Poetry Shelf interview with poems and images: Eliana Gray’s Finland residency

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For all of February I was lucky enough to be selected to undertake a month-long residency in a tiny town in the middle of Finland called Sysma. The only outcomes were that I had to write a report of my time at the end for the cultural institute that sponsors the residency. I went to continue working on my second collection but mostly just wanted to see what would happen once I was there. I was given a room in a giant house on the edge of town near Finland’s second largest lake with a piano and a sauna. For the majority of the time I shared it with just one other person, who became my dearest new friend. The incredibly talented poet from Germany: Ricarda Kiel. Below is a small and disjointed account of this time.


Did you have any epiphanies? Life or writing?

 Both. Vigorously. The biggest epiphany had to do with my ideas of what ambition is, what constitutes work, how terrible capitalism is (as if we didn’t already know) and how I want to live my life. It sounds lofty, but can be summed up as this: Capitalism has fucked everything and jobs can kiss my ass. I’ve always enjoyed doing things that are valued weirdly by capitalism: youth work, music, poetry, sexual violence survivor support. Nobody wants to pay you to do these things. I used to think that the way to get around this was just to get very famous. You wanna do music Ellie? Well ok! You better be a popstar then. Ohh, you like doing poetry now do you? Well then, you better fucking hustle until you become the one poet that is allowed to make a living from poetry at any one time. I’ve now realised that, not only does doing the level of work required to become these things burn me the fuck out and strip me of my passion for whatever t is I’m doing. But also! I fucking hate attention! And I hate to be the centre of it! Even if by some weird reason I did become famous enough to make a living off my work I’d most likely become deeply unhappy as a result of it. I’d always thought that once I found my ‘area of work’ that working would no longer be a stress and a drain. That once I was employed in my preferred ‘career path’ I’d be happy. Big time lies my friends. Turns out it’s the working that sucks. My plan now is to work for as long as it takes to go bush with a goat and a veggie garden and then never be seen or heard from again.


Is there something you miss?

I miss everything to be honest. I miss waking up at six am and the soft blue light. I miss padding into the quiet kitchen before anyone else is up and staring at the snow with a cup of earl grey tea with oatmilk. I miss everything being made out of oats. I miss the white painted wood floors and the radiators and how the house we always warm even when outside was negative ten degrees. I miss watching the sunrise every morning. I miss noticing the changing trajectories and placings of icicles, ice and snow. I miss waking up to a fresh blanket of flakes and seeing where the birds had been. I miss how quiet and still everything feels underneath snow clouds. I miss how the snow refracts the light and absorbs the sound. I miss walking out onto the frozen lake everyday and dancing by myself. I miss the sense of romance that comes from playing by yourself in the snow. I miss the patterns ice makes from frozen water. I miss the woodpeckers and the hares. I miss seeing the stars from a different angle. I miss Marabou chocolate bars and cheap jars of lemon pesto. I miss the Finnish language and the adventure of a forgien supermarket. I miss Ricarda. I miss our quiet kitchen conversations and how we each needed a similarly small amount of human interaction. I miss walking with her to the abandoned house by the lake and trying to decipher the Finnish graffiti. I miss stargazing and crunching on the frosted moss. I miss the sheets of ice that push up onto the shores of Lake Paijanne and the blankets of pine needles. I miss getting naked and plunging my body beneath the icy water. I miss smiling as the blood rushes to the top of my skin. I miss the intense solitude of being in a place where no one knows you. I miss the comfort of an always warm, well-built house. Of knowing that Ricarda is just upstairs should I need her. That she’ll come knock on my door after nightfall and ask if I’m ok. That if I’m not we can talk about it and she’s so much smarter and calmer than me that it will always be ok.  I miss nightly saunas. I miss sitting naked with my new friend in the sauna as we sweat and discuss German history and politics. I miss living in a culture that isn’t terrified of the naked body. I miss my wonderful new friend. I miss the way my body feels so boneless after a sauna that I fall directly asleep. I miss my life in Sysma. I miss Ricarda. I miss not having a job. I miss having my writing be a valued part of my time. I miss being able to live my life in a way that only pleases me. I miss everything.


What books did you take?


Head Girl – Freya Daly-Sadgrove

Mayhem #7- edited by Tracey Slaughter

This gender is a million things that we are more than – edited by essa may ranapiri

Sport 47– edited by Tayi Tibble


I spent a lot of time picking which books I would take with me. It was a balance between bringing necessary inspiration and ensuring that my backpack could be carried by my back.

I took Head Girl because Freya is a beautiful genius but also because I was working on a review of it for the Minarets website. This is how I justified bringing a book by a single author.

The rest of the selection are all tomes filed with a breadth of writers from Aotearoa that I’m obsessed with. It made me feel so grateful for the glut of exciting work in this country. That I could take three volumes and have with me more poetry from my favourite poets than I could get through is such a blessing.

A lovely happening that spun off from my carrying these books is that I was able to lend them to my residency mate and new sweet friend Ricarda, an incredibly talented poet from Germany.

A big big heartfelt thank you to all the beautiful poets in these volumes for inspiring me and keeping me company during this residency.



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P o e m s



Pile of bodies like the dead


You look like spilled milk, celestial

Sitting on your bed in the early afternoon

We’ve been fucking for days


I passed out in the shower

Steam heat smothered my brain till it stopped working

slid me down the humid glass

Your hands all over

could have held me up

Against you, been fucking me for days


I wake up on the floor in the hallway and you’re yelling

dragging my hair back to the bedroom

I pretend you’re tender

Pretend I like it

not to notice you’re embarrassed cause


You know lonely men

shouldn’t fuck seventeen year olds


Airways unconstricted by age

we swallow up steam like we’re starving

And yeah I’m ready to try anything

look how hungry they’ve kept me


Like sitting at an empty birthday party

How pathetic to invite people

to enjoy yourself

Spend all your time stringing

balloons on a letterbox


Bag of homemade favours by the door

Everybody gets one

Except for you



new piece


I feel so fucking………mature

Fragrant flesh lobed and so

Ripe, it’s a little embarrassing


But so sweet!

The earnest growth of sugars

Both natural and bred

My body a sum of traits innate

And selected, curation not mine

And still authentic


How I swell

My pith extending

Cell walls expanding

Strain creating bitterness, as a warning

A balance to the sweetness, again


How beautiful I’ll be when I stop

Reach my peak of consumption

Aesthetic requirements fulfilled

Skin appropriately thickened, still porous

Still able to be hooked

Gripped between forefinger and thumb

Penetrated, peeled back


They’ll marvel at my outside

Puckered yes, but how shiny!

My skin: a good thickness

My pith present, inoffensive

But providing some necessary ‘grit’


I am beautiful

They tell me I’m beautiful

They hold me in their hands

They press me to their mouths

I am waiting for them to bite down



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‘The Top Ten Types Of Boys You’ll Date In College’


Shoes scraping the carpet thread

Bare. Your eyes, heavy-lidded

Rounded, like the cushions

Your skate shoes are dirty

Caked with dirt

You talk to me about Heidegger and

I couldn’t give less of a shit


Temporality temporalizes as a future

which makes present in the process of having been


You say, passing the bong as if its

The idea itself. As if we

Heavy-lidded, were so present

as to be dust. Settled

On everything without notice


Run our fingers through the air

And come up coated

You’re still looking at me


You’re still looking at me and

I can feel it

Like how you say you can feel it

When I roll my eyes behind your

Back but I know you’re lying because

I only ever roll my eyes

When you leave

The room


You’re cool

You’re dust

You’re reclusive

But you have so many FRIENDS

At least a thousand by my last count

Everyone is one of your boys


Understanding of being is itself a determination of being


You say

passing the bong

As if this isn’t

a worse version

Of the same joke ten minutes before


We still laugh, of course

We wouldn’t want you to be



Above your head there’s a poster

Tits out. BIG tits. Red bikini

Hair flying! Straddling

A motorcycling! She’s

Tougher than you, she’s

Seen some shit, man


I smile at her, but keep my lids low

So it still looks

Like I’m smiling

At you



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Eliana Gray is a poet from Ōtepoti. They like queer subtext in teen comedies and not much else. They have had words in: SPORT, Mimicry, Minarets, Mayhem and others. Their debut collection, Eager to Break, was published by Girls On Key Press (2019) and they are the 2020 writer in residence at both Villa Sarkia, Finland and St Hilda’s Collegiate, Ōtepoti.















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