Monthly Archives: April 2020

Poetry Shelf interview wth Nick Ascroft


Nick Ascroft, Moral Sloth Victoria University Press, 2019


A heater heats

a Rita Angus, seen

through the steam from the langoustine

with mangosteen.


from ‘A Writer Wrongs’


‘Nick Ascroft’s Moral Sloth is among other things a virtuoso display of formal skills. He does a particularly classy line in sonnets. He can rhyme as tellingly as Alexander Pope or the Byron of Don Juan – and can match those poets in quickness of thought and even (it seems to me) outstrip them in richness of diction.’—Bill Manhire


Nick Ascroft’s latest poetry collection arrived at the end of last year – it had multiple effects upon me at the time and I was dead keen to do an interview with Nick – we started a conversation but then Covid 19 sidetracked everything. I return to the book and here I am again finding sweet rhyme comfort, linguistic agility, biting self exposure, equally biting wit, the humour, the poetic stretching out. Months ago I mentioned ‘a world gone mad’ in a question to Nick. That feels at odds now. Jarring in fact. This is a world off kilter trying to find equilibrium, solutions, ways forward. So many people working hard to care for so many other people. So much risk tasking. Yes there is madness on the ground and in certain leaderships. But there are also multiple comforts. When everything has spun and has seemed impossible to do – poetry has continued to hold my attention. Nick’s book has done just that.


Automating word noise from the stroller,

my son defines the wind in onomatopoeia:


Then he spies the moon, our little naked analogue,

and tells the secret of its abased name.

‘Zig zig zig,’ the bridging cicada agrees.


from ‘Naked Analogue’



Paula: Name three or four poetry books that mattered at different points in your life.

Nick: Sure. I think the ones I remember are the ones that brought me back in shock to the reminder that I love poetry. That it isn’t all just the same bag of grey Countdown sausages. Early on that’s easy. All poems seem great. But the more you read (and write) the harder it is to be impressed. These days I really enjoy certain books of poetry, but few actually get me excited. I am a cold-blooded egg, it must be said. But films, fiction, music are more likely to have me jazzed. I think Eunoia by Christian Bök of Canada was so shockingly good and novel and funny and well-executed that I ate it like a pavlova. All at once. For those who haven’t read it, the author set himself the task of writing five sections based on the five vowels with each section only using words that contained only that section’s vowel, so in the ‘E’ section words like ‘be’, ‘teehee’, ‘letter’ or ‘fecklessness’ could (and must) appear. This may sound like a pure exercise, but the result is just beautiful. Chapter I begins: ‘Writing is inhibiting. Sighing I sit, scribbling in ink this pidgin script. I sing with nihilistic witticism, disciplining signs with trifling gimmicks – impish hijinks which highlight stick sigils. Isn’t it glib? Isn’t it chic? …’ I could go on. The book is from 2001 but I got to it a few years later.

The other that comes to mind is In a Slant Light by Cilla McQueen from I think 2016. I’ve gushed about this elsewhere so I’ll hold back, but I was really captured by this one. It seemed the greatest use of Cilla’s talents to tell her own fascinating life story. I was struck both by the telling and the life in art. It felt empowering. Both those are single poem as whole book numbers. So to give a third I’ll say Byron’s Don Juan, which I finally got to two years ago. I really do prefer to read rhyming poetry, and no one has as much fun with it as Byron in the Don Juan cantos. More than that it showed me what a poet can be at their best. His use of persona and sensationalism and other needlessly frowned upon things, employed without giving a shit, and better still, sometimes pretending to give a shit. It inspired ‘The Plotz’ in Moral Sloth.


How loose and gauche.

How loose it goes;

my purple tongue

speaks weeks of prose.


from ‘Kay? Syrah? Shiraz?’


Paula: I am a big fan of In a Slant Light too – I had really wanted sessions at festivals featuring Cilla and using her poetry / autobiography as a starting point – but wasn’t to be!

I love your linguistic playfulness. Any poets you admire who also do this?

Nick: I am not quite sure what my linguistic playfulness is. It’s one of those things reviewers say of me and I feel my hackles and feckles rising. ‘Nick Ascroft, he plays with words.’ Plays?! PLAYS!? How dare you! I am not playing with language. I am working with it. This is high blinking art. But I do, I play with words. A play on words usually means delivering a pun right? Or some other rhetorical devices like zeugma (‘We stir: I my tea, and he in his grave’). I’m not sure how often I do such things. Not a lot I suspect.

So I presume the playing that is perceived relates more to my attitude to language. My attitude is: I like all the words. Any word can appear in a poem, it just needs a hospitable sentence that restricts its meaning in the right way. In the most delightful way ideally, to jack Mary Poppins. I find words joyous. Some chap smarter than me once said my work made him think of the ‘gay science’, that is the joyful spirit of Provencal troubadours as prized by Nietzsche or some such. So while my subject matter is often bleak, there is a joyfulness in the deployment of words that must come across as playful. I don’t know. Never try and analyse one’s own thing I say. That way boring pastiche lies.

But to the actual question, who else has a playfulness I admire? I think I see it in all the writers I like. David Eggleton’s parroting of the culture back at it relies on his repackaging of the phrases, buzzwords and clichés currently on the world’s lips. He seems to be both mocking the world and celebrating it. On the radio the other day he read a poem full of Z words. Love it. Richard Reeve too is playful, and what I like best is that he’s playful while being vicious, pointed, serious. The Irish and British poets of the last 30 years are lexically obsessed. Don Paterson can be my random exemplar.


Paula:  I love play because there are implications of risk tasking, discovery, the unexpected, surprise, less obligation to rules and limits, you can obey rules, reinvent them, abandon them. I am wondering if play can be serious!

I also love the way you move from infectious wit to an intense moment (love, for example). What matters when you write a poem?

Nick: What matters to me is that the idea and its phrasing are entertaining to me. I want to express whatever ideas I’m peddling in a way that gets them across. I want to be generous. That doesn’t always happen, because I also love obfuscation and nonsense. To me poetry is art with language, and language is a wonderful mess of things. I can’t sum up all poems, so I’ll try to think about what matters in particular instances. When I write a sonnet what matters is that I obey the rules: 14 × 5 iambs and a rhyme scheme. I want the rhymes to be novel, enjoyable in themselves while the poem works quietly around them. If a poem has jokes, they have to actually make me giggle. I have to laugh at my own jokes like an ass. I have a real problem with weakly jokey poems. And so a fear that I am writing them. It’s good fear.


Paula: I found myself laughing, feeling both comfort and discomfort, being moved in complex ways as I read you book. What hooks you in the poetry of others?

Nick: Many things. Too many things. But ultimately, invention. What comes to mind is the surreal brilliance in the similes of Hera Lindsay Bird. As most people likely to read this are writers themselves, I’m sure you will be familiar with the experience of reading a line and thinking, I never could have written that. That has a brilliance I will never attain. It’s bittersweet. And that’s how I feel about HLB. The intricacy of those similes. The sheer invention. Now I see everyone copying the style, the surreal and intricate and somehow true HLB simile. I don’t say that sneeringly. They are infectious. I feel the same way of Richard Reeve’s ease of invention, and his accuracy at depicting things. At the moment he is writing a poem about rain that I have seen the first few sections of and its makes you see the truths of rain anew. It makes you care about rain. I could never come up with those lines.


Not one to plotz, I’m private, careful, flaccid.

How did I change? One moment I wear blouses,

vinyl shoes, I’m pulverised on acid,

the next I’m at the bank discussing houses

or circling with a whiteboard marker ‘hazard

class’, a tucked-in shirt with belted trousers.

I want to understand, to tweeze this tuft.

Did I grow up? Or was my brightness snuffed?


from ‘The Plotz’


Paula: I saw Hera in a simile battle with USA poet Patricia Lockwood at the Wellington Writers Festival a couple of years ago. Each trying to out do the other, so the session was was like a gigantic poem. At the time it felt like there was a global wave of simile battles, every which way you looked.

Sometimes you get quite personal. There is a little confession in ‘The Plotz’: ‘I’m  private, careful, flaccid.’ Do you have lines you don’t cross? How do you feel about breaking down the privacy?

Nick: The whole of ‘The Plotz’ is uncomfortable confession … sprinkled with self-mythologising. This is not my natural mode, but something I have occasionally indulged in. And that’s how I always saw it, indulgence. Confession and making poems only about oneself were things I thought tired and distasteful. I have completely 180-ed on that. I admire the bravery of confession in other poets these days. It’s only in saying our oddest truths that others can recognise them and feel liberated by it being said elsewhere.

I can think of two lines I am uncomfortable crossing. The first relates to poems of fatherhood. I had a motto going in to the whole breeding business that ‘you become what you hate’. Constant gushing on Facebook: check. Dad dancing: check. I read Amy Brown’s brilliant evocation of those early hellish weeks of infancy, and in a similar vein Chris Stewart in the recent AUP New Poets 6. In the recognition of experience I really value these poems. I remember reading Graham Lindsay’s Lazy Wind Poems a decade ago and really enjoying it, but having a sense that his baby had poisoned his mind. He was now obsessed with this tot and it was suckling on his poetry like a parasite. I was afraid to become that thing. A dad poet fixated on his offspring. It’s a foolish fear and a few of the better poems in Moral Sloth relate to dadhood. But I remain uncomfortable with it. Perhaps it’s in the way ‘dad’ is used as a modifier to denote uncool or hopeless: ‘dad jokes’, ‘dadbod’, ‘dad pants’ (I made that up, but you can imagine what it might mean and it is not flattering).

My other discomfort is naming names. All of my best confessional anecdotes involve other people. I’ll shame myself happily – and certain others who it is humorous to shame – but not everyone.


And hello, I am a beaver.

To you my sincerest, I am a starfish

with an old-fashioned disposition.

Ever yours, a beetle, one of many, writing,

amid a rainstorm, of commas, to an eagle.


from ‘Good Day, I Am a Horse’


Paula: Are you drawn to particular things, subjects?

Nick: Moral philosophy. The human condition. Sanctimony. Hubris. My own pratfalls. Funny cats.


Paula: What attracts you to rhyme (I love your rhyme!)?

Nick: I enjoy rhyme more than anything in poetry. For a while that felt enormously unfashionable. It was OK to like the rhymesters of the past with a knowing wince, but rhyme’s time had passed. Or so we thought. People at NASA have a saying: ‘Space is hard’. Meaning it is always likely any mission will crash and burn and only the most meticulous planning will give you a hope in hell. No. Rhyme is hard. It crashes and burns by its very nature. It’s a real craft I think that takes some years of apprenticeship. I am still learning. It has to seem both obvious and invisible, blunt but subtle. That’s more in the lead up, perhaps, but the rhyme words themselves delight me. I recently rhymed ‘triplex’ and ‘shipwrecks’. Giddy. A good near-rhyme can be so rewarding too, for instance in ‘Art Is Weak’ the rhyme of ‘horsemen’ with ‘porcelain’. But I like metrical rhyming poetry ultimately for the puzzle. It’s like a crossword or Sudoku. You labour away at it trying to make it complete, and acceptable. But unlike a puzzle there is no final answer and always room for improvement. At one point in Moral Sloth there are 242 lines of iambic pentameter in a row (including a few sonnets and the 18 stanzas of ottava rima of ‘The Plotz’). I really worry this is off-putting. But it’s what I write.


A certain governmental agency

provisioning the arts suggested in

the aftermath that those invested in

opposing such disgusting vagrancy

of moral intellect should hashtag works

of art or prose on Twitter: ‘#CreateAroha’.


from The Mosque Attacks’


Paula: What good is poetry in a world gone mad?

Nick: The world hasn’t gone mad of course. It remains mad. I am not optimistic that poetry will help. It summons some of the forces in the world perhaps. There are forces for order, forces for chaos, forces that are just like fingers on the inside of a balloon trying to poke outwards, such as comfort. As to good – and evil –  these are such important girders of the human world that shape much of how we live our lives and who we feel it’s okay to look down on, but they are ultimately make-believe. That’s a meaningless thing to say as I’m speaking from within that make-believe world where good and evil are as real as music (also doesn’t exist) or mathematics (I’m on the fence). So the good of poetry? And its good to a mad world, where the word ‘good’ is some fantastical fudge? I am the wrong choice to pontificate on such a thing. I admire people who push the great worth of poetry to society, being someone who writes the darn-goshed stuff, and I also admire those who scoff and suggest poetry is the most worthless garbage.

My only sermon on this front is that if poetry is lowly garbage, which very few read, it has a secret strength. Poets can say anything. We can say the things others would rightly shy away from. There is no personal consequence. We’re already the lowest of the low. And we will never derive a living income from poetry, so the biggest risk is a few sales off a small total. We can say ugly truths and scary falsehoods. An example. I was going to cut a poem from Moral Sloth called ‘The Mosque Attacks’ for two very good reasons. The first being that the mosque attacks in Christchurch are still fresh, still appalling, still punch-to-the-gut sickening to even think about, and the response to them still complex and, to many, problematic. My poem is not even about the attacks. It’s about a Creative New Zealand tweet. The poem, a sonnet, tries to untangle my dislike of CNZ’s post-attacks call to hashtag works on social media with #CreateAroha. The upshot being that it was feelgood vomit. So yes, the first reason to cut, is that my rhymey poem is petty in the face of real tragedy. You all think: and you needed a second reason, man? The second reason was not to bite the hand that feeds. Why attack Creative New Zealand? They are my only chance to make a little money. I thought it absurd I would even consider putting the poem in the collection. I’d shown it to my email poet-circle. That was enough. But those readers didn’t blink or scold me. So I slipped it in the manuscript. I presumed Ashleigh Young would say, this is a bit on the nose, Nick. Nothing. Then I had to cut poems to get down to a slick 80 pages. Surely it would be cut now. I left it. And I left it because poetry sashays under the radar. It can waltz its way through the sacred and taboo. Poetry can say unwise things. This is the good of poetry. More people will read this interview than that poem.


Paula: If you were running this interview and wanted to take a swerve what would you ask yourself?

Nick: I’ve thought about this too much, but the question I would suggest is ‘Has success changed you?’ In fact, it would almost be great if you deleted your question and just asked this, so that people might pause and think, but he’s not successful at all is he? Why’s she asking that? Weird.

The reason I’d like the question is that success as a poet is a funny thing. No it really isn’t, actually. If one is celebrated, studied, one’s books sell in large numbers, one wins prizes, awards, fellowships, is asked to panel-beat festivals around the world, and one’s surname becomes sufficient identification, etc. etc., then one is successful. I nearly almost have a couple of those things. But I decided recently that I would think of myself as successful. Everyone can see someone more successful than themselves. So why not? Some people enjoy my poetry, and some people publish it. I’ll take that. And yes, success has changed me. I am much much worse.


Paula: Love the question. Might try it on someone else. It’s the stranger coming up to you and saying they liked your book. That’s something I rate. Everything else feels like white noise.

Is there a poem that particularly worked for you?

Nick: Difficult. They all worked enough to be included and all carried their flaws. I like ‘The Plotz’ the most, but a few lines bug me, and I’ll likely be rewriting it until I die. ‘I Coo Haiku High, Eh’, which squashes eight haiku into a sonnet, pleases me very much but it’s a bit of a grand folly. The one I wrote for my father’s funeral ‘A Good Heart’ using Dad’s stock phrases is special to me but similarly is a bit too personal to transcend that. I’ll choose ‘What to Avoid Calling My Next Poetry Collection’, simply because it involved the most work. It was much longer and continuously growing. Ashleigh helped me cull it back to something tighter and more manageable. One of the lines is entirely hers. Is it poetry? I’m not sure that it is. But meh.



What to Avoid calling the Next Collection


You’re Going to Need a Big Old Dictionary

What to Expectorate When Your Expectorating

Fanny Pack of Wolves

Words Good

Dry, Slow, Grinding, Unremitting, Desolate, Endless


Dwang Nibbler

Full Metal Jean Shorts

You Don’t Have Time for This

Treat Your Own Neck

Fey Canoes


Your Haircut Looks Like a Pauper’s Grave

Your Pauper’s Grave Is a Bit Ooh-Look-at-Me


People Who Bought This Also Bought Pornography



I Preferred His Early Funny Poems

Just Thoughts Really

Limericks for Pubic Baldness

Charge Conjugation Parity Symmetry Violation for Dummies

Hang on, Nobody Wang Chung a Second


Impervious to Criticism

Found Poems of Financial Regulation

Away with Words

Fighting Fire with Fire Extinguishers

There Was an Old Lady from Lucknow


Most Eligible Lecturer

You People

Once Were Wordier

Cry Me ¡Arriba!

What to Ejaculate When You’re Ejaculating


Suckle on My Verse Teats

Emilio Estevez

10 Child Abduction Fails #3 Is Hilarious

Your Feet Honk Like Tofurkey




Nick Ascroft was born in Oamaru. His previous poetry collections are From the Author Of (2000), Nonsense (2003), and Back with the Human Condition (2016); in 2018 Boatwhistle published his Dandy Bogan: Selected Poems. He has edited Landfall, Glottis and Takahē and was all-too briefly the Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. He is also a non-fiction author, writing on music and football. Nick is an editor by trade, a linguist by training and a competitive Scrabble player by choice.

Victoria University Press author page








Poetry Shelf connections: Vaughan Rapatahana reads ‘kia atawhai – te huaketo 2020’


Screen Shot 2020-04-30 at 7.40.19 AM.png



You also watch Vaughan read the poem on YouTube



kia atawhai – te huaketo 2020


kia atawhai ki ā koutou whānau

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whanaunga

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoa

kia atawhai ki ā koutou kiritata

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoamahi

kia atawhai ki ngā uakoao

kia atawhai ki ā koutou ano.


ka whakamatea te huaketo

ki te atawhai.


kia atawhai.



be kind – the virus 2020


be kind to your families

be kind to your relatives

be kind to your friends

be kind to your neighbours

be kind to your workmates

be kind to strangers

be kind to yourselves.


kill the virus

with kindness.


be kind.


Vaughan Rapatahana



Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Five books published during 2019 – in Aotearoa New Zealand, India, United Kingdom. Includes his latest poetry collection ngā whakamatuatanga/interludes published by Cyberwit, Allahabad, India. Participated in World Poetry Recital Night, Kuala Lumpur, September 2019. Participated in Poetry International, the Southbank Centre, London, U.K. in October 2019 – in the launch of Poems from the Edge of Extinction and in Incendiary Art: the power of disruptive poetry. Interviewed by The Guardian newspaper whilst in London.

His poem tahi kupu anake included in the presentation by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas to the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva in November 2019. Interviewed on Radio NZ by Kim Hill in November 2019.

Poetry Shelf connections: Ash Davida Jane on Space Struck by Paige Lewis



Space Struck by Paige Lewis

Sarabande Books 2019


I learn the universe is an arrow

without end and it asks only one question:


How dare you? I recite it in bed, How dare

you? How dare you?


It seems strange to be writing about poetry right now, while everybody struggles with huge changes to their daily lives. And don’t @ me, I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in writing poetry—I know art is important, but it matters in a completely different way to things like food and housing and medical care. The thing is, this book of poems feels essential. It gives us a whole new perspective on the world—revealing even the most ordinary things as something precious and strange. “Every experience seems both urgent and / unnatural,” Lewis writes, which reads almost as a premonition, printed months ago and truer now than ever.

The first of Paige Lewis’ poems I ever read was “You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm,” and I was completely charmed from the offset. As the playful tone disassembles into something more fractured and frantic, the poem outgrows itself and starts to take up too much space on the page, breaking out of its couplets. I love the beautiful oddity of the poem’s narrative—“two men / floating in a rocket ship are ignoring their delicate experiments,” they are turning their ship around and coming back to Earth for you. You will take one as a winter husband and one as a summer husband.

This poem does something I’d never read in a poem before—it turns against the authority of its own narrator’s voice. It asks why you should do what it says, even when it can offer you everything:

do you want to know Latin

okay                now everyone

here knows Latin                     want inflatable             deer



You can stand and walk away even as it speaks. You can ignore the men, the deer, the rocket ship. You can leave your sweater behind, even though it might be cold.


The collection’s opening poem, “Normal Everyday Creatures,” is just as brilliant, and points to how the voice of the poem controls its perspective, playing a game with us—“I’m going to show you some photos— / extreme close-ups of normal, everyday / creatures.” This voice is a generous guide, offering hints, promising to revise the game. I find it oddly comforting to have—at the very beginning of the book—such a clear acknowledgement of the power the speaker has, to direct our attention to or away from certain things. There’s an honesty in it that makes it easier to trust the speaker, as they ask us to follow them into the dark (and the rest of the book):

And when the path grows too dark to see even

the bright parts of me, have faith in the sound

of my voice. I’m here. I’m still the one leading.


Throughout Space Struck, small pockets of the divine appear in ordinary places. St. Francis takes off layer-upon-layer of robes in the corner of a studio apartment. The poet’s bed turns into the “Chapel of the Green Lord,” sacred in all its dishevelment. God’s secretary leaves an exasperated message telling you to “Get real, darling. If He answered all prayers / you’d be dead five times over.” She’s busy but sympathetic, taking a moment out of her day to warn you. These men will take every inch you give them: “if you offer a sorry mouth, they’ll break it.”

And just as the transcendent becomes commonplace, very specific everyday things suddenly seem holy. What an extraordinary thing to be on a train, “approaching the station where my beloved / is waiting to take me to the orchard, so we can // pay for the memory of having once, at dusk, / plucked real apples from real trees.” How strange, to pick fruit with your own bare hands. Stranger still to have to pay money for the experience.

In one of my favourite poems, “The Moment I Saw a Pelican Devour,” the poet asks what makes something a miracle. Is it “anything that God forgot / to forbid”? When women in factories were paid to paint watch dials with radium, they were told “to lick their brushes into sharp points.” This poem reads as a kind of elegy to these women, whose bodies became something unearthly. The miracle, Lewis writes, “is not that these women swallowed light,” but that the Radium Corporation claimed syphilis as their cause of death. They are resurrected here before us, more vibrant than saints, commemorated with dignity and grief.


Space Struck is generous with its attention—it focuses in on normal everyday creatures and women lost in time; it pans up to show us the intricacies of admin work in heaven; and it turns outwards to the Voyager space probes. The list goes on, and whatever these poems turn their gaze on they do so with compassion, grace and a hint of playfulness, shining a light on the humanity in everything. The book becomes a showcase of extraordinary things, which seemed, up till now, completely ordinary.


Ash Davida Jane


Ash Davida Jane is a poet from Wellington. Some of her recent work can be found in Peach Mag, Starling, Scum, The Spinoff, and Best NZ Poems 2019. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, is forthcoming from Victoria University Press.

Paige Lewis is the author of Space Struck (Sarabande Books, 2019). Their poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Best New Poets 2017, Gulf Coast, The Massachusetts Review, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. Paige currently lives and teaches in Indiana.

Paige Lewis website







Poetry Shelf Lounge: VUP launches Natalie Morrison’s Pins


PINS front cover final.jpg


If all the pins in the world were gathered together
you would be very much pleased.
But all the pins in the world
cannot be gathered



Welcome to the Victoria University Press launch of Natalie Morrison’s Pins.

Time to pour that wine and draw in close to celebrate a book-length poem I am ultra excited to read.

First some words from editor Ashleigh Young:




Chris Price launches the book:








Natalie gives us a wee taste of the book:



‘I found Pins extraordinarily witty, perceptive, and moving. The family narrative unspools around two sisters whose pointed obsessions bring us something that echoes Wallace Stevens’ ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ and Anne Kennedy’s 100 Traditional Smiles.’

—James Brown


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If you feel like me after these speeches and readings, you will have written down the title as a must-have book. I love the premise. I loved the intimate reading, with glimpses of the kitchen showing in the background. Oh and I love the cover by Todd Atticus.

Sadly you can’t stroll over and tell Natalie how much you loved the reading and get her to sign a copy.  But now that we can get books online from our magnificent independent booksellers – I highly recommend you order a copy of this!


Poetry Shelf and Victoria University Press declare this spellbinding poetry book officially launched.


VUP author page








Poetry Shelf connections: Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor’s ‘There are many moments where 2 metres might have saved us.’


There are many moments where 2 metres might have saved us.


At dusk

the gnats turn gold

and ghost the grass.


I hear

their winged humming like

an electric miasma.


I walk through the swarm with my chin up and

my breath caught

warm in my throat.


I wear them

around my shoulders like

a shawl made of shiver and teeth.


I pull them close

and hope

the men hear them and know

to keep away.


Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor



Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Prize, and was the co-winner of the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers. Her work has appeared in a number of literary journals, including Starling, Mayhem, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Mimicry, and Min-a-rets.








Poetry Shelf connections: John Allison’s ‘Corona Contemplative’






Born in Blenheim in 1950, John Allison returned to live near Christchurch in mid-2016 after 15 years in Melbourne. Prior to that, throughout the 1990s he’d had poems published in numerous literary journals here in New Zealand and overseas. Three collections of poetry were published during that time, and he was the featured poet in Poetry NZ 14. His fifth collection of poetry, A Place To Return To, was published in August 2019. A chapbook of new poems, Near Distance, is projected for publication later this year.



Poetry Shelf connections: takahē 98 goes online today




He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

Kia ora e hoa,

Exceptional times call for exceptional measures, and because we have so much exceptional talent packed into our 98th issue, we’ve made the call to publish this edition online, rather than panic our printer and the postie.

This little gem was all set to go to the printer some weeks ago, but the world is a different place now. So we’re switching around our print and online edition and published this little beauty to our website for your reading pleasure. takahē 99 will be our first print issue for this year, all going well (fingers, feathers and fur crossed).

takahē 98 has perfect prose from our guest poet Tim Upperton, fabulous flash from guest writer Elizabeth Morton, and pages of plenty from our incredible contributors. Tiffany Thornley’s artwork comes alive on-screen, and the accompanying essay from Jane Zusters takes us back to the Women’s Art Movement and a bitterly cold 1970s winter.

So grab your favourite tipple, the good crackers and a wheel of cheese, and settle in for a read that will make you happy to be at home. Or bookmark the site, take a bite here and there, and nip back once the magic has fully settled into your soul.

Whether you nibble, gnaw or annihilate it in one sitting, takahē 98 is the nourishment you’ve been craving.

Kia kaha, and keep in touch.

Please feel free to forward this on to all your creative friends, and get in touch any time if you have any questions.

check out takahē
He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

Kia ora e hoa,

Exceptional times call for exceptional measures, and because we have so much exceptional talent packed into our 98th issue, we’ve made the call to publish this edition online, rather than panic our printer and the postie.

This little gem was all set to go to the printer some weeks ago, but the world is a different place now. So we’re switching around our print and online edition and published this little beauty to our website for your reading pleasure. takahē 99 will be our first print issue for this year, all going well (fingers, feathers and fur crossed).

takahē 98 has perfect prose from our guest poet Tim Upperton, fabulous flash from guest writer Elizabeth Morton, and pages of plenty from our incredible contributors. Tiffany Thornley’s artwork comes alive on-screen, and the accompanying essay from Jane Zusters takes us back to the Women’s Art Movement and a bitterly cold 1970s winter.

So grab your favourite tipple, the good crackers and a wheel of cheese, and settle in for a read that will make you happy to be at home. Or bookmark the site, take a bite here and there, and nip back once the magic has fully settled into your soul.

Whether you nibble, gnaw or annihilate it in one sitting, takahē 98 is the nourishment you’ve been craving.


Check out takahē online

Poetry Shelf connections: NZ publishers pick some comfort books



This is my sixth comfort book list –  lists that use comfort as a starting point and then veer off as the contributors make selections. To date: poets, fiction writers, non-fiction writers, children’s authors and invited New Zealanders. The books are much loved and are as likely to startle and provoke as they are to soothe and provide solace.

I have been musing on how my reading habits have changed. My usual focus has shattered and whereas I would spend whole days in the grip of a book I can’t seem to do that at the moment. I graze. Poetry works for me. Literary journals are good grazing ground. A single poem can hold my attention for ages.

For some reason I am compelled to write. I have poems turning in my head like little snowballs. They are there in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, and they are with me during the day.

But books are essential. I am still reading Richard Powles’ magnificent The Overstory at a snail’s pace and just loving it.


This week I invited Publishers and a few others involved in the industry. Very fitting when bookshops will be able to process online sales next week.




Harriet Allen (Fiction Publisher, Penguin Random House)

Despite history reminding us that we never learn, I also find it a solace that we persevere and continue to connect. I’m not the first person to have made that observation, nor will I be the last; that’s the nature of history. But because of it, Neil Oliver’s A History of Ancient Britain has been much in my mind recently. This is partly because it is such an excellent book and partly because it explores how humanity has come together and been distanced in varied ways for millennia. I read the book over the Christmas break while in Britain. During the lockdown, I have had more than enough manuscripts to keep me occupied, but have also been turning to other books on ancient history, but only to be disappointed – Oliver has set a high benchmark.

I’m no doubt falsifying by oversimplifying, but he shows an interesting fluctuation in the social interaction between ancient people in Britain. Hunter gatherers had ventured into what was a peninsula before an ice age chased them out. When it eventually receded, new generations travelled north, hunting and gathering. Because there were so few people, Oliver believes that special places such as Stonehenge developed to bring them together, to observe the winter solstice, to meet up, trade, find spouses and celebrate.

The discovery of bronze resulted in more effective tools, which improved farming and led to larger settlements and an increasing population. When iron was discovered, these populations created better weaponry as they fought over land, food and resources. This was the time that hillforts were built, complete with their grain pits, so tribes could lock themselves in and shut others out.

Then came the Romans, some tribes welcoming them in, others trying to repel them. But throughout all these periods, although the peninsula had become an island, people were crossing the sea, intermarrying, trading with civilisations far afield, sharing ideas, art and skills.

There are many fascinating observations in this book, such as who controlled the changing resources at different times and how that influenced social interaction. You can appreciate this book from a safe hemisphere away, but I loved reading it while visiting some of the places mentioned (from Stonehenge to Danbury Hill Fort to Bath Roman baths – all impressive structures in different ways). I took it for granted then that (if I saved enough money and leave) I could travel there, but that was BC-19. Now things have changed, even my visit, although only a few months ago, was to a Britain that no longer exists: the virus has now scarred it.

At one point, Oliver talks about Stone Age hand axes, saying that until you can hold one you cannot appreciate how perfectly they fit the hand at rest. All very well for you to say that, I thought, knowing the chance of me ever holding one was next to zero.

About a week later, we were at Fishbourne Museum in Chichester, viewing the stunning Roman mosaic floors. They also had a tour of their archives building, where all archaeological finds in the region are sent to be cleaned, catalogued, stored and loaned to museums. As this process was explained, we were handed around objects from the collection, such as an exquisite Samian-ware dish.

But what sent me tingling were two Stone Age hand axes. Oliver’s book leapt off the page. Just as he had described, each axe fitted exactly within the palm, letting my fingers rest in descending notches. One had been made for the right hand, the other for the left. Each had once fitted snuggly in a Stone Age hand, as it was knapped into shape and wielded as an everyday tool. Although we may have been separated by millions of years, I felt an incredible connection to the makers. It was a temporally distant handshake. The distance made it all the more miraculous.





Fergus Barrowman (Publisher, Victoria University Press)

My comfort reading is serial crushes – over the past year, Patricia Beer, Julia Blackburn, Alice McDermott, and since February when the significance of Covid-19 began to come into focus, Natalia Ginzburg. The tipping point was All Our Yesterdays, a novel set in internal exile in WW2 Italy. It’s teenage Anna’s story, but this is a sentence that especially moved me to Twitter: ‘Cenzo Rena poured himself out some more brandy and slipped on his waterproof and went out into the bright morning, with the bells ringing loudly and little shining aeroplanes high up in the sky.’ You’ll have to read it to appreciate the significance. The memoir Family Lexicon and the essays in The Little Virtues are vital – especially ‘Winter in the Abruzzi’ and ‘My Vocation’. In lockdown, the first book I was able to forget myself in was The Manzoni Family, a long non-fiction epistolary novel about the author of I promessi sposi and his family. Manzoni’s glittering career and the Risorgimento play out in the background, but the book’s substance is what the family wrote to one another about over 150 years – constant illness and occasional epidemics. We should all read whatever gives us comfort.



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Sarah Bolland (Creative Director, The Cuba Press)

When I’m in need of solace, there’s only one reliable way to achieve it: murder.

Only of the literary sort, of course, and preferably cosy. The first book I read during this lockdown was The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie. Growing up, half a shelf of the hall bookcase was devoted to her, so she comes with a sense of safety and familiarity, even if it’s a book I’ve never read before. You know there’ll be a body (of someone you’re not very attached to), you know there’ll be clues (that you could theoretically work out) and you know that by the end everything will make sense and the world between the covers will be restored to order. It’s comforting to believe things can be that easy, once in a while.

There’s a great episode of the Allusionist podcast that delves more into ‘the literature of convalescence’ – not just for illness, but all kinds of wanting to feel better.





Sam Elworthy (Publisher, Auckland University Press)

For comfort right now, believe it or not, I reckon the first volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power  (just finished) does the job. It’s just a deep insight into real politics – how it works; how it can help people; how it goes wrong. What we’re dealing with right now requires political solutions. We’re fortunate in New Zealand to have the politics we do; the US is unfortunately right now to have the politics they do. The LBJ biography shows how to tell one from the other.




Catriona Ferguson (Directory Publishers Association)

The dark and knotty novels of Agatha Christie have regularly offered me safe haven in troubled times. They provide both distraction and comfort; I think it’s the combination of sharp plotting, absorbing characters and the way in which they invoke a slightly remote world that it’s easy to escape into.

Another crime writer I lean towards is Sophie Hannah who has been handed Agatha Christie’s literary baton and so far has produced four new mysteries featuring the much-loved moustachioed detective Hercule Poirot.

If you prefer your crime more contemporary then I recommend any of Hannah’s other novels; I’m currently deep in Haven’t They Grown, a tricksy, compelling book that plays with truth and logic.





Sally Greer (Director, Beatnik Publishing)

That was a difficult task because there are a number of titles that readily fulfil that brief of books that have given me comfort. I’d have to say the upcoming Wild Kinship: Conversations with Conscious Entrepreneurs by Monique Hemmingson is a book that’s given me quite a lot to think about going forward. It’s not only inspiring but yeah comforting, knowing that you can do something yourself to make a difference. There’s a quote by the writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley on the back of the book – ‘There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.’

I think in New Zealand we’re definitely living that, everyone pitching in during this incredibly tough time. Monique Hemmingson has met with all these inspiring conscious small business owners. The bottom line isn’t purely about profit and margins, competition and greed. The focus is on community and collaboration, it really is an amazing conversation about social capital. It’s so timely for what’s happening here and around the world.





Jenny Hellen (Publisher, Allen & Unwin)
To be honest, when lockdown was announced I instinctively felt I needed to read something ‘easy’, engrossing and escapist and so I bought Marian Keyes’ Grown Ups. It was perfect. Assured writing, laughs, dramatics, tension. It distracted me from the horrors of Covid. Not sure I would call it soothing. Books that fall into that category for me are The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Lanny by Max Porter, Someone’s Wife by Linda Burgess: all exquisite writers who have the power to take you away from where you are right now. Oh and in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep, I can heartily recommend Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling – gently amusing walking tour of England, along with The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout.


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Roger Hickin (Publisher, Cold Hub Press)

In Water for Days of Thirst, a selection of poems by the Nicaraguan poet Blanca Castellón, which I translated and published in 2016, there is a poem which seems particularly appropriate in any consideration of literature as a storehouse of solace:



In the midst of today’s death

a poem was born


so alone

its cactus body

stores water

for days of thirst.



But the book I’ve returned to again and again over nearly fifty years is Hear us O Lord from heaven thy dwelling place, a posthumously published (1961) collection of stories by Malcolm Lowry: mostly for the lyrical, meditative 68-page story, ‘The Forest Path to the Spring’. Intended by Lowry as the Paradiso of a never-realised Dantesque trilogy, itself part of an even grander design, this was an attempt “to write of human happiness in terms of enthusiasm and high seriousness usually reserved for catastrophe and tragedy”. Largely autobiographical, like much of Lowry’s writing, it is an account of an alcoholic ex-seaman/jazz musician’s life with his wife as squatters in a shack on Vancouver Inlet in the 1940s and early 50s; an evocation of simple virtues in the face of destruction; a record of the epiphanies and exultations of a man who learns through suffering to simplify his life. Even if the writing is sometimes a little too lush & teeters on the brink of sentimentality, from its opening sentence–– “At dusk, every evening, I used to go through the forest to the spring for water”–– ‘The Forest Path to the Spring’ is a profoundly comforting work.




Chris Holdaway (Publisher, Compound Press)

American poet Douglas Crase published The Revisionist in 1981: a book of such utterly sweeping poems that must have been almost impossible to read for their dazzling sincerity in a time of devoutly post-modern irony. His writing has been available only marginally for decades, but last year Carcanet reissued (as it were) The Revisionist so now you too can experience reading the first lines and getting your breath knocked out so hard that everything seems possible:


If I could raise rivers, I’d raise them
Across the mantle of your past: old headwaters
Stolen, oxbows high and dry while new ones form,
A sediment of history rearranged. If I could unlock
The lakes, I’d spill their volume over the till
I know you cultivate: full accumulations swept away,
The habit of prairies turned to mud. If I had glaciers,
I’d carve at the stony cliffs of your belief:
Logical mountains lowered notch by notch, erratics
Dropped for you to stumble on. Earthquakes, and I’d
Seize your experience at its weakest edge: leveled
Along a fault of memories. Sunspots, I’d cloud
Your common sense; tides, and I’d drown its outlines
With a weight of water they could never bear.
If I had hurricanes, I’d worry your beaches
Into ambiguity: barrier islands to collect them
In one spot and in another the sudden gut
That sucks them loose to revolve in dispersion with
The waves. If I had frost, I’d shatter the backbone
Of your thought: an avalanche of gravel, a storm
Of dust. And if I could free volcanoes, I’d tap
The native energies you’ve never seen: counties
Of liquid rock to cool in summits you’d have to
Reckon from. If I could unroll a winter of time
When these were done, I’d lay around your feet
In endless fields where you could enter and belong,
A place returning and a place to turn to whole.





Nicola Legat (Publisher, Massey University Press, Te Papa Press)

I wasn’t going to read the new Elizabeth Strout. I loved Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton but, you know how it is, there are lots of other authors and books to get through. But then, the day before lockdown, I rushed into The Women’s Bookshop to grab some books for the weeks ahead. Carole’s book shelves had been pretty well cleaned out in the stampede of the days before but there was still a modest pile of Olive, Again on the centre table and so I bought one. The next day lockdown began, and my street’s newly established WhatsApp network sprang to life as we asked each other questions: Has anyone been to Countdown yet, and how long is the queue? Do you have flour? Yeast? How do we help the residents in the halfway house? Don’t forget to bang pots outside at 7pm on Saturday night. Slowly distinct personalities revealed themselves: practical people, compassionate people, creative people, jokey people, sometimes cranky people. We were all in this together. What we had in our street was what we had and we would get through. A lot like Crosby, Maine, where Olive Kitteridge is advancing into old age, still blundering through life, irascible, disappointed, scornful, lonely. But also capable of compassion, her roots down deep in the soil of her complex little community. Over the years she had given a good deal to it, and for all its flaws and shortcomings it could still sustain her. A lot like us.


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Julia Marshall (Publisher, Gecko Press)

Normally as a publisher I would be careful not to choose a book we have published ourselves, but at this moment, if we are talking comfort at a time when I swing between optimism and despair, I want to remind myself of why we do this. For me, there are some key books that I think the world is better with than without: All the Dear Little Animals is one, by Ulf Nilsson and Eva Eriksson, Duck, Death and the Tulip, by Wolf Erlbruch, Seasons by Blexbolex – all good for slowing me down, encouraging a bit of breathing perhaps, as good for me as a glass of water or a cake. (If I wanted cake, I would read Detective Gordon.)

The fact that I am reading at all is a comfort as I sometimes worry about not being able to see – but I don’t read for comfort. I use food for that. I just read, often whatever is next on the shelf. I do like something different to what I read last. At the moment I would like next, if I had it, some Dickens, for the pace, humanity and the writing. I am also reading cookbooks.




Mary McCallum, (Publisher, Mākaro Press and The Cuba Press


Sincerity by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador)

My son Paul gave me Carol Ann Duffy’s Sincerity for Christmas. She was UK poet laureate until last year. The book is bright and sparkling and I started to read. Then news came through that my uncle Nigel had died on Christmas Eve. I’d just read a line that spoke of ‘The small o in love and loss.’ It felt like the perfect line, the perfect compression. I shared it with my grieving aunt and cousins. I said it when we raised our glasses at the family Christmas toast.

At Easter, my aunt Chrys, on the other side of the family, died in her rest home in Devon. Not from Covid-19, but the virus meant she couldn’t be hospitalised. Just after my dad rang with the news, it started raining hard, and then it hailed. Sincerity was sitting on my piano, where the music goes. I opened it randomly to (I kid you not) a poem called ‘Garden before Rain’, which ends: ‘It is like love, / the garden yearning to be touched / by the expert fingers of rain.’

And there’s another poem too I’ve found, which I read when I’m missing my two children living in the UK, especially at this time. It’s called ‘Empty Nest’ and includes the lines: ‘I knew mothering, but not this other thing / which hefts my heart each day.’ It ends, as this poet so often does, with an uplift: ‘From a local church, bells like a spelling. / And the evening star like a text. / And then what next …’ Somehow Duffy always has the words for it, whatever it is. And consoles in the telling.


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Catherine Montgomery (Publisher, Canterbury University Press)

Books give me comfort. Full stop. It’s a blanket statement about my favourite form of security blanket. Reading in bed offers the greatest comfort (even if frowned upon as poor ‘sleep hygiene’), preferably hemmed in by a couple of cats (even worse sleep hygiene).

My stockpiling before the lockdown was focused less on the pantry and more on the bookshelves – it’s not that I don’t love to eat too, but it seemed that supermarkets would still be open and bookshops wouldn’t. Lyttelton’s second-hand bookshop, a local treasure, had contributed to my sense of ‘reading security’ by providing the four volumes of Anthony Powell’s Dance to The Music of Time, and from the University Bookshop, in those surreal frantic minutes before the doors were locked for an indefinite period, I picked up a reassuringly hefty copy of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and The Light. There was comfort even in the anticipation of reading them.

There are so many other times when books have been a particular support to me. I arrived in Christchurch from the UK in late 1995, completely ignorant of Aotearoa’s culture and history, and of everyday Kiwi customs and idioms. Developing a sense of belonging is a long journey, and reading contemporary fiction is one of the ways in. I’ll always be grateful to New Zealand authors for being my guides at the start, amongst them Patricia Grace, Kirsty Gunn, Paula Morris, Emily Perkins and CK Stead. As we’re often told, an interest in other people and their lives is a great antidote to shyness and anxiety, and while I read them purely for pleasure these writers fuelled my curiosity and gave me a chance to start connecting with my new home quietly and at my own pace.

Despite that opening generalisation, I admit that books aren’t a panacea. (See Karen Hay’s advice on Poetry Shelf last week that when you need solace or comfort the best thing is to write something yourself.) Books weren’t able to comfort or even distract me from the acute pain of grief when my mother died; perhaps that’s as it should be. (I’ve since found a book about compassion as a path through suffering which has helped in the aftermath – A Fearless Heart by Thupten Jinpa, principal English translator for the Dalai Lama.) Even when the grief had modulated some years later, it was still asking a lot of fiction to provide enjoyment, let alone comfort. Now, as then, when I can’t cope with anything too serious or too flippant or too poignant, in the words of the late Clive James, ‘I thank heaven for small mercies. The first of these is Rumpole’.

During my long ‘convalescence’ after bereavement, John Mortimer’s comic stories about the crumpled, cynical, wise and witty defence barrister were wonderful comfort fare. There’s an underlying melancholy to the stories, too, but kindness and fairness are at their core. While each story is discrete, there was comfort in developing a deep familiarity with the characters and their environs as I progressed through the two omnibus editions. Sam Leith’s introduction to one collection puts it much better: ‘One of the great joys of these stories – like Wodehouse’s, setting a time and place in aspic – is the deeply consolatory joy of familiarity. You settle into Rumpole’s world with the same easeful sigh you imagine Rumpole emitting as he settles into his place at Pommeroy’s. Each story is different, but each story is also, deep down, the same. Each twists in an eminently satisfactory way’.

And in a sort of reverse-Proustian response, reading the stories connects me with comforting childhood tastes and smells – tomato soup (canned) and buttered toast (sliced white loaf): it’s lunchtime in the mid-70s, I’m ‘off sick’ from school, propped up in front of the TV, with the soup and toast on a tray, completely absorbed in an episode of the BBC’s ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’.




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Waimatua Morris (Sales and Marketing Manager, Huia Press)


The first book I chose is Huia Short Stories 13 which is a collection of short stories from the 2019 Pikihuia Awards for Māori writers. I chose this book because it reminded me that we have a huge talent of local Māori writers that we should continue to support. This collection of superb storytelling will touch your feelings, make you think, open up new understandings and entertain you.

The second book I picked is Legacy by Whiti Hereaka. This is a thrilling and realistic novel that follows a modern-day teenager, Riki Pūweto, back in time to World War One where he finds himself serving as his great-great-grandfather in te Māori Contingent. This story reminds us of our tipuna who stood on the front line for Aotearoa. During this lockdown, front line staff have also played a crucial role to ensure our safety and comfort. I chose this story to acknowledge those who have made a sacrifice for the sake of others.



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Helen Rickerby (Publisher, Seraph Press)

A few years ago my father was told that he was going to die within one to three years, depending on what kind of a rare disease he had. He phoned me up immediately to tell me, and of course I immediately burst into tears. I happened to be in a café with my friend B having an after-lunch coffee. B told me later that the waiting staff gave him really dirty looks, assuming that he was the cause of my grief.

My dad has passed the three year mark, and we’re pretty sure now he never had either form of that disease at all, but in the weeks following his ‘death sentence’ I found the worst time for me was that time between going to bed and falling asleep. That time when there is nothing to distract you from your fears. Except I did find something to distract me. I started reading books on my Kobo, which has a backlight, so I could read in the dark while my husband slept beside me. What I mostly read was books by Richard Holmes, a biographer. I focused on his books that collect shorter biographical essays – especially Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer, Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer and This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer. These were the perfect things for me to relax into in the dark, little thoughtful windows into other people’s lives, guided by a warm and calming voice. Those times in the dark came to be a joy to me, something I looked forward to.

More recently, when sad, an understanding friend gave me a wonderful gift: The Crying Book by Heather Christle. It’s a sort of hybrid – kind of poetry, kind of essay, kind of memoir. It goes deeply into crying – the emotions and the science and the stories, without ever straying into self indulgence. I tried to read it in snatches – it was so beautiful I didn’t want it to end, but still I devoured it. It gave me comfort, and the hope I might be able to make something beautiful too.





Rachel Scott (Publisher, Otago University Press)

Looking at what others have written I realise I’m not really doing books-for-solace. No doubt there is something deeply wrong in my psyche. Jigsaws and chocolate are solace. My reading is escapist – transporting me to a completely different world that sucks me right in. I’m currently halfway through the third in the Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel – The Mirror and the Light. The writing is original and searingly evocative. Not all of it is comfortable – Tudor times were tough, make no mistake – and real life assaults all your senses as the story unfolds. Solace it is not. Most memorable line so far ‘… the air as damp as if the afternoon had been rubbed with snails’. Marvellous stuff.





Roger Steele (Publisher, Steele Roberts)

Twenty years ago I was interviewed on the radio about being a publisher and mentioned inter alia that if I was marooned on a desert island, two books I’d like with me would be a comprehensive dictionary, and the complete works of James K. Baxter. Listening in, Jacquie Baxter (aka J.C. Sturm) was well pleased. Despite all the raruraru he caused her, she remained a staunch advocate of Jim to her dying day.

Nowadays I wouldn’t take either book; I know enough words, and enough Baxter, to get by. Instead, I’d take Jacquie’s complete works. They don’t exist as a single volume yet, but will in the not-too-distant future. There’s so much to admire and reflect on in Jacquie’s stories (e.g. House of the Talking Cat) and poems (e.g. Dedications). They’re always rich and refreshing to come back to, and they say so much about her life, and the Aotearoa New Zealand she knew. Not that it’s always comfortable reading, of course, but that’s part of the point.

Another book I’d take is a favourite children’s one, The Conquerers by David McKee. It’s an entertaining allegory about a general who takes his army to conquer all the countries around him. Eventually there is only one small country left to vanquish, but this one does not resist, instead welcoming the soldiers – with unexpected results. It’s a story that gives hope, so could hardly be more timely at the moment.


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Mary Varnham (Publisher, AWA Press)

I’ve been spending whatever spare time I have in lockdown (while still working full-time from home) reading Serhii Plokhy’s book Chernobyl, which won the Baillie Prize in 2018. It may seem masochistic to read a book about a disaster during a disaster but it’s oddly reassuring since, 34 years after that horrendous nuclear meltdown, life goes on in the former USSR. And that Chernobyl led to the break-up of that repressive society, just as Covid-19 will shake our world into new patterns and power structures. However, I still can’t get this sentence out of my mind:”If the other three reactors of the Chernobyl power plant had been damaged by the explosion of the first, then hardly any living and breathing organisms would have remained on the planet.” Thank you to the brave and wise people fighting Covid 19 for all of us – for life.


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Melanee Winder (Director, Hatchette NZ)

I spent the first week of lockdown in a tailspin and was completely unable to concentrate on anything for more than five minutes. I did, as always, have a bedtime book on the go but I would be hard pressed to tell you what it was called (it was crime, there was an unreliable narrator- and reader). I then played kindle roulette for a few days where I read whatever I stumbled upon on my kindle – lots of manuscripts for books publishing in 2021 and beyond. If I didn’t recognise the author or title it was even more of adventure and I’d often read a couple of chapters trying to work it out; is it commercial (will she kidnap him), is it crime (will she cut him up into tiny pieces) or is it literary (will she paint him and fall in love with his daughter)?

Once my brain had calmed down I then started on my TBR pile with gusto. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was the perfect isolation read – clever enough to focus my thoughts but not so clever that it was exhausting. Owens took me out of my world and into that of a feisty woman surviving in the North Carolina marshland. I loved it but weirdly then found I had a real need to read a NZ author. Vincent O’Sullivan’s All This By Chance was every bit as good as the reviews had promised, the story moved around the world and spanned many years, I loved that the writing demanded my attention and in turn this book completely grounded me.

I am currently back in the world of feisty women and grisly crime, my happy place.


kia kaha

keep well

keep imagining












Poetry Shelf connections: Kim Meredith’s ‘Keeping tabs’




                                                Keeping tabs




As though it’s any other day

I think about what to wear

later at the kitchen counter

browser open, the world at

my fingertips, make my way

across the globe, notice the

earth holding its breath like

a child under water, for the

first time. Eyes closed tight.

Heart thumping in its chest.

Cheeks bursting. Searching

through half light, reaching

out towards the sun, white

clouds, drawn across  blue

sky. Gather my wits. Draw

breath, closing all tabs.

Find myself at the stove

pour water in the kettle.

Making tea as though it’s

just any other day.


Kim Meredith



Kim Meredith (Samoan, Tokelauan, and Portuguese descent). Her poetry and short stories are founded on reclaiming space for the Pasifika female narrative and have been published in Aotearoa, Hawaii and Mexico. She has collaborated extensively with partner Kingsley Spargo performing to audiences in New Zealand and China. She is co-producing an upcoming album on spoken word and soundscapes ‘Swimming Toward the Sun’ due for release later this year.








Poetry Shelf connections: celebrating Landfall 238 with a review and audio gathering

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Landfall 238 edited by Emma Neale  (Otago University Press)


I am finding literary journals very satisfying at the moment. They suit my need to read in short bursts throughout the day. Landfall 238 came out last year but the gold nuggets keep me returning. Is our reading behaviour changing during lockdown? I read incredibly slowly. I read the same poem more than once over the course of a week.

Helen Llendorf’s magnificent ‘Johanna Tells Me to Make a Wish’ is a case in point. It is slow and contemplative, conversational and luminous with physical detail. She starts with chickens, she stays with chickens, she intrudes upon herself with long parentheses. It feels like a poem of now in that way slows right down to absorb what is close to home.






Landfall 238 also includes results from the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry 2019, with judge’s report by Jenny Bornholdt; results and winning essays from the Landfall Essay Competition 2019, with judge’s report by Emma Neale; results from the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2019, with judge’s report by Dinah Hawken.

Tobias Buck and Nina Mingya Powles’s winning essays are terrific. Two essays that in different ways, both moving and exquisitely written, show distinctive ways of feeling at home in one’s skin and navigating prejudice. Both have strong personal themes at the core but both stretch wider into other fascinations. Would love to read all the placed essays!






I also want to applaud Landfall on its ongoing commitment to reviewing local books, both in the physical book and in Landfall Review Online. Review pages whether in print or on our screens seem like an increasingly endangered species. Landfall continues to invite an eclectic group of reviewers to review a diverse range of books.




To celebrate this gold-nugget issue – I have invited a handful of poets to read one of their poems in the issue.

Make a cup of tea or a short black this morning, or pour a glass of wine this evening, and nestle into this sublime poetry gathering. I just love the contoured effects on me as I listen. I have got to hear poets I have loved for ages but also new voices that I am eager to hear and read more from.


Welcome to the Landfall 238 audio gathering!


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Louise Wallace



Louise Wallace reads ‘Tired Mothers’


Louise Wallace is the author of three collections of poetry published by Victoria University Press, most recently Bad Things. She is the founder and editor of Starling, and is looking forward to resuming a PhD in Creative Writing. Her days in lockdown are filled with visits to the park, bubbles, playdough, drawing, and reading the same handful of books over and over with her young son who she loves very much.



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Cerys Fletcher



Cerys reads ‘Bus Lament’


Cerys Fletcher (she/her) is in her first year at Te Herenga Waka, splitting her time between Te Whanganui-a-Tara and her home city, Ōtautahi. When possible, she frequents open mics and handmakes poetry zines. She was a finalist in the 2018 National Schools Poetry Awards and the winner of the Environment Canterbury Poems on Buses competition in 2019. She has been published in Landfall and A Fine Line. She does NOT like men who hit on you while you’re making their coffee. She is online & probably wants to talk to you (instagram: @cerys_is_tired. email:



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Rachel O’Neill



Rachel reads ‘The place of the travelling face’


Rachel O’Neill is a writer, filmmaker and artist based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa. Their debut book One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press) was published in 2013. They were awarded a 2018 SEED Grant (NZWG/NZFC) to develop a feature film and held a 2019 Emerging Writers Residency at the Michael King Writers Centre. Recent poems appear in Sport 49, Haunts by Salty and Food Court, and Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2019.






Peter Le Baige



Peter reads ‘what she knows’


Peter Le Baige has been writing and performing poetry since the first session of the legendary ‘Poetry Live’ weekly poetry readings in Auckland in 1981. He has published two collections of his very early work, ‘Breakers’ 1979, and ‘Street hung with daylit moon’, 1983, and whilst living abroad for 23 years, mostly in Asia and China in particular, has continued to write. He has been previously published in Landfall and was one of the cast for the ‘Pyschopomp’ poetry theatre piece at Auckland’s Fringe Festival in 2019.



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Jenny Powell



Jenny reads ‘Not All Colours Are Beautiful’


Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet. Her latest collection of poems is South D Poet Lorikeet (Cold Hub Press, 2017). She is currently working on a new collection based on New Zealand artist, Rita Angus.




Annie Villiers




Annie Villiers reads ‘Bloody Awful’


Annie Villiers is a writer and poet who works in Dunedin and lives in Central Otago. She has published three books; two in collaboration with artist John Z Robinson and a novel. She is currently working on a travel memoir and a poetry collection.





Iona Winter



Iona reads ‘Portal to the stars’


Iona Winter writes in hybrid forms exploring the landscapes between oral and written words. Her work is created to be performed, and has been widely published and anthologised. She is the author of two collections then the wind came (2018) and Te Hau Kāika (2019). Iona is of Waitaha, Kāi Tahu and Pākehā descent, and lives on the East Otago Coast.




Stacey Teague




Stacey reads ‘Kurangaituku’


Stacey Teague, Ngāti Maniapoto/Ngāpuhi, is a writer from Tamaki Makaurau currently living in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She is the poetry editor for Scum Mag, has her Masters in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, and has three chapbooks: Takahē (Scrambler Books, 2015), not a casual solitude (Ghost City Press, 2017) and hoki mai (If A Leaf Falls Press, 2020). Tweets @staceteague






Mark Broatch



Mark Broatch reads ‘Already’


Mark Broatch is a writer, reviewer and the author of four books.
He is a former deputy editor at the NZ Listener and is a fiction judge
for this year’s Ockham NZ Book Awards. His poetry has been published
in Landfall and the Poetry NZ Yearbook.




Susanna Gendall



Susanna reads ‘Spring’


Susanna Gendall’s poetry and short fiction have appeared in JAAM, Takahē, Sport, Geometry, Landfall, Ambit and The Spinoff. Her debut collection, The Disinvent Movement, will be published next year (VUP).



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