Category Archives: NZ author

Some poems from the Ockham NZ poetry finalists: Briar Wood’s ‘Kuramārōtini’

 

Kuramārōtini

 

So the story goes

that trickster Kupe

cheated his friend

into diving overboard

to free the lines

then paddled rapidly away.

 

Some hoa.

Best to know that

legendary navigators take huge risks

and do not make the safest companions.

 

Ākuanei—

she asked herself—

what do I want—

home in Hawaiki

or the travelling years?

 

What does he want—

the waka my father gifted—

Matahourua and me?

 

Or maybe unhappiness

with the man she’d married

drove her to the coast.

It’s possible—

she was curious and Hoturapa wasn’t

the kind of man who liked a journey

so she chose Kupe.

 

Yet even an inveterate traveller

might become weary in a waka

on the open sea,

looking out for landfall.

 

Travelling direct to her destination—

as the future loomed towards her

she named that radiant land

on the horizon

Aotearoa.

 

©Briar Wood from Rāwāhi

 

Briar Wood grew up in South Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. Until 2012, she lived and worked as a lecturer in Britain. Welcome Beltane (Palores Press, 2012) made poetic links between family histories and contemporary places. The most recent collection Rāwāhi (Anahera Press, 2017) is focused through a return to Northland places where her Te Hikutū ki Hokianga, Ngāpuhi Nui whakapapa resonates with ecological concerns.

Monday Poem: by Gregory Kan

 

 

I wanted what happened to be something

I could know

and I wanted what I knew to be something

I could describe

something to which others could say

I know this

this happened to me also.

At the back of the room is a mirror

dreaming it’s become itself at last.

I keep walking

as if I know all the parts

and could play them.

 

 

©Gregory Kan

 

 

Gregory Kan is a writer and coder based in Wellington. His poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in literary journals such as the Atlanta Review, Landfall, The Listener, SPORT and Best New Zealand Poems. His poetry and philosophical works have also featured in exhibitions and publications for contemporary art institutions such as the Auckland Art Gallery, Artspace, the Adam Art Gallery, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the Physics Room. Auckland University Press published his first book, This Paper Boat, in 2016. An earlier incarnation of This Paper Boat was shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize in 2013. The book was also a finalist in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Best Poetry in 2017. He was a Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellow for 2017. His second poetry collection, Under Glass, is forthcoming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Library’s Peter Ireland on the tokotoko event for our Poet Laureate at Matahiwi

 

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Poet Laureate, Selina Tusitala Marsh, with fue and ‘Tusitala.’ Photographer: Fiona Lam Sheung

 

Poet Laureate, Matahiwi, tokotoko

 

Last weekend at Matahiwi marae near Clive, Selina Tusitala Marsh received her very own tokotoko. Since her appointment as Laureate in August last year she has been inseparable from the National Library’s matua tokotoko, loaned in anticipation of Jacob Scott creating hers. During that time Selina has shared this taonga with ‘three thousand pairs of hands’ from students of St Joseph’s school in Otahuhu – on the tokotoko’s first public outing – to those of Barack Obama on his recent visit to New Zealand. It’s been on protest marches, on half marathons and has even been dunked in a river – by accident, I think. All of this is a far cry from the tokotoko’s more sedate duties of sitting in a display case at the Auckland office of the National Library, and there can be no going back now! This preamble to last weekend speaks volumes for where Selina has taken the work of the Poet Laureate; it’s ‘out there’ like never before.

John Buck of Te Mata Winery in Hawkes started all this off in 1996 when he initiated the Te Mata Estate Laureate Award. Together with the honour, each Laureate received a tokotoko and a generous stipend of wine – and still do. The National Library took over responsibility for the Laureate in 2007 and Michele Leggott was the first Laureate appointed by the Library. Michele joined Selina last weekend with friends and fellow poets Tusiata Avia and Serie Barford. Selina’s family and the National Library were there in good numbers. It was quite a party all in all.

 

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Selina and family with Luka her brother with the guitar, leading a waiata. Photographer: Elizabeth Jones

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Jacob Scott having just unveiled ‘Tusitala’ before presenting it to Selina. Photographer: Elizabeth Jones

 

Selina has been working closely with Jacob on the creation of her tokotoko and was amazed, as we all were, with what Jacob has made. Selina’s tokotoko – ‘Tusitala’ – is carved out of maire, our heaviest indigenous wood, sharing that distinction with the matua tokotoko, to which it has other carved features in common. It is splendidly crowned with a fue or Samoan orator’s fly whisk – and clearer of the air of any unsympathetic spirits. To aid in what will undoubtedly be a lot of travel, the tokotoko is made in several sections and the fue, which was a gift to Selina from His Highness Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi, unscrews off the top.

I’m restricting myself to korero about the tokotoko because it is central to the way Selina thinks of her part in the Laureate story, and it feels right to allow Selina first go at capturing the spirit of the weekend. There was poetry aplenty, there was the most talented lot of students performing in Selina’s honour, and cool days on the edge of spoiling rain held at bay I’m sure by the warmth and breadth of Selina’s smile. There was Poets’ Night Out, the public reading on Saturday night in Havelock North, another round of pizza at Pipi café, kaumatua Tom Mulligan presiding with his special brand of manaakitanga and pride in what the Laureate means for Matahiwi. It was thrilling, exhausting, scintillating, as words blazed a trail across the firmament of poetry – and I badly need for it all to happen again this weekend. Most of all there was warmth and celebration and aroha by the bucketful. To close, a salute to Selina, our brilliant ‘Fast Talking PL.’

 

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Matua tokotoko in foreground joining protest against new marina on Waiheke on penguin nesting ground. Photographer unidentified.

 

Peter Ireland, 20 April 2018

 

Peter Ireland has ‘minded’ the Poets Laureate for the National Library since 2007. They seem not to have minded.

 

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NZ Herald and Hawkes Bay Today clip

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Review: David Merrit’s Crisis & Duplication

 

 

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I am thinking of creating (private) lists of books to read in particular circumstances. For example what to read when you have no power or running water and can only read by candlelight after a day consumed with slow-paced domestic chores. Thrillers worked for me.

And David Merrit’s Crisis & Duplication. I sat on the couch in the grey gloom and read it three times in a row. It is a slender chapbook published by Compound Press last year.

The book is in two halves with a foldout centrepiece. The first half draws Frank Sargeson into the poet’s musing self-reflective quick-fire monologue. It is sharp, angular and surprising.

 

I always seem to be writing poems in Wellington

sunlight on  a cold but bright winter’s day. I will

be outside a cafe in reflected mirror glass, dodging

bullets, writing inbetween showers & dristy

mizzle.

 

David is musing on the mirror image: himself and Frank, the connections, the writing surges and space for improvement. It is audacious, spiky, riveting.

 

It’s an easy poem this, preordained, quick

off the tongue, one poet, very alive,

400 miles south for now, compares life

& times with another poet, 60 years

ago still alive & kicking, a Janet Frame

tucked away in a back shed, her glittering

far away eyes focused on her own escape,

‘cept you like me, we never escaped to

 the place they call overseas.

 

The second half navigates the stages of making a book – not a big press book but a grassroots number. A miniature history of desktop publishing. It is risograph printed and bound with premium banana box card. Excellent to look at and hold.

 

So what do I do in a mini crisis? Will I set up invented conversations with someone who has affected me (also in the garden? writing poems? reading books?)? Is the occasion of writing a poem a crisis for some? A tilt, a topple, a brief epiphany?

To what degree is a poem a duplication?

In the grey gloom with no idea when the lights would be on, the spaghetti effect of questions was extremely welcome. Then again so was the downright admiration of the words on the line.

Yes, I recommend this book highly. Power or no power.

 

Interview and book details at Compound Press page.

 

 

 

 

Chris Tse to join LitCrawl 18 as a programme curator

 

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Well this is good news! It seems the Wellington literary extravaganza just gets better and better.

Looks like a trip to Wellington is in order!

Chris Tse to guest curate LitCrawl 2018

Poet Chris Tse is the inaugural guest curator for LitCrawl. We are tremendously excited to welcome Chris to the programming team where he will be conjuring up events alongside directors Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking. 

Chris is the author of two poetry collections published by Auckland University Press: How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes (finalist at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and winner of the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book) and HE’S SO MASC. Chris has a long history of involvement with some of Wellington’s leading arts and culture events, including roles with the New Zealand International Film Festival, Wellington on a Plate, Young and Hungry, and the New Zealand Young Filmmakers Showcase. As well as writing, Chris is an occasional actor and musician, and a keen photographer.

We know Chris will help curate an amazing programme for LitCrawl. Why? Because he gets what it’s all about:

‘LitCrawl is the biggest little literary festival in New Zealand. I wish I could say that I’ve seen it grow from the beginning, but I missed the very first LitCrawl in 2014 (I was bawling my eyes out at a Tori Amos concert in Melbourne). But! I’ve had the privilege of appearing in each LitCrawl since then and I’m thrilled to be on board this year as a guest curator.

The audiences at LitCrawl are some of the most diverse you’ll see here in New Zealand or abroad. Survey the faces present at any given event and you’ll see people from all walks of life brought together by a common curiosity. Although literature is front and centre, I love the cross-pollination with other arts and culture circles that happens during LitCrawl. There’s an exhilarating energy at every event, and the post-match party has become the social event in Wellington’s literary calendar.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews Manon Revuelta

 

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girl teeth Manon Revuelta, Hard Press, 2017

 

Manon Revuelta’s chapbook, girl teeth, prompted me to track her down and do an email interview over about a month. It was such a pleasurable conversation I didn’t want it to end. 

 

Paula: A number of years ago I picked your poem as the winner of the New Zealand Post Secondary School Poetry Competition. While I had to ponder for ages on the shortlist, your poem lifted above the rest and stuck to me with its glorious intricacies. It was a clear winner. In my speech on the night I borrowed from Ruth Padel and talked about the poem’s ‘chewiness’. All these years later I discover your chapbook, girl teeth, and am once again caught in the luminous effects of your writing. Can you build a little portrait of your writing life in the intervening years?

Manon: Thank you Paula, these are such kind words. It was such a lift to win that prize. That was all the way back in 2008, a whole ten years ago and my final year of high school. Since then my writing life has continued as more of an undertow, as I think it does for many. I studied English and Film in Auckland, where I took some wonderful courses with Lisa Samuels and learned all about language poetry. I also met Greg Kan, who became a good friend and as a fellow poetry nerd introduced me to some tremendous writers like Ariana Reines and Aase Berg. After university, I worked as a bookseller at Time Out Bookstore for a couple of years. That was such a blessing; I got to read a lot and organise poetry events and work amongst the most loving and inspiring group of people. I moved to London a few years ago, and when that became too exhausting and I fell in love, I moved to Berlin, which is where I am now.

 

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It’s taking a very long and occasionally dispiriting time to sort out what I’d like to do to earn a living, as I don’t think poetry is that. I’ve worked in countless subsidiary post-graduate roles from check-out girl to nanny to unpaid intern, but writing seems to be a really comforting constant in my life and all these things in their own ways have come to inform what I write and allow freedom for it. I have had poems published here and there, and last year my dear friends Anna and Owen published girl teeth, my first chapbook, with Hard Press. That was the accumulation of a couple of years of writing, and a very special project to me.

 

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Paula: I can really identify with this! London was a significant struggle and turning point for me as a writer (there were more to come though!). I find poetry fits so beautifully in the gaps of living – for me doing my degrees, being a parent, earning a living – yet it is so essential that poetry is larger than a gap. When I read your collection I am immediately struck by the right-hand pages that are uniformly devoid of text like little white pauses. It is akin to the silence after a piece of orchestral music that allows what you have heard to reverberate. The poems themselves are a satsifying mix of silences and sumptuous detail. What matters as you write a poem?

Manon: Oh London! It’s a beast. Everyone you meet seems so driven and everything is moving at such a fast pace and sometimes that means you’re inspired to seriously think about what you want and other times it means you just drown in everything you don’t want. I agree, it is important for poetry to be larger than a gap… but it’s sometimes barely possible for it to exist at all and I’m impressed that it makes its way in.

I suppose what matters to me as I write a poem is just that it at some point causes that indescribable glint? And that I can feel attuned to what that is for me, not someone else, and most importantly, enjoy the process. Poetry is my only opportunity to do strange things with language; to turn it into something elastic. For a long time I was really interested in formalism, and then swung the other way entirely, and I guess I have wanted to reconcile those… Italo Calvino quoted Paul Valery (I only seem to have read him in quotes) who said “one should be light like a bird, not like a feather”. I think that’s a great and far too quotable way of putting it, this velocity we respond to and attempt. That being said, I wouldn’t want to ever apply a rule to anything. I don’t know! You always find new ways of achieving things.

 

Paula: Italo Calvino is great – he is what inspired me to study Italian until there were no degrees left. I love his Six Memos for the Next Millennium. He has a lecture in there called ‘Lightness’. There is also quickness, visibility, multiplicity, and exactitude. He died before he wrote the sixth (consistency) or delivered any of them. I love your quote and fits your writing. There is both economy and agility on the line.

 

are poems shells

bone caves

gentle blunt beaks

lived in and left

for others to crawl into

Your first poem, ‘Shells’, is a delight. It reminded me of what Hinemoana Baker wrote on the back of her book, waha | mouth: ‘I’d like to think that opening this book to read is like standing at a mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand.’  Your tropes pull in multiple directions. On the one hand a poem might be held to the ear like a shell and who knows what you will hear. On the hand there is the mysterious dark space that Hinemoana draws upon. Do you ever relinquish music and mystery?

 

Manon: Yes that’s exactly where I got it from! The ‘Lightness’ lecture. I really love that book.

I liked posing a sort of question in that poem; I feel uncertain sometimes what poems are, what they are for. There is this intense inhabiting when writing and then they can later feel like such foreign things. Not in the sense of being possessed by some genius that flows through you; just that writing is a thing you are present in and then the written thing feels almost like a by-product. Mary Ruefle writes about a friend of hers whose poems, after time has elapsed, “look like handkerchiefs. Something I needed to blow my nose in, wipe some tears with, with a little lace at the edges and my initials in the corner. Poetry is so weird.”

That’s an incredible quote from Hinemoana; I love that image of a flame held up to illuminate a tiny part of something immense. I think the last two pieces in the chapbook, the more essayistic ones, were an effort to cast a wider light on things, to relinquish some mystery. Poems can be quite ciphered and condensed, which I love, but it felt good to write something more sprawling.

 

Paula:  What poets feel close to the way you write? Are there poets who write so differently to you but whom you admire?

Manon: That’s tricky… I can only look at what I like, rather than see if my work is close to it. I know some poets I’ve been reading lately are Carl Phillips, Anne Carson, Jean Valentine, Dorothea Lasky. I have always carried a torch for Paul Celan. There are of course poets who write differently to me but whom I admire greatly- perhaps someone like Alice Notley- her poems are very long! Also Hera Lindsay Bird. She makes me laugh and weep, a rare combination, at least in poetry.

 

Paula: I am moved by the arrival of a mother (your mother?) in the poems.

 

as a girl i watch my mother’s earlobe

pulled down by an earring and

the tiny hole

i can see right though and

i plant the sea there

from ‘girl teeth’

 

A mother (your mother?) reappears in the more essay-like longer poem, ‘Duchess’. There is such tenderness at work here, surprising in detail and revelation, it refreshes how we as adult daughters can write (our) mothers. Your Louise Bourgeois quote sets up the poem: ‘She shows herself at the very moment/ she thinks she is hiding’. Elizabeth Smither has a breathtaking poem, ‘My mother’s house’, in her latest book, Night Horses, where she watches her mother move through the house from her car.

What drew the mother, her various visibilities and invisibilities, into your poems?

 

Manon: Perhaps as a starting point, I have always been close with my mother; she is an incredible woman and occupies a huge space in my heart. I also think mother/daughter relationships are always to some degree complex and fraught and intense. There are so many invisible histories that make up what is visible in ourselves, our lives… I think in recent years I became fascinated by tiny signs of my mother’s influence coming through in me, and started to think about the deeper roots of my behaviour habits. A sort of psychoanalysis, I guess, which in turn led to an analysis of my mother, and of her mother, and of the ripple effects trauma can have in generations; the inheritance and expression and rectifying of those effects in and on the (particularly female) body. I was reading a lot of women who were interested in these ideas too; Louise Bourgeois’s journals, Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. It’s also both disturbing and important to me to look at the way femininity is constructed, and so much of that for me has happened through my mother, and by her mother, and so on. It felt very right to try to map these things out in writing. Is motherhood/daughterhood something you’ve explored in your poetry?

 

Paula: Yes! My first book, Cookhouse was criticised for its domestic focus, as unworthy of poetic attention, but the key thread, the white-hot core, was maternal. My doctoral thesis explored the maternal as it asked whether it made a difference if the pen held by an Italian writer was a woman. I argue for hinges and connections and the power of ‘and’. I am also interested in the ripple effects that pass from mother to daughter (and daughter to mother) but that also pass through generations of women writing. We have inherited so many freedoms, as both daughters and writers, yet we still face a need to speak out on myriad issues that affect women detrimentally. I write about this in my new book within the context of reading New Zealand women’s poetry.

 

Breadcrumbs

What a rarity

to appear in my own map

like when

I’m watching my hands

wash each      other

or pulling a rope of my own hair

out of a drain

like its     pondweed

or even seeing the ham

chewed into something different

when I spit it into a napkin

 

Your poems are like lacework; they hook the personal along with intense visual detail and a delight in thought. Are you cautious about self revelation? About appearing in your own map? Do you have any taboo areas?

 

Manon: Well you can probably tell I like banality! I hope we are moving on from a hierarchy of ‘poetically worthy’ material … I know Lauris Edmond was really criticised for writing about domesticity and motherhood too, and she is still overlooked. I guess, I hope, all that fuels a fire and a revision. Your book sounds so wonderful.

I don’t feel cautious about self revelation, I think it would be strange to be writing poetry if that were the case. But it also isn’t really something I do on purpose. I think it feels very free and private, even though you kind of know it isn’t? It can be a bit unsettling (in a nice way) when that all gets turned inside out and you publish something, but I don’t think that makes me omit things. I love reading writing that is TMI, so that reassures me.

 

Paula:  Is there a poem in the collection where the stars aligned and it particularly resonates for you?

Manon: I think the essay about the week with my grandmother resonated a lot. We had only met once before and weren’t able to speak each other’s language, so it was quite an intense experience, observing the ways disconnected families connect, speaking in the absence of words, the shapes we make out of silence. There were all these things that seemed to slot in with it; going to see the ruins of a nearby castle, my reading surrounding rocks and this story of Pyrrha. It was initially conceived as a voiceover for a film – which is still in progress – so it feels like an ongoing project with things falling into place. It also resonates in the context of living in a place where I don’t speak the language properly.

 

Paula: I loved that poem. There is a poetic finesse that depends on fluidity, storytelling,

sharp images, slow-pitched discovery and absolute tenderness.

 

So: still alive. And so henceforth:

another cup of instant coffee and

toast, another bath, clothes put

on, cooked lunch, another long

afternoon nap while I go out

walking. We don’t know what to

do with each other: we sit together

at her table eating over-ripe

bananas, peeled grapes, carefully

de-pithed segments of mandarins.

The refrigerator humming. She

examines my hands in her hers.

from ‘Bec/Nid/ Vent/Rêves Beak/Nest/ Wind/Dreams’

 

PaulaWill Berlin slant your writing?

In my research for my book I have noticed New Zealand poets living overseas have such different relations with home in their writing (Katherine Mansfield, Fleur Adcock, Lola Ridge). Some are nostalgic and the poem becomes a surrogate home while others are almost patronising. I am intrigued to read what Hinemoana Baker produces in Berlin. Will poetry ever become a way of writing home?

Manon:  As far as writing from Berlin goes, I think I haven’t changed what I’m doing at all… at least as you say, the poem feels a surrogate home wherever one goes. The only thing is that living here allows a lot more time to write (cheaper living than NZ = working at a day job less, etc.) so I do feel I can have more of a balance.

 

Words open and close and open;

breathing through their sutures.

from ‘Bec/Nid/ Vent/Rêves Beak/Nest/ Wind/Dreams’

 

Your book is a joy to read Manon. Thank you so much for the conversation. I want everyone to race out and find a copy of the book. It is my chapbook of 2017.

Hard Press page

 

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At Jacket 2: Vaughan Rapatahana interviews Robert Sullivan and includes new poems

Vaughan Rapatahana’s interview here

 

What would you like to see more of in Aotearoa poetry from your point of view as a poet? In other words is there sufficient recognition, publishing scope, critical space given to poets who craft their work in ‘different’ ways?

I’d love to see new voices find publication from a wide range of styles and personal backgrounds so that we reflect our diverse community in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, and beyond to be as inclusive as possible. Poets have never had greater access to media and to publishing than now, although our mainstream publishers no longer have deep pockets. It’s always a writer’s task to convince, or make curious, or satisfy, or entertain a readership, and it’s a lyric poet’s task to evoke the particulars of being and a sense of the flow state that created the feelings attached to being ‘somewhere’ at the time. A poem might be on the fridge next to a flat roster, or on the edge of a windswept cliff facing the ghosts of Kapiti Island. There are so many other kinds of poetry I wouldn’t know where to begin, except to encourage that too.

 

Paula: I am dead keen to see a new book of poetry – love the new ones.