Monthly Archives: May 2014

a school library that enchanted me


As an author it is especially rewarding to visit a school that displays your work! I visited Auckland’s Dio recently and was thrilled to bits with this display and the book-spine poems. The library hosted a lunch of sandwiches and cakes for the students librarians, the English teachers and members of the School Book Club after my morning visit. It was a terrific idea as I got a chance to talk to some enthusiastic, young writers in an informal setting. Thank you!

an invitation to secondary school poets in Dunedin

An invitation to Dunedin’s young poets
– celebrate National Poetry Day 2014

National Poetry Day has long been celebrated in Dunedin by a public event featuring well-known poets. This year the event will be held on Friday 22 August and feature:

  • Vincent O’Sullivan (New Zealand’s Poet Laureate)
  • Majella Cullinane (2014 Robert Burns Fellow)
  • Owen Marshall (esteemed novelist, story-writer and poet)

We want to hear from Dunedin’s talented young poets. All secondary school writers (years 9-13) from Palmerston to Dunedin to Milton are invited to submit poems to the Dunedin Secondary Schools Poetry Competition.

Three poems will be selected to be featured on billboard posters distributed as part of National Poetry Day celebrations to shops, libraries and all Dunedin intermediate and secondary schools.

The three winning poets will each receive a $50 book token from the University Book Shop. In addition each winning poet will have the opportunity to read their work alongside the ‘Big Names’ – Vincent, Majella and Owen – as part of Dunedin’s premiere Poetry Day event (Friday 22 August, 6-7.30 pm at the Dunningham Suite, Dunedin Public Library).

Entries will be judged blind by award-winning New Zealand poet Sue Wootton. For more information about Sue, visit her website at

Entries close 5pm
Friday 4 July 2014

Download A4 flyer (PDF)

Email to:

Post to:

Write Now

C/- University Book Shop

PO Box 6060

Dunedin North

  • poem title
  • your name
  • school
  • year
  • email address
  • contact number
  • postal address
Read full conditions of entry …
Generously sponsored by University Book Shop (Dunedin)

Poem Friday: Chris Tse’s ‘The saddest song in the world’ sweeps you into folds of sadness that in turn become folds of joy

Chris Tse - author photo - 2014 - resized

Photo credit: Sklee

Today, two sections from a longer, unpublished poem by Chris Tse.


The saddest song in the world


I can fit the saddest song in the world in my carry-on.

I can fit the saddest song in the world in my right-side brain.


But I can’t fit it in my lungs or hold on to it with confidence

when underwater.                 And I can’t fit the saddest song


on one side of a 90-minute cassette tape without

an uncomfortable silent interlude cutting into its breath.


There is only so much space I can allocate to the saddest

song in the world;                   the weight is unbearable.



Once, a lover exhaled my name in ecstasy and transformed it

into the saddest song in the world       all bolting nerves


and tender skin       pulling at the roar of the avalanche

in me.     By morning his name had taken another form


one freed from the haze of giddy crush     though it still rings in me

a stubborn joy.       The room in which we sung each other’s names


is now an altar with no idol.           Likewise, when I was once lost

in the company of foreign tongues       every new word shared


to describe the sorrow of joy   shook me like the saddest song

in the world.   A list of first loves.   An index of loss.


The saddest song in the world was kind enough to pull me back

into comfort               its reassurances a cool blade of sound.


© Chris Tse.doc

Chris lives and works in Wellington. His first full-length poetry collection, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, will be published by Auckland University Press in September.

Chris’ note: I have a playlist on my iPod of my all-time favourite songs (embarrassing fact: the playlist is called “Awescool”). The majority of these songs are touched with tragedy and sadness, so it’s been a personal quest of mine to find the saddest song in the world (any leads will be gratefully accepted). Many of the poems that I’m writing at the moment explore the role of music in our lives and its relationship to memory. I’m particularly interested in how music functions as a conduit for shared experiences. With that in mind, this poem ponders what ‘the saddest song’ (in whatever form it might take) could mean to different people.

Paula’s note: With no idea of its genesis, when I originally read this poem, it read like an extraordinary incantation of sadness. It struck me as part list poem, building delicious momentum in surprising pieces and productive links, and as part song, exuding bitter-sweet lyricism. For me, the first section became more than how and where you carry sad songs, because it exploded into how and where you carry sadness. The song (the poem) became a bridge to melancholic luggage for a cast of characters. As you absorb the rhythms and details of each section, there is an ambiguous sway between invention and the real. You get pulled through memory, anecdote, confession, epiphany, and it is this glorious movement that diverts you from sadness as a distancing abstraction. Music has the power to mimic and affect you, and so too does poetry. I love the surprise and the fresh touch of this poem, the way it sweeps you into folds of sadness that in turn become folds of joy. How does the poem’s genesis change my reading? I am not sure. I love the mission. I love the way that mission becomes poetry.

Two Poetry Competitions for Secondary School Students

2014 NZATE Senior Poetry Competition

This new competition is available to any Year 11-13 students in schools that are members of NZATE
The winner receives $150 and their poem will be published in the October issue of
English in Aotearoa
The two runners-up each win $50.

1. Entries must be sent as attachments in a teacher’s school email, by a teacher who is a
member of NZATE or whose school is a member.
2. The email must list the attached entries, with name, year level and title for each entry.
3. Each entry (attachment) must have name, year level, school name and title.
4. Email entries to by Friday 15 August

Write a poem
Have fun.

2014 NZATE Junior Poetry Competition

The winner at each Year level (Yr 9 and 10) wins $100 and their poems will be published
in the October issue of English in Aotearoa
The two runners-up at each level win $50 each.
1. Entries must be sent as attachments in a teacher’s school email, by a teacher who is a
member of NZATE or whose school is a member.
2. The email must list the attached entries, with name, year level and title for each entry.
3. Each entry (attachment) must have name, year level, school name and title.
4. Email entries to by Friday 15 August

Write a short poem containing the phrase
‘eating the plan’

Have fun.


The Book Show is halfway there– still needs our support

Details to donate here

The Auckland Writers Festival clearly demonstrated how much we love books, conversations about books, and engaging with authors. To have an intelligent book programme on our small screens seems utterly vital as a means to promote our stories and our love of words. It also seems to be a place that will embrace poetry and children’s books as much as fiction and non-fiction. Go support, I say!

From the funding site:

‘Calling all book lovers!

Face TV, working with two of this country’s most well-known book people, wants to respond to audience demand; and produce & screen a weekly TV show.  Called simply THE BOOK SHOW, it will be written and presented by Graham Beattie and Carole Beu.

Graham Beattie has the most widely read book blog in NZ and beyond; and Carole Beu runs the highly successful Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby – and also beyond!

Both of them are chatty and charming and amazingly informed about the written word – whether it’s in print or on your Kindle or Kobo.

Each week the programme will feature author interviews, reviews and great reads from both NZ contributors and visiting international book people.

Face Television (formerly Triangle TV) is Sky’s non-profit public media contribution and started broadcasting early this year – filling a gap in the media landscape and allowing independent programme makers and communities the opportunity to create and broadcast content nationwide.

THE BOOK SHOW will be screened weekly on Face TV – prime time with a daytime repeat; as well as being made available online.

Because Face TV is a non-profit television service we are able to produce a 12 part series for $6,000 and we’re looking for donations to fund this.

To see more of Graham and Carole’s work visit:

Beatties Book Blog

Women’s Bookshop




Siobhan Harvey’s Cloudboy—You read these poems and something in you shifts


Siobhan Harvey’s new poetry collection, Cloudboy (Otago University Press, 2014), won the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry in 2013. The collection navigates Siobhan’s experience as the mother of an autistic young son. Without knowledge of this governing theme, the title of the collection summons something fablesque, fairytale-like and wondrous and conjures an ability to read clouds as well as exist in the clouds. Either way, the title is a magical entry point. With knowledge of the book’s genesis however, the title is even more resonant. Poignant. There is a sense that the tough, earthy detail is going to be tempered by threads of the ethereal. The beautiful cover painting by Allie Eagle was painted specifically for the book.

harvey_cover-1    harvey_cover-1

When I think of clouds, I think of the ephemeral, but that notion slips into a fertile chain of thought—to an ability to be full, to add beauty to an ever changing skyscape, to cast shadows, to release life-sustaining water. The first section of poems is entitled ‘The Autistic Child Considered as a Cloud,’ and it is as though the boy is filtered thorough these cloud attributes (or clouds are filtered through the boy’s attributes). The poem ‘Stratus’ brings together acute personal detail: ‘Just out of our reach is the Cloudboy, we know,/ who dances in heavy rain, wets himself, mutters/ complaints like madness, and is a bogeychild/ other mothers warn their darlings about.’ This is real. This is uncomfortable. This is at a distance from most of us. It is as though he is aloft with ice crystals forming about him.

Sometime the collection feels like a survival kit for the mother as she writes into and out of her son and her patience—he, fathomable, unfathomable, close, distant, complicated, much and ever loved. The poetry seeps and grows and amasses what it must be like to be the anchor, to be constantly motivated by care and concern. How then to translate such an experience into poetry? These poems offer insights into the autistic experience, yet it is not a matter of judging the autistic condition or the choices the poet made in how to represent it. As John Marsden said in his stimulating presentation to school students at the Auckland Writers Festival—we need to learn ‘to throw rule books up in the air and to find the way that suits us as writers,’ to be marvellously creative and not depend upon paradigmatic choices or models that constrain (are we becoming more and more regulated at every educational turn and less able to take risks in writing endeavours at any level?).

Siobhan offers poetry—a multi-pronged engagement with her subject matter—that unsettles and resettles rhythms, images, juxtapositions, syntax, motifs, stable ground. Tropes radiate out from the son. Each poem has a white-hot heart that grips you tight and shifts the way you see things. There is the lyrical lift of line and the difficult narrative thread. This, a musical tapestry (yes ear and eye hooked!) at the beginning of ‘Arcus’:

‘Arcus is a coal-lick Cloudboy slinking its way

back to the nights its mother, pregnant

with being, prowled from cold bed

in dead of dusk to drop before bunker, hands clasped

to dark gold, her lap-lap-lapping drawing out

tastes of liquorice, truffle and salty balsamic

beneath the comfortless cry of morepork and moon’

Siobhan shows us the ability of poetry to take you deep into human experience that is fugitive, unrepresentable, unfathomable. You read these poems and something in you shifts; the way we face both the difficult child and the mother of the difficult child. The way we exist within systems that encourage us to conform, contain, confine, manage and control. The way we have notions of the child as a platonic ideal; ever unattainable, this perfect version, in the swamping dark. Cloudboy, like the sky itself, is changeable and hard to grasp; he doesn’t fit here but he fits perfectly there. He knows this and misses that with his ‘hungry mind.’ He frustrates and confuses and absorbs. He becomes more than an idea (the austistic child), he comes aching real through the vital detail Siobhan gathers: ‘On day one, he sits in a chiton, of white tape/ reading Republic.’ ‘His hair was a hat shaped/ from the fleece of karakul sheep.’ ‘Studying Aberhart, Cloudboy takes up a camera, empties land/ of everyone except his mother’ ‘These are the rare days/ when the child is quiet and compliant,/ when there’s no translation of Russian/ or Sanskrit, no constant questioning, no/ forceful negotiations at the dinner table/ (I only eat broccoli at weekends …) no devouring soap,/ being Superman, writing acrostic poems’.

The poems move through experiences that demand the fortitude of the mother, but there are also moments of joy. Touchingly so: ‘the sound of Cloudboy singing will be more/ than enough to lay down the lines of this poem.’ Siobhan’s new collection is a collection that takes daring and necessary flight in order to lay down loving anchors, and it reminds me why poetry matters. There are a thousand ways this experience could be transformed into poetry. This is just one of them and it moved me profoundly.


NZ Book Council page

Poetry Archive page

Otago University page

Otago University Press page


Poem Friday: Vivienne Plumb’s ‘As much gold as an ass could carry’ deliciously fablesque

Viv Final

This week an unpublished poem from Vivienne Plumb.


As much gold as an ass could carry.

One endless summer when I was fourteen

I began to speak with a great arrogance

as wide as a river mouth, imagining I was

witty and charming and full of my own cream.


I refused to continue laying the fire

or to cook supper in the tiny croft-house.

Instead, I was dreaming of ten-foot palaces, a crop of corn,

my own chambermaid, and as much gold as an ass

could carry.


I was sent to learn how to cut willows

and weave, but I allowed the meats

in my basket

to become cold and infested with worms.


I breast-stroked far away

in my twenty-league boots, under the delusion

I was moving fast, when in truth

I had remained stock still.


© Vivienne Plumb.doc


Vivienne Plumb presently holds the 2014 Ursula Bethall writing residency at University of Canterbury. She is a poet, a fiction writer, and a playwright, and has recently completed a Doctor of Creative Arts. New published work includes Twenty New Zealand Playwrights (with Michelanne Forster) published by, and available through Playmarket (N.Z.), and a collection of short fiction, The Glove Box, (Spineless Wonders, Sydney).


Author’s note: The language of this poem was influenced by the language and content of stories such as those the Grimm Brothers collected. The poem attempts to give some instruction in a similar way to those kind of stories, where the advice was hidden in the text, such as Little Red Riding Hood (i.e: watch out for lone wolves). Apart from that, the piece is also about youth: the narrator wants to ‘breast-stroke far away’ but will later discover that for all her wild swimming she ‘remained stock still’; as how can we truly get away from what we actually carry inside us? The title, As much gold as an ass can carry, reflects our youthful dreams, so full of ‘cream’ and conjecture.

Note from Paula: When I first read this poem it struck me as deliciously fablesque—a poem that would fit perfectly in Italo Calvino’s mammoth and brilliant collection of Italian folk tales. Vivienne’s poem has the momentum and structure of a folk tale where the morals and messages lurk in the seams. You have, for example, to keep your eye on the world, on the small details in order to nourish the bigger picture (otherwise your meat will rot in its basket). And then, the old proverb: less haste, more speed. Yet what elevates this poem into something exquisitely more, is the layered movement— not just in the semantic and visual reverberations but also in the aural kicks and echoes. Take the phrase, ‘full of my own cream.’ It’s semantically and visually surprising (gives flesh to the girl on the cusp of womanhood) and aurally active (the ‘eam’ and ’em’ sounds leapfrog through the poem like aural glue or a vital backbone: summer, imagining, charming, dreaming, chambermaid, much, become, moving, remained). That phrase just bounces and bounds at the end of the line. The poem also stands as a rite of passage—the young girl exhibits the youthful need to flounder and laze, to break away from constraint into the magical, dangerous unknown. I loved, too, the way Vivienne is unafraid of tropes (‘a great arrogance as wide as a river mouth’). I loved the confounding somersaults that verge on oxymora; the breaststroker in her twenty-league boots, the girlhood activity that leads to stasis. Glorious!



Farewelling Christine O’Brien- AUP Publicity Manager

Today we had a poets’ lunch at Auckland Art Gallery Cafe to farewell Christine O’Brien. It was wonderful to all come together as the AUP poetry family and pay tribute to someone who is a storehouse of knowledge and experience. The weather outside was a mix (typical Auckland!) of sun and showers and I guess that was how we all felt. Christine has been a dedicated supporter of NZ poetry, has been at so many of our launches, and distributed vital poetry news for a number of years in her poetry newsletter. We will most definitely miss her, but we wish all the best in her next choices. Selina got us all singing a waiata which was just wonderful. Arohanui, Christine. xxx

I have posted this so out-of down poets and poetry fans can add a comment for Christine.


photo photo  photo photo photo

New Voices: Emerging Poets Competition

New Voices comp

Divine Muses

NEW VOICES – Emerging Poets Competition

The 2014 competition is NOW OPEN

This is the third year of the competition and the winners will be announced at
The Divine Muses X : an evening of poetry
which will be held
at the Gus Fisher Gallery as part of National Poetry Day.

For information and entry form see here


The competition will be judged by Auckland poet, Bob Orr.

For an interview with Bob and Peter Calder in The NZ Herald see here.

For Bob’s NZ Book Council page see here.

Kirsti Whalen makes a moving tribute to Sarah Broom

Kirsti has just posted this on her blog. She has the writing life within her, her mother would be proud, and as she took to the stage on Sunday, it shone out for us all.

In Memory of Sarah Broom

It was with a mild hangover and a brimming heart that I greeted the day following my first writers festival reading. I attended a great many luminous events, but read as part of the celebration of the inaugural Sarah Broom Poetry Prize.

I feel incredibly honoured to have been shortlisted for this very special award, especially alongside such distinguished poets as Emma Neale and C.K. Stead, the winner, to whom I offer my utmost, and sincere, congratulations.

This event held a special significance for me, in so many ways. Before I went on stage, my dad told me to do it for my mum, and to imagine her at the back of the room.

I lost my mum to cancer six years ago. Knowing how short these years feel only makes me more amazed at the courage of Sarah’s family and friends, creating this tribute to her life such a short time after she left it.

My mother was a staunch supporter of my writing, and in the diary I inherited after her death she stressed that she hoped I could find a life in which I wrote, above anything else. When I was informed that I had won the Katherine Mansfield Young Writers Award back in 2006, I remember clutching her hands and jumping up and down in the entrance of our old home, with shared excitement.

The submission that I sent for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was titled ‘i’m only here because she isn’t,’ a line from one of my poems. This statement is applicable to my both my mother and Sarah, two women who fought their cancer with incredible bravery, and both, in different ways, left a legacy of language.

See the rest of her blog here.