Monthly Archives: July 2021

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Thirteen poems about song

Music is the first poetry attraction for me. I am drawn to poems that sing. Poems sing in multiple keys with affecting and shifting chords, rhythms, harmonies, counterpoints, pitch, cadence, codas, crescendo. Tune your ear into the poetry of Karlo Mila, Emma Neale, Sue Wootton, Bill Manhire, Hinemoana Baker, Michele Leggott, Nina Mingya Powles, Lily Holloway, Alison Wong, Chris Tse, Mohamed Hassan, Gregory Kan, Anna Jackson, David Eggleton and you will hear music before you enter heart, mystery, experience, startle. Take a listen to Bernadette Hall or Dinah Hawken or Anne Kennedy. Anuja Mitra. Louise Wallace. How about Grace Iwashita Taylor? Ian Wedde. Tusiata Avia. Tayi Tibble. Rebecca Hawkes. Helen Rickerby. Selina Tusitala Marsh. Murray Edmond. Apirana Taylor. Iona Winter. Rose Peoples. Sam Duckor Jones. Vincent O’Sullivan. Kiri Pianhana-Wong. Jackson Nieuwland. Serie Barford. Listening in is of the greatest body comfort and you won’t be able to stop leaning your ear in closer. I think of one poet and then another, to the point I could curate an anthology of musical poets. I can name 100 without moving from the kitchen chair. Ah. Bliss.

But for this theme I went in search of poems that speak of song. The poems I have selected are not so much about song but have a song presence that leads in multiple directions. And yes they sing. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes. Two more themes to go.

The poems

poem to Hone Tuwhare 08

the master

adroit composer of

‘No Ordinary Sun’

has gone

and still

the music grows flows
grumbles and laughs

from his pen

only the old house has fallen
to the wind and storm

death shakes the tree
but the bird lives on

Apirana Taylor

from A Canoe in Midstream: Poems new and old, Canterbury University Press, 2009 (2019)

Between Speech and Song

I’m sorry, you said.

What for, I said. And then

you said it again.

The house was cooling.

The pillowcases had blown

across the lawn.

We felt the usual shortcomings

of abstractions. I hope,

you said. Me too, I said.

The distance between our minds

is like the space

between speech and song.

Lynley Edmeades

from As the Verb Tenses, Otago University Press, 2016

Dust House

my sister is humming

through wallpaper

the front door is shutting

and opening like lungs

to kauri trees

leaping upwards through air

my lungs are pressed

between walls

grey warblers sing like

dust moving through air

the sunflower is opening

and shutting like lungs

my lungs are shifting

the air

Rata Gordon

from Second Person, Victoria University Press, 2020


The woman next door sings so slowly someone must have died. She practices her sorry aria through the walls. When we bump on the steps she is neighbourly, maybe, with her purpled eyes. She tries for lightness. The radio tells me it is snowing somewhere south. Drifts fall down for days. The presenter uses the word ghastly far too often. In the ghastly snow, he says, animals dig for their calves. When we meet on the path my own voice is chestnut and dumb. ‘It’s a ghastly thing,’ I say. ‘It was a ghastly mistake.’ In the dark the woman’s voice touches a sweet, high place. It’s a small cupboard where her children once hid when she’d tried to explain ­­– which you never really can – why the animals must paw in the cold, brown slush. Where are the young? Who hears their low, fallow voices?

Sarah Jane  Barnett 

from Bonsai – Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Michelle Elvy, Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe, Canterbury University Press, 2018



The song feels like singing,

looks out the window:

clouds glued to the sky,

harbour slate-grey,

hills like collapsed elephants.

There’s food stuck to the highchair,

a plastic spoon on the floor.

The cat stares up in awe at the fridge.

The song opens its mouth,

but seems to have forgotten the words.


The song wakes up.

It’s dark.

Someone is crying.

The morepork in the ngaio

shakes out its slow spondee:

more pork more pork more pork.

Back in the dream a line

of faces passes the window.

Each face smiles, lifts

its lips to show large teeth.


The song sits at the window, humming

ever so softly, tapping

a rhythm on the table-edge, watching

the harbour slowly losing

colour. At the very far end

of the harbour slightly up to the right,

a zip of lights marks the hill

over to Wainuiomata. If that zip

could be unzipped, thinks the song,

the whole world might change.


The song strokes the past

like a boa, like some fur muff

or woollen shawl,

but the past is not soft at all;

it’s rough to the touch,

sharp as broken glass.


The song longs to sing in tune.

The song longs to be in tune.

The black dog comes whenever

the song whistles, wagging its tail.

The black dog waits for the song’s whistle.

The black dog wants a long walk.


The song croons “Here Comes the Night”

very quietly. Meanwhile the baby

spoons its porridge into a moon.

The black dog leads the song

down long, unlovely streets.

The night is slowly eating the moon.

Harry Ricketts

from Winter Eyes, Victoria University Press, 2018

The Crowd

The crowd is seaweed and there’s always one man too tall at least or one man dancing too much or one woman touching too much. We form short bonds with each other. The man next to me we briefly worry is a fascist. But him and I set a rhythm of touches with each other as we’re together and apart from the music and the bodies. When the bassline and the drums are inside my entire body they always shake up grief like sediment in water so that I am the sediment and my tears become water. And I am the water and the seaweed at the same time and I hover in the thick of the sound experiencing myself experiencing sound and feeling and my body as one piece of a larger thing. I want to be part of a larger thing as often as I can. So many days there isn’t enough music to pull us together. We shred each other, other days. A little rip. A tiny tear. A deep cut. We curl backwards into ourselves to do the damage. I follow the line. I rise into it because it is the sea and the only thing to do is to rise. I am bread and I am fire. I am the line of the horizon as it is reflected back to you. We make our own beds and lie in them. You will have said something. To me. Later, as I think it through I remember us neck to neck, clutching.

Emma Barnes

from Sweet Mammalian 7

singing in the wire

The song is a clutch of mailboxes

at the end of an undulating road,

an unsteady stack of bee-hives

beside poplars.

The song is the whine from a transformer,

crickets, waist-high roadside grass,

a summer that just will not let up.

The song is a power pole’s pale-brown

ceramic cup receiving a direct hit

from a clod flung by my brother.

It is looped bars laid

against the white paper of a gravel road.

Released the year and month my father died,

‘Wichita Lineman’ can still bring me the valley

where we lived,

still bring me grief, the sound

of wind through wire, the loneliness

of country verges; but does not bring

my father back. You can ask

too much of a song.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

from Born To A Red-Headed Woman, Otago University Press 2014

thursday quartet 9:15

The stairwell grew and rolled

with slackened half-night. Quite clearly

she saw how her words had become her.

When she sang she remembered; her breath was deep

letters unnudged. The stairwell hummed. Everything

smelt of other people’s hands.

One, two, three. Another life had trained her ready.

She knew these breaths. It had been a day

of near misses, daredevil secret creatures

who followed her home, a line of sight

and the road, misadventured art deco.

Had she been good enough?  

At night her window smithied day.

She could see the boats as they came.

The stairwell rose and then uprising

the first notes.

Pippi Jean


When Johnny Cash
was sad he’d call
Willie Nelson and
ask for a joke.

Willie knew a
dirty joke – good
or bad – was the
secret to happiness.

Some people haven’t
yet realised that Willie
Nelson is one of the
greatest singers, guitarists

and songwriters. But
there’s time. There’s always
time. Despite it being
funny how it always seems

to just slip away. Still,
to add to the legends of
Willie smoking pot
on the roof of the White House

and blowing out interviewers
so that they couldn’t remember
where they parked their car or
where they lived or worked,

we can now thank Willie not
only for his 70 albums and for
writing the greatest jukebox
weepie of all time…

But, also, on some level, he
helped keep Johnny Cash alive
for as long as he lasted. Johnny
battled his depression

with a dirty joke from Willie
Nelson. I’m not saying it works
for everyone but it served
The Man in Black.

Simon Sweetman

from off the tracks website

Sunday’s Song

A tin kettle whistles to the ranges;

dry stalks rustle in quiet field prayer;

bracken spores seed dusk’s brown study;

the river pinwheels over its boulders;

stove twigs crackle and race to blaze;

the flame of leaves curls up trembling.

Church bells clang, and sea foam frays;

there’s distant stammers of revving engines,

a procession of cars throaty in a cutting,

melody soughing in the windbreak trees,

sheep wandering tracks, bleating alone.

Sunday sings for the soft summer tar;

sings for camellias, fullness of grapes;

sings for geometries of farming fence lines;

sings for the dead in monumental stone;

sings for cloud kites reddened by dusk —

and evening’s a hymn, sweet as, sweet as,

carrying its song to streets and to suburbs,

carrying its song to pebbles and hay bales,

carrying its song to crushed metal, smashed glass,

and fading in echoes of the old folks’ choir.

David Eggleton

from The Conch Trumpet, Otago University Press, 2015


My brother says that he doesn’t

understand poetry. He hears the words

but they all intersperse into a polyphonic

whirl of voices; no meaning to them

beyond the formation and execution

of sounds upon lips, pressing together

and coming apart. I cannot touch or feel

words, but I see them ‒ the word ‘simile’

is a grimacing man, poised on the edge

of polite discomfort and anguish. ‘Dazzled’ is

a 1920s flapper with broad, black eyes

and lank black hair around the edges of

her face. A boy in my music class hears

colours ‒ well, not hearing as such, he says,

but images in his mind’s eye. People play

tunes and ask him what colour it is, but

they play all at once, and he says that it is

the indistinguishable brown of all colours

combined. I think of a boy I used to know

called Orlando, and how this word conjures

the sight of a weathered advert for a tropical holiday

in my mind ‒ a forgotten promise, just ephemera

and not to be mentioned. The History room at school smells

like strange, zesty lemons, like the smell when you

peel a mandarin and its pores disperse their

sebum into the air, or when you squeeze the juice

from a lemon into your hands, and feel it dissolve

the soapy first layer of skin. I always think of

a certain someone when I smell this, even though

they wear a different perfume, and when I listen

to soft guitar ballads I think of them too, even though

I know they wouldn’t have heard them. All

of the sounds and smells and thoughts blend

into ephemera, scorched postcards of violets and

swallows, etched with the perfect handwriting of

old, consigned to antique stores that smell of

smoke. Things of the past with no value, no

substance, just air filled with citrus mist. I collect

each word and strain of what was once fresh in

my mind, in a forgotten jacket pocket, to be discovered

on some rainy day, years later. I’ll pull out the

postcard and think of the way I always look twice

when I see someone with curly hair; the word ‘longing’

is a blue wisp that creeps between the cracks

in my fingers. That wisp hides in these things,

tucked away, like the 1930s train tickets I found

in an old book. I wonder if their owner ever made it

to their destination. I wonder who they were.

Cadence Chung

first appeared in Milly’s Magazine

Love songs we haven’t written

Within the warm wreckage of me,

I’d never dare to ask you, but

in that moment when pain finds it plowing rhythm,

would you want me dead?

It’s a startling thought.

So round and whole and ordinary.

But you can’t know these things until

you’re sunk deep in the geometry of them. Of course,

the bed I lie on would be lily white and threatening levitation.

I would imagine the emptiness I leave and

you would think of all the ways to fill it.

That is the grotesque version.

It should of course be the other way around.

I don’t need misery to write poetry.

For me words come only after precarity passes

and there is safety in sitting still for long stretches.

Words, eventually, have the thickness of matter

left out too long in the sun. My love,

If we had a daughter, I’d be more dangerous.

She’d lick words whole     out of the air.

I would recognize her tiny anthem.

Like you, she’d need two anchors, and only one mast.

Like me, she’d be immovable, a miniature old woman

by seven years old.

Catherine Trundle

thursday’s choir

my singing teacher says yawning during lessons is good

it means the soft palate is raised and air circulates the bulb of your skull

to be pulled out between front teeth like a strand of taut hair 

gum skin or yesterday’s nectarine fibre

in empty classrooms my body is a pear, grounded but reaching

the piano is out of tune, its chords now elevator doors

a shrieking melody that says: relish the peeling off

floss til you bleed and watch through the bannisters

voices merge like a zip ripped over fingers

reeling backwards and thrown to the wall

are all the arcades, rubber children

midnight sirens and birds sounding off one by one

the sopranos cry out offering forged banknotes

while the altos bring the alleyways

you crash through the windscreen, thumbs deep in pie

laundromat coins with that rhythm

Lily Holloway

Emma Barnes lives and writes in Te Whanganui-ā-Tara. She’s working on an anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writing with co-conspirator Chris Tse. It’s to be published by AUP in 2021. In her spare time she lifts heavy things up and puts them back down again.

Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer and editor from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published widely in Aotearoa. Her debut poetry collection A Man Runs into a Woman (Hue + Cry Press) was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her secondcollection Work (Hue + Cry Press) was published in 2015. Sarah is currently writing a book on womanhood and midlife.

Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020 and is titled Upturned. She lives and writes in Ootepoti / Dunedin.

Cadence Chung is a student from Wellington High School. She started writing poetry during a particularly boring maths lesson when she was nine. Outside of poetry, she enjoys singing, reading old books, and perusing antique stores.

Lynley Edmeades is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Listening In (Otago Uni Press, 2019). She lives in Dunedin and teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of Otago.

David Eggleton is the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019 – 2022. His most recent book is The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, published by Otago University Press.

Rata Gordon is a poet, embodiment teacher and arts therapist. Her first book of poetry Second Person was published in 2020 by Victoria University Press. Through her kitchen window, she sees Mount Karioi. 

Lily Holloway is a queer nacho-enthusiast. She is forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8 and you can find her work on

Pippi Jean is eighteen and just moved to Wellington for her first year at Victoria University. Her most recent works can be found in Landfall, Starling, Takahe, Mayhem, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook among others.

Harry Ricketts teaches English literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. His Selected Poems appeared in June, Victoria University Press.

Simon Sweetman is a writer and broadcaster. His debut book of poems, “The Death of Music Journalism” was published last year via The Cuba Press. He is the host of the weekly Sweetman Podcast and he writes about movies, books and music for a Substack newsletter called “Sounds Good!” ( to sign up). He blogs at Off The Tracks and sometimes has a wee chat about music on RNZ. He lives in Wellington with Katy and Oscar, the loves of his life. They share their house with Sylvie the cat and Bowie the dog. 

Apirana Taylor, Ngati Porou, Te Whanau a Apanui, Ngati Ruanui, Te Ati Awa, is a nationally and internationally published poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, actor, painter and musician. He has been Writer in Residence at Canterbury and Massey Universities. He frequently tours nationally and internationally visiting schools, tertiary institutions and prisons reading his poetry, storytelling and taking creative writing workshops. He has written six collections of poetry, a book of plays, three collections of short stories, and two novels. His work has been included in many national and international anthologies.

Catherine Trundle is a poet and anthropologist, with recent works published in Landfall, Takahē, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, Not Very Quiet, and Plumwood Mountain.

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

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

Thirteen poems about home

Ten poems about edge

Eleven poems about breakfast

Twelve poems about kindness

Thirteen poems about light

Poetry Shelf audio: Shari Kocher reads from Foxstruck and Other Collisions

Foxstruck and Other Collisions, Shari Kocher, Puncher & Wattmann, 2021

Shari Kocher reads five poems from Foxstruck and Other Collisions

‘All the Silver Ships You Carry’

‘As We Spiral Pine Tree Mountain’

‘Not the Horses’

‘Goats Cheese with Honey and Rosemary on Toast on Sunday Morning’

‘Peak-to-Peak Amplitude is also the sound of the wind on the tundra, singing’

The poems in Foxstruck and Other Collisions cross many registers and seek to intervene in the ‘death drive’ at work in the over-culture at every level. At the same time, art as a measure of resistance is also riddled with colonisations of every kind. Though it’s hard for this poet to speak about her own work in any comprehensive way, the poems in this collection tackle the labour of love and the work of eros not as modes in which to answer historical and contemporary atrocities, but as provisional structures in which to witness and invoke the kinesis of a tangible ‘life-force’ larger than the self, inherently more mysterious, unknowable, and ecological than the scholarship this poet has undertaken will ever grasp. In this arbitrary selection of five poems, a vision of diverse artistries and bold scholarship is explicitly referenced, from the astronomy of Rebecca Elson, the encaustic paintings of New Zealand artist Amy Melchior, fellow New Zealand artist Kate Van der Drift, one of whose river works adorns the cover of this book, writings by Clarice Lispector and Carson McCullers, the philosophy of Gaston Bachelard, to diffuse and implicit connections with the influential work of Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Deborah Bird Rose and Constanza Ceruti, among others. If poetry is to be a shelter of any kind, then the biosphere that breathes it must be porous and open to the sacred, however that term is both contested and defined.

Shari Kocher, July 2021

Shari Kocher is the author of Foxstruck and Other Collisions (Puncher & Wattmann, 2021) and The Non-Sequitur of Snow (Puncher & Wattmann 2015). Sonqoqui: a Threnody is currently in translation under the auspices of The Peter Steele Poetry Prize (2020). She holds MA and Doctorate degrees from Melbourne University, where she sometimes works in the creative writing program. She also works in a freelance and remedial capacity, but during lockdown, finds herself working primarily on a collection of short stories and new poetry, while shadow-boxing a monograph on Dorothy Porter and Anne Carson. Website

Puncher and Wattman page

Poetry Shelf review

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Alice Miller reads from What Fire

What Fire, Alice Miller, Pavillion, 2021

Alice reads ‘After The Internet’

Alice reads ‘New Wings’

Alice reads ‘Seams’

Alice Miller is from Māhina Bay and currently lives in Berlin. Her third poetry collection, What Fire, has just been published by Pavilion in the UK. Her first novel, More Miracle than Bird (Tin House, 2020) was on the New York Times summer reading list. 

Friday Poem at The Spinoff: ‘The Twin Peaks’

Pavilion Poets at Liverpool University Press page (Alice Miller)

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: a Ruby Solly workshop at Time Out Bookstore

  • Pure Psychic Automatism
    September 4, 2021
    10:30 am – 3:30 pm

The written word is powerful, but it is also a chance to play and create things which we cannot have in our real lives. More so, it is a place to create things that are impossible even to think about; overripe stones, long hair always full of nocturnal animals, and sugar set fragily ajar by the wind. Join us as we read authors such as André Breton, Leonora Carrington, Richard Brautigan and Samuel Beckett. This workshop will also feature collaborative work using surrealist games and techniques developed during the surrealist movement, as well as exercises inspired by the work of surrealist and related writers. A great workshop for all who wish to extend their writing, to embrace the strange, and work on their potential to describe the indescribable.

Limit of 12 participants.

Details here

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The Spinoff celebrates Karlo Mila’s Goddess Muscle

Catherine Woulfe from The Spinoff invited six women to write a short piece celebrating Karlo Mila’s Goddess Muscle: Selina Tusitala Marsh, Leilani Tamu, Nadine Anne Hura, Kirsten Lacy, director of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Rebecca Sinclair, deputy pro-vice chancellor at the college of creative arts, Massey University and me. We each contributed a paragraph and a photograph.

I so loved this book. It is the kind of book that rises above your reading shelves and sticks, and was one of my top poetry reads of 2020. I was also privileged to hear Karlo read at my Wild Honey session at VERB. Such charisma on the page and in the air.

I got my daughter to take a photo of me with the book and before I could stop myself I lost in a poem, savouring the poetry richness, forgetting to smile for the camera, transported, uplifted a universe away from the lounge. If you haven’t read Goddess Muscle yet please do. Check out the celebration here. This is my piece:

Goddess Muscle is a gift. I can barely account for how it will stretch your reading muscles, your beating heart, your enquiring mind, your compassion, your music cravings, your empathy. Karlo has extended her own poetic muscle and offered poetry that is wisdom, strength, refreshed humaneness. I am all the better for having read it.

The collection is crafted like a symphony, an experience of shifting life, seasons and subject matter, so as you read the effects are wide reaching. Karlo faces significant political issues: climate change, the Commonwealth, colonialism, racism, Ihumātao, “the daily politics of being a woman, partner and mother”. She faces these global and individual challenges without flinching. The resulting poems are essential reading, never losing touch with song and heart, always insisting in poetic form how we can do better. How we can be a better world, recharge humanity. I would like to see these poems read in secondary school. You can read Moemoeā: (composed for poets for Ihumātao) here.

Karlo reads from Goddess Muscle here.

My review at Poetry Shelf

Poetry Shelf – poets on their own poems: Karlo Mila reads ‘For Tamir Rice with Love from Aotearoa’

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Robert Sullivan’s ‘Dream’


I woke with the birds.

We were on a bus somewhere in England,

a double-decker red one and the driver

turned up an arterial which had turned to grass.

He turned us around and took us commuters

in the reverse direction. We were working

our way through the contents of my soft

gym bag which was filled with beads,

shiny coins, and we’d piled them up on the bus floor

so a young boy with his parents sitting opposite us

dived into them before I could scoop them back.

I had asked the bus driver if he could let a passenger know

that they might miss their bus stop now that

we had changed direction, but he instead quoted

a lengthy passage of Shakespeare I think

in which he quoted owls do cry.

Robert Sullivan

Robert Sullivan lives in Oamaru. He belongs to Ngāpuhi (from Kāretu and Omanaia), and Kāi Tahu (Karitāne). His seven collections of poetry includeCaptain Cook in the Underworld, Shout Ha! to the Skyand the best-selling Star Waka. He co-edited three major anthologies of Pacific and Māori poetry. His PhD, Mana Moana, examines the work of five other indigenous Pacific poets. His eighth collection, Tūnui / Comet will be published by AUP later this year.

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Thirteen poems about light

Light, lightness, lighting, lightly, that startling moment when it’s you on the deserted beach, and the sun appears on the horizon, a blinding glorious beauty blast that lifts you off the sand. Light, the shifting weather coming in from the coast, mapped out in shade colour daydream, storm and clarity. Yes poetry is home for the dark, but it is most definitely a place to celebrate the light.

The poems I have selected are not so much about light but have a light presence that leads in multiple directions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.

The poems

Like Lamplight

One day when you are beside me

invite me to speak

of the secrets I never knew

I wanted to tell you, of the warmth

I never knew I owned

until you released it

by moving close as lamplight seems

to glass. Ask me

why I came to you

with the reverence of one

who sees a flower bloom

where none has bloomed before.

By saying what is

I will have said what is.

Sometimes when you are content

ask me what it is

that moves me to want to hold you so,

so often, and laugh when I tell

you the same old

indestructible thing.

One day when you are

where you need no invitation to be

I will tell you

how you flower

like lamplight in me.

Brian Turner

from Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2019

A swim with mum

She abandoned the boat one summer

and began to swim

a careful clumsy breast-stroke through the river. From the jetty

to the bridge, from the bridge to the jetty and

back again, patient as a beaver.

At twilight

the one light

is Mum, swimming.

She wears a black whaleskin onepiece

and her strange pale skin,

her hair a slow-moving beacon

through the mildew of trees.

She tells me the garden looks different, is smaller

from the river

and that one never grows familiar

with the soft tongues of weed that browse the skin.

Each breath when she swims is held and let go like a precious thing,

a pushed swing:

this is the only time she is not talking.

The river that runs past the house is darker, is quieter

when mum is swimming.

Ashleigh Young

from Magnificent Moon, Victoria University press, 2012

Still Life with Wind in the Trees

So much of the planet is fragile:

      things that flap on the line,

stuff on a plate, a car skidding

      over the paddocks . . .

I mean: abrupt, conditional,

       and as usual,

brief: so that you once again assume your place.

       Yet what if one day you looked out

through the open window

        and saw mortality

in the grey scribble

        of a boy holding an apple?

Fragility. Brevity. Beauty, even.

         Light in available space.

And what’s joy?

         Even a pencil will point to it.

for Joanna Margaret Paul, 1945-2003

Bill Manhire

from Lifted, Victoria University Press, 2005

A Life

The late afternoon

finds you seeking

clarity in a book

of Rilke poems, a

shortbread biscuit,

and a cup of lemon

tea—with a dash

of honey.

The honey swirls

down through the

tea, and biscuit

crumbs fall into

the book, lodging

in the spine. The

fading sun slants

across the page.

Today, you decide,

you are truly content

to call your life a

great song. Or even

a small song.

A lullaby. Something

to sing your child to


Kiri Piahana-Wong

from Night Swimming, Anahera Press, 2013

Saipipi, Savai’i, Samoa

Nana Se’ela asked me once

Eke mana’o e fai sau malu?

i turned to her, my makas widening in shock

i gaze down at the jellyfish, seagulls, and crosses

under the stars

tattooed around her thighs

in my Samoglish i questioned

me?  Ae ā Mum?

Nana’s throat made a raspy sound

like she was going to spit on the sand

true – Mum was lost to Niu Sila burdens

disguised as palagi exoticness 

had less time for village matters

she was spread between two Motherlands now

The first, native to her tongue rooted from the sands and plantations

where her mother gave birth to her.

The second, native to her offspring where she became mother herself.

Mum was fiapalagi, out of necessity

but i was palagified out of consequence.

so, was I much different?

i tilted my face up to the stars

that were more familiar to me

than the ones on Samoan thighs

without turning to her, i answered

Leai fa’afetai, Nana.

i felt her stare at me for a long pause

before puffing on her rolled tobacco.

we sat there silently looking at the night sky

until we were tired and went to sleep

side-by-side on a falalili’i in her fale.

Ria Masae

from ‘Native Rivalry’ in AUP New Poets 7, Auckland University Press,

experiments (our life together)

here is my experiment with the dark

we run to the top of the street and crossing it

become aware of the fountain’s lip and mosaics

under water pink blue hyaline we step through

the foot bath yes the gold leaf is holding on

here is my experiment with stars

it is a dormitory on the top floor this two o’clock

the babies wrapped loosely in sheets asleep

and somehow not falling out of their little moulded beds

the blinds drawn down the afternoon heat

here is my experiment with humours

aqueous the home movie

tears on the lens and always the return

to rivers their flumes and fumaroles

so plural so carrying so carried away

here is my experiment with light

which leaves me now the dear shapes

gone to sound the end wrapped around

the beginning a piano in a dark room that is

quite what it is like and never the same

here is my experiment with river

memory and the wind ruffles her hair

there are no fences on the sun only a truck

bouncing on the flood its wheels gone and us inside

scared to death and still steering

here is my experiment with rain

we swim and let the current take us

where it will which is some toehold around

the corner under cliffs of black honeycomb

the saltwater pool afloat on its concrete rim

here is my experiment with amygdala

in the morning we find a bar and marmelata

as the sun comes up and the streets are cool

a slice of duomo at the end of each stony block

an orchestration a theatre of the mind

here is my experiment with immanence

who was waiting there who was asking me

to look at heaven from the end of a dark wharf

and when I did when I raised my empty eyes

the city was there a necklace of light a horizon

here is my experiment with periphery

who was asking me not to forget

rippling scales in another room a gallery

at the top of the stairs a cupola a vault

a canopy a river of light on the ceiling

Michele Leggott

from Heartland, Auckland University Press, 2014

Into the Blue Light

for Kate Vercoe

I’m walking above myself in the blue light

indecently blue above the bay with its walk-on-water skin

here is the Kilmog slumping seaward

and the men in their high-vis vests

pouring tar and metal on gaping wounds

the last repair broke free; the highway

doesn’t want to lie still, none of us

want to be where we are

exactly but somewhere else

the track a tree’s ascent, kaikawaka! hold on

to the growing power, sun igniting little shouts against my eyeballs

and clouds come from Australia

hunkering over the Tasman with their strange accent

I’m high as a wing tip

where the ache meets the bliss

summit rocks exploding with lichen and moss –

little soft fellas suckered to a groove

bloom and bloom – the track isn’t content

with an end, flax rattling their sabres, tussocks

drying their hair in the stiff southeasterly; the track wants to go on

forever because it comes to nothing

but the blue light. I’m going out, out

out into the blue light, walking above myself.

Rhian Gallagher

from Far-Flung, Auckland University Press, 2020

Lantern light

Cannon room. Soft delight.

Rattling fight. Mud platoon. 

Fighting fit. Parlour’s floor.

Blind allure. Iron bit.

Head device. Treasured caul.

Blank morale. Not advice.

Mighty fall. Good to go.

Aching slow. Dead appall.

Acre of snow. Dead applaud.

Nightly call. Goodbye go.

Back in old. Noted vice.

Head of lice. Threatened more.

Binding law. Lying wit.

Crying quick. Hole in wall.

Rat in flight. Bloody moon.

Crayon gloom. Lantern light.

Oscar Upperton

from New Transgender Blockbusters, Victoria University Press, 2020


he moves his hand

down the dip of her back

over her buttocks

then up again

each stroke

the sound of a wave

over shingle

it’s like your skin has a grain he says

like the scales of a fish

oh she says feeling the world turn


she turns and there

it is — a touch

of rainbow in her skin

as he catches her

in the right


Alison Wong

from Cup, Steele Roberts, 2006


A wet shrub drips a thousand tiny mirrors.

Cows climb from the blue-veined clay.

The sea’s monster lung trembles.

Ocean lilies of yachts spread sail.

Sunlight bubbles on the purple cloudpane.

Time lies in its sunburn.

A knife cuts open a grapefruit’s centre.

Pips sparkle like summer boats.

David Eggleton

saying your names

after Richard Siken

the earth has names in every language / in

body language, an unravelling, the self offered,

open-faced and blushing, leaves flat and

extended, tender / since the beginning of human

thought / we’ve been drunk with naming,

with godly names, secret names / true names

with absolute power / animal names, not scientific

but the names wild beasts give the world, guttural

and warm, worn in the throat, irresistible /

inexpressible, but we’re trying, gesturing

at the sky and the ground, like babies learning

to speak, imitate, repeat, we learn the sounds

other people respond to / the more we love

a thing the more names it has, like the sun,

my emotional support star, my long-distance

lover, the original hot girl, the inventor

of sunsets, distant world in a sci-fi novel,

wildfire / if you look directly at it everything

dissolves / each name gets closer but refracts /

like looking through a prism, light glancing

everywhere, refusing to be held

Ash Davida Jane

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


Our son, nearly one, has one near-word:

another determined birth

the sound stutters, gutters

then rushes and floods





He points to lamp and torch,

to LEDs on clock, computer, answer machine,

to sun-strike – on sash windows, ignited

from an old ute’s wing mirror, firing

a red beech leaf as it falls, flares,

flaught – like torn newsprint in a grate

as it spasms into flame….

“That’s right!” we say, “A light, a light.”

And as he points to hyacinth, door, cat,

and tries,




say, “No, that’s a flower, a door, a  cat,

but he, small and earnest professor,

cranes forward a little on his rump,

to repeat slowly and with extra care




until we look again.

It gathers in thick cones,

rods of bee caves

dozens of lilac oboe mouths

peeled back into stars.

It hovers on one wall

like a vertical lake

that rapidly drains

to miraculous views

(a dog! a tree! a car!)

then fills again with itself

hard, white, stilled.

It unfurls, blackbird-blue,

to arc and vault

from windowsill to garden

where discs and glints of it

flock, merge, and wheel apart

into hedge, clothesline, pegs, water,

frost on red roof, green blade, yellow grain:




“Ah,” we say, “We see.  There. 

And there.

Light.  Light. 

All shapes of light.”

Emma Neale

First published in Spark, Steele Roberts, 2008


I like the light that comes up

from down beyond the land.

I like the human light

yellow in windows.

The people moving about

in them. I like, too,

the way they amplify the light

beyond the land.

The way it will not last too long,

The way it will be extinguished by

another light we call the dark,

where everyone goes to recall

the light & the way it was,

among the fall of shadows.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba Press, 2020

The poets

David Eggleton is a poet and writer of Palagi, Rotuman and Tongan descent based in Dunedin. He has published a number of poetry collections, and has also released a number of recordings with his poetry set to music by a variety of musicians and composers. He is the former Editor of Landfall and Landfall Review Online as well as the Phantom Billstickers Cafe Reader. His book The Conch Trumpet won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. In 2016, he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. His most recent poetry collection is The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, published by Otago University Press in May 2021. He is the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2019 – 2022.

Rhian Gallagher’s first poetry collection Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press, 2003) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for First Collection. In 2008 she received the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award. Her second poetry collection Shift, (Auckland University Press 2011, Enitharmon Press, UK, 2012) won the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. A collaborative work, Freda: Freda Du Faur, Southern Alps, 1909-1913, was produced with printer Sarah M. Smith and printmaker Lynn Taylor in 2016 (Otakou Press). Rhian was the Robert Burns Fellow in 2018. Her most recent poetry collection Far-Flung was published by Auckland University Press in 2020.

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.

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.

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).

Bill Manhire founded the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington, which a little over 20 years ago became the International Institute of Modern Letters. His new book Wow is published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and Carcanet in the UK.

Ria Masae is a writer, spoken word poet, and librarian of Samoan descent born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau.  Her work has appeared in various publications including, Landfall, Takahē, and 2020 Best New Zealand Poems Anthology.  A collection of her poetry, titled, ‘What She Sees From Atop the Maunga’, can be found in, AUP New Poets 7.  She is currently working on a sole anthology of poems for publication.

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

Brian Turner was born in Dunedin in 1944. His first book of poems, Ladders of Rain (1978), won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize and was followed by a number of highly praised poetry collections and award-winning writing in a wide range of genres including journalism, biography, memoir and sports writing. Recent and acclaimed poetry collections include Night Fishing (VUP, 2016), and Just This (winner of the New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry in 2010). He was the Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate 2003–05 and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry in 2009. He lives in Central Otago. 

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. 

Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. She lives in Auckland.

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). 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) 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. 

Ashleigh Young is the author of Magnificent Moon, Can You Tolerate This?, and How I Get Ready. She works as an editor at VUP.

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

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

Thirteen poems about home

Ten poems about edge

Eleven poems about breakfast

Twelve poems about kindness