Kindness, the word on our tongues, in this upheaval world, in these challenging times, as we navigate conflicting points of view, when our well being is under threat, when the planet is under threat, when some of us are going hungry, cold, without work, distanced from loved ones, suffer cruelty, endure hatred because of difference. Kindness is the word and kindness is the action, and it is the leaning in to understand. I had no idea what I would discover when I checked whether poetry features kindness, and indeed, at times, whether poems are a form of kindness. I think of poetry as a form of song, as excavation, challenge, discovery, tonic, storytelling, connection, as surprise and sustenance for both reader and writer. In the past year, as I face and have faced multiple challenges, poetry has become the ultimate kindness.
The poems I have selected are not necessarily about kindness but have a kindness presence that leads in multiple directions. Warm thanks to the poets and publishers who have supported my season of themes. The season ends mid August.
Give me an ordinary day
Where the salt sings in the air
And the tūī rests in the tree outside our kitchen window
And the sun is occluded by cloud, so that the light
does not reach out and hurt our eyes
And we have eaten, and we have drunk
We have slept, and will sleep more
And the child is fed
And the books have been read
And the toys are strewn around the lounge
Give me an ordinary day
Where I sit at my desk, working for hours
until the light dims
And you are outside in the garden,
clipping back the hedge and trees
And then I am standing at the sink, washing dishes,
And chopping up vegetables for dinner
We sit down together, we eat, our child is laughing
And you play Muddy Waters on the stereo
And later we lie in bed reading until midnight
Give me an ordinary day
Where no one falls sick, no one is hurt
We have milk, we have bread and coffee and tea
Nothing is pressing, nothing to worry about today
The newspaper is full of entertainment news
The washing is clean, it has been folded and put away
Loss and disappointment pass us by
Outside it is busy, the street hums with sound
The children are trailing up the road to school
And busy commuters rush by talking on cellphones
Give me an ordinary day
And because I’m a dreamer, on my ordinary day
Nobody I loved ever died too young
My father is still right here, sitting in his chair,
where he always sits, looking out at the sea
I never lost anything I truly wanted
And nothing ever hurt me more than I could bear
The rain falls when we need it, the sun shines
People don’t argue, it’s easy to talk to everyone
Everyone is kind, we all put others before ourselves
The world isn’t dying, there is life thriving everywhere
Oh Lord, give me an ordinary day
The guest house
(for Al Noor and Linwood Mosques)
In this house
we have one rule:
bring only what you want to
we open doors
with both hands
from death to life
come share with us
this tiny place
we built from broken tongues
and one-way boarding passes
from kauri bark
in this house
we are holding
space for you
come hand against your frail
come open wounded
come heart between your knees
come sick and sleepless
come seeking shelter
come crawling in your lungs
come teeth inside your grief
come shattered peace
come foreign doubt
come unrequited sun
come shaken soil
come unbearable canyon
come desperately alone
come untuned blossom
come wild and hollow prayer
come celestial martyr
come singing doubt
come swimming to land
come howl into embrace
a new thread
a gentle light
a glass jar to hold
you are welcome, brother
from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020
I pray to you Shoulder Blades
my twelve-year-old daughter’s shining like wings
like frigate birds that can fly out past the sea where my father lives
and back in again.
I pray to you Water,
you tell me which way to go
even though it is so often through the howling.
I pray to you Static –
no, that is the sea.
I pray to you Headache,
you are always here, like a blessing from a heavy-handed priest.
I pray to you Seizure,
you shut my eyes and open them again.
I pray to you Mirror,
I know you are the evil one.
I pray to you Aunties who are cruel.
You are better than university and therapy
you teach me to write books
how to hurt and hurt and forgive,
(eventually to forgive,
one day to forgive,
right before death to forgive).
I pray to you Aunties who are kind.
All of you live in the sky now,
you are better than letters and telephones.
I pray to you Belt,
yours are marks of Easter.
I pray to you Great Rock in my throat,
every now and then I am better than I am now.
I pray to you Easter Sunday.
Nothing is resurrecting but the water from my eyes
it will die and rise up again
the rock is rolled away and no one appears
no shining man with blonde hair and blue eyes.
I pray to you Lungs,
I will keep you clean and the dear lungs around me.
I pray to you Child
for forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.
I will probably wreck you as badly as I have been wrecked
leave the ship of your childhood, with you
handcuffed to the rigging,
me peering in at you through the portholes
both of us weeping for different reasons.
I pray to you Air
you are where all the things that look like you live
all the things I cannot see.
I pray to you Reader.
I pray to you.
from The Savage Coloniser Book, Victoria University Press, 2020
I’m thinking about it, how we’ll embrace each other
at the airport, then you’ll drive the long way home,
back down the island, sweet dear heart, sweet.
And I’m thinking about the crazy lady, how she strides
down Cuba Mall in full combat gear,
her face streaked with charcoal, how she barges
through the casual crowd, the coffee drinkers,
the eaters of sweet biscuits. ‘All clear,’ she shouts,
‘I’ve got it sorted, you may all stand down.’
What I should do, what I would do if this was a movie,
I’d go right up to her and I’d say, ‘Thank you,
I feel so much safer in this crazy world with you around.’
Geoff would get it, waiting at the corner of Ghuznee Street.
It’s his kind of scene. In fact, he’d probably direct it.
from Fancy Dancing: Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2020
Precious to them
You absolutely must be kind to animals
even the wild cats.
Grandad brought me a little tiny baby hare,
Don’t you tell your grandma
I’ve brought it inside and put it in the bed.
He put buttered milk arrowroot biscuits, slipped them
in my pockets to go down for early morning milking
You mustn’t tell your grandma, I’m putting all this butter
in the biscuits.
from Horse with Hat, Victoria University Press, 2014, suggested by Amy Brown
kia atawhai – te huaketo 2020
kia atawhai ki ā koutou whānau
kia atawhai ki ā koutou whanaunga
kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoa
kia atawhai ki ā koutou kiritata
kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoamahi
kia atawhai ki ngā uakoao
kia atawhai ki ngā tangata o eru ata mātāwaka
kia atawhai ki ā koutou ano.
ka whakamatea i te huaketo
ki te atawhai.
be kind – the virus 2020
be kind to your families
be kind to your relatives
be kind to your friends
be kind to your neighbours
be kind to your workmates
be kind to strangers
be kind to people of other ethnicities
be kind to yourselves.
kill the virus
For Anna Jackson
it had been one of those days
that was part of one of those weeks, months
where people seemed angry
& I felt like the last runner in the relay race
taking the blame for not getting the baton
over the finish line fast enough
I was worn down by it, diminished
& to top it off, the bus sailed past without seeing me
& I was late for the reading, another failure
so when Anna offered me a lift home
I could have cried
because it was the first nice thing
that had happened that day
so much bigger than a ride in a car
it was all about standing alone
in a big grey city
and somebody suddenly
handing you marigolds
first appeared on Janis’s blog
The art of advice
what you think
is the right thing
with what you think
is the right thing to say,
keeping in mind
the psychological state
of the person whom you are advising,
your own integrity and beliefs,
as well as the repercussions
of your suggestions in the immediate
and distant futures—a complex mix,
especially in light of the fact that friendship
should always be kind first,
and honest second.
from Felt, Massey University Press, 2021
A Radical Act in July
You are always smiling the cheese man says, my default position.
The cheese, locally made, sold in the farmers market,
but still not good enough for my newly converted vegan friend
who preaches of bobby calves, burping methane, accuses me
of not taking the problems of the world seriously enough.
Granted, there is much to be afraid of: unprecedented fires,
glaciers melting, sea lapping into expensive living rooms,
the pandemic threatening to go on the rampage again
and here still, lurking behind supermarket shelves,
or in the shadows outside our houses like a violent ex-husband.
Strongmen, stupid or calculating are in charge of too many countries,
we have the possibility of one ourselves now, a strong woman,
aiming to crush our current leader and her habit of kindness
while she holds back global warming and Covid 19
with a scowl. I can see why friends no longer watch the news,
why my sons say they will have no children,
why pulling the blankets over your head starts to seem
like a reasonable proposition but what good does that do
for my neighbour living alone, who, for the first time
in her long-life, surviving war, depression
and other trauma is afraid to go outside?
Perhaps there is reason enough for me not to smile,
one son lives in China and can’t come back for the lack
of a job. The other lives by the sea, but in a shed with no kitchen.
I hear my stretcher-bearer dad in his later years, talking
of Cassino and how they laughed when they weren’t screaming
how his mates all dreamed of coming home and finding
a girl. Some did and so we are here, and in being here
we have already won the lottery. So, I get up early
for the market, put on my red hat to spite the cold,
and greet the first crocus which has popped up overnight.
I try not to think it’s only July and is this a sign
and should I save the world by bypassing the cheese man
and the milk man who names his cows?
My dad was consumed by nightmares most of his life,
but at my age now, 69, he would leap into the lounge
in a forward roll to shock us into laughing. A gift,
though I didn’t see it at the time. Reason enough to smile,
practise kindness and optimism as a radical act
I have not forgotten that seabird
the one I saw with its wings
stretched across the hard road.
One eye open,
I wanted to walk past
But the road is no place
for a burial –
I picked it up by the wings
took it to the
water and floated it
out to sea,
which was of no use
to the bird, it had ceased.
I like to think someone
was coaching me in the small,
never futile art,
from Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba press, 2020
Four stories about kindness
I had lunch with Y today, and she told me over gnocchi (me) and meatballs (her), about how she joined up with another dating website. She quickly filled in the online forms, all the ones about herself and her interests, until she came to one where she had to choose the five attributes she thought were the most important in a person. She looked at them for a while, and then grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out the thirty possible attributes in a list. She read the list. She put it down and went to bed. The next morning when she woke up she read the list again. She found her scissors and snipped around each word. She laid each rectangle on the table, arranged them in a possible order, shuffled them around, and then arranged them again. She went to work. When she came back in the evening they were still there, glowing slightly in the twilight. She sat down in front of them and made some minor adjustments. She discovered, somewhat to her surprise, that kindness is the most important thing to her. She went back to the web page and finished her application. Very soon she was registered and had been matched with ten men in her area. Soon after she had thirty-five messages. The next morning she had forty more. She deleted the messages and deleted her profile. Then she wrote five words on a piece of paper and pinned it to her wall.
I phone A, whose father is dying. Whether fast or slow, no one really knows, and no one wants to say it, but we all know this will probably be his last Christmas. She was, at this very moment, she tells me, writing in our Christmas card. She tells me that she’s been thinking a lot about kindness. About people who are kind even when it’s inconvenient, even when it hurts. I tell her she is a kind person. ‘There are times’, she says, ‘when I could have chosen to be kind, but I didn’t. Wasn’t. I’ve said things. Done things. I don’t want to do that – I don’t want to make people feel small.’ I think of my own list, my own regrets. It’s weeks later before we get our Christmas card. ‘What’s this word here?’ asks S, as he reads it. ‘Before lights.’ ‘Kind’, I say. ‘The word is kind.’
J is a scientific sort of person, and she wants to understand relationships, so she does what any good scientist would do and keeps a notebook in which she records her observations. She watches. And listens. And then she writes. She writes about the good ones, and about the bad ones. Her subjects are her friends, her family, her acquaintances and people she meets (or overhears) while travelling. None of them have given ethics approval. (She hasn’t asked.) She considers the characteristics of each relationship, both good and bad, and in-between. It is almost halfway through New Year’s Day and we are still eating breakfast. While her study is not yet finished, and so all results are of course provisional, she tells us one thing is clear to her already: that the characteristic shared by the best relationships is kindness.
I am talking to C in the back yard at the party and I tell him that the theme of the moment is kindness. He tells me that while, yes, he thinks kindness is important, he thinks he is sometimes (for which I read ‘often’) too kind. He puts up with things, he says, that he should not. He lets people have their way. He doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, but he doesn’t want to be a doormat anymore. I’m not always the quickest thinker, but I know there is something wrong here; I think I know that there is a difference between kindness and niceness, kindness and martyrdom. I am sure that being kind doesn’t mean giving in, going along with things you don’t like, denying yourself. I’m sure that being kind doesn’t mean you can’t give the hard word, when needed, doesn’t mean condoning bad behaviour. I try to explain this to C, who is kind, and also is a doormat sometimes, but I’m not sure he understands what I’m saying. I’m not sure if he heard me. Probably because we are both too busy giving each other advice.
from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019
Letter to Hone
Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko
sacred in my awkward arms,
its cool black mocking
my shallow grasp
utterly blown away.
I am sitting beside you at Kaka Point
in an armchair with chrome arm-rests
very close to the stove.
You smile at me,
look back at the flames,
add a couple of logs,
take my hand in your bronze one,
Open your bright dark eyes,
give precise instructions as to the location of the whisky bottle
on the kitchen shelf, and of two glasses.
I bring them like a lamb.
You pour a mighty dram.
from The Radio Room, Otago University Press, 2010
Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Tusiata’s most recent collection The Savage Coloniser Book won The Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Poetry Book 2021.
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.
Johanna Emeney is a senior Tutor at Massey University, Auckland. Felt (Massey University Press, 2021) is her third poetry collection, following Apple & Tree (Cape Catley, 2011) and Family History (Mākaro Press, 2017). You can find her interview with Kim Hill about the new collection here and purchase a book directly from MUP or as an eBook from iTunes or Amazon/Kind.
Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), and a novel, The Year of Falling. She lives in Wellington. http://janisfreegard.com
Bernadette Hall lives in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She retired from high-school teaching in 2005 in order to embrace a writing life. This sonnet touches on the years 2006 and 2011 when she lived in Wellington, working at the IIML. Her friendship with the Wellington poet, Geoff Cochrane, is referenced in several of her poems. Another significant friendship, begun in 1971, was instrumental in turning her towards poetry. That was with the poet/painter, Joanna Margaret Paul. A major work that she commissioned from Joanna in 1982, will travel the country for the next two years as part of a major exhibition of the artist’s work.
Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer from Auckland and Cairo. 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 2020 poetry collection National Anthem was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (2021).
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.
Poet and artist Cilla McQueen has lived and worked in Murihiku for the last 25 years. Cilla’s most recent works are In a Slant Light; a poet’s memoir (2016) and
Poeta: selected and new poems (2018), both from Otago University Press.
Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. She lives in Auckland.
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.
Helen Rickerby lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley. She’s the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019), which won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, which mostly publishes poetry.
Marty Smith is writing a non-fiction book tracking the daily lives of trainers and track-work riders as they go about their work at the Hastings racecourse. She finds the same kindness and gentleness there among people who primarily work with animals. On the poem: Grandad was very kind and gentle; Grandma had a rep for being ‘a bit ropey’. He was so kind that when my uncle Edward, told not to touch the gun, cocked it and shot the family dog, Grandad never said a thing to my heartbroken little uncle, just put his arm around him and took him home.
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
poems about home
poems about edge
poems about breakfast
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