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Puna Wai Kōrero is a hefty book − both in ambition and in brute size. Edited by Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan, this is the first anthology of Maori poetry in English. With almost eighty poets included, with work ranging from traditional modernist poetry to slam poetry, this is a poetical soup − or, more fittingly perhaps, a boil-up.
Poets are arranged alphabetically, aside from Apirana Ngata who kick-starts the collection as lauded progenitor of Maori poetry in English. With its ‘doth’s and its ‘thou’s, and its appeal to Greek deities, Ngata’s poetry is a very different kettle of fish to the subsequent work. What follows is something largely more loose, more conversational.
Is this Maori poetry? Probably. But this is, in the first instance, human poetry. From the prosaic, to the political, to the speculative − Puna Wai Kōrero has the whole caboodle. Terrestrial mythology fuses with science fiction in Sullivan’s ‘Waka 46′, while Menzies’ ‘Māui steals time’ is a metaphysical and mythological romp dedicated to Stephen Hawking. There are playful poems such as Blank’s ‘What to wear to a gynaecology examination’, political poems, as in Boyed’s ‘Clearing the land’. There are traditional poems and nature poems − but so too there are poems which displace us from the land, and lead us to the suburbs where we meet social workers, gangs, neighbourhood dogs and that unrelenting-Waka − the Honda Civic.
Within are poems by literary rock-stars − the likes of Ihimaera and Hulme. And these folks show they’re every bit as much poets as they are writers of prose. But the poems of Kiri Pirihana-Wong and Hinemoana Baker − with their tenderness, and raw sentimentality, linger longest in my mind.
As with every anthology, there are omissions (One may wonder at the exclusion of Alistair Campbell, the late Cook Island Maori poet). There are also ghosts. James K Baxter, though not included, is resurrected through the work of his wife and daughter, while his poem The Maori Jesus is parodied by Ben Brown. Hone Tuwhare is another such ghost. While he is largely represented in the anthology, he is also alluded to in the poetry of Tania Hinehou Butcher, Tru Paraha and Michael O’Leary.
In Puna Wai Kōrero the parameters have been set wide. Critics may argue that the brush is too broad, the net too widely cast. However, I believe such gamut will determine this anthology as the prime authority on Maori Poetry in English for years, perhaps decades, to come.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton
Puna Wai Kōrero: An anthology of Maori poetry in English
edited by Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan
Published by AUP