Monthly Archives: July 2020

Poetry Shelf picks from new books: Michele Amas’s ‘The Documentary’

 

The Documentary

A grandson takes a stone
from a southern Pacific coast
carries it in his wallet
across the world
to place on a grave

His fingers feel for distant music
above this limestone pit
this morbid formation
Wearing a borrowed yarmulke
his hand sweeps the soil
his head is full of old notes
the blood maps of history

We are no relation
but every relation
here amongst this baby bowl
pelvis, these anonymous thigh bones
removed of salt, more beach wood
than bone, these splinters and knuckles of pumice
you might find floating at the sea’s edge
this scattered ancestry

Bone is what bone is
a composition of elements
like air, like music
but once we were naked
at gunpoint
and I was a wife who lost her memory

Maybe you are my grandson
but I forget
Beside me a man
who clutched a satchel
of Stravinsky and Debussy
to cover his nakedness
A musician like you
that was his transport
clutched to his lungs
that was his oxygen

Hear our chorus
our bony percussion
our grandson, our grandson’s sons
hear us claim his future
and our escape
Do not be caught unarmed
bring your film, your press, your theatre
your manuscript, your piano, your pencils
bring your keepsake gift, your promise
bring your stone

 

Michele Amas from Walking Home, Victoria University Press, 2020

 

 

Michele Amas (1961 – 2016) was a poet and actor. In 2005 she completed an MA in Creative Writing at IIML and was awarded the Adam Prize. Her debut collection After the Dance appeared the following year and was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award. Ken Duncum has edited a posthumous collection, Walking Home selecting poems from across the decade, including the final poem she wrote.

 

Victoria University Press author page

Poetry Shelf review of Walking Home

 

Paula: I am completely in the grip of this poem. Phrases roll about in my head – it is in debt to the private circumstances of the poet, but it is snug in this world-wobbly moment. The poem resembles a fable designed to keep both writer and reader going. It is song and it is anchor and it is ache. It is family. I am thinking – in these uncertain and unsettling days – of pinning the the final stanza to my wall, maybe my heart, because there is so much we can bring and create and connect with. It’s strange, but this poem both fills me with joy and makes me cry. Read the book – it is breathtakingly good.

 

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Poetry Shelf update: new feature

 

 

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Te Henga /Bethells Beach flask of tea with a good book stop

 

 

Poetry Shelf picks from new books

 

Poetry greetings from gale, hail, rain, sun!

This week I am launching a new feature. I am motivated by the number of high-quality poetry books appearing in Aotearoa this year – the way I’m writing reviews at a snail’s pace, and the way our poetry books could do with a whole lot more attention. So each week I will pick a poem from a new book that has really grabbed me.

Monday Poems are unpublished – and by invitation.

I also plan to do a few theme-based readings – it means we get to hear poets read from across the country.

My idea to invite poets to do an audio or video of themselves reading and discussing one of their own poems is now booked up until November! Yeah.

And there are interviews in the pipeline.

I am still reading and writing at a snail’s pace, Poetry Shelf is alive but andante.

 

Ngā mihi nui

Paula

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf – Poets on their poems: Reihana Robinson reads ‘After the Fall’

 

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Reihana Robinson reading from Of Her Limitless Her (Mākaro Press, 2018),  in Gisborne

 

 

 

Reihana reads ‘After the Fall’ originally published in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, October 2018

 

 

 

 

Reihana Robinson (pehea Ngati wai, he whangai) is a writer and artist and organic farmer living for most of the year in a remote part of the Coromandel and involved with environmental research, in particular New Zealand’s controversial use of aerial poisoning of wild animals.

My writing has been published in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand in a number of journals, including Cha:An Asian Literary Journal, Landfall, Cutthroat, Hawai’i Review, Trout, Melusine, Takahe, Cezanne’s Carrot, subTerrain, Cordite Review, Overland and Blackmail Press. My poems have appeared as part of AUP New Poets 3, Auckland University Press, 2008; and my first volume, Aue Rona, was published by Steele Roberts, Wellington, NZ, 2012. My second collection Her Limitless Her, was published in 2018 as part of Hoopla, Makaro Press

I have held artist residencies at the East West Center, Honolulu, Hawai’i, and the Anderson Center, Red Wing, Minnesota. Artwork is held in collections in Europe, USA, and the Pacific. I was the inaugural recipient of the Te Atairangikaahu Award for Poetry.

 

 

WHY I CHOSE AFTER THE FALL

I chose After the Fall, a poem from 2014, as it fits with my present state of mind that whirls up and down and around the screaming injustices pulsing the planet in the form of never-ending wars.

Keiji Nakazawa wrote Barefoot Gen about the hibakusha, the “survivors of the atomic war” to remind us of the work it takes to create peace. I haven’t talked about the poem as a poem, however the reviewer Reid Mitchell does in Cha an Asian Literary Journal  https://finecha.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/after-the-fall/

I was also inspired by Karlo Mila’s reading of her beautiful For Tamir Rice with Love from Aotearoa

In the graphic novel on which this poem is based the child has a name. It is this naming that brings some kind of hope in the face of deep atrocity. It is why I end the poem with the child’s name. As Brecht wrote when the atrocities come like falling rain/ no one calls out ‘stop’

As a teenager I imbibed as if fed, Joan Baez singing There but for fortune and so it goes. Writing poems to lift the siege, to smear the graffiti, asking friend and stranger to love more and to cry out in the dark— i te ao marama.

 

‘After the Fall’ published in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: AUP New Poets 6

 

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AUP New Poets 6 Ben Kemp, Vanessa Crofskey, Chris Stewart, edited and introduced by Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press, 2020

 

 

 

Salt my song …

I have to love you,

and this farmland upon which I live.

I evolve here.

 

One day I will journey to the sea,

become that river and dissolve into the essence of I.

 

Ben Kemp from ‘The Esssence of I’

 

 

The Auckland University Press series devoted to new poets was launched in 1999 and featured the work of Anna Jackson, Sarah Quigley and Raewyn Alexander. Each volume features three poets, a number of whom have since published highly regarded collections of their own (for example Chris Tse, Sonya Yelich, Reihana Robinson). Anna Jackson took over as editor with AUP New Poets 5 (Carolyn DeCarlo, Rebecca Hawkes and Sophie van Waardenberg).

Volume 7 will be out in August, but first I want to mark the arrival of AUP New Poets 6: Ben Kemp, Vanessa Crofskey, Chris Stewart. The collection was launched on Poetry Shelf during lockdown, level four, with a series of readings, poems and interviews. This was a challenging time for new books when many of us felt tilted as readers and writers, and our major contact with the world was via our screens. The events and mahi that did occur during this time is pretty special. There were opportunities to hear people read and talk about things beyond our local venues. Getting to hear the three poets read at the online launch expanded tha audience, and am keen to make online readings an ongoing feature on Poetry Shelf.

 

However we are now at level one, the sun is shining after endless rain and thunder, the political point scoring is on mute, I am listening to opera divas in my earpiece, the bread is cooling, and I can return to the collection with more focus. For me, reading during level four was like collecting gleams and shards. This word stuck, that phrase, this image. I had the attention span of a gnat. Now I am luxuriating in the way a sequence of poem unfolds, the way it takes you surprise and transports heart and mind. Still at a snail’s pace.

AUP New Poets 6 includes three very different poets – delivers three different reading impacts. Truth is such a dubious word, unstable, hard to pin down, we all know that, but truth seems to matter so very much in a world threatened by liars, catastrophe. I love the way the poetry moves into the truth of their experiences, thoughts, admissions. To be reading at such a human and humane level is significant. I want this complexity of comfort and challenge. Of how being human is neither formulaic nor flippant. This poetry is witty, vulnerable, challenging, complicated …. yes!

Anna Jackson’s lithe introduction (which I read after reading the poems as is my habit) confirms her role as an astute and surefooted editor of this series, with her fine eye for poetry that holds and satisfies attention regardless of the world that bombards.

 

Chris Stewart’s sequence, ‘Gravity’, navigates the miraculous within everyday settings. He faces big subjects such as birth, death and love, and rejuvenates them to the point your skin pricks as you read. He embeds the physical in order to evoke the intangible, the hard to say. There is darkness and there is light.

The title poem is a gem (well they all are!) as it stencils birth on the white page:

 

I hear nostalgia for the womb

the way light misses the hearts of stars

we glove the light in our skin

find sleep in solar wind

wrap ourselves in the gravity

of your arrival

 

from ‘gravity’

 

The agile syntax (‘we glove the light’) signals a heightened state, the sense of miracle, the wonder. I am hard pressed to think of a poet who has evoked birth, fatherhood, parenthood, so beautifully. I am reminded of Emma Neale’s power to deliver wonder and awe in a poem. Turn over the page, and again there is a shift between light and dark, a sense of awe:

 

the first time we bathed

our daughter in the lounge

it was dark except for the fireplace

she lay between us and flickered

 

from ’embers’

 

This is poetry at its rejuvenating best. There is rawness to the point of wound, such as in the poem, ‘a tooth emerges’. The father is wakened by a teething baby at night. The poem spins on the page, a spinning vignette of fatherhood, sharp, on edge, knowing. Here are the final verses:

 

now I am sore tooth pulled

from a soft bed

 

my swollen nerves erupt

you only see my crown

 

but my roots are still

embedded in the bone

 

Ah. Every poem in this sequence hits the right potent note. One poem links the health of the newborn to the health of a genealogy of grandmothers. Yes, family is the glue that holds the sequence together, along with the poet’s astute and probing gaze into experience. A couple of poems near the end situate the poet as son, and the ominous mother father portraits hold out dark hints. There are holes in the telling, dust-like veils, and startling images. These poems are why I keep reading poetry, and why I very much hope Chris has a book in the pipeline.

 

Vanessa Crofskey’s poetry was already familiar to me but her sequence, ‘ Shopping List of Small Violences’ widens my appreciation of where and how her poetry roams. She braids the personal and the political as she moves into the truths of her experience. As she does so, writing poetry is testing and playing with form, discovering form. I am reminded of how language shapes us as much as we shape the languages we use. It comes down to our mother tongue, to languages that are imposed, expectations on how we use language, and our own private relationships with how we speak ourselves. How we might stutter or provoke or soothe or struggle with words.

Just as with Chris’s sequence, the poet produces poems that matter greatly, that broadcast self along myriad airwaves. There is political edge and personal vulnerability. One poem fills a passenger arrival card, another completes a time sheet. There are white-out poems and black-out poems, shopping lists, and graphs. As she navigates form, she navigates being comfortable in her own skin.

The poem ‘dumplings are fake’ sits on the page with verses and measured space, moves with a conversational flow and that characteristic probe into self. There is wit at work, but it is also serious – reading poetry becomes a way of listening.

 

i’m so authentic i use chopsticks to eat macaroni

watch  hentai on my huawei

and go to ponsonby central to eat chinese

 

i don’t carry hot sauce in my bag but i do bring soy to the party

my favourite movie of all time is studio ghibli

and my dad is the white side of the family

 

every time auckland council says ‘diversity targets’, my phone vibrates

i get suggested ads for the national party in chinese

and that think piece on bubble tea is a redirect to my

dot com slash about me

 

Again I am very much hoping there is a book in the pipeline.

 

Ben Kemp’s The Monks Who Tend the Garden with Tiny Scissors’ also assembles poetry as a way of listening. Ben currently lives in New Guinea with his diplomatic wife and three children. He was born in Gisborne, has Rongowhakaata roots, grew up in Manutuke and Matawhero, lived in Australia for six years and ten in Japan. For me his poems are deeply attached to home, to a way of grounding place, of establishing anchors. Of being home when home is mobile. The sequence establishes a series of bridges between Japan and Aotearoa. He carries Aotearoa into every poem, regardless of the setting, while his experience in Japan also deeply permeates his point of view. The poetry welcomes both here and there.

Ben’s poetry is alive with physical detail, sometimes ornate, sometimes shimmering with the deceptive simplicity reminiscent of haiku or tanka. From ‘Food to Song’:

 

Rekamaroa,

a bed of hot riverstones,

under the earthern blanket,

steam rises, the buttery smell of pork belly.

 

Perhaps the most  gripping poem is the longer ‘The Essence of I’, an ode to Walt Whitman. Reading this, I am hoping there is a book in the making.  I find the poem deliciously quiet, slow paced, speaking of homeplace and ancestors, oceans and rivers. Astonishing. There is love and there are longings. I keep reading Ben’s poems and adjusting what I think poetry is and what it might be. Poetry, for example, is a way of becoming. And listening. And building bridges. ‘The Essence of I’ signals a way of becoming.

 

Underground are the ancestors lined up in single file,

feathers in their hair, with paintbrushes for fingers and flutes for mouths.

In the darkness that is their light they are whole,

yet the line they form is for me,

carrying the burden of my impatience, they vent it.

I often pierce my hands through the earth, arms dug deep,

softer in the tractor tracks, we tough hands.

The movements in hand, saying we love each other …

 

The northeastern tip is the desert,

I hitched a ride on that wind-blowing orchestra,

and I found a well,

my consciousness, and perfect white sunlight on a vast bed of sand …

The well was filled with embers, breathing smoke,

I sat for days contemplating its meaning to me,

these loose and odd snippets.

Why burn? Why burn?

 

AUP NEW Poets 6 is a glorious read. Exactly what I want to be reading now. I am hungry for poetry that offers facets of humanity, of humaneness. The anthology brings together  voices speaking in multiple poetic forms, across multiple subjects, in shifting tones and hues. Glorious, simply glorious.

 

 

AUP NEW Poets 6 launch: listen to the poets read here

Auckland University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Wanting to believe in the butterfly effect’

 

Wanting to believe in the butterfly effect

 

I collect a box of groceries from cold storage,

take it to the drop-in centre, break open bread rolls

 

fill them with salad, cheese, mayonnaise; leave goofy notes

about extra cucumber for beauty treatment, or vegans,

 

in the hope that giving migrates invisible currents

to distant continents, pollinates oil barons’ and despots’ hearts —

 

They feel their hearts!

 

Yet our children watch polar ice-caps collapse on TV;

learn to say sixth mass extinction with furious fluency,

 

choose to walk to school all weathers, forego meat and dairy food,

their eyes the soot of burnt-out stumps.

 

Other days, they kneel with us, postures half hopeful, half bereft,

to press electric-white seedling roots, skinny wires

 

into the rich, dark sockets of a field’s edge, to try to light

cool lamps of leaves, to banish the creeping dread

 

that even planting trees might be as impotent

as fingers kissed to magpies, green forbidden on first-time brides.

 

Our young sons help us squash the sluggy pearls of grass grubs

that would eat the seedlings in their new-born cribs

 

but as the news reports that fresh forest fires blacken

the planet’s treasure map, one boy asks, in a toneless blank,

 

‘Why do people even have children?’

The other hugs me, his body’s slim shuttle

 

shaken with the gravity of the mind’s strain.

‘You shouldn’t have had us, Mum.’

 

But we had you because we loved the world.

 

Stern young faces gavel-blunt, their twinned silences

sentence me as yet another militant of double-speak:

 

In order to show our love for the planet,

we wanted children who could grieve for it.

 

Emma Neale

 

 

Emma Neale is the author of six novels and six collections of poetry, the most recent of which is To the Occupant (OUP, 2019). She works as a freelance editor in Otepoti/Dunedin, where she also occasionally teaches creative writing. This year she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award, a prize given biennially for a distinguished contribution to New Zealand poetry. She is the current editor of Landfall.

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: Janet Newman’s ‘My daughter returns’

 

My daughter returns

 

I meet her in a hotel carpark

separated by traffic cones,

call an austere hello

across a conveyance of air

where anything transmittable

falls to the ground,

resist the urge

to sink to my knees

with the want to hug and hold

one who is afterall a measure of me,

let her go quietly

to the quarantined room,

make the lonesome drive

down the unlit road

where the only ease

is the silky moon

settling a lightness

on the surrounding sky

above the island rising

mountainous from the sea

hugging in comfort

what looks to me

like the broad shoulder

of the horizon.

 

Janet Newman

 

 

Janet Newman is based in Horowhenua. She has a PhD in creative writing from Massey University for her thesis entitled: “Imagining Ecologies: Traditions of Ecopoetry in Aotearoa New Zealand.” Her poetry collection Unseasoned Campaigner was a runner up in the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Award and will be published by Otago University Press next year. She was the winner of the 2017 IWW Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems, the 2015 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition, and the 2014 and 2016 Journal of New Zealand Literature Prize for New Zealand Literary Studies.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf poets on their poems: Vaughan Rapatahana reads and responds to ‘tahi kupu anake’

 

 

 

 

Vaughan Rapatahana, Te Ātiawa, commutes between Aotearoa, Hong Kong SAR and the Philippines. He writes in multiple genres (chiefly poetry, criticism and commentaries) in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English. He graduated with a PhD (on Colin Wilson) from the University of Auckland, and has published several poetry collections both here and overseas. Atonement was nominated for a Philippines National Book Award in 2016 and he won the Proverse Poetry Prize the same year. He edited Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato poetry (2019).

Vaughan is a terrific champion of poetry in Aotearoa – he shines a light on poets that deserve far more attention than they currently get, particularly in his articles posted at Jacket2. He has also edited multicultural books of poetry with poetry exercises for secondary schools (Poetry in Multicultural Oceania – Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3, and the most recent teaching resource Exploring Multicultural Poetry 2020). He is a much admired poet in his own right.

 

My review of Vaughan’s latest collection, ngā whakamatuatanga / interludes,  Cyberwit 2019