Monthly Archives: April 2019

Poetry Shelf in conversation with Gregory Kan


Photo credit: Time Out Bookstore



Gregory Kan’s poetry has featured in various literary journals including Atalanta Review, Cordite, Jacket, Landfall, The Listener and Sport, in the annual Best New Zealand Poems, and in art exhibitions, journals and catalogues. His debut collection, This Paper Boat (Auckland University Press, 2016) was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His new collection, Under Glass, has gripped me as much as his debut. While his first book was unified by themes – he contemplated the poet Robin Hyde, his family, ghosts – Under Glass is also unified by form. A dialogue develops between a sequence of prose poems and a sequence of verse poems. The former features a protagonist moving through a strange and at times estranging landscape with its blazing sun. The latter establishes an interior landscape where the speaker struggles to make sense of things in a glorious interplay of gaps, knots, silence, physical things, ideas, yearnings, dream, hinges, contact, light, dark. The title underlines the way everything trembles and meaning is both prolific and unstable. The glass is a barrier, a way through, transparent, a longing to see, breakable, dangerous, a distortion, a view finder. I loved this book, this poetry haunting, and set about an email conversation with Gregory over nine weeks with pleasure.




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Gregory Kan, Under Glass, Auckland University Press, 2019



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Paula: Your new book is beautiful,  mysterious and haunting, I really like the idea of skirting its edges rather than breaking through the ‘glass door’ of its making. What psychological, physical and heart states did its writing place upon you?

Gregory: Writing the book was a process of discovery from start to finish. For me, writing poetry involves a set of transactions or exchanges with the unknown. It is a fragile but ecstatic space to inhabit. I was privileged enough to be on the Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellowship when I wrote the bulk of it. I bounced a lot between our place in Wellington and the Sargeson Centre in Auckland. Perhaps that complemented the liminal, the interstitial states that come to characterise a good portion of my work: in-between, incomplete, on-the-edge-of, peripheral, fragmentary, perforated with holes. Radically finite. Distant but not disconnected. The Sargeson Centre is a beautiful but haunting place in and of itself. There’s a long bookcase in the apartment lined with portrait photos of all the previous fellows. At night there is nobody around except for passers-by and the occasional reveller in Albert Park. Ghosts everywhere. There is sometimes nothing more haunting than the process of writing, and the artefacts of writing. The overwhelming sense of the past in the present meant that my sense of linear time dissolved severely. I went looking for things to see if I could escape them.


Paula: Hmm. I wonder if all writer’s residences are like this? I had a similar experience at the Robert Lord cottage in Dunedin.

As I read the various hauntings in your collection three motifs stood out: the map, the mouth, the maze: ‘I started marking the walls with my knife / so I’d know where I’d been.’

The reading of the poetry took me into a maze of sea, land and self. I got ‘lost’ in reading. And that was a joy. The unconventional ‘maps’ were the navigational points. I am reminded of the blurb on Hinemoana Baker’s book, waha | mouth: ‘I’d like to think that opening this book to read is like standing at the mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand.’ So much for skirting the edges! Here I am drawing in close on a stanza like this:


Today the world overwhelms me.

I feel a garden

growing in my mouth

and eventually touch stone.

I am afraid of appearing sentimental about sentimental things.


Was the mouth also important as you wrote? Along with the maze and the map?

Gregory: Thanks for sharing that image from Hinemoana Baker’s book/blurb. I love it. Yes, I suppose the mouth marks several interrelated ideas for me: gap/hole/gate, threshold/limit, transition/passage, entry vs. exit, inside vs. outside, private vs. public, and a lot more. Someone, I can’t remember who, writes about the mouth being a place where the soft inside opens up to meet the outside. At the same time, I should qualify that this wasn’t part of any conscious or conceptual intent when I was writing the book. It’s something that I can see in hindsight. On the other hand, the map and the labyrinth were both entities I was conscious of letting loose in the strange game of writing the book. In retrospect, I think of all these entities constitute the problem-space of finite agents, with finite resources and knowledge, trying to understand a volatile and alien world.

It’s always fascinating to me, the differences between what one anticipates, speculates and discovers, when writing. I look forward to hearing about what other people notice when they read the book!


You think I don’t know you anymore

and I never read your emails

but I wonder if we have the same nightmare

about some final thing

for which there is no forgiveness.


Paula: I think the movement between the unconscious and conscious that a poet leaves in a poem contributes to the way a poem is both fertile and open. And that is exactly why Under Glass is a joy to read; mysterious yes, musical yes, multilayered yes. The movement is also heightened by the open pronouns. Who speaks? Who is playing? Who hides? In your last collection you engaged in self-revelations by way of Robin Hyde. Do you do so here by way of ambiguous pronouns? Or are the speaking characters both porous and invented?

Gregory: Yes, the “I” and “you” in the book are varying mixtures of real, imagined and abstract. I’ve been interested in the fragility of the address and of the self for a long time.

Both the “I” and “you” in the book are fluctuating identities. Some of the poems involve addressing real individuals in my life to begin with, but then depart from them. Sometimes they are completely abstract and/or imaginary addressees. The “I” also shifts within and from each poem. In all these ways (and many others besides), there is an intense fragility to the transmission of information and intent. I wanted to challenge the transparency of the lyric poem and the lyric “I” and “you” in this particular way. I wanted to push it to a kind of limit, to de-privatize the self. I wanted something both incredibly personal and incredibly abstract.



Paula: Such movement, such uncertainty, fluctuations, flickers. Reading this has sent me back to the book to follow those tremors. Conversely, do you think a poem or a line or even a word can offer a temporary but comfort-rich anchor? For me: ‘Every day the coast looks the same, as/ though I haven’t moved’.

Gregory: In order to write, I need to believe so. I need to believe that hope and overcoming are as universal as hardship. We have seen how a single event can completely rewrite the way we see the past, and the future. Despite such an event, some good things persist, and some new good things can even grow. While a lot of my poems imply a world of flux and uncertainty, where little can be taken for granted, I hope they can also provide a sense of solace, of possibility. The exceeding of limits and thresholds. The possibility of change and doing some good. The strength of being together and moving with others. The relief from pain.

In an idealised model of the world, there is an answer to every question. There is a reason for every event. Things can always be explained, if not anticipated. Everything is as it seems. But this is not the world I know. I think many of us experience a world far in excess of this idealisation. Flux and stability, pain and comfort, despair and hope, uncertainty and understanding – they walk together. The book is in a constant dialectic between entrapment and escape.


Paula: Indeed. The event in Christchurch tilted us at such a human level. I am a great believer in hinges as opposed to confrontation, connections rather than disconnections.  For me that is what marks the pleasure of my reading experiences, such as your book. What poetry books have offered you solace or connection or breathtaking possibilities over the past year or so, but at any point in your life?

Gregory: I agree. The world can be seen in terms of its disconnections, animosities – its radical otherness. But I see that as the enabling space for bridges, for empathy and understanding. This is the condition for knowledge and for being together with others, for the grasping mindsoul looking for an island to rest on, awash in a dizzying ocean.

As for poetry books, there are so many! Since we’ve been talking about my book, I’ll use that as my constraint. Reading and writing are almost indistinguishable for me (you gotta eat to live), and these books were absolute pillars when I was writing Under Glass

Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu | Spirit House. Soul-slaying. I often lament the lack of action and politics in New Zealand poetry. I sense a general sentiment that politics in poetry is “too prescriptive” or “ham-fisted” but I think that’s a cop-out. Those are not reasons to remain silent. My opinion is that our poetry community needs to speak up more, to do more work, to not be lost in the complacency of this privileged bubble of liberal high (and white) culture. Race, class, gender – they’re all here, beautifully woven into Tusiata Avia’s work. She’s not fucking around.

Anne Carson’s Nox. A sparse and fragmented work. Grief and memory. Love. Such a beautiful object, too. What she makes of the scant traces of her brother.

Raul Zurita’s Dreams for Kurosawa. Otherworldly. Heartbreaking. A very strange combination of elements: traces of trauma under the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, and ghosts everywhere.

Mary Burger’s Sonny. This book has been very influential to me – even since my first book, This Paper Boat – in form, in diction, in tone, in subject matter. I think it was Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle who recommended it to me. It showed me the power of plain prose and diction, and the power of arrangement and organisation. Like me, Burger is invested in interrogating and pushing the limits of the writing of selves. Like me, she is also invested in interrogating the conditions and limits of knowledge. The writing about her past collides with that of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who was credited for being the “father” of the atomic bomb.


Paula: This is a terrific list. Thank you. I have been thinking about the fingertip traces your book has left on on me – that sometimes act as tiny questions and that sometimes resemble little melodies. Did writing this book raise a question for you – large or small? In the process of writing or upon completion?

Gregory: All kinds of questions. A lot of self-centred ones, especially if I’m in an anxious mood. Will people accept this book as poetry? Is it even any good? Did I do my best? What constitutes success for this book, and for myself? What does my poetry mean to me? These are questions that have no real answers, and I’ll be taking them to my therapist, ha.

And some bigger, more difficult questions, after the book’s release and after Christchurch. What are the possible functions of poetry in our contemporary world? At one of its lowest points, poetry, for me, is so often an institutional and institutionalised form of nostalgia and conservatism. Why is it so enamoured with its own past? I don’t know if I’ve encountered another medium that is as hell-bent on dogmatically validating itself based on historical precedents and norms. At another low point, poetry is a site of postmodern whimsy, irony and impotence. If I were being charitable, I can understand that perhaps this is driven by the belief that almost everything can be and is subsumed under the totality of capitalism, and that resistance involves finding the most non-utilitarian, non-functional gesture possible. At other times, I think that this is simply a sneering cynicism. And I find that to be incredibly lazy and dispiriting. When our world is confronted by planetary annihilation and the increasing visibility of fascism and white supremacism, these attitudes are unacceptable to me. So what does it mean for poetry to adapt, and move forward?

What should the New Zealand poetry community be asking itself? I am afraid of particular kinds of silence. The silence of grief and shock, and the impossibility of witness and testimony, is of course understandable. But why do I also have the sense that there is also the silence of privileged complacency and passivity? The roots of colonialism – and the conditions of white supremacism – run deep, and I believe it’s our responsibility to start digging in our own backyards. It is a necessary labour for all of us.


Paula: I utterly agree. A necessary labour for all of us.

What do you like to do as a counterbalance to poetry?

Gregory: I work as a programmer and that offers me a world with a lot more certainty. There is still a lot of creativity and imagination involved in programming, especially in how you approach a problem. There is a caricature of programming that implies there is always a correct way to do things but that isn’t accurate. There are many possible solutions to any one problem. However, in the context of my work, the ends of programming are often certain – the problem itself is usually fairly determinate. What you are trying to get out of the program is usually fairly determinate. With poetry, utility and ends are always in question, and I may never know ultimately what “purpose” or function a poem serves. So having this kind of existential stability in my working world as a programmer can be a real comfort, as a point of difference. At the same time, there is such a thing as speculative programming, but I don’t yet have the intent, vision or skill to get there. In saying all of that, sometimes programming and poetry can feel very similar to me, both language-driven, both world-building. From that perspective my escapes become more recreational and indulgent ones. I love hanging out with my partner and watching Netflix. I love playing video games. I love watching trashy horror movies. Also activities that involve my body to a greater degree than the mind – swimming, cooking, listening to music, playing with the cat, eating, sleeping!



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Auckland University Press page










Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The Sarah Broom Prize Finalists 2019


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(Nina Mingya Powles: Photo credit Sophie Davidson)


The three finalists for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2019 have been announced.

Warm congratulations to:


Jessica Le Bas’s first collection of poetry, incognito (AUP 2007), won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award. Her second collection, dealing with adolescent depression, Walking to Africa (AUP 2009), was a finalist in the Ashton Wylie Book Awards. She worked for the UN during the Balkan War, and later in the Beehive. In 2012 Le Bas went to Rarotonga for a year, returning again in 2017. Her current job takes her into the Pa Enua, the outer islands of the Cook Islands: Pukapuka to Mangaia, Aitutaki to Mauke. Large Ocean Islands is a growing sequence of poems arising from living in the cultural wealth and wisdom of the extraordinary people of the Cook Islands. She lives in Nikao, Rarotonga.

Nina Mingya Powles is of Pākehā and Malaysian-Chinese heritage and was born in Wellington. She is the author of field notes on a downpour (2018), Luminescent (2017) and Girls of the Drift (2014). In 2018 she was one of three winners of the inaugural Women Poets’ Prize.  She is poetry editor of The Shanghai Literary Review and founding editor of Bitter Melon苦瓜, a new poetry press. Her prose debut, a food memoir, will be published by The Emma Press in 2019.

Michael Steven was born in 1977. His poems have previously appeared in brief, IKA, Landfall, Jacket2, and Poetry NZ Yearbook. He is a graduate of the BCA programme at Manukau Institute of Technology. In 2018, Otago University Press published his first full-length poetry collection, Walking to Jutland Street, which was longlisted for Best Poetry Book in the 2019 Ockham Book Awards. He is the recipient of the 2018 Todd New Writer’s Bursary. He lives in West Auckland.


The finalists were selected from over 300 entries for this year’s prize, by the 2019 guest judge and Auckland Writers Festival guest, Anne Michaels. An award-winning poet, novelist and essay writer, Anne Michaels is Toronto’s current Poet Laureate. Her multiple awards and shortlistings include the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Americas, the Orange Prize, the Governor-General’s Award and the Griffin Poetry Prize. Her latest poetry collection, All We Saw, was published in late 2017.


Anne Michaels will announce the winner of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2019 at a special Prize event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Saturday 18 May, 1-2pm in the Waitākere Room, Aotea Centre. She also appears

This is a free event.


Anne also has a feature event on Friday 17th May, 10 – 11 am, ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre.

The novel Fugitive Pieces is a work of art. It brought author Anne Michaels accolades, and the Orange Prize for Fiction. Michaels has not rested on her laurels, however. She is currently Toronto’s Poet Laureate, and her latest collection of poems All We Saw has garnered rave reviews. Her non-fictional Infinite Gradations is a meditation on art and death. She discusses her life’s writing with Michael Williams.

Supported by Sarah Broom Poetry Trust and Canada Council for the Arts.



Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Mere Taito’s ‘Reception Frame’


Reception frame


the goose waddles

down the cobbled

sidewalk that leads

to the bath with

glass wings


it washes its pigeon

English and swallows

its honk to cluck like

a creole chicken


only the goose God

understands this


the rest of us

be silent.

stop gawking.

wait patiently.


light a warm fire

when the goose

is done


Mere Taito



Mere Taito is a Rotuman Islander poet and flash fiction writer living in Hamilton with her partner Neil and nephew Lapuke. She is the author of the illustrated chapbook of poetry titled, The Light and Dark in Our Stuff.








Poetry Shelf noticeboard: deadline extension for nominations for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement

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To allow for the Easter/Anzac holiday period, when many people are away on leave, nominations for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement will now close on Monday 6 May at 5pm (extended from 26 April).

This is to make sure all New Zealand citizens, residents and organisations have the chance to nominate writers who have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature, in the categories of non-fiction, poetry or fiction. (Remember that writers can also nominate themselves.) Those nominated must be New Zealand citizens or residents and nominators must include a statement of up to 500 words about why they are nominating a writer (no attachments or support material are accepted). The email address to send your nomination(s) to is

Nominations will be assessed by an external panel of literary experts who then forward their recommendations to the Arts Council of Creative New Zealand for approval. The awards – worth $60,000 in each genre – will be presented by the Prime Minister in a formal ceremony later this year.

Find out more about how to make a nomination

We value your participation – remember that without your nomination the selection panel will not able to consider a writer for these prestigious awards.






The Offering – A fundraising project to support the Salvation Army – 12 musicians 12 artists


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To go with the CD there will also be an art auction. My partner Michael Hight contributed a painting. Fingers crossed lots of money is raised to help the homeless.


30 April – 9 May

With original works and limited edition prints by Dick Frizzell, Lisa Reihana, Karl Maughan, Reuben Paterson, Séraphine Pick, Max Gimblett, Lonnie Hutchinson, Darryn George, Michael Hight, John Walsh, Justin Boroughs and Ray Ching.

Amano Loft
Level 1, 106 108 Quay St
(across the road from Auckland Art Fair)

N.B. No entry through restaurant, please enter via Quay St
Murray Thom and Tim Harper are thrilled to present The Offering Collection with all proceeds to support The Salvation Army. Twelve of New Zealand’s finest visual artists have created original works of art inspired by twelve gospel hymns.

The works can now be viewed

The original works are scheduled to be auctioned on site at Amano Loft on Thursday 9 May at 6:30pm. Auction details to come.

The limited edition prints can be reserved from Tuesday 30 April at the official launch, or through the gallery from Wednesday 1 May. Email for more information. Orders will be confirmed on Friday 10 May.

Official Launch:
Tuesday 30 April, 5pm-9pm (by invitation only)

Public Viewing:
Wednesday 1 May, 10am-5pm
Thursday 2 May, 10am-5pm
Friday 3 May, 10am-5pm
Saturday 4 May, 10am-5pm
Sunday 5 May CLOSED
Monday 6 May CLOSED
Tuesday 7 May, 10am-5pm
Wednesday 8 May, 10am-5pm
Thursday 9 May, 10am-5pm

For further information, please email

Poetry Shelf 2018 Fiction Bouquet: Tina Makereti’s The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke


Tina Makereti, The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke, Penguin 2018


Tina Makereti, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Ati Awa, Ngāti Rangatahi and Pākehā descent, writes fiction that has always captivated me and her most recent novel, The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke, is no exception. Published last year, and longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, I am awarding it my 2018 Fiction Bouquet.

I have invented this award to underline the supreme reading pleasures Tina’s novel gifted me. I begin with the language and the way her sentences are so exquisitely crafted. They carry story, character, setting and significant issues with ease and fluidity, as though they work behind the scenes giving life to the narrative features. Yet I am acutely aware of the writing. The way a particular word choice makes a sentence sing, the way voice gives flesh and feeling to James to the point he is utterly real to me.


James Pōneke was orphaned as young boy. His mother and sister were killed in a massacre, his father, a chief, left him with missionaries and was later killed. James became fluent in English and hungered for books and knowledge, but the ways of his people became more and more distant as he became more and more uncomfortable living in the mission. The book starts with a life- and trauma-worn James in London, confined to bed and aching to tell his story, to the maid, to the Artist’s sister and upon the paper he was given.

Through James’s eyes and voice we travel along the arc from orphaned boy to bedridden man. He places himself on show just as the Artist who brought him to London placed him on a show; a curiosity, an exhibit to accompany the paintings of Māori that the unnamed Artist had produced in New Zealand. James was a spectacle for the curious and disdainful spectator in the great British museum, but he turns the viewfinder and scrutinises them; not just as they watch him in the museum setting but out in streets that bear riches alongside aching poverty.

One reading track is the abundance of wonder and awe as James absorbs London on diverse settings. He admits he watches like a wide-eyed child or a wiser elder but mainly from the pitfalls of youth. Questions abound and those questions then unsettle any possibility of a ‘tidy’ and misrepresented past, particularly colonial.

A second reading track is the prevalence of cages and containments. There are the animals in London Zoo, the way the Mission upbringing, despite little kindnesses, forced James to break away and travel with another tribe. The London houses felt like cages after the New Zealand landscape where the largest and most beautiful things were trees. There is also the self-containment that was dictated by London social mores, and the way a cultural stereotype is a form of imprisonment. Reading this book I was reminded of Selina Tusitala Marsh’s reception when she performed her poem, ‘Unity ‘ at Westminster Abbey for the Queen for the Commonwealth Observance Day (2016). The disdain and rudeness of the distinguished guest seated next to her reduced Selina to an object in my view rather than an honoured international poet. Selina wrote of this experience in ‘Pussy Cat’  (both poems appear in Tightrope, Auckland University Press, 2017).

Perhaps the most important track is the way the telling becomes a remembering, the way the lost and faded self comes to light as James speaks to the past, the present and the future, to his imagined mokopuna. For me imagination, these imaginary stories, becomes a way of adjusting the viewfinder so that we may unsettle master narratives and engage with a different point of view. We get to see James as an acutely intelligent person who struggles with his own crises and trauma and who experiences his own joy and epiphanies. The book is a timely read. As we learn to make connections with respect and empathy, in a world that has privileged hierarchies and conflict, Tina’s novel is a welcome handbook on how to listen. It affected me deeply, at the level of both heart and mind.

Tina, please accept my 2018 Fiction Bouquet, with love, Paula.


Penguin author page

An extract













Poetry Shelf ANZAC poem: celebrating Lorna Staveley Anker, NZ’s first woman war poet


Ellen’s Vigil


Benjamin Isaac Tom

Passchendaele Ypres and Somme

        three ovals float

        on the cold wall

plastered whiter

         than their bones,

young, khaki’d

         their bud-tender eyes

         premonition filled.



Her three boys gone,

      transplanted seventy years

      from Lurgan’s linen

no longer counts crops

      in season

but digs diligently, delicately,

      digs down

              further down

      her spade searching

              her garden for

      three lost sons

      Thomas Isaac and Ben.


Lorna Staveley Anker


from Ellen’s Vigil Griffin Press, 1996

(The poem also appeared in The Judas Tree, 2013 and is published with kind permission from the Lorna Staveley Anker Estate)



I discovered the poetry of Lorna Staveley Anker in The Judas Tree, a selection edited by Bernadette Hall  (2013, Canterbury University Press). The collection claims Lorna as New Zealand’s first woman war poet. She was born in Ōtautahi, Christchurch in 1914 and died in 2000. Her father died of throat cancer when she was two and her mother took in boarders to survive. Three of Lorna’s uncles were killed in WWI and her mother, Elizabeth suffered terribly. From childhood Lorna endured a lifetime of crippling nightmares, night terrors. She married Ralph Price Anker, a student she met at teachers’ college; they had four children and adopted a fifth. Lorna began writing and publishing in the 1960s, but her first collection, My Streetlamp Dances, did not appear until 1986. Two further collections appeared in her lifetime: From a Particular Stave (1993) and Ellen’s Vigil (1996). I so loved the posthumous volume, The Judas Tree, I reviewed the book on my blog. 

Shortly after the review appeared, Lorna’s daughter, Denny, sent me a copy of Ellen’s Vigil and again the poetry resonated. Much later I found myself in the Turnbull Library doing research for Wild Honey and listening to various audio tapes. I was completely captivated by an interview between Lorna and Susan Fowke (from the Gaylene Preston Productions Women in World War Two oral history archive managed by Judith Fyfe).

There were many occasions when I was profoundly moved in the Turnbull and this was one of them. I was writing a book that engaged with the work of almost 200 poets and that required a very different focus to a book that considered a single poet or perhaps even ten. However sometimes a particular poet held my attention; I got lost in the maze and astonishments of unpublished writing, letters, interviews, diaries, scrapbooks. In Lorna’s case, to hear the poet speak was a special thing indeed. Gaylene has kindly given me permission to share some gems from Lorna on being a poet but I do encourage you to explore the oral history archive Gaylene has helped assemble.



Lorna’s father sometimes wrote poetry, ‘particularly couplets’ for her mother and her mother ‘s meals ‘were a poem’: ‘she’d pickle nasturtiums and we’d have caper sauce with our mutton’. I can just picture the kitchen: ‘The shelves in the pantry would be shiny with rows and rows of goods.’

The poem ‘Ellen’s Vigil’ stems from the time Lorna’s grandmother went digging for her war-dead sons in her garden. Lorna said in the interview that her grandmother was ‘grandmother to all mothers and wives who had lost their beloved men – she was a symbol for me.’ Knowing this amplifies the ‘buried’ grief. Lorna had lived with her grandmother and grandfather for a period from 1921; her grandmother, we hear, had favoured imagination rather than ‘strict discipline techniques’.

Lorna suffered from an eye defect which hindered her reading but at the age of 52 she began writing: she said it was strange to have a slim reading history when then, at the age of 52, ‘out burst all this language and poetry’. In her introduction to The Judas Tree Bernadette muses on events that perhaps prompted Lorna’s poetry writing in the 1960s (the death of her son Staveley aged 21 and the fact his daughter was adopted out by the birth mother) and the way she began publishing after the death of her beloved husband (1983).

She recounts an incident where her poetry was rejected as middle-class rubbish: ‘I came home and I wrote out of indignation and rejection, passion, fury, disbelief, and it was the mildest poem the most restrained tender poignant poem about the death of affection’. Writing was often a physical thing for Lorna: ‘a fusing in my head’, ‘a rush of blood’.

Lorna shared a number of things on being a poet that stuck with me. She didn’t call herself poetic ‘but being poetic means you have a different print out’, and when you write poetry ‘your mind is going sideways’.

Lorna’s family helped publish her collections while Pat White, David Howard and james Norcliffe offered help and assistance with her debut collection. Two of her poems were published in Kiwi & Emu (1989) while Lauris Edmond selected her essay, ‘Has the Kaiser Won?’ for Women in Wartime (1986).

I recommend taking timeout in the archives and listening to the interview, tracking down Lorna’s individual collections and perusing the book that Bernadette assembled with such love and care. To return to the poetry with her autobiography, to remember the impact of war upon her well being and later her writing, to consider the way words flooded out when she was older rather than younger, is to enrich reading pathways through her work.


From my review of The Judas Tree

Lorna’s poems reflect a mind that engaged with the world acutely, wittily, compassionately. There is a plainness to the language in that similes and metaphors are sidestepped for nouns and verbs. These are poems of observation, attention, reaction, opinion, experience. The starting point might be the most slender of moments — and the poetry opens out from there, surprisingly, wonderfully.

In the first section (and indeed the largest section), war makes its presence felt; from the pain of departures, to the pain of the wounded, to the ache of loss. At times Lorna filters a poem through the eyes of her young self (for example, trying to make sense of Armistice Day). At times a concrete detail makes the poem more poignant (‘her spade searching/ her garden for/ her three lost sons’). In ‘Arie’s Tale’ the detail that renders the pain sharper is the ‘tyreless rims.’ In this poem the dead are carried away on a bicycle that makes such a clatter it is the hardest thing to bear (‘He felt it wasn’t respectful/ to his customers’). Lorna’s war poems stretch in all directions — they never forget the life that goes on and they never forget the heartbreak and loss that are etched indelibly. One of my favourite poems, ‘V.E.Day … and Neenish Tarts,’ moves beautifully between these two opposing but entwined forces. From the darkness of battle (now over), the poem moves to the grandmother dancing on the bed (as warm flesh weaves/ pink circles/ under a nightgown’; and from there to ‘Let’s have Neenish tarts for tea’ (this is cause for celebration). This first section of the book is a terrific addition to New Zealand war poetry because it casts a light on women at war (even when they remain in the kitchen).


‘Vision of Escape’, a poem by Lorna

Canterbury University Press author page