Poetry Shelf Winter Series: Jack Ross off-piste


Never give up

when you

get home after an undisclosed

absence abroad (say seven days)

to find your life in

chaos wife in hospital note

in red ink left on

the coffee table explanations given

gratis by your father who

can’t hear the doorbell nor

is he aware of any

of the names of any

of the main protagonists it’s

a rainy night and nothing

for it but to drive

to the hospital (wherever that

might be) and fight for

parking in the truncated parking

zone – crowded out by their

new building – make your way

to the curtained alcove hone

in on the source of

disturbance see her hear her

voice breathe deeply understand the

cat’s hysterical reaction but transcend

it hug her tell her

about the presents you’ve brought

back for her leave her

behind eventually having been seen

(not moved) by the doctors

then go home

to sleep


Jack Ross


Author note: This poem, ‘Never give up,’ seems to fit best into your category of ‘poems off-piste.’ It’s a pure transcript of experience, written at a time in which all the poetry I came out with seemed to demand elaborate amounts of scaffolding to make any sense at all.

Alistair Paterson printed it in Poetry NZ in 2012, and it’s also available online on a website linked to one of my fiction projects, The Annotated Tree Worship (forthcoming later this year). He queried the use of the word ‘hone’ – as in to ‘hone in’ on something – suggesting ‘home in’ instead. I kept on hearing ‘hone’ in my head, though, and so stuck to the immediacy of my first impression.

I feel that there’s a lesson there somewhere, though I’m not quite sure what it is: keep on cutting back on the undergrowth and be faithful to the actuality of experience, I suppose.


Jack Ross is the managing editor of Poetry New Zealand, and works as a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Massey University’s Auckland Campus. His latest book, The Annotated Tree Worship, is due out from Paper Table Novellas in late 2017. He blogs here.


From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!






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