Monday Miscellany: Polynesian poetry

While researching my post on Dreams of a Rainbow I read a fair amount of poetry from around Polynesia (both to try to situate Kauraka’s poetry more firmly in the Polynesian tradition and figure out whether it was objectively mediocre or whether I was just missing something). This is a bit of a long one, so links after the jump.

Cook Islands

Audrey Brown-Pereira: This link has the text of her poem “The Trilogy of Two Halves”, as well as video of the poet reading the poem, which I highly recommend.

Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, author of The Frigate Bird (about which I posted on Friday), was better-known as a poet. He moved from Cook Islands to New Zealand when he was orphaned at age 8, but remained influenced by Cook Islands Maori culture and tradition. His poem “The Return” has also been set to music (kind of) by composer Douglas Lilburn in the 1960s. It’s pretty terrifying (especially around the 5:50 mark, when the whispers start). The actual poem starts at 9:35 if you want to skip to that part.


John Puhiatau Pule: Like many of the other poets listed here, Pule emigrated to New Zealand at an early age (2, in his case), and grew up in a sort of limbo between his adopted culture and that of his homeland. This is a great article about him and his upbringing, with some beautiful examples of his paintings. I originally had his book The Shark That Ate the Sun on the list for Niue, but it proved too difficult to source, so I’ve been digging around some of his poetry online. His poems, such as “Loto,” are often both tender and obscene (more here).


Ruperake Petaia is the author of the abysmally awful The Challenge, which I will be reviewing in a few weeks or so. I read his poem “Kidnapped,” in Lali: A Pacific Anthology, however, and it’s not bad; there’s a dark humor and self-awareness that I would not have suspected from his ham-handed short stories.

Caroline Sinavaiana is from American Samoa, and currently a professor at the University of Hawaii; her book Alchemies of Distance was on my list but got cut because I couldn’t get it from the library and I didn’t want to pay $30 for it (sorry, Dr. Sinavaiana–I’m on a budget here). And also because after Dreams of a Rainbow I decided to trim some of the poetry collections from this list. But here are four of her poems, and they’re quite lovely.

Albert Wendt, editor of Lali: A Pacific Anthology and author of Leaves of the Banyan Tree, is a sort of organizer and champion of Pacific literature. He’s had a long career in both poetry and fiction, as well as being a prominent academic. Here is a video of him reading his poem “Inside Us the Dead” (weirdly classified as “comedy” by YouTube, which it really isn’t unless your sense of humor is significantly stranger than mine).


Konai Helu Thaman is widely recognized as one of the most influential Tongan poets. I haven’t been able to find good links to her poetry online, but selections of several of her collections are available from Google Books. I recommend “You, the Choice of my Parents” from the collection of the same name and “Letter to Feifafa” from Kakala.


Selina Tusitala Marsh is a New Zealander of Tuvaluan, Samoan, French and English descent. Here is a link to her poem “Tuvalu Blues,” with an audio recording of Marsh talking about Tuvalu and the impacts of climate change there.

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