Poetry Shelf Cities: Renee Liang on Auckland

Five Poems about Auckland

I

a grey clingfilm
swathes the Sky Tower.
apartments lean in
to cradle daffodils
small yellow eyes sleeping.
a giant D frames the sky.

II

rain like sudden laughter
splashes chalk
against bus stops
umbrellas walk
upside-down.

III

stiletto-clattered sidewalks
breathe cappuccino fumes
strum the beating heart
of a man feeding pigeons
in the square.

IV

rub sushi licked salt
into kimchi kebabs smoked
with fish and chip pie
and bubble milk tea. serve with
pizza with everything on top.

V

they say it’s the sun, the blue sky
the lick of pōhutakawa flaming up the beach.
I say it’s drinking too much
of the limpid green harbour, sweet
abalone soup.

Auckland

I wrote these well before pandemic times, but recently found them, plus a recording I’d made for a ‘Poetry Walk’ put together by a friend, poet Anna Kaye Forsyth.  Now, reading them back, I’m struck by their simple naïveté: they were written in a world where, in Aotearoa at least, there was a feeling we were safe. Isolated from the world’s contagions. 

I guess that illusion has been well and truly stripped away, along with my habitual wanderings through Albert Park, foraging on familiar pathways to my favourite food places or bookshops. We’ve lost many of those physical shops – everywhere are glass-fronted gaps. But we’ve also lost the ability to roam without attention to physical proximity, clean air, fellow roamers who might be hoarding contagion.  These days I circumscribe a wide berth around others, stitching over social awkwardness with looks or a smile wide enough to show in the eyes.

But reading these poems back, I also see how it’s only us that’s changed: the physical world remains the same.  The light, the colour of the sea. The way the features of the land stab into the sky and warm our hearts. There is still so much to enjoy in our world.

Renee Liang

You can listen to the poems here

Renee Liang is a poet, playwright, paediatrician, medical researcher and essayist.  She is the Asian Theme Lead and a named investigator on landmark longitudinal study Growing Up In NZ. As an established writer, Renee has collaborated on visual arts works, film, opera and music, produced and directed theatre works, worked as a dramaturge, taught creative writing and organized community-based arts initiatives such as New Kiwi Women Write, a writing workshop series for migrant women, and The Kitchen, a new program nurturing stories in local kitchens. Her work The Bone Feeder, originally a play, later adapted into an opera, was one of the first Asian mainstage works to be performed in NZ. Renee has written, produced and toured eight plays. In 2018 she was appointed a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to the arts, and won Next Woman of the Year for Arts and Culture.

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