The Art of Excavation by Leilani Tamu
(Anahera Press, $25; or $A3.99 as an e-book)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana
Anyone expecting ‘traditional’ Western styled poetry re: rhyme, strict versification, figures of speech is going to be disappointed in this collection, for it is written against, written back to the veritable empire of such stylized poetic tropes.
Indeed, it is the poet’s express wish to counter Western qua Caucasian methodology and indeed subject-matter in this, her first rather comprehensive collection – “I experimented with poetic form as a part of an ongoing postcolonial dialogue that values and tells Pacific stories in our own way based on our own cultural frameworks and reference points”, as she writes in her Notes in the tail end of this book. She immediately reminds me of the words of Powhiri Rika-Heke from many years before, as regards reworking English language and stylizations – as interposed with te reo Māori – so as to counter English language hegemony and to make the colonialists’ tongue work against them, via a whole new postcolonial episteme.
This she most certainly succeeds in doing, probably losing much of her potential Pākehā audience along the way, for the collection is particularly densely referenced for Polynesians of all ilk: yet one rather annoying thing for me is having to consistently and continually refer to the glossary so as to nail a poem to the wall; the terminology would better have been footnoted per poem.