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Publisher: Magabala Books

Published: February 2024

It’s possible the term polyphony, when used in a literary sense, has never been more appropriately applied that to this sonorous poetry collection, Woven.

Because yes, there is a multiplicity of unique First Nation voices from around the globe. But as in musical polyphony, their differences are read as a vital differentiation against the fundamental harmony of the whole. Identity is preserved, celebrated. As is their shared humanity. Pain and politics are dissonances; pleasure and poetry are consonances.

Commissioned by Red Room Poetry and edited by Australian-born Maori poet, editor and – appropriately – weaver, Anne-Marie Te Whiu, Woven brings together collaborations between Australian Aboriginal and other First Nation poets from New Zealand, USA, Canada, Norway, Vanuatu, Fiji and Guam Island.

As Anne-Marie Te Whiu explains: “By anchoring the project in relationality, Woven’s foundation is about how we connect with each other and what we are prepared as First Nation artists, to offer and receive.”

The voices are variously Australian and American First Nations, Maori, Sami, Chamoru and others. There are cross-cultural call-and-responses, daring duets and even more tightly-woven tapestries between Charmaine Papertalk Green and Anna Naupa, Tony Birch and Simon J. Ortiz, Ali Cobby Eckermann and Joy Harjo, Bebe Backhouse-Oliver and Peter Sipeli and more – 30 in all.

For example, in Postcards of Colonial Ghosting, Samual Wagan Watson and Sigbjorn Skaden ring changes on themes around their respective dominant climates and cultures, a kind of dance of fire and ice.

In the section Frost in the Ground (1), Skaden writes: “Up on the moors, snow had begun to give way to open patches of moss, an archipelago of birth places, and from the sea a welcoming breeze came in, a forerunner of the season to come.”

By contrast, in his opening section A Scorched Earth (1), Wagan Watson writes: “In their black capes punctuating an endless blue horizon… red-dust twisters smothering everything in sight… wind-swept plains of nothing are still something… the rich ghost nation we have sewn into the fabric of our identity… this scorched earth… I will not be moved…”

Owing to the typographical ingenuity and more fluid combining of voices on display here, further examples are difficult to extract without doing violence to the integrity of the poem in question. we are moon by Natalie Harkin and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson or Circuit Breaker by Ellen van Neerven and Layli Long Soldier are good cases in point. This extraordinary book must be experienced in its entirety, and in hardcopy.


Reviewed by Will Yeoman

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