Monthly Archives: November 2021

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Amber Esau’s ‘Liminal’


Parted down the middle, his sharpened cuerpo
struts out of a waspish cave in the dark

harakeke, strands bowing under a nosey Tūī
eyeing the red beaned flower that’s claw-like

in lazy light. We lock eyes in glass. Feathers
and flax. He stares from corners acting coy

but this is k’rd, bruh, a Queen will call you
out for not looking long enough. I ruffle

the curls searching silences in the glare
knowing? Not quite slow moving but watchful

the manu drops a beak at onyx arrowhead
eyes forgetting forward. Down the vague grey

he walks the tui across the winking glass
into a powdery afternoon, kicking up silent

dust behind them on the street. They swoop to the top
of St. Kevin’s perched for a second before flying off

into the blue thin as the moon of pulotu
dragging nails across the fog and Paz.

Amber Esau

Amber Esau is a Sā-māo-rish writer (Ngāpuhi / Manase) born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau. She is a poet, storyteller, and amateur astrologer. Her work has been published both in print and online. 

Hear Amber read


Poetry Shelf celebrates Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems

Robyn Maree Pickens

Robyn Maree Pickens is the 2021 winner of the Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems. The annual competition is organised by Auckland based writing group, International Writers Workshop (also known as IWW.)

Vana Manasiadis judged the competition and described Robyn Maree Pickens’ winning entry, a sequence entitled “High clouds”, as “a supple, intimate, fragile and extremely powerful work. I went to places in each of the poems that I couldn’t have guessed at from the beginning, the work stranges expectation – and this is what the sublime in poetry should do, and in this case does”.

Robyn kindly gave me permission to post a poem from her winning sequence.

That gasp in your teeth

Where would we have gone with all this jää?

I learnt jää after lumi

When we crossed the bridge
you pointed at the frozen river
& said jää but I heard yar

I mean there is too much jää to press you
against a tree in the forest
spruce, larch, birch

Too much jää to unwrap
the scarf from your neck

Jää ruched around a wave particle

Pack ice jää sharded along the shore

& when we speak we say virvonta ystävä fainting willow

but we mean
you are new to me

& we ransack google / follow / request / heart

Robyn Maree Pickens

There were two runners-up: Kerrin Sharpe for her sequence, ‘Te hau o te atua/The breath of heaven, and Marie McGuigan for her hybrid sequence, “The Goose Wing”. 

Vana described Kerrin Sharpe’s sequence as “an incredible work which has continued to generate multiple layers and emotional landscapes with every read; the sculpting of its physical geography is stunning and palpable”.    

Vana described Marie McGuigan’s sequence as “an extremely rich work with breath-taking images that come together to move in all senses – into and out of form, the past, the air, language, and always deep love and leaving”.

Marie kindly gave me permission to post a poem from her winning sequence.

She is riding on a goose wing

a birdboned scapula that supports her hollow frame. Ease of
wind, rush of flight, she is empty and opened out

She has no wish
to land – to be part
of the sour land
the milk swill the
pile of piss soaked
sheets a mouse in
the knife drawer and
the fur flaked black
rim around the bath

No wish to fall
on a plate of
broken teeth
split lips and wide
shining Chevs

Stay high on the goose wing, she says and calls to her sisters. The goose will gather ganders. The sisters will emerge, shoulders clenched, skin prickled, from deep within the rock.

They will fly with her on goose wings too towards the crystal east.

Marie McGuigan

Robyn Maree Pickens is rarely seen IRL or URL as s/he is in the final stages of finishing he/r critical-creative PhD on reparative ecopoetics. That gasp in your teeth was written in early 2020 when Robyn was on a writer’s residency at Saari, in Finland.  Robyn’s website
Photos, interview and poems from Finland residency.

Marie McGuigan is a teacher, a traveller, a parent and poet. Her words are taking more space in her life now and she is beginning to value their power. A graduate of Hagley Writers Institute, she is honoured to share joint runner up of the Kathleen Gratton Sequence of Poems with her tutor Kerrin P Sharpe.

Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems page

Poetry Shelf review: Liz Breslin’s in bed with the feminists

in bed with the feminists, Liz Breslin, Dead Bird Books, 2021

I prefer barefoot
I prefer paper maps
I prefer flowers in the ground
but first, I prefer coffee

I prefer lunch
I prefer savoury conversation
I prefer to sit at the children’s table
I prefer time off without good behaviour

from ‘Possibilities’

Liz Brezlin’s debut poetry collection Alzheimer’s and a Spoon hooked me on so many levels. Her second collection, in bed with the feminists, is politically, poetically and personally active. I love that. The stellar opening poem, ‘the things she carries’ (you can read a version here), is like a mini performance of the book. The things a book carries. The things a poem carries. Everything from lightness to weight. Hidden and on view. The poems carry you along everyday tracks, with myriad opinions and musical riffs, routine and reverie, complaint and consternation. Love.

it’s not just the rain keeping me awake
its insistent game of getting in the cracks

it’s the drip drip down
of can’t change that

it’s the drip drip down
of can’t change that


from ‘out of bed with the feminists’

There is the steady beat of the word feminism, a wide-reaching fuel of a word that refuses to be pinned down to single options or compartments. The speaker is in bed with the feminists, going to museums, on a road trip, stepping off from power-struggle sites, marching. There are maternal poems, colours running in the wash, the negotiation of waste in supermarket aisles. There are sturdy threads leading to a matrix of other women writing: Hélène Cixous, Virginia Woolf, Anne Kennedy. The body, the maternal ink, the writing both inside and outside a room of one’s own, perceptions under question, rampant consumerism. I particularly love a poem that steps off from Anne Kennedy’s ‘I was a feminist in the eighties’, with a nod to Helen Reddy (you can read Anne’s poem and Liz’s appraisal of it here).

I was a feminist, trapped in a lion
gutted and ruined, I had a good cry

buttoned my coat way up to my chin
wanted the me back who started this game

thought I could escape through the jaws of the beast
starved myself pretty, slipped through his teeth


from Liz’s ‘Then a lion came prowling out of the jungle and ate the feminist all up’



Liz’s poetry collection offers a rewarding language experience: lines where words get fractured, dashed apart, piled up one against the other, as though we can’t take meaning and fluency for granted. There are honey currents and there are judder bars in the roads and sidetracks of reading. This is life. This is thinking. This is critiquing. This is poetry.

The book took me back to my doctoral thesis where I spent a number of years considering what drove the ink in the pen of Italian women writing. The ink pot was full and unexpected as it brimmed over with a thousand things, until in the end, I decided the woman writing was opening up and out, and her ink was open, and and was the key word. A hinge, a connection. That’s how I feel about this book. It is alive with hinges and connections. I love the effect of in bed with the feminists, so full of complicated invigorating necessary life.

at the funeral
with the feminists


there are times not to think about sex
Catholic school will teach you this
although if in the middle of life there is death

today is far more than tears and shibboleths
desire is pulsing persisting lips
there are times it is hard not to think about sex

demure, buttoned, ruffled, pressed
lashes to lashes, busting tits
middle to middle, in life we are dead

already unless we remember, lest we forget
sadness, egg sandwiches, sniffling kids
yes, there are times not to think about sex

think sobering snowdrops on unfrozen earth
the priest, droning, the week’s shopping list
how always, in the middle of life, there is death

we are warm for such a short time at best
maybe the true crime is to try to resist
there’s no time like all time to think about sex
what else is life but sex and death?



In bed with the feminists is Liz Breslin’s second poem collection, part of which won the 2020 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems. Her first collection, Alzheimer’s and a spoon, was listed as one in the NZ Listener’s Top 100 Books of 2017. Liz was a virtual resident at the National Centre for Writing, UK, in February 2021, where she documented life through the peregrine webcam on Norwich Cathedral in a collection called Nothing to see here. In April 2020 she co-created The Possibilities Project with Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature.

Liz’s website
Deadbird Books page
Liz reads from in bed with the feminists
Landfall Review Online by Jordan Hamel

PS For someone one with minor visual impairment and reading glasses that broke at start of lockdown the font was a struggle, pale and small.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Erik Kennedy’s ‘Lives of the Poets’

Lives of the Poets

There is the possible world in which,
having no safety net
to fall into, I killed myself.

There is the world in which
acclaim came early
with a book called something like
Sex Owls of the Sun,
and the effects of success jaded me,
so I stopped pursuing
the art that I loved.

And there is also the world that was
a succession of cool, forgettable evenings
spent among canapés and loud friends,
in which we aged so slowly
that we hardly noticed it,
until it blurred our vision
like damp creeping into a camera.

Erik Kennedy

Erik Kennedy is the author of the poetry collections There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (2018) and Another Beautiful Day Indoors (2022), both with Victoria University Press, and he has co-edited No Other Place to Stand, a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific forthcoming from Auckland University Press in 2022. His poems, stories, and criticism have been published in places like FENCEHobartMaudlin HousePoetryPoetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

Poetry Shelf says Wow: Kirsten McDougall’s She’s a Killer

She’s a Killer, Kirsten McDougall, Victoria University Press, 2021

My late Sunday afternoon plug: Kirsten McDougall’s She’s a Killer is an astonishing book. Daring, wise, jagged, smooth. I finished it this afternoon and felt bereft. Fell asleep and then woke up discombobulated. That where am I? Who am I? What I am doing on this godforsaken planet kind of feeling. Every note in Kirsten’s novel (part eco-thriller but so much more) is pitch perfect. Every turn surprising. Every character sharp and faceted and memorable. Don’t go reading reviews that spend most of the time plot and outcome and ideas summarising. Go in fresh. Go in with senses open. It’s the perfect book to read in the time of Covid when we are experiencing all manner of societal splinters and spikes, challenges and catastrophes, goodness and hope. Elizabeth Knox said the book will make you laugh and weep. Yes. It also made me feel self-awkward and despairing, grief-struck. But more than anything, it made me feel utterly alive, and it’s a long time since a book has made me feel this. Maybe since Elizabeth’s equally tremendous The Absolute Book. Genius!

A kind friend gave me She’s a Killer (thank you!) so I’d like to return the favour and gift a copy to someone else. Nominate someone who would love a copy (yourself included).

Victoria University Press page

Kirsten McDougall’s previous novels are Tess (2017), longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards, and shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award, and The Invisible Rider (2012). Her stories and nonfiction have appeared in Landfall, Sport and Tell You What: Great New Zealand Non-fiction 2016, and her story ‘Walking Day’ won the 2021 Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition. She was the recipient of the 2013 Creative New Zealand Louis Johnson New Writer’s Bursary, and a Michael King Writers Centre residency in 2019. She lives in Wellington.

Poetry Shelf celebrates Skinny Dip: Some favourite poems by secondary school students

Skinny Dip: Poetry, eds Susan Paris & Kate De Goldi, illustrations by Amy van Luijk, Massey University Press (Annual Ink), 2021

Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris, editors of the popular and best-selling Annuals, have edited a lively, much-needed, and altogether stunning anthology of poems for middle and older readers. I review Skinny Dip:Poetry here, plus you can hear Amber Esau and Sam Duckor-Jones read a poem. (Skinny Dip page at Massey University Press)

I was so inspired I invited secondary school students to write a poem that plays with various poetic forms (as well as making it my November challenge on Poetry Box). Thanks for sending in all the terrific mahi! I have picked a few favourites from a bunch Year 9 students at St Andrews College in Ōtautahi Christchurch sent me. I love the wittiness in many of these poems, the acrostic poem where one line spills onto the next, a poem that reminds me of Bill Manhire’s magnificent ‘The 1950s’, an eerie scene, the way sports makes it in, how a handful of words can unfold like origami, how rhyme can be close and not exact, and how ideas are linked to dough. All of this and more! I am sending copies of Skinny Dip to Alisdair McCall and Olivia Glass.

The poems

Rowing (cinquain)

Deep breath
STAC on my chest
In and out, final beep
Digging stroke, trained, built, for right now
Deep breath

Thomas White

Look Out the Window (a haiku sequence)

Look out the window
While I’m sitting in a chair
Ideas many so

Choosing a topic
A topic to think about
What idea to pick

Shaped like it is dough
The thing which has got me here
Look out the window

Oliver Murchison

Prestigious schools love exams (acrostic)

Prestigious schools love exams
A pain in my back, an
Innocent pain that many times I’d love to hit with a bat or run over with a train, though  
Never shall I forget the pain in my back
For cry’s sake, this exam should be hit with rake
“Use your time and take a break” but all they really say is your education is at stake
Let us take a break we students say or else I might be forced to get out the rake

Jackson Evans

Pig Hunting (free verse)

Peering over the ridgeline
Intense work, getting from pig to pig
Gapping it to get to the top of the fenceline

Heavy boars on the run from dogs
Undertaking the hard task of carrying out the dead pig
Not wanting to miss the shot with everyone watching
Tactically trying to find pigs
Inhaling the fresh air from the highest point
Nervously waiting for the sound of a good bail up
Gutting out the pigs after a big day

Olley Collet

Cricket (acrostic)

Cracking on in the middle
Ready to spend 4 hours of pain
Into the action
Cooking in the boiling hot sun
Kicking of self as we drop a catch
Exhaling all voices supporting our teammates
Time to eat my sushi tray

Lachlan Grant


Hope I’m ready
I start with some files
Then large boxes, trolleys and more

Max Barclay

November  (free verse)

November, not December or September. 
Its the 11th month don’t you remember. 
It’s like spring and summer put in a blender.
In terms of weather it’s the centre.

Jonty Lang

That Kid (haiku sequence)

Watch out for that kid
They got the moves got the grooves
Got the feet like hooves

Watch him bounce around
He likes to move it move it
Everywhere he goes

Watch his body go
He is the clear champion
He loves rock and roll

Kaelan Graham

(rhyme form)

My basketball,
my artistic mat,
My overalls, 
my tiny cat,
My cosy couch, 
my sharp stick,
My ankle ouch! 
My sticky ick,

My big oar, 
my shiny bike,
My best score, 
my huge hike,
My book a batch, 
my crazy catch, 
My red bump, 
my huge jump.

My cool wii,
My mid-night pee,
My bean bag,
The huge price tag,
My cuddly toys,
My aussie ois.

Alisdair McCall

The Old House

Walking round all alone
Looking through this empty home
Sitting in a creaking chair 
Broken glass everywhere

Wind blowing with a gust
Knocking everything over including us
Pushed over towards the ground 
Shivering with no one else around

Don’t know what else to do 
Lying here in this cold dark room 
Eyes open with a gust of fright
Someone looking at me 

Been a few years since this day 
Still scared to walk that way 
Person sitting at the house
Someone familiar
But can’t quite remember 

Olivia Glass

Poetry Shelf review: Mark Pirie’s Slips – Cricket Poems

Slips: Cricket Poems, Mark Pirie, HeadworX, 2021

Summer Days




Mark Pirie has been writing cricket poems for a number of years. He published a booklet of cricket poems in 2008 and has now gathered a whole book together. If you are a cricket fan like me, you will be drawn to a collection that celebrates a game that captivates in both its slowness (the tests) and its speed (the T20s), its intricacies, elegance and skill. The poems consider specific matches, offer odes or tributes to beloved players, sing the praises of a sweep, swinging ball or one-handed boundary catch. There is a reflective gaze back, as memory is trawled for standout moments. Remember when. Remember how. I found myself trawling though my own cricket memories and revisiting Vivian Richards at Lord’s, listening to cricket on the transistor radio as a child, watching Richard Hadlee take one wicket after another, Martin Crowe bat.

But the joy in reading these poems is how life infuses cricket and cricket infuses life. The delight is also in how playing cricket can be aligned to writing a poem. How you might go out for a duck but it is a love of playing/ writing that matters. I read this book for the pleasure of cricket, the pleasure of poetry, and a myriad reactions animating the bridge between the one and the other.


Driving back from a book fair
whites on a green field

remind me of a love now lost.
It’s a while since I played.

I long for that Saturday field,
can smell the whiff of leather,

the feel of stitch and seam.
At the fair I’d looked at old

cricket books. They all knew.
And when I arrive home, my bat

lies in the corner propped against
the dresser, hidden by shadow.

November 2010

Mark Pirie was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1974. He is the Managing Editor for HeadworX, a small press publisher of poetry/fiction. His poems have been published in India, New Zealand, Australia, Croatia, the US, Canada, Singapore, Iraq, France, Germany, and the UK. In 1998 University of Otago Press published his anthology of ‘Generation X’ New Zealand writing, The NeXt Wave. He was managing editor of, and co-edited, JAAM literary journal (New Zealand) from 1995-2005, and currently edits broadsheet: new new zealand poetry. In 2003, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, England, published his new and selected poems, Gallery: A Selection. In 2016, a new selection of his poems Rock and Roll appeared from Bareknuckle Books in Australia.

HeadworX page
Mark Pirie website
Poetry Shelf: Mark Pirie reads from Slip

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: winner of Katheleen Grattan Sequence announced

Robyn Maree Pickens has been announced today as the 2021 winner of the Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems, in an online ceremony.

The annual competition is organised by Auckland based writing group, International Writers Workshop (also known as IWW.)

Robyn Maree Pickens has won the $1,000 prize for her sequence of poems, entitled ‘Juniper.’ Ōtepoti Dunedin poet and art writer, Robyn has been a member of IWW for two years. On receiving her award Robyn said: “As a huge fan of Vana Manasiadis’ poetry, I am incredibly honoured to win the 2021 IWW Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems. I would like to thank Vana for the time and consideration evident in her comments on all finalists’ work, and IWW for organising this prize.”

Vana Manasiadis judged the competition and described Robyn Maree Pickens’ winning entry as: “a supple, intimate, fragile and extremely powerful work. I went to places in each of the poems that I couldn’t have guessed at from the beginning, the work stranges expectation – and this is what the sublime in poetry should do – and in this case, does”.

The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems competition has been run by IWW for thirteen years and Robyn Maree Pickens joins a list of winners including Siobhan Harvey who won in 2019 and 2020’s winner, Liz Breslin. Both Harvey and Breslin used their victories over the past two years to launch books in 2021 based on their respective winning sequences. (“Ghosts” by Siobhan Harvey and “In Bed with the Feminists” by Liz Breslin).

This year there were two runners-up, and they were announced as Kerrin Sharpe for her sequence titled ‘Te hau o te atua/The breath of heaven, and Marie McGuigan for her hybrid sequence titled: “The Goose Wing.”  

Manasiadis described Kerrin Sharpe’s sequence as “an incredible work which has continued to generate multiple layers and emotional landscapes with every read; the sculpting of its physical geography is stunning and palpable”.    

Manasiadis described Marie McGuigan’s sequence as “an extremely rich work with breath-taking images that come together to move in all senses – into and out of form, the past, the air, language, and always deep love and leaving.’

Manasiadis considered the task of choosing the winners a gift during this very unsettling time, and said, ‘The winners – and all the entrants – gave something of themselves in the writing of their sequences, and this was evident in the incredible quality of the year’s submissions”. 

Due to Covid-19 restrictions the announcement was made via Zoom rather than at the usual in-person presentation in Auckland. IWW has been running all of its fortnightly meetings via Zoom since August so members were prepared for such circumstances. IWW has announced that its annual prizegiving has been postponed to until February 2022 when Robyn will be celebrated in person.

At the February 2022 ceremony, prizes will be given out for haiku, tanka, flash fiction, romance writing and a children’s story all of which demonstrates the breadth of writing that IWW members have learnt about and competed in through the year.

IWW President, Duncan Perkinson said: “We are absolutely thrilled for Robyn. The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems is a prestigious prize on the New Zealand literary calendar and IWW is proud to organise it. 2021 has emphasised the importance of flexibility and throughout multiple COVID-19 lockdowns the group has still come together on a fortnightly basis to share our writing. We look forward to coming together in person 2022 to congratulate Robyn as well as all of our other winners from our writing competitions through 2021.”  

About the Prize

The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems has been made possible by a bequest from the Jocelyn Grattan Charitable Trust. It was a specific request of the late Jocelyn Grattan that her mother be recognised through an annual competition in recognition of her love for poetry and that the competition be for a sequence or cycle of poems with no limit on the length of the poems. 

This is the thirteenth year IWW has had the honour of organising the Prize. 

Previous winners are Liz Breslin (2020), Siobhan Harvey (2019) Heather Bauchop (2018), Janet Newman (2017), Michael Giacon (2016) Maris O’Rourke (2015), Julie Ryan (2014), Belinda Diepenheim (2013), James Norcliffe (2012), Jillian Sullivan (2011) Janet Charman and Rosetta Allan (joint winners 2010) and Alice Hooton (2009). 

The Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems is sometimes referred to as the ‘Little Grattan’ as the Jocelyn Grattan Charitable Trust also funds the biennialKathleen Grattan Award, run by Landfall / Otago University Press. 

About the Judge

Born in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, Vana Manasiadis has been moving between Aotearoa New Zealand and Europe for the last 25 years. Her poetry experiments with hybridity and code-switching and has been translated into Greek and Italian, and she has edited and translated from Greek for Shipwrecks/Shelters, a selection of contemporary Greek poetry. In 2018 she co-edited Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation with Maraea Rakuraku.

About IWW and Contact Details

Formed in 1976, International Writers Workshop meets twice a month in Northcote from February through November. The group hosts workshops and holds writing competitions throughout the year covering a range of topics and themes. The group aims to encourage and inspire new writers as well as more experienced writers. 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Selina Tusiata Marsh’s ‘The Extra McChicken’

The Extra McChicken

Even though it was dry
And cold
Ate it
After a double fish-0-fillet
A passport
To every deep wish
Packaged in ocean blue
Tucked in between
The Rangi and Papa
Of diet culture

I eat when I’m full
Because I’m a perfectionist
I’m the best
I’m not stressed — I’m free
I can eat like the teen I used to be
In this perimenopausal body, I’m young
Can still afford dumb, delightful decisions
Because I have an irrepressible spirit
Can still eat whatever, whenever
And go the whole way
Fuck it I’ve kicked it
Says the inner junk food addict
While gorging to prove
She is loveable, adorable
And full of it.

Selina Tusitala Marsh

Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FRSNZ) is an Auckland-based Pasifika poet of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French descent. She is a former New Zealand Poet Laureate and has performed poetry for primary schoolers and presidents (Obama), queers and Queens (HRH Elizabeth II). She has published three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Fast Talking PI (2009), Dark Sparring (2013), Tightrope (2017) and an award-winning graphic memoir, Mophead (Auckland University Press, 2019) followed by Mophead Tu: The Queen’s Poem (2020), dubbed as ‘colonialism 101 for kids’.