Category Archives: Aotearoa poetry

Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews – Alice Te Punga Somerville’s Always Italicise: How to write while colonised

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

from ‘Anchor’

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.

from ‘Too’

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).

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Emma Neale’s ‘Little Fibs’

Little Fibs

Let us praise
the small evasions:
the missed call
the slight sore throat,
the prior engagement;
the short works of fiction
that act like the turn of a key,
the snib of a front door’s fly screen
which mean we can try to forge the silence
that ferries us to the hinterland of the wildest interior.

Emma Neale

Emma Neale is the author of six novels,  six collections of poetry, and a collection of short stories. Her novel, Billy Bird (2016) was short-listed for the Acorn Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and long-listed for the Dublin International Literary Award. Emma has received a number of literary fellowships, residencies and awards, including the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for a Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry 2020. Her first collection of short stories,  The Pink Jumpsuit (Quentin Wilson Publishing, 2021) was long-listed for the Acorn Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The mother of two sons, Emma lives in Ōtepoti/Dunedin, where she works as a freelance editor.

Poetry Shelf occasional Poems: Ian Wedde’s ‘Six dreams’

Six dreams

Torn

In last night’s dream I was a gridiron professional in L.A.
and ‘in a relationship’ with no-nonsense Aussie actress Rachel Griffiths

whom I dislike as the gawky Sarah in Brothers and Sisters
but adore as crazy Brenda in Six Feet Under. ‘Brenda’ and I

couldn’t persuade the puppy to romp on the bed
with us. When I tried to crawl home through the wire mesh tunnel

that led from our place to the street torn up for gun emplacements,
I ripped my best suit. The puppy was whining, ‘Brenda’ was in the window,

but I was snagged, there, in full view, the rip in my Boss
making a noise like icebergs breaking loose.

Flowers falling

Tūī grawking and dial-toning in the Green Belt
among the obliging Aussie eucalypts

whose red dirt nectar they relish more
than the pale citrus, herbaceous local drop.

Was this a dream? Who cares. ‘And then I woke up’ is such
a cop-out. Sipped flowers falling before us as we walked.

Wild turkey at the back of the driving range

It sits up nicely for you under unbelievable azure
but keep your head down. Hang on to your turkey sandwich.

After dark they floodlight the range and you see
red eyes down there at the back. Trajectories, they go up

and over, they sky then earth, a line that can’t be straight
because it’s too full of meaning. A thoughtful pause.

I see where you’re coming from, but settle down,
earthed and ready for impact.

Black

Ten minutes in The Warehouse is enough to make me want
to kill myself. It’s the material inertia of New World aisles

that makes me want to end it. You’re doing well
if you can even find the Modern Tretchikov in Moscow. Tusiata and I

walked for hours over a bridge and finally
through a kind of art store.  Our shoes were made of cardboard

and fell apart in the rain. There was a sculpture cemetery, and a tent
for drinking beer and vodka. In the art warehouse

Malevic’s black square was barely displayed at all
but my entire past rushed eagerly into it. In the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa

the opposite thing happened. The darkness at the back
of Caravaggio’s Ecce Homo just kept redeeming it.

Film treatment

The klieg lights, the dark,
dripping forest, the rank flanks

of horses, a sneery hound pissing
on wet tents. The collapse

of public transport, the unhygienic
orphanage, the barracks, the unpredictable

success of tour discounts. A lake
in which a lake

is reflected. A mountain
superimposed on another where

thoughts race along the boardwalk
losing touch with their bodies.

Ian Wedde

Ian Wedde’s latest poetry book was The Little Ache — A German notebook. Victoria University of Wellington Press, 2021. The poems were written while he was in Berlin researching his novel The Reed Warbler.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: James Brown’s The Tip Shop

The Tip Shop, James Brown, Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2022

Alex Grace writes on the back of The Tip Shop: “Funny, dark, insightful and nothing close to a chore to read. Poetry, but it doesn’t suck.” Ha! Some poetry must suck, even be a chore to read, like a school assignment! James Brown’s poetry is cool – ok a lazy-tag adjective children are often forbidden to use as what does it actually mean? It means James’s poetry is hip, electric, agile on its poem toes, lithe on its heart beat, and is immensely readable.

The opening poem, ‘A Calm Day with Undulations’, places visual waves on the page and sets you up for all manner of undulations as you read the collection: wit, heart, life. In the poem, James uses an ocean metaphor to write about cycling which is a way of writing about living. Think surf / swell / naval surface / roll up and down / wave length / lull / pool.

It’s a calm day with undulations.
My tyres flow freely
across the naval surface.

The Tip Shop appraises and pays attention to scenes, moments, events, potential memory, language. The detail ranges from measured to madcap. Questions percolate. Poetry rules are invented. Words are played with. Dialogue is found. Poems stretch and poems repeat. Herein lies the pleasure of poetry in general, and a James Brown collection in particular: there is no single restrictive model when it comes to writing a poem. Within the collection as a whole, and within the frame of an individual poem, James resists stasis.

A poem that epitomises intricate delights is ‘Schrödinger’s Wife’. It delivers a miniature story laced with wit and puzzle. Here is the first stanza:

Mary didn’t walk with us Sundays. She ran.
With earbuds, she could keep reading. Her shop,
Schrödinger’s Books, was a tough mistress.
‘Are you working today?’ we’d ask. ‘Yes and no,’
she’d reply. She just needed to ‘finish the books’.
Can the books ever be finished? They wink at us
as though there are uncertain things
they think we ought to know.

I am drawn to repetition, to a concatenation of detail, especially in list poems, overtly so or nuanced. Three examples in The Tip Shop, establish A to Z lists. Another poem juxtaposes ‘I must not’ and ‘I must’. A found poem, like a form of canine play, lists dog owner dialogue. And then the delight in repetition dissolves, and time concentrates on the washing and peeling of fruit. In ‘Lesson’, a single elongated moment becomes luminous when caught in the poem’s frame. We are implicated, and are returned to an (our) apple: “When was the last time you / washed a green apple”.

Three longer poems stretch into telling a yarn, spinning a story, as the repeated indents mark the intake of a storyteller’s breath. Glorious.

‘Waiheke’ pares back to an ocean moment, and I am imagining the scene imbued with love. So much going on beneath, on and above the surface of the poem, whether in the breaststroking, in the prolonged looking.

You yearn so much
you could be a yacht.
Your mind has already
set sail. It takes a few days
to arrive

at island pace,
but soon you are barefoot
on the sand,
the slim waves testing
your feet

The Tip Shop is piquant in its fleet of arrivals and departures. It is poetry as one-hundred-percent pleasure – it makes you laugh and it makes you feel. It encourages sidetracks and lets you rollercoast on language. What a poetry treat.

James Brown’s poems have been widely published in New Zealand and overseas. His Selected Poems were published in 2020. Previous books include The Year of the Bicycle (2006), which was a finalist in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2007, and Go Round Power Please (1996), which won the Best First Book Award for Poetry. His poems are widely anthologised and frequently appear in the annual online anthology Best New Zealand Poems. James has been the recipient of several writing fellowships and residencies, including the 1994 Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary, a share of the 2000 Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship, the Canterbury University Writer in Residence, the Victoria University of Wellington Writer in Residence. James works as an editor and teaches the Poetry Workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. 

Te Herenga Waka University Press page

Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: No Other Place to Stand

No Other Place to Stand: An Anthology of Climate Change Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand, Jordan Hamel, Rebecca Hawkes, Erik Kennedy and Essa Ranapiri, Auckland University Press, 2022

Auckland University Press is to be celebrated for its stellar poetry anthologies. No Other Place to Stand: An Anthology of Climate Change Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand offers an eclectic, and indeed electrifying, selection of climate change poetry. The editors, Jordan Hamel, Rebecca Hawkes, Erik Kennedy and Essa Ranapiri, are all frontline poets themselves.

The dedication resonates and stalls your entry into the book because it is so apt: “To those fighting for our future / and those who will live it.”

A terrific foreword by Alice Te Punga Somerville establishes a perfect gateway into the collection. Alice wonders, when climate change is such a mammoth issue, “about the value of the particular, the specific, the local, the here, the now”. What difference will reading and writing make when the world demands action? Alice writes: “Every single poem in this anthology speaks to the relationship between words and worlds.” That in itself is enough of a spur to get a copy of the book, and open up trails of reading, wonder and challenge.

I am spinning on the title. I am turning the word ‘stand’ over and over in my mind like a talisman, a pun, a hook. I am thinking we stand and we speak out, I am thinking we stand because we no longer bear it, and I am thinking we stand together.

The poems selected are both previously published and unpublished. The sources underline the variety and depth of print and online journals currently publishing poetry in Aotearoa: Minarets, Starling, Spin Off, Mayhem, Pantograph Punch, Poetry NZ, Blackmail Press, Overland, Sweet Mammalian, Turbine | Kapohau, Takahē, Stasis, Landfall.

No Other Place to Stand is an essential volume. You can locate its essence, the governing theme, ‘climate change poetry’, yet the writing traverses multiple terrains, with distinctive voices, styles, focal points. I fall into wonder again and again, but there is the music, the political, the personal, the heart stoking, the message sharing. There is the overt and there is the nuanced. There is loud and there is soft. There is clarity and there is enigma. You will encounter a magnificent upsurge of younger emerging voices alongside the presence of our writing elders. This matters. This degree of bridge and connection.

Dinah Hawken has long drawn my eye and heart to the world we inhabit, to the world of sea and bush and mountain, stones, leaves, water, birds. Reading one of her collections is like standing in the heart of the bush or next to the ocean’s ebb and flow. It is message and it is transcendental balm. Her long sublime poem, ‘The uprising’, after presenting gleams and glints of our beloved natural world, responds to the wail that rises in us as we feel so helpless.

6.a.

But all I can do is rise:
both before and after I fall.
All I can do is rally,

all I can do is write
– I can try to see and mark
where and how we are.

All I can do is plant,
all I can do is vote
for the fish, the canoe, the ocean

to survive the rise and fall.
All I can do is plead,
all I can do is call . . .

from ‘The uprising’

I am reading the rich-veined ancestor currents of Tayi Tibble’s ‘Tohunga’, the luminosity of Chris Tse’s ‘Photogenesis’, the impassioned, connecting cries of Selina Tusitala Marsh’s ‘Unity’ and Karlo Mila’s ‘Poem for the Commonwealth, 2018’. Daily routines alongside a child’s unsettling question catch me in Emma Neale’s ‘Wanting to believe in the butterfly effect’. I am carried in the embrace of Vaughan Rapatahana’s ‘he mōteatea: huringa āhuarangi’ with its vital, plain speaking call in both te reo Māori and English.

Take this heart-charged handbook and read a poem a day over the next ninety days. Be challenged; speak, ask, do. I thank the editors and Auckland University Press for this significant anthology, this gift.

Auckland University press page

Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based poet and performer. He was the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam champion. He uses poetry and performance to create awareness and discourse about environmental and political issues. He is the co-editor of Stasis Journal and his debut poetry collection Everyone is everyone except you was published by Dead Bird Books in 2022.

Rebecca Hawkes is a poet/painter from Canterbury, living in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her chapbook ‘Softcore coldsores’ was published in AUP New Poets 5 in 2019. Her first full-length poetry collection, Meat Lovers, was recently unleashed by Auckland University Press. Rebecca edits Sweet Mammalian and is a founding member of popstar poets’ posse Show Ponies.

Erik Kennedy is the author of Another Beautiful Day Indoors (Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2022) and There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), which was shortlisted for best book of poems at the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. He lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

Essa Ranapiri (Ngāti Wehi Wehi / Ngāti Takatāpui / Clan Gunn) is a poet from Kirikiriroa. They are part of puku.riri, a local writing group. Their book ransack was published by Victoria University Press in 2019. Give the land back. It’s the only way to fix this mess. They will write until they’re dead. And after that, sing.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: Sudha Rao’s On elephant’s shoulders

On elephant’s shoulders, Sudha Rao, The Cuba Press, 2022

Poetry books are so often objects to treasure, physical treats to hold.

Sudha Rao’s On elephant’s shoulders is exactly this, with its exquisite, embroidered cover image (sorry no acknowledgement of source or creator). The interior design is equally appealing; a perfectly sized font with ample space for the poems to breathe and readers to sojourn. The title also captivates, and I especially love the fact there is neither definite nor indefinite article to support ‘elephant’. I am pirouetting on the title, imagining elephant as both anchor and viewing platform. Falling into the title, over and over. I am both grounded and liberated.

The opening poem, ‘Warp and weft’, establishes the collection as a book of arrivals and departures. It sets the scene for recurrent motifs, ideas, words, images – and I love that. The poem is divided into three parts: passages, shadows and braids. The three terms are an excellent guide to the book as a whole. I am particularly captivated by the recurring ‘braids: there are plaits, the father’s hands, the grandmother’s hair, the South Island rivers, a way of writing, a way of living between here and there, this home and that home.

“I am a bracelet of memories bearing the weight of your bones.”

from ‘Threads across waters’

The poetry, in keeping with braid notions, exudes both economy and perfumed richness, an evocative serving of detail. The detail enhances a scene, a series of relationships, poetry as musical score. The detail may be repeated, as in echoey ‘braid’, you might move from the scent of turmeric to a ‘sunflower flowering’.

What renders the collection poignant, especially in its poetic tracing of a migrant’s experience, is the presence/absence braid, whether we are talking geography, kin, food, gestures, memories. Everything feeds into a braided version of home that is near and far, intimate and longed for.

[…] When you crossed

old waters, did you know

how cold new waters would be?

from ‘Cradle’

I talked about stitching when I recently reviewed Elizabeth Morton’s terrific collection Naming the Beasts, and stitching seems appropriate here, especially bearing in mind the sublime cover. Stitching is a way of talking about poetic craft, about the little threads that are both visible and invisible parts of the art and craft of a work, in the edge and the tension. Sudha has stitched her poetry in threads that gleam of the everyday, the detail so alive with living, epiphany, challenge, but that also work behind the scenes as the poems flow like little exhalations. Measured. Mesmerising. Magnificent.

This is a collection to treasure.

“‘There is rhythm in the cabbage tree when it combs clouds.”

from ‘Keeping time’

Originally from South India, Sudha Rao migrated to Dunedin with her parents and trained in classical South Indian dance. She moved to Wellington to establish Dance Aotearoa New Zealand (DANZ). Sudha’s poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies in New Zealand and overseas, including Ko Aotearoa Tātou | We Are New Zealand and Best New Zealand Poems. Sudha was a participant in the International Bengaluru Poetry Festival 2019 and performs in Wellington with Meow Gurrrls.

The Cuba Press page

Poetry Shelf occasional Poems: weekend diary and Janet Newman’s ‘Goodbye Kukutauaki Road’

The rain is dampening down the day before it has even started, but I plan on reading books in bed, making fish tacos for dinner, eating cheese scones and writing some more poems for children. I posted Claire McLintock’s cancer thoughts from Canvas on social media and felt so many connections. YES to living each day fully. It may be sleep or dream or reading or writing. But the choices I make – I know some of you might think I am crazy busy but I’m not – mean I live in a state of unbelievable happiness, calm and strength. It is like a miracle, and that I love words helps no end.

Claire and her husband are selling fundraising TShirts for Sweet Louise with Workshop.

This morning I was thinking about how important conversations and connections are when you are cut off from ‘normal’ life. I can’t imagine getting on a plane for a long time, or laughing in a crowded cafe. Or even going to festivals and launching books. But I can imagine connections and conversations through the exquisite reach of blogging. Even doing my own secret writing!

With these words drifting in my head, I read Janet Newman’s email. She writes:

Reading Robert Sullivan’s Rākaihautū there [on reawakened Poetry Shelf] and Anna Jackson’s response made me think of a poem I wrote after another poem from Tūnui / Comet. My poem reflects on the loss of productive farmland to lifestyle blocks, an old issue that is finally starting to seep into national and political consciousness. I thought you might like to read it. 

I loved reading Janet’s poem – and I love how conversations and connections keep rippling out from Robert’s poetry, from the poem that relaunched Poetry Shelf, and from Anna’s. Poetry has the power to forge links with who, where and how we are in the world, the way we connect with and care for the land, the way we connect with and care for our own wellbeing. It is wonder and it is joy.

Goodbye Kukutauaki Road

“… there’s only a certain percentage of elite soils in this area, or even around the country. And once those are gone, they’re gone forever. You can never get them back.”

––Pukekohe farmer Stan Clark

 

my old friend.
I know how far you travel.
            Back to my no-gear,
pedal-brake bike tyres
catching in dull gravel,
school bus
turning in smoky dust, Dad milking Jerseys
in a walk-through shed: six sheds, six houses
and a sheep farm at your end.
Back to war veterans clutching
marbles in your land ballot.
Back to Te Rauparaha’s boundary:
Kukutauaki Stream near Paekākāriki,
a snare for catching kākāriki.
           Out west, sunsets
over Waitārere Beach. East, rainbows
over the Tararua Range, colourful
as your jam-packed letterboxes jostling with wheelie bins 
for shoulder space.
Yet why do I see your bitumen shine
as loss my friend, your slick curves
as enclosure?
           You’re smooth
as a black cow and our vehicles slide down
your spine all the way to Wellington,
coast nose-to-tail through the gully. Return
to pūkeko stalking lifestyle blocks, kererū
ghosting rural retreats.
           I wave as my car swings past
your long, blue sign. Bye, bye
no exit Kukutauaki Road.

 

Janet Newman

(after ‘Hello Great North Road’ by Robert Sullivan)

 

 

Janet Newman is a poet and scholar. Her debut poetry collection is Unseasoned Campaigner (OUP 2021), the manuscript of which was shortlised for the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award. Her poems have been anthologised in Manifesto Aotearoa (OUP 2017) and No Other Place To Stand (AUP 2022). Raised on a Horowhenua dairy farm she now farms beef cattle. She holds a PhD in English from Massey University for her thesis Imagining Ecologies: Traditions of Ecopoetry in Aotearoa New Zealand (2019).

Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: Elizabeth Morton’s Naming the Beast

Naming the Beast, Elizabeth Morton, Otago University Press, 2022

You don’t want book reviews to diminish your reading experience, to lead you up the garden path of expectation, to lay false trails and unreliable hopes. Imagine the review as a tasting room where you let a morsel of the book swirl on your tongue, releasing flavour, leaving a vital aftertaste. You don’t want book jargon, you just want an aromatic taste (precursor) of the writing, the ideas, the feelings, the connections.

Elizabeth Morton’s Naming the Beast is poetry gold. It is the kind of book you savour slowly, absorbing brocade textures, the sumptuous threads, the surprising patterns, satisfying layers. This is poetry that is sonorous, sensual, startling. It got me thinking about how enmeshed I become in certain poetry collections. How I am laid bare as a reader. How I am spiked and soothed. I get caught in a poem, no question.

Elizabeth writes about being in someone else’s poem:

In somebody else’s poem it’s goddamned desolate. I’m in a house
with no windows; just venetian blinds on blank walls. The rotary phone
bleats hircine, and I hold a real gun to my head. In a poem, the gun goes off.
I wake in another poem, planting succulents because love goes as far
as my toes, and no further.

from ‘We write what we know when we run out of things we don’t’

I could simply pitch this as a collection of beasts and wild(er)ness, because beasts and wildness are an integral part, but it is also a collection of time, mothers, luck, castles, fire, relatives. The subject matter roves and ranges, at times resembling stream of consciousness connections, lily pad leaps, edgeways writing. The music is symphonic. The lexicon is extraordinary; words feed subterranean narratives and dreamscapes, pungent fields of details. There is plainness and there is opulence. There is the off-real and there is the hyperreal.

Celebrate the richness of poetry, the allure of detail thickets, but there is too the invitation of the unsaid, the vibrating space, the reading alcoves.

I admire the collection’s invisible stitching, the behind-the-scenes craft of the poet that produces such poetic fluency. Yet at other times, the making of poetry is poignantly visible. Poetry comes protagonist, a character moving in and out of shadow and light.

Ah, I have used book jargon, kindled your expectations crazily, so I return to my idea of a tasting room – I will hold out a tasting platter for you, and let some of Elizabeth’s lines spark your reading tastebuds.

First, bark the moon. Make ceremony from a stammer,
from a steaming crockpot of two-minute noodles,
from the way the taxi driver sucks his bottom teeth as he drives you north.

from ‘Instructions on how to lose a mind’

My mother is the night owl. My father is the tussock,
I own memories, alone. My celestial object is done for.
The rust core of a lamp that was already out – a red star coughing
though light-years of average days, days spent picking lemons
and walking average suburbs, nodding at ordinary dogs.

from ‘Stolen pepeha’

We pipette soluble proteins like mothers do. Mothers are no minor characters,
who arrange herbs like rubrics, under the soft light of a kettle stove.
Home is a fume-cupboard where legend is filtered like breath.
Our mothers huddle around pantries of cod liver oils, vitamins, and bleach.
Their hands haul the sun over the eastern hillocks, like an axiom.

from ‘Immunohistochemistry’

I want to say I know this place with my eyes closed.
I can run, butt naked, through cabbage rows and dairy cows,
and the Waikato will annunciate my name with a branding iron
and an ear tag that speaks to a bloodline sniffed out by regret.
I am writing in my first language. My second is shame.
When I dream I dream words I cannot spell.

from ‘God of nations’

If I were a robot, I would be in a better poem.
If I were a person, I’d want the telephone wires to hum like stars,
and the stars to be unavoidable.

form ‘Hard sell’

Get a copy of this book, open it, pick a poem, take a road trip within its lines, inhabit as a small retreat, sojourn in a series of alcoves. This collection is gold.

Elizabeth Morton grew up in suburban Auckland. Her poetry and prose have been published in New Zealand, the UK, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and online. She holds an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Morton has accrued many literary acknowledgements for her work, and her previous collection of poetry, This is Your Real Name (OUP, 2020), was longlisted for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry in the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The manuscript of Naming the Beasts was shortlisted for the 2021 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award.

Otago University Press author page

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Rebecca Hawkes’ CEMETERY LAWNMOWER

CEMETERY LAWNMOWER


“When viewed in deep time, things come alive that seemed inert. … Ice breathes. Rock has tides. Mountains ebb and flow. Stone pulses. We live on a restless Earth.”

—Robert Macfarlane in Underlands

tomb with a view – earthed on a volcano’s seaward slope
I kneel in fresh-cut lawn – not knowing whose bones
decompose below – only interested in the sheen
of this headstone – a slab of flashing feldspar
hewn in loving memory – my mother the geologist

surveys well-kempt lanes – reading the names
on strangers’ graves – the cemetery lawnmower
hums around us – clippers licking to and fro
constant as the waves – eroding the basalt cliff below
that threatens all our bones – even diamond gravestones aren’t forever

nor this rich labradorite – it births aurora borealis
in the right light – glints of scintillating indigo
blue morpho – sips of methylated lavender
a happenstance of kissing crystal facings – turned brilliant
in crushing heat – how we are all made

anew through strain – the only constant thing is change
in this restless earth – my mother sees these shifts
like a slow-motion picture – technicolour aeons
on the geological map – this is her gift to her children
she invented two new deaths – but gave us all of time

etched on a headstone – if we can learn to read igneous
glints of a frenzied planetary history – continents stretch like cats
and we are very small fleas – we do not live for long
we make our homes – in the fertile shadow
of the volcano – we build cities on fault lines

that fell cathedrals – we pray for everyone we love to live forever
then where there are graves – the lawnmowers graze
where there are cemeteries – there are rising stones
and women – who want to know the names not written on those monuments
but inside their very substance– ancient incantations in crystal language

tonight after the wake – we will gather on this hillside
to light fireworks – with a stray roman candle
the dry cut grass will blaze – brilliant as lava on this dormant caldera
and through it all the cemetery lawnmower – will hum darkly among the graves
tending to them – until the real volcano wakens

from a dream beyond all naming – reclaims the fallen and their stones
sowed like seeds beneath the lawn – returns us all
to the molten cradle – where the start of all life flows in liquid light
the sound of shifting continents – sure and steady as a mother’s heartbeat

Rebecca Hawkes

Rebecca Hawkes is a poet, painter, editor. Her first chapbook of poems Softcore coldsores appeared in the reignition of the AUP New Poets series (2019). Her debut collection Meat Lovers (AUP 2022) was awarded The Laurel Prize Best International First Collection 2022. Rachel edits the poetry journal Sweet Mammalian with Nikki-Lee Birdsey, and has co-edited an anthology of poetry on climate change, No Other Place To Stand (AUP 2022). Raised on a Mid-Canterbury sheep and beef farm, Rebecca now lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington. She is a founding member of popstar poets’ posse Show Ponies and holds a Masters degree in nonfiction creative writing with Distinction from the International Institute of Modern Letters. 

Rebecca Hawkes website

Auckland University Press author page

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Robert Sullivan’s ‘Rākaihautū’

 

Rākaihautū 

thinks about driving to Waihao 
to fetch some uku
to make a koauau. 
It’s at Waihao Box
where you said the local boaties
couldn’t stand walking 
around your group of mana whenua
collecting uku for taonga pūoro.
I want to play taonga pūoro
like you. It’ll improve my poetry
readings where I need to lean
against the fourth wall to be heard.

 
It ain’t easy. I still can’t
click my fingers properly
let alone make a clay flute
in my head. It’s the idea
that some non-Māori boaties
are out there waiting
to troll me for holding up
their kayak adventure 
when this billy goat
wants a koauau journey
for healing. Āuē. I’m still 
in my dressing gown. 
If only Tangaroa
would be my valet.
Tomorrow it’s 
Mutuwhenua.
I don’t even know
the tides.

Robert Sullivan

Robert Sullivan belongs to the Ngāpuhi and Kāi Tahu iwi. He has won awards for his editing, poetry, and writing for children. Tunui Comet is his eighth collection of poetry. Robert’s an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Massey University. He is a great fan of all kinds of decolonisation.