Category Archives: NZ poetry

Poetry Shelf Lounge: Anna Jackson launches AUP New Poets 6

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Welcome to AUP New Poets 6 launch. Settle back with a glass of wine or a cup of tea and enjoy the launch. You can order the book from your favourite bookshop once they are open. The book is beautiful – I can’t wait to share my thoughts on it soon.

Congratulations Anna Jackson, Vanessa Crofskey, Ben Kemp and Chris Stewart.

Cheers!

 

From publisher Sam Elworthy:

Thanks to editor Anna Jackson’s mighty work, AUP NEW POETS has come back with a bang. And in AUP NEW POETS 6 (our second in the new format, this time a book in rumpled bed sheets), the poets turn things inside out and upside down. Ben Kemp, our first poet coming down the line from Papua New Guinea. Vanessa Crofskey, our first poet to lead us to include fold-outs and colour in a poetry book (and excel graphs and arrival cards). And Chris Stewart, well his poetry is from Christchurch as a husband and a father, which may or may not be a first for us but we like it very much.

So I’m sorry that our launch can only be virtual because I would have loved to see Vanessa and Chris in live action (and Ben coming in over the ether) but thanks to Paula for hosting us here and to the great team who made the book: editor Nic Ascroft and proofer Louise Belcher; designer Greg Simpson; Creative New Zealand for the funding and the lovely AUP team, Katharina Bauer, Sophia Broom and Andy Long.

 

 

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From editor Anna Jackson:

This is a collection of poems that deserves a party so thank you to Paula Green for organising this poetry party on Poetry Shelf, and thank you to Time Out Bookstore who would have been hosting an actual launch with people actually at it, if we weren’t all now in lock-down. They can’t process orders now but please remember to support the bookshop and support the poets by placing an order that can be filled after the lockdown is lifted.

I love this collection, which brings together three such different poets as Ben Kemp, Vanessa Crofskey and Chris Stewart. It moves from Ben Kemp’s slow-paced attentive readings of place and people, in a selection moving between Japan and New Zealand, to the velocity of Vanessa Crofskey’s fierce, funny, intimate and political poetry, which takes the form of shopping lists, post-it notes, graphs, erasures, a passenger arrival card and even *poetry*, and finally to Chris Stewart’s visceral take on the domestic, the nights cut to pieces by teething, the gravity of love and the churn of time.

There is so much in this anthology, poems about whale strandings, teething, dispossession, loss, the pain of physical exercise, the embarrassment of swimwear, the gravity of responsibility, the love you feel with the shiver of your skin, friends to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with a parent to the rescue, cherry blossom, the chatter of 10.000 sea-gulls, clean sheets, rice, bathing a child, white washed pages, red ink and more. We need poetry at a time like this and if we can’t buy books, we can read the books we have, and if we run out of books, we won’t run out of poetry on the internet, and if we have to self-isolate, we don’t have to be alone.

Thank you to the poets for their poetry, to Sam Elworthy and all the team at Auckland University Press and to editor Nick Ascroft, for bringing this book into the world.

 

 

Poet Erik Kennedy says a few words and reads a poem by Chris Stewart:

 

 

 

 

And now for the AUP poets (Chris Stewart, Ben Kemp and Vanessa Crofskey):

 

Chris Stewart reads three poems:

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Ben Kemp reads:

 

 

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Vanessa Crofskey reads ‘I used to play the silent game even during the lunch breaks’

 

 

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Ben, Chris and Vanessa in conversation

 

Chris to Ben: You make links between cultures in your poems. What ideas do you want to ‘get at’ in this way?

When I was a child, we used to visit the local marae every Wednesday and listen to the elders tell stories. These experiences really shaped me. The stories were mystical and deeply embedded in the natural world. Years later, I came into contact with the films of Akira Kurosawa, and I was immediately struck by a familiar energy. I explored Japanese film, theatre and literature for a number of years, and began to explore ways to fuse.

The Fauvist movement, and particularly the paintings of Paul Gauguin also greatly influenced me. The contrast and the juxtaposition of colours has always inspired me. In poetry, the concept of plucking two unfamiliar images from different cultures, and placing them alongside each other often creates a fascinating reaction, and a new energy.

As artists, we are all searching for new ground. In poems, we endeavour to express emotions in a new way, constantly exploring alternative perspectives and all the space in between.

 

Chris to Ben:  I like how you use space in your poems (e.g. the poem oto (sound)). How important do you think space on the page is to a poem, and what informs your choices about that in terms of form?

Miles Davis claimed that the most important notes were the ones you don’t play. Every word must serve a purpose and be innately linked to the whole of the poem. For that reason, I spend quite a lot of time on the editing and refining process. I like space, and the careful arrangement of the poem on the page creates breathing space for the eye. I also often use space to replace punctuation because it declutters the page.

 

Chris to Ben: The essence of I seems to have some connection to song of myself by Walt Whitman. What parts of Walt Whitman appeal to you, and how do you think they appear in your poems?

Both Walt Whitman and Henry Miller outlined a process where the person must die in order for the artist to grow from the ashes. I had a similar experience in my early twenties. Both writers have been influential on me. Walt Whitman, because he so acutely mined his own consciousness, both evolution and devolution. Whitman is a celebration of everything that is light and dark in the human spirit. The other aspect of Whitman that I have always enjoyed is the way he is able to weave tenderness, fragility, intimacy and brazenness. His lens is so wide, but he is able to pull it all together into his single stream of consciousness.

 

Chris to Ben: My favourite poem of yours is Ranginui’s tomb. I loved the flow and sound of the sentences, but can you expand on what meaning the last line ‘the tree that grows in someone else’s garden’ has for you?

I guess the line is more a reflection of my own feelings of displacement i.e. being both Maori and Pakeha. I love humanity and hate it at the same time. I will often draw humanity in with affection, then in the next line, throw it away in disgust. I fear for the environment and our disregard for it horrifies and frightens me. Personifying the natural world enables me to express how poorly we treat it. I used Maori gods and placed them in an unfamiliar setting, in order to sharpen a sense of displacement.

 

Ben to Chris: In Gravity (btw it’s stunning) It seems you’ve drawn on the place and experience before birth. Why were you drawn there?

OK so what happened with that was there was a very clear trigger for that poem, and it was the birth of my second daughter. It was supposed to happen in hospital… but it happened on the veranda on the way to the car. Luckily, the midwife was there! It went waaaay better than the hospital birth for our first daughter – Jo (my amazing) said it was kind of a healing experience for her. Gravity was more drawn from the place and experience of the immediate post birth: The midwife was fiddling around with the placenta (we’ve still got them in our freezer!) and commenting on what it looked like and what it meant. It reminded me of some sort of neolithic wizardy person reading the rune stones, and I thought that I could write a poem about that kind of cosmic stuff. I mean, childbirth is kind of a cosmic experience. Of course that was just the trigger, and you do tend to go away from the trigger a bit in the writing process. I did feel a bit like I really had to get it down; the initial brainstorm happened very quickly, but it took me about three months to work on it. It was one of those poems that was like an ice sculpture; the big block of ice was frozen in place quite early, and the chipping away of small pieces around the edges happened bit by bit over time until I kind of just knew it was done. A big shout out to the Sweet Mammalian crew for selecting it (Hannah Mettner, Magnolia Wilson, and Morgan Bach); I think it was the second poem that I ever got published, and it really made me think, ‘yeah, I can do this’.

 

Ben to Chris: How do you develop the rhythm and structure of each poem? Is it instinctual? Why have you chosen not use commas throughout?

Yes. I think it is instinctual. I do think that people must just have their own sense of rhythm that comes out in their writing style, in the same way as you can listen to some people talk, and others: not so much… I don’t set out to write ‘rhythmic’ poetry – I do try to work with symbolism and imagery purposefully, though. I definitely edit stuff if I think it needs to ‘sound better’ or if there are awkward sentence structures that need ‘smoothing out’.

The commas thing: well, I don’t usually like using punctuation at all for a variety of reasons. Firstly, punctuation is used to make things clear when clarity is a primary purpose. In poetry, I don’t think clarity is a primary purpose; there are a lot of interesting effects that happen in the reader’s mind as they read without punctuation. I also want the line break to do work: surprise, ambiguous meanings, pace etc… In saying that, I do shy away from finishing and starting different sentences on the same line without full stops. The poem ‘mummy’ is one example of where I’ve done that, though – I think that’s more about pace than meaning. Punctuation tends to ‘direct’ the reader, and I don’t want to do that. Kerrin P Sharpe is a NZ poet who really goes to the limit of the whole ‘say no to punctuation’ thing. If you want to get a sense of the effects it can create in terms of ambiguity and pace, check her stuff out.

 

Ben to Chris: Stepping back from poetry, how has the birth of your children changed and reshaped you as an artist and a person?

As an artist: I manage my time better! Being a creative person, it’s really difficult to settle into a creative process. It takes a lot of brain space to organise yourself in order to create art… I get very little time that I can actually allocate to that; it’s usually between 8-10pm, and I’m usually buggered from the non-stop day, so unless I have a specific idea for a poem that is churning away and I’m really motivated to drive that forward, I just don’t do it. I find I write my best stuff if I’ve been thinking about poetry and writing regularly for at least a couple of weeks (I’ve heard it called ‘oiling the machine’), and sometimes I’m in that mode, and sometimes I’m not. It happens in fits and starts. Poetry / writing is definitely something that I come back to and is there in me; it will always come out eventually.

As a person: my priority is family. Every decision I make is about ‘how will this affect my family?’ That includes putting work and writing behind that. I feel quite guilty if I think I’m not ‘present’ for my kids. In saying that, as a secondary school teacher, I often feel I put more energy into other people’s kids than my own kids. Also a source of guilt. When I get home I’m often too tired to really give them the best of me. I’ve started to have very little patience for people who waste my time, too, because having kids means you have to be efficient if you want to achieve anything.

 

Ben to Chris: Why do you write poetry? What drives you? What does the craft give you in return?

Fantastic question. I write poetry because I want to make things. I like making things out of words – things that sound cool and mean something. Sometimes I kind of just get a feeling that I want to bash certain images together or that I want to write something about something-or-other, and I can’t get rid of the urge until I’ve sat down and got it out in a poem. It can actually affect my relationships, like, if all I want to do is sit down and write a poem, and someone else needs me to do something, then I can get quite irritated. The craft gives me what people often call ‘flow’. I get that when i’m in the middle of writing something and it gets to the point where the language I’ve gathered starts to fit together and it all seems to drive itself. I think writing is like putting a puzzle together, but you have to create the pieces yourself as well. That’s the fun bit. I enjoy the feeling of potential when I sit down to do a poem.

 

Chris to Vanessa: The poem PTSD memes for the anxious / avoidant teen: I find the grid form quite innovative. What effect do you think that adds to the poem? How is it different to other structural techniques that you could have chosen to separate the units of meaning within the poem?

The structure of this poem had to be split up to accommodate page sizing, but it is meant to be like a Bingo grid!

I was inspired by the bingo memes I saw all over the internet that related common experiences to each other, it seemed like a way to confess certain behaviours or feelings without making yourself isolated or vulnerable.

So I wanted to replicate that in my poems to be able to speak about how I felt about something personal, which was sexual trauma.

 

Chris to Vanessa: Some of your poems seem to be ‘getting at’ the subject of ‘identity politics’ (e.g. every time auckland council says ‘diversity targets,’ my phone vibrates). What do you think your poems are saying about that?

I think identity politics in general can be a bizarre and wild minefield to navigate. It is one I feel aware of in my everyday experience.

I think it’s ironic that people own your identity more than you do yourself. I suppose I’m writing from a place of only just beginning to know myself and yet it feels like that is such a public journey, people put things and assumptions on you before you even make the first step. So you’re always battling against something or clearing away the debris before you find your pathway.

 

Chris to Vanessa: ‘peak hour Kmart lines of salmon dancing’. I love the surprising imagery and incongruous juxtapositions in your poems. What work do you want juxtaposition and imagery to do in your poems?

I have ADHD so I think I just jump around in my brain anyway!!!! Lol. I suppose I’m interested in breaking up the narrative tone people assume, or the given pathway of a poem. I like using metaphor and imagery to surprise people, which makes them have to reorient themselves in a written landscape. You can take someone anywhere.

 

Chris to Vanessa: In the poem ‘Beauty‘, I’m interested in the ‘redaction’ technique you’ve employed. What effect do you want that to create for the reader?

I think I wanted to make my process of retraction and deletion visible, to show the process that occurs prior to a surface feeling smooth.

I think that’s what beauty feels like to me, dangerous and bumpy, so it didn’t make sense for the way it was written to be glossy. I want people to think about what’s been removed and hidden, and perhaps why.

 

Vanessa to Chris: Ben might have asked u this already!!! But what draws you to lowercase? Is there anything in particular that makes you feel more comfortable using a more casual style of grammar?

Hhmmm… yep. I do feel comfortable using a more relaxed style of punctuation because it opens bits of a poem more to interpretation – I don’t think my grammar is casual, though. I do try to make my sentences sound ‘correct’. But the lower case thing… I guess what I’d add to my answer to Ben’s question would be I think some poets, for example Nick Ascroft is one, use capitals at the beginning of every line, and I think this might be an appeal to tradition… Maybe I don’t really care about tradition? I like to strip it all back to the essential nature of words themselves. I was told to use capitals for words like ‘Russian’ and stuff like that, though, and I didn’t mind that. There are a couple of poems in there that I’ve punctuated ‘correctly’.

 

Vanessa to Chris: I am interested in how the domestic unfolds into the astronomical in your writing. What motivates you to write about a specific moment in particular?

I suppose elevating the mundane is one way of putting it. I’ve always been taught that small moments are powerful in writing, so I guess I do try to focus on moments in detail just because I think that’s what good writing does… A specific moment in real life can be a trigger, and I find once I start to unpack it in writing, a lot of symbolism and meaning can fall out of it, so unpacking a moment works for me. I think there’s only a couple of poems that play with astronomical imagery. I guess it’s the bigness of the universe that I draw on to compare to the small moments that seem big.
Vanessa to Chris: There is a force of nature that lies beneath your poems. How do you think your present surroundings/ being from Aotearoa New Zealand impacts the way you write?

I’m really interested in what you mean by ‘force of nature’. Do you mean they seem powerful in some way? If so, thanks for the compliment! Is that a mood / atmosphere thing? A mate of mine, Erik Kennedy, said that he thought I was good at creating moods, so maybe that’s what you mean. Is there a particular poem that you think is a good example of that? I take the stance that writing is just words, rather than being in any way connected to, like, my spiritual essence or something. Once the words come out, I’m quite detached from them in the editing process; I just want to make them ‘work’ as a piece of writing, and sometimes that involves ‘deleting’ those lines and phrases that I may feel the most connected to – you’ve got to be a bit detached from the ‘forces of nature’ if you’re going to ‘kill your babies’ so to speak. IDK whether that’s what you meant, though.

I have definitely tried to write poems about being from Aotearoa, but I don’t think any of them have been good enough to be published! I think that most of the poetry I read comes from NZ poets; I like to keep up to date with the contemporary journals, and of course there may be some features of language that happen subconsciously in my poems that are just because I’m ‘a New Zealander’, but putting ‘New Zealandness’ into my poems is not something that is ever at the forefront of my mind when I sit down to write.

 

Vanessa to Ben: Your writing is so beautiful! What is the place of food in your poetry?

Food is a sensory experience, the transition from material, to the tongue, to chemicals in the brain, to emotion is mind-blowing to me. It epitomises everything that is extraordinary and mystical about the experience of living one single life.

Food also forms the cornerstone of a culture. Generally, we can trace a handful of key ingredients in every culture. Defining culture through one ingredient is fascinating to me. It’s challenging but interesting!

 

Vanessa to Ben: Your writing spans several languages through words and phrases – from English to Japanese to te reo Māori. What is interesting to you, or important, about using the phrases of the original languages (without necessarily prefacing or explaining them)?

Interesting question. I think it is  a lot about the phonetic beauty of language and how they interact with English when placed alongside each other. As poets, we explore meaning, but the phonetic composition is equally as important, drawing from other languages broadens the palette. I have also drawn on quotes, which allows me to go directly to the source, or the essence of the person who uttered them.

 

Vanessa to Ben: Writing from the perspective of being a Māori person living in Japan feels both curious and insightful, a place to discover both foreign and common cultural connections anew. Which poem were you most surprised by, in terms of what you wrote or gained insight around?

I have always been drawn into Maori culture, but it has never really accepted me. I am of mixed ethnicity and that has always created huge tension in me. I’m not sure any poet truly accepts themselves! I think ‘The Japanese Moko’ was my boldest attempt to blend. The poem/vessel is so short/small, but I feel that I was able to get both Japanese and Maori words/images to snuggle into each other comfortably.  I think that the title ‘The Japanese Moko’ is very risky, but I was happy to put it out there.

 

The poets

Ben Kemp works as a primary school teacher in Papua New Guinea where he has lived for the past three years with his diplomat wife and three children. Gisborne-born Kemp arrived in the Pacific following six years in Australia and ten years in Japan. Tokyo was where he discovered his passion for Kabuki theatre and Japanese film and literature. Between 2003 and 2010 he recorded three studio albums with his band Uminari and toured in Japan, Australia and New Zealand. His artistic work has often explored the nexus between Japanese and Māori/Polynesian culture. He credits the late Taupo-based Māori writer and mentor Rowley Habib with helping him tap into poetry and original writing in his twenties.

Vanessa Crofskey (born in 1996) is a writer and artist of Hokkien Chinese and Pākehā descent. She graduated from Auckland University of Technology with a degree in Sculpture in 2017. Through her practice she investigates social connection: how we form identities through intimacy, inheritance, location and violence. Vanessa has published and presented widely as an interdisciplinary artist – in performance spaces, galleries, festivals plus digital and print publications. She has written for The Spinoff, Gloria Books, New Zealand Herald, Dear Journal, Hainamana and other serious publishing places. She is also a two-time poetry slam champion and award-winning theatre maker but we promise that doesn’t detract from the rest of her career and personality. Vanessa currently works for The Pantograph Punch as a staff writer, and as a curator at Window Gallery (University of Auckland). She advocates for complex trauma survivors and those with attention deficit disorder, plus is very funny and knows a lot about what snacks to eat.

Chris Stewart was born in Wellington but grew up in Christchurch. He has a BA in History and Art History with minors in English and Education from the University of Otago and two graduate diplomas in teaching. After completing the course at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in 2015, winning The Margaret Mahy Prize, his poems have been published in New Zealand journals such as Snorkel, Takahē, Sweet Mammalian, Brief, Catalyst, Mimicry, Blackmail Press, and Aotearotica. He regularly attends the monthly open mic event ‘Catalyst’, a forum for literary and performance poets in Christchurch. Most importantly, he is a son, a brother, a husband, and a father.

 

AUP page

 

Thanks everyone – do mark this book on your list to buy once bookshops are back in business. I am raising my glass and declaring this beautiful book well and truly launched.

 

Kia kaha

Keep well

Keep imagining

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Poem Festival: Furniture

 

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Each month I gather and invite poems on a particular theme. End of February I was musing on the idea of furniture. On Tuesday night (March 24th) I woke at 12.30 am and was awake until dawn. At one point I was thinking about how most of us are now living in domestic bubbles and how some of us might be developing new relationships with the furniture. We might sit at the table longer and talk after dinner. We might choose a chair on the deck to read a novel until we get to the last page. We might heap all the furniture in the lounge like a miraculous Quentin Blake hut for our children to play in. But then I began thinking about the beauty,  the craft and the comfort a chair might offer. The way our minds might sometimes be full of chairs and tables.

Thank you for all those who contributed.

 

for Felix

a black shawl over a chair

& the corner

composed itself.

the light came from outside

& delayed/on the

delphinium

& behind the oak trees

1 2 3

a grey stripe

is a tennis court

& men have

white shirts only

& sometimes

arms

while the ball

flying/occasionally

thru trees

keeps the moon

in motion.

 

Joanna Margaret Paul  Like Love Poems (Victoria University Press, 2006)

 

 

 

Summer

 

New white sheets

on the line.

Even the pegs

are warm.

 

Our youngest son

leaks sand.

 

Iris the dog snores

on the green sofa.

 

Cat!

 

Out!                we cry.

My husband glows

in the dark.

 

Jenny Bornholdt  Selected Poems (Victoria University Press, 2016)

 

 

The Camphorwood Chest  

 

my husband dreams of a Japanese garden

 

a room with nothing but a chair

a vase of white lilies

a view of water

 

but my home is like a camphorwood chest

that Chinese mothers give to their daughters

it is carved with the detail of living

a phoenix with wings raised for flight

a pine tree leaning forever in the wind

lotus flowers and chrysanthemums

clouds that could be leaves that could be clouds

 

from here I look out over water

 

Alison Wong from Cup (Steele Roberts, 2005)

 

 

tastes like wine (dawn sonnet)

after Catullus 48

 

tastes like wine, this boy sitting across from me, his

honey eyes looking like yours as he implores

me to join him on the floor

the table a low ceiling swirling

like a chandelier

in the earthquake of these kisses

table legs circling

like the blades of a combine harvester

every kiss is a near miss

my heart escaping like a mouse

into the corn

the summer’s sun all rolled into one

ripeness I can

never get enough of

 

Anna Jackson

 

 

Late bloomers

 

It is still warm enough to sit outside. Einstein sits at the end of the table

to light the citronella candle. He is not sure how effective it will be, but

mosquitoes tend to gravitate towards him. He is full of enthusiasm about

taking the opposite direction.

 

Paula Green  The Baker’s Thumbprint (Seraph Press, 2013)

 

 

Reading room

 

Up in the great reading-room in the sky,

the writers twitch, deep in leather armchairs,

dreaming about all those they are read by

or what rival’s work is ignored for theirs.

Ping. Someone’s begun Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger grins: still ringing down the years.

Austen rolls her eyes; Fowles lets out a sigh.

Ping. Ping. Ping. No ping-a-ling like Shakespeare’s.

 

Li Bo leans over, taps Plath on the arm.

Woolf and Dante quiz Byron on sin.

Eliot smiles his Giaconda smile.

Pung. Nichols starts up. Just a false alarm.

Montaigne gives Wilde some tips on style.

The Brontës share a joint with Larkin.

 

Harry Ricketts

 

 

 

the first time i told, i was drunk

 

the  second  time  i  told,  i  was

euphoric and

 

the third time too

 

it  was  like  i  was  speaking  myself

into being

by  saying  the  words  i

was

weaving     my     Abstract     Internal

Furniture      into      a      gown      of

shimmering fabric

 

or at least that’s how i

IMAGINE it, and

thewordsbecamefleshanddwelt amongusandisaidlettherebe …

 

Helen Rickerby    Abstract Internal Furniture (HeadworX, 2001)

 

 

Kia kaha

Keep well

Keep imagining

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Jenny Powell reads ‘Kaleidoscope’

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Jenny Powell reads ‘Kaleidoscope’  from her collection Trouble (Cold Hub Press, 2014).

 

 

Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet who has written seven individual and two collaborative volumes of poetry as well as a cross-genre book about human movement, The Case of the Missing Body (University of Otago University Press, 2016). She has worked with artists and musicians in a variety of formats. Jenny enjoys performing her work, and is part of the southern touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio: Helen Rickerby reads ‘How to live through this’

 

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Helen Rickerby ‘How to live through this’ from How to Live (Auckland University Press,  2019). Shortlisted for Ockham NZ Book Awards 2020.

 

 

 

 

Helen Rickerby has published four books of poetry, most recently Cinema (Mākaro 2014), and her next one, How to Live, will be published by Auckland University Press in August. She’s interested the elastic boundaries of what poetry can encompass, and has become especially obsessed with what happens when poetry and the essay meet and merge. She lives in Wellington, runs boutique publishing company Seraph Press, and works a day job as an editor.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Diana Bridge’s ‘The critic at sunset’

 

 

The critic at sunset

 

They cling like snow to the line of the hill,

their proportion that of wave top

to its wave. Perched on a point,

the houses are an outpost. Just a strip

of habitation holding fast above

the massive plates on which they balance,

like one brave mind engaging

with the savage present.

 

The critic in him sweeps through shelves,

pouncing on those words that come unbidden;

these (after Dryden) he pronounces ‘hits’.

Brimming with connections, he looks to praise,

where he can find it, craft. He is vital

before time and illness and, when he thinks

a line, and we ourselves, will bear it, offers

his take on the last great human theme.

 

On its promontory, the strip of houses

flames at sunset. It makes a cultivated stand

against raw statement. Will it ebb, will it increase?

Are his lines over? We, who are sure of nothing,

see this present lapped in burnished distance:

cliffs brittle as bone, the hard-to-read

stance of the land, the role played in all

of this by an ever-ambiguous sea.

 

Diana Bridge

 

 

Diana Bridge has published seven collections of poems, including a new & selected. Her most recent book, two or more islands, came out in 2019 and was one of The Listener’s Top 10 poetry picks for the year. Although much of her adult life has been spent overseas, she was once dubbed a ‘quintessential Wellingtonian’. Her work combines home-grown and Asian, particularly Chinese and Indian, perspectives. She has a Ph.D. in classical Chinese poetry, and has taught in the Chinese Department at Hong Kong University. Her writing includes essays on the China-based poems of Robin Hyde and William Empson; she recently completed a collaborative translation of a selection of favourite Chinese classical poems.

Like many, the poem above foreshadows events. Although it was written before our Whakaari / White Island tragedy, it reflects a general feeling of precariousness stretching from physical catastrophe to the recent deaths of Clive James and Jonathan Miller. It was triggered by one of Clive James’s ‘Late Reading’ columns. I was thinking here of the poetry critic, and especially the author of Poetry Notebook, 2014.

Poetry Shelf offers a solace reading list from poets

 

 

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Each month I pose a question to a handful of poets but the question I had for today just didn’t feel right so I invited a gathering (fleet, raft, bazaar, blessing, bouquet, brood) of poets to pick a poetry book that gives them solace.

Writing and reading give me solace as does planting vegetables (I recommend you plant a truck load of microgreens in these strange times) and doing my blogs. Baking bread. Walking on the beach just as the sun comes up. Cooking meals.

I have been thinking even when poetry challenges, tears away at my heart, I still find poetry a comfort. So many of the women in Wild Honey have given me solace, have kept me going through tough challenges. But I am going to pick Bill Manhire’s Lifted. It is a book that lifts you off the ground and then gently places you back again and you feel all the better for it. I feel the same way about the shimmery effects of Ian Wedde’s The Commonplace Odes. To these add I add Helen Rickerby’s extraordinary How to Live, a collection that draws women to the light so astutely, so beautifully, along with Anna Jackson’s exquisite  I, Clodia, Tusiata Avia’s heart-smashing Fale Aitu: Spirit House, Jenny Bornoldt’s sublime The Rocky Shore, Nina Mingya Powles’s luminous Luminescent and Manon Revuelta’s  heavenly girl teeth. These are a few of the books I return to.

To celebrate this special poetry gathering I will give away a copy of Jenny Bornholdt’s delicious Short Poems of New Zealand (VUP, 2018). Comment on the blog or FB or Twitter post with your choice of a poetry book that offers you solace.

Thank you for contributing, thank you for reading, thank you for sharing. Please nag me if i haven’t replied to an email or tell me if I have errors on a post. It is hard not to feel a little unsettled, the strange mood in the supermarkets clings, the need to keep in touch with news, with friends and family, the need to be diverted elsewhere. 

At my Wellington festival session I said that aroha is glue of the poetry.  We are still in this room together, connected through our love of poetry.

Kia kaha

Paula

 

A poetry gathering for solace

 

Johanna Aitchison

I would recommend The New Transgender Blockbusters by Oscar Upperton VUP, which has just been published by Victoria University Press, and contains poems that are gorgeous, uplifting, melancholic, and, most importantly, finely made. Oscar is a millennial poet who is old-fashioned in his craft sensibilities, in that he uses received forms frequently and freshly, and often rhymes. In times of chaos and uncertainty there is pleasure to found in the well-made thing.

 

Jenny Bornholdt

My poetry as solace book is:
Woods etc. by Alice Oswald, Faber and Faber 2005

Woods etc. because of the attention Oswald pays to nature. She’s so specific in her noticing. She looks and looks again and what she sees is extraordinary. She draws us into this experience of deep looking and her attentiveness is consuming and soothing.

 

Amy Brown

I’ve chosen Of Mutability, by Jo Shapcott (2010), which a friend gave me last Christmas, when we thought the changes were confined to school (he was leaving to teach elsewhere), and then to the climate (the country was suddenly on fire, the cities smoked). The title really refers to Shapcott’s body as it underwent chemotherapy, but it could apply to world at large right now. I especially like these lines from ‘Myself Photographed’:

Perhaps I always look like this.
Perhaps it is an expression of surprise
that I am in the world at all…

 

Ben Brown

William Blake: Selected Poems, Penguin Classics edition

I’ve loved the work of William Blake since I was a boy listening to my father quote him in the paddock as we walked the fence line: ‘To see a world in a grain of sand…’

A bit old school, but if I want to be somewhere else for a while, Blake does it for me.

 

Lynn Davidson

I have chosen a book that I read for solace: Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, published by Graywolf Press and Faber & Faber in 2019.

This might seem a strange book to read for solace, but these days I want a book that can look at darkness and at light. Kaminsky is such a great writer, it’s a joy to read him. Deaf Republic can hold violence, rage, loss, love, romance and hope together in the same poem. That’s as solace-y as it gets for me these days!

 

Michelle Elvy

I think poetry is a form of solace because it reaches across all boundaries and connects us. In words, in ideas, in sound. Poetry is music. Poetry is heart and mind. Each night I read before I sleep – this month it has been Helen Rickerby, Anne Kennedy and Emma Neale. James Dickey’s poems (called ‘willfully eccentric’ and ‘naturally musical’) stay on my bedside table, always – a personal connection to my past, and solace in many ways.

I choose to share Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019) because it is remarkable in the way it takes on terror and at the same time invites community. It crosses boundaries between reality and dream, between language, gesture and feeling; it is specific and universal; it carries an obvious weight, but also a light and even humour. It is wholly human in all its complexities. It is angry, provocative, probing. It is a plea to pay attention – in a way that poetry can do, sometimes, better than anything else.

And it is also a joy – magical in its language, passionate in its message, boundless for the love conveyed in its pages.

Poetry as a form of solace? Oh yes.

Excerpts from Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic can be found in The New Yorker.

Watch the poet read Deaf Republic at the Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University, with an introduction by Fanny Howe (Kaminsky begins at approx. 7.48, after introductions).

 

Johanna Emeney

A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson (Peepal Tree, 2019)

The eponymous poem is the last in the collection, and it is the reason why I bought this book. I saw the poem first online as the Guardian’s Poem of the Month. Its first lines are charming; they suggest a way in which we could try to live—wearing paradise as one might wear a pocket watch or handkerchief square:

And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.

I love poems that have this intimate sense of the poet’s voice, and I’m also fond of any poem that motivates me to write:

And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk

Robinson’s book deals with a number of serious and weighty issues: the Grenfell Tower disaster; a premature baby’s fight for life; police racism. However, underlying so much of his poetry is an undertone of hopefulness grounded in people’s ability to choose empathy and kindness. As a result, there is a prayer-like quality to many of the poems—especially those written according to a rhyme scheme.

Robinson is quick to praise the goodness in people, and deft in delineating their characters in just a few lines. One heartening poem is named after the nurse who cared for his baby son:

On the ward I met Grace. A Jamaican senior nurse

who sang pop songs on her shift, like they were hymns.

“Your son feisty. Y’see him just ah pull off the breathing mask.” (“Grace”)

 

In A Portable Paradise, even the smallest poems are replete with meaning and image, because Robinson’s similes are so nuanced. My favourite short poem is “Boys Light Fireworks on the Ground Floor of Gardiner House Estate”:

 

They light the fireworks
like candles on a birthday

cake they’ve never had.

This collection won the T.S. Eliot Prize last year, and John Burnside, chair of the judges, lauded it for “finding in the bitterness of everyday experience continuing evidence of ‘sweet, sweet life’.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

 

 

Fiona Farrell

I don’t have a whole collection – just a couple of lines.

That passed away.
This also may.

They’re like a little stone in my pocket, something I find in my hand when events are threatening to overwhelm. They calm me.

I don’t recall any detail of the poem they come from: it’s called Deor, after the man who was supposed to have written it. He writes that he was a minstrel in a secure position but has lost his job to a better poet, so he recounts a whole series of catastrophes that have happened to other people in history and legend, ending each with those two lines.

paes ofereode
pisses swa maeg

I can’t do the thorn on my keyboard, so I’ve had to use a ‘p’, nor the elided a and e, but this is more or less how I read it first.

I didn’t read the poem out of some deep love or attraction, but because Old and Middle English were a compulsory part of an English degree at Otago in 1966. But those two lines have stuck, and they help.

 

Jordan Hamel

Tracey Slaughter – Conventional Weapons (VUP) – 2019

It’s like/a cathedral to all/we’ve done wrong. – the mine wife

Tracey Slaughter’s Conventional Weapons has occupied a special place in my backpack over the past 6 months. Where other things swap in and out, food, pens, spare underwear, this collection has lingered, refusing to grow stale and weary like the old mandarins I’ll inevitably fish out from time to time. This collection means a lot to me. I reread it with regularity, always finding something different and revealing, something that changes and informs the next reading, like peeling off old scabs to get your first look at new skin.

There are several fulsome, insightful reviews of Conventional Weapons (including Paula’s) that I won’t attempt to recreate here, other than to say it uses texture, rhythm, and space to give certain traumas the visceral and stark examination and exploration they deserve. It feels less like staring into the void and more like resting carefully inside it, swapping histories and rumours, memory and music with anyone else who decides to jump in. Virus or no virus, you should definitely jump.

 

Anna Jackson
I often turn to poetry for solace, as a way of looking not for solutions but to hold open a space for feeling. Solutions are important, but we don’t always have them to hand, and in the meantime, we have to keep living, and poetry helps. Oddly I often find the bleakest poetry the most consoling, or at least, the only thing I want to read sometimes, and it is in part the rhythms I read it for – there was a time when I wanted to read Robert Lax’s poem of refusal and longing, “the port was longing,” over and over again.

On a much larger scale, Alice Oswald’s radical compression of the Illiad, as Memorial, similarly holds open a space for grief now and beyond the present, with her sustained focus on the deaths of soldiers in the Trojan war, a war almost three thousand years distant from our time. Like “the port was longing,” it works with an insistent rhythm, a rhythm built around repetitions. Oswald cuts out the main narrative thread of Homer’s Illiad, removing the plot, “as,” she writes, “you might life the roof off a church in order to remember what you’re worshipping.” The poem begins with a roll call of all the fallen soldiers whose deaths will be the focus of the rest of the collection, the long list of capitalised names having the appearance of a contemporary war memorial. Each soldier is then given his narrative moment in turn, a description of how each death occurred, followed by a metaphorical image giving another way of imagining the death, another way of feeling it again. And then this metaphorical image is repeated, and its full force felt.

I’ve been looking for the rhythms of poetry lately in prose, too, and finding these rhythms in works like Heather Christle’s essay-memoir, The Crying Book, and Jenny Offill’s novel in paragraphs, Weather. There is a holding open of a space for grief not just in the content – often tangential, often funny – but in the rhythms, the repetitions and returns, the fragmentary feel of a life lived in pieces, with the gaps in between offering a space of resonance where feeling can be felt.

 

Ash Davida Jane

Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems: Volume One. Published by Beacon Press, 1992.

This answer might seem obvious, but I’m constantly turning to Mary Oliver for solace. This collection (which imo is her at her best) has been with me for years. There’s something about her unfailing, candid–but never clichéd–devotion to the natural world and everything in it that helps me get out of the whirlwind of my own head, and remember that somewhere else, for any number of living things, life carries on as normal.

 

Lynn Jenner

One night at the after hours doctor by myself I felt Poems in the Waiting Room was the hand of a friend. It was something that spoke to me in my language. Being Aotearoa I even knew one of the poets so she was there with me as well as her poem.
I happen to be camping in a friend’s former cowshed at the moment because I’m between houses. The only thing I’m reading is real estate ads and scary virus stuff and most of my books are packed so for now I can’t provide quotes.
But I have kept out Selected Poems of Bill Manhire. I haven’t opened it but I could. That is a comfort.

 

Simone Kaho

I turn to Bunny by Selima Hill.

It is my go-to book in life in general, which I find carries plenty of little-daily-distresses, as well as a time of serious, global distress like we’re in now. It comforts me because it’s so accessible, and yet stimulating at every level, visually, sensually, intellectually. It has shock, drama, and mystery, with a vulnerable protagonist, in implacable danger. Bunny blends a childlike worldview and fascinations, with an adult sense of knowing, and acceptance. These two forces fight each other, play, and co-exist; resignation and resistance, anguish and escape, danger and relief. Selima’s book captures the essence of human survival, without the sacrifice of imagination. To read it is to feel whatever I feel right now, has a place and deserves to exist and be felt by me, no matter how dreadful it is, or contradictory or naive. I’m so grateful this book exists.

 

Fiona Kidman

Opened Ground Poems 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney, poems from a man who opened not only the dark ground of grief, but opened his heart to the world, the turning skies, the joys of life, birth, the every day and the profound, the miracles of our existence on this planet, all of which I believe we will know again when this dark time has passed.

 

Renee Liang:

Hone Tuwhare, Deep River Talk: Collected Poems (Random House)

My sister sent me this book when I was working in the UK in my 20s. It was in a care package along with a beeswax candle and some NZ chocolate. It was winter in Watford, all the doctors in my hospital were overworked and we barely saw the sun. I lay on my bed to read Hone’s delicious words and felt Aotearoa, its warmth, its quirked eyebrows, its quick wit and deep connection seep back into my core.

Some years later I lost my partner, the man I had loved deeply for eight years. He died young, of a brain aneurysm. When I returned to my job in the outback, I carried this book and other poetry books with me. I clung to them. Tears flowed out; words flowed back in. When I had gathered enough words I gave them homes on paper. I read my new poems to my poetry friends at pubs in Broken Hill. And that’s how I started reading my poetry in public.

 

Emer Lyons

solace

i’ll call you up in this apocalypse

(definition: great imminent prophetic revelatory disaster)

read Marilyn Hacker’s Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons:

 

                                   ‘If that’s perverse,

there are, you’ll guess, perversions I’d prefer’

no hello or nothing

the only talk requests for repetition

at the end of part one i’ll stop

you’ll pick up Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts:

‘Of course there exist people who perform intimacy in ways that are fraudulent or narcissistic or dangerous or steamrolling or creepy, but that’s not the kind of performance that I meant, or the kind I mean. I mean writing that dramatizes the ways in which we are for another or by virtue of another [Butler], not in a single instance, but from the start and always.’

i’ll learn to fuck you and the page in ways new

 

Bill Manhire

Whenever people talk about consolation and poetry, I find I have mixed feelings. I certainly can’t think of a single book of poetry that works for me. The last line of Derek Walcott’s ‘Sea Grapes’, with its powerful caesura, always comes to mind: ‘The classics can console. But not enough.’

I can think of lots of individual poems, though. A big one for me is Charles Causley’s ‘Eden Rock’, where comfort exists as a kind of slow-motion surprise:

They are waiting for me somewhere beyond Eden Rock:
My father, twenty-five, in the same suit
Of Genuine Irish Tweed, his terrier Jack
Still two years old and trembling at his feet.
My mother, twenty-three, in a sprigged dress
Drawn at the waist, ribbon in her straw hat,
Has spread the stiff white cloth over the grass.
Her hair, the colour of wheat, takes on the light.
She pours tea from a Thermos, the milk straight
From an old H.P. Sauce bottle, a screw
Of paper for a cork; slowly sets out
The same three plates, the tin cups painted blue.
The sky whitens as if lit by three suns.
My mother shades her eyes and looks my way
Over the drifted stream. My father spins
A stone along the water. Leisurely,
They beckon to me from the other bank.
I hear them call, ‘See where the stream-path is!
Crossing is not as hard as you might think.’
I had not thought that it would be like this.

 

 

Emma Neale

I would recommend any one of the Bloodaxe Real Poems for Unreal Times anthologies – Staying Alive, Being Alive, Being Human. When our reactions and responses are ricocheting all over the place, a generous anthology like this, with multiple authors from all around the world, and with clear thematic sections, can offer something up for all the fluctuations of high emotion. One of the beauties of this sort of title is that it offers up a kind of treasure hunt list of authors whose publications you can go on to read later. I re-read anthologies like these every now and then, always realising there were poems I had skipped before, and also realising that poems that I didn’t feel stimulated or charged-up or calmed or altered by before, can suddenly seem relevant and refreshing, as my personal and our global context is ever shifting. I see there is a new title, Staying Human, due out in October – something to look forward to.

 

Doug Poole

As Far As I Know – Roger McGough – Penguin, 2012

“Take comfort from this.
You have a book in your hand
not a loaded gun or a parking fine
or an invitation card to the wedding
of the one you should have married”

– Roger McGough – ‘Take Comfort’

In his collection As Far As I know Roger McGough contemplates loss, memory and aging. Then distracts with poems full of wordplay and dead pan humour. McGough can be playful, silly, then harrowing and chilling. The collection twists and turns; from lament to dad joke. All with the flick of a well directed quip.
As Far As I know is a wonderful distraction, and yet deeply moving. ‘Another Time, Another Place’ recalls a childhood memory in two voices of differing perspective – the observer and the observed. ‘Indefinite Definitions’ – then takes you into a game of wonderful word play and frankly, silliness. It is a collection of poems that have the ability to move you. Then pull a laugh out of you – often to your surprise. In these uncertain times – as Roger consoles – ‘you have a book in your hand. Take comfort from this’.
I chose this book for the very simple reason – I enjoy his poetry and have done since my early teens. I feel Roger McGough earnestly writes to bring life, truth, irony and humour to his readers. I enjoy his very original voice and commentary with regard to the human condition.

 

 

Chris Price

Luckily for us, books mean we’re never completely isolated. The classics can be consoling in difficult times, and two contemporary poetry collections with their roots in the classics seem like they could be of service right now. Ian Wedde’s Commonplace Odes (2001) is a collection that considers mortality while prizing friendship, good company and good art – all valuable commodities at a time like this, commodities that can’t be bought, but can be savoured in the reading. And Helen Rickerby’s How to Live (on the 2020 Ockham shortlist) digs into lives of women past, some insufficiently remembered (Hipparchia), others famous (George Eliot), to find connection and instruction in the lives of literary ancestors. As it happens, the collection also provides some advice on ‘How to live through this’.

 

essa may ranapiri

Keri Hulme’s STRANDS  (Auckland University Press, 1992)

A beautiful collection of poems that take place in the interstice. Starts off in a lagoon and moves through language and place with a languid pace that really forces the racing mind to slow. I would sit in the light of the setting sun and read these poems out loud to myself and hang on to each syllable.

Ah, sweet life, We share it
with cancers and tapeworms
with bread moulds and string beans
and great white sharks…

 

Reihana Robinson
Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre by Lois-Ann Yamanaka springs to mind as a fraught raw read but

Don Paterson’s Rain is both contemplative and heart knocking

Hera Lindsay Bird pours down “like cool spring rain”

Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds strikes lightning and

ALL of Manifesto Aotearoa especially the poem I wish I had written
Tusiata Avis’s ‘I cannot write a poem about Gaza’ that contains the title in its first line and continues “because I cannot eat a whole desert.”

And Sue Wootton’s poem that ends with “So as to dissolve under the tongue/of the enemy, so as to restart the heart. “

The poems I return to for solace in my imagination and memory are those learned by heart from James K Baxter’s book of children’s poetry The Tree House

“Oh what a worry when the gorse bushes catch
Somebody careless dropped a match…”

But Vana Manasiadi’s The Grief Almanac resonates with fibre, not like the rope that slowed the sun but fire through a high tensile wire…

I also catch a quirky protesting innocence (aghast comes to mind) and a bright intellectual gaze ( and not just because I love the curves and shapes of the Greek alphabet)

And the limping or lame delayed art of war but that harbouring of the loaded ammunition exposes both a vulnerability and it reminded me a lot of Sally Rooney‘s Conversations with Friends that I just finished with relish and delight

‘But hark the time-bomb of shivering air’ oh if that does not smack of dramatic 16th century blossom I don’t know what does

I love the story story on the left-hand page that grounded my reading giving me solace and energy to unravel the stressful right hand side well only stressful to me because whenever I see extra spaces on one line I’m always falling into that it’s like a big Long breath

‘We can’t unsee it’

 

Jack Ross

The book I’d like to recommend is an oldie but a goodie, W. B. Yeats’s 1928 masterpiece The Tower. It’s just a fantastic collection from beginning to end, starting off with the magnificent ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and going on to ‘Leda and the Swan,’ ‘Among School Children’ and many other classics.

The reason I’m finding it particularly timely is the sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ which lies at its heart.

An affable Irregular,
A heavily-built Falstaffian man,
Comes cracking jokes of civil war
As though to die by gunshot were
The finest play under the sun.

Ireland in the 1920s did its best to pull itself to pieces: murderous gunmen behind every hedge, even after the vile British Black and Tans had left the picture. Yeats tries his best to make sense of the whole crazy picture, but cannot. I ‘turn towards my chamber, caught / In the cold snows of a dream.’

It’s a wonderful, wonderful book. I wish I could go back in time and read it again for the first time. But it always repays rereading. Worse shocks were to come — the Great Depression was just around the corner, but Ireland (‘great hatred, little room,’ as Yeats put it elsewhere) had already endured its own multiple catastrophes by then:

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare;
More Substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

 

Michael Steven

Ninety-Fifth Street by John Koethe.

Koethe’s sense of memory and time brings to mind Proust and Wordsworth. This book is a passport to the heart.

 

Simon Sweetman

“Now and Then…” by Gil Scott-Heron

I was introduced to the world of Gil Scott-Heron by Paul Ubana Jones. On one of the many nights when I saw Paul perform he decided to do an a capella cover of ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ by Gil Scott-Heron.
I’d heard the name, as people always say, but I’d yet to hear any of the work. I was instantly floored. By the rhythm and movement and meaning of the words. The very next day I bought this book and – in a separate purchase at a separate store – I bought a CD of Gil Scott-Heron’s recorded music. That was some 20 years ago and his words for the page and his songs for the stage are something I keep near and dear to my heart always. There’s so much to love in this collection – so many individual pieces, it’s both a book of lyrics (since many of them were recorded as songs) and a collection of poems. My favourite thing about Gil Scott-Heron was how flawed he was, and how open he was about that – and about his anger and ooet polemic. How someone could write Home Is Where The Hatred Is and then go back to junkiedom was, at first, beyond me. Now as I re-read and re-listen I’m reminded of how fragile we are. Sorry, to quote Sting there in the discussion of a serious poet.
“Home was once an empty vacuum that’s filled now with my silent screams”.
Thanks Gil. Thanks Paul.

 

Mere Taito

Can poetry be a form of solace?

Yes, absolutely. An example of a poetry collection that has the effect of slowing me down, and making me reach for the silence buried beneath ‘all the noise’ is Yoko Ono’s anthology titled Acorn (2013) published by virago.

Her poems are themed by Sky, Earth, City, Connection, Watch, Room, Cleaning, Sound, Life, Dance, Questionnaire, Quiz, and End.

In ‘Sound Piece III’, readers are asked to:

Listen to your town breathing.

1) at dawn

2) in the morning

3) in the afternoon

4) in the evening

5) before dawn

 

Her poems have a restful, meditative quality. I go here to be still. And to listen. The poems are also paired with clever dot drawings. Check out the images of the dot drawings here

 

Chris Tse

Recently I re-read Charles Simic’s prose poetry collection The World Doesn’t End as preparation for a workshop. It’s the first book that came to mind when I was asked to recommend something for this list, partly because its title is a mantra we can use to keep ourselves calm during these strange days, but also because I’d forgotten how delightfully strange some of its images are: dogs at dancing school, a father singing in a bathtub, ‘big-hearted trees’, people riding UFOs. It’s a bizarre collection for sure, but one that can lift the spirits and dazzle with its unique view of the world.

 

Tim Upperton

I’m sceptical of poetry’s efficacy – when Shelley says poets are the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world,’ it’s the word ‘unacknowledged’ that rings true. But some books of poetry act like a tonic, even on gloomy me. Read Bill Manhire’s Lifted, and maybe learn its last poem, ‘Kevin,’ by heart. And read The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch or of Frank O’Hara for some unalloyed happiness.

 

Ian Wedde

Yes poetry can be a solace but may be a wake-up rather than a pat-down. I treasure a small red Alpha Classics edition of Ovid’s Metaphorphoses – An Anthology selected and edited by J.E. Dunlop, published by G. Bell & Sons in 1961 when I was fifteen, which was about when I began to be really obsessed with writing poetry. It was a school text and cost six-and-sixpence which would have been refunded so long as the book wasn’t ‘unreasonably battered, dirty or torn’, as the inside-cover admonished. I didn’t return it. There are eighteen pages of uninspiring introduction, thirty-two pages of selected odes in Latin, and one-hundred and twelve pages of notes and vocabulary. I can’t really read Latin any more but when I turn a few of the thirty-two pages and make the shapes of the dactylic hexameter words of Publius Ovidius Naso (43 B.C. – A.D.17), a ghost enters the room and stands just out of sight. It’s probably not Ovid, could be me aged fifteen, but more likely is J. E. Dunlop, Rector of Bell-Baxter High School in Cupar, Fife, Scotland, hoping that the kid he first met about sixty years ago will get why the feel of these barely understood words in his mouth might be just what’s needed when the going gets tough.

 

Elizabeth Welsh

Anna Smaill The Violinist in Spring (Victoria University Press, 2005)

Why I have picked this collection: Anna’s euphonic collection, The Violinist in Spring, hums with a deep, meditative, silvery tone every time I read it. From waking to the blissful smell of frying bread to the communion between a lone fig tree and a power pole to a stray mushroom’s gills being slowly caressed, this rhythmic arc of poems slows down time, focusing on a celebration of the achingly quotidian, asking us to pause, bend and consider warm and earthy moments of pure phenomenological being, and to reach out and grasp them in all their expansive lightness.

 

Albert Wendt
I don’t want to sound egotistical but on a quick look at your request, I recommend my own poetry collection: FROM MANOA TO A PONSONBY GARDEN published by Auckland University Press. Especially the sequence of poems called “A Ponsonby Garden’. Which is focused on our garden and gardening and old age and impending death and the acceptance of it. When I reread those poems I always find them consoling.

 

Sue Wootton

It’s the perfect time to memorise a poem to wash your hands by – or, to put it another way, to use the time washing your hands to memorise a poem. Why sing Happy Birthday twice in a row when you could know a sonnet by heart instead? As for a poetry book, I’m going to suggest Learning Human, selected poems of Les Murray. Murray’s vision is singular and startling, glorious and life-affirming.