Language and Identity

Karlo Mila
Karlo Mila
The final lunch-time poetry session involved no less than 6 poets who had been brought together to share political poetry. Judging by the panel, the main writers of political poetry in New Zealand are beautiful young (well, under 40 anyway) women with Maori and/or Pacific Island heritage. The panel also included 2 men – Jeffrey Paparoa Holman and James Norcliffe – whose political poetry was written a little less from within the scrum and more from a philosophical and historical perspective. I enjoyed Norcliffe’s “My Alien Vegetable,” a quirky and deadly serious look at terrorism.

And what a range of voices and stances and styles there are when it comes to using poetry for political purposes! Hinemoana Baker was awesome, funny, generous and extended an invitation to playful new ways of seeing. She read two poems by other writers from the anthology she has just co-edited, Kaupapa: New Zealand Poets, World Issues, one with the help of a whiteboard, to share with us the poet’s brilliant use of


           ii) and the [notation] of “mathematics” and *logic.

Tusiata Avia’s poetry is boldly political, feminist and, like Baker’s, funny. She performs it with total facial, vocal and rhythmic characterisation, almost singing the poems. Richard described her tone as that of a “sweet assassin,” and that captured it beautifully – feminine, dulcet and deadly, considering (on behalf of the Samoan people) whether to accept Helen Clark’s apology (on behalf of New Zealand) or to kill and eat her.

Karlo Mila surprised me with not only powerful poetry but an entire slide-show to accompany her two poems, both about very particular political events in Tonga, told from a very personal, emotional, perhaps even therapeutic perspective.

And it was Hana O’Reagan who most properly filled the image of a political poet, so sure of her cause, so passionate and insistent, and also full of humour, hope and good-will.

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