A conversation and poem from the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize Finalists: Wes Lee

Wes Lee.jpg













They don’t do it anymore,
breathe into the mouth to save.

We had learnt it reluctantly,
lined up beside a recumbent dummy,

waiting to take our turn to kneel at that mouth.
The simplest things disturb –

at night when the fluoros shut off and the cover is pulled,
the tiles swabbed – there it lies open,

not even a ventriloquist’s dummy
is so exposed.


©Wes Lee    ‘Lifesaving’ won second place in The London Magazine‘s 2015 Poetry Competition



A conversation:


If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates? 

I have always admired truth-tellers: Anne Sexton (The Awful Rowing Toward God), Raymond Carver (All of Us), Denis Johnson (The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly), Dorothea Lasky (Thunderbird), Sharon Olds (Satan Says), Rachel Wetzsteon (Sakura Park), Claudia Rankine (Don’t Let Me Be Lonely), Douglas Wright (Laughing Mirror), Alice Anderson (Human Nature). To name a few.

One of my favourite poets at the moment is a Lovelock Paiute writer from Nevada, Adrian C. Louis (Ceremonies of the Damned), who blows my hair back, and makes me laugh out loud! He speaks such truths, I am in awe of him.

I also recently loved Michel Faber’s first book of poems on the subject of his late wife’s struggle with cancer: ‘Undying’. Brilliant book.

I am waiting to receive (through the mail) the Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon.


What do you want your poems to do?  

Sharon Olds has said that she wants her poems to do something useful. I agree with that.

I want my poems to be brave, to connect, to surprise. I want to trust my voice, to resist self-censorship; to learn something each day about my own drama, as I learn each day from other poets. A journey of surprise and discovery.


Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?  

I suppose a poem like: ‘Mania Come Back!’ which goes against the grain of the prevailing idea that the stable world is the desired world. It’s a poem that grinds against the flat plane of balance.


There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you? 

I read poetry every day, and often other people’s writing is a trigger. Not only poetry but articles, essays, interviews, world news, movies, etc. And of course lines come up from “nowhere” and set the thing off.


If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?





You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?


Probably poets I would like to meet, reading from the following collections:

Julian Stannard (The Parrots of Villa Gruber Discover Lapis Lazuli)

Michel Faber (Undying)

Vicki Feaver (The Book of Blood)

Elspeth Smith (Dangerous Cakes)

John Burnside (Black Cat Bone)

Martin Figura (Whistle)


Wes Lee is the author of Body, Remember (Eyewear Publishing, 2017), Shooting Gallery (Steele Roberts, 2016), and Cowboy Genes (Grist Books, University of Huddersfield Press, 2014). Her work has appeared in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018, New Writing Scotland, Westerly, The London Magazine, Landfall, Cordite, Poetry London, Irises: The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize Anthology 2017, and many other journals and anthologies. She has won a number of awards for her writing including the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award; The Short FICTION Writing Prize (University of Plymouth Press); The Bronwyn Tate Memorial Award. She is currently working on her third poetry collection, By the Lapels


The four finalists will read from their work at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 20 May, 3.15-4.15pm. Guest judge Eileen Myles will introduce the finalists and announce the winner.

Sarah Broom Poetry Prize page.




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