Everything is Here by Rob Hack.
Wellington: Escalator Press (2016).
RRP: $25. Pb, pp 94.
Reviewed by Janet Newman.
Rob Hack lives in Paekakariki and hosts a local poetry radio show. Everything is
Here is his first poetry collection. It contains 65 short poems about his varied life in New Zealand, Australia and Niue where he was brought up.
The most engaging poems are those that evoke Hack’s Pacific heritage and the memory of his Cook Island mother. “Not at the table” (from which his radio show takes its name) is a monologue about family rules, which in some way describes the matriarch who made them. It contains the understated humour that is a hallmark of this work. It ends:
Sex because that’s nobody’s business
just keep your clothes on.
Alcohol, because it is the death of order. (p 75)
Another monologue, “When you get to Aucklan’ (yes Aunty),” deftly captures the Pacific voice. Here is the start of the second of three stanzas:
Never push in the queue even in a hurry,
or ask silly question. That’s very rude.
Doan look at the man in the eye, alright?
And keep yoursef clean, no perfumes on
your skin. It stink. (p 16)
Descriptions of the island lifestyle, in contrast to life in New Zealand, are succinct and distinct. “Despite Meena” finds everything to love about Rarotonga despite cyclones and other disappointments. This poem appeared in the International Institute of Modern Letters’ Best New Zealand Poems 2011, the year Hack graduated from Victoria University’s IIML. Here is the second of four stanzas:
Despite Tom Davis gone the Sheraton money
gone there are rich fields of taro the reef roars
assurance all day and Mike Tavioni sculpting. (p 34)
Thirteen poems from this collection were published in 4th Floor, the journal of the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme where Hack was a student in 2006-08. Escalator Press publishes work by writers associated with Whitireia. One of these poems, “She wants fish and chips,” tenderly describes the idiosyncratic habits of a Cook Islander now living in (presumably) New Zealand. It begins:
The twin towers are falling again and again
I turn away from the news and say goodnight
for the fifth time, notice her cheeks are leathery.
Under the bathroom door the light’s still on
she’s rubbing toothpaste on her face.
In Raro, she said the kids joked that she was the black one
laughed at her learning French from the nuns. (p 76)
Another, “James Cook couldn’t land and Elvis never sang on Niue,” describes love for the island and for family. It ends:
Dad said, Elvis would’ve come to Niue
if he saw your mother dance
but he’d have to leave his hips at the door. (p 20)
The collection’s title is taken from a phrase in “Manihiki remembers.” This poem summarises the recurring idea of the quality of the Pacific island lifestyle compared with the problems of the industrialised west. It begins:
Leaving for the big smoke was your big idea.
But everything is here, sun, fish. Everything.
You can buy fish there but here
you are taught how to catch them. (p 31)
It is a notion that is adroitly described in Hack’s strong and authentic voice. However, the generic title – not helped by the cover that sets the words against a stylised background of sea and sand – fails to locate the collection in the Pacific it so thoroughly describes. An inconsistent use of commas – “Rain smashes down turns roads to rivers. / Station horses eat poison weed, get walkabout and a bullet.” (p 62) – and absent hyphens – “long hairs” (p 80) should have been overcome with editing.
Reliance on description – and what begins to feel like anecdote – begs the step toward imagination and perception. “Roosters,” for instance, cleverly describes the poet’s failure to impress his brothers with his writing yet leaves the reader pondering how this makes him feel.
Accomplished descriptions of the Pacific and its people combined with wry humour nevertheless make this an enjoyable collection.