Publication:

The Dominion Post - 2021-11-26

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Poem finds home, poet does too

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Ethan Te Ora ethan.teora@stuff.co.nz

When Pakira Manaena (Ngāti Kahungunu) wrote his first poem, he drew inspiration from something he didn’t have – a home to call his own. The improbable poet was living in transitional housing, a facility known as Te Pā Manawa, in Petone, managed by the Wellington City Mission. He attended the poetry workshop with a group of other novice writers, his neighbours at the complex. None of them, it seems, were intimidated by the empty page. ‘‘The poems we wrote just flowed. ‘‘The language was raw, and everything was real,’’ Manaena says. A book featuring some of those poems has now been published by Landing Press. More than a roof is an anthology of poetry about housing and homelessness, pulling together work from 122 writers across New Zealand. About a quarter of the poems were written by people in transitional housing, publisher Adrienne Jansen said. She facilitated the workshops over a period of weeks with men in transitional housing. ‘‘It sounds a bit unlikely to think these guys just sat down and wrote poetry. But, in my experience, everyone can write – if you set them up the right way, and give them the opportunity and encouragement.’’ It was important to include writing in the anthology from people in ‘‘very difficult housing situations, people who had never written before but had a lot to say’’, Jansen said. In his poem, Manaena personifies his childhood home, using his own memories to portray how the house might feel. The poem was inspired by a serendipitous event. ‘‘My niece went to a friend’s house, and lo and behold it was our [childhood] house. She was shown the marks of the names and heights of her uncles and aunties.’’ Manaena has been homeless ‘‘off and on’’ over the past 20 years, he says. The reasons for that were an intersection of unfortunate circumstances: ‘‘affordability, housing shortages, and my own choices’’, he says. But those circumstances have changed a lot over the past six months. He made an impression during his stay at Te Pā Manawa: talking openly about his own housing journey, helping out with cleaning and other tasks. Then, in June, the Wellington City Mission asked him to be kaitiaki at Te Pā Pori, a new transitional housing complex which has opened at the distinctive former site of Wild Zebra Backpackers, in Tory St. ‘‘I told them: ‘I don’t know if I’m qualified’. They said to me, ‘Your background in life is all the qualification you need’. That was a blessing.’’ Since starting the job, Manaena has also moved into a boarding house in the central city. He was not sure if he would write more poems – not having written since the workshops ended. Warning: this house contains children Pakira (Paki) Manaena I’ve had paper jammed In my cupboards and drawers Towels and clothes Stuffed under my doors But if it’s to keep everything Safe and warm – A happy house I’ll be I’ve been drawn on by Pencil, crayon, and marker I’ve been tipped on By all kinds of food and drink But if it brings them joy and laughter – I’m a house who’ll never complain There’s never a dull moment With children around I’ve been flooded and mudded From the dirt on the ground But it sure gets lonely When they’re not around – I’m a house wanting to be lived in One thing that I treasure most I know all these children by name I bear the marks of their growth on my doorpost memories of the house they called their home – I’m a house worthy to be loved

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