Category Archives: NZ poems

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Joan Fleming’s ‘Imprints of Water’

unknown.jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joan Fleming is the author of two books of poetry, The Same as Yes and Failed Love Poems (both with Victoria University Press), and her third book is forthcoming with Cordite Press in 2019. She has recently completed a PhD in ethnopoetics at Monash University, a project which arose out of deep family ties and ongoing relationships with Warlpiri families in Central Australia. Her honours include the Biggs Poetry Prize, a Creative New Zealand writing fellowship, an Australian Postgraduate Award, the Verge Prize for Poetry, and the Harri Jones Memorial Prize from the Hunter Writers Centre.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Nicola Easthope on J. C. Sturm’s ‘Grieving, 1972’

 

 

 

Grieving, 1972

                  for Jim 

You — bugger

you — arsehole

you — stinking shithouse

 

Dying

  without me

Leaving

  me stranded

 

Having

  to keep on

Living

  without you

 

Knowing

  I’ll never

See you

  again

 

You bastard —

You bloody bastard you —

 

© J. C. Sturm, Dedications, Steele Roberts, 1996

 

 

I was in Opunake for a couple of nights camping in January, and as we passed Taranaki maunga on the way there, I remembered it was the tūrangawaewae of poet and fiction writer, Jacqueline (J.C.) Sturm.

P1010213.JPG

 

It’s something of a regret that we never crossed paths, despite both living on the Kāpiti Coast in the same early 2000s. I would have liked to thank her for this unforgettable poem, for the permission she gives herself – and, unwittingly, any poet who’s ever been silenced – to directly accuse, to swear, to rage and ache (I imagine from a west coast clifftop, face into the southerly wind whipping up volcanic blacksand)… in this case, at her loved, lionized, rogue husband, for dying without her.

There are so many layers here – her mantle of anger in the first, brilliant, versatile stanza, to the intimate, broken heart of the poem, and back to the cursing, in an emphatic finale. Such a satisfying poem.

‘Grieving, 1972’ has a companion in ‘And again, 1989’ – here, Sturm returns to the subject of her grief, but now the pain has significantly lessened, maybe almost gone. May it be so.

In celebration of the life and work of Jacqueline Sturm, let’s seek out copies of Dedications and Postscripts again; open their pages to the fresh air.

 

Nicola Easthope, 20 February 2019

 

 

And again, 1989

for Jim

It is all so different now.

I cannot swear

With such conviction

Nor do I thirst

So savagely for blood,

Anybody’s blood,

Or recompense

At anyone’s expense.

 

The trail is too old

Too cold

To follow as I used to

Taking directions from friends

And the not so friendly

(You were seen there

Doing that with them

The day before the day — )

 

Searching, combing

The landscape of my mind

Over and over again,

Desperate to find

The reason for your going

Or just to hear,

Still lingering

On the listening wind,

An echo of your voice.

 

Nor do I dream any more

Of finding that small

Very ordinary house

And those nervous strangers

Showing me where

You lay down

The last time.

 

It is all so different

Except, of course

You are there

 And I am still here

Waiting,

And only God knows

(I do not ask to be told)

When, in his good time

This too will be different.

 

© J. C. Sturm, Dedications, Steele Roberts, 1996

 

J. C. Sturm (Jacqueline Cecilia) (1927–2009), of Taranaki iwi, Parihaka and Whakatōhea descent, was born in Opunake and is thought to be the first Māori woman to graduate with an MA from a New Zealand university (First Class Hons, Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington). She initially wrote short fiction, and her work was the first by a Māori to appear in an anthology. Her debut poetry collection, Dedications (Steele Roberts, 1996), received an Honour Award at the 1997 Montana New Zealand Book Awards and she published further collections of poetry and short stories. Her poetry appeared in a number of anthologies and journals. Her collection, Postscripts (Steele Roberts, 2000), includes images by her son John Baxter. She received an honorary doctorate from Victoria University of Wellington, worked as a librarian, was married to James K Baxter and had two children.

Poems published with kind permission from the estate of J. C. Sturm.

 

47082-sr.jpg

cover by John Baxter

 

Te Ara page on J. C. Sturm by Paul Millar

NZ Book Council page

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf New Poetry: Landfall 236 is a beauty

 

otago699462.jpg    otago699462.jpg    otago699462.jpg

 

We have a wealth of literary journals (online and hard copy) at the moment that draw upon diverse communities and regions and that underline the fact poetry is currently piping hot in Aotearoa. Pick up a journal and you will find emerging voices, our poetry elders and everything in between – and that is as it should be. Loud quiet political personal inventive funny heartbreaking groundbreaking traditional mesmerising …. the list is endless when it comes to local poetry.

Landfall offers poetry, prose, reviews and artwork and comes out of Otago University Press with Emma Neale the current editor. It  boosts its poetry review section by posting a bunch on line at the beginning of every month, and hosts the annual Landfall essay competition and the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize.

The latest issue is a hit with me on the poetry front because there is a pleasing diversity of voice and style, and a number of poems that have stuck to me like glue, and that I have shared with others.

 

But first the essays. The Landfall Essay competition is always on my annual must-read list. Emma selected the 2019 winning entries. In her introduction she talked about the way the best essays might be self-essays but also move beyond that to the gritty or glittery challenges of the world. I always think of an essay as a testing ground for ideas and at times a testing ground for how you convey those ideas which is why I love to read them. Essays can generate contagious feelings; but again, how that feeling is stitched into the writing gets tested. Emma’s introduction made me want to get back to an essay I have been working on for a year or so but, more importantly, read the winning entries.

Alice Miller’s winning essay, ‘The Great Ending’, closes in on the year 1918, on a false armistice and on Armistice Day. She juxtaposes events and anecdotes gleaned from newspaper cuttings and books and produces one of the best end paragraphs I have read in ages. A glorious read. I mused upon a future little handbook of essays that offer a selection of collaged years and a re-invigoration of history.  Susan Wardell’s runner-up essay, ‘Shining Through the Skull’, is equally captivating. After reading Emma’s notes I was really keen to read the other placed essays.

Landfall has always promoted local poetry. Emma has selected an exquisitely contoured mix. On this occasion I find I am drawn to poems featuring various kinds of migration, movement  and intimacies.

In Harry Rickett’s standout poem, ‘Pink Blanket’, the poet greets his 92-year-old mother and tries to tell her of his trip to India but she only (seemingly?) pays attention to her bared knee. This is the power of poetry – it takes you to a moment and makes you feel its intimacy. It felt like age as a form of migration.

 

I replace the blanket, try camels,

horses, donkeys, dogs, finally

an old photo of my long-dead father,

taken by her. ‘Do you know who

this is?’ She shakes her head.

She refolds the pink blanket,

exposes her bare left knee,

gives me a nose-crinkling grin.

 

Aiwa Pooamorn’s ‘A Thai-Chinese Stay-at-Home Mother gets Political’ gets both political,  personal and utterly topical in a must-read kind of way. Home is both movement and necessary anchor.

I’m as Thai as Pad Thai noodles

invented to be the national dish

by military dictator Phibun

when actually it’s quite Chinese

all to create the myth

of a homogeneous monoculture

Thailand the land of smiles

pledge allegiance to

chaat (the Thai nation state)

satsana (the Buddhist religion)

phramahakesat (the demi-god King)

 

Siobhan Harvey’s ‘Someone Other than Yourself’ moves out from the sharp point of her migration from the UK, in a poem that completely unsettled me with its slender but potent admissions and wavery pronoun. The writing is sure-footed, the images clear, and the overall effect strange, intimate, puzzling. This is the kind of poem that adheres. I tried to select a piece to quote but the poem needs to stay together as if taking a bit out is a form of damage.

Landfall issue is rich in poetry that leaves its traces upon you in diverse ways: poems by essa may ranapiri, Tusiata Avia, Jodie Dalgleish, Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod, Trevor Hayes, Helen Yong, Jane Arthur, Michael Mintrom, Jessica Le Bas, Richard Reeve do just that.

A bonus: In June 2017 a poem, ‘StreetNOISE’, attached to a building in Moray Place, closed down Dunedin’s central business district. The bomb squad was called, a court case ensure but charges were dropped. Justin Spiers offers seven images of the poet, artist and musician, L.$.D. Fascinating.

Plus David Eggleton’s picks for the Caselberg Trust prize, loads of fiction and reviews to get your reading teeth or heart into (so to speak).

 

Well worth a subscription I reckon.

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Emma Shi’s ‘he called me darling’

 

 

he called me darling

 

after the earth stopped spinning, so did the birds and the sky and the sea. the seasons stayed in place, stuck in time, and the birds stopped following their patterns of flight. instead, they started to settle in entire trees at a time, watching everyone who walked past. each bird wore a plume of white on their chest and they sang songs every morning. and i would let them land on my bare arms when i passed, their claws pressing against my own beating veins.

 

it was summer forever. i spent every day outside, sending kisses to the birds and you. each morning, the sun hung the clouds up onto the sky and made sure that each cloud was perfectly still. they stayed the same puffy white, never to be grey again. and the stars spilled paint around them so that the sky was the same endless shade of blue. it was a blue that spoke of infinity even if we weren’t a part of it. and you would drive me to all the beaches we could find, threading our lives around the shoreline.

 

in this new summer, it was impossible to drown. the ocean was just as still as the clouds. we swam through seas that felt no waves, that seemed to have never experienced the feeling of rip tides. every time i felt like i was being pulled underwater, the ocean would lift me back up. we could have stayed there forever, floating safely in expanses that i used to be afraid of, kissing and tasting saltwater.

 

late one night, you were driving me home. the blue of day had already phased back into a dark navy hours ago, but i didn’t want to leave yet. so you decided to take us back to one of our beaches. it was the middle of the night and we were the only source of movement. the headlights of your car revealed the edges of the beach, but the light wasn’t enough to show the true colours of the sand. because of that, everything looked grey. i didn’t know if i could have found the sea if i had stepped out and onto that new earth. in the distance, the moonlight reflected off the ocean when it hushed. and all at once, it reminded me of a different time, another summer. you called me darling and i swear if those birds were there with me on that night, they would have sung with joy. still, when time had passed and you started to drive us away from the sea, i felt a lump in my throat. i paused for a moment, then swallowed it down. i knew it wasn’t the real goodbye yet. but it lingered.

 

it had been summer for months when the birds started whispering things in my ear. and i whispered back to them, what are you trying to say? their eyes flickered from me to you and back again. you were looking out at the ocean, almost as still as the frozen waves. but when you noticed me staring, you turned and smiled. there was a little patch of red on the side of your neck from one time when we stayed at the beach for too long, and we fell asleep under your favourite star. i smiled within that blurry space, that incoherent moment where we had been together for millennia. then i turned my head to the sky. and i knew that i was lucky.

 

when all the flowers that spring gave us finally fell, the wind whirled them into vortexes and rushed them together so that it all looked like snow. white petals landed in my hair and the bees mistook me for flowers, rubbing against my skin only to feel the rough edges of human touch. i would have to get used to the empty spaces, our detached strings. and until those delicate petals stopped reminding me of the sunshine, i would have to avert my eyes from the birds and the songs that they sang like honeyed grace, whispering distant memories of summer.

 

 

©Emma Shi

 

 

 

Emma Shi was the winner of the National Schools Poetry Award 2013 and the Poetry NZ Prize 2017. She has also been published in literary journals such as Landfall and Starling. Emma writes here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Books: Celebrating Fleur Adcock’s Collected Poems launch day with Maria McMillan

 

3c58eb2e-2c98-4359-a439-504f7467e974.jpg

Launches on Wednesday 13 February, 6pm–7.30pm
at Unity Books, 57 Willis St, Wellington.

 

Today Fleur Adcock launches her Collected Poems with Victoria University Press at Unity Books in Wellington. This is an occasion to celebrate! I read my way through all Fleur’s books for Wild Honey and I loved the experience and the multiple effects it had upon me.

This week Marty Smith and I (and many more by the looks!) were directed by Maria McMillan’s tweet to her (Maria’s) terrific 2015 blog post on Fleur. Sharing thoughts on what a poetry book means to you on such a personal level is exactly why I am launching my classic (well-loved, enduring) poems/poetry books slot on Wednesdays.

 

Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 9.13.29 AM.png

 

Read Maria’s effervescent blog, pop into the Wellington launch and then tuck up into the glorious richness, kicks, grace, wit, reflective-ness and absolute joy of Fleur’s poetry.

A taste of Maria’s blog post:

 

Selected Poems, Fleur Adcock. Oxford University Press, 1983.

Being a girl is dangerous. I don’t just mean we are vulnerable to danger, but that we are, ourselves, dangerous, capable of causing great damage to ourselves and others. We, especially in those years we are changing into women, live in danger, where danger is the vibrating state we occupy.

I started thinking tonight about Fleur Adcock’s Selected Poems which I first read at 15. I remembered the dark green cover and how the spine looked on my parents’ bookshelf. The slim sitting room one with the cut out hearts and tidy shelves of Penguins. Have I made up the moment of discovery? Of pulling the book from the shelf, of curling in the large brown chair with the ribbed pattern that would leave its tribal marks on me? The book must have come alive to me then, something that breathed and beat so that next time I came to the shelf I would recognise it. It would hum when I entered the room.

It was my mother’s book but became mine in the way any book is claimed as intimate property by obsessed readers. I wonder if it in turn claimed me, lodging its shards in my ears and brain and heart, because it was the first book of poetry I really read. A book I read for sheer pleasure but also I read and reread wanting to understand how Fleur Adcock had done it. I don’t know if that is peculiarly a budding poet’s reading, or if that is the nature of all close reading of poetry. That the thrill of a good poem is watching it run but also holding it in your lap, seeing the bones and muscles move beneath the pelt, smelling its oily springed wool. Understanding how it all fits together.

Do teenagers, or at least the kind I was,  gravitate towards poetry because the best of it is transformative in the same way adolescence is? Good poetry allowing us not just to see the capacity of the poet, but our own capacities. A transformation from passive childlike recipients of the word and the world, to readers active, engaged and creative in our own right. I think about how it’s not just writers who are dangerous, with their strange ability to conjure mountains and moods, but readers too. There is a moment, when we get poems, if we get them, where we are not having something done to us by the poem, but we are doing something to the poem. A good poem, that we have read and understood, can give us a sense of mastery, perhaps what a musician feels when she plays fluently, for the first time, a difficult piece of music.

It is a long time since I have opened Adcock’s book and when I do it is with great affection as phrases I have loved for 30 years float up off the page out to me, triggering the same pings of pure pleasure as they did on my first encounter with them.

 

Full piece by Maria here

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating poetry 2018 in pictures and words

 

m y    h i g h l i g h t s

 

I have had endless opportunities to transform the days and nights of 2018 with poetry musings. What good is poetry? Why write it? Why read it? Because it energises. Because it connects with the world on the other side of these hills and bush views. Because it gives me goose bumps and it makes me feel and think things.

I am fascinated by the things that stick – the readings I replay in my head – the books I finish and then read again within a week – the breathtaking poem I can’t let go. So much more than I write of here!

I have also invited some of the poets I mention to share their highlights.

 

2018: my year of poetry highlights

I kicked started an audio spot on my blog with Chris Tse reading a poem and it meant fans all round the country could hear how good he is. Like wow! Will keep this feature going in 2019.

Wellington Readers and Writers week was a definite highlight – and, amidst all the local and international stars, my standout session featured a bunch of Starling poets. The breathtaking performances of Tayi Tibble and essa may ranapiri made me jump off my seat like a fan girl. I got to post esssa’s poem on the blog.

To get to do an email conversation with Tayi after reading Poūkahangatus (VUP) her stunning debut collection – was an absolute treat. I recently reread our interview and was again invigorated by her poetry engagements, the way she brings her whanau close, her poetry confidence, her fragilities, her song. I love love love her poetry.

My second standout event was the launch of tātai whetū edited by Maraea Rakuraku and Vana Manasiadis and published by Seraph Press. Lots of the women read with their translators. The room overflowed with warmth, aroha and poetry.

At the same festival I got to MC Selina Tusitala Marsh and friends at the National Library and witness her poetry charisma. Our Poet Laureate electrifies a room with poems (and countless other venues!), and I am in awe of the way she sparks poetry in so many people in so many places.

I also went to my double poetry launch of the year. Chris Tse’s  He’s So MASC (AUP) – the book moved and delighted me to bits and I was inspired to do an email conversation with him for Poetry Shelf. He was so genius in his response. Anna Jackson’s Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP) delivers the quirkiest, unexpected, physical, cerebral poetry around. The book inspired another email conversation for the blog.

Tusiata Avia exploded my heart at her event with her cousin Victor Rodger; she read her challenging Unity and astonishing epileptic poems. Such contagious strength amidst such fragility my nerve endings were hot-wired (can that be done?). In a session I chaired on capital cities and poets, Bill Manhire read and spoke with such grace and wit the subject lit up. Capital city connections were made.

When Sam Duckor-Jones’s debut collection People from the Pit Stand Up (VUP) arrived, both the title and cover took me to the couch to start reading until I finished. All else was put on hold. I adore this book with its mystery and revelations, its lyricism and sinew; and doing a snail-paced email conversation was an utter pleasure.

I have long been a fan of Sue Wootton’s poetry with its sumptuous treats for the ear. So I was delighted to see The Yield (OUP) shortlisted for the 2018 NZ Book Awards. This is a book that sticks. I was equally delighted to see Elizabeth Smither win with her Night Horses (AUP) because her collection features poems I just can’t get out of my head. I carry her voice with me, having heard her read the poems at a Circle of Laureates event. I also loved Hannah Mettner’s Fully Clothed and So Forgetful (VUP), a debut that won best first Book. How this books sings with freshness and daring and originality.

I did a ‘Jane Arthur has  won the Sarah Broom Poetry Award and Eileen Meyers picked her’ dance in my kitchen and then did an anxious flop when I found Eileen couldn’t make the festival. But listening to Jane read before I announced the winner I felt she had lifted me off the ground her poems were so good. I was on stage and people were watching.

Alison Glenny won the Kathleen Grattan Award and Otago University Press published The Farewell Tourist, her winning collection. We had a terrific email conversation. This book has taken up permanent residence in my head because I can’t stop thinking about the silent patches, the mystery, the musicality, the luminous lines, the Antarctica, the people, the losses, the love. And the way writing poetry can still be both fresh and vital. How can poetry be so good?!

I went to the HoopLA book launch at the Women’s Bookshop and got to hear three tastes from three fabulous new collections: Jo Thorpe’s This Thin Now, Elizabeth Welsh’s Over There a Mountain and Reihana Robinson’s Her limitless Her. Before they began, I started reading Reihana’s book and the mother poems at the start fizzed in my heart. I guess it’s a combination of how a good a poem is and what you are feeling on the day and what you experienced at some point in the past. Utter magic. Have now read all three and I adore them.

At Going West I got to chair Helen Heath, Chris Tse and Anna Jackson (oh like a dream team) for the Wellington and poetry session. I had the anxiety flowing (on linking city and poet again) but forgot all that as I became entranced by their poems and responses. Such generosity in sharing themselves in public – it not only opened up poetry writing but also the complicated knottiness of being human. Might sound corny but there you go. Felt special.

Helen Heath’s new collection Are Friends Eectric? (VUP) was another book that blew me apart with its angles and smoothness and provocations. We conversed earlier this year by email.

A new poetry book by former Poet Laureate Cilla McQueen is always an occasion to celebrate. Otago University Press have released Poeta: Selected and new poems this year. It is a beautiful edition curated with love and shows off the joys of Cilla’s poetry perfectly.

Two anthologies to treasure: because I love short poems Jenny Bornholdt’s gorgeous anthology Short Poems of New Zealand. And Steve Braunias’s The Friday Poem because he showcases an eclectic range of local of poets like no other anthology I know. I will miss him making his picks on Fridays (good news though Ashleigh Young is taking over that role).

 

Highlights from some poets

 

Sam Duckor-Jones

I spent six weeks reading & writing poems with the students of Eketahuna School. They were divided on the merits of James Brown’s Come On Lance. It sparked a number of discussions & became a sort of touchstone. Students shared the poems they’d written & gave feedback: it’s better than Come On Lance, or, it’s not as good as Come On Lance, or, shades of Come On Lance. Then someone would ask to hear Come On Lance again & half the room would cheer & half the room would groan. Thanks James Brown for Come On Lance.

 

Hannah Mettner

My fave poetry thing all year has been the beautiful Heartache Festival that Hana Pera Aoake and Ali Burns put on at the start of the year! Spread over an afternoon and evening, across two Wellington homes, with readings and music and so much care and aroha. I wish all ‘literary festivals’ had such an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability!

 

Jane Arthur

Poetry-related things made up a lot of my highlights this year. I mean, obviously, winning the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was … pretty up there. I’m still, like, “Me?! Whaaaat!” about it. I discovered two things after the win. First, that it’s possible to oscillate between happy confidence and painful imposter syndrome from one minute to the next. And second, that the constant state of sleep deprivation brought on by having a baby is actually strangely good for writing poetry. It puts me into that semi-dream-brain state that helps me see the extra-weirdness in everything. I wrote almost a whole collection’s worth of poems (VUP, 2020) in the second half of the year, thanks broken sleep!

A recent highlight for me was an event at Wellington’s LitCrawl: a conversation between US-based poet Kaveh Akbar and Kim Hill. I’m still processing all its gems – hopefully a recording will show up soon. Another was commissioning Courtney Sina Meredith to write something (“anything,” I said) for NZ Poetry Day for The Sapling, and getting back a moving reminder of the importance of everyone’s stories

This year I read more poetry than I have in ages, and whenever I enjoyed a book I declared it my favourite (I always do this). However, three local books have especially stayed with me and I will re-read them over summer: the debuts by Tayi Tibble and Sam Duckor-Jones, and the new Alice Miller. Looking ahead, I can’t wait for a couple of 2019 releases: the debut collections by essa may ranapiri and Sugar Magnolia Wilson.

 

Elizabeth Smither

Having Cilla McQueen roll and light me a cigarette outside the Blyth

Performing Arts Centre in Havelock North after the poets laureate

Poemlines: Coming Home reading (20.10.2018) and then smoking together,

cigarettes in one hand and tokotoko in the other. Then, with the relief that

comes after a reading, throwing the cigarette down into a bed of pebbles, hoping

the building doesn’t catch on fire.

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh

To perform my ‘Guys Like Gauguin’ sequence (from Fast Talking PI) in Tahiti at the Salon du Livre, between an ancient Banyan Tree and a fruiting Mango tree, while a French translator performs alongside me and Tahitians laugh their guts out!

Thanks Bougainville
For desiring ‘em young
So guys like Gauguin
Could dream and dream
Then take his syphilitic body
Downstream…

 

Chris Tse

kiwis-in-london.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year I’ve been lucky enough to read my work in some incredible settings, from the stately dining room at Featherston’s Royal Hotel, to a church-turned-designer-clothing-store in Melbourne’s CBD. But the most memorable reading I’ve done this year was with fellow Kiwis Holly Hunter, Morgan Bach and Nina Powles in a nondescript room at The Poetry Cafe in London, which the three of them currently call home. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday that day, but we still managed to coax people into a dark windowless room to listen to some New Zealand poetry for a couple of hours. This is a poetry moment I will treasure for many years to come.

 

Sue Wootton

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and reading plenty of poems by plenty of poets this year. But far and away the most rejuvenating poetry experience for me during 2018 was working with the children at Karitane School, a small primary school on the East Otago coast. I’m always blown away by what happens when kids embark on the poetry journey. Not only is the exploration itself loads of fun, but once they discover for themselves the enormous potentiality in language – it’s just go! As they themselves wrote: “Plant the seeds and grow ideas / an idea tree! Sprouting questions … / Bloom the inventions / Fireworks of words …” So I tip my cap to these young poets, in awe of what they’ve already made and intrigued to find out what they’ll make next.

 

Cilla McQueen

1

25.11.18

Found on the beach – is it a fossil?

jawbone? hunk of coral? No – it’s a wrecked,

fire-blackened fragment of Janola bottle,

its contorted plastic colonised by weeds

and sandy encrustations, printed instructions

still visible here and there, pale blue.

Growing inside the intact neck, poking out

like a pearly beak, a baby oyster.

 

2

Living in Bluff for twenty-two years now, I’ve sometimes felt out on a limb, in the tree of New Zealand poetry. I appreciate the journey my visitors undertake to reach me. A reluctant traveller myself, a special poetry moment for me was spent with Elizabeth Smither and Bill and Marion Manhire at Malo restaurant, in Havelock North. Old friends from way back – I haven’t seen them often but poetry and art have always connected us

 

Tayi Tibble

In September, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend The Rosario International Poetry Festival in Argentina. It was poetic and romantic; late night dinners in high rise restaurants, bottles of dark wine served up like water, extremely flowery and elaborate cat-calling (Madam, you are a candy!) and of course sexy spanish poetry and sexy poets.

On our last night, Marcela, Eileen and I broke off and went to have dinner at probably what is the only Queer vegan hipster restaurant/boutique lingerie store/experimental dj venue in the whole of Argentina, if not the world. Literally. We couldn’t find a vegetable anywhere else. We went there, because Eileen had beef with the chef at the last place and also we had too much actual beef generally, but I digress.

So anyway there we are eating a vegan pizza and platter food, chatting. I accidentally say the C word like the dumbass crass kiwi that I am forgetting that it’s like, properly offensive to Americans. Eileen says they need to take a photo of this place because it’s camp af. I suggest that Marcela and I kiss for the photo to gay it up because I’m a Libra and I’m lowkey flirting for my life because it’s very hot and I’ve basically been on a red-wine buzz for five days. Eileen gets a text from Diana, one of the festival organisers telling them they are due to read in 10 minutes. We are shocked because the male latin poets tend to read for up to 2584656 times their allocated time slots, so we thought we had plenty of time to like, chill and eat vegan. Nonetheless poetry calls, so we have to dip real quick, but when we step outside, despite it being like 1546845 degrees the sky opens up and it’s pouring down. Thunder. Lightening. A full on tropical South American storm!

It’s too perfect it’s surreal. Running through the rain in South America. Marcella and I following Eileen like two hot wet groupies. Telling each other, “no you look pretty.” Feeling kind of primal. Throwing our wet dark curls around. The three of us agree that this is lowkey highkey very sexy. Cinematic and climatic. Eventually we hail a taxi because time is pressing. Though later that night, and by night I mean at like 4am, Marcella and I, very drunk and eating the rest of our Vegan pizza, confessed our shared disappointment that we couldn’t stay in the rain in Argentina…  just for a little while longer….

We get to the venue and make a scene; just in time and looking like we’ve just been swimming. Eileen, soaking wet and therefore looking cooler than ever, reads her poem An American Poem while Marcella and I admire like fangirls with foggy glasses and starry eyes.

“And I am your president.” Eileen reads.

“You are! You are!” We both agree.

 

Alison Glenny

A poetry moment/reading. ‘The Body Electric’ session at this year’s Litcrawl was a celebration of queer and/or non-binary poets (Emma Barnes, Harold Coutts, Sam Duckor-Jones, essa may ranapiri, Ray Shipley ). Curated and introduced by poet Chris Tse (looking incredibly dapper in a sparkly jacket) it was an inspiring antidote to bullying, shame, and the pressure to conform.

A book. Not a book of poetry as such, but a book by a poet (and perhaps it’s time to be non-binary about genre as well as gender?). Reading Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf I was struck by how unerringly it highlights the salient characteristics of this strange era we call the anthropocene: crisis and denial, waste and disappearance, exploitation, and the destruction caused by broken relationships and an absence of care.

A publishing event. Seraph Press published the lovely tātai whetū: seven Māori women poets in translation, with English and Te Reo versions of each poem on facing pages (and a sprinkling of additional stars on some pages). An invitation, as Karyn Parangatai writes in her similarly bilingual review of the book in Landfall Review online (another publishing first?) ‘to allow your tongue to tease the Māori words into life’.

Best writing advice received in 2018. ‘Follow the signifier’.

 

essa may ranapiri

There are so many poetry highlights for me this year, so many good books that have left me buzzing for the verse! First book I want to mention is Cody-Rose Clevidence’s second poetry collection flung Throne. It has pulled me back into a world of geological time and fractured identity.

Other books that have resonated are Sam Ducker-Jone’s People from the Pit Stand Up and Tayi Tibble’s Poūkahangatus, work from two amazingly talented writers and friends who I went through the IIML Masters course with. After pouring over their writing all year in the workshop environment seeing their writing in book form brought me to tears. So proud of them both!

Written out on a type-writer, A Bell Made of Stones by queer Chamorro poet, Lehua M. Taitano, explores space, in the world and on the page. They engage with narratives both indigenous and colonial critiquing the racist rhetoric and systems of the colonial nation state. It’s an incredible achievement, challenging in form and focus.

I’ve been (and continue to be) a part of some great collaborative poetry projects, a poetry collection; How It Colours Your Tongue with Loren Thomas and Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, a poetry chapbook; Eater Be Eaten with Rebecca Hawkes, and a longform poetry zine; what r u w/ a broken heart? with Hana Pera Aoake. Working with these people has and continues to be a such a blessing!

I put together a zine of queer NZ poetry called Queer the Pitch. Next year I’m going to work to release a booklet of trans and gender diverse poets, I’m looking forward to working with more talented queer voices!

The most important NZ poetry book to be released this year, it would have to be tātai whetū. It was published as part of Seraph Press’s Translation Series. It features work from seven amazing wāhine poets; Anahera Gildea, Michelle Ngamoki, Tru Paraha, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Maraea Rakuraku, Dayle Takitimu and Alice Te Punga Somerville. These poems are all accompanied by te reo Māori translations of the work. I can only imagine that it would be a super humbling experience to have your work taken from English and returned to the language of the manu. By happenstance I was able to attend the launch of tātai whetū; to hear these pieces read in both languages was a truly special experience. It’s so important that we continue to strive to uplift Māori voices, new words brought forth from the whenua should be prized in our literary community, thanks to Seraph for providing such a special place for these poems. Ka rawe!

 

Anna Jackson

This has been a year of particularly memorable poetry moments for me, from the launch of Seraph Press’s bilingual anthology Tātai Whetū in March and dazzling readings by Mary Rainsford and Tim Overton at a Poetry Fringe Open Mike in April, to Litcrawl’s inspiring installation in November of essa may ranapiri and Rebecca Hawkes hard at work on their collaborative poetry collection in a little glass cage/alcove at the City Art Gallery. They hid behind a table but their creative energy was palpable even through the glass. I would also like to mention a poetry salon hosted by Christine Brooks, at which a dog-and-cheese incident of startling grace brilliantly put into play her theory about the relevance of improv theatre theory to poetry practice. Perhaps my happiest poetry moment of the year took place one evening when I was alone in the house and, having cooked an excellent dinner and drunken rather a few small glasses of shiraz, started leafing through an old anthology of English verse reading poems out loud to myself, the more the metre the better. But the poems I will always return to are poems I have loved on the page, and this year I have been returning especially to Sam Duckor-Jones’s People from the Pit Stand Up, while I look forward to seeing published Helen Rickerby’s breath-taking new collection, How to Live, that has already dazzled me in draft form.

 

 

happy summer days

and thank you for visiting my bog

in 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Cilla McQueen’s sumptuous Poeta: selected and new poems

 

otago694971.jpg

 

 

Cilla McQueen  Poeta: selected and new poems Otago University Press 2018

 

Cilla McQueen’s new collection of poems is a treasure. The publisher has acknowledged Cilla’s standing as a poet by producing the most beautiful edition of poems out this year: hard back, gorgeous cover, exquisitely designed.

 

otago693326-1.jpg

 

The poems are arranged in ‘rooms’ or preoccupations that form a thematic span and are largely chronological.  The South Island landscape, cities and people are strong feature along with riddles, seasons, time, friendships, hens and the kitchen table. Some of my favourite poems by Cilla are here along with some delightful new discoveries. I have always admired her poetry with its deft musical chords, attention to detail and intimate moods. She has the ability to re-catch a moment or place that matters to her and allow it to shine for the reader.

 

Here again.

Dark’s falling. Stand

on the corner of the verandah

in the glass cold clear

night, looking out

to emerald and ruby harbour

lights

 

from ‘Homing In’ (1982)

 

This is the power of this anthology. It takes you to places and you become embedded in the scene.

 

thin waterskin over underfoot cockles here and there old timber

and iron orange and purple barnacled crab shells snails green

karengo small holes

 

from ‘Low Tide, Aramoana’   (1982)

 

You are also transported into the heart of friendships in poems that generate warmth and intimacy.

 

I visit my friend’s kitchen.

There are roses on the floor

 

and a table with pears.

Her face is bare in the light.

 

from ‘Joanna’  (2005)

 

I find these friendship poems moving as as though just in the moment of reading I am invited into a life.

 

Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko

sacred in my awkward arms,

its cool black mocking

my shallow grasp

 

I was

utterly blown away

 

from ‘Letter to Hone’  (2010)

 

Cilla’s language is always on the move: pirouetting, linking, breaking, repeating, echoing, circling, defying gravity. Her poem ‘Anti Gravity’ takes me to self seeking bearings but also to a poem both establishing and defying them.

 

touch fingertips and out into

blue suede fields clear coloured with

dew sparkling prisms in sunlight

how fast the changes are

like balancing on a big beach ball

in bare feet running backwards

burnout she said aagh I thought burnout

sounds like a rocket stage falling away

 

from ‘Anti Gravity’  (1984)

 

I often read the ultra agile ‘Dog Wobble when I visit schools and the children are instantly alive with the possibility of words. Here she is being equally playful – the lines in the second stanza run in reverse order:

 

Poem a poem

the inside poem

the words other in

inside drawn eyeless

toe to top fingered

light, gnostic

valiant, innocent

fruit and rind.

 

from ‘Poem’  (2010)

 

There are also sections from Cilla’s terrific poetic memoir In a Slant Light published in 2016. I wrote a rave review about this book on my blog and wanted it win book awards and find a zillion readers.

 

Soup simmering on the coal range.

I’ve brought a loaf of bread. He pours red wine,

holds the glass up to the light.

Shades of red.

In harmony.

 

from In a Slant Light   (2016)

 

There are so many rewarding routes through Cilla’s poetry ; I love the way she surprises then holds me as in ‘City Notes’ from 2017:

 

How much does the city weigh?

The earth beneath it shudders.

 

Thunderstorm kicking around.

They go on making concrete.

 

A recent poem invites us into her writing space which includes a study, a lounge and a kitchen, a view and the wind outside.

 

Sun bleached poetry spines. On the arm-rest of my chair lies a grey and white

baby possum’s skin, extremely soft to stroke.

 

Downstairs, etched on the glass door between the lounge and the kitchen, art

deco style, a slender dancing nymph.

 

The kitchen looks over the front lawn, low fence, footpath and the

road, a young cabbage tree beside the wooden letterbox.

 

from ‘Writing Place’  (2017)

 

This is a book to treasure. Cilla has won the NZ Book Award for Poetry three times, she has received an Hon. Litt. D. from the University of Otago and the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry, and she was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2009 -11. She lives in the southern port of Motupōhue near Bluff.

I love this book.

 

Otago University Press page