Tusiata Avia reads ‘Massacre’ from The Savage Coloniser Book (Victoria University Press, 2020)
Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.
Victoria University Press page
Poetry Shelf review
Elizabeth Morton reads two poems from This is your real name (Otago University Press, 2020)
Elizabeth Morton is a poet and teller of yarns. She has two poetry collections – Wolf (Mākaro Press, 2017) and This is your real name (Otago, 2020). She is included in Best Small Fictions 2016, and was feature poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017. She has an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, and is currently completing an MSc through King’s College London.
Otago University Press page
Poetry Shelf review
customer asks where you’re from. you reply, auckland, and somehow he hears, start guessing, instead. he talks over you, japanese? you look japanese. are you japanese? you move over to the grill and turn all the knobs up to high heat. the flames reach out to you, tiger orange and desperate. bacon rinds curl up into carbon crisps. your three fried eggs are smouldering, but you leave them there, yolks beaming. until soot falls from your eyelashes, blushing your cheeks. until the sun turns away, saying that she’s seen enough.
Emma Shi, from ‘THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT’
Fabulous cover art by Nirvana Haldar, excellent interview with Shu-Ling Chua (a Melbourne-based essayist, critic and poet) and stellar writing from young New Zealanders.
Check out the contents page and go exploring. Starling has its finger on the pulse of new writing – as it says in their aims for the journal:
‘The young writers featured here will shape and drive what New Zealand writing is to become. Starling is a chance to get a glimpse of where they might take us.’
Richard Langston, Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba Press, 2020
We often wonder
what moves us in a day –
was it words in a sequence
that surprised us
or notes played by someone
who kept their mouth closed
& let the sound leave
their broken body
from ‘Hill walk’
I am writing this as Tāmaki Makaurau is back in lockdown, wondering if I will pack the car for our first family summer holiday up north in years, worrying how Auckland businesses will cope, how families will cope, and sleeping like a patchwork quilt. Poetry is such a necessary diversion. It even makes up for patchwork sleep. I still have a wee stack of 2020 poetry books and now the 2021 stack is growing. It is like a preserving cupboard of treats along with the canned tomatoes and the black beans.
Richard Langston’s book has been on my mind for months after hearing the reading he did for Poetry Shelf. This week has been the perfect time to return to the poems. I finished the book and the word that came to mind, a word I have never applied to a poetry collection, was precious. This is a precious book – it has poise and it is personal.
The first poems take me to the land. I am musing on how Allen Curnow and the crew of white men writing poetry in the middle of the twentieth century were digging their way into a New Zealand kind of poetry. They were moving away from the early poets that filtered the land and experience through poetry models from Britain. It is a complicated story that has been retold so many times over the decades, in so many different contexts, with so many different biases and erasures. Ah. And then the land barely got a look in in poems. I feel there is a book to be written that traverses the relationship between the land and poetry, that never lets the poem lose contact with the reader, that never lets the poem service the theory and little else, that acknowledges the suffering and heartbreaking losses of the tangata whenua.
The first poems in Five O’Clock Shadows make the land precious. I am reminded of how Sue Wootton, Brian Turner, Airini Beautrais (a river), Hone Tuwhare, Ruth Dallas have done this in distinctive ways. Like these poets, Richard’s poems also travel with myriad subject matter: from the closing of a tavern, to a lost dog, to Dunedin, to refugees, to Sunday in the islands. But it is the land poems that first strike me. I am musing on how earth warmth and leaf light can permeate a whole book. So yes, this is a collection of earth warmth. You get to stand in the land poems and the poem is beauty and anchor and care.
We love the land by eye & feel & sun
& shadow. It grows within us.
This is who we are, this is how we find ourselves.
There is a spareness in all the poems, a light rich economy. Goodness knows what it took to write these, but when they reach me there is an exquisite poise. Every word belongs. I also found ‘Bsharri, Lebanon’ – a poem penned for Richard’s sisters who travelled to their ancestral village – precious. This ancestor poem is a poem to hear read aloud:
We have come to hug you,
we have come to kiss you for the life
you made us.
We have come, ancestors, to love
you as you taught us. We have come,
ancestors, & now we are together.
Ancestors, we hug you, we kiss you.
Ancestors, we weep, because
we have come.
The poetry is economical but each poem launches you into multiple musings, feelings, intricacies. I love ‘Please, do not’. The poem begins with infectious word wit and then travels to the punch-gut restorative ending – and the word ‘enough’. I want you to read the whole poem but here is the beginning:
Please do not yell,
such a small shattering word –
YELL – I prefer yell-ow
that might imply surrender
or a field of flowers holding
their faces to the sun,
why not peace, or acceptance,
such lovely hard-earned words.
Perhaps the poems that strike deepest, that are most precious, are the several addressed to mother and father. Eulogies, recollections, re-tracings. I am thinking how Richard’s poems are made of parts and you need to experience the coming together of these parts to get the reading joy in full. If I take a stanza or two to share with you, I am distilling the magic. These poems are magic, moving, must-reads: ‘Plums’, ‘Sons’, ‘Snoring’, Threaded’, ‘There’. In writing the poems both mother and father are held close, like a gift for family, like a gift for us as readers who also live and love and mourn. I especially love ‘There’, a poem that places the mother at the centre. Here are a few stanzas near the end of the poem (again I implore you to read the whole poem):
What we share is our story.
I sit with her
& look out at the weather.
are full of the day.
She doesn’t know. I do not know.
We have our story,
our fallible memories.
hovers by the spoon,
& we watch the weather.
You can tell this book matters so very much to the poet – and the degree of personal investment is contagious, whether in words gathering the land, family, experience, memory. Think of the poems as personal plantings in the undergrowth of life, with all manner of glorious lights shining through. Like I said, I reread this book in our return to lockdown, and by the time I got to the end I was filled with the joy of living and writing and reading. I am going to leave you with the final poem in the book, that takes us back to the land (crikey we never left it), how the need to be creative is such a necessary thing and how we share so many attachments – ‘together on this whenua’.
Richard Langston is a veteran broadcasting journalist and director, who comes from Dunedin, and was a driving force in the city’s music scene in the 1980s. He lives in Wellington and is a proud member of the three-person South Wellington Poetry Society.
The Cuba Press author page
Richard reads from Five O’Clock Shadows
Off the Tracks review
Going on strike
of holiday destinations
of raupatu whenua
of farmland stretching out and circling in
of 100% pure
Fanon once wrote that “The Manichaeism of the colonist produces the Manichaeism of the colonised”
It means that we are conditioned to believe in
only ‘two’ genders
capitalism with all the trimmings
that we have the right to speak for us all
We are categorised and branded as one thing
We cannot be another
So we surrender to a position so futile in nature
It cuts like obsidian
It bleeds like the rata tree
While Taawhaki cries out
In seeking vengeance we found only death
Amongst other things we have forgotten
The numbing stench of rain
The chance to listen
The gift of learning
The ability to be humble
The suffering of others
The necessity of place
We don’t know how to be complicated
We don’t know how to be nuanced
We don’t know how to be wrong
We don’t know that to be wrong is to be free
Freedom is conditional
But it grows like Lichen
It dries out in the summer
And regenerates in the winter
We don’t see how we are the ones who perpetuate the violence
We say I am right and you are wrong
It’s like George W Bush all over again
“Your either with us or against us”
I want to be the shoe that hits you in the face
We run a gallery named after a slave ship
But we want to give platforms to grave robbing as art
But we don’t want to be told that we are the ones who need to do the work
But we don’t realise that some of us never forget these things
But we don’t realise memory is a stain that can only be undone through acknowledgement
But we don’t realise we should heal ourselves first
Here we are during this true blue kiwi summer working our tan
burning our skin
not in communion with Tama nui te ra
while the world is dying
while terrorists attempt a pathetic coup
while prisoners drink brown water
while the ice melts as we pillage
Protecting our property we lock our car doors
We accumulate and close ranks
We sell decolonize mugs for $70
We sell decolonize earrings for $70
We sell and sell and sell and sell
We upset ourselves
We upset each other
We doom scroll
We don’t dream
We don’t show tenderness
We don’t take time be present
We don’t take time to be awake
Under sheets of rain we watch the splitting of spaces into the interstices of empire
Afraid of anything but especially ourselves
But what other ways could they have possibly broken in two or is it that we broke into ourselves and revelled in the smell of salt that we can hear
Imagine just saying saying no
I want it all to stop sometimes
I think about the loops that the waves make as they lick the edges of the rocks
I remember that plastic slowly disintegrates as it travels through the ocean’s currents
Remember the Roman tar marking the roads across Europe
Remember the asphalt on Jewish and Romani homes
Remember Govenor Grey in the cape colony, south Australia and New Zealand
Remember the gun holes in the wall on University property
The prisons on my ancestors stolen lands are of course deliberate
The difference between protest and protector
The difference between a riot and a protest
The fall of empire
The decline of the west
The beginning of the end
Our lives are like raranga
Rich fibres knotted together
Through many bodies
For which we must honour them
We honour them through
our flaws that we work to unlearn
our ability to show love even in the face of the wretched
Hana Pera Aoake
Hana Pera Aoake (Ngaati Mahuta, Ngaati Hinerangi, Tainui/Waikato) is an artist and writer based in Te wai pounamu. Hana recently published their first book of essays and prose, A bathful of kawakawa and hot water with Compound Press. They currently co-organise Kei te pai press with Morgan Godfery.
Jackson Nieuwland, I Am a Human Being, Compound Press, 2020
Jackson reads from I Am a Human Being
Jackson Nieuwland is a human being, duh. They are a genderqueer writer, editor, librarian, and woo-girl, born and based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. They co-founded the reading/zine series Food Court. This isn’t even their final form.
Compound Press page
Poetry Shelf review (Paula Green)
Pantograph Punch review (Vanessa Crofskey)
Landfall on Line review (Erik Kennedy)
Chris Holdaway (Compound Press) celebrates Jackson’s place on the longlist with a poem
Someone was Burning the Forest
We did not know why the child was crying,
nor why he stood bare-shouldered at the window.
How had he come by those skimpy feathers?
The mother had fallen from the tower
a moment after she began to answer. I looked around
and there were many towers, also other bodies.
Now I was on the ground myself. I could hear
the child but no longer see him. Perhaps
he was still aloft. The towers were dissolving
yet surely there were trees. It was dark now
but I knew there must be many bodies.
I would need to climb to see where we might go.
Bill Manhire, Wow Victoria University Press, 2020
Have a listen: For the first Stress Test of 2021, Rough Trade Books welcomed special guest Bill Manhire to join them for music and poems.
Bill Manhire’s most recent books include Some Things to Place in a Coffin (2017), Tell Me My Name (with Hannah Griffin and Norman Meehan, 2017) and The Stories of Bill Manhire (2015). He was New Zealand’s inaugural poet laureate, and founded and until recently directed the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. He has edited major anthologies, including, with Marion McLeod, the now classic Some Other Country: New Zealand’s Best Short Stories (1984).
Victoria University Press page
Poetry Shelf review
ANZL review (Anna Jackson)
Chris Tse reviews Wow on Nine to Noon, Radio NZ National
‘Huia’ Poem of the Week in the Guardian
Bill Wows the crowd at WORD