Bob’s not my uncle…


Bob Jones says he was kidding…

So, is he really kidding here?

“As there are no full-blooded Maori’s in existence it indisputably follows that had it not of been for migrants, mainly Brits, not a single Maori today, including Professor Temaru, would have existed. So excluding individuals who might be miserably suicidal, and instead like 99.999% of us actually like being alive, its long overdue for some appreciation.”

Namely, if it hadn’t been for non-Māori ancestors, Māori wouldn’t be here today? That is, Māori needed to be colonized? This is satire? The tūpuna of Māori today needed the British to come along and save them? That’s what he’s saying. And by the way, he can’t even be bothered to get Professor Pou Temara’s name right.

How about this, for example: transfer his thinking to the genocide of multiple Native American peoples and you have, “If it hadn’t been for us colonists, not a single Indian, (including e.g, Professor Craig Womack, Emory College), would have existed”.

That’s a piss take? Underneath the attempt at humour – if that’s what it is – we have the same tired old racist stereotypes. The petition may have no effect, as some are claiming, but I respect the Renae Maihi who started it. She let it be known many of us don’t like this demeaning approach to our brothers and sisters, our fellow citizens, our neighbours; if we’re going to have knighthoods, let have some knightly behaviour, as befits  the honour.

And by the way, the over-reaction of a lawsuit sends a message that has a chilling effect: “I’m rich and powerful and opinionated, I can say what I like, but if you disagree, I’ll see you in court and shut you down”. Whatever happened to speaking the truth to power?



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Opening the Tinderbox

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Super Bowl LII vs Megan Dunn’s Tinderbox. No contest.

Right now a bunch of superbly muscled oafs are waiting at half time somewhere in Minneapolis to get on with the game that is more Stop-Go than the roadworks up at Kaikōura. Me, I’m sitting here writing an appreciation of an obscure memoir they will never hear of, probably. Almost definitely. Obscure to them, of course, not to me. It’s 22-12 right now to the Eagles, who I somehow hope will kick Patriot ass (US spelling), but really, I don’t care. If I remember on the way, I’ll update the score, or as the witty author of the book I’m going to rabbit on about might write, “The timer went off”.

Yes, it’s about writing to order by word count and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Borders Bookstores and City Lit Adult Ed (both London) and the University of East Anglia Creative Writing Programme (Norwich) and eventually, the IIML in Wellington, c2013 (previously on Lost, The Manhire School). Yes, and Harry Ricketts – a genius tutor – and finally, some proofreading needed. That’s what Kim Hill said too. But then again, who cares? The Press which I read everyday for The Little Things strip and the death notices has a very laissez faire attitude to the way letters come together and separate these days, so I guess it’s in the water.

It’s still 22-12 to the Eagles in Minnesota. One thing I really loved about this brilliant memoir – which, it seems, rose like a memoir out of the ashes of a failed novel strangled at birth by the copyright powers of I believe, Bradbury’s family (I refuse to use the Phoenix metaphor, as I don’t believe Megan Dunn would approve) – is the way she slips from scene to scene, changing the narrative from gritty winter commuter life in London’s streets and tubes, to disquisitions of Truffaut’s failed film of the Bradbury book and something approaching hero worship of his coiffed leading lady, Julie Christie.

And the sharp, droll way she can send up film and LitCrit while at the same time showing you she’s well read, as well as hopeful:  “Insdorf pronounced the film Truffaut’s passionate homage to literature, to the written word. Ditto. My homage to Fahrenheit 451 was going to be a searing feminist rewrite of Bradbury’s classic, like Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, only blonder”. Knowing what Jean Rhys rewrote is helpful here, but my attention was on the flip blonde joke; the book is full of seriously funny send-ups in which the writer does not take herself so seriously, that she ends up making another misery memoir out of her OE adventures in love, bookselling and writing classes.

One reason I liked it so much was that it covered ground I’ve been tramping over myself for the past eighteen months in a memoir of my own, and if that’s tad narcissistic for a piece of literary criticism, well let me tell you, (1) this is fan mail here, not the LRB or the NYRB, or even the Pantograph Punch (which can do just that) and, (2) lots of reviews are deeply self-involved and self-promoting, so let’s be real here. Eagles 29, Patriots 19.

It’s just such a great read, I want to share my happiness: the fact that I worked in Waterstones, did courses at City Lit in London and came home in 1997 from ten years in the UK, six on the front line in Charing Cross Road, to wind up doing a creative writing course in poetry here at Canterbury, is icing on my cake, that’s all. You might have none of that to add to the mix as a reader, but it doesn’t matter, when the writing is so funny, and bold and precise, in capturing the human heart at work and play, trying to set free what this creative human being really wants to do with her life (writing), while distracted by the terrible need to pay bills, and cruelly, having to do that by selling the work of other writers (a realization finally drove me out of the Big W ranch, and back home for a late run at the line).

So I guess this is three cheers for Tinderbox, and a thank you to the author for writing so well about what this journey means; an encouragement to listen to what our dreams are saying, and crack the odd good joke along the way when you tell your story (Spoiler Alert: fans of Jodi Picoult might get pissed off with some sections). Anyone who has had to dress up to flog stuff off (booksellers, Harry Potter launches); any poet who has looked for their book, any book of verse in Whitcoulls, poor fools (“The poetry section in Wellington was skimpier than a g-string”); any writer or other creative soul who sees their years of effort turn to sand and trickle away can still take heart from this writer’s courage and chutzpah – when the rubber meets the road and what confronts one is a huge STOP sign.

“I filed the hard copy of the letter from the (Bradbury) estate in my underwear drawer where it remains with pairs of nylon pants that no longer fit”. Snap! She bests here old Kipling’s “triumph and disaster” image from “If”, with lingerie  and a touch of carpe diem. My next rejection letter is going in the drawer with my 1995 Bob Dylan T-shirt (ok, I gave it away long ago, but if I still had it, it wouldn’t fit me, either). Eagles 32, Patriots 32. Sic transit gloria mundi. Somethings are funnier than Super Bowls. This book is way out in front.

Well, the Eagles won. Tom Brady fumbled at the death. Let’s see if he can get up again and make something good out of it all, like Megan Dunn did when her F451 crashed and burned. 41-33, if you care.

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A time to share, a time to care…

Back in July, I wrote this letter to The Press, which they printed. It seems to me that it is exactly what I want to say again today, so here goes. I hold in my heart today that Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters and James Shaw can begin the weighty task of leading us out of Rogernomic’s dark heart into a compassionate light. They have promised to make a start and we will support them – and hold them to it. Kia kaha, kia ū, kia manawanui!


“Peter Townsend’s article (26 July) on proposals for a living wage is an apologia for employers and by implication, the failed neoliberal experiment forced on New Zealand workers from the 1980s onward.


Talk of growth tied to improved productivity is hollow, seen in the light of deregulation, the destruction of trade unions, individualised contracts and swingeing 1990 benefit cuts that together, shrank the buying power of ordinary New Zealanders, damaging the local manufacturers and retailers he claims to represent.


Recent research has shown up the claim that increased productivity necessarily lifts wages. According to the Oxford University political scientist R. W. Johnson, from 1948 to 1973 American productivity rose by 97 percent and real wages by 91 percent.


Yet in the neoliberal era from 1973 to 2015, productivity went up 73 percent, real wages only 11 per cent, made manifest in this country by the obscene growth of inequality, housing unaffordability and homelessness. Ideology drove down wages even as productivity rose.


We need a living wage but even more we need the state back in finance, utilities, regulatory responsibility and massive investment in the public weal, running intelligent deficits to make this country the home of a fair go for all.


Do we need another disaster like the earthquakes to remind us that government borrowing and investment is a perennial need in a just society? It is the state’s role to ensure that its citizens are cared for, that we may enjoy equal access to all public goods. If this includes a living wage, an acceptable standard of living for all, then let’s have more of that and less of laissez faire, naked in tooth and claw.”


And now, here are some of the key policy objectives reported in The Press today:

  • ban overseas speculators from buying existing residential properties
  • stop the sell-off of state houses
  • increase the minimum wage
  • set a target to reduce child poverty
  • resume contributions to the NZ Super Fund
  • tertiary education charges and loans
  • Families Package – support replacing tax cuts to the better-off
  • let’s have a strong environmental clean up too, while we’re at it

If this programme is implemented, I believe we can hold our heads up again on the world stage, unlike today, when Taika Waititi gets accused of treason for pointing out the blindingly obvious: we’re going downhill and need to back up. Let’s do it!

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Walter Nash was here – a poem.



Walter Nash was here



Walter Nash was here

here when the Miners Hall was here

here when we were kids

kids in the Fancy Dress Ball

when the town was all

Labour voters


Walter Nash was here

here when school milk came in crates

here when women gossiped

at gates and baked cakes

for the Bring and Buy

before the town died


Walter Nash was here

all the way from Kidderminster


old Christian Socialist

sat on the seat where the Railways bus

stopped outside the Post Office


Walter Nash was here

here for the 1966 Centennial

here to watch the wood chips fly

when the chops were on

and the candy floss

stuck to your chin


Walter Nash was here

and his ghost lives on

in everyone who walks this town

invisible inscrutable

of good conscience

whispering justice


Blackball Post Office


Jeffrey Paparoa Holman  c. 2016


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“Me, me, me – or us?” The choice on 23 September is as old as humanity.


My childhood State house in Aorangi Road, Bryndwr, Christchurch.

Here it is: just like the one John Key grew up in and posed grinning in front of last year, as the sale of 2,500 of these homes was mooted. For me it was in the early 1950s, for him the 1960s – but it was still the same deal. Housing, recognised as a human right by the 1935 Labour government and provided at low rental costs for those citizens who needed it. For refugees too, like his mother.

We also got free education – for me, at Wairakei Road school just down the road; free health care (I broke both arms in the three years we lived there); and State Advances housing loans for those who wanted to buy a property. There was a Family Benefit for mothers to support each child, money that could be capitalised to create a deposit on a home. Socialism is so destructive, isn’t it: socialism at its best destroys hunger, ill health, ignorance and keeps us warm. It creates a more cohesive society and gives us all a leg up.

Some of those who benefited from this regime went on to enjoy the kind of success it was designed to promote; many remembered this largesse, funded by taxation; others forgot and set out to undermine egalitarianism and replace it with naked individualism, the exact laissez-faire dog-eat-dog culture, devil take the hindmost that the welfare state set out to eliminate.

Now the enemies of egalitarianism want to sell my house and John Key’s old place; they want to take these properties paid for by our taxes and pass them over to housing charities, private-public partnerships and even – yes – overseas providers. They want to disembowel the tradition of communal ownership and government responsibility for housing our lowest-earning, most vulnerable citizens.

These people are not governors, they are sales people: like Margaret Thatcher at her most crazed, they do not really believe there is such a thing a society – just competing interests, “consumers and taxpayers” – and their weirdest offshoot, the Act Party , with a naked self-regard, makes it clear they want to destroy “Big Government and the Nanny State”.


This is what it looks like next door to my place: a State house for rent, private agents.

Well, my Nanny actually was sheltered by the state and lived to the ripe old age of 89, cared for by good housing, adequate nutrition and social stability in her latter years. She survived two world wars and came from England in 1950 to live with us, in her seventies. Her first home in New Zealand was our first State house in Plymouth Crescent, Bayswater. If she arrived in Auckland today, she might have found her family sleeping in a car, or paying rack rents to local and overseas investors with little money left for life’s necessities.

That’s the choice I see in this election: “me, me, me – or us”, the primacy of the individual or the cohesion of the group that in its security, actually produces a better quality of life for all. I was at a candidate’s panel at the University of Canterbury yesterday, where I watched in disbelief as the National Party candidate, Nicky Wagner bobbed up and down behind her microphone, chanting, “Me, pick me, pick me!” Maybe she got carried away in the spirit of the moment, trying to upstage her Labour Party opponent, Duncan Webb, making his closing statement. It was a moment to conjure with. I wish I’d taken a video.


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Sexist tracts

A review of Blood Ties and others, by Vaughan Rapatahana in The Pantograph Punch.

Blood Ties cover


It was a surprise to wake up this morning and discover I was a purveyor of sexist tracts, but after after reading this writer’s mis-reading of the poem T-bar Clothesline Okarito in his earlier Pantograph Punch review of Blood Ties, I suppose I should not be startled. He had alluded to my complicity with the Curnow gang there.

I’m going to point out one or two things in reply, the first being that I was certainly influenced by male writers in my twenties as I got going: they were cock-a-hoop indeed. Baxter and Hone Tuwhare are prime candidates. What the reviewer has no knowledge of is that my internal whakapapa of influence begins with a well-remembered poem at primary school level, written by Babette Deutsch, about soldiers marching. At high school, I have clear memories of Ursula Bethell’s work.

More than the poets, however, my early life was shaped by women, my mother and my grandmother, and my lovers, daughter and granddaughters, who, as he seems blind to observe, figure several times in Blood Ties.

Mary at Dawn (39) tells of taking my mother to an Anzac Day service; We’ll Meet (43) speaks of mourning for her presence after she died in 2005; Rocket Engines ((45) speaks of my kuia’s PTSD and the tales she told me of V-1 rocket attacks in WW2; Plunging remembers the death of my partner, as I pass the spot near Otira where she died in a road accident in 1978; Crow Canyon (157) and Light from Saturn speak of a time spent with my daughter in the USA, the latter is directed to my granddaughter. The poem written in 1974 at my daughter’s birth (161) uses a phrase he objected too in the earlier review, speaking of the newborn’s “female mammal sleeping eyes”. This to me is more about music than sexism, but each to their own.

Tuna (143), Hard Travel to Arahura (145) and Papatipu kissing me (147) are all love poems, and while I would never pretend to know what it was like for the subjects of those poems to deal with me, I loved them and still do.

The most disturbing aspect of his work is the complete mis-reading of T-Bar Clothesline, Okarito (89), a poem about marital rape – or any other kind of sexual abuse really, where the victim has to get up the next day as my mother and the women of her generation had to do, and pretend nothing has happened. In her generation, marital rape did not exist as an offence.

The poem does not as Vaughan Rapatahana misconstrues it, relegate ” the sullied woman to the level of flapping linen on a West Coast clothesline”, but points out the obvious: the abused woman has to get up and hang out the washing, smile at the neighbours, feed the kids and on and on. The washing line and the creatures in the bush and lagoon underline this as, does the final line, the neighbourly comment, “it’s marvellous drying weather”.


I was amazed at how he got there, but when you look at the charge sheet, the way he’s constructed me and my work throughout, as a kind of throwback, it’s obvious he has an agenda that denies admission to anything outside of it. Yes, there are many wounded women in my poems, I’m speaking about what I grew up with and knew much later.

And yes, there are a good number of wounded and troubled men; my generation were raised, many of us, by disturbed and broken individuals who had served in the Second World War and come back with a whole raft of issues that we know about now as PTSD: alcoholism, gambling addiction, sleep disorders, anxiety attacks, rages, domestic violence and suicide. Their influence on me is a deep stain on my palette, but what kept me sane were the women around me. If I haven’t saluted them often enough in my work for this reviewer’s attention, I don’t think the problem is mine.

In case he did miss the point about my position, here’s another poem closer to home.

After School


I climb from the school bus

capped on the arse 1-2-3

by the Backseat Gestapo

in navy-blue shorts: home safe.


White weatherboards, black tar

roof rear up on rotten piles

to greet me, their bedroom

window starts to wink:


“Wanna know what we

saw, last night, Fatty?”

Everybody knows I do.

Twenty-five years freeze


those holes I bite through

the pillow and no-one comes.

She screams, my sisters shudder.

The front door whangs shut.


With a cry that is fear

made flesh, she falls

through the dark

into the ditch.


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An impromptu admission, Tielt, Belgium.


It was a glorious summer’s day as we stepped off the train from Ghent and made our way out of the small town of Tielt on our hire cycles, heading for the Achielle Bicycle Factory near Egem, in Belgium. Jeanette had been planning this part of our trip for weeks, if not months, visiting the factory from where she imports these quality cycles into New Zealand. As we raced downhill on the cycleway out of town, just after 10am, I got my phone out and took her picture.

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You can see what an excellent cycleway it is, complete with yellow plastic bollards to mark out a bus stop, one of which you can just see over her shoulder. I was so pleased with this effort, I decided to take a selfie.

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I had my new racing cyclist’s hat on and was feeling pretty damn good. Next thing…

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…I was airborne, with my finger still pressed on the phone as the above aerial shot indicates. I smashed onto the cycleway, banged my head, saw stars, broke my glasses and ended up on top of my bike, knee bleeding, hand bleeding, cursing my stupidity and swearing that now,  I’d  *#@**!!-up Jeanette’s big day – all in the same moment, sore, dazed and unable to get up. I’d rammed one of the yellow plastic bollards and canned off.

Next thing I know, a man is leaning over me, taking my pulse and asking if I can stand up? He’s an off-duty nurse it turns out and he’s ringing an ambulance. Jeanette arrives having noticed my absence and spotting me lying down, with my angel attending, cycled back to view the wreckage. Now I’m in an ambulance, on my way staring at the vehicles’s ceiling, to Sint-Andriesziekenhuis,  in the hands of the wonderful Belgian hospital service for the next four hours.

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I can testify that when this picture was taken, I was feeling pretty groggy and chastened. I’m not sure what was worse: the pains in my body or the dent to my pride. I’d landed in a municipal hospital with a population of around 20,000, with a dedicated, efficient and caring staff who, without demur whizzed me from roadside to outpatient and finally discharge with a kindness and care I can still hardly believe.

I was given a full inspection: brain function checked, X-rayed, a CT scan, a tetanus shot and a referral to the opthalmologist after a fracture was detected on the orbit floor, the skull bone beneath my right eye. He showed us the picture, assured me the crack was minimal and not leaking blood into the sinus cavity. I’d dodged that bullet. I could leave hospital but should keep an eye on things (I did suffer nose bleeds for a few days, but they eventually stopped). I was meant to avoid sniffing and blowing my nose, which I mostly forgot to observe.

After a consultation with the accounts section, charged a set 150 EUR fee and giving our insurance details, I was discharged with the advice to seek medical care if symptoms like vomiting, vertigo and fever recurred. We then walked from the hospital back to our bikes and carried on to the factory, about 10-15kms away.

2017-06-20 17.30.06

On retrieving the bikes, I noticed that my blood had dried onto the path; I reflected on just how sweetly Providence had ensured I was not so much more the worse for wear than I actually was. Sure, my body ached in several places and over the next week, my bruised ribs would make sleeping difficult, but I’d escaped with a mild concussion delivering me a regular daily headache. I could claim – rather lamely – to have shed my blood on Flanders fields.

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I may not have felt much like going for another bike ride, but I was determined that Jeanette wasn’t going to miss out on her visit to meet her suppliers and tour the factory. Fortunately, the day was so hot that the workers had been sent home early so our late arrival meant the owners were much freer to meet and greet us, receive our gift of manuka honey and give us the guided tour.

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The sign at the factory gate has a bit of history: Achielle were originally frame makers who supplied other manufacturers, but when in 1946 they decided to make the whole bicycle themselves, they crushed all the old frames – only to find later there was shortage of the steel tube needed! They survived that and have gone from strength to strength, producing some of the world’s best hand-made commuter bicycles, on site.

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There was one willing worker left when we arrived and you can still see how hot it was.

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Some of the wonderful works of cycle art that we saw that day.

I’m so glad we made it and my moment of madness didn’t force a cancellation on the day. That would have been very sad, not to say mortifying. The reason I’ve written this is not just to celebrate these marvelous machines, nor to make obvious my own shortcomings – but rather to salute the Belgian hospital system as I experienced it that day.

On reflection, what is it that we owe to each other as human beings that these good people personified that day in their treatment of me, a stranger? It was in my view a duty of care enacted, a Good Samaritan-like culture where everyone from the nurse who saw me lying on the roadside to the nurse who waved us farewell on discharge, treated me as an equal, as one of their own.

This is the fruit of civilization; when I hear of the woes of the NHS in the UK and the madcap schemes of Republicans in the US to undo the minimal gains that Obama was able to make in bringing healthcare within the reach of all American citizens – I have to ask myself, what does it take for the world to act like these Belgian angels did towards me? What is the difference? Why not for all? How can we leave each other on the road?

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There was icing on the cake, by the way: I broke my glasses, as you can see in the above image of my shiner. They’re frameless and the arm came off on the right hand lens. A temporary fix by Jeanette got me to an optician in Paris a couple of days later; they were Silhouette dealers and fixed them in fifteen minutes, no charge. Grace abounding.

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