Poetry triptych

Here are three poems I wrote in recent times that have a loose 'Waitangi' theme - in that they connect with people and places woven into history's fabric in these islands...

Boulcott Street

Where the kowhai bloomed, I remembered
that spring of discontent in
Boulcott street

Kowhai said my son is yellow
Yes I said, the tree is the colour

He goes to kindy, happy

the colours
of his world paired

between what is new, and what is old

© Samuel Carpenter, 2014

[note: Boulcott Street is a street in Lower Hutt, Wellington, that marks an area once known as Boulcott’s farm. This was the location of an engagement between British troops, who had fortified the position, and Maori groups. Land issues were involved. Gov Grey had earlier sent in a force of about 340 to clear out opposition in the Hutt Valley. See the Tribunal’s report here for the narrative, pp 207-217 in particular. A memorial to the British troops only survives today at the end of Boulcott Street.]

For Renata Kawepo

Renata, you son of vision

Kawe-po, your chief’s head carried

in the night

from Patea to Taupo-nui-a-Tia


Slave, you heard the WORD

which set you free

your body carried from Heretaunga to Waimate, Pēwhairangi

your wairua, thenceforth to

Zion, while your soul remained

rooted in memory

never forsaken


Missionary, you followed that

stubborn, headstrong man Colenso

home to Heretaunga,

He was hard of hearing

Not much time for listening to

those Māori,

yet gifted with divine energy

for a thankless task –

converting the heathen


You saw, and you, too, converted,

new Light and Peace unbidden, now

for the Kingdom

We have no kings, but chiefs

we know, and this Chief

seems different somehow


Kaitangata, you were laid

there, upon that

funeral pyre

Prepared to meet death,

but delivered by your whanaunga

when the wood was still unlit.

And you knew, you realised,

there was something more

to the making of this life. Perhaps

Some One else had

things prepared in advance, work

to do, mahi they

called it

a vocation, a calling

no giving up now, just a letting go


Whaiaipo, that woman who

struck you there,

utu for taking away her husband,

then gouged out your right-eye. What

was going through your mind

when you held her and

held back your comrades? Instead

of killing her,

you married her.

‘All who read this shall be amazed’


Land, given in hope

of a better dispensation

Embroiled in war,

for mana, conflict tetahi-ki-tetahi

Ministers of the Crown

kinsmen of ill-fated mein,

good and peaceful

hau! pai marire!

But these are men whose

thoughts and time has come

We’ve turned a corner now,

e hoa,

No going back

only forward. I hope

our fears for the future

are less worrysome

than the fear that stalked the past

Not quite what these modern-day prophets say,

give me Elisha and Elijah


‘In God’s Justice is our Peace’


Hāhi, planted a church there

at Omahu

six thousand at your tangi

Renata, you man of vision

There you lie,

witness to a city not

to be shaken.

© Samuel Carpenter, 2014

 [Note: the story of Renata Kawepo must be one of the more astounding stories of culture encounter, tragedy and triumph in New Zealand’s history. See a short bio here.]

For W H Oliver

Historian. Man of Letters.

These people gathered here pay tribute to your art, your words
that drew from depth and earth
tales of other lives;

prose singular and clear
conveying the weight, the import of minds, of actions, of laws

You let voices once embodied  speak through remnant skiens,
believable and unbelievable
Of tragedy and sorrow
Of ego, will to power, and

Some sought the world, gained it, and
In gaining it, lost their own soul
Others desired the service of some thing or Some One greater

than themselves and, in so doing,
wove the living kete
Some just existed, then died, and the record does not show it.
Still others suffered at the hands of the first –
They shall be first one day

You saw all this, and more
And sometimes you felt it,
And you wrote it down
To ward off forgetfulness
though we will cotinue to forget
To forget is human

So let the word speak
Let it resound for all ages
Let it remind and provoke and witness
To things done and left undone

Let it not be forgotten.
A memorial stone made of paper and text, of wood and ink
Reminding us we can add or subtract from the sum of things
That we can build up or breakdown
but whatever we do
We are flesh and blood
We are not alone, islands
in space or time
So let us be fruitful
here and now
Casting caution aside,
embracing love

Poet. Father.
Your son reads your poem
about an old house
when he was growing up,
it was old and capacious;
and you were lying there in
that house, listening
to the echoes of day and children,
and of night.

It is night now, Bill
So sleep the sleep of those

who know,

they have left behind wisdom
and good
they will rise again, on
the last day.

© Samuel Carpenter, 2015

[Note: W H (‘Bill’) Oliver was an important New Zealand historian and poet who died last year. See a short biography of him here.]

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