20130530

Alan Chamberlain


A Review of Vaughan Rapatahana's Home, Away, Elsewhere

Home, Away, Elsewhere
Vaughan Rapatahana
Proverse Hong Kong, 2011
$15.98
Available through Amazon

Home, Away, Elsewhere is an innovative and diverse collection of lived experiences in many parts of the world. As the title indicates it has three sections, each representing a geographical and/or aesthetic context from the writer’s peripatetic life. Vaughan Rapatahana was born in Aotearoa-New Zealand, has worked in Nauru, Brunei Darussalam, The People’s Republic of China, the UAE and Australia. He now lives and works in Hong Kong. Thus, ‘home’ is not Aotearoa-New Zealand but Hong Kong, ‘away’ is inspired by a diversity of locations, Oman, Israel, Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico and a number from Aotearoa-New Zealand; ‘elsewhere’ deals not with geographical locations but relationships (for example, hey Leticia, faded love, I Should Have Done More..) and reflections on life (god is a weasel, tide , corrupted...)

The poems display a range of intense emotions. They are at times angry, sardonic and dark, at times mischievous, in some cases heartfelt and open. Their unity lies in the fact that they are all accessible and down to earth and expressed in a concrete and colloquial style.

The most striking aspect of these poems is in their layout. They are “shape” or “concrete” poems in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important to meaning as the conventional elements of poetry such as word meaning, rhythm, rhyme and imagery. This tradition goes back to Guillaume Appolinaire’s calligrammes from the early 20th century where the shape of the whole poem resembles an object and more directly to Brazilian poets such as Augusto de Campos, who coined the term “concrete poetry” in the 1950’s.

However, there is little that is derivative in these poems - Vaughan Rapatahana makes the tradition his own with a profusion of techniques woven masterfully into the language– word stretching, words going straight up, down or sliding down the page, font changes, lines spacing changes, superscript, bolding and so on. There is little punctuation and few capital letters.

Some examples of the technique:

                                  faded love:
                                       an
                                      turn
                                  p           e
                              u                  d
                              milkshake
(from faded love)

And from the uncompromising but tender old shoes

                              we fittogether
                              like
                              two old shoes

                              unrepaired
                              and
                              s  p   l  i  t  a  p  a  r  t
                              at the soles

At times the reader is obliged to stop and seek out the order of the words, as in the description of seagulls in poem seagulls in East Coast morning

                              the
                              aloof
                              gulls
                                             t
                                          f
                                        o
                                        l
                                      a

The phonographic element in the collection is no mere decoration – it has been used with masterful discretion and at times subjugated to powerful imagery and traditional techniques such as rhyme. The poem old shoes continues the metaphor of the relationship with

                              blistered & gnarled
                              & tacky & raw
                              splintered & punished
                              & grimy & poor.

Similarly, mad cousin in Winter uses text layout skilfully by creating lines of one word to slow down the reading process, doling out the dense imagery in small doses

                              I

                              trainspotted

                              your

                              inner
                              dervish

                              cartwheeling
                              backwards
                              over
                              sanity

The imagery of the poems is hard hitting and at times violently physical, peppered with expressions such as “windmill arms”, “pointed thrusts”, “crippled similes”, “snaky fumes”, “hellfire pall” and the “spindle ribs”of “mongrel poems”. They constitute, as the poet says himself, a “toreador lexis” of “bully words”.

Nowhere is the combination of phonographics and imagery used with more searing effect to evoke anger, regret, love and unbearable loss than in the elegy I Should Have Done More:

You took that
                              P
                                  L
                                    U
                                      N
                                        G
                                          E
                              the endgame dive
                              into Death

                              up the bastard
                                                         b
                                                    a
                                                 c
                                               k
                              of cannons bloody creek

This is a thoroughly readable book of poetry, both entertaining and confronting, evoking the ‘Boschean frame’ of life’s paradoxes and absurdities.




Alan Chamberlain is a former lecturer in French, TESOL and applied linguistics. He is the author of a number of educational texts, including two with Vaughan Rapatahana, English through Poetry 2007, Christchurch, User Friendly Resources and Poetry and Songs 2012, Hong Kong, Aristo.
 
 
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