Flash Frontier

Kōrero: Briar Wood with Vaughan Rapatahana

Interviews and Features

Vaughan Rapatahana: Can you please tell us your tribal affiliation(s)?

Briar Wood: Ngā Puhi Nui Tonu. Like many of the whānau I’ve spent a lot of time away from the north, and that just makes me think about it more.


It’s by-election day. Buzzwords are out on signs in country towns Horeke, Mangamuka, Whirinaki. The harbour’s still as a milk vat. My bro and I are the first visitors for a week and possibly the last, in the trim rebuilt mission house. Mary Ann Bumby’s home is honeycombed with notes - sister of the Wesleyan minister she brought two hives of bees stacked with cinders above and ice below to keep them alive on a spending spree in Sydney, delivered safely to Māngungu. Trees burst with ripe quinces and rosehips litter the porch where three thousand tāngata watched a binding signing of Treaty papers. Voting on the road, each small tick skims into a vast blue morning. Patuone, Heke, Rongo - tamumu in my ear, tell me your whakaaro about the sovereignty you did not sign away.

VR: Can you also tell us something about yourself, please? Writing career and genre, including latest poetry collection, eh? Overseas living experiences? Current position? Just a bit of background…

BW: My early years at school were spent in Māngere in Tāmaki Makaurau, studied at the University of Auckland, went to study women’s writing at the University of Sussex. Spent the next thirty years travelling between Europe and the Pacific, teaching writing and literature in London a lot of the time. It is interesting work and I love the multiculturalism of London. I’ve been publishing since the 1980s – usually a few poems here and there yearly, stories, reviews, essays. Most often I’m inspired by wāhi – locations, the ecology of places, the way it all fits together – whenua, tangata, moana. Welcome Beltane, a collection of poems, came out in Britain in 2012, and the positive reactions to the poems encouraged me to put another collection together. Working with Kiri Piahana Wong at Anahera Press on the next collection Rāwāhi (2017) was a real pleasure.

[NB. Rāwāhi – meaning ‘overseas’ – was shortlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Award in 2018.]

Breakfast at Waimate, 1845

Davis, as usual, complaining about the weather, his personal trials with God, sin, Popery and has much to say about piety. The man’s a sedentary cliché. At the mahogany table tea is served first. Heke, installed on one of Hall’s chairs with gentlemanly elegance, also protests. Of te tiriti. Undeniably, he has cause, but is assured by Williams that only British law can save him from the French, rough sorts at Kororāreka, and Tamati Waka Nene. Porridge first, with cream, for we have long rides ahead, and miles of walking. School starts each day at eight sharp. Burrows pretends to disapprove of Heke Hou’s politics, but is obviously charmed, laughing at his jokes, repeating his insults against the Governor and sundry as evidence of his wit and exegesis, claiming Brown should go preach his sermon from the text James iv.1. From whence come wars, etc? to the soldiers. Heke’s claims in whakataukī to be the new net, Burrows takes seriously. Mr Hobbs of the Wesleyans is preferred by him to many a member of his own congregation as company. Methinks. Meanwhile the Archdeacon plots to keep the 11,000 acres he’s acquired at Pakaraka for his eleven offspring. So much for the unworldliness of churchmen, turned gentlemen farmers here. Te Ahuahu, Ruhe, Kawiti’s the strategist. He breaks bread but does not say much. Eggs, bacon, fruit, mutton, coffee. A good spread. Women in the kitchen prepare luncheon.

VR: I know that you do endeavour to write ki te reo Māori. How important is it for you to write in te reo, please?

BW: Having a relationship to te reo is always part of what I do. I learned some te reo when I was young, for which I’m always grateful. Being in London for so long meant there was not much chance to kōrero in te reo, and it’s a significant part of te hokinga mai – returning, that I’m able to listen to te reo being spoken often. The collection was called Rāwāhi because having the opportunity to be immersed is so moving. Languages are the work of a lifetime. I’m aware of how much I don’t know. Back to classes for me!

VR: Relatedly, how important/vital do you think it is for Kiwi writers to write in te reo Māori, please? Or at least attempt to?

BW: Te reo Māori is the language of continuity here in Aotearoa. Te reo writers are indeed vital and the writings are taonga.

Ka nui ngā toikupu, ngā pūrākau, ngā tuhinga, ngā pakimaero, ngā pakiwaitara me ngā waiata i te reo Māori. Kei te hiahia pānui ahau ngā tuhituhi anō i te reo Māori. Me kōrero atu ngā kaituhituhi. Me kōrero ngā kaituhituhi ki ngā tupuna me ngā tamariki. Kei ngā tuhituhi nā nāia nei ngā tāhuhu kōrero āpōpō.


He tika tonu, Hone, loved, respected tūpuna, can we add some kupu for tōuarangi to your praise of the way ua stirs up silence? Like Sami to snow – kōuaua – scattered light rain. Kōnehunehu – drizzle. Tarariki - persistent drizzling rain. Should I wear a pūreke today? Taetaeata – early morning rain, this morning, tārū kahika – light summer rain, becoming pūpū tai, misty driving rain, turning into hūkerikeri, violent, turbulent rough riding rain, rain that gets under your skin and stays, ua tātā, traffic stopping rain, ma te poi, hoea hoea rā, very heavy patapataiāwhā, let’s say that again – to deluge, patapataiāwhā, rain to save your stocks and flocks from whenua steeping rain makes the Otaika riverswell and the waterfall pouring, bucketing, chucking it down, too fast for the tamariki to swim, too rough for anyone. To tāhaohao - cease raining, kākāmaroke – free from rain and then, you’ll aroha this Hone – time to go out and walk in a winged world freshly wiped wet with earth perfume plantoil, ochre, clay, geosmin the storm water drainswirling. Pathetic fallacy? Ākune. Kāore he tohu kino ake te ua. Ka wana te ao. Rongo - Haumia-tiketike me Tāne-mahuta work together. Plant nouns. Inhale the wind’s potpourri tīare blended kōkōwai with kawakawa, ozone, seafoam, steaming concrete. Sister Rosetta Tharpe on the earphones strumming away at ‘Didn’t It Rain?’ on Alexandria Railway station. Mao – to become clear of rain, to bloody well stop raining.

VR: Finally, do you think you might have a go at writing some flash fiction…?

BW: That feels like a little nudge and in the right direction – thank you Vaughan. I have a couple of flash fiction stories – it might be a realistic aim to write one in te reo. Or two. Being in the company of Māori writers – it makes so much possible. Aroha.


flash fiction

The Minister’s booking is a coup for the company. She is constantly in the news, with a two-year old and a new born baby, Eden. The entourage will pause in the cafe room for photo ops and coffee, before moving to the conference suite.

Two security men are stationed at the door. Cait, Parī’s business partner, flashes an item about a drone at the airport on her phone at her.

‘You’d think there’d be a law against those by now.’

‘There probably is. The law’s like a speeding ticket. You only know what the speed is after you’ve gone too fast.’

‘We’re supposed to read the signs.’

‘How come there are so many speeding tickets, if all the signs are so easy to read? It’s alright for you with your X-ray vision.’

‘Oh, sounds like they’re here. We’ll have to kōrero about the hui later.’

Joanne, the Minister, reads her notes and checks the agenda. There’s a knock at the door, and a subtle man in a suit asks Parī to pass on a note.

She catches some key words from under the table. DRONE, EMERGENCY, AIRPORT.

The Minister folds the note, puts it on top of the table, adds a point to the agenda.

11. Security on drones.

Then she leaves for the conference room. Tessa, the carer holding the baby, follows after.

‘I wouldn’t have minded a carer like that. Mum was at the other end of the country.’

‘I wouldn’t mind one now. For helping to look after my sister’s tamariki.’

Later, right at the planned hour, the door from the conference room opens again as Tessa emerges with a sobbing Eden.

‘An all-round ban is the only possible answer.’

‘My husband’s firm use them all the time.’

‘Have you heard any more?’ Joanne sits down heavily on one of the bentwood chairs, shaking her head as Tessa hands Eden to her.

‘She’s just tired. All the excitement of this morning.’

Picking up the notepad at her place on the table, Parī drops it to her knee, draws an image of te kara. When she looks up again Cait too is writing covertly, as is the Minister.

Parī hands her note under the table to Cait, opening the return message from her partner to a sketch of the flag of tino rangatiratanga.

Briar Wood grew up in South Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. Until 2012, she lived and worked as a lecturer in Britain. Welcome Beltane (Palores Press, 2012) made poetic links between family histories and contemporary places. Her 2017 collection Rāwāhi (Anahera Press) is focused through a return to Northland places where her Te Hikutū ki Hokianga, Ngāpuhi Nui whakapapa resonates with ecological concerns.
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