Peace be upon us, As-salaam-alaikum, Kia tau te rangimarie ki a tātou.



Since the Friday afternoon attack on the Al Noor mosque here in Christchurch on 15 March, nothing has been the same. Whether or not we have been haunted to sleeplessness, refused to forget it, wished it had never happened, carried on regardless, named the killer or not named him – here it is. Not there it was, but here it is.


I drove past the mosque today for the first time since the massacre, with its sea of wilting flowers, the lone policeman with his machine gun sweltering in the early autumn heat, on my way to the Christian Superstore in Sydenham to buy a Māori-English New Testament for a friend.


As I drove I prayed. I’ve been praying lately, for these tragic families, wondering every day how I can help them in some small way, as many others here have done. I have begun greeting people with the blessing, “As-salaam-alaikum, Peace be upon you”, and meaning it. I passed two young women in hijabs out at the university where I have spent the past twenty years trying to understand the world, myself, and my place in the scheme of things. I greeted them thus. They looked surprised, then blessed me in return.


A small thing? Perhaps. If nothing else, it seems like a way of saying, I have to change, I have to show more than just tolerance, more than live-and-let-live. We have to start doing a better job of caring for each other. Yes, I have Muslim friends, one in Iran, another here, but that’s too easy, to believe that people in the same intellectual culture as me, who have adapted to the role of making no waves, are the only ones I need to welcome and support here.


When I arrived at the Christian bookshop, I asked a bookseller where I could find a bilingual Māori-English New Testament, was shown to the shelves, and there was my prize – Te Kawenata Hou, The New Covenant. I went to pay and the woman asked me if I spoke Māori. Yes, I said, a little rusty these days, but yes.

As she handed me my New Testament, I thanked her, “Kia ora mō tēnā, As-salaam-alaikum – thank you for that, may peace be upon you”. She looked startled, nervous, two strange sounding exclamations together – what was I saying? “It’s Arabic”, I reassured her, “It means ‘peace be upon you, it’s the same prayer used by Coptic Christians as well as Muslims”, all in a possibly vain attempt to avail her of my newfound awareness, that a language we associate with a particular faith is used by many others – like English, like Māori.


Kawenata hou


I wondered later why I’d been so attuned to her reaction. Is it just the present situation where we are discovering what parallel lives we have been living beside our Muslim brothers and sisters, or something else? Our old colonial wounds, our own tense relationship with the place and power of Te Reo Māori, our historic resistance to change? Perhaps it’s just me being hyper-vigilant, over sensitive to others, wanting to build a bridge where none has been asked for.

I was reminded that these very words – “peace be unto you” – were the words John the Evangelist recorded in his Gospel, when Jesus appears to his startled and unbelieving disciples after his death and resurrection (John 20:19). Here is a link between Christians and Muslims, that makes less of any division and more of an historic unity. This ancient blessing has deep roots in the three great religions of the book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I should be looking for more connections, in people, as well as in holy writ. I wonder what the bookseller would think of this? Her shop, after all, is full to overflowing of the words of Jesus. As-salaam-alaikum.



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Molecules sound

Tinnitus my friend, your
highwire ear-to-ear whine
is you insist, ancient
molecules: chainsaw blare

from 1965, woolshed shear,
my tractor piping high
exhaust, night shift
moon and kangaroos,

mist-bedazzled springing
furrows, ghosts of ghosts.

Old songs older than
time, time as song
and fading, pubs that
roared and shrivelled,

male balloons: your shout!
Your shout! Time, gentlemen,

please! There is no sound
in space, tinnitus.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

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Learn another language, says my brain.



– reflections on learning German in Berlin, 2014 (and te reo Maori in NZ, 1997ff -)

2014-11-29 11.51.53

“Give me some chewing gum – in here please” – rubbish bin, Berlin, 2015.


To live is to be changed and be changing

Resistance to change is a form of death.

Internal change is needed to grow.

For mental health, for emotional maturity and spiritual growth.

Language learning means change.

We do not learn mere words.

We also learn cultural difference.

Our brains are changed, changing.

New neural pathways are formed.

We literally do not know “ourselves”.

We discover new selves. What’s not to like?

Well, resistance to learning another language seems now to me a resistance to change.

Immersion in another language culture can be frightening.

We are like children again, surrounded by a noisy bath of sounds we cannot decipher.

But children do not fear this, they swim in this noisy bath, like dolphins, in an element they have been made for.

We adults have lost that innocent grace, we have learned a thousand fears and absorbed many prejudices.

We don’t just say we speak English (or German etc), we say we are English.

We instinctively identify with the culture and our heritage-native language, as unitary.

Children are not yet culture-bound, they can learn any language that surrounds them.

They are in the process of absorbing what they will only much later come to feel is their cultural identity.

But didn’t Jesus say, “Except you become as little children”?

Adults become fixed in this fusion of language and culture; in resisting new language learning, we are actually resisting new cultural experience and personal growth.

If we believe – as is implied in the acceptance of our difference from other language groups – that incomers to our national boundaries need to learn our language to ‘assimilate’, i.e., become like us culturally, then it follows that we accept, unconsciously at least, that learning another language will require us to change.

Perhaps we sense it will require us to re-evaluate who we think we are.

But more likely, the resistance is unexamined.

However, if we insist that immigrants learn our language in order to become assimilated and good citizens, then we are also saying that our heritage language – when we travel, or when we read about other cultures – cannot give us any deep, experiential understanding of another language and culture.

In other words, monolingualism produces monoculturalism, and if the world needs anything today, it needs the ears to hear and the heart to value the words and ways of the stranger, the foreigner, the Other.


2016-02-19 14.33.09

International Poetry Festival reading, Granada, Nicaragua, 2016.

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Harry Leslie Smith 1923-2018. RIP.


Harry RAF.jpg



Harry Leslie Smith

was a secular saint

defended the poor

when the rich were robbers

selling off the state

to the highest bidder



Harry Leslie Smith

knew war and hunger

loved his enemy

marrying a German

falling in love

in the ashes of Hamburg


Harry and Friede



Harry Leslie Smith

when Friede died

grieving and needing

a reason to live again

picked up his pen



and declared once more

war on the enemies

of common humanity

Thatchers and Pinochets

apostles of the market



Harry Leslie Smith

showed how it’s done

the world is a finer place

Harry now you’re gone



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The Wahine storm 1968…


The ferry Wahine, listing heavily amongst fog in Wellington Harbour, 10 April 1968.

Image: The Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.



six poems celebrating the end of the mechanical and the dawn of the virtual





I was born the day

New Zealand was

but in England. It was

a terrible winter, but soon,






The ex-Royal Navy frigates

named after Scottish lochs

bought in 1948

we translated into

Tutira, Rotoiti, Hawea.

My father sailed for the new

world in 1949, leaving

us behind to follow. His ship

made land at Crete en route

to mihi to the dead.




Later in the New Zealand Railways

we returned to the nineteenth

century: Ngahere, old Westland, timber

laden mill lokies creaking to the railway

yards. There was no television

but imaginary worlds.





Memoir has a bunch of

issues: you half forget what

you’re making up. Coronation

Street in black and white with

static. Mum was back in a kind

of Liverpool but really it was

1968 and the Wahine Storm






Yes, that storm. I was there and remember

it from the television: black hulk, black night.

Later, in Australia, ploughing way

out in the sticks on nightshift, men

were walking on the moon. They

had computers. We did not know

about computers, kangaroos ghosting

through the tractor headlights.





Lived through three kinds of

centuries: cell phone, laptop, online families. Came

all this way from anchor chains to

Facebook. Tomorrow will shimmer

like a line gone missing.




Jeffrey Paparoa Holman   2003-2017.


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2014-12-14 11.23.00 HDR




those he did not kill

he maimed

those he did not maim

he thwarted

those he did not thwart

he tortured

those he did not torture


those he did not poison


those he did not break

he quartered

those he did not quarter


those he did not vanish



flames of fury

burning angels

lakes of blood

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on the day

2016-02-19 16.17.24

on the day

on the day of my death

I will be

eating eggs and banana

stroking my parrot

drawing her profile

sculpturing gratitude

yes I will still be threading

my grandmother’s needles

and laughing all the way

to the holiness bank

to withdraw my life

to close all accounts

to vanish quite suddenly

quoting Vallejo

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