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No. 32 (September 1960)
– 52 –

HINEMOA AND TUTANEKAI, AND OTHER SERIOUS AND NOT SO SERIOUS POEMS, by Adele Schafer. The Standard Press.

Mrs Schafer is Viennese born, a refugee from fascism, who came to this county twenty years ago. That she is now writing verse in English of considerable quality is an achievement in itself, and in the best of her work, one sees a detachment and a compassion the more compelling for being, as it were, at one remove. Her poems fall into three main groups: political verse, varying in tone from the jocular and occasional to the sarcastic and bitter; a lyrical section in which she explores with tenderness the spirit of place and the natural world. Here she allows her imagination to play over our landscape with a fresh, ironical eye: this for example, from Wellington Spring-Prelude:

Flag-like unfurls every housewife's duster
In stone-locked roads weeds force through every crack
Street corners bloom with teen-age holding muster
Shrivelled potatoes sprout through box and sack.

Lastly, the group of poems on Maori themes, which naturally will prove of most interest to the Maori reader. The longest and most ambitious of these is Hinemoa and Tutanekai, from which her book takes its title. Mrs Schafer shows here and elsewhere a considerable knowledge of Maori lore and she can use the natural Maori world to striking effect, as in this passage:

Flute music, melancholy more than words
Told of Tutanekai's hopeless desire,
That made a pumice-desert of his day.

If “hopeless desire” is not exactly English newminted, the precision of “pumice-desert” in this context compels admiration, both for the intrinsic value of the image, and for its appropriateness to the area, Rotorua, where the legend takes place. However, her quite understandable ignorance of the subtler traps of writing in a foreign language lead her sometimes into this unfortunate flatness:

With even strokes she swims. The way is long.
A sunken tree gives her a little break.
She clings to it, and rests and takes deep breaths.

The book is somewhat sparsely illustrated with wood engravings by E. Mervyn Taylor, which include on the cover, his very beautiful “Hinemoa and Tutanekai”. One wishes that Mrs Schafer had engaged a really competent proof reader to point out several minor, but irritating spelling errors. But the best of her poems are fresh and tender, and the size of her achievement, in giving something back to the country which has sheltered her, must not be underestimated.

B.M.