Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: Leanne Radojkovich’s ‘Hailman’

Hailman, Leanne Radojkovich, The Emma Press 2021

Leanne Radojkovich’s short story collection is a satisfying and nuanced mix of redeeming light and dark notes. Scenes are stripped back to the potency of the unsaid, and yet people and place are exquisitely present through the power of detail. A woman talks with “pins her mouth”, while “liquid fabrics, shimmering falls of sequins” are nearby. The scene becomes physically luminous, the undercurrents contextualised.

The collection is invigorated by recurring themes. Grief and loss form a connective tissue. Birds, scents, buildings, the weather and flowers, physically anchor loss, rape, infidelity, inadequate parenting, parental death. Human glow versus human pain and loss. It is the physical world that is fleshed out, not the back stories behind the dark and the painful.

I savour Leanne’s collection as narrative tapestry, with its fine stitching and craft. There is remembering and forgetting, slants and prisms, epiphany and release.

For some reason that burst of yolks disturbed me. I left the café and continued along the road, registering all the changes with the strange double-vision sensation I couldn’t explain. I wasn’t sure if the time zone was affecting me, or whether it was my adult life coming up against my child life. I took note of everything: pigeons, nikau palms, the For Lease signs, an op shop with a naked one-legged mannequin. The fruit shop, grill rooms and womenswear had become a mini-mart, a Korean BBQ and a karaoke with private booths. The knitting shop which had once belonged to Nan now sold bric-a-brac. A taxidermied owl sat on a formica table staring out the window. My legs felt so heavy just then; I saw another time when the shop was lined with honeycomb shelving units stuffed with balls of wool, and knitted ‘garments’ as Nan called them, on satin-covered coat hangers.

from ‘Where the river meets the sea’


Perhaps I love this collection so much, because it is a book I feel. I feel what is present and I feel what is absent. I choose the word ‘prism’ to underline how the thematic hues spark and shift. You see life in sensory gleams. You experience life in pieces, yet there are underlying themes that are significant to us. The present forms a bridge to the past, the past forms a bridge to the present. Pockets of emptiness and loss are countered by an expanse of recollection and musings. It is a collection to lose yourself in and then discover multiple rewarding paths to your own bridges and connections. It’s narrative as nourishment.

All the rest home doors have name tags. Mum’s has a typo: Irina. Although Irena isn’t her born name – only she knows what that is, and she’s never told, never discussed the war. Says she was born the day she reached Wellington harbour with papers stating she was a ten-year-old Polish orphan. Dad said not to ask about the European years, and my brother and I never did. Now they’ve both died and there’s just me and Mum, and she’s in a rest home with a mis-spelled name on her door.


Leanne Radojkovich’s debut short story collection First fox was published by The Emma Press in 2017. Her work has been anthologised in Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand and the forthcoming Best Small Fictions 2021. In 2018 she won the Graeme Lay Short Story Competition and was a finalist in the Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction. She was longlisted for the 2020 Short Fiction/University of Essex Prize and shortlisted for the 2020 Sargeson Prize. Leanne holds a Master of Creative Writing (First Class Honours) from AUT Auckland University of Technology. She has Dalmatian heritage and was born in Kirikiriroa Hamilton. She now lives in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, where she works as a librarian.

The Emma Press page

Leanne Radojkovich page

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