Category Archives: NZ author

A Poetry Shelf audio gathering: Dunedin poets celebrate Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019)

Carolyn McCurdie introduces the reading

Carolyn McCurdie reads ‘When bright red was eclipsed by silver shoon’

Martha Morseth reads ‘On discovering your oncologist is a travel agent’

Jenny Powell reads ‘A spot on the map’

Maxine Alterio reads ‘The vein whisperer’

Claire Beynon reads ‘Poolburn’

Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019) was a Dunedin poet, essayist, short story writer, teacher, counseller. Her writing appeared in newspapers, online journals and anthologies. She was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors’ 75th Anniversary Competition and the Dunedin Public Libraries competition Changing Minds: Memories Lost and Found. She received a PhD from the University of Otago. Wanting to tell you everything was published by Caselberg Press in 2020.

Poetry Shelf review of Wanting to tell you everything

The readers

Jenny Powell, Martha Morseth, Maxine Alterio, Carolyn McCurdie, Claire Beynon

Maxine Alterio is a novelist, short story writer and academic mentor. She has published four works of fiction and co-authored a textbook about learning through reflective storytelling.

Claire Beynon lives in Broad Bay. An artist and writer, she works on a range of collaborative, interdisciplinary projects balancing group activities with the contemplative rhythms of her solo studio practice. She’s in the slow process of completing a second collection of poetry.

Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer of poetry and fiction, especially speculative fiction. Her poetry collection Bones in the Octagon was published by Makaro Press in 2015.

Martha Morseth has written articles for More Magazine and the NZ Woman’s Weekly since l982, and poems for The Listener, Landfall and other literary New Zealand magazines. She has published two collections of poetry, three collections of short stories and plays for high school English classrooms. She came to New Zealand in 1972 with her husband and two daughters.

Jenny Powell has published seven individual and two collaborative collections of poems. She is part of the touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling, and is the 2020 RAK Mason Writing Fellow.

Poetry Shelf: Anna Jackson’s equinox sonnet

Untitled spring equinox sonnet.  

I will not ever leave this winter

mood and be a winner,

I refuse, I insist on being wanner

than anyone, wander

where I will, past warder

and hoarder, walking harder

and faster, still harping on, harper

that I am, about my cold hands and damper

feet, my hair, too, damped

and darkened in the rain. Dammed

up I’ll remain like a gutter full of dimmed

autumn leaves, washed white but not dimmer

than I insist of remaining as I simmer

about your supposedly approaching summer.

Anna Jackson

Anna Jackson made her debut in AUP New Poets 1 before publishing six collections with Auckland University Press, including I, Clodia, and Other Portraits (2014). She has a DPhil from Oxford and is now an associate professor in English literature at Victoria University of Wellington. Jackson is the author of Diary Poetics: Form and Style in Writers’ Diaries 1915–1962 (Routledge, 2010) and, with Charles Ferrall, British Juvenile Fiction 1850–1950: The Age of Adolescence (Routledge, 2009).

Poetry Shelf interviews Rachel McAlpine

How to Be Old: Poems Rachel McAlpine, The Cuba Press, 2020

Nobody knows your neck squeaks.

Nobody knows your heart

is a bowl of poems.

 

Everything you do is very very good

and very very good is good enough.

 

The past supports us

like a trampoline.

The future? Face it.

Unlace it. Embrace it.

 

At dusk I want to be with you and stay.

I love it when you ask about my day.

 

from ‘Fortune  cookies’

 

 

 

Wellington writer Rachel McAlpine blogs and podcasts about old age. She has published novels, songs, plays, books about writing as well as a number of poetry collections. To celebrate her 80th birthday she has published a new book of poems, How to Be Old. She kindly agreed to answer some questions for Poetry Shelf.

The Cuba Press page

Rachel’s blog Write into Life

 

Paula: Like me, you are a Minister’s daughter. I am wondering what you read as a child?

Rachel: Everything available! We (six girls) went to the library every Friday and came home fully loaded with books. But the Book of Common Prayer had the most irresistible and enduring influence on my language.

Paula: What books stood out in your teenage reading?

Rachel: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Tess of the Durbervilles spring to mind.

Paula: Can you name a few poets that have really mattered to you across the decades?

Rachel: Across the decades? Well, Allen Curnow was at university with my parents and was even engaged to my mother for two weeks: thus I was aware that some poets were living humans. This mattered to me because at school we read dead poets and only dead poets. My mother read Whim Wham in the Saturday Press which reinforced my arcane insider knowledge. Poets who first took my breath away include Pablo Neruda, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Federico Garcia Lorca, Erica Jong and Adrienne Rich. Then a wave of young male New Zealand poets in the 1970s got me thinking hmm, maybe I could do that too…

When we bang on about our trips

and our memoirs and our blogs

and our grandchildren (best of kind)

our ills and pills and volunteering

our hearing aids and hips—

pay attention, don’t switch off

because this

is our first attempt at being old

and we’re wondering how to do it

not just for us but for you.

 

from ‘Templates’

 

Paula: I was really struck by your reaction to Sam Hunt’s contention in the 1970s that women either wrote very good or very bad poems: ‘just women scribbling their little women’s nothings’. So rather than mimic his lyrical voice–you wrote from life, and you wrote for women, and in doing so refused to see women’s writing (the how and the what) as mediocre. I love you for this. Your bolshiness. I see that inspirational bolshiness there in your new book! Am I right?

Rachel: Oh sure, I can’t help seeming bolshy even when I think I’m being most reasonable. Many of the poems in How To Be Old come from a bolshy approach to the clichés of old age. Come on now! What does that even mean, “age is just a number”? What is old age really, specifically, cold-bloodedly like—not to the observer but to the old person?

Paula: Do you think things have changed for women writers? I just checked out the latest Starling issue and its nearly all women (under 25s). Women poets are writing anything and everything, and are most definitely in the spotlights.

Rachel: Agree! Was it Arthur Baysting’s 1973 anthology The Young New Zealand Poets that included 19 men and one woman, Jan Kemp? With International Women’s year looming that was a red rag to a bull. Hard to imagine now.

Paula: Yes – although there is still a way to go. I talk about it in Wild Honey. I just love the energy and output from the current wave of young poets.

Your new book How to Be Old is a glorious evocation of old age. Such captivating self-exposure. Was this also a feature of your first collections? What angst made its way into your poetry then?

Rachel: Hey thanks, Paula! My first collection was basically shouting “I feel sad!” (as you need to sometimes). After that I jumped feet first into other issues, mainly feminist ones. My own experience is a good starting point for making a larger point digestible. Not much angst in How To Be Old, although some sadness tempers the joy.

In the seventies and eighties

as a mournful poet

and strident feminist

(there was no other sort)

I shouted loud and rude

mean and bold

waking up my sisters

with the stories of their lives.

 

from ‘Growing my brand’

 

Paula: You were a significant voice for me in the 1970s – did you feel part of a writing community, particularly women? What about now?

Rachel: In the 1970s and 80s I totally felt part of a community, a world of women who were busting to write about our own experience and women who needed to hear our voices, which were also theirs. Then I dipped out of the literary world for a couple of decades: I was very absorbed in my work with digital content until 2015. I did keep writing poems but didn’t publish. So as a poet I’ve been a bit of a loner since then, except for those who have followed my blog and podcast.

The bravest are millions

 

Out there living the bravest days

are the very old, the frail old

using every scrunch of the soul

for the next impossible chore.

The very old must win and win

on multiple fronts

day after trembling day.

 

Out there building the bravest lives

are the young

knowing what we knew

and did not do.

 

Rachel McAlpine

 

Paula: I think Wild Honey has really made me feel part of communities of women writing and supporting each other. Like you I am a loner poet but so many possibilities for connection these days.

Your new collection refreshes the way old age can be both viewed and lived. The poems are tender, vulnerable, provocative, entertaining. What prompted to you to publish a collection after a bit of a gap?

Rachel: Two things. A, I sold my business and had time on my hands. B, I turned 75 and abruptly realized that I might live another 25 years. So I needed a little hobby to keep me busy (joke). I went late and went hard at old age. Obsessed about it, researched it, decided to do at least one thing per month for a year to improve my chances of having a healthy old-old age. That project, my boot camp for the bonus years, shone a light on my own barmy ageism and society’s odd way of talking about old age. A year later, I started processing this strange interlude and the product was this book, How To Be Old. (Which of course is not a manual.)

I gave myself one year

to understudy for the role

of someone old.

I was confused but I was committed.

Month by month I tackled

housing and eating and exercise

finance and hobbies and friends and voice

happiness and brain and mind

and identity

and lastly, nervously

the existential bit.

 

from ‘My boot camp bonus years’

 

Paula: Let’s go back to old age. Just as there are continued pressures on young women to achieve ridiculous ideals there are equally ridiculous notions about old age: on ‘how to be old’. Your collection navigates this so beautifully – but can you comment on what delights and what bugs you about ‘how to be old’?

Rachel: That’s the nitty gritty, isn’t it? Well, no doubt about it, my own old age so far offers many delights. I’m alive, for one thing. At dawn I’m inclined to say, Good morning world! Thank you for having me! (I’m deeply privileged to have superannuation and a roof over my head and to live in this beautiful place.) I’m interested in my brain workings: my short-term memory is crap but the rest is working better and faster than ever… until too soon I get tired and it goes on strike. So in dance rehearsals I learn choreography at a perfectly acceptable rate—then instantly forget it. Puzzling, isn’t it? I like the So what? attitude that many old people report: that is rather obvious in my poems, I hope. What bugs me? Nothing so far except when I get a whiff of condescension from someone younger—but then that was me until I was 75, so I do understand.

A cold teabag on a sore eye feels good.

A cold mermaid on the eye

feels good too.

 

Tell you what, Granny.

What say I write a prescription

to stop you forgetting

that your friend is dead

because that makes you sad.

 

from ‘Alternative therapy’

Paula: Love love love this age attitude, and I love the tips for well-being in the last section of poems. Can you comment on this section?

Rachel: My lovely granddaughter Elsie was my life coach when she was little. I recorded her wise words for future reference and tickled them into poems. So the book ends with some of her tips. You could use them, Paula: then you would know how to breathe, what to do when zombies come up the toilet, and how to think. 

Paula: Thank you! What did you hope for the poetry as you wrote? In terms of the ‘poemness’ and the poems’ reception?

Rachel: Every now and then I let myself slip into something lyrical or mysterious. But the poems are intended to be read aloud by anyone and talked about over coffee (not studied at university) so I guess I wanted most of them to be clear, funny, challenging and sort of comforting. I’ve had great feedback from readers, who always bring so much to the table. An occupational therapist tells me she has been reading my poems to all her client groups. That is absolutely perfect: I couldn’t wish for more.

You are tourists in our land.

We are prisoners of slow.

That said, we’d rather be quick than slow

and we’d rather be slow than dead.

 

from ‘Slow’

 

Paula: I love the way you open pronouns wide – to embrace versions of you and welcome in the reader. Do you have no-go areas as a writer?

Rachel: I think in my old age I don’t judge people so much. (Or do I?) When it comes to aging, we’re all doing own best thing. And I have been many different people.

Paula: Do you bring autobiography and fiction together or did you navigate forms of truth?

Rachel: There’s no way I can control the way people read my poems so I might as well use myself as my own lab rat. My confidence is based on the certainty that I’m not a one-off. With How To Be Old I think I express ideas about aging that many others also think or have half-thought. That’s my wee gift to the world.

Paula: Indeed! What words fit you as poet? I think of provocative, personal, poetic fluency.

Rachel: I love hearing that, of course. Actually I mainly write for the joy of it so maybe that comes through?

Paula: Ah, my favourite poetry guide too – I write for love and joy! Do you have doubt tagging along? Is there a particular poem that was hard to write?

Rachel: I have a well of black muck inside me which converts to self-doubt if stirred. I’m human.

We take anecdotes and turn them to the light.

We polish them in private.

They are touchstones. So it goes.

 

from ‘How older people talk’

 

Paula: What else do you love to do apart from writing?

Rachel: Dance, sing, draw, read, think, do Pilates, tai ch’i, walk on Mt Victoria, watch Netflix and hang out with my friends and family.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Pippi Jean’s ‘What We Owe to Each Other’

WHAT WE OWE TO EACH OTHER

Is teething at the river mouth. Burrowing down.
Between the dirt and wild things. Frozen breathing, rain,
this place, is smoking from the mountainside.
Is setting bush on fire.
Is suspended by wire pins. Browning alpine sunshine
slunk onto muck. Sky and the sailing moors,
all bright descended pictures,
falling on the roof.
Is passing under cars.
Is passerby. Non-belonging. Beating trails
where the road hitches and pulls from
snow, matted scrubland, country laid
in bird formation. Is burnt-out
with believing. Festering.
Splintered. Usually
self-inflicted.

Pippi Jean

Pippi Jean is seventeen and has yet to decide on a music taste. Her work has appeared in Signals, Starling, Poetry NZ Yearbook, Overcommunicate and Toitoi. Last year she was a finalist in the National Schools Poetry Award.

Poetry Shelf video Starling spot: Vanessa Mei Crofskey reads ‘”Something in the Water” by Brooke Fraser’

Vanessa Mei Crofskey reads ‘”Something in the Water” by Brooke Fraser’

This poem was published in the latest issue of Starling (Starling 10).

Vanessa Mei Crofskey is an artist and writer based in Tāmaki Makaurau. They are a staff writer at The Pantograph Punch, have a collection of poems out in AUP New Poets 6, and often write about the water.

Poetry Shelf poets on their own poems: Marty Smith on Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei

 

I carried the lamb in a sack on my horse
the tongue hanging grey and limp.
It’s buggered, said Dad, throw it in the creek.
The creek leaped, dimpled. Small bubbles
whirled, it rumpled where I was looking
the water shadowed half-blue-black

deep just there with duckweed floating out
the yards behind all noise, the cattle swirling
up air swelled with dust and bellowing.
Flies lighted on and off the rails.
I took the lamb and kneeled in the pudgy mud
both hands under it, under the water,

laid it carefully into the shocked cold.
It hardly struggled, there was so little left.
Put the bloody thing out of its misery
I heard in my head as I pushed it under
and the water shuddered.
Get the hell out of that he yelled at my back

you macabre little bastard!
It might have been ghoulish, he was good with words.
The yards were sweating hot
Dad wiped his hatband, the sack smelling
of dry stiff flax, I wiped my nose
my hand all mud and numb.

The birds hummed. In rain, in wind
I go out all hours on my lambing beat
he’s the shadow of me, always riding beside me.
Let it go he said, quietly. I let it go floating
it bobbed and the sun caught the eye, closing.
Shush, shush, said the creek.

Marty Smith from Horse with hat, Victoria University Press, 2014

Agnus Dei

I used to think some of the connections and references I made for this poem were so obscure that the only people who would ever know (or care) about them were me and my Dad, and he was dead the whole time I was writing my book to him. 

But when I read it at Wardini Books, Erice Fairbrother was there, and she told the audience that every year when she takes the Easter Service in the Napier Cathedral, she reads Agnus Dei to her congregation. And I had the kind of reaction that comes straight from the subconcious where it was – Whoa! The poem is against religion! – but I also remembered that the poem walks away from me as soon as it’s written, and it’s Erice’s poem when she reads it and wants to use it at Easter. Besides, Agnus Dei still has a dollar each way, like all of the poems in the book that question faith. Dad never went to church and we hardly ever did, but his mother was very religious. His maternal grandfather was a Lutheran minister who had to give up running the Lake Ferry Hotel because he couldn’t square it with being a tee-totaller and a minister. I lay off some bets, just in case.  

I think I can see why Erice would choose to read Agnus Dei at Easter, and if we hadn’t been in lockdown this year, I would have snuck into her service. It’s a brilliant thing to do, to read a poem in a cathedral —accoustics! – and I knew for a fact she’d get it perfect because she’s a really fine poet and a beautiful reader. I imagine it’s the line, ‘He’s the shadow of me, always riding beside me.’ I’ve always been very pleased with that image, but I was not meaning that kind of father, I was meaning my actual father. He was so huge in my life that when I was riding my pony, it was not my shadow I cast, but his. I wondered what Erice sees– is it casting the shadow of God beside people when they walk? (What kind of shadow would he cast?) (Does he have weapons?)

When I say I’m having a shot at religion, I’m only giving it the side eye in this poem. By using a religious reference as a title, though, it talks to other poems in the book which question faith. Some of the poems have what I think of as mirror lines – when you read the mirror line, you get the reflection of the other poem. (See why I say I’m probably the only person who ever will read Horse with hat like this? )

The mirror line is ‘Put the bloody thing out of its misery’, which is in Emphysema for Aunty Gwen. Dad’s sister Gwen contemplates him in his final coma and remembers the pact they made after he came back from the war: that if ever one of them was helpless in hospital, at the mercy of stangers, the  other was to ‘put them out of their misery’.  

When Dad says, ‘Put the bloody thing out of its misery’, there’s the shadow of the idea that sometimes soldiers had to shoot their own men if they couldn’t survive their injuries but would lie alive in agony for days. To use the Latin for The Lamb of God, Agnus Dei, is to suggest that servicemen were lambs to the slaughter. In another poem, Aunty Gwen is looking back, and she says, They were so innocent. They didn’t know anything. They’d led such sheltered lives on the farm.

On the farm level, we were never to let animals suffer. They were always to be put down if they couldn’t be saved, and if it sounds shocking now to throw the lamb in the creek, but in the fifties, as my aunty puts it, it was just what people did.

The poem didn’t start out as anything other than an exercise I was doing for the International Writers’ Programme at Iowa, where we were asked to write like US poet Lyn Hijinian – not so much write like her, but to have a go at using the tools she uses – really dense, really packed layering up of tiny details. The exercise required you to pick out a tiny detail and write every small detail you could about that detail, building outwards and outwards and for some reason the detail that threw up was the duckweed floating out on the creek – that was all it was, but when you start a memory like that the details roll out until they turn into what it really is—how deep and cold the water was. Then the lamb came floating up. The lamb was always there. Then it was about innocence.

The tiny details became heat and dust and the noise of the cattle bellowing, and it was always going to Dad in the cattleyards. It was surprising to me how those details came out as sound. It made me think of my Iowa tutor Shannon Welch, who said, The language is older than you. Let the language take you. (She also said, The water is deep, don’t snorkel.)

The other voice on the audio for Agnus Dei is Maude Morris, who was about 15 at the time. Maude is now the band LEXXA, with her twin sister Julia.  It was Maude’s idea to loop the child’s voice, and make the heartbeat sound with the mic. Which stops. I asked her if she could make a sound that was recognisably birdsong, but with something wrong with it. An unnatural sound for an unnatural act, to go over the lamb going into the creek. Maude got a tui song and stretched it out, then played it backwards and chopped it off. You know it’s a tui, and you know there’s something wrong with it, but you don’t know what. Jeff Boyle from Jakob very kindly recorded it for us.

My father and uncles never talked about the war, because their gift to their families was for them not to have to know. Aunty Gwen said you never knew what they carried around with them. This poem has redemption at the end, because it’s all I can do, but they didn’t allow redemption for themselves.

Marty Smith’s Horse with hat won the 2014 Jesse Mackay award for Best First Book of Poetry, and was a finalist for the Poetry Award. One of the strands in the book is the cost to her father of carrying the war with him; another strand is the question of faith. Agnus Dei crosses religion over into war, although it looks like farming.
Marty grew up riding beside her father, hence the horse strand in Horse with hat, hence the book she is writing about the obsession of people who risk their lives to ride racehorses. She would risk her life right now to ride a racehorse, if she were allowed.

‘Agnus Dei’ was short-listed for the 2013 Bridport Prize (UK) and was a place getter in the 2013 Joy Harjo Poetry Award (US)

Marty is currently working on poems to go alongside the lockdown essay she wrote for her friend, Paul Davis, whose plans for the end of his life were ruined by lockdown.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Alison Glenny’s ‘Notes on The Nocturne Tradition’





Notes on The Nocturne Tradition

By the end of the decade the song is said to have lost most of its charm. This did not diminish the vogue for delicate compositions, likened to albums of fragrant leaves or to finger bowls in which reveries drifted among the reflections.

A preference for ornament over direction led to a confusion of jewellery boxes. The greatest treasures mingled with trinkets of lesser value, or were lost against the velvet lining.

The expressed aim of the cantilena was to drown the world in night.

The enigmatic nature of beauty is said to have inspired his phrasing of the portamento. At its most lucid moments a slight staccato, almost a stammer, conveyed the vague sensation of a serenade.

The belief that the action of the wrist was a form of respiration gave rise to experiments with breathlessness. Audiences likened the experience to diving into a deep lake, or being smothered in song.

Each charmed moment coaxed a new loop of melody from the shadows. Also her hair, which he compared to a curtain made of silk and embroidered with tiny stars.

Although the modulations were described as ‘tormenting’, this did not diminish the rapture that greeted the appearance of the sub-clause.

She compared the delicate figurations in the left hand to an attempt to conceive of a vaporous machine. Also a pattering of raindrops, or the sound of a bird tapping its beak against a shell.

By wandering into less dominant keys, he hoped to reveal a gender that slipped through minor modulations like water, and had no name.

Likened to a failure of the symbolic code due to an exhaustion of available resources. For example, the disappearance of the object, or the composer burying himself in a large white handkerchief.

Alison Glenny

Alison Glenny’s Antarctic-themed collection of prose poems and fragments, The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. She lives on the Kāpiti Coast.

A Poetry Shelf gathering: AUP NEW Poets 7 read and talk poetry

AUP New Poets 7: Rhys Feeney, Ria Masae, Claudia Jardine, ed. Anna Jackson

Auckland University Press, 2020

Anna Jackson, editor of AUP New Poets 7, suggests the collection ‘presents three poets whose work is alert to contemporary anxieties, writing at a time when poetry is taking on an increasingly urgent as well as consolatory role role as it is shared on social media, read to friends and followers, and returned to again in print form’.

I agree. Poetry is an open house for us at the moment, a meeting ground, a comfort, a gift, an embrace. But poetry also holds fast to its ability to challenge, to provoke, to unsettle. In the past months I have read the spikiest of poems and have still found poetry solace.

It feels really important to maintain our poetry hubs – to listen to poets as well spend time with the book in hand. So many new books have missed launches. I haven’t been to a poetry reading since the Wellington Writers and Readers Festival. This is partly why I am compelled to create Friday gatherings so we can connect with poets across Aotearoa.

I am the lucky one. Each of these poets emailed me their readings and I felt I was at an intimate private preview. Just me and the poems, and the heart-moving discussions on poetry, poems and the book itself.

I will review this anthology at a later date, but in the meantime, settle back in a comfy spot and take a listen, and the support the poetry world and buy a copy! I love this gathering so much I am walking on air, boosted out of covid flatness into glorious activity.

Thank you so much Ria, Rhys and Claudia for the mahi, the poetry love. Thank you.

The Poets

Ria Masae talks poetry and the book:

Ria reads poems:

Claudia Jardine reads and talks poetry:

Rhys Feeney reads two poems and talks about the book:

The Poets

Rhys Feeney is a high school teacher, volunteer peer support worker and fledgeling doomsday prepper who lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. He writes with terrible grammar about things he is scared of. His work can be found in Starling, Sponge, Salty x Foodcourt, and forthcoming in The Spinoff. You can buy his debut chapbook ‘soyboy’ as part of AUP New Poets 7.

Claudia Jardine (she/her) is a poet and musician based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her most recent publication is AUP New Poets 7 which also contains collections by Ria Masae and Rhys Feeney. In recent months she has completed an MA thesis on intertextuality in Anna Komnene’s Alexiad, and now she is learning to groom dogs. Jardine’s writing can be found in Sport 47, Starling, The Spinoff, Stasis and Landfall 237.

Ria Masae is of Samoan descent, born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau. She is a writer, poet, and spoken word artist whose work has appeared in various literary publications, as well as a handful of theatre productions. Her family includes an exasperating, but adorable dog who looks like a cow and neighs like a horse. Since her acceptance into the AUP New Poets 7 anthology, Ria has been working on a poetry collection for her first sole anthology.

Auckland University page

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Warm congratulations to the winner of The National Schools Poetry Award

I am so delighted to see that E Wen Wong from Burnside High School in Christchurch has won the National Schools Poetry Award. I have had poetry communications with E Wen since she first began writing poetry as a child, so this is a very good news indeed. Warm congratulations E Wen – may your days continue to shine with poems and poetry.

You can read E Wen’s poem Catalyst in the Monday poem spot.

Aotearoa’s poets of the future feature in National Schools Poetry Awards


E Wen Wong, a Year 13 student from Burnside High School in Christchurch, has won the 2020 International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) National Schools Poetry Award.

Her poem titled ‘The house that Saturn built,’ was described by judge Airini Beautrais, as “powerful and beautiful”, “full of surprising language and with a strong sense of place and the interaction between the human built environment and the natural environment”.

E Wen Wong receives a prize of $500 and her school library receives a book grant of $500. She also receives a package of literary prizes provided by Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, Victoria University Press, Sport, Landfall and the New Zealand Society of Authors. As part of the prize, Wong will attend an online poetry masterclass with Airini Beautrais, along with nine other poets shortlisted for their entries.

Director of the IIML at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Professor Damien Wilkins, says, “Over the years this competition has featured many writers who have gone on to publish widely and have careers in the arts. We view it as one way of encouraging young writers and their teachers to see imaginative writing as legitimate, valued, and important.”

E Wen Wong says, “Receiving this award was unexpected, yet exciting and uplifting. ‘The house that Saturn built’ gave me a platform to channel my passion for the environment in a way that was distinctly positioned in Aotearoa. It allowed me to comment on climate change from a new perspective—to communicate what science cannot.”

There were more than 250 entries this year from senior high school students, with a wide range of styles and subjects represented, including personal events, politics, history, humour, and current events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms Beautrais notes, “I’m impressed at anyone being able to write a poem (or anything at all) during the months of lockdown and accompanying stress. There are poems that give vent to big and terrifying feelings, and poems that take a comical slant.”

Nine students were finalists: Campbell Wilson, Abraham Hix, and Marijke Hinton (all from St Andrew’s College, Christchurch); Arwyn Cranston (Wakatipu High School, Queenstown), Isabella Lane (Rangitoto College, Auckland), Xavier Hayward (Marist College, Auckland), Allegra Wilson (Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland), Robin Kunwar (Burnside High, Christchurch), and Victoria Sun (Epsom Girls’ Grammar, Auckland). Each will receive prizes from Read NZ Te Pou Muramura and Sport, as well as $100 cash.

This was also the first year the Award was able to receive entries in te reo Māori. While there were fewer such entries than the IIML had hoped, Māori language judge Anahera Gildea (Ngāti Tokorehe) was excited about the potential of te reo Māori poetry.

The 2020 National Schools Poetry Award is organised by the IIML with the support of Creative New Zealand and advertising agency Ogilvy (formerly Ogilvy & Mather), with sponsorship and promotional support from Wonderlab.

The winning poem, the complete judges’ report and all the shortlisted poems are available on the National Schools Poetry Award website.

Poetry Shelf review: Elizabeth Brooke-Carr’s Wanting to tell you everything

Wanting to tell you everything Elizabeth Brooke-Carr, Caselberg Press, 2020

Upright

 

Our kitchen table was perfect for a family of four with Protestant

leanings. Solid and square, legs sturdy as posts, set between window

and woodstove, it kept the faith, never moved, wore no adornments

except for a gingham cloth laid before a meal, on the diagonal,

 

triangles of polished wood showing bare at the corners like our

father’s elbows through the worn wool of his gardening jersey.

Afterwards the cloth was shaken out over the back lawn, and if

unspotted, folded away on the same crease lines for next time,

 

chairs slid in, chaste, ribs against the unyielding edge so they

scarcely dared breathe. But if you sat there alone at night with your

homework, undisciplined thoughts wandering through your verbs,

there might be a sudden creak, a sly shift in the air around the table,

 

a loosening of values as chair legs brushed against each other and

laughter scraped the linoleum. And if you shut your eyes you might

hear flakes of gossip peeling off the cracked cream paint, history

you thought forever sealed in grainy wood, being whispered low like

 

bedtime prayers destined to be heard in heaven; a pair of Edwardian

spindlebacks, gifted from a well-married aunt careful with vowels,

exchanging memories of refinement and silver service in a designated

dining room, a ladderback, in darker patois, telling tales of neglect

 

in the cellar of a second-hand shop, and the bentwood, rescued

from the tip, singing our father’s praises for the number eight wire

he’d twisted around its legs to keep them from growing crooked,

as sure as God’s grace and the metal brace on my teeth.

 

Elizabeth Brooke-Carr

Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019) was a Dunedin poet, essayist, short story writer, teacher, counseller. Her writing appeared in newspapers, online journals and anthologies. She was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors’ 75th Anniversary Cmpetition and the Dunedin Public Libraries competition Changing Minds: Memories Lost and Found. She received a PhD from the University of Otago.

Elizabeth’s posthumous debut collection has arrived in the world thanks to friends and her writing group,: Maxine Alterio, Claire Beynon, Martha Morseth, Carolyn McCurdie and Jenny Powell. The cover features Claire Beynon’s painting of Elizabeth’s favourite necklace. Mary McCallum provided editorial assistance, Paul McCallum production assistance. The book itself is published by the staunch supporter of poetry, Dunedin’s Caselberg Press. It is so heartwarming to see this group of poets and poetry fans bringing this book, and thus Elizabeth’s poetry, to our attention.

Last year, when I hosted my Wild Honey event in Dunedin, Elizabeth had just passed, and as much as the event was a celebration of women writing poetry in Aotearoa, it was the celebration of a particular woman. It felt both special and fitting. The more we shine the light on women writing, and the women who have written, the more we enrich our poetry communities, as both readers and writers.

The collection’s opening poem ‘Upright’ holds a kitchen table for our close attention. It is the place of family experience, a repository of history and anecdote, celebration and loss. The table is so present I want to reach out and stroke it. Maybe because the details are nostalgic; the gingham cloth set on the diagonal leaves wood patches reminiscent of ‘our / father’s elbows through the worn wool of his gardening jersey’. The table, like family history, is lacework in its prolific gaps. The speaker was once at the table with homework dreaming, and from that moment, I am carried across decades of secret musings that filled the writer holding the pen.

The joy in reading Elizabeth’s poetry is in part the way the poetry gifts you a joy in life: the joy you find in moments from the past, your kin, beloved places, friendship. More than anything her writing ink is fuelled with love. To read these poems, at this particular time, with such uncertainty and global loss, both global and local, is of the greatest comfort.

The poems are light-footed, with honey currents and patches of shade. I am reminded that close friends arranged the collection’s order. They have done a good job; we move from the kitchen-table hub through various scenes and connections to perhaps the last poems she wrote before she died. People and places are paramount: this is poetry that gathers together life, from the speckled past to the endangered present:

We arrived in the future, unpacked, folded the years

away into our own small histories. Now, my family

gone, I look back on the life-stained map

 

with the rusty pins that marked our meanderings,

my finger trails over mountaintop folds,

into valley creases, tracing the journey home

 

from ‘A spot on the map’

The movement that shapes the poems is so appealing; it builds mood, presence, absence, surprise. I find myself constantly moved as I read, drawn into the surprising notes that ring out in the endings. Moments are recovered and translated into poetry. I adore these. In ‘Out of the glare’, a couple go for a drive in the countryside and eat at the Wobbly Goat. The ending catches so exquisitely:

Dazzled by a low ray of sunshine on silver,

he slid the spoon sideways out of the glare,

laid it in the curve of hers.

Over the page a poem deposits me in the sensual shimmer of Bannockburn, and again it is the poem’s ending that grips:

At the base of the hill you leap from the stile

arms thrown wide like ropes tossed to my bollard.

Your mouth tastes of sunshine.

Your palms smell of bruised thyme.

 

from ‘Bannockburn sluicings’

Mood is such a potent ingredient – mood that is subtle and steady in growth. Poems reach towards beloved family and friends who have departed. Like a deep kernel, like an origami bud, this skillful handling of feeling is why I keep reading and why I will read this book again. The poem, ‘Gardening in the rain’, is a way of remembering, of recalling a goodbye kiss to a brow. In the opening lines the speaker is ‘digging deep / for the sound of your voice’, while in the last lines ‘My claggy spade / sticks to the soil’. So much unsaid. So much felt. The image of the claggy soil and the effort to dig so heart-breakingly sharp.

Love is equally significant in poetry that embraces both the economy and richness of everyday life, and why the personal can be so resonant. ‘Poolburn’ is written in old age (‘All the days of our youth are behind us / dust spiralling back along old roads traversed’) and again the couple is driving though beloved southern countryside. It is as though people don’t exist without place, and place is made vibrant and vital through the eyes of those in the scene. This is a love poem. A beautiful, slow pitched, breathtaking love poem. Again the layers, the scent, the texture is resonant. Like a piece of music, like a song perhaps by Nadia Reid or Reb Fountain you want on replay, this is a poem to read at intervals throughout the day. Here is the ending:

When the sun sinks and the light fades

purple shifts among the rocks, wild geese arc

in an amethyst sky, ruby veins line the face

of the lake. You come indoors, sit by the window.

Dusk has gathered you in.

The final section of poems were written from Elizabeth’s death bed. She is writing from terminal illness, nearby death, with her small revelations, her rage and her equilibrium. Perhaps writing is a way of living, of bearing treatment, a changing body, the changing future, a way of sharing what is difficult to decode. The final poem, ‘Wanting to tell you everything’, presents a phone call to a beloved, another moment, larger than life, urgent with feeling, subtle with the unsaid, using a moment of physical beauty (a rainbow stretching across the sky ’embracing everything that soars – light and sound and thistledown’) to summon so much more than the words on the page. The final lines – of the poem, of the book, of a life – unfold and refold, unfold and refold, and poetry is a way of breathing. Necessary. Exquisite. Blood boosting.

Your television in the background talks to itself.

While you turn the volume down, I wait.

 

Yes, I’m still here. I’m still here and wanting,

wanting to tell you everything.

Elizabeth’s poetry reminds me of the joy of reading Elizabeth Smither, Cilla McQueen, Ruth Dallas, Jenny Bornholdt, Bernadette Hall. I am drawing Elizabeth Brooke-Carr into the house of Wild Honey: she belongs there, with her honeyed currents, her uplifting translation of life into poetry, her wisdoms and her poetic finesse. Poetry can do so much. This book is a gift.

Caselberg page