From the Centre: A writer’s life, Patricia Grace,Penguin Books, 2021
‘I made up my mind writing was something I would always do’
This is the book I took with me when I got my first covid vaccination, and that I have been reading through the side effects, after the first, and now the second. I ended up at ED after the first injection, and the utterly wonderful nurses and ED doctor did numerous tests to make sure all was well. I was a witness to the infinite patience, kindness and expertise of frontline staff, no matter who turned up, no matter the challenges and complications. I was in awe and I was thankful.
I was also in awe of and thankful for the book I held in my hand. It took me out of pain and smashed over tiredness, into another world for hours, into exquisitely crafted writing. This book is quiet, honest, searching, exposing, wise. It is the life of a writer and that in itself is fascinating, but as Patricia will say, writing doesn’t coming out of nowhere, it comes out of living. So this is also a book of living. Writing and living, woven like kete.
From the Centre lifted me. This book is still lifting me. I would love every young Māori writer to read this, and indeed every young woman finding her way with words, against all odds, and indeed every young writer navigating the rugged terrain and the blessed epiphanies life holds out.
And it comes down to the power of story, the power of our own stories to shape us, our own voice to risk and settle and dance and challenge. To read widely like ranging eagles and soaring night bats, to read from a very young age, to hold books close, to celebrate the stories that matter to us. To find our own ways to make words sing and mourn, and to share the worlds we carry: past present future, imagined lived.
This is also a book of beloved whanau, of language, connections, multi-facted aroha. You get drawn into the light – into the light Patricia shines on childhood, the teenage years, being a mother, a daughter. And these experiences are sharped edged as much as they are filled with joy and discovery, because as child, teenage and adult woman, Patricia navigates the relentless racism, the patronising, demeaning, limiting attitudes and behaviours directed at Māori across time. Read Emma Espiner’s terrific review that discusses this (link below).
If I were to pick one book I have read this year and suggest you place it on top of your book pile this it is. I also recommend the terrific podcast from AWF 2021 where Patricia is in conversation with Nic Low (link below).
Poetry fans across Aotearoa New Zealand are eager to create a vibrant, diverse Phantom National Poetry Day on Friday 27 August 2021, after the global pandemic curtailed public gatherings last year.
The packed programme goes live today (Thursday 5 August), revealing the breadth of our annual nationwide celebration. More than 100 events and competitions are scheduled for late August. You can find the full programme at Phantom National Poetry Day.
Now in its 24th year, Phantom National Poetry Day is set to go off with a bang, with events all around the country – from cafés and bars to libraries, bookshops, marae, schools, universities and parks. Poetry will also pop up on public transport, city streets, beaches, and hospitals. There’s something for everyone, whether it’s poetry slams, open mic nights, readings, book launches, workshops or performances.
Among the highlights are:
Whangarei – Fast Fibres Poetry 8: poetry anthology launch and performances
Auckland – Written Windows: poetry displays throughout Auckland Hospital, with a performance event including Selina Tusitala Marsh and Renee Liang.
Hamilton – Flesh and Bone ii featuring poets from the moana, including Kelly Joseph, Maluseu Monise and essa may ranapiri.
Wellington – Open Heart Surgery poetry evening at Good Books.
Christchurch – Counterculture – Politics in Poetry Open Mic: contemporary political poetry from Ōtautahi poets.
Queenstown – Pop-Up Poetry Workshop led by Amy O’Reilly and Bethany Rogers.
Dunedin – Poetic Cabaret: dine with pitch-perfect poets and invited instrumentalists.
To celebrate both Phantom National Poetry Day and Australia Poetry Month, online warm-up event Aus x NZ Poetry Showcase is scheduled for Thursday 26 August. The evening will includelively virtual readings from Tusiata Avia, winner of the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards; shortlisted poets Hinemoana Baker, Mohamed Hassan and Nina Mingya Powles; MitoQ Best First Book Award (Poetry) winner Jackson Nieuwland; and Aotearoa Poet Laureate David Eggleton.
On Friday 27 August, Tusiata Avia will also appear at the WORD Christchurch Festival 2021 event Confluence and Jackson Nieuwlandwill take part inWellington event Shouting Into The Void: Six Poets One Megaphone.
Poet and NZ Book Awards Trust spokesperson Richard Pamatatau says, ‘As always, this year’s Phantom National Poetry Day is an opportunity for our poets to bring words, ideas and language to people across Aotearoa. To celebrate who we are, what we stand for and to reflect on what has passed. In the midst of a global pandemic, and after last year’s socially distanced celebration, it is delightful to see activity and vibrancy surging back into the day, with so many events planned.’
Nearly 20 wickedly good poetry competitions are listed in the Competition Calendar, including online poetry competition Given Words 2021 – Noho Mai, in its 6th year, and E Tū Whānau’s inaugural Spoken Word Competition, with winners announced on Phantom National Poetry Day. To find out more and enter these competitions visit Competition Calendar.
Much-loved children’s poet Paula Green has created an inspiring resource for teachers to use with students – one which will spark their imaginations as they write poetry and create events. Find out more at Phantom National Poetry Day Schools Guide.
Phantom CEO Robin McDonnell says, ‘Phantom Billstickers LOVES poetry and has been taking it to the streets of New Zealand and overseas for nearly 40 years. There’s something delicious about finding poetry in unexpected places – on walls, lampposts, billboards – for all the world to see. Phantom National Poetry Day gives us an opportunity to go large and celebrate our local poets. What’s not to love!’
Held annually on the fourth Friday in August, Phantom National Poetry Day brings together poetry royalty and fans from all over Aotearoa New Zealand. Many of the programmed events will be FREE and open to the public. This popular fixture on our cultural calendar celebrates discovery, diversity and community. For the past six years, Phantom Billstickers has supported National Poetry Day through its naming rights sponsorship.
National Poetry Day was established in 1997 with a mandate to celebrate discovery, diversity, community and pushing boundaries. It is a one-day national poetry-event extravaganza held every August.
Phantom Billstickers has been assisting New Zealanders to express themselves since 1982. From the very beginning they’ve supported home-grown talent alongside their commercial campaign work, actively promoting New Zealand music, art, poetry and culture through a network that now numbers 6500 framed street posters countrywide.
The New Zealand Book Awards Trustwas established as a charitable trust in 2014 to govern and manage the country’s two major literary awards – The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults – as well as Phantom National Poetry Day, and to ensure their longevity and credibility.
Rangikura, Tayi Tibble, Victoria University Press, 2021
Cover: Xoë Hall
‘I love words so much they blind me.’
Tayi Tibble caught my poetry heart with her debut collection – Poūkahangatus – and the hearts of a galaxy of poetry fans. Rangikura is snaring my heart again. Gloriously so.
Why is it so good to read this book? It is stepping into liquid currents of words, river currents of ideas, images, feelings: incandescent, life-affirming, fast flowing. The poem is the water current and the lightness current, and it is the vessel-on-the-water current. I am climbing in, word splashed, and drenched in joy. The poet is deep diving, skimming the shallows, riding the rough, revelling, honouring, exposing.
Feel the vernacular, the te reo, the melodies along the line, and it is so skin-prickling good.
The first part reclaims the girl. This is girlhood and it is feminism. It is dangerous and vulnerable, mermaid girls racing the boys in the water, girl bonding, girl bounding, the step-brother test, horoscopes, delivering kittens, armouring the danger-girl, becoming winter, the East Coast map carried inside. A road map of adolescence. And always the scintillating rapids of writing. Bliss.
And I remember the year we were the two strongest ‘girl swimmers’ in our syndicate. This meant we were forever forced to race the boys for Western feminism and you would always win, even against the boys who were so like men the teachers treated them as if they were more muscle than human.
from ‘Lil Mermaidz’
The middle section is a sequence of she he prose poems, a shift in key, a miniature novel in verse, where love is threaded at a distance, and we all might have different things to say about the he, about the she, the tyranny of separation, and the tyranny of waiting. The sexiness of everything. Hierarchies. The love affair, the love relationship, ah what to call this, as dialogue and desire unfold in restaurants and hotel rooms, and the restaurants are sweet and soured with taste and preference. I am almost eating the rice and peanuts (well not the meat), relishing the ‘tacky’ surroundings. And it is sharp edge reading this love, this like love like suite. Think of the way you might look at a photograph and everything is sharp edged with life. And light. And yes the dark shadow jags.
The third section returns to free verse, freedom to break the line, to make it clear that sometimes politics is personal, and that maybe politics is always personal, and that poetry is the the whenua, the maunga, the ocean, the awa. Poetry is sky and breath and beating heart. Tayi’s poetry is grounding liberating speaking out singing. This is what I get when I read Rangikura. It is poetry, but it is also life, more than anything this is poetry as life.
Tayi’s collection is framed by an opening poem and a last poem, ancestor poems, like two palms holding the poetry tenderly, lovingly. Hold this book in your reading hands and check out the electricity when you stand in the river, the ocean. Reading Tayi spins you so sweetly, so sharply, along the line, off the line. I love this book so much.
I sat in the lap of my great-grandmother until the flax of her couldn’t take it. So she unravelled herself and wrapped around me like a blanket and at her touch the privilege of me was a headrush as I remember making dresses out of sugar packets, my bro getting blown up in Forlì, my grandfather commemorated under one tree even though he forced himself into our bloodline and then abandoned me and me and me.
from ‘My Ancestors Ride with Me’
Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou) was born in 1995 and lives in Wellington. Her first book, Poūkahangatus, won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award in 2019.
Siobhan Harvey takes part in Shifting Ground event on Saturday 13th November. See full programme here.
Fresh New Format Marks Going West Festival’s 2021 Live Season
Going West Festival’s 26th season is dialing it up, offering four multi-media Saturday evening events featuring Aotearoa’s finest writers of prose, poetry and music once a month from August.
Launching on Saturday 14 August, the richly layered new-format offers something for everyone with a love of reading and ideas.
“Going West Festival is 25 years old this year. We want to demonstrate our commitment to the next quarter century with a fresh programming approach. There will be live music, oratory, performance and kōrero taking place, as well as pop up performances and installations, on multiple stages, with refreshments available throughout the evening.
“You’ll hear new work from our literary and musical taonga and innovative ideas from some of our sharpest young minds. We’re keeping the kaupapa that our audiences tell us they love, so we’ll be as friendly as ever, and offering compelling insights into Aotearoa’s unique narrative culture all in one whare. But it won’t all happen in one long weekend.
“The new format is covid-adaptable. It provides new programming opportunities and it’s also going to be a lot of fun,” says director James Littlewood.
Award-winning writer and associate professor of creative writing at the University of Auckland Paula Morris is a mentor to the Festival’s fresh approach. Together with literary advisors Angelique Kasmara, Amy McDaid, Jack Cottrell and Sonya Wilson, Dr Morris has curated a programme that celebrates Aotearoa as a Pacific nation of increasing diversity under the theme ‘Stranded in Paradise.’
“Our group relished exploring books, writers, ideas, and imaginative connections for Going West this year. We looked for events that would engage and absorb diverse audiences, and feature emerging voices as well as established writers. We embraced the challenge of programming for such varied spaces,” says Dr Morris.
Theme: Stranded in Paradise
Saturday 14 August, 7pm – 10pm
Glen Eden Playhouse
$35 ($15 concession)
Always a sellout, the Gala night is the Festival’s traditional centre piece. This year it features arresting poets Darren Kamali and Karlo Mila, and a significant literary performance curated by singer-songwriter Charlotte Yates traversing her four albums of standout NZ poetry-to-song accompanied by multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Show Pony and the stunning songstress, Julia Deans.
Emceed by Pita Turei.
Saturday 11 September, 7pm – 10pm
Lopdell House and Te Uru
$25 ($15 concession)
Including powerful readings from Lana Lopesi, Charlotte Grimshaw, Alison Jones and Ghazaleh Golbaksh; conversations with Rebecca Macfie(Helen Kelly: Her Life) and Jack Cotterell (Ten Acceptable Acts of Arson); Len Bell on Marti Friedlander and Sarah Shieff on Denis Glover; a discussion with illustrations on The Front Line and conscientious objectors featuring Glyn Harper and Mustaq Missouri; and provocative performance poetry curated by Aiwa Pooamorn and Gemishka Chetty.
Saturday 9 October, 7pm – 10pm Lopdell House and Te Uru $25 ($15 concession)
Including conversations and readings with powerhouse writers; a multi-media session with award-winning non-fiction writers; and a discussion on speculative fiction for screen.
Saturday 13 November, 7pm – 10pm Lopdell House and Te Uru $25 ($15 concession)
Look forward to a panel discussion on te reo translating; an illustrated talk; readings from award-wining novelists; and a scripted musical soundscape from some of our finest poets.
Tickets go on sale at 9AM, Thursday 1 July fromhere
Going West is grateful for the support of CNZ Creative New Zealand, The Trusts Community Foundation, Waitakere Ranges Local Board, Auckland Council, Te Uru Contemporary Art Gallery, Lopdell House and Glen Eden Playhouse
This collection reads as if a Victorian composer, carrying her valise of new operetta libretti, collided in the street with a watchmaker, his briefcase of sketches for a new time-keeping device, and a genderfluid astronomer toting the patent forms for a mechanised solar model made of blown egg shells and bird skulls. Their papers, shuffled together by misdirected desires, unspoken and even unconscious intentions, lead to an entirely new work — a sheaf of pages where the negative space of silence speaks as pressingly as the shape of song.
Alison Glenny’s new poetry book, Bird Collector, is a perfect sequel to the shining lights of her debut, The Farewell Tourist. What stood out out for me in the first collection is exquisitely revisited in the second: white space, silence, musicality, plenitude, word awareness, the footnotes. Bill Manhire, Airini Beautrais, Erik Kennedy and Emma Neale have endorsed the book. Brilliantly. To the point they almost make future reviews redundant. If you need signposts and pathways into the book, these four contributions are gold. Words that reoccur: awe, song, fragmentary, curiosities, silence, imagination, the unconscious, the gaps.
Chris Holdaway, through his Compound Press, has lovingly produced the book, using recycled materials, printing and binding it in Auckland. It includes sublime illustrations by Carrie Tiffany and by Alison herself. I am talking mesmerising. Wow! Alison’s collage-like images are gorgeous, visual overlays!
Bird Collector is in two parts: ‘Bird Organ’ and ‘Nights with the Collector’. Two halves of a beating heart. There is the off-real and the intensely real. Little caches for the hidden, little nooks for the startles. The opening poem holds out the possibility of narrative, character, the potency of things. I am picturing the poetry as paper art unfolding in water, and upon each occasion, the appearance and disappearance unexpected, as the poem comes into being. This is the joy of poetry. The way we read a poem to some surprising form of life. These are the opening lines of the opening poem, ‘Key’:
‘But we do not know in advance which key will unlock the hidden melody. Discovering it is a matter of chance—like opening a drawer at random and finding snow, or the ghost of a bird fluttering among the cogs and feathers.’
You enter the strange but it is not estranging. You come across gaslight and candles as the shade and light flicker. You enter the beautiful but not the beautifying. Sentences sing for the sake of song, and then sing along a thousand flight paths: ‘The notebooks chronicle her internal weather.’ This sentence is from ‘Bird’ where all manner of things and experiences, feeling and reactions, hide or hover over body or clothing. What is this poetry like? I keep losing words to tell you. I keep feeling I am standing in an image-rich, disorienting space, reminiscent of a steam-punk room, that stencils intricate maps on my eyes.
And perhaps each poem becomes the chest of drawers you slowly pull open. Ever so slowly you open the poem. Breathing in scent and melody, fascinations and intriguing juxtapositions. Little actions. Minute epiphanies. Individual words that are shivers, glints, clouds, seepage, dissolution: ‘The difference between use and exchange lay in an abstraction. When she opened the instrument, a cloud of butterflies flew out of the ghostly remains of a forest.’
At times there is a single sentence on the page or even simply a poem title which is expanded upon in a series of footnotes, on the facing page and is always always embraced by the white space, the generous silent beat (for example, ‘Footnotes to a History of Mourning’, Footnotes to a History of Birdsong’).
At times the poems feel like a series of hauntings to me. At times it feels like scatter and rustle and perfume.
Why do I keep making comparisons to the making of a poem as I read this? The second section is set in a planetarium. The narrative foregrounds catalogues, collecting, cataloguing the collections. Keeping, discarding, keeping discarding. Caring for the souvenir, the ‘tiny shards’. Managing the challenge of falling snow. The sequence of paragraphs/poems offers endings that speak of ash and fracture, then move into poetry skeletons. A handful of words falling like snow down the page. And then the skeleton becomes footnotes, an intriguing aside that catapults you in fresh directions of contemplation, reverie. And what remains? Shadow and light? Ash? The weather? A love story. A lost story? The key is missing we read, and yet every time we travel through the book, we assemble our own key.
‘Some fragments of paper always remained from the burning of the
catalogues. She likened them to telescopes, pointing to a part of the
sky where everything is centred upon vacancy.’
from ‘Footnotes to a History of the Fragment’
The sources cited in the acknowledgements would enhance our reading pathways. I am wondering how we collect as we read. I want to check out: the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé (again), Susannah B Mintz’s essay ‘Forms of Self-Disclosure in the Lyric Essay’ and Jasmine Gallagher and Kristina Marie Darling on specific found forms.
Alison is one of our most original poets: lyrical, heart-sustaining, mind-altering, hallucinogenic, attentive. Bird Collector demands the very best superlatives you can summon. For me this this is poetry standing on its tip-of-the-toes best, it’s sublime.
Alison Glenny lives on the Kapiti coast. Her Antarctic-themed collection of prose poems and fragments, The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018.
to their allocated desks. Just focus on the stillness.
Listen to the many keyboards inside yourself.
You might experience them as a ticking cavern
or a preschool armed with felted mallets.
Notice the shuffle of your thoughts in your internal
stairwells. There may be pigeons scribbling their nests
in your eaves, a fresh pucker in your wiring, burnt toast
on Level 7. Acknowledge these,
and try not to ask yourself
why your pipes
feel so water-logged
these days, or whether
it’s just a clump of thoughts
leaning on a wall.
Let your elevators rise
and let them softly fall.
Natalie Morrison has an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, where she received the Biggs Family Prize for Poetry in 2016. She lives and works in Wellington. Her debut collection Pins appeared in 2020 (Victoria University Press).
Meeting Rita is poetry as sumptuous brocade, rich in detail and shifting views. The writing is measured, finely-crafted, lyrical. Individual words, phrases and the building lines surprise and delight. Endnotes offer background contexts for each poem, fascinating detail acquired from the poet’s research.
Music is the first poetry attraction for me. I am drawn to poems that sing. Poems sing in multiple keys with affecting and shifting chords, rhythms, harmonies, counterpoints, pitch, cadence, codas, crescendo. Tune your ear into the poetry of Karlo Mila, Emma Neale, Sue Wootton, Bill Manhire, Hinemoana Baker, Michele Leggott, Nina Mingya Powles, Lily Holloway, Alison Wong, Chris Tse, Mohamed Hassan, Gregory Kan, Anna Jackson, David Eggleton and you will hear music before you enter heart, mystery, experience, startle. Take a listen to Bernadette Hall or Dinah Hawken or Anne Kennedy. Anuja Mitra. Louise Wallace. How about Grace Iwashita Taylor? Ian Wedde. Tusiata Avia. Tayi Tibble. Rebecca Hawkes. Helen Rickerby. Selina Tusitala Marsh. Murray Edmond. Apirana Taylor. Iona Winter. Rose Peoples. Sam Duckor Jones. Vincent O’Sullivan. Kiri Pianhana-Wong. Jackson Nieuwland. Serie Barford. Listening in is of the greatest body comfort and you won’t be able to stop leaning your ear in closer. I think of one poet and then another, to the point I could curate an anthology of musical poets. I can name 100 without moving from the kitchen chair. Ah. Bliss.
But for this theme I went in search of poems that speak of song. The poems I have selected are not so much about song but have a song presence that leads in multiple directions. And yes they sing. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes. Two more themes to go.
poem to Hone Tuwhare 08
adroit composer of
‘No Ordinary Sun’
the music grows flows grumbles and laughs
from his pen
only the old house has fallen to the wind and storm
death shakes the tree but the bird lives on
from A Canoe in Midstream: Poems new and old, Canterbury University Press, 2009 (2019)
Between Speech and Song
I’m sorry, you said.
What for, I said. And then
you said it again.
The house was cooling.
The pillowcases had blown
across the lawn.
We felt the usual shortcomings
of abstractions. I hope,
you said. Me too, I said.
The distance between our minds
is like the space
between speech and song.
from As the Verb Tenses, Otago University Press, 2016
my sister is humming
the front door is shutting
and opening like lungs
to kauri trees
leaping upwards through air
my lungs are pressed
grey warblers sing like
dust moving through air
the sunflower is opening
and shutting like lungs
my lungs are shifting
from Second Person, Victoria University Press, 2020
The woman next door sings so slowly someone must have died. She practices her sorry aria through the walls. When we bump on the steps she is neighbourly, maybe, with her purpled eyes. She tries for lightness. The radio tells me it is snowing somewhere south. Drifts fall down for days. The presenter uses the word ghastly far too often. In the ghastly snow, he says, animals dig for their calves. When we meet on the path my own voice is chestnut and dumb. ‘It’s a ghastly thing,’ I say. ‘It was a ghastly mistake.’ In the dark the woman’s voice touches a sweet, high place. It’s a small cupboard where her children once hid when she’d tried to explain – which you never really can – why the animals must paw in the cold, brown slush. Where are the young? Who hears their low, fallow voices?
Sarah Jane Barnett
from Bonsai – Best small storiesfrom Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Michelle Elvy, Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe, Canterbury University Press, 2018
The song feels like singing,
looks out the window:
clouds glued to the sky,
hills like collapsed elephants.
There’s food stuck to the highchair,
a plastic spoon on the floor.
The cat stares up in awe at the fridge.
The song opens its mouth,
but seems to have forgotten the words.
The song wakes up.
Someone is crying.
The morepork in the ngaio
shakes out its slow spondee:
more pork more pork more pork.
Back in the dream a line
of faces passes the window.
Each face smiles, lifts
its lips to show large teeth.
The song sits at the window, humming
ever so softly, tapping
a rhythm on the table-edge, watching
the harbour slowly losing
colour. At the very far end
of the harbour slightly up to the right,
a zip of lights marks the hill
over to Wainuiomata. If that zip
could be unzipped, thinks the song,
the whole world might change.
The song strokes the past
like a boa, like some fur muff
or woollen shawl,
but the past is not soft at all;
it’s rough to the touch,
sharp as broken glass.
The song longs to sing in tune.
The song longs to be in tune.
The black dog comes whenever
the song whistles, wagging its tail.
The black dog waits for the song’s whistle.
The black dog wants a long walk.
The song croons “Here Comes the Night”
very quietly. Meanwhile the baby
spoons its porridge into a moon.
The black dog leads the song
down long, unlovely streets.
The night is slowly eating the moon.
from Winter Eyes, Victoria University Press, 2018
The crowd is seaweed and there’s always one man too tall at least or one man dancing too much or one woman touching too much. We form short bonds with each other. The man next to me we briefly worry is a fascist. But him and I set a rhythm of touches with each other as we’re together and apart from the music and the bodies. When the bassline and the drums are inside my entire body they always shake up grief like sediment in water so that I am the sediment and my tears become water. And I am the water and the seaweed at the same time and I hover in the thick of the sound experiencing myself experiencing sound and feeling and my body as one piece of a larger thing. I want to be part of a larger thing as often as I can. So many days there isn’t enough music to pull us together. We shred each other, other days. A little rip. A tiny tear. A deep cut. We curl backwards into ourselves to do the damage. I follow the line. I rise into it because it is the sea and the only thing to do is to rise. I am bread and I am fire. I am the line of the horizon as it is reflected back to you. We make our own beds and lie in them. You will have said something. To me. Later, as I think it through I remember us neck to neck, clutching.
from Sweet Mammalian 7
singing in the wire
The song is a clutch of mailboxes
at the end of an undulating road,
an unsteady stack of bee-hives
The song is the whine from a transformer,
crickets, waist-high roadside grass,
a summer that just will not let up.
The song is a power pole’s pale-brown
ceramic cup receiving a direct hit
from a clod flung by my brother.
It is looped bars laid
against the white paper of a gravel road.
Released the year and month my father died,
‘Wichita Lineman’ can still bring me the valley
where we lived,
still bring me grief, the sound
of wind through wire, the loneliness
of country verges; but does not bring
my father back. You can ask
too much of a song.
Kay McKenzie Cooke
from Born To A Red-Headed Woman, Otago University Press 2014
thursday quartet 9:15
The stairwell grew and rolled
with slackened half-night. Quite clearly
she saw how her words had become her.
When she sang she remembered; her breath was deep
letters unnudged. The stairwell hummed. Everything
smelt of other people’s hands.
One, two, three. Another life had trained her ready.
She knew these breaths. It had been a day
of near misses, daredevil secret creatures
who followed her home, a line of sight
and the road, misadventured art deco.
Had she been good enough?
At night her window smithied day.
She could see the boats as they came.
The stairwell rose and then uprising
the first notes.
When Johnny Cash was sad he’d call Willie Nelson and ask for a joke.
Willie knew a dirty joke – good or bad – was the secret to happiness.
Some people haven’t yet realised that Willie Nelson is one of the greatest singers, guitarists
and songwriters. But there’s time. There’s always time. Despite it being funny how it always seems
to just slip away. Still, to add to the legends of Willie smoking pot on the roof of the White House
and blowing out interviewers so that they couldn’t remember where they parked their car or where they lived or worked,
we can now thank Willie not only for his 70 albums and for writing the greatest jukebox weepie of all time…
But, also, on some level, he helped keep Johnny Cash alive for as long as he lasted. Johnny battled his depression
with a dirty joke from Willie Nelson. I’m not saying it works for everyone but it served The Man in Black.
carrying its song to crushed metal, smashed glass,
and fading in echoes of the old folks’ choir.
from The Conch Trumpet, Otago University Press, 2015
My brother says that he doesn’t
understand poetry. He hears the words
but they all intersperse into a polyphonic
whirl of voices; no meaning to them
beyond the formation and execution
of sounds upon lips, pressing together
and coming apart. I cannot touch or feel
words, but I see them ‒ the word ‘simile’
is a grimacing man, poised on the edge
of polite discomfort and anguish. ‘Dazzled’ is
a 1920s flapper with broad, black eyes
and lank black hair around the edges of
her face. A boy in my music class hears
colours ‒ well, not hearing as such, he says,
but images in his mind’s eye. People play
tunes and ask him what colour it is, but
they play all at once, and he says that it is
the indistinguishable brown of all colours
combined. I think of a boy I used to know
called Orlando, and how this word conjures
the sight of a weathered advert for a tropical holiday
in my mind ‒ a forgotten promise, just ephemera
and not to be mentioned. The History room at school smells
like strange, zesty lemons, like the smell when you
peel a mandarin and its pores disperse their
sebum into the air, or when you squeeze the juice
from a lemon into your hands, and feel it dissolve
the soapy first layer of skin. I always think of
a certain someone when I smell this, even though
they wear a different perfume, and when I listen
to soft guitar ballads I think of them too, even though
I know they wouldn’t have heard them. All
of the sounds and smells and thoughts blend
into ephemera, scorched postcards of violets and
swallows, etched with the perfect handwriting of
old, consigned to antique stores that smell of
smoke. Things of the past with no value, no
substance, just air filled with citrus mist. I collect
each word and strain of what was once fresh in
my mind, in a forgotten jacket pocket, to be discovered
on some rainy day, years later. I’ll pull out the
postcard and think of the way I always look twice
when I see someone with curly hair; the word ‘longing’
is a blue wisp that creeps between the cracks
in my fingers. That wisp hides in these things,
tucked away, like the 1930s train tickets I found
in an old book. I wonder if their owner ever made it
to their destination. I wonder who they were.
first appeared in Milly’s Magazine
Love songs we haven’t written
Within the warm wreckage of me,
I’d never dare to ask you, but
in that moment when pain finds it plowing rhythm,
would you want me dead?
It’s a startling thought.
So round and whole and ordinary.
But you can’t know these things until
you’re sunk deep in the geometry of them. Of course,
the bed I lie on would be lily white and threatening levitation.
I would imagine the emptiness I leave and
you would think of all the ways to fill it.
That is the grotesque version.
It should of course be the other way around.
I don’t need misery to write poetry.
For me words come only after precarity passes
and there is safety in sitting still for long stretches.
Words, eventually, have the thickness of matter
left out too long in the sun. My love,
If we had a daughter, I’d be more dangerous.
She’d lick words whole out of the air.
I would recognize her tiny anthem.
Like you, she’d need two anchors, and only one mast.
Like me, she’d be immovable, a miniature old woman
by seven years old.
my singing teacher says yawning during lessons is good
it means the soft palate is raised and air circulates the bulb of your skull
to be pulled out between front teeth like a strand of taut hair
gum skin or yesterday’s nectarine fibre
in empty classrooms my body is a pear, grounded but reaching
the piano is out of tune, its chords now elevator doors
a shrieking melody that says: relish the peeling off
floss til you bleed and watch through the bannisters
voices merge like a zip ripped over fingers
reeling backwards and thrown to the wall
are all the arcades, rubber children
midnight sirens and birds sounding off one by one
the sopranos cry out offering forged banknotes
while the altos bring the alleyways
you crash through the windscreen, thumbs deep in pie
laundromat coins with that rhythm
Emma Barnes lives and writes in Te Whanganui-ā-Tara. She’s working on an anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writing with co-conspirator Chris Tse. It’s to be published by AUP in 2021. In her spare time she lifts heavy things up and puts them back down again.
Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer and editor from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published widely in Aotearoa. Her debut poetry collection A Man Runs into a Woman (Hue + Cry Press) was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her secondcollection Work (Hue + Cry Press) was published in 2015. Sarah is currently writing a book on womanhood and midlife.
Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020 and is titled Upturned. She lives and writes in Ootepoti / Dunedin.
Cadence Chung is a student from Wellington High School. She started writing poetry during a particularly boring maths lesson when she was nine. Outside of poetry, she enjoys singing, reading old books, and perusing antique stores.
Lynley Edmeades is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Listening In (Otago Uni Press, 2019). She lives in Dunedin and teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of Otago.
David Eggleton is the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019 – 2022. His most recent book is The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, published by Otago University Press.
Rata Gordon is a poet, embodiment teacher and arts therapist. Her first book of poetry Second Person was published in 2020 by Victoria University Press. Through her kitchen window, she sees Mount Karioi. www.ratagordon.com
Lily Holloway is a queer nacho-enthusiast. She is forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8 and you can find her work on lilyholloway.co.nz.
Pippi Jean is eighteen and just moved to Wellington for her first year at Victoria University. Her most recent works can be found in Landfall, Starling, Takahe, Mayhem, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook among others.
Harry Ricketts teaches English literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. His Selected Poems appeared in June, Victoria University Press.
Simon Sweetman is a writer and broadcaster. His debut book of poems, “The Death of Music Journalism” was published last year via The Cuba Press. He is the host of the weekly Sweetman Podcast and he writes about movies, books and music for a Substack newsletter called “Sounds Good!” (simonsweetman.substack.com to sign up). He blogs at Off The Tracks and sometimes has a wee chat about music on RNZ. He lives in Wellington with Katy and Oscar, the loves of his life. They share their house with Sylvie the cat and Bowie the dog.
Apirana Taylor, Ngati Porou, Te Whanau a Apanui, Ngati Ruanui, Te Ati Awa, is a nationally and internationally published poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, actor, painter and musician. He has been Writer in Residence at Canterbury and Massey Universities. He frequently tours nationally and internationally visiting schools, tertiary institutions and prisons reading his poetry, storytelling and taking creative writing workshops. He has written six collections of poetry, a book of plays, three collections of short stories, and two novels. His work has been included in many national and international anthologies.
Catherine Trundle is a poet and anthropologist, with recent works published in Landfall, Takahē, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, Not Very Quiet, and Plumwood Mountain.
Foxstruck and Other Collisions, Shari Kocher, Puncher & Wattmann, 2021
Shari Kocher reads five poems from Foxstruck and Other Collisions
‘All the Silver Ships You Carry’
‘As We Spiral Pine Tree Mountain’
‘Not the Horses’
‘Goats Cheese with Honey and Rosemary on Toast on Sunday Morning’
‘Peak-to-Peak Amplitude is also the sound of the wind on the tundra, singing’
The poems in Foxstruck and Other Collisions cross many registers and seek to intervene in the ‘death drive’ at work in the over-culture at every level. At the same time, art as a measure of resistance is also riddled with colonisations of every kind. Though it’s hard for this poet to speak about her own work in any comprehensive way, the poems in this collection tackle the labour of love and the work of eros not as modes in which to answer historical and contemporary atrocities, but as provisional structures in which to witness and invoke the kinesis of a tangible ‘life-force’ larger than the self, inherently more mysterious, unknowable, and ecological than the scholarship this poet has undertaken will ever grasp. In this arbitrary selection of five poems, a vision of diverse artistries and bold scholarship is explicitly referenced, from the astronomy of Rebecca Elson, the encaustic paintings of New Zealand artist Amy Melchior, fellow New Zealand artist Kate Van der Drift, one of whose river works adorns the cover of this book, writings by Clarice Lispector and Carson McCullers, the philosophy of Gaston Bachelard, to diffuse and implicit connections with the influential work of Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Deborah Bird Rose and Constanza Ceruti, among others. If poetry is to be a shelter of any kind, then the biosphere that breathes it must be porous and open to the sacred, however that term is both contested and defined.
Shari Kocher, July 2021
Shari Kocher is the author of Foxstruck and Other Collisions (Puncher & Wattmann, 2021) and The Non-Sequitur of Snow (Puncher & Wattmann 2015). Sonqoqui: a Threnody is currently in translation under the auspices of The Peter Steele Poetry Prize (2020). She holds MA and Doctorate degrees from Melbourne University, where she sometimes works in the creative writing program. She also works in a freelance and remedial capacity, but during lockdown, finds herself working primarily on a collection of short stories and new poetry, while shadow-boxing a monograph on Dorothy Porter and Anne Carson. Website