For Someone I Love is a perfect collection of a writer’s work: diverse, original and timeless. It has the feel of being carefully curated by someone who knew the writer, New Zealander Arapera Blank, well, both personally and professionally. Indeed this is the case, as this is a collection put together by her children – their love and admiration for her shines on each page.
The book includes Blank’s poetry, short stories and essays – each as riveting as the other. Even decades later, her words seem crisp and fresh, her thoughts and feelings as relevant as ever and her depiction of Maori culture still real and unfiltered. Nothing in her broad range of work feels exaggerated, disguised or decorated. Every detail feels raw, as if a vein of truth runs through every line. Because of this, it’s clear that Blank sees beauty in the mundane, and in reading her work, you begin to see it too.
She explores the clash or Maori and Pakeha culture, the role of women – particularly Maori women. But instead of preferring one to the other, she seems to juggle both – or at least attempts to. This longing for balanced biculturalism is shown to be an obstacle in itself. Despite Blank herself finding comfort in it, those around seem to struggle. Much of her work explores how tense Maori/Pakeha relations were in her own childhood, particularly in her essay “Where the Manuka Bends” and her short story “Yielding to the New.” Marama, seemingly a substitute for Blank herself, attempts to juggle both cultures in a community which encourages her to pick one or the other. While Marama’s school punishes children who speak Maori instead of English, her grandmother punishes her for singing “Pakeha songs” instead of traditional Maori waiatas. This tension is subtle and poignant, and echoed throughout much of her work.
Blank’s pride in her Maori culture shines through all her work, especially her poetry. Imagery of the New Zealand landscape, allusions to Maori legends, descriptions of traditional Maori skills such as weaving and Maori words and phrases run rampant. It lends a romanticism to her poetry, particularly the love poems, and heightens the intimacy making the collection feel like peering through Blank’s own diary and personal thoughts. Also common are depictions of Maori women as powerful, strong and as creators of life. Blank’s pride in her gender and racial identity is what fuels her passion in her essay The Role and Status of Maori Women where she criticises the patriarchal nature or Maori culture, and the way that menial and domestic duties are reserved for women and girls, even from a very young age. She reveals her political streak when she urges that raising the status of women in Maori communities and respecting them as more than mothers and homemakers will improve the wellbeing of Maori communities greatly. Her feminism doesn’t seem personal or angry, but is presented very matter of factly, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world to her readers that such gender roles are archaic and ill-founded. Any anger on her part seems instead to be reserved for those who look down on the Maori – as displayed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Her succinct and blunt lines capture the betrayal and deceit she connects with Waitangi, and ultimately, the inequality it has caused her people ever since. This style reflects the greatest strength of all her work; it is vulnerable and straight from the heart. In this way, she may be the bravest New Zealand writer we’ve had.
Her words are complimented beautifully by her husband’s photography, making the book feel even more intimate. The pictures are gorgeous, personal and very well suited to the tone of the collection. It could have run the risk of feeling cheesy or unnecessary, but if anything it seems the photography and her poems are a perfect pairing, seeming to belong exclusively to one another.
This collection is sprawling, showcasing work between 1958 and 1990. The themes do not shift, but grow and strengthen. It seems the issues that affected her in her youth haunted her throughout her life, and still in 2015, are as relevant and moving as ever. A stunning collection by an underrated Kiwi writer – do yourself a favour and get your hands on this book immediately. It provides an under represented and much needed perspective on New Zealand life.
REVIEWER: Jemma Richardson
TITLE: For Someone I Love: A Collection of Writing
AUTHOR(S): Arapera Blank