Poetry Shelf on live streaming the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2022

I usually do a poetry post to celebrate the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards but need to restock my energy jar today. My mind is all over the show. I woke at 4 am and couldn’t stop thinking about Tayi Tibble reading her mother poem from Rangikura (‘My Mother Meets My Father in an Alternate Koru’). The sun was nowhere ready to come up and I was electrified body and soul, replaying the poem in my head. I was lead back to Tayi’s sublime book. I wanted to whisper in all your sleeping ears: read this collection, please read this collection. I have written about it here.

I was also blown apart hearing Whiti Hereaka read from Kurangaituku. I so wanted to write about her path-carving, heart-boosting book last year, but every time I tried, words failed me. I wanted to hold the book out to you and say, read it. Say, this is what an extraordinary book can do. This is the kind of risks we can take as writers, not at the expense of reading connections, nor at the expense of human connections. Far from it. So to see this superlative book awarded the supreme fiction prize is something special.

I also loved hearing Bryan Walpert read from Entanglement, to hear the musical pitch of his narrative enthralled me, and supported my review.

What a joy to see Nicole Titihuia Hawkins’ Whai win best first book of poetry. And it is also a fine acknowledgement of an excellent new poetry press, We Are Babies. I adored Nicole’s book (from my review):

I have things to share about Nicole Titihuia Hawkin’s debut collection Whai, but one part of me wants you to find a quiet nook and find your own bridges and poem trails. I love it so much – the way from the first page the rhythm pulls me in, a rhythm that is life and that is writing. We are welcomed into a space that is whanau, marae and connection. That is breathing the past, the present and the future. That is fed upon potatoes from warm earth, and by words that are nourished on warm tongues. It is discomfort, it is scars and it is let down. It is to be held close and it is to sing. Oh so much to sing, with waiata the energy force, the structure, the passed-down precious melody that sings mother father ancestors, the earth, sings names and naming, singing out in protest, singing in te reo Māori.

Every year I seem to mourn and celebrate. I know how awards can impact on writers, even those with a fleet of publications under their belts. But especially young writers who have launched a debut publication into the world. Ruby Solly’s Tōku Pāpā was an arrival that struck me deeply: “This precious book – that in its making, its stands, rests and journeys from and towards so much – is the reason why I cannot stop reading and sharing thoughts on and writing my own poetry. The book is a gift and like so many other readers I am grateful.” I was so glad it made the longlist.

I started reading Joanna Preston’s book Tumble yesterday (Poetry winner) and noted it is a collection of visual and aural uplift. Metaphors surprise and enhance the physical. The speaker steps into other scenes, situations, voices, memories, always observing, maintaining stillness as much as movement. It is deftly crafted with both economy and richness.

Last year was the only time I have ever felt personally invested in an award night. When Wild Honey didn’t win, I was able to say fuck in a loud voice, get the champagne out of the fridge, and tell my family I would be really sad for one night, but would be okay in the morning. And I was. Really really sad not to win. And then really really glad the next morning when I picked up my pen and start writing.

At 7 am I drove into the city today for an appointment and I couldn’t stop thinking about books that have affected me over the past year. I wish the awards would be streamed every year, because so many readers and writers tuned in across the country last night. I was reminded how short readings are like the best holiday imaginable. AND! I decided I wanted to put in a pitch for audio books from Tayi, Whiti and Bryan because I didn’t want them to stop.

Listening in last night was a rare treat. Grateful thanks to the Ockhams, to all the authors, the publishers and booksellers. 🌷💜

May we pick up our pens and start writing today, and may we open the next book on our piles and begin reading. Or simply open a window and go drifting in the clouds. Kia kaha.

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