Monthly Archives: November 2020

Poetry Shelf review: Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book

Tusiata Avia, The Savage Coloniser Book, Victoria University Press, 2020

I have just read Selina Tusitala Marsh’s brilliant review of The Savage Coloniser Book at the Academy of New Zealand Literature, and if you read one book review this year, from first line to last line, read this. It pays sublime tribute to Tusiata Avia’s book at a personal level and at a wider level. This is a taster:

The Savage Coloniser Book poetically documents our wounds, and by doing this provides poetic catharsis. Avia goes through the wound – colonisation, slavery, genocide and racism – and back through it several times. It’s an uncomfortable read in many places. Some might avert their eyes, refuse to lift off their own bandages to see, but it’s a wound that belongs to all of us and one shared by people of colour the world over. These are wounds that leak into our day-to-day lives, whether you’re paying in a bookshop or praying in a mosque, whether you are having coffee with blithely racist friends or standing in a protest line.

Tusiata Avia places herself – her ravaged heart, her experience, wounds, scars, thinking, feeling, her urge to speak, sing, perform, make poetry, no matter the price, the energy needed, holding history out, with tempered rage, with unadulterated rage, quietly, loudly, singing, shining, her heart on the travesties, the coloniser, the colonised, on the Pākehā who crossed lines into abuse, and into the light there, right there the unspeakable abuse that needs to be heard, whacking Captain Cook from his pedestal, sighting Ihumātao, the Australian bush fires, ‘The white fella houses go up in smoke. // They start living in caravans / like they’re the dispossessed’, and the refugees, in lines of sight, heart lines ear lines, ah the point of the blade when you hear the Manus Island refugees, the plundering of lives and loves and dreams and ways of being across time, the plundering of the land, the living growing nurturing land, ‘you might even have to remove a mountain’ to get to the ore, Jacinda’s house colonised by a Polynesian family, worried daughter listening to Jacinda and her daily Covid briefing, translating for worried mother, worried daughter, finding her mother’s Broadsheets, the gutted woman, the abortioned woman, her lovers, her daughter who wants her mother to be more specific, but she is disabled with epilepsy, saying thingy to beloved daughter, disinfectant wiping surfaces for her beloved mother, in the time of Covid, in the time of reckoning, the near death, again the near death, epilepsy on the floor, her passed father a presence, the white people who claim white as colour, and more, and worse, and notes for the critic with their suffocating paradigms and agendas, racism, and standing in the room with the white people who are finding it hard to be white and just won’t shut up, and she places a prayer, a prayer for water, her daughter, the stars, lungs, child, air, the reader and more – in her poems, in these necessary poems.

dear Tusiata

hold your book to my ear

hold your book to my eye

hold your book to my lungs

hold your book in my bloodstream

hold your book up for my forebears

hold your book up for my friends and family

hold your book in my heart

hold your book, hold your book

love Paula

Selina Tusitala Marsh’s review at ANZL

Poetry Shelf: Tusiata‘s ‘Love in the Time of Primeminiscinda’ (The Savage Coloniser Book)

Tusiata reads ‘Massacre’ (The Savage Coloniser Book)

Leilani Tamu review at KeteBooks

Faith Wilson review at RNZ National

Victoria University Press page

‘Protest is telling the truth in public … We use our bodies, our words, our art and our sounds both to tell the truth about the pain we endure and to demand the justice that we know is possible.’ DeRay Mckesson, On the Other Side of Freedom  (quoted at front of book)

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Nina Mingya Powles’s live (from London) book launch

Help us celebrate the launch of Magnolia 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles in the time of covid! Nina is stuck in lockdown in London, from where she will do an Instagram Live reading to celebrate the publication of the New Zealand edition of her fabulous new poetry collection.

Join us on Wednesday 2 December at 9 pm NZ time on Nina’s Instagram page. (It will also be available to view later, but live is best!) To view the video you’ll need to have an Instagram account.

If Instagram isn’t your thing, or even if it is, you can also look forward to the real-life launch we’re planning with Nina in March!! Details TBC.

You can buy Magnolia 木蘭 from good bookshops, or direct from us. First 100 direct orders will also get a limited edition risograph print made by Nina herself of one of the poems in the collection.

About Magnolia 木蘭

Home is not a place but a string of colours threaded together and knotted at one end.

Shanghai, Aotearoa, Malaysia, London—all are places poet Nina Mingya Powles calls home and not-home; from each she can be homesick for another. A gorgeous bittersweet longing and hunger runs through the poems in this new collection from one of our most exciting poetic voices.

In Magnolia 木蘭 Powles explores her experience of being mixed-race and trying to find her way through multiple languages: English, Mandarin, Hakka, Māori. Powles uses every sense to take us on a journey through cities, food and even time, weaving her story with the stories of women from history, myth and film.

The gorgeous cover features an artwork by Kerry Ann Lee.

The UK edition of Magnolia 木蘭 was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best first collection.

“This is a book of the body and the senses, whether the million tiny nerve endings of young love; the hunger that turns ‘your bones soft in the heat’; the painterly, edible, physical colour of flowers and the fabric lantern in the pattern of Maggie Cheung’s blue cheongsam; or ‘the soft scratchings of dusk’. These are poems of ‘warm blue longing’ and understated beauty, poems to linger over, taste, and taste again. As Powles searches for home she leaves an ‘imprint of rain’ in your dreams.”
—Alison Wong

About the author

Nina Mingya Powles is a poet, zinemaker and non-fiction writer of Malaysian-Chinese and Pākehā heritage, currently living in London. She is the author of a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai (The Emma Press, 2020), poetry box-set Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017), and several poetry chapbooks and zines, including Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press, 2014). In 2018 she was one of three winners of the inaugural Women Poets’ Prize, and in 2019 won the Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing. Magnolia 木蘭 was shortlisted for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Nina has an MA in creative writing from Victoria University of Wellington and won the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry. She is the founding editor of Bitter Melon 苦瓜, a risograph press that publishes limited-edition poetry pamphlets by Asian writers. Her collection of essays, Small Bodies of Water, is forthcoming from Canongate Books in 2021.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The inaugural recipient of The Caselberg Trust’s new Elizabeth Brooke-Carr Emerging Writers Residency in 2021

The Caselberg Trust announced today that the inaugural recipient of its new Elizabeth Brooke-Carr Emerging Writers Residency in 2021 will be Ōtepoti Dunedin writer Megan Kitching.

Ms Kitching, who will undertake the residency in March 2021 said,  “I’m delighted and grateful to receive the inaugural residency and looking forward to exploring new work in a very special place.”  
Ms Kitching, who will undertake the residency in March 2021 said, “I’m delighted and grateful to receive the inaugural residency and looking forward to exploring new work in a very special place.” 

Megan was born in Auckland but now calls Ōtepoti Dunedin her home. She has a PhD in eighteenth-century literature from Queen Mary University of London, and tutors English and Creative Writing at the University of Otago, where she also works as a research assistant. Her poetry is included in a forthcoming edition of Poetry New Zealand and has appeared in The Frogmore Papers, Landfall, takahē, and the Otago Daily Times

The residency is named after well-known and much-loved Dunedin writer Elizabeth Brooke-Carr who died in 2019.  The residency, which will be held for one week each year, has been established thanks to the generous fundraising undertaken by Elizabeth’s family, friends, and colleagues of Ms Brooke-Carr who wanted to provide for an annual residency at the Caselberg house in Broad Bay in her honour.

We are absolutely delighted to be able to make this announcement today for our new annual residency, which commemorates a great friend and supporter of the Caselberg Trust, Dunedin writer Elizabeth Brooke-Carr” said Dr Janet Downs Chairperson Caselberg Trust “Elizabeth was the inaugural Caselberg Trust writer-in-residence back in 2009, and she often talked about how much the experience meant to her as an emerging writer who took up writing in her later years”

Dunedin Deputy Mayor Christine Garey was a great friend of Ms Brooke-Carr, and initiated the fundraising efforts 

“This new residency is a source of much pride and with the warm hospitality of the Caselberg Trust, and the Cottage’s breath-taking views and peaceful surroundings, emerging writers will be inspired to take their work to the next level. 

It is especially fitting that the inaugural recipient lives in our City of Literature, and I know how thrilled Elizabeth would have been – she was at her happiest, encouraging and supporting others to reach their potential.”

Ms Kitching, who will undertake the residency in March 2021 said, “I’m delighted and grateful to receive the inaugural residency and looking forward to exploring new work in a very special place.” 

The residency will shift focus slightly each year by offering emerging writers from a variety of writing genres – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, journalism.  Nominations are sought from an established writer who put forwards the names of emerging writers whom they feel would benefit from dedicated time to develop their writing.   Final selection is made by a panel comprising Caselberg Trustees, a member of Elizabeth’s writing group, and an established writer.  This year, emerging writers from across New Zealand were put forward for consideration by a well-known New Zealand poet.

The Caselberg Trust purchased the Broad Bay, Dunedin home of the late John and Anna Caselberg in 2006, with the aim of hosting creative residencies in the house.   Since inception, the Trust has held a variety of creative projects and events, as well as hosting several well-known New Zealand writers and artists at the cottage.  

Poetry Shelf review: A Vase and a Vast Sea, ed Jenny Nimon

An island

If a man was an island,
I’d walk his spine and pick his heart –
a black black blackberry in a field.
The trees would stitch his trousers.
The rain would nibble at his skin all night
and water would catch in his beard.
I’d cut the shape of his hip bones with a spade
and let the whir of insects get inside my ears.


Rata Gordon

The publication of A Vase and a Vast Sea, edited by Jenny Nimon (Escalator Press), is both a sad and glad occasion. The collection marks the end of 15 years of the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme and its online journal 4th Floor. A number of much-loved writers have been though the programme (Hera Lindsay Bird, Tusiata Avia and Alison Wong), while editors of the journal include Mandy Hager, Lynn Jenner, Renee, Lynn Davidson, Hinemoana Baker, Jackson Nieuwland.

Pip Adam has written a foreword to the anthology, stepping off from the title, to acknowledge the the things we can hold (blackberries, scissors) and things we can’t (loss, joy). She suggests ‘the collection is always awake with a focus-pull between the close and the huge’. And indeed it is.

A Vase and a Vast Sea offers poetry and prose from the journal’s history. As Jane Arthur states on the back of the book: ‘It quivers with life – a fitting memorial slab to a vibrant, unpredictable and inventive creative writing programme.’

I have been dipping and delving into this keepsake over the past few weeks, and three poets in particular have kept me returning. They each have two poems selected and each offers a deft interplay of the intimate and the large. Perhaps I am loving the poems as musical compositions, with contemplative undertones, physical markers, in an exquisite marriage that pulls me back, and makes me keen for new collections.

I began this small review with the poem that opens the anthology, Rata Gordon’s exquisite poem, ‘An island’, but her second one, ‘I find slaters’, is equally magnificent. I recently reviewed and loved her debut collection, Second Person. Rata is a poet to watch. This from ‘I find slaters’:

If I write about trees

I have to write about everything –


blue cheese and pink grapefruit.

A small gold bell ringing over moss.

Politicians’ billboards discarded on the side of

the road.

Bill Nelson is the second poet whose ability to surprise and keep it real is a poetry drawcard. This from ‘What the sea knows’:

Even though she believes

the world is not an oyster,

she knows it has a crust,

an incredulous centre.

Bill’s second poem, ‘Describing home’, is a heart poem. Read this poem and you can feel the similes and the jumpcuts, and way home is a beloved person, and home stretches to include heartbreak. And how you see a beloved person in everything at hand. Put this poem tablet on your tongue and it will fizz all day.

Those old trees touching the grass

are all the people who take the risk we took.

Lynn Davidson’s two poems have also worked poetry magic. You get ideas and you get real life, and you get effervescence in the zone between. This opening stanza from ‘Pearls’:

The physicist says the world

is not a world

of things, it is

a world of happenings.

More a kiss than a stone.

Lynn’s second poem, ‘A hillside of houses leaves’, is equally alluring. It’s a cascade of personifying surprise down the page. Here are the first lines:

Steeped in old weather the wooden houses

remember their bird-selves and unfold

barely jointed wings.

Alison Glenny’s ‘Notes for a biography’ is also a poetry treat. Ah, enter the terrain of her poem and you will want to set up camp.

Invited to describe her childhood, she confessed to

being haunted by the images of a dead bird and a


So many treats in this anthology, writers you will be familiar with, and perhaps like me, writers you will not. I will leave you with this enduring image from Cushla Managh’s terrific grandmother poem. I want to track down more of her writing.

We eat mutton off blue willow plates

and wash the dishes with Sunlight soap,

play Scrabble, fighting over the words.

I sleep in a bed that holds my shape.

I have been musing on how things hold our shape, and wondering if when we write or read a poem it holds our shape. How we nestle into some poems, and then, at some later date, nestle back in again.

About the authors

A Vase and a Vast Sea features much-loved New Zealand poets and authors connected to Whitireia’s Creative Writing Programme:

Renée, Donna Banicevich-Gera, Bronwyn Bryant, Lynn Davidson, Natasha Dennerstein, Romesh Dissanayake, Nicola Easthope, Barbara Else, Helen Vivienne Fletcher, Anahera Gildea, Carolyn Gillum, Alison Glenny, Rata Gordon, Rob Hack, Trish Harris, John Haxton, Adrienne Jansen, Kristina Jensen, Marion Jones, Tim Jones, Rachel Kleinsman, Cushla Managh, Lucy Marsden, Tracie McBride, Kathy McVey, Fiona Mitford, Margaret Moores, Bill Nelson, Ralph Proops, Maggie Rainey-Smith, Tina Regtien, Miriam Sagan, Lorraine Singh, Tracey Sullivan and Charmaine Thomson.

Foreword by Pip Adam.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The final Pegasus Poetry reading of 2020

The final Pegasus Poetry reading of 2020

Oh the times we’ve had this year! Remember the cancellations? Remember the Zooms? Remember the porn bombs? Oh Pegasus Poetry, you gloriously, valiantly homespun beast you!

We wrap up this year with three of the best:

Lynn Davidson: fresh out of iso and raring to go!
Helen Rickerby: recent Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry winner
Charlotte Simmonds, author of the astonishing The World’s Fastest Flower

Pegasus Books, Left Bank, Cuba Mall
Friday 27 November
Starts at 6.30pm

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The Prime Minister’s Awards for Literature Achievement went live

Last night I watched the live stream of The Prime Minister’s Awards for Literature Achievement hosted by John Campbell. I flicked it on for a quick glance before reading my book, but stayed until the end. I loved the warm celebration of books and writing.

The recipients:

Sir Tīmoti Kāretu (non-fiction)
Jenny Bornholdt (poetry)
Tessa Duder (fiction)

The roving conversation was a delight. And yes! poetry does not stick to the truth or, as Jenny said, poems form their own truths. Jenny read ‘In the garden’, a poem from her first collection, This Big Face (Victoria University Press, 1988). Here are the opening lines:

In the garden

the bulbs run riot

root systems

go all over the place


Jenny then read ‘Something is Everywhere’ from her latest collection, Lost and Somewhere Else (Victoria University Press, 2019). She told us she wrote this poem for her father-in-law, after he had told her ‘something is everywhere’, as she sat by his bed in his final days. It is jewel of a poem. A lightning rod of poem, and to hear her read it aloud is even better. It is worth tuning in just for this poem. Here are the opening lines:

Asparagus everywhere

in the garden, like eggs

laid by wayward hens.

The river, too, is

everywhere, rising up

I have long been a fan of Jenny’s poetry and the anthologies she has worked on. So warm congratulations – and an invitation to you to take a listen. It is rather special.

Listen on Facebook

Listen on YouTube

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Paula Green reviews Glenn Colquhoun at Ketebooks

Glenn Colquhoun is a Horowhenua-based GP and poet. His terrific debut The art of walking upright won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award at the 2000 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Three years later Playing God won both the Poetry Award and Readers’ Choice Award. Reading his new collection Letters to Young People underlines the way poetry and medicine are significant parts of Colquhoun’s life. Poetry feeds his medical practice and the medical practice feeds his poetry.

Letters to Young People speaks to the youth he works with at the Horowhenua Health Service, yet these are also poems to self. The blurb states: “Gathered together [the poems] represent the inventory of one doctor’s consultations taken home, responses to those moments he might have woken in the night and wished he had said things better.” Colquhoun responds to the hopes, fears, doubts, and physical and emotional challenges presented to him. He also listens and speaks back to himself. He offers reassurance and comfort, and he offers his own frailties and strengths.

Full review at Ketebooks online here

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: 2021 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat

The 2021 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat

26 – 28 February 2021

Waikanae, New Zealand

Immerse yourself in writing and conversation this summer. There’s something for everyone–whether you’re new to writing, an established writer, or somewhere in-between.

The Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat is happening from 26 -28 February 2021 on the beautiful Kāpiti Coast north of Wellington. This three-day gathering for writers that encompasses intensive morning workshops, lively discussions and space to write, relax and engage with topics critical to your work.

Writers Practice is delighted to host leading New Zealand writers – Brannavan Gnanalingam, Cassie Hart, Helen Lehndorf, M. Darusha Wehm, Pip Adam, Rob Hack and Rose Lu – at the 2021 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat. Each writer will teach morning workshops: in fiction, poetry, essay, world building and editing. In the afternoons, they will lead discussions on topics pertinent to craft and literature in Aotearoa.

You’ll find community, encouragement, and a safe place in which to take artistic risks.

Find out more here

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Liz Breslin wins Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize for a Sequence of Poems

road trip with the feminists

rage at mapgirl for being in Imperial

ignore her directions at the lights

the fastest way out of Christchurch

is/ is not \ is just through / fuck it 

mapgirl’s right 

stop for coffee \ wash out the keepcup

stand in line for a soy flat white

order cheese rolls / a rhubarb muffin

ginger slice \ it’s nearly lunch / it’s

roughly time

the baby blue nail varnish stuck

behind the seat \ the car fills up

with local rags / napkins \ op shop

treasures ticked off the manifestation list

it’s the trick

of attraction / at least one of the feminists

has a hangover that another drink

will fix \ the plains go on as long / long

long as the conversation \ ranging

outside, the rain

the wipers don’t have the right speed set

slow / the screen splotches opaque \quick

sweep / \ / \ / crank the tunes

no rhythm is for keeps but we’ll always

have the road

Liz Breslin

“Her-storical” sequence of poems wins national award

Liz Breslin from Wanaka has been announced as the 2020 winner of the Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems, in a prize-giving ceremony on Auckland’s North Shore.

The competition is organised annually by writing group, International Writers Workshop (also known as IWW.)

Breslin has won the $1,000 prize for her sequence of poems, entitled: “In bed with the feminists.”

The competition was judged by 2019’s award winner, well-known Auckland poet, writer and lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, Siobhan Harvey.

Harvey read two of the poems from Breslin’s sequence at the award ceremony.

On receiving her award Breslin said: “I was so surprised and delighted to get the call to say I’m this year’s winner. I worked on these poems during a period on my own in lockdown, so it’s really affirming to see them recognised outside my head and my house.”

Harvey judged the competition commended Breslin’s winning entry… “for its unapologetic voice, clear vision and assured awareness.”

Harvey continued: “The her-storical narratives and creativity make this a compelling lyrical analysis of feminism both in the contemporary age and in the past.”

The runner-up was announced as Sophia Wilson from Dunedin for her sequence of poems titled “Attempting to Land.” In judging Wilson’s piece, Harvey described the sequence as “a stunningly beautiful ode to migration.”

The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems competition has been run by IWW for twelve years and Breslin joins a list of winners including Siobhan Harvey, Maris O’Rourke and Michael Giacon.

In addition to the prize given to Breslin, IWW presented awards to the winners of its other 2020 writing competitions. The breadth of competitions the writing group organises is very wide as evidenced by awards for Crime Writing, Flash Fiction and Play writing.

At the conclusion of the formal prize giving, the winning play – “Text or Subtext” written by Auckland member John Leyland – was performed by members of the group.

About the Prize

The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems has been made possible by a bequest from the Jocelyn Grattan Charitable Trust. It was a specific request of the late Jocelyn Grattan that her mother be recognised through an annual competition in recognition of her love for poetry and that the competition be for a sequence or cycle of poems with no limit on the length of the poems.

This is the eleventh year IWW has had the honour of organising the Prize.

Previous winners are Siobhan Harvey (2019), Heather Bauchop (2018), Janet Newman (2017), Michael Giacon (2016) Maris O’Rourke (2015), Julie Ryan (2014), Belinda Diepenheim (2013), James Norcliffe (2012), Jillian Sullivan (2011) Janet Charman and Rosetta Allan (joint winners 2010) and Alice Hooton (2009).

The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems is sometimes referred to as the ‘Little Grattan’ as the Jocelyn Grattan Charitable Trust also funds the biennial Kathleen Grattan Award, run by Landfall / Otago University Press.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Sue Wootton’s ‘At Moeraki’

At Moeraki

Midweek. Midwinter. The village

is pared back. At dusk

the houses on the hill go black.

Only here and there a window shines

and a slippered lighthouse keeper shuffles

between chair and cupboard, bath and bed.

In the bay the fishing boats lilt at anchor.

Beneath their hulls the ocean shifts in sleep.

Ale-bellied, full, we take our tavern talk outside,

searching for it on the stone stoop beneath the stars.

Still they are lost, the words we want

for that thing on the wall inside and what it did

although they knock and knock, these words,

behind the tongue. The boat ramp stinks of brine.

The moon rises slow and golden from the headland.

Old eye. The dock is matted with weed and slime. 


Queen’s shilling. Shanghai. Press gang. Cosh.

The words we’ve been casting for are caught.

Deckloads of the disappeared come up now on the hook.

The bay’s awash with them, awash.

Sue Wootton

Sue Wootton ( ) lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin. Her debut novel, Strip (Mākaro Press), was longlisted in the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and the following year her poetry collection The Yield (Otago University Press) was a finalist in the poetry category of these awards. She is co-editor of the e-zine Corpus: Conversations about Medicine and Life, found at

The poem ‘At Moeraki’ was shortlisted for the 2019 University of Canberra Vice Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize.