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Hinemoana Baker has a mouthful. Her latest collection of poetry, Waha | Mouth, has plenty to yak about, from the quotidian to the unorthodox. There are bovine sperm, ‘mother and father dinosaurs’, digitally enhanced crickets, pink flamingos and rectal cameras. Baker casts the things we can name into play scrupulously, and one feels that she could be acquiring Scrabble points as a side-project. Some of the words are delicious – ‘malapropic’, others send one scurrying to a dictionary – ‘infraspinatus’ and ‘subscapularis’. To Baker, words are more than aggregates of letters. There is the ‘veritable killer whale of a word’, the word marked by its ‘refusal to speak English’, and there are words unsaid – the ‘gag’ and the ‘mute’.
The poems within are more than a catalogue of pretty words, however. At times they are nostalgic. ‘The Adjective Game’, introduces a playful family diversion, while ‘School’ transports the reader to a place for which no packed lunch could prepare them. There are fuzzy renderings of family members, childhood friends. A ‘waha | mouth’ is a point of entry and departure. Characters enter and pass away. But this is no sappy collection, no sentimental walk in the park.
Baker’s poetry is cerebral. As her ‘Manifesto’ declares, this ‘poetry waits in a crate with a lock’. Some of the pieces read like arcane utterances of a Sphinx. What does she mean by ‘My country is a mother moose’? What is meant by ‘be the parrot on your own shoulder’?
Baker is a clever cookie. Thumbing through her collection one sees she can straddle many subjects and write in various formats. Within are ‘found’ poems, a collaborative poem, and a piece resembling flash-fiction.
Hinemoana Baker likes to think that ‘opening this book to read is like standing at the mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand’. And while one may, in moments, wish the candle were a flashlight, there is something mesmeric about bumping around in the dim with Baker’s words and imagery.
Waha | Mouth
by Hinemoana Baker
Victoria University Press