Poukahangatus by Tayi Tibble
Wellington: VUP (2018)
RRP: $20. Pb, 80pp
Reviewed by Piet Nieuwland
Poukahangatus is a young, fun, deliciously lively and sensual first book of poetry taking a swab of the last five decades of popular culture. Dedicated to the author’s mother, it is very much about that relationship, as well as with their wider whanau. With her invented title, Tayi Tibble is defining herself, her place to leap from. Even though she is much younger than I am, I am immediately drawn to the dynamics and issues she explores.
The first section introduces the coiling snakes of the Medusa’s head and interwoven, plaited and sometimes tangled themes of what is to follow: relationships, sex, death, religion and navigating identity.
“In the 1960s and Influx of Māori Women”, p 15, is an engaging poem. It captures the appealing colours and energies of the collection’s cover and is a tribute to her mother arriving in Wellington with all the colours, makeup, drinks, temptations, freedoms and opportunities that the city presented in the 1960s.
But for contrast, it’s not long before the obligations of traditional Māoritanga make their presence felt, as in “Tangi in the King County” p 20. Here the smells – if not of the body being treated with animal fats, then the aromas and tastes of food and the cleansing rituals – are powerfully described so that they remain in the memory.
In Part 2 there are poignant lines about alcohol, sexuality, intimate relationships and loss – such as in “Christmas” p 37:
and dancing with phantom photocopies
of our fathers.
I wish we could have watched them
fall in love
with our mothers.
All we have ever known
is the feeling of somebody leaving.
Part 3, with its “Vampires and Werewolves”, p 53, is an interrogation – ‘Could you be more specific?’ – on the popular and obviously influential film series, The Twilight Saga. This contemporary take serves to illustrate the impact of the popular media on the way we think about life and the models the media portrays. For other generations there are similar such series; things haven’t really changed that much. That’s what makes this book so interesting – the icons, symbols and elements of popular culture that we are immersed in and attempting to come to terms with in our own particular way. Poukahangatus is healthy and enjoyable.
Piet Nieuwland has poems and flash fiction appear in numerous print and online journals published in New Zealand, Australia, United States of America, Canada and India. He is a performance poet, edits Fast Fibres Poetry and lives near Whangarei.