Category Archives: NZ author

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Nine poets read from A Clear Dawn

A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand

eds. Paula Morris and Alison Wong, Auckland University Press, 2021

To celebrate the arrival of A Clear Dawn, I invited nine poets to read one of their poems in the collection as audio or video. This fabulous anthology of poetry and fiction, so astutely and loving assembled by Paula Morris and Alison Wong, is sheer reading joy. I am delighted you get to have a taste of nine of the poets’ voices here. Auckland University Press have created an exquisite book. I love holding it, I love finding my way through the beautifully designed pages. I just love this book.

If you live in Auckland you might like to go to the launch at the Auckland Writer’s Festival:

Saturday May 15th, 5:00pm – 6:00pm Balcony Bar, Level Five, Aotea Centre

Enjoy a complimentary glass of wine with selected readings as this ground-breaking contribution to our literature is launched.

You can listen to Alison Wong discuss the book with Kathryn Ryan here.

Auckland University Press page.

The Readings

Isabelle Johns reads ‘The Dance’

Maryana Garcia reads ‘Glass questions’

Modi Deng reads ‘Ben Lomond’

Neema Singh reads ‘A proper way to make tea’

Jiaqiao Liu reads ‘to a future you’

E Wen Wong reads ‘one world sleeps in an apple’

Chris Tse reads ‘Punctum’

Rushi Vyas reads ‘I saw you and I learned this, beloved

Vanessa Mei Crofskey reads ‘What’s the pH balance of yin + yang?’

Vanessa Mei Crofskey is an artist and writer based in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara, who features in A Clear Dawn, the first-ever anthology of Asian New Zealand creative writing. She is the current director of Enjoy Contemporary Art Space. 

Modi Deng is a postgraduate candidate in piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music on scholarship. Currently based in London, Modi received a MMus (First Class Hons, Marsden research scholarship) and a BA from Auckland University. Her first chapbook-length collection of poetry will be part of AUP New Poets 8. She cares deeply about literature (especially poetry, diaspora), music, psychology, and her family.

Maryana Goco Garcia is a poet, and a journalist who dabbles in photography. All of Maryana’s work, visual or written, attempts to find the miracle in the moment, to encourage pausing, to look hard at what lies before us until we notice something new. You can find her poetry on Instagram where she keeps a visual and word archive as @ripagepoet. 

Isabelle Johns likes to write when she has the inspiration, and is (grudgingly) practising doing so without the inspiration part, too. She studies Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Auckland, where she can be found most of the time, either catching up on missed lectures or frantically debugging code before a deadline. Her poems have been published in The Three Lamps, University of Auckland’s literary journal, as well as the upcoming anthology for Asian New Zealand writers, A Clear Dawn.

Jiaqiao (Jay) Liu is a Chinese nonbinary poet currently doing a creative writing MA in Pōneke. They write about family, queerness, longing, myth and tech, among other obsessions. Some of their work can be found in brief, Blackmail Press, takahē and Queer the Pitch.

Neema Singh is a poet from Christchurch of Gujarati Indian descent. Her work appears in Ko Aotearoa Tātou: We Are New Zealand(2020) and A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (2021) and she is currently working on her first collection of poetry, a series of poems unfolding the layers of culture, identity and history contained within ordinary moments. Neema is an experienced secondary school English teacher and holds a Master of Creative Writing from The University of Auckland.

Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC. He and Emma Barnes are co-editors of Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers From Aotearoa, due to be published in October 2021. He is The Spinoff‘s Poetry Editor.

Rushi Vyas is a writer, educator, and PhD candidate at Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou / University of Otago. He is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection When I Reach For Your Pulse (Four Way Books, 2023) which was a two-time finalist for the National Poetry Series in the US, and the co-author of the chapbook Between Us, Not Half a Saint, with Rajiv Mohabir. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Colorado-Boulder. He currently serves as Reviews/Interviews Editor for GASHER Journal. Recent poetry is forthcoming or published in The Georgia Review, Indiana ReviewPigeon PagesLandfall (NZ)RedividerThe OffingAdroitWaxwing, and elsewhere.

E Wen Wong is a first-year Law and Science student at the University of Canterbury. She was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award.

Poetry Shelf: Love Letter to Featherston’s Booktown Festival

Dear Featherston Booktown

Thank you so much for inviting me to the fabulous Wairarapa to perform and feast on the words of others, to stay in a cosy cottage where it was quiet and pitch dark at night (so I felt right at home) and where Virginia cooked me crepes with ratatouille that were so fresh and herby and melted in your mouth (just what I needed after a long day travelling with a thousand hiccups), to touch base with David and his fabulous Hedley’s book stand that stocked poetry gloriously galore, to wander around the bookstalls crammed in the hall and discover some gold-nugget books,

to eat the best afghans ever with my best mate Selina Tusitala Marsh in the Supper Room, to hear Selina woo the Fish-n-Chip eaters with her sensational knotty Mophead work in progress, and hear her stories about performing for the Queen, to arrive early the next morning and hear Biggsy, Selina and Ben Brown talk in the “on the couch” session

to do a two-hour poetry workshop with local children and their mothers and get them all zinging and shining with poems (will be posting poems from this on Poetry Box soon)

to drive over to Greytown and eat the tastiest tofu dumplings ever, and then head to Martinborough to stock up on wine and relish for the family and to have dinner with our new reading ambassador Ben Brown and other authors and really click with Ben’s wisdom and approach to writing and working with children, and to eat a big fresh fruity breakfast to stock up my empty energy tank so I could stay up late and hear our national treasure John Campbell MC True Stories Told Live, and hear Renee’s wit and daring at 91 with a hilarious deadpan tale of action and “pot” plants, and then Anahera Gildea’s daring (at half that age) as she laid down a challenge for the rows of white men in the Anzac Hall photographs and for us, most definitely for us, and reminded us to bust up our immunity to the undercurrent words and images that surround and shape us if we are to move forward as a nation, and I just loved her for her words, and I wanted to hug her close, and it got me thinking of all the women in Wild Honey who had struggled to speak and to be heard as poets and as women for a century, and I thought YES! this is my festival highlight

and then downstairs to my late night Collision event between old and emerging poets and there I was hoping I would last the distance old woman me and not be nodding off in my chair next to my best mate Selina but I held up Wild Honey and said this book was my book of communities and connections just like a poem is community and connections just like Booktown is community and connections as are the bridges between readers and writers, and I shared a poem from my secret project and all that stockpiling self doubt that had accumulated over the past year in my hermit state just flitted off like moths to the light

and I got to hug all the Show Pony poets and talk reviews with Rebecca Hawkes and it felt like a transfusion of poetry love

and how good it felt to hear Tayi Tibble and Sam Duckor-Jones read from their new books and earlier on to hear Rachel McAlpine, Vana Manasiadis, Helen Rickerby, Carolyn DeCaro and Emma Barnes make poetry spark from whispery to loud

and to see gift-to-us Tara Black comic-stripping the sessions!

and to barely sleep but to keep on my feet and somehow do a poet’s response to the four sublime poetry finalists in the Ockham NZ Book Awards and shuffle on the spot and say this year it is too close to call but that I will dance for joy whoever wins (Mohamed Hassan, Nina Mingya Powles, Hinemoana Baker, Tusiata Avia)

and to wish I had had the stamina to talk to all the people who wanted to talk to me instead of scurrying back to the cosy cottage or the back seat of my little hire care like an awkward mouse needing to reboot

and to feel sad I was too spinning-out-tired to hear the Show Ponies again especially when I heard how magnificent organiser Freya Daly Sadgrove was

and to somehow drive over the glorious Rimutaka mountain range on Monday morning with mist and cloud and spine tingling views, and go to Good Books and fill a box with book treats and talk books with dear Jane Arthur and meet author extraordinaire Eamonn Marra

and then and then

to find my way home.

Thank you Mary and Peter Biggs, Mary McCallum and the Booktown crew for your special festival, rich in community and connections. I had a wonderful time.

Aroha nui

Paula Green

Unity Books’s Marion Castree, poet Vana Manasiadis and I toast the end of the festival with green tea (for me) at Featherston’s wonderful Royal Hotel

(Poetic Licence: too tired to get words and photos and sequence of events in right order!)

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Anuja Mitra’s ‘the widow stands trial’

the widow stands trial

I’ll miss the attention,

that much is true.

the neighbours clutching

bags of flour at my door

as if all I could think to do

was eat. I appreciate the show

of sympathy, though of course

some hungers are larger

than that. winter bit like a dog

that year. I watched my breath

feathering the window

as our men prised

last life from the land, scouring

her cold cheeks for plunder.

funny: to them Mother Earth

is a harsh mistress

and not the first woman

we learned how to ruin.

but I digress — all this is just scenery

and you want to hear of the death.

see, severed from one husband

I wed Rumour in the night,

placed a band on my finger

and pledged to be his. now

my hand throbs pleasantly

as the villagers talk:

see how her face betrays

guilt not grief. she must have

done it. she must have

snapped.

much mythology there is

around the snap.

sometimes it happens

when you are slicing an apple

and a spider slinks out

from its bowels.

sometimes it happens

the third time he strikes you

(though rarely at moments

so climactic as that).

and sometimes it happens

alone in the fields,

hills pulled flush

against the gash of horizon

when something in you unlatches

and swings free like a gate

to some forbidden arch, some space

for the soul to surge through.

perhaps my story needs more

of a relatable flavour.

very well. to the judge

who asks how I plead,

I’ll say I’ve been pleading

all my life:

for some measure of grandness

to fill my wifely days,

some passion to slip through

the cracks of those hours

when I stood fishing ants

from the sugar.

a life for a life. his concluded

to make way for mine.

or so my accusers would say.

gentlemen of the jury, you must examine

my account; turn it round in the light

like some lovely old clock

whose hands you are not sure

you can trust.

there lies the question

you are asked to decide:

what unseemly things

have these hands seen?

let us put that to rest

as I did my good husband —

and while you deliberate

you may find me in the fields;

arms raised heavenward,

light catching my knife

like a smile.

Anuja Mitra

Anuja Mitra lives in Auckland. Her writing has appeared in TakaheMayhemCordite Poetry ReviewStarlingSweet MammalianPoetry Shelf and The Three Lamps, and will appear in the AUP anthology A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand. She  has also written theatre and poetry reviews for TearawayTheatre ScenesMinarets and the New Zealand Poetry Society. She is co-founder of the online arts magazine Oscen.

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Ten poems about dreaming

Not many younger poets sent me poems about ice but there were loads of dreaming poems. I have always loved poems that dream because poetry is a close relation with its slants, mists, hallucinations, and deep personal cores. I sometimes think that to dream is to write. To enter the opaque, to reclaim the obvious, to have no idea where you will end up or how you will get there. To astonish yourself.

I am so very grateful to the poets and publishers who have backed my themed poetry season with such loving support.

Ten poems about dreaming

the dream is real

the moon is an open eye

high in the sky or winking

at the world below

the wind is the sea’s breath

rustling the leaves in the trees

night is a dark river

flowing through the day

a bird is a song

the dream is real

clouds are ghosts

flight is a wing

Apirana Taylor

from a canoe in midstream, Canterbury University Press, 2009

Insomnia

it is a black night

I lie perfectly still

mine is the long

awake adult body

two small boys

flickering at either side

night sweats

bad dreams

fluttering in and

out of sheets

I lie black

in between

head

thorax, abdomen

trembling children

my wings

Karlo Mila

from A Well Written Body, Huia Press, 2008

My Father Dreams of His Father

My father dreams of his father

walking in the garden of the old family homestead

on Kawaha Point.

I have not been back since he passed away.

As decrepit dogs wander off under trees

to sniff out their final resting places,

elderly men wait in the wings

rehearsing exit lines.

I’m sure my grandfather never envied his dog more

than during those last days.

I’m sure, given the choice, he would have preferred

to slip away under the magnolias.

The garden is tended by different hands now.

My grandmother still walks by the lake,

her little dog in tow. The current man of the house

is more interested in the chasing of swans

than the cultivating of camellias.

My father dreams of his father

walking in the garden of the old family homestead

on Kawaha Point.

I have not been back since he passed away.

Claudia Jardine

from AUP New Poets 7, ed. Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press, 2020

Sentries

I’m frantically chasing my mother who weaves in and out of the aisles throwing down craft supplies. I trip over scissors and quick unpicks

not seeing her face, only clean ponytail and collar poking out over plum cardigan. We run between shelves of antique vases but lose contact with the linoleum

and float out. In this world we drive couches like cars. I’m picking one up from the junkyard with a blue shag cushion for reference. Bumper stickers are glinting

while the couches lie gridlike. We scramble through the drivers’ seats running fingers through the upholstery. In the winter gardens there are fish tanks

nestled between succulents. One has a tangle of thin eels within it. Boys tap on the home of a solitary neon tetra until it shatters. I hold the fragments together

and try to keep the fish swimming in a handful of glass and water. They put me in the newspaper. I run out to catch you in the ocean, my mother

but you keep dipping under. As I look around I notice, embedded in rock formations are those white plastic fans, not rotating anymore just facing the horizon.

Lily Holloway

originally published at The Spin Off, October, 2020

interventionalist god

in my dream nick cave had a long, thick black mane.

it swung around his hips, kissed

with a bright white streak

snaking its length.

he served noodle soup at the concert

full of moving mushrooms, blooming

into elegant dancing technicolour spores;

tasted like purple.

the show was very red, like the blood

of his falling son. my mother

was falling too,

drunkenly, over crimson seats,

hurting her back and lying down with the room spinning.

pissing off the man in the toupee, and toupee’s wife.

nick drawled, don’t worry,

sung a song sad and it broke us,

spun around inside a steel cage,

spray-painted KINGS on our leather jackets

so we could get into his next stadium show free.

afterwards, we matched up our snails in the foyer.

nick was smoking through tears out back,

about to catch a flight, saying,

i think i’ve met someone with your name,

and it was you already.

Hebe Kearney

Lake Wakatipu

A jade lizard bends in a circle,

chasing its tail;

straightens, and darts for a crevice.

Mist swathes in grey silk the lake:

flat-stomached, calm, slow-pulsed,

a seamless bulk.

Vapours spiral,

pushing up to a cloud-piercer,

where snow has been sprinkled

like powder from a talc can at height.

Grandeur stands muffled.

The Earnslaw headbutts shorewards.

After lying prone for years,

rocks shift downwards

at speed, eager to wheel

through air, crash in a gully,

and not move.

The lake buttons up to dive deep,

leaving a perfectly blank black space,

through which you might fall forever.

David Eggleton

from Edgeland and other poems, Otago University Press, 2018

Daisy

This town is just one great big farm. The main road runs alongside these power poles tilted over green green paddocks, the lines all sagging, the poles on the piss. You hit it at forty k and slug down the main street, past the Strand, the Top Pub, the Nott. Past blue election billboards and wooden fences painted red with Water Gouging and Inheritance Tax. The arterial line is just panel beaters, tractors, pots of pink flowers dripping from shop windows. She says they look like icing. And these cows. There are forty-two of them, all painted up to look cultural. Blue like an old tea cup, pearls and roses dribbling over the rim. One unzipped at the side, with muscle and guts peeking out like baked beans and salmon. One flower power cow, real LSD yellow and orange, like it sorta wandered over from Woodstock and got lost for years and years. Little kids run across the road just to touch them. Name their favourites after their pet cats. Rusty, Mittens, Boots. They’re bolted to the pavement so at night they just haunt the main street, all washed out and hollow. But the worst is that giant one right at the start of town. Two stories high, with black splotches like flames of tar. I have these dreams that the paddocks are on fire and the ground is opening up and all you can hear is mooing. The Mega Cow watching over his herd like some great milky God. The trains rattle past at dawn and wake me up. The cows hardly blink.

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

from Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato Poetry, ed. Vaughan Rapatahana, Self Published, 2019

Tilting

The woman on the bus said

I’ve never been on a bus before

as she lifted her bag

a miniature suitcase

black and shiny as a beetle.

Next time you’ll know what to do

said the driver as he stood on the brakes

pointed to the building on the left and said

The lift’ll take you to The Terrace.

There were no ledges on The Terrace

just buildings tilting and leaning

and the wind to push against.

That night, unpacked and tired

the woman climbed on her black beetle bag

and flew across the harbour

soaring above its flat cool face

staring deep into its mouth

and wondering about earthquakes.

The next morning the bus driver couldn’t shake

the woman from his mind.

As he left the depot

his bus pshishing and grinding through peak hour flow

he checked his mirror

but she wasn’t there

instead he saw the edges of his bus converting

row by row, slice by slice

into a huge loaf of bread.

The aroma filled the aisles

stirring the appetites of even

his sleepiest passengers

and when he neared the end of Lambton Quay

all that was left of the bus, was the crust.

Some like the crust, some don’t, he thought

as he chewed and chomped

until the last crumb fell

into the gutter, into the drain

into the harbour, and out to sea.

What now? he said

peering skywards, catching a glint.

Trish Harris

published under the title ‘Openings’ in New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology 2015/2016

bone / tired

I am tired to my bones

this exhaustion

has wrapped around my ribs

sunk into my jaw

slunk

down

each vertebrae

I take deep slow breaths

each exhale

rattles the cage of ribs

I don’t sleep anymore

I just rattle around the house

the rooms empty of the wakeful

I touch each wall

like a talisman

like an averter of the evil eye

to avert whichever evil

might choose us tonight

I keep vigil

I don’t sleep anymore

rattle the bones

of the sleeping

I am rattled

to my bones

I don’t sleep anymore

the bones of my shoulders

have permanently rolled inward

they hunch

waiting for a fight

for a blow

I have never been in a fight

just in anticipation

of the fight, the flight

there are 27 bones in the human hand

I count them all

in lieu of sleeping

I am tired to my bones

I don’t sleep anymore

Rose Peoples

Pasture and flock

Staring up into the sky my feet

anchor me to the ground so hard

I’m almost drowning, drowning,

in air, my hair falling upwards

around my shoulders, I think I’ll hug

my coat closer. I’m standing

on hundreds of blades of grass, and

still there are so many more

untrodden on. Last night, in bed,

you said, ‘you are the sheet

of linen and I am the threads,’ and

I wanted to know what you meant

but you wouldn’t wake up to tell me

and in the morning you didn’t

remember, and I had forgotten

till now when I think, who is

the blades of grass, who is the pasture?

It is awfully cold, and my coat

smells of something unusual.

It almost seems as if it is the stars

smelling, as if there were

an electrical fault in the sky,

and though it is almost too dark

to see I can see the sheep

moving closer, and the stars

falling. I feel like we are all

going to plunge into the sky

at once, the sheep and I,

and I am the sheep and I am

the flock, and you are the pasture

I fall from, the stars and the sky.

Anna Jackson

from Pasture and Flock: New & Selected Poems, Auckland University Press, 2018

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition, and the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers. Her work has appeared in Starling, Mayhem, Brief, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Turbine, Flash Frontier, Mimicry, Min-a-rets, Sweet Mammalian, Sport and Verge. She is Poetry New Zealand‘s 2021 Featured Poet. She writes thanks to the support of some of the best people on this great watery rock.

David Eggleton is the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019 – 2022. His most recent book is The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, published by Otago University Press. 

Trish Harris has written two books – a poetry collection My wide white bed and a memoir The Walking Stick Tree. She teaches non-fiction on the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, is co-founder of Crip the Lit and edited their 2019 pocketbook, ‘Here we are, read us: Women, disability and writing’. She says she’s a part-time crane operator…but maybe she’s dreaming?

Lily Holloway has a Teletubby tattoo and is forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8. You can find more of her work here

Anna Jackson lectures at Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington, lives in Island Bay, edits AUP New Poets and has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP 2018). Thoughts on dreaming and on being dreamed about can be found here and here.

Claudia Jardine (she/her) is a poet and musician based in Ōtautahi/Christchurch. In 2020 she published her first chapbook, The Temple of Your Girl, with Auckland University Press in AUP New Poets 7 alongside Rhys Feeney and Ria Masae. Her work has also been published in Starling, Sport, Landfall and Stasis. For the winter of 2021, Jardine will be one of the Arts Four Creative Residents in The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, where she will be working on a collection of poems.

Hebe Kearney is a poet from Christchurch who now calls Auckland her home. Her work has appeared in The Three Lamps, Oscen, Starling, Forest and Bird, a fine line, and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021.

Dr Karlo Mila (MNZM) is a mother, writer, award-winning poet and leadership programme director. Of Tongan and Pākehā descent, her creative and professional career has focused upon Pasifika peoples in Aotearoa. Her book Dream Fish Floating won the best first book of poetry in the NZ literary awards in 2005. Karlo lives in Tāmaki Makaurau with her three sons. Her third poetry book Goddess Muscle was published by Huia in 2020.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.


Apirana Taylor, Ngati Porou, Te Whanau a Apanui, Ngati Ruanui, Te Ati Awa, is a nationally and internationally published poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, actor, painter and musician. He has been Writer in Residence at Canterbury and Massey Universities. He frequently tours nationally and internationally visiting schools, tertiary institutions and prisons reading his poetry, storytelling and taking creative writing workshops. He has written six collections of poetry, a book of plays, three collections of short stories, and two novels. His work has been included in many national and international anthologies.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Erik Kennedy’s ‘We’re Nice to Each Other After the Trauma’

We’re Nice to Each Other After the Trauma

Christchurch, after 15 March 2019

We’re nice to each other after the trauma.

It’s emotional labour spent in a good cause,

like signing a birthday card at work or volunteering

to clean a beach. In the geography of care

the grieving city is bright, busy, sensitive

to extraordinary needs, able to flex and soothe.

It’s one of a series of temporary truths,

a glimpse of something not quite representative

that we wish could stay once it’s there.

We wish we couldn’t see it disappearing

into routine, because we were desolately happy because

we were nice to each other after the trauma.

Erik Kennedy

Erik Kennedy is the author of There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), and he is co-editing a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific forthcoming from Auckland University Press later in 2021. His poems, stories, and criticism have recently been published in places like FENCE, Hobart, Maudlin House, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about ice

Photo credit: Alison Glenny

Some poetry books catch you on the first page and you get goosebumps and your breathing changes and you know this is a book for you. I felt like that when I first read Alison Glenny’s sublime The Farewell Tourist with its luminous connections to Antarctica. There is something about poetry that takes risks, that never loses touch with heart, is unafraid of ideas, and is able to sing on the line. You just want to camp up in the book for days, with a thermos of tea, and all your devices unplugged.

I felt the same way about Bill Manhire’s extraordinary poem ‘Erebus Voices’ (Lifted, Victoria University Press, 2005). You can read the poem at The Spin Off here and listen to Bill read the poem here. Thinking of Alison’s book and Bill’s poem, I knew ice had to be one of my themes.

Ice in poems: it might be a hint, a hurt, an underlying coldness, an icy image, a heart freeze, a trip to the snow-capped mountain, a melting ice-cream, an avalanche.

I am so grateful to all the poets who have supported my extended thematic poetry gatherings. Thank you.

The Poetry Shelf Theme Season runs every Friday until mid August.

In the morning the mountains beckon

Blue and clear like bells; glaciers feed upon

Light pouring from heaven brighter than ice-stone.

Ruth France (1913-1968), from No Traveller Returns: the selected poems of Ruth France, Cold Hub Press, 2020

Twelve poems about ice

Some afternoons a fog rolled down the hallway. On others, the staircase groaned with moisture. A finger laid carelessly on a bannister dislodged a ledge of rime. She lifted the hem of her dress to avoid the damp in the passageway, wore knitted gloves in the kitchen. She was lying in the bath when the glacier pushed through the wall. She sank deeper into the water to escape the chill that settled on her shoulders. Trying to ignore the white haze, to lose herself between the pages of her book.

Alison Glenny

from The Farewell Tourist, Otago University Press, 2018

He Manawa Maunga

We are dwarfed by a snow bank

that reaches beyond our eyes,

a single hole punctuating its white sheet.

Your hand covers my small eyes

and I feel you shielding me in the warmth of your jacket

as we move though.

I open them to a palace of ice and snow

meticulously carved by strangers

long gone down the mountain.

We sit together in silence,

deep in the mountain’s quiet heart.

Watching our breath melt away

the walls around us.

Ruby Solly

from Tōku Pāpa, Victoria University Press, 2021

Pencarrow Lighthouse

Mrs Mary Jane Bennet saw frost on the ground

circling the lighthouse where her children sleep.

At the cliff edge where wildflowers were,

gulls wash seafoam up the shore.

You, gulls, over hoofprints on the track,

over the dunes, over pearl beams ghosting

out from the lighthouse,

in your thousands over clean seashells.

The wind spins dead things in circles.

Collect up the wintertime, won’t you,

crack it on a rock,

drop it from a height.

But, you bird whose wing cuts the tops off waves,

shut your wings for the children

of Mrs Mary Jane Bennett.

Let loose a grey feather.

She will tuck it into the knot

of the blue satin ribbon

ion her eldest daughters hair, the one

who dreams of white things circling.

Nina Mingya Powles

from Girls of the Drift, Seraph Press, 2014

Wabi-sabi

I was thirty-three before I learned
people stuck in snow
can die from dehydration.
I would melt icicles
on my tongue for you, resist
the drinking down, drip it
into you. Then repeat, repeat
until my lips were raw.

Deep snow squeaks. We
stop on the Desert Road
because of the snow. You
throw snowballs at the
‘Warning: Army Training Area’ sign.
I take macro-photographs of
icicles on tussock.

When we drive up the Desert Road
we lost National Radio, we lose
cellphone reception, we lose
all hope. I was thirty-seven before
I considered not trying to always fix
things. I read an article in the New Yorker 
about wabi-sabi – the beauty in the
broken and the worn. The integrity
of the much-used utilitarian object.

But then there was another article
about a woman flying to Mexico
to be put into a coma
so she can wake up mended. It is 
like rebooting a computer, said the doctor.

Despite wabi-sabi, I want that.
To live in snow and not be thirsty.
I want good reception all the way
up the country. I want a shiny, clean
version of myself. Closedown,
hibernate, restart.

Helen Lehndorf

from The Comforter, Seraph Press, 2011

Girl Reading

She overhears the sound of things in hiding.

She bites an apple and imagines orchard starlight.

Each time she licks her thumb, its tip,

she tastes the icy branches,

she hears a sigh migrate from page to page.

Bill Manhire

from Zoetropes, Victoria University Press, 1981

Opa

They would ice-skate:

he worked the canals

with speed.

My grandparents,

between villages, on ice

above the level of the land.

*

Amsterdam in the fifties:

a row of white stone houses

on a paved street.

*

New Zealand’s blue sea

lapped at sloping shores,

knew its place

at the flank of land.

Wide stars, small shells,

the open span of sand.

*

A wooden villa 

changed you.

Housed you.

Those years of good

morning, goodnight,

pudding and bread,

climbing in

and climbing out of bed.

*

Your skates 

hang on the wall.

Blond varnished wood.

Braided laces.

Those blades, sweeping,

never shook off the ice.

Angela Andrews

from Echolocation, Victoria University Press, 2007

Island girl Tokoroa

ice-cream puddle licks bare feet

a sky so bright and blue

the sun rimming its yellow stain

make-believe it is summer

yet winter bites frozen fingers

gloves and scarves for some other child

in her hands she holds the key

a coin for lunch one Sally Lunn, miss

creamy pink-smothered bun

there is no word for luxury beyond

this daily walk in winter sun

she can almost taste it

morning flicks by chafing

children

head down she holds out her hand

winter may snow for all she cares

the skies can turn black

one Sally Lunn, miss

is heaven and blue

and forever

Reihana Robinson

from Her Limitless Her, Mākaero Press (Hoopla series), 2018

Ben Lomond  

Three people in the snow  

two linked by marriage  

memorising fault line  

                                         by fault line  

  

and every  now and again  the head of the summit  

tails in

     and out of sight  

  

three people with backpacks and knees in the snow  

threading the  mountains  with a silence   

that once broken   

would make you cry  

  

and every now and again  the head of the summit  

tails  in

     and out of sight  

  

like the early love of a  June morning  

first an accent  and  then the hearing  

and the sky is a blanket wishing it gone  

  

late  on  the  summit a sparrow  

whittling alone    

                              and away 

Modi Deng

from A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand, eds Paula Morris & Alison Wong, Auckland University Press, 2021

Avalanche        

There was the war on TV,

the snow, the people lying on plastic

in the snow, death arriving

with his suitcase full of tools,

the delivery out of this world

offers such a dazzling

variety, and the snow, forever this

white tableau becomes forged

with the recollections of your last

oncology visit

and the people lying on the plastic

in the snow.

At the doctor’s I sat with

my tiny hands held in my lap the way

I’d been taught, two lovebirds,

but the flesh was as cold as sheet ice

I was up to my elbows

in frostbite and snow.

There were stories in the news

each day and in the morning paper,

death can happen overnight, may

be in your house if you don’t move

fast enough, in a trench, or

the dreadful football-stadium one,

under the trees in a dark

wood, against a hedge, or even lying

on plastic in the wan snow.

Such soft subdued footfalls,

but a goodly advance

over a long stretch of time.

Others shift their seats away from me

leaving a pencil

-thin cavity, a subtle margin,

but you and I are crouched

together in the snow reading the

avalanche instructions;

they are torn and dirty, tacked to

the cobwebbed wall of some

wild and woody alpine mountain hut:

Construct earthen fortifications

Behind your village. In the case

of serious exposure it is

best to wait for rescue dogs.

We must read the instructions

we must read the instructions

but there are no instructions

I believe there are no instructions.

Vivienne Plumb

from Avalanche, Pemmican Press, 2000

The Icicles

Every morning I congratulate

the icicles on their severity.

I think they have courage, backbone,

their hard hearts will never give way.

Then around ten or half past,

hearing the steady falling drops of water

I look up at the eaves. I see

the enactment of the same old winter story

– the icicles weeping away their inborn tears,

and if only they knew it, their identity.

Janet Frame

from The Goose Bath: Poems, eds. Pamela Gordon, Denis Harold, Bill Manhire, Vintage, Random House, 2006, picked Hebe Kearney

You can hear Janet Frame read ‘The Icicles’ here

At Home in Antarctica

In this place, silence has a voice
wide-ranging as the continent.
Some say it’s on the cusp
of madness, the way it hums
and stutters, mutters to itself
in quietest tones.

In this place, the universe brims.
Inside absence, presence.
Inside distance, dust
and our sleeping earth
dreaming beneath her thin blue
mask of ice.

In this place, the necessity
of memory, recollections
of a loved one’s face, shape
of laughter, weight of breath.

In this place, nostalgia
roams patient as slow
hands on skin transparent
as melt-water. Nights are light
and long. Shadows settle
on the shoulders of air.

Time steps out of line
here stops to thaw
the frozen hearts of icebergs.
Sleep isn’t always easy in this place
where the sun stays up all night
and silence has a voice.

Claire Beynon

from Open Book – Poetry & Images (Steele Roberts, 2007).

Suggested by Jenny Powell. The poem has also been a prompt for various musical compositions, including a piece Antarctikos by US composer, Jabez Co (2010) and The Journey Home (2012) for soprano, tenor, baritone, choir and orchestra by NZ composer John Drummond.

Visiting Rita at Sydney Street West

Wellington rains in a cross-hatch tantrum.

Wind blasts batter everyone backwards.

Lost in a volley of ‘after the hill second street right

follow your nose’ I have taken the wrong hill,

veering left with an eye on the clock.

Landmarks stream down my spectacles,

couplets of directions waterfall out of my head.

Lost in a valley of paper map ink-splash,

folds between us disintegrate. In the if-only world

my fingers wrap a hot cup of tea, my coat dries by your heater.

Sticks torn from moorings shoot down white-water gutters.

Wind race of paper packets eddies in high-speed gusts.

I am lost in solitary panic.

An onslaught of sleet freezes my face.

Jenny Powell

from Meeting Rita (forthcoming June, Cold Hub Press)

Angela Andrews lives in Auckland with her family. Her PhD in Creative Writing at Victoria University examined the relationship between medicine and poetry. She has previously worked as a doctor.

Claire Beynon is a Dunedin-based artist, writer and independent researcher. She works collaboratively on a diverse range of on- and off-line projects with fellow artists, writers, scientists and musicians in NZ and abroad. These group activities are buoyed and balanced by the contemplative rhythms of her solo practice. Websites here and here.

Modi Deng is a postgraduate candidate in piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music on scholarship. Currently based in London, Modi received a MMus (First Class Honours, Marsden research scholarship) and a BA from Auckland University. Her first chapbook-length collection of poetry will be part of AUP New Poets 8. Her poems have also appeared in A Clear Dawn (AUP), Starling, the Stay Home Zine (Bitter Melon Press), and on NZ Poetry Shelf for National Poetry Day. She cares deeply about literature (especially poetry, diaspora), music, psychology, and her family.

Janet Frame (1924 – 2004), born in Dunedin, was the author of thirteen novels, five story collections, two volumes of poetry, a children’s book and a three-volume autobiography. She won numerous awards including the New Zealand Book Award for poetry, fiction and non-fiction titles, and the New Zealand Scholarship in Letters. She received New Zealand’s highest civil honour in 1990 when she became a Member of the Order of New Zealand. She was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2003 and was named an Arts Foundation Icon Artist in 2004.

Alison Glenny’s collection of prose poems The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. A chapbook, Bird Collector, is being published by Compound Press in 2021. She lives on the Kāpiti Coast.

Helen Lehndorf’s book, The Comforter, made the New Zealand Listener’s ‘Best 100 Books of 2012′ list. Her second book, Write to the Centre, is a nonfiction book about the practice of keeping a journal. She writes poetry and non-fiction, and has been published in Sport, Landfall, JAAM, and many other publications and anthologies. Recently, she co-created an performance piece The 4410 to the 4412 for the Papaoiea Festival of the Arts with fellow Manawatū writers Maroly Krasner and Charlie Pearson. A conversation between the artists and Pip Adam can be heard on the Better Off Read podcast here

Bill Manhire founded the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington, which a little over 20 years ago became the International Institute of Modern Letters. His new book Wow is published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and Carcanet in the UK.

Vivienne Plumb writes poetry, short and long fiction, drama, and creative non-fiction. She held the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writing Residency in 2018, and has held several other writing residencies (both in N.Z. and overseas), and has been awarded the Hubert Church Prose Award and the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award, amongst others. Her work has been widely anthologised. A new chapbook of her poems will be released in July, 2021. 

Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet and performer. Her work has been part of various journals and collaborations. Her next collection, Meeting Rita, is inspired by the artist Rita Angus, and is due from Cold Hub Press in June 2021.

Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Wellington, currently living in London. She is the author of Magnolia 木蘭, (a finalist in the Ockham Book Awards and the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2021), a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai, and several poetry chapbooks and zines. Her debut essay collection, Small Bodies of Water, will be published in September 2021. 

Reihana Robinson is a writer, artist and farmer living in the wilderness of the Coromandel. She has written two collections, Aue Rona and Her Limitless Her, has had work published in Aotearoa, Australia, France and USA. She is a contributor to the Dante-themed anthology More Favourable Waters and the just published Ora Nui Māori Literary Journal New Zealand and Taiwan Special Edition.

Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) is a writer, musician and taonga pūoro practitioner living in Pōneke. She has been published in journals such as LandfallStarling and Sport, among others. In 2020 she released her debut album, Pōneke, which looks at the soundscapes of Wellington’s past, present and future through the use of taonga pūoro, cello, and environmental sounds. She is currently completing a PhD in public health, focusing on the use of taonga pūoro in hauora Māori. Tōku Pāpā, published in February 2021, is her first book.

Ten poems about clouds

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books with readings: Johanna Emeney reads from Felt

Johanna Emeney reads ‘Touching’ from Felt

Felt (Massey University Press, 2021) is Johanna Emeney’s third poetry collection, following Apple & Tree (Cape Catley, 2011) and Family History (Mākaro Press, 2017). Her nonfiction writing focuses on poetry and the medical humanities, and poetry and disability. Jo has a background in English Literature, Japanese and Education. She is a senior tutor at Massey University, Auckland. Jo and her husband David share a few acres with their cats, goats and ponies.

Massey University Press page

I review Felt at Kete Books

Radio NZ: Johanna in a terrific conversation with Kim Hill

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Kay McKenzie Cooke’s ‘cannot believe my eyes’

cannot believe my eyes

At the inlet the resident pair

of paradise ducks

trumpet their usual dismay

at my approach;

the white-headed female’s call

a high-pitched wail of fear,

her dark-plumaged mate’s

placating response a constant offer

of reassurance

against unfounded alarm.

And seagulls strutting

like meat inspectors, folded wings

placed just so behind their backs.

The tide’s out and in the air,

the waft and weave of mud, weed,

algae and imminent rain.

*

Ahead, a young man jogs,

a small black-and-white dog

bouncing along at his heels.

An incongruous pair, him in sports gear

and the dog looking like it’d be happier

in a handbag.

Then, to my horror, the man kicks the dog.

I cannot believe my eyes. Until

it becomes clear that

without my glasses,

what I thought was a dog,

is in fact a soccer ball.

*

Nearly back home now,

I stop to take photos

of a blue, wooden garden seat,

a well-constructed wall

and on the footpath

the broken-crockery pieces

of strewn autumn leaves,

my own dark shadow

like black water

pouring out from under my feet.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020 and is titled Upturned. She lives and writes in Ootepoti / Dunedin. 

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Ten poems about clouds

A while ago the world seemed unbearably bleak and dark, and whenever the world seems bleak and dark, an idea unexpectedly falls into my head like rescue remedy. I had bought a bundle of UK poem booklets that came with an envelopes from the wonderful McLeods Bookshop in Palmerston North on my Wild Honey tour. Each featured ten poems on a theme and I loved the idea of sending one to someone just when they needed a poem boost (The Women’s Bookshop in Auckland stocks them I see). My rescue remedy was to host a season of themes over autumn and winter – with me picking poems but also inviting some poets to send poems and suggestions. The response has been overwhelming. Rescue remedy de luxe!

I wanted the presence of the theme to range from subtle to loud so I struggled over the preposition in the title. It might be a poem after or towards or with or from or by or under or hinting at a theme. Not necessarily about! It might simply be a single word resonating. A cameo appearance. I had 15 themes, but Alison Wong suggested ‘Light’, and Hinemoana Baker suggested ‘Land’, so 17 poetry themes will be appearing over the coming months.

If this had been for a print anthology, I would have spent several years reading and selecting, going to libraries, bookshops, agonising, agonising, agonising. But my rescue-remedy plan meant staying at home and returning to my vast New Zealand poetry collection which as you can imagine after Wild Honey is rich in women’s books. I felt like I wanted to do a whole book on each theme so many poems sung out.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my rescue remedy. It means a lot. You cannot imagine what a delight it has been to return to books I have loved over the past decades and to savour new poems sent me. To feel poetry work its magic.

Ten poems about clouds

The Sky

The sky thinks it is a flock of birds.

Then it thinks it is a cloud.

It also thinks it is widespread words.

Sometimes it looks up at the stars,

imagining other skies,

and sometimes down at the water

where it thinks it sees more stars.

At such times it believes itself to be a god.

But no such luck, poor sky! Soon enough

it is saying hello sir and madam

what a nice day it’s turning out to be

and can you perhaps spare a dollar,

thank you, thank you kindly. The sky

can still hold a small cloud in its hands.

Today it does so, and it rains.

It held our old home that way, too,

awkward and vertical and cold –

the snow caught fire as each day died.

But yes, it is safer here on the flat.

A man comes by with coal in a wheelbarrow,

muttering, muttering. He wants

to sell us warmth, his feet don’t leave the ground.

We think that we will always miss the sky.

It says look up whenever we look down.

Bill Manhire

from Wow, Victoria University Press, 2020

The Sky as a Metaphor for Everything


We can’t tell if the sky
is clinging


to night or happy
to welcome this new morning—


everything in this existence
wrapped up and encapsulated


in the changing colours and
how we constantly remark on clouds’


silly, ever-shifting shapes,
how fast they travel, and so on.


Truthfully, we hate
how light always wins


in the sky, in rooms,
in movies where it’s a stand-in


for goodness—
but never in our real lives.


Though our eyes do adjust
eventually, and we get by—


like the sun rising
in the morning in the sky.

Jane Arthur

from Craven Victoria University Press

Clouds

roll

south of the volcanoes.

You cut mushroom gills

soft as moth wings

that fluttering in the belly.

Bread rising on the water tank,

look out to patchy light

on the hills — moving.

Try to forget the names

of everything and call

them out new like rain

dropping on lava.

Steam born and gone

in the same instant.

A thought of one

you still look up to see

isn’t there.

Morgan Bach

in JAAM 33, 2015

Long White Clouds

all anyone ever does around here is / grow weed and stare / into burnt-

out houses / into the rabbit hole / into the cards / into the skin /

and roll their cars / their eyes / their r’s / their cigarettes / and kick

snow / kick rugby balls / kick each other / kick bad habits / only to

find another / like an eel / in the creek / in the backyard / in the

dark / in winter / and try to kill it on the rocks / chase the girls /

in a shed / a bathtub / a bed / with wet fingers / eyes / tongues /

and T-shirts / from spilled beer / spilled cum / spilled blood / spilled

secrets / bad boys / with bad skin / bad tattoos / and bad reputations /

because here / all anyone ever does is / swear / across their hearts /

at referees / at other drivers / taking to the road / cos all anyone

ever wants around here is / out / of home / of the closet / of the

relationship / of the sixth-storey window / open it / to the cold / to

the clouds / to the sky / cos all anyone ever does around here is / dive /

Tayi Tibble

from Poūkahangatus, Victoria University Press, 2018, picked by Amy Brown

Spelling Out Goodbye

“This doesn’t seem to be working,” he said quietly, “Perhaps we should try it another way. “Like this!” He split his shoes, laughed all the way to the top of the roof. “The plane will be coming soon,” he said, “Before that, would you help me out and make me a cheese sandwich?”

“Cheese,” said she, “Of course.” She clattered off like a train carriage. When she returned he was snuggled up on the nearest cloud with his breath spelling out hello goodbye. He left his pocketknife in his pocket, stuffed stars by hand into black-eyed plastic bags. He said catch as he floated them down to her. 

Johanna Aitchison

in Miss Dust, Seraph Press, 2015

Couple

(after Magritte)

The couple with clouds in their heads

are just outlines cut into a wall

so what you’re seeing is what’s behind

on cloudy days it’s clouds

on rainy days water.

Tusiata Avia

in Wild Dogs under My Skirt, Victoria University Press, 2004

I had never seen you so open

Crumpled on the couch saying 

seventh of the seventh

you seemed to be between 

trying to get up and sinking further.

A soft redness about you

and a kind of shift somewhere,

to dreams, or clouds,

not things we usually have been 

to each other. 

Later, you folded the card sent from the office

inside his cap that served

on the deck of a warship in Korea.

Kept it beside you for weeks

until one day it was gone.

Wes Lee

appeared in The New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology 2020

Weather

Winter rain beats on the windows;

there is cloud-hidden snow

on the hills.

In our space, built for the elderly,

warm air encloses thoughts

of long ago:

the coal range, pots of soup

and rain.

Helen Jacobs

from A Habit of Writing, The Cuba Press, 2020

Reflections (clouds)

dawn               the sky is splattered

by my juicy mandarin,

the sea                        a mirror

of tears soon to fall.

watching —

we capture the skyline,

grey lines folding like pursed lips.

wrapped in thick ash and two woven wings,

the sun sets a foot on our city

one eye blending

across            an open sea.

E Wen Wong

Baba Yaga

Lyall Bay is often the scene

of tempests, everything pelted

with salt water, rust spreading

like ill humour. The police

are often patrolling in Lyall Bay.

When the cumulonimbus sit like fat

white cauldrons steaming with cirrus,

look our for brush strokes-

someone’s been sweeping the sky

clean as linoleum after an accident.

Amy Brown

from The Propaganda Poster Girl, Victoria University Press, 2008

Johanna Aitchison has published three collections of poems, Miss Dust (2015), a long girl ago (2007), and Oh My God I’m Flying (199). She was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference (Tennessee) in 2019; and her poetry has been published in New Zealand, the U.S., and Japan. Her poem “Miss Dust in a Motel Room” is forthcoming in Landfall 241.

Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.

Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.

Morgan Bach is a poet recently returned to her home town of Wellington, where she also works as a bookseller.

Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper’s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.

Helen Jacobs, aged 92, was born in Pātea and wrote her first poem nearly fifty years ago in response to a TV programme on nuclear war, publishing her first collection of poetry in 1984 and becoming actively involved with the poetry community in Christchurch for many years. She adopted the name Helen Jacobs to keep her writing separate from her life as local body politician, environmental activist and art advocate Elaine Jakobsson. Helen lives in a retirement village with the art she has collected over the years and a balcony of pot plants, delighted the world continues to offer her things to write about.

Wes Lee lives in Paekakariki. Her latest poetry collection, By the Lapels, was launched in Wellington (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2019). Her work has appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Poetry London, Turbine, Poetry New Zealand, Westerly, The Stinging Fly, Landfall, The New Zealand Listener, Australian Poetry Journal, among others. She has won a number of awards for her writing, including, The BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award. Most recently she was awarded the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019 by Massey University Press, and shortlisted for The Inaugural NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize 2021.

Bill Manhire founded the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington, which a little over 20 years ago became the International Institute of Modern Letters. His new book Wow is published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and Carcanet in the UK.

Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou) was born in 1995 and lives in Wellington. Her first book Poūkahangatus won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in 2019. Her new collection Rangikura will be published in June by Victoria University Press.

E Wen Wong is a first-year Law and Science student at the University of Canterbury. She was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award.

Poetry Shelf review: Hana Pera Aoake’s A bathful of kawakawa and hot water

A bathful of kawakawa and hot water, Hana Pera Aoake, Compound Press, 2020 (reprinted 2021)

The opening poem, ‘Perhaps we should have stayed’, in Hana Pera Aoake’s collection of poetry and prose is like a chant, like a manifesto for self, like a list to pin to a fridge or a heart, to keep you moving and remembering, and thinking and feeling, and the title keeps repeating like an insistent beat, and it is political and it is personal, and it is sideways and direct, and it is searing and it is balm, and I can’t stop reading it, and I have read it five times in a bath with mānuka leaves that drift in on the wind.

PERHAPS WE SHOULD HAVE STAYED.

SOMETIMES THE LONGING MIGHT KILL YOU.

OTHER TIMES IT MIGHT BE THE EXHAUSTION.

IT’S GOOD TO BE YEARNING.

MAYBE YOU YEARN FOR SOMEONE OR MAYBE YOU

JUST YEARN FOR SOMETHING BETTER.

WATCHING BODIES FROM VERY FAR AWAY

THROUGH A SCREEN  DOES NOT GIVE YOU A SENSE

OF WHO SOMEONE REALLY IS.

PERHAPS WE SHOULD HAVE STAYED.

THE IDEA OF HAPPINESS IS JUST CAPITALISM.

Hana is writing this book from Lisboa, from that far away point, where writing becomes the connective bridge to the land that they hold dear, and as you read you move across the memory bridge, from the waterfront there to the water here, from the Portuguese river to the line of police removing Ihumaato protestors. The prose piece is rich in direction, building in momentum like the Pacific ocean flowing and the voices of the protestors, never ever losing sight of the sea, and it is an umbilical chord and it is a cry, an insistent poetic cry to do better.

Elsewhere there is a yoga teacher that reminds the writer of a vegan flatmate ‘who didn’t clean and was really racist and ate all my food, and had a trust fund’. There is puking and there are drugs. There is a cameo in Sex and the City. There is a Lisboa square where the Jewish were once slaughtered. There are emails to write and fliers to be designed. There is an empty womb. There is all this and there is so much more. Hana’s language is the most super-charged gloriously exhilarating uplift of words you can hope to meet, that draw in Te Reo Maaori and Portuguese, and pay attention to rhythm, so that you are itching to hear it read aloud, because this is prose and this is poetry, and yes this is song. Song from the heart, from the whole body, moving and yearning and finding a way to be.

Yet if this collection is song, it is also an incisive and vital probe, drawing on reading, ideas, history, the present and the future, challenging Western discourse, asking questions, musing on what ‘constitutes a common’, on the co-option of Maaori concepts by Paakeha, on the inseparability of body and mauri, on the damaged world, on the power of myth.

As a Maaori I feel death all around; not just because fantails follow me most days, but because I carry dead bodies inside me. I name them as I name myself, my rivers and my mountains. I ache at night thinking of my grandmother dying alone in a rest home during this pandemic.

from ‘We were like stones like weeds in  the road’

Chris Holdaway (Compound Press) has produced an exquisite book, using mid-20th Century typefaces designed by Samoan New Zealander Joseph Churchward. Hana has produced a collection of writings that within 83 pages take you out of yourself into a state of wider contemplation and deeper mourning and intricate learning and necessary action. This book I hold to my heart.

Hana Pera Aoake (Ngaati Mahuta, Tainui/Waikato, Ngaati Hinerangi) is an artist and writer based in Waikouaiti on stolen Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Waitaha lands. They are keen to restart the land wars and love eating kaimoana and defacing colonial property.

Compound Press page

A poem on Poetry Shelf, ‘Going on Strike’