Category Archives: NZ poetry

Poetry Shelf review: Out Here: An anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aotearoa

Out Here: An anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aotearoa,
eds Chris Tse and Emma Barnes, Auckland University Press, 2021

Gender buttons

An object on a shelf; a self with words inside that never came out.
Your finger down my spine; fine singing in my bones. Umbrella avoiding
the rain: the celebrating hat you wear. Tell me a little more about myself.

The food you forgot; what you got for biting at my breasts. The coloured
loss of uneaten toast on the bench and your tongue of loving pepper.
Hunger heavy in my mouth.

This room we bed down in, be wed down in. White roses growing
on the ceiling.
You want in a variety of colours, but a rose is a rose is a rose
a bunch of them placate the air much better than one.
We couldn’t grow anywhere else.

The teasing is tender and trying and thoughtful. Melting without mending
you undo my gender buttons till all of me is myself.

 

Hannah Mettner

Out Here is a significant arrival in Aotearoa, both for the sake of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers and readers, and for the sake of poetry. The sumptuous and wide ranging anthology feeds heart mind skin lungs ears eyes. It is alive with shifting fluencies and frequencies, and I want to sing its praises from the rooftops, from the moon, from street corners.

Chris Tse and Emma Barnes have responded to the erasure of queer identities in a national literature that was traditionally dominated and controlled by white heterosexual men. Chris and Emma opted to use ‘Takatāpui’ and ‘LGBTQIA+’ in the title to signal Aotearoa’s rainbow communities within the broadest possible reach. They have used the word queer in their introduction and underline that that must make room for as many ‘labels and identities’ as necessary. I am using the word queer with similar intentions.

Having spent a number of years on a book that responded to the erasure of women in literature across centuries, I understand what a mammoth task it is to shine a light across invisible voices and to reclaim and celebrate. To refresh the reading page in vital ways. Out Here draws together prose and poetry, from a range of voices, across time, but it never claims to cover everything. We are offered a crucial and comprehensive starting point. After finding 110 writers, Emma and Chris sent out an open call, and the response was overwhelming.

We chose words that delighted us, surprised us, confronted us and engaged us. We chose political pieces and pieces that dreamed futures as yet only yet imagined. We chose coming out stories and stories of home. We followed our noses. What our reading revealed to us is that our queer writers are writing beyond the expectations of what queer writing can be, and doing it in a way that often pushes against the trends of mainstream literature.

Emma Barnes and Chris Tse

I am reading the poetry first. I am reading poetry that reactivates what poems can do whether in terms of style, voice, theme, motifs. Some poems are navigating sexuality, gender issues, sex, love, identity. Other poems explore the body, oceans, discomfort, the end of the world, mothers, fathers, violence, tenderness, place, the dirt under fingernails. Expect humour and expect seriousness, the personal and the imagined. Expect to be moved and to be heartened. Some of the poems are familiar to me, others not, and it is as though I have parked up in a cool cafe for a legendary poetry reading (if only!). The physicality is skin-pricking, the aural choices symphonic, the intimate moments divine.

Take the three poems of Ash Davida Jane for example. I am reminded of the feminist catchphrase the personal is political but I am upending it to become the political is personal. ‘Good people’ resembles an ode to the soy milk carton. The poem considers how to be in the world, to make good choices, and be a good person when the world is drowning in plastics. It blows my head off. Ash’s second poem, ‘water levels’, celebrates the tenderness of being in the bath with someone who is shampooing your hair. The poem slows to such an intimate degree I get goosebumps. A poem that looks like a paragraph, ‘In my memory it is always daytime’, pivots on the waywardness of memory, its omission coupled with its power to transmit. I keep stalling on this glorious suite of poems rereading, revelling in the ability of poetry to deepen my engagement with the world, language, my own obsessions, weakenesses.

I stall too on Carolyn DeCarlo’s poems like I have struck a turning bay in the anthology. Rereading revelling. Reading revelling. And then Jackson Nieuwland’s astonishing ‘I am a version of you from the future’ where they stand in the shifting shoes and choices of a past self and it is tender and it is moving and it is tough. Or Ruby Solly’s ‘Lessons I don’t want to teach my daughter’, which is also tender and moving and tough. The ending in both English and Te Teo Māori restorative.

Imagine me standing on my rooftop singing out the names of the poets in the anthology and how they all offer poems as turning bays because you cannot read once and move on, you simply must read again, and it is measured and slow, and the effects upon you gloriously multiple. Chris and Emma have lovingly collated an anthology that plays its part in the final sentence of their introduction:

The final sentence resonates on so many levels. No longer will we tolerate literature that is limited in its reach. Poetry resists paradigms set in concrete, fenced off manifestos, rules and regulations, identity straitjackets. I welcome every journal and event, website and publishing house, that opens its arms wide to who and how we are as writers and readers. Out Here makes it clear: we are many and we track multiple roads, we are familied and we are connected. We are loved and we are at risk. We are floundering and we are anchored. This is a book to toast with a dance on the beach entitled POETRY JOY. I am dancing with joy to have this book in the world. To celebrate its arrival, I invited nine contributors to record a poem or two. Listen here.

Thank you Emma, Chris and Auckland University Press; this book is a gift. 💜 🙏

I would like to gift a copy of this book to one reader. Let me know if you’d like to go in my draw.

The editors

Chris Tse (he/him) was born and raised in Lower Hutt. He studied English literature and film at Victoria University of Wellington, where he also completed an MA in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML). Tse was one of three poets featured in AUP New Poets 4 (2011). His first collection How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (2014) won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry and his second book He’s So MASC was published to critical acclaim in 2018.

Emma Barnes (Ngāti Pākehā, they/them) studied at the University of Canterbury and lives in Aro Valley, Wellington. Their poetry has been widely published for more than a decade in journals including Landfall, Turbine | Kapohau, Cordite and Best New Zealand Poems. They are the author of the poetry collection I Am in Bed with You (2021).

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: LAUNCH FOR Rachel O’Neill’s Requiem for a Fruit

Event description

We Are Babies and Jhana Millers Gallery would like to welcome you to the launch of Rachel O’Neill’s second poetry collection, Requiem for a Fruit.

Requiem for a Fruit continues Rachel’s exploration of the form of prose poetry, to astonishing results. The poems in this book cast a slant lens on the everyday, opening up a world of possibilities and curious characters. With imagined and real dialogue, these characters converse and live as fully on the page as they would in the known world. O’Neill covers topics from love to interstellar travel, from the domestic to the absurd. Here are dowagers and dogs, a robot mother, husbands hiding behind fire trucks, and families made of stone. The landscape they populate is without reason, yet full of fruit.

Registration for this event is required so please register here for a free ticket. Our capacity for safe distancing is 40 people. Vaccine passes will be required. You can enter from 6pm, we will check your ticket at the gallery entrance and you will be asked to sanitize your hands and scan the QR code. Manual contact tracing also available. There will be copies for sale before and after the speeches and Rachel will be happy to sign them for you. There will be no food or drinks available under current alert level restrictions.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Kate Camp’s ‘What I would give away’

What I would give away

This pill
little light blue moon
tasting of rosewater

the night
in lines
through black dust
of the blind

pines
manuscript
architecture
smashed and torn off
places

morning light
when orange falls
six weeks a year
that way.

But the darkness?
The one behind my eyes?
In the cavities
of this responsible body? No.

When I saw the tow truck
I thought it was carrying
a crucifix.

Let’s start with that.

Kate Camp

Kate Camp’s most recent book is How To Be Happy Though Human, published by Victoria University Press and in Canada by House of Anansi Press. Her memoir, You probably thing this song is about you, will be published by Victoria University Press in 2022. 

Poetry Shelf review: Janet Newman’s Unseasoned Campaigner

Unseasoned Campaigner, Janet Newman, Otago University Press, 2021

Poet Janet Newman lives at Koputaroa in Horowhenua, where she farms beef. Her debut collection, Unseasoned Campaigner, is nourished beyond description of scenic beauty to a deep love and engagement with the land and farming. Women writing the land is not without precedent. Ruth Dallas comes to mind initially. She spent time as a Herd Recording Officer during WWII and found cities restrictive and dull afterwards. When she was living in Dunedin in later years, writing enabled returns to her beloved rural settings. Janet dedicates several poems to her. The second poet that springs to mind is Marty Smith, whose rural background has featured in her poetry, and who is also unafraid of over and underlaying an idyllic landscape with the grit and reality of farming life.

Janet’s first section, ‘How now?’, places the reader one hundred percent in rural experience: managing livestock, a diarrhea-soaked calf that doesn’t make it, drenching, the slaughter house in graphic detail, blood and sweat. There are water restrictions, water anxiety, drought. A dead river. More dead stock. Horses led to shade and grass. Scenic routes and beauty spots are off the menu.

I applaud this revised view but it is the people who hold my attention to a significant degree. While farmers are currently under scrutiny for diverse reasons, particularly climate change, some are speaking out about how tough it is. Listening to RNZ National’s excellent Country Life, it is clear there is no hold-all definition for the contemporary farmer and their diverse practices. In the book’s middle and final sections, Janet also opens up what “farmer” means, and that adds significant and poignant layers to the first poems.

In the second section, ‘Tender’, Janet draws us to close to a father, and I am assuming her father. He was a complicated, multifaceted human being: a farmer, father, husband, war veteran. He was a man of few words and myriad actions, toil and more toil. He cursed war on television and kept a belt by the door. He is memory, because he has passed, and he fills the speaker with mourning. The poems are vividly detailed with the physicality of daily life, and it is through his presence farming is made prismatic, beyond stereotype. When I pivot on the word “tender”, I see the poems as an offering to both mother and father, to us as readers. I see too the tenderness in the care of animals, and tender as the sore spot that is parental absence, maternal and paternal memory.

His language is electric rhythm of pump and wire,
gush of couplets from the artesian bore,

a flighty heifer enjambed
with a low rail,

stanza of cloud over the back paddock
threatening rain,

the fuck, fuck, fuck
of a dead bull in the drain.

from ‘Man of few words’

The mother is an equally haunting presence with her preserves, her baking and her plums. She too is drawn close through a focus on the physical detail of everyday actions. She is mourned and, in dying first, is an unbearable hole in the father’s life. The parental poems scratch the surface of my skin. Preserving, for example, brings back my own pungent memories. And preserving is also the tool of the poet, poems are stored in sweet and salty brine, held out to be savoured by both poet and reader.

Preserving

Red plums give up
round plump bodies
when I cut out their stones.
I hear my mother’s long-ago voice:
‘Don’t overdo it.’ The boiling
and much else. In the photograph
she is smiling behind glass, my memory
of her steeped in absence. Now,
even that faithless call sounds sweet
as in preserving jars sour plums
surrender to sugar syrup.

The third section, “Ruahine”, moves and adjusts to loss. It also finds footing on scenic routes. In the final poems, the poet is out driving and absorbing the birds and trees, mesmerising hills, the land bereft of vegetation. The landscapes have widened further to carry farm practices, daily challenges, connections to the land and to making a living. But of course it is not as though the farmer is blind to beauty. The final cluster of poems become song, act as sweet refrain, where upon in each return to a view, the view shifts in nuance. Just like poetry. Just like the way life is nuanced and resists deadening dichotomies. ‘Beach’ catches the elusiveness of what we sometimes see and feel so exquisitely:

Some days the clouds disappear
on the drive to the coast

the way the things you wanted to say
evaporate when you get there.

Sentences float to the pencil-line horizon
between sky that is nothing but blue

and sea that is as blue as …
but words fail you,

smudge like fishing boats
in the distance without your binoculars

from ‘Beach’

Janet writes with poise, each line fluent in rhythm and accent, and in doing so achieves a collection that matches heart with sharp and bold eye. Her collection belongs alongside the very best of Marty Smith and Ruth Dallas, a fine addition to how we write the land, whoever and wherever we are.

Janet Newman was born in Levin. She won the 2015 New Zealand Poetry Society International Competition, the 2017 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems and was a runner-up in the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Awards. Her essays about the sonnets of Michele Leggott and the ecopoetry of Dinah Hawken won the Journal of New Zealand Literature Prize for New Zealand Literary Studies in 2014 and 2016. She has worked as a journalist in New Zealand and Australia, and a bicycle courier in London. She has three adult children and lives with her partner at Koputaroa in Horowhenua, where she farms beef cattle.

Otago University Press page

Review: Siobhan Harvey for The NZ Herald

Interview: Standing Room Only, RNZ

Feature: Koputaroa farmer and poet Janet Newman writes thesis on ecopoetry

Interview: Janet Newman discusses ecopoetry, RNZ

Interview: The Big Idea

Poetry Shelf celebrates Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s After Hours Trading & The Flying Squad with a reading and a poem

enter the silence

entering the silence that is not a silence
remains of a shoe by the mouth of a shaft
rusted boiler at a fork in the creek
pond of eels where the dredge dismantled
ended its song in a valley of tailings
entering the silence that is not a silence

enter a silence that never was
the wheels of a lokie sprouting fern
a railway signpost clothed in lichen
the sign to a mine where the dead
still linger lost to lovers dear to mothers
enter a silence that never was

enter then the world without knocking
digging drilling sluicing felling
fishing farming ploughing a dream
hauling an island from the constellations
into the glare of an alien reign
enter then the world without knocking

enter the silence enter the dark enter
the hive of the invitation   enter
the majesty   enter the wine   enter
the wilderness while you may   enter
with flags and enter with instruments
enter the silence   enter   enter

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

Paula: I recently reviewed Jeffrey’s new poetry collection for Kete Books. In conclusion I wrote: “Holman writes with a measured step, with distinctive and diverse musical keys, with an ear attuned to the everyday and to a refreshing uplift of language. Repetition is a useful device, appearing like a refrain in a book of song, as a subterranean reminder that history repeats itself. Death, ruination, love, joy. This is a collection of poetry that will echo and nourish as we move through uncertain days.”

You can read the review here.

The reading

After Hours Trading & The Flying Squad, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Carbide Press, 2021

“The handpiece” for Jack Gilbert


“when the mobile library comes”

“Grinding the gear, 1969”

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a Christchurch poet and non-fiction writer. His collection, Blood Ties: selected poems, 1963-2016 was published by Canterbury University Press in 2017. A memoir, Now When It Rains came out from Steele Roberts in 2018. The most recent collection – After Hours Trading & The Flying Squad – has just been released by Carbide Press, his own imprint (29 October 2021).

Recent work has also appeared in Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, an essay on prison reform, and poetry; his work has also been included in The Cuba Press anthology, More Favourable Waters – Aotearoa Poets respond to Dante’s Purgatory (2021).

He makes his living as a stay-at-home puppy wrangler for Hari, a Jack Russell-Fox Terrier cross. Hari ensures that little writing takes place, while psychogeography and excavating parks happens daily.

After Hours Trading & The Flying Squad, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Carbide Press, 2021, ISBN 9780473584047

Jeffrey in conversation with Lynn Freeman Standing Room Only RNZ National

Poetry Shelf review: Liz Breslin’s in bed with the feminists

in bed with the feminists, Liz Breslin, Dead Bird Books, 2021

I prefer barefoot
I prefer paper maps
I prefer flowers in the ground
but first, I prefer coffee

I prefer lunch
I prefer savoury conversation
I prefer to sit at the children’s table
I prefer time off without good behaviour

from ‘Possibilities’

Liz Brezlin’s debut poetry collection Alzheimer’s and a Spoon hooked me on so many levels. Her second collection, in bed with the feminists, is politically, poetically and personally active. I love that. The stellar opening poem, ‘the things she carries’ (you can read a version here), is like a mini performance of the book. The things a book carries. The things a poem carries. Everything from lightness to weight. Hidden and on view. The poems carry you along everyday tracks, with myriad opinions and musical riffs, routine and reverie, complaint and consternation. Love.

it’s not just the rain keeping me awake
its insistent game of getting in the cracks

it’s the drip drip down
of can’t change that

it’s the drip drip down
of can’t change that

 

from ‘out of bed with the feminists’

There is the steady beat of the word feminism, a wide-reaching fuel of a word that refuses to be pinned down to single options or compartments. The speaker is in bed with the feminists, going to museums, on a road trip, stepping off from power-struggle sites, marching. There are maternal poems, colours running in the wash, the negotiation of waste in supermarket aisles. There are sturdy threads leading to a matrix of other women writing: Hélène Cixous, Virginia Woolf, Anne Kennedy. The body, the maternal ink, the writing both inside and outside a room of one’s own, perceptions under question, rampant consumerism. I particularly love a poem that steps off from Anne Kennedy’s ‘I was a feminist in the eighties’, with a nod to Helen Reddy (you can read Anne’s poem and Liz’s appraisal of it here).

I was a feminist, trapped in a lion
gutted and ruined, I had a good cry

buttoned my coat way up to my chin
wanted the me back who started this game

thought I could escape through the jaws of the beast
starved myself pretty, slipped through his teeth

 

from Liz’s ‘Then a lion came prowling out of the jungle and ate the feminist all up’

 

 

Liz’s poetry collection offers a rewarding language experience: lines where words get fractured, dashed apart, piled up one against the other, as though we can’t take meaning and fluency for granted. There are honey currents and there are judder bars in the roads and sidetracks of reading. This is life. This is thinking. This is critiquing. This is poetry.

The book took me back to my doctoral thesis where I spent a number of years considering what drove the ink in the pen of Italian women writing. The ink pot was full and unexpected as it brimmed over with a thousand things, until in the end, I decided the woman writing was opening up and out, and her ink was open, and and was the key word. A hinge, a connection. That’s how I feel about this book. It is alive with hinges and connections. I love the effect of in bed with the feminists, so full of complicated invigorating necessary life.

at the funeral
with the feminists

 

there are times not to think about sex
Catholic school will teach you this
although if in the middle of life there is death

today is far more than tears and shibboleths
desire is pulsing persisting lips
there are times it is hard not to think about sex

demure, buttoned, ruffled, pressed
lashes to lashes, busting tits
middle to middle, in life we are dead

already unless we remember, lest we forget
sadness, egg sandwiches, sniffling kids
yes, there are times not to think about sex

think sobering snowdrops on unfrozen earth
the priest, droning, the week’s shopping list
how always, in the middle of life, there is death

we are warm for such a short time at best
maybe the true crime is to try to resist
there’s no time like all time to think about sex
what else is life but sex and death?

 

 

In bed with the feminists is Liz Breslin’s second poem collection, part of which won the 2020 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems. Her first collection, Alzheimer’s and a spoon, was listed as one in the NZ Listener’s Top 100 Books of 2017. Liz was a virtual resident at the National Centre for Writing, UK, in February 2021, where she documented life through the peregrine webcam on Norwich Cathedral in a collection called Nothing to see here. In April 2020 she co-created The Possibilities Project with Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature.

Liz’s website
Deadbird Books page
Liz reads from in bed with the feminists
Landfall Review Online by Jordan Hamel

PS For someone one with minor visual impairment and reading glasses that broke at start of lockdown the font was a struggle, pale and small.

Poetry Shelf Writing from Lockdown: Leanne Radojkovich’s ‘Lockdown stone henge’

A few weeks ago I invited writers across all genres from Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Tai Tokerau and Waikato to contribute a piece of writing they have written during lockdown 2021. They could write on any subject, in any style, and around 400 words or so. On Friday I am posting my lockdown gathering, but I am launching the project with a longer piece by fiction writer Leanne Radojkovich, on this day Aucklanders can return to bookshops.in person.

 

Lockdown stone henge

… Infantile Paralysis. Black headlines in the paper, listing the number of cases, the number of deaths…

I re-read Janet Frame’s story soon after lockdown. Rumours circled the burning world. I circled the neighbourhood, circled the neighbourhood, walked until… Everything exhausted us. Cracks appeared in the earth.

I circled the suburb, the mountain, the summit: the view is immense, then down the mountain, the road around the base. Eleven tūī had turned a flowering cherry into an aviary, darting and dive-bombing, bell calls, coos and krrrks, shaking the branches, blossoms shimmering, petals floating.

The daily round, circling the neighbourhood, the phone alarm for the one o’clock news; numbers of community cases, of people in ICU. Lacing up my trainers, putting on my mask, walking the left-hand perimeter of my suburb. A mountain on the left, a lake on the right.

The schools did not reopen. Our lessons came by post, in smudged print on rough white paper; they seemed makeshift and false, they inspired distrust. The story I’d been writing died. Nothing new sparked.

Lacing up my trainers. The mountain. The one o’clock news.

The streets are empty in the mornings. I walk down the middle of the road making no sound. I cover five kilometres in a strange quiet textured with bird calls and breezes.

One o’clock; community cases, ICU, locations of interest.

… the lesson papers sometimes covered with unexplained blots of ink as if the machine which had printed them had broken down or rebelled… The pages of my exercise book fill with squiggles, cross hatches, tiny circles that congregate like a mass of fish eggs.

Two weeks, three.

I start re-reading the last book I’d finished before lockdown, where Derek Jarman recites the names of plants like a rosary: iris, calendula, curry plant, rue. I reach through a scrawny hedge and snap off geranium flowers. Plant succulents plucked from a river stone garden that lines a stranger’s driveway. I take a stone. I take two. Jarman collects stones and makes little henges … the stones a notation for long-forgotten music, an ancestral round to which I add a few new notes each morning. Sometimes I walk with my partner and name the plants we pass: nasturtiums, azaleas, gazanias. I don’t know how I know their names. I’m not a gardener. All I can think is that they were imprinted in childhood, from hearing Mum talk about them. She’s no longer here to check, maybe I’ve misremembered, but the chant continues… lavender, fuschia, lobelia.

If not an ancestral round, then this is a familial one, maternal. I take a river stone for Mum. I’m growing a stone garden.

Five weeks. A woman is murdered on the mountain. She walked regularly; early in the morning, earlier than me. I check security camera footage on the news, she stands on a street on my route, at the base of the mountain, the mountain I circle every day, yet I have not seen her before. A terrible sadness cuts into me. I find the heaviest stone I can in a pile of rocks beside the railway lines and set it down carefully in my henge, shifting the others to keep the shape. Stones of sadness, of remembrance, in a circle on the deck.

On one side the mountain, on the other the lake. I walk down the main road, which I never normally do because of the noise and stink of cars and trucks. But now, stillness, a green spritz of pine scent. I pause in the middle of the overpass and look down at the motorway’s vacant lanes, then a car, then emptiness.

I reach the lake and circle it. Hatchlings stumble and skitter, inky black powderpuffs. Baby pūkeko tumble along. Grey candyfloss cygnets glisten in the sun.

Transplanted tansy and gathered seed. Oh fuck everything! The phone is going again: One o’clock update, community cases rise. The border remains in place… for weeks. For months? When will I see my children again?

A new exercise book, the blank first page. I pick up my pen, then put it down. Everything is shutting down, even the doodling, which sometimes turned into words.

Trainers, mask, overpass, lake. I make friends with an eel. It lies in the water as if lounging on a sofa. It has white lips and blue eyes, and stares at me. Its mouth moves as if telling, asking, instructing … but the words remain in the eel’s liquid world, I can’t hear them in my world of air. I pick up a rough stone near the path. Jarman writes that his garden is a memorial, each circular bed and dial a true lover’s knot – planted with lavender, helichrysum and santolina. He has been diagnosed HIV positive and developed his garden until he died years later.

Six weeks, seven. I stop listening to the one o’clock news.

I snap off lavender cuttings on the way to the lake and slip them into my pocket. The cygnets have grown and their short necks lengthened. They wobble along like puppets whose strings are out of alignment. Wet, arrow-shaped pūkeko footprints cross the dry asphalt. I follow them. They turn down a path I haven’t walked before. I continue past a barbecue pit, past a pond with a massive overhanging kōwhai tree whose flowers paint the pond yellow. Then there is a clearing in a kānuka grove – The Circle of Friends, an HIV/AIDS memorial garden, names inscribed in a stone circle.

Week nine. I put away the exercise book.

Today I saw a monarch butterfly land on a cosmos flower. Resting or dying, I couldn’t tell. It had worn-looking wings. They didn’t move. The trees are in bright green leaf; the borage is humming with bees.

Our lessons came by post… they seemed make-shift and false… they could not compete with the lure of the sun still shining, swelling...

I have my own small henge which I’ll circle with terracotta pots of lavender. The cuttings are in a glass of water on the windowsill. Every morning I check – papery bumps are forming. They give the same sense of promise that a new story would. Soon the stems will send out squiggly notes.

#

Leanne Radojkovich

Quotes from: The Reservoir: Stories and Sketches (1963), Janet Frame.
Modern Nature (1991), Derek Jarman.

Leanne Radojkovich’s short story collections Hailman and First fox are published by The Emma Press. Her stories have most recently appeared in Best Small Fictions 2021, ReadingRoom and Turbine|Kapohau. Leanne has Dalmatian heritage and was born in Kirikiriroa. She now lives in Tāmaki Makaurau where she works as a librarian. Her website. Twitter @linedealer

Poetry Shelf Spring season: Kasandra Hart-Kaumoana and Bridget van der Zijpp (AWF) pick poems

The Auckland Writers Festival is a strong supporter of poetry in Aotearoa, hosting a variety of events that feature poets from across generations, locations, styles, genres. You will find poets in conversation, in performance, on mixed panels, in outdoor street settings. Poetry is such a key part of many our literary festivals, I was delighted when Kasandra Hart-Kuamoana and Bridget van de Zijpp from the the Auckland’s literary festival agreed to pick some poems.

Hotel Emergencies, Bill Manhire

I love the way Bill Manhire’s poem, Hotel Emergencies, starts off with a gentle playfulness and a mild sense of internal panic and then spirals out to something much darker and concerned about state of the world. I once saw Bill reading it, saying he was inspired by a notice in a Copenhagen hotel room, and it stuck with me so firmly that forever after whenever I saw a badly translated notice near the door of a hotel room I would think of this poem. (Bridget)

When they ask you where you are really from, Mohamed Hassan

I was overseas when the mosque shootings occurred and from so far away I had only glimpses of how the tragedy was opening up a new dialogue here about racism and belonging. Then, on returning home, I picked up Mohamed Hassan’s collection, National Anthem, and was so moved by the profound intelligence of it, and the way he quietly breaks hearts with his beautiful way of expressing both resistance and recognition, and also tenderness and yearning, warmth and defiance. His reading of ‘When they ask you where you are really from’, which can be found online, is transfixing. (Bridget)

High Country Weather, James K Baxter

Is an Ockham’s razor for lockdown frustration and fatigue. Considered a Kiwi classic by many, and it’s no wonder. Baxter’s call to conquer anger and frustrations, to weather the storm, and to “surrender to the sky / your heart of anger” reads so much like incantation. It takes me down memory lanes of high-country alps, and my home region – through Waitomo Caves, to Rangitoto and Wharepapa South. The speaker recognises the value in never losing sight of the briefest semblance of beauty. The speaker also considers this practice to be an imperative, a survival technique. Where the very act of choosing to “yet see the red-gold cirrus / over snow mountain shine” seems like the utmost act of defiance. I celebrate this and a handful of Baxter’s other early works for their covert rebellion. Their giant phlex of negative capability. (Kasandra)

Eulogy, Ruby Solly

To me, the poem reads like whakatauki on the powerful nature of father and daughter – made even more powerful when explored in this form, and so poignantly. Its voice tends to me. Telling me to walk in both worlds. To grapple with internal conflicts and harness understanding through the wielding of ink and paper, mind and memory – within the external world. It sings of a journey toward catharsis, an accomplishment of the same, and I love that it reminds us how powerful the act and gift of writing is for the pursuit of understanding and reconciliation. (Kasandra)

Ruth Dallas, ‘Pioneer Women with Ferrets’

I use this poem to draw strength from days of old. From three or four, or more, generations ago. See the vignettes of daily life, and the fortitude of pioneers versus now. Be inspired. Let the old photographs that fill your mind with the roads of the road builders, and the hunt and the huntsmen and women, and the strife and the weather worn clothes, trickle into your spirit. Remember that once-upon-a-time tradies never used to have Tough Hands or WorkSafe! This poem stares with stark, steadfast eyes.
An urging for my overdue stocktake of my whakahautanga (self-mastery), I use this poem in times of disillusionment to fortify, survive, and soldier on. (Kasandra)

The poems

Pioneer Woman with Ferrets

Preserved in film
As under glass,
Her waist nipped in,
Skirt and sleeves
To ankle, wrist,
Voluminous
In the wind,
Hat to protect
Her Victorian complexion,
Large in the tussock
She looms,
Startling as a moa.
Unfocused,
Her children
Fasten wire-netting
Round close-set warrens,
And savage grasses
That bristle in a beard
From the rabbit-bitten hills.
She is monumental
In the treeless landscape.
Nonchalantly swings
In her left hand
A rabbit,
Bloodynose down.
In her right hand a club.

Ruth Dallas

from Walking on the Snow, Caxton Press, 1976. Published with kind permission from the Ruth Dallas Estate

High Country Weather

Alone we are born
   And die alone
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
   Over snow-mountain shine

Upon the upland road
   Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
   Your heart of anger.

James K Baxter

from Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness, Caxton Press,1948. Also appears in numerous Baxter anthologies including Collected Poems, ed JE Weir, Oxford University Press, 1980, 1981, 1988, 1995). Published with kind permission of the James K Baxter Estate.

When they ask you where you are really from

Tell them
you are an unrequited pilgrim
two parallel lives that never touch
a whisper or a window
to what your country could be
if only it opened its arms
and took you whole

Tell them about the moon
how she eats at your skin
watches you pray and fast and cry
while the world sleeps
how she gives birth to herself and dies
and you wish upon her children

How you wander her night
plant cardamom in your friends’ eyes
cumin in their teeth
zaatar on their brow
lick the rest off your fingertips
it tastes of visa-on-entry
heaven with no random checks

Round the iftar table everyone speaks
of politics and God
trans rights and colonialism
we forget we didn’t speak the empire’s tongue

                                                                                                once

                                                                                  When they ask you why you speak so well                                                                                   for an immigrant:

Tell them about your grandmother’s laugh
how you never quite knew whether she was story or myth
the upper lip in your conviction
or a song ringing in your bones
drifting through the kitchen window
with the fried shrimp and newspaper voodoo dolls

Tell them how you have always been a voodoo doll
your feet licking the flames
the stove top eye a television screen
a news bulletin
an open casket
the needle pushing and pulling through your skin
every puncture a question played by an accusation
every bullet hole an answer you have to fill

                                                                                              with silence
                                                                                              with religion
                                                                                              with Xanax and daytime television

And when the muazzen calls you to pray on the radio
you will wrap your limbs in cotton sheets
walk through the crowd with your hands in your mouth
waiting for the gun.

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020.You watch Mohamed read the poem here.

Eulogy

As a child
Whenever I was angry,
Inconsolable,
My father would tell me to write a eulogy
To the person who had caused me pain.
He said that by the end of it
I would see
That even those who cause us pain
Are precious to the world

          My father was an exceptional man,
          He was blessed
          With a gentle soul.
          He walking in step
          With the many animals he adores
          And he treaded lightly on this earth.

          He taught
          To tread as he did
          And to leave the world as you found it.
          Ideally, improve it.

One day I will read this to a room of faces I barely recognize.
I will look out on a world
No different with him gone 
As it was
With him here.

Ruby Solly

from Tōku Pāpā, Victoria University Press, 2021

Hotel Emergencies

The fire alarm sound: is given as a howling sound. Do not use the lifts. The optimism
    sound: is given as the sound of a man brushing his teeth. Do not go to bed. The
    respectability sound: is given as a familiar honking sound. Do not run, do not sing. 
    The dearly-departed sound: is given as a rumble in the bones. Do not enter the coffin.
    The afterlife sound: is given as the music of the spheres. It will not reconstruct. The
    bordello sound: is given as a small child screaming. Do not turn on the light. The
    accident sound: is given as an ambulance sound. You can hear it coming closer, do
    not crowd the footpaths. The execution sound: is given as the sound of prayer. Oh be
    cautious, do not stand too near

or you will surely hear: the machinegun sound, the weeping mother sound, the agony
    sound, the dying child sound: whose voice is already drowned by the approaching
    helicopter sound: which is given as the dead flower sound, the warlord sound, the
    hunting and fleeing and clattering sound, the amputation sound, the bloodbath
    sound, the sound of the President quietly addressing his dinner; now he places his
    knife and fork together (a polite and tidy sound) before addressing the nation

and making a just and necessary war sound: which is given as a freedom sound (do not 
    cherish memory): which is given as a security sound: which is given as a prisoner
    sound: which is given again as a war sound: which is a torture sound and a
    watchtower sound and a firing sound: which is given as a Timor sound: which is given
    as a decapitation sound (do not think you will not gasp tomorrow): which is given as a
    Darfur sound: which is given as a Dachau sound: which is given as a dry river-bed
    sound, as a wind in the poplars sound: which is given again as an angry god sound:

which is here as a Muslim sound: which is here as a Christian sound: which is here as a
    Jewish sound: which is here as a merciful god sound: which is here as a praying
    sound; which is here as a kneeling sound: which is here as a scripture sound: which is
    here as a black-wing sound: as a dark-cloud sound: as a black-ash sound: which is
    given as a howling sound: which is given as a fire alarm sound:

which is given late at night, calling you from your bed (do not use the lifts): which is
    given as a burning sound, no, as a human sound, as a heartbeat sound: which is given
    as a sound beyond sound: which is given as the sound of many weeping: which is
    given as an entirely familiar sound, a sound like no other, up there high in the smoke
    above the stars

Bill Manhire

from Lifted, Victoria University Press, 2005. You can hear Bill read the poem at Poetry Archives.

Born and bred in the heart of Te Awamutu-King Country, Kasandra M. Hart-Kaumoana (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Hikairo) completed her BA at Victoria University as a VUW-Foundation Scholar in Film, English, and Philosophy in 2019 – and Creative Writing at the IIML. She has since published two original pieces in Matatuhi Taranaki: A Bilingual Journal of Literature. Kasandra is kept busy full-time coordinating the Auckland Writers Festival and relishes the bona fide westie lifestyle in her newfound home, Waitakere.

Bridget van der Zijpp is the author of three novels: Misconduct (VUP, 2008), In the Neighbourhood of Fame (VUP, 2015), and the recently released I Laugh Me Broken (VUP, September 2021).  Bridget returned to Auckland in March 2020 after living in Berlin for a few years and is now the Programme Manager at the Auckland Writers Festival.

James K Baxter (1926 – 1972), poet, dramatist, literary critic and social commentator, was born in Dunedin. He was Burns Fellow at the University of Otago (1966-7). He published numerous plays and books of poetry and criticism during his life time, while several anthologies have been published posthumously. He lived in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington and Hiruharama Jerusalem. An extensive bio is available at ReadNZ.

Ruth Dallas (Ruth Minnie Mumford) (1919 – 2008) was born in Invercargill and lived in Dunedin from 1954. An award-winning poet and children’s author, she won the Poetry category of the New Zealand Book Awards in 1977 for her fifth collection, Walking on the Snow. She wrote over 20 books. During the 1960s, she assisted Charles Brasch with Landfall. She was awarded a CBE for Services to Literature, was the Burns Fellow at the University of Otago (1968) and received an honorary doctorate from there a decade later.

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer from Auckland and Cairo. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His 2020 poetry collection National Anthem was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (2021).

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

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

Poetry Shelf Spring Season

Tara Black picks poems
Victor Rodger picks poems
Peter Ireland picks poems
Emma Espiner picks poems
Claire Mabey (VERB) picks poems
Sally Blundell picks poems
Frances Cooke picks poems
We Are Babies pick poems

Poetry Shelf review: Serie Barford’s Sleeping with Stones

Sleeping with Stones, Serie Barford, Anahera Press, 2021

come my love

follow me down the mountain
through the desert
across the ocean to Piula

fish will lomilomi our tears
into crystalline water

I will kiss you better

 

from ‘Piula blue’

 

Serie Barford’s new collection Sleeping with Stones is an exquisite testimony to life and love. The poems are both odes and eulogies, because at the beating heart of the collection is the man to whom the book is dedicated. He was the poet’s beloved. The opening poem shows us a scene of joyful presence alongside a scene of terrible absence. I am inferring, as I read, that the poet’s beloved was pulled over a hard-to fathom edge. The poem suggests to me the collection will weave here and not-here, pain and joy, and that the writing will draw the loved one close. And that is exactly what it does, and it is so very moving.

I am finding it hard to write this review, when the subject matter depends on such a delicate mesh of dark and light. Yet Serie’s book is a compelling work of beauty that you read in one sitting. I keep imagining the tidal build up of feelings, memories, experience, and here I am holding, let’s say falling, into a book of bittersweet economy. The unsaid is ripe with the spoken, and the spoken is poignant with the unsaid. The beloved comes and goes, and goes. There is the light-rich setting of scenes, of shared places (a fresh water pool on Upolu where they first met), and there is the dark-shadowed pangs of regret. How to hold someone closer to keep them safe? How to be near the grief stricken? How to write grief and how to write love? All these questions and more rise to the surface.

Other things find their way into the weaving. The poet is having mammograms, buys a frock in her beloved’s favourite colour, uses traditional healing foods (turmeric and kawakawa leaves), faces institutional racism, mows the lawn, stands by the pōhutukawa they planted together. All these daily activities and challenges, nestling into the grief and the recollecting, are placed within the four seasons of a year. The seasons indicate the passing of time, the harvest and the plantings, yet also indicate the way life is shaped into so many stages, compartments or loose-bordered arrangements.

The poems sit in generous space on the page, using an open rather tight font. The openness gives the pain and the celebration breathing room. Feeling and thinking room. Which is exactly what I want to do for you. I want to open the book and then let you pick it up and fall into its beauty, its hope, its connections.

your fine voice lies buried
on the other side of the world

how you loved our garden

pese mai
sing to me

from ‘Sing to me’

Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a German-Samoan mother and a Pālagi father, and grew up in West Auckland. She has published poems online and in journals, along with four previous collections of poetry. In 2011 she was awarded the Seresin Landfall Writer’s Residency and in 2018 the Pasifika Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Serie promoted her collections Tapa Talk and Entangled Islands at the 2019 International Arsenal Book Festival in Kiev. Sleeping With Stones was launched during Matariki, 2021.

Anahera page
Poetry Shelf: Serie reads from Sleeping with Stones
Poem on Poetry Shelf: ‘The midwife and the cello’
RNZ Standing Room Only interview
Kete Books: Grace Iwashita-Taylor review

Poetry Shelf Spring Season: We Are Babies pick poems

We Are Babies is made up of Carolyn DeCarlo, Jackson Nieuwland, Stacey Teague, Ash Davida Jane, Nat-Lîm Kado, and Ya-Wen Ho. Our kaupapa is to create a space for writing and writers that might not be able to find a home elsewhere. We are focused on publishing work by LGBTQIA+, disabled, Māori, Pasifika, BIPOC, and otherwise marginalised writers. We also have a particular interest in works in translation, debut and out-of-print books, and experimental writing. We are open to works of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and hybrid forms.

We Are Babies is in its first season. In November/December, we are publishing Whai by Nicole Titihuia Hawkins and Requiem for a Fruit by Rachel O’Neill. These books are currently available for pre-order at wearebabies.net. In March, we will be publishing Anomalia by Cadence Chung and We’re All Made of Lightning by Khadro Mohamed. We chose the following poems as representative of what these collections have on offer. We hope you enjoy their work as much as we have been.

On Nicole’s poem:

This poem was the inspiration for the cover of Nicole’s book, which is taken from a photograph of a multi-coloured piupiu made by Rita Baker (aka Flaxworx), a contemporary artist working in the Far North. This poem describes Nicole’s grandmother, whose legendary rainbow piupiu lends itself to the title of the poem. The tone Nicole uses here is so encapsulating of this collection as a whole–pride in kōrero o mua, a kind of nostalgia for things she didn’t get to experience, and the process of affirming of her heritage. These poems are heart-wrenchingly personal, but written in a way that brings the reader along on her journey. So much aroha.– Carolyn DeCarlo

On Rachel’s poem:

I’ve been a fan of Rachel O’Neill’s writing for almost a decade now and this might be my favourite poem of hers I’ve come across in all those years. I remember hearing her perform it at a reading at our house. She had the audience in convulsions. I was so glad to come across this poem again when Rachel submitted her manuscript. It brings a grin to my face every time I reread it. It might just be my raison d’être. – Jackson Nieuwland

On Cadence’s poem:

This poem is one of many gems from Cadence’s forthcoming collection, with language so lush it drips with imagery. As a teaser for what’s to come, the poet takes herself apart piece by piece, and puts herself under the microscope. It reminds me of the old nursery rhyme that says girls are made of ‘sugar and spice, and everything nice’, only Cadence turns the question back on itself and reveals the process of dissection, slightly gruesome and certainly not nice. – Ash Davida Jane

On Khadro’s poem:

I’m really lucky to be editing Khadro’s manuscript, there are so many magical moments contained within it, and this poem is a perfect example. Its rich and beautiful language builds a bridge between Aotearoa and Africa. It reads as a love letter to her homeland and herself. – Stacey Teague

The poems

Rainbow Piupiu

I don’t know enough about the tipuna I’m named after
but when I read she was a weaver 
I feel her stitching tāniko
into the bodice of my insides

She says it doesn’t hurt that much
When I breathe in 
hundreds of tiny holes expand
but her pattern holds its place
like the ocean holds the stars that got us here

I don’t know anything about kākahu
but when I hear she made cloaks from juicy kererū
I can feel her weaving muka
into my shoulder blades

She says to hold still
When I breathe out 
they move in rhythm  
rows on rows of feathers align
like the tides with the winds that carried us here 

I’ve never heard of a Rainbow Piupiu
but when I’m told she made one
I can feel her binding the cords
around my soft waist 

She says she had ten babies by my age
When I swirl my hips the piupiu dances
each dyed band melts into another colour
like her blood into the salt that brought us here

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins

A reason for everything

One day there is a reason for everything. Except, the following morning there are no reasons, only raisins, just like the philosopher warned you. The next day you go to work and your colleague asks, ‘What’s your raisin, though?’ You hand your colleague a bit of paper. On it you have written, ‘What if there is no raisin?’ Your colleague can’t handle the implication that all men walking the earth are without a single raisin, that even the smallest of raisins is missing. That night you can’t sleep. Being unconscious and prone and partially paralysed for up to eight hours without a raisin no longer seems sensible. If only there was one good raisin left in the world, you think. If only it could be found.

Rachel O’Neill

anatomy

i am made from milk teeth, not yet weaned
        from this world though it may try
to pull itself from my wet pink gums 

i will hang on to its grit for a moment 
       and a moment and a moment
longer. i am made of dandelion fluff

spinning like spokes into living rooms
      and kitchens and trying to find
a home somewhere, a place to seed

and stay. all i want is for someone
      to divide me into neat parts and lay
them all out, so i can see

the pesky veins that cause my blood 
     to swim, the blushing heart that
tries to love more than it can chew through

o, silly organs of mine, i would say
     you fools of longing, lust and time
hot and carnal and really nothing like

a seed or petal—o to be made of pretty
     white taffeta or downy petals
instead of such heavy instruments 

that weigh me down. o to have
   people take out their tweezers and glasses 
to have them examine me and pull

me apart, marvelling at each lovely
   piece that comes out—the heart
the spleen, the liver, the brain

sparkling like jewels
   crisp as bug wings
and with just as much glister

Cadence Chung

IF I GO BACK

//

if I ‘go back to where I came from’ I will take everything with me.
my mason jars with fireflies, my golden bangles, my morning coffee.
I will take my earth, my horned melons and stories of cleopatra
I will take that rug, the one you love so much, with the golden
tassels and delicately picked butterfly wings. I will take my turmeric

my henna, my lemongrass and my acacia leaves.
I will take my language, heavy and soft in the palms of my hands
I will tuck my afrobeats and hip-hop in my back pocket
I will carry the moon in my bindle, my chocolate in a zip-lock bag

I will carry my baobab and the cash you owe me in my backpack
and then you’ll be left with naked kings and queens with concave
bellies and hollow, scooped out eyes because their fancy fabric, thin
sclera and jewelled crowns belong to me too.


Ama Ata Adioo once said ‘what would the world be without Africa?’ and
I think I know now. it would no longer grow roses, it would be
void of lyrical words and sweet orange pulp that melt on my tongue
the earth would be scaly and dry, the wind would not whistle.
there would be a dent in the air every time you took a breath. there
would be no myriad of reds and purples dancing across the sky.

Khadro Mohamed

The poets

Cadence Chung is a poet, musician, and student at Wellington High School. She has been writing poetry since she was at primary school, and since then has loved writing, whether it be songs, short stories, or poems. Outside of poetry, she draws inspiration from classic literature, Tumblr text posts, and roaming antique stores.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins (Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Ngāti Pāhauwera) is a novice writer, avid home-baker and proud aunt. She lives in Pōneke and works at a local high school teaching English, Social Studies and tikanga Māori. Nicole is also involved in pastoral care and facilitates Kapa Haka. Nicole has collaborated with other writers to host ‘Coffee with Brownies’, which are open mic events for people of colour to share their work in safe spaces. She co-hosted ‘Rhyme Time’, a regional youth event, with Poetry in Motion, to encourage a diverse range of youth to perform their incredible poetry. Nicole has work published by Overland, Capital Magazine, Blackmail Press and The Spinoff Ātea and credits her courageous students with inspiring her to write.

Follow her on Instagram.

Khadro Mohamed is a 20-something year old poet residing on the shores of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She’s a tea lover, a photo enthusiast, an occasional poet… and that’s pretty much it. You can find bits of her writing floating around Newtown in Food Court Books and online.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Rachel O’Neill is a Pākehā storyteller who was raised in the Waikato and currently lives and works in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Kāpiti Coast. Rachel enjoys collaborating with writers, artists and filmmakers on publications, exhibitions and works for screen, and they are a founding member of the four-artist collaborative group, All the Cunning Stunts. A graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts (BA/BFA) and the International Institute of Modern Letters (MA), Rachel was selected for the 2017 Aotearoa Short Film Lab, received a 2018 SEED Grant (NZWG/NZFC) for feature film development, and held a 2019 Emerging Writers Residency at the Michael King Writers Centre. Their debut book, One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press) was published in 2013. As a queer non-binary storyteller Rachel strives to represent the longing for connection and the humour and strangeness that characterise human experience.

Follow them on Instagram, Twitter or their website.

We Are Babies website

Poetry Shelf Spring Season

Tara Black picks poems
Victor Rodger picks poems
Peter Ireland picks poems
Emma Espiner picks poems
Claire Mabey picks poems
Sally Blundell picks poems
Frances Cooke picks poems