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Rapatahana, Vaughan
Writer's File

Vaughan Rapatahana

Rapatahana, Vaughan
In brief
Vaughan Rapatahana is a New Zealand writer and reviewer. Though perhaps best known for his poetry, his bibliography also includes prose fiction, educational material, academic articles, philosophy, and language critiques. Rapatahana is of Māori ancestry, and many of his works deal with the subjects of colonial repression and cultural encounter. His writing has been published in New Zealand and internationally. In 2009, he was a semi-finalist for the Proverse Prize and in 2013 he was a finalist for the erbacce prize for poetry. In 2016 Rapatahana won the Proverse Poetry Prize.

Rapatahana, Vaughan (1953 - ) is a prolific New Zealand poet who also writes prose fiction, educational material, academic articles, philosophy and language critiques. Born in Pātea, Rapatahana is of Māori heritage, and has been published in both English and te reo Māori. He gained an MA (Hons) from the University of Auckland before studying Education. Rapatahana returned to the University of Auckland from 1991–1994 to write his PhD, titled Existential Literary Criticism and the Novels of Colin Wilson.

Rapatahana experienced a varied career before becoming a writer, working as a secondary schoolteacher, housepainter, storeman, freezing worker, and special education advisor. Rapatahana was poetry editor of the Māori and Indigenous Review Journal until 2011. He has lived abroad for a significant portion of his life, teaching in Nauru, Brunei Darussalam, PR China, and Hong Kong for extended periods. He currently resides in Mangakino. He writes regular book reviews for Landfall and Scoop.

Rapatahana has been described as a global poet. His first poetry collections were Down Among the Dead Men (1987) and Street Runes (1988), both published by Entropy Press, Auckland.

As editor, Vaughan Rapatahana published the poetry anthology Under the Canopy (HSBC and British Council) in 1998. The collection comprises 27 poems that incorporate vistas of Brunei (sectioned ‘regional scenes’) with those of romance (‘episodes of life’). The anthology was the very first poetry anthology written in English by Bruneians in Brunei Darussalam.

In 2001, Rapatahana’s PhD thesis was published under the title Wilson as Mystic (Paupers Press, UK). Wilson as Mystic is the first of his academic texts on English writer Colin Wilson’s works.

Home, Away, Elsewhere was released by Proverse Press Hong Kong in 2009. Rapatahana wrote poems to his lived experiences in Hong Kong and other countries of residence, while acknowledging the interior life that ensures the poet is always ‘elsewhere’. Patricia Prime reviewed the collection in Takahē: ‘These are poems that make you think, wonder, and work hard.’ For Home, Away, Elsewhere Rapatahana was shortlisted and became a semi-finalist for the Proverse Prize in Literature.

The part-collections Karon Beach and Bride Price (Two) were released in 2010 by Good Samaritan Press, Thailand.

In 2011, Rapatahana’s She Was No Good Anyway was published by Good Samaritan Press, Thailand – a collection of four hard-boiled stories of men who struggle against their circumstances. A further short-story collection, Unmasked, was published in the same year.

Alongside Wereta Willard, Rapatahana co-wrote Aotearoa’s first bi-lingual poetry teaching resource, Teaching Poetry, in 2012. That same year, he edited and introduced English Language as Hydra (Multilingual Matters, UK), a critique that uses the metaphor of the Hydra to demonstrate the domination of the English language across cultures. Ahmed Kabel said of the book: ‘An engaged and politically accountable scholarship such as exhibited in this volume offers both example and hope for creating a more equitable linguistic order’ (Journal of Language, Identity and Education).

Vaughan Rapatahana’s first novel Toa (Atuanui press) was published in 2012. A post-modern tale of an eccentric freedom-fighter named Mahon, Toa is set in a dystopian country where civil war divides the indigenous inhabitants and the Pākehā government. Richard Taylor remarked that, with Toa, ‘Rapatahana has produced a very astute and absorbing first novel’ (Brief).

The poetry book China as Kafka (Kilmog Press, Dunedin) made its debut in 2012. A collection of verse that explores the idea of cultural distance and contemporary modernity, China as Kafka is ‘Full of references to [Rapatahana’s] indigenous heritage in New Zealand-Aotearoa . . . the title poem is a tour de force in five pages, his language is electric and ornate’ (Patricia Prime, Takahē).

2012 and 2013 saw the publication of three texts by Rapatahana on the works of Colin Wilson: Philosophical (a)Musings (Lulu Press, USA), Comments on Boredom (Paupers Press, UK), and Introduction to ‘The Faces of Evil’ (Paupers Press, UK). One reviewer noted: ‘Philosophical (a)Musings made me want to read my complete Wilson collection all over again, and find more if I possibly could. A recommendation if there was one.’

Rapatahana’s poetry collection Schisms (Stonesthrow Poetry, Nevada), released in 2013, addresses political and historical conflicts and divisions. Veined through with themes of war, lust, and colonial repression, Schisms defends against linguistic colonisation by privileging the Māori language.

Rapatahana received poetry grants in both 2013 and 2015 from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, the former for a collection of Hong Kong poets, which he initiated and co-edited, titled Outloud Too (MCMM Creations). In 2013 Rapatahana was placed highly in the erbacce prize for poetry.

Vaughan Rapatahana’s 2015 poetry collection Atonement (ASM/Flying Islands, Macau and MCMM Creations Hong Kong)is a pocket-sized anthology that addresses the interactions between individuals and cultures. Paula Green reviewed the collection: ‘Whiffs of concrete poetry, language poetry abound, but you can’t simply reduce these poems to sumptuous wordplay. You might get led anywhere visually and aurally . . . This book is an utter delight’ (NZ Poetry Shelf). Atonement was also published separately in the Philippines in January 2016, by the University Santo Tomas Press. Patricia Prime reviewed the collection in Takahē as a ‘worthwhile journey with much to be discovered,' with Rapatahana noted as a ‘clever storyteller.’

2015–16 also saw Rapatahana write on the topic of ‘New Zealand poetry’ for Jacket 2 (University of Pennsylvania, USA) through a series of commentaries.

Along with Pauline Bunce and Robert Phillipson, Rapatahana co-edited the companion instalment of English Language as Hydra, titled Why English? Confronting the Hydra, which was released in June 2016.

In 2016, Atonement was nominated for the 2016 Philippines National Book Awards, for the category Best English Book in Poetry. Rapatahana also contributed to the New Zealand online journal of poetry and poetics, Ka Mate Ka Ora (Issue 14), with a piece titled 'Writing back (to the centre): practising my theory.’'

In 2016, Rapatahana’s poem ‘tin yan don’ won the inaugural international Proverse Poetry Prize.

In 2017, Rapatahana worked on the realisation of Colin Wilson's unfinished novel from 1950, Lulu. He sourced and edited the original manuscript and wrote an introductory essay for the book published under the title Colin Wilson: Lulu: an unfinished novel (Pauper's Press).

Also in 2017, a collection of poetry called ternion was published by erbacce-press in Liverpool, U.K and reviewed in Landfall Review Online and Scoop Review of Books. His poem, my father's death, was included in Best New Zealand Poems 2017.

Rapatahana has written a number of teaching resources, including English Through Poetry (4 co-edited volumes) User Friendly Resources, N.Z./Expand Your Mind Through Poetry (2 co-edited volumes) Essential Resources, NZ/Poetry in Multicultural Oceania (3 volumes) Essential Resources, NZ.

In 2018, a collection of his poems L'Homme Blanc est Venu was translated into French and published by Éditions de la Tortue, in France. In the same year, he also published his novel Novel (Rangitawa Publishing).

Rapatahana's work was explored by Hannah Lees in the piece 'No Whiteman’s Burr(den): Vaughan Rapatahana and the Tale of the Piripiri' in issue 16 of ka mate ka ora: a new zealand journal of poetry and poetics.

He is currently writing a new series of commentaries regarding Aotearoa New Zealand poetry for Jacket 2.

In 2019, More than the Existentialist Outsider was published by Paupers Press, NottinghamA compilation of much of Rapatahana's work on the English author Colin Wilson, the book includes a 1993 interview conducted at the time of his PhD studies, as well as several later articles written for Philosophy Now; and the new titular article.

Rapatahana instigated and edited the first-ever compilation of Waikato poets, Ngā Kupu Waikato, with help from a Creative Communities Grant. Also in 2019, a new collection of Rapatahana's poetry, ngā whakamatuatanga/interludes was published by Cyberwit, Allahabad, India.

In September 2019 Rapatahana was invited to perform at Malam Baca Puisi Dunia World Poetry Recital Night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Rapatahana's work was included in the poetry anthology Poems from the Edge of Extinction. He edited and wrote the exercises for Book Three of Poetry in Multicultural Oceania.

In October 2019, he performed at the Poetry International Festival at The Southbank Centre in London.

In 2019 my poem 'tahi kupu anake' was included in a paper presented by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas to the United Nations Forum On Minority Issues.

In 2020, Rapatahana produced a poetry teaching resource for Essential Resources titled Exploring Multicultural Poetry.

He also organised the Kotahitanga Through Creativity poetry project for Creative Waikatowas consulting editor and contributor for the Love in the Time of Covid Chronicle projectand was featured in a new film promoting Te Awa Tupua Act, Whanganui River (short and long version).

In 2021, Rapatahana worked with a group of twelve women with Cook Islands heritage living in Tokoroa, as part of Read NZ Te Pou Muramura's Writers in Communities programme. The result of a series of creative writing workshops was an anthology: Te Kinakina: E Ngara I te Ngari, Remember who you are and where you come from, edited by Rapatahana and published by Read NZ.

On August 24 2021 Rapatahana performed at the Medellin, Colombia Poetry Festival via Zoom, due to Covid restrictions. You can watch his segment here.

Also in 2021, User Friendly Resources published Bod the Odd/Hokē te Whanokē, a bilingual children's tale with associated exercises. It was recommended by a Read NZ School Library reviewer. UFR also published The 13th Animal, Why Taffy the Cat Missed Out, which is also a children's book with exercises.

In November 2021, Rapatahana's collection of poems entitled ināianaei/now was published by Cyberwit (India).

In January 2022, a new collection of poems entitled mō taku tama was published by Kilmog Press, Dunedin.

Also in 2022, Rapatahana's bilingual poetry teaching resource, Te Whakaako Toikupu, was published by User Friendly Resources. The book includes 15 poems by Māori poets in both te reo Ingarihi rāua ko te reo Māori, and associated exercises.

In 2023, Flying Islands (Australia) published te pahikahikatanga / incommensurability, which collates many of his poems originally written in te reo Māori over the years and published in a variety of places. 

Vaughan's co-written academic paper 'Māori ways of speaking' was published in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication in 2023. The paper won the Inaugural Best Article Award of the Intercultural Communication Division.

Vaughan co-edited the 2023 fiction and poetry volume Te Awa o Kupu with Kiri Piahana-Wong. The book features over 80 contemporary Māori writers and is accompanied by a non-fiction volume, Ngā Kupu Wero, edited by Witi Ihimaera. Both are published by Penguin NZ.

Katūīvei, a collection of 137 poems by 89 Aotearoa-based Pacific poets published by Massey University Press (April 2024), is co-edited by Vaughan, David Eggleton and Mere Taito. 

March 2024
March 2024