may day is lei day

posted by Michele
photo credit: Godfrey Boehnke, University of Auckland photographer


There were Morris dancers in Queen Elizabeth Square Thursday morning, waving white hankies and jingling at the knees. People taking cover from the wild weather gathered around the circle of dancers. May Day celebrations are alive and well in the city. At the other end of Queen St, university graduation was getting under way. Tim Page and I packed ourselves into a taxi with a guitar, regalia, the matua tokotoko and my blue stick, and headed for the Town Hall. It was the matua’s first outing in Auckland: an appointment with 2000-odd people under cameras and lights.

Onstage I explained the tangible connection of the matua with Hone Tuwhare and how that connection has rubbed off on Te Kikorangi, the blue stick. We passed both sticks to kuia Merimeri Penfold to look after and then launched into ‘taking it seriously,’ a fairly unserious poem for the arts graduates of Te Whare Wananga o Tamaki Makaurau They seemed to like it, especially when Tim did his bluesy riff for the feast at the end. The biggest thrill was getting half a dozen lei from graduates afterwards. Thanks all!

University of Auckland News (23 May 2008) 'Poet subverts traditional graduation speech' (PDF, 1.59 MB) (Word version)

taking it seriously

what shall I do I asked that stick
Te Kikorangi      write them a poem what else
said the stick and went back to cooking up
a feed of mussels from Kawhia      national treasures
can do that      take a weekday trip
down the coast and go fishing
while the rest of us work for the man
oh and make it funny said the stick
you don’t want them dozing off      and winked
too true Blue I said      the mussels went down
and the feet went up      the giver of advice
and good counsel settled in for a well-earned
nap      why keep a poet and bark yourself?

so I invite myself      into your had-it-up-to-here
lives      it’s rent day I’m working till midnight
three thousand words forty percent out of coffee
out of smokes out of time the computer ate it
and that one doesn’t give extensions
even for dead grandmothers      my tenth
this semester      heartless just heartless
how will my grandmothers cope
with the news of my expiry from Intellectual
Over-Utilisation Syndrome      IOUs
and youse and youse      I am the future
sitting here in academic drag      flat broke
about to get an arts degree
how do you come back from that?

all this fuss has disturbed the stick
who opens one eye and says      build a bridge
and get over it      easy enough for TK
reviewing the back of those famous eyelids
half the afternoon      thinking about
a cup of tea and maybe some of last night’s
whitebait fritters before a walk
to the beach where someone has written
the only land I own is that between
my toes
too right says Kikorangi
adding a flourish in blue      hooray
it’s worth a fortune and the ragged artist
struggling to repay student debts
auctions the scrawl on Trade Me
and walks free upon the earth again
in the company of ten grandmothers

you think it can’t happen?
poets to come      orators singers musicians
to come      the stick is really getting going now
thinkers teachers philosophers      and you
the quiet ones who reach for the moon and stars
not today is to justify me and answer
what I am for      but you a new brood      digital
Pacific voyagers understanding more
than any before you about the blue planet
and her breathing multitudes      come forward
for you must justify me      one who saunters
turns a casual look upon you and steps
into the shadows      leaving it to you
to constellate and configure      expecting
the main things from you

Kikorangi I said      you’d better stop
channelling Walt Whitman or Turnitin
will get you      uh huh comes the reply
why don’t you help me get this hapuka
into the smoker      and tell Walt to bring
his grandma as well as a good red
and whatever poems he’s written lately
we’ll have a session      there’s always room
in the world for poems grandmothers
and arts degrees looking for a good time
la dolce vita      la vie en rose      fia ola
May Day is Lei Day in Tamaki Makaurau
don’t you see
the stick is looking for extra glasses
and fairy lights to string along the path
and as smoke curls between the banana palms
new potatoes dance with garden mint
and it’s clear the whole graduating class
has been invited over      here they are now
knocking with their elbows      because
their arms are full of bags bowls and bottles
crates of champagne      dolmadas drums
and diplomas      figs fire and frangipani
ginger garlic grapes and guitars
harps and honeydew      eel and icecream
lamb lutes lemons and limes      melons mangos
mandolins maraccas      okra olives
onions oysters      pork parsley passionfruit
persimmons pineapples pomegranates prawns
roast corn red peppers rhubarb rosemary and rice
scallops and sangria      snapper and squid
taro truffles tabouleh tortillas
venison vineleaves yoghurt zucchini
and crayfish in coconut cream
food of heaven says Te Kikorangi
bring on your poems dance with your grannies
we feast with the gods tonight!

photo credit: Godfrey Boehnke, University of Auckland photographer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great! you could actually feel the tastes and senses as you read through it. Captures NZ life :)