Body by Pule 6: John visits Christine and leaves his symbol.

This was a special weekend: John Pule was in town for a poetry session with Hinemoana Baker at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival, with me in the chair. It was a great session and the icing on the cake was him joining me to visit Christine Harvey, my kaitamoko and her whanau (sorry, the macrons have died).

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John signs his book, The Bond of Time for Karen Zelas at the Festival.

So this morning I drove to the hotel on Latimer Square and picked him up for the trip to North Beach. He’d had a long night and was doing well to be up for a session with Christine, her busy whanau and another tatau session with me. He had drawn for me a special symbol, which Christine was going to add to the right arm underneath the P-38 plane.

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The original drawing for Christine to work from.

We made the introductions and John was surrounded by the tamariki, then we made our way to the work room for the mahi to begin. It was a great moment for me to have both these special friends in the same room: John who had led me into this journey, who had so generously created the designs from images I had given him that mattered to me; and Christine, who had faithfully and beautifully transferred them freehand with superb skill, onto my skin.

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After a karakia, the waiata of Whirimako Black sweetened the room as Christine chose a fine needle and went to work. There wasn’t much room for the finely detailed design, no bigger than a $1.00 coin, but she managed it beautifully, of course. Not easy with the artist there watching, but of course, there was a warm and generous gaze on his part. With some photos taken of the work and of each other, soon we were done and closed with more prayers of gratitude.

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John and I celebrate the finished work.

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John and Christine, designer and tatau artist: two very special people.

And so we were done and went to join the tamariki for kai and a kapu ti: fish wings, stew on toast, banana cake, delicious. John was talking to Christine about her art and how she got into moko and people they both knew in that mahi. It was precious to see them both together, two artists sharing their gifts. The kids came and went, listening, asking questions and joining in.

John showed his tatau and recited a poem; I followed suit, showing the tamariki the purpose and the function of the images as stories. It was a moment in time, and one I won’t forget. Christine and her children, artists all. I know they are going to do many special things in this world.

Later she wrote to me in an email, “Ka mau te wehi e hoa lovely meeting John he tino humarie ia, I look forward to yummy poukeno with aku kiore paku paku, ka nui te mihi mai te whanau nei.” That pumpkin I took won’t last long then!

So we took our leave and I drove John to the airport; we talked about Tony Fomison and his links to the Samoan community in life and death, about my experiences with Samoan families in Christchurch in the 1970s and what riches they shared. Maori, Niueans, Samoans – how many gifts have we been given here? Come September 12th-14th, John and I will meet again in Waitakere for the Going West Festival, and we’ll do it all over again, but differently, artfully, all the way home. Mauri ora!

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The artist’s touch: nga matimati o te kaitamoko.

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Body by Pule 6: He Tohorā ano.

It was time to go back to Christine’s place for some repairs on the left arm, a couple of spots on the ngahere, the amazing forest John had designed. He had also suggested that perhaps a bare part on my right arm opposite the whale needed an image and I decided another tohorā would be be perfect, having them swim towards each other, linked by the circle of HMS Illustrious’ three crossed trumpets.


So I arrived as usual at 1pm, this time to the greetings of the tamariki, “Jeffrey’s here!”, which was really sweet – Tū came right up and gave me a hug, as did his sister. It was great to see Christine and her amazing whānau again, and to say hello to her Mum who was on driving duty for a trip to the dentist at Aranui for one of the kids.

We got into the familiar studio and I showed Christine what I would like to have done, so we had a karakia and began. First there was the drawing and then cleaning of the ink to get a clear line.


Then we got down to the needle again and the old sensation of nibbling fire ran onto my skin. We talked about the Nigel Latta programmes on alcohol and the one on family violence, and how good they were, how true to lives we had known.


The work progressed beautifully and soon it was time to do the finishing on the left arm, just a couple of places where the green had faded and some of the black needed a fresh layer of ink. We have to have my ngahere looking good for John to see when he comes down soon.


And then it was done, a short sweet session, where we once more went with the flow of the spirit, more kōrero this time as the iPod was out of action so no Whirimako Black to serenade us. We ended with a karakia and went to have some delicious pāua fritters (best ever) and sweet scones. Christine always ends a session with a kai. Her Mum arrived back with the dental bus run and we spent half an hour swapping stories of the wear and tear on our bodies in middle age and the evils of ACC. Special.


So once more I am in debt to this wonderful artist and her whānau for having me round to my house of tatau aroha. I went home that night and watched the magical Pauly Fuemana documentary on Māori TV, with images of John Pule talking about the life of his Niuean brother artist. You can see in the video Land of Plenty and some of John’s handiwork. Mauli ola!

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Poetry Shelf interviews Jim Wilson from Phantom Billstickers for National Poetry Day


Great interview of a cultural wizard, Jim Wilson, the poet’s friend – ‘on ya!’

Originally posted on NZ Poetry Shelf:

To celebrate National Poetry Day I decided to do two things. Post a poem by the fabulous poet, Tusiata Avia, and run an interview with poetry benefactor extraordinaire, Jim Wilson.

Jim Wilson started Phantom Billstickers, a street-media company, in New Zealand in 1982. His aim was to draw audiences to music events and the wider arts. Since then he has started the Phantom Billstickers Poetry Project to ‘to use posters to share the hearts and minds of the Kiwi poet with people outside of New Zealand.’ Over the past five years the posters have gone up in cities across the world (Amsterdam, Barcelona, Chicago, Clarksdale (Mississippi), Glasgow, Hong Kong, London, NYC, Paris, Singapore, Sydney, and Vienna, among many others) and back home. They are pasted on walls, poles and in cafes and have featured an electric and vital feast of New Zealand poems and poets. He is an unsung hero…

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Dirty Politics Summary

Originally posted on The Dim-Post:

Hager’s basic hypothesis is that John Key’s National government uses a ‘two tier’ communications strategy; positive communications, which are focused around John Key, who is presented as ‘relaxed’ and decent, and negative/attack communications, which are conducted covertly by senior staffers in Key’s office and fed to the media mostly – but not exclusively – through Cameron Slater’s WhaleOil blog. 

His evidence for all of this consists of a huge quantity of Slater’s Facebook messages many of which are to and from Jason Ede, the longest-serving press officer in the Prime Minister’s office. The primary allegations regarding Ede are: 

  • He was involved in accessing the Labour Party’s computers in the lead-up to the 2011 election
  • He tips Slater off when an OIA is about to be released to an opposition party or media outlet, telling Slater to request the OIA, which he is then provided with before the original requestor. Slater then publishes the information…

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Body by Pule 5: Te rā whakamutunga.

He Mihi: ki a Christine Harvey, tohunga tā moko 2014.

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There have been many changes in this process for me, none more so than seeing a story emerge onto my arms from within; from the day I sat down with John that afternoon last year and the conversation turned to his tatau, to this day when mine will be completed. I knew as I drove out to the studio at North Beach that this was when we would make an end to what was begun on my skin several weeks ago; but also, what was beginning for me, now I had become a member of the skin talkers, people who say something about themselves, for whatever reason, by submitting to tatau/moko/tattoo.

I am very much aware of fashion and its ebbs and flows; of self-harm; of narcissism; of all the many objections that can be raised against the marking of one’s body with permanent images and words. But I know too that sometimes, when we least expect it, a door opens and we have decide, will I go through? It did open and I have entered. For me, it is a similar step to when I adopted my middle name, “Paparoa”, living in London in 1993, wanting to acknowledge my Pākehā identity and my deep subliminal debt to Māori over an immigrant life lived from the age of three to forty as part of the culture of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Tatau was another embrace: a mihi to tangata Pasifika, a recognition that as a waka person, a child who had sailed across the Atlantic in 1950, through the Panama Canal, across the South Pacific all the way to Wellington to these islands, I was a Pacific person too, Palangi and Pākehā, English, Welsh and whatever else my genes made me in the whare tangata, in my mother’s womb. I am sure more will be revealed along the way, but for now, this is enough. The pictures tell the story of the last day with Christine and her marvelous whānau of home-schooled tamariki.

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The dividing lines between the designs.

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Yellow added to the sun and the trees, bleeds a little…

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The artist at work: he tino kowhai te kowhai.

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Working on the Illustrious ship insignia on the right arm, finishing the rope.

Vox non Incerta
The original ship’s shield, given to me by an old shipmate of my Dad, 1993.

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Blood quantum: the paint mingles with me.

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Let it bleed: you need to get the blood up and out, to stave off scabbing.

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The tools of her trade: Christine’s tatau instruments, their work done.

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The next day: healing well.

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HMS Illustrious emblems and the Welsh Dragon: on the mend.

I look back on this twenty four hours and a new life later, from the first words: tatau. I know this will be part of me now until I die. Christine Harvey is a great artist and I cannot conceive of having anyone else do this work on my body and into my soul. We had some marvelous kōrero over the time, and yesterday was especially sweet. I told her she is ngawari: gentle, teachable, open to experience and ideas, yet firm in her determination. Whaia te maramatanga, e hoa, kihai i mau i te pouri – follow the Light of the World, my friend, the darkness has never overcome it.

Now I leave this part of the journey with the taste of pikelets made by her daughters for the after-time when we talk and laugh around the table; with the furry feel of Theo the rabbit, offered to me for a cuddle; with the knowledge that this whānau is standing strong in their Māoritanga. Tama tū, tama ora, Hine tū, hine ora!

I leave too with a renewed vision of my parents, especially at this time, my father, who came unsuspecting into this world in 1922 and left it bruised and battered by life fifty years later. E te papa, haere rā, e te heremana, rere atu rā!

Dad Holman 1922-30001

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Body by Pule 4: entering the ngahere.


Preparing the needle and the inks.

Today is the day for the final major design: the ngahere, the bush, the rain forest that blankets the West Coast where we roamed as children, and drips on the mists of Maungapōhatu. John has designed something typically Pule, with stylised trees that could be human – or other – beings. This is where his inimitable genius is at play and it will be Christine’s greatest challenge, so intricate and yet so bold. I have decided to try some colours that will reflect both the natural world and the human culture: dark greens for the bush, and blues and yellow for the Ngahere rugby league colours of my childhood. They will reflect on the red and black of the Blackball bridge, a memory of the emotional local derby that took place every time we played each other, whatever the grade: peanuts to seniors. It also recalls to me that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the two teams were forced to combine because of falling numbers of players, and so the name Waro-Rakau came sweetly into being: Coal and Timber, the twin life bloods of those tough communities.


Blackball 7th Grade 1960, South Island champions. I’m 3rd from the left, middle row, between Kevin Williams and Ken Meadowcroft.

So Christine prepares for the work and we discuss the colour choices; she is happy to use colours as most of her clients want black, black, black. We begin as usual, just after 1pm, with karakia and then the serenade by Whirimako Black, easing us back up to Maungapōhatu and another stretch of the bush we both know. First comes the outline of the pattern, made to guide the finer pen line that the needle will follow.


The outline: getting the proportions right to encircle the arm, before the final line to be followed is drawn.

The big needle bites and I close my eyes for the cutting of the outline she has drawn for it to follow. This time, from the start, it seems a little harder to bear – not because the pain is so much greater; rather, I am just tired. Not tired from lack of sleep (the last two nights I have slept long, deep, unbroken slumbers), but from the accumulated work of having my body ploughed by needles, I think. Last week’s heavenly bodies are still healing, and there remains some angry colour around the topmost stars. I let Whirimako wash over me as the journey begins again.


Ko te pūtake: the base root of the forest ink.

I realise that this will be a challenge, so settle myself physically and mentally to run with what is happening, to stay in the moment and be still. For a long time it seems, we are both silent, the chatter of the machine filling the space with its own reo, its language of art and injury. Along the way, Christine tells me that she is very pleased with my demeanour – “you are doing so well” – compared to some who come and wriggle around, making her work difficult. “They’re not ready, they shouldn’t be here”. All this is strangely comforting; I tell her that many years of manual work have taught me somehow to bear difficulty and keep going, as when I was a shearer and plagued with back pains that in one instance rendered me unable to stand back upright.You couldn’t walk off the board or stop: too much pride, too much stubborn refusal to be seen as a quitter. But who knows what our threshold for pain is – until we reach it?


In the master’s hands.

I’m constantly reminded in this process that I am in my body, this amazing creation that I take for granted, working ceaselessly for me with little recognition and few if any thanks. How often do I thank my knees that they are still folding and unfolding as hinges in my legs, even now enabling me to sit down and stand up without a second thought? I can feel my left knee now, however, with its torn ligaments, about to go under the surgeon’s knife in a week’s time. So there will be no return session here next week; a fortnight to finish off.


The pattern outlined, ready for the colour brush.

It takes us about two hours to get this far, and now, the greens and blues and the yellows are prepared. I wonder how far I can go today, resolving to take it slowly and see what happens. The light outside is slowly weakening, as Christine alters the angle of the lamp and goes to work on the trunks of the trees. It is a very different feeling to the single needle that traces the outlines of the pattern. I know I am in the forest now. All sorts of images flit and tease as I hear the reo over and over, somehow drugging the pain, stilling the nerves that have almost had enough: “Tamakaimoana” Ngāti Huri”, Whirimako sings, reciting the hapū, the clan names of the Tūhoe rohe pōtae.


Te Ngahere Pule: John’s forest rendered by Christine.

As I begin to fade, the thought comes to me that this experience is the art itself; that this process, not just the finished product, is art as a verb, not a noun. When somebody says  of a painting or a poem, “what does it mean?”, that is a different question from, “What was the making of it?”. There is the art of experience and the art of the result of experience; I think we sometimes place so much emphasis on the latter that we lose all consciousness of the former. To understand creativity (and not just its products), we need to see ourselves as creators, as children of the moment – which if taken now, is an eternal moment, endlessly repeating. Simply because our time inside Time itself comes to an end, does not mean we have lost that divine image William Blake knew so richly. I try and get some of this across to Christine, as the last of the blues and greens are applied. She gets it.


The arm so far, yellow to come.

But now, I realise my humanity is insisting I pause for a rest, so suggest to Christine that we stop here for the day, after three long hours of hard work and concentration. She agrees – she is tired too. When I return, we will finish the ngahere, adding the yellow to the blue and touching up a few places on the right arm. It’s time to karakia and say haere rā to Whirimako, “he korokoro tui”. What an impressive and affecting ballad and jazz singer she is; reminding me that the sweetness and the power of te reo Māori survived only through sheer stubborness  and courage. The government, until the 1970s, did everything its power to let it die – that is, they did nothing to support Māori and the rest of us in becoming bilingual.

So, we go for scones, a cuppa, and chats with the tamariki, before I head for home exhausted, to an early night. My arm is certainly stinging, it knows a forest has been planted here today – one no government can ever sell to foreigners.


The next day, John Madden’s Blackball bridge in the background.


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Body by Pule 3: heavenly bodies and a famous bridge.

Today was the time to work on the heavenly bodies and the Blackball bridge, designed by John. It was the usual welcoming committee at Christine’s, with Theo the rabbit at the door as I took off my shoes, with the tamariki greeting me in Māori (it’s always Māori Language Week at the this kura). We got down to work pretty quickly, discussing the best way to finish the three remaining elements of the design, coming round to what I felt was do-able, leaving for next week the complex Niuean ngāhere of abstract trees. The drawing on the skin comes first; Christine measures and begins the first assured strokes of the ballpoint, followed once she is sure she has right image, by the fine marker that will prove a guiding the line for the needles.



The Blackball bridge, with red and black rugby league colours.

The complex shapes of the stars needed a careful eye to calculate their path evenly around my arm, with sun and the moon interspersing. It is only when you see close up how integrated the pattern is, how simple and yet profound is John Pule’s draftmanship. Christine gets it spot on. The bridge, we decide, will have black in the central spans and red for the river and the sky – a reflection of the sweat and tears that made the mine and the rails and the lives of everyone who ever passed through there. The interlinking of the spans is another example of the literal image John worked from becoming figurative, enduring, powerful (“Urgent!”, he will call the colour red to me, in a later email).


Engraving the heavens on skin.

But first, it is the creation of the heavens that will overshadow the river, the forest and the bridge, everything manmade and godmade. All the shapes are first outlined with a single needle, to be filled in later with a wide, multi-tipped instrument. I settle back to listen to Hirini Melbourne kōrero Māori and sing; my mind settles into a low hum, abstract thoughts melting into the sensations of puncture. It doesn’t hurt in the way some might fear; it burns along my arm and takes me away from worldly cares. Now and then, in the thinner skin of the underarm, there is a wince, but I can live with this. We began at 1pm and it is well after 3 o’clock when this slice of heaven is done: “I looked at the world, and I saw it was good”. People get addicted to this.


Blood on the tracks in the stars.

Of course, the mind and the feelings are not my body, although we are in this together; the skin and the blood rush to do their work, repelling infection and closing the breached walls. I bleed. If that were not the case, all would not be well, but it is not as if every inch of pigment runs red – just here and there. Christine swabs and washes the completed design and we get ready to cross the bridge. She tells me that after some hours, the body will get tired of being attacked and you can get a bit impatient, looking for the end. It will prove true later on.

The bridge is now outlined and readied for colouring: I am very moved by this moment: that great monument to all bridge carpenters and their muscular skill has been inside me since 1957, and now, it will rest outside, on my arm, the same kind of arm that built the original karri masterpiece, the same arm that dismantled it at the end of its useful life. I salute these pioneers who opened up that world for me.


The fine work done, the wide brush fills in black and red.

We are both getting tired now, I know, but there is a river to cross. I tell Christine tales of the bridge crossings, thundering over the river in high flood in our Bedford school bus, the whole structure rattling and shaking as if attacked by waves of giants, willing us down to drown. We would jump off the bridge in high summer, into the black snag-infested waters below; the toughest nuts, full of teen bravado would leap from the highest part of the span (launching myself from the deck was all I could manage).


With my sisters, Jill and Elisabeth, swimming at the Blackball side, 1963-4.

That tiredness was really hitting me and the needles seemed sharper and more urgent, but I knew we were getting closer to Blackball, a place which Christine also knew well from her grandfather’s time there and her visits. There is always a story that comes out when two people who knew that town meet; it seems to have a life well beyond the closure of the mines and changing of the guard when old identities move away – and die.


Worse than it looks: the red is mostly ink, smeared when the excess is wiped away.

We are almost done: Christine cleans up the excess ink, smooths on healing balms and finishes with a karakia. I hand her the book I have brought as a koha: The late great Blackball Bridge sonnets, my mihi, hymns to the miners from back in 2004. She is delighted and is going to show it to her Mum. I wish mine were here to see the bridge on my arm, but  we had a night for crossings that same year when the book was launched in Formerly the Blackball Hilton. All of us were there, save my late father – the Holmans sharing a family return to place once tainted with pain and shame. Dad, you drank here, but now we sing a different tune: survival.


The Holmans at the Hilton, 2004.

There is so much to be thankful for, not least the banana cake and gingernuts afterwards, when we all sit down and have a kai to whakanoa te hui. My arms sting, but not half as much as my heart sings. Next week is the bush; the place to which we came from the city was actually called Ngāhere. From small steps across the road, from the railway track to our railway house by the single-teacher school since swallowed by time, my West Coast journey began and now continues, into my arms.


Today’s tatau.

I think of those now who came along with with me and it fills me with gratitude that I was somehow allowed to experience the kind of childhood barely possible to most kids in this country now. We ran, we roamed, we trapped, we chopped, we climbed, we fell, we fought and laughed – we lived life fully, right out to the edges and back again. Those riches endure, Lord – I thank you.


RIP, Frank Pendlebury, 1947-2007, on right.


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