Poetry Shelf Spring Season: We Are Babies pick poems

We Are Babies is made up of Carolyn DeCarlo, Jackson Nieuwland, Stacey Teague, Ash Davida Jane, Nat-Lîm Kado, and Ya-Wen Ho. Our kaupapa is to create a space for writing and writers that might not be able to find a home elsewhere. We are focused on publishing work by LGBTQIA+, disabled, Māori, Pasifika, BIPOC, and otherwise marginalised writers. We also have a particular interest in works in translation, debut and out-of-print books, and experimental writing. We are open to works of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and hybrid forms.

We Are Babies is in its first season. In November/December, we are publishing Whai by Nicole Titihuia Hawkins and Requiem for a Fruit by Rachel O’Neill. These books are currently available for pre-order at wearebabies.net. In March, we will be publishing Anomalia by Cadence Chung and We’re All Made of Lightning by Khadro Mohamed. We chose the following poems as representative of what these collections have on offer. We hope you enjoy their work as much as we have been.

On Nicole’s poem:

This poem was the inspiration for the cover of Nicole’s book, which is taken from a photograph of a multi-coloured piupiu made by Rita Baker (aka Flaxworx), a contemporary artist working in the Far North. This poem describes Nicole’s grandmother, whose legendary rainbow piupiu lends itself to the title of the poem. The tone Nicole uses here is so encapsulating of this collection as a whole–pride in kōrero o mua, a kind of nostalgia for things she didn’t get to experience, and the process of affirming of her heritage. These poems are heart-wrenchingly personal, but written in a way that brings the reader along on her journey. So much aroha.– Carolyn DeCarlo

On Rachel’s poem:

I’ve been a fan of Rachel O’Neill’s writing for almost a decade now and this might be my favourite poem of hers I’ve come across in all those years. I remember hearing her perform it at a reading at our house. She had the audience in convulsions. I was so glad to come across this poem again when Rachel submitted her manuscript. It brings a grin to my face every time I reread it. It might just be my raison d’être. – Jackson Nieuwland

On Cadence’s poem:

This poem is one of many gems from Cadence’s forthcoming collection, with language so lush it drips with imagery. As a teaser for what’s to come, the poet takes herself apart piece by piece, and puts herself under the microscope. It reminds me of the old nursery rhyme that says girls are made of ‘sugar and spice, and everything nice’, only Cadence turns the question back on itself and reveals the process of dissection, slightly gruesome and certainly not nice. – Ash Davida Jane

On Khadro’s poem:

I’m really lucky to be editing Khadro’s manuscript, there are so many magical moments contained within it, and this poem is a perfect example. Its rich and beautiful language builds a bridge between Aotearoa and Africa. It reads as a love letter to her homeland and herself. – Stacey Teague

The poems

Rainbow Piupiu

I don’t know enough about the tipuna I’m named after
but when I read she was a weaver 
I feel her stitching tāniko
into the bodice of my insides

She says it doesn’t hurt that much
When I breathe in 
hundreds of tiny holes expand
but her pattern holds its place
like the ocean holds the stars that got us here

I don’t know anything about kākahu
but when I hear she made cloaks from juicy kererū
I can feel her weaving muka
into my shoulder blades

She says to hold still
When I breathe out 
they move in rhythm  
rows on rows of feathers align
like the tides with the winds that carried us here 

I’ve never heard of a Rainbow Piupiu
but when I’m told she made one
I can feel her binding the cords
around my soft waist 

She says she had ten babies by my age
When I swirl my hips the piupiu dances
each dyed band melts into another colour
like her blood into the salt that brought us here

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins

A reason for everything

One day there is a reason for everything. Except, the following morning there are no reasons, only raisins, just like the philosopher warned you. The next day you go to work and your colleague asks, ‘What’s your raisin, though?’ You hand your colleague a bit of paper. On it you have written, ‘What if there is no raisin?’ Your colleague can’t handle the implication that all men walking the earth are without a single raisin, that even the smallest of raisins is missing. That night you can’t sleep. Being unconscious and prone and partially paralysed for up to eight hours without a raisin no longer seems sensible. If only there was one good raisin left in the world, you think. If only it could be found.

Rachel O’Neill

anatomy

i am made from milk teeth, not yet weaned
        from this world though it may try
to pull itself from my wet pink gums 

i will hang on to its grit for a moment 
       and a moment and a moment
longer. i am made of dandelion fluff

spinning like spokes into living rooms
      and kitchens and trying to find
a home somewhere, a place to seed

and stay. all i want is for someone
      to divide me into neat parts and lay
them all out, so i can see

the pesky veins that cause my blood 
     to swim, the blushing heart that
tries to love more than it can chew through

o, silly organs of mine, i would say
     you fools of longing, lust and time
hot and carnal and really nothing like

a seed or petal—o to be made of pretty
     white taffeta or downy petals
instead of such heavy instruments 

that weigh me down. o to have
   people take out their tweezers and glasses 
to have them examine me and pull

me apart, marvelling at each lovely
   piece that comes out—the heart
the spleen, the liver, the brain

sparkling like jewels
   crisp as bug wings
and with just as much glister

Cadence Chung

IF I GO BACK

//

if I ‘go back to where I came from’ I will take everything with me.
my mason jars with fireflies, my golden bangles, my morning coffee.
I will take my earth, my horned melons and stories of cleopatra
I will take that rug, the one you love so much, with the golden
tassels and delicately picked butterfly wings. I will take my turmeric

my henna, my lemongrass and my acacia leaves.
I will take my language, heavy and soft in the palms of my hands
I will tuck my afrobeats and hip-hop in my back pocket
I will carry the moon in my bindle, my chocolate in a zip-lock bag

I will carry my baobab and the cash you owe me in my backpack
and then you’ll be left with naked kings and queens with concave
bellies and hollow, scooped out eyes because their fancy fabric, thin
sclera and jewelled crowns belong to me too.


Ama Ata Adioo once said ‘what would the world be without Africa?’ and
I think I know now. it would no longer grow roses, it would be
void of lyrical words and sweet orange pulp that melt on my tongue
the earth would be scaly and dry, the wind would not whistle.
there would be a dent in the air every time you took a breath. there
would be no myriad of reds and purples dancing across the sky.

Khadro Mohamed

The poets

Cadence Chung is a poet, musician, and student at Wellington High School. She has been writing poetry since she was at primary school, and since then has loved writing, whether it be songs, short stories, or poems. Outside of poetry, she draws inspiration from classic literature, Tumblr text posts, and roaming antique stores.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins (Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Ngāti Pāhauwera) is a novice writer, avid home-baker and proud aunt. She lives in Pōneke and works at a local high school teaching English, Social Studies and tikanga Māori. Nicole is also involved in pastoral care and facilitates Kapa Haka. Nicole has collaborated with other writers to host ‘Coffee with Brownies’, which are open mic events for people of colour to share their work in safe spaces. She co-hosted ‘Rhyme Time’, a regional youth event, with Poetry in Motion, to encourage a diverse range of youth to perform their incredible poetry. Nicole has work published by Overland, Capital Magazine, Blackmail Press and The Spinoff Ātea and credits her courageous students with inspiring her to write.

Follow her on Instagram.

Khadro Mohamed is a 20-something year old poet residing on the shores of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She’s a tea lover, a photo enthusiast, an occasional poet… and that’s pretty much it. You can find bits of her writing floating around Newtown in Food Court Books and online.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Rachel O’Neill is a Pākehā storyteller who was raised in the Waikato and currently lives and works in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Kāpiti Coast. Rachel enjoys collaborating with writers, artists and filmmakers on publications, exhibitions and works for screen, and they are a founding member of the four-artist collaborative group, All the Cunning Stunts. A graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts (BA/BFA) and the International Institute of Modern Letters (MA), Rachel was selected for the 2017 Aotearoa Short Film Lab, received a 2018 SEED Grant (NZWG/NZFC) for feature film development, and held a 2019 Emerging Writers Residency at the Michael King Writers Centre. Their debut book, One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press) was published in 2013. As a queer non-binary storyteller Rachel strives to represent the longing for connection and the humour and strangeness that characterise human experience.

Follow them on Instagram, Twitter or their website.

We Are Babies website

Poetry Shelf Spring Season

Tara Black picks poems
Victor Rodger picks poems
Peter Ireland picks poems
Emma Espiner picks poems
Claire Mabey picks poems
Sally Blundell picks poems
Frances Cooke picks poems

2 thoughts on “Poetry Shelf Spring Season: We Are Babies pick poems

  1. Pingback: Poetry Shelf Spring season: Kasandra Hart-Kaumoana and Bridget van de Zijpp (AWF) pick poems | NZ Poetry Shelf

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