Start reading Between the Kindling & the Blaze, by Ben Brown, from the back. That’s where Lyttleton poet’s rich, strong, husky voice is waiting for you – ten of these poems are on CD. Brown is primarily a performance poet, this is a collection about Mana*, and you can hear his when he speaks.
Brown’s been performing for about 10 years, but he’s been collecting material for a lot longer than that. Whether it’s the Earthquake, a serious motorcycle accident, or tending the bar (from behind wire netting) at a Queensland rodeo, you’ve got to ‘stay and staunch it out.’
The anthology is not Brown’s definition of Mana, rather a personal reflection on its many qualities and nuances. Poems address Hone Tuwhare and James K. Baxter. A ‘cocky little teenage prick’ gives lip to a Mongrel Mob member. Te Rauparaha and a slave converse.
‘Bro story’ takes you to the pub:
I’m on the road. Doing this gig, having a break at the bar. Bro comes up to me, says ‘where you from bro?’ Bros always want to know where you from before they want to know who you are. I say ‘nowhere in particular bro.’ Bro says ‘that’s the same as everywhere in general eh bro’, I say ‘yeah I suppose it must be bro.’ Bro says ‘no suppose about it because I’m from the same place. We must be whanau eh.’ I say ‘yeah, must be bro.’ Bro looks at me, says, ‘you got the mana bro…’ He’s asking a question, not making a statement. I say ‘we born with the mana.’ Bro says, ‘yeah, but did you keep it?’ I say ‘bro that’s a heavy question.’ Bro says ‘that’s the only kind of question worth asking.’ So I have to pause for some consideration. I get introspective. Glib answers don’t cut it with heavy questions. I have to search my soul, I have to investigate the wairua, I have to pick the scab. Bro says ‘well bro, did you keep it?’ I say ‘bro I’m thinking on it.’ Bro says ‘well, while you’re thinking, must be your shout eh.’
This is a genuine, generous, soulful anthology: warm yourself in front of it.
*Mana is defined in English as authority, control, influence, prestige or power. It is also honour.
Review by Drus Dryden
Between the Kindling and the Blaze: reflections on the concept of Mana
by Ben Brown
Published by Anahera Press