Rapatahana, Vaughan

Rapatahana, Vaughan



In Brief

Vaughan Rapatahana is a New Zealand writer and reviewer. Though perhaps best known for his poetry, his bibliography also includes prose fiction, educational material, academic articles, philosophy, and language critiques. Rapatahana is of Māori ancestry, and many of his works deal with the subjects of colonial repression and cultural encounter. His writing has been published in New Zealand and internationally. In 2009, he was a semi-finalist for the Proverse Prize in Literature. He was also a finalist in the 2013 erbacce prize for poetry.


Vaughan Rapatahana (1953 - ) is a New Zealand poet who also writes prose fiction, educational material, academic articles, philosophy and language critiques. Born in Patea, Rapatahana is of Māori heritage, and has been published in both English and te Reo. He gained an MA (Hons) from the University of Auckland before progressing to further study in the realm of Education. Rapatahana returned to the University of Auckland from 1991-1994 to write his PhD, titled Existential Literary Criticism and the Novels of Colin Wilson.

Rapatahana experienced a varied career before becoming a writer, working as a secondary schoolteacher, housepainter, storeman, freezing worker, and special education advisor. Rapatahana was the editor of the Maori and Indigenous Review Journal until 2011. He has lived abroad for a significant portion of his life, teaching in Nauru, Brunei Darussalam, PR China, and Hong Kong for extended periods. He currently resides in Morrinsville, where he is completing a further Diploma in Special Education at the University of Canterbury. He writes regular book reviews for Landfall and Scoop.

Rapatahana has been described as a global poet. His first poetry collections were Down Among the Dead Men (1987) and Street Runes (1988), both published by Entropy Press, Auckland.

As editor, Vaughan Rapatahana published the poetry anthology Under the Canopy (HSBC and British Council) in 1998. The collection comprises 27 poems that incorporate vistas of Brunei (sectioned “regional scenes”) with those of romance (“episodes of life”).

In 2001, Rapatahana’s PhD thesis was published under the title Wilson as Mystic (Paupers Press, UK). Wilson as Mystic is the first of his academic texts on English writer Colin Wilson’s works.

Home, Away, Elsewhere was released by Proverse Press Hong Kong in 2009. The poems within the book recreate Rapatahana’s lived experiences in Hong Kong and his other countries of residence, whilst acknowledging the interior life that ensures the poet is always “elsewhere”. Patricia Prime reviewed the collection in TakahÄ?: “These are poems that make you think, wonder, and work hard”. For Home, Away, Elsewhere, Rapatahana was shortlisted and became a semi-finalist for the Proverse Prize in Literature.

The part-collections Karon Beach and Bride Price (Two) were released in 2010 by Good Samaritan Press, Thailand.

In 2011, Rapatahana’s book She Was No Good Anyway was published by Good Samaritan Press, Thailand – a collection of four hard-boiled stories of men who struggle against their circumstances. A further short-story collection, Unmasked, was published in the same year.

Alongside Wereta Willard, Rapatahana co-wrote Aotearoa’s first bi-lingual poetry teaching resource, Teaching Poetry, in 2012. That same year, he edited and introduced English Language as Hydra (Multilingual Matters, UK), a critique that uses the metaphor of the Hydra to demonstrate the domination of the English language across cultures. Ahmed Kabel said of the book: “An engaged and politically accountable scholarship such as exhibited in this volume offers both example and hope for creating a more equitable linguistic order” (Journal of Language, Identity and Education).

Vaughan Rapatahana’s first novel Toa (Atuanui press) was published in 2012. A post-modern tale of an eccentric freedom-fighter named Mahon, Toa is set in a dystopian country where civil war divides the indigenous inhabitants and the Pakeha government. Richard Taylor remarked that, with Toa, “Rapatahana has produced a very astute and absorbing first novel” (Brief).

The poetry book China as Kafka (Kilmog Press, Dunedin) made its debut in 2012. A collection of verse that explores the idea of cultural distance and contemporary modernity, China as Kafka is “Full of references to [Rapatahana’s] indigenous heritage in New Zealand-Aotearoa…the title poem is a tour de force in five pages, his language is electric and ornate” (Patricia Prime, TakahÄ?).

2012 and 2013 saw the publication of three texts by Rapatahana on the works of Colin Wilson: Philosophical (a)Musings (Lulu Press, USA), Comments on Boredom (Paupers Press, UK), and Introduction to ‘The Faces of Evil’ (Paupers Press, UK).

Rapatahana was placed highly in the 2013 erbacce prize for poetry.

Rapatahana’s poetry collection Schisms (Stonesthrow Poetry, Nevada), released in 2013, addresses political and historical conflicts and divisions. Veined through with themes of war, lust, and colonial repression, Schisms defends against linguistic colonisation by privileging the Māori language.

Rapatahana received poetry grants in both 2013 and 2015 from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, the former for a collection of Hong Kong poets, which he initated and co-edited, titled Outloud Too (MCMM Creations).

Vaughan Rapatahana’s 2015 poetry collection Atonement (ASM/Flying Islands, Macau and MCMM Creations Hong Kong), is a pocket-sized anthology that addresses the interactions between individuals and cultures. Paula Green reviewed the collection: “Whiffs of concrete poetry, language poetry abound, but you can’t simply reduce these poems to sumptuous word play. You might get led anywhere visually and aurally. […] This book is an utter delight” (NZ Poetry Shelf). Atonement was also published separately in the Philippines in January 2016, by the University Santo Tomas Press.

2015-16 also saw Rapatahana write on New Zealand poetry for Jacket 2 (University of Pennsylvania, USA) via a series of commentaries.

The companion instalment of English Language as Hydra, titled Why English? Confronting the Hydra, was released in June 2016, again with Rapatahana as co-editor and instigator.

In 2016, Atonement was nominated for the 2016 Philippines National Book Awards, for the category Best English Book in Poetry.

Rapatahana has contributed to the New Zealand online journal of poetry and poetics, Ka Mate Ka Ora (Issue 14), with a piece titled 'Writing back (to the centre): practising my theory'.

Rapatahana's latest project has been the realisation of Colin Wilson's unfinished novel from 1950, Lulu. Rapatahana sourced and edited the original manuscript and wrote an introductory essay for the book published under the title, Colin Wilson: Lulu: an unfinished novel (Pauper's Press).

In 2016, Rapatahana’s poem tin yan don won the inaugural international Proverse Poetry Prize.

Vaughan Rapatahana lives in the Waikato, but commutes regularly to Philippines and Hong Kong.


  • NZEPC recordings of Rapatahana's poems
  • Rapatahana's tag on NZPoetryShelf
  • Rapatahana reading his poetry on Youtube
  • Photos of Rapatahana at the launch of Atonement in Manila
  • Rapatahana's commentaries on Jacket 2

Updated August 2016.