Category Archives: Aotearoa poetry

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Karlo Mila’s ‘Stretch Marks’

Stretch Marks

(20 Sep 2021)

On looking
at my naked body.
Knowing you will be
Looking. 

My body is ripped 
with silver linings.

Stretch marks. 

A weave of flex.
when my world got too big for me,
bearing babies
or burdens.

Stretch marks.
Invisible inked in skin.
Traces I needed to suddenly hide, 
Dive in, submerge into skin
safer unseen
from predator, prowler,
prey.

Oh luminous seal
with quick thick thighs
you dived underwater
thick-pelted, you hide,
Unseen.
Beached.

The loneliness of mammals. 

Alone in the deep blue deep.
Gestating to a saline rhythm .
All my own. 
All alone.
Skins grown
and shed.

Stretch marks.

A spider webbed weave
of vibrating threads.

Silks spun,
and undone.

The painful crack
of the shell of my understanding
breaking.

Growth.

Shedding full body armour
of weta skin, mine and others –
left behind –
with prayers on parting.

The coconut husk –
wringing cream and water
to try and see my future
in the milk of ancestral fluids.

The cocoon
of caterpillar storybooks
cake and pickle and pie,
so hungry.

The black butterflied chrysalis 
of love poetry written in my 30s.
That well written body indeed.

Here it is. 
Looking for love 
Same songs
different sounds.
Re-makes.
Re-takes.
Re-release. 
Re-mastered. 

I am always entranced 
by the acoustic version,
almost poetry. 

Sound healing.
Sexual healing.

I have been waiting for you so long,
Karakia even.
Hope. 
Asking.
Please.
It’s been too long.
Too alone.
I’m too human.

Across time and space,
He arrives, rain.
softly quoting hurricane.
He comes
in front of me,
sticky embryonic. 

Ultimate tōhu
of fertility. newness. rebirth.
remake. Remaster. 

We cross digital divides,
magic echnologies of presence.
wonder-lust, the marvellous.
the surreal sexuality of screens.

Missionary position
is my favourite way
to look at you.
Mirrored
Reflection 
You see
Beauty.
Speak it out loud.

Small scars on my body speak 
to trauma worn, scribbled on skin.
Stretch marks.
Paper thin.
Will you see me? My frailty?
Will you want? 

The small gods of chemistry
are king.

Will you want to
Come in?

Already I imagine you
in my mouth. Salty. Sweet. Big. Deep.

Oceanic. 

De-col. it’s everywhere.
Even in the seabed and foreshore of play… can I play? Can I say? 
Will you stay? 

Trust. in the 21st century 
of unconditional lovers
where it only lasts as long
as the longing.

I want nothing but.
Having settled for less.

I want no settler.
I want native. 
Natural. 
Ease. 

But these stretch marks speak to small anxieties, 
cartography of flesh.
I take a deep breath.
With these silver threads:
Tuia ki roto
Tuia ki waho
Tuia ki raro
Tuia ki runga

I stitch. I sew. I bind. 

Both of us
gasping for breath
in this ocean we have 
Leap of faithed 
into. 

Oh departing place 
of the spirits
watch over us.

Trust. 
Deepak recasts it as moving into the unknown 
beyond the prison of the past.
I listen to his lilting words:
“Today, I will step into the unknown.
I will relinquish the known.
By stepping into the unknown
I will enter in the field of unlimited possibilities.”

This is our place.
The field
beyond write and wrong.
Between hema and mata’u.
The field between other husband and other wife. 

The field between us.

There is no map-making to be had
using the small cursive script of the past. Prisons. 
I cast away my own incarcerated markings,
scribbles, notes, past poems, tiny wounded stories. 

I will give up the need to track-back
the way out
To tightly pencil a safe way in.
To re-make the boundaries.  To fortify.  
To try and control the way home.

I will leave the birds-eye to my ancestors,
keeping an ear open only
to the manu that tangi
keeping our forest alive.
This field.

I step, I step, 
Knowing I will be naked,
humbled, human, 
vulnerable, ashamed, 
afraid, and aroused,
I step, I step
into our field
of infinite possibility.

In this green grass,
I will lie
and meet you there.

Karlo Mila

Karlo Mila (MNZM) is an award winning Pasifika poet of Tongan / Palangi descent.  Her third poetry book “The Goddess Muscle” was released by Huia Publishers in 2020.  Her first book won the first best book award at the New Zealand literary awards in 2005.  She is a Mother, writer, researcher, creative, academic and activist.  Her day job is as the Programme Director of the Mana Moana Experience at Leadership New Zealand.  Karlo is the founder and creator of Mana Moana – aimed at elevating and harnessing indigenous Pacific knowledge for contemporary living and leadership. It is based on five years of postdoctoral research.  Karlo has three sons and lives in Auckland.

Poetry Shelf review: A Game of Two Halves: The Best of Sport 2005 – 2019

A Game of Two halves: The Best of Sport 2005 – 2019, ed Fergus Barrowman
Victoria University Press, 2021

This book looks back through the fifteen issues of Sport from 2005 to 2019. In 600 pages it presents fiction, poetry, essays and oddities by 100 of our best writers, from leading lights like Bill Manhire, Ashleigh Young and Elizabeth Knox, to emerging glow worms like Tayi Tibble, Ruby Solly and Eamonn Marra. (Blurb)

Reviewing A Game of two Halves is a sad glad day for me. I have loved reading my way through old favourites but I am also sad that this is a farewell. I can remember how excited I was when the first issue of Sport hit the bookstands. It was fresh, exciting, unmissable. I am pretty sure I have every copy stacked on my study shelves. On the blurb, I read that editor Fergus Barrowman’s A Game of two Halves selection is a mix of ‘leading lights and glow worms’, the established and the emerging. Light is such a good analogy because I often find myself using the word ‘incandescent’ to describe writing I love. Writing lights me the reader, the world at large and in miniature, the present, future, past, the miraculous things words can do. Even when the subject matter is dark, shadows and weirdness loom, writing still lifts. Sets me alight. This is what literary journals can do. This is what Sport has done.

All those clothes it turned and churned, the lint
that trapped in its door. I once thought
many things would make my life happier
and now one by one I will let them go.

Rachel Bush from ‘All my feelings would have been of common things’

Confession – I haven’t read the whole volume yet but I can’t wait to do that to share. I am so engaged, I want you to place A Game of Two Halves on your summer reading pile as a go-to source of luminous writing. Last ‘light’ analogy I promise. Reading the poetry (I always start with the poetry) is like tuning into a Spotify playlist where individual tracks resonate and then send you back to the albums. Rachel Bush’s sublime ‘Thought Horses’ sent me back to that collection. Michele Amas’ equally sublime ‘Daughter’ sent me back to After the Dance. Herein lies the first joy of Fergus’s playlist. I am reconnected with poems that have registered as all time favourites. Read Angela Andrews’ ‘White Saris’. Bill Manhire’s ‘The Schoolbus’. Read Ruby Solly, Esther Dischereit, Rebecca Hawkes, Ash Davida Jane, essa may ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, Michael Krüger, Jane Arthur, Chris Tse, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Emma Neale. Read Amy Brown’s ‘Jeff Magnum’. Ashleigh Young. Louise Wallace.

This is the place where the schoolbus turns.
The driver backs and snuffles, backs and goes.
It is always winter on these roads: high bridges
and birds in flight above you all the way.
The heart can hardly stay. The heart implodes.

Bill Manhire from ‘The Schoolbus’

Perhaps the biggest gleam is from Tina Makereti’s prose piece, ‘An Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman walk into a Pā’. I am such a fan of her novels, rereading this reminds me of the power and craft of Tina’s writing.

This is the way of it. Before I have memorised her in a way that will last forever, my mother is gone. If someone asks me to recite my first memory, which consists of chickens in a yard and an old farmhouse and an outside toilet, it will contain this absence. For the rest of my childhood, I don’t think it matters.

Tina Makereti from ‘An Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman walk into a Pā’

In his introduction, Fergus tracks the development of Sport, the almost demises, and the decision to close (with regrets!). He mentions the vibrancy of the issue Tayi Tibble recently edited (Sport 47, not just the cover but also the contents) and ‘whether it made sense to go on reinventing Sport every year?’ I have appreciated the move to showcase Aotearoa writers beyond the traditional Pākehā set in recent years. To always draw upon the inspired writing of new generations. Fergus closes off his introduction by mentioning a couple of other anthologies VUP / THWUP are doing and then offers this: ‘And after that? You tell us? Send us your ideas. Send us your work.’ Exciting prospect.

I raise my glass to toast what has been an important venue for new and established voices. I will miss Sport. I will really miss Sport. Thank you Fergus and Victoria University Press / Te Herenga Waka University Press for dedicating time and love to a vital space for readers and writers. I look forward to what comes next.

It has been a long time
since I last spoke to you.
When we were children, our fathers
wanted to be mountains
our mothers were the sky.
So here I am, the dry hands,
steady in fog, waiting by the not-there
trees, the holes birds make
in the air.

Jenny Bornholdt from ‘It Has Been a Long Time Since I last Spoke to You, So Here I Am’

the air is thick with depression
even the flies   fly very slowly

Freya Daly Sadgrove from ‘Pool Noodle’

I worry about whakamā and imposter syndrome paralysing our people, making them too afraid or inhibited to really live their best lives or at least the best lives they can under the hellskies of capitalism and party politics. I’m all about people, and I’m all about the best lives.

Tayi Tibble from ‘Diary of a (L)it Girl or, Frankenstein’s Ghost Pig’

 

Fergus Barrowman has been the Publisher of Victoria University of Wellington Press since 1985, and founded Sport along with Nigel Cox, Elizabeth Knox and Damien Wilkins in 1988. He edited the Picador Book of Contemporary New Zealand Fiction in 1996.

Victoria University Press / Te Herenga Waka University Press page

Poetry Shelf review: Out Here: An anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aotearoa

Out Here: An anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aotearoa,
eds Chris Tse and Emma Barnes, Auckland University Press, 2021

Gender buttons

An object on a shelf; a self with words inside that never came out.
Your finger down my spine; fine singing in my bones. Umbrella avoiding
the rain: the celebrating hat you wear. Tell me a little more about myself.

The food you forgot; what you got for biting at my breasts. The coloured
loss of uneaten toast on the bench and your tongue of loving pepper.
Hunger heavy in my mouth.

This room we bed down in, be wed down in. White roses growing
on the ceiling.
You want in a variety of colours, but a rose is a rose is a rose
a bunch of them placate the air much better than one.
We couldn’t grow anywhere else.

The teasing is tender and trying and thoughtful. Melting without mending
you undo my gender buttons till all of me is myself.

 

Hannah Mettner

Out Here is a significant arrival in Aotearoa, both for the sake of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers and readers, and for the sake of poetry. The sumptuous and wide ranging anthology feeds heart mind skin lungs ears eyes. It is alive with shifting fluencies and frequencies, and I want to sing its praises from the rooftops, from the moon, from street corners.

Chris Tse and Emma Barnes have responded to the erasure of queer identities in a national literature that was traditionally dominated and controlled by white heterosexual men. Chris and Emma opted to use ‘Takatāpui’ and ‘LGBTQIA+’ in the title to signal Aotearoa’s rainbow communities within the broadest possible reach. They have used the word queer in their introduction and underline that that must make room for as many ‘labels and identities’ as necessary. I am using the word queer with similar intentions.

Having spent a number of years on a book that responded to the erasure of women in literature across centuries, I understand what a mammoth task it is to shine a light across invisible voices and to reclaim and celebrate. To refresh the reading page in vital ways. Out Here draws together prose and poetry, from a range of voices, across time, but it never claims to cover everything. We are offered a crucial and comprehensive starting point. After finding 110 writers, Emma and Chris sent out an open call, and the response was overwhelming.

We chose words that delighted us, surprised us, confronted us and engaged us. We chose political pieces and pieces that dreamed futures as yet only yet imagined. We chose coming out stories and stories of home. We followed our noses. What our reading revealed to us is that our queer writers are writing beyond the expectations of what queer writing can be, and doing it in a way that often pushes against the trends of mainstream literature.

Emma Barnes and Chris Tse

I am reading the poetry first. I am reading poetry that reactivates what poems can do whether in terms of style, voice, theme, motifs. Some poems are navigating sexuality, gender issues, sex, love, identity. Other poems explore the body, oceans, discomfort, the end of the world, mothers, fathers, violence, tenderness, place, the dirt under fingernails. Expect humour and expect seriousness, the personal and the imagined. Expect to be moved and to be heartened. Some of the poems are familiar to me, others not, and it is as though I have parked up in a cool cafe for a legendary poetry reading (if only!). The physicality is skin-pricking, the aural choices symphonic, the intimate moments divine.

Take the three poems of Ash Davida Jane for example. I am reminded of the feminist catchphrase the personal is political but I am upending it to become the political is personal. ‘Good people’ resembles an ode to the soy milk carton. The poem considers how to be in the world, to make good choices, and be a good person when the world is drowning in plastics. It blows my head off. Ash’s second poem, ‘water levels’, celebrates the tenderness of being in the bath with someone who is shampooing your hair. The poem slows to such an intimate degree I get goosebumps. A poem that looks like a paragraph, ‘In my memory it is always daytime’, pivots on the waywardness of memory, its omission coupled with its power to transmit. I keep stalling on this glorious suite of poems rereading, revelling in the ability of poetry to deepen my engagement with the world, language, my own obsessions, weakenesses.

I stall too on Carolyn DeCarlo’s poems like I have struck a turning bay in the anthology. Rereading revelling. Reading revelling. And then Jackson Nieuwland’s astonishing ‘I am a version of you from the future’ where they stand in the shifting shoes and choices of a past self and it is tender and it is moving and it is tough. Or Ruby Solly’s ‘Lessons I don’t want to teach my daughter’, which is also tender and moving and tough. The ending in both English and Te Teo Māori restorative.

Imagine me standing on my rooftop singing out the names of the poets in the anthology and how they all offer poems as turning bays because you cannot read once and move on, you simply must read again, and it is measured and slow, and the effects upon you gloriously multiple. Chris and Emma have lovingly collated an anthology that plays its part in the final sentence of their introduction:

The final sentence resonates on so many levels. No longer will we tolerate literature that is limited in its reach. Poetry resists paradigms set in concrete, fenced off manifestos, rules and regulations, identity straitjackets. I welcome every journal and event, website and publishing house, that opens its arms wide to who and how we are as writers and readers. Out Here makes it clear: we are many and we track multiple roads, we are familied and we are connected. We are loved and we are at risk. We are floundering and we are anchored. This is a book to toast with a dance on the beach entitled POETRY JOY. I am dancing with joy to have this book in the world. To celebrate its arrival, I invited nine contributors to record a poem or two. Listen here.

Thank you Emma, Chris and Auckland University Press; this book is a gift. 💜 🙏

I would like to gift a copy of this book to one reader. Let me know if you’d like to go in my draw.

The editors

Chris Tse (he/him) was born and raised in Lower Hutt. He studied English literature and film at Victoria University of Wellington, where he also completed an MA in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML). Tse was one of three poets featured in AUP New Poets 4 (2011). His first collection How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (2014) won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry and his second book He’s So MASC was published to critical acclaim in 2018.

Emma Barnes (Ngāti Pākehā, they/them) studied at the University of Canterbury and lives in Aro Valley, Wellington. Their poetry has been widely published for more than a decade in journals including Landfall, Turbine | Kapohau, Cordite and Best New Zealand Poems. They are the author of the poetry collection I Am in Bed with You (2021).

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: LAUNCH FOR Rachel O’Neill’s Requiem for a Fruit

Event description

We Are Babies and Jhana Millers Gallery would like to welcome you to the launch of Rachel O’Neill’s second poetry collection, Requiem for a Fruit.

Requiem for a Fruit continues Rachel’s exploration of the form of prose poetry, to astonishing results. The poems in this book cast a slant lens on the everyday, opening up a world of possibilities and curious characters. With imagined and real dialogue, these characters converse and live as fully on the page as they would in the known world. O’Neill covers topics from love to interstellar travel, from the domestic to the absurd. Here are dowagers and dogs, a robot mother, husbands hiding behind fire trucks, and families made of stone. The landscape they populate is without reason, yet full of fruit.

Registration for this event is required so please register here for a free ticket. Our capacity for safe distancing is 40 people. Vaccine passes will be required. You can enter from 6pm, we will check your ticket at the gallery entrance and you will be asked to sanitize your hands and scan the QR code. Manual contact tracing also available. There will be copies for sale before and after the speeches and Rachel will be happy to sign them for you. There will be no food or drinks available under current alert level restrictions.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Kate Camp’s ‘What I would give away’

What I would give away

This pill
little light blue moon
tasting of rosewater

the night
in lines
through black dust
of the blind

pines
manuscript
architecture
smashed and torn off
places

morning light
when orange falls
six weeks a year
that way.

But the darkness?
The one behind my eyes?
In the cavities
of this responsible body? No.

When I saw the tow truck
I thought it was carrying
a crucifix.

Let’s start with that.

Kate Camp

Kate Camp’s most recent book is How To Be Happy Though Human, published by Victoria University Press and in Canada by House of Anansi Press. Her memoir, You probably thing this song is about you, will be published by Victoria University Press in 2022. 

Poetry Shelf review: Janet Newman’s Unseasoned Campaigner

Unseasoned Campaigner, Janet Newman, Otago University Press, 2021

Poet Janet Newman lives at Koputaroa in Horowhenua, where she farms beef. Her debut collection, Unseasoned Campaigner, is nourished beyond description of scenic beauty to a deep love and engagement with the land and farming. Women writing the land is not without precedent. Ruth Dallas comes to mind initially. She spent time as a Herd Recording Officer during WWII and found cities restrictive and dull afterwards. When she was living in Dunedin in later years, writing enabled returns to her beloved rural settings. Janet dedicates several poems to her. The second poet that springs to mind is Marty Smith, whose rural background has featured in her poetry, and who is also unafraid of over and underlaying an idyllic landscape with the grit and reality of farming life.

Janet’s first section, ‘How now?’, places the reader one hundred percent in rural experience: managing livestock, a diarrhea-soaked calf that doesn’t make it, drenching, the slaughter house in graphic detail, blood and sweat. There are water restrictions, water anxiety, drought. A dead river. More dead stock. Horses led to shade and grass. Scenic routes and beauty spots are off the menu.

I applaud this revised view but it is the people who hold my attention to a significant degree. While farmers are currently under scrutiny for diverse reasons, particularly climate change, some are speaking out about how tough it is. Listening to RNZ National’s excellent Country Life, it is clear there is no hold-all definition for the contemporary farmer and their diverse practices. In the book’s middle and final sections, Janet also opens up what “farmer” means, and that adds significant and poignant layers to the first poems.

In the second section, ‘Tender’, Janet draws us to close to a father, and I am assuming her father. He was a complicated, multifaceted human being: a farmer, father, husband, war veteran. He was a man of few words and myriad actions, toil and more toil. He cursed war on television and kept a belt by the door. He is memory, because he has passed, and he fills the speaker with mourning. The poems are vividly detailed with the physicality of daily life, and it is through his presence farming is made prismatic, beyond stereotype. When I pivot on the word “tender”, I see the poems as an offering to both mother and father, to us as readers. I see too the tenderness in the care of animals, and tender as the sore spot that is parental absence, maternal and paternal memory.

His language is electric rhythm of pump and wire,
gush of couplets from the artesian bore,

a flighty heifer enjambed
with a low rail,

stanza of cloud over the back paddock
threatening rain,

the fuck, fuck, fuck
of a dead bull in the drain.

from ‘Man of few words’

The mother is an equally haunting presence with her preserves, her baking and her plums. She too is drawn close through a focus on the physical detail of everyday actions. She is mourned and, in dying first, is an unbearable hole in the father’s life. The parental poems scratch the surface of my skin. Preserving, for example, brings back my own pungent memories. And preserving is also the tool of the poet, poems are stored in sweet and salty brine, held out to be savoured by both poet and reader.

Preserving

Red plums give up
round plump bodies
when I cut out their stones.
I hear my mother’s long-ago voice:
‘Don’t overdo it.’ The boiling
and much else. In the photograph
she is smiling behind glass, my memory
of her steeped in absence. Now,
even that faithless call sounds sweet
as in preserving jars sour plums
surrender to sugar syrup.

The third section, “Ruahine”, moves and adjusts to loss. It also finds footing on scenic routes. In the final poems, the poet is out driving and absorbing the birds and trees, mesmerising hills, the land bereft of vegetation. The landscapes have widened further to carry farm practices, daily challenges, connections to the land and to making a living. But of course it is not as though the farmer is blind to beauty. The final cluster of poems become song, act as sweet refrain, where upon in each return to a view, the view shifts in nuance. Just like poetry. Just like the way life is nuanced and resists deadening dichotomies. ‘Beach’ catches the elusiveness of what we sometimes see and feel so exquisitely:

Some days the clouds disappear
on the drive to the coast

the way the things you wanted to say
evaporate when you get there.

Sentences float to the pencil-line horizon
between sky that is nothing but blue

and sea that is as blue as …
but words fail you,

smudge like fishing boats
in the distance without your binoculars

from ‘Beach’

Janet writes with poise, each line fluent in rhythm and accent, and in doing so achieves a collection that matches heart with sharp and bold eye. Her collection belongs alongside the very best of Marty Smith and Ruth Dallas, a fine addition to how we write the land, whoever and wherever we are.

Janet Newman was born in Levin. She won the 2015 New Zealand Poetry Society International Competition, the 2017 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems and was a runner-up in the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Awards. Her essays about the sonnets of Michele Leggott and the ecopoetry of Dinah Hawken won the Journal of New Zealand Literature Prize for New Zealand Literary Studies in 2014 and 2016. She has worked as a journalist in New Zealand and Australia, and a bicycle courier in London. She has three adult children and lives with her partner at Koputaroa in Horowhenua, where she farms beef cattle.

Otago University Press page

Review: Siobhan Harvey for The NZ Herald

Interview: Standing Room Only, RNZ

Feature: Koputaroa farmer and poet Janet Newman writes thesis on ecopoetry

Interview: Janet Newman discusses ecopoetry, RNZ

Interview: The Big Idea

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Amber Esau’s ‘Liminal’

Liminal

Parted down the middle, his sharpened cuerpo
struts out of a waspish cave in the dark

harakeke, strands bowing under a nosey Tūī
eyeing the red beaned flower that’s claw-like

in lazy light. We lock eyes in glass. Feathers
and flax. He stares from corners acting coy

but this is k’rd, bruh, a Queen will call you
out for not looking long enough. I ruffle

the curls searching silences in the glare
knowing? Not quite slow moving but watchful

the manu drops a beak at onyx arrowhead
eyes forgetting forward. Down the vague grey

he walks the tui across the winking glass
into a powdery afternoon, kicking up silent

dust behind them on the street. They swoop to the top
of St. Kevin’s perched for a second before flying off

into the blue thin as the moon of pulotu
dragging nails across the fog and Paz.

Amber Esau

Amber Esau is a Sā-māo-rish writer (Ngāpuhi / Manase) born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau. She is a poet, storyteller, and amateur astrologer. Her work has been published both in print and online. 

Hear Amber read

 

Poetry Shelf review: Liz Breslin’s in bed with the feminists

in bed with the feminists, Liz Breslin, Dead Bird Books, 2021

I prefer barefoot
I prefer paper maps
I prefer flowers in the ground
but first, I prefer coffee

I prefer lunch
I prefer savoury conversation
I prefer to sit at the children’s table
I prefer time off without good behaviour

from ‘Possibilities’

Liz Brezlin’s debut poetry collection Alzheimer’s and a Spoon hooked me on so many levels. Her second collection, in bed with the feminists, is politically, poetically and personally active. I love that. The stellar opening poem, ‘the things she carries’ (you can read a version here), is like a mini performance of the book. The things a book carries. The things a poem carries. Everything from lightness to weight. Hidden and on view. The poems carry you along everyday tracks, with myriad opinions and musical riffs, routine and reverie, complaint and consternation. Love.

it’s not just the rain keeping me awake
its insistent game of getting in the cracks

it’s the drip drip down
of can’t change that

it’s the drip drip down
of can’t change that

 

from ‘out of bed with the feminists’

There is the steady beat of the word feminism, a wide-reaching fuel of a word that refuses to be pinned down to single options or compartments. The speaker is in bed with the feminists, going to museums, on a road trip, stepping off from power-struggle sites, marching. There are maternal poems, colours running in the wash, the negotiation of waste in supermarket aisles. There are sturdy threads leading to a matrix of other women writing: Hélène Cixous, Virginia Woolf, Anne Kennedy. The body, the maternal ink, the writing both inside and outside a room of one’s own, perceptions under question, rampant consumerism. I particularly love a poem that steps off from Anne Kennedy’s ‘I was a feminist in the eighties’, with a nod to Helen Reddy (you can read Anne’s poem and Liz’s appraisal of it here).

I was a feminist, trapped in a lion
gutted and ruined, I had a good cry

buttoned my coat way up to my chin
wanted the me back who started this game

thought I could escape through the jaws of the beast
starved myself pretty, slipped through his teeth

 

from Liz’s ‘Then a lion came prowling out of the jungle and ate the feminist all up’

 

 

Liz’s poetry collection offers a rewarding language experience: lines where words get fractured, dashed apart, piled up one against the other, as though we can’t take meaning and fluency for granted. There are honey currents and there are judder bars in the roads and sidetracks of reading. This is life. This is thinking. This is critiquing. This is poetry.

The book took me back to my doctoral thesis where I spent a number of years considering what drove the ink in the pen of Italian women writing. The ink pot was full and unexpected as it brimmed over with a thousand things, until in the end, I decided the woman writing was opening up and out, and her ink was open, and and was the key word. A hinge, a connection. That’s how I feel about this book. It is alive with hinges and connections. I love the effect of in bed with the feminists, so full of complicated invigorating necessary life.

at the funeral
with the feminists

 

there are times not to think about sex
Catholic school will teach you this
although if in the middle of life there is death

today is far more than tears and shibboleths
desire is pulsing persisting lips
there are times it is hard not to think about sex

demure, buttoned, ruffled, pressed
lashes to lashes, busting tits
middle to middle, in life we are dead

already unless we remember, lest we forget
sadness, egg sandwiches, sniffling kids
yes, there are times not to think about sex

think sobering snowdrops on unfrozen earth
the priest, droning, the week’s shopping list
how always, in the middle of life, there is death

we are warm for such a short time at best
maybe the true crime is to try to resist
there’s no time like all time to think about sex
what else is life but sex and death?

 

 

In bed with the feminists is Liz Breslin’s second poem collection, part of which won the 2020 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems. Her first collection, Alzheimer’s and a spoon, was listed as one in the NZ Listener’s Top 100 Books of 2017. Liz was a virtual resident at the National Centre for Writing, UK, in February 2021, where she documented life through the peregrine webcam on Norwich Cathedral in a collection called Nothing to see here. In April 2020 she co-created The Possibilities Project with Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature.

Liz’s website
Deadbird Books page
Liz reads from in bed with the feminists
Landfall Review Online by Jordan Hamel

PS For someone one with minor visual impairment and reading glasses that broke at start of lockdown the font was a struggle, pale and small.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Erik Kennedy’s ‘Lives of the Poets’

Lives of the Poets

There is the possible world in which,
having no safety net
to fall into, I killed myself.

There is the world in which
acclaim came early
with a book called something like
Sex Owls of the Sun,
and the effects of success jaded me,
so I stopped pursuing
the art that I loved.

And there is also the world that was
a succession of cool, forgettable evenings
spent among canapés and loud friends,
in which we aged so slowly
that we hardly noticed it,
until it blurred our vision
like damp creeping into a camera.

Erik Kennedy

Erik Kennedy is the author of the poetry collections There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (2018) and Another Beautiful Day Indoors (2022), both with Victoria University Press, and he has co-edited No Other Place to Stand, a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific forthcoming from Auckland University Press in 2022. His poems, stories, and criticism have been published in places like FENCEHobartMaudlin HousePoetryPoetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

Poetry Shelf review: Mark Pirie’s Slips – Cricket Poems

Slips: Cricket Poems, Mark Pirie, HeadworX, 2021

Summer Days

days
run
away

like
cricket
balls

to
the
fence

Mark Pirie has been writing cricket poems for a number of years. He published a booklet of cricket poems in 2008 and has now gathered a whole book together. If you are a cricket fan like me, you will be drawn to a collection that celebrates a game that captivates in both its slowness (the tests) and its speed (the T20s), its intricacies, elegance and skill. The poems consider specific matches, offer odes or tributes to beloved players, sing the praises of a sweep, swinging ball or one-handed boundary catch. There is a reflective gaze back, as memory is trawled for standout moments. Remember when. Remember how. I found myself trawling though my own cricket memories and revisiting Vivian Richards at Lord’s, listening to cricket on the transistor radio as a child, watching Richard Hadlee take one wicket after another, Martin Crowe bat.

But the joy in reading these poems is how life infuses cricket and cricket infuses life. The delight is also in how playing cricket can be aligned to writing a poem. How you might go out for a duck but it is a love of playing/ writing that matters. I read this book for the pleasure of cricket, the pleasure of poetry, and a myriad reactions animating the bridge between the one and the other.

Lost

Driving back from a book fair
whites on a green field

remind me of a love now lost.
It’s a while since I played.

I long for that Saturday field,
can smell the whiff of leather,

the feel of stitch and seam.
At the fair I’d looked at old

cricket books. They all knew.
And when I arrive home, my bat

lies in the corner propped against
the dresser, hidden by shadow.

November 2010

Mark Pirie was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1974. He is the Managing Editor for HeadworX, a small press publisher of poetry/fiction. His poems have been published in India, New Zealand, Australia, Croatia, the US, Canada, Singapore, Iraq, France, Germany, and the UK. In 1998 University of Otago Press published his anthology of ‘Generation X’ New Zealand writing, The NeXt Wave. He was managing editor of, and co-edited, JAAM literary journal (New Zealand) from 1995-2005, and currently edits broadsheet: new new zealand poetry. In 2003, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, England, published his new and selected poems, Gallery: A Selection. In 2016, a new selection of his poems Rock and Roll appeared from Bareknuckle Books in Australia.

HeadworX page
Mark Pirie website
Poetry Shelf: Mark Pirie reads from Slip