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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 272, Volume 49 Number 6, July - August 2023.

Cover of te pāhikahikatanga / incommensurability
John Gallaste pāhikahikatanga / incommensurability, Vaughan Rapatahana (Flying Islands) NZ$10
This Prison of English

(Please note: this reviewer, though from Aotearoa, is not a Te Reo/Māori speaker/reader. There will be more English, and quotations of Vaughan Rapatahana’s English versions of his poems, than there should be).


Whatever happened to untamed, un-Agent-filtered, un-English-language-obliged literature? It’s here. Little book, great leap-in-the-right-direction.

Splendidly, te pāhikahikatanga starts with a quadruple battery against the tyranny of English and plea for a te reo Māori readership: an introductory poem (‘Stay alive / I give you a book in Te Reo / Māori / open your eyes / open your ears...’); a quotation by Gary Lachman (‘There is no direct substitution of one language for another... different languages express a different way of seeing the world’); an Introduction (‘I now write in my first language... because I want to fully express everything in my mind, my heart, in my soul... The English language is crammed full of the subject matter and cultural customs of the lands of Britain...’); and an in-your-face first poem (‘Fuck / I can’t exist in this language any more / it defeats me... give me an escape from this prison of English’).

What follows is 120 pages of Te Reo poems, with accompanying ‘versions’ in English. ‘I have translated these poems into the English language, but not in a “perfect” translation. It’s impossible! Thus the title of incommensurability / te pāhikahikatanga’.

Readers who know and have followed Rapatahana’s poetry, through, for example, ‘ternion’, ‘ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes’, and ‘ināianei / now’, will recognise much of the contents. There are love poems ...

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