Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Fourteen poems about walking

So many poets have written walking poems. So many poets have commented on the relationship between walking and a poem gathering momentum in the pedestrian’s head. Just for a start, I am thinking of Jenny Bornholdt’s magnificent poem ‘Confessional’, Michele Leggott’s walking blind, a vital thread, with different insight and senses on alert in her poems, and of course Blanche Baughan’s love of hill walking. A poem itself is a form of walking with its various rhythms and absorptions. The poet becomes walker, bricoleur, observer, mind-drifter.

My most recent collection The Track (Seraph Press) was written as I walked the third day of the Queen Charlotte Track with a broken foot in a wild storm. To keep walking I used the alphabet to compose poems and returned home with a book-length sequence. Whenever I have read from it, I am right back in the storm diverting pain with words. A strange feeling indeed. But I also have the early mornings at Te Henga Bethells. Walking on the near empty beach in the early morning light is an opening for poetry. Glorious.

I am currently reading Foxtrot and Other Collisons, Shari Kocher’s sublime second collection. In her endnote she says the poems were written over a five-year period. She wrote:

No poem in this collection was written before it was walked: arbitrary or otherwise, the rule I applied to the book’s organic growth was that each poem was to be ‘discovered’ on foot, and many continued to be composed peripatetically across many drafts while out walking in ways dedicated to that terrain.

The poems I have selected are not so much about walking but have a walking presence that leads in multiple directions. Many of the poems are longer rather shorter and take you on glorious excursions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.

The Poems

Travelling light

She is walking at the edge of the sea

on the wet shining sand.

The bright sky is behind her.

She is travelling

on a sheet of grey light.

We pass, and I wave.

She laughs. Of course.

A woman who walks at the edge,

on light, would laugh.

Adrienne Jansen

A path of stars

There are many things

I would like to tell you,

my darling

My darling,

I would like to tell you

in this life

everything will be okay

I would like to tell you

that you will walk upon a path of stars

that you will travel through the forest

and never lose your way

I would like to tell you

to look only at the stars

and not the gaps between them

to look at the sun

and not the clouds.

My darling, I would like to tell you all these things

for the same reason we read fairy stories to children

and weave their years with mythologies

because there is comfort is such lies

because I want the world you live in

to carry more magic

and less sharp edges.

But, on this dark night

I have run out of comforting lies.

My darling,

I cannot promise you a path of stars.

some days you will walk upon

unforgiving concrete or sharp-edged gravel

some days you will wade through quicksand.

Tonight, I cannot conjure stars

without the black between them.

My darling, I can only wish

when you walk through the dark and tangled forest

and lose your way a thousand times

that one day

you come across a clearing

where you can sit

and where the sun will find you

and warm your face

and where you can rest.

My darling

you can rest.

Rose Peoples

My Maunga

we’re monitoring pests at the Maungatautari reserve

gluing bait to ink slick cardboard with peanut butter

extracted from a single hole in the finger of a latex

glove bulging with the breakfast spread

our hands were all sticky fingers and dirt

made it to the first true slope

gorse brushing our knees the angle necessitating

a fuck-this what-are we doing crawl upwards

the trees move back and forth

poles caught in a tide

swinging long ways

between sickly white clouds

and glare-blue sky

a miromiro sitting plump on a ponga

squeaking like a mouse

then fluttering caught blurry on a camera

there are no edgerleyi in sight

Māhinaarangi’s perfume a ghost in the clouds

replaced by sweat-stink

the trip back down is a chorus of snaps

and low groans from wood and soil

giving way under our weight grown careless

with exhaustion

then we’re back through the mechanical gate

one shuts and locks for the other to unlock and open

pull it back on its squealing hinge

to leave the reserve behind

it’s a short trek down the hill back to the car

the air made pungent by cowpats

essa may ranapiri

from Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato poetry, ed Vaughan Rapatahana, Waikato Press, 2019, selected by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

A Walk with Your Father

Before you do anything else, check your lungs.

Are they the right size for you, are you the right size for them?

Are they nice and snug against your ribs and spine?

Don’t worry if they’re a bit big for you, you’ll grow into them.

They must be full, however; you don’t want them empty.

You have a long way to go.

Put your hand inside your mouth and make sure

everything’s in it’s place, check that all the pipes and hoses

leading from your lungs into your mouth are in position and in good nick.

You don’t want any leaks or sudden explosions

this is your air we’re talking about.

Close your mouth securely around this apparatus.

Next check your weight. If you are too heavy

or too light you won’t get anywhere. By the way

there’s no need to take a whole lot of extras with you.

Some people strap expensive knives to their legs and wear protective gloves.

There’s no real need for any of this – an ordinary old sharp knife

from the kitchen drawer will do. And just your bare hands.

You may need to signal to each other.

Now pay some attention to your skin.

It should feel secure and warm

but also allow plenty of room to move freely.

There are any number of colours available nowadays –

they all do pretty much the same job.

Your feet, are they the right size?

If they’re too large you will tire quickly,

too small and you’ll be left behind.

You’re probably looking at feet

about the same size as his.

Your eyes – spit in them.

It keeps everything clear.

That step you’re about to take

will have to be wider than you’re used to.

Don’t forget to move forwards, not backwards.

Keep your hand on your mouth so everything stays in place

when you break the surface.

Mihi to Tangaroa. Mihi to Hinemoana.

Now get yourself in under there,

immerse yourself.

Do it now, go.

He’ll be right behind you.

Hinemoana Baker

from mātuhi / needle, Victoria University Press, 2004

When I Head Home I Like To Be On The Left Side Of The Road So As To Be Closer To Where I Am Heading

I walk home with a bouquet of flowers held up

like an explorer holding up a torch,

in the early days of these days.

The flowers do not emanate

light, but they do catch the eyes of the people

I might like. The flowers will sit by my bed

waiting for when I open my nose from sleep.

Maeve Hughes

from horse power, printed by Fernbank Studio, 2019

The verb ‘to be’

It is foggy.

There is a mountain.

I am climbing the mountain.

She is climbing the mountain.

The path is slippery.

She says, ‘It is all right.

It will all be all right.’

She is right.

There are people behind us.

They are climbing the mountain.

They are in the fog.

Their voices are broken.

There is a shout.

There is laughter.

We are all climbing the mountain.

She is climbing ahead of me.

There is fog in her hair.

Her hair is glittering.

The wind is cold.

There is a man with a walking stick.

There are names scratched on the stick.

He carries the names as if they were eggs.

They could fall and smash.

We are carrying names too.

They are carved on bone.

They are scratched on skin.

We are all carrying names up the mountain.

There is a chapel at the top.

It is locked.

Its walls are damp.

There is broken timber.

There are fallen stones.

It is cold here.

Now we are turning.

We are going down.

She is running.

She is sliding down the mountain.

I am following her.

She is running ahead in the fog.

That is how it is now.

That is how it will be.

That is how it will be

till she is and I am not.   

She will be.

I will not be.

The verbs slip under our boots,

like small changeable stones.

Fiona Farrell

from The Pop-Up Book of Invasions, Auckland University Press, 2007

A note about ‘The verb ‘to be’’

This poem was written when I had a writing fellowship in Ireland. My younger daughter took leave from her job working with kakapo recovery on Codfish Island and came to stay for a month. We climbed the high hills.

We climbed Croagh Patrick, up the slippery path from the enormous carpark and visitor centre to the crest where the fog was thick and the chapel was closed and a chill wind tore at the flimsy remnants of shelters built to give some protection to the thousands who come here each year. Toward the top we met a man who was climbing using a camán (the stick used in hurling or the women’s version of the game, camogie) as a support on the stony ground. He showed us some names written on the flat head of the camán. ‘You’ll recognise these’ he said. We didn’t, and felt awkward for not knowing. It was an All-Irish champion camogie team he had coached, his daughter’s name among them. Some time after their victory she had become ill and was now in hospital, and he had made a vow to climb Croagh Patrick 30 times, if only she could be made well. He carried the camán each time. This was his 29th pilgrimage.

We climbed Errigal, a steep-sided hill in Donegal. Irish is still spoken around here and the man who ran the hostel was passionate for the language. It is subtle, he said. There are, for instance, two verbs meaning ‘to be’: one suggests permanence (‘this is the floor’). The other suggests transience and is used, for example, when speaking of the weather (‘it is sunny’).

I walked up the tracks behind my daughter with her strong legs, her dreadlocked hair. Not that long ago, I led her. I can still feel the weight of her in my arms, carrying her when she didn’t want to walk any more between banks of tussocks and flowering hebes on the track at Tongariro, or through the bearded bush at Dawson Falls, or on some sunny Sunday walk near Pohangina. The feel of her little duffel coat and her red tights and her feathery hair, usually chopped into a jagged fringe by herself using the toenail scissors. Now she takes the lead and I’m following, and behind us, there’s that long queue of people, living and dead, stretching back down into the fog.

Fiona Farrell

Pacing Poem

Past the green flowers

past the red stool

past the drying towels

past the letter from school

past the newspapers

past the glass fruit bowl

past the decanter

past the ‘Hoptimist’ doll

and into the kitchen.

Past the oven

past the breadbin

past the broken dishwasher

past the empty tomato tin

and towards the table.

Around the red chair

over the floorboards

past the stairs

and onto the rug.

Past the lamp

past the outside world

past the radio

past the Argentinian print

and around the bassinet.

Past the novels

past the poetry

past the proteas

past the pottery

and into the sun.

Past the breeze

past the ottoman

past the unwrapped cheese

past the pestle

past the wine rack

and nestled

under my armpit:

two deep eyes

still shining wide,

so we keep circling

until sleep arrives.

Amy Brown

from neon daze, Victoria University Press, 2019

Travelling


How normal it feels
to get around new places—
how basely, physically normal it is
for our feet to touch the ground
and propel us forward, step after step
exactly as they do anywhere.


And if these roads home
one day become
the rivers they once were—
though we might have to pedal the currents
or steady our soles on pebbles—
we’ll soon get used to it.


A flavour’s only new at first taste;
and common sights become invisible;
and love dulls into something necessary;
and in grief we think this new lack
is impossible to live with but we do.

Jane Arthur

from Craven, Victoria University Press, 2019

By the Bosphorous Strait I sat down and wept

Breathe in

when Istanbulites woke to find the water a bright turquois they thought

the worst, a curse had taken over the city or toxins seeped from textile

factories but scientists agreed it was just an explosion of plankton migrating

from the Black Sea, a milky blessing heralding the summer calm, I am told

it’s serene.

breathe out

I did not find out I was colour blind until they tested our class at the library

in Form 2, it explained so much, why I always coloured grass in brown and

tree bark green, why I’d clash my outfits and no one is impolite enough

to tell me, my parents must have thought I was stupid or acting out, the

scientists agreed it was neither

breath in

my manager told me that things can be difficult here, but when you walk

along the Bosphorous it makes it all worth it, sometimes I think this

city is magical, other times I’m sure it is cursed, a dark pact signed in its

catacombs centuries ago threatening to explode, most of the time it is sad,

mourning a lover lost or a friend it couldn’t save

breathe out

everyday at 12.30pm I walk out of the office and stand at its mouth waiting

for a sign, for the air to return, the explosions in my lungs to subside, the

panic attacks are a daily occurrence, a striking in the middle of a meeting, a

hungry mall, a dolmus packed with strangers and I tense my abdomen and

squeeze my shirt with my hands and try not to remember

for the life of me all I can see is blue, even the scientists are at a loss on this

one, they tell me to relax my shoulders and focus on my breathing, not

worry about time I can’t unwind

it’s amazing how something can be right in front of you and you just can’t see it

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020, selected by Alison Wong

Locus

as you walk you become the vanishing

as you walk you lose the point

as you walk you              snow

though autumn

the ranges hold the storm

the ranges bite the neck

and night and day unfix

and night and day turn stone

snow     monkeys sit with ice on lashes

coast     monkeys pick snails from pools

shop     monkeys flip fish in milk and flour

as you walk through autumn, the ranges

unfix snow, and pool                 you lose

ice-pick, milk-lash, snail-bite—

turn your neck to the day—

Nicola Easthope

from Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018). 

Duet

I became an old woman

age eleven

Doctor and physio

circling my fingers

around a stick

bone on wood

Swinging my legs

to a new rhythm

wood on bone

bone on wood

Instructing me

in the art

of walking a duet

heel toe

bone wood

stick stick

Trish Harris

published NZ Listener, 1999

Crunch

(i)

She collected broken things: fragments of a delicate speckled eggshell she found on the gravel driveway, a starfish arm from the beach.  She kept them in a leadlight box, along with her imaginings.

(ii)

He was the one who knew the way back: just to the left of the forked piece of driftwood standing upright on the shore.  Over the bed of African daisies and ice plants.  Past the clump of marram and close to the flat patch of sand where they’d lain together that time.  That time he hardly thought about any more.

(iii)

She walked briskly, in a way that made you think the act of walking was the purpose of the walk.  Not the view of the island, nor the chirrup of pipits camouflaged in the dunes.  Not the way a shoe sinks into the sand, nor the sight of a collie hurtling after a stick.  No, her walk was for the sake of walking and she’d dressed accordingly: the sneakers, the sun visor, the sensible orange windbreaker.

(iv)

The sheets were so bright against the dull sky, he almost couldn’t bear it.  He wanted to take a pot of red paint and throw it against them.  He wanted to tell her, you bring out the red in me.

(v)

She lay on top of the duvet being a starfish, each of her hands touching an edge of the bed.  She thought how nice it would be, not to have to share.

(vi)

He found himself walking up and down the gravel driveway, just to hear it crunch underfoot as the stones scraped against each other.  When he noticed her watching him from the bedroom window, he just kept crunching.

(vii)

She lifted the speckled egg from its cotton wool cradle in the leadlight box and fitted the pieces together to make it whole again.  There was one piece missing.  She turned the shell so she couldn’t see the gap.

(viii)

Pounding the driveway.  Grinding the stones.  He supposed he could do it all day.  His heavy tread.  His trample.  He didn’t see her leave the house.

(ix)

The beach was a beacon, making her way clear.  She could feel the island’s solid presence, even when she couldn’t quite see it.

(x)

He recognised her footsteps, getting louder.  There she was at his shoulder, joining her crunching pace to his.  His foot, her foot.  Stamping together on a firm earth.  Her foot, his foot.  Two in step.  A two-step.  She smelt like biscuits.  He reached for her hand.

Janis Freegard

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

Hill walk

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 

or maybe after years 
it was the sight of your brother
nursing his leg down the hill
catching up with you

so you could walk
on together to discuss
what bird that was in
the bush making the sound

neither of you were certain of.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows The Cuba Press, 2020

walking with Dorothy

a dog bothers the scraps

of food around the compost bin

                        it howls at the murmur of the village stream

ignoring the voice calling from the hill

the trees gleam with overnight rain

                        each tree, taken singly, was beautiful

the bees emerging

from their wooden house

mistake me for

a flower and for

a moment I am one

hopelessly lacking in pollen

swaying in the breeze

and taking up space

standing still in the mud

unmaking myself amid

leaves I’ve seen a thousand times

and never wondered the names of

                        some trees putting out red shoots

                        query: what trees are they?

a fantail flits from branch to branch

something bigger than language

in its movements

which lose

their sheen when captured

and later the sky between

apartments and streetlamps

empties but for the full moon

and Venus striving to be seen

as brightly

                        all the heavens seemed in one perpetual motion

grit on the footpath like glitter

                        the roads very dirty

a morepork somewhere in the dark

oblivious to me and better for it

Ash Davida Jane

from How to Live with Mammals, Victoria University Press, 2021

The Poets

Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.

Hinemoana Baker is a poet, musician and creative writing teacher. She traces her ancestry from Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Āti Awa and Ngāi Tahu, as well as from England and Germany (Oberammergau in Bayern). Hinemoana’s latest poetry collection Funkhaus (VUP, 2020), was shortlisted for The Ockham NZ Book Awards 2021. She has edited several online and print anthologies and released several albums of original music and more experimental sound art. She works in English, Māori and more recently German, the latter in collaboration with German poet and sound performer Ulrike Almut Sandig. She is currently living in Berlin, where she was 2016 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence, and is completing a PhD at Potsdam University. Hinemoana’s website

Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper‘s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.

Nicola Easthope (Pākehā, with roots in Orkney, Scotland, England and Wales) is a high school English and psychology teacher, and mentor of young activists and writers. Her two books of poetry are: leaving my arms free to fly around you (Steele Roberts, 2011) and Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018). She has appeared at the Queensland, Tasmanian and Manawatū poetry festivals, as well as LitCrawl in Pōneke. Nicola’s very occasional blog is gannet ink.

Fiona Farrell publishes poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction. In 2007 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, and in 2012 she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Literature. Her most recent publication, Nouns, verbs, etc. Selected Poems (OUP 2020) has been warmly reviewed as ‘a Poetry Treasure House…a glorious book’ (Paula Green, Poetry Shelf), and ‘an excellent retrospective… remarkable for drawing small personal realities together with the broad sweep of history.” (Nicholas Reid, The Listener).  After many years in remote Otanerito bay on Banks Peninsula, she now lives in Dunedin.

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. ‘Crunch’ was placed third in the Manawatu Festival of New Arts Poetry for Performance competition and performed in Palmerston North. 

Trish Harris has written two books – a poetry collection (My wide white bed) and a memoir (The Walking Stick Tree). She teaches non-fiction on the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, is co-founder of Crip the Lit and edited their 2019 pocketbook, ‘Here we are, read us: Women, disability and writing’. She says she’s a part-time crane operator…but maybe she’s dreaming?

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer who has lived in Egypt, Aotearoa and Turkey. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His collection, National Anthem, was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, poetry category.

Maeve Hughes is a recent graduate of English literature with a minor in creative writing. She lives in Wellington where she loves to walk home.

Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in MimicrySweet MammalianStarlingThe Spinoff and elsewhere. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, was published by Victoria University Press in April 2021. She lives and works in Wellington.

Adrienne Jansen writes fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children, but for her, poetry is where the magic is. Her fourth collection of poetry, All of Us, published in 2018, is a series of poems, with carina gallegos, around the themes of migration and refugees. She is the co-founder of Landing Press, a small Wellington poetry publisher. She lives at Titahi Bay, north of Wellington. Website

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. Five O’Clock Shadows is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

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.

essa may ranapiri (Na Guinnich, Ngaati Wehi Wehi, Highgate, Ngaati Raukawa) is a Tainui poet from Kirikiriroa living on Ngaati Wairere land / they want everyone to know that the Echidna they write about isn’t a spikey mammal but a lady with two long snake tails instead of legs / go figure / tino takatāpuitanga 4eva

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

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