Monthly Archives: October 2022

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Anne Kennedy’s ‘The Slumber Pin’

The Slumber Pin

The Hawthorn bought at the garden supermarket
on an ordinary day. Commoner of the Woods
it said on the label. Don’t you love that, commoner?
Against the tall fence it grew all beautiful.
The white blossoms ate the young leaves,
the exquisite berries ate the autumn air.
The internet said it would bring good things,
love and babies in the warm spring. It would grow
into a hedge and under the hedge would be
the entrance to the fairy world. Don’t you love
the mythology? Like if you pricked your finger
on a Hawthorn spike you’d fall into a deep sleep
and wake up in a new place. So yeah, never
do that. And it was bad luck to harm a Hawthorn,
so never do that either, don’t harm the common tree.
You’re a commoner and proud of it, you love your
mythology and all that. And under the hedge
are settler ghosts who came on the ship because
why wouldn’t you? Under the hedge they
set up shop because why wouldn’t you.
In the end you do prick your finger, in fact
you’d already pricked your finger, you had
previously pricked your finger
on why we are here. 

Anne Kennedy

Anne Kennedy is an Auckland poet, novelist, script consultant and teacher. Recent books are The Sea Walks into a Wall (AUP) and The Ice Shelf (VUP). Awards include the 2021 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement and the Montana NZ Book Award for Poetry. Anne has taught creative writing at the University of Hawai`i and Manukau Institute of Technology. Remember Me, an anthology of NZ poems to learn by heart, edited by Anne, is forthcoming from AUP in 2023.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Rachel McAlpine’s ‘Making Faces’

Making Faces

I do not
have a face I draw one
in the empty space

the wrinkles written
with good cause are  known
as flaws so I
anoint my pores (this
is one of the local laws)

I paint
my eyelids blue
my lashes too
they make a pretty view

to smile and pout as I
have learned I make a mouth
like a burn

I believe, I believe
it is not enough to be clean

I curl my pubic hair
I wear mascara there

Rachel McAlpine

Here is a vintage poem that is even more horribly relevant today. In the early 1970s I wore mascara all my waking hours. Even when swimming and hanging nappies on the line. I was deeply convinced that with mascara I was beautiful and without mascara I was ugly. I kicked the dependence on a trip to Canada where nobody would notice my transformation. Now I am mystified by the grotesque faces of women on “reality” shows like Married at First Sight. And I’m saddened by all women fixated on imaginary flaws in their beautiful faces and bodies. I’ve been there. The juddery line breaks reflect my own distorted perceptions — and a natural rhythm is hiding underneath. Published in Fancy Dress (Cicada Press, 1979). PS I still like red lipstick. Rachel McAlpine

Rachel McAlpine has been writing, publishing and performing poems for nearly 50 years. After many books in other fields and a career as a digital content pioneer, she returned to poetry with How To Be Old (Cuba Press, 2020). Soon she joins a thrilling line of younger performers in the poets’ cabaret, Show Ponies. For VERB, at Meow Cafe, Wellington, 4 November 2022.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Robert Sullivan receives Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry 2022

Join us to celebrate the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry for 2022. We are thrilled to announce that the award is going to poet, Robert Sullivan (Ngāpuhi and Kāi Tahu) who has won awards for his poetry, editing, and writing for children. Tunui Comet is his eighth collection of poetry. His book Star Waka has been reprinted many times.Robert’s an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Massey University. He is a great fan of all kinds of decolonisation.

Robert will be joined by guests, Arihia Latham and Ruby Solly.

Supported by The Lauris Edmond Literary Estate and the Friends of the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry with sponsorship from The NZ Poetry Society, Victoria University Press and the Todd Trust.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Amy Brown’s Pneumonia/Garden Poems

Pneumonia/Garden Poems, Sept 2022



My lung’s struggle roots me in place
offering time to notice new blood

orange leaves delicate and jagged
as neonatal fingernails angle

their waxy crescents
toward the light. I follow

their example, focussing
on the green cells of myself.



It’s so bright I can’t focus
he says, trying, staring
at the petals that from here

glow neon red but in natural
light, close up, are dark pink

velvet. He doesn’t talk
about flowers often.
When he does, I soften.

Geranium or pelargonium?
Crane’s bill or stork’s?

I Google “crane” and find
a page of heads vividly
blurring at the edge.


They are honey-eater
eaters—that’s why they stay
inside. I apologise to their blank
green eyes for keeping
the glass door closed.
One quacks—coos, absurd
bird gurgle where purr should go
and roosts on her haunches
watching the sweet yellow-
striped creature hang
upside-down, stick
his beak into the dark
pink pocket of the swan
river pea and drink.
Not for you, I tell her,
happy to be God of this
situation, until the afternoon
when I find feather confetti
over the rhubarb’s crown.


there is no dishonest flower
unless they all lie
like literature

green and truth
grow together
at a depth

I see seeds reach weak
white necks through soil

night sweats add a stop-
motion effect to all
I sow    making me turn

over what I know

Amy Brown

Amy Brown is from Hawkes Bay and lives in Melbourne. Her latest collection of poetry, Neon Daze, was named one of the Saturday Paper’s best books of 2019. She has recently finished a novel loosely based on the relationship between Australian novelist Stella Miles Franklin and her lesser known sister, Linda. 

Poetry Shelf occasional reviews: Joanna Cho’s People Person

People Person, Joanna Cho, Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2022

Joanna Cho’s debut poetry collection, People Person, is poetry pleasure. I experience a sequence of poetic delights, poems that offer multiple rewards, poems to read again and again. The presence of Joanna’s mother’s ephemeral paintings is an exquisite addition: fleeting, hinting, translucent palette, subject rich. I adore them.

The poems deliver everything I love about poetry. Descriptive energy that draws people, place, situations closer:

The veins on her hands have shot up overnight, like the backs of cornered
cats. They are rough as the edges of torn paper.


from ‘You’ll Thank Me for It Later’

The visual tracks are coupled with attention to audio tracks. The way poems are a gift for the ear. Ideas establish meshed thought, especially ideas connected to home and identity, to name calling and being named.

Our parents bought our names from fortune-tellers,
each of the three syllables laying out our ancestry and personal truths
in the immortal wind

                                 our names are gifts and expectations

but our English names were picked hastily
while flicking through TV channels.


from ‘The Gift’

There is the allure of metonymy, where this thought or object placed alongside that thought or object produces electric currents.

Joanna’s poetry relishes narrative, whether fractured, curtailed, elongated. The power of story, invented or recalled, attracts me as reader. Think fable or anecdote or ranging subject matter. I savour this collection on so many levels, on its ability to startle and sidetrack, on its use of loops, repetition, echoes.

I tried to be chill, for you and for me.
I tried to be chill,
but at the gig I scoped out the exit, just in case,
and you sculled your beer and turned
cos there was nothing left to say.

The next day we walked around town
and noticed the loop pedal at the busker’s feet.

We got hungry.
We got food.

I knew these would be our last fish and chips.


from ‘Pull Over, I’ll Drive’

More than anything I am pulled into the pleats and folds of Joanna’s writing because it is personal. It is humorous and witty and revealing. It is confessional and withholding, gifting and gifted. Each time you read from cover to cover, you will discover new reading tracks, fresh possibilities for what we want and need from poetry. Each poem a provisional portrait, a self excursion, a self reckoning.

These are the narratives we tell over and over again; they keep us
connected through all the distance we have created and maintained.
Our relationships shrink and expand and shrink again like a jellyfish
opening and closing its bell. Blood tethers, clots.

Our true reactions and preferences are inconsistent, but we smooth these
out by reframing our experiences in a consistent narrative.

We are good at keeping secrets from each other, our bodies an advent
calendar—occasionally one of the little flaps opens and a piece of
chocolate falls out.

Each version of the family stories forms an overlapping polyphony.
These are our heirlooms and we are the school choir.


from ‘The White Swans Are Dancing / With Their Eyes Closed, in the Flurry’


People Person is a triumph – I have quoted more excepts than I would normally do because it is the poetry that matters here, poetry that delivers myriad reading tracks that are so utterly satisfying. Glorious.

Te Herenga Waka University Press page

Joanna Cho was born in South Korea and currently lives in Wellington. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2020 and received the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry.

Poetry Shelf occasional Poems: Ian Wedde’s ‘Six dreams’

Six dreams


In last night’s dream I was a gridiron professional in L.A.
and ‘in a relationship’ with no-nonsense Aussie actress Rachel Griffiths

whom I dislike as the gawky Sarah in Brothers and Sisters
but adore as crazy Brenda in Six Feet Under. ‘Brenda’ and I

couldn’t persuade the puppy to romp on the bed
with us. When I tried to crawl home through the wire mesh tunnel

that led from our place to the street torn up for gun emplacements,
I ripped my best suit. The puppy was whining, ‘Brenda’ was in the window,

but I was snagged, there, in full view, the rip in my Boss
making a noise like icebergs breaking loose.

Flowers falling

Tūī grawking and dial-toning in the Green Belt
among the obliging Aussie eucalypts

whose red dirt nectar they relish more
than the pale citrus, herbaceous local drop.

Was this a dream? Who cares. ‘And then I woke up’ is such
a cop-out. Sipped flowers falling before us as we walked.

Wild turkey at the back of the driving range

It sits up nicely for you under unbelievable azure
but keep your head down. Hang on to your turkey sandwich.

After dark they floodlight the range and you see
red eyes down there at the back. Trajectories, they go up

and over, they sky then earth, a line that can’t be straight
because it’s too full of meaning. A thoughtful pause.

I see where you’re coming from, but settle down,
earthed and ready for impact.


Ten minutes in The Warehouse is enough to make me want
to kill myself. It’s the material inertia of New World aisles

that makes me want to end it. You’re doing well
if you can even find the Modern Tretchikov in Moscow. Tusiata and I

walked for hours over a bridge and finally
through a kind of art store.  Our shoes were made of cardboard

and fell apart in the rain. There was a sculpture cemetery, and a tent
for drinking beer and vodka. In the art warehouse

Malevic’s black square was barely displayed at all
but my entire past rushed eagerly into it. In the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa

the opposite thing happened. The darkness at the back
of Caravaggio’s Ecce Homo just kept redeeming it.

Film treatment

The klieg lights, the dark,
dripping forest, the rank flanks

of horses, a sneery hound pissing
on wet tents. The collapse

of public transport, the unhygienic
orphanage, the barracks, the unpredictable

success of tour discounts. A lake
in which a lake

is reflected. A mountain
superimposed on another where

thoughts race along the boardwalk
losing touch with their bodies.

Ian Wedde

Ian Wedde’s latest poetry book was The Little Ache — A German notebook. Victoria University of Wellington Press, 2021. The poems were written while he was in Berlin researching his novel The Reed Warbler.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Kay Mckenzie Cooke’s ‘trickster’


Just little things, like endless rain,
the spilt milk, parcels
left behind, newly-bought necessities
disappearing, a waiter forgetting an order
and not being able to find our way
out of Blenheim.

Was it coyote, Bugs Bunny, Loki,
Maui, a leprechaun, a fox, a crow,
Pippi Longstocking, Puck,
or Anansi? Might the trickster have been
my father being a monkey
(his animal sign in the Chinese zodiac)

making me leave my handbag behind
on the top of the hill at the war memorial
in Seddon? A town I will forever associate
with Fay & Peter’s tin sleep-out,
a passionfruit vine, the cabbage train, yellow shoes
and three men: Joe the sullen, Paul the optimistic

and born-again Max. Perhaps the last hand
played was the missed call from Liz in Ashburton
just as we were leaving that dusty town.
But the pick of them all, the high winds
thrashing trees near Hinds, the hint of home
still just a trick of light on the road ahead.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Kay McKenzie Cooke (Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe) lives in Otepoti and is slowly working towards a fifth poetry collection, as yet un-named. 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Opening of The long waves of our ocean: New responses to Pacific poem


Opening of The long waves of our ocean: New responses to Pacific poems

Friday 25 November
5.30pm to 7.30pm

The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa is delighted to invite you to the opening of our next exhibition The long waves of our ocean: New responses to Pacific poems at 5.30pm on Friday 25 November 2022. 

Please join us in the foyer of Te Ahumairangi Ground Floor at the National Library (entrance via 70 Molesworth St, Thorndon) for refreshments, performance and kōrero.

For this exhibition, early-career artists Sione Faletau, Ayesha Green, Turumeke Harrington, Ana Iti, Sione Tuívailala Monū, Ammon Ngakuru and James Tapsell-Kururangi have created new artworks made in response to a selection of poems by Alistair Campbell, Keri Hulme, J. C. Sturm, Hone Tuwhare and Albert Wendt. These artists and writers address Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa in its varied and shifting roles, engaging with fictions and histories and encouraging us to inhabit new perspectives. 

On Saturday 26 November from 11am to 12pm, join curator Hanahiva Rose and some of the contributing artists for a tour of the exhibition. 

RSVP here

Poetry Shelf Occasional Review: Chris Holdaway’s Gorse Poems

Gorse Poems, Chris Holdaway, Titus Books, 2022

As near to Hart Crane’s open bones as I am spiritually
Capable to experience. Each bridge formed by the Platonic
Form of space between pylons; an allegory
of the cave projected on a stone wall.

from ‘Sea burial’

Chris Holdaway’s debut collection Gorse Poems, is under the influence, and perhaps above the surface of gorse and the American poet Hart Crane. Gorse and poetry as spiky reading tracts. I stall on ‘gorse’ in the book’s title, and think invasive threat, eye-catching bloom, postcolonial and colonial narratives, textured realities.

The poetic fluency is made from cloud soft and mechanical spike. Ambiguity matters. Naming matters. In ‘Cirrus’, the waves are standing, and then they are shifty and hard to pin down. Poetry becomes tidal with personal bearings – and ‘tidal’ resonates as much as you like.

The poetic density resembles thickets on the page, tuned to a frequency of difficulty. If you think this, if you consider the collection as a series or accumulation of poetry thickets, then the reading paths are myriad. You push into light and you propel into dark. Smudging is inevitable. Sidetracks mandatory. Pauses essential.

Chris’s poetry delivers concentrated thickness, a thickness that sways between abstraction and physicality.

          Sit on this mountain of Eden and wonder how
Little sunrise resembles sunset. How clouds are
The ultimate test in geometry—their folding nets
The sun at different angles flat in the distance.
What bottom line for a suburban volcano; a gable
Long before any state bungalow unfurled upon
Blitzed shoulders. Nominal sovereignty—mission
-ary neologism—name badges with translations
The original never found. Crown mantle refusing
The title of extinction in a language whose empire
Makes centuries of millennia—patient castles of
Scoria by and large hillsides turned into the roads
Around hillsides.

from ‘Aucklandii’

At first I found the capital letters running down the left-hand margin resembled a wall, disconcerting, a way of displacing a poem as smooth flowing stream. But then I embraced the judderbar movement. And the capital letters nodded to different poetic traditions.

I am thinking Gorse Poems delivers the music of a present world in strife, of a past world in strife, of a future world in strife. And how we need such avenues of viewing and wondering. Gorse Poems, I am concluding provisionally, is a book of wonder, a collection of wander, a fertile undergrowth.

       I first fell in love with you tearing up
Gorse at a conservation site without permission
—a soldier away at the longest running
World War: deforestation. We’re all illicit
Gardeners I suppose. But rather than extract
This thorn from my hand I’m determined
To let it decompose inside me; choose to fill
My mouth with vinegar then suckle wounds.
Cobwebs form between my hat peak and glasses
—bridge of my nose—like art. How long will
Anatomical features stick in memory when
There’s nothing constant to trust in even
Geology so why the body? No functional diff
-erence between dense bush and landslide,—
Not enough sky to stop me turning to smoke
Alone contributing to the heat death of Earth.

from ‘Bioluminescence’

Titus Book page

Chris Holdaway co-founded both the poetry journal Minarets, and the award-winning publishing outfit Compound Press. He is the author of the chapbook HIGH-TENSION/FASHION (Greying Ghost, 2018) and his poetry has been published in various journals including Brief, Cordite, Cream City Review, Landfall, Oversound, Poetry NZ Yearbook, The Seattle Review and Shearsman Magazine.

Poetry Shelf occasional Poems: Lynn Davidson’s ‘Yellow & Blue’

Yellow & Blue


Night     and I go to frangipani trees
to locate what drifts through our open windows
     to undo the mystery that shakes the membrane
between worlds. Creamy the petals and yellow the heart.

I pick the one flower I can reach and come down off my toes into
a kind of falling through  
hot soles on black grass
and the brute broken notes
of war     

a frightened scudding
fall, the cane toad’s icy stare
I skitter up floating steps and through
the door

morning floods the lowlands and the levels, but not the eucalypts on the rise
           not their soft blue exhalation
            of flammable oils


Lynn Davidson


Lynn Davidson’s latest poetry collection Islander was published by Shearsman Books, Bristol,  and Victoria University Press, Wellington, in 2019. Lynn had a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 and a Bothy Project Residency in 2016.  She won the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Award, 2020, and was 2021 Randell Cottage Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence.