What brown girls in bright red lipstick think

Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick
Courtney Sina Meredith
Beatnik Publishing

Courtney Meredith’s first book of poems, Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick, recently launched at Te Papa in Wellington, was originally introduced at last year's Frankfurt Book Fair.

It is a clever mixture of nonchalance and hard-hitting poems which deliver a new image of young Pacific women.

With her opening lines she takes up a slightly aggressive stance with her:

Don’t trust a Samoan girl
the girls all lie they lie like me

At times the poems seem to be incredibly personal but then they drift off into abstraction and looping comments on the social and political ills of contemporary society.

She paints images of Pacific girls which are far from the traditional, as in the opening lines of the eponymous title:

Brown girls in red lipstick
have you seen them
with their nice white boyfriends
paisley scarves on scarred shoulders
looking for their wings

Brown girls in red lipstick
have you seen them
with their nice white girlfriends
reading Pablo Neruda
on fire the crotch of suburbia

At 25 she has probably had a greater audience exposure overseas than in this country. She has made major appearance in Germany, Britain and Indonesia. When the book was first launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair she featured in an interview on BBC’s Radio 4.

All immigrant cultures to New Zealand have adapted to their adopted homeland and those from the Pacific have faced the same issues of integration, along with the challenge of maintaining the culture of the Islands, which can be both a support and an encumbrance.

How to combine the liberal with the conservative, the traditional and the contemporary, the dream and the reality is a continuing issue.

Meredith takes on the task of investigating these problems from the perspective of a young, New Zealand-born woman of Samoan heritage living in contemporary New Zealand and inhabiting the global 21st century.

So her poems are peppered with references to places around the world which she has worked in or dreamed of – Auckland, Oregon, Jerusalem, Melbourne, New York, Indonesia and Germany.

She is like the image she creates in Rushing Doll, where she conflated the idea of the hell-bent girl and a set of wooden Russian dolls:

Ä girl in a girl in a girl in a girl

This onion skin, multiple-layered image is like the various layers of the poems referring to her multiple roles and interests: sex, power, religion, family and writing.

The voice of the writer is dominant as she screams that:

My verses have stalkers, my poems have daughters

Throughout her work she seems to connect with other writer such as James K Baxter, but also Fairburn:

There are no slaves in my living room

and to Shakespeare:

Your brothers lie with kina

She grapples with the big issues of poverty, conflict, sexism and racism, but also more immediate ones of sex, drinking and eating. All this is rolled into poems which are both serious and frivolous.

She is a mixture of performance poet and romantic – a singing Ginsberg and howling Shelley.