A Kind of Shelter Whakaruru-taha reviewed on Aotearoa New Zealand Review of Books


Pamela Morrow has reviewed A Kind of Shelter Whakaruru-taha: An anthology of new writing for a changed world, edited by Witi Ihimaera and Michelle Elvy, for Aotearoa New Zealand Review of Books:

‘Earlier this year, Stuff published Tusiata Avia’s poem, ‘The 250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand’, part of her award-winning 2020 collection The Savage Coloniser Book. Stuff described Avia’s poetry as often ‘objectively hilarious’, yet for some readers, the poem was offensive, decried as ‘hate speech’. Complaints were made to the Media Council. One compared the poem to ‘Isis beheading videos’; another said the poem could be seen as ‘an incitement to murder’. These complaints ‘against art because it caused offence’ were not upheld.

Readers exhausted by the online vitriol directed at Avia may find in A Kind of Shelter Whakaruru-taha a space of cultural calm.

Here, 76 creative thinkers – poets and fiction writers, anthropologists, biologists, musicians and visual artists, and more – gather at a hui in the shelter, which you might visualise as a magnificent cave-like dwelling or meeting house.

Edited by Witi Ihimaera and Michelle Elvy, this anthology assembles thought-provoking work that explores what ‘is this world we live in, and where is it heading?’

We hope the contents can be thought of as a dialogue, from writer to writer, and between the written word and the visual works included here: story and poem weave together thematically and pull at the edges; fiction and non-fiction ponder climate change and political urgencies, historical weights and cultural challenges, family structures and race and class. Painters and photographers suggest realities and un-realities.

Writers from Aotearoa include poet laureates past and present – Cilla McQueen, Ian Wedde, Vincent O’Sullivan, Selina Tusitala Marsh, David Eggleton, Chris Tse – and writers that range from emerging (Cybella Maffitt, Emma Barnes) to leaders (Patricia Grace, Ben Brown) and a range of insightful contemporary voices: Mohamed Hassan, Lana Lopesi, Anne Kennedy, Faisal Halabi.

Some, like Alison Wong and Nina Mingya Powles, live overseas. The whakataukī that introduces part one of the book speaks to bringing ‘distant horizons closer’, and this also means international contributors who write from the context of Hawai‘i, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Italy, Rwanda, Spain, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Singapore, the United States and Sāmoa.

The anthology is divided into three parts, interspersed with colour plates of photography and other visual art. Dialogue crosses these sections, from ‘the curving sides of Papatūānuku’s body’ at the book’s beginning to Lisa Reihana’s Papatūānuku and Rūaumoko late in part two. Some of the questions and issues raised in A Kind of Shelter are metaphorical. James Norcliffe’s poem ‘The four limitations’ is set in a rehearsal space and riffs on the nature of perceived constraints:

Is it gravity? hazarded one student, who wished to dance to the moon.
Is it light? asked another, who feared the darkness.
Is it imagination? asked one who dreamed wonder and wondered dreams
Is it movement? Mobility? asked another, frightened of arthritis.
Is it the audience? asked the one who desired fame.



Read the full review here.