Monthly Archives: December 2015

A blessing for my poem made into a sculpture: My Whangarei Sculpture Walkway photos


Whangarei Sculpture Walkway (by carpark of Te Matau o Pohe, Port Road, Whangarei

Yesterday Michael and I drove up to Whangarei with our dog Molly for the blessing of a sculpture. Thanks to Creative Northland, my poem, ‘Drift’,’ has been transformed into a steel sculpture by Miriam Von Mulert and the local firm, Culham Engineering.

It was such a lovely occasion. A small group of people gathered to contribute the blessing including my step sister, Kerry.

Andre Hemara from Whangarei District Council blessed the piece and made his mihi nui.

The Mayor, Sheryl Mai, and Deputy Mayor, Sharon Morgan spoke. When I think of Mayors I picture a legacy of men in suits at a distance (Bob Harvey a different case altogether) but to see these two women in cotton dresses speaking with such warmth and empathy I elt like it was West Auckland before the Super City.

I spoke and Miriam spoke and the very lovely Hinu from Creative Northland spoke.

We then shared water, tea and heavenly Christmas mince pies.


DSC_0409 DSC_0407

I loved the poetic possibilities of the work. The way it folded to seem like the empty page or a billowing sail or a blank canvas, The way it was both anchored and ready to drift like the young girl who left Whangarei at eighteen. When I first left school, having failed to some degree, and with no idea how to be or where to be in the world, I enrolled in night school and learnt Te Reo. I learnt to acknowledge my mountain and my river. When I set sail into the unknown of the world, I took this anchor with me. The poem became my mihi from the seventeen year old to the present me. There is a strong line tethering us.


Andre blessing the piece.



The Mayor and Deputy Mayor made beautiful speeches. The Mayor said she would like to see more poetry on the walkway.


DSC_0415 DSC_0416




With Kerry.


The Mayor holds me up.


Andre sampling the excellent mince pies.



Hinu and Michael




Miriam and I


The engineer



A warm thank you to everyone who made this possible.

Poetry Shelf, a little poetry thought: I am currently loving Bryan Walpert’s Native Bird

Hoopla Native bird web   Hoopla Native bird web

‘You see the day as a kind of wind’

I am currently loving Bryan Walpert‘s Native Bird (Mākaro Press, 2015). Reading this book is like entering a restorative glade. Or a slow paced European movie where the camera takes one long slow delicious pan that sweeps and lingers and stalls and accumulates the faintest detail, the hint of movements, the tremor of action. And out of the long gorgeous sweep of reading, you get place, character, story. Or think of this rhythm as a sticky ribbon to which detail adheres. The detail catches you. Phrases, whole lines, stanzas. The sound of each line strikes your ear – beautifully, honey-like. The world slows because this is one of those books where the poems reach out and hold you in the grip of attention. I adore it.


from ‘Wayward ode’

I’ve rewritten this three times. How many

transformations must it take before you hear me

call through this drafty window of ink?





Congratulations to Nina Powles, winner of Biggs Poetry Prize

Poetry Shelf is delighted to share this news!

Biggs Poetry Prize winner announced

18 December 2015

Collection of poetic biographies wins the Biggs Family Prize

Image of Nina Powles: 2015 winner of the Biggs Family Prize for Poetry. (Photographer: Caitlin Salter)


A collection of five poetic biographies of famous and lesser-known historical New Zealand women has been awarded the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry.

Written by Nina Powles as part of her 2015 Master of Arts (MA) in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML), the book-length folio, titled Luminescent, has been described by Wellington poet Jenny Bornholdt as ‘engaging and colourful and alive to all kinds of possibilities’.

Although she started writing poems less than two years ago, Nina is already the author of a chapbook, Girls of the Drift, published by Seraph Press in 2014, from which a poem was selected for the 2014 edition of Best New Zealand Poems.

Nina, who went straight onto the MA after completing an honours degree in English Literature and Chinese at Victoria, says the opportunity to study at Master’s level has been a significant boost for her writing.

‘The MA programme gave me the tools and the confidence to call myself a ‘writer’ for the first time. More importantly, it gave me a community.’


For rest of article see here.

Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Shelf: Holly Painter makes some picks


CLASS-Spider-CVF-100_1024x1024 large_9781877448195

I revisited Emma Neale’s Spark (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2008) as a new parent, and found even more to love. It still renders the mundane brilliant, seizes the poetic and humorous opportunities afforded by the development of speech and language, and puts front and center the child’s and the poet’s confrontations with realities pleasant and not. This time, I also noticed more particularly the small ways in which the collection places family life and writing life side-by-side. It’s a hopeful book for a reader whose mind is muddied by sleeplessness.

At the other end of the life cycle, in Harbouring (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2015), poet S. C. Gordon processes the death of her partner less than a year into the relationship. It is painful, cathartic, honest, and tender, and despite what the title might suggest, neither seeks nor offers easy emotional solace, preferring to do it the hard and lasting way.

This year, I also enjoyed Spider Boys (Auckland: Penguin NZ and William Morrow, 1995), by Singapore-born New Zealander Ming Cher. The unaffected bare-bones storytelling, in combination with the fleeting setting of rough, pre-developed 1950s Singapore and historically specific Singlish, left me tantalized. Fortunately, Cher has just put out a sequel, Big Mole (Singapore: Epigram, 2015), which I look forward to reading.

Finally, I’ve come around to podcasts as a literary genre (and reinvention of 1930s radio drama?) via Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink’s warmly dystopian Welcome to Night Vale. Purportedly a community radio broadcast from an American desert town, the fortnightly short stories are bizarre, addictive, and delightfully seeded with the most unexpected literary allusions.


Holly Painter

Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Marty Smith makes some picks


A poem can come into the room quietly but I hope for the ones that sneak up to grab me by the neck and rattle my brains. That’s Anis Mojgani – I love it when you get someone new who is rich, rich, rich. His power keeps on springing out; no matter how many times I read and reread his poems, they refuse to dull and they keep startling up silvery:

‘the sickle makes its own rules


how it glints in the moonlight

how it shines like a one worded whisper’


I love also the stinging beauty of Jennifer Compton’s Now You Shall Know (Five islands Press) and her wryly observant voice: now tough, now tender, now distant, now close. She has space and silence and a side-swiping humour and she doesn’t back off from anything, not even her mother-in-law’s dying: from ‘My Mother-In-Law Comes to Poetry Late in Life’

then as the walls of her brain cells broke

scrambled but yes dazzling intimacies

spilt out


Since I’m currently at work on presenting the people of the racing world through the vernacular, I’m reading non-fiction. Gerald Murnane’s memoir of the turf, Something for the Pain is the last and quietest of my picks. I love his courtly phrasing and his acerbic humour, and his deep love and fascination with the racing world, which for him offers more than religion or philosophy. It doesn’t hurt that when he’s drunk at dinner parties he likes to argue that horseracing has as much to teach us as Shakespeare.


On my waiting list is Voices from Chernobyl, the oral history by Svetlana Alexievich, presented through layers and layers of spoken witness. I was less than a 1000km from Chernobyl when the reactor blew, out in the air eating leafy greens and touching dust in the three days panicked authorities were hard on denial (the radiation levels are normal) and the nuclear cloud passed over, and rained on us. Therefore I have a lightly radiated interest of my own in the particulars, trivial as it is in the face of the terrible and compelling experiences of people who were less than 1km from the reactor and who were also allowed to stay outside.


Anis Mojgani is coming to NZ for the Wellington festival. YouTube clip. Festival details. Full progamme out in January.


Marty Smith

Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: David Eggleton makes some picks


684a89cf-1c7b-4ee7-a686-f3e03271a543    1426649662558



Some of my most intense local poetry reading experiences this year have been as a literary editor, working my way through hundreds of poems and finding something wonderful in many of them, and then cherry-picking from these for Landfall 229 and Landfall 230; but beyond that the stack of new slim volumes looms, and I’ve elected to mention four poetry collections I enjoyed musing over.

‘No, not Bali or Samarkand. Take/ me down to the Dominion Road . . .’ Peter Bland commands in his collection Expecting Miracles (Steele Roberts), drawing you in immediately with his canon-echoing rhythms and decluttered simplicity. His poems have a casual, conversational tone that belies their craft, bolstered by an oldster’s genial humour and air of wry bemusement at the oddity of the quotidian: he’s a metropolitan in a provincial culture.

  Gregory O’Brien‘s Whale Years (Auckland University Press) navigates its way around the South Pacific as if following the drift of ocean currents. In this collection, he’s a beachcomber pointing to curious flotsam and jetsam. His poems are mantras, notations, journal jottings, gatherings-together of cadenced imagery, and compelling in the way they combine astrological zodiacs, weather balloons, shipwrecks, islands. Collectively, the sense is of a star-trek odyssey, recapitulating ecological markers of the anthropocene era, Notably, too, the exoticism of travel helps generate a semi-arcane vocabulary, serving to align his verses with the baroque wing of New Zealand poetry: there where Kendrick Smithyman sculls in the sunset.

I was also very taken by the skewed reminiscences in Morgan Bach‘s first collection Some of us eat the seeds (Victoria University Press). Spiky, terse, yet also lyrical and tonally subtle, they recount a sense of adolescent awkwardness and estrangement, almost as if at times she’s ogling the outside world and its emotional coldness from her own private igloo, growing up in small town provincial New Zealand and longing to be elsewhere. But if she offers a return to childhood as a rejection of the sugar puff Disneyland of a commodified Nineties environment, she does this by crafting a version of Banksy’s subversive Dismaland: ironic, comic, sharply observant about the advertised ‘great expectations’ we have been led to expect from the product called ‘Life’.

Her poetic intuitions result in a cleverly-written-up sequence of what might be termed out-of-body experiences: the feeling of towering over shuffling Japanese passers-by in Tokyo; watching her screen-actor father die successively in movie after movie; and then ultimately a kind of ecstatic insight that turns her collection full circle: ‘the way you felt swimming/ in the rain that hammered/ when you put your head above water to see/ lightning flash in the pitch of the sky’ (‘The swimming pool’).

Frankie McMillan‘s There are no horses in heaven (Canterbury University Press) contains a multitude of poems rife with the storyteller’s art, proving her a kind of fabulist, distilling states of enchantment and sometimes states of disenchantment into a few lines ever so lightly and delicately, so that her shortish poems seem to musically chime with one another. And it’s as if you can carry them with you wherever you go. As she puts it: ‘What I want to say is something small/ enough to hold within the crook of my arm/ and that is not the half of it’.

And then there’s her poem ‘Observing the ankles of a stranger’, about a tourist being startled out of her wits when Ruaumoko’s seismic fists of fury pummeled central Christchurch almost into the ground on February 22nd, 2011. Here enchantment— or metamorphosis — takes the form of feeling lost in a familiar habitat as the dust settles. We need more such terrific poems.

David Eggleton

Expecting-Miracles-cover-web    nohorses_catalogue


Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Olivia Macassey makes some picks

1415925155755  1411440756602


I’m among the many fans of Roger Horrocks’ tour de force The Song of the Ghost in the Machine: Roger’s book is an incredible pleasure to read – thoughtful, questioning, by turns meditative and restless, brimming with intellectual curiosity and energy.

For circumstantial reasons, I often take a while to get hold of poetry, so several of the books that engrossed me in 2015 were published in the previous year. I loved the intelligent, sensitive precision, lyricism and sheer scope of Chris Tse’s wonderful first full collection How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes. Anna Jackson’s I, Clodia and Other Portraits is clever and witty but also intense and strangely moving, with figures whose inner lives haunted me for weeks.

I have enjoyed the sustained, curious voice of Stephanie Christie’s recent Carbon Shapes and Dark Matter, which takes little for granted; and felt rewarded by spending time with Michael Harlow’s selected poems Sweeping the Courtyard and with Leicester Kyle’s posthumously published The Millerton Sequences. I want also to mention the album Desert Fire by The Floral Clocks (White/ von Sturmer), which came out last Christmas – the lyrics are spare, evocative poems by Richard von Sturmer.

Writing this is reminding me that there is so much poetry I’m still trying to get hold of and read. The world is full of poems! It’s a good feeling.

Olivia Macassey


Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Kerry Hines makes some picks


1415925155755 1430782455450


Some of the recent (2014/15) collections I’ve enjoyed, thought about and quoted in my reading notebook over the past year include Stefanie Lash’s Bird Murder, Leilani Tamu’s The Art of Excavation, Anna Jackson’s I, Clodia, Janis Freegard’s The Glass Rooster, and Mary Cresswell’s Fish Stories.


During the year I also had a couple of lucky finds at a chapbook festival. In 2009, CUNY’s ‘Lost & Found’ Poetics Document Initiative produced The 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference: Robert Creeley’s Contexts of Poetry, with Daphne Marlatt’s Journal Entries. It provides a transcription of Creeley’s talk and Marlatt’s notes from her attendance at the conference – not a write-up, more moments of quotes and responses including phrases, diagrams, references to myth and psychology. The bio note for Marlatt included an extract from a 1979 interview in which she says, ‘I love that phrase, the body of language. And I’m trying to realize its full sensory nature as much as possible,’ going on to note her interest in ‘what it is to live in this world, to be mortal, which I take to be in the body’ – a sentiment I’m interested to find has become an emerging theme in other reading and discussion I’ve chanced on recently.

The second chapbook was Simone Muench’s Trace, published by Black Lawrence Press last year. All of its 26 poems are titled ‘Wolf Cento’, emphasising both their use of a form which incorporates lines and phrases from a variety of sources and the rich, multidimensional figure of the wolf which ranges through them. A very brief sample from the first poem follows – this and several others are included in a PDF on the publisher’s website

Their jaws open – coral

in the darkness. I do not know

who has opened the window.

They sing with their mouths full of earth.


Kerry Hines


Art_of_Excavation_cover-726x1024-213x300 large_9780473276492



Tuesday Poem draws a circle after five years of poems – and what of my blogs?

Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 9.24.31 AM

There are a number of unpaid people who work tirelessly and creatively to promote NZ books and authors.  I was sad to see the end of this wonderful project but completely understand that circles need to be drawn. Bravo on five wonderful years. We will miss you. Thanks Mary McCallum and the Tuesday Poem team.

Perhaps a fitting moment to salute Graham Beattie! Cheers for all your hard work! Wonderful!

Every December I face my blogs and question their survival – I assess the toll on me and my own writing. This year it seems worse as I need to protect time to write my big book in 2016/ 2017. Yet I can’t cope with the loss of the blogs. I see two black holes. Poetry gets so little attention in media in New Zealand whether for children and adults.

I can never review all the poetry books that come my way and that does not mean (as one anxious poet proposed) I do not love books I have not managed to feature. This is an anxiety for me at times.

To have so many poets respond to my recent letter to share  favourite reads, is a boost. It seems we have a vital poetry community that stretches beyond localised pockets.

On the one hand I want to reduce the time I spend on these blogs, but on the other hand I want to find ways to strengthen them. To widen the audience. To celebrate the length and breadth of poetry we produce. Hmm!


Poetry Shelf review: Lynn Jenner’s Lost and Gone Away — Lynn is unafraid to venture upon unstable ground in order to follow her trains of thought

1437428599707   1437428599707


Lynn Jenner  Lost and Gone Away  Auckland University Press  2015


Lynn Jenner’s new book, Lost and Gone Away, is a terrific read, a challenging, thought-snapping, sidetracking, stalling read. A must read. The book, as the title suggests, navigates and stretches towards lost things. It is a hybrid work that started life as a doctoral thesis, and is in turn, poetry, prose, essay, memoir, and a smudging of genre to the point that it is unimportant where one genre begins and another ends. ‘Things’ matter but this is a work that places people at its white-hot core, and from here radiates missing memory, experience, time, place, events.

The book is in four parts. Part One, ‘The ring story,’ pursues Lynn’s mother’s ring that went missing in the Christchurch earthquake. Part Two, ‘The panorama machine,’ is like a stream-of-conscious outflow of that which is lost. Part Three, ‘Point Last Seen,’ focuses on missing people. Part Four, ‘I ring the bell anyway,’ navigates The Holocaust.’ Writing becomes a way of reaching and tethering traces of what has gone. It is, and can only ever be, subjective, elusive, fleeting, partial. The generous white space that gives the text room to waver and shift heightens the allure of fragmentation — yet as you read you identify currents that link: the stream-of-consciousness movement, the concatenation of ideas.


Lynn trawls eclectic places for material: books, anecdotes, conversations with strangers, conversations with friends, museums, personal experience, invented experience, inherited experience, dreams, white space. The thinking and writing process is guided by acute contemplation, critical thinking, doubt, self-defensiveness, thought drifts, accidents, discoveries, questions. As she searches for her way into and through knotty issues, she identifies approaches she connects with and those she does not (Michael King is a stand-out example of the latter). The pieces accumulate and build a thought mosaic as opposed to a thought fresco. Always there is a taut wire to the personal –no matter where thinking leads, no matter how distant in view of time and place, this is an intimate and utterly personal inquiry.

For me, the book is a treasure chest of curious things, fascinating things — but it is not just a novelty box. This book takes you to essential human questions and reminds you that there is no singular response and no singular way to write your response. How do you face individual loss? How do you face national loss? How do you face the Holocaust? Global crimes against humanity? How do you write what you have not experienced? How do you listen to the voice that is other? A waterfall of questions.

The questions stick but little pieces of the book adhere, indelible upon your skin. The suitcase. The empty chair. The man in the Jewish museum telling his story, over and over. Finding beautiful words in the work of a prolific but unknown poet and using them in a poem. A dream’s impact on reading and writing. The carriages. The Polish children. The way you may unwittingly leave traces at a high-pitched frequency that readers may unwittingly pick up. The way Sappho appears and reappears.


Lost and Gone is an extraordinary read because it lays a gossamer net upon missing things and allows you to catch glimpses of what has gone, whether far from your life or close at hand. At work, and intensely present, is a mind foraging, delving, struggling, daring. Lynn is unafraid to venture upon unstable ground in order to follow her trains of thought — at times uncomfortable, at times surprising, always moving and shifting your point of view. This is a special book.


Auckland University Press page