Monthly Archives: May 2019

Poetry Shelf review: Ngā Kupu Waikato: An anthology of Waikato poetry






Vaughan Rapatahana is a terrific champion of poetry in Aotearoa – he shines a light on poetry and poets that deserve far more attention than they currently get, particularly in his articles posted at Jacket2. He has also edited multicultural books of poetry with poetry exercises for secondary schools (Poetry in Multicultural Oceania – Book 1 and Book 2); and he is a much admired poet in his own right.

Vaughan’s latest project is a much-needed anthology of poetry from the Waikato region. As editor his criterion for submission was that the poet had lived in the area for a minimum of one year. Themes are multiple but the river is a strong presence in the collection as a whole, while the 41 poets are stylistically and culturally, as well as politically and poetically, diverse. They range from our poetry elders (poets whose work we have loved across decades) and the electricity of emerging voices; from Bob Orr, Murray Edmond and Vincent O’Sullivan to Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor and essa may ranapiri. There is an introduction by Dr Mark Houlahan from the University of Waikato.

Here is a tasting platter:

Stephanie Christie’s poem, ‘H-town’, is aware she lives on ‘land that was taken’, that like her parents she tried to leave but she has returned:


but here I am

writing poetry, prospering

in the city’s glittering vision

and the milk in my coffee

the twisting river –

O, jewel of the Waikato.


I’m the child of the future

in whose name the work

was done. History persists

in every one of us.


Many of the poems are home or origin anchors. Olivia Macassey’s is like a song, held together by the repeated line – ‘I am from’ – that opens each stanza, the physical detail gleaming:


I am from the dry hollows

below the cabbage tree and the mahoe

where other trees wait with us to grow up, the rātā

curling its thoughtful fingers;

and like the fat female eel,

I swim out and return.


Other poems evoke a sense of place to such a degree you become embedded in place as you read; the way a physical location reverberates with such intensity you are transported to a version that builds in your head. Again it forms a physical anchor. In ‘Frost’, a skinny backbone of a poem, Mohamad Atif Slim does just exactly that:


the river in



will be steaming

like hot soup.


the neigbour’s horse

grunts. his breaths are


puffs of

spun sugar.


a dog



inside my house

it’s still,


and still



For Bob Orr, in ‘Waikato karakia’, the river becomes glorious song, a chant, a loving homage that calls the river rhythm into being on the line.


Here is the river

here is sunlight on the river

here sunlight weaves harakeke patterns on the river

here by the unending course of the university of the river

I saw a broken branch waving a green leaf on its way down the river

Fairfield Bridge up to its concrete knees  in the river

a museum of dreams reflecting the mysterious fact of the river


Murray Edmond, in ‘Matakitaki, 1822’, draws back into the region’s heartbreaking massacres, a queen’s visit, a rugby club.


here was the place of our greatest slaughter

an old green shed in a field of grass

an old green shed in a field of grass



bronze words on a monument



And some poems are fiercely political – shifting our view point so we may no longer carry disabling historical narratives. Reading the collection is like sitting by the river through all seasons, feeling the way it runs through the blood of the poet writing, a lifelong current, carrying anecdote, beauty, history. It is both the spine and heart of the collection that draws me in closer again and again. A Waikato treasure.



singing the old songs

This is the way the old story keeps passing though


Reihana Robinson from ‘O Moehau Mountain (How much can you take?)’















Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Applications open for the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship

Katherine Mansfield at her work table, tea tray bes…rary 1-2-011985-F  .jpg



Applications open for the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship, with the successful fellow travelling to France in 2020.

Founded in 1970 it has been awarded to some of our most successful writers including Maurice Gee, Carl Nixon, Kate Camp, Anna Jackson, Mandy Hager, Greg McGee, Bill Manhire, Janet Frame, Witi Ihimaera, Elizabeth Knox, Lloyd Jones, Dame Fiona Kidman, Roger Hall, Marilyn Duckworth, Michael King and Allen Curnow.

Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship allows the successful fellow to live for up to six months in Menton, France with access to a writing room beneath the terrace of Villa Isola Bella, where Katherine Mansfield did some of her most significant writing.  They receive a $35,000 grant to cover all costs including travel to Menton, insurance, living and accommodation costs.

The fellowship is generated by a fund managed by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand, which was made possible by generous donors including many individuals, the Winn-Manson Menton Trust, Creative New Zealand and the New Zealand France Friendship Fund.


Detailed information about the fellowship and how to apply is available at the Arts Foundation’s website:

Applications open Monday 27 May and close 5pm Monday 1 July. The recipient will be announced at new Arts Foundation event, NZ Arts Ball on Saturday 31 August in Auckland.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor ‘Signal’




The crossing signal twitches

like it’s filled with hot


and they whisper

touch touch touch

and so you reach out

press the cold metal button

press the cold metal

just to say:

I’m here,

I’m here, please,

let me cross safely.


Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Prize, and the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers. Her poem ‘Instructions’ was named by The Spinoff as the best poem of 2018. Her work has appeared in a number of literary journals, including Starling, Mayhem, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Mimicry, Turbine, and Min-a-rets. She writes thanks to some of the best people on this great watery rock.

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.