Monthly Archives: October 2014

Friday Poem: Sarah Jane Barnett’s ‘Blue Heart’: The poem enacts the mystery of writing a poem


Photo Credit: Matt Bialostocki


Blue Heart

Full size model of a Blue Whale heart, Te Papa Museum

The boy enters the whale heart. He finds his way.

His hands slide down the peachy aorta, his body

swallowed into the central chamber. My face pushes

after him because it’s just fibre and glass, and he’s

my first child, on his knees, his back to me. His hands

perform their work of play along a smooth ridge of cartilage

like a cardiac surgeon. Interpretations of the ‘whale’ fall

into three categories: The whale is real and my son

lives in her heart. Or the whale is the dream

I have for my son. Or the whale is an allegory

that should not be taken to heart. Some things take time

to understand. Last time we visited my grandmother

I knew she would die before I saw her again.

She’d been having regular blood transfusions—

pulsing circles of bright red tubing—which helped

for a few weeks before another fall, after which she’d rest

one cheek on the carpet. My son sat on her lap and she played

at biting his fingers, her grey dentures clacking together,

and he squealed and pointed, and then pointed to the fireplace,

and then pointed to the window where a dried floral arrangement had sat

for twenty years. Everything was there for him.

She took his pointing finger between the soft pads of her lips.

How do you enter the biggest heart? Do you say

that it weighs up to fifteen hundred pounds? The largest heart

is like a compacted Volvo! Maybe you must imagine it beating

inside you? Maybe you find it one quiet morning,

your son asleep, his cheeks flaring the colour of summer plums.


Author’s bio: Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer, tutor, and book reviewer who lives in Wellington. Her first collection of poems, A Man Runs into a Woman, was published by Hue & Cry Press in 2012, and was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her work has appeared in various publications including Sport, Landfall, Best New Zealand Poems, and Southerly. Sarah has a PhD in creative writing from Massey University in the field of ecopoetics. She blogs at:

Author’s note: ‘I wrote this poem as part of my PhD thesis which, in part, looked at the different ways poets write about the nonhuman world. While writing my thesis I had my son and my grandmother died. Both of these events felt huge and brittle and surreal. Both were difficult to write about. One afternoon I took my son, Sam, to Te Papa and he played for ages in their scale model of a blue whale heart. It made me think about the way poets often resort to using the natural world as a metaphor when trying to describe love, grief, or the sublime. That’s when I wrote this poem.’

Paula’s note: The opening line of Sarah’s poem, so exquisitely simple stalled me with myriad, potential directions: fable, fairytale, the slippery slopes of surrealism, metaphor and real-life anecdote (as the epigraph in fact signals). This heavenly poem celebrates the child — the mother-son relationship is clasped in its tender embrace. Poignantly, the life of the son is countered by the death of the grandmother, not as a set of scales but as a largeness of love and loss that finds its potency in the smallest of detail. The poem enacts the mystery of writing a poem — the way stream-of-consciousness or random thoughts that accumulate like stepping stones can drive the poet’s pen and make magic out of metonymy and juxtaposition. The son points out the luminous detail so that place becomes vibrant and beloved. The life blood of this poem is heart: the whale’s heart, the son’s heart, the grandmother’s heart. But more than than anything, it is the internal love heart that renders the grace,  economy,  attentiveness,  poetic craft, the words that shine out, the story that unfolds and the images that startle (‘cheeks flaring the colour of summer plums’) in maternal ink. This is why I love poetry.

Sweet Mammalian is a new literary journal edited by 3 Wellington poets. The journal was created out of a wish to see more good, new writing out in the world. The editors of Sweet Mammalian aim to provide a fresh space for poetry that comes out of the complex, the absurd, the warm-blooded. They aim to provide a space for all kinds of writing. The inaugural issue of Sweet Mammalian is launched today, Friday 10 October, with a launch party and reading in Wellington.

The link to Sarah’s poem in the inaugural issue is here.

Giveaway books Halcyon Ghosts & waha | mouth… there are more to come

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Thanks to Auckland University Press I have randomly selected Harvey Molloy to get the copy of Sam Sampson’s Halcyon Ghosts and thanks to Victoria University Press I have randomly selected Nicola Eastbourne to get Hinemoana Baker’s  waha | mouth.

I have a number of giveaway copies for reviews I am doing when I get back from my Hot Spot Poetry Tour of NZ mid November (can’t promise any before then). I saw some of you ran into technical difficulties ‘liking’ or ‘commenting’ on this blog. Beyond my expertise sorry but I know if you follow the blog (click on follow down right hand side) it is easier. Someone else may give useful advice here.

Hinemoana Baker’s waha | mouth: This exquisite collection is not so much a symphony but a set of partitas for solo violin

Hinemoana Baker

Photo Credit: Robert Cross

Hinemoana Baker, waha | mouth, Victoria University Press, 2014

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

This is the self-penned blurb on the back of Hinemoana Baker’s new poetry collection and it resonated with me far more than the usual blurb content: ‘I’d like to think that opening this book to read is like standing at the mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand.’

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This window into reading suggests you might enter the mysterious, dark depths of the cave with its labyrinth of passages, or the pull of a river’s current whether quiet or wild, or the private return to those who have left us. I adore the comparison of the act of reading to holding the light of candle to a poem where something will always remain in the dim shadows, barely sighted, inaudible.

In many ways this book is about the power of words to take hold of us, to connect us in myriad relations, to reproduce us. The first poem, with its mysterious ache and force of a single word, is followed by a family poem. In Nanna’s game, the missing words are adjectives that must be randomly supplied by the players to the gut-wrenching hilarity of all. Word in place — words out of place. In another poem, ‘rope,’ Hinemoana has used a clutch of words from the penultimate sentence of a James Welch novel as a prompt for her poem. It is as though her poem becomes a secret hyperlink that expands a word (or two) — like when you click on a word on a poem online and it opens out. In ‘eclipse,’ where she contemplates ‘his warm, dead right hand,’ individual words are intensified, made special by placing italics. They twitch and vibrate on the line as little memory beacons.

Two poems (‘part 1’ and ‘part 2’) are distorted mirror images of each other. in the splintered glass you enter the family occasion, where things shift and change in the way things shift and change over time, in the mind of this person alongside that person, in this mood alongside that mood. You move from ‘The apricot moon, and a statue, for Valour‘ to ‘The mackerel sky and a steam train.’ I love the way the two parts send a translucent bridge (an arc) over the short prose-like poems that they bookend. These latter poems follow the thematic curvature of the book as they slip from what is familiar to what is not, from being grounded at home to being grounded off shore, from anecdote to striking image. Detail matters.

This exquisite collection is not so much a symphony but a set of partitas for solo violin. Individual notes (words) resonate and linger in the ear as if to make aural chords (connections): ‘a parliament of owls, all palms but mine — bone dry, mouth full of sky and counting.’ In this example, the linking consonants, assonance and near rhyme make chords that register in a subterranean way (sky-mine, mouth-owls, owl-full, parliament-palms, but-bone). Hinemoana’s musicianship extends to the composition as a whole with its shifting tones and pitches.

Many poems stood out for me. I loved ‘there are almost no risks associated’ where the lines are borrowed from a fertility document. The poetic riff heightens the emptiness of repeated medical jargon and narratives, and the way they so often eclipse individual situations, fear and longing. I also loved the final longer poem, ‘magnet bay farm,’ which exemplifies the way Hinemoana’s collection brings together story, acute detail, and divine melody. The poem I have printed off to pin to my wall though is ‘manifesto.’ It reminded me a little of Bernadette Hall’s ‘lacework’ in the way poetry has its roots in mud and muck as much as the moon and stars (a bit like Hone Tuwhare writing poetry from and for the pub and the heavens). It is a poem about poetry with wit and humour where cats get fed and Poetry ‘sniffs at the moon/ and urinates on our suburban garden.’ This I love: ‘In public people stop to say how handsome my poem is, how playful and well-behaved./ ‘Hell that poem’s in good nick,’ they say. ‘What do you feed it?’

Hinemoana’s poems are anchored in the real world yet her poetic melodies remind you that there are other layers of reality embedded here, layers that sing and tremble in the candle light — joy, pain, recognition, trust, narratives that we inherit and carry with us. Tremendous.

LOUNGE #41 WEDNESDAY 22 October: Final event of the year in the series


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

Featuring  performances by:

Eleanor Catton
Anand Changali
Wystan Curnow
Doc Drumheller
Ya-Wen Ho
Nicki Judkins
Mel Rands
Sam Sampson
Lisa Samuels
Steve Toussaint

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

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

Featuring  performances by:

Eleanor Catton
Anand Changali
Wystan Curnow
Doc Drumheller
Ya-Wen Ho
Nicki Judkins
Mel Rands
Sam Sampson
Lisa Samuels
Steve Toussaint

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

The Bookshow with promising signs for Independent Booksellersd and small Publishers

The Bookshow with Graham Beattie and Carole Beu reveals promising signs for Independent Booksellers and small Publishers. You can watch last night’s episode here where they talk to the Publisher of Upstart Press and Jenna from Timeout Bookstore.

One interesting point made was the continued growth in non-fiction and children’s books and the signal that fiction might digitalise more and more.

I know a lot of poetry books get published in New Zealand by a range of presses as I have such a stack in my study to share on this blog (more than I can possibly do), but I wonder how they go in terms of sales. Poetry is rarely a strong feature in a bookshop (I have made a separate page on Poetry Box for all the stores that have great displays of children’s poetry) and maybe that’s because we don’t buy that much of it. Ahh!

I still believe the life of poetry in book form will endure because we pay so much attention to the book as object, the hold of the book in the hand, the look of the poem on the page, the cover and so on.

Sam Sampson’s Halcyon Ghosts: Breathless and breathtaking


Photo Credit: Harvey Benge

Sam Sampson, Halcyon Ghosts, Auckland University Press, 2014

Sam Sampson’s new poetry collection, Halcyon Ghosts, brings together ‘thirteen shapes of knowing.’ It comprises thirteen poems that form various shapes or stamps upon the page. You can trace a bloodline to concrete poetry where the visual mark is as much a protagonist as the poem’s internal movement. You witness debts to the legacy of language poetry and you absorb the lyrical score. These poems are crafted by a poet who is part musician, part philosopher, part documentary filmmaker, part family archivist.

At times the physical detail is luminous — as though capturing the landscape, the living breathing world momentarily (‘white melodious throat’ ‘riparian light/ blinking on a dark field’ ‘ceramic wind chimes/ charred grape seeds’). Or snatches of action and activity whether strange or unsettling (‘picadored green people tethered to years’ ‘ghost moths generate night skermishes’). Words can be snapped in half across line breaks. These are poems caught in half-light, in fragmented sideways glances (‘to seize shadows I grab them by the sleeve’). Words zigzag across the page in discrete phrasing. Making authorial imprints. Stammering and staccato, as though this poet is out of breath, holding back, puffing out poems in little linguistic clouds.

In ‘The Kid,’ it is as though you can hear the click and stutter of Chaplin’s reels as the shifting frames catch light and dark (‘listen in-/tently to that blind/ mazy course/ running wild’). Colons are separated out to prolong the resting spots, the moment of pause (‘a mil    :       ‘). They act as little hinges, pivots in a collection where juxtaposition is a fertile device (‘Circles the expanse       expands dirt’ ‘pin-pricks of the world … name-sakes’). Such pairings provoke an oscillation of mind and eye, a semantic quiver, a visual twitch.

I loved the sequence, ‘Halcyon Ghosts,’ where the poem’s shapes imitate so perfectly the photographs of birds in flight upon the preceding pages. Here the words take pleasure in the measured steps of lift and fall.  These are poems of return, with the flight path etched in your mind ready to accept the swift wing beat of the bird. Glorious.

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Elsewhere a horizon line imprinted on the page breaks a poem in two as though refracting and reflecting. Yes, the poems are visual gifts for the eye, but what instils a deeper imprint is the intellectual and lyrical movement. The language is eclectic and difficult, yet there is heart here. Life. Experience. Contemplation. Surreal twitches. Sam has refreshed the life and expectations of concrete poetry, he has a bloodline back to Language Poetry but has stepped out of its limitations and has composed a symphony in parts where words are substitutes for the musical notes of melody. Breathless and breathtaking.

Thanks to Auckland University Press I have a copy of this book to someone who likes or comments on this post (NZ addresses only).


On the Shelf in October: Poetry Picks by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Hera Bird and Paula Green

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

A poet I have become almost evangelical in promoting since discovering his work in a Paris Review interview in 2005 is the late Jack Gilbert (1925-2012). His Collected Poems (Knopf, 2012) includes The Great Fires (1982), the first of his books I bought, with one of his signature poems, Steel Guitars which ends “The heart in its plenty hammered/by rain and need, by the weight of what momentarily is”. This book is the harvest of a brave life lived deep in poetry; his work impelled me to seek him out on a visit to California, making it literally days before he died on 13 November 2012. This is what I wrote of that visit:
I feel in the same way about Gilbert as I did when I came across Pablo Neruda in 1971 – here was a world I could inhabit without exhausting its gifts.

My local love of recent times has been John Pule’s wonderful The Bond of Time (Canterbury University Press, 2014). I was invited to write an introduction and spoke there of “a net of words across the Pacific”, which hardly does this remarkable and precocious epic justice. Pule was only twenty one when he composed the poem in 1985 and this is its third richly deserved appearance. Unique and essential.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman writes poetry and non-fiction and the occasional Paparoa blog post on WordPress. He is presently working on a memoir, ‘Burning The Libraries’ and another history project to do with German family connections in the Nazi era.



Hera Bird

I never could muster much enthusiasm for the war poets, possibly because most of what we studied in secondary school was from the British canon, which I never fell in love with, and there are only so many tender battlefield reminiscences about the distant fields of the mother country you can read before returning to the New York School for a stiff drink. But I’ve recently discovered Dunstan Thompson, a gay American war poet who faded into obscurity after returning from WWII, taking up Catholicism & renouncing homosexuality. His earlier work is hard to find (although there is a selection of his later, religious poems available online) but his poetry has been criticized for inconsistency – moments of brilliance flaring into tepid endings. But read “Lament for the Sleepwalker” and tell me the half doesn’t overcome the whole:

An excerpt:

I am chilled, as though a star

Of mobs and children came by traitor’s gate

And climbed the water stair to break his neck

On the axe king’s block, all in winter sunshine.

His brain in ice, his guts in melting jelly,

As barefoot fellow bound for high-heel gallows,

Peer of the Presence like a spaniel licks

Cracked lips to ease his vomit back; then stumbles

On the ladder going up to hell.

Dunstan Thompson ‘The Prince, His Madness, He Raves at Mirrors’ in On the Life and Work of a Lost American Master D.A Powell (Pleiades Press, 2010)

The other poet whose work I’m really excited about is Danez Smith, whose book ‘[insert] Boy’ is forthcoming from YesYes Books. Danez Smith is an amazing slam poet from the states whose work I’ve been seeing reposted a lot on the internet  in response to the recent Ferguson shooting, particularly this poem ‘alternate names for black boys.’ Until his book comes out, I’ve been reading bits and pieces from his website:

an excerpt fromalternate names for black boys’

  1. smoke above the burning bush
  2. archnemesis of summer night
  3. first son of soil
  4. coal awaiting spark & wind
  5. guilty until proven dead


Paula Green

I know I review books on the blog ( I will be having quite a flurry after my Hot Spot Poetry Tour I promise!), but I just wanted to flag this as it stuck with me. Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s Pen Pal published by Cats and Spaghetti Press earlier this year. It is not so much a book as a paper-fold-out that tucks in your bag and can very neatly fold and unfold in waiting rooms. The poems themselves are letters that fold into poems and poems that fold into letters. I love the idea of the shadowy figure to whom the letters are addressed, unreachable, yet gaining in presence in the light of what the writer chooses to reveal. The letters are surprising. ‘I’ve only just started/ witchcraft so this letter/ includes some hairs.’  The hidden fold may be of magic spells as though these poems are talismans or charms that work some kind of subterranean effect upon you as you read. I love the flashes of anecdote (‘Did I tell you/ in July a meteorite fell?’ whether true or false). Every poem seems off-centre, quirky, surprising, reverberating (‘Yesterday I carried my grief tree/ down to the mailbox/ to be milled by a letter’). The letter-poem-spells come out of a childhood, a mum and a dad, with hurt and ache and back-yard digging. I highly recommend tucking it in your bag to unfold and refold and let the spells take hold.

I write to you from

the witching hour.


He is out in the night

calling to his garden –


he is a big-hearted grasshopper

licked over by the long, red

tongue of sadness.



THE BOOK SHOW ON FACE TV TONIGHT AT 8.30PM includes a bit of poetry

The Bookman teams up again tonight with bookseller Carole Beu for another session of author interviews, book reviews and news.

Face TV is Sky Channel 83. If you don’t have Sky or miss the show then it will be linked here and here tomorrow morning. The show also screens on Thursday October 2nd at 12.30pm on Face TV.

This week Graham Beattie is talking to crime fiction author Paul Thomas while Carole chats to poet/author Paula Green.