Monthly Archives: April 2023

Poetry Shelf review: Leah Dodd’s Past Lives

Past Lives, Leah Dodd, Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2023

last night I locked eyes               with a possum
its gaze moon-dark      and gleaming
              through the bedroom window

it trying to get in
               me trying to get out

from “soulmates”   

I am writing this review with Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma on repeat. The last time I had the album on repeat was in the 1970s. Having an album on repeat is a habit I have never discarded and it is a habit I apply to poetry collections. I highly recommend it. Leah Dodd’s Past Lives is a collection to put on repeat, and yes, it is there in a poem, the impetus for me to play Pink Floyd: “one night seventeen / got high listened to Ummagumma on repeat / then fell in a pool and floated away” (from “masterclass”).

Reading Past Lives is exhilarating, the poetry moving between the supercharged and the intimate. I have made a music playlist, a first while reading a poetry book, because the music references are so enticing: Miles Davis, Leonard Cohen, Big Thief, Joni Mitchell, Schumann, Jim Morrison, Fleetwood Mac, Nick Shoulder covering Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”, Cristina Aguilera, Shocking Blue. Throw in a youth group singing gospel songs, piano lessons, and you are in the heart of a collection steeped in music, that lifts you out of the thickness of daily routine and sets you afloat on a pool of reading bliss. Kind of like a version of high.

As I read, I am pulled between the domestic (a new baby, staying in, doing the washing, “kitchen scissor haircuts”) and the beyond: a history of reading, viewing, listening, going out, falling in love. The physicality of writing is mouthwatering, whether food or baby, whether “stale curry” or “too-bright billboards”.

in poems, babies are like snacks –
doughy loaves, apple-cheeked,
sweet as pie, sausage-toed

victim to the metaphor,
I call my peach-fuzzed baby yummy
because he is so tasty
I could just toss him in olive oil
and roll him into a kebab

from “clucky”

Here I go setting controls for the heart of the sun and I am back in the weave of the book. I am laughing out loud and I am holding back the tears. I would love to hear Leah read “the things I would do for a Pizza Hut Classic Cheese right now” because it is fast paced, a rollercoaster pitch of pang and laugh: “I would strip down to my knickers & slither around / on a backyard Warehouse waterslide coated / with cheap detergent on the coldest day of the year”. OR: “I would forgive the person / who hurt me when I was thirteen”. Ah, what you would do for a Pizza Hut classic cheese pizza!

Turn the page and fall into the sweet humour of conversing with the snails who insist on eating letters left in the letterbox before “shitting [them] out in long ribbons” (from “snails”). The poet and the snails get to talk TV, to talk Twin Peaks and Special Agent Dale Cooper, and what creamed corn stands for, and to ask if Josie is ok.

Put the collection on replay and you can hear music simmering in the bones of its making. This from “tether”:

I am a moonscape of blood and kitchen grit
ultraviolet bone & blotted sleep     one day
we will be separate creatures
I will give kitchen scissor haircuts
tether balloons on a string to a wrist
wrap birthday presents in the witching hour
and become a different animal altogether

Sometimes I feel like I’m holding on with fingertips, legs outstretched, hair streaming behind, as the poem and I move along a blistering stream-of-consciousness trail and it is so darn thrilling. Take “this night’s a write-off” for example, a poem that riffs on the notion of ideas, on writing on the passion lip of inspiration where ideas get away on you. All I know is I yearn to hear Leah read this poem out loud too!

my ideas are full bunches of marigolds
they are like a flock of Polish-Jew ghosts all set to haunt
the local supermarket, spitting OY VEY
              on single-use plastic and individually wrapped
                          organic energy bars
they are like                   if canned meat was a person
they get all dressed up in Brokeback Mountain cosplay
just to sit around the house smoking and
               thinking about Linda Cardellini
they are strong teas
and dancing to Miles Davis in the kitchen

Fresh! So very fresh! That is what Past Lives is. Every poem and every line refreshes the page of what poetry can do – of how we move between what was and what is and what might be. It is bold and eclectic and full of verve. It is a single moment on the first page that sticks with you while it is your turn to hang the washing out or put an album on replay, say Lucinda Williams or Anoushka Shankar or Bach. Because there in the first poem is the way a particular moment can flip you up and over, and become poetry, and be physical and confessional and full of heart-yearn and self-awareness. The speaker in the opening poem, “soulmates”, is eyeballing a possum at the window and it as though she’s eyeballing herself. The poem is unexpected, visceral, with the unsaid as potent as the said.

Ah, gloriously happy poetry head zone! Set your sights on this book and let go. Let yourself go into the joy of reading poetry.

Leah Dodd lives in Pōneke. Her poetry has appeared in Starling, Stasis, Mayhem, Sweet Mammalian and The Spinoff. In 2021 she won the Biggs Family Poetry Prize from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

Te Herenga waka University Press page

Poetry Shelf feature: Janet Charman launches Michele Leggott’s Face to the Sky

Face to the Sky, Michele Leggott, Auckland University Press, 2023

Launch talk Devonport Library for Michele Leggott’s Face to the Sky, AUP, 2023                                                                                                                                                          


Reading Face to the Sky is like finding oneself
present at a freshly excavated site of human
habitation –not in Pompeii,
but in volcanic Taranaki. These poems address
matters we would have believed permanently
faded, or choked into silence, but here they
are, the tones and colour of past lives,
revealed anew – in ways never imagined.

Long-familiar monumental histories
woven through with intimate scenes
from daily life – the comforts, secrets,
shocks and lies of family drama. And it is
these intricately detailed personal narratives,
which have the cumulative effect, in this
collection, of making all too visible,
the shakiness of the grand colonising myths
in which Pākehā lives are embedded.

My family shifted to Taranaki when I was seven
          – Michele’s family has been resident
for several generations. But even as the poems
in Face to the Sky let the light into long ignored
ocean vistas; forest-clearings; Taranaki dwellings;
and extraordinary events – Michele’s excavations
also point insistently to those yet older stories,
which in this contested terrain, are waiting
to be recovered.

The collection, with its delectable imagery,
thematically echoes the forensic joie de vivre
of Sydney Parkinson’s botanical watercolours.
But equally, Michele stitches her own heretical
impressions into the ‘natural history’ record.
Her poems ‘give a sense of the British explorers’
utter intrusiveness – their presence made
recognisable here – even in their own words–
as evidence from an unfolding crime scene.
One in which intrepid voyagers & travellers are
paradoxically revealed as both victims and
perpetrators. Michele’s reader made vulnerable
in this to experiences formerly airbrushed out
of our histories and herstories.

A scatter of now souvenir cartridge-cases
testifies to the terror of flying bullets;
the death of a negligible newborn is allowed
to be a source of unassuageable grief;
in the name of taxonomy there are casually
merciless depredations of species;
a rat runs across the children’s blanket;
the photographic milestones of a
           beloved family are performed against the
           entropy of a long-vanished living-room wallpaper;
two tall sons, one dark one fair, are caught
in cherished meet-ups with their parents;
tearing news – devastating
to yet other families, unknown – is given to us
of the suicide bomber at Kabul Airport;
and Te Reo – yet to be ghosted – is heard,
everywhere, throughout the land.
While always, nipping at the reader’s heels,
is the sheer inexplicability of an ongoing,
near-death, health crisis.

In a series of micro-pauses centred
on the heartfelt, these poems
imaginatively reconnect a fearless traveller,
abroad in the world, with past traumatic
& jouissant events: inviting us to acknowledge,
with equal fearlessness, our own buried
and denied connections.

I now call on you, in defiance of suffering
and disaster, in celebration of this beautiful
book, to raise your voices
in a toast to a formidable collection:
to Michele Leggott and her
Face to the Sky!


Janet Charman, Avondale, 19. 4. 2023

Poetry Shelf favourite poems: Fiona Kidman’s ‘The presence of M. at a School Reunion’

The presence of M. at a School Reunion

The lies we tell are part of the truth we live. Michael Holroyd.

If, out walking, we caught the scent
of penny royal in the air, or watched a twig
revolving in a circular eddy in the stream,
listened, perhaps, to the  shush shush
shush of the trees in the gum belt,
that is not surprising. We know
how to watch, how to listen. We have always known.

But when we’re dressed for roll call, like girls
aching for a party, M. turns
and says, recant. We shared this past. This
isn’t the first time we’ve set off for school
together.  How was it you came to see things
                               so differently
from me? What was I doing while you suffered
so much? We were both there.
        Think on it.

Fiona Kidman
from Wakeful Nights: poems selected and new, Penguin (Vintage), 1991

This poem, written about thirty-five years ago, still holds true for me. M. has been one of my closest friends for seventy-seven years. Some of the strength of our friendship lies in the fact that we can disagree about some things without altering the arc of this relationship.

When we were in our late forties we went to a school reunion up north, and as the narrative in the poem tells the reader, it was an occasion for exploring differences in our lives. I had just heard Michael Holroyd speaking at a writers’ festival and I was struck by what he said, the way memory is really a tangle of stories that become our truth, whether it’s exact or not. I put these two experiences against each other.

In hindsight, I see that although M. and I shared so much of our daily lives together when we were children, a great deal was going on behind the scenes for both of us that wasn’t stated or understood at the time.  But what M’s question did for me was make me pay closer attention to the way I interpreted the past when I came to write memoir. She has continued to be an influence on the way I approach the genre.

And, at a very simple level, I enjoy the landscape and sensory experiences the poem yields, the onomatopoeia, the scents and sounds, as sharp when I read it as if I was back in that place.

Fiona Kidman

Fiona Kidman has been writing pretty much all her life, across several genre. Over the years she has written about 35 books, including six collections of poetry. Her novel This Mortal Boy won the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Fiction in 2018. She has several awards for contributions and services to literature, including a Damehood in New Zealand and the French Legion of Honour  (Legion d’honneur) from France.

Favourite poems is an ongoing series where a poet picks a favourite poem from their own backlist and writes a note about it.

Poetry Shelf favourites: Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s ‘Memoir’


For W.G. Sebald

The past returns as an iron kettle.
Militant statues stare right back.

If only the leaves could tell the whole story, before
they fall and strip the naked branches speechless.

Europe is a cold cauldron.
Grandfathers laid down their scythes
and shipped their horses to Mesopotamia.

Years passed: all that is left now, a palm
crested buckle, embossed
Baghdad 1919.

There is a fly sidling over
the regimental history, rubbing
its paws.

It knows the truth, it is the truth, but
one good swipe from a whisk
will kill it.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
From Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems, 1963-2016 (Canterbury University Press, 2017).

This poem surfaces from my background: a child of wartime parents, 1939-45; and my maternal grandmother, 1914-18 and WW2. Growing up in Blackball, a coal mining town where most of the men did not go to war (mining was a protected occupation), my house was an isolated bubble of PTSD. They had no name for it then, except shell shock. My adults were all walking wounded, in their psyches, in their souls. Mesopotamia reaches back into ancient history, but my father’s father fought the Turks there in 1918, and had found his way to Baghdad. My uncle, Dad’s brother, gave me the buckle. I grew up in a household of survivors – it was impossible not to have their war wounds write themselves in my DNA.

This war in Ukraine – Putin’s genocide unleashed – breaks my heart, awakening all this.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman lives in Christchurch where he walks his Jack Russell terrier, Hari, and works on whatever is current: lately, a memoir on his great aunt Lily Hasenburg, and whatever poetry emerges, over time. He has published in both these forms, and biography.

Poetry Shelf is hosting a series where poets pick a favourite poem from their own backlist.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Renee Liang’s ‘March 3’

March 3

my son runs off    while we visit my father
brings me a palmful   of cape gooseberries
tiny globes    suspended  in ghostly lanterns

‘i found them in the bin,’  he says, and i follow
to where a tree staggers  resolutely upright from a wheelie bin

other plants cascade from the garden
my father had to abandon  when steps became treacherous
he still mourns the goldfish that died   when he couldn’t feed them daily

golden in sunlight  the tiny tree  extends its bounty  
still fruiting     despite wizened branches
we collect each sour-sweet morsel – ‘we’ll have to wash them,’ my son says.

the taste of my childhood afternoons  plucked
from a tree carefully planted   nourished
in the home that my immigrant father made for us.

Renee Liang

Renee Liang is a poet, playwright and essayist.  She has toured eight plays and collaborates on visual arts works, dance, film, opera, community events and music. Some poetry and short fiction are anthologised. A memoir of motherhood, When We Remember to Breathe, with Michele Powles, appeared in 2019. In 2018 she was appointed a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to the arts. Read NZ page  

Poetry Shelf: On reviewing poetry, blogging and answering emails

How to review a book? I keep returning to this perplexing question, allergic as I am to review models that demand you ought to do this or do that, or to represent the content of a book in such detail there is no point in reading it. I love reading reviews that entice me to read a book, without ruining the potential reading experience, that offer criticism for the sake of creating not breaking, an idea Virginia Woolf played with.

I think I am a gut reviewer who takes eons reading and writing. There are so many doors and windows, walls and sidepaths, stairways and stairwells, to experience along the way. Reviewing is a way of re-presenting a reading experience, of translating the moment where you drift and stall, ponder and puzzle, or the moment where you feel the poem and its ripple effects, or the way a truckload of questions might ferment, pleasingly. It can be so unexpected. Recently reading and reviewing Joan Fleming’s Song is Less and Katherine Rundell’s Why You Should Read Children’s Books: Even Though You Are So Old and Wise epitomised this for me. It also applies to the trove of children’s picture books I am currently reviewing on Poetry Box.

Reading a poem, is a sequence of diversions or hauntings, a soothing balm or disconcerting spike. The thought of holding a yardstick up to a poem with a provisional set of rules or entrenched poetry etiquette makes me feel nauseous. And yes, the book that captivates me, that fills me with reading joy, might infuriate you, leave you unsatisfied. Pick up a book and you activate your own version of it.

If it is a matter of getting a book, I think it is a matter of receiving it. This means opening arms wide to embrace what a poetry book might do. I am also drawn to review fiction and nonfiction on the blog so maybe Book Shelf seems a more apt label – but the blog’s origins are in poetry and it is still my aim to provide space and occasions for poetry in Aotearoa.

Poetry Shelf started out in response to a paucity of poetry reviews in Aotearoa. Today there are so many avenues for celebrating poetry, poetry books, poets and performances, both online and in print media: for example, Landfall-on-Line, Poetry NZ, The Listener, Starling, Kete Books, The Spin Off, the revitalised NZ Review of Books. Poetry makes innovative and crucial appearances at our literary festivals, the small ones and the big ones! Poetry communities get together and perform work, drawing together audiences in ways that are energised and inspiring.

The past year has been a tough road for me, as I recover from my bone marrow transplant and boulders surface along the way – but reading, writing and blogging have been such a crucial anchor. I am currently running on 8 tablespoons of energy a day which means I choose carefully what I do. I am no longer prompt at answering emails, and I only post one review a week tops. Ah, I have so many blog ideas that sit in the waiting room and I still have to get the series of place poems online.

Sometimes I fill with despair and raging self doubt, maybe at a review I have just written or the enticing stack of books on my desk. Yet books, writing and blogging are a vital way of connecting with the world, with ideas, feelings, startle moments. A poem can pull you in so closely, so intimately, to inhabit a time or a place, it is transcendental. You rise above daily routines and you experience an uplift of body and spirit. Like an essential oil. This also works for me with reviews. I have read a few “lazy” reviews lately that have irritated me so much; badly written, as far from the book I have read as you can imagine, cribbing from publicity material, a seemingly scant history of reading widely, criticism for the sake of criticism rather than enhancing what fiction, poetry, writing can do within a vibrant range of styles, forms, subject matter, points-of-view.

I may not answer your emails – I am not yet using Poetry Shelf as a regular noticeboard – but slowly, step by step, small review by small review, featured poem by featured poem, I aim to furnish a space that demonstrates the width and breadth, the heart and lungs, the vital pulse of reading and writing poetry in Aotearoa. My blog is nothing without you, the reader, the writer, the fans of poetry, books, conversation. Thank you to everyone who helps make Poetry Shelf work as a community of voices.

Poetry Shelf review: Eileen Merriman’s Time’s Raven

Time’s Raven, Eileen Merriman, Penguin, 2023

Time’s Raven, Eileen Merriman’s second book in her Eternity Loop series, is a terrific sequel to Indigo Moon. The dystopian novels introduce a new generation of virally optimised young adults, offspring of the protagonists in the Black Spiral trilogy (my review of Book 3). You don’t need to have read the first series before embarking on the second.

In Indigo Moon, Indigo Hoffman breaks the rules of time travel knowing there will be consequences. She is the child of virally optimised parents, as is her friend, Rigel (Hunter Blue). She is driven by questions of what is right in a society under threat. In Raven’s Time she must appear before Black Spiral Intelligence to face their decision.

Reading Time’s Raven is an exhilarating, thought-provoking form of armchair travel through time and place. Heart in the mouth reading. Heart racing faster reading! The loops and twists and surprises are deliciously unexpected. What exactly is the Eternity Loop? Who can be trusted? Who can be loved? Who will be loved? There is no way I want to endanger such perfectly crafted narrative tension by giving you a plot summary or a a bouquet of spoilers (I read a review today of this book that gave things away! Why would you do that?).

This is dystopian fiction at its lucidly written best. That the characters matter is enhanced by Eileen’s skill with dialogue. The gripping plot is elevated by its layered context. Place comes alive but so too do the issues and vital questions, and that keeps you on your reading toes. I love that! What happens, for example, if fertility rates drop? What measures are taken if the world is besieged or under threat of plagues? Personal relationships are not only key, they are a reading hook. Love goes hand in hand with jealousy, loyalty goes hand in hand with love. It is edge of the seat reading on so many levels.

Lately I have been musing on how books can have terrific power and reach, especially when our planet is beset with climate change, war, hunger, conspiracy arguments, pandemics, floods. Yes, a book like Raven’s Time has the ability to divert you, to offer a satisfying form of entertainment, to represent complex human relationships – I loved it for that – but it also challenges you to consider challenging issues, from the progression of science to the vulnerability of Earth. Raven’s Time is essential reading, glorious reading. Highly recommended.

Eileen Merriman’s first young adult novel, Pieces of You, was published in 2017, and was a finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and a Storylines Notable Book. In addition to being a regular finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, Merriman was a finalist in the 2021 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and Moonlight Sonata was longlisted for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction 2020. Three of her young adult novels have been optioned for film or TV, including the Black Spiral Trilogy. She works as a consultant haematologist at North Shore Hospital.

Penguin page

Poetry Shelf favourites: Dinah Hawken from ‘The Harbour Poems’

From The Harbour Poems

The harbour is hallucinating. It is rising
above itself, halfway up the great
blue hills. Every leaf of the kohuhu
is shining. Cicadas, this must be the day
of all days, the one around which
all the others are bound to gather.

The blue agapanthus, the yellow fennel, the white
butterfly, the blue harbour, the golden grass,
the white verandah post, the blue hills, the yellow
leaves, the white clouds, the blue
book, the yellow envelope, the white paper.
Here is the green verb, releasing everything.

Imagine behind these lines dozens and dozens
of tiny seed-heads whispering. They are a field
of mauve flowers. What they say is inexplicable
to us because they speak another language, not this one
written from left to right across them, made up of
distinct and very subtle, ready-to-burgeon sounds.

Dinah Hawken
from Small Stories of Devotion, Victoria University Press (Te Herenga Waka Press), 1991

Note on Poem

‘The harbour poems’ come from my second book of poetry, Small Stories of Devotion. It’s a book I’m very fond of, not least because the book itself is a beautiful shape, on beautiful paper and with unique images by the New Zealand artist Julia Morison. It is also a unique book in my poetry backlist since it is a narrative made up of mostly prose poems, and prose poetry in 1991 was unusual on our shelves. Looking back 30 years I see it is the book amongst my collections with the most faith in the imagery of dreams, and with my preoccupation with the Sumerian myth of Inanna, one of the earliest stories ever written. The epilogue of the book contains 36 6-line poems and it is the first three, written above Wellington harbour, I have included here.

Dinah Hawken lives in Paekakariki and her ninth collection of poems, Sea-light, was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press in 2021.

Poetry Shelf Favourites is an ongoing series where a poet chooses a poem from their own backlist and writes an accompanying note.

Poetry Shelf interview: Michele Leggott and Face to the Sky

Face to the Sky, Michele Leggott, Auckland University Press, 2023

Michele Leggott’s new collection, Face to the Sky (Auckland University Press, 2023) is rich in scope, reference and melody. Michele draws upon a lived world, an imagined world, a remembered world. The book is a deft weave of two women; the poet herself and artist poet Emily Harris. The two women are separated by 100 years, linked by an attachment to Taranaki and the creative process. Michele’s poetry navigates the space between, a space that is transformed through travel, detection work, admission, appearances and disappearances, dialogue. The poems draw upon grief, personal challenge, the past and present, art, literature, historical events, friends and family, love.

To celebrate the arrival of this sumptuous new book, Michele agreed to answer a few questions. You can read my review at Kete Books here. Michele is launching her book with AUP at Devonport Library, Wednesday 19th April. Doors open at 6:30pm and the session will begin at about 7pm.(masks highly recommended!).

The conversation

Face to the Sky is a glorious, multi-layered reading experience. What words epitomise the writing experience for you?

Fluency is everything. Sometimes it is hard to find or I go away from the folders, doing something else, and the fluency goes away too. I’ve learned over the years to monitor the tension between whatever I’m doing poetically and any critical or archival or editing projects I have in hand. Best of all is when I’m working in one mode and feeling an almost physical pull towards the other. Moving between the two produces a kind of highwire happiness for which there is no substitute.   

What drew you to the life, art and writings of Emily Cumming Harris, a woman who is so exquisitely threaded into the collection?

We share a Taranaki background. Emily Harris landed with her emigrant family on the beach at Ngāmotu in 1841 when she was four years old. My brother and sister and I played on the same black sand 120 years later. There are distances and separations of experience, and that is what makes the exploration interesting. But first there is the memory of what every Taranaki child knows, that you can’t run barefoot to the water over hot black sand without a towel to stand on. I started from there and followed Emily into her colonial life as a writer, a poet and later on as an artist.  

Your poetry offers the reader an aural treat because music and sound are such vital elements. How does sound work for you as you write? Is it intuitive, carefully crafted, a mix of both?  I loved the move from English to Latin to Te Reo and the playful treatment of individual words (for example “artemisia”).

Every word has a sound profile and in the same instant a visual profile. For me the trick is to engineer the progress of this double synapsis so that it makes a satisfying whole for ear and eye.  The whole can be as short as one word or a line with spaces in it to indicate moments of stasis and recovery. Or it can be the shape of a prose sentence that lifts and falls over its duration. Then there are paragraphs and beyond them cantos. They all have distinctive motion as sound forms and visual duration. And then there is the referential reach that accompanies the dynamic. Who wouldn’t want to keep all this  in the air?   

Sam Neill has published a memoir that explores the rewards of writing during treatment for a serious blood cancer. You reference the serious health issue that you have navigated over the last few years. Was writing an important aide for you?

I’m listening to Sam’s memoir right now. It’s very good at striking a balance between a dangerous illness and how to live with or outwit it. The lymphoma I contracted in 2020 as Covid arrived put me into the world of cancer treatment and all the side-effects it entails. Chemotherapy and radiation dropped me into an abyss of fatigue and anxiety that stripped away my confidence and the ability to write or think. Very slowly writing and research came back and once they were there I made sure they would stay. Sam wrote a memoir. I found the outlines of a collection of poems in my folders that made sense of my Emily Harris work and suddenly the dual drive, poetry and research, was back in place. Even a failed stem cell transplant was easier to bear because I could think and write. By the time I was offered CAR T-cell therapy on the Malaghan Institute trial at Wellington Hospital I knew there were two books in preparation, one poetry, the other archival. Each was feeding the other. It helps that immunotherapy is a lot kinder on the body than chemotherapy. I have been fortunate: the CAR-T has worked and I can say cautiously that the lymphoma has gone.

Name a few poets who have acted as beacons and anchors for you as both reader and writer.

The list is long. Can I point instead to some of my favourite audiobooks from recent months? George Saunders reading A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, his unpacking of seven classic Russian short stories. Melvin Bragg reading Back in the Day, his memoir of a Cumbrian childhood and adolescence. Michael Crummey galloping across generational crazy paving in his novel Galore. Amor Towles’ charming novel A Gentleman in Moscow. Margaret Atwood’s plunge into a dark family history in The Blind Assassin. Emily St John Mandel’s criss-crossing of space and time in Sea of Tranquility. And so on. What links these disparate reading experiences? Each book is a masterpiece of disclosure and disclosure is all about timing. What better material for a poet to be listening to. Every one of these books I finished and went back to the start to read again and pick up what I had missed.    

Is there a particular poem in the collection that especially resonates with you?

They all come into focus from time to time and then step back again, which I think is a good thing in a poetry collection. It should keep moving for its readers and listeners. Today’s favourite is a section from ‘Walks and days’ because Richard knocked on the door again this morning:

Richard on the doorstep     we seek out the northerly sun at each turn of the road
wind whips around the corner and batters the sad house
no longer home to the son who cared for his elderly mother
soft voice greeting neighbourhood walkers     and taro in the back yard gone
we agree that Doggerland     is a peak experience among the 900 hours of In Our Time
we note rosellas rattling in the plane trees along the Domain
unlikely to be the red-tailed tropic bird leading up to the pips this morning
I see the bull terrier     a huge piece of driftwood in its jaws
charging the narrow gateway again and again
how many stories can you trust
the reviewer went looking online for the paintings attributed to my mother
they weren’t there because I invented them both
and made my mother an artist of the floating world
would she have liked what I have done     impossible to say
but she would have recognised each detail
because I drew them all from our life together in that house on the hill at Urenui
its view of the river and the sea
the cloud of dust rising as the truck disappears from the frame

Face to the Sky is Michele Leggott’s eleventh poetry collection. Her selected poems, Mezzaluna, was co-published in 2020 by Wesleyan and Auckland University Presses. Earlier titles include Vanishing Points (2017) and Heartland (2014), both from Auckland University Press. She is working on a study of archival poetics, provisionally titled ‘Groundwork: The Art and Writing of Emily Cumming Harris’. Michele Leggott co-founded the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) with fellow poet and librarian Brian Flaherty in 2001. She was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007–2009 and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. In 2017 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Auckland University Press page

Conversation with Kim Hill RNZ National (8/4 On health issues)

Second conversation with Kim Hill at RNZ National (15/4 On Emily Harris and new book)

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: ’10th March’ by Kiri Piahana-Wong

10th March

For my family, on the 
third anniversary of my father’s death

The sky is still here
And I no longer have to hold it in place
It’s grey today
A good day for fishing
I remember you always used to fish
in the rain in your worn brown
oilskin coat
Motoring out in the little aluminium
dinghy at dawn to get the best fish
Sometimes with me, or my brother Steve
bundled into the boat
Snapper, gurnard, kahawai
They would rise to the surface in the
early morning,
mouths open to the rain.

Kiri Piahana-Wong

Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet, editor and the publisher at Anahera Press. She is of Ngāti Ranginui, Chinese and Pākehā (English) ancestry. As a poet, Kiri’s writing has appeared in over forty journals and anthologies, including Essential NZ Poems, Landfall, Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation, Ora Nui, Vā: Stories by Women of the Moana and more. She has one full-length collection, Night Swimming (2013), and a second, Give Me An Ordinary Day, is forthcoming.