The new series of poetry collections from Cerberus Press contains some of the most beautiful poetry seen this year including a collection of poetry from Vaughan Rapatahana written in both te reo Māori and translated into English. Rapatahana is a prolific writer and poet, and produces some of the most exquisite writing with a philosophical bent that adds to the enjoyment of the words.
Rapatahana hails from Pātea and the disruptive nature of life and the ongoing struggle for identity in a British colony. His writings in both Māori and English put him as a pioneer of the genre. Certainly the ability to compose poetry in two languages places him as a standout in the line up of modern poets. This isn’t some half thought through transliteration, nor is he paying lip service to either of his languages. Instead, he is able to elucidate the languages of both cultures and educate speakers of both. He was once referred as having “sesquipedalian lingo” or words that are worth a million dollars, sprinkled throughout his poetry - on both sides of the language divide.
It is hard not to be moved by the poems in this collection. Like so many of the contemporary poets, there are references to the virus and the lockdowns that New Zealand went through. Kia atawkai (“Be kind”) brings that feeling of unity that seemed to pervade the first of the lockdowns, that togetherness against a common enemy. Written as a sort of list, Rapatahana picks up on the various elements of life and the community spirit that came from that period of time.
Perhaps one of his most significant skills is the ability of concision. Few of his poems are lengthy, but each packs a punch that leaves the reader with the concepts, ideas and explorations that Rapatahana has meticulously constructed. He is a master storyteller, but in its most condensed form. No word is misplaced or accidental. Each poem is a crafted work of art. A stunning exploration of the vastness of language.
Overall, this pocket sized edition of Rapatahana’s collection has managed to find its way into travelling around the place. It is a constant reminder of the beauty of language, and the thought processes that go along with it. Really a thoroughly enjoyable read, as much as a poignant marker of this modern era.
Reviewer: Chris Reed