Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Picking favourites on @radionz Bookmarks


You can listen here


On Wednesday I flew back from Palmerston North and stopped off at the Radio NZ studios to talk favourites for Bookmarks. Jesse Mulligan was sick so I got to chat with Wallace Chapman. Like Jesse, Wallace is an empathetic host – a terrific listener! In the opening minutes we discovered we both grew up in manses with sermon writing fathers.  I had such a fun time talking books and music that we didn’t get onto films, television and other favourite things. So I want to share a few things we missed on my list.

Everywhere I go I am asked about Wild Honey’s biggest challenge: easy – making choices! How many sleepless nights I have had mourning the women poets who didn’t get to be in the poetry house I built. It is estimated we make thousands of choices everyday (a quick Google check said around 35,000!). I have been choosing poets to read at my Wild Honey events, I have been choosing how to answer interviews, I have been struggling with what to put on my morning toast. I need a choice holiday!

Choosing for Bookmarks was tough. We have book-lined walls in almost all our rooms, along with decades of album gathering and movie and TV viewing. So how to choose?

It came down to things that have got in me in the gut – and in the heart. Pretty much everything I chose, I chose because I have felt it deeply.

My music:

Maria Callas singing ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s opera Norma. Wallace loved the aria too and he kept cranking it up. I felt like I was going to start crying. This is the track when the world stops and I can’t do anything but listen. The same thing happened when we played Nina Simone singing ‘Mississipi Goddam’. Wallace cranked it up and we just listened. As I said this is a goddam moment in the world – and poets are voicing that in a thousand ways.

We ran out of time to play Aldous Haring singing ‘Horizon’ from her album Party.

In 2017 the Silver scroll finalists were all women so I decided to write about a few of them in Wild Honey – and check out the way their songs were also poetry (Lorde, Nadia Reid, Chelsea Jade and Aldous). I am interested in the way words become musical notes, and make chords in their own right. Music is always the first thing that affects me when I read a poem. So it was fun exploring the lyrics as poems in Wild Honey.

Aldous’s ‘Horizon’ is mysterious, haunting, evocative. I love the sonic play, the slow-paced short lines and the way the song keeps pitching towards the horizon. Here are some word chords: (bowl babe bad)   (neck edge wet)   (‘here is your princess / here is the horizon’).

I also love Aldous’s repetitions: ‘Say again this place’ ‘say again this place’.  Reality is intensified, anxieties are tripled.

You can listen to Aldous here.


My books:

I got to talk about Luminescent by Nina Mingya Powles (Seraph Press), Bill Manhire’s Lifted (VUP) and Elizabeth Knox’s The Absolute Book (VUP). Three books I carry with me – Elizabeth’s extraordinary new arrival is the most affecting book I have read in a long time. But I love and am affected by all three.

I ran out of time to bring in children’s books – I am a big fan of reading them! I was going to talk about my love of Gecko Books. And (another impossible choice!!) singled out My Dog Mouse by Eva Lindström.

I review most of Gecko Books on Poetry Box and there is never a dud one. They publish picture books and novels that feature heavenly illustrations, exquisite writing and stories that tap into the core of being human with a healthy dose of imagination. Also – and most importantly – it feels like Gecko books don’t have to obey current rules on how a book for children ought to behave.

In My Dog Mouse a girl loves taking Mouse (the dog!) for a walk and everything they do is super slow. They need time to look at things (teeth, clouds, things flying in the wind). The girl is very good at looking after Mouse when she takes Mouse for walks.  I won’t ruin this delightful story by showing the ending but this is a story of kindness and of sharing. Just made me warm up inside. The writing is both plain and poetic.

He’s old and fat with ears as / thin as pancakes.




Films and television

This didn’t make it into our discussions at all! Too busy loving books and music. I had picked ‘Shetland’ as an example of the British and Scandi noir that is my go-to-pick-me-up-when-I-can’t-read-another-word-and-just-feel-like-pleasing-diversions. Really anything from Father Brown to Midsomer Murders to The Killing to Shakespeare and Hathaway to Killing Eve to Big Little Lies to Agatha Christie.

But these were my two picks that survived:

A Star is Born with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper  2018

I loved the Judy Garland version but really love this remake – it’s got a love story at its heart and the chemistry is breathtaking –  it is a complete package the divine cinematography is like honey (a bit like that of Moulin Rouge) – the camera moves with such a sweet fluidity – the music is breathtaking – and everything heightens the loss and ache and heartbreak. So I really felt the movie.


The Marvelous Mrs Maisel  comedy on Amazon Prime with Rachel Brosnahan

On the recommendation of my daughter I binge-watched the two seasons – and it was rollercoaster viewing – set in 1958 New York at a time when women tried to be perfect, perfect looking, perfect mothers and perfect housewives. Miriam was helping her husband out as a stand-up comedian but she gets to wing it at a mic one night and finds she has a gift. I loved the series because it made every character – men and women – so complicated and complex – you laugh and you mourn. Mrs Maisel used her life as material – so against the 1950s demure-woman status quo.

There’s a new wave of young NZ poets getting personal, putting their lives, wounds, fears, anxieties on show at the poem mic. Hera Lindsay Bird, Tayi Tibble, Rebecca Hawkes, Sugar Magnolia Wilson, Sam Ducker Jones, Chris Tse, Grgeory Kan, all the Starling poets. But women have been doing it for decades in poetry. Stepping out of expectation and limitation into self-exposure. Take Fiona Kidman and Rachel McAlpine in the 1970s. Two extraordinary poets (yes I adore Fiona’s fiction but she is also a poet and it is a love of hers) who chose to write against the grain of what men were doing and write from the home – inwards and outwards – in myriad ways. Go back to the 1950s and you will find Mary Stanley. Go to the 1980s and you will find Janet Charman.


I had also jotted down other things I loved in the Arts

I got to mention the Uffizi Gallery and my bomb story.

But if I had had time NZ literary festivals were also on my list:


I adore going to NZ literary festivals: the Auckland Writers Festival, Going West Literary Festival, Raglan, Wellington Readers and Writers, Christchurch Writers Festival, the Ladies Literatea  – and listening to podcasts when I miss things. I would so love to go to some of the smaller ones at Mapua, Nelson, Featherston, Wanaka. Such community building occasions. My mother grew up in Mapua and I spent most summers there as a child holidaying with relatives. Feels like a DR Seuss moment: big and small, I love them all.

A few weekends ago I was at the much-loved Going West Literary Festival. Such a boost, tonic, good time. I posted about it here (got to hear Elizabeth talk about The Absolute Book!).

Witi Ihimaera launched his new memoir Native Son and performed an extract with musician Kingsley Spargo. Unforgettable. He had had a terrific conversation with Sue Orr earlier in the day where he talked about asking forgiveness of his younger self, because he had covered things up, bad experiences. The book was his way of opening up, of placing the bad things in the open and saying sorry to himself as a young man trying to cope.

I find festivals so nourishing as both a reader and a writer. At Going West we all mix up together! I love that!


Finally – I was going to introduce a new category: art jigsaw puzzles

as a way to get into a painting and as pain relief!! Van Gogh is great – The Mona Lisa was almost impossible.

I seemed to have had so many accidents over the course of writing Wild Honey – jigsaw puzzles were the perfect way of diverting a brain from pain and sinking into deep contemplation of a painting.


So there you go

what fun it is to be offered a chance to enthuse about creative things you love. Elizabeth’s new work (I want to write abut it) shows the importance of books and libraries, of words and languages. The same can be said for music and films and art. We need to celebrate and preserve our creations for so many reasons – because they are vital and over time we will keep seeing/hearing/reading them in new and necessary lights.

In this goddam moment when our world is in a state of such disrepair we should grab every chance we get to share our fascinations and to celebrate every step towards repair.

Thanks Wallace Chapman – your enthusiasm was infectious and I just loved our conversation.

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