Monthly Archives: May 2021

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about knitting

I have always knitted but never very often and never very well. I have a winter cardigan that has been on the go for years and I need help to get it working again. When I was young I knitted a very complicated black jersey. I completed it and it felt like a work of art with its intricate and sublime stitching and hard-to-see-as-you-knit colour. But before I ever put it on, my dog Woody ripped it to shreds. I have never managed to finish anything since. Perhaps this winter I will see if I can find the bag with the grey wool and hope the moths haven’t shredded the cardigan.

I love knitting because it is soothing, because crafting things is a joy, and we can produce things that are of the greatest comfort. (Although at AWF 2021, Brian Turner talked about his grandmother knitting him childhood jerseys he never really liked!) I love the way you can lose yourself in the clicketty clack rhythm, or if you are skilled, you can read and look elsewhere as you knit. But knitting is a metaphor for so much more. Writing a poem is a form of knitting. Relationships and family life are forms of knitting. Telling a story. Living. Loving. Existing.

I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who continue to support my season of themes. These poems are not so about knitting, but have a knitting presence in varying degrees. Ha! I think reading is a form of knitting too! Happy knitting!

Twelve poems about knitting

Lockdown knitting

I hit on knitting for something to do

in the gloom, I get restless,

this end of the room is dim

and outside the window, the sun

burns down on browned-out plants

holding onto the dry clay bank,

relentless blue behind.

What Paul watches all day long.

Smoking for something to do.

He raises his eyebrows ridiculously

as I pull the thread of last year loose,

wants to know what I’m doing.

I say it stops me from chatter.

We say little bits from time to time

it’s peaceful, his coffin

on the dining room table

…32, 34, 36… I’m casting on the front

a dark ship riding into the room

light falling in behind

through the potted palms

in the little courtyard.

I’m halfway up the rib

on announcement day; it’s grim.

Paul says if no one can come

and no one can go,

just chuck him in his car

and straight in the ground.

We take the back seat out.

I knit and wait and watch

at the foot of the bed

and I’m not sure of the pattern:

a black square in the middle

that no one knows how to do.    

Marty Smith

Berthe

Reflection on Berthe Morisot’s ‘Young Woman Knitting’

There you sit

where you’re put,

painted feverishly

into place.

Did you mark

the woman who

made you

in a thousand

strokes of pastel

oils? Do you notice

the way your hands,

held up to their task

seem to merge, blend

with the pale-pinkness

of your gown,

how your edges,

ill-defined,

threaten to dissolve

into the background,

so that you would

disappear in a haze

of smoke

and the smell of

burning wool?

Know all that as you sit

fixed at your task,

but also note that she –

your creator –

set your head, your shoulders

against the green-grey

of the water. So that we

might see you,

defined, so that you might

tip back,

fall,

feel your head caught by the water

and your hair trail in the waves.

Rose Peoples

knitting a poem

I’m knitting this poem

                               for you. knit 1 purl 2.

found the pattern

in an old drawer

fraying at the seams. knit 1 purl 2.

I’m tatting together

a crochet

to keep us warm. p2sso.

cabling

a colourful coverall

to contain love. p2sso.

no slip-stitched

tangle here, k2tog.

only this

inter/twined/applique

taut to the touch. k2tog.

I’m knitting this poem

                             for you. knit 1 purl 2.

ribbing together

a cardigan of care

we can don

anytime our world

unravels. knit 1 purl 2.

I’ve sewn up

this poem

for you. bind off.

Vaughan Rapatahana

Skein                                                                                                             

having three sons

to see through winter

in a house

with one fireplace

our mother was an

expert knitter

turning out identical

triplets of jerseys

almost continuously

or like Penelope

seated at her loom

she unravelled then

reconstructed frayed elbows

ragged seams and cuffs

hands moving

one over the other

in the firelight

with love

Tony Beyer

Calling

We let the string sleep slack between our houses

hours, days, years, until one of us tugs.

Then, lifted and pulled taut, we speak. Buzz

words coming down the line. A baked bean can

for trumpet and for conch. Our voices echo sound,

plumbing the marks. On my lips, your name, a manner

of holding you and what you spell. Something like

kin and kinship, something like kind; something like

affection being the grounding stitch of love, which,

purl to plain and slip-one-pass-one-over, knits

our kith. Peculiar patterns we make

with our yarn, shaped to what blows through and what’s

prevailing. Rambunctious winds, or fretful. These times

you are bent beneath a howling. I am picking up

the string to make a steady tether for your heart.

For thy heart. Dear friend, I’m thinking of thee.

Sue Wootton

from The Yield, Otago University Press, 2017

My Mother Spinning

Sit too close

& the spinning bob cools you.

Leave the room

& the foot pedal beats

on a raw nerve.

Leave the house

& a thread of wool follows.

Peter Olds

(picked by Richard Langston)

For my parents

You were meant to die at home

suddenly, one of you stepping in from a walk

to find the other on the floor inside.

Then one of you in the garden

splayed on the earth and

the other in the earth already so

it’s like you fell to them.

That’s not how you went.

Things were more difficult than that.

We still talk, or –

to use the language of crossing over –

communicate.

Newly chaste.

Awfully polite.

Shy ministers of the invisible continent.

To cover the quiet moments

I start to knit a hat, and

in deep times,

like a Victorian daughter,

I rest my knitting on my lap.

We have about a hundred stitches to let go

of Alzheimer’s and stroke

and pick up the daily walks down the goat track

to the beach, you two

ahead of me,

towels slung around your shoulders,

your bare feet finding their own way down

the steep clay path. 

Lynn Davidson

from Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020, Lynn reads ‘For My Parents’ here

Purl 

Side by side

we purl the fine, cream wool.

The baby pushes and glides

beneath your elbows, your fingers

tense with ribbing.

I pick up your slipped stitches,

pass the needles back and forth.

Our tiny singlets grow.

Outside it is afternoon,

the sky paling and snow

clumped on Ben Lomond.

Jillian Sullivan

from Parallel, Steele Roberts. 2014

The Pattern of Memoir

In the days before synthetics from China,

women knitted. My Brownie teacher taught me

at seven, words or wool, anyone can master it.

First, the unravelling of elusive, possibly false

strands of memory.

 

Next, you settle into long days, row after row,

hoping for a garment approximating truth,

knowing anything re-knitted is always a little

uneven, a compromise at best. I make no mention

of the casting off.

 

The way your hands finding nothing

to do now, start searching for trouble again,

unearthing that old thing in the back

of the wardrobe just itching for a make-over,

a whole new life.

In the days before synthetics from China,

women knitted. My Brownie teacher taught me

at seven, words or wool, anyone can master it.

First, the unravelling of elusive, possibly false

strands of memory.

Diane Brown

From Every Now and Then I Have Another Child, Otago University Press, 2020

KNITTING

P l e x i s P e r i p l e x i s


Stooped sore with the shells and soaps of gift-giving, the midnight-baked koulouria
and sesame, the red eggs of the resurrection, a map, a compass
shoulder-sloped with the southerly through the crack in the dining stained-glass,
the dawn frosts on the lawn and the knitting mum prudently started:


so you’ll be able to trace your way back, my mikroula, my thesaurus, so you won’t get lost,
fall, be eaten whole, wander for days in bad company, catch cold, worry; so you’ll have
something to fly from Yiayia’s yard with the pots, the tiles dusted-clean, the shed with my
clothes by the tree


I squeeze on and through; down the rows, losing rows; reach down from
the overhead locker, pull out needles and threads and start looping.

Vana Manasiadis

from Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima, Seraph Press, 2009

coming undone

lists of names unspooling, not dead

but extinct, never-coming-again

owl, quail, snipe, wren

and I’m on my knees, weeding the lettuces

a blackbird hops, watches, drawn by the freshly turned earth

he’s wary he knows what species I am –

the one whose jersey’s unravelling

leopard, rhino, wolf, ibex

and strands of blue wool

unstitch behind me,

snag on blackberry barbs

and break

penguin, dolphin, sea-lion

and above me, gulls on lifting wind

bring salt-tanged keening

shearwater, petrel, albatross

and a cuff of my jersey flops down, hobbles

my hand on the trowel; I re-roll the sleeve

and my dangling hem has gathered dried sepals dropped

by camellias, that rustle, click like a small-clawed cortege

piopio, huia, bat

and I stare at my trowel as if I don’t know

what to do with it.

Carolyn McCurdie

very fine lace knitting

this is a picture of my house

wallpaper silvery with birch trees

covering the workbook

the stories and the pictures

red and yellow blue and blue-green

the smiling suns

jack in the box on the window sill

see Sweetie run

the high shelf in the toyshop

I want to be a ship

the umbrella poem

the oak tree and its acorns

the blue eyes that wouldn’t

the bar of chocolate and our mother at a high window

angelic openings in the calendar

circus elephants on the road at Waitara

hot black sand and the donkey rides at Ngāmotu

but we came ashore after the others

Mama still pale and no baby sister

though we begged her to tell us

when we might see her again

hush darlings she said

look at the tents and the lovely black sand

we will camp out until there is a house for us

but that house burned down right away

and Papa had no watch

or any instruments to make drawings with

and all of us felt sad

because the ship had gone

perhaps with our baby sister hidden somewhere inside

crying to us but we couldn’t hear

now Papa must cut the Sugar Loaf line

now Mama must tell us a new story

and when the earth shakes and the rats run across our blankets

we will not think of her

our sister outside in the dark

beside the rivers and wells

that wait to drown children less wary than us

when my mother was a girl

she thought all grown men had to go to jail

and feared to find her father one day

among the figures working in the prison gardens across the river

under the watchful eye of Marsland Hill

how did she know

afternoon sun slanting through eucalypts

stream curving or carving the valley that divides

here from there, us from them

now from then

or not at all

how did she know

that her grandfather was locked up

for three months pending trial

for the attempted murder of his wife and child

on the farm at the top of Maude Road

and that she, our great grandmother

would drop the charges, needing him

at home and claiming he would often shoot at her

going down the road, for target practice

he was cautioned against excessive drinking and released

to lose the farm and start over

as a teacher in country schools

how did my mother know

that her father, a young man in a country town

was put in the lock-up for two weeks in the year before the war

for sending indecent literature to the girl who jilted him

two postcards and a photograph

he is named but she is not

in the police report that went to the local paper

he was in the second draft

leaving for Palmerston North

dark hair brown eyes five foot seven

oblique scar on left forearm

August 1914

We were too small to remember

the trouble that took Papa to prison

for losing all his money

were we there too we ask Mama

did you take us did we all live in prison for a while

she will tell us only

that it wasn’t so bad

that everyone helped out and soon

he was home again I cannot now recall

how long we were away

but I was glad enough to leave that place

though I was not in favour of the long voyage

to the other side of the world

and dreaded confinement at sea

Well that is another story

now your father ties off his lines

for the company and remembers Cornish hills

Somerset hills and Devon hills under his pencil

he sees the nature path in the valley of the Huatoki

and knows it will take him to slopes covered in red and white pine

rimu and kahikatea

where a house may be built or brought

on land bought with remittances from England

the small child in the big photo

dark hair dark eyes pixie face

is my mother’s sister

they share a middle name

the child in the photo could be a year old

she is holding onto a stool with baby fingers

her feet are bare and she wears a dress

of soft white wool knitted by my grandmother

in whose bedroom the photo hangs

above the treadle sewing machine we are pumping hard

for the noise it makes up and down up and down

up and down and we are never told to stop or be quiet

we know the child in the photo died long ago

before she had time to become my mother’s sister

but we never ask our grandmother

about the very fine lace knitting

of the photo that hangs in her room

when at last we go looking for

the child who would have been our aunt

the trail is cold the dates stones or tears

Date of death: 20 September 1923

Place of death: Stewart Karitane Home Wanganui

Cause or causes of death: Gastroenteritis 2 1/2 Months, Exhaustion

Age and date of birth: 19 Months, Not Recorded

Place of birth: Stratford

Date of burial or cremation: 21 September 1923

Place of burial or cremation: Kopuatama Cemetery

we see our grandfather thrashing the Dodge

between Stratford and Whanganui

and the journey home with the little daughter

he will bury next day at Kopuatama

was our grandmother there

in the car at the Karitane Home at the graveside

the two and a half months of sickness

the birth of a second child

our Uncle Jack

8 July 1923

up and down up and down up and down

noise to cover a heartbeat under soft white wool

I look upon these letters and do not like to destroy them

they are a house of memory and when I read

I am my mother on deck at last

searching for a ripple on the flat Pacific Ocean

I am my father making delicate waves

around each of the Sugar Loaves on the map going to London

I am my brother in a choir of breakers

that bring his body to the landing place

I am my sister in the boat

outside the orbit of the moon and the orbit of the sun

I am my sister a bell-shaped skirt

between ship and shore

I am my sister painting a rock arch

that became fill for the breakwater

I am my sister exhausted

by travelling and the house to clear

I am my sister writing poems

that lie between the thin pages of letters

I am my sister singing

ship to shore choir of breakers alpine meadow

I am myself on the other side of nowhere

waiting for a knock on the door

my mother is taking a photo

of herself and our baby sister

in the mirror on the wall of silvery grey birches

it’s summer and she has propped the baby

between pillows in the armchair

holds the Box Brownie still

leans over the back of the chair smiling

into the mirror

she and her baby by themselves

reflected in silvery light

not for a moment aware of the child

whose passing long ago

mirrors to the day

the arrival of our sister

whose middle name my mother took

from the light of Clair de Lune

and so the daughter library

remakes itself and is not lost

though great libraries burn and cities fall

always there is someone

making copies or packing boxes

writing on the back of a painting or a photo

always there is someone

awake in the frosty dark

hearing the trains roll through and imagining

lying under the stars at Whakaahurangi

face to the sky on the shoulder of the mountain

between worlds and mirror light

***

Michele Leggott

Tony Beyer lives and writes in Taranaki. Recent poems have appeared online in Hamilton Stone ReviewMolly Bloom and Otoliths.

Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist, and poet who runs Creative Writing Dunedin, teaching fiction, memoir and poetry. She has published eight books: two collections of poetry – Before the Divorce We Go To Disneyland, (Jessie Mackay Award Best First Book of Poetry, 1997) Tandem Press 1997 and Learning to Lie Together, Godwit, 2004; two novels, If The Tongue Fits, Tandem Press, 1999 and Eight Stages of Grace, Vintage, 2002—a verse novel which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards, 2003. Also, a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers, Vintage, 2004; and a prose/poetic travel memoir; Here Comes Another.

Lynn Davidson’s latest poetry collection Islander is published by Shearsman Books and Victoria University Press. She had a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 and a Bothy Project Residency at Inshriach Bothy in the Cairngorms in 2016.  In 2011 she was Visiting Artist at Massey University. She won the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Award, 2020 and is the 2021 Randell Cottage Writer in Residence. Lynn has a doctorate in creative writing and teaches creative writing. She recently returned to New Zealand after four years living and writing in Edinburgh. 

Michele Leggott was the first New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007–09 under the administration of the National Library. She received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. Her collections include Mirabile Dictu (2009), Heartland (2014), and Vanishing Points (2017), all from Auckland University Press. She cofounded the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (NZEPC) with Brian Flaherty at the University of Auckland where she is Professor of English. Michele’s latest collection Mezzaluna: Selected Poems appeared in 2020 (Auckland University Press).

Vana Manasiadis is Greek-New Zealand poet and translator born in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and based in Tāmaki Makaurau after many years living in Kirihi Greece.  She is 2021 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at Te Whare Wanaga o Waitaha Canterbury University. Her most recent book is The Grief Almanac: A Sequel. 

Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer, mainly of poetry and fiction. Her collection, Bones in the Octagon was published by Makaro Press in 2015.

Peter Olds was born in Christchurch, 1944. His mother was a born knitter. All her life she spun and knitted. His Selected Poems was published in 2014 by Cold Hub Press.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines, and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish. Additionally, he has lived and worked for several years in the Republic of Nauru, PR China, Brunei Darussalam, and the Middle East.

Marty Smith spent 2020 writing poems and an essay for her friend Paul, who died in lockdown in April. Now she’s working on her racing project, following riders, trainers and ground staff through the seasons at the Hastings racecourse as they work with their horses.Marty spent lockdown as one of a small team given dispensation from Cranford Hospice to give end-of-life care to their friend, Paul. He does not make it to the end of the extra five days. Nearly. So close. Poem and audio, ‘My Lights for Paul’. VERB Essay: ‘I hope to make six good friends before I die’ (for Paul).

Jillian Sullivan lives in the Ida Valley, Central Otago. Her thirteen published books include creative non-fiction, novels and short stories.  Once the drummer in a women’s indie pop band, she’s now grandmother, natural builder and environmentalist. Her awards include the Juncture Memoir Award in America, and the Kathleen Grattan prize for poetry.  Her latest book is the collection of essays, Map for the Heart- Ida Valley Essays (Otago University Press 2020). 

Sue Wootton lives in Ōtepoti-Dunedin, and works as the publisher at Otago University Press. ‘Calling’ won the 2015 takahē international poetry competition.

 

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Jack Ross reads from The Oceanic Feeling

Jack Ross reads four poems from The Oceanic Feeling, Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021

Jack Ross works as a senior lecturer in creative writing at Massey University. He is the author of five poetry collections and eight works of fiction, most recently Ghost Stories (Lasavia Publishing, 2019) and The Oceanic Feeling (Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021). He blogs here

Notes to The Oceanic Feeling

Jack reads and comments on ‘1942’

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Liz Breslin launches new book

My book, In bed with the feminists, is officially pre-orderable today! It’s being published by Dead Bird Books, and has a stunning cover which started out as a hand-single-stitched piece by the amazing Lucinda King. Emer Lyons has been the editor with the mostess.

If you want to hear me read from it, we’re having launches in Wānaka (9th June – official release date!), Ōtautahi (18th June) and Ōtepoti (19th June).

In Wānaka, the very brilliant Laura Williamson will be launching the book for me at Creative Juices at Rhyme x Reason brewery. In Ōtautahi and Ōtepoti, Dominic Hoey from Dead Bird Books will be doing the launching. Not sure who is guesting yet at Space Academy in Ōtautahi but I’m already superexcited that Iona Winter will open in Ōtepoti at Adjø.

If you want to preorder the book or read a bit more about it, here’s the link.

Liz Breslin

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Siobhan Harvey reads from Ghosts

Siobhan Harvey, Ghosts, Otago University Press, 2021

Siobhan Harvey is the author of eight books, including Ghosts (Otago University Press, 2021) and 2013 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award-winning Cloudboy (OUP, 2014). She received the 2020 NZSA Peter & Dianne Beatson Fellowship, and won the 2020 Robert Burns Poetry Award and the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Award for a Sequence of Poems. Her work appears in recent anthologies: Arcadian Rustbelt: Poets Emerging 1980–-1995 (University of Liverpool Press, 2021), Feminist Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility (Cyren US, 2019) and, translated into Italian, in Alessandra Bava (ed.), HerKind: Anthology of Contemporary New Zealand Poets (Editione Ensemble, 2021).

Otago University Press page

Siobhan in conversation with Lynn Freeman, Standing Room Only, RNZ

The Friday Poem: ‘If befriending Ghosts’ from Ghosts

Kiri Piahana-Wong review for Kete Books

Poetry Shelf’s love letter to AWF 2021

‘You better marvel while you can – marvel and embrace the present.’ Brian Turner, AWF 2021

Dear Anne O’Brien and the AWF team

When the Auckland Writers Festival was cancelled in 2020 we felt such sadness at the loss after all the hard work and planning on your part, at the evaporation of those sessions we planned to attend or to participate in. (Although let’s remember we enjoyed a season of fabulous Paula Morris zoom sessions with various local and international authors.) It felt like a miracle that Auckland Writers Festival Waituhi O Tāmaki 2021 could go ahead with a strong and wide-reaching focus upon Aotearoa writers. To me 2021 was a festival of aroha and connection and, in this upheaval and damaged world, it makes it just that little bit easier to cope.

More than anything I welcomed the embrace of Māori, Pasifika and Asian voices, especially through the work of guest curators, Ruby Solly and Gina Cole.

How good to see sold-out session after sold-out session, foyers thronged with readers and writers, ideas sparking, feelings connecting, books selling. The festival theme Look, Listen & Learn is so very apt. AWF 2021 gave us an extraordinary opportunity to listen to a rich diversity of voices. I loved this so very much. I loved taking time to stop and observe. I loved reflecting upon my own behaviour and biases, my joys and grief. But yes I was grief stricken at the Pākehā woman who vented her ignorance/ racism upon a guest. Do this in my company and I will challenge you. I want our eyes and ears and arms to open wide to make room for communities of wisdom and experience and grievances. It is utterly essential.

Thank you for AWF for caring for your writers and readers, for putting hearts on sleeves and creating space and time for us to listen and look and learn. I adored this festival. I drove home on Saturday night into the pitch black of the West Coast and I felt like I had breathed in love. I saw so many poets and chairs who filled me with a shared joy in the power and reach of words and stories, and quite frankly, the preciousness of each day. Inspirational, heart restoring, mind challenging. Anne O’Brien you are an Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau treasure.

Thank you to every one who made this festival happen and run so smoothly (and yes for the divine food and green tea that kept the writers going). Sorry about the mixed quality of photos off my low-grade phone.

There has never been a festival quite like this one. Every session a gem. Extraordinary.

Paula Green

Some Poetry Highlights

I got to do a Magnetic Poetry workshop with children earlier in the week and once again felt that joy of working with young writers. To see the intense concentration and joy on their faces as their pens went scratching, as they shared poems, as they tried whatever challenge I lay down. I don’t say yes to many children’s workshops at the moment so this was special.

Doing my workshop meant I got a lanyard and so I got to go to loads of fabulous poetry events, to reboot in the Patron’s Lounge, and to catch up with much loved writing friends. So thank you for inviting me. I adored this festival.

First up The Ockham NZ Book Awards – I live streamed it on FB so got to hear the readings and speeches. I talked about the poetry shortlist in a session at Featherston, and what awards are like when you are an author, and how when Wild Honey missed out last year I could say ‘fuck’ at home (in lockdown), and get drunk on bubbles and be really really sad for an hour and then just move on! Because all the new projects bubbled back to the surface and the fact that what matters more than anything is the writing itself. That said the 2021 poetry shortlist was sublime – four astonishing books (although I did mourn the equally astonishing Wow by Bill Manhire and Goddess Muscle by Karlo Mila, but I jumped for joy (yes Featherston I did!!) at Tusiata Avia’s win (The Savage Coloniser) and Jackson Nieuewland’s winning best first book. Check out my celebrations here and here.

I also leapt in delight that Airini Beautrais’s magnificent short story collection Bug Week won (even though I had adored Pip Adam’s and Catherine Chidgey’s novels). I haven’t read Sprigs by Brannavan Gnanalingam yet, but Marion Castree’s words at the Featherston award event has spurred me to get past the disclaimer at the start of the book and read beyond the violence.

Usually I go to as many events as possible on as many days as possible but this year I decided to circle poetry on the Friday and Saturday. I kept hearing people say ‘I was so gutted I missed …’ and I know the feeling. I was gutted to miss Patricia Grace – but I will make up for it by buying her memoir. I was gutted to miss Anne Kennedy and pianist Sarah Watkins on the Friday night. And not to hear Kyle Mewburn and Charlotte Grimshaw, Catherine Chidgey and Carrie Tiffany. Kazuo Ishiguro. Sue Kedgley. Alice Te Punga Somerville. The Purgatory Reimagined session. I had seen some writers at Featherston and at last year’s WORD so that wasn’t quite such a loss (Helen Rickerby, Pip Adam). Oh and Siobhan Havrvey’s launch for Ghosts. In fact when I look at programme I wish I could keep popping back – take a magical month so I could go to every single event.

Autumn salon series: Allende, Hassan, Li

First morning session in the Kiri Te Kanawa room is packed with punters keen to hear Isabel Allende, Mohamed Hassan and Yiyun Li in a zoom conversation with Paula Morris. I had come to hear Mohamed because hearing him read and talk poetry is a rare treat for me. I hadn’t factored in Isabel Allende talking about power and feminism, and how articulate and feisty she is, and how every word that leaves her mouth is perfect, and how I just want to go back and read all her novels, and most definitely her new meditation The Soul of a Woman. I love the fact she rebels against how we see aging. I love the fact she recoils at the label ‘magic realism’ that gets dumped on South American writers whereas with European writers it is philosophy or religion. I love her for saying this:

Like the ocean feminism

never stays quiet.

If you get chance listen to Mohamad Hassan read his poems online. Buy his book National Anthem. Mohamed openly talked about what it is like to write having grown up in both Egypt and Aotearoa, and having lived in other places. About the ghosts that emerged after the Ōtautahi Christchurch mosque attacks, and the ghosts that remain after the settlement of New Zealand, about the increased visibility of Muslim communities after September 11, and monstrous and skewed Muslim identities that continue to be broadcast. Mohamed: ‘Do I apologise or do I try to make a difference and speak on behalf of those without a voice?’ Paula raised the thorny issue of home. Mohamed: ‘In many ways I am not really Egyptian, not really a New Zealander, but 100% both. You create familiarity for yourself in all these places: your work, relationships, writing, and that is what constitutes home.’

As a call out to the current unspeakable, heartbreaking and ongoing violence on the Gaza strip, Mohamed read from his poem ‘There are bombs again over Gaza, are you watching?’. Here’s an extract:

(…) but the bombs are still dropping on

on a Palestine that isn’t, I am a reporter but feel

silent, making news about house prices and a us

president that isn’t, talking about a Muslim ban

that isn’t, I am a Muslim on a bus leaving Auckland

and I’m trying not to read the news, talk to friends

in Denver who pray in terminals not made for our

skin and I tweet about Kayne and check my follows

check my shoes in the glass waiting for the

wrong bus, I wear Palestinian colours by accident

and no one notices, wear a beard by accident

and hope I don’t have to travel soon, watch the

skyline shrink and thank god for a hot meal

Mohamed Hassan, ‘There are bombs again over Gaza, are you watching?’ from National Anthem

Honoured Writer: Brian Turner

Keep It Up

A farmer asked me

if I was working

and added

he didn’t mean

writing.

I said

I was sawing

and stacking wood,

tidying the shed,

pruning the hedge.

‘Is that work?’

‘Yes,’ he said,

‘keep it up.’

Brian Turner, Selected Poems, VUP, 2019

John Campbell – along with Bill Manhire, Grace Iwashita-Taylor, Paula Morris, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Emma Espiner – is one of my favourite chairs. He puts such diligent thought into both his introduction and questions. He reads the author’s work deeply, and clearly only accepts invitations where he feels the greatest empathy and engagement with the author and their writing. His conversation with poet Brian Turner was very special. With permission from Brian and his partner Jillian Sullivan, John shared the heartbreaking news that Brian has Alzheimer’s. We were privileged to listen to a conversation that paid tribute to a lifetime of poetry and wonder, a history of writing in multiple genres. The conversation struck so many deep chords with me.

I saw tussock, heard it

speaking in tongues

and chanting with the westerly:

What’s productive here

is what’s in your heart,

sworn through your eyes,

ears, the flitter of the

wind in your hair

Brian Turner, from ‘Van Morrison in Central Otago’, from Elemental: Central Otago Poems, VUP, 2012

John offered richly detailed thoughts on the writing and the living, the landscape and the lyrical line, and Brian was able to respond with sentences that shone out, and the reading of poems. It worked beautifully. In glorious tandem, they made the poetry so alive for us. On childhood: ‘Looking back we were hell of a lucky.’ On Alzheimer’s: ‘30% of my brain’s not working but I’m going to keep the rest of it going now!’ On what matters as a writer: ‘I like to listen to what other people have to say. Looking and listening always.’

John declares he will keep the poems centre stage and he does. Brian says roaming outdoors ‘suppress despair’: ‘I feel this is a wondrous place in all sorts of ways. I couldn’t live in a heavily populated city. I like to hear the cicadas. I like to hear fast clear cool largely clean water rattling on the stones. I like to roll over the stones and see if vertebrates are there, to see if fish might be there.’

We walk upon the earth, feast our eyes,

wonder at what we see in the skies;

listen to rivers and streams, stand

humbled by mountains and stare

in awe of oceans and their might.

Brian Turner, from ‘As We Have Long been Doing’, Selected Poems, VUP, 2019

On grandmothers and knitting: ‘Sometimes they knitted me the sorts of jerseys I didn’t want to wear.’ On self pity: ‘I always use the word luck.’ On learning: ‘I l always learn something from other people – but don’t fancy people a bit up themselves and ignorant!’ On what it’s like to write: ‘Will it hold up? Is it as good as I can make it? When writing a poem you never know what you are going to say next. I have drawers and drawers of poems. I am happy to write what I write and I don’t have to have it published.’

I totally agree about writing poetry for the sheer love of writing because all else is secondary. I also agree wholeheartedly with Brian on this:

‘You better marvel

while you you can – marvel and

embrace the present.’

Just Possibly

 

If home is where and with whom you long to be

you’re still looking for it. In the meantime

you’re in a room where the fire’s crackling

and you’re listening to a CD of a cellist, pianist

and violinist whose urgency’s insistent, persistent

and melodic; you’re somewhere where there’s

just you and the music and the flames

and your cat under a chair near the fire,

 

and you’re thinking of home and where it may

be as rain begins to drum on the roof

and a wind’s rummaging like a vagabond

and you wonder if perhaps the cat feels this is

his sanctuary and therefore sanctity’s present

too, and that, just possibly, all of that’s true.

 

Brian Turner from Selected Poems

Pasifika Marama QAQA: Avia, Marsh, Mila

Tusiata Avia, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Karlo Mila read poems and conversed with poet Grace Iwashita-Taylor in a session that was part of the Talanoa series curated by Gina Cole. The room was packed to the gills and all those present witnessed something special. Getting Tusiata, Selina and Karlo to each read a poem that spoke to themselves was a genius idea. And then when Grace asked how they navigated their outsider status as Pasifika wahine, the most glorious conversation unfolded. This was a connective circle. This was ‘permission to be ourselves’. As Tusiata quoted from a poem by Karlo: it’s ‘the tapa of connected talk’. Tusiata talked about body shame at the book awards, Karlo about loneliness, everyone talked about the need to be seen and heard, about women’s wisdom, and women holding and shaping their spaces.

Karlo talked about poetry and a healing process: ‘Poetry is a way of allowing me to be me.’ And that comes through so clearly in Selina’s Mophead books that have touched people of all ages, in the extract she reads. She talked about making it niu, about bringing herself to Pasifika ways of being and doing and knowing, and how each touches upon and matters to the other. And then Karlo talked about remembering and forgetting, and ‘how we’ve all travelled through the bodies of so many to be here’. And Tusiata added: ‘My ancestors are trailing in a long line behind me like a wedding dress.’

Ah, and Selina talked about how Alice Walker and other women of colour influenced her, until the words of her grandfather shone through: ‘When you are ready you will see.’ And Karlo said: ‘The more I become myself the more I find myself – it’s a lifetime journey of shedding.’

When we write for deep clarity and to express our greatest truth to ourselves – everything else doesn’t matter’

Karlo Mila

Karlo: ‘Writing poetry is about clarity so I can hold it in my hands, so I can hold nana in my hands.’

An audience member thanked Grace and acknowledged she was also a great poet, and to date only Hawaii has published her work. Not Aotearoa. She made the important point: ‘Some of us can’t be numb to not being published. And we can’t go to university writing programmes.’

Grace acknowledged the three poets ‘as living breathing taonga, us together as a village’. It was a sublime session.

Holding the Tokotoko: Marsh & Eggleton

Curated by Gina Gole, David Eggleton joined Selina Tusitala Marsh – our current Poet Laureate and our previous Poet Laureate – to talk poetry and power, along with his new collection The Wilder Years (OUP). Selina began the session with a poem she had written for David:

Mr Eggleton’s Poetry Edges

Fledgling images wing

across space, time, paging

piles of concatenated anxiety

ridden, smidgen pictures rage on highways

then pile up against red traffic stop signs.

You go go go into rhythmic flow, the bump

and grind of razor edged objects rhyming

in bumper to bumper timing

street-signing their lines on roads,

byways, tracks, lanes and skyways

of Aotearoa.

You are a ton of eagle,

Mr Eggleton,

a feather in Aotearoa’s crown.

You are an egg

in all respects

and we love you

(yep, that’ll do).

Faiakesea’ea

thank you.

Selina Tusitala Marsh

The poem was like a mihi and you could tell David was chuffed at the way Selina riffed on his style. As she later said, David’s poetry ‘is bumper to bumper image and language – and I could listen to you all day’. David suggested he ‘uses the craft of English to find my way into myself’. His first poems might be seen as anti-poems, rants and raps. Now he is getting awards and recognition, he is seeing both his Palangi and Pasifika heritages, that can be in conflict, that can be a source of strength, that can render his poetry multi-faceted, that continue to draw upon ‘rap and chant and traditional rhythms’. You can hear it in ‘The Great Wave’, a poem he wrote after his mother passed in 2016, and he went to Suva to meet up with relatives.

I listen to the ocean chant words from Rotuma.

The Mariposa is a butterfly between islands.

A heatwave, fathoms green, whose light spreads

its coconut oil or ghee or thick candlenut soot,

twinkles like fireflies over plantation gloom,

and heart’s surge is the world’s deep breath.

I learn to love every move the great wave makes;

it coils you into each silken twist of foam,

blown far, all the way to salt-touched Tonga,

with mango pits, wooden baler, shells awash.

My uncle, swimming from New Zealand, wades

out of the sea and wades on shore at Levuka,

where my grandmother is staring out

from her hillside grove of trees waiting for him.

David Eggleton, from ‘The Great Wave’, The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, OUP, 2021

David underlined how important it is to advocate on behalf of other poets to be heard. When he first submitted to poems to Landfall he was rejected so he published his own broadsheets. Selina only got poems accepted when David became editor of Landfall. As Poet Laureate, David hopes to bring poetry to the people (as Selina did), to write poems about New Zealand events, to speak out against injustice (such as Myanmar), to try and maintain a balanced point of view, and to let his poems speak for themselves. To produce critical writing that resists the sneer and the put down. ‘You can use poetry as pure self expression,’ he says, ‘like doodles, to use words and diaphragm to express through mouths’. The power of poetry cannot be underestimated – he wants to be part of a tradition that reaches back to and moves forward from Hone Tuwhare.

This was a riveting session full of laughter and warmth and challenge. Each poet paid tribute to the gifts of the other, listening and applauding in the spirit of the festival. New Zealand is all the better to have the generosity, poetic dexterity and willingness to lay down crucial challenges from these two stellar Poet Laureates.

Humans Being Happy: Kate Camp

Before moving into a discussion with poet Kate Camp, chair Bill Manhire paid a sweetly rhyming tribute to two of our greatest and most beloved poetry patrons, Mary and Peter Biggs (sponsors of this session): ‘Mary and Peter do a huge amount for New Zealand poetry. They not only support it financially, they actually read it. They walk the talk. They’ve never been a failure at onomatopoeia. They step outside their mansion and they really do the scansion. They’re Mary and they’re Peter, and they dig poetic metre!’

The title of the session makes reference to Kate’s How to Be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems (VUP, 2020). It is an excellent collection and deserving of spotlight attention at the festival. Yet, as Bill rightly pointed out, other books that came out in 2020 also missed on launches and/or widespread visibility (such as the terrific selected poems from James Brown and from Bernadette Hall). Kate’s book was joint NZ/ Canadian publication so she missed out on launching it in Canada.

I loved Bill’s introduction to Kate’s poetry: He claimed she had been viewed as ‘the Mae West of New Zealand poetry – deadpan, offhand, laconic, out the side-of-the-mouth aphorisms – but over time more reductive, as she got deepening enlarging, enriching.’ The session included scintillating poetry talk, poems, an extract from the memoir she is writing and the hilarious diary Kate penned at the age of fourteen.

I also loved the anecdote about sending her IIML submission portfolio to Damien Wilkins and discovering he read a couple of them to Bill: ‘Holy shit, I have peaked!’ Yet here we are in a packed room listening to Kate read poems all these years later, and it is an absolute treat. To celebrate Tusiata Avia’s win, she reads ‘Panic Button’, a terrific poem in which Tusiata makes an appearance with her facts on the Bedouin (they scarcely drink water and they bury onions in the desert sand). The middle stanza signals things can go wrong in any human life, and if you thought about everyone breathing in and out at night in the house, ‘you’d just throw up in terror’. Here is the final stanza:

Instead I have this button in my pocket

not like a panic button, just a button

that’s come loose, and it fits

into the curve of my thumb and finger

as I turn it over and over.

I keep it in my pocket

like you keep a pebble in your mouth

in the desert, to make the saliva flow.

Kate Camp, from ‘Panic Button, from How to Be happy Though Human

Kate grew up learning poems off by heart, with that memorisation allowing a completely different appreciation of a poem (I find this when I type out poems for the blog! PG). And when she reads poems out loud she will find the nerve, the trigger point. In writing poetry she wants to remain calm and to be funny, to navigate tension and despair, to keep in control. I love the idea of finding the ‘nerve’ of a poem. Wow!

The memoir sample hooked me: it’s a series of essays that are most definitely not an autobiography. She doesn’t want to hurt people, and if the territory is too tough, she will avoid it – then again, compromising the writing is out, sugarcoating is out!

This was another standout session.

A Clear Dawn

A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand, Auckland University Press, 2021

The first-ever anthology of Asian New Zealand creative writing was launched by editors Paula Morris and Alison Wong, with a selection of readings of poetry and fiction, to a packed room, including a sizable number of the contributors. The specialness of the occasion, in the arrival of this ground-breaking book, was contagious. Auckland University Press have produced a beautiful book to hold in the hand, exquisite interior design, with the writing itself stretching out in multiple directions and styles. As Alison said in her speech, the subject matter might have an overt Asian focus at times but, equally and so importantly, it can traverse and go deep into anything. And I would underline, you can’t pin ‘Asian’ down to single definitions, experiences, opinions, locations as the anthology so brilliantly shows.

You can hear nine of the contributing poets read here – in a feature I posted on Poetry Shelf.

Ngā Oro Hou: The New Vibrations

The programme announced this event: ‘An exceptional evening performance that brings together celebrated writers and taonga puroro practitioners in a lyrical weaving of language and song. Writers Arihia Latham, Anahera Gildea, Becky Manawatu, essa may ranapiri and Tusiata Avia joined poet/musicians Ruby Solly and Ariana Tikao. The session was curated by Ruby as part of her Ora series.

This was the final session I went to at the festival – sadly missing all the events I had circled on the Sunday. But what a sublime way to finish a festival of supreme love and connection, of listening, looking and learning. I didn’t write notes. I did take some photos. I wish I could have recorded the whole event so you too could breathe in the glorious flight of musical notes in harmony with musical word. The words were heart penned. I sat in the front row and breathed in and out, slowly slowly, breathing in edge and curve and pain and aroha and sweet sounds. It was like being in the forest. It was like being in the ocean. It was like being wrapped in soft goosebump blankets of words and music that warmed you, nourished you, challenged you. This is the joy of literary festivals that matter. This warmth, this love, this challenge.

And this was the joy of AWF 2021. I am so grateful to Anne O’Brien and her team for creating a festival that has affected so many writers and readers in the best ways possible. Really rather extraordinary. Thank you.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Submissions open for Sweet Mammalian 8

Submissions are currently OPEN

Deadline midnight 30 June

Send us your writing, be it a roar, purr, or pip-squeak. 

We ask that you send up to five poems, preferably in a Word document, to sweetmammalian at gmail.com .

Spread the word far and wide. We’ll read through the winter, and launch the issue in southern hemisphere springtime.

We love writing with teeth, claws, and tenderness. To get a sense of the work we’ve loved before browse our previous issues online.

Sweet Mammalian always loves to hear from new writers. Send us your thrilling work. 

Check back here for updates, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to hear about our issue launches and next submission rounds. 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Oscar Upperton’s ‘The surgeon’s brain’

Intro from the author

Doctor James Barry was a nineteenth-century surgeon. He performed great medical feats, argued with almost everyone he met and duelled some of them too, survived a gay sex scandal in South Africa and travelled across the Atlantic with a goat and his white dog Psyche. He was also a nerd, obsessed with hygiene and hospital administration. He is one of a handful of transmasculine people whose stories have been passed on to us.

This poem is from my upcoming book The surgeon’s brain, an attempt to tell Doctor Barry’s story from the inside out.

The surgeon’s brain

It’s not a trifling thing. A man’s brain is, to some, the man himself. Forget this soul nonsense. He has cut into a thousand bodies and never seen a soul.

He has seen brains frozen, brains shucked from the skulls of criminals, brains in jars. There must be brains in the bogs, he finds himself thinking, Irish brains in Irish mud. There is something in the bogs that preserves. Frightful bodies have been pulled from the mire, twisted and browned like tree roots. Only the skin survives, the innards drained and pulped by the bog, but he imagines the brain laid in rushes, like an egg, like Jesus in the manger. 

In an English church on an African Cape, his thinking stumbles and he is a child again, watching from an upstairs window a beggar walking door to door. She has a bad leg, that’s what people say, like a bad dog, just incorrigible. Young Barry wonders about that leg. 

Later that night, he thinks about how his mind moved from church to street, from Cape to Ireland. He considers a way to observe the brain: a clean room and scalpel, a bone saw, an array of mirrors. He would need assistance for the sawing but could do the rest himself. He would not like another staring at his brain; it would be akin to being naked. The limitation, of course, is that he could only observe his brain thinking about his brain; he could not see what it looked like thinking of roses, for instance, or of prison cells. Perhaps at the point his attention shifted—he could catch that—the second between thoughts. What would that look like? 

It feels to him like there is more than just his brain inside his skull. There is something that he thinks of as the mind, which he pictures as a shiny black spider moving through a web. The brain is static but the mind, his mind, feels as though it is always moving. This is why feelings must be disregarded in the study of anatomy. 

Living outside the brain of Dr Barry, as we all do, it is possible to make only a few observations. For example, we can assume his brain weighed between 1.3 and 1.4 kilograms. 

He wonders whether anyone has ever been as unhappy as he. Sometimes he wonders if anyone has ever been as happy as he. Sometimes he dances around his room in delight. His dog dances with him. If you were to ask them why they were dancing they would no doubt say, Because the other fellow was. 

He imagines a lecture. He holds a thin rod, with which he taps a blackboard. On the blackboard is the word HYGIENE. Under the word HYGIENE are twenty-seven numbered points. He takes his students through each point. The lecture is four hours long. When he finishes, the students don’t want to leave. Sir, is there more you could teach us? Please sir, we want to hear everything. He chuckles, thinking about it, and decides to indulge them. His assistant rolls in a new blackboard. This blackboard is headed DISPOSAL OF EFFLUXIONS.

From where do these dreams come? Sometimes he is standing on a hillside, quite alone. An army mills beneath. His army – men he has trained from birth. He turns and runs and his army follows him, chases him, out of loyalty and bloodlust. I taught you this! he screams. He is lost to their spears. 

Other times he is putting a child to bed. She is tired but strong, and hangs her arms around his neck. Patients call from behind the door. They need me, he says. Please let go. 

I need you, she whispers. She opens her mouth and cholera climbs out.

He bounces baby Augusta on his knee. Her brain is growing fast. When she was born, it would have been smaller than a clenched fist.  Since then it must have tripled in size. He doesn’t tell her parents this. They would ask how he knew. 

Imagine a body without a brain. Monster. Demon. Ghost. Imagine a brain without a body, not in a jar but alive somehow, perhaps submerged in a pool of blood. How to feed it? How to communicate? Would it be an it, or still the person it was? Is? 

Dr Barry, he imagines saying to his brain. Dr Barry, listen to me. Today we have done something truly remarkable.

Oscar Upperton lives in Wellington. His first collection New Transgender Blockbusters was published by VUP in March 2020. His second collection, on the life of nineteenth century surgeon Dr James Barry, is upcoming.

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Eleven poems about the moon

The moon has shone in poems for centuries and I can’t see a time when it won’t. Aside from the beauty allure that transfixes you in the dead of night – for me there is the way the connective light shines down on us all – both transcendental and sublime. When I read a moon poem that I love, it feels like I am cupping the moon in the palm of my hand to carry all day. Moon poem bliss. So many moon poems to love. So hard to choose. As with all my themes, it is not so much poetry about the moon, but poetry with a moon presence.

I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who have and are supporting my ongoing season of themes.

Eleven poems about the moon

Last summer we were under water

for K.

and we asked what are you doing there, moon?

our bodies neck-deep in salt and rain

each crater is a sea you said & dived under

the sun before I could speak water rushing

over your skin the place where chocolate

ice cream had melted and dried there like a

newly formed freckle on the surface of

us and the islands crumpling apart softly

over sea caves somewhere opening

my mouth in to the waves to save you are

you are you are

Nina Mingya Powles

from Magnolia 木蘭, Seraph Press, 2020

Soon, Moon 

It’s not you, moon, it’s me:

the way I look to you as if

you’ll choose to be muse

then look back at my battered

corner-alley of a blue mood

and find only eye rhymes

for human-ugly and you:

lost hubcap, squashed yoghurt pot,

metal sewer lid; all the zeros

on the street numbers of the richest

most forbidding houses; the fierce interrogations

of their security lights and satellite disks; 

the white flowers like hung-head hoodies 

on the roadside gang of onion weed.

Even the pale, shucked hull

of mandarin peel dropped in the street

seems like eco-graffiti that cusses

we’re a pack of greedy moon-calves,

fancy apes with glitter-baubles, 

guzzlers at Earth’s thin, sweet milk

who can’t see our hungers

will turn her into your mirror, darkly.

Emma Neale

from Tender Machines, Otago University Press, 2015

Tapa Talk

I’m a shadow catcher

I walk and fly in worlds

between worlds

but you were born in

the light of a bright moon

when the doors of heaven

were open to the songs of stars

your lips are trochus shells

fully parted in sleep

your eyes are nets

that draw me in

to your arms

your Leo heart

is a starfish freshly

plucked from heaven

your familiar body

the midrib of a coconut leaf

adorned with pandanus blooms

your laughter

a banana pod

burst open

and right now

dawn crawls over you

like a centipede

at last I understand

you’re the translation

of an ancient text

and the tapa on the wall

is the gallery of motifs

I found in your sleeping form

that tapa could be you

lying next to me

breathing into the first light

and you, darl

could be the tapa

hanging on the wall

Serie Barford

from Tapa Talk, Huia Press, 2007

Moon

for Ruth

You tell me you are a moth drawn to the moon
and I see you, a rare white puriri
unable to rest in the perfect green
of your sisters. You rise
from the forest
wings lifting and sighing.
You are heavy with prescience
and you have only
a few nights.

Alison Wong

from Cup, Steele Roberts, 2006

From Above  

The twinkly stars disinterestedly  

staring back, it tickles your thinking,  

the sum of you, the multiplicated product  

of all your hysterical episodes, and function,  

fluctuated, fractal, of your moods and vacuities.  

The people you’ve wrung out your guts for  

like the sponge end of a squeegee, that’ve ticked  

and tocked through a month, three months,  

six months, a year of rinse cycles,  

the faces who’ve written their looks  

into your programming, all the undeletable,  

second-guessed significations, the gestures  

of their lips, their fingers’ commands,  

it leaves you spinning, dehydrating  

the evening to a dusty, distant simile.  

I feel like a moon, punched all over with  

old bruises, but whole, orbiting on,  

pressing on, whole.

Nick Ascroft

from Back with the Human Condition, Victoria University Press, 2016

Madrigal

The moon rose out of the sea

     and climbed above Mihiwaka.

          How terrible, lonely far off

             it seemed, how resolute and cold

in a vast nest of stars.

     I stood leaning on a gatepost

         listening to the mysterious wind

             bending the pines a long time

before I set off down the hill

     feeling like a stranger

          returning to the place

              where he was born.

And the moon came after me,

    sat on my shoulder

       and followed me inside.

            All night it lay glowing

in the bones of my body,

     a private pain, given over

        to everything; all night

             the moon glowed as a body glows

in a halo of moonlight,

    and in the half-light of dawn

      I heard the moon sing a madrigal

           for those who live alone.

Brian Turner

from Ancestors, John McIndoe, 1981, picked by Richard Langston

Moon

‘Look,’ I said,

‘there’s the bloodied moon

over Paekakariki.

She’s tilting crazily

(one ear lopped off),

skimming the bright sea,

colliding with the hill-side.

I am afraid of madness –

the moon worries me.’

‘All the best people

are mad,’ you said.

And I laughed, agreeing,

so we welcomed her as she

moved along the coast

towards where we lay,

warm, in our bed.

Meg Campbell

from The Way Back: Poems, Te Kotare Press, 1981

The night sky on any day in history

I want you to look into an oncoming night.
Is it a little green? Does it have the cool orange
beginnings of streetlights? Tip your head back
as someone with a nosebleed might.
Survey the lower sky. Are there chimneys
making mini city silhouettes? Satellite dishes,
their smooth, grey craters turned in one direction?

You might insist you hear a nightingale.
Might see, at a distance, the huge screen
advertising an upcoming concert by the Beach Boys.
You could spend your time watching trains pull
their strings of yellow windows along in lines.

Or you might come here, where I am
where I stand upon the rarely silent floor
looking up at the rectangle moon
of our neighbour’s window.

Kate Camp

from How to be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2020

Gregorian

Will you have me count off the days in your calendar, like some kind of self-soothing tool? Have we all been sold the latest gadget, to take our focus away from what’s happening out there? Distracted from colours changing in the trees, the moon continuing her cycle above, and the ocean’s repetitive lull. Do you dream about the world ending, or worry yourself down to the quicks in your nail beds, devouring hoarded tins of peaches and complaining because you can’t get into Farro Foods for poshos — when most people have to queue to buy an overpriced bottle of milk and a loaf of white bread to feed their children? I don’t care if your fancy-arsed store didn’t have the brand of cereal you desired. No, I will not post social media diaries of daily activities (like you who never bothered before and kept us at a distance with your academic nonsense, avoiding the reality our communities were already fucked); the thesaurus that kept you safe now serves as a doorstop, your words have dried up, and you’re resorting to colloquialisms. I doubt you will ever have a sense of life as it is for the minorities (who are really the majorities if you look at the world’s pyramid charts on the distribution of wealth); most of us struggle week to week, day to day, to survive everything you have created, and I don’t need to use your learned words of ‘capitalism’ and ‘eco fascism’ to know what I’m on about — without those labels we are connected regardless, through tissue, blood and ether, going back to wherever it is that we came from, whenever it was the beginning, if there ever was one. A painful silence echoes through these unspoken things, I see you in your ‘bubble’ wittering on about the importance of connection; but have you checked on your elderly neighbours to see what they might need? Or are you inside, behind your locked doors and twitching bespoke drapes, waiting for something to arrive?

Iona Winter

The Woman in the Moon

I was dancing in the shadow of the moon

under dark trees strung with party lights; a band

played waltzes; I can still feel the warmth of your hand

on the small of my back

while my fingers curled round your neck,

knowing your pulse through my long red gloves.

I hoped we were dancing into love;

we’d turn under those lit trees forever.

My hair was piled high, we looked to a future

I thought.  If only I’d followed your eyes,

caught where they rested: that other light,

an ivory candlestick, skin so pale

drawing you in like a moth.  Of course you fell.

Looking back, I see now, the obvious clue

I was dancing in the shadow of the moon.

Janis Freegard

from Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (Auckland University Press, 2011). 

Moon of love

Under the moon of love, I shimmy

on silver over waves, flirt with light,

hang with cloud, under the moon of love.

Under the cloud of the moon of love, rain

shower blessing my lunatic stroll.

In every way guided by stars, under

the moon cloud of love.

Shine on the man I am

in this moon, reflect on the heart

of my inner space. Show me the night

shadow my day, shine on the man

in the moon of love.

You marvellous moon, I’m making

all your promises. Luminous moon, promise

me, promise you moon of love.

Michael Giacon

from Fast Fibres 6 2019, Olivia Macassey pick

Nick Ascroft dangles from the Wellington skyline on his e-bike, kid in the child-seat, and a look in the eyes that says: surmountable. His most recent collection of poems is Moral Sloth (VUP 2019).

Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a German-Samoan mother and a Palagi father. She was the recipient of a 2018 Pasifika Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Serie  promoted her collections Tapa Talk and Entangled Islands at the 2019 International Arsenal Book Festival in Kiev.  Her latest poetry collection, Sleeping With Stones, will be launched during Matariki, 2021.

Kate Camp’s most recent book is How to Be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems published by VUP in New Zealand, and House of Anansi Press in Canada.

Meg Campbell (1937-2007) was born in Palmerston North, and was educated at Carncot, Marsden School and Victoria University. In 1958 she married poet, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, and lived with him and his son in Pukerua Bay on the Kāpiti Coast. She worked in a number of libraries and a bookshop, and published six poetry collections.

Wellington-based Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), as well a novel, The Year of Falling (Mākaro Press). She was the inaugural Ema Saikō Poetry Fellow at New Zealand Pacific Studio and has previously won the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Prize and the Geometry/Open Book Poetry Prize. She grew up in the UK, South Africa and Australia before her family settled in Aotearoa when she was twelve.

Michael Giacon was born in Auckland and raised in a large Pakeha-Italian family. He was the NZ Poetry Society featured summer poet 2021, and his work has featured in the recent editions of Landfall and the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook. He is currently finalising a manuscript for publication.

Emma Neale is a writer and editor. Her most recent collection is To the Occupant (O. In 2020 she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for a Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry.

Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Wellington, currently living in London. She is the author of Magnolia 木蘭, a finalist in the Ockham Book Awards, a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai, and several poetry chapbooks and zines. Her debut essay collection, Small Bodies of Water, will be published in September 2021. 

Brian Turner was born in Dunedin in 1944. His debut collection Ladders of Rain (1978) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. His writing includes biography, poetry, sports writing and journalism and has won many awards. Just This won the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry (2010). He was the Te Mata Poet Laureate (2003-2005) and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry in 2009. He lives in Central Otago.

Iona Winter (Waitaha/Kāi Tahu) lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin. Her hybrid work is widely published and anthologised in literary journals internationally. Iona creates work to be performed, relishing cross-modality collaboration, and holds a Master of Creative Writing. She has authored three collections, Gaps in the Light (2021), Te Hau Kāika(2019), and then the wind came (2018). Skilled at giving voice to difficult topics, she often draws on her deep connection to land, place and whenua.

Alison Wong is the coeditor of the first anthology of creative writing by Asian New Zealanders. A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (AUP, 2021) will be launched at the Auckland Writers Festival on 15 May and at Unity Books Wellington on 27 May 6 pm. There will also be events at the Napier and Dunedin public libraries on 3 and 10 June respectively. Alison’s novel, As the Earth Turns Silver (Penguin/Picador, 2009) won the NZ Post Book Award for fiction and her poetry collection Cup (Steele Roberts, 2006), which includes ‘Moon’, was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry. She was a poetry judge at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming