Monthly Archives: July 2020

Poetry Shelf connections: John Gallas’s Unscythed’

 

Unscythed

 

By Paparahi Flat, just past the droving bridge,

a vasty field of uncut corn rattles, torn,

sere and straggle-flapping, up to Bonners Ridge.

 

It’s Winter now. I don’t know why, in ragged rot,

this tall and stalky race were left uncropped, bereft

of use or profit, bluntly clattering, forgot

 

and draggled-pale, their shreddy leaves like flags,

their cracked confusion like a beaten, huddled troop,

abandoned, standing still, in August’s rimey rags.

 

Their neighbour-whispers, nods and anxious wags betray,

it seems to me, some shabby incredulity

at some long luck, some higher husbandry that stays

 

their felling and their muddy end, some shrunk surprise

that they are left alone. I watch them gasp and click.

Their green-time gone, their salad-days long passed, they rise,

 

a little blankly, yes, a little like a crowd

achatter when the show is done and all the darkling

auditorium of earth an empty shroud

 

 

of wind and cold, but standing still. Perhaps this way

of dying, atom-slow, defying expectation

and the time, this easeful progress downwards, may,

 

with distant busyness, and blindness in the dark,

be mine. I leave the gate and cross the mudded bridge.

Above the track two slapping kahu wheel and cark.

 

I follow them to Brackall, past the flooded farm,

across the ice at Denham’s Dip to Birthday Creek,

and then the rimu’s shelter, and its sudden calm.

 

John Gallas

 

John Gallas is a NZ poet published by Carcanet. His 20 collections include The Song Atlas, Star City, The Little Sublime Comedy and 52 Euros. The Extasie (60 love poems) and Rhapsodies 1831 (translation of French poet Petrus Borel) to be published January and March 2021. He presently lives in Leicestershire. His a librettist, St Magnus Festival Orkney poet, Saxon Ship Project poet, Fellow of the English Association, tramper, biker and merry ruralist. Presently working on two sets of poem-prints (’18 Paper Resurrections’ and ‘Wasted by Whitemen’). ‘Unscythed’ written in Sefton, near Rangiora: home of bro.

Poetry Shelf poets on poems: Kay McKenzie Cooke and Rachel McAlpine read and respond to new poems

 

 

 

 

Kay McKenzie Cooke reads ‘No Longer Applies’ from Upturned, The Cuba Press, 2020

 

Kay McKenzie Cooke, Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe, lives in Dunedin. Her fourth poetry collection Upturned has just been released from The Cuba Press. Her website and blog can be found here.

 

 

Upturned cover.jpg   How-to-Be-Old-cover

 

 

 

 

Rachel McAlpine reads ‘Reading a paper book’ from How to Be Old The Cuba Press 2020

 

Poet Rachel McAlpine lives in Wellington and is 80. She blogs, podcasts and draws (badly) as well as writing poems. How To Be Old, her latest collection of poems, will be launched by Fiona Kidman at Unity Books on Tuesday 21st July at 12.30 pm.

 

The Cuba Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interview with Natalie Morrison

 

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Photo credit: Ebony Lamb

 

 

Natalie Morrison has an MA in Creative Writing from the Institute of Modern Letters, where she received the Biggs Family Prize for Poetry in 2016. She lives and works in Wellington. Victoria University Press recently published Pins, Natalie’s debut collection. The book is most definitely poetry, the kind of poetry that affects your breathing patterns because it is so good, so original, so addictive. But it also resembles a letter, as the speaker addresses her missing sister, and a catalogue of fascinations, as she tracks an obsession with pins. The collective result is book that centres upon family, and then radiates out into pocket-book narratives of loss, curiosity, yearnings, attachment. The title itself ‘pins’ sends me in multiple directions before I even open the book, and then vital movement continues as I read. This is a book to treasure.

 

 

I can just about trace the birth of your fascination.

We were cordoned off from the fireplace with a moveable

copper façade. Nana was stitching one of Grandad’s

socks. We didn’t have any clothes on,

were still dripping slightly from the bath.

You picked up a pinch of metal

and in the dim light tried to see what it was

you were holding. I continued reading Beatrix Potter

with a damp index finger. Nana told you to be careful:

What you have in your hand is very sharp.

 

 

 

Caution: where there is a pin

there will be puns.

 

 

 

One must love a sister in the same way one must love

jabbing oneself in the foot halfway up a flight of carpeted stairs.

Our parents told you I would be a nice surprise.

 

from Pins

 

 

 

Paula  What were the first poetry books that mattered to you?

Natalie  Not a whole book really, but I remember my mum reading us ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and being really taken with it. Gotta love the drama.

Then in high school ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T.S. Eliot really resonated with me for some reason, and I still get parts of it stuck in my head. A few memorable books a bit later on were Kate Camp’s The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls (I always think of the owls on the cover) and a collection of W.S. Merwin’s, both of which I became attached to and didn’t want to return to the library. But don’t worry, I did.

 

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Paula  What poetry books are catching your attention now?

Natalie Freya Daly Sadgrove’s Head Girl was super kick-ass. I adored Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s Because a Woman’s Heart if Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean, particularly the epistolary sequence. I’m very in awe of Gregory O’Brien at the moment – something just snaps into place. Also looking forward to reading Second Person by Rata Gordon. I’m a hopeless sucker for a good cover and I had a peep at the first few pages the other day…intrigued!

 

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 Drop one pin into a glass of clear

cold water for several minutes.

Then immerse your hand in the language

of the water until you find it.

 

from Pins

 

 

Paula  Your debut collection is exquisite, both melodious and tactile, economical and rich. What do you hope from a poem or a book-length sequence such as this?

Natalie  Thank you! Mostly I hope it behaves itself. Or that I can keep it in line with the shape of itself, being so long and fragmented. It’s nice when the pieces start interacting with each other and when they move through moods/sounds/scenes.

 

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Paula  Does this change for you as reader? What attracts you in poems by others?

Natalie  I’m attracted to the usual things; the sounds a poem creates, the voice(s) it uses and the way the words fall together. But I love love love it when the poem is also kinda mischievously fun and cracks that sly-sideways smile at you. Quirky also does it for me, and a bit of classic sass.

 

Paula  Your book does just that! Wit is a vital ingredient. James Brown likened Pins to Anne Kennedy’s 100 Traditional Smiles, and I see the connections. There is both a quirkiness and a crafted musicality, yet perhaps a key link is that of narrative. Narrative is such a fertile option for the poet. What drew you to it?

Natalie  I’m not sure exactly. A bit to do with what I was reading at the time? I was also lucky to be surrounded by such beautiful narrative-making from my classmates that year, it was relatively contagious.

 

 

Paula  Would you ever want to write a novel?

Natalie  So tempted to go for the pun… Well, that would be pretty cool. People who are able to sustain a whole novel have my absolute admiration. It would take a gazillion years though; I’m fairly distractable, which is why I think Pins is so bitsy.

 

 

Paula  I love the degree of white space in the collection – resonant for me on so many levels. It is both a visual and aural pause, a silent beat for eye and ear, a place to savour what you have just read. It also acknowledges the missing sister. Can you comment on the white space?

Natalie  That’s a really awesome way of looking at it. For sure, I think the in-between spaces echo the little gaps the missing sister leaves in the narrative.

With poetry in general, I enjoy the blanks that we draw tiny conclusions about. It’s like staring at old floral wallpaper – you start to see all sorts of faces and figures.

 

 

But I will always have you in the back of my mind,

unwinding like the coil pin in the body of a bright,

jittery, copper toy.

 

from Pins

 

Paula Staring at anything! I also love the way the missing sister is the family hub, but you don’t explain and you don’t resolve. Although I do feel like I am moving through fictions – what is true? – as though I am playing with a set of Russian dolls. If I had written this, I would want to leave it in the hands of the reader. No explanations. Do you agree?

Natalie  Sort of? I would say there needed to be just enough to nudge the narrative along, but I’m not into overloading a piece with the whys and wherefores either. Especially this piece; it felt right for there to be spaces left. For me personally, the poem orbits around the longing created by the little absences. Maybe a part of longing is piecing together what we can from hints, and hints of hints? That’s how it is in my mind anyway – but yes, very onboard with leaving some of the work with the reader. Partly because I really enjoy the hugely varying assumptions people make about it, or is that too wicked of me? I’ve confounded at least one uncle….whoops!

 

Hail:

walking into a downpour of a thousand brisk pins.

 

from Pins

 

 

Paula  I agree – the poetry is a lace-like arrival of longing around the white space – actual and implied. So much to adore about the book – especially the pivotal presence of pins. You catch them in so many surprising ways. I love nana and the sunsets, the barcode pin, acupuncture and voodoo, the downpour. Do you have a few favourites?

Natalie  Thanks so much, Paula. Trying to dredge for ‘pins’ around the place morphed into an obsession in itself. I still have pin-themed dreams which is pretty ouch!

As to favourites, hmmm… the futuristic surgical pin for the brain, the bobby pin trail, the pin-filled swimming pool and the pigeons are probably my faves. The pin sonnet was quite satisfying too.

 

 

Because of your early attachment with fairy stories,

I wasn’t surprised to pick up your trail of bobby pins

along the footpaths of Wellington’s suburbs. I imagined

finally arriving at your gingerbread destination.

 

 

from Pins

 

 

Paula I was filled with joy as I read this book, so it felt like you filled with joy as you wrote it. But that might be far from the truth of writing it. Was it joyful? Did you struggle and were plagued with doubt?

Natalie  Yay, I love that it’s had that effect on you reading it.

All of the above! Plagued by doubt is definitely my resting state in most of what I do, and I’m probably not alone there? It was certainly joyous at times, especially when something falls into place – that’s quite exhilarating.

 

 

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

together.

 

from Pins

 

 

Paula  My Wild Honey research exposed a catalogue of doubt – my doubts in my ability to create the book but, more importantly, across a century of woman writing and doubting and finding their way into a public spotlight. Some women were kneecapped and roadblocked by the attitudes of the men in charge to their work.

Has Covid 19 affected you as either reader or writer? Did you write any poems in lockdown?

Natalie  I don’t think any of us get away without being affected by Covid 19 and everything that’s happening right now. I imagine it having all sorts of impacts on writing and art-making that we might only notice after the fact maybe? When we were in lockdown, I finished up reading a few of the books I had started and then it was quite nice to return to some old comforting favourites around the flat. I didn’t write as much as I had hoped. It seemed like everyone had lofty goals for their lockdown which didn’t necessarily get realised. My grandma says ‘you can only do what you can do.’

 

 

Paula  Wise grandmothers! What do you like to do apart from writing?

Natalie  Anything to do with making odds and ends. At the moment, I’m knitting like a fiend in a race to finish a sleep sack for my nephew before he gets too big. I have a bad habit of thinking of new projects before the old ones are finished, ah! Overall, it’s a comforting thing to do.

When the stars align, I really love going tramping with friends, usually in the Tararua ranges. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but it’s really special to me.

 

 

Pigeons know nothing about pins.

Literally nothing.

 

from Pins

 

 

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Serie Barford’s ‘The midwife and the cello’

 

The midwife and the cello

 

I was perched amongst pīngao
contemplating a paragliding instruction

Don’t look at what you want to miss

when a woman sat beside me

pointed at the lagoon’s mouth
breaking into hazardous surf

crooned I’m a midwife
sing and play cello

I observed her eloquent hands
sand burying sprawling feet
lines networking a benevolent smile
dreads tied with frayed strips of cotton

remembered you returning home
buoyant with the miracle of birth

the baby with omniscient eyes
you eased into this world

how she lay within your arms

didn’t cry

 

Serie Barford

 

Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a migrant German-Samoan mother and a Palagi father. Her latest collection, Entangled Islands (Anahera Press 2015), is a mixture of poetry and prose. Serie’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She was awarded the Seresin Landfall Residency in 2011 and is a recipient of the Michael King Writers’ Centre 2018 Pasifika residency. Some of Serie’s stories for children and adults have aired on RNZ National. She has recently completed a new collection, Sleeping with Stones.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Tim Upperton reads ‘So Far We Went’

 

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Tim Upperton reads ‘So Far We Went’ from A House of Fire

 

 

Tim writes:

This villanelle is from my first book, A House on Fire (Steele Roberts, 2009). It was later anthologized in Villanelles (Everyman, 2012). Villanelles are almost always sad (there are exceptions – Wendy Cope has written some funny ones). The repetitions inherent in the form circle, return, like old griefs or regrets. It’s a form that seems – at least to me – in tune with our current moment.

Tim’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published in many magazines including Agni, Poetry, Shenandoah, Sport, Takahe, and Landfall, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011), Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).

 

 

 

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