On reading Short Poems of New Zealand

 

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Short Poems of New Zealand, edited by Jenny Bornholdt, Victoria University Press 2018

 

Jenny Bornholdt has edited an anthology of short poems illustrated by Gregory O’Brien. She began collecting short poems eight years ago and  rediscovered her folder last year. In her introduction she likens short poems to the ‘small house movement’.

 

‘I’ve begun to think of short poems as being the literary equivalent of the small house movement. Small houses contain the same essential spaces as large houses do. Both have places in which to eat, sleep, bathe and sit; they’re the same, except small houses are, well, smaller.’

 

She gave herself a line limit (nine lines) because ten lines seemed to be that much roomier.

She favoured magnetic attractions in her arrangements.

I emailed Jenny and asked what had drawn her to the short poem.

 

‘They tend to offer one strong, memorable image or thought – it’s this concentration of language that appeals, I think. Short poems often work as the commas in a collection, so it’s interesting to pay them close attention and see what happens when you put a selection of such intense ‘pauses’ together.’

 

Why do I like short poems and consider this beautifully produced collection an exquisite object? Because I love poetry that has room to breathe – where white space is the silent beat, the clean sheet, the place to meditate. A short poem is like a complex note. It vibrates. Like a guitar string. Or wine. Or the ocean in the heat.

One of my favourite poems in the collection, ‘Night’ by Albert Wendt, epitomises the way a short poem becomes large. The image is strange and captivating. I never tire of reading this poem. You can hear Albert read it here. You will never tire of listening.

Some poems, like Hone Tuwhare’s ‘Haiku 1’, Bill Manhire’s ‘My World War I Poem’ or Angela Andrews ‘Grandparents‘ have been in a room in my head for ages. These tiny poems are perfect to savour when you have waiting moments. Again you will never tire of listening.

I recommend placing the book beside the bed and reading one poem before you go to sleep as a keepsake for the night – or one poem before you rise as a keepsake for the day.

 

Victoria University Press page

Jenny Bornholdt is the author of many poetry collections, including The Rocky Shore (Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, 2009) and Selected Poems (2016), and many chapbooks. She has co-edited several notable anthologies, including My Heart Goes Swimming: New Zealand Love Poems. Her most recent book is The Longest Breakfast (illustrated by Sarah Wilkins, Gecko Press, 2017). She was the Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate from 2005–6.

 

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