Category Archives: NZ poetry

Poetry Shelf review: Michele Leggott’s Mezzaluna: Selected Poems

 

 

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Mezzaluna: Selected Poems Michele leggott, Auckland University Press, 2020

 

 

 

people still go to cottages in moody seaside weather

to read for a week           how will we do it now?

 

when I go for walks words stalk along too

I’ll be travelling mid-February and can’t guarantee a lucid mind

 

what about a big table in a room with windows

looking over the wild and wavy event?

 

from ‘Colloquy’ Swimmers and Dancers

 

 

Michele Leggott is continuing to make extraordinary contributions to poetry in Aotearoa. I rank her with Bill Manhire: two poets who have not only published astonishing poetry, but who have also been significant mentors and teachers in university programmes and introduced poetry initiatives, and edited vital anthologies. We are in debt to Bill for his vision for the IIML and offshoot projects, and the Poet Laureateship (now administered by The National Library but established with the efforts of Bill and Te Mata Estate). Michele was the first Poet Laureate under the National Library administration. She established the NZ Electronic Poetry Centre, set up the Lounge readings in Auckland, and has organised various gatherings of poets, including symposiums in Bluff, Christchurch and Auckland. Not forgetting her diverse contributions as Professor of English at the University of Auckland.

More than anything, we are in Michele’s debt for the light she has placed upon women poets from the past, especially Robin Hyde and Lola Ridge.

 

words come so slowly

it has been lonely

a phoenix palm

and behind it

crystalline glitter

another story, waving

 

plaintain paradisiaca a bird

musey with waves

Helicon a harbour cone

here

bright

Greek

over Narrowneck

 

from ‘Withywind’ from Like This? (1998)

 

 

I have been reading Michele’s poetry since her debut collection, Like This? (1988) and have followed the thematic and lyrical contours ever since. The first word that springs to mind is heart. Michele has written within the academy, with her prodigious intellect flaring, but she is a heart poet beholden to neither theoretical trend nor poetic fad. Her poetry has always linked hands with the writing of other women, and over time has become increasingly personal and more accessible for readers.

Michele’s Mezzaluna: Selected Poems appeared mid March, just before we moved into lockdown. Its visibility suffered as our reading, writing, publishing and reviewing lives moved into upheaval.  There is an excellent interview with Lynn Freeman on Standing Room Only and a short conversation with Paula Morris as part of The Auckland Writer’s Festival online series. The highlight of the latter is hearing Michele read an extract from her poem ‘The Fascicles’ from Vanishing Points (2017) (she is the last writer in the zoom session).

 

Fine ground darkness pours into the vessel

beans and flowers adorn the fall—

ichor! ichor! drink to the eyes locked on yours

the mouth that smiles and will speak for itself

I have always done the talking and she

put the words in my mouth saying do melisma

like sunlight be melisma like no sunlight pressed

redness before dark print an iris on her

 

from ‘Blue Irises’ in DIA (1994)

 

Difficulty has never been an issue for me as a reader of poetry – I love venturing into poetry thickets where meaning might appear in whiffs, and where enigma, evasion and multiplicity are active ingredients. Michele’s mid-career poetry collections, perhaps from DIA through to Mirabile Dictu, delivered various shades of difficulty and I loved them for that. Her lexicon has drawn upon the arcane, the archaic, slang, borrowed words, foreign languages. There were highways and byways to other poems, a history of research and reading. Intimacy was as likely as distance. And even though her poetry has become increasingly personal, self confessional in parts, it has always been so. Family appears, sons, food, beloved places, a shaping of home along with a profound engagement with other writing, other stories, myths, conversations.

The poems underline the way poetry threads ideas, memory, motifs, experience, opinion, reading history. The how of writing is as crucial as the what of writing.

 

imagine     the world goes dark

a bowl of granite or a stone bird

incised by tools the nature of which

is unknown    just that they are metal

and therefore from otherwhere

just that the weight of the bowl

precludes light and lightness

of thought     my feet take a path

I can no longer see    my eyes

won’t bring me the bird   only now

has my hand found the stones

I could add to the smooth interior

of my despair     the world goes dark

I look into the eyes of my stone bird

hammers before memory

silence and the world that is not

 

from ‘mirabile dictu’ in Mirabile Dictu

 

 

Along Mezzaluna’s reading tracks you will find honeysuckle, daffodils, roses, melons, breath, the wind, stars, here, there, light, dark, heart. Always heart. Always the interplay between light and dark. Michele has dedicated Mezzaluna to those who travel light and lift darkness’. Yes reading is a fertile way of travelling, life equally so; light and dark stick to us like biddybids, but our relations with and navigation of both are unique. What do we carry with us? What do we keep placing in our personal baggage? What do we do with the dark? For Michele, with her slow movement into blindness decades back, and all the challenges that have affected every aspect of her life, blindness has understandably also seeped into her writing. She has always been attuned to the sound of words, the mobility of language, words as sound dance in the ear, in harmony and discord. But the possibilities of sound, under Michele’s deft guidance, have become a glorious anchor for everything that has mattered and will matter.

The lush terrain of the visual is also a sumptuous part of Michele’s poetry. The recurring motifs I have already mentioned range from piquant to honeyed, visual bouquets in their own physicality but players in so much more. Participants in ideas, the mythological references, the recuperation of memory, family history, personal challenges.

It is equally rewarding to listen for the other women, particularly the poets who have captured Michele’s attention and diligent rescue work: I am thinking of the way Robin Hyde, Eileen Duggan and Ursula Bethell have become a visible part of the network. More recently Lola Ridge. Michele’s latest project is Emily Harris, a New Plymouth poet who died in 1925 and whose work has been located in Sappho-like traces. Michele response to the missing poet is to recreate versions in Vanishing Traces.

I have heard Michele perform poems from most of her collections and it has always affected me deeply.  To listen to poems from As Far As I Can See – the poems that expose her move into blindness – these have been audience-affecting occasions. I have sat in a line of poetry fans and we have been utterly still, barely able to take breath at the daring exposure, the heartbreaking experience, the exquisite and utterly memorable poetry.

Ah, no matter what I write, no matter what I signal, I feel like I am shortchanging this rich and elegantly constructed volume. Michele told Paula Morris she had originally sent in a longer version but had cut it back and, in doing so, focused on the DNA of each book, on what was important. As she read and replayed, she carried a key question across the books: ‘What does a poem look like?’

This is such a good question to carry with you as you read – yes Michele’s poems do change, the lines shorten, the lexicon is more familiar, but there is common ground. Perhaps it comes down to a love of a sound, and how that love of sound is amplified when you can’t see the physical world. It is a rejuvenating, heart-engaging, thought-provoking read and it feels like this Michele’s poetry deserves a whole book of response. Michele Leggott warrants a whole book that navigates what her poetry does: its connections, its liberations, its epiphanies, its testings.

Mezzaluna showcases the work of one of our most inquisitive and sensual poets who ventures into the unknown, into an inhabited world, with an open heart and free-flowing mind. Glorious.

 

Auckland University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf poets on their own poems: Jack Ross reads and comments on ‘1942’

 

 

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You can watch Jack’s video here

 

 

 

1942:  Some Notes on the Poem

 

A few years ago I was invited to attend a poetry festival at the University of Canberra. While I was there, one of the organisers asked me to contribute to a project where poets wrote new pieces about the local landscape for a textile artist to interpret.

I have to say that I felt a bit of a fraud in agreeing to participate. What do I know about the Canberra landscape? I’m from New Zealand, not Australia, and this was my very first visit to Australian Capital Territory.

However, my mother was born in Sydney, and I have made a lot of trips across the Tasman at one time or another, so I said I would see if anything came to mind before their deadline. Sometimes I think my wife is right to label me a ‘publication whore’ – any new project that comes up I tend to agree to. I love exhibition catalogues, and poetry posters, and chapbooks, and all that species of arty ephemera.

What I ended up writing was a four-part poem about various family associations with Canberra and Australia in general. My uncle graduated from Duntroon, the Military College there, back in the late 1940s. I have a number of friends who studied at Australian National University. The first poem in the sequence, though, and the only one I really feel fond of now, is this one based on a photograph of my mother as a schoolgirl, pictured feeding a wallaby.

I put into it a lot of what I’d heard from her about her childhood during the Second World War – the sense of imminent doom caused by austerity, the Japanese mini-subs in Sydney Habour, the bombing of Darwin. It’s for this reason that I called it ‘1942’, even though it’s difficult to say precisely what year it was taken: more likely a couple of years before that.

My mother suffers from dementia, and every piece of memory salvaged from her rich life experience seems particularly important to us as a result. This photo, in particular, we only found after my father’s death, as he’d replaced all the pictures in her album with shots of his own collection of militaria. It’s one of the very few images we have of her as a child.

But the picture itself! It was so odd, so obviously staged – as she described it to us, her father was barking orders at her all the time she was holding out her hand to fake the ‘feeding’ episode.  It speaks to me of lost time, a depth of emotion one can seldom attain in the everyday.

The textile artist I mentioned above, Dianne Firth, did a wonderful job of interpreting all four of the parts of my poem in her exhibition, Poetry and Place (Canberra: Belconnen Art Centre, 25 August – 17 September 2017), but this is the only part of it that I still feel a genuine affection for.

My wife, Bronwyn Lloyd, must have thought so, too, since she made it into a hinged poster work – the poem reproduced opposite the picture –for Christmas 2016. We used this one-off poster again for the celebration of my mother’s 90th birthday a couple of months ago.

“You really did me proud,” she said. She’s a hard-bitten Aussie still at heart. I’ve seldom seen her so moved.

 

– Jack Ross, Mairangi Bay, 2 August 2020

 

Jack Ross works as a senior lecturer in creative writing at Massey University. He is the author of five poetry collections and eight works of fiction, most recently Ghost Stories (Lasavia Publishing, 2019). He blogs here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf lounge: Rata Gordon celebrates her debut poetry collection Second Person

 

 

 

 

 

Rata Gordon is a poet, dance teacher, mother and arts-therapist in training. Second Person is her first collection of poetry, and was published in June 2020 by Victoria University Press. She is currently based in Raglan. Her website

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews Kay McKenzie Cooke

 

 

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Kay McKenzie Cooke, Ngāti Tahu, Pākehā, is an award winning poet and short story writer. Her debut collection Feeding the Dogs was awarded the 2003 Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry at the Montana NZ Book Awards. She lives in Dunedin, and spends part of her year in Berlin. Kay’s new collection with The Cuba Press Upturned is an evocative tribute to family, place, childhood, nature. The poems address attachment and kinship, love and grief. Some poems are southern based while others navigate Berlin. The poetry is a celebration of life and that celebration is of great reading comfort.

 

 

Paula What were the first poetry books that mattered to you?

Kay  The first poet that comes to mind is Dylan Thomas. I have this idyllic memory of me at thirteen years old sitting under a silver birch tree reading his poetry. It was on a particularly sunny day at Wendon Primary School in Northern Southland. This may well be a false memory! But the delicious revelation, surprise and impact of Thomas’s particular brand of poetry, is not.

Enid Blyton was an early influence (typical 1950’s-60’s child I guess.) I also loved Walter de la Mere and I remember a book of poems by Christina Rossetti featuring in my childhood. And A.A. Milne.

Dare I confess that Rod McKuen was a poet I adored for a (very) short time in the early ‘70’s?

 

Paula  What poetry books are catching your attention now?

Kay  Another Confession: Lately I have been so buried in my own poetry I haven’t been able to really take a look at what else is out there. There is such a rich seam of recent poetry to be mined. I would not know where to start. I have a lot (a lot!) of books and poets to catch up on. Both from new poets and from established favourites. And that’s just in Aotearoa.

Wild Honey is one I’ve been enjoying as a treasure to dip into. And the latest Landfall (239) as well.

Oh. Does Joni Mitchell’s beautiful book, Morning Glory on the Vine, count? That’s the book I got for my birthday recently and which I’m also dipping into at present.

 

Paula What else do you like to read?

Kay Autobiographies, biographies, modern novels, murder mysteries, non-fiction books about nature. Historical books. The classics.

 

Paula  Any standout poetry events you have attended either as an audience member or as a participant? Do you enjoy performing your work?

Kay  Jenny Powell and I have formed a poetry reading duo called J&K Rolling. We take poetry out into southern rural areas and discover what poetry is to be found in these places.

After five years of us travelling to many varied rural areas, I have a heap of memories of poetry readings performed in halls, art galleries, libraries, show grounds and even a restored, historical bake house. I enjoy performing poetry in such venues and at these low-key events with a small, attentive audience. It’s deeply satisfying.

The Bluff ‘06 organised by nzepc is a standout. Twenty-two poets from all over Aotearoa took part in poetry readings in Motupōhue / Bluff and in Rakiura / Stewart Island.

Reading in Paris at the Chat Noir in 2013 is a poetry reading I will always remember and treasure.

Another more recent reading organised by Jim Gedddes at the beginning of this year with David Eggleton, Cilla McQueen, Richard Reeve, Jenny Powell and myself reading in the Eastern Southland Gallery, is another memorable occasion.

Again – too many to list here. They’re all wonderful events. I feel privileged to have taken part in so many.

 

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One day, back when

everything was only as big

as the span of my forthright steps,

the world shattered into hailstones.

 

from ‘Hail’

 

 

Paula Your new collection Upturned is assured, pitch perfect on the line, multilayered yet runs with sweet economy. What matters to you when you write a poem?

Kay  Thank you!

I guess where and how the line ends is important to me. I like each line to chime. Also how a poem begins and ends matters to me. I guess that it does for all poets.

I favour shorter poems. I used to write haiku. Maybe this is where my love of the succinct and economical comes from. Redundancy is something I try to avoid. I like to write tight poems, but not corset-tight.

 

Paula In the poetry of others?

Kay  For me, poetry needs to have music that I can pick up as a tune. A consonance. And I do like poems to, in some way, tell a story.

I like poems that surprise me, with unexpected imagery. Poems that take me somewhere; that go somewhere.

It’s important, personally speaking, that they make sense even if that’s not on the first reading. There needs to be some point at which the real poem emerges from any ‘camouflage.’ This revelation always feels like a special treat.

Some poems I’ve read recently are tending to the lengthy, the clever, startling, oft-times irreverent and angry or edgy and crude. They’re sometimes surreal streams of consciousness with lines that dance, burst, curse, swirl, meander, fly, divert and segue. Sometimes these scattered lines are safely tethered to a subject – sometimes dangerously free-falling. I’m left startled. Is it good? It’s different. To use an old-fashioned term, even rather fetching. Taking off in new directions. Poetry as performance. Poetry using 21st century vernacular. I can’t keep up. Then again, I don’t need to. It’s all good. All is well.

 

The cotton dress Mum made for me, purple daisies

on black, with puff sleeves, was not the ballgown I longed for

in real satin, electric-blue. And my hair. Too high. Too

stiff. Set with hairspray.

My partner, Maurice, with no idea how to dance,

was not the partner I preferred.

 

from “Many moons ago, Maurice’

 

 

Paula I kept musing on the idea of poet as gardener, memoirist, musician, traveller, daydreamer, archivist as I read. What were you as you wrote this collection?

Kay   I think you may have covered it, Paula.

I guess I was me being all of those at different times … plus chronicler. I like the word chronicler with its connotations of recording time.

I am aware that my poetry falls into poems about memory, place, childhood, whanau, tīpuna / ancestors, grief, daily life, ageing …

I think I am most pleased at your idea of ‘musician’. It’s a nice thought to think of my poetry as a kind of music.

 

I visit her iron-fenced bones

as the sea thumps

below the cliffs of the cemetery,

 

and I name her: Mary Frances Reilly,

my great-great-grandmother,

and use whatever is left of her

 

in me

to picture first the girl,

then the woman.

 

from ‘Name her’

 

Paula Poetry as keepsake? Family is so important in these poems.

Kay   Keepsake is another word I like. It makes me think of a locket. Something treasured and kept safe; kept close.

When one experiences, as I have, the sudden death of a parent at a young age, keeping hold of memories becomes a way of surviving that brutal shock. It’s a way of holding on to a life that has seemingly (or literally) instantly disappeared into some unattainable, unreachable void.

To think someone leaves this world without any trace or memory of their place in it, is an unacceptable thought for me. I just can’t abide the thought of ‘no trace’. Of time itself sweeping away all aspects of a life or valued experiences. And so in my poetry I record. I chronicle. I keep.

 

I’d sat and read a whole book.

Time-wise we are all losers,

fooled back into memory.

Back then, eating a blackberry’s beaded cushion,

my tongue, my teeth, boring down

to its core,

its tiny wooden heart.

 

from ‘Blackberry days’

 

 

Paula I love the structure of the book. Can you tell me about that?

Kay   The poems are divided into four sections. The ones about Berlin were of course easy to place into the one section. However, in order to prevent having too many nature, landscape or place poems together; or bunching-up childhood memories, grief poems, or family poems; it seemed pertinent to switch and mix them around a little. To a certain extent, chronological aspects also had to be taken into account – poems from before and after the Berlin experience for example.

The team at The Cuba Press (especially Mary McCallum) helped me with the structure. The result is pleasing. I like how the different poems speak to each other and how one poem often leads naturally on to the next – sometimes just by the natural extension of an image, key word, idea or impression.

 

Sing old kettle of slung light

that spins on through

this backyard

that could be the last kitchen

or the first. Old kettle, singing kettle,

let the heat of the days rock you.

 

from ‘Sing,sing, sing’

 

 

Paula Reading your poetry is a sensory experience. Do you have motifs you are particularly fond of?

Kay  Yes! I do. And I have to watch that I don’t over-use these favourite motifs.

Mary helped me with that as well. She asked if I realised how many times I use the motifs of air, sun, sky, water … and I also realised that I needed to take out a few too many stones, grasses …

I am perhaps a little too fond of nature’s motifs. Birds are a motif for me as well. They, along with deer and horses, are members of my spirit-animal world.

 

For days now

the unpegged washing of snow

has lain in the mud of Dunedin’s hills

 

where a giant hawk of cloud

lifts off, its talons

Mount Cargill, a sag of grey.

 

from ‘Nor’esterly’

 

Paula I am reminded of Ruth Dallas’s attachment to the land in her poems, she made herself at home in her beloved south as she looked through an urban window. I have seen it in Sue Wootton’s poetry too. How does the land matter? Do you have go-to places?

Kay   As a child brought up in the country way down in the same beloved south, I believe the spirit of that southern rural landscape is in my blood and firmly rooted in my innermost being. As deep as it can go. Even living happily as a city dweller for nearly fifty years has not diminished this relationship I have with this land; this integral part of my being.

Despite its buried streams running underground, Otepoti / Dunedin (as I believe is the case with all cities in Aotearoa) has never lost its relationship with the land. A strong identification with nature is part of its character as a city.

Being tangata whenua has its influence on my relationship with the land too – especially with Murihiku. Nothing needs to be conjured. It’s just there. Even on those days where I don’t leave my house – or even my writing room – my relationship with the land is still a beating heart.

Of course, actually going to places is a helpful and enjoyable top-up of the actual. There is nothing to match looking at a mountain close up, or smelling the seaweed smell of a favourite beach or hearing a mean sou’westerly whining in power lines.

 

I am eating the language of the ocean

on this last day of summer, Sommer,

eating the language

my granddaughter speaks.

She does not care

what they are, foxes of squirrels, Fuchs or Eichhörnchen –

it is simply her favourite dress

 

for now anyway, as she eats potato cake

with apple sauce and hardly ever looks at me

drinking her in with my eyes.

 

from “Foxes or squirrels’

 

Paula Home is so important but so too is the wider world in your writing. What changes when you write about or from elsewhere?

Kay  When I am somewhere unfamiliar, it can manifest as dislocation. This is reflected most in the poems about Berlin which I wrote during and after lone trips there to stay with my son, his wife and their two small children.

While there, I felt something that was akin to homesickness. Keeping a journal helped to chronicle what was happening, both internally and externally. Then once I was back home again, the material in the journal with all its ramblings, jottings and sketches, was what I drew from for the Berlin poems. The many photos I’d taken also triggered poems and helped me to remember cityscapes, trees, pavements, people, sensations and emotions.

 

Paula The Cuba Press has published Upturned along with two others written by poets at an older age (Rachel McAlpine’s How to Be Old and John Tāne Christeller’s Fragments from an Infinite Catalogue). What has changed for you as a poet across the decades (if anything?)? How does age change things?

Kay  As a young child I wrote poems about fairies. As an adolescent and young adult, about coffee and rain. As a young woman, descriptive pieces about what I could see in front of me – some of which were written as haiku.

Then in my late thirties, I started to study poetry, reading nothing but poetry for ten years.

Writing-wise, this stage was excruciating. I remember often being brought to tears because I couldn’t properly put down on paper what was in my head. Then one day – or so it seems – I hit my stride. I found my voice and I was away.

Age-ing is certainly a weird experience. Some part of me thinks it’s all backwards. The older we grow, the younger we feel. We don’t look the age we feel inside. I can’t explain. Maybe it’s time to write some poems about it.

I remember when I was young, I loved reading personal accounts about what it was like to reach the age of eighty. This gives me hope that there may be a younger audience interested in reading about what it’s like to be old.

I am sometimes tempted to feel out of step with younger writers. Doubt threatens to creep in, until I remind myself that everyone is relevant. One of the features that make the regular Dunedin poetry readings so valuable, is the lively cross section of ages and stages of those that attend and read. All are accepted. All are represented. No-one is made to feel redundant or irrelevant, no matter the age.

 

Paula Were there poems you found hard to write? In terms of doubt or of subject matter – you do face grief and loss, along with joy?

Kay  They are not hard poems to write, the ones about grief and loss. They seem to emerge from a place in me that is never empty. Rather than being hard to write, it’s almost like it’s hard to stop writing about these subjects. Poetry heals. And as long as we have stuff to heal from, poetry is there to help with that. Of course it needs to be achieved without maudlin or sentimental cliches. Isn’t there a saying about when describing a funeral, you don’t describe the tears mourners are weeping, but instead you describe the flowers on the casket? Something like that.

 

Daughter

 

My daughter told me about how Ace got run over.

She said that all along she knew it wasn’t a good idea

to let the dog run along beside the car,

but that Kris told her he’d seen his mates do it

and it’d be okay. ‘He should’ve listened to me,’ my daughter said,

‘but he’s too “she’ll be right”. Always with the “she’ll be right”.

Said I’m just being paranoid.’

Then, of course, what she thought would happen

happened: the dog’s leg slipped under the car’s wheel.

 

She asked me to help her take him to the vet

and carried him to the car like a baby.

‘A twenty-kilo baby at that,’ she said,

‘equivalent to twenty bottles of milk.’

The dog sat in the back seat

with a tartan rug draped over his head

like a Highland shawl, underneath, his face

all screwed up like an old person

trying to remember something.

 

In the waiting room, my granddaughter and I

decided that from underneath, the turtle in the tank

looked like a grenade with legs,

its cake-rack-patterned

tummy the shade of milky custard,

its head a thumb. The vet’s X-ray showed

that Ace’s injury was just a sprain.

Afterwards we had a cup of coffee at Rhubarb.

 

‘What’s more,’ my daughter said, referring back,

‘he hasn’t said sorry nearly hard enough.’

On the way home, from the top of Roslyn,

the sea is distant, kidney-shaped,

and my daughter said, ‘Don’t you just hate it

with the sky all white like it is today and no sun?

We may as well all be locked inside

a chilly bin.’ And I think: Daughter, it has to be

one of the most beautiful words.

 

Kay McKenzie Cooke

 

 

Paula Is there a poem that has particularly worked or mattered to you?

Kay  The poem about my daughter. She is extra-precious to me because she was adopted out as a baby and we reconnected – or found each other – twenty-three years ago now. (I write more about this in my third book, Born to a Red Headed Woman.)

The poem, called ‘Daughter’, is a slice of life that highlights for me the relationship my daughter and I now have. A relationship I treasure at a very deep level.

 

Paula  Has Covid 19 affected you as either reader or writer? Did you write any poems in lockdown?

Kay  I wrote about four poems – mostly about birds. Birds became highlighted for me during that time of lockdown. Possibly because they were symbolic of a freedom to fly or rise above all the fuss, worry and fear.

I thought I’d write screeds. But I was too busy editing Upturned with Mary to write new stuff. Too busy to even take notes from which to write poems from later.

Whatever I write about this strange time may not even be in the form of poetry. We’ll see after I’ve processed it all.

 

Paula  What do you like to do apart from writing?

Kay   Watch Netflix and listen to true crime podcasts.

I like to walk and take photos. Spend time with whanau. Go on roadies south.

Watch birds. Pick up stones and shells. I like reading – can’t wait to fully start reading again, to catch up on new poets and read new books from established poets. And add to my murder mystery reading. I’ve spent a whole year just on writing. It’s time to read. It’ll be my summer project.

 

Paula  If you could curate a festival poetry reading, drawing upon any time or place who would you invite?

Kay   I would invite: John Keats. Dylan Thomas. Gerald Manly Hopkins. Marianne Moore. Diane Wakoski. John Dolan. Wendy Cope. Fleur Adcock. Cilla McQueen. Ruth Dallas. Talia Marshall. Jeanne Bernhardt. Nick Ascroft. Richard Reeve. David Eggleton. Jenny Powell. Tony Beyer. Matsuo Basho.

 

 The Cuba Press page

Kay reads and responds to a poem

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Tim Upperton’s ‘Nobody knows’

 

Nobody knows

 

Many things make me sad these days,

the days make me sad, how they fade

into night so soon, how today

becomes yesterday, and then

last year, then seven years ago

when my mother died. She never

minded the passing of time,

getting old. Such a beauty she was.

Divorcing at seventy was a surprise.

She used to sing, sometimes, in a high voice,

‘Nobody knows – the troubles I’ve seen,’

and towards the end she’d sing,

‘Nobody knows …’ and then trail away,

and we knew and didn’t know.

 

 

Tim Upperton’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published in many magazines including Agni, Poetry, Shenandoah, Sport, Takahe, and Landfall, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011), Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf poets on their own poems: David Eggleton reads and responds to ‘Heraldry’

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Eggleton reads ‘Heraldry’ from Time of the Icebergs (Otago University Press 2011). This poetry performance video was recorded live by musician and film-maker Richard C. Wallis on July 10, 2020 in Waikouaiti, Otago.

 

 

A Note on ‘Heraldry’

In the 1940s, while living in New Zealand, the novelist wrote of yesterday’s newspapers flapping like hooked flounder in the gutters — as if alive, but grotesque and surreal. That’s one starting point  for this poem, the days when the heraldry of the printed newspaper brought messages and proclamations to the towns and farms. My poem “Heraldry’ is a kind of bricolage, assembling assorted emblems and badges of contemporary nationhood into patterns that might be hyperbolic headlines or vatic pronouncements.

In the 1960s, the North Shore poet Kendrick Smithyman characterised poetry as ‘ a way of saying’, meaning that poetry is stylised utterance, a tranced vocalising first and foremost. And so the herald, like a town crier, or street corner preacher, or any stand and deliver  blowhard really, has an aspect of the orating poet.

As the poet in this video, I take my authority from its chanted measure, its off-beat rhymes, its curious images. Voicing this poem, I am the hoarse whisperer of poetic observations caught in bright sunlight, an almost transparent medium, and fluttering like a drab moth in pursuit of some elusive scent. Like a no-budget imitation version of an urbane David Attenborough or a gesticulating David Bellamy, David Eggleton delivers his dramatic monologue to camera while advancing through a mock-wilderness of vegetation and trying not to slip down any conjured-up rabbit hole: ‘Not I, but some child born in a marvellous year will learn the trick of standing upright here.’

I am deep in the cactus and prowling down the side of a house in rural North Otago, all the while orating as if I have indeed found rich pickings in the discarded totems and tokens of Kiwiana, while distant bird song burbles its native wood-notes wild and a chainsaw revs up.

This poem appeared in my collection Time of the Icebergs (Otago University Press 2011), and has also featured as a Phantom Billstickers Poster Poem.

 

David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based writer, critic and poet. His most recent collection of poetry is Edgeland and Other Poems, with artwork by James Robinson, published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf video spot: Rebecca Hawkes’s ‘Perendale Princess’

 

 

 

Rebecca Hawke’s ‘Perendale Princess’

 

 

Rebecca Hawkes is a poet and painter. She’s from a high country farm near Methven and is now living in Wellington. Rebecca’s poems have appeared in various journals, including Starling, Sport, and Sweet Mammalian – and on her website. A collection of her writing was published in August 2019 in the revival issue of the AUP New Poets series, alongside the work of Carolyn DeCarlo and Sophie van Waardenberg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Simone Kaho’s ‘Crane Fly’

 

Crane Fly

 

I’ve been in the bathroom with a flying daddy-long-legs thing locked in a battle for its life.
I saw it on a shower floor tile when I was showering.
A leggy bug fossil, squashed flat by water.
I told myself it was dead but couldn’t resist checking and it grabbed the toothbrush handle I held over its body.
So, I flicked it out of the shower and told myself It’ll sort itself out.
I checked when I got out.
It was lying in a wing and leg jumble, glued together with an iridescent water drop.
Still alive though, because it grabbed at the toothbrush again.
So I lifted it up to the windowsill, and it staggered upright-ish.
I saw it only had one back leg on the right, jabbing down to steady itself.
Three legs in total. It should have six.
But its struggles made it seem saveable, so I ripped off a single toilet paper square and touched the wings lightly and quickly.
That sucked the wetness up, but they were stuck together along its back, like wet cellophane but infinitely more fragile.
It wiggled its abdomen and wing joints like it was trying to fly.
That made me sad, that it wanted to fly, and couldn’t, and didn’t know why.
So, I separated the wings by running closed tweezers between the veiny transparent panels, then gently letting them open.
Oil glistened in my fingerprint troughs, which were larger than the wing veins.
If you try this yourself – don’t grab and pull the wings with tweezers.
I never closed the tweezers on a wing – it was all very indirect and slow.
After a few passes, its wings sprung apart.
It buzzed them and flew haphazardly back into the shower.
Which was clearly not a safe space.
So I walked it onto some toilet paper and put it on top of the mirror cabinet to calm down.
Later, in the middle of the night, I checked, and it was gone.
I bet it’s flown into a spider web I thought and looked in a corner of the room.
Sure enough, there it was, hanging in a web.
I counted the legs to be sure. Two fronts, one back.
There was no spider in the web so I pulled it out and laid it on the window beside the toilet in a cobwebby pile.
My cat thought about eating it but didn’t.
Its legs were stuck together, so I got the tweezers again and separated each leg, pinching cob web strands and slowly pulling, aware the web may be stronger than the legs.
Each time I pulled, I thought This leg might snap.
It’s not like there were legs to spare.
We got lucky.
After several minutes of tweezing the legs got free and it could even lift them and they didn’t stick to the window ledge.
I set it on a piece of toilet paper outside the window – thinking – Hey man, the bathroom isn’t safe. Go die outside.
It was pretty cold outside.
After I did my business, I noticed the toilet paper had blown away.
So, I mouthed Goodbye and Goodluck.
But when I went to shut the window the dude was quivering there, on the window frame, standing the right way up on his front two legs, the back one propped under like a lopsided tripod.
I shut the window and left him there.
Maybe he wants to die and I’m getting in the way.
Maybe none of the ways he’s been dying has been fast enough.
There’s too much waiting to die in an awkward tangle, so he battles to live, to find a better, quicker way.
Or maybe this is just how life is for a flying-daddy-long-legs in the bathroom.
How could I know?
I know I felt great success each time he made it through.
He’s a tough little bugger, although unspeakably vulnerable, directionless, and with no clue how to stay safe.

 

Simone Kaho

 

Simone Kaho is a Tongan / Pākehā poet who writes discontinuous narratives in poetry. She has a Masters from Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters. Her first book, Lucky Punch, was published by Anahera Press in 2016, The second will hopefully arrive in 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Invitation to Jackson Nieuwland’s poetry book launch

 

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Invitation to Jackson Nieuwland’s poetry book launch hosted by Compound Press

 

Friday, August 7, 2020 at 6 PM – 7:30 PM   Unity Books Wellington
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🤯 You thought you knew who you were, and then you attended the book launch for I Am
A Human Being by Jackson Nieuwland… Suddenly, everything seemed possible.
👾 Join us for an evening of transformative poetry launching the debut collection of one
of Aotearoa’s most exciting emerging poets.
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Poetry Shelf poets on poems: Kay McKenzie Cooke and Rachel McAlpine read and respond to new poems

 

 

 

 

Kay McKenzie Cooke reads ‘No Longer Applies’ from Upturned, The Cuba Press, 2020

 

Kay McKenzie Cooke, Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe, lives in Dunedin. Her fourth poetry collection Upturned has just been released from The Cuba Press. Her website and blog can be found here.

 

 

Upturned cover.jpg   How-to-Be-Old-cover

 

 

 

 

Rachel McAlpine reads ‘Reading a paper book’ from How to Be Old The Cuba Press 2020

 

Poet Rachel McAlpine lives in Wellington and is 80. She blogs, podcasts and draws (badly) as well as writing poems. How To Be Old, her latest collection of poems, will be launched by Fiona Kidman at Unity Books on Tuesday 21st July at 12.30 pm.

 

The Cuba Press