Āria by Jessica Hinerangi.  AUP (2023). RRP: $35.00. Pb, 86pp. ISBN: 9781991154149. Reviewed by Māia Te Whetū

Luminous and dripping in indigenous wisdom, this debut collection of poetry written by Jessica Hinerangi arrives with an extended hand, promising to hold close as her words move us through many waters. ‘Put your head under’ (p.59), she insists. 

With themes of lost whakapapa and cultural dissonance, this book is a narration of reconnection and an invitation for displaced mokopuna who are hungry to name our pain and even hungrier to return to ourselves. Hinerangi travels from her birthplace in Otepoti to her whenua in Taranaki and Hokianga, pausing along the way to scale maunga, swing poi in the club and to marvel and tangi as she traces her whakapapa and whānau migration throughout the motu. Nourishing, intimate and true to its title Āria, this collection is a tale of a life lived in deep romance with the wai. 

Sectioned into three distinct parts, the first is permeated by a sense of longing. Hinerangi looks out into the world with such fondness and fascination and as a reader we are welcomed to sit in awe with her. An ode to girlhood and takatāpui dizziness, these poems are compassionate and vulnerable. ‘I’ve ploughed my flesh’ (Dear Tūpuna 1, p.14) she tells us, as the wounds of severed Māoritanga are confessed in all their anxious shame and aching while being held by a loving tide that our author surrenders to, floating and trusting in its course. You can feel hurt in these poems but never defeat. Throughout the book Hinerangi confides in her tupuna through written letters and they accompany her throughout her journey of reclamation, comforting and ever present. 

‘You are with me all the way’ (Dear Tūpuna 3, p.63)

‘2. Ahi Ka’ burns with a flame that is seductive and vengeful as if our Māori Mermaid has emerged with sharpened teeth. These poems are saturated in a determined fury that is bewitching, she writes –  ‘I kiss Tūmatauenga on the cheek before I dress, squeeze my legs into thigh-high hot boots, beneath which I will crush man’s jaw.’ Her words are authoritative, strutting and sparkly as she exits, ‘the passenger seat like Paris exits her Ferrari. Head down, swiping up my sweet glossy blood-stained lips with a diamond nail, bracelets giggling on my wrists. ‘There is a taniwha in my heart and a maniaia on my head.’ (p.37). 

This collection is as much a celebration as it is an interrogation of self. With both Māori and Pākeha lineage, Hinerangi navigates discomfort and dissonance with tenderness and a firm hand, consistently affirming the notion ‘I whakapapa therefore I am’ (I whakapapa therefore I am, p.53). She emphasises the responsibility of we ‘hybrid hottie’s’ (Pretty pūngāwerewere, p.41) who must submit ourselves to sit in awkward acceptance of our contradicting histories so we can strap up and do the mahi of ‘catching the curses of our predecessors’ (Pretty pūngāwerewere, p.41). 

If you are familiar with her artwork you have borne witness to the brilliant visual imagination of Hinerangi, and this book is no exception. Her words are colourfully crafted and immersive, transporting you momentarily to a scene of her invention; to laugh and feast in the company of eels, fairies, ancestors and Atua. In all, Āria is an exploration of boundless connection, courageously open to feeling in fullness all that is frightening, and to care for it with a collective guidance. 

This collection of poetry and its enchanting cover art and illustrations by the poet herself will arrive to you as a taonga too alluring to leave glistening on the shore. I urge you to indulge in the temptation. 

Māia Te Whetū (Waikato Tainui, Ngāi Tūhoe) is a takatāpui writer and bookseller from Ōtautahi. She has been involved in postcolonial research and her poetry was recently published in Awa Wāhine Toru magazine. Māia spends her time in the company of the moana and her whānau as she completes her studies in sociology and criminology.