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.



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