Get To Know Rising Wellington Poet Tayi Tibble

Meet the poet, writer and probable genius behind acclaimed book Poukahangatus

Tayi Tibble in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"I’ve wanted to be a writer and, specifically, a published author ever since I was a little girl, so actually it was kind of a relief to finally do what I always said I would be doing,” says Tayi Tibble, poet, writer and probable genius.

The “finally” in that sentence is enough to make anyone over the age of 25 give a kind of laugh-sob, because Tayi only graduated from her MA in Creative Writing in 2017 at Wellington’sInternational Institute of Modern Letters, before releasing her debut book of poems, Poukahangatus, through Victoria University Press this year.

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The book, a slim, startling and satisfying volume with lurid cover artwork depicting Tayi reclining in a bath, her long, black hair writhing as snakes around her, has provoked a rapturous reception from readers and critics. Those who are in the literary know had expected it to be good, given that like Eleanor Catton and Hera Lindsay Bird before her, Tayi was awarded IIML’s Adam Foundation Prize, the top honour for a graduating student.

But the assuredness, grace and humour of her work as she navigates concepts of identity, balances of power, beauty, popular culture and desire is still breathtaking. Equally compelling is Tayi’s ownership of her brilliance — she knows her work is good and she doesn’t indulge in false modesty. Her confidence comes from her mother — who her book is dedicated to — and her Te Whanau a Apanui/Ngati Porou culture, which “ground me and keep my big head on my shoulders and looking in the right direction”.

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Still, she admits that there was a time when she felt like an outsider in literature and the literary community. “But embracing my points of difference, my culture, finding texts that spoke to me, and literally just that whole corny cliche thing of ‘being myself’ changed everything,” she says. “I realised that I didn’t necessarily have to meet them in their world, instead I could invite them into mine, and that’s sort of how everything elevated; the quality of my writing and my confidence as a writer.”

She’s conscious that New Zealand’s legacy of colonialism and aversion to tall poppies means that “both young women and Maori are particularly conditioned to believe they must be very humble, overly grateful and gracious, unassuming, and self-deprecating. I’m critical about why they might be dispositioned to feel this way and I remind myself that a patriarchal Pakeha society is dependent on women and people of colour feeling held-back and inferior.”

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Holding that confidence is also kind of a responsibility for her, to the young urban Maori women that she knows her work speaks to most loudly. “I’m really big on the power of representation, so the more I think young women get to see other young women out there doing their bad girl thing, the more likely it is that they will be able to see their own opportunities,” she says.

Knowing that her work validates the experience of other young women like her and may pave the way for the next voice to speak up helps give her the courage to write boldly. “When a young brown girl comes up to talk to me or DMs me to tell me she loved the book or share her thoughts, or her experiences, or her family stories, that’s the best part hands down.”

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New Zealand Herald

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