Scoop Review of Books

Experiences and emotions

Book Review
ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes
by Vaughan Rapatahana (cyberwit, 135 pp.)
Reviewed by John Carstensen

interludes-coverRapatahana continues to hone his craft as a poet. In his latest work, ngā whakamatuatanga, one notices at a glance, the usual eccentric typographic features that animate the text on the page and on reading, the usual obscure but apposite lexis. Also, the usual, perhaps not always perfect mix of languages – particularly te reo Māori. There is still some of the focus on self but there is less of the world weary ennui, cynicism and rancour than in earlier works. Experiences and emotions are expressed with finer nuances, more pathos, and often more wit.

Rapatahana has suffered some heavy blows in life and in his writing he processes the pain, the loss and the grief, mimetically and cathartically.   There are the broken marriages, attempted suicide, the death of his son (to whom he dedicated the previous book), the abuse he witnessed in his childhood home and the abuse he suffered as a child, all referenced in various poems. He has struggled with identity and reinvented identity, embracing the Māori part of his ancestry and te ao Māori. He adopted te reo Māori as his ‘first language’ and speaks it fluently.

ngā whakamatuatanga is compartmentalised into chapters: In Chapter 1, ngā wāhi / places, there are some evocative descriptions of place, personification of nature, as in chapter 3, te ao tūroa / nature, and some politicising. Chapter 2, ngā whanaungatanga / relationships, is a standout with moving and memorable phrases and images in the zephyr and note to a dead son. Then there are poems about his father, which are quite disturbing. And others with relationship themes of tenderness and estrangement. Chapter 5, ngā toikupu /poetry, is interesting for its passion and wit. Chapter 6, te raro / the underworld, finishes with ambiguous contemplations of death. Rapatahana writes in a variety of different genres but it is poetry where he excels.