Category Archives: NZ poems

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Paul Diamond picks Gregory O’Brien


Ode to the Sarjeant Gallery


Likened, on occasion, to a boom-box on a grassy shelf,

Sarjeant Gallery, I think of you mostly


as a tin

in which the finest bread

is baked, with your airy dome


and ample intelligence, your south-facing wall

on which the paintings of Joanna Paul


and Edith Collier sing to the river birds,

and are sung back to.


A steadying influence,

above which clouds like

thought balloons moor a while


and around which gather

the moonlit streets of Whanganui.

On your lawn this morning I watched


a film crew being washed down-river, an empty shoebox

blowing towards Moutoa Gardens – but all I could hear


was a distant burbling of the mayor

and his accountants

marooned in the small towns


of their suits, nose-deep in their yellowing pages,

in whose minds


the Whanganui River would be diverted

so it comes out

at Patea, and by whose good judgement


Pak ‘N Save would be enlarged

to enclose the whole town,


and the marble wrestlers in the Sarjeant foyer, this goes

without saying, would be replaced with


jelly. In the council chambers, a hundred years

of Whanganui River fog would seem


to have obscured the mayoral judgement,

the mist outside

clearing to reveal, on the forecourt,


a bullroarer and baby’s rattle – emblems of the town’s

leadership – and towering above it all,


our observatory

of earthbound constellations,

your patient dome, looking down on


the dust-gatherers and nay-sayers, the elected

and the naturally selected. It all comes down,


like the Whanganui River,

to this. And every city

has its limits.



©Gregory O’Brien  NZ Listener April 2-8 2005 Vol 198 No 3386


Note from Paul:

I’m writing a book about Charles Mackay, a former mayor of Whanganui, who was a driving force behind the building of the glorious Sarjeant Art Gallery in Whanganui. In 1920, Mackay shot D’Arcy Cresswell, who threatened to expose the mayor’s homosexuality unless he resigned. Subsequently, the mayor’s name and title were erased from the Sarjeant Gallery foundation stone (but restored in 1985). Spending time at the Sarjeant Gallery and getting to know its staff and collections has been one of the highlights of my research visits to Whanganui. Greg O’Brien’s poem came out of an unhappier, divisive time in the life of the city and the gallery. More than a decade on, fundraising for the gallery redevelopment plan is well underway, and there’s greater awareness of the significance of the Sarjeant building and its collections for the nation, as well as Whanganui. I like to think Charles Mackay would be proud.


Paul Diamond (Ngäti Hauä, Te Rarawa and Ngäpuhi) was appointed as the inaugural Curator, Mäori at the Alexander Turnbull Library in 2011. He worked as an accountant for seven years, before switching to journalism in 1997. He is the author of two books (A Fire in Your Belly, and Makereti: taking Mäori to the World) and has also worked as an oral historian and broadcaster. In 2017 he was awarded the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency, to work on his book about former Whanganui mayor Charles Mackay, who was shot in Berlin in 1929.


Gregory O’Brien is a poet, essayist and writer, currently finishing a non-fiction book, Always song in the water–New Zealand art, letters and the environment. ‘Ode to the Sarjeant Gallery’ was written at a time when the Sarjeant was getting a very bad rap from the local council under mayor Michael Laws. It appeared in the Listener and hasn’t surfaced again until now.

Poetry Shelf – Spring Season’s poetry fans: Steve Braunias picks Vincent O ‘Sullivan

To Miss the Point Entirely

It isn’t good for a writer to live in a country
where a cut-price banker with his next-door smile
is all we have to throw stones at. How one
envies a Chilean say who could dream of knifing
a home-grown monster, the English even
who might smash a TV any day of the year
when a government of schoolboys quiver as if Matron
threatened to punish arse.
‘A country without snakes!’
as tourists at times are amazed to hear. ‘Then what
do people here die of?’, another traveller once
asked me. ‘Of being ourselves,’ I told him,
‘the big tourist pictures falling off the wall with mould.’

©Vincent O’Sullivan


Note from Steve: This is such a fun poem, a genuine LOL. There are some great examples of comic verse – CK Stead’s collection “Dog” is full of them, and I’ve always loved one by Kevin Ireland about a friend who made a bust of his head; it ends with the jokeshop word, quite properly in capital letters, “BOING”. Vince’s poem also works as political verse. I don’t think there are that many good examples of that. They’re often too emphatic, too one-dimensional, just a rant. Vince applies a nice, gentle touch on the poem from beginning to end. I really love the space on line 9, when he introduces a new slant on the poem. It’s like a paragraph break and it allows the poem to take a kind of breath. I love everything about the poem, really, right down to the final line, which is a deeply mordant, black-comedy punchline. This poem can do no wrong.

SB works as a staff writer at the New Zealand Herald, and as the books editor at the Spinoff, where he chooses a new poem every week as the Friday Poem. Publishing verse each week was something he introduced right from the very start of creating a books section at the Spinoff.


Vincent O’Sullivan, poet, novelist, playwright and short story writer, was the New Zealand Poet Laureate from 2013 – 2015. His latest collection of poems, And so it is was published by Victoria University Press in March.

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Morrin Rout picks Fiona Farrell


No words to start. No
names. Trees learned
the land by touching
it with dumb fingers.

The names flew in
and hovered, light
as mayflies, skimming
the river of the white
calf, the hill of gorse,
the crag of the cat.

They shifted shape,
became other things.
The river is black
now and deep, the
hill is the hill of
hanging, and the
cats have been
butted from the
crags by shaggy

As my house
stands on the lip
of the bailer of a
black canoe.

And on a heap
of broken timber.

And on a green shoot.

And on the rocky
point of a man.

Or named Long Bay,
plain words,
printed out
in daffodils.

But already, look:
they’ve multiplied.

Gone wild.

Danced over the lines.
Invaded the field.

They are popping up
in odd places, as if they
have forgotten completely

how to spell.


©Fiona Farrell, The Pop-up Book of Invasions (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2007).


Note from Morrin: Fiona’s poem continues to delight me and reward each reading. I too live on Banks Peninsula and feel at times precarious. Words and names mutate and the landscape continually reminds us that we are newcomers and much has gone before. I love the image of the daffodils being bidden to spell out the name of the bay but over time breaking free and defying human intent.

Morrin Rout has co-produced and presented ‘Bookenz’ on PlainsFM 96,9 for over 20 years and is the director of the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

Multiple award -winner, Fiona Farrell writes across a variety of genres; she has been a finalist in all three categories at the NZ Book Awards, for fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The critically acclaimed, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire, the factual half of a two-volume work, examines the rebuilding of a city through the twinned lenses of non-fiction and fiction. The accompanying novel, ‘Decline and Fall on Savage Street’ has just been published.

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Gina Cole picks Selina Tusitala Marsh

In Creative Writing Class

the pākehā man
calls the kailoma Fijian woman
the Māori woman
and the ‘afakasi Samoan woman
because they have the experience
of being doubly oppressed
at a time when they qualify
for certain scholarships
when their demographic
is fashionable and interesting
their life experiences
make their writing more convincing
their stories are rich and deep
hot chocolatey and steamy
his are staid, North Shore-ish
lukewarmish gumboot tea

the los atrevido
wait for him to finish
his first world problems
in their global village
their serpent tongues aim
for the space above his collar
they fire simultaneously
no one even hears him holler

©Selina Tusitala Marsh from Tightrope (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2017)




Note from Gina: I love this poem because I have attended many creative writing classes. I am also a kailoma Fijian woman, and I have been in a creative writing class with Selina. In most writing classes that I have attended, I have been one of a minority of Māori and Pasifika writers in the class. I love how the title reads as a play on each word in all their different meanings, especially “class”. I love the last stanza and the description of the women as “los atrevido”. I had to look up what that meant. I found that it translates as – the daring, the badass, the bold. I love that daring in the poem, and that Selina is the new daring, badass, bold Poet Laureate for Aotearoa.

Gina Cole is of Fijian, Scottish and Welsh descent. She lives in Auckland. She writes fiction and poetry. She is a Barrister specialising in Family Law and has a Master of Creative Writing from Auckland University. In 2016, Huia Publishers published Gina’s debut book of short stories Black Ice Matter. Black Ice Matter won the 2017 Hubert Church Prize for Best First Book Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Selina Tusitala Marsh is of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English and French descent. She was the First Pacific Islander to graduate with a PhD in English at the University of Auckland where she currently is an Associate Professor. Her first collection, Fast Talkin’ PI, won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in 2010. As Commonwealth Poet (2016) she composed and performed a poem for the Queen at Westminster Abbey. She is New Zealand’s current Poet Laureate.

Poetry Shelf Spring Season -poetry fans make picks




This year I have hosted four seasons on Poetry Shelf, and I am tempted to do it again next year with four new themes.

For Spring Season 2017, I invited poetry fans from diverse fields to pick a New Zealand poem they loved and write a brief note about it.


As I am reading my way through New Zealand women’s poetry for my big book, I keep rediscovering poems that strike me in new ways and I immediately want to share with the world. I am sitting in my kitchen, and I just shout out to the bush: This is so skin-pricklingly GOOD!

I have just read my way through Jenny Bornholdt’s collections and found my old favourites, poems like ‘The Rocky Shore,’ still resonate so surely. At the moment, I am rereading Emma Neale, and her very best poems are extraordinary occasions that draw upon the wide reach of the world along with the more intimate alcoves of mother and poet.

What difference does a poem make in a disgruntled world precariously on edge? I don’t know! I just know that it gives voice to the ordinary and to the astonishing. You can read a poem with a cup of tea like a kick-start gingernut – and it is the most wonderfully satisfying ritual.

Thanks to all the poets and publishers who gave permission and to all the poetry fans who picked the poems and wrote the notes.

Over the next two weeks I am posting 16 poems.








The winners of Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2017

And the Winner Is …

The winners of the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2017 have been announced, and this year the winning poets (first and runner up) are both Dunedin based writers –

Winning poem: Road to Murdering Beach by Majella Cullinane (Dunedin)

Runner-up: Finding Billy Collins in the fiction shelves by Ruth Arnison (Dunedin)

Four poets also received a highly commended from judge Riemke Ensing, and these were –

Bridge – Carolyn McCurdie (Dunedin), Lumb Bank – Sarah Grout (Auckland/London), Notes from a refugee – Ruth Hanover (Christchurch), and Cambodia (a deconstructed country) – Susan Howard (Warkworth)

The Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2017 is in its sixth year, and rewards the winner with a $500 prize plus a week-long residency at the Caselberg House in Broad Bay on the Otago Peninsula.

Auckland poet Riemke Ensing was this year’s judge, and she said of Cullinane’s winning poem, Road to Murdering Beach, “I liked the confident way it addressed the reader in a very conversational colloquial voice; the way a narrative was told with minimal detail, concentrating instead on imagery to convey the ‘feel’ of the story as we plunge through ‘the charcoal sky of dusk beneath the sea.’ She added “It made me want to find out more about the past of this beautiful beach”

Majella Cullinane is a PhD candidate in Creative Practice at the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, University of Otago, Dunedin. Originally from Ireland, she’s lived in New Zealand since 2008. In 2014 she was awarded the Robert Burns Fellowship. She published her first collection, Guarding The Flame (Salmon Poetry), in 2011, and her second is forthcoming in 2018.

Ruth Arnison’s poems have appeared in journals and ezines including Deep South, Takahe, Cadenza, and Orbis.  She is also well known as the editor of Poems in the Waiting Room (NZ), an arts in health charity which distributes 6700 free poetry cards every season to medical waiting rooms, rest homes, prisons and hospices.

Cullinane and Arnison’s winning poems, along with Riemke Ensing’s judge’s report, will be published in the forthcoming edition of Landfall magazine – Landfall 234 (published in November 2017).  All the winning poems will also be posted on the Caselberg Trust website after Landfall is published.

The Caselberg Trust will also be hosting a Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2017 awards evening at the /, Cumberland Street, Dunedin, at 5.30pm Thursday 30 November.  Judge Riemke Ensing will read her judge’s report, and talk about this year’s entries.  Winning poets will be invited to read their poems.