Monthly Archives: May 2023

Poetry Shelf favourite poems: Kay McKenzie Cooke’s ‘Blue Person’

Blue Person

Hoping for eventual clouds
of hazy purple,
I planted two lavender today.
Small and tough enough to hunker down.
And tonight I left the bedroom windows open
in order to smell the rain,
the soaked earth, and pictured
the two lavender plants drinking.
I also bought a pansy
and a polyanthus because they were blue.
Some people say that they’re green people,
or red or, like my granddaughter says,
a yellow-orange person (amber, I tell her,
but she keeps forgetting).
Me, I’m a blue person. Blue that is almost purple,
or blue that is almost green
(I can’t decide). Then there’s sky-blue.
Clear, unattainable blue-blue.
The blue of agapanthus.
The blue of Delftware.
Peacock-tail blue. I bought
two lavender plants 
and a pansy and a polyanthus, 
flowers that will weather the winter
triumphant in the frost, victorious
in snow. But what about too-blue?
‘How can you trust someone
who wears so much blue?’ a friend said once
about her boss. And of course we must always
leave room for yellow. Van Gogh thought so.
‘I’m not a yellow person,’ I heard someone say
and thought it a pity. A world without yellow

Kay McKenzie Cooke
from Upturned, The Cuba Press, Wellington, 2020


I chose the poem, ‘Blue person’ because I will always appreciate the way it came to me almost fully formed, bearing the characteristic of a personal, chatty tone and light feet. It came bearing gifts – an assortment of ideas and characters – laying these down at my fingertips (so to speak). It had voice, humour and utilised remembered conversations to reflect something true.  It set out to draw attention to the reality of life’s charms. It wove a story without losing its rhythm or focus and without labouring the point. Although it is a seemingly simple poem, it still has merit; it carries its own weight. And even as it dances along, it is at the same time anchored to things and subjects meaningful to me: life, home, art, growth, weathering, peace, colour, family, place, nature, people, appreciation and humour.

Kay McKenzie Cooke (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe) lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin. Her fourth poetry book, titled Upturned, was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020. She is presently working on her fifth collection of poetry, so far untitled, as well as on her third novel set in Murihiku Southland.

Favourite Poems is an ongoing series where a poet chooses a favourite poem from their own backlist and writes a short note to go with it.

Poetry Shelf reading: AUP New Poets 9 – harold coutts and Arielle Walker

harold coutts

harold coutts reads ‘tee double u’

Arielle Walker

‘kawakawa’ from ‘rongoā’

‘harakeke’ from ‘rongoā’

‘whatu’ from ‘rongoā’

‘kānuka and mānuka’ from ‘rongoā’

AUP New Poets 9: Sarah Lawrence, harold coutts, Arielle Walker, ed Anna Jackson
Auckland University Press, 2023

harold coutts is a poet and writer based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. they have a hoard of unread books and love to play Dungeons & Dragons. you can find their work across various NZ literary journals such as Starling, Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, and in Out Here edited by Chris Tse and Emma Barnes.

Arielle Walker (Taranaki, Ngāruahine, Ngāpuhi, Pākehā) is a Tāmaki Makaurau-based artist, writer and maker. Her practice seeks pathways towards reciprocal belonging through tactile storytelling and ancestral narratives, weaving in the spaces between. Her work can be found in Stasis JournalTurbine | KapohauTupuranga JournalOscen: Myths and No Other Place to Stand: An Anthology of Climate Change Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand (Auckland University Press, 2022).

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Hebe Kearney’s ‘ariadne in waves’

ariadne in waves

after ‘Poem 64’ by Catullus

i am in waves

the sea eats my hope
in its open throat

i wade naked

stripped of dignity
only salt & air to pity me

i & the ocean alone

watch the ship slip
into the horizon, the final blip

in the story of my life.

i will die here of sorrow
curled in the furrow

of cruel theseus’s

sweaty brow,
i know absolutely now

i was already nothing to him

when i took that red thread
& used it to make my brother dead.

though he spilled the blood

i was complicit
& my abandonment will not elicit

soft pity

in anyone’s heart
because back at the start

i could have done it differently

i could have done it better
but i was always ariadne

& no one ever let her.

Hebe Kearney

Hebe Kearney is a poet and librarian who lives in Tāmaki Makaurau. Their work has appeared in publications including: Mantissa Poetry Review, Mayhem, samfiftyfour, Symposia, Tarot, takahē, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbooks. You can find them at @he__be on Instagram.

Poetry Shelf Favourite Poems: Apirana Taylor’s ‘waewae pākura’

waewae pākura

footprints of the swamp hen
weaving pattern tukutuku
across the criss-cross patterns
woven into the panels
of the house
where the swamp hen
presses its feet into
the mud forever
leaving imprints tracks
of red toes in the ooze
where the flax weaver’s dreams
of the people are woven
into the whare tipuna
between the ancestors
who dance with the stars

Apirana Taylor


 I was inspired to write this poem while gazing at the pattern Waewae Pākura in a Whare Tipuna. I wanted to share the experience in words and take others on the journey I went on. I painted the poem first before I wrote it. The poem was first published in, the breathing tree, by Canterbury University Press (2014).

Apirana Taylor from the Ngati Porou, Te Whanau a Apanui, and Ngati Ruanui tribes, and also Pakeha heritage, is a poet, playwright, novelist, short story writer, story teller, actor, painter, and musician. His poems and short stories are frequently studied in schools at NCEA and tertiary level and his poetry and prose has been translated into several languages. He has been Writer in Residence at Massey and Canterbury Universities, and various NZ schools. He has been invited several times to India and Europe and also Colombia to read his poetry and tell his stories, and to National and International festivals. He travels to schools, libraries, tertiary institutions and prisons throughout NZ to read his poetry, tell his stories, and take creative writing workshops.

This is part of an ongoing Poetry Shelf series where poets pick a favourite poem from their own backlist and write a note to go with it.

Poetry Shelf reading: Jane Arthur

‘the better to see you with’

Calamities! Jane Arthur, Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2023

Jane Arthur is the author of Craven, which won the Jessie Mackay Prize for Best First Book of Poetry in 2020, and Calamities!, published in May 2023 by Te Herenga Waka University Press. She received the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize in 2018 and has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University of Wellington. Born in New Plymouth, she manages and co-owns a small independent bookshop in Wellington, where she now lives with her family.

Te Herenga Waka University Press page

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Emer Lyons’s ‘Anthem’


you been here you been here long wouldn’t
know with the sound the sound I wouldn’t
know I wouldn’t know the sound
you’d be lovely somewhere
else somewhere else
and you’d be
lovely if
only you
were somewhere else
i thought you were speaking
a different language a language different
from speaking a language from thought
anything would sound good in your accent
in your accent anything
is there anything
good in your accent

Emer Lyons

Emer Lyons is a lesbian writer from West Cork living in Ōtepoti. 

Poetry Shelf review: Biter by Claudia Jardine

Biter Claudia Jardine, Auckland University Press, 2023

research the difference between Proteus
    and Proetus
because we are going to do this properly, alright?
of course readers will know the difference

things have not been the same inside my brain
since I watched you examine that bicycle tube earlier

 from ‘Raspberries’

Claudia Jardine brings her classical background (an MA in Classics with Distinction) to her poetry writing. She loosely translates some epigrams from the Palantine Anthology, a collection supposedly compiled by the Byzantine scholar, Constantinus Cephalas, in the tenth century. The work is said to have been written by various authors from C7 BCE to C7 CE. The inclusion of the epigrams with Claudia’s contemporary poems, forms a reading experience that is both unique and rewarding.

Perhaps every reading experience is unique, with its particular threads, epiphanies, diversions, soundtracks. In my experience, a poetry book offers diverse engagements and reactions depending on the context in which I read it. I often read a collection several times, especially individual poems, and the poetry refracts and reflects in glorious new and revealing lights. I am musing on the way what I have just read, written or spoken about, might be affected by what I have been dreaming of, what the weather is like, what music I am listening to, what I have previously read of the poet, books I have read that are similar, the espresso I have just drunk and the pastry I have just consumed. Maybe all these things feed into the mysterious and nourishing reading process.

I first read Biter when Tāmaki Makaurau was in a local state of emergency, our nearby roads were flooding, and there was the prospect of loss of power. I was curious how the weather outside, my cosy reading nook, the flicker thoughts of anxiety would affect the deliciously layered collection. So many reading channels to negotiate. Herein lies my reaction: the gap between the present tense poems (personal) and the past tense poems (epigrams of antiquity) is energising. Claudia admits she has taken “creative liberties” in her translations, as though a little of the present rubs into the past. I am wondering as I read if the impetus of an epigram to be succinct and witty, with perhaps a tiny twist in its tail, is a key element in the contemporary poems.

your delightful image appears in my whirlpools and rivers
my open sea
my glass of wine

from ‘Mad Dog” Palatine Anthology V.266

Claudia’s epigrams are sprinkled throughout the collection like sherbet, they fizz in your mind, little fascinations, so sweetly formed, and then, invitingly, hook you into the enduring power and reach of love, sexuality, hunger, recognition. Even the impulse to write, to translate internal meanderings into poetry, feels like a constant we have been doing for eons.

when we do meet
I lose my mind for a minute
briefly consider painting my name on a little boat
and staging my own death
float downriver just to hear you call me

from ‘Field Notes on Elegy’

Claudia writes with a musical ear, an ear attuned to the vibration and pitch of vowels and consonants, the sublime aural effect that may be invisible stitching or high viz.

If there is wit in the epigrams, there is acute wit in Claudia’s contemporary poems. There is such wit I am laughing out loud, relishing the humorous twists and turns. Her father, for example, is a professor who has no idea how to open a block of cheese.

At home, only he can claim the title of Professor,
but the way he opens a block of cheese
is akin to unwrapping a bar of chocolate
by putting it in the food processor.

from ‘Thoughts Thought After Surveying the Contents of the Fridge’

Expect family pets, rural settings, coffee, a tampon star sign, having sex, sister talk, back seat fumbling, a karaoke machine, kissing. Expect human experience veering and igniting all directions. Savour Biter‘s economy and richness, the love and longing, the then and now, and toast a collection that demonstrates the irreplaceable blaze of poetry.

discipule, quickener
in the focus of this somewhere I will miss
the staggering days of not knowing what to do with my face
when you are holding it

from ‘Adoration of the Magi, Ōtākaro’

Claudia reads three poems from Biter

Claudia Jardine has an MA in classics with distinction from Victoria University of Wellington, where she won the 2020 Alex Scobie Research Prize and a Marsden Grant for Masters scholarship. Her first chapbook, ‘The Temple of Your Girl’, was published in AUP New Poets 7. Her ancestors are from the British Isles and the Maltese Archipelago, and she lives in Ōtautahi.

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf celebrates the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2023 Poetry Winners: Alice Te Punga Somerville and Khadro Mohamed

The Ockham NZ Book Awards hosted a fine night celebrating books and authors. Great speeches, great readings, great music, great MC. Warm congratulations to everyone.

Every year I read a swag of local poetry books and every year I celebrate a sizable number on Poetry Shelf. New Zealand poetry is in good heart. We are writing and publishing poetry brilliance. Poetry books are making best seller lists! Festivals are featuring poetry in all kinds of innovative ways. Publishers are publishing superb collections and groundbreaking anthologies. The 2023 Ockham NZ Book Award poetry long list was terrific as was the short list. Check out the lists here.

Awards produce such mixed-bag feelings but I stand behind my claim that books have greater lives than winning and losing. Brilliant books endure, and I rated the shortlisted books as four forms of brilliance.

The Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry went to Alice Te Punga Somerville for the sublime Always Italicise: how to write while colonised, while Khadro Mohamed’s equally sublime We’re all made of Lightning won the Jessie Mackay Prize for Best First Book for Poetry.

Here are my reviews of the winning collections.

Always Italicise: how to write while colonised, Alice Te Punga Somerville
Auckland University Press, 2022

And then you skype with me late one afternoon to practise your speech
which begins with your
pepeha as if that is the most ordinary way to start
when you’re eleven years old.

How were we to know – even to guess – that this language would be your weapon
Your strategy
Your bullet-proof vest

from ‘Anchor’

Alice Te Punga Somerville’s new collection offers four vital sections: reo / invisible ink / mahi / aroha. Sections in their own right but the discrete boundaries blur as movement and connections abound. The categories strike a chord, deep seated, poignant, as though this exquisitely designed book becomes a register of life – how we speak, how we are unseen and unspoken, how we work, and how we love. Importantly, how we become.

Alice was once told foreign words need to be italicised, to be rendered apart from standard English. This alienating process includes te reo Māori. Yet some words are adopted by English and slip off tongues without e-strange-ment: think pizza, pasta, cappuccino. Think haka and marae. Inconsistent. Alice puts the shoe on the other foot and italicises the English language leaving te reo Māori as notforeign. It is poem performance yes, but more importantly it is action.

The overturned italics convention, carried across the length of a book, is an insistence. It is personal, it is political and it is ancestral. We are what and how and why and where and who we speak. The historical and contemporary silencing, the historical and contemporary othering of language is inexcusable.

Alice’s poems are writing on the breath, breathpoetry, utterly fluid; it is writing on the breath of memory, story, change, ideas, feeling. Her poems carry the rhythm of life – of reo, invisible ink, mahi, aroha. There is the rhythm of prayer and the rhythm of waiata. The poetic rhythms and crafted fluencies carry the reader across eclectic subject matter.

Alice is spotlighting indigenous worlds, an indigenous presence, replying to colonised worlds. She is building a poem space and a poetry home. Many poems are dedicated to other people, underlying the idea we write within nourishing communities of readers, writers, thinkers, mentors. And for Alice, this includes the academic, acknowledging her poetry is in debt to her life as an academic. The academy is joy but it is also challenge, with settings that are racist, privileged, biased.

Books reach us at different times and in different ways. As readers we establish myriad travel routes through a book, we bring our own experience close or hold at a vulnerable distance. Books are my life rafts at the moment. With the road ahead still bumpy, still uncertain, I hold language and love close, I work and take little steps each day. I see Alice’s glorious, ground-establishing poetry collection as her mahi, her aroha. It is a book spiked with anger and it is a book stitched with love. It has made me smile and it has gripped my heart. It is the most affecting book I have read this year.

Pick up coffee cup and printed pages, open the screen door, walk back inside.

My eyes take longer to arrive than the rest of me:
they’re still adjusted for the brightness outside;
I bump into things, blind, while I wait for my whole self to arrive,
and realise this is the only worthwhile way to proceed anyway –

All of me, all at once:
anger, frustration, cynicism, hope
and, in the centre as well as the outer reaches, love.

from ‘Too’

Alice Te Punga Somerville, Te Āti Awa, Taranaki, is a scholar, poet and irredentist. She researches and teaches Māori, Pacific and Indigenous texts in order to centre Indigenous expansiveness and de-centre colonialism. Alice is a professor in the Department of English Language and Literatures and the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia. She studied at the University of Auckland, earned a PhD at Cornell University, is a Fulbright scholar and Marsden recipient and has held academic appointments in New Zealand, Canada, Hawai‘i and Australia. Her first book Once Were Pacific: Māori Connections to Oceania (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) won Best First Book from the Native American & Indigenous Studies Association. Her most recent book is Two Hundred and Fifty Ways to Start an Essay about Captain Cook (BWB, 2020).

Auckland University Press page

We’re All Made of Lightning, Khadro Mohamed, We Are Babies, 2022

Khadro Mohamed, originally from Somalia, lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her writing has appeared in a number of Aotearoa online journals. She acknowledges her attachments to Somalia, Aotearoa and Egypt in her poetry, and her writing becomes a form of home.

I have finished reading We’re All Made of Lightning and I am still breathing in the poetry. I am making lists for the months ahead of me, packing my emotional and physical bags, finding nourishment in the writing of others. Willing poetry to make a difference to the way we inhabit the world, to the way we move through the day. Willing poetry to be the window that opens up the wide expanse of who we are. How we are.

You are not violet
You are not hands filled with morning light
You are not skin made of bone
Of tears pooling int the corners of my eyes
You are not the pāua shells that cling to the end of your hair

from ‘You Are Not’

An early poem, ‘The Second Time’, opens upon Egypt, and I am immediately transported to an aunt’s home, to the physicality of place that ignites all senses, to the food shared, the conversations, the evocative writing that compares an Egyptian autumn to ‘ripened sweet corn and sweet potato skin’.

Khadro’s debut collection is prismatic, probing, resonant with heart pulse. The book is still sitting beside me on the bed sparking multiple lights into the room. The lights of elsewhere which are infused with the lights of here, the lights of here which are boosted by the lights of elsewhere. Each poem is tethered in some glorious and moving way to whakapapa, to homelands, to self. To the awkwardness of speaking another tongue. To the life that is etched, tattooed, imprinted upon skin. Feelings. Longings. Epiphanies.

The book is sitting bedside, and I am thinking home is a state of mind we carry in our hearts as well as on our skin, and that it is relationships, and it is the physicality of place that feeds all senses and that can be so badly missed.

Khadro is asking for story and song. How to speak? And she is speaking within the honeyed fluency of her lines, with recurring motifs: herbs and tea, storm, typhoon and hurricane, ghosts and rain, ash and pain, chocolate and dates, drownings and rescue.

She is showing the searing wound, the challenges of being a young Muslim woman in a different home. She is responding to the barely pronounceable impact of March 15th. And there it is. The intolerable virus: a hatred that is fuelled by the colour of skin, a language spoken, one’s lineage, one’s dress or food or religion. Here in Aotearoa and across the world.

The book is beside me on the bed, and I am willing poetry to make a difference. And for me it does. To pick up this astonishing book of vulnerability and strength, of journey and vision, is to take up Khadro’s invitation and step into her home, into her poems, to share her tea and listen to her songs, her stories, her hope and her comfort. In her endnote, which she admits she had trouble writing, she thanks the reader. I am thanking Khadro and We Are Baby Press for a book ‘worth holding onto’, in multiple milky star ways.

Khadro Mohamed is a writer and poet from Wellington. Her work often speaks to her own unique experiences as a Somali-New Zealander. Her work has appeared in various online magazines, notably: Starling, Pantograph Punch, The SpinOff and more. Her debut collection of poetry, “We’re All Made of Lightning” can be found in all good bookstores across the motu. 

We Are Babies page

Poetry Shelf favoruite poems: essa may ranapiri’s ‘Standing at the front of a room delivering a karakia’

Standing at the front of a room delivering a karakia

for Apirana Taylor 

I’m so colonized I put zeds in the colonize / always look to the centre and find a reflection / reading a prayer off my phone coz I can’t hold my own language / my moment of tihei mauriora / my monument to shame / the keri bottles funding deathsquads for the USA / you heard me through the mist of ones and zeroes my stubborn guide through te pō / can we calculate a multiplicity inside a black hole / or / can I sing of the wind in a room that lets no breeze through / is this whare so different from yours / was your north the same as mine / the south the same as mine / as yours as mine is as ours / what tip comes back red except that which is slowly/ killing me / dip inside my insides and see / a plastic plastic person / trying to deliver tikanga from a smartphone / uber eats auto-kaitangata / until nothing but my bones are left / shone white / innard-draped / on the carpet

essa may ranapiri
Originally published in Sweet Mammalian Issue Six in 2019

This piece was written as a response to ‘Sad Joke on a Marae’ by Apirana Taylor, my own attempt at representing the inherent connection we have to our ancestors and our land despite all the contradictions we exist within. I’m not going to unlock what I think the poem does here because what a ruinous way to talk about your own work but one thing I will say is that I love the phrase ‘uber eats auto-kaitangata’ a lot cos I’m that kind of sicko (lol) and have no memory of writing that phrase. Also this did happen I delivered the karakia for a communist film night where we watched Operation 8 (documentary about the Te Urewera raids), gosh, the state does indeed suck. Mana to all the amazing taangata Tuuhoe I know that are doing that revolutionary work! And thx to Api for writing a sick as shit poem all those years ago.

essa may ranapiri
 (Ngaati Raukawa, Te Arawa, Ngaati Puukeko, Clan Gunn) is a person who lives on Ngaati Wairere whenua. Author of ransack and ECHIDNA. PhD student looking at how poetry by taangata takataapui engages atuatanga. Co-editor of Kupu Toi Takataapui | Takataapui Literary Journal with Michelle Rahurahu. They have a great love for language, LAND BACK and hot chips. Thanks as always goes to their ancestors, who are everything. They will write until they’re dead.

This is part of an ongoing Poetry Shelf series where poets pick a favourite poem from their own backlist and write a note to go with it.