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

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