Monthly Archives: October 2015

Emma Neale and Diane Brown head north to read poetry

From Otago University Press:

Otago poets Diane Brown and Emma Neale are both part of the amazing line-up at the Ladies’ Litera-Tea in Auckland on Sunday 1 November (1–5.30pm at the Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Epsom Girls Grammar School – tickets are sold out). Diane will also be in conversation with Deborah Shepard on Tuesday 3 November at 7pm at the Michael King Writers Centre, Summit Rd (off Kerr St), Devonport.

Poem Friday – Carolyn McCurdie’s ‘A Potato Sonnet: Jersey Bennes for Christmas’ – each word gleams in the light bright space of the page


A Potato Sonnet: Jersey Bennes for Christmas


They gleam in the black

crumbled earth;


steady, as if candles

glow through layers of silk,


underpin the season’s quick

shifts of tinselled light


and the brisk heel-tap, chatter

of crowds in the street.


This is old, wondrous

as moon-rise,



as the maternal voice


that calls, come in

to the table.


© Carolyn McCurdie Bones in the Octagon  Mākaro Press 2015



Author Bio:  Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer. She won the Lilian Ida Smith Award in 1998 for short stories and a collection of stories — Albatross was published in 2014 by e-book publisher Rosa Mira Books. A children’s novel, The Unquiet, was published in 2006 by Longacre Press. She was the winner of the 2013 NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition and her first poetry collection, Bones in the Octagon, was published in 2015 by Mākaro Press as part of their Hoopla series. Carolyn is active in Dunedin’s live poetry scene, where she is a member of the Octagon Poets Collective.

Paula’s note: The potato is comfort food, but this particular potato hooks you to the extended  family table where the sun is blazing down and family stories circulate. Christmas. Ah. Reading the poem, each word gleams in the light bright space of the page along with the deep pit of personal memory. Each word is so perfectly placed for ear and eye. This is the first poem I read in Carolyn’s debut collection (the title lured me in — especially the idea of a sonnet meeting up with potatoes). There is a quietness, an attentiveness, delicious overlaps of meaning and propulsion. I can’t wait to settle back into the book and discover more.


Mākaro Press author page


Other books in 2015 Hoopla series:

Mr Clean & the Junkie by Jennifer Compton (I reviewed this here)
Native Bird by Bryan Walpert

Poetry Shelf interviews Sarah Jane Barnett — writing is an act of contemplation for me


Photo credit: Matt Bialostocki


Sarah Jane Barnett has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University and a PhD from Massey University. Her poetry has been published in New Zealand, Australia, and the US, and anthologised in Best New Zealand Poems, Dear Heart: 150 New Zealand Love Poems (Godwit), and Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (Random House). Her debut collection A Man Runs into a Woman (Hue & Cry Press, 2012) was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Sarah was the recipient of the Louis Johnson New Writers’ Bursary and the Estate Phoebe Maunsell Scholarship. Her second collection WORK has just been launched by Hue & Cry Press. Sarah teaches creative writing at Massey University.

To coincide with the arrival of WORK, Sarah agreed to do an interview with Poetry Shelf.


Did your childhood shape you as a poet? Did you write as a child?

I’ve written for my whole life, in one way or another. I remember entering a poetry competition as a kid, and at primary school we’d illustrate poems. I also remember going for walks as a kid and making up silly poems in my head. I never thought I’d be a writer, though. My undergrad is in Fine Arts and then I studied Museum Studies, so I spent many years working in the public sector and writing on the side. I couldn’t look at my writing full on, in case it was truly awful (and some of it was). It was as though I was teaching myself to write behind my own back!

Something changed around the time I wrote the death row poems for my first collection. There was an inescapable humanity about the material. I had to fully engage with the work in order to respect the stories of the inmates and their victims. After that I quit my job and did a PhD at Massey. Now I’m overqualified so there’s no going back.


Your new collection, Work, lifted me off the page into realms of delicious contemplation – particularly in view of character and narrative. It grew in me. You say ‘these poems are works of fiction that draw on real people’ and that you ‘worked hard to be faithful to the facts while also allowing room for the poem.’ That poetic room is a fertile space (I want to write about it in my new book!) engendering countless fascinating relations. Were you aiming for particular kinds of poetic activity?

I like that you’ve used the word contemplation, because writing is an act of contemplation for me, and I hope my poems spark contemplation in a reader. I’m not sure that’s the same as ‘poetic activity.’ I know that I wanted the poems to be realistic, so set in the real world, with the sun rising at a real time and the flora and fauna being factual to a real landscape that any reader could visit. That was my way of honouring the people whose stories I drew from, and the landscapes they dwelt in, by making them as round and beautiful and burnished as I could.

But I also wanted the poem to be more than that – for it to be a fictional construction that explored what it is to be human. For each poem to be knowing that it was this imagined thing, created from language. In that sense each poem’s ‘realness’ is in being a poem. The main character in ‘Addis Ababa’ is a translator for this reason. Not only is it a nice metaphor for how he ‘translates’ his life from one country to another, but it was a way for me to explore how different languages, in his case Amharic and English, shape experience. It also points to how the poet ‘translates’ the world into poetry. I’m not sure where this preoccupation comes from, but I’m intrigued by the liminal space between fact and fiction (and, for that matter, poetry and prose). We all have stories that we tell ourselves in the on-going narrative of our life and identity. I think there’s value in questioning those stories.


I also loved ‘Glaciers’ and its multiple levels, overlaps and smudgings. It is a mysterious poem, a haunting poem – yet it embraces something utterly fundamental. Notions of family. I loved the different reactions that the poem drew from me; I was moved, perplexed and delighted in the myriad cryptic hinges. As I read the poem, and navigated the potent maternal traces, I wondered how being a mother affects your writing. Does it?

On a very practical level I have less time to write. At the start it was very difficult as he was a baby and I was finishing my PhD. There were some black days during that time (which is partially what ‘Glaciers’ is about). That said, having Sam actually helped my writing. I’ve had to learn how to stop the critical voice that fuels procrastination because he’s only in childcare 24 hours a week. That’s all I get! There’s no time to do it later.

At the moment I use the Pomodoro technique to get started. I set a timer for 25 minutes and write without stopping or editing. Then I have a five minute break (I write at home so usually I make a coffee or do the vacuuming or hang out the washing – such glamour!). That’s one ‘pomodoro’ and you’re meant to do four in a row before taking a 30 minute break. By the time I’m into my third pomodoro I’m away and can generally write for four hours at a stretch. So having Sam has been good for developing a stable and on-going writing practice. Also, and I’m going to get soppy here, he’s the most joyous and glorious human. He’s totally and entirely himself without reservation. Being around him makes me brave, which makes my writing brave as well.


What writers have mattered to you? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have been crucial in your development as a writer.

That’s such a hard question to answer. So many of my friends are writers, and talking to them often feels like one long amazing master class! I also have a super writer’s group which has been going since 2007 when we had a studio in an old zipper factory on Tennyson Street.

That said, WORK is dedicated to my doctoral supervisors Bryan Walpert and Jack Ross, and to my publisher Chloe Lane. So those three – they’re all writers alongside the other hats they wear – have been mentors to me in different but crucial ways. Bryan especially; he has mentored me for the last six years, first as a teacher at Massey, and then as an academic and a poet during my PhD. You need to be tough to work with Bryan. He knew I could go further with my work, but like most writers I had self doubt and a lack of clarity about what I wanted to say. He kept on pushing and pushing until I stepped up. He will hate me saying this because he dislikes gushiness and sentimentality, but he’s a brilliant mind and an outstanding teacher. I’ve learned more about poetry from him than anyone else. It’s also why I’ve continued to teach at Massey. I want to be able to do that for other writers.

In terms of poets, Robert Hass and Anne Kennedy have both had a huge influence on my work. I wrote my doctorate on Hass, and while I know he’s not to everyone’s taste, I’m still deeply moved by his work. I’m in a life long relationship with his first four collections! Anne Kennedy’s The Time of the Giants was one of those collections that shifted my world. She’s simply amazing. It was my first introduction to contemporary long form poetry and now I can’t stop.


Hue & Cry Press author page

Sarah’s blog




Bill Manhire’s short stories to be launched at Unity Books



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).

Poem Friday: Steven Toussaint’s ‘Plainsong’ –This poem is like a talisman




© Steven Toussaint  The Bellfounder (The Cultural Society, 2015)


Author Bio: Steven Toussaint is the author of The Bellfounder (The Cultural Society, 2015) and a chapbook Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014). He recently completed a Ph.D. at the International Institute of Modern Letters on 20th century American poetry and music. He lives in Auckland. NZ distributor is Time Out Bookstore.


Note from Paula: This poem is like a talisman. I have always loved the way heart holds ear along with heat and art, and then stretches out, ever so slightly, to become hearth. A corner stone for poetry. I photographed the poem in the book as whenever I post poems they insist on hugging the left-hand margin. This poem needs its white space in order for the melody to strike so beautifully. It is also one melody among many in a book resplendent with aural delight. This is the intriguing note on the poem: “‘Plainsong’ arpeggiates a chord by Ronald Johnson (‘Bean’ 24′).” I will talk about the book as a whole soon.




Poetry Shelf review: Murray Edmond’s Shaggy Magpie Songs – I pictured I was sitting in a dark room, listening to a bit of blues or folk or jazz, a spotlight picking up a pianist whose fingers were freewheeling,


1439758465392   1439758465392

Murray Edmond, Shaggy Magpie Songs Auckland University Press 2015


On the back of his new collection of poems, Murray Edmond writes, ‘Songs are poems that are incomplete without their music, so I think of these poems as all wanting to get off the page and start singing and dancing. The magpies of Aotearoa are silly (and slightly dangerous) birds who have given rise to the most profound line in the New Zealand poetry canon: Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle …. I like to think the poems are the kind of songs that magpies might sing if they were into making up words: a little bubbly, a little bitter, a little absurd, and echoing with the sound of laughter: songs with shaggy tales to tell.’

Murray’s musings are the perfect gateway to a collection that relishes sound, a sense of humour and pocket-book anecdotes. Not far into the collection, I pictured I was sitting in a dark room, listening to a bit of blues or folk or jazz, a spotlight picking up a pianist whose fingers were freewheeling, bodies were swaying, feet tapping, voices saying, Yeah! Aah! Mmm! These poems make you move because these poems make music before they do anything else. Your ear picks out melody, aural chords, infectious rhythms and shifty rhyme, so often rhyme. Rhyme has multiple effects but initially it taps into that deep-buried allure that rhyme holds for the child. With Murray’s fingers flicking along the scale of rhyme though, rhyme is surprising, it makes you laugh out loud when it hits the mark, it drives the poem, it sidetracks the poem, it celebrates the utter joy of electric aural connections. The music is never constrained. Always on the move. Consonants shuffle to make little bridges for your ear. The rhythm, jaunty, jittery, smooth.


Here is one example from ‘The Poet Returns to New York’


Frank O’Hara strolls on by in pyjamas

a knowing smile disposes the inelegant aftermath of dramas

that might otherwise threaten to alarm us

because this morning there is nothing that can harm us

and Tennessee has bought us tickets to the Bahamas


Here is another sample from ‘Snap Snap’:


addicted to your pictures

a picture ain’t a fixture

conjure hocus-pocus

turn me soft like focus

nail me with a frame

sign me with a name



The collection is divided into four sections (Praise, Nonsense, Blues, Pop) with no Endnotes (the poem is the thing!) and there is much traffic between. Murray sings the praises of colleagues, fellow poets. Stories are delivered in pieces, sung into pieces with those melodic arches. There is almost a cheekiness in the loping, looping sounds. Splinters of nonsense might tilt the praise. Maybe there is autobiography skimming between the lines, hiding in the flicks of wit. Or a madcap flow of stream-of-consciousness. Or a keen mind jamming facts and fiction.


Some samples. This from ‘Tongatapu Dream Choruses”


thar she


blow hole

blow mind

blow wind

blow whale

blow horn

blow me




from ‘National Standards’


Please step out of the poem slowly

stand by your word with hands on your head

the dogs will sniff you an officer will

frisk you please enjoy the experience



The collection is contoured in terms of pitch and tone. One of my favourite poems in the collection, ‘The Letter from Rilke,’ is like an onion. It is the poem that I keep returning to because each time I peel off a layer I get a different reaction. The visual and aural links are sumptuous (I have posted this poem). I am also drawn to ‘Kiss the Impossible Good Night,’ a poem for Kendrick Smithyman. After suggesting that the poem might work, a question is asked: ‘but can you/ get it to do anything? It is a poem with surreal kinks as you read, but it gets to the heart of writing. Murray’s poetry wears the look of play: a musician at play, a wordsmith at play, the wit of play, yet this playfulness belies the craft that steers the pen.



the impossible good night

before your very eyes

the poem appears


to work


it might work but can you

get it to do anything?)



If poets have recurring motifs, I claim the moon for Murray. His previous collection was entitled Fool Moon, and the moon features in a number of his poems. The motif is stamped here like a lunar signature — mysterious, mesmerising, moody, and is like a tether to poems of the past. Reading the new poems, through the folds and unfoldings, is to listen to different keys, yet whichever key you hit, these poems are sung into being out of a joy of words. Wonderful.


Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf interviews John Dennison — ‘it does seem to be a recurrent question in the collection—love’s strangeness’

John Dennison

Photo credit: Robert Cross


John Dennison was born in Sydney in 1978, and grew up in Tawa. He has lived and studied in Wellington, Dunedin, and St Andrews, Scotland, and now lives with his family here in Wellington, where he is a university chaplain. His poems have appeared in magazines in the UK, New Zealand and Australia, and were anthologised in Carcanet’s New Poetries V (2011). A first collection, Otherwise, was published by AUP and Carcanet earlier this year.

To celebrate the arrival of this terrific debut, John agreed to be interviewed. I reviewed Otherwise here.



Did your childhood shape you as a poet? What did you like to read? Did you write as a child? What else did you like to do?

Life was rich and full as a kid. We’d no TV, and I spent a good deal of time in books and up trees, or absorbed in endless audiobooks. That’s attuned my ear to some degree; I’ve also my mother’s knack for picking up other voices. Dad had a handful of poetry LPs in his collection—Eliot reading his Quartets, a record of Hopkins’s verse, one of American poet Carl Sandburg weirdly, wonderfully intoning. We worshipped at an open Brethren assembly in Porirua—a lively, community-oriented, rather tribal affair. I think it was partly the Church that attuned me critically to language, and taught me to take words and address seriously. At the same time, the Church attuned me to the culture around, to the market and to public cant; I’ve still got a well-developed, somewhat from-the-margins suspicion of life as it’s sold and told by the powers that be. Another formative aspect of my childhood: I was born with severe club feet. The deformities were corrected early on, when I was a baby, but it shaped me. I think the pre-verbal memory of that wounding and re-shaping, and my later memories of struggling with sports, with running, has had an effect in some way. Growing up has, in one sense, been a growing into–accepting–the woundedness of my earliest weeks. All of this enters the poetry in some way.


When you started writing poems as a young adult, were there any poets in particular that you were drawn to (poems/poets as surrogate mentors)?

Gregory O’Brien was my flesh-and-blood example of how to be a poet—he was a key figure in my apprenticeship. I took a writing paper with him. More than the workshop, to be accorded dignity and friendship by this older, much more dedicated writer—that was gold. I was stoked to meet Michael Symmons Roberts, a Manchester poet, in person recently—he’s been another important model, via his work. Baxter always hovered in the background—ready mythology.


Did university life transform your poetry writing? Theories? Peers? Discoveries? Sidetracks?

It’s interesting that this question irks me—I guess I chafe at the recognition that the university has become the dominant patron of poetry in NZ and beyond, and I feel uneasy at such patronage. For all that I love the community of scholarship, and serve that community as a chaplain, I do wonder whether it might not impoverish one’s poetry and poetics to turn habitually to the university. There really is, for instance, wonder and joy, contemplation and professing, which the modern university is pretty much deaf to. But yes, for me the university put poetry on the table every breakfast without apology or concern, and with the kind of seriousness a thoughty 19-year-old man is bound to fall for. Poetry was a subject of study before it was a practice, and learning to read slowly and in good faith—assuming everything on the page signifies—was good apprenticeship in the craft. That, and reading poets’ own accounts of making. I guess I learned the traditions, those at home and those abroad—it was important to do that.


Are there any critical books on poetry that have sustained or shifted your approach to writing a poem?

There’s a few. Those of any real use were written by poets. David Jones’s reflections on poetry and sacramental theology in Epoch and Artist was a timely discovery. More recently, Wendell Berry’s essay ‘On the use of old forms’ has helped me to understand what is at stake in choosing to work one or other received tradition and form—terza rima, or a Shakespearean sonnet, as opposed to free verse, say. He describes the way in which such forms enable you to live forwards into the poem, calling you into the possibilities of the language via rhymes, metre, etc. Berry’s been a real practical help. There’s Neruda’s manifesto ‘Toward an Impure Poetry’—I love his refusal to make poetry a religion, to give it some priestly function. Otherwise, I’ve pocketed a handful of dictums: Hopkins in a letter to Bridges, ‘Take breath and read it with the ears’; also, a phrase Seamus Heaney misattributes to Mandelstam, ‘The Incarnation sets the world free for play’. Stunning.


What poets have mattered to you over the past year?

Jorie Graham’s Sea Change has been a recent discovery – it’s difficult, unstable ground, one of the more moving mediations on climate change and the larger state of things I’ve read. Really good public poetry. And her use of negative prefixes has really stuck with me. She’s been important. I’m grateful for Cliff Fell’s poems. Fell sets up large pressure systems—essay poems—in which the lyric voice rises to break the surface tension of the larger flow. In its Dante-esque scope, in its prolonged and evident apprenticeship, and in its pitch and reach across the several keyboards of the language, his stuff is brilliant.


What New Zealand poets have you been drawn to over time?

Again, Baxter loomed large early on—my Father worked with Colin Durning, Baxter’s friend, and so James K. was part of the fabric of things. I love the work of Bethell—she’s been important. More recently, it’s been Curnow and O’Sullivan.


Any other areas you are drawn to read in?

Well, apart from essays in poetics, I’m often reading contemplative theology: Augustine’s Confessions, most recently. I love a good essay on any topic—love the essay form. I’ve been slowly working through Chaim Potok’s novels which have been utterly captivating—My Name is Asher Lev, a story about a gifted artist born into a community of New York Hasidic Jews. And then, I read a lot of kids’ picture books at the moment.


1423778022214-1 1423778022214-11423778022214-1


In my review of your debut collection, Otherwise, I identified one of the joys of the collection: ‘the way the poem grounds you in the marvellous detail of the here and now so you feel earthed, and then uplifts you to the transcendental possibilities of elsewhere.’ What are key things for you when you write a poem?

Mostly, poems begin with the musical suggestiveness of a line, or the emotional implications of an image, rather than in some premeditated transection of marvellous and the everyday. A poem is a thing made out of words pitched through some emotional acuity, in which language is pushed towards the condition of music and affective image. If there’s a trajectory I’m inclined to trace, that’s simply a piece with life more generally. It’s how I am. The coordinates you’ve remarked on—the marvellous of the here and now, transcendental possibilities—well, shoot, that’s the shape of things.


The poems are steeped in love. Did you set out to navigate love in poetic forms or is it a key and enduring ingredient in your ink?

No, nothing as confident as navigating love—gosh, I’m not sure how one could do that without stunning presumption. I just went fishing for poems. But it does seem to be a recurrent question in the collection—love’s strangeness, I hope, rather than the stuff that well-worn word normally conjures. I’m very interested in the way that the lyric, traditionally being concerned with a speaking ‘I’, can become a space of loving address. I’m not thinking of some poly-vocal instability, nor of self-esteeming self-talk; I’m thinking more of the kind of address you find in the Psalms – ‘why are you cast down within me, o my soul?’ It’s a kind of excoriating, unflinching yet loving address to the estranged self; I’m excited by finding ways to open the lyric up to that.


I mentioned the spiritual steppingstones in the collection (a particular path the reader can explore). Is poetry a vital means to explore your spirituality?

No, I’d not say that. At times the process of writing, with its emotional accuracies, serves as a mirror. You know, that moment when the finished thing speaks up and looks back and you say ‘gosh, is that who I am, is that what it is! Mercy!’ But no, poetry isn’t some kind of intuitive scripture; it’s not prayer. Prayer—that’s exploration. I’m very interested in prayer as a kind of activity which takes place in the middle voice (rather than the active or passive moods)—a kind of led, participation in an action one didn’t initiate. There is some kinship with the experience of writing a poem—negative capability, and so on. But there are important differences too.


Your critical book, Seamus Heaney and the Adequacy of Poetry, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press this year. What vital discoveries did you make about poetry as you wrote and researched this book?

The book is a critical history of Seamus Heaney’s prose poetics—the poetics which culminate in his brilliant volume of lectures, The Redress of Poetry. It’s the story of a young Catholic poet who abandons his childhood faith, transferring much of that religious impulse to poetry and a theory about poetry’s sufficiency in the face of history. It’s the story of a poet who believes his art has a restorative, morally pure function in the midst of the violence of public life—for Heaney, the Ulster Troubles. It’s also the story of the son of a cattle dealer from Co. Derry, who wins a scholarship to University and becomes one of the most lauded poets of his time—Harvard professorship, Nobel Prize, etc. So I learned a great deal about contemporary poetics and this post-Christian age. Personally, it helped me to sort out my own thinking on some key questions around poetry and life—for example, that I do not feel any need to ascribe to art some redemptive agency. Also, that I don’t believe a poem is morally pure or true by virtue of its self-verifying ‘rightness’—some poems are beautiful lies, and this problem should interest us.


What irks you in poetry?

Moral smugness; a lyric self-regard which cuts out the reader; despair as an existential pose; free-verse which is really prose with line-breaks; a lack of musicality; forms which are not needful.


What delights you?

An ear at work—alive to the mnemonic possibilities and serious play of language pushed towards a condition of music. A lyric voice which is undone in its moment of saying—the suspicion the poem has cost the poet something. A full keyboard of language and register in use (what could be more democratic?) Fully employed forms of which one becomes blithely unaware in their unfolding.


Some poets argue that there are no rules in poetry and all rules are to be broken. Do you agree? Do you have cardinal rules? Do you have rules you particularly like to break?

I guess I want to ask What is this talk of rules? A successful poem is not a matter of rule-keeping or breaking, but of faithfulness—trust in the possibilities of language and the various poetic traditions. Some forms have constraints, and I am very interested in the possibilities generated by working within and against these constraints. The question is not whether to use free-verse or strict forms, it’s about what’s needful, about the way each form sets up a micro-economy of agency and possibility within language. Free-verse, in an apparent paradox, foregrounds a kind of existential bind of constantly having to choose, having to assert control over language, to use it as a means of expression. In terza rima, on the other hand, one is constantly getting ahead of oneself (with the b-rhyme in the tercet) while glancing back from where you’ve been; it’s a promissory kind of form, constantly entrusting itself to unknown possibilities.


Finally if you were to be trapped for hours (in a waiting room, on a mountain, inside on a rainy day) what poetry book would you read?

Probably, right now, I’d take Thomas Merton’s Collected Poems, for its utter strangeness. It includes a very compelling and haunting sequence on the cargo cults in Papua New Guinea. I waded through it in my early twenties – probably due a revisit. And, given his surrealist edge, a waiting room inside a rainy mountain would be an ideal fit.


Auckland University Press page

Martin Edmond to chair session with recipients of PM’s Awards for Literary Achievement

Lunchtime Event – The Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement | Friday 23rd October 12pm | Unity Books Wellington


Recipients for Non-Fiction, Fiction & Poetry will read and discuss their work

Chaired by Martin Edmond, Recipient of the 2015 Michael King Writer’s Fellowship

Friday 23rd October, 12-12:45pm
at Unity Books Wellington
57 Willis Street

All welcome!

Some poetry fans pick a recent favourite NZ poetry read – and my giveaway bundle

Thanks for sharing these. I put all the names in a hat and drew out Nicola Easthope. I will send you a wee bundle of poetry books. Can you email me your postal address please?


Sarah Jane Barnett: Congratulations on your 500th post! What an achievement and also such a contribution to New Zealand poetry readers. The book I’m enjoying at the moment is Joan Fleming’s Failed Love Poems. It’s an intense read and I feel immersed in the characters, especially in the second section. The poem ‘The invention of enough’ blew my mind!


Harvey Molloy: One book that comes to mind is Native Bird by Bryan Walpert.  It’s such a well-crafted, polished book. There’s a diversity of poetic forms and tones so the work’s quite dynamic.  There’s also a certain reticence in places, a skirting around painful issues which I find quite refreshing  – – at times emotions are understated and there’s a control and restraint which I find quite moving; the poetry is at times actively self-conscious but never cold or impersonal (for example the poem, ‘Ōakura’).  I’ll be coming back to this book.


Sian Robyns: Airini Beautrais’ Dear Neil Roberts had me enthralled enraged and weeping. To paraphrase ‘History Books’ (p 43), she admitted Neil Roberts into our histories and gave us a harrowing reminder of the particular awfulness of Muldoon’s New Zealand. Sadly, we still maintain a silence closely resembling stupidity.

Can I have two? I also loved Jennifer Compton’s Mr Clean and the Junkie. I loved the story, the sense of place, and that swooping, interfering, conversational, self-aware authorial voice.


Crissi Blair: I loved Caoilinn Hughes’ Gathering Evidence which I had from the library after hearing Gregory O’Brien talking to Kim Hill about her marvellous first lines. Congratulations on your 500th post Paula. You are doing a great job at spreading the poetry word!


Nicola Easthope: One Aotearoa poetry book I have enjoyed this year (there are so many) is Janet Frame’s The Goose Bath, winner of the 2007 Montana NZ Book Awards. I have come late to Janet’s poetry (having gobbled up her prose at university in the late 80s) and love meeting her flaring imagination and dance of language through poems with apparently innocent beginnings that usually turn, back and forth, between the light and the dark of her life.The entire collection leaves me fizzing and aching with appreciation.


Lara Anderson:

The body is a nest alive with new song
The brain is fluent in ghost
The tongue is rich with poetry ~ Siobhan Harvey from ‘Cumulus’ in Cloudboy Otago University Press, 2014

These are just a few of my favourite lines in a book of NZ poetry that I have read and re-read this year. Using the metaphor of clouds to express her feelings and to give poetic form to her son. Harvey is at times both confronted and confronting. You would think that over an extended piece you would get tired of the cloud metaphor but it provides a cohesion that allows the reader to trace the ever changing cloudscapes – like watching the weather dance across the city in time-lapse fashion. Every time I re-read her work I garner something new from it.

Anyway, thank you for your 500 wonderful posts!


Susan Wardell: I stole away from evening toddler-ing duties for a full hour to attend the launch of Emma Neale’s Tender Machines. For the first three days I kept the book lovingly tucked in it’s friendly brown-paper bag, carrying it around in my over-sized, multipurpose parenting handbag, and stealing it out just a few times a day, in the gaps between work-work and home-work, to savour the poems one, or maybe (greedily) two, at a time – along with the salted crackers keeping my ‘morning’ sickness at bay – then carefully replacing it. Parked by the road or outside the house, while my daughter squirmed/sang/ate raisins in the back seat, I cried more than a bit, and more than once, as I read Emma’s poignant, humourous, gentle, and sometimes brutally-true poems about, well… about life. To find something that could capture, without reifying, the beauty and fragility of the mundane and domestic, reading the micro everyday of mealtimes and bedtimes into the macro of our uncertain global times…. it is special. I don’t believe I had ever read what I could call a ‘true’ poem about parenting before I read Emma’s (earlier) work. This collection, too, became a lifeline, another level at which to process my own experience, emotion, as a mother and a woman and a citizen of a broken world. I breathed. It was ok to be human after all. I forgave myself as the book came out of it’s paper sheath permanently and, in the space of only a week, gained nutella fingerprints, sand in the page creases, water bottle stains, and dog ears. I finished it and cried a bit more into the spaghetti, not sure whether to blame hormones or metaphors. This collection is personal in a tender and unapologetic way, political in a raw and thoughtful way, beautiful in a subtle, tangible, heart-lifting way. It is both grounded and soaring; it is both the heartbeat and the wind. It came at just the right moment for me personally, in the way poetry often does. But I am also pleased to think of it’s permanence now, in print; it will remain as a beautiful little signpost in the history, the story, of NZ poetry… should the archaeologists of the future unearth my well-loved copy, they will know us better for it.


Kathryn Crookenden: Congratulations on your 500th post for NZ Poetry Shelf and thank you for all your efforts to promote poetry in New Zealand. I enjoy reading the blog, especially the reviews and the interviews with poets.

I have enjoyed reading Frances Samuel’s Sleeping on Horseback this year. I got it out of the library twice and then bought my own copy because there were so many poems that I enjoyed and wanted to keep going back to. Through her poems I have travelled with Chinese poets and Russian writers, visited Japan and Latvia in summer, and considered how to draw spires and towers. I like her wry humour and sharp observations. My favourite poem in the collection is ‘Just twinkling in the moonlight’ with its baby ‘all shiny with the moon.’ I’d also like to mention the gardening anthology, The Earth’s Deep Breathing, which has been a good companion for the last few weeks as I’ve been getting my own garden into shape, and Glenn Colquhoun’s The Art of Walking Upright which I read earlier this year – there are some beautiful kuia honoured in his poems.


Maureen Sudlow: I am currently reading the collected poems of Ruth Dallas, published by the University of Otago Press, and I am struck again with the breadth and depth of her writing.  Some of her work is influenced by the early Chinese poets, and some returns to the strong heritage of her own environment and upbringing. Ruth also includes haiku, which are one of my favourite poetic forms, and which are not often included in general poetry collections.

Her poems are gathered into five groups that show changes to Ruth’s writing over time.  I particularly love ‘Felled Trees’:

Nobody has come to burn them,
Long green grass grows up between them.
Up between white boughs that lie
Dead and empty, dry,
That once were full of leaves and sky.

and ‘Night Rain’

Needles of the rain
Restitch the linen of the flesh

The rich variety of her writing brings me back to read again and again.  If you have no other New Zealand Poet on your shelves, you must at least have Ruth Dallas.  Ruth has gone but she has left a treasure trove of words behind for us to enjoy.


Helen Anderson: I am very pleased to have the opportunity to write about C.K Stead’s Collected Poems 1951 – 2006. This was a very welcome gift that has sat beside my bed all year for dipping into. It was published in 2008 and came to me via Hard to Find book store having never been opened!  I had the privilege of being in Professor Stead’s  classes far too many years ago and reading his text The New Poetic published back in 1964 accounted for my first experience of some understanding of the poetic enterprise. Collected Poems is full of surprises, the range is extraordinary and the collection includes previously unpublished work. It is an ongoing lesson about the power of language to invoke memory, to rebuild perception and to take us beyond our boundaries when crafted by a poet who is serious, playful, cynical and optimistic and an artist.