Poetry Shelf celebrates Ockham NZ Book Awards Poetry shortlist: Nina Mingya Powles and ten things she loves

Ten things I love

  • A photograph

Me in Beijing, taken by my partner.

  • A poem by someone else

a dream of foxes

in the dream of foxes
there is a field
and a procession of women
clean as good children
no hollow in the world
surrounded by dogs
no fur clumped bloody
on the ground
only a lovely line
of honest women stepping
without fear or guilt or shame
safe through the generous fields.

Lucille Clifton

Full poem and video at poemhunter

  • A song

“First Love / Late Spring” by Mitski, from her album bury me at makeout creek.

A song I listened to while beginning to write the book in Shanghai.

  • A book

A bathful of kawakawa and hot water by Hana Pera Aoake (Compound Press).

  • A movie


  • A place

Five Mile Bay, Lake Taupō, my first swim after arriving back in Aotearoa.

  • A meal

Char kuay teow and sweet milk tea.

  • A poetic motif

A window.

  •  A place to write

Next to the windowsill where I’ve planted daffodils, in the sun, the cat perched next to me.

  • A poem from my book

Night train to Anyang

light changes as we cross into neon clouds

voices flicker through the moving dark

like dream murmurs moving through the body

red and silver 汉字 glow from building tops

floating words I can’t read rising into bluest air

they say there are mountains here but I can’t see them

there are only dream mountains high above the cloudline

I come from a place full of mountains and volcanoes

I often say when people ask about home

when I shut my eyes I see a ring of flames

and volcanoes erupting somewhere far away

when I open my eyes snow is falling like ash

Five questions

Is writing a pain or a joy, a mix of both, or something altogether different for you?

Writing gives me adrenaline, which is sometimes a kind of joy, or at least relief. Writing –when it’s going well –  gives me energy in the moment itself, but often leaves me utterly drained.

Name a poet who has particularly influenced your writing or who supports you.

There are so many poets who have supported me and deeply influenced me; it wouldn’t be fair to name just one. I am endlessly grateful to poets Alison Wong, Helen Rickerby, Anna Jackson, Bhanu Kapil, Sarah Howe and Jennifer Wong – I walk in their footsteps.

Was your shortlisted collection shaped by particular experiences or feelings?

The book is so distinctly shaped by a particular period in my life. Some poems feel ancient to me now, distant and far away –  but I don’t mind that. I was living in Shanghai, my first time living alone, feeling both brave and terrified at the same time. The poems are shaped by isolation, longing, aloneness (but not always loneliness) and in-betweenness.

Did you make any unexpected discoveries as you wrote?

Always –  I think this is how writing works for me. I have a loose outline in my mind of something I want to get down on the page, usually starting with a particular image, and then the writing itself reveals to me the place I want to go. I can’t quite explain how it happens, only that I’m following threads, making connections as I go. When something unexpected happens, I think that’s when I’ve written something good.

Do you like to talk about your poems or would you rather let them speak for themselves? Is there one poem where an introduction (say at a poetry reading) would fascinate the audience/ reader? Offer different pathways through the poem?

I prefer to let the poems do the work, although I enjoy giving some background details about some poems, such as “The First Wave”, which was written while listening to the online livestream of Radio NZ while I was in Shanghai at the time of the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016. Or, “The Great Wall”, which I affectionately call my Matt Damon poem, titled after the 2016 movie of the same name.

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. 

Nina reads ‘Faraway love’ from MAGNOLIA 木蘭

Review on Poetry Shelf here

Seraph Press page

Nina’s website

MAGNOLIA 木蘭, Nina Mingya Powles, Seraph Press, 2020

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