Monthly Archives: March 2020

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: National Poetry Day update


National Flash Fiction Day / 22 June 2020


The NFFD 2020 competition is still open for entries!

And we are hosting free online discussion groups this month…


As New Zealand moves to be a safer place with Covid-19 updates coming daily, NFFD brings you online roundtable discussions to brush up your flash and keep your energy flowing during these challenging times.

Free of charge and in a place near you, with past winners and judges participating as well, including Emma Neale, Tracey Slaughter, Patrick Pink, Tim Jones, Gail Ingram, Rachel Smith and more.

If you are feeling isolated or stranded with your writing, you may turn to small fictions. Short bursts of inspiration may connect us all. Give it a go – see how flash may be therapeutic, comforting and inspiring…

Join a ZOOM roundtable discussion! See the NFFD Events page for more information.

How to enter the 2020 competition here.


And tune into Radio New Zealand this Sunday as Tracey Slaughter speaks with Lynn Freeman on Standing Room Only.

Watch this space for updates:



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Poetry Shelf Lounge: VUP launches Mikaela Nyman’s Sado




Welcome to the online book launch of Mikaela Nyman’s novel Sado (Victoria University Press). Settle back with a glass of wine before dinner and let’s raise our glasses!


Publisher Fergus Barrowman welcomes us and the book:




Mikaela Nyman introduces us to Sado with a reading:




From Kirsten McDougall, VUP publicist:

This launch was to be held in person with wine and food at Vic Books, Kelburn. We are sorry we don’t get to celebrate the launch of the book by supporting Vic Books and we ask that when business resumes, readers support them.

Here’s a link to our webpage – where people can buy the reader through Mebooks for kindle or any other ereader. People can also read the first chapter of Sado on PDF from a link on that page too.




Four  questions for Mikaela (VUP Blog, March 2020)


Your debut novel, Sado, is set in Port Vila, Vanuatu, just after Cyclone Pam caused massive destruction in the islands. Can you tell us about the genesis for your story?

It grew out of the realisation that Vanuatu didn’t seem to feature on people’s radar in New Zealand – despite the fact that it is only a three-hour direct flight away, and we have thousands of Ni-Vanuatu come every year to work in our vineyards and orchards. The majority of New Zealanders I encountered who had visited Vanuatu, had only been there for a day, on a cruise ship holiday. They ‘had done Vanuatu,’ or so they kept telling me. The absoluteness of this statement threw me. I was privileged to spend four years in Vanuatu and feel I’ve barely dipped below the surface – thanks to the generosity of friends, colleagues, villagers, public officials and artists who have shared the richness of their respective cultures, experiences and languages with me over time. Vanuatu stretches over 80 islands and has more than 100 languages. There’s a lot more to it than Port Vila. Yet the exotic island holiday paradise narrative prevails.

Across the Pacific, entire populations brace themselves every year for the cyclone season. But for Vanuatu it wasn’t until Cyclone Pam radically transformed the landscape in 2015 that the outside world took notice. And even then it only lasted for a moment, until a greater natural disaster in another part of the world superseded Pam. And in a heartbeat the world’s attention on a suffering small Pacific island nation was gone. It could make you cynical. Or you could start writing about it … I guess as an islander (albeit from the Northern hemisphere), and as someone who has always tried to make sense of the world by writing about it, I wanted to share a more nuanced and complex reality that included the everyday desires, tragedies, joys, limitations and absurdities that tend to make up island life.


You have two main protagonists, Cathryn, a New Zealand national working in Port Vila, and Faia, a Ni-Vanuatu woman, and colleague of Cathryn. Can you talk about the relationship between these two characters and how you went about the creation of these two very different people?

Cathryn and Faia are amalgams of many people I’ve encountered. There are aspects of their personalities that are made up, because the story demanded it. They are both devoted mothers and have worked together for several years in a fictional non-governmental organisation, yet Cathryn remains more reliant on Faia than vice versa.

Faia is part of a larger and more complicated local scene, with more obligations and reciprocal relationships than Cathryn will ever have. Their relationship traverses that awkward territory where they are no longer merely work colleagues, but neither are they very close friends. I wanted to explore that tension – how far you can push friendship, what may break it; what you are able to forgive, and how.

From a young age, I was hooked on Toni Morrison’s novels. Decades later, I found her insightful lectures, published as Playing in the dark: whiteness and the literary imagination, where Toni Morrison speaks about the perils of writing ‘blackness’ (specifically African-American), and equally the perils of not writing about it enough, and thereby contributing to erasing part of the world’s population from historical records and literature. I did not wish to contribute to that erasure. And I did not want a single narrative that in its incompleteness reinforces stereotype, to paraphrase Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I explored ways to include other voices and came across a helpful essay on Toni Morrison’s paired characters in her novels. It discusses how time and again Morrison’s perceived protagonist serves as an ironic anti-hero, while a secondary character, with a seemingly lesser role, demonstrates courage and overcomes immense personal and cultural obstacles. The ‘seemingly lesser role’ and the common assumption that there is only one protagonist, usually the one who takes up most space, resonated with me as an apt description of what I was trying to achieve. It confirmed to me that Cathryn, albeit the perceived protagonist, could indeed be the anti-hero. What I needed was a radical and tangible shift to physically wrestle authority from Cathryn and pass it to Faia.


There is a lot of discussion presently around the ethics of what stories a writer can write – can you talk about what it was like for you to write Sado? What considerations played into your writing and research of writing a novel set in Vanuatu? 

I don’t think I would ever have written a story set in Vanuatu without actually having lived there. The experience of being hammered by Cyclone Pam, a devastating Category 5+ super cyclone, is part of my own lived experience, it is my story to tell (although I hasten to add that my personal circumstances were not the same as Cathryn’s). Apart from the cyclone, there was a lot to consider. Vanuatu was never going to be reduced to mere setting, for a start.

The discovery that Vanuatu doesn’t really feature in New Zealander’s imagination was followed by a realisation that Ni-Vanuatu women’s voices and creative expressions are underrepresented, particularly in literature. I was fortunate to have Teresia Teaiwa read some of my early draft chapters and give me positive feedback before she unexpectedly passed away. It gave me the confidence to continue on this track. ‘We are tired of having to constantly explain ourselves to the outside world,’ Teresia said several times, talking about the Pasifika community in New Zealand, and more broadly about the experience of women of colour in various parts of the world. She handed me a copy of ‘Identity, Skin, Blood, Heart’ by Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Lisa King’s writing on rhetorical sovereignty and rhetorical alliance in the writing classroom.

And so I chose to become an ally and supporter, and perhaps a conduit for New Zealanders to glean a different perspective of their Pacific neighbour. To help explain what it feels like to be at the receiving end of such a natural disaster in our Pacific neighbourhood and to have to deal with an unprecedented influx of responders and well-intended, but perhaps misplaced, relief efforts.

In parallel, I’ve shared my writing, my knowledge and skills with emerging Ni-Vanuatu women writers, facilitating creative writing workshops and collaborative poetry events, in order to find my place in the world and enable Ni-Vanuatu writers to grow as writers and see their work published. ‘Nothing about us without us,’ one of my Māori colleagues said to me when we discussed the ethos informing my research and novel writing. It reinforced my decision that working in alliance and collaboration would be the best ethical choice. Taking heart from the fact that these Ni-Vanuatu women writers were among my first readers and encouraged me to keep writing this world that they recognised, while at the same time ensuring I left space for Ni-Vanuatu writers to tell their own stories. The kind of insider stories I couldn’t possibly tell.


You are also a published poet in your native language. How does your writing in different tongues as well as in different modes – poetry and prose – influence how you write?

I was told my alternative novel titles were too poetic, for a start! Writing in my own mother tongue was a project of writing myself out of personal grief and back to my own language universe. Through language I can belong to different worlds. I actually dream in different languages. I thought I had lost my Swedish and Finnish vocabulary, that they’d been erased by English. It doesn’t seem to be the case, although I know I haven’t been able to keep up with the slang and ever evolving obscene language.

I’ve found it’s more difficult to translate my own poetry than my prose. Language evolves according to its own logic and grammatical rules, complete with specific metaphors and implied subtexts. When I write I have to stay focused on the language I’m using in that moment to make it full justice. It can be quite tiring and takes time, with lots of cross-checking if my family keeps interrupting. Some scenes in the novel started as poems, other bits were cut from the novel but morphed into poems. At the end of the day, poetry and fiction are just different languages in which to express what matters most to me.



Thank you for coming. Please refresh your glass, make a note of the book, and enjoy the rest of your evening.


Next Poetry Shelf Lounge book launch will be Anna Jackson launching AUP New Poets 6 on Saturday around 5 pm.












Poetry Shelf offers a solace list from fiction writers





Last week I invited a gathering of poets to pick a poetry book that has given solace. This week I turned to Aotearoa fiction writers. A raft of fiction writers.

Last week we could go to bookshops and order online, and I had started my phone an independent bookshop to get NZ picks and buy a book or two. That is on hold.

And now today we are in our wee bubbles for at least a month. It feels like books are rafts upon which we can float and drift. Lloyd Jones used the word comfort. Perfect word. We can find comfort in all manner of reading experiences.

I woke up at 4 am, having had six hours sleep in a row, which felt like a miracle after two hours the night before. It is as though we have body worry, this strange time when we reach out in new ways. Ah but it gave me great comfort assembling this in the early hours of this morning. I have made a list of books from this I am itching to read.

Over on Poetry Box I am posting something every day by me or other children’s authors. Today I am reading a book of mine most special to me Aunt Concertina and her Niece Evalina and laying a challenge for children.

I feel like I have 65 years worth (minus a few months) of books inside me that have comforted me. Here are three books that in their astonishingness gave me top-level book comfort: The Milkman Anna Burns, The Absolute Book Elizabeth Knox, The Burning River Lawrence Patchett.

More lists in the pipeline!



Rajorshi Chakraborti

Karori Confidential: Selected Columns by Leah McFall (Luncheon Sausage Books, 2018)

When I looked at my shelves in search of books that might give people especial pleasure at this time, I saw Karori Confidential by Leah McFall and immediately had my candidate, even though it isn’t fiction. What it is though is a guarantee of enormous enjoyment – each page has truths drawn from the flow of everyday living that are either funny or moving or both.

True, funny, moving – what more could one want? And, just now, the everyday world Leah captures with such attentive affection has the added preciousness of being out of reach for us all. Just now, for a limited time only, it comes with an extra poignancy. Just now, it is almost fiction.


Breton Dukes

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner, published by Text.

I read this because I’d read her recently published diaries. She’s wonderful. Monkey Grip is set in the 70’s in Melbourne. They’re always going out to gigs and going on spontaneous adventures to Tasmania. Hippies, I guess. Fucking and getting stoned. It’s grim at times and Nora – the female lead – suffers from love sickness, but against what’s happening in the world now it’s light and airy and full of goodness.


Laurence Fearnley

The Summer Book Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal, foreword by Esther Freud, Sort of Books, 2003.

My mother died not long ago, during the last week of January. She had a stroke on her 84th birthday and was dead a week later. I spent that week with her, at Christchurch hospital, and every day I drove beside the estuary and stopped to walk and watch the godwits. I guess, without being dramatic about it, I was thinking about the incredible flight the godwits would soon begin and, opposite that, the gentle-drift of my mother from consciousness to death. The two elements connected in such a way to bring about a sense of peace. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson was written in 1972, not long after her own mother died. The novel is set on a small island in the Gulf of Finland and the story is carried by the grandmother – think of a Helen Garner type – and her six year old granddaughter. The child is motherless, and her father is absent. The spirit of death flows though the book, notably in the conversations between the girl and her granny but there is often a sharp glint of light, almost as if reflected off the waves. The book is an observation of the tiny island, and the people seem no greater nor smaller than crabs or seabirds. In this microcosm of life, there is a sense of lightness and belonging.


Nod Gosh

What I’d like to read when seeking solace: Boy Overboard by Peter Wells, because that man knew how to work magic with words, and who doesn’t want to read something beautiful at a time like this? But I’m not going to quote from this book, because I don’t own my own copy.

What I’m more likely to read when seeking solace: Turbulent Priests by Colin Bateman. Before, she’d have laughed heartily at the suggestion that she might get involved with the sort of women who spent their time discussing the social history of linen or how to create flower arrangements depicting a five-point fall in the Dow-Jones Index. Maybe giving birth changes you. Maybe having a six-pound ginger bap fighting his way sideways out of your birth canal for eight hours fucks up your mental faculties.

What I’m actually reading (and I don’t know about the solace bit): Management review input checklist for ISO 15189:2012 Internal auditing . . .

What I’ve enjoyed reading most in the last 24 hours, though I don’t know if it provided solace. However, my partner and I nearly wet our britches we were laughing so much: Reddit conversation about preparing your dead cat’s skull as an ornament that went something like this: When my old cat dies I want his (clean) skull to put on my mantle or desk. I’ve tried looking into taxidermy in the area but they seem to either be mostly fishing trophy places or booked up with big game projects.


Mandy Hager

My pick is Adrienne Jansen’s The Score, published by Escalator Press. It’s filled with a diverse cast of likeable characters, warm-hearted and gently prods at our attitudes to refugees and immigrants.


Lloyd Jones

Here is an extract from Annie Ernaux’s  The Years – a memoir where the world grows into character – ‘[In the mid-60s] The table talk revolved around the arrival of a supermarket, the building of a public pool, the Renault 4L, and the Citroen Ami 6. Those who had televisions held forth on the physical attributes of ministers and talk show hostesses, discussing celebrity as if they lived next door. The fact of having watching Raymond Olivier prepare pepper steak flambe, a medical programme with Dr Ignore Barerre appeared to grant them a superior right to speak. Before the stiffness and indifference of those who did not have televisions…’    Any page of this riveting ‘memoir’ delivers something or other that we recognize or remember from our own lives. Especially those who popped up in the world between 1941 and 2006, this being the period that The Years covers.

But a novel…one offering ‘solace in our troubled times…?’ Solace. I don’t read for comfort. I prefer something that rattles my cage. Shifts me in such a way to reconsider the ground I stand on.

But if by solace we mean a big baggy comfort-read, how about Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin? A novel written at breakneck speed in the closing years of the war, Fallada’s working class heroes are politicised into taking action against the Fuhrer after their son is killed in France. Otto Quangel works in a furniture factory soon to turn out coffins. On Sundays, after lunch, he and his wife sit down to write an anti-regime message on the back of a postcard, they then wander into a city to look for a place to leave the postcard. The German title translates as ‘Each dies only for himself’ which somewhat gives the game away. Over two years the Quangels will drop several hundred postcards across the city. Most of them will fall into the hands of the Gestapo before they are read, but taking action is what counts.

And, for a bit of social dislocation in the nineteenth century how about the unhappy marriage in rural France of a country doctor to a young and attractive woman of a different social class. Madame Bovary is stuck between expectations and desire. I have been taking turns in reading the novel aloud during skype sessions with my partner trapped in Australia (I think she would say the same about me being trapped in NZ).  Her Madame Bovary translated in 1938 feels weirdly more current than my Picador translation from just a few years ago.  In broad outline the two Madame Bovary’s are the same book, but the language is strikingly different.  I thought mine was almost inept until I read the Translator’s note, and he says he deliberately set out not to offer a translation but to produce an English version of Flaubert’s sentence structure.  Fortunately that ambition doesn’t get the way of a great novel.  Madame Bovary is a dreadful woman, but dreadful in the way we all are – irritable, impatient, short, selfish, but determined to make amends, try better, try again. To put up some sort of social defence against the raw energy of desire.

If you are locked down with your partner, this is the novel for you.

Finally, a beguiling and surprising love story in a minor key. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami. The female narrator runs into her old art teacher at her local sushi bar, and that’s pretty much it. They drink a lot, eat, talk, drink, and an unlikely love affair fires up.


Sharon Lam

The book I’ve chosen is Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. While I believe all reading for pleasure is some kind of solace, Yoshimoto’s writing excels. She generates so much sentimentality in her writing while promising the reader that it will never turn into corniness. And this is all done in a very sharp, non-hostile, non-FOMO manner, if that makes sense.

I picked Kitchen for the katsudon scene. I won’t spoil the scene, but as someone whose birthday meal growing up from mum was homemade katsudon, seeing katsudon written about with a real understanding of its value, with seriousness, as the central feature in a moving, literary scene was the best surprise. There is real solace is knowing that the things that are meaningful to you are meaningful to others, which is what I find in Yoshimoto’s books and Kitchen in particular.


Rupa Maitra

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

I have chosen this book because of the way it instantly pulls me into the story so that I feel like I am living the life of the main character. Right now, I want to be lost in a parallel world. The characters in this novel are professional musicians and the thread of classical music that runs through the book enhance the themes of love, longing and human relationships.


Becky Manawatu

I have found my fictional solace in a book that is not quite fiction, but a memoir.
Renee’s These Two Hands (Mākaro Press) has fictional elements. Such as ‘Patch 40: Leafy Greens: a fairy tale’. ‘Leafy Greens’ is a short tale almost halfway through the award-winning writer’s memoir. The story is about an old (a description the memoir will educate you on) woman, leafy greens and peanut brownies without the peanuts. The simple tale is funny and uplifting, like much of the memoir is.

The book includes hard times, of course. Renee is a 90 year old woman, and has the memories to show for it. What broke my heart was reading of Renee, as a 12 year old girl needing to leave school and find a job. What uplifted me was that this never seems to have broken the writer’s spirit. Not for a minute. The memoir includes poems, excerpts of plays including from the acclaimed Wednesday to Come, and pieces – snapshots – of this incredible woman’s life.

She generously includes a recipe for meatloaf (meatloaf!), which I have since tried, and loved. This is like a first aid book for lockdown. It is told in patches, which not only makes it feel manageable with today’s current distraction, but makes it feel like a quilt. As the book’s first sentences says its purpose is “To warm, to comfort, to read under or to read like a book. to shelter, to wear when there’s a flood, to grab when there’s an earthquake…”

If you are missing some of the wisdom and no bullshit of some of the older people in your life ( and I say this with the wisdom of the book’s ‘Patch 68’, a poem called ‘Old People Are…’) then this book might help you through. Like a quilt it is a “practical solution to an eternal problem – how to keep warm at night.”


Eamonn Marra

Pastoralia by George Saunders

One thing that draws me to George Saunders work is how it invites empathy to people who otherwise are usually left out. His characters and narrators are often flawed, they’re not always nice to each other and they don’t always make life easier for others but they all have something endearing about them. Most the stories have a post-apocalyptic feel, either disaster or economic related. They are full of people worn down by circumstance and trying their best to keep going. It sounds intense but its also hilarious and entertaining. It makes you feel like the world is bleak but people are strong.


Kirsten McDougall

I’m recommending Alice McDermott’s Someone. It’s one of those deceptively quiet books which sneak up on you and envelop you in their warmth and light. Someone is ostensibly about the life of a woman living in Brooklyn, NYC in the twentieth century. She doesn’t leave the country, or really Brooklyn during the novel. She observes the street and the people around her, including her family, and family are often the most mysterious of people. It’s moving, but not manipulative, it’s slow and fast and does weird things with time. And Alice McDermott is funny as. Witness the scene where she goes upstairs in the funeral parlour where she works and observes the women talking around subjects — certain nods for certain unspeakable subjects. I’m not sure why McDermott isn’t better known. I read an interview with her in The Paris Review, and my boss lent me his copy of Someone. I’ve since bought it for two people and now, having given my boss’s copy back to him, I shall order a copy of my own.


Eileen Merriman

Auē by Becky Manawatu (Mākaro Press). This book gripped me by the heart, then tore it out. Beautiful and savage by turns; I felt as if I were living this story, which made it a tough but essential read. I defy anyone to read this and deny that there are cycles of poverty and violence in our society. Reminiscent of The Bone People and Once Were Warriors.


Kelly Ana Morey

Gillian Slovo Ice Road. Fabulous chunky novel about the Siege of Leningrad which Slovo published in 2004. It was a brutal period in modern history, a time when having the neighbours over for dinner had sinister implications. Just a bit of perspective in these very strange days.


Pamela Morrow

I recommend The Heavens by Sandra Newman. The premise on its own is tremendous and the writing is stunning, but hopefully without giving too much away, the ending with a community (in the real sense of the word) coming together with support and shared resources is both beautiful and relevant for where we are at right now.


Nicky Pelligrino

Right now I need to disconnect and enter another world entirely so my ideal solace reading has a fantastical element and I’m recommending The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by HG Parry. It’s set in Wellington and is about a battle that ensues when a bunch of literary characters break out from the pages of their books and come to life. It’s entertaining, funny and gripping, filled with characters you’ll know from years of reading and it may well send you off on a tangent re-exploring some old classics.


Sarah Quigley

The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

I’ve never read a book so slowly. For months, I kept it by the bed – not, perhaps, the wisest place for something entitled The Book of Disquiet. But often it lulled me into deeper and more peaceful sleeps than I’d had before – or have had since.

The Portuguese poet Pessoa wrote this over 23 years, jotting down often undated fragments on loose scraps of paper that were pieced together after his death. Set in 1930s Lisbon, it’s the fictional diary of a perfectly ‘ordinary’ middle-aged clerk – but reading it is an extraordinary experience. It’s alternately intensely melancholic and beautifully uplifting.

Pessoa offers sharp, lyrical observations on interior and exterior life – from the fall in one’s spirits when the sun disappears behind cloud, to the alarm of hearing about not-so-distant wars.

The ‘modern’ world, according to Pessoa’s protagonist, belongs to the ‘stupid, the insensitive, and the disturbed’. It’s strangely comforting to realise that, nearly a hundred years ago, he was feeling the same sense of disquiet we’re all feeling now.

Diaries are great reading in chaotic, troubled times. They keep you company through long nights and too-early mornings. And they bestow a feeling of order on ‘real’ life that’s either saturated with reportage or goes mostly undocumented. I’ll be stepping back into Pessoa’s dreamlike Lisbon during these worrying times, and gaining solace through his quietly expressed hopes and dreams for a better future.


Tina Shaw

I would actually recommend my own newly-released novel for people to read: Ephemera. Because it is incredibly topical!

We were probably doomed from the moment the virus hit the airport.
Several years after a global meltdown, New Zealand, along with the rest of the world, is still in chaos. No electricity, no broadband, and people are in survival mode – at least until somebody turns the lights on again.

Ruth has always led a sheltered life. Pre-Crash, she worked as an Ephemera Librarian, now she is managing a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle. But her sister is dying from tuberculosis and her love for Juliana propels Ruth to undertake a perilous journey.
She intrepidly sets off from Auckland to find the man known as Nelson and his rumoured stockpile of pharmaceutical drugs. Word has it he is based at the old Huka Lodge. Along with the handsome Lance Hinckley and enigmatic Adebowale Ackers, Ruth travels by steamboat up the Waikato River – the only practical way. The group journeys through settlements that have sprung up along the river as people try to re-establish their lives in this precarious time. With society itself broken, will Ruth manage to keep her commitment to her sister without compromising her own values?


Carl Shuker

ASPIRING by Damien Wilkins. He has this special knack of giving us all this gorgeous insignificant detail, all these tiny insignificant moments in people’s lives in a small town. Why? I keep asking myself. Then I realise: Oh, you’re making them significant. A gentle, calm lifting of all the things that might otherwise fall through our fingers.


Elizabeth Smither

Persuasion by Jane Austen

 Surely the most tender novel in the English language. I’ve read it dozens of times; sometimes opening it at random. I’m always rewarded by its insights, its humanity, and the wisdom of Jane. The excellent Musgroves, the insufferably snobby Sir Walter and his devious heir, and my bookish favourite, Captain Berwick, whom I imagine travelling, smiling to himself after his proposal for Louisa’s hand is accepted. Berwick might be bookish and too fond of poetry but he knows how to kill rats. And Anne Elliot, speeding along the streets of Bath so happy she could fly. As always, Jane Austen undercuts what might be considered sentimental: the sick are more often irritable than heroic, and paying court to others is not nearly as rewarding as self-knowledge.


Alison Wong

Marilynne Robinson’s Lila (2014)

Because the prose is beautiful. Because life is complicated and we can’t eliminate suffering or difficulty, and yet, despite our differences, our limited understanding and uncertainty, there is still tenderness, kindness and hope.









Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Ōrongohau / Best New Zealand Poems 2019 now live

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Editor: Hera Lindsay Bird


Ōrongohau / Best New Zealand Poems 2019 is now live  complete with a new te reo Māori name, thanks to Dr Mike Ross of the University’s Te Kawa a Māui/School of Māori Studies.

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) has published the anthology annually since 2001, with support from Creative New Zealand.

Lindsay Bird, described by recent UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy as “the most arresting and original new young poet”, set a high bar for the necessarily subjective job of Ōrongohau / Best New Zealand Poems editor.

“I tried to come to this process with a closed mind and a suspicious heart,” she says, “because there’s nothing better than the feeling of being won over by a piece of writing.”

Many of the poems that won her over are by young writers, including Freya Daly Sadgrove, Nithya Narayanan, essa ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, and the youngest poet ever featured in the anthology: 15-year-old Maha Al Mansour, who came to New Zealand from Syria in 2017 and whose poem, ‘The Garden’, evokes an unreachable homeland.

These emerging voices are engaged with identity and obsession, grief, displacement and survival, colonisation and climate change, hope and apology and defiance. They are reckless and tender, despairing and funny, often in the same breath.

Threaded through them are powerful reflections on mortality, memory, and vulnerability from established poets such as Geoff Cochrane, Michael Harlow and Lynn Davidson. Meanwhile, a year on from the murders at Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, Tusiata Avia’s hard-hitting ‘Massacre’ takes aim at a history of racism and denial.

‘Massacre’ is one of a number of poems that can also be listened to on the site. And in another Ōrongohau / Best New Zealand Poems first, Ruby Solly accompanies her poem, ‘Six feet for a single, eight feet for a double’, on ngā taonga puoro/traditional Māori musical instruments.

IIML Director Professor Damien Wilkins says, “The cross-generational and cross-cultural nature of this year’s chosen poems gives a sense of different currents running together and taking us somewhere new.”

Professor Wilkins says the timing was right to introduce a te reo Māori name for the collection, gifted to the IIML by Dr Mike Ross, Pukenga/Lecturer in the University’s Te Kawa a Māui/School of Māori Studies.

As Dr Ross explains, “Ōrongohau is a ‘new’ word combination that attempts to convey a Māori perspective. It can be translated in different ways: your news/views/thoughts/feelings/ are heard; your fame [is carried] on the wind. It doesn’t make subjective judgements about quality, the wind can blow in from anywhere.”


Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Chris Tse and Rose Lu host an online poetry reading



Your are invited to a special online reading! Brighten up your first isolation Friday! Grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea and snuggle up to hear poetry by three of Aotearoa’s finest: Carolyn DeCarlo, Chris Price and Freya Daly Sadgrove. Emceed by Therese Lloyd and hosted by Chris Tse and Rose Lu.

The event is on Friday 27th of March. We’re starting at 6:30pm sharp and running for 40 minutes cos we’re on a free Zoom plan 🤙

You can join here: You don’t have to have zoom installed, but it might make things easier.

Tell your friends! Entry limited to the first 100 participants to join the call.

Hope everyone is safe and well.

Ngā mihi nui,
Rose Lu & Chris Tse

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Jenny Powell reads ‘Kaleidoscope’






Jenny Powell reads ‘Kaleidoscope’  from her collection Trouble (Cold Hub Press, 2014).



Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet who has written seven individual and two collaborative volumes of poetry as well as a cross-genre book about human movement, The Case of the Missing Body (University of Otago University Press, 2016). She has worked with artists and musicians in a variety of formats. Jenny enjoys performing her work, and is part of the southern touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling.











Poetry Shelf audio: Helen Rickerby reads ‘How to live through this’


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Helen Rickerby ‘How to live through this’ from How to Live (Auckland University Press,  2019). Shortlisted for Ockham NZ Book Awards 2020.





Helen Rickerby has published four books of poetry, most recently Cinema (Mākaro 2014), and her next one, How to Live, will be published by Auckland University Press in August. She’s interested the elastic boundaries of what poetry can encompass, and has become especially obsessed with what happens when poetry and the essay meet and merge. She lives in Wellington, runs boutique publishing company Seraph Press, and works a day job as an editor.






Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Diana Bridge’s ‘The critic at sunset’



The critic at sunset


They cling like snow to the line of the hill,

their proportion that of wave top

to its wave. Perched on a point,

the houses are an outpost. Just a strip

of habitation holding fast above

the massive plates on which they balance,

like one brave mind engaging

with the savage present.


The critic in him sweeps through shelves,

pouncing on those words that come unbidden;

these (after Dryden) he pronounces ‘hits’.

Brimming with connections, he looks to praise,

where he can find it, craft. He is vital

before time and illness and, when he thinks

a line, and we ourselves, will bear it, offers

his take on the last great human theme.


On its promontory, the strip of houses

flames at sunset. It makes a cultivated stand

against raw statement. Will it ebb, will it increase?

Are his lines over? We, who are sure of nothing,

see this present lapped in burnished distance:

cliffs brittle as bone, the hard-to-read

stance of the land, the role played in all

of this by an ever-ambiguous sea.


Diana Bridge



Diana Bridge has published seven collections of poems, including a new & selected. Her most recent book, two or more islands, came out in 2019 and was one of The Listener’s Top 10 poetry picks for the year. Although much of her adult life has been spent overseas, she was once dubbed a ‘quintessential Wellingtonian’. Her work combines home-grown and Asian, particularly Chinese and Indian, perspectives. She has a Ph.D. in classical Chinese poetry, and has taught in the Chinese Department at Hong Kong University. Her writing includes essays on the China-based poems of Robin Hyde and William Empson; she recently completed a collaborative translation of a selection of favourite Chinese classical poems.

Like many, the poem above foreshadows events. Although it was written before our Whakaari / White Island tragedy, it reflects a general feeling of precariousness stretching from physical catastrophe to the recent deaths of Clive James and Jonathan Miller. It was triggered by one of Clive James’s ‘Late Reading’ columns. I was thinking here of the poetry critic, and especially the author of Poetry Notebook, 2014.

Poetry Shelf update and giveaway book



Te Henga Bethells Beach


Dear poetry fans

I have lots of things planned for Poetry Shelf and Poetry Box once I get my children’s anthology to the publisher in a week. But have things coming out on the blogs every day!

My schedule has got a bit askew but I will be posting the things you have sent me and will be in touch.

I randomly picked Sue Courtney to send Jenny Bornholdt’s Short Poems of New Zealand (VUP) from the poets’ solace book list.

Keep well Kia kaha

Paula x

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: National Flash Fiction Day updates

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It is mid-March and time to get excited about National Flash Fiction Day! But we’re also mindful of the changes we’re facing in these precarious times and so… we begin with news and updates around March workshops.
Workshops: Virtual, Real, Surreal…
There are only a few weeks to submit to the National Flash Fiction Day competition, and we mark this half-way point in the competition with a series of workshops led by previous NFFD judges and winners.

Note: Workshops were scheduled to take place this month in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Kerikeri and the Waikato. Some of these workshops have been cancelled due to uncertainties around Covid-19; some have been moved to virtual meetings. See the NFFD Events page for updates.

We wish everyone good health and a safe March.

We hope there’s no stopping creativity in these precarious times, which means the online NFFD competition is still open for your submissions…
National Flash Fiction Day Interviews
2020 judges, Helen Heath and Sandra Arnold
fingers comma toes journal, host of the 2020 youth competition
National Flash Fiction Day Submissions
Even as we watch what’s happening with COVID-19, the NFFD competition, which runs online each year, is an exciting way to share works of fiction from around Aotearoa New Zealand. Write small – think big! If you are being careful about attending events, we urge you to take some quiet time and polish those small stories.

You have until mid-April to send your best 300 words to the NFFD comp! See how to enter on the competition page.

And for the youth competition: go here to find out more about the 2020 competition, free entry and international!
We wish you all good luck in the 2020 competition.
And good health.