This review is taken from Stand 226, 18(2) June - August 2020.

Vaughan Rapatahana, ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes (, 2019)

Sometimes, reading something new requires a few starts and restarts: Vaughan Rapatahana’s ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes is, after all, in a different language. It is a language not entirely English, not entirely Māori, Tagalog, Mandarin, Samoan, Sanskrit or French, and, more importantly, it is, apparently, not the language of plain, formal poetry, both in words or form. It appears, at first, to thrive on unfamiliarity, and so the reader begins again, rereads, and only becomes ‘familiar’ after an effort, for which effort s/he is well rewarded.

Vaughan Rapatahan is in a fix: and that is a good thing. He often writes in complex, erudite and thrilling English, a language he genuinely despises, in several ways, for its tentacular efforts at dominance and assumptions of righteousness in poetry (and elsewhere). From this tension comes a kind of tortured, fragmented sorting, punctuated with sudden, relaxed honesty and emotion, political pointing, and often surprisingly concise and evocative descriptions of nature, the weather, and cityscapes.

ngā whakamatuatanga is divided into six sections: (in English) places, relationships, nature, politics and philosophy, poetry and the underworld. This signposting-tidiness is extraordinarily reader-friendly, and, for this reader anyway, lends a kind of confidence to getting on with the poems, which are, or can be, individually, and intentionally, un-mainstream, and un-English.  

It should be said, however, that the poems are no dada-mad, surrealist-sharded, fragmentary monstrosities or whisperings. Their ‘modernism’ is no more forbidding than Dickinson’s, e.e. cummings’s, Ginsburg’s or David Gascoyne’s: it is simply ...
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