Poetry Shelf Celebrates: Winners of Given Words 2021 read their poems

The winners of the Given Words competition for Phantom National Poetry Day were announced last Friday 17 September. The director of Given Words, Charles Olsen, invited poets Pat White, Savarna Yang and Aine Whelan-Kopa, to read their poems for NZ Poetry Shelf.

All entries had to include five words chosen from the te reo poetry film Noho Mai, which features a poem by Peta-Maria Tunui. The poems could be written in English or te reo Māori or a mix of the two, with the five words being: pō/duskhau/breathtūpuna/ancestorshiki/raise, and karoro/black-backed gull.

The winners and one special mention were selected by Mikaela Nyman, Michael Todd and Charles Olsen. Their comments on some of the poems along with a selection of 45 poems by both adults and under-16s can be read on Given Words, along with a reflection on the use of te reo in many of the poems by Peta-Maria Tunui.

Pat White was the winner of ‘Best Poem’ for his poem ‘After visiting the IC ward.

After visiting the IC ward

You might think at dusk
that a black-backed gull, and the terns
would be flying for the rookery.
The fishing folk with an empty basket
might trudge homeward, instead of
standing longer on those moving dunes
dividing shore between offshore tūpuna
and inland ancestors, here sea birds
just like words tie the waves’ surge
to lives between two worlds.

Another chance to keep going as if
every breath matters, coming to
rattling rest, as waves do over shell
and pebbles shifting over and over
the planet’s body, one grain of sand
at a time. Your bed occupying
a place between light and dark
the soul poised to raise a voice
in praise of one more day
giving thanks, flying in the mind
to where uplift drafts will raise
pin feathers of an albatross wing
tipped slightly to infinite nautical miles
over the breaker’s lip, reflecting
water movement into light carrying
driftwood to be dragged home.
for burning like the flicker of
life burning in your chest.

Pat White

Savarna Yang, aged 13, won ‘Best Poem by Under-16s’ for her poem ‘Eventide’.

Eventide

alabaster moths flutter
on indigo shadows of dusk
I press my toes into cold sand,
listen to the inbreath and outbreath of sea
and I remember my tupuna tāne,
how he died moored to a ventilator,
breaths drowned in risen tides
far from his whānau

the moon spills silver over ocean ripples
I raise my face to the sky
through a blur of tears
the first stars form an outline of wings,
tips of white against the black
I imagine my tupuna
flies free as a karoro

Savarna Yang

Aine Whelan-Kopa received a Special Mention for her poem ‘Hiki te hoe’.

Hiki te hoe

I got goosebumps today
When Tāwhiri breathed
And I heard the words
When I opened my heart
To tūpuna
They whispered
Hoea te waka
Hoea te waka
Hoea te waka
Like a chorus
And on the beat
It hurt like hope
But felt like home
I’m sorry I ever told them to go
Hoea te waka
Their words sing on
In my puku-heart
As wiriwiri
In my head-heart
Sways the pūriri
In my heart-heart
There’s aroha
And that’s everything
It pumps my veins
Out of and into
The pull
The row
The drag
The flow
Hiki te hoe
Hoea te waka
I’m moving on
Out of te pō
Upon
Cool waters misty
Like a lake before dawn
Hoea te waka
To where karoro flies
Hoea te waka
To where the green flash glows
Hoea te waka
To where the four winds blow
Ngā hau
Hoea te waka
Along the long awa
Guided by whispers
And one hundred tuna
Black and blue
Hoea te waka
By starlight
To sunlight
With Hine ā Maru
And you

Aine Whelan-Kopa

About the Poets

Pat White lives just out of Fairlie in the South Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand. There he works as a writer and painter, with his wife Catherine, a musician and painter. He has published a number of volumes of prose and poetry since the 1970s, including; How the Land Lies, (VUP 2010) prose memoir essays, Watching for the wingbeat; new and selected poems (Cold Hub Press 2018). He was editor of Rejoice Instead: Collected poems of Peter Hooper (Cold Hub Press, 2021).


His entry in Given Words honours the experience of a son who was in an Intensive Care Ward four years ago. ‘Such events hone our appreciation of every breath, and the need of each of us to give thanks for the miracle of ordinariness that is daily life. This afternoon the sun is shining, soon it will be time for a glass of red wine while sitting looking at the mountains to the west. Who knows a poem may be gifted on a gust of wind … if we sit quietly enough?’

Savarna Yang is thirteen years old, home-schools, and lives near Ōtepoti, Dunedin. You can often find her spinning and weaving wool from her pet sheep or baking mountains of cookies (especially over lockdown). She plays football for her local team but unfortunately they have lost every single game this season… She loves writing short stories and reviews.


Of the inspiration for her poem she says, ‘My grandparents live overseas, in Australia and China. I haven’t seen them for a long time and maybe I won’t get to see them again. In Aotearoa, we had an elderly friend nearby we loved like a grandparent. They died in hospital during lockdown when we could not visit to say goodbye.’

Aine Whelan-Kopa lives in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and grew up in very small rural, coastal towns in the Hokianga and Taranaki. She is of Ngāti Hine, Te Hikutu o Hokianga, Ngāpuhi and Irish descent. Being bi-racial has been challenging and impactful, writing and art are ways for Aine to express herself and explore her identity. The mix of te reo Māori and English in her poetry is a natural extension of the way she talks.
Aine is a student majoring in psychology and aims to use art therapy to help children affected by trauma. Whānau, whenua, atua and taiao are the cornerstones of her connection to Te Ao.


Hiki Te Hoe was written as a note to self that in order to get to where you want to go you need to pick up the paddle and start to row. Aine loves running and chocolate equally, because life is about balance.

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