturday night you got to hear Joy read a good sized selection of poems, including the poem I mention above! Joy’s response to her appointment as the first Native American Poet Laureate in USA: ‘a profound announcement for indigenous people as we’ve been so disappeared. I want to be seen as human beings and this position does that. Human beings write poetry. Even if it’s oral, it’s literature.’

So many things to hold close that Joy offered: ‘No peace in the world until all our stories have a place, until we all have a place of respect.’

She suggested we could think of poems as ‘little houses, little bird houses for time grief joy heartbreak anything history what we cannot hold. Go to poetry for times of transformation, to celebrate and acknowledge birth, to acknowledge death. We need poetry.’

Joy: Indigenous poets are often influenced by oral traditions – a reading voice singing voice flute voice more holistic.

Joy: You start with the breath. Breath is essentially spirit.

Joy: You learn about asking, asking for help.

Joy: Probably the biggest part is to listen. You have to be patient.

Joy: The lessons get more intense.

Joy: If you are going to listen to a stone, what range is that?

 

My energy pot was on empty so was in bed by 8 pm, and so very sadly missed Chris Tse’s The Joy Of Queer Lit Salon. From all accounts it was a breathtaking event that the audience want repeated.

 

Sunday and I hosted Paula Green’s Poetry Shelf Live. Lynn Jenner was unwell (I was so looking forward to hearing her read as her inventive and moving Peat is so good). My dear friend Tusiata Avia was in town coincidentally so she stepped in and read instead along with Karlo Mila, Simon Kaho, Gregory Kan, Jane Arthur, Tayi Tibble and Joy Harjo.

I love the poetry of my invited guests and got to sit back and absorb. I laughed and cried and felt the power of poetry to move in multiple directions: soft and loud, fierce and contemplative. Ah if a poem is like a little house as Joy says, it is a house with windows and doors wide open, and we are able to move through and reside there as heart, mind and lungs connect.

A friend of Hinemoana Baker’s from Berlin came to me at the end crying and speaking through tears and heaving breath about how moved she was by the session. I got what she was saying because I felt the same way. I guess for all kinds of reasons we are feeling fragile at the moment – and poetry can be so vital. After four years of Wild Honey reading, writing, conversing and listening I have decided the connective tissue of poetry is love aroha. I felt and said that, ‘We in this room are linked by poetry, by a love of it, and that matters enormously’. I felt that at this session.

 

So thank you Wellington – for all the book fans who supported the events. For the poets who read with me.

I also want to thank Claire Maybe and her festival team. Claire has such a passion for books and such a wide embrace, you just feel the love of books, stories, poetry, ideas, feelings. Yes I would have LOVED to hear Elizabeth Knox, Witi Ihimaera, Lawrence Patchett and Kate Tempest (for starters) on at other weekends but this was a highlight of my year and I am so grateful.

 

‘Come on Poetry,’ I sigh, my breath

whitening the dark. ‘The moon is sick of you.’

We walk the white path made of seashells

back to the orange light of the house.

‘Wait,’ I say at the sliding door. ‘Wait.’

 

Hinemoana Baker from ‘manifesto’ in waha / mouth (2014)

 

 

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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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