ALISTAIR TE ARIKI CAMPBELL

It’s Greece

It’s Greece. It’s been confirmed. But where
     the hell is Greece? Patu wants to know.
          He’s ignorant, never got past Standard 6 —
his dad couldn’t spare him — had to get up
     at 6, milk the cows, and after milking
          do all the other chores. ‘Greece,’ I tell him,
‘is close to Gallipoli,’ and his eyes light up.
     He knows the name, because his Uncle Ru
          died there, fighting the Turks. We agree
that anywhere is better than being here
     at Amiriya, buggered by route marches,
          plagued by flies, heat and sand — sand blowing
everywhere. But the pyramids, my God!
     A million slaves died building them, they say.
          They are indeed great marvels, but give me
Hikurangi any day. ‘We go to Greece,’
     says Freyberg, ‘to defend the birth place
          of culture and learning,’ and it gets me
wondering why I’m here at all so far
     from my run-down farm, my sick people,
          and a meeting-house in need of repair.

Alistair Te Ariki Campbell was born in the Cook Islands in 1926 and is half-Polynesian. He moved to New Zealand in 1933 and now lives at Pukerua Bay on the Kapiti Coast, north of Wellington. He has written numerous books of verse on Maori and Polynesian themes as well as a number of novels.

Campbell comments: “‘It’s Greece’ comes from Maori Battalion. A Poetic Sequence, which tells of the exploits of a unique military force drawn from the Maori race of New Zealand, whose legendary fighting qualities on the battlefields of Greece, Crete, North Africa, and Italy, made them both feared and respected. The sequence comprises 72 poems in which members of the battalion, sometimes during battles or in the calm between, sometimes even from beyond the grave, reflect on war in all its violence and brutality, and what they relate with compassion and humanity, and often with irrepressible humour, is intended to leave the reader with a sense of the tragedy and futility of war. The sequence is dedicated to my brother Stuart, who served in the Maori Battalion and was killed a few weeks before the war in Europe ended.”

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Links

New Zealand Book Council writer file
Wai-te-ata Press