An inspiring collection of stories and verse

Thursday, February 14, 2008 - 11:00

The heArt of my reVersing: a redemption song through original poems and short stories in verse

Lili Tuwai

Vusa Wai Tui Publishing, 2007

$14.95, <http://www.lilituwai.com/>

Born in 1962, in Aotearoa (New Zealand), Lili Tuwai has a mixed cultural heritage of Fijian, Tongan and European ancestry. In 1985 she migrated to Australia with her young daughter.

Her poems and stories in The heArt of my reVersing are a personal journey that provide an insight into a girl who suffered sexual abuse and rape, while also living in an abusive home environment.

Tuwai's book is divided into five chapters as part of the process of explaining and redeeming her story. There are poems on various issues that have plagued her — sexual abuse, agoraphobia, pain in adult relationships, and the need to find herself at one with nature and the universe. A theme in her writing is the power of these poems to assist in her ability to fight these demons. In a short poem called "Pen Point Survival" she captures this idea perfectly:

She dreamt of living solely by her words

For words are her wings, as flying is for birds

To rise, writing down, all she needed said

Inky waves pressed on paper, styled to be read.

Tuwai's poetry and stories are poignant, sensitive and reveal a literary talent for describing and illuminating her pain and the process of healing. In one chapter she actually tells the disturbing story of sexual abuse. Written in threads as a child then summarising as an adult, this part of the story, while very disturbing, illuminates the trauma from the perspective of the child who has suffered. Many others may identify with her story. Lili has the ability, however, to write the story in a way that can help herself and others.

The work portrays a woman trying to make sense of her pain, fear and the ruin brought upon her from sexual abuse. Yet there is also hope and optimism. She also portrays in her verse other social issues such as homelessness and alcoholism. In her poem, "The Father, the Son & Mary's Mother" she tells of a women outside a pub:

That cluttered third floor Surry Hills balcony,

the stage for impromptu acts,

after closing hour

from a woman preserved long ago

in cheap cask wine.

Alone tonight,

She bellowed into the pitch-black

Pleading to the holy ones hiding within it,

For an answer

To a question she no longer remembers...

Ohhh Lord!!

Geezzus!

Motha of Mary!

Aarghh!...

Tuwai also deals with the issue of agoraphobia in a poem called "Pho". She illustrates beautifully with words the progressive nature of the disorder by headlining each verse with "In time", while also moving towards rehabilitation. By the end of the poem she has started to expel agoraphobia by seeing a therapist who was "scripting a diagnosis towards a life sublime". It is almost like the words in the poems are moving her from revealing and exposing the trauma of agoraphobia, to dealing with "Pho" in the end. This ability to reveal and reverse her pain through words in poems and stories is her strength as she so cleverly portrays even in the title of this book.

In the fourth chapter, Tuwai writes eloquently of the stories of myth in Pacific Island culture. Her writing rises and falls with beautiful imagery and language to illustrate the creation myths that surround the culture of the people in the Pacific, and talk about the "fish flesh" people who came to be known as "whites" as they came and oppressed the Black cultures in her land.

Tuwai provides insight through her storytelling of creation stories and their ongoing relevance and how they were suppressed by the appearance of the white people who brought with them a culture of superiority.

Tuwai has the ability to poignantly and sharply highlight the trauma and sadness of her life and pain, while always having an optimism to expel and reverse the trauma of her life. An inspiring collection.

From GLW issue 740