Whanganui writer Airini Beautrais was a 12-year-old in 1995 when Whanganui iwi members occupied Pākaitore (Moutua Gardens) for 80 days.

"I came with my parents, who are Quakers, and a group from the Quaker community and we were welcomed on to the gardens.

"I remember holding hands and it was exciting.

"Everyone was very friendly and I don't remember being afraid."


Pākaitore, the poem she wrote about the experience was included in her 2017 book Flow: Whanganui River Poems.

The poem has now been selected for inclusion in Best New Zealand Poems 2017 by editor and New Zealand poet laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Best New Zealand Poems is published annually by the International Institute of Modern Letters, and aims to introduce readers — especially internationally — to leading contemporary New Zealand poets.

Each year, a different editor is appointed to select 25 poems for the collection and Marsh, as 2017 editor, said she knew what she was looking for.

"I wanted to be able to map the latest constellation of Aotearoa's poetry stars and navigate the various poetic journeys being offered from a particular time and place.

"I wanted to be inspired. After reading what seemed like, say, 3000-plus poems, I got what I wanted."

Beautrais will be reading Pākaitore and other poems from Flow at the Auckland Writers Festival on Friday.

The readings will be part of an event that is to include korero from Whanganui River kaitiaki (guardian) Turama Hawira and music from Auaha's recording Te Pari o Auahatanga, The Flood of Inspiration.

The occupation of Pākaitore was a protest which highlighted the iwi Treaty of Waitangi claim for the Whanganui River, the exercise of their "tino rangatiratanga" (self-determination) and the right to make decisions over issues affecting them.

The occupiers walked quietly from the gardens on the morning of May 18, 1995, and in 2001, a tripartite agreement was signed between iwi Atihaunui-a-Paparangi, Whanganui District Council and the Crown for management of Pākaitore.

By Airini Beautrais

They formed a circle, holding hands.
What cop would break such brittle wrists
stretched round this smallest of small lands?
The statue gone, the plinth still stands.
The fig tree squiggles, bends and twists.
Its branches circle, holding hands.
Some years the garden fills with bands.
The vocals roll, the beat insists,
all round this smallest of small lands.

Movers and shakers, firebrands,
rock standing firm, song that resists;
all in that circle, holding hands.
The grassy bank, the river sands,
the landing place that still exists
beside this smallest of small lands.

The years move on, and time expands
the distance, but the tale persists:
they formed a circle, holding hands,
around this smallest of small lands.