Poetry Shelf Monday poem: E Wen Wong’s ‘Catalysis’



I’m sitting and pondering catalysis

musing on fumes from our molten exhaust

hydrogenation of oils makes the margarine sitting in our fridge

white dyed yellow like the lace dress you wore in 1973

snagged beneath the catalytic converters you stole for platinum.

a lot has changed since then.

if you were here you would see our city made of roads

shadows posing as guilty silhouettes

distorted paperclips of the bus stop where I wait.

in its file you would see reams of trees cloaked with marmalade leaves

it is autumn in August, and I see catalysts in my eyes.

alkylation makes the petroleum veneer beneath my feet

grey-on-grey the word “hydraulic fracking” conceals the black with blue.

the world spins too fast for our reaction to wait

salt masks the centreline

the activation energy dips beneath the level we call normal.

and I breathe powdery white clouds into this world of roads

watching as they lose themselves in the thick body of smog

as my bruised heart moves through midnight traffic

riding on the million catalysts that pepper our city of roads.

my heart rate monitor dips beneath the normal

a laconic glissando as the Bus 29 takes me to the road to the sky.

my heart falters just slightly

lingers at the long line of reactionary procession

the stagnant exhale of our earthly products.


E Wen Wong




E Wen Wong is in her final year at Burnside High School, where she is Head Girl for 2020. E Wen has been writing poetry since she was ten years old and was one of the very first fans of NZ Poetry Box. Last year, she was a finalist in the National Schools Poetry Award and Winner of the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Competition.

Poetry Shelf Friday spot: A poem on the tenth anniversary of my father’s death







Valentine’s Day (for dad)


In the sweltering Northland heat we are next to you

holding close the very best of days in these last hours


our different memories coming together as you breathe

and the sound of Queen and Pink Floyd loud and soft


You the king of sweets we ate your fat banana fritters

oozing whipped cream and jam, you always eating two


while we were bursting with one, your wicked caramel sauce

your plates of sticky toffee at the start of a game


soccer or cricket, and we remember the endless test matches

on the transistor radio you held you your ear or


the way you danced with your crying nephew to help him sleep

perhaps a jazz beat in the background, and the spectacular backward


flips you did on the beach when we went camping or

the conversations you had on your ham radio to the other


side of the world, or the stars you showed us in the dead of night

through the eye of your telescope, and the way you got up at the hint


of dawn to bring fresh snapper, or the way you drove

like Speedy Gonzales in our brand new triumph


pulling me out of school to see the shiny new paint, or the way

you cranked up the stereo to play Jethro Tull or tuned your violin to play Bach


or drove the length of the North Island to see me when I needed you

or the way you sat when people stood and stood when people sat.


We four in this sweltering room, as your skinny arms

and skinny breath draw us close,


we hold each other and in this way

we are holding you dear father



Paula Green  14 February 2010










Poetry Shelf audio poem: Claire Orchard reads ‘Long Haul’





Claire Orchard reads ‘Long Haul’. It was originally published in Verge






Claire Orchard lives in Wellington. Her first poetry collection, Cold Water Cure, was published by Victoria University Press in 2016. Links to more of her work can be found here.








Poetry Shelf from the archives: Tony Beyer celebrates Haare Williams



Haare Williams: Words of a Kaumātua, edited and introduced by Witi Ihimaera (AUP 2019) is reason for celebration in anyone’s language. Characteristic of the work and its contents is this kaumātua’s persistent acknowledgement of his elders as the source of his considerable wisdom. A modest and honest gentleman, Haare Williams might have required some coaxing, so full credit (as the footie captains say) to Witi Ihimaera as well.

My object here is neither a critique nor a review but to draw attention to the book and to rejoice in one of the most accurate and excellent metaphors in our poetry in Aotearoa. From the sequence ‘Bird songs’:


He Kuaka

(for Hone Tuwhare)


At Pārengarenga

a lone godwit


    others rise to take wing

                      and follow

to     circle and once in flight

                                    to soar

others rise

to follow



This is a beautiful poet to poet tribute. That there are so many young kuaka now in the air, which would delight him, is evidence of how much Hone Tuwhare’s precedent achieved both for Māori and for world poetry.


Tony Beyer


Tony Beyer now writes full time in Taranaki. His recent titles are Anchor Stone (2017) and Friday Prayers (2019), both from Cold Hub Press. New work appears here

Haare Williams grew up with his Tūhoe grandparents on the shores of Ōhiwa Harbour in a te reo world of Tāne and Tangaroa, Te Kooti and the old testament, of Nani Wai and curried cockle stew – a world that Haare left behind when he learnt English at school and moved to Auckland.

Over the last half-century, through the Māori arts movement, waves of protest and the rise of Māori broadcasting, Haare Williams has witnessed and played a part in the changing shape of Māoridom. And in his poetry and prose, in te reo Māori and English, Haare has a unique ability to capture both the wisdom of te ao Māori and the transformation of that world.

Recipient of an MNZM for services to Māori, Haare has been dean of Māori education and Māori adviser to the chief executive at Unitec. He was general manager of Aotearoa Radio and set up a joint venture with South Seas Film and Television to train te reo speakers as producers and operators in film and television. He has worked closely with iwi claimant communities and was responsible for waka construction and assembly at Waitangi for the 1990 commemorations as executive director of the 1990 Commission. He has published poetry, exhibited paintings, and written for film and television. He was cultural advisor for mayors of Auckland, a senior vice president of the Labour Party, and is amorangi at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Auckland University Press page






Poetry Shelf noticeboard: new edition of Joanna Margaret Paul’s Imogen to be launched

This is a treasure on my shelf – so good to see it out again. I adore the poetry and I adore the object. Would be at the launch in a flash if flashes worked like that!


Imogen Book Launch Robert Heald Gallery Wellington.jpg



Hi everyone,
Just to let you know that this Thursday a new edition of Joanna Margaret Paul’s classic book IMOGEN is being launched at the Robert Heald Gallery (Left Bank, Wellington). Emma and Frank (of Small Bore Books) have done a magnificent job producing the new book, with Brendan O’Brien furnishing a hand-printed cover.
The launching is at 5.30 so please do come along and join us for a celebratory drink. (We realise there are other events on the same evening–come here first, then trundle on your way if necessary.)
Things will be underway well before start-up time, so hope to see you all there, earlier the better. And please pass this along to any interested persons.

Cheers and all,
Gregory O’brien