Monthly Archives: March 2018

12 Questions for the Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry finalists: Elizabeth Smither





Congratulations on your short-list placing Elizabeth!


What poetry books have you read in the past year?

Everything by Wislawa Szymborska and the Penguin Modern Poets series (3 poets in each clutch purse-sized collection): Emily Berry/Anne Carson/Sophie Collins; Malika Booker/Sharon Olds/Warsan Shire etc.


What other reading attracts you?

Almost anything. At the moment I am re-reading Rex Stout and the yellow pyjama-wearing detective Nero Wolfe.


Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection.

I never discover a theme until a collection is put together. The connections between individual poems can be as subtle and perverse as the most delicate rhyme or rhythm.


Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being?

Perhaps the secret life of animals?


Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

‘The heart heals itself between beats’ because it was a commission with an extra scoop of fear attached.


What matters most when you write a poem?

Depth and uncertainty.


What do you loathe in poetry?

Nothing. It’s important not to loathe anything.


Where do you like to write poems?

Propped up on a bank of pillows in bed, with the concert programme on the radio and perhaps a glass of wine.


What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

The chutzpah of our independent publishers; a tendency for too much adulation.


Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

Margaret Atwood and Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the Aldeburgh festival. I read first and sat down between them, shivering.


If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

I think I’d do a Dead Poets session. Keats and Shelley, Robert Lowell, William Empson, John Crowe Ransom, Tomas Tranströmer, Szymborska, of course… the possibilities are endless. It might have something of the bitchy tone of ‘The Real Housewives of Melbourne’.  To chair it one of the Paulas: Green or Morris.


Night Horse AUP author page




Albert Wendt is reading at The Thirsty Dog




Talofa, Everyone,

I’m giving a poetry reading at the THIRSTY DOG TAVERN, 469 Karangahape Road, Auckland, on Tuesday 3 April, starting at 8 pm. Musicians will also be performing.


Al Wendt

David Hill asks whether writers exist in Taranaki on the Spin Off

A lot of authors born in Taranaki have left the province on a permanent basis, to become successful or dead. The successful ones are Anthony McCarten and Stuart Hoar from New Plymouth; Dinah Hawken, Gaelyn Gordon, and Fiona Kidman from Hawera; June Opie from Mokau; Fleur Beale from Inglewood; Shonagh Koea from Eltham; Graeme Lay from Opunake, also Jackie Sturm, quondam wife of James K Baxter, and a much nicer human being to deal with; and Sylvia Ashton-Warner from Stratford. The dead one was Frank S Anthony of Midhirst, who wrote his gentle, innocent Me and Gus stories of dairy farms up skinny shingle roads and tongue-tied young men in hairy sports-coats, then sailed for England with a suitcase – a suitcase of manuscripts, and died from TB in a Bournemouth boarding house in 1927.

See full feature here




Lots of poets have connections to Taranaki but I would spotlight Michele Leggott who was born and raised in Stratford and whose latest book Vanishing Points offers  numerous returns. I am going to talk about this glorious book with Michele at some point this year for my blog. I loved it. One of my top poetry reads in 2017.

In the hammock: Jane Harper’s The Dry






Jane Harper is coming to AWF this year. I will miss her session as it clashes with mine but her debut novel is a top read. Now based in Melbourne, Jane has worked as a print journalist in both the UK (her first home) and Australia. The Dry won the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an an unpublished manuscript and was an international bestseller. Her second novel, Force of Nature, awaits me – I got it in the revitalised Paradox Books in Devonport this week.

This is what Ron Rash says on the back cover: ‘The Dry is a marvelous novel that once begun is hard to put down, and once finished even harder to forget’.

Federal Agent Aaron Falk goes back to his small home town after the shocking murder of his childhood best friend and his family. He enters a spider’s web of suspicion and recrimination that is sticky with revelation and side swerves. To be snared in a weblike plot, with no idea of how things will unfold, with writing that is both fluid and evocative, is utterly satisfying. On the one hand you get a thrilling story, but on the other hand, you move deep into the humanity of place. People struggle to survive; they mourn, they fight, they deceive, they aid and they love.

I read this book in one afternoon and for the rest of the day it stuck to everything I did. Highly recommended.


Jane Harper website here








The Poetry Books Society UK list of 100 women poets to read now includes a few New Zealanders

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I encouraged locals to vote on this so delighted to see some of my picks  made the list: Tusiata Avia, Jenny Bornholdt and Hera Lindsay Bird.

This seems like a very timely time to have my book on reading New Zealand women’s poetry in the production pipeline.

You can see the full PBS list here

Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh on TVNZ’s Sunday


    • Sunday 18 Mar

    She’s a runner, a writer, a fighter, a scholar, a mother and a teacher. She’s also New Zealand’s Poet Laureate. Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh is a dynamic academic who wants to bust open people’s ideas of poetry and where it belongs because – she says – poetry belongs everywhere.


  • watch here









Poetry Shelf review: Therese Lloyd’s The Facts



Therese Lloyd  The Facts Victoria University Press 2018


For three months I tried

to make sense of something.

I applied various methods:

logic, illogic, meditation, physical exertion,

starvation, gluttony. Other things too

that are not necessarily the opposite of one another,

writing and reading for example.

But the absurdity of the thing

made all attempt at fact-finding evaporate;

a sort of invisible ink streamed from my pen

the more data I wrote down: facts are things driven,

as Anne Carson says, into a darkening landscape where other people

converse logically.

from ‘The Facts’


Therese Lloyd’s new collection resides in a captivating interplay of chords. You could say that any poetry book delivers chords whether aural, visual or thematic, and in the light of ideas and feelings. This book does it to a stunning degree. Once you start hunting for them – whether in harmony or not, between poems or within a single example – the rewards are myriad.

Hera Lindsay Bird endorses the book on the back cover: ‘The Facts is mesmerisingly beautiful, and shocking in its intensity. This is already one of my favourite New Zealand books. It won’t make you feel better.’

I didn’t read the back until I had read the poems as I like to start a book with a clean reading slate (if that is possible).  I am thinking of the way reading this book sets up an arc between comfort and discomfort; we are the interlopers into what Therese chooses to let us see.

We enter a collection in debt to a doctoral thesis (IIML), and I am curious about the ideas picked up in the academic component.

This might be the first cluster of chords: shifts between ideas and feelings provoked by the writings of poet Anne Carson and the experience of a broken marriage and a toxic love affair.  This might be an impetus to navigate relations with art, in itself forging a chord with Anne.

I am absorbing the chords as though they flicker between light and dark – and the poem resembles a cinematic space with the external world, and its pressing demands, blacked out so it is just you and the poem. This what flicks for me:

love notlove

truth lies

Carson LLoyd

facts notfacts

pain joy

mother daughter

daughter husband

daughter lover

presence absence

beginning end

end beginning

beauty beauty

deep breath shallow breath

here there

intimacy distance

heart mind

sweet sour

slow stalling

debris order

miracle incidental

share notshare

exposure kept hidden

where you live where you don’t live

mixed clarity

see see

poet poem

poem story


At the core of the book the title poem, the standout-lift-you-off-your-feet poem, achieves the blinding intensity that Hera speaks of: raw, surprising, probing, accumulative, fearless, cutting, detail rich, lucid, testing. On either side the poems offer more subtle chords. Yet any element in my list for ‘The Facts’ might drive a poem. I particularly love the surprising turns of ‘Mr Anne Carson’.

Therese’s collection takes you deep into personal experience that gets hooked up in the poetry of another, in matted ideas and the need to write as a form of survival. It makes you feel as much as it makes you think. It is a riveting read.



I moved all the holiday reading

to the spare room

to keep the literature and the art books


I say squarely in the middle

of the fluffed-up sunroom sofa, I am


not to disturb the cushions

cushion—a curious word

its function of support

is ancillary to its attractiveness

and that’s why cushions have covers

in colourful fabric—I become

an ornament

another word I like

because everything here is decoration

everything here is placed

The story of the things here is not new


from ‘Mr Anne Carson’


Victoria University Press page