The Art of Walking Upright
Steele Roberts, $25.00,
“The art of walking upright here is the art of using both feet”. For many New Zealanders, the very essence of being Kiwi is being part of a community that embraces both Māori and Pākehā culture.
The Art of Walking Upright is said to be Glenn Colquhoun’s love letter to the people of Te Tii in Mangonui. This collection, he says, is “the beautiful, troubled, fertile gap between Pākehā and Māori”.
Half-way through his medical degree, Colquhoun, at age 28, felt he was emotionally and spiritually unfulfilled. Colquhoun lived for a few months in Te Tii, where he became closely involved in the local community. The emotional ties Colquhoun made with the members of this settlement were unable to be severed – even when he ended his time there.
Colquhoun calls the settlement “my turangawaewae”. This sense of community is the driving force of each and every poem in the anthology. The poem “Jumping Ship” examines respect for those around you, while also the joining of people to take care of the environment. Colquhoun conveys to his readers the importance of respect and communication not only between people, but also between humans and the land. Sue McCauley, in New Zealand Books, describes his writing: “all the wonder and lyricism of an extended love poem … with such artistry – such humour and deft precision.”
Each poem typically describes a person Colquhoun has gotten to know in his time at Te Tii. My personal favourite is “Aunty Rongo”, who is portrayed as a strong matriarch, while at the same time is rendered as generous and honourable. In his introduction, Colquhoun says of her: “I am Pākehā. She was Māori. It would be wrong to say she was my doorway into her particular world. She was its soft, wide-open arms”. His poem illustrates her as a strong leader of the community – an inspirational representation of the kuia of Māori culture. The respect which we owe to the elders of any community is highlighted in these poems of the “Aunties” in Te Tii. The “four old seagulls”, as he calls them, have “seen off most varieties of joy and pain and cackle still”. Colquhoun attempts to show his reader how much we can learn from the experienced leaders of a community.
Colquhoun’s repetitive use of Māori words to describe the surrounding flora and fauna – kai moana, pipis – introduces a strong bicultural sense to each poem. Readers should be aware that the Māori language is used often, so if they are unfamiliar with common phrases and traditions a few Google searches may be necessary (for example, hangi and pōwhiri are referred to). This simply adds to the overall theme of Colquhoun’s collection: the sense of using both feet to find balance in society – this being a metaphor of understanding and accepting both Māori and Pākehā culture.
Personally, I found this to be an insightful and enjoyable collection of writing. The recurring theme of a multi-cultural society based on respect is an admirable and appealing idea. I believe we should strive to demonstrate the love, or aroha, that the members of Te Tii show to one another and showed to Colquhoun when he arrived in a time of need. Society must endeavour to achieve the same acceptance and support.
Olivia Bennett is 16, and attends St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland. For more reviews from young reviewers, go to www.hookedonbooks.org.nz.