Stories and photographs

A Well Written Body – Karlo Mila with paintings by Delicia Sampero

As of a few minutes ago I  was undecided on which poet would help resurrect Poetry Showcase, tossing up between David Eggleton, John Adams and Karlo Mila. In one of those semi-conscious moments while finishing chores before embarking on a writing session I picked up A Well Written Body. Flipping over the front cover I laughed; it was a 2008 birthday present and yesterday was my birthday – decision made.


















In the years that have past A Well Written Body remains on the bedside table. I’ve scoured bookshops for copies as gifts for writing buddies. The collaborative nature of the book – a sharing of creative energy between artist and writer –continues to inspired me and shape my creative journey.

Karlo’s poetry in the first section stems from an exploration of her roots; Tongan and Pākehā (white New Zealander) descent, “with ancestral connections to Samoa” and cultural identity. For those readers not familiar with New Zealand, Auckland or Tāmaki Makaurau (Maori) is the world largest Polynesian city.

Delicia Sampero born in Germany immigrating to New Zealand in 1984, also identifies with this search. Not only through her own journey but also through her  life with partner, Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifiasio. In Delicia’s triptych painting, “a continuous allegory of the black butterfly”, we view the struggle of identity, belonging and the birth of the next generation, on a sandy coastline  with Polynesian motifs of papaya and fish. It is the last screen of the triptych, which depicts a sensual dance between lovers that we get a sense of the female struggle required to balance motherhood, family and sexual desire. The reproduction of this painting on pages 74-75 conveys a universal story while uniting Part One and Two of A Body Well Written.

Part One – Where are your from? – four chapters:

Where are you from? / These are the New Legends

These poems sift through Karlo’s lineage while debating the new legends as her child lying in the womb, continuing as Nikolasi is born and his life begins.

How I came to love the King / From the ashes

Glenn Colquhoun wrote, “At their best these poems combine a fresh, raw voice with a much older one that echoes the cadences, images and visceral ache of old Polynesia. It is a voice that is at once public, defending without fear the old culture it has gown out of, yet at the same time unsteady on its feet, revealing at heart a delicate doubt.”

Part Two – Black Butterfly

In this section the importance of the collaboration between artist and writer sparks. I sense the images igniting words e.g. in  Pulotu wings “papaya seeds scattered at her throat / she flies back to the underworld / black wings, pearl strings, bent, beautiful.”

The images and words inspired my own poetry especially for my paper Love, Loss and looking around when I also needed to express hopes, disappointments and desires.

La-di-da – (opening stanza)

some days
when my eyes are sticky
and I am driving
across the shore
listening to Jack Johnson
the sunny summer concrete
is not enough
I wanted to be loved
to death
with words

Lastly thank you Karlo for words that I repeatedly revisit when the white of the page stays empty; the starkness so bright I become blind and lifeless.

How poems are made
(A discredited view, with credit to Alice Walker)

there is somewhere
the desire must go

black butterflies
with pen
pressed for page

each day
before breakfast
clean the
exhibition glass
as if it were a tomb
as if it were the kitchen bench

wiping away
all traces of

all trace of


Karlo Mila – thank you for allowing me to showcase your poems.
Mila, Karlo and Sampero, Delicia: A Well Written Body. New Zealand. Huia Publishers, 2008. Print. ISBN 978-1-86969-321-3.


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