Monthly Archives: May 2019

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Johanna Aitchison on anagram poems


Anagram Poems


Like many obsessions, my preoccupation with anagrams began by accident. I am writing my doctoral thesis at the moment, and had been struggling with my topic: alter egos in elliptical poetry. To put it bluntly: all of the alter ego poetry that I was writing for the creative section of my thesis was terrible; not so terrible that it was not even recognisable as poetry, but that uglier low level kind of terrible you get when you’re mining an area that has been all mined out and the work that results is simply boring. So I was on the lookout for inspiration, trawling for ideas that were more interesting than my thesis “starter idea”, when U.S. poet Dora Malech’s latest collection of poetry, Stet (2018), landed on our veranda in an Amazon package. My first thought on reading the poems was, “Huh?”; second thought, “What even is this?”; and then a series of thoughts that tumbled out on top of each other such as, “How does she do this?” “This is amazing!”, and “Wow, I’m so jealous, I wanna write anagram poems, too.”

Stet is a book of poetry which is composed primarily of anagrams, with a side of erasures. Malech states that she is influenced by the German artist and poet, Urnica Zurn, who wrote a series of vivid and disquieting anagram poems in the 1950s , as well as the French school of poetry Oulipo, which uses various restrictive forms to enable creativity, of which the anagram is one.

Thus began my obsession with this form–and the way that you can mine a single sentence or word or, in the case of the third section of Malech’s book, an entire poem (she writes a series of poems which are anagrams of the Sylvia Plath poem “Metaphors”)–and resulting questions (some of which Malech explores in Stet), such as:  How can lyric subjectivity survive within such a tight machine? Is this kind of poetry too sterile and fragmented to really connect with a reader? I am at the beginnings of my explorations in this area, so don’t have any firm answers yet. But writing anagram poems (in which, for example, an entire poem may be made out of a single line, re-arranged) is kind of like build-your-own-nightmare. You get to choose the particular brand of nightmare, and that ambit of it, but within very tight parameters. To put it more another way, it’s like performing back flips in a very tight space; but if you pull it off, the thrill is real.


Johanna Aitchison




Johanna Aitchison is a doctoral student at Massey University, Palmerston North, examining anagrams and erasures in hybrid poetry. Her most recent volume of poems, Miss Dust (2015), was described by reviewer Sarah Quigley as “Emily Dickinson for the 21st century”. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Best New Zealand Poems 2008 and 2009, and Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011). She was a 2015 resident at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and the 2012 Visiting Artist at Massey University.




Poetry Shelf audio spot: Chris Tse reads ‘wish list – permadeath’






Chris Tse’s ‘wish list – permadeath’ was recently published in Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019).





Chris Tse is the author of two collections of poetry published by Auckland University Press: How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (winner of the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry) and HE’S SO MASC. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Zealand Poems 2018, Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019), The Spinoff and Peril. Chris and Emma Barnes are currently co-editing an anthology of contemporary LGBTQIA+ Aotearoa New Zealand writers.














Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Jenny Bornholdt to judge 2019 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award

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Auckland poet Kathleen Grattan, a journalist and former editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, died in 1990. A member of the Titirangi Poets, her work was published in Landfall and other volumes including Premier Poets, a collection from the World Poetry Society. Her daughter Jocelyn Grattan, who also worked for the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, shared her mother’s love of literature. She has generously left Landfall a bequest with which to establish an award in memory of Kathleen Grattan.


This prestigious biennial poetry award from Landfall and the Kathleen Grattan Trust is for an original book-length collection of poems, by a New Zealand or Pacific permanent resident or citizen.

Individual poems in the collection can have been previously published, but the collection as a whole should be unpublished.

Entries are accepted until 31 July 2019.

The result will be announced in Landfall 238 (November 2019), and the winner receives $10,000 and a year’s subscription to Landfall. Otago University Press has the right to publish the winning collection.

For full entry details, and to learn more about Kathleen Grattan and the history of the award, go here

The judge for the 2019 award is Jenny Bornholdt, who has published ten books of poems, the most recent of which is Selected Poems (VUP, 2016). She also edited the 2018 anthology Short Poems of New Zealand (VUP).

Her collection The Rocky Shore was made up of six long poems and won the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 2009. She is the co-editor of My Heart Goes Swimming: New Zealand Love Poems and the Oxford Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English. Jenny’s poems have appeared on ceramics, on a house, on paintings, in the foyer of a building and in letterpress books alongside drawings and photographs. She has also written two children’s books.

Kāpiti poet Alison Glenny was the winner of the 2017 Kathleen Grattan Award with ‘The Farewell Tourist’, a poetry collection inspired by a visit to Antarctica.

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Helen Heath picks Vana Manasiadis’s ‘Talking Tectonics’


Talking Tectonics


You know, even if I hadn’t come on the plane, on a bus, in a taxi,

I’d get here at some point – cos that clever tektonos, that shifty carpenter,

poet, boat-builder in the sky, he’s been scheming all the while; been doing

a bit of backyard DIY, a bit of God-honest labouring and jack-hammering

on the boundary – right under that picket fence between the plates,

between the kanuka and manuka.


There’s a paratekstosyni afoot, a volcanic and magnanimous change,

a winching and an earthmoving: those alpine ridges, those glaciers,

plains and Hutt Valleys, they’re slap-hugging the rest of the North Island

goodbye – Ya old mudpool, ya long drawn out beach, ya tall and flashy

neighbour, I’m off to the Arctic Ocean – I hear you’re off to the Pontos –

never heard of it.


And all this in broad daylight, Yiayia – can you believe it?


This is what I know: Oceanus gave birth to Styx, the Arcadian spring into which Achilles

was dipped; from which Alexander got sick; whose water Iris drew and took to the Gods

so that it might witness oaths. Or, Styx was the river mortals crossed.


Or, the ocean is what I’m standing in – one tiptoe on the Pacific rim

and one not.


Vana Manasiadis from Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima, Seraph Press, 2009



From Helen Heath:

One of the things that draws me to Vana’s work is our shared Greek heritage. I feel a deep affinity to this part of my genetic make-up; my ancestors’ homeland, the island of Ithaca in Greece, plays a big role in my debut collection, Graft.

However, I feel awkward claiming Greek heritage because I am only 1/8th Greek and my family wasn’t close to the Wellington Greek community when I was young. I barely know any Greek language and the Greek alphabet does my head in. I suffer from imposter syndrome, although I’m frequently told I look very Greek.

Vana, on the other hand, has more Greek heritage, she speaks Greek and has lived in Greece. In my mind, she far more authentically Greek than me. However, because she is pale skinned and strawberry blonde, she experienced prejudice from members of the Wellington Greek community. As Vana says. “The criteria of inclusion were missing: we didn’t look stereotypically Greek.”

Vana’s collection: Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima (Seraph Press, SSS), which this poem appears in, weaves her Greek heritage with her New Zealand experience. In it, I feel her working towards a different understanding – moving between worlds and time frames, inclusion and exclusion, reinvention and fragmentation. There is uncertainty and otherness, but also, she gives me hope for a new kind of belonging.

Vana’s new collection, The Grief Almanac A Sequel, was launched in May. by Seraph Press.

μπράβο – Bravo Vana!



Helen Heath is a poet and essayist from the Kapiti Coast, Wellington. Her debut collection of poetry Graft (VUP) won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry award in 2013 and was the first book of fiction or poetry to ever be shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ Science Book Prize. Her latest collection of poems – Are Friends Electric?  (VUP) – is about people, animals and technology, and won Best Poetry Book at the 2019 Ockham Book Awards.

Vana Manasiadis is a New Zealand Greek writer, editor and translator who spent many years in Greece and Europe, and is now based back in Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau. She is the author of acclaimed collection  and her writing has appeared in a many outlets including 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry (Vintage, 2010) and Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (Random NZ, 2014). As co-editor of the Seraph Press Translation Series, she has co-edited Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation (2018) and edited and translated from the Greek for Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια: Shipwrecks/Shelters: Six Contemporary Greek Poets (2016). The Grief Almanac: A Sequel was published May,  2019 (Seraph Press).



Poetry Shelf audio Spot: Dallas Karangaroa (16) performs ‘Homeless’

Dallas Karangaroa (16) is part of a teen writing group run by Alisha Tyson at Hutt Central Library. His extraordinary poem takes you apart and then somehow, miraculously, wonderfully, puts you back together again. It’s stonishing! I hope to see more poetry from this young poet.















Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Lola Ridge’s ‘After the Storm’


After the Storm


The wrinkled forehead of the sky

Doth chase the sunbeams as they fly,

Like pale nuns in retreat;

Each drooping, half-averted eye,

Wet-lashed with rain drops; and the sweet

Moist earth is surfeited:

A pale, weak invalid, the day,

Hath risen from her bed.


And I am tired & my brain

Is drowsed with murmur of the rain;

Too dull I am for mirth,

Yet too indifferent for pain:

The shadows ride upon the earth—

Grey pickets of the night,

That drive before them on the plain

The fugitives of light.


Lola Ridge


from Verses Quale Press, 2019 (with introduction by Michele Leggott)



Lola Ridge (Rose Emily Ridge) (1873-1941) was born in Dublin and travelled to Australia with her mother when she was three years old. When she was six the Ridges moved to NZ and her mother married a gold miner in Hokitika. After a failed marriage to a gold-mine manager on the West Coast, Lola moved with her mother and son to Sydney, where she studied at the Academie Julienne. After her mother’s death in 1907, she moved to USA under a new name, eventually marrying fellow radical David Lawson and establishing herself as a poet, painter and political activist within a prestigious circle of poets. Her collection The ghetto and other poems (1918) cemented her place on the New York scene, and she published four further volumes of poetry. Terese Svoboba has published a biography on Lola: Anything that Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge (2016). Verses is a selection of her Antipodean poems.


Quale Press author page


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