by Mere Taito
Mere Taito is Rotuman by ancestry, identifies Fiji as her I-grew-up-here home and New Zealand as her right-now home – a bit of a balancing act at times, which other cultural voyagers can appreciate.
This new collection – ten short poems, each illustrated – reflects her sense of balance: light versus dark, certainly, but also visual versus verbal images, images of destruction and fragmentation versus images of completion. This is a book to tuck in your pocket, to take out and re-read. (It’s also a very good book to give as a present.)
The DARK MATTER is illustrated with uncomfortable, sharp edges, and the poems feel the same way. ‘Bad Charity’ asserts: “we have gifted our bones/ to tears…without a skeleton/ how do we run for cover/ from our own fractures?” And in ‘The Lost Art of Kissing a Government’ “we used to eat their mouths// tear their lips/ crunch their teeth// slit their tonsils/ with our forked tongues”.
The dark poems are about unpleasant matters, buildings which are as defective as people, helicopters bringing privilege into the jungle, bodies turned to salt. (Taito has a good line in dark matter. In the 2007 Suva collection, Writing the Pacific, she recounts a first-class nightmare, and this collection takes the dark side even farther.) ‘This Charmed Life’ presents us with a vivid tar-seal road that “slithers into a village like a hungry boa” devouring everything in its path.
The LIGHT MATTER is full of satisfaction, and completion. The first poem is ‘Good Voodoo’, where carefree toes and feet rise in the flowers: “flat on a spine/ she raises her legs and stops only/ when they are perpendicular to the earth…”.
All the illustrations in this section are of living things: feet, girl, gulls, sun and moon (yes, they live). “stars are born/ from a yellow sun father and/ a blue moon mother … the moon lies on her back/ screaming a night sky// legs trussed up high/ on the shoulders of the sun”.
‘Eumelanin Gorgeous’ is dedicated to the poet’s nieces (“may you always be happy in your own skin”) and begins:
earth brown in a basket is…
where the life of a pandanus tree begins
where ecosystems stencil the design of breath
the rains pilgrim south to pay homage to the earthworm and
the heavens reach down for counsel
The light matters speak of completion, being well-fed, sex born out of stars. The book ends with ‘Fermentere’ – a song of gradual completion, a song of fermentation, a song of making tāhroro, comparing it with a visit to Rotorua where “yellow fumes throttle down/ gently swirling the chunky town/ beneath the hard palette then/ safely back to the soft velum...”.
Tāhroro is a fermented coconut condiment, a delicacy – a flavour you will never find elsewhere because it tastes like your past. Your nearest and dearest write this sort of food off as an acquired taste, and they put up with your eating it because they love you, not because they want a second helping. I think there’s a food like this in most cultures, and it’s a wonderful metaphor for the things we carry with us when we move around the world.
Author: Mere Taito
Publisher: Mere Taito (MT Poetry)
RRP: $10.00; $14.00 (with postage direct from the author)
Available: From the author, message via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/meretaitopoetry
Writers Plot Readers Read Bookshop (Wellington) https://writersplotreadersread.wordpress.com
Jason Books (Auckland) http://www.jasonbooks.co.nz/