Poetry Shelf review: Iona Winter’s gaps in the light

gaps in the light, Iona Winter, Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021

Gaps in the Light uses form in innovative ways to express deeply the experience of loss and joy in ways I can’t remember reading anywhere else. Nothing is binary here – everything feels multidimensional, so perfectly complicated, like echoes off multiple surfaces. It’s simply astounding!’

Pip Adam, author of Nothing to See, The New Animals, I’m Working on a Building, and Everything We Hoped For

Iona Winter, Waitaha/Kāi Tahu, lives on the East Otago Coast. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing and has published two previous collections, Te Hau Kaika (2019) and then the wind came (2018). Iona’s latest work gaps in the light comes with ‘advance praise’, tributes from other writers that include Helen Lehndorf, Kirstie McKinnon and Pip Adam. I so loved this suite of endorsements I have shared an extract from Pip Adam’s comments above. If I had read these words browsing in a bookshop, I would have bought the book, resisted all chores and distractions, and started reading. I too adore this book , and like Pip, know of no other quite like it. The slow-building embrace of loss and joy sets up long-term residency as you read.

The collection is dedicated to Iona’s son Reuben (20.5.1994 – 17.9.2020), and the dedication page becomes a pause a prayer a bouquet of sadness before you turn the page. I stalled here. I waited at this border between life and death. And then I entered a peopled glade: characters voices circumstances. Iona lays her own pain and loss beneath the surface of every scene, the hybrid writing stretching delving recovering above the subterranean ache. Writing becomes preservation, connection, ebb and flow, fighting against and fighting for. It is writing as lament and it is writing as meditation.

I dwell on the phrase ‘Streams of consciousness like gaps in the light’. What does it mean, but more importantly what does it feel? The writing is leaning in and listening to the dark without letting go of the framing light. A little like the mother and daughter in ‘Swallows’:

When we go walking, I tell our daughter what it means when the raupō are bent and spiders have crafted cocoons — white flags signalling peace. We inhale autumnal pine needle paths that smell of Christmas too early.

Little deceptions we tell one another make the intolerable less so.


When on the beach a heart stone is picked up, just one from the cluster, to hold and to carry. The sentence is smooth like the heart stone, but a few lines later the sound shifts and hits your ear sharply: ‘When mildew and salt scratched at my insides, and my back hit the stippled deck — life met decay once again.’ You will move from terminal illness to birdsong, from what you do to keep going to what you see out the window. There is a muscular thread of grandmother and grandfather wisdom. There is the way you get thrown off balance, expectedly, unexpectedly. The recurring thoughts of a loved one, the sight of the moon that startles: ‘it throws me off balance / that look of yours / an unexpected full moon in daylight showing herself on the horizon’ (from ‘Whorls’).

Iona is translating personal experience into hybrid writing and it is incredibly potent. I can’t imagine how hard this book was to write, but it is a gift, a glorious taonga, a gift of aroha. Thank you, Iona, thank you.

I prefer to expose the greying strands of my hair.

I prefer kōrero in person as opposed to communicating

via the Internet.

I prefer to sing aloud in the car.

I don’t prefer silent unspoken things.


I prefer non-martyred compromise.

I prefer to tend my wounds before creating them for


I prefer  compassion to witch-hunts.

I prefer to believe in the possibility of something

beautiful, rather than fear the inevitable pain of loss.


I prefer to choose aroha.


from ‘Natives’

Ad Hoc page

Iona Winter page

Poetry Shelf: Iona reads ‘Gregorian’

2 thoughts on “Poetry Shelf review: Iona Winter’s gaps in the light

  1. Iona Winter

    Reblogged this on Iona Winter and commented:
    In this unpredictable and challenging journey of bereavement (whilst riding another wonky grief-wave) it was mīharo to wake up to this incredible review from Paula Green ~ NZ Poetry Shelf ❤️
    Kia ora rawa atu koe Paula x



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