How Did I Get Here?
Ben Brown (ed.)
The Cuba Press
How Did I Get Here? is subtitled a book of “soliloquies of youth”. A book you can order via this link right here. The book is a collection of poems by the YP (young people) of Te Puna Wai o Tūhinapō, Youth Justice Residence under Oranga Tamariki. Next door to this facility is Rolleston Prison. Christchurch. The book features the work of 13-18yo boys and men. They were asked to reflect on one thing: How Did I Get Here?
Consider the volume he edited late last year to be his job application; the first proof that he is the perfect person for this new role. Ben has in fact been rehearsing for this job across many years, as a very visible performer of words and as a writer of books for all ages, a conjurer of tales and teacher of creative writing. A person so willing to share his own story and the stories that made the man he now is, sometimes those stories aren’t happy – but always there’s a lesson.
Over four days in January of last year Brown visited Te Puna Wai o Tūhinapō and collected up the stories from some of the residents. They were angry, sad, boastful, embarrassed, shy, confused and many other things. They were articulate, bright, philosophical and their words were powerful, heartbreaking and encouraging. The worlds you will read about in this book are sad sometimes, sure. Certainly. But we read to learn. There is so much in this volume.
It closes with a poem by Ben. But the rest of the work is by the young kids. Their names are included if they wanted them to be. Sometimes it’s a pseudonym. Sometimes there’s not a name at all.
Some of these poems have – on first read – stopped me in my tracks. I can’t wait to read this book again. To leaf through it and pick and choose at random. To read it cover to cover again. And again.
It’s a beautifully designed book too – its cover in white with black type, inside it is the reverse – striking with white text on black pages.
It is a brilliant, moving, must-read collection of stories by and about New Zealanders. Yes, it’s poetry. But don’t be frightened. Let that be the agent that delivers these stories. For me, always, the best poetry is a story. The rules have been removed, the words get to dance about the page. They catch your eye – and hopefully they sit with your heart. They occupy a space in your mind. There are so many incredibly written stories in this book. It’s beautiful.