Monthly Archives: July 2019

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Fiona Farrell picks Paula Green’s ‘Glenburn’




Even in the face of an icy wind, the stillness

dazzles us, and we journey south to the dulcet honey.

He falls silent, the din left destitute, far

from the hive. The sound of his laugh, it rises

and becomes music, a vein of sun that is in him


like a mountain. Appearances remain objects of barter.

All the calm. All that fury. We cross a threshold

to witness the unbidden cloud. Our chamber of words

sweetened as if made of honey or beeswax,

for we arrive at last, the smell now in him of hive.


We will eat bread and cheese, forgetting the northern

city, the pull of the ocean. He moves with his sight

fixed on stillness, finding a fickle appearance

like a star behind slow speech. All that fury. All that calm.

Where will we find the scale of love? The journey south


undoes the mountain of cloud. His own incubus

the riddle that is land. We are certain that buildings

will appear in the stillness, kept alive by our eyes.


Paula Green

from Crosswind, Auckland University Press, 2004. Also published in Dear Heart: 150 NZ Love Poems, Random House, 2012.


Note from Fiona Farrell

My favourite poem? I had enough trouble selecting 25 recently for the IIML annual anthology.

So, a single poem? Should it be one that has repeatedly popped into my head at odd intervals over many years, a single line, a phrase, one of those little handgrips that keeps me from falling? Should it be a poem that belongs so strongly to a time I like going back to in my mind, that it arrives fully packed and tagged to memory? Or the one that touched me so much because it was a gift from a friend and unexpected and it said something I loved hearing? Or the one that was very old and strange? Or the one that made something I knew well gleam with newness so I noticed it again as if it was for the first time? Or the one I read this morning that has left the day feeling just great?

I’ll go with that: Paula Green’s ‘Glenburn’ because it speaks to the strangeness I feel moving to Otago again after many years absence. And to the feeling of discovering it – and it might as well be for the first time – in the company of someone I love who has other eyes to bring to the journey south. And to my knowledge of Michael Hight’s paintings of beehives, so there is an illustration – not any one painting, but many – lurking beside the words.

And it speaks too to a feeling that’s been growing steadily since I came here, that it’s all so fragile, this beautiful golden south. Last night I talked to a woman fighting subdivisions in Arrowtown. ‘It’s going,’ she said. ‘Queenstown, and Wanaka and Arrowtown and the lakes.’ Pockmarked with 400 house subdivisions, an airport proposal which could go anywhere, hotels and resorts and dairy conversions.

This poem of Paula’s makes me think about love: for people and for a landscape.



Fiona Farrell publishes fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama. She lived for many years at Otanerito on Banks Peninsula but has moved recently to Dunedin.

Paula Green has just published two new poetry collections (Groovy Fish, The Cuba Press) and (The Track, Seraph Press) with Wild Honey: Reading NZ Women’s Poetry (Massey University Press) out early August.






Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Carcanet Press launches audio book series

Would love to see a version of this happening in Aotearoa. Let’s start with Bill Manhire’s Lifted (VUP, 2005)! I am posting Steven Toussaint reading a breathtakingly good long poem this week – Imagine if we could listen to his whole Lay Studies (VUP, 2019).

Go here for details of Carcanet’s series.


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We’re pleased to share the news that we have teamed up with Colin Still of Optic Nerve to produce the first in an exciting new series of audiobooks, featuring unabridged recordings of collections read by the poets themselves.

The first title to be released is Jenny Lewis’s feminist recreation, Gilgamesh Retold, originally published as a Carcanet Classic in October 2018 and is now available as an audiobook on all major platforms, including Audible and Deezer. Forthcoming titles include Jane Draycott’s award-winning translation of the Middle English narrative poem, Pearl, and Martina Evans’ much-acclaimed poem for two voices, Now We Can Talk Openly About Men.

Michael Schmidt, our founder and editorial director, said, ‘We’re lucky to have poets who are also wonderful readers and who bring so much formal understanding to their work. The readings enhance and extend the print text. We are going to go to audio with books which are wholes and where the poet reader adds value and scale to the work. We are also very lucky to have a long historyof working with Colin Still, whose Optic Nerve audio publications of poets reveal how brilliantly he can produce poets and help them bring their work alive on the ear.’

Gilgamesh Retoldis a versatile and inventive recreation of Gilgamesh – fast-paced, capturing the powerful allure of the world’s oldest poem.

The Poetry Book Society said of the book:‘These innovative tales are full of cosmic creation, dramatic battles, gods andgrief. Lewis’ evocative and exhilarating poems bring Gilgamesh to life for a wholenew generation, discovering the resonance of ancient Mesopotamian myths inrecent Middle Eastern conflicts and its enduring relevance today.’

You can read Jenny’s account of recording the poem over on the Carcanet Blog – ‘I had no idea it was so difficult’, she writes, but ‘Colin was the perfect coach, gently encouraging me and helping me to find the right tonal qualities for various passages’. Read it here.

You can pick up a copy of Gilgamesh Retold on all major audiobook platforms, including Audible, iTunes, Scribd, Google Play and Kobo.




Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Writers on Mondays – Dinah Hawken, Lynn Jenner, Bill Manhire


Presented by Dinah Hawken; Lynn Jenner; Bill Manhire

Writers on Mondays

5th Aug 2019 12:15pm to 5th Aug 2019 1:15pm

Te Marae, Level 4, Te Papa


Dig Deeper: Dinah Hawken and Lynn Jenner talk to Bill Manhire


Dinah Hawken’s urgent yet contemplative poems have been celebrated in Aotearoa since her award-winning début, It Has No Sound and is Blue (1987).

In There Is No Harbour, Hawken sets the depth of injustice Māori have endured in Taranaki against her own family history in search of greater clarity in the present.

In her new book, PEAT, Lynn Jenner enlists poet and Landfall editor Charles Brasch to help her think through aspects of the land and the national character unearthed by the construction of the Kāpiti Expressway.

Two Kāpiti writers, who share a conviction that the past is not a foreign country but everywhere at hand if only we know how to look, join chair Bill Manhire in what promises to be a fascinating discussion.






Poetry Shelf review: Tracey Slaughter’s Conventional Weapons


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Tracey Slaughter, Conventional Weapons, Victoria University Press, 2019


Tracey Slaughter came to my attention as a fiction writer; I adored deleted scenes for lovers VUP, 2016) and lauded it in my SST review:

Tracey Slaughter’s daring short fiction deposits you on a rollercoaster, hoists you in the air, puts you in a dank, dark cupboard to eavesdrop, spins you round and round, makes you feel things to the nth degree.


Conventional Weapons is Tracey’s first full poetry collection but she has been publishing poetry for over two decades. She was the featured poet in Poetry NZ 25 (2002) and has published Her body rises: stories & poems (2005). She has received multiple awards including the international Bridport Prize in 2014, a 2007 New Zealand Book Month Award, and Katherine Mansfield Awards in 2004 and 2001. She also won the 2015 Landfall Essay Competition, and was the recipient of the 2010 Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary.

Like her fiction Tracey’s poetry is unafraid of dark subject matter: violence lament teenage eating teenage not eating abortion trauma. You will also find sex need desire love. The subject matter is important but it is the poetic effects that first strike me. There is an intensity of rhythm, an insistent beat that holds a poem together like a subterranean heartdrum, a breath metronome. It is no surprise that Tracey was (and is?) a drummer.


We deepdish kiss in the purple of your parents’ lounge,

a bunker plump with buttoned vinyl, fringed


with cocktail lamps. Your little brother doctors himself

a tower of afterschool toast and shovels into the corduroy


beanbag, watching claptrap TV—we’ll lip-sync those jingles

with their punchline chords the rest of our lives;


from ‘archaeological’


The beat in this two-and-a-bit page poem catches the intensity of after-school kissing, the heightened breath as the poem ‘sucks’ in detail of tongues and pashing, with an eye looking sideways to make the citrine kitchen and the purple lounge pulsatingly real. I am bowled over by the syntax, by the surprising juxtapositions of words, the lithe rhyme. I need to let the sonic impact sink in deep and savour the exquisite word play. Yes the young kissers are ‘archaeological’ but so too is the poet as she digs deep for flakes of the past and reposits them in the present tense.

The poem ‘the bridge’ also employs lithe syntax and rhythms to replay the urgency of kiss and touch:


Let feet slip on

sills of shell, a spiral

perimeter of crush.

Currents eel

 the light into

muscled canals we need

to oar & plough, tough-thighed

in the bridge’s underworld.


Often the poems are made electric by the present tense. The opening poem ‘she is currently living’ is a startling portrait, written like a mantra, all lower case, even after the full stops, so you are compelled to keep listening to ‘where’ she is currently living:


in a dead-end off jellicoe. in the waiting room of blue vinyl fear. she is currently

living in supermarket flowers that whisper buy me in their middle-class plastic.

she is currently living in a red metal playpen riding her stepsister’s rocking horse.



If Tracey’s aural dexterity keeps you on your reading toes so do her shifting forms. There are long form poems, bite-size pieces, block prose, fractured lines, lists, multiple choice. The poem ‘how to solve and 18-year sadness’ sits on the page like heart break – the heart hinted at, the break holding apart past and present, the sadness hiding in the crevice. Another poem ‘horoscope (the cougar speaks)’ sets word clusters against left and right hand margins. The poem with its film-noir lighting centres desire, attraction, loneliness, suicide drifting song lyrics that are cut off short as the speaker finds her way:


there are girls to pick

the wings off


but I’m not one of them


And now the subject matter. For me Conventional Weapons foregrounds character, women characters, which makes this book dig even deeper under my skin. The experience is often attached to trauma, the settings lit up in neon detail, the emotional core razor sharp. I posted a piece on Poetry Shelf from ‘it was the 70s when me & Karen Carpenter hung out’ and even in that brief extract the effects were incandescent. This is a poem of youth, song lyrics and singing, macramé, neon lights, freezer food, the backseats of cars, orange lounges, soap operas, instant things but it is also a poem of vomit and of bodies eating and starving, of the traumatic smash of eating disorders.


me & Karen carpenter

blu-tacked heartthrobs

to the hangout

wall & lay down

under our own gatefold

smiles. The ridges of our mouths

tasted like corduroy & the hangout

door was a polygon of unhinged

ultra-violet. We stole lines from stones

& rolled them like acid

checkers on each

other’s tongues, testing

the discs of our tucked spines as we

swallowed. (…)


When I return to the poem ‘horoscope (the cougar speaks)’, I return to the spike in the poem’s flow, the suicide that cuts into you as you trace the portrait of a woman:


& that last verse

is chloroform


don’t come

back with your bad

translations of love

one writs italicised

with scars



‘the mine wife’ is another imagined portrait; a long poem that features the wife of a miner lost in the Pike River disaster and the wife’s ‘grief is opencast’. In Wild Honey I write about the way poets might step into the shoes of another’s trauma, tragedy, loss, grievance, dislocation, wrongs, grief in order to make public horrific things both as a distant and/or close witness. Is this trespass? Is this keeping trauma and human wrongs in public view? For centuries writers have imagined beyond their own experience. In this poem I am heart struck by the way a woman continues to live alongside death, in the fist of life once lived, in the daily routines of food and laundry, in the coming up for air from the dark.


to stand at the mouth

takes a long journey. It’s like

a cathedral to all

we’ve done wrong. I thought

seeing it would cave me in. But it’s the peace

of the place that doubles me over.


The birds go on dialling

God. Even without you, the trees

don’t come to a standstill. Healing is

not clearcut. Air makes the sound of where

you were last seen. I listen

for scraps in the hush.


Grief is opencast.


Tracey’s poetry reaches me just as her short fiction has: her daring poems deposit you on a rollercoaster, hoist you in the air, put you in a dank, dark cupboard to eavesdrop, spin you round and round, make you feel things to the nth degree. I can think of no other local poet who has this effect on me. The collection will slip under my clothes and travel with me for months. It is a book I feel and it is a book I think and I adore it.


Victoria University page

Rae McGregor review at RNZ National

Jack Ross launch speech  (with images)














Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Jordan Hamel feature poet at Wellington’s Poetry in Motion

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Details here

Jordan grew up in Timaru on a healthy diet of Catholicism and masculine emotional repression. He fell in love with words the day his high school English teacher read a James K. Baxter poem aloud to the class. When he’s onstage he feels 27 years of anxiety slip away into the accepting embrace of a crowd who spend every day fighting their own silent battles.

Jordan has performed at festivals across Aotearoa and has had his poetry published in various literary journals, but he wants to publish a book sometime in the near future so a tangible piece of his vanity will outlive him. He has performed at LitCrawl Wellington, and is a performer and organiser of Welcome to Nowhere festival. He spends his spare time writing about pop culture and interviewing musicians, angry that his parents never made him learn an instrument as a child.

Evening begins, as usual, with an open mic.

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Richard Langston’s ‘Sunday in the Islands’


Sunday in the Islands


A rooster crowed – the villagers in their black dresses

and tata, their black suits, white white shirts,

the flower of their devotion. A pig ambled in the rain.

Then they began to open their mouths

to listen and find one another,

they began to fill up the mystery,

to waken our souls.

This blending of human voices,

low and high and humming, and lifting.

They sang themselves out of themselves.

They summoned their dead from under garlanded mounds,

the bright sails of their embroidered names.

They sang them out of the depths of their ocean –

from their watery wrecks.

They sang for our brief moment here,

offered up this,

this shattering blue cathedral of song.


Richard Langston


Richard Langston is the author of 5  books of poetry: Boy (2003); Henry, Come See the Blue (2005); The Newspaper Poems (2007); The Trouble Lamp (2009); Things Lay in Pieces (2012). All published by FitzBeck. He works as a director for Country Calendar.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: @pantographpunch Jackson Nieuwland reviews essa may ranapiri’s ransack

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Jackson Nieuwland reviews essa may ranapiri’s debut collection of poetry.

ransack is a landmark in Aotearoa publishing. A collection by an openly takatāpui/nonbinary poet, writing explicitly about queer issues and experiences, published by Aotearoa’s largest publisher of poetry. I and many others have been waiting for this for a long time, longer than we ourselves have even realised, and essa may ranapiri has delivered it for us: a book that speaks to our experience, a book full of beauty and pain.

go here. It’s a terrific review!

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Writers on Mondays – Poetry Quintet with Chris Price

Featuring Amy Leigh Wicks, Nikki-Lee Birdsey, Steven Toussaint, Sugar Magnolia Wilson, essa may ranapiri

Writers on Mondays

29th Jul 2019 12:15pm to 29th Jul 2019 1:15pm

Te Marae, Level 4, Te Papa


Five poets in conversation with Chris Price


New York poet Amy Leigh Wicks finds a new home in Kaikōura in The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage, and New Zealander Nikki-Lee Birdsey plumbs the fault lines between her lives in America and Aotearoa in Night As Day, while Chicago poet Steven Toussaint composed the deeply musical poems of Lay Studies in the United States, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

Sugar Magnolia Wilson hails from Fern Flat, but the poems of A Woman’s Heart is like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean travel to Korea and into intimate and distant histories. essa may ranapiri (Ngāti Raukawa) is a non-binary/takatāpui poet whose Ransack rummages through language and history in a search of a place to call their own.

All five poets layer place and history, love and loss in their books, yet all five voices are utterly distinctive. Introduced by Chris Price, they read poems from here, there, and everywhere.

This looks unmissable! PG