Karlo Mila reads ‘Letter to JC Sturm’, from Goddess Muscle Huia Publishers, 2020
Dr Karlo Mila is a New Zealand-born poet of Tongan and Pākehā descent with ancestral connections to Samoa. She is currently Programme Director of Mana Moana, Leadership New Zealand. This leadership programme is based on her postdoctoral research on harnessing indigenous language and ancestral knowledge from the Pacific to use in contemporary leadership contexts. Karlo received an MNZM in 2019 for services to the Pacific community and as a poet, received a Creative New Zealand Contemporary Pacific Artist Award in 2016, and was selected for a Creative New Zealand Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Residency in Hawaii in 2015.
Goddess Muscle is Karlo’s third book of poetry. Her first, Dream Fish Floating, won NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2006. In 2008, Karlo collaborated with German-born artist Delicia Sampero to produce A Well Written Body. Karlo’s poetry has been published in in many anthologies, in a variety of journals and online.
Tusiata Avia reads ‘Massacre’ from The Savage Coloniser Book (Victoria University Press, 2020)
Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.
Elizabeth Morton reads two poems from This is your real name (Otago University Press, 2020)
Elizabeth Morton is a poet and teller of yarns. She has two poetry collections – Wolf (Mākaro Press, 2017) and This is your real name (Otago, 2020). She is included in Best Small Fictions 2016, and was feature poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017. She has an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, and is currently completing an MSc through King’s College London.
customer asks where you’re from. you reply, auckland, and somehow he hears, start guessing, instead. he talks over you, japanese? you look japanese. are you japanese? you move over to the grill and turn all the knobs up to high heat. the flames reach out to you, tiger orange and desperate. bacon rinds curl up into carbon crisps. your three fried eggs are smouldering, but you leave them there, yolks beaming. until soot falls from your eyelashes, blushing your cheeks. until the sun turns away, saying that she’s seen enough.
Emma Shi, from ‘THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT’
Fabulous cover art by Nirvana Haldar, excellent interview with Shu-Ling Chua (a Melbourne-based essayist, critic and poet) and stellar writing from young New Zealanders.
Check out the contents page and go exploring. Starling has its finger on the pulse of new writing – as it says in their aims for the journal:
‘The young writers featured here will shape and drive what New Zealand writing is to become. Starling is a chance to get a glimpse of where they might take us.’
Richard Langston, Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba Press, 2020
We often wonder
what moves us in a day –
was it words in a sequence
that surprised us
or notes played by someone
who kept their mouth closed
& let the sound leave
their broken body
from ‘Hill walk’
I am writing this as Tāmaki Makaurau is back in lockdown, wondering if I will pack the car for our first family summer holiday up north in years, worrying how Auckland businesses will cope, how families will cope, and sleeping like a patchwork quilt. Poetry is such a necessary diversion. It even makes up for patchwork sleep. I still have a wee stack of 2020 poetry books and now the 2021 stack is growing. It is like a preserving cupboard of treats along with the canned tomatoes and the black beans.
Richard Langston’s book has been on my mind for months after hearing the reading he did for Poetry Shelf. This week has been the perfect time to return to the poems. I finished the book and the word that came to mind, a word I have never applied to a poetry collection, was precious. This is a precious book – it has poise and it is personal.
The first poems take me to the land. I am musing on how Allen Curnow and the crew of white men writing poetry in the middle of the twentieth century were digging their way into a New Zealand kind of poetry. They were moving away from the early poets that filtered the land and experience through poetry models from Britain. It is a complicated story that has been retold so many times over the decades, in so many different contexts, with so many different biases and erasures. Ah. And then the land barely got a look in in poems. I feel there is a book to be written that traverses the relationship between the land and poetry, that never lets the poem lose contact with the reader, that never lets the poem service the theory and little else, that acknowledges the suffering and heartbreaking losses of the tangata whenua.
The first poems in Five O’Clock Shadows make the land precious. I am reminded of how Sue Wootton, Brian Turner, Airini Beautrais (a river), Hone Tuwhare, Ruth Dallas have done this in distinctive ways. Like these poets, Richard’s poems also travel with myriad subject matter: from the closing of a tavern, to a lost dog, to Dunedin, to refugees, to Sunday in the islands. But it is the land poems that first strike me. I am musing on how earth warmth and leaf light can permeate a whole book. So yes, this is a collection of earth warmth. You get to stand in the land poems and the poem is beauty and anchor and care.
We love the land by eye & feel & sun
& shadow. It grows within us.
This is who we are, this is how we find ourselves.
There is a spareness in all the poems, a light rich economy. Goodness knows what it took to write these, but when they reach me there is an exquisite poise. Every word belongs. I also found ‘Bsharri, Lebanon’ – a poem penned for Richard’s sisters who travelled to their ancestral village – precious. This ancestor poem is a poem to hear read aloud:
We have come to hug you,
we have come to kiss you for the life
you made us.
We have come, ancestors, to love
you as you taught us. We have come,
ancestors, & now we are together.
Ancestors, we hug you, we kiss you.
Ancestors, we weep, because
we have come.
The poetry is economical but each poem launches you into multiple musings, feelings, intricacies. I love ‘Please, do not’. The poem begins with infectious word wit and then travels to the punch-gut restorative ending – and the word ‘enough’. I want you to read the whole poem but here is the beginning:
Please do not yell,
such a small shattering word –
YELL – I prefer yell-ow
that might imply surrender
or a field of flowers holding
their faces to the sun,
why not peace, or acceptance,
such lovely hard-earned words.
Perhaps the poems that strike deepest, that are most precious, are the several addressed to mother and father. Eulogies, recollections, re-tracings. I am thinking how Richard’s poems are made of parts and you need to experience the coming together of these parts to get the reading joy in full. If I take a stanza or two to share with you, I am distilling the magic. These poems are magic, moving, must-reads: ‘Plums’, ‘Sons’, ‘Snoring’, Threaded’, ‘There’. In writing the poems both mother and father are held close, like a gift for family, like a gift for us as readers who also live and love and mourn. I especially love ‘There’, a poem that places the mother at the centre. Here are a few stanzas near the end of the poem (again I implore you to read the whole poem):
What we share is our story.
I sit with her
& look out at the weather.
are full of the day.
She doesn’t know. I do not know.
We have our story,
our fallible memories.
hovers by the spoon,
& we watch the weather.
You can tell this book matters so very much to the poet – and the degree of personal investment is contagious, whether in words gathering the land, family, experience, memory. Think of the poems as personal plantings in the undergrowth of life, with all manner of glorious lights shining through. Like I said, I reread this book in our return to lockdown, and by the time I got to the end I was filled with the joy of living and writing and reading. I am going to leave you with the final poem in the book, that takes us back to the land (crikey we never left it), how the need to be creative is such a necessary thing and how we share so many attachments – ‘together on this whenua’.
Richard Langston is a veteran broadcasting journalist and director, who comes from Dunedin, and was a driving force in the city’s music scene in the 1980s. He lives in Wellington and is a proud member of the three-person South Wellington Poetry Society.