Poetry Shelf tribute for Rose Collins (1977 – 2023)

Poetry Shelf has offered a space to celebrate, to grieve and to pay tribute to Rose Collins – poet, mother, beekeeper, lawyer. Rose sadly died on 3 May 2023 of cancer, and many of us are feeling her loss deeply. Her poetry and her presence has touched the lives of many – her friends, family, fellow poets, the readers and fans of her much-loved poetry. Especially in Ōtautahi Christchurch where she was deeply involved in the Canterbury Poetry Collective. Along with tributes, Morrin Rout’s funeral eulogy, and some photographs, the celebration includes three poems from Rose’s collection, My Thoughts Are All of Swimming, and my recent review.

Born in New Zealand and of Irish descent, Rose was a poet and short fiction writer. She worked as a human rights lawyer before completing the MA in Creative Writing at the IIML in 2010. She won the 2022 John O’Connor Award and the 2020 Micro Madness Competition, and was shortlisted for the UK Bare Fiction Prize (2016), the Bridport Prize (2020) and the takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize (2020). Rose was the 2018 Writer in Residence at Hagley College. She was a some-time litigation lawyer, a beekeeper and a mother of two. She lived in Te Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour with her family.

Sudden Valley Press page

We come together, we come together hands held, with poetry and conversation, images and words, grief, celebration and infinite aroha.

My Thoughts Are All of Swimming Rose Collins, Sudden Valley Press, 2023

3 Poems

Returning North

after ‘North’ by Seamus Heaney

To those great trees that hang on still

to mountainsides in Wicklow

or in Derry, where the troubles began,

you offered up your pen.

You have to work, you knew

the unlooked-for reward, the hunger, stroke

or family calamity set to one side –

so hammer on, clear-eyed.

No longships coursed these bays

but those hoarse oarsmen, gripping the kerling,

feeding the yoke of anchor out over

drowned Doggerland, still whisper

in my blood – their curdling muted

by the wash and wrench of oceans:

deep in the shallow-draft hull, the world

and all its words will roll at your feet.

Composing in this crackling southern light –

clinker lines, sail split, the hemp-warp flapping –

while you spun the anchor wider than geography,

a green-oak branch weighted with a stone

to dig fast into mud or sand.

In turf fields, bog-black thunder

clouds and icy glints of rain circle

the muddy hoard –

a father might shovel

roots and green saplings

in the storm, a lover might intone

in sonorous Latin – like the messenger angel

blowing open the dark to the light

a crowd of upturned faces,

hear this –

‘Do not be afraid.’

The Kitchen

I like to throw out my hand

and have a rolling pin fly at me.

It makes me feel like an automaton, a kitchen

robot, mechanically efficient, in constant motion

except when I stop, like a subway train on its dark tracks.

Never trust a thin cook,

though I am thin as glass, stooping at the oven door.

It’s in the pause that I lose my faith,

drop a kilo of diastatic malt

let the sourdough starter bristle with mould.

I like to chop fast. If I slow

down I’ll start to question my instincts.

What good is an endive? Do oysters know loneliness?

Am I a slow motion clown

tripping over my own spaghetti legs?

I can catch a finger-full of salt and rub

it in the cuts: the aim is to avoid stillness.

I move like a blind woman baking sorrow cake

blindfold, following the recipe

spooning in what’s lost.

My thoughts are all of swimming

the tide is a thing that moves

lean and sometimes hungry

for sand, silt or grit

the foam and the form of it

and you, mirrored there against the hills

your hands under me as I hang

on the rippled hide

of water, dear life

it won’t be long now until I’m back in the sea.


Rose wrote like an angel, one of those angels that wait at the side of a painting. Delivering  a message, folding her wings, waiting for the answer. Poised as if every moment is eternal.
Sure on this shining night
Kindness must watch for you.

Elizabeth Smither

Rose Collins

It is with deep sadness that we report the untimely death of award winning poet, Rose Collins. While this is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions for Rose’s family and friends, it is also a loss to the writing community.

What we have lost is not just a talented writer, teacher and friend, but we have lost possibilities. Rose’s debut book of poetry, “My Thoughts are all of Swimming” signaled a distinct developing poetic talent.

We mourn Rose’s passing. We miss her and what might have been.

David Gregory

Ōtautahi is a place of many writing groups and I’ve been fortunate to have been in three of them with Rose over the years.  I will miss you, Rose. Your warm, beautiful, perceptive self. Your writing which showed such talent. Your intelligent and discerning comments in giving feedback to others and your delight when you read something that ‘rang true.’ You will live on in your words and in our hearts, dear Rose.

Frankie McMillan

I was so lucky to know Rose. She was magic. Over the last few days, people have been taking about the qualities she brought to critique groups, teaching and mentoring: her insight, curiosity, warmth, humour, and humanity. I’m so grateful that we have a collection of her writing to treasure and return to. Also she gave top quality hugs. We will miss you for a long time, dear Rose. 

Zöe Meager

Rose has left a legacy of her poetry and short stories but many of her most powerful words were never put onto the page, they were spoken into the ears of young and aspiring writers— words of encouragement, wisdom, and practical guidance.  Her legacy will continue to live on through the countless words that they will go on to write.

Heather McQuillan

I had the privilege of running a launch event last August for Rose’s glittering first book, My Thoughts Are All of Swimming. I remember, when we were roughly blocking out the time we should allot for various bits, I suggested fifteen to twenty minutes for Rose to read and she looked aghast. As if only a preening stage-hog would want that much time. Her counter-suggestion was five minutes. At her own book launch! I’m not sure Rose knew how good she was. In my experience, it’s often the most thoughtful, reflective poets who are mic-shy. I know if I wrote poems like Rose Collins did, I would take my time, and people would listen. In her unsettling and endlessly productive poem ‘Everything that we are afraid of’, she notes, almost offhandedly: ‘All sorrows can be borne.’ I hope you’re right about that, Rose. I’m going to trust that you are.

Erik Kennedy

Dear Rose, 
you brought so much to our small sphere,
your voice in a choir in an airy hall,
your flash, your grace, your way
with words swelling our Tūranga 
with brightness, and again, and now 
all swimming through a blue 
book of you, your melodies 
of Te Whakaraupō, ghosts 
and European history, 
tamarillo teardrops, mud flats, and here you are 
holding the sapling kōhūhū you nursed 
through the storms on your property,
words humming like your bees,
you sang to us, and across the harbour
I hear you,
                     that high sweet song.

With love to Rose’s family and friends at this sad time –

Gail Ingram x

I met Rose in May 2020 when she joined my online poetry course, where she was a graceful, fun, generous and loved member of the group. Recently, when Rose became too ill to attend the sessions, another member, Fiona, in Ireland, suggested making a recording of poems for her, which we did. One of the poems, a kind of charm written by Caroline, in England, was turned, by Rose’s silversmith sister here in Aotearoa NZ, into the most exquisite necklace. It has wolves, a rabbit, and gems including a turquoise bead from Rose’s grandmother. It brought us together, and it widened our circle. Art is connective. Poetry is connective. I have caught fragments from emails by people in our group as we try to absorb the fact that Rose has gone:

Sweet Rose, how she will be missed * Meeting Rose, albeit briefly and virtually, was  charged with importance *  She had a pure and positive presence in our group * She was SUCH a  wonderful poet * I was in floods when I heard and wanted to call you but I realised it was 3:30am in New Zealand * It was a brief encounter with Rose for me but I felt truly touched by her work and her presence * She was so incisive and brilliant * I can just see her face in that zoom gallery. Her look was so healthy, as were her words. How strong she must have been to be that way, then.

Lynn Davidson

When first I read Rose’s debut collection My Thoughts Are All of Swimming
in manuscript some years ago, I could see and hear that already here is a
a language, a voice that goes to the heart of the matter. Rose had that 
wonderful gift of such a finely tuned sensibility. You can see it and hear
it in the language: that the relationship to our outer and inner worlds
makes for poems and a poetry that prizes discover over mere invention.
There is so much music in these poems that they will outlast the flow
of time. Rose was a poet of enormous talent.    

Michael Harlow 2023

Every time I met Rose, I got such a vivid sense of her warm-heartedness, kindness, gentleness, talent, and strength of character. And when I turn to her poems, all those qualities are there too. So I’m especially grateful for the poems now, though of course they make even sadder at the loss of Rose herself.

Philip Armstrong

Rose Collins was an extremely talented poet who recently published a brilliant award-winning first volume of poems. Rose was remarkable for her clear thinking, the sensitivity of her poems and for her kindness and generosity. Her early death is a tragedy not only for her family and friends but also for poetry itself.

  Dr Rodney Foster

Rose was a poet of acute sensitivity and quiet observation. Her words were uncannily perceptive, gentle and reassuring – and that’s how I knew her as a friend, too. She had a habit of asking simple questions that went to the heart of things:



The moon is sometimes just the moon
no one cares about shimmering
no one asked it to glow
did we request this luminosity?

from ‘Teaching the poets’


She was direct, and honest – which made her the best sort of human and poet.



       Everything that we isolate
paws at the door
takes us
             to where fear burrows in
All sorrows can be borne.

Breath rings, ribcages bloom
               the fluted throat of a bellbird
offers up its ghost before the sun peels open the day

everything that we are afraid of
raps upon the glass.

From ‘Everything that we are afraid of – ’



And her too-short life seemed filled with uncommon moments of beauty. I recall her talking about Teddy, her dog who carried her pain for her: she marvelled at things that happen at unexpected intersections. In a poem about the Port Hills hare, Rose wrote: She thinks: ‘I found a word in my pocket today.’ I love how simply wonderful that idea is. I will miss Rose and her beautiful person, but I know, too, that in loss we also find something new, a gentle and surprising thing that urges us forward. A luminosity, or a word.

Michelle Elvy

a photo from the funeral service venue, looking across Rose’s beloved water on a cracker day (add your own birdsong).

Catalyst extends aroha from our whole community to the whānau of Rose Collins, our fallen poet friend. We keep your words and our thoughts go swimming with you forever, Rose.

Ciaran Fox

Listening to the eulogies at Rose’s funeral, I thought how little I knew of her; then, how much… I knew the poet, and poetry seems to me about as close to the core of a person as we may come. In the monthly gathering of our Poet’s Group, though rarely in the past months, she tested new poems ‘upon the pulses’ (Keats). Invariably they seemed superb. Crafted yet fresh, intimate yet always a wide-open door. There, the world she loved dearly; here, the clear resonant soul. Paula Green’s recent review revealed all those qualities of clarity, perceptiveness, poignancy, and grace I knew in Rose. What is there to do now but ‘to carry on / and tend the hive.’ (from ‘Brace Comb’, p38-39 in My Thoughts Are All of Swimming).

John Allison

Rose combined grace, intelligence and strength with a kind of capaciousness, an ability to gather the world in around her. These qualities carried over into her writing. Gravity, too, and love. I admired her so much, and always will.

Amy Head

I was deeply, deeply saddened to learn of Rose’s death yesterday morning. I grieve for Rose herself – such a lovely presence, a friend and fellow writer, dying so young and with so much promise. I grieve for Pete and their young children, I grieve for her wider family and her community of friends. This will be such a devastating moment and an ongoing sadness for the many, many people who had close ties to Rose. 

I also grieve for the loss to Aotearoa New Zealand letters. Rose’s recent poetry collection My Thoughts Are All of Swimming, chosen by Elizabeth Smither as the winner in the Inaugural John O’Connor poetry prize, was a perfectly judged collection. The poems were beautifully structured, layered, resonant and moving. In other words, the work of a poet sure of her craft and of what she wanted to say. Most poets would give their eye teeth to have written such a book. A collection written with such assurance is a rarity; that it was a first book is an astonishment.

So I grieve for what might have been, for the important poet Rose might well have become.

Rose faced her condition with courage and poise, with never a hint of self-pity.  Rose was a fellow member of a small critique group who gathered monthly to share and discuss poems.  She was a beautiful reader of her own work and I feel privileged to have been part of an audience as she shared the first drafts of many of the poems subsequently in her book. I am deeply saddened by her passing and that her voice has now been stilled.

James Norcliffe

Hey Rose

Ten of us entered the room
Eleven grew
Into the people we weren’t before
A collection of cells

You composed the best piece of us all
Human, curled and alight
A listening love
Woven (we liked to think) with our best

That battled towards
A consciousness
A brittleness, an eagerness
To be a known

Hey Rose, every minute of you
Polished something never said
And then somehow said
When you wrote to

The cells were at work again
That they’d had a new, dangerous thought
An arrangement of curious poetry
None of us thought to
Read through to the end

Come a bright Monday
We sang for you
In an old shed whose roof seemed
Rattled at the thought of

There a woman fainted in the seat beside me
She wore a red dress and soon came to
To announce
She once taught you

I later saw her walking
Smiling in the smoke waft
Of fires lit to mark the way
Now free of this

David Coventry


Because of you, I believe in friendship at first sight.

That’s why I took the seat next to you in that workshop where we learned to infuse our prose with poetry.

In the decade since, I came to see that you did the same for your life — you infused your life with poetry. Loving a husband poetry. Besotted by your newborn poetry. Building a home of sun and comfort poetry. Heirloom chickens out the back in the bush. Good food. Campfires and horses. Granddad poetry. Bashful delight in winning poetry. Writing prose and poetry, poetry. And more, and more. And more.

Vivid, strong, hushed, raucous, intrinsic poetry.

You made it so.

And you made it so not just for you, but for those blessed to call you friend, mother, sister, wife, teacher, daughter, granddaughter.

You gave ‘enough love to last a lifetime,’ your whānau said when celebrating your remarkable, generous life. And we are all the better for that love, your poetry.

Ngā mihi, Rose. Arohanui.

Brindi Joy

The morning of Rose’s funeral, I sat outside on my deck, coffee in one hand, Rose’s poetry collection in the other, watching the sun rise over Whakaraupō. And as I sat there, I thought about the spoonbills in the harbour and the way they move through the mud, sifting for nuggets of goodness in the same way a poet searches for the perfect combination of words. Rose managed to find the gold in the mud, and her poems shone. She was a wordsmith, a poet, a colleague, a neighbour, and a friend, and I realise that none of the words I have are beautiful enough to capture her warmth and energy. There are no words, dear friend.

Melanie Dixon

A small tribute from School for Young Writers

Morrin Rout’s funeral eulogy

Kia ora koutou

First I want to thank the whanau for asking me to speak about Rose, the writer. It is a real privilege and I hope I pay due homage to her talent, as a poet, a short story and flash fiction writer, a tutor and a mentor to aspiring writers and a much loved and respected member not only of the Otautahi literary community but groups beyond Aotearoa.

Many of you will know that I first met Rose, and her family, when she was very young and so I have had the opportunity to see her grow into the formidably talented woman she became.

I also got to know some of the critical people who influenced and encouraged her writing – her Irish grannie, Terri, whose lovely lilting voice I can still hear in my head and her Pa, her grandfather, Ian who told marvellous stories and involved his granddaughters in his tales.

Siobhan is also an accomplished poet, a Jungian analyst who delves into dreams and the strange and marvellous mysteries of the mind, Dave is a fine singer, so it is no wonder that Rose’s work reflects this rich upbringing of story, song, myth and legend.

She was also greatly shaped by where she grew up right here in Whakaraupo, the harbour basin, on the crater edge – she said in a recent interview that ‘ I can’t really speak without the landscape being in the voice’ and that the volcanic nature of her surroundings ‘ has, since childhood, ignited my imagination”

This profound sense of living in such a dynamic place was also reinforced when she was studying in Dublin and, after attending a hedge school in Galway to study Yeats, she went on a pilgrimage to the places where Yeats had lived and worked and realised, as she said ‘ that the place a poet is speaking from can be so vital’ in their work.

After living in NY, Rose did a MA in Creative Writing at the IIML at Victoria University, Te Herenga Waka and had early success with her short stories, flash fiction and poems.

She was published in many local and international journals and anthologies and her work has been short and long listed for many prestigious competitions. I would love to read them all out for you but I would go well over my time – here are just a few – the UK Bare Fiction Prize, the Bridport Prize and the takahe Monica Taylor prize.

Rose shone especially in writing flash/micro/short short fiction/prose poetry, whatever you want to call it and over the years she was regularly in the short lists of many competitions

In 2019 her piece, Over the fields from Ballyturin was second in the NZFF competition and the Canterbury regional winner. In 2020 she won the Micro Madness competition and she was a co-judge of that in 2022.

She also spent time tutoring and mentoring with the School for Young Writers and the Hagley Writers’ Institute. Her empathetic and creative approach to encouraging young and emerging writers will be greatly missed. Erik Kennedy, poetry editor of takahe, a literary journal, said of Rose – ‘through her writing and her teaching, Rose Collins was helping to shape literature in Canterbury and beyond and it is heartbreaking that she didn’t get to do it for longer. Her work was generous and thoughtful about a fracturing world that didn’t always deserve the benefit of the doubt”

Her last great triumph, and it was a great triumph, was when she won the John O’Connor prize for her portfolio, which was judged by the renowned poet, Elizabeth Smither. This resulted in this remarkable collection, My Thoughts Are All of Swimming, being published by Sudden Valley Press last year. This book includes work written after her cancer diagnosis and while she was undergoing treatment. That she was able to do this in such debilitating circumstances is testament to her drive and commitment to her writing. It also reflects how writing allowed her to make sense of what she was being subjected to, the cruel randomness of this disease.  It provided her a refuge, a place to escape to and be alone with her thoughts. She described it as a chance to go ‘slantwise’ and ‘tell stories that are difficult but not reveal too much’. Many of the poems deal with resilience and transport the writer and the reader away from the realities of what she was dealing with.

Elizabeth Smither called her portfolio a beautifully ordered collection of consistently stunning poems. Michael Harlow says that ‘despite all the darkness there is in this staggering world, this is a poetry that is alive with the music of dark hope’.

Several weeks ago, Paula Green, an Auckland poet who does a marvellous poetry blog on WordPress reviewed Rose’s book – she was entranced by it and talks about “ the use of understatement, where room is left for the reader to navigate ellipses, semantic clearings, things held back. There are poignant references, electric traces that signal illness, challenge, danger, and more illness” This comment reminded me of others made by the Flash Fiction judges, Siobhan Harvey and Lloyd Jones about Rose’s story that was runner up in 2019.

“We kept returning to this story because as much as it lets the reader in it keeps us out. We found it to be mysterious and gripping. At the same time, we feel as if we’ve only been permitted a glimpse. So much is held back which is why perhaps we kept returning to it.”

This seems to be one of the hallmarks of Rose’s writing – her ability to tell us just enough, to trust us to fill in the spaces, to invite us to be part of the work.

The voice we hear in the work reveals who she was in life  – a wise, perceptive, fiercely intelligent and empathetic woman, one with whom we could share intimacies, gossip and laughter and know that she could reflect back to us the essence of what we experience and think in ways both magical and surprising.

Her legacy to us, as well as our precious memories, is her words which are to be discovered and enjoyed, celebrated and treasured.

Haere Ra, dear Rose – my thoughts will be all of you in the sea, the sky, the rocks, the hills, the wind and the rain, the full moon and the sunrise.

Morrin Rout


and after, in the streak-pale sun, the welcome,

liberated hunk of sky – a tangle and comb

of wasted boughs, and still to come

the hum of absence – the loss of blue-glazed cornicing

or the blush of cupped gumnuts icing

outstretched stems – a ghost-shape for the wind to sing

from “Felling the Eucalypt”

Rose Collin’s debut collection, My Thoughts Are All of Swimming, was chosen by Elizabeth Smither as the inaugural winner of the John O’Connor Award. In conjunction with the Canterbury Poets’ Collective, the award offers publication to the best first manuscript of a local poet.

Rose’s collection is both elegant and physically present. I jotted down key words as I read, and realised they formed a provisional map of why I love reading and writing poetry. To begin, musicality. Every word-note is pitch perfect and forms a musical score for the ear: “Alan hears the / tide’s shingle-clatter, and closer in, his old dog’s chuffing / sighs” (from “Alan Recuperating on a Bed of Rabbits”). And:

Composing in this crackling southern light –

clinker lines, sail split, the hemp-warp flapping –

while you spun the anchor wider than geography,

a green-oak branch weighted with a stone

from “Returning North”

Secondly, the collection promotes breathing space. There is the space on the page in which a poem nestles, the chance for poems to breathe, for readerly pause and pivot. The internal design heightens this effect, with generous line spacing and a decent sized font.

I can catch a finger-full of salt and rub

it in the cuts: the aim is to avoid stillness.

I move like a blind woman baking sorrow cake

blindfold, following the recipe

spooning in what’s lost.

from “The Kitchen”

Thirdly, and intricately tied to “breathing space”, is the use of understatement, where room is left for the reader to navigate ellipses, semantic clearings, things held back. There are poignant references, electric traces that signal illness, challenge, danger, and more illness.

I am on the trapeze of a new cycle of investigations – I

walked here from the hospital, skirting the rim of a volcano

for my flat white.

from “Lion in Chains Outside Circus Circus Cafe, Mt Eden”

Fourthly, and I am searching for the best word here, there is an inquisitiveness on the part of the poet, as she ranges wide and deep in her curiosity and engagements; touching upon fairy stories, other modes of writing such as William Burroughs cut-up practice, a Kafka aphorism, sculptural installations, a Lydia Davis short story, music, other poets, Robert Falcon Scott’s diary.

My fifth word, and my handful of ideas could extend to become a catalogue, to a more substantial map of possibilities in this sumptuous poetry, is intimacy. I am musing on how you are drawn deep into the writing; how it feels exquisitely intimate. It feels compellingly close, as people and places resonate: from son to brother to friends, from Lyttelton to Ireland.

you are light as steam right now

high frequency, cloud-high

but when you are here, this side

of security, oh the things I have to tell you –

how your letter is the most valuable

thing I carry

how we have built a tower for the chickens

to roost in – kānuka poles frame the ceiling

from “While the radios are tuned you write letters home”

Rose has produced a debut collection to celebrate. It moves you to muse and be nourished, to inhabit and settle in poetry clearings. To dawdle and drift as you read. Close your eyes and absorb the music as though you have put on an album, a breathtaking album you want on repeat. There is darkness and there is light, there is the particular and the intangible. My Thoughts Are All of Swimming is a joy to read.

Paula Green, April 2023

Rose’s two children listening to her read at a National Flash Fiction Day event in Christchurch

1 thought on “Poetry Shelf tribute for Rose Collins (1977 – 2023)

  1. saigepress

    She was a fine poet who wrote with such precise, fine lyrical beauty. I feel so very sad for her husband and family. She loved so well. As I heard this I saw a rainbow arch its way from beach to hills. There she is, I thought. There, here, everywhere. Dear Rose



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