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.
how long you been here 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 how long you been here
Emer Lyons is a lesbian writer from West Cork living in Ōtepoti.
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
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 fair
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 longblacksplashofcoldmilkonesugar 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
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
Poetry Shelf readings is a new series that celebrates recently published poetry collections with an audio performance. Louise Wallace’s collection, This Is A Story About Your Mother, is published by Te Herenga Waka University Press, May 2023. I will be posting a review of the book in the coming weeks. In the meantime take a listen to two poems:
Louise Wallace is the author of three previous collections of poems. She is the founder and editor of Starling, and the editor of Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2022. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2008, winning the Biggs Prize for Poetry, and was the Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago, Dunedin in 2015. She grew up in Gisborne and now lives on the Otago Peninsula in Ōtepoti with her husband and their young son.
You can hear the chants, the fervent pitch of girlish voices. Banners like waves ripple down Cuba Street. You imagine their heads bowed together, small groups of women on wooden floors, gathered around sheets and stencils and ink. ‘Housewives areunpaid slaves’ – how about that? Yes! Yes, and what do you think – ‘Abortion A Woman’s Right’? They sway and swing their long brown hair, furrow their brows, wear corduroy flares, their bras are flung. They will
change course soon enter offices in pencil-line skirts, tick-tick through timeworn government halls in stiletto steps become ‘working women’, and ‘solo mums’ on the benefit, taking all the jobs, taking
selfies in low-cut tops for ‘likes’ on Facebook, swinging pink feather ponytails while mothers don’t seem to bat an eyelid
yet you hear this tap – tap-tap of hashtags – me-too and blue- pink-and-white tweets rising like banners about to ripple in a new wave down Cuba Street.
— from Some Bird (Sudden Valley Press) launching August 2023
Gail Ingram is an award-winning writer from the Port Hills of Ōtautahi and author of Contents Under Pressure (Pūkeko Publications 2019). Her second poetry collection Some Bird (Sudden Valley Press) is forthcoming. Her work has appeared in Landfall, Turbine/Kapohau, The Spinoff, The Poetry Shelf, Poetry New Zealand, Cordite Poetry Review, Blue Nib, Barren Magazine and others. She has an MCW (with distinction) from Massey University, is managing editor for a fine line, and a short fiction editor for Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. Website
On a drizzly Saturday at the end of April, I travelled to Matahiwi Marae in the Hawke’s Bay with friends, family, and whānau to be officially inaugurated as New Zealand Poet Laureate. Although I’ve been in the role for just over eight months, the inauguration is a significant and special milestone – not only is it when I receive my tokotoko, it’s an opportunity to recognise the Poet Laureate role’s connection to Te Matau-a-Māui, where it all started.
My tokotoko was presented to me by Jacob Scott, who has created the tokotoko for all the previous Poets Laureate. Mine is made of bone and pounamu, and features carvings that are reminiscent of symbols from ancient Chinese calendars and almanacs. Jacob named the tokotoko “知識”, which means “knowledge”. He spoke of the mystery in the carvings and how it’s my job now to untangle the meaning behind them. There’s something very poetic about being guided by the unknown into knowledge and understanding.
Naturally the weekend was filled with poetry – my guest poets Emma Barnes, Louise Wallace and Nathan Joe read beautifully at all of the weekend’s events, introducing people to the breadth of contemporary Aotearoa and world poetry. (Nathan’s reading of Chen Chen’s ‘Winter’ is going down as a capital-M Moment in New Zealand poetry history.) I was also delighted to be able to include other writers in the line-up for the Saturday night public event: David Chan, Leah Dodd, Gem Wilder (who also read a poem by Claire Mabey), Ash Davida Jane, Rose Lu (who read a new poem by Nina Mingya Powles) and Rebecca Hawkes. One of the new poems I read is an 85-line acrostic acknowledging the Poets Laureate who have come before me. You can read it on the New Zealand Poet Laureate blog.
It’s safe to say I wasn’t quite prepared for how emotional the whole weekend was – many happy tears were shed and I tried my best to not look embarrassed as people said very nice things about me all weekend!
I’m so grateful to everyone who played a part in making it all happen: Matahiwi Marae, the National Library, Hawke’s Bay Readers and Writers, Toitoi Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre, Wardini Books, Ben Fagan, Emma, Louise and Nathan, and everyone else who spoke or performed during the weekend. Thank you to you all.
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.
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
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Ten of us entered the room Eleven grew Into the people we weren’t before A collection of cells Transformed
You composed the best piece of us all Human, curled and alight A listening love Woven (we liked to think) with our best Words
That battled towards A consciousness A brittleness, an eagerness To be a known Will
Hey Rose, every minute of you Polished something never said And then somehow said When you wrote to Say
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 Goodbyes
There a woman fainted in the seat beside me She wore a red dress and soon came to To announce She once taught you Piano
I later saw her walking Smiling in the smoke waft Of fires lit to mark the way Now free of this Fact
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.
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.
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.
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
on the stone flags of the square outside the gallery —
patient in my red collar and tongue
all my love in waiting.
Chris Price from Husk (Auckland University Press, 2002)
Note on Poem
This poem holds a special place in my first book because I can remember so vividly the circumstances of its composition. It was a Sunday in spring 1997, and I’d just seen the big Hotere show Out The Black Window, ‘a literary take on the use of words and poetry in Ralph Hotere’s painting’ curated by Greg O’Brien, at City Gallery, Wellington. Hotere’s collaborators Hone Tuwhare, Cilla McQueen, Bill Manhire, and Ian Wedde had just given a reading in front of one of Hotere’s huge paintings: it may have been Dawn/Water Poem (1968). My eyes were full of Hotere’s powerful blacks and reds when I emerged blinking into a sunny Sunday afternoon in Civic Square, and the poets’ words were in my ears, when I saw a black Labrador with a red collar tied up outside the gallery, waiting for its owner. My partner Robbie was out of town at the time, so I too was in a kind of waiting state, and the poem started up in my head immediately.
Chris Price is based in Wellington, where she teaches the poetry MA at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. Her first collection of poems, Husk (Auckland University Press, 2002), won the 2002 NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry and her next book, the genre-busting Brief Lives (Auckland University Press, 2006), was shortlisted in the biography category in the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. She has published two other collections with Auckland University Press: Beside Herself (2016) and The Blind Singer (2009).
Favourite Poems is a series where a poet picks a favourite poem from their own backlist and writes an accompanying note.