- Auē Rona by Reihana Robinson, and: Between the Kindling and the Blaze: Reflections on the Concept of Mana by Ben Brown, and: Entangled Islands by Serie Barford, and: Night Swimming by Kiri Piahana-Wong
Pacific Islander poets have long imagined and reimagined stories of origin, land, ocean, and gods in ways that mirror the complex relationships we have with one another and our place as people of this ocean. Reihana Robinson's debut collection, Auē Rona, is a stunning example of the power of imagination and the importance of recasting Pacific stories. Robinson's collection directly addresses the Māori story of Rona—the woman in the moon—in a voice that is powerful, unapologetic, and cutting. Through reimagining the voice and desires of Rona, Robinson sheds a nuanced and unwavering light on gendered constructions of will, desire, and power in the context of Māori storytelling.
Robinson centers her collection on the character Rona, whom she briefly introduces in the collection's glossary. In this explanation, the story of Rona "opens as she is collecting water for her children," and, as "a cloud covers the moon; [Rona] falls, spilling the water, and she curses." As punishment for cursing, Rona is "torn from earth and taken to the moon" (64). This first depiction illuminates the multiple positions Rona inhabits, from mother and provider to lover and abandoner. The overview of Rona's story in Robinson's glossary not only functions as an access point for readers unfamiliar with the Māori story but also poignantly presents some of the key commentary, images, and themes that the poet sustains throughout the collection. Rona's story is paired with the first poem of the collection, entitled "How it all began," and the relationship crafted between glossary and poem reveals Robinson's prowess in creating complex commentary on the gendered constructions of stories, archetypes, and power, all of which unfold in the spaces of Robinson's poetic recasting.
"How it all began" sets the tone and force of this retelling by rendering the voices of Rona and her lover, the moon. The moon watches Rona as "Husbandless, she / bends her will, [End Page 392] grabs / a calabash, heads off / through the ngaio trees / and mamaku ferns." Rona's response to the moon is both familiar and biting, as she replies, "Stuff you, moon, / boil your pea brain with pūhā" (8; italics original; pūhā is a sow thistle commonly used as a potherb). These first images—a woman bending her will, speaking for herself—establish the kind of work each piece of Robinson's retelling does throughout the collection. Robinson's poems reframe the archetype of the woman in the moon and, in so doing, add new layers of voice and complexity to a female archetype of Māori storytelling. Robinson wields the power of her own unsentimental exploration of Rona's character in order to create a voice where there was no voice, a curse where there needed to be cursing, and a desire where there needed to be desire, unapologetic in its manifestation.
While Robinson illuminates female voice and gendered constructions of power in her recasting of a specific Māori story, Ben Brown also enacts a recasting as he explores mana in his debut collection, Between the Kindling and the Blaze: Reflections on the Concept of Mana. It is in the spaces "between" that Brown approaches definitions of mana, and he works with and within multiple "betweens." There is the space he creates as...