A quick chat with… Tayi Tibble

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The life of Tayi Tibble reads like an instruction manual on how to succeed: start writing at age 8, win first prize by attending the International Institute of Modern Letters (ILLM) at Victoria University and follow that with Best First Book of Poetry at the Ockham NZ 2019. Book Awards for your first book, hers was Poukahangatus.

All at 26 years old.

Tibble (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāti Porou) spoke to Sharon Stephenson on success and his second book, Rangikurawho is again a poetry finalist at the Ockham Awards.

Are you a Wellington girl?

I was born in Wellington and raised in Porirua, the eldest of seven children.

I now live in Newtown with three friends and although my family still lives in P-Town (Porirua) we are very close.

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Where does your love of words come from?

I always liked to read when I was a child. I was introverted and reserved to myself, which usually involved a lot of reading. When I was 8, I decided I wanted to be a writer and I was lucky to have great teachers who encouraged me.

My mother was also creative and wrote two novels, perhaps for publication but also for herself.

How was poetry born?

I started reading poetry online, and when I was 14, I started writing it and posting it to sites like Tumblr. I started getting feedback and followers, which was the first external validation I had for my writing.

Congratulations on your first book being such a hit.

Thanks, he was super cool, if a bit overwhelming, but opened so many doors for me, which I’m grateful for.

As a young Wahine Maori writer, that encouraged me to keep going because when I started there weren’t many people like me doing that. I feel like I was part of the group that opened the door to these Maori wahine that are now being released to the mainstream.

What are the 21 poems of Rangikura on?

I describe them as the intersection of indigenity and modernity, our history and looking back to move forward.

The poems pay homage to modern Maori culture using the humor, sexuality and friendship that characterize my generation.

This book is more personal than your last book, isn’t it?

Yes it is. I look at my navel a lot more, but without shame. I’ve heard snide comments from older male writers about this generation’s self-fixation, but Wahine Maori have not been heavily represented in literature.

Because I’m not just writing about myself, I’m writing about multiple generations of people.

What inspired this book?

I was reading Jericho Brown, a Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American poet, when I started writing this book. I love his work – it’s political, sexy and super lush. I was channeling it when I was writing Rangikura.

I was also inspired by rap and hip-hop – the cadence and the attitude. It was about trying to emulate the conventions and swagger of rap in poetry. But there are also layers of sophistication beneath the bling surface.

Who is this book for?

I think everyone should know how to read Rangikura, both Māori and Pākehā, and get something out of it. But I write mostly for the Wahine natives; I want them to feel seen and validated in the many different complexities of their identity.

What is your favorite poem in this book?

I love this book to death, but probably my favorite poem is A Karakia 4 a Humble Skux, because it makes me feel strong. Another favorite is Tohungawhich focuses on colonization and how it got us to this point of climate change.

He challenges Pākehā to give us back our Kaitiaki (guardianship) over the environment.

Do you write poetry full time?

I work part-time for Victoria University Press doing advertising and also write articles for Subway magazine, The spin-off, Writing and The pantograph punch. I have a hustler mentality where I want to do this kind of work so I have to live off it.

Unfortunately I lost income as tours and readings were canceled due to Covid. I love reading my work to people and the exchange of energy it brings so I really hope I can do it again soon.

Does that extend to attending book festivals in the US and Europe later this year?

Poukahangatus is published in the US and UK later this year, so the plan is to attend a book fair in New York in May and then maybe Paris later.

I watched a lot of TV shows in the 2000s set in New York, like Gossip Girl and Ugly Bettyso I have high expectations for what New York will be like.

What would you do if you weren’t a writer?

I never had a plan B but I did a history degree before the ILLM course so I might have been a historian. My interest in history still serves me well as it feeds my writing.

What are you reading? by Megan Dunn What I learned in art school. There’s a wave of cool girls from the 90s and 2000s writing autobiographies right now that I love.

What’s next for you? I haven’t started my next book but I’m collecting ideas and doodles for it. Next time it will probably be less about me and more about New Zealand history.


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