Big Fat Brown Bitch - Reviewed by Miya Dawson | Regional News Connecting Wellington

Big Fat Brown Bitch

Written by: Tusiata Avia

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Miya Dawson

Tusiata Avia is big, fat, brown, and angry about the treatment of Pacific peoples in New Zealand. Big Fat Brown Bitch is the latest poetry collection by Avia, written after ACT party leader David Seymour’s criticism of her award-winning previous poetry collection The Savage Coloniser Book created news. In bold, direct language, it addresses racism and how the colonisation of Aotearoa still affects people today – from the personal, such as name-calling at school, to the national, as when Avia calls out specific government leaders who’ve made decisions she disagrees with.

The first section of the book, Werewolf, is the most political. It’s arresting and doesn’t shy away from swearing or discussing hate speech. It’s not one for all audiences, but Avia has an undeniable way of making you stop and take note of her words. “I am the girl who bites like this,” reads one poem, and the lines do feel like furious dog bites at the world.

The final section, Malu | Protection, is the most abstract and covers traditional tattooing practices. The narrator and her niece search family records for the best symbols to use, and she imagines being deep underwater with taniwha while the painful tattooing process takes place. The poems explore being half-Samoan, growing up separate from your ancestry and not speaking the language, exemplified in The opening lāuga, the ceremony where the Samoan orators speak from one side of the page and Avia’s narrator is aligned to the opposite side.

If I had to critique, a couple of the poems didn’t feel very distinct from each other. However, overall, it’s a cohesive collection which doesn’t falter in sharing the strengths and trials of Avia’s life. FCC Theatre Company will be performing an adaptation of Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book, directed by Anapela Polata’ivao, this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts if you’re interested in seeing more of her work. And if you’re not – “Come for me babe, what else have I got to lose?”

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