Deep River Talk: Collected Poems.
The Maoriness of the poetry is, of course, at work continually though not always obviously. For instance, poem after poem is constructed around a way of viewing which is fundamentally Maori: unifying opposites or contraries into successively more embracive levels of existence. And many poems are quick with the pain of membership of a subordinated ethnic group. A few poems are actually in Maori language, with or without translation. And Maori words (and German, Mandarin, Samoan--the man loves language!) ease into the poetry.
"A Fall of Rain at Mitimiti: Hokianga" shows Tuwhare's mastery. The lyric moves at several levels: simple narrative, imagistic depiction, and natural symbolization of human emotions and cultural meaning. At the same time the formal oratory that addresses the body at a funeral provides the poem's framework. Implicit in the details is grief not only for an eider but for the dying of a rural Maori community, yet the poem is also an assertion of continuing Maori identity. The implicitness of that poem is effectively employed in many poems derived from Maori mythology, such as "We Who Live in Darkness," a cryptic expression of defiance and desire for newness of vision, or "Maul makes it with the Death Goddess," a laconic colloquial and humorous version of the origin of death. The first poem, "Time and the Child," represents another strand of more purely imagistic depiction rich with implicitness.
Romanticism has a weakness for driving home the poet's point, and for crisscrossing the same poetic ground. It is as fond of the confessional as the didactic. Verbal dexterity can become an end in itself. Tuwhare does not elude these tendencies, yet almost every poem speaks his distinctive voice and his likable, companionable, empathetic persona. Poetry as praise is not in fact the whole of Tuwhare's work. Some poetry is edged with knowledge of injustice and of the dangerous follies of the powerful. The title poem of his original collection, "No Ordinary Sun," a somewhat grandiloquent protest against nuclear weapons, remains one of the most incisive and moving.
I miss a richly variegated poem like "Irises." I could wish some of the slighter ones had been eradicated. However, here is an excellent bouquet of Hone Tuwhare's work, and of contemporary romantic lyric verse.
Bernard Gadd Papatoetoe, N.Z.