Monday, August 10, 2009

Ram in a thicket - Smithyman

I have been introduced to the poems of Kendrick Smithyman by maps.

I enjoy them. Here is a random (perhaps) one from Atua Wera

Darkness along crests of the ranges
not end of day darkening, a something which spread up
out of the sea all over early afternoon.
Lightnings played from ridge to ridge,
then thunder, more thunder.
Everyone knew, somebody important was going to die.

Bound to be a few who claimed they heard
the hokioi bird as well, thunder's close friend
whose cry means things won't work out as they should
even for a man under command told
what to do to be saved,
and to save those deserving.

The world was about to get cast away
where outer darkness was, unless.
Maori could be saved, if.
Pakeha, a different question. Perhaps, some of them?
Perhaps indeed. What pakeha ever saw the hokioi —
that bird! You just can't describe it, and who
ever saw it twice? Once is enough.
He built an altar.
He offered up dogs. Owls too, which puzzled northern folk.
Sheep, they could understand why sheep.
These were only indications,
more would be needed.
Another too, a more considerable altar:
Moses handed down the design.
At such time a terrible lack, to have no son.

He hunted all around, nowhere to find a ram in a thicket.
For her family's sake his daughter was willing.
The Resident Magistrate with his police detail rode in.
They interfered, they saved the girl, they said.
They did not save the people; that was put off
for another day.


feddabonn said...

beautiful. is this reference to a particular event?

just finished witi ihimaera's whanau II, and am struck by the similarities in how close together the world of myth and the physical world are. is this any sort of a thread that runs through maori writing?

Marty Mars said...

Not sure but I think yes, although obviously universal too. And that was one aspect that affected me from the Smithyman poem/s - it could be today. The poems are so deep with so much meaning.

Yes the thread of the closeness between yesterday, today and tomorrow is there in maori writing but I know little about this, other than to say that that closeness is also there in all aspects of Maori life, and therefore writing as an expression of Maoritanga must have it too, although once again there are many variables within maori and one size definately doesn't fit all.

Good questions for maps - he will answer them, I'm sure.

And worth checking the link in the post to the online resources of Smithyman, feddabon. Look forward to reading your thought and feelings after reading whanau II

feddabonn said...

"closeness between yesterday, today and an expression of Maoritanga"

very interesting. that ties in very well with what you have said elsewhere about genealogy being the important thing for maori. i think i begin to understand!

finished whanau II, and loved it. while the 'day in the life' device is not new, i thought it was used very well to bring together 1)time (the past, present and future) and 2)worlds (temporal, physical). it reads, to me, like the best of neil gaiman's work, not only referring to myth but also creating it, anchoring it in time-space co-ordinates. another comparison i found was to salman rushdie's midnight's children, again in the sense of myth though i guess, (unsurprisingly) this was more solemn in tone, more sacred, more (do i use the term correctly?) tapu. i also liked the unapologetic willingness to look at the maori condition without romanticising it, grappling with current problems (for example of aimlessness and drunkenness), something i can relate to very well. the same non-judgemental yet honest tone was used to describe the matua and other characters, a tone i felt was embodied in the person of rangi, who is upset at not being helped on the land, yet is willing to help his sister and brother.

i struggled, though, with the place names and genealogies- i am still unused to the rhythm of maori place names. in retrospect, it is interesting that though genealogy is so important, i was able to get through the book without much comprehension of it and who was related to whom. i am not sure if that is a fault and takes away from the faithfulness to maoritanga, or a strength that keeps it accessible to the outside world!

all in all a very good read, and it gave me (i think) a better understanding of what it means to be maori.