It’s funny how often I forget the power of stories
In these brilliant and wide-ranging essays John-Paul Powley harnesses the power of stories to tell us about ourselves and where we come from. Acting as ‘kaitiaki o te pō,’ a caretaker of history and memory, Powley combines memoir with history and cultural criticism to create essays that expand far beyond the simply personal.
Topics that he tackles with intelligence, deep thinking, and often wit, include the untimely death of a friend; a school field trip around India; how the murder of Karl Völkner by a small number of men meant land confiscation for an entire iwi; how our history plays out in our present, especially for Māori; growing up as a sensitive boy in a patriarchal society; his experiences of being a high-school Dean and trying help the ‘difficult’ kids; and why young men, such as Keats and grunge rockers, are perhaps not the best people to give you advice on how to live your life after all. But, just describing the topics of these essays cannot capture their depth and poetry – the myriad of connections that Powley makes between one thing and another creates richness and resonances.
Heart-breaking, hopeful and often blackly hilarious, Kaitiaki o te Pō is a powerful debut of an arresting new voice.
John-Paul Powley lives in Wellington with his wife and two daughters. He has taught English in Japan, and history and social studies in New Zealand.