Monthly Archives: December 2014

Celebrating a year on Poetry Shelf: Four short poems by Bill Manhire



Top Dance Moves

You stand around not knowing what to do.

Then music comes and puts

its foot inside your shoe.



The E-mail Lover

Such clumsy roads keep us apart!

If I could find

the old, hand-written heart.



Beyond the screen but not completely out of reach

I can just make out the blackboard

where the first of my teachers first wrote speech.



My World War I Poem

Inside each trench, the sound of prayer.

Inside each prayer, the sound of digging.


© Bill Manhire 2014



These couplets are from Top Dance Moves & other poems, a slim chapbook published by Marinera Press, Wellington 2014. Some you may recognise as Bill tweeted a few of the short poems in the book from @pacificraft. This glorious wee collection filled me with the joy of poetry — the way slender lines send tendrils into a past that jumpstarts, or a heart that pulls, or a melody that swings, or a present that makes believe. One of my favourite reads of the year.

Thanks to everyone who read, shared or contributed to my posts in 2014.

Warm regards for the summer break,

Paula Green




Latest JAAM edited by Sue Wootton


JAAM 32: Shorelines was launched simultaneously at the first LitCrawl festival in Wellington and at The Inch Bar in Dunedin on 15 November.  JAAM is a popular national literary journal, published annually with the help of funding from Creative NZ/Toi Aotearoa.

For the 2014 issue of JAAM we shifted south, welcoming Dunedin writer Sue Wootton (pictured) as our guest editor. Sue is probably best known as a poet – she has published three collections of poetry, most recently By Birdlight (Steele Roberts, 2011), and has won awards for her poems. But she’s also an experienced prose writer. Her ebook of three short stories, The Happiest Music on Earth, was published in 2012 and her children’s book, Cloudcatcher, came out in 2010. Sue has twice been a runner up in the BNZ Katherine Mansfield short story awards, has been a finalist in the Sunday Star Times and Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize short story competitions, and has won the Aoraki Literary Festival short story prize.

The theme for JAAM 32 was ‘shorelines’, and Sue welcomed submissions that considered the theme from many angles. Sue says:

“I chose the theme of ‘Shorelines’ partly because I see our islands’ physical shorelines as the great connector for us as a people. I hoped the idea of shorelines would resonate for others, and prove a creative catalyst. It sure did – there were a huge number of submissions, and I’m sad to say I couldn’t select every good piece that I read. I decided to arrange this issue around the idea of korerorero, as expressed in Teoti Jardine’s opening poem, a kind of “never-ending ebb and flow” conversation, taking place from one end of the country to the other.”

There was a good representation of South Island writers in this issue, including Vincent O’Sullivan, Diane Brown, Rachel Bush, David Eggleton, Kerrin P. Sharpe, Joanna Preston, Carolyn McCurdie, Frankie McMillan, Emma Neale, Rhian Gallagher and Karen Zelas. Also among the writers whose work features in JAAM 32 are Tracey Slaughter, Morgan Bach and Tim Jones.

JAAM publishes poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, photography and other artwork.  It supports new and up and coming writers and gives them a chance to appear beside established local and international authors.  Guest editor, Sue Wootton says:

“Opening JAAM is always like lifting the lid on a jack-in-the-box: something energetic jumps out. The buzz is due to the eclectic (electric) mix of voices within the covers, which in turn is a result of JAAM’s commitment to artistic exploration. JAAM has always been not only a forum for New Zealand’s well-known established writers but also a place for new writers to chance their pens.”

For more information about JAAM you can visit: or contact the editors on

Leilani Tamu’s The Art of Excavation — This is an impressive debut that lays poetic roots in the present in order to nourish the past.


Leilani Tamu The Art of Excavation Anahera Press, 2014

Leilani Tamu graduated with an MA in Pacific History at the University of Auckland. She is also a  poet, social commentator and has worked as a New Zealand Diplomat. She was the 2013 Fulbright -Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer in Residence at the University of Hawai’i. Her poetry has appeared in numerous collections.

Leilani’s debut collection is in debt to the ‘concepts, ideas and philosophy’ underpinning her Masters thesis: Re-defining ‘the beach’: the Municipality of Apia, 1879 -1900. This poetry is the work of a poet who is Pacific archaeologist, word alchemist, hot-air balloonist (sees the world from new perspectives), scholar, musician, navigator, storyteller. The poems forge vibrant links with people and place, and with both economy and flair, they frame scenes and anecdotes. I was struck by the way the weighty package of a thesis is reduced to the slender frame and form of a poem yet billows with scholarly insight. A single phrase can open the poem out for the reader (‘layers of decaying colonial matter’ ‘but the missionaries/ caught the message/ on the wind/ and ate the bat’ ‘hijacked history remains supreme/ over dusty archives’).

Yes, these poems take you into history, a Pacific history that is forward facing as much as it includes  travels into the past. Yes, these poems are fueled by a genealogy of Pacific writers (there is a wonderful tribute to Albert Wendt’s ‘Inside Us the Dead’). Yes, these poems are lifted by a familial genealogy. The extensive endnotes and glossary add to the reading experience as they shine light on the genesis of a poem or linguistic options. What I particularly admired were the poetic choices that sung the Pacific as much as they commented on the Pacific. The line breaks augment the economy of words, together establishing the silent beats that evoke that which cannot be spoken, that which is spoken, that which is cradled and shared within  overlapping traditions of the Pacific. Or the aural chords and suspended alliteration that enacts the chords that link this person with that person, this place with that place, this event with that event. In ‘Midden Secrets’: you move from’ gut’ to ‘while at road juncture/ a collarbone juts  out’. In ‘A Tribute to the Black Ghost’: ‘like a black ghost the Sun’s ray glides/ on the surface of the lake-like lagoon’ and ‘with a flick of a wing/ her long sting trails behind.’

This is an impressive debut that lays poetic roots in the present in order to nourish the past.


Anahera Press page here

Vincent O’Sullivan posts some new poems by Emma Neale on the Laureate website. They are simply breathtaking.


Current NZ Poet Laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan, has selected some new poems by Emma Neale to mark the shift between one year and the next. They are stunning poems, not only in the aural delights, the archival detail and each poem’s building momentum, but in the way the poet lays anchors in both a real world of sons and husband and an exhilarating world of ideas. These poems have shifted gear.

Emma was shortlisted for the Sarah Broom  Award this year and read with fellow shortlisted poet, Kirsti Whalen, at the Auckland Writers Festival. To hear Emma read was to hear the poetic detail and music come into even richer life. A highlight for me this year.

Vincent O’Sullivan on Emma Neale:

‘There is something so celebratory about Emma Neale’s poetry, about its eager, informed, needle-eyed engagement with the contemporary world, that it seems the very thing for this final Poet Laureate blog of the year, for what we still, with our perverse and saving optimism, call ‘the festive season’. Thanks to Emma for these unpublished poems, for their kitchen-familiar and cosmic-wide attentions, for running the hot thread of such linguistic flare and precision through whatever occasion she takes up. These seem to me the kind of poems that begin with readers but end with partners, in their take on how things are, and how we talk of them. This is poetry in that ancient tradition of ‘speaking for us all’, of making scenes and events that we find are about ourselves all the time, even when they may at first move so confidently in that Rilkean dimension of ‘beauty and terror’. Good poems to end one year, and to begin another.’

For the selected poems see here.

Landfall 228 highlights

large_landfill    large_landfill

The latest issue of Landfall contains the essays by the winner (Diana Bridge) and runners-up (Sarah Bainbridge, Simon Thomas, Scott Hamilton) of the 2014 Landfall Essay Competition. Judge, David Eggleton, selected 11 finalists (all listed) from 39 entries before selecting the winners. He is also publishing the essay by another finalist, Tina Makareti in Landfall 229. Having read the judge’s comments, I am now interested to read the essays themselves.

What I have done though is read all the poetry. Four poems particularly stood out for me.

Carolyn McCurdie’s ‘Hut’ The opening lines are tremendous: ‘If I come back as a building/ it will be as a tramping hut.’ The poem deposits you in in its heart which is the heart of the hut. Right there in a place where words so frequently stop, yet Carolyn’s lines are memorable.

Reihana Robinson’s ‘And Blessed Be’ The lively word play of this poem is utterly infectious.

Semira Davis’s ‘White Girl: Māori World’  The poem has a razor-sharp edge that stops you in your tracks. Is it okay for a skinny white girl to speak Te Reo?

Rhian Ghallager’s ‘The Speed of God’ is a stunning example of poetry that is original (yes!), breathtaking, spare and refreshes repetition. Some poems rise above all the pother poems we write, and for me, this is one of them. Here is the opening stanza:

‘What if God had slowed down after making the grass and the stars and the

whales and let things settle for a bit so the day could practise leaving into the

arms of the night and the tides tinker their rhythms and the stars

find their most dramatic positions.’

I was capitivated by Michele Leggott’s essay, ‘Self-Portrait: Still Life, A Family Portrait.’ It is both inventive and moving. I don’t want to say anything more but let it unfold for you as you read it.

Oh and I also loved the portraits by Lorene Taurerewa. One features on the cover.

And as for the fiction, that is part of my summer reading.

Great issue, David Eggleton.

These Rough Notes: Bill Manhire, Norman Meehan, Hannah Griffin on RADIO CONCERT on Friday

A must-listen!

8:00 pm on Friday (12 Dec 2014)

Hannah Griffin (vocalist), Norman Meehan (pno), Colin Hemmingsen (cl/bass cl), Martin Riseley (vln), Stephen Gibbs (cello), Victoria Jones (dbass), Lance Philip, Bruce McNaught (percussion), George Mason (piper), Sue Prescott (whistle)

MEEHAN: These Rough Notes, An Evocation of Antarctica

Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale (Robert Falcon Scott)

Drawing its title from one of the last pages of Scott’s journal, this collaboration between the poet Bill Manhire, composer Norman Meehan and singer Hannah Griffin remembers the tragedies of Scott’s polar expedition in 1912 and the crash of NZ901 into Mt Erebus in 1979. The collaboration also included images of Antarctica by Anne Noble, drawn from the series of Antarctic work she has been making since 2001 (recorded in Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, Wellington by RNZ)

More details here

Turbine 14: New writing from emerging and established writers and the latest graduates of Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML

Turbine 14 highlights new and established literary talent

New writing from emerging and established writers and the latest graduates of Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) is featured in the 2014 edition of literary journal, Turbine.

9 December 2014
The annual online journal offers a sampler of work by 2014 Master’s students, alongside poetry and fiction extracts from internationally regarded writers such as Maike Wetzel from Germany, Lesley Wheeler from the United States, and award-winning Kiwi poets Lynn Jenner and Marty Smith.
Victoria University chaplain John Dennison contributes poems from a collection to be co-published in 2015 by Auckland University Press and Carcanet in the United Kingdom.
The 2014 Victoria University/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence Hinemoana Baker talks to Fulbright scholar and poet Max Chapnick about her current project, whether her writing has an implicit or explicit political awareness, the joys of late-night writing, and the similarities between writing and looking after a dog.
Recordings by five poets bring their poems off the page, including work by the 2013 Biggs Family Prize in Poetry winner, Morgan Bach, whose first collection will be published by Victoria University Press in 2015.
Re-imaginings of Greek myth sit alongside geological analyses of Kapiti-coast soil types; a family recipe book provides a basis for an exploration into the Portuguese psyche; toilet humour, shipwrecks and Robert Redford mix with work on Fiji, Samoa and Pacific waves.
For more on Turbine go here.
Turbine 14 here.
Poets on offer include Emma Neale, Anna Jackson, Johanna Emeney, Lynn Davidson, Marisa Cappetta, Lee Posna, Helen Heath, Cliff Fell, Kerrin P Sharpe, Louise Wallace, Marty Smith and Chris Tse. Then as many again that are new discoveries for me. Looks like a great issue.

Chris Tse’s How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes — At times it feels like the intake of breath associated with the silence you grant the dead


How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes Chris Tse, Auckland University Press

Chris Tse is a writer, musician and actor whose poetry first appeared in AUP New Posts 4 (Auckland University Press, 2011). He resides in Wellington, his home town.

Chris’s debut collection, How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes, responds to a moment in history not so much by narrating that history but by installing a chorus of voices. He takes an event from 1905 when Lionel Terry went hunting for a Chinaman in Haining Street, Wellington and ended up murdering Joe Kum Yung. Within the opening pages, the chilling event is situated in a wider context where laws proscribe the alienness that situates  Chinese as outsiders. This is what gets under your skin as you read.

The poems draw upon and draw in notions of distance, defeat, guilt and forgiveness. There are the unsettled imaginings of what it is to be home, to be at home and to be out of home to the extent that home becomes difficult and different. Mostly it is a matter of death (and casting back into life) whereby phantoms stalk and cry about what might have been and what is: ‘You spend your thoughts drowning in your family-/ missing from this vista- and contemplate a return with nothing to show/ for your absence.’

The collection harvests shifting forms, voices and tones that promote poetry as mood, state of mind, emotional residue. Yes, there is detailed evidence of history but this is not a realist account, a story told in such a way. Instead the poetic spareness, the drifting phantom voices give stronger presence to things that are much harder to put into words. How to be dead, for example. How to find the co-ordinates of estrangement, of that which is unbearably lost and is hard to tally (family, home, what matters in life). On page four you move from a matter-of-fact representation of the law to page five and the wife in Canton (‘you carry her bones in your body’). Two disparate but equally potent aches.

At times the poems are syncopated, with words stretched over little bridges of silence or white space. It adds an accumulating breathlessness. At times it feels like the intake of breath associated with the silence you grant the dead. When you stop and remember. Thus (as it appears in one poem), it also becomes static: ‘Listen: there’s a hunger in the air. It’s reciting prophecies./ It’s doubled up.’

Many lines sing out and stick as they haunt:

‘to kill a man is to marry a shadow’

‘We must divide the world around us into safety sets or else it splinters/ of its own accord into anarchy.’

‘The world is full of murder and words are usually the first to go’

‘Peace is a loose ideal for the abandoned/ left to sing their songs/ to themselves’

‘there will be voices to say your name/ to clear the way. The rest is up to you.’

There are many vessels of emptiness (the body, the head, the memory, the thing) and in a way each poem is a version of a vessel that becomes provisionally and movingly full. Just for a moment: ‘Now your onus is to surround/ yourself in objects    of your former permanence// a bone flute that stores folk songs and lullabies within,/ chopsticks that remember the taste of every meal.’

This collection shows so beautifully, so movingly, the power of poetry to give renewed presence to history; so that the silent bridges billow with a new awareness of how we get to this point.

Thanks to AUP I have a copy of the book for someone who likes or comments on this post.

Hear Chris read from the book

AUP author page

Sarah Maxey and Andrew Johnston’s Do You Read me?


Andrew Johnston and Sarah Maxey have collaborated on this beautiful looking book.

DO YOU READ ME? is a limited edition book of 26 poems by Andrew Johnston and 23 images by Sarah Maxey.

This second edition of 120 copies is published by Long Face Press, Sand Track, Paekakariki, New Zealand. It was printed on 100gsm Munken Pure Cream paper and hand-stitched. (The first edition of 50 copies was published in 2013 to mark Andrew Johnston’s 50th birthday.)

You can purchase a copy of it here.