Tūnui | Comet by Robert Sullivan
Sullivan is one of the great modern Māori poets. He has a strength and power that is drawn from his incredible knowledge of tikanga and te reo while bringing together seemingly everyday situations and shining a different light and lens upon them.
As he writes, we as audience members journey with him across the motu pulling on the threads of the world around us, sometimes adopting English as the descriptor, sometimes te reo Māori. Both are poignantly chosen and ideally suited.
On a personal note, Sullivan’s poem London Waka, from his 2005 collection Voice Carried My Family, has become one of the main stalwarts of teaching New Zealand poetry and continues to demonstrate the wonder of using words in such a meaningful, and poignant way. In this collection, once again, Sullivan delivers a whole range of provoking images and topics that create opportunities for reflections and insightful commentary.
The poetry is sublime, creating meaning from life, and life from meaning. He has the ability to harness the poets of the past with some of the poems echoing (both directly and indirectly) the work of Hone Tuwhare and J.C. Sturm.
Many of the poems speak of the natural connection between humans and nature. Some of this remains in harmonious connection, while others relate the frustrations and concerns that many have with the treatment of our environment. From a te ao Māori perspective, the kaitiakitanga that is associated with the whenua comes through strongly.
These ripples circling outward and outward in the first instance
belong in the language of our ancestors, ruia ruia tahia tahia
as the bar-tailed godwits fly from the Manukau to Alaska
We can repair this I know. Patiently and with care
bring back the sandy beaches, end the oil draining
into inlets, the plastic, the chemicals, and endless rubbish
(“Ruia” by Robert Sullivan)
Overall, there is a beauty within this collection that allows Sullivan to reclaim the mantle of one of our top performing poets in the modern era. His control of sound and imagery is once again on show as he traverses Aotearoa and explores the nature of life in our nation - the good and the bad. It is a wonderfully evocative and expressive view of the poetic form, and the social commentary of the world around us.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
Auckland University Press