Small Holes in the Silence: Collected Works, by Hone Tuwhare (Godwit/Random House 2011) 343 pp. $44.99
Whakarongo whakarongo whakarongo ki te manu kaka hianga.
Kaore e mate koe e hoa!
Ko tau tinana nui tonu kei konei.
Ko tau wairua tino nui tonu kei konei.
Ko tau kupu tino mohio tonu kei konei hoki.
Katakata koe te taima katoa te manu kaka koe.
Katakata katakata katakata.
Hey – it’s so great to see and hold and read this book, eh. Good photos, well presented packaging and of course the poems eh. Fine selection of your moteatea here, man.
Goodness gracious me.
Hone Tuwhare, you old tuna, you live on and on and just keep getting more lively. Man, there’s a spread of your stuff from waaaaay back before that continual reprint No Ordinary Sun, right through to a few ruri ‘previously uncollected’.
Impressive indeed. Because there’s also lotsa translations into te reo Maori of your poems (na nga tane no tau iwi) — just as you wished, eh. I know you that could write in te reo — and there’s a coupla poems in this collection/anthology/tribute that show this – like ‘Ode to the South Wind’, your waiata for Haki and Hohepa, and your pao for Huaonia – but you grew up in the Ngata days eh, when te reo ‘had’ to take a back seat to the coloniser’s stifling big wet blanket o te reo Ingarahi. Which smothered everything in a coverall, white blizzard, including your own tricky tongue, eh. Man, you even said as much when you spoke of literary ancestors:
… while I have problems still in finding
mine, lost somewhere
in the confusing swirl, now thick, now thin,
Victoriana-Missionary fog hiding legalized land-rape
and gentleman thugs …
and you got real kaka ears and eyes too eh. Magic ears you got, man. I mean you write ‘English’ in a very clever and sui generis way. Got a real talent – he koha no nga atua nei – to turn words into reflections of themselves, to make them doppelgangers all within the same few lines, to interrelate them across the page.
Like this, eh:
……………………………… eyes lefting
like the way they drilled us in the army
to salute bowlegged colonels. Well i prefer
the real kernels…
(‘a Hongi for you too, Spring’)
Paul Millar was right, Hone, when he said you got ‘a fascination with words – how they sounded, what they meant, which tongue they came from.’ Real slippery — bit like you, eh. Heteroglossia rules.
Postmodern well before they even thought up that one. And so bloody bathetic at times too — just when you are about to get too high falutin’, you bring us all back down with a raw guffaw, some naughty bawdy. Knowingly like. I mean, just after you suck up to the south wind in that poem I already mentioned, you code-switch (good on you too – buggers up those academics, eh) with:
…Hello, shithead –
sing us a good one!
I like all these poems — even the really silly ones, though I dunno why they put them in here, actually. Like the one ‘A Know-all Nose’ … bit stupid if you were to ask me … which also makes me want to know why some of your other good ones aren’t here at all …? Like ‘Old Man Chanting in the Dark’, ‘God’s Day to you too, Tree’, ‘My Pork and Puha anthem’ … So a bit eclectic this collect —
As I was saying before you interrupted me, man, I like all of your poems — you’ve KO’ed us with your koha eh. I mean there’s a movement away from those initial icebreaking efforts you unleashed on the unsuspecting Pakeha fleet 60 years ago, which were — all truth being told — rather formal and ‘English’, through to a more casual, self-involved and conversational interpolation in your own verse, travelling then to a much more lonely place in more recent poems, but what’s not to like and admire here?
I also concur with Ken Ardvison that you make an ‘increasing use of specifically Maori material’ as you traveled on tau ara roa (your long pathway), but that does not contravene what Terry Sturm once also wrote about your work: that it ‘resists identification in terms of any separatist notion of ‘Maoriness’, given what you said to Mr. Millar about not trusting nga pakeha: ‘I wasn’t trusting too many Pakehas those days.’
Bit of an Everyman poet you are, actually, smooth with the kaupapa, spread sensually with our patois. Or, as Bernard Gadd once earmarked: your ‘uniquely New Zealand voice’. Too true.
You make us all wake up, too — you’re the bloody modern Maui I reckon, and man, you’re never afraid to put the boot in either, eh:
Warawara, Pureora, Okarito
Have given Private Enterprise
Permission for to strip
And rip-off Kauri, totara,
Kahikatea for to supply
Timber for million-dollar
Yachts and mansions.
Stop your raping of the land.
No one writes like you — anywhere, given that your word smatterings are far better listened to than read, as all moteatea Maori were anyway. Janet Hunt rightly and tightly grasped about you: ‘being the person [who] moved close to making ‘the connection between traditions.’ Moteatea, modernism, multilingualism mashed into a potent new brew: that’s a bloody big cross to bear, but, hey, I mean it. Ultimately your own words are your living epitaph — a true blue original wordsmith hammering away on that bloody wide anvil of lexis. You got me Hone.
Like, I’m euchered man. I’m eclipsed (‘Hotere’)
So what I’m doing now is to go off on a bit of a tangent to really close-look at one of your pieces, ‘Small Signs & Impressions’, (I like the earlier title, ‘Tangaroa at Te Araroa, 1979’ far better by the way, mate.) Who said I can’t do this? I’m trying to really bring to bear what makes you so worthy of a statue or two more. Bloody icon, indeed.
The piece is a(nother) korero with Tangaroa – the sea, eh. Straight away a cheeky, mouthy metaphor:
Hey, you, Tangaroa, ocean. YOU, with
the blubbery, soft-thwacking gums
Real familiar personification this. On to ‘Whetumatarau’, who ‘scratches a bushy head’, continuing this interwoven ruminative rap in the same vein. (Somehow, this mighty pa has been misspelled in this poem — I should know because Hinehou Collier was my mother-in-law and she wrote the waiata about this impenetrable place. Great song.)
So, those supposedly ‘naked hills’ of Brasch, Chapman, Curnow and company do have voices, feelings, wairua! ‘The mountains are empty,’ Charles Brasch had wailed — bullshit, I say. Hone Tuwhare was up in them, boiling a bloody billy, and listening to them. And talking right back, I bet. And man, he could talk lovely too, yunno — did you ever listen to him read his own stuff?
Which reminds me — where was Hone in Curnow’s 1960 book? Bloody invisible! ‘… it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at the exclusion of the emergent voice of Hone Tuwhare from [this] collection’ complained Michael Neill, justifiably. How could you ever have been invisible even back then, Hone?
Back to this poem. A jump next into italicised biblical bathos, the ancient and the current all co-existent here, all threatened by the murderous tracts of standardisation, homogeneity, destruction. But you threaten back to them, good on you:
And who impose a common tongue on
the sister and brother voices of Babel, pray?
Then we swing swimmingly back to Tangaroa, still being addressed like one of your own rowdy cuzzies from down the line, albeit with wonderful metaphoric ease:
‘… YOU, out
there, kaumatua, chest heaving, floating on
and we wonder if it’s in fact Tangaroa who is the bad guy. Te Waha o Rerekohu – The old, old tree, wide as the world, many-rooted,/ is leaning back, bad thoughts amputated, waiting/ for his own special pataka …’ — of course — also makes an appearance, reflecting on the rugby field of the school, and the storehouse of the same name, spread out beneath his humungous stretch, while the bard – you, eh — then invokes his own clan — Ngapuhi — who had devastatingly raided Ngati Porou and Te Araroa (then the original Kawakawa actually): something which nga tangata o Matakaoa rohe (or district) have never forgotten/forgiven.
Your friend and constant companion – rain – also drops in toward the end, before the final patai ki Tangaroa;
‘And whose is the lasting
The ‘answer’ is a koan (and aren’t you often so Asian-orient-ed in your ruminations and your runes, Hone, I here also reflect):
‘On one side of the tree only, leaves stir to a fickle
The small sign is in Te Waha o Rerekohu’s erstwhile glissade of leaves, a nonchalant flutter of his massive pohutukawa mass in a benediction to his cohorts, the sea, the mighty bluff that is Whetumatarau, showers, and the wind. Their hui continues, but – pae kare – they’re always ready to resist any taua or war party, any crusade, any:
‘…threat from the South…
A threat hidden behind the headland
to the North…’ that might ‘pension me off, for crissake!’
Great poem. I’m tempted to say that you really got to be a bit au fait with the East Coast, thus Ngati Porou, as regards the scenario portrayed here, but if you can grasp the indigenous perception that Nature talks and walks and stalks, that all of her elements interrelate, that she precedes us and exceeds us and sees us and waits for our demise back into her, so as to be regenerated again and again and again, into a constant living heterogeneity, untrammeled by systems, decrees, rules on how to live, how to talk, how to write, how to be — you’re well on the way.
Such resistant resilience following its own routine is rather like the poet and his poems in the book I’m holding here right now, actually. Can’t be incinerated, eh Hone.
Small Holes in the Silence indeed. Kaore nga poka iti. Kaore nga kupu kore hoki. Not small holes. Not silence either, eh. If anything, it’s the dirty silence of Bill Manhire. To paraphrase Wallace Stevens, Hone – you make the silence a hell of a lot dirtier. Good on you. Muddy those waters of bourgeoisie conformity, regularity, narrow-mindedness, prejudice, inanity, pedantic cant.
Kia ora e hoa. Kia kaha ki te kaka.
VAUGHAN RAPATAHANA is a New Zealand writer, poet and teacher who currently lives in Hong Kong. His iwi affiliation is to Te Atiawa. He holds a PhD from the University of Auckland.