Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Pick: Carolyn McCurdie makes her picks


Hoopla Native bird webHoopla Native bird web


There has been so much poetry I’ve loved this year, but of course there are always some poems that anchor me, enlarge and challenge me, more than others. I have read no collection that did not give in this way. But some stand out.

Two NZ collections:

Native Bird by Bryan Walpert, Makaro Press 2015

Using metaphors of birds, the poet explores various tricky territories: being an immigrant, a father, a husband. Placed throughout the book are five poems with the title: ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Birding.’ The tone is quiet, meditative, often self-deprecating and full of clever word play, a joking that invites the reader in. These are warm, engaging poems. And beautiful. From the title poem, its context, a tramp through forest:

Gravity sings its sweet siren song –

sit, sit, sit –


Tender Machines by Emma Neale, Otago University Press 2015

Some of the tenderness here is that of all protective layers being stripped back. These poems are brave. They reach out and talk with the ‘subsonic heart’ (Alchemy, p21) as it grapples with the frazzle of life with a toddler, a teenager, with technology, with adult love and estrangement, and with poverty and privilege, a hurting planet. Yet the voice is alight with irrepressible dance and laughter. The poems plant their two feet, wave their cardboard sword, and swashbuckle.

From ‘Ross Creek’ p59:

for despair and anger

to burn again and again

right back to love –

it takes courage.


Two collections from elsewhere:

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve by Adrienne Rich, W.W. Norton 2011

It was the title of this book that hit me between the eyes and made me buy it. But for just those nights, poems like these are what you might reach for. From ‘Turbulence’ p24:

In the event put on

the child’s mask first. Breathe normally.


Cumulus by Robert Gray, John Leonard Press, 2012

The poet has collected these from his eight volumes as all that he wants to retain. I find their power overwhelming and can read them only slowly, a few at a time. Here is the Australian landscape as if from its core, the this-ness, here-ness, now-ness of sky, river, tree and surf, of street and rain against the window. From ‘Cyclone’ p253:

like the vast doom

drums of Japan,

on this tin-roofed




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Carolyn McCurdie




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