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Auckland University Press explores New Zealand cultural identity through poetry


December 23, 2014/13.13

Two fantastic works exploring very different aspects of New Zealand culture and identity have come across our desks here at Lucire, from the Auckland University Press.

Puna Wai Kōrero: an Anthology of Māori Poetry in English
Earlier this year, the first anthology of Maori poetry in English was published featuring a wide collection of prominent Maori poets. Edited by two leading Māori writers and scholars, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan, who previously edited the award-winning Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English (winner of a Montana New Zealand Book Award) and Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English II (finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards), Puna Wai Kōrero offers the most diverse range of Māori voices ever published.
   The poems themselves are organized into chapters featuring short biographies about each writer, providing a richer background to the history of Māori poetry. They combine the traditional forms of oral poetry—including waiata ringaringa, waiata tangi and waiata aroha—with the influence of western poetry and the English written language to create new poetic genres, developing alongside modernist and postmodernist movements. Their assemblage of styles provides a unique perspective on numerous outlooks on life and modes of writing, laments for koro and hopes for mokopuna, celebrations of the land and anger at its abuse, retellings of myth and reclamations of history. The rich ensemble of established writers and exciting newer poets, examines political and social commentaries from early days of contact to the present, from Aotearoa and the wider world.
   This comprehensive anthology presents one hundred and twenty years of poetry written in English by Māori poets. The authentic lineage of each poet enriches the engagement with these poetic forms, Puna Wai Kōrero traces this past whakapapa and celebrates its present–day strength. This anthology strives to bring together Māori writers and editors and through language and ideas, through stories and shared experiences, this books offers an opportunity for the readers to discover or rediscover what it is to be Māori.

How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, by Chris Tse
A début collection for New Zealand-born Chris Tse delivers a lyrical narrative, focused around the 1905 Wellington murder of Cantonese gold miner Joe Kum Yung by white supremacist Lionel Terry. Tse’s poetry has previously been featured in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies. This collection demonstrates his emotive power of language and creatively striking narrative coherence. This new addition to New Zealand literature offers an expansive collection from a unique cultural and historical perspective.
   Tse’s poetry serves as a vehicle to give a voice to the dead man, by paying respect to the many lives consumed by the crime. Tse uses ‘the year of the snake’—1905—as a symbol to focus the narrative through a moment of culture contact and to consider the time gap between then and now. Tse’s collection provides an emotionally driven occurrence of a cultural and historical event by summoning the ghost of Joe Kum Yung to question justice, empathy and tolerance and how they remain today. The poetic memorial effectively challenges the reader to ponder over who owns the stories, what can we learn from the past and what should we take forward to the future.
   The works are organized around the central narrative of the murder, intertwined with poems focused on contemplating and provoking ideas from the author’s perspective, the perspective of the characters, and the nation as a whole. Tse’s language invites the reader to explore and discover truth and meaning behind this episode and to bring focus to the significance of this tragic event within New Zealand history.—Eleanor Wright

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Filed by Eleanor Wright

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