Monthly Archives: July 2014

Landfall 227 Vital Signs Autumn 2014 I really appreciate picking up a journal that places critical thinking alongside the telling of tales and the musical lift and surprise of poems.

9781877578465     9781877578465     9781877578465


Landfall 227 Vital Signs Autumn 2014

The latest issue of Landfall does indeed celebrate vital signs of life in our writing communities. This is a writing smorgasbord that not only offers tremendous fiction and poetry but that also presents writing that defies genre. There is writing here that sits in the non-fiction category but that veers in other directions. I really appreciate picking up a journal that places critical thinking alongside the telling of tales and the musical lift and surprise of poems. And that that critical thinking is full of welcome signs as opposed to the by-products of gated cul-de-sacs.

There were few poems that couldn’t hold my attention, some of the very best writing was near the back, and my accumulation of standout poems just grew and grew. Bouncing off the title, clichés abounded; New Zealand poetry is in good and diverse heart, there is vital blood pumping through our poetic veins. Ahh! I loved the way this selection made links to past and present, mainstream and offbeat, familiar and unfamiliar, and satellite poetry endeavours.


Here is a wee tour of my stallings:

Morgan Bach’s eye-catching moment in ‘Postcards,’ provides a sweet, melodic lull, vibrant detail and a catchy miniature narrative.

The delicious, nostalgic drive of Philip Armstrong’s ‘Portolan’ takes you right back to ‘when.’

There is the heady dislocation in a heritage library courtesy of Airini Beautrais’s ‘Finding the Dead.’

In Annalyse Gelman’s ‘My Legacy’ I loved the syncopated pattern of long and short lines.

Murray Edmond’s ‘Solomon’s Throw: Memoir of a Name’ is an inventive and agile response to the stunning tie between the West Indies and Australian cricket terms in 1960. Murray bounces from Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ to the childhood Solomon-Grundy chant to ‘The Song of Solomon’ in his surprising musings.

One of a number of poignant poems in the issue, Angela Andrews’s ‘Grandfather reacts to the way death and almost death are great prompters of story, of roads back into the past. Her detail is acute.

Each poem Sarah Jane Barnett writes just gets better and better. In ‘Relief,’ each line is nimble, the story fablesque, the poem rich in direction.

Carin Smeaton’s ‘Wishing Bone’ is like dialect in short snappy lines, with urban edge, getting into the head and ache of a woman/mother dispossessed.

Peter Black’s photographs, ‘Simple Beauty,’ are luminous poems.

Gregory O’Brien and Robin Kearns converse in ‘A Weekend on the Chathams’ (a geographer and a poet reflect back). Gregory’s poem-paintings (or painting-poems) are one response to how poet and geographer found it difficult to find ‘a voice to inhabit the elusive and often contested reality of the Chathams.’ Both looking for ‘crossed circuits, connections, conversations, rhymes and assonances.’ This lightness of touch from Gregory:


If there is

a moon

it is carved into

a dark tree. If

there is

a tree. But

there is always

an ocean.


Lynley Edmeades’s ‘Faute de Mieux’ offers musicality of detail and momentum.

Some of my favourite poems were sheltering near the back. Bernadette Hall’s piece, an extract from ‘Maukatere: Floating Mountain’ defies compartments. It is like a floating memoir that hooks imagination as much as recollection. It is poetry, and in that poetry, promotes curiosity. I want to read more!

I stalled on the moving twinges, revelations and contours of Vivienne Plumb’s ‘Nothing Trivial.’

I have already sung the praises of Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle’s Autobiography of a Margurite (there is an extract) here.

Alice Miller shows she is an exquisite wordsmith in ‘Observatory.’ Here is a taste:


Night comes for the ten thousandth time, sky growing

muddy with cloud, light squeezed out.

Are you there, a man says into his phone.

A storm is coming.


At the back are the results of The Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2014. Sue Wootton’s comments include ‘eight [terrific] ways to make a poem that proved robust enough for my shortlist.’ Her final comment on the winning poem is equally astute: ‘[it] goes on giving up a little something new no matter how many times it’s read.’ I read Brian Turner’s winning ‘Mulching’ and I totally agreed. It quietly keeps creeping up on you. Runner-up was Annalyse Gelman’s ‘Auden.’


Submissions for Landfall 228 now closed. Due November 2014.

Submissions for Landfall 229 close January 10th 2015 (there is no theme). Due May 2015.




On the hunt for children and classes to interview authors in A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children

You might know just the child or class for this job!

To celebrate the arrival of A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children in October (Random House), my own poems in The Letterbox Cat in August (Scholastic) and NZ Poetry Box, I am doing masses of things.

A Hot Spot Poetry Tour of NZ for about a month is the main act.

But I am also looking for children and classes to devise an interview for and write a short bio of an author in the Treasury. I will give help where needed!

I am assigning names to children and classes who get in touch. So some are already taken!

I then send the questions to the author.

I will post interviews in October.

I will give a copy of The Treasury to my favourite interview by a child and my favourite by a class.

More details here.

Launching Essential NZ Poems to a capacity crowd

Good to see so many Auckland poets and fans of poetry turn up to the launch of this updated anthology. A new anthology! It was a lively reading with a mix of poetry elders and new voices. Each poet read their own poem plus one other. Some chose to read one by someone else in the anthology. Albert Wendt read Tusiata Avia’s edgy ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. ‘ CK Stead read Allen Curnow’s terrific ‘You Will Know When You Get There. ‘ two highlights plus Riemke Ensing’s gorgeous love poem that I had never heard before. I picked Bill
Manhire ‘Kevin’ to read. Just love this poem and have a strange anecdote about the first time I read it.

This is a beautiful book to hold in the hand. I have loved falling upon favourite poets and favourite poems and then those I am less familiar with. This is book of myriad doors and windows. A chocolate box of reading treats.

It was a lovely occasion and it reminded me how much we continue to open arms to poetry. To a hubbub of poem talk.

Cheers Siobhan Harvey, James Norcliffe, Harry Ricketts, and Nicola Legat and her dedicated team at Penguin Random House.

Happy to post accounts of the other two events. Dunedin and Wellington.


Poem Friday: Lynley Edmeades’ ‘Imperial’ Sometimes an object in a poem reverberates with such exquisite frisson





There goes London with its scattered lights.

Like a bag of marbles spilt out onto concrete,

they’ve rolled towards fissures, pooled together

in conduits. They are the arteries

of this land-bound leviathan.

From the air, I can see it’s almost finite,

and feel the way a child might,

when her marbles have been counted, put away.


Author’s bio: Lynley Edmeades is currently writing a doctoral thesis on sound in avant-garde American poetry, at the University of Otago. Her poems, reviews and essays have been published in New Zealand and abroad. She lives in Dunedin.

Author’s note: I wrote this poem while I was living in Belfast. It was prompted by a conversation with poet Sinead Morrissey, in which she applauded the power of first lines. Put your readers straight in there, she said. No ideas but in things.

Paula’s note: Sometimes an object in a poem reverberates with such exquisite frisson the hairs on your arm do stand on end. In Lynley’s poem, marbles promote a grid of shivers—from the allure of the physical toy to the dips and peaks of childhood. That time of endless summers and wild darings. To overlap the potential of this ‘thing’ with the aerial view of London at night is genius. Magic slips from one to the other. The allure of night. The way a city’s particulars are soaked up into the unknowable dark (or apprehended from a different point of view). The way the city borders are at the edge of psychological unease. Then you get taken back to the moment of the child where the smallest moment can be utterly sharp. The game is over. Fleeting yet intense. What I love about this poem (and indeed other poems by Lynley) is the way ear, heart and mind are in harmony—words are deft on the line, images are fresh, simplicity partners complexity.  And the way, in this example, one word, ‘Levethian,’ can unsettle and add to the subtle discomfort (the engagement with the long-ago child, loss, larger-then-life cities, the unknown). Or the the way the poem catches hold of that child trespassing on the glittering lights of night. The complexities and possibilities of this small poem are enormous. I have barely started.



Old Government House Lounge, UoA City Campus, Princes St and Waterloo Quadrant, 5.30-7 pm

Featuring  performances by:
Colin Basterfield
Amanda Eason
Murray Edmond
Sisilia Eteuati
Brian Flaherty
Gregory Kan
Fiona Melrose
Alice Miller
Peter Simpson & Jonathan Besser
Penny Somervaile
Free entry. Food and drinks for sale in the Buttery. Information Michele Leggott  or 09 373 7599 ext. 87342. Poster:

The LOUNGE readings are a continuing project of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc), Auckland University Press and Auckland University English, Drama and Writing Studies,  in association with the Staff Common Room Club at Old Government House.

LOUNGE READINGS #39-41: 6 August, 17 September, 22 October 2014

Maria McMillan’s Tree Space: a treasure trove of poetic connections—combinations that continually jumpstart the reader

Maria McMillan     TREE_SPACE__40939.1398819236.220.220    TREE_SPACE__40939.1398819236.220.220

Maria McMillan, Tree Space, Victoria University Press, 2014

(Thanks to VUP I have a copy of the book for someone who likes or comments on this post)

Maria McMillan’s biography tag on the back of her new book, Tree Space, fascinates me: ‘Maria McMillan is a writer, activist and information architect who lives on Kapiti Coast.’ Fascinating in the way these four key elements rub against each other.

Maria’s debut poetry book, The Rope Walk, was published by Helen Rickerby’s Seraph Press in 2013. It was a terrific arrival, and the sorts of joys that I fell upon there have been carried through into her new collection. As I wrote in my review for Poetry Shelf:

‘The poems are observant, musical, reflective and measured. The collection signals the craft and joy of small poems, words that are gathered together in a minor key where time stalls and you relish a moment. Maria knows how to write with the perfect degree of emotional seasoning and revelation (I will tell you this, but I will not tell you that). There was a sense of hide and seek for me as I read (and indeed there is a poem called ‘Hide and seek’).’

Tree Space is Maria’s first full poetry collection, and the poems have been written over more than a decade. Yes, there is a range of subject matter, style and inclinations, yet there is also a satisfying degree of cohesiveness. The poems step out from diverse starting points, yet frequently that starting point is a pivot for meditation. To me the poem provides an opportunity to delve deeper, to sidetrack and to offer slithers of anecdote.

What binds this book more than anything (although the deft ear comes close) is the way these poems, as poetic space, host relations. One of the delights of poetry is the way a poem reproduces and produces a series (‘set’ is too limiting a word here) of relations—whether aural, semantic or via tropes. There are relations amongst sounds, images, ideas and feelings. Some poets want to activate movement amongst all, others less so. You might fall upon relations between the real, the cerebral and the imagined. Relations between people, places and things. In my view, Tree Space is a treasure trove of poetic connections—combinations that continually jumpstart the reader.

The collection opens with ‘Song.’ An opening that is punctured, punctuated, startling. An opening that links sparrow to poet, the voice box to breath, the voice box to concealment (‘a parcel’) and revelation (anatomic). Pronouns tremble with ambiguity. Whose heaving chest? Hidden in the crevices is the ability to sing, the yearning to sing and the doubt ‘she’ can sing. And thus we enter the collection that sings.

The starting point as a pivot for poetic excursions is beautifully realised in the poem ‘salt marsh and tidal inlet.’ These words caught the poet-reader’s eye while ‘The other words get/ sucked back into the paper.’ It is as though the poet daydreams and we are caught up in her reverie, the words folding back upon each other, the nostalgic trip wires, the little spotlights on where you are and where you’ve been. Glorious!

In ‘Hairy Star,’ it is the breathless wonder at seeing the comet that the poet wants to preserve and remember for her sleeping child that hooks me, and the stepping stone between that sleeping form and the poet’s own little self. The own self: ‘Or my own self, carried to the steps by the back door/ to see a hedgehog. Milk in the saucer. Small noises.’ The sleeping child: ‘You were. In bed covered in pen marks and plum./ Sleeping. Outside your closed curtain/ half-painted trellis.’

I love the way the teapot in the poem, ‘In the very middle,’ transports you to all things strange, and the way ‘a polished cake spoon’ can show you yourself as ‘monsterish and wary.’ Again the pivot, the relations and the meditations.

There are so many poems that stand out for me (perhaps a tiny cluster at the back that don’t)—poems that generate myriad notes in my notebook. Maria is able to capture the luminous instance, a moment in time that becomes imbued with heat or longing or youthfulness. A moment that might be autobiographical or on the other hand invented. She steps into the shoes of others as adroitly as into her own.

‘Paradox’ finds  truth in the way sunflower seeds are both fast and slow growers and the way pumpkins are both heavy and light (and more examples). Maria’s poems are like that paradoxical pumpkin—exuding a tantalising simplicity of form and line yet embracing space that is sweetly fertile. Her poems are quick to the ear and a slow release to the mind. You save the room to move and the detail that sticks. These poems take exquisite flight whilst keeping toes in the soil. I loved this collection.

Victoria University Press page

Seraph Press page

VUP interview

Maria’s blog

Poetry Shelf interview with Maria

Interview with Janis Freegard

Congratulations to all the poetry finalists at The NZ Post Book Awards

This is such a strong list! Bravo Victoria University Press and your strong support of New Zealand Poetry. These books are uniformly marvellous.
  • Gathering Evidence, by Caoilinn Hughes, Victoria University Press
  • Heartland, by Michele Leggott, Auckland University Press
  • Horse with Hat, by Marty Smith, Victoria University Press
  • Us, then, by Vincent O’Sullivan, Victoria University Press

See my review of Gathering Evidence here

See my review of Heartland here

See my review of Horse with a Hat here


Poem Friday: Jessica Le Bas’ ‘Aroa Beach’ Its opening lines are effervescent with possibilities

Photo 21




            dealing sheep

            the ace of moon



The first night the tiny ants came

like a weak shadow. They drew lines on the wall

In the light that visited with part of a moon

you read their stories


The sun crept in during the night

Had its eyes closed tight, but it was there

never letting the day go. Simmering heat, a chorus of bugs

By dawn the sheets were abandoned


The second night was naked

Limbs cast off from your wet body, sailed ashore

in search of a cool zone. The morning light

came without land


The third night was opened under dusk

And inside, wrapped raw and true was the lightweight relief

of new dreams, and a ‘see through blue’ ocean

as soft as a song.


Bio Note: Jessica Le Bas’s first collection of poetry, incognito (AUP) won the Jessie MacKay Award. Walking to Africa, about mental health in adolescence, was a finalist in the Ashton Wylie Book Awards. She also writes children’s fiction, Staying Home (Penguin), and lives in Nelson

Author’s Note: I recently lived and worked in the beautiful Rarotonga for a year. The week I arrived the temperatures were in the high thirties, with little reprieve at night. I couldn’t sleep, as much from the heat and excitement, as from a fascination with new light and shadows, new sounds, and an army of ants that came nightly to watch over me. It took a while to find the ebb of my new life, at which point it felt like I had been dealt the ace, the top card!

Paula’s Note: Jessica’s poetry has always caught me, whether in terms of lithe sounds or missing pieces or shimmering images. This poem is no exception. There is a delicious movement between a facade of simplicity and a billowing knot of complexity. There is equally delicious restraint. The luminous details represent a world at a slight tilt where everything seems marvellous, strange, significant, legible, illegible. The poem is like a pocket narrative that gains life through its startling images. Its opening lines are effervescent with possibilities—as is the poem. You could move in any direction. That is the joy of poetry. You are led into the blurred edges of night, of a dream state where topsy turvyness (the sun in the night) underlines the relentless grip of heat. Or where dreams, against all odds, lay down (‘the lightweight relief’) the tracks to epiphany. Wonderful!

Auckland University Press page

Blackmail Press poem

Radio NZ interview

Jessica on rhythm for The Nelson Mail

NZETC page




The website of New Zealand’s Poet Laureate has moved.

Website can be found here.

Here is a taste of Poet Laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan’s latest post:

Until a few months ago, all I knew of Mexican poetry was from a few international names like Octavio Paz, a selection of translations by Samuel Beckett, and a number of fine poets from anthologies. Then my discovery that in fact Spanish American poetry was being written a few kilometres from where I live. Rogelio Guedea has been in Dunedin for almost a decade. He teaches at the university, an intellectual who contributes regular political columns to papers in Mexico, a former legal prosecutor, a writer of crime novels, and a prolific poet. El crimen de los Tepames, the final volume of a fiction trilogy, last year was a best seller in Mexico, and his poetry has won Spain’s Premio Adonais. The enterprising Roger Hickin, whose Cold Hub Press is the only New Zealand imprint that brings out collections in foreign languages, is about to publish Si no te hubieras ido/If only you hadn’t gone, with his own finely pitched translations. The set of thirty four poems was written while the writer’s wife and family was temporarily back in Mexico. As I’ve noted in an Introduction to the volume,

‘Ordinary,’ I expect, is the first word that may come to you, should you ask, what kind of world is this, that these poems are part of? For that is the ultimate grace, you might say, that the poet’s wife bestows on a house and a suburb while she is there, and that seems so distant, so unlikely, when she is not. (…)

Visit site to read the rest of the piece.