August 2023: Roll & Break and a wartime invasion

Roll & Break is a collection of poems about Tītahi Bay where I live. I walk on the beach almost every morning, and these poems took shape over those hours of walking. Of course they’re not all literally about Tītahi Bay, but they all have their origins here, in some slice of history, some character I met, or some quirk of imagination that transformed one thing into another. What if North African refugees washed up on this beach instead of in Greece, what if Van Gogh painted our iconic boatsheds, what if my seafaring great-grandfather sailed into this bay?

Here’s a story about one of the poems.

At the north end of the beach there’s a World War II gun emplacement. There were originally three along the beach, but only one remains. Now it’s set into a grass bank, its wide gunner’s slit still facing out to the sea. There’s a new flagpole beside it, and a new plaque remembering local men who died and recalling the 1500 US Marines stationed for a time in Tītahi Bay during the war. Anzac Day Services are held here.

For years I walked past that gun emplacement, not realizing it was there. When I finally did notice it, I thought, how ridiculous. Why protect this tiny bay, and what could a gun or two achieve anyway? With that perspective, I wrote a poem called “Our war”, imagining an invasion of the bay in 1942. Later I learnt that the very tall radio mast on the hill above the bay was a vital link in the country’s communication system, and the guns (and barbed wire along the beach) were to protect it. And those guns, that I had scoffed at, could pack a mighty punch. It was all serious stuff when the threat of a Japanese or German invasion was seen to be very real.

But I had already written the poem, and I decided to leave it as it is.

You can read the poem here.

Our war

Roll & Break is available from Landing Press: the Roll & Break book page.