Vaughan Rapatahana analyses All day on Ma’uke by Rob Hack for How to Read a Poem


Vaughan Rapatahana, editor of Katūīvei: Contemporary Pasifika poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand analyses All day on Ma’uke by Rob Hack for How to Read a Poem, an on-going series by The Spinoff:

‘All day on Ma‘uke

Reading notes: Let’s start with the title: All day on Ma’uke. Where is Ma’uke? For those who do not know, Ma’uke is one of the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands, and is located quite some way from Rarotonga, the largest and most populated of the group. We can assume that this poem in some way will present a day in the life of this island (Rob Hack is of Cook Islands heritage).

There are several words and phrases repeated through this poem, starting with the “All day” of the title and its iteration in several of the following stanzas, which implies an unchanging everyday landscape and seascape.

All day the reef argues with the sea and no dogs bark.
Palm fronds fall across the road where
goats tied with rope bleat
and pigs scatter through tall grass.

Reading notes: There are five stanzas, but they are not uniform in the number of lines or line length. This delivers a somewhat unstructured ambience to this poem, rather reflecting life on Ma’uke itself, as we shall see. There is also no end of line rhyme, further reflecting an air of asymmetry.

“All day” is repeated, while the verb “fall” is iterated later in this poem, as here captured in one of several instances of alliteration, “fronds fall”. This adds to the ambience of what life feels like on Ma’uke. Along with the slightly negative words sprinkling this stanza, such as “argues” and “no” and “scatter through tall grass”, we start to get a mental picture of a place that is struggling to control its environment. After all, those fronds “fall across the road” and the pigs roam free through uncut grass.

Similarly, the powerful metaphor in the first line stresses the potency of the ocean as it argumentatively and aggressively pounds on the reef surrounding the island. All day, every day.

Low cliffs, sand tracks, empty beaches
where tides wash in over the coral shelf
leaving coke cans, plastic bottles, a red jandal.

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