Poetry Shelf Spring Season: Tara Black picks poems

Poetry Shelf is launching a new season, Readers Pick Poems, that will appear every Friday over the next few months. I have invited a group of readers to choose some Aotearoa poems they love. First up cartoonist Tara Black. She has chosen poems by Karlo Mila, Anna Jackson, Jackson Nieuwland, Hera Lindsay Bird and Rebecca Hawkes.

The poems

Leaving Prince Charming Behind

For a while I thought we were living the fairytale
but sadly I realised that this was      the myth
and you were so busy believing
that we were living the happy ever after
                I don’t think you noticed for a while
I’d rejected the role of princess in your production.

I am Rapunzel with her dreadlocks shorn
             trying to pull down the tower with broken nails
cursing your name.

I believed you the architect of my isolation
and it didn’t matter
what you tried to do
the poison apple was lodged firmly in my throat
and not believing in glass slipper
I worked my own midnight magic for all it was worth
re blood, white cloth
mirrors on the wall.

My poor dark prince on your gallant white horse
the shoe didn’t fit
your kiss couldn’t wake me up
to your way of thinking.

I transformed myself into
a beautiful dragon
you felt honour bound
to slay.

Karlo Mila

from Dream Fish Floating, Huia Publishers, 2005

Bees, so many bees

After twenty years of marriage, we walked out
of the bush and on to a rough dirt road
we followed till we saw a pond
we might be able to get to.
The ground was boggy and buzzing.
The pond was thick with weed
and slime. It was not
the sort of pond anyone would
swim in, but we did – picking and sliding
in to the water over the bog and bees,
bees we suddenly noticed were
everywhere, settling on our hair
as we swam, ducks turning surprised eyes
our way. After twenty years
of marriage what is surprising isn’t really
so much the person you are with
but to find yourselves so
out of place in this scene, cold
but not able to get out without stepping
over bees, so many bees.

Anna Jackson

from Pasture and Flock: New & Selected Poems, Auckland University Press, 2018

I am an ant.

In fact, I am the happiest ant in the world.

I wasn’t always the happiest ant in the world,
and I didn’t become the happiest ant in the world
by getting any happier                                                       

Another ant got sadder.

Jackson Nieuwland

from I Am a Human Being, Compound Press, 2020


The ex-girlfriends are back…
emerging once again from the tree shadows…
into the primordial burlesque of autumn
with their low-cut…
reminiscences… and soft, double ironies…
trembling once again into their
seasonal migration patterns
a corsage of wilting apologies
tethered to the bust…

The ex-girlfriends are back…with their
hand-beaded consistencies…
& various unhappy motives…
dragging their heart like a soft broom through leaves…
and they go on hurting… like the lit windows
of a dollhouse in winter…
with a too-big house outside…

The ex-girlfriends are back
but in a romantically ambiguous way…

The ex-girlfriends are back and have transcended
the patriarchal limitations of romance…
unlike the new girlfriends…
still handcuffed to monogamy…
slowly writhing…
with their naughty…post-hetereosexual fatalism

The ex-girlfriends are back
with their unfounded Soviet aspirations…
and anti-hegemonic arts initiatives…
draped over a piano on the edge of the thicket
playing the lonely upper hand of chopsticks…
in their vague tropical displeasure…

The ex-girlfriends are back
and the post-girlfriends…
and the ‘let’s not put a label on this’ girlfriends…
all of them at the same time, walking through
a beaded curtain of water…
like too much Persephone and not enough underworld…
wearing nothing but an Arts degree…
and the soft blowtorch of their eyes…

You can feel their judgements come down upon you
like too-heavy butterflies…
but there’s nothing you can do about it!
and worst of all
they don’t even want anything…
they’re just standing there…performing many

enigmatic life blinks
re-mentioning Deleuze and Guattari
in loneliness and natural lighting
The ex-girlfriends are back
with their sanity pangs
and various life fatigues…
like a stuffed-crocodile exhibit
still begging for death relevance
in the glass case of your heart
But you are the museum director now!
Walking talent on a gold leash
& there’s nothing anyone can do about it!

The ex-girlfriends are back
like the liquidation sale of an imported rug megastore
that’s been liquidating for centuries…
getting rich off all that…tasselled goodbye money
as they grind your face yet again into
the hand-knotted…
semi-Persian wool blend…of their hearts
begging once more for closure.

The ex girlfriends are back
with their pre-distressed sadnesses
and their…talent
unlike yourself
who is both undistressed and talent-free!

Yet somehow still above them all
like the grand arbiter of happiness
laughing in your ermine neck ruff
as you push them one by one
down the waxed fuck-ff chute
of their bad erotic failures

Hera Lindsay Bird

from HERA LINDSAY BIRD, Victoria University Press, 2016

Nemesis Mine

yours is the name I hate most of all
which I know because I have been repeating it
between my teeth      instructing my minions
to conduct increasingly elaborate heists
that will lure you     at last          to your doom
       which is destined to be
      me         obviously

I burglarize a priceless artwork
which you had acquired at significant personal cost
I cut out the gently smiling face in the painting
and replace it with a selfie
so when you steal it back the painting is worthless
on the black market
but you do not get rid of it         
my spies report
       that you keep it under your pillow             
     gilded edges jutting out

you construct a laser superweapon 
to etch a gigantic tag of your name across the moon
on my birthday           ruining my luxury
moon themed full moon party        
to which I specifically did not invite you
though I did arrange a data leak     of the coordinates
      when you arrive in your warship    cannons booming
      my heart leaps in my throat     whilst I dive for cover

how many times have you sailed recklessly
over continents and ocean trenches     in hot pursuit
launching torpedoes as I careen in your spyglass sights   
cackling away on my gold plated jet ski        O nefarious
O dastardly        I live
to hurl bullion       back at you              from a slingshot
while my space squad of highly educated dolphins
breaks into the hull of your craft 
they purloin small items of enormous sentimental value
and release the conspiracy of lemurs you have trafficked 
       and trained to paint flawless reproductions 
       of frankly dated masterworks      

loose at last     the bandit-faced primates
graffiti your clandestine labyrinth 
with the same tasteless repetitive sunflowers  
but you have already arranged for special forces
to capture me at the border
loathsome       busybody        
      I hate you              I hate you
      I wouldn’t have it any other way

and yet         my last several escapades went off
without a hitch   
and I can no longer intercept
your vile machinations         on any channel
even the encryptions only you and I use
mortal enemy         the world is boring
without your meddling     
      I lie awake     
      awaiting intel        

apparently you are spending your days
in a state of deranged reasonableness
you have been waking early to jog
without your bespoke catsuit or balaclava
your throwing stars rusting in their cabinet      
you have taken to hand crocheting
hanging baskets for your carnivorous plants
you have filed tax returns on a number of offshore accounts
thereby defeating their very purpose
and you have quibbled
          on consumer review sites for home appliances
          under your real name

I cannot abide all this        ruin by prudence
come for me   you coward 
get! in! your! pirate! ship!
you say           you have been taking “therapy”
you are “working on yourself”
your psychoanalyst has some
      about our          “relationship”

ahoy there      mouthbreathing brigand
thinking yourself too damaged for a final duel
I see it             I do      who knows you better than I
sniveling craven       stand and fight      yes    
your shame is coiled up inside you
and ready to play       yes
your shame is a slinky
delightful in rainbows
as it loops over itself going down
and down and down the spiral
stairwell       in the frivolous castle
you built for your dreams      
      this is not an invitation to tell me
      the unfinished business of your childhood

but do you really think you can outdo me
in abjection                 never fear
I will draw my own shame out of my throat
like a sparkling feather boa I will drape it
over my shoulders                  I will perform
a sensual dance using my shame as a prop
I will helicopter my shame wildly in front of my crotch
oi enemy oi nemesis          look at moi
through all our capers and larceny
did you think I couldn’t anticipate this twist
      our ultimate boss battle
      a public redemption arc 

I always expected we would grow old together
spending our ill gotten gains
to purchase adjacent volcanic island lairs
like two humongous tits jutting up from the ocean
we would spit at each other across the archipelago
and in the evenings
with our weakening arms
     we would row halfway out in our canoes
     and wrestle

Rebecca Hawkes

Tara Black is an Aotearoa cartoonist with a deep abiding love for fried potato. She can often be found in the front row of book events, illustrating authors and their ideas. You can find her work in places which almost exclusively start with the letter ‘s’: The Sapling, Stasis Journal, The Spinoff, The Suburban Review, and her website, taracomics.com. Her first graphic novel, This Is Not a Pipe, was published by Victoria University Press in 2020.

Hera Lindsay Bird was a poet from Wellington. She hasn’t written a poem in a long time, and no longer lives in Wellington. 

Rebecca Hawkes is a queer pākehā poet, painter, and PowerPoint slide ghostwriter living in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara. Her chapbook ‘Softcore coldsores’ can be found in AUP New Poets 5. She is co-editor of the journal Sweet Mammalian and an upcoming anthology of climate change poetry, and is a founding member of popstar performance posse Show Ponies. More of Rebecca’s writing and paintings can be found in journals like Starling, Sport, Scum, and Stasis, or online at her vanity mirror.

Anna Jackson lectures at Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington, lives in Island Bay, edits AUP New Poets and has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP 2018).

Karlo Mila is a mother, writer, poet and indigenous knowledge geek.  She lives in Tāmaki Makaurau with her three sons.  Karlo is especially over-active on Facebook.  She works in the area of leadership for her day job, trying to understand and explore what that means when drawing on the ancestral knowledge of those who have lived in this region for over three thousand years.  Of Tongan, Pākehā and Samoan descent, figuring out and living what this means in this contemporary context is often centred in her work.

Jackson Nieuwland is a human being, duh. They are a genderqueer writer, editor, librarian, and woo-girl, born and based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. They co-founded the reading/zine series Food Court. This isn’t even their final form. Their debut collection, I Am a Human Being, won Best First Poetry Book at the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2021.

7 thoughts on “Poetry Shelf Spring Season: Tara Black picks poems

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