Ngā Kaituhi Whiti Tāne Māori — Māori male poets

Ngā Kaituhi Whiti Tāne Māori — Māori male poets

Ngā Kaituhi Whiti Tāne Māori — Māori male poets
Ngā Kaituhi Whiti Tāne Māori — Māori male poets

Kia ora ano ki taku hoa [‘Greetings’ again to all my friends.]

Ko tetahi atu he kōrero - mo ngā kaituhi whiti tāne Māori tēnei taima [Another commentary - about male Māori poets this time.]

There may seem no rhyme nor reason for this posting to follow the one concerning Māori women poets and writers, but all truth be told, some of these fellas I had to chase up, eh, and this kōrero [commentary] would well have been earlier otherwise. More significantly Māori poets/writers of any gender were going to be the focus of my final commentaries regardless, because I wanted to stress what I had announced in the Introductory post - that Māori were in Aotearoa poeticizing well prior to any English-language verse forms and their associated strictures and restrictions and that Māori poetic forms and tenets right now require a re-appraisal, more recognition and support. Even if, rather sadly, many Māori poets do not utilise te reo [the language] so much, they still necessarily live and breathe being Māori and it shows in their work. For Māori men, their forte was and remains not only clever and often forceful oration on ngā marae (whaikōrero), but also performances in kapa haka, ngā wero, ngā waiata, ngā karakia hoki (intimidatory chants, challenges, songs and prayers.)

Ka huri ahau ināianei ki ngā kaituhi tāne Māori [I will now turn to the Māori male writers]...

Hone Tuwhare may not have been the first Māori poet writing in English (Sir Apirana Ngata surely takes that role), but he was palpably the first to receive recognition and renown in Aotearoa-New Zealand - his influence continues to impact today, as we shall soon see. Yet there are other Māori poets from Hone's generation who are still with us, who were initially published in Te Ao Hou from the late 1950s onwards, and who are of a significance that mainstream Kiwi literary gatekeepers seem to forget.

One of these names, of course, is Rore Hapipi aka Rowley Habib.  He tells me, 'Having been born and grown up in ironic circumstances where, in the home, neither of my parents spoke each others' first language - my Māori mother's being te reo Māori, and my Lebanese father's being Arabic - and as a consequence [they] conversed in an alien language [in] which they they both had an elementary grasp of the English language, [this] was the language I grew up hearing and spoke. But, because the settlement I grew up in consisted of Māori families, many of whom were my blood relatives, I regarded myself [as] Māori. My father being the only Lebanese in the place, I had little exposure to that side of my heritage.'

'So, although I don't speak the language, my psychology is Māori. As such, when I write - be it poetry or prose - I tend to see things through Māori eyes.'

In my own (Rapatahana) considered opinion, Rore is well worthy of much more accolades than he already has received. He was a pioneer Māori poet and, importantly also a dramatist, and continues to thrive today - he was at the initial  Māori Writers hui [gathering] in Te Kaha in 1974, along with Selwyn Muru and Witi Ihimaera among several others,  and is also featured in Margaret Orbell's early Contemporary Māori Writing (1980) and Witi Ihimaera and DS Long's seminal collection Into the World of Light (1982), as just two examples. Indeed I will share a tale about a time from a couple of years ago when he and I and Brian Potiki were reading together in Gisborne (The $5 Poetry Shot.) After the reading Rore insisted on us finding the nearest pub for a beer or two before dinner, so we strolled the streets of the city to do exactly that. A few bottles of Lion Red later, it was home to have a kai [food.] He tāne upoko tonu [A hard man still]! Or maybe that should read one of The Raw Men - the title of one of his books of poetry. Kia kaha Rore Hapipi.

Rangi Faith is another Māori poet who has been published for decades now and who - like most of the following poets - has also been included in the burgeoning number of anthologies of Māori writers, such as the initial book of the Te Ao Marama series commencing in the early 1980s, through to more recent ones, given that in his case, he was published even earlier still. He too - in my opinion - has never received the critical praise he deserves from the 'literary establishment' of this country. He commences with his whaikorero – 'E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā rakatira ma. Ko Aoraki te mauka, ko Tahupotiki te takata, ko Waitaki te awa, ko Kai Tahu te iwi, no Rangiora taku kaika, no Moeraki taku kaika tuturu, no Rangi Faith taku ingoa, tena koutou katoa. Ka nui te mihi ki a koutou katoa.'

'I was always interested in the poetry of J.K. Baxter and Ian Wedde, and the paintings of Colin McCahon and Ralph Hotere. I think Baxter appealed to me as a young student at Canterbury University (and earlier at High School, where I first encountered his work). Hone Tuwhare was about at that time but I never read any of his work. Nor were there any other Māori artists of note – although some may have been starting to make their mark in the primary school’s publication the School Journal. Some of my earliest poems contain shreds of Baxter. One (To A Mountain) was written in the school bus on the way back from a rugby trip. I could see the mountains from the window – a constant passing tableau of landscape that seemed to gel with a poem of Baxter’s I had seen recently...McCahon was a different proposition. If I can pin down some Māori influence here – for me it was again the landscape, and McCahon and Baxter provided it.'

'As a child I was always aware that I lived in two hemispheres. There was the European one, literally on one side of the Temuka River, and the Māori on the other in Arowhenua. My mother from Kai Tahu, was in the local Māori Women’s Welfare League and through that connection – and family ties to Moeraki - provided a bridge to another world. My grandmother from Ngati Kahungunu married a coal miner whose descendants came from Stevenston, Ayr in Scotland. There was always that strange link away from New Zealand to another country as well.'

As the elders talk

& wait for the hangi,

sunlight through the open door

streams down the long table

set with silver and glass;


'The reo wasn’t as present (or at least didn’t directly affect me ) as it does now. But there were of course mihi [greetings] and karanga [calls onto marae]  that we saw as kids that must have influenced us. Tangi [funerals] were an exceptionally emotional time for all the families concerned – and this must have filtered through to us as young kids (and later of course as adults). A turangawaewae is a place that has a special significance for Māori. It is a place that you return to and immediately relate to. It is a place to revisit family and past relatives. For me Moeraki in North Otago is that place. You can arrive at such a place and relate to those parts of the landscape around you that your ancestors have walked through.  I am fortunate then to have a perspective from both sides of the coin. Having said that, I am more comfortable when writing things Māori. I was at a Te Ha Te Waipounamu hui recently (incidentally the first hui for years for South Island Māori writers) when someone suggested poetry reflected the New Zealand poet as ‘a man alone’. Well that is the perspective of the poet when he writes. I like to think of it as the writer in a Māori landscape. What also adds to this is the inclusion of te reo... In my poems I usually use te reo or Māori terms that are well-known in the population... '

She may remember it

in years to come –

talking about the loss

of te reo with her mates.

[Ranfurly Shield Challenge]

'The comparative simplicity of te reo has a magic about it that English doesn’t quite approach. If you have been to the viewpoint on Bluff Hill in the South Island of New Zealand you will be surrounded by a series of plaques which compass point all the outlying islands and features you can see from the hill. Each island has a name in te reo that has been used for centuries by different iwi and hapu. That’s where the language (and the poetry) are at their strongest – simple, powerful explanations of an island or place, and why it exists. East Cape is called Koromere – the hand weapon of the old man. The Forest Range is Tauwhariki – covering the land with a mat. Bench Island is called Waitaua – war party on the water...I have an abiding interest in the history of New Zealand, but am always aware that this history was played out on an essentially Maori landscape. Some of the old names have been lost in time – but at some stage every feature, every stream, hill and boulder had a name. This is how the early Māori directed himself through the landscape – from one feature to the next.'

Rangi Faith continues, 'The loss of land, coupled with the loss of te reo feature strongly in my work, as does references to Treaty of Waitangi issues. Again – I write the poetry in English but have no hesitation using te reo where it matters in the poem. My first book Unfinished Crossword was published by Quentin Wilson of Hazard Press in 1990. There is a poem at the beginning called Whaikorero which is significant in introducing myself as a poet who, in spite of having English and Scottish forebears also identifies – and will continue to identify – as having Māori descendants:

Kai Tahu te iwi

hear the tide’s flow in

that rising voice, the cry

of the oystercatcher down

the long dark beach 

'Although my iwi is Kai Tahu (Ngai Tahu) I recognize the work of other Māori writers in New Zealand – particularly Hone Tuwhare (Ngapuhi). He lived at Kaka Point in the South Island. He was a North Island poet but he elected to spend the remainder of his life in Te Wahi Pounamu (the greenstone island, the South Island of New Zealand) – writing many of his best poems there...Today, there are more Māori poets being published – individually and in anthologies.  It’s a hard market to break into for any poet – Māori or otherwise. Puna Wai Korero (An anthology of Māori poetry in English) edited by Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan... includes about a dozen working poets who are Kai Tahu or have direct links to the iwi. In their introduction the editors say: ‘One purpose of this anthology is to showcase the many Māori poets who have contributed to the literary landscape of Aotearoa’. And there it is again – the reference to the landscape, the ahi kaa,  the home fires burning. There are a number of young Māori poets being published but I think you have to see the statistics to really understand the position of Māori writing in the literary community. It is low – some researchers believe up to 90% of published work is by European writers – leaving about 3% for Māori. If there’s a need – that’s where it lies – in the publication of more Māori poets and writers. I mean if they write in English – with the occasional (and well-known) Māori word included in the text, what’s the problem? They also write about Māori themes and ideas that more European readers are beginning to understand and have some empathy with.' Kia ora mo tau kupu [Thank you for your words] Rangi.

Apirana Taylor too, has been at the forefront of writing in Aotearoa for several decades now, and not only writing poetry either. He is recognised as a leading Māori author, yet I also feel he is not recognised sufficiently either! He answered my few questions about what it meant to be a Māori poet and what he would like to see in the present Aotearoa poetry scene(s), most particularly for Māori poets, 'I define myself as a Māori poet, for a number of reasons.  Firstly because I have Māori in my blood and that is where my heart is. All human beings have a similar call, however different cultures have different voices and as a Māori in New Zealand I feel do have a different perspective. Sometimes I do concentrate on specific Māori themes, imagery and stylistic devices, but not always. Sometimes such material occurs naturally in my work with no conscious effort to put it there, but simply because its part of my wairua (soul) and therefore it bubbles up to the surface on its own accord, or to put it simply I simply speak with my own natural voice. Yes I do use te reo Māori in my poetry because it adds to what I’m saying and I want my readers understanding to grow by reading what I write.  I have also on rare occasions written one or two poems and songs in Māori.'

Taylor continues in considered fashion, 'Māori poets whether writing in English or Māori are, at this time, writing some of the finest poetry ever written in this country.  This has been so for a while. The same can be said for many of our Polynesian brethren.  This is exciting as it adds to the riches of our country. However large audiences are generally not a feature of most poetry readings in New Zealand.  As a Māori poet and part of a minority group in Aotearoa New Zealand, I often think this can make our audiences even smaller then the norm.  I’ve experienced instances of this. It’s sad. I would say yes, in terms of publishing scope, and critical space given there is recognition. There is however, always room for vast improvement. Therefore what’s available is insufficient.' Kia ora mo tau whakaaro e hoa [Thank you for your thoughts mate.]. Apirana Taylor has, by the way, been represented in Jacket 2 previously. A recent poem appears below also -


the red flower


and does the pukana

with its



Apirana Taylor







Brian Potiki below right, with Rore Hapipi and Rapatahana

(Gisborne, 2013.)


an exile thinks of Bluff

at the north end of town

the footpaths have

twisted out of shape;

Bluff, if you like,

in its singlet


hillsides bare -

the gorse blooms pale there -

and the streets

(oh my dear!)

they hang from the sides

like trousers

on the line


the old cemetery

faces Rakiura straight-on -

it’s only a glance away

but a long way in



i’d be there now, really

if i could -

but i’m stuck here

in the North Island

for good

Brian Potiki

Brian Potiki is a further link in the loooooong chain of Maori poets and writers - for he is also acknowledged as a harbinger dramatist - who have been represented in publications now for several decades in Aotearoa. He responded to my enquiries - determinedly in lower-case throughout - as follows, 'sure. my poet models are larkin, o'hara, corso- and i appreciate the contribution of gary snyder to the pacific/te moana-nui-a-kiwa debate. and then the lyrics of dylan, lennon/mcCartney and so on. i have no maori models, except in song, with Hirini Melbourne but when the cards were dealt i chose to follow my nga tahu father's lineage rather than my scottish mum. i was at victoria university (wellington) and had the very good fortune to meet my future publisher - Roger Steele - and the Te Reo Maori Society (mainly law and accountancy aspirants, but from ALL over the north island and fiercely, resolutely maori) and so more cards fell. in 1975 i directed the first play by a maori with Te Reo Maori members and most of the English Dept in the cast. two years later, the next play - about Te Reo Maori - had native maori speakers in the cast so i continued to write about south island maori history in particular - in plays, poems, songs - and, not to forget the importance, letters. i've been a hairy letter-writer all my adult life. and so i began to position myself as a nga tahu writer/poet. for funding reasons as well as deeper cultural ones.note: an early mentor/encourager was a ngai tahu opuku-runaka  Tipene O'Regan who i visited in his newtown home - he was immediately interested through our shared Bluff whakapapa' - as in Brian's poem above.

He continued, 'i do enjoy throwing in a coupla words in te reo, much as louis armstrong would quote another song in one of his solos,' and when asked about what he would like to see change as regards being a Maori writer in this country, he took a wider, zooming-out position, 'it's a big, wide world out there - even bigger is the universe beyond. the new net turns out to be an internet, so duck and dive, hang on and enjoy the ride i say.' Kia ora e hoa.

Michael O'Leary has especial importance in the pantheon of Maori authors (for he too writes well beyond poetry) and has been visible on the New Zealand literary front for a considerable amount of time now. This importance is due to his also being a (smaller) publisher via his Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop nexus, more on which soon.

In response to my three questions about being a poet/writer in Aotearoa, Michael has a measured response, as here, 'I would not call myself exclusively a Māori writer, nor would I describe myself as a ‘normal’ Pakeha New Zealand writer. I write from the perspective of the many influences; personal, cultural or literary/artistic, that I have encountered in my many years on earth. As can be seen from the examples below I write with a mixture of English and te reo Māori motifs and concepts, depending on what I am trying to express. This is the same for my prose (5 novels).' Similarly, he replied to my asking as to what he would like to see on the New Zealand coalfront of literature, as regards a Maori input - in a careful manner, 'These are questions beyond my scope, largely academic in nature. I try not to involve myself in such issues, although I couldn’t help touch on them when I did my MA and PhD.' Below is both a photo of O'Leary and a poem: the latter has as its subject matter Hone Tuwhare, a fount of inspiration for so many poets in this country and whose overall significance is finally being ratified.

Hone Tuwhare: a personal memoir

E hoa, you have gone to the place beyond

that tug-of-war which was your life: that

struggle between North and South which

even continued after you were laid to rest.


But it was always like that with you: they

wanted you there while you were elsewhere.

Both of us, we were different kinds of poets,

Railway Workers first, comrades, drinkers


This koha ō ngā kupu ki aroha is from

the centre: where the break in the rail

lies. And in the old days when we locked


Our horns together in a hōngi like bulls, we

who hear the magic whispers of sensual

kai-words, knowing it is ata-kahurangi in flight

Michael O’Leary








Now, back to Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, which I had left until this particular commentary post, when I wanted to talk more fully about Michael O'Leary, 'ESAW is still publishing, we only closed our website and stopped 'commercial' publishing when bookshops and distributors did't want to handle NZ poetry beyond the usual suspects. In a couple of weeks I have the ESAW Sounds Division release of my new CD Livin' ina Aucklan' - a collection of 13 songs based on my poetry by the band Earl of Seacliff's Lonely Hearts Club Band…[However] I long ago gave up trying to get support for the publishing done by Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, that is, from official and semi official sources: Creative NZ, University and other reviewers etc. They are only interested in their own 'safe' choices or those who they consider have merit. However, you will notice from my MA thesis that this situation is neither unique nor recent. The support we get is mainly from each other, ie other small presses. Poetry has never been easier to publish due to the new technology, but it has never been so ignored or neglected by reviewers, bookshops et al.' Again, sage comments from a man who is well-versed in verse. It also must be pointed out here that O'Leary is a leading poetry archivist in New Zealand, something I will focus more on in a future commentary post. Kia ora ano mo tau koha nui ki tenei whenua Michael.

Ben Brown (photographed on the right) responds to my enquiries about whom he identifies with as a poet, as follows, 'I am both, which is to say I am a Maori poet and I am a poet that happens to be Maori. The World's themes and experience are available to me as are those of Te Ao Maori. Much happens where the two coalesce, providing an endless seam. I was lucky, born to a Māori mother (Tainui Waikato), much given to uttering the whakatauki o Te Puea, Mauri mahi, mauri ora... and a Pākehā father from Australia who liked to quote Invictus while walking his fence line, ...It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the Master of my fate, I am the Captain of my soul. Māori is an oral culture. My mother's delivery was clipped and fluent. My father's voice was a rich baritone and he was a man who loved literature. This is the whakapapa of my work, Pai Marire.' It has to be stressed here that Ben adds a whole new dimension to his poems, primarily because he is so focussed on its delivery, its oral-audience impact, as shown in these two examples of his spoken work, here and here. Again, he follows the massive tradition of his tipuna [ancestors] - delivery, nuance, tone are all vital components of any Māori poet's repertoire. Whakarongo! (Listen!)

Anton Blank is a leading Māori editor and poet in his own right/write, who - via his Ora Nui compilations of primarily Māori writers - has enabled many, especially younger, poets to be featured (such as Jean Riki and Morgan Te Whata to name only two.) Herepliedtomyquestionsasregardsbeing Māoriin aPākehā-centredwritingclimate, with aslightlydifferentapproach;an approach certainly well worth serious consideration, 'I define myself as a Māori writer and publisher with an interest in Māori issues. In terms of what constitutes MāorAntoni literature I think this can be whatever we want it to be, otherwise we run the risk of limiting its potential, and limiting ourselves as writers. So I have included pieces from Māori writers in the Māori literary journal ‘Ora Nui’ that have no obvious Māori hallmarks or characters. Identity is not fixed, it is in a constant state of flux and reinvention. Our literature needs to reflect this movement and development. As a writer and editor, not always, I don’t think our work has to be self-consciously Māori.'

Anton continues, here about what he would like to see, 'I would like to see greater diversity in subject matter and themes, also more poetry that reflects our contemporary context. Tikanga, te reo Māori, whanau; these themes are very present in Māori literature. But what about the urban context, technology, international media? These things also define us very significantly and have the potential to make our writing even more interesting, compelling and radical.' Once again, Anton Blank's cogent appraisal bears serious reflection, most particularly as regards topos to do with urban-based Māori and technological impacts (which immediately makes me - Rapatahana - think about the work of Sam Cruickshank.) Kia ora mo tau whakaaro tino mohio hoki, Anton.

And yet, and yet, I am a firm believer that Māori can best convey what it means to be Māori in Aotearoa-New Zealand via their own tongue, te reo Māori: perhaps I am fortunate in having some fluency, eh. I will conclude this commentary with a poem of my own, if that is O.K. [NB. Sir Apirana Ngata was - at least initially - a firm believer in Māori attaining te reo Ingarahi (English) in that it would give some chance to compete with the colonialists. Hirini Melbourne, more recently it is true, staunchly advocated Māori utilising Māori language as much as possible, for only in this fashion could they ever express their epistemological and thus ontological visions, as so well expressed also by both Takirirangi and Cheryl Te-Waerea-i-Te-Rangi Smith in their 2000 Educational Philosophy and Theory journal articles. Kia ora ano.

aroha mai, apirana

[Ko te ringa ki ngā rakau a te Pākehā: In your hands the tools of the Pākehā,

Hei oranga mo o tinana: As means to support and sustain you. – Sir Apirana Ngata]

aroha mai, apirana,

                                     aroha mai taku hoa.

every day, every damned day

I strangulate this tongue,

ram it deep back   d




                                   its own throat,

bastardize it in any way I can

& french kiss it to death.

my garotte hands flex any nearest extempore –

                                                                                            schwa; tmesis; zeugma; umlaut –

                                                                                              [??? what are these???, I gag]

to asphyxiate its squawky whimpers,

exsiccate its spongy velar

supplicate its fancy frissons

into brute submission

                                                     let’s murder this motherfucker once and for all

                                                                 ko mate, mate, mate me kaore he ora mo tenei arero

ko Hirini te kingi


today I maybe won.

[So long as Māori can only assert the values and attitudes of their culture in English, they necessarily remain victims of the colonial legacy. Only when Māori writers can rely upon there being a sizeable body of readers in the Māori language will Māori culture truly be able to assert its independence – Hirini Melbourne, 1991].

NB. I have to apologise here that for some 'technical glitch' reason, some macrons could not be put into the commentary body, as with 'pūkana'! More frustratingly, several author urls also would not input themselves in the body either, so are listed as below. Aroha mai - we hope to be able to remedy these small code issues...


Rangi Faith -

Witi Ihimaera -

Robert Sullivan -

Apirana Taylor -

Apirana Taylor Jacket 2 -

Brian Potiki -

Hirini Melbourne -

Michael O’Leary -

Michael O’Leary Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop -

Ben Brown -,%20Ben

Ben Ben Brown here -

Ben Brown and here -

Anton Blank - :