Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

'Whatiwhati Taku Pene': Three First World War Poems from the Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse

Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

'Whatiwhati Taku Pene': Three First World War Poems from the Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse

Article excerpt

Te Take: Introductory

I went looking in the canonical literary anthologies for New Zealand poems about the First World War. Ian Wedde and Harvey McQueen's The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1985) provides Eileen Duggan mourning the murder of Rosa Luxembourg by the right-wing Freikorps in the immediate aftermath of the 1918 Armistice.1 The Jenny Bornholdt, Greg O'Brien and Mark Williams Oxford An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English (1997) adds Katherine Mansfield's sonnet on the death of her brother, 'To L.H.B. (1894-1915)'.2 But there is precious little else; a remarkable silence about an event that is often referred to as nation-forming, as the experience of great loss and the feeling of betrayal (by Britain) around the Gallipoli campaign inaugurated what remains the country's most solemn day of the year, Anzac Day. It feels as if that line from 'Pokarekare ana'-'Wahtiwhati taku pene/ my pen is broken'-could be applied to the literary response to Te Pakanga Nui o te Ao Tuatahi/The First World War.

But then I looked again. The 1985 Penguin had taken the step, much criticised at the time, but in retrospect seemingly overdue, of including modern waiata and contemporary poetry in Maori as part of the national literary canon. The Allen Curnow Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1960) had opened with a short selection of translations into English only of pre-European Maori forms; e.g. karakia, patere, haka, poi, karanga, oriori, pao and waiata tangi or waiata aroha and so on.3 But the Wedde and McQueen canonising act of expansion/integration/ assimilation/revolution (take your choice-and perhaps the answer lies in a mixture of all four) changed the landscape. The subsequent Bornholdt, O'Brien, and Williams volume was forced to title itself An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English in acknowledgement of its omissions.

In the Wedde and McQueen anthology, sandwiched between the balladeer and Bulletin contributor David McKee Wright and the orientalist mystic Blanche Baughan, there are two poems by Paraire Henare Tomoana: 'Pokarekare ana' and 'E pari ra'. Then, straight after Blanche Baughan comes Apirana Ngata, and after him comes Ursula Bethell, and after her and before you reach Eileen Duggan, Te Puea Herangi and her poem, 'E Noho, e Rata'. Wright, Baughan, Bethell and Duggan are a roll-call of those poets who bridge the transition from 'Maoriland writing' by Pakeha to poetry that is more recognisably modernist in its intentions, if not always in its realisations, and to whom we might have looked for poetic responses to the First World War. Apirana Ngata is the subject of the final chapter of Stafford and Williams's critical book, Maoriland New Zealand Literature 1872-1914, under the title 'The Maori Writer in Maoriland', but only a poem of his in English is discussed, while none of his poetry in Maori is considered.4 Tomoana and Te Puea, along with Ngata, and other figures such as Maui Pomare or Te Rangi Hiroa, constitute a sampling of another roll-call, namely those Maori leaders who, in and around the time of the First World War, were engaged, variously, in a battle of their own, a battle to revive/advance/preserve/transform (again, probably the mixture of all four is the most useful resolution of the contradictions) Te Ao Maori. This may be why I was able to find more poetry in Maori about the First World War than poetry in English, for each of these three waiata, 'Pokarekare ana', 'E Pari Ra', and 'E Noho, e Rata' is a song of or about the First World War. For Maori that war played out more battles than those fought in Gallipoli and France.

It is significant that these three poems, 'Pokarekare ana', 'E Pari Ra' and 'E Noho, e Rata' remain very widely known and sung today within Te Ao Maori. In addition, they have presence in Te Ao Pakeha. 'E Pari Ra' is the official slow march for the New Zealand Navy. 'Pokarekare ana' is probably as widely known as any New Zealand poem in either language-Te Rauparaha's 'Ka Mate Ka Ora' and Denis Glover's 'The Magpies' might provide competition, and 'Po Ata Rau/Now Is the Hour', whose authorship remains in dispute, must tip the scales as the most popular New Zealand/Aotearoa song. …

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