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Goddess Muscle by Karlo Mila

This long-awaited poetry collection from award-winning Pasifika poet Karlo Mila spans work written over a decade.

Her poems are both personal and political, tracing the effect of issues such as racism, poverty, violence, climate change and power on Pasifika peoples, Aotearoa and beyond.

Mila bares her soul on the page, documenting the ending of a marriage, the hope of a new relationship, and the daily politics of being a partner, woman and mother.

She explores identity, culture, community and belonging in a bold, unapologetic way. I was utterly spellbound by her words, at times punching the air in triumph and at others sobbing into tissues.

Dr Mila is a New Zealand-born poet of Tongan and Pākehā descent, with ancestral connections to Samoa. She is also currently the programme director of Mana Moana, Leadership New Zealand. The programme is based on postdoctoral research on harnessing indigenous language and ancestral knowledge from the Pacific to use in contemporary leadership contexts.

This kaupapa is evident throughout her poetry too. While they span many varied themes, all are anchored by indigenous concepts.

While the collection is available as an ebook, I urge you to add the softcover to your library. It is too beautiful to be confined to a screen.

The book itself is as gorgeous as the poems inside. The bold linen cover oozes with texture, begging you to pick up the book. Inside, bold colours form the pages, with inky ocean blues to represent the Pacific, and deepest black to indicate te pō, or darkness.

The poems are laid out on the page in ingenious ways. Te Awa: Love Song for Manawatū for example, is gently curved to mimic the way Rangi stitches the curves of Papa. To replicate or reprint these poems would take away from their meaning.

Divided into nine sections, Mila takes readers on a journey, an incredible ride, spanning more than a decade. Goddess Muscle was well worth the wait.

Reviewed by: Rebekah Lyell

Huia Publishers, RRP $35.


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