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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Always Italicise by Alice Te Punga Somerville

Always Italicise is a masterclass on explaining feelings of isolation and colonisation through the means of poetic form. Drawing on her own experiences as a Māori scholar, Alice Te Punga Somerville presents the ideas of a people oppressed through language. Beginning with an explanation in “Kupu rere kē”:

My friend was advised to italicise all the foreign words in her poems.

This advice came from a well-meaning woman

with NZ poetry on her business card

and an English accent in her mouth.

True to form, all English and other languages in the collection are italicised, and te reo Māori words are presented in standard type face.

In the collection she discusses aspects of indoctrination in language, and challenges that come from being an indigenous culture in a country dominated by Western ideology.

Shrink-wrapped, vacuum-packed, disassembled, sold for parts,

butt of jokes, scapegoats, too this for that, too that for this,

gravy trains, too angry, special treatment, let it go…

Visually, even the impact of seeing te reo Māori presented with standard typeface (i.e. not italicised) reiterates the point each time. We are Aotearoa, land of te ao Māori and for the first time in poetry truly recognised as such.

It is a lucid investigation of experiences commonplace in Māori culture, expressing them through the soundscapes of language to bring them to life and provide a stimulus for discussion.

our poi make the sound of the horses which were met by children

The collection is split into sections: Reo; Invisible Ink; Mahi, and Aroha. Each section brings forward a connected, but different perspective on the way that language works. Even in Invisible Ink - the name itself brings its own connotations - one feels the hurt and frustration that comes from marginalisation within New Zealand.

Overall, Somerville’s writing is poignant, beautiful and rich with imagery. Māori phrasing and language is woven throughout with skill and control to really bring out the magic that forms our bicultural history and foundation. It is thought provoking, stunning, and highly engaging as a piece of literature.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Auckland University Press


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