A friend of mine, Vaughan Rapatahana, asked me to review his collection of poems. I have been very tardy with this, at least because I had no idea where to start. I enjoy poetry and have attempted the occasional verse myself, but I have no idea what makes a good poem and what makes a bad one. However, his email today reminded me that this attempt is long overdue.

Most of the poems are in both Maori / te reo and English. I have never heard te reo spoken so can’t comment on whether the rhythm and scansion cross over between the two languages. Sadly, I’ll have to stick with the English ones.

The poems are arranged into those about relationships, places and, I suppose, politics. The ones on relationship are poignant; many seem about the death of a son, a loss I cannot conceive of: “I spoke more authentically / to you / during those thirty / etiolated minutes / than I ever did / when you were alive.” The poems that precede and follow that are equally poignant and evocative, yet without being sentimental: in a graveyard “some slabs were / waaaaaaay past dead themselves. / they lay like lachrymose lego blocks.”

The second half of the collection is places. I liked these not for their evocation, but for the strong sense of injustice they convey. Ko aotearoa is the name of this land is a hakka-like evocation of just that message; later on, Vaughan pushes home that the Maori people have been made strangers in their own land, disadvantaged and marginalised: “after Christchurch, / scurried the disclaimers / ‘this is not new zealand’ / but it is.'” and the poem so the theft continues.

There are also hints of the depredations to which nature has been subjected in ko aotearoa: “why are there strewn logs / on this beach? / why? / it’s the massive slash / from the forestry / of this region / money before the environment / greed before common sense.”

And, on the closing pages, a CAUTION which made me laugh, and a homily on the use of the word “fuck” in poetry.