Poetry Shelf review: Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook 2023

Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook 2023, ed Tracey Slaughter
Massey University Press

Every day I point at something and ask how long
has that been there and you always say forever.

Jane Arthur from ‘The Sky Is Bigger’

Reading poetry journals can be a prismatic and extremely satisfying experience. You reconnect with voices and familiar and discover those you want to read more of. Every time I dip into the latest Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook, I find different sparks and different connections.

Tracey Slaughter’s editorial got me musing on the way a poem is a form of “space”, which implies there is room to gather dialogue, connections, to be engaged in multiple ways, to be maverick and toastmaster, bricoleur or archaeologist, to harness profound or fleeting rewards. Tracey writes:

A poem is a space of encounter, a room of language that invites us to move our senses over its living surfaces, to brush our bodies against its echoes and pressures, visual, sculptural, sonic.

The new issue presents a generous gathering of poems, several essays and substantial book-review attention. Each issue features a particular poet, and on this occasion, Tyla Harry Bidois. Tyla is a Jewish author, illustrator and musician from Mt Maunganui who is interested in notions of womanhood and mixed race cultural identity. Her poetry is sharp edged, on sensory alert, word conscious, drawn to consumption and explosion. Wound and wounded, cuts and cutting, blood red strata, are an insistent refrain as you read.

Here is a tasting platter of my reading so far:

Brecon Dobbie’s “Chinese Medicine” underlines how a poem, through the power of anecdote, can be physically, poignantly and sensually present. Ana Maria King’s ‘nana’s kai’ is a feast of aural and visual richness, with a sublimely haunting ending. Danny Bultitude’s ‘A Town Between Two Highways’ and Cadence Chung’s ‘postcard’ satisfy on so many levels, especially the deft hook of rhythmic detail. essa may ranapiri’s ‘@hine: They never were don3 up like that’ electrifies. Jayne Ault’s ‘William II’, Victor Billet’s ‘Your move, again’ and Claire Orchard’s ‘Floral wallpaper’ pull you into enigma and the unsaid. Emma Neale, with characteristic musical flair, pulls you into a moment achingly real. Hebe Kearney’s ‘december 20th’, addressed to Carl Sagan, gets you musing with its offbeat links. With John Allison’s ‘How to sing sun light’, it is the way light catches you and drives the poem. Khadro Mohamed’s ‘Liars’ is unfolding mood that pierces, sharp and breathless. Melinda Szymanik’s ‘You are the reason you don’t feel better’ strikes a chord both political and personal. Tessa Keenan’s ‘Ōākura Beach’ refreshes the page, the glorious gap, the magnetic space between this noun and that noun, this verb and that verb.

The wind tucks its fingers into the space
between an ocean and a home.
I see it slide through the people I’ve imagined.
It whispers an imperative.

Tessa Keenan from ‘Ōākura Beach’

Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook underlines how poetry is a glorious ripple effect across the length and depth of the country in contemporary settings, from the merging voice to the well established. The journal offers a space of encounters that is rich in scope and possibilities.

It’s winter
But I woke this morning with blooming
palms and fruit trees bursting from
the grooves of my spine.

Khadro Mohamed from ‘Liars’

Tracey Slaughter teaches creative writing at the University of Waikato, where she edits the journals Mayhem and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook.

Massey University Press page

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