A conversation and poem from the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize Finalists: Robyn Maree Pickens



Robyn Maree Pickens.jpg




Urban planning


Before we came to this country

there would’ve been another name

for the Spectacled Flying Fox

(an endangered bat).


I never understood how she could

disparage the indigenous people

yet work long nights giving out free food & bibles

(to the Aboriginal homeless & street children).


Some groups, she says, have taken

the rainbow as their symbol

without knowing its true meaning.

Instantly I want to cover myself with Pride tat

loll in the refracted light where the rainbow meets the mangroves

& hold my girlfriend

(the speed of coloured light).


After a day with her

hordes of yellow crested white cockatoos

descend cawing to roost in the crowns of brittle ribbonwoods

(their guano is killing the trees).


Aboriginal people were sleeping amongst the tropical vegetation

outside her hotel, she tells me. The council raked between the dense weave

collecting bedding & feces which were left to dry before removal

(the maintenance of urban planning).


The plaque in the hotel acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land

pays respect to the elders throughout the ages

but does not name the people, the mob, the community

(a sea-swimming turtle angles towards the milky way).


It is 5:30pm at the bus stop, a drunk man attempts to attack

two women. No one bats an eyelid. Outside my hotel

it is a person I discover, not a machine, breaking down, rupturing

(I remember that under blue light veins are not visible).


The tiny ants come into my hotel room

appearing first on the white bathroom tiles

to run over my bathroom toe & later my bedroom ear lobe

(you and I were kissing but some countries cut that out).


©Robyn Maree Pickens



A conversation


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

Three books in particular come to mind: The Limits by Alice Miller (2014), Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (2016), Big Energy Poets: Ecopoetry Thinks Climate Change edited by Heidi Lynn Staples and Amy King (2017).


What do you want your poems to do?

I want them to do whatever they want to do, so I try not to impose on them too much.


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

Each poem responded to a specific moment or set of circumstances, but I am not sure that there is one that particularly falls into place.


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

Probably like most people it comes down to time. Either I am almost inadvertently quiet for long enough so that I can listen for a word, phrase, response, or I actively make time to write. Sometimes of course there is an event or experience that eclipses whatever else I am meant to be doing. A residency with a generous stipend would also work wonders.


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

Ecological, political, caring.


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?

Ocean Vuong, Kaveh Akbar, Alice Miller, Talia Marshall (Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne ō Wairau, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Takihiku), CAConrad, Lucas de Lima, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Adam Zagajewski, Emer Lyons, Hana Pera Aoake (Ngāti Raukawa, Tainui), and if I could raise the dead, Janet Frame.



Robyn Maree Pickens is an art writer, poet, and curator. Her critical and creative work is centred on the relationship between aesthetic practices and ecological reparation. Robyn’s poetry has appeared in the Australian eco-poetic journal Plumwood Mountain (2018), and U.S. journals Matador Review (2017), water soup (2017), and Jacket 2 (2017). Her most recent work was exhibited at ARTSPACE, Auckland in March 2018. Robyn’s poetry criticism has appeared in Rain Taxi (2018) and Jacket 2 (2018). Currently Robyn is a PhD candidate in ecological aesthetics in the English Department at the University of Otago, and an art reviewer for the Otago Daily Times, The Pantograph Punch, and Art News.


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 in Aotea Centre’s Herald Theatre. Free event, all welcome.

Sarah Broom Poetry Prize page.

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