Poetry Shelf The Summer Season: Poets pick poems – Bill Manhire picks Louise Wallace


Four Seasons on Poetry Shelf aims to widen the scope of voices, selections, opinions, poetry tastes, sidetracks, reading options in 2017 on the blog. Each season will be different.


First up, The Summer Season where, over the course of two weeks, New Zealand poets pick a favourite New Zealand poem and offer a few comments.

I have spent the past year reading, writing and researching my way through poetry by New Zealand women for my book. Sometimes a poem feels like a foreign country, a sea in which I haven’t the foggiest idea how to swim, and I feel like I am treading water, hopelessly. But sometimes, upon return, when the light catches the poem aslant (thanks Cilla McQueen!), I find myself swimming and it is heaven. Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing stroke, of navigating the tidal flow with different eyes. Different ears.

Reading outside your comfort zone, reading into the unfamiliar along with the much loved, is an absolute joy.

Yep, poetry is an absolute joy.


To launch the season, I am posting a poem Bill Manhire is very fond of:

‘Poi Girls’ by Louise Wallace (Since June, Victoria University Press, 2009).

Bill also suggested including a link to Louise’s excellent short note on the Best New Zealand Poems site. However Louise has granted permission to post both the poem and the comment. Thank you!

The Poi Girls

Kahu, Mere, and Faith
stand on the grass
by the corner.
They lean
on the fence and watch you
walk past –
spinning, twirling their poi.
The Poi Girls
say with their poi,
with each hard slap
of their poi.

On your way home
they’re in the same spot,
Kahu, Mere, and Faith.
Their older brothers and cousins
are fixing the car, out
on Mere’s lawn.
The boys stop as you
walk by.
They lean their hands
on the car’s sides and look out
from under the hood.
The Poi Girls
say with their poi.

You’re walking
down the dip
but you have left
your shoes at school.
The yellow seeds
stick to your feet,
and when you get up
the other side, The Poi Girls
are looking
at you.
The Poi Girls
say with their poi.
Piss off,
you tell them,
leave me alone.
You don’t need
their crap as well.

You stuff Pak ‘n Save bags
into white plastic
and tie
them up with string.
You walk past the corner
twirling and spinning,
you say with your Pak ‘n Save poi.
The Poi Girls chase you
down the street
but you are too little and fast
for them,
especially for Faith, the fat one,
the one with the lighter skin.

One day in the cloakroom
It’s just you and Thomas
and he tells you
you have beautiful eyes –
green and brown,
just like his girlfriend, Jade’s.
The Poi Girls burst in, twirling.
The Poi Girls
say with their poi,
your cheeks
pounding flush.

Your sister tells you
to run through the mud
and you say you will
and that you don’t even care.
So you run
and halfway you sink
to your waist
and down the dirt road
come The Poi Girls, slowing
to a stop.
The Poi Girls
say with their poi
and leave
with your sister
in tow, twirling.

It’s sunny but cold
that morning, on the way
to school.
Mere’s front lawn
is filled with cars,
and there are people in suits
and old koros with sticks
and The Poi Girls stand
out the front.
Mere doesn’t
look at you today,
so Kahu and Faith
glare twice as hard for her.
The Poi Girls’ poi
hang still
from their hands
and today
say nothing at all.

©Louise Wallace Since June, Victoria University Press, 2009.


Louise comments:  ‘ “The Poi Girls” is one of those rare poems that came to me almost fully-formed in the middle of the night. I scribbled it down then and there, and I wish this happened more often! I grew up in Gisborne and the essence of this poem comes from there. The poem is about childhood, curiosity and the nature of difference, but contains a certain menace too. Through the sound of the poi and its repetition I hoped to convey the weight and seriousness that events so often have when you experience them as a child.’


Best NZ Poems

Listen to the poem here.

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