Monthly Archives: October 2015

Poem Friday: Anna Jackson’s ‘Scenes from the photographer’s childhood: wardrobe’ — Within that silent beat, poetry blooms


Scenes from the photographer’s childhood: wardrobe


She kneels in the red light of her wardrobe, leaning

over one tub of chemicals to pull out the dripping

sheet from the one in the far corner, the space so

small, the smell so sharp, the image not that

of her mother, poking her amused face

around the bathroom door as she heaved

it open, pushing across the floor the barricade

set up to keep her out, nor of her own fury, still

sharp days later, but the shot she had taken

seconds earlier of her body, her legs

half shaven, still half dressed in foam.

Every night, without fail, whatever

time she takes her bath, within minutes

her mother suddenly just has to wash

her hands. It is this, even more than the

ruined image, that makes her scream

when her mother opens the wardrobe now,

an extended scream that the exhausted

mother next door, in her faded blue thrift

shop dress, covered in spilt milk, thinks will

never end, and so joins in, even though

it will wake the baby, which it does: and now

they are all screaming, the girl in B, the neighbour

in G, and the baby in F, a long, tense chord

of such helpless rage, almost a panic, it seems

it must rise up, it will ruin them all, there

can never be any release, their throats, all three,

scraped raw, the scream continuing, the

exhausted mother holding, perfectly, her note

of G, as the baby drops to E, the photographer

rising to C, holding for four beats and then

stopping, just as the baby stops, and so

the mother stops too and for the long moment

before the baby starts again, stands rapt

in the most perfect silence

she has ever known and will ever know

again, milk all through her dress, blue

jug in pieces on the floor,

exactly at the midpoint of her life.

© Anna Jackson 2015



Author bio: Anna is the Programme Director in the English Department at Victoria University. She has published five poetry collections, including Thicket, which was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards in 2011. Her latest collection  I, Clodia, and Other Portraits was published by Auckland University Press in  2014 (my review here). Anna is currently organising a Ruapehu Writer’s Festival with Helen Rickerby to be held in Ohakune, March 2016 (Facebook page here).

Paula’s note: This surprising poem, holds narrative in its palm, a sharp moment that reverberates  with implication. I get to the end and I am pulled back to the beginning, again and again. The musical chord that holds the moment together (and thus the poem)  jars, unsettles — until that moment of silence and it feels like time has iced over. Within that silent beat, poetry blooms. Ha! I need to get to work but this poem keeps distracting me. I adore the power of poetry to do just that.


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Auckland University page

New Zealand Book Council page

Anna Jackson’s poem, ‘Afraid of falls?’ on Poetry Shelf.

Anna Jackson’s interview on Poetry Shelf



A wee reminder: You are warmly invited to attend the launch of The Stories of Bill Manhire



You are warmly invited to attend the launch of

The Stories of Bill Manhire

on Thursday 12 November, 6pm–7.30pm
at Unity Books,
57 Willis St, Wellington.

The book will be launched by Damien Wilkins.
Bill will be available to sign copies.

$40, hardback.
cover illustration, ‘Sleeping Baby’ by Peter Campbell

About The Stories of Bill Manhire
Sheep-shearing galas, Antarctic ponies, human clones, the Queen’s visit to Dunedin, a pounamu decoder, a childhood in the pubs of the South Island, the last days of Robert Louis Stevenson—this is Bill Manhire as backyard inventor, devising stories in which the fabulous and the everyday collide.

THE STORIES OF BILL MANHIRE collects the stories from The New Land: A Picture Book (1990) and those added to South Pacific (1994) and Songs of My Life (1996). In addition there are previously uncollected and unpublished stories, the choose-your-own-adventure novella The Brain of Katherine Mansfield (1988), and the memoir Under the Influence (2003).

More info from Phantom Billstickers on poetry submissions

In particular, we are interested in submissions for the Cafe Reader, 3000 words or less, in the form of short stories or editorial.   The Cafe Reader is published quarterly and 12 to15 authors typically appear per issue.

We also publish poems in the zine but typically no more than three per issue so competition for that space is aggressive.

Our authors’ Honoria for the Cafe Reader are $250.00 for fiction and editorial (3000 words or less plus an authors’ bio and whatever input the author can contribute regarding an illustration for the piece – no additional compensation is available for use of photos or original art work used to illustrate each piece; however, we will assist with finding illustrations as necessary).

We pay $150 for poetry submissions that are accepted for the Cafe Reader.  This compensation covers anywhere from 1 to 4 poems per author depending on length.

Submissions to the Cafe Reader must be previously unpublished in any format.  Copy Rights are retained by the author. However, the author agrees that Phantom Billstickers has the right to use the piece in both the Cafe Reader hard copy and digital formats (the Cafe Reader is currently available for download on for both domestic and international distribution.

By submitting, they also agree that the piece published in the Cafe Reader will not be published in any other format between the publication date of the issue where it appears and the publication date of the next quarterly issue of the Cafe Reader.  We do not guarantee which issue any piece will appear in.  When a piece is scheduled to appear a layout will be provided to the author for review and approval prior to publication.

Submission Format  – editable WORD document submitted via email is the preferred format. The author should provide some background information about themselves in conjunction with the submission.

The following is a blurb about the Cafe Reader which may be helpful in pointing writers in the right direction regarding themes:

The Phantom Billstickers Cafe Reader is a quarterly literary zine featuring short stories, poems, art and editorial by New Zealanders.  The stories we publish are heartfelt glimpses into family, community, and the more colourful aspects of the creative life in New Zealand.  Many of our articles and stories revolve around Kiwi music. Our contributors range from globally recognized Kiwi authors to emerging artists who deserve to be heard.

Additionally, Phantom Billstickers publishes 8 poem posters per quarter that are not published in the Cafe Reader.  Poets are not compensated for the first poem we publish on a poster but are paid $75.00 for additional poems that are selected for use over time.  We have been running the poems on posters program for 7 years now and there are many poets who have been published on 2 or more occasions over that time.

Phantom Billstickers seeks poetry submissions – particularly by women

Message from Karen Ferns:

The New Zealand Book Awards Trust (NZBAT)  has been talking to The company Phantom Billstickers  a prominent street poster company who also invest some of their time and energy -into producing poems on posters and a café reader they produce and distribute quarterly. The café reader is edited by David Eggleton and contains poetry, short fiction and non-fiction.

As we have talked together NZBAT have discovered Phantom would like more submissions  from poets and writers. They want more submissions from women as currently they receive more submissions from men, but are also  interested in widening their  talent pool in a variety of ways so anything goes.

The email to send submission to is

Warmest congratulations to Michael Harlow – Winner of 2015 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award

Poetry Shelf extends warm congratulations to Michael and the Highly Recommended poets.


Press release:

Michael Harlow has won the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award 2015 with his collection of poems Nothing For It But To Sing.

‘Michael Harlow’s poems,’ says Emma Neale, judge of this year’s Grattan Award, ‘are small detonations that release deeply complex stories of psychological separations and attractions, of memory and desire.’

‘This is a poet with such a command of music, the dart and turn of movement in language, that he can get away with words that make us squirm in apprentice workshops or bad pop songs – heart, soul – and make them seem newly shone and psychically right.’


On hearing the news Michael Harlow said, ‘I’m absolutely delighted particularly because it involves publication with Otago University Press. It will be wonderful to be on the OUP list.’

Michael was at a World Poetry Festival in Romania when he received the news. Commenting on the $10,000 award money he said, ‘it will buy time – the thing that all writers need. I’m planning to use the time to work on a book of prose poems.’


The award attracted 109 entries. Six poets were highly commended: Hannah Mettner, Elizabeth Morton, David Howard, Nick Ascroft, Alice Miller and Victoria Broome.

The Kathleen Grattan Award is one of the richest poetry prizes in New Zealand. Otago University Press accepts the winning manuscript for publication and the winner also receives a year’s subscription to Landfall.


Auckland poet Kathleen Grattan, a journalist and former editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, died in 1990. Her daughter Jocelyn Grattan, who also worked for Woman’s Weekly, shared her mother’s love of literature. Jocelyn generously left Landfall a bequest with which to establish an award in memory of her mother.

Previous winners are Joanna Preston (The Summer King, 2008); Leigh Davis (Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life, 2009); Jennifer Compton (The City, 2010); Emma Neale (The Truth Garden, 2011) and Siobhan Harvey (Cloudboy, 2013).

The biennial award will next be granted in 2017 (see Otago University Press website for further details:


About Michael Harlow

Michael Harlow has published ten books of poetry: Giotto’s Elephant (AUP, 1991) and The Tram Conductor’s Blue Cap (AUP, 2009) were both finalists in the national book awards. Harlow has held numerous fellowships and residencies including the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship and the Burns Fellowship. In 2014 he was awarded the prestigious Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry. This year (2015) he received the Beatson Fellowship for writers. Michael Harlow lives and works as a writer, editor and Jungian therapist in Alexandra, Central Otago.

LitCRawl event: Small Holes in the Silence concert by Norman Meehan and Hannah Griffin

Friday 13 November, 7.30pm, St Andrew’s on The Terrace.

Manhire Auckland Concert flier

Song and poetry unite for this much anticipated album release concert by Norman Meehan and Hannah Griffin. Building on several earlier recordings that interpreted the poetry of E.E. Cummings and Bill Manhire, Small Holes in the Silence presents, in song, the work of a number of New Zealand poets.

Performing on the night are:
Norman Meehan (piano); Hannah Griffin (voice); Bill Manhire (words); Blair Latham (saxophone, clarinet).

Tickets $25–$35 from
Booking fees apply.
Duration 65 minutes.

The album features: Bill Manhire, plus Hone Tuwhare, James K. Baxter, Eileen Duggan, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, and David Mitchell. The collection includes Tuwhare’s ‘Rain’, Baxter’s ‘High Country Weather’, and Mitchell’s ‘Yellow Room’.

This event is part of LitCrawl 2015.

Poetry Shelf interviews Dinah Hawken — ‘any attempt to mirror the natural world is about relationship’



Dinah Hawken is one of New Zealand’s most critically acclaimed poets. Born in Hawera in 1943, she trained as a physiotherapist, psychotherapist and social worker in New Zealand and the United States. Most of the poems in her award-winning first collection It Has No Sound and Is Blue (1987) were written in New York in the mid-1980s while she was studying at Brooklyn College and working with the homeless and mentally ill. Her two most recent books, One Shapely Thing: Poems and Journals (2006) and The Leaf-Ride (2011), were both shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards. Dinah was named the 2007 winner of the biennial Lauris Edmond Award for Distinguished Contribution to Poetry in New Zealand. She lives in Paekakariki. Victoria University Press has just released a new collection of poems, Ocean and Stone.



Did your childhood shape you as a poet?

Yes I’m sure it did. One of my favourite memories as a child is my father reading A.A.Milne – the poems – to me when he came home from the farm. We didn’t have a lot of children’s books in those days (40’s and 50’s) and so he read them over and over again and we knew them by heart. Sometimes my younger brother and I would act a poem out: ‘Sir Hugh was singing hand on hip/when something sudden came along …’. What I loved, looking back, was the way my father and his voice changed when he read these poems. Suddenly he was a changed man, a more mysterious and musical man, and the poems had somehow changed him.

There was one poem that had a profound, perhaps lasting, effect on me psychologically. ‘The Dormouse and the Doctor’ – do you remember it? The dormouse was living happily ‘in a bed of dephiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)’ when the Dr came hurrying around and prescribed instead a bed of chrysanthemums (yellow and white). When ‘they took out their spades and dug up the bed/of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),’ I was devastated at the injustice and imposition of it. They didn’t understand that ‘much the most answering things that he knew/were geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)’. I was worried by this story – the powerlessness of the small, the arrogance of grown ups – but at the same time I was impressed with the dormouse’s solution of imagination: ‘I’ll pretend the chrysanthemums turn to a bed/of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums(red).’ It made me determined to fight to remain myself, to hold onto my ideas and attractions even if I was misunderstood. Like the dormouse I was a dreamy child, but also an active one – a tomboy, keen on sports and outside a lot with bare feet. I thought of myself as a reader not a writer.


As a young adult, were there any poets in particular to which you were drawn?

When I went to Dunedin as a school leaver, to study Physiotherapy, James K. Baxter was living there and I went to some of his poetry readings and lectures. He was the first NZ poet I had ever heard or read and The Rock Woman (selected poems) was the first book of poetry (besides A Pageant of English Verse) that I had ever owned. I’ve just taken it off the shelf and it is one of the most worn books in my poetry collection. I felt the emotion and music in those poems, the power of ‘the best words in the best order’, and the sense of being understood as a human being who lives in this place, this landscape. Existential questions were in the air for me at 18 or 19 and one poem, ‘The Cold Hub’ gave me a strong sense of fellow-feeling and therefore consolation. Poetry as consolation became important for me.

The next year in Palmerston North was significant for me in terms of poetry too. I had a boyfriend who not only liked poetry (a rare find) but who really loved Baxter and who introduced me to e.e. cummings and Yevtushenko. Both mind-opening in their own ways. What’s more, in Palmerston North, I also made a close friend, Phillappa, a nurse, who read poetry and wrote it. She showed me it was possible even though I didn’t start writing seriously – though secretly – till I was in my late 30’s. She was the first person I showed my poems to at that time. And a couple of years later I applied for Bill Manhire’s undergraduate creative writing course.


Your new collection, Ocean and Stone, is one of your best yet. At times, the poems lead me to a place and point of contemplation (outside urban bedlam). The poems remind me of the way I go down to the beach in the morning and all is the same (sand sea sky), yet there is always a pull of shifting nuances. Do you ever see your poems as a way of translating relations with the natural world, both private and nourishing?

Yes I do. Moments and experiences in the natural world give me such pleasure and uplift that I do have an urge to record and share them even though words so often fail the actual experience. But the attempt feels important. And I’m glad you used the word ‘relations’ because any attempt to mirror the natural world is about relationship. I’m a person who wonders a lot and the world around me is one of the most ‘answering things’ that I know.


And wanders in that wondering. That’s what hooks me as a reader. I find your poems are often things of beauty, yet there is a political edge here. It is as though we can no long view the ocean, for example, solely through the exquisite lens of its moods and bounty. Do you see yourself as a political poet? Overtly so or in more subtle ways?

As time has gone on I realize that I am both a nature poet and a political poet though I don’t set out to be. And I hope not exclusively. A poem usually begins with a phrase, a word, an image or a feeling that has a grip on me in some way. It can be a light and friendly grip or an intense, even painful, grip. The poem develops from that and, because of my interests and preoccupations, political concerns or the landscape, often become a part.

In Ocean and stone there is a poem called ‘The uprising’ that was a commission for Lloyd Jones’s issue of the Griffith Review called Pacific Highways. I began the poem thinking about the Pacific, with no conscious intention of writing a political poem. But I’d just read a book about the state of the world’s oceans and the facts in that book, and my feelings in relation to them, naturally flowed into the poem.

But it’s a balancing act to write a political poem and I sense that many poets might disapprove of my attempts – on the grounds of didacticism, emotionality etc. I’m naturally a direct person and I’ve had to learn more indirect and layered ways of expressing myself in poetry. But I’m also willing to be direct about strong personal feelings – a political poem is also a personal poem.


No matter how many times you write a stone poem, Dinah, you have the ability to replenish the subject (I posted one of my favourites from your new collection here). Do you have other motifs to which you are drawn?

Isn’t it amazing how stirring a small stone, like a blank page, can be? I’ve just looked up that famous poem ‘Pebble’ by Zbigniew Herbert where he writes that the pebble ‘is a perfect creature/ equal to itself’ that ‘does not frighten anything away.’ That seems so true to me.

As far as other motifs go, I don’t know. Water, its fluency? Leaf, its green, its growth? ‘The child’? I find myself thinking a lot at the moment about ‘the stranger’.


Yes definitely water! And the child. The grandchildren poems add a different layer to the collection. They remind me of the way women are often keepers of the family archives (scrapbooks, photo albums, treasure boxes). Do  you feel these poems are as much a gift to the family as they are for the reader?

Definitely. I did write them as a kind of scrapbook, a record of my grandchildren’s early development, trying to ‘hold’ some of the delight and moments of discovery that babies and toddlers go through. I started, in my last book, with Elsa from new-born to 16 months and then carried on with Nate from about that age to two and a half. Such an extraordinary time, as a child meets the world. And as a parent you are often too busy to stand back and see it happening.

I’m about to put all the grandchildren poems together in a small volume for the family – and perhaps for other parents of small children as well.


The untitled fragments throughout the book (that ‘stem from the epigraph which is a found poem from The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry’) are so fertile. I particularly loved: ‘a blank page has limits// and no limits.’ What kind of limits do you bump against as a writer?

I no longer have the external limits of time and stress and children and work that many younger writers have – I feel very lucky in that respect. I love writing without pressure – but on the other hand I do have the limits of older age; lack of energy, poorer memory, uncertain health. I find it harder to find words, I seem to have less access to dreams that were a great resource earlier in my life. Many of the poems in the second part of Ocean and Stone are about living with various kinds of decline.

There’s a difference between limits and limitations and so I also have to live within my inherent limitations as a writer. It seems important at this stage to try and see clearly what they are, whether they have any give in them, and to thrive within them. Limits and limitations have a bad name but I see them as the boundaries within which we can have the most ease and can be the most creative.


I love that dichotomy. Is doubt a key part of the writing process along with an elusive horizon of where you are satisfied with a poem?

Another way of considering the contradiction of ‘limits// and no limits’ is to think about faith and doubt in the writing process. They both seem to be essential: faith to believe that something can come from nothing; and doubt to be always willing to question what comes. When I began writing I would lurch, often painfully, between one and the other, now (fingers crossed) it’s more like quietly shifting weight. But you can’t write, can you, without doubt? You can only try to hold confidence and uncertainty in some kind of balance as you go.

I often have an intuitive idea of when a poem is finished in terms of content and length but the editing and re-arrangement inside it can go on for months. Leaving it for a good length of time helps me a lot – to free up and be less attached to what’s there. I don’t have poet friends, or a group, to share this process with at the moment but have in the past found feedback from others invaluable. It was great to have Fergus and Ashleigh at VUP look carefully at my manuscript for Ocean and Stone.


What poets have mattered to you over the last year?

The two most important books for me in the last year or so – both as a reader and a writer – are The Great Enigma by Tomas Transtromer and Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Glück. I’ve been attached to Louise Glück’s poetry in the past and was thrilled to discover this one (Carcanet 2014) and find it so impressive. Without your question I mightn’t have noticed that these two books, though different, have the same attraction for me. Both poets use accessible language and strong short sentences developing a narrative that is clear but at the same time mysterious. I love that. They have quite different tones; Glück’s intense, sometimes threatening, Transtromer’s lighter, more surprising. I was strongly aware of Transtromer while writing the first sequence in my book ‘The lake, the bloke and the bike’ but I’m not sure if, or how, his poems might have influenced mine.


What activities enrich your writing life?

Almost everything I do has the potential I expect, but when I think of Ocean and Stone, I see how it reflects a number of my non-writing activities. For example, babysitting grandchildren, gardening, friends, walking on the beach, Tai Chi Chuan. The last sequence in Ocean and Stone , though triggered by the McCahon painting, has a number of the names of Tai Chi postures in it and I wanted the poem to be a kind of Tai Chi sequence even if the reader doesn’t recognize it at all.

There’s no doubt that I’m a poet whose material comes from her own world but in Ocean and Stone I enjoyed very much re-telling the Sumerian myths, forgetting myself, and entering stories from another time and place. Yet stories that have relevance still.


Victoria University Press page

NZ Book Council page

Terrific interview on Divedapper blog: Kaveh Akbar in conversation with Mary Ruefle

‘I thought we could start with talking about Madness, Rack, and Honey. It seems that book has had a rich life even outside the poetry world. I know a number of non-poets who love and teach that book.

That is absolutely true. Madness, Rack, and Honey has sold more copies than any book of poetry or prose I’ve ever written. It goes to prove a point that I make in the book, which is that people would rather talk about poetry than read it or write it!

It’s circular, though. The real strength of those essays is the way they sort of behave like poems. They have that associative movement.

They do, they do.

Can you talk about writing prose, writing nonfiction that way?

I’m a very nervous, perfectionist type of person and when I had to deliver lectures I was not comfortable just standing up and doing something spontaneous, and I was not comfortable just giving an audience of graduate students exercises, which they love and crave. They don’t like formal written things, which is bizarre to me since they are writers! I simply faced the fact that I had to do something that was interesting for me and was off the cuff in my own way. So I sat down and composed them. I mean, it was all done out of nervousness.’


Rest of interview see here.

Back home and I discover Bernadette Hall receives Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry – I am doing a little poetry jig of joy



I have been a fan of Bernadette Hall’s poetry for a long time so was delighted to see she has received this honour. I missed the initial release when I was walking the beauty of Stewart Island. This is well deserved. A little dance of poetry joy ensues! Reading a book by Bernadette is poetry pleasure. Utterly satisfying for ear, eye, heart and mind.

You can see the full achievements of Bernadette as both poet and teacher here on the Creative NZ press release here.

My review of Bernadette’s most recent collection Life & Customs here.

Bernadette talks to Poetry Shelf here.



Victoria University Press page

New Zealand Book Council page

New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre page

Canterbury University Press page

Best NZ Poems edited by Bernadette Hall here

My review of The Lustre Jug in The NZ Herald