Category Archives: NZ poetry

Poetry Shelf questions: 7 poets name 3 poetry books that have mattered

 

 

My bookshelves are like an autobiography because books, like albums, flag key points in my life.

To pick only three poetry books that have mattered at different points in your life is a tall order but these poets have sent me chasing collectons and composing my own list.

Featured poets: Fiona Kidman, Joan Fleming, Hannah Mettner,  David Eggleton, Sam Duckor-Jones, Amy Leigh-Wicks and Murray Edmond.

 

Fiona Kidman

I was team teaching a creative writing group with my dear late friend, the poet Lauris Edmond, when she read Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Fish”. I remember the electricity in the air, as the dazzling images tumbled out, wonderfully read by Lauris. And then there is the moment where the caught fish is released back into the wild. I trembled when I heard the poem, the first I knew of Bishop’s work. This was in the late 1970s. Later, I bought Elizabeth Bishop The Complete Poems 1927 -1979, and discovered her inimitable Nova Scotian poems. I was working towards a novel partly set in Nova Scotia, and I carried the book with me – there, and on all my travels for years afterwards. I had a habit of pressing wildflowers collected along the way, and eventually, I realised that I was a danger to myself at the New Zealand border if I was to continue carrying them. I read the poems at home now.

Another book I have read and re-read many times, is Marguerite Duras’s last  book (I think) Practicalities (published in 1993). I had been influenced by her fiction as a young woman. But this was a tiny book of essays, fragments, interior monologues, about desire, housekeeping, her struggles with alcohol, domestic lists of important things to have in the house, reflections on death.

And one more.  On the bedside table I keep Seamus Heaney’s Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996. I came late to Heaney’s work, but late is good, because I’m still making discoveries, there are still pleasures in store from the great Irish Nobel Prize winning writer. It’s like tracing my finger through language and feeling my own Irish blood singing its way through my veins. The collection contains, incidentally, a poem about Katherine Mansfield.

 

Joan Fleming

Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red was a gift from Amy Brown on my 23rd birthday. It blew my head off. It is the best and strangest failed love poem I have ever read. But more than that, it showed me how a book could perform an argument, and at the same time, exquisitely fracture the foundations of the kind of thought that makes argument possible.

Jordan Abel’s book The Place of Scraps is an erasure poem and a series of prose reflections, which explode and complicate the work of ethnographer Marius Barbeau. I had been searching for poetry that could do this mode of critical work all through my PhD, and discovered The Place of Scraps very late in the journey, on the recommendation of the dear and brilliant Brian Blanchfield. The book is a stunning example of a new kind of ethnopoetics – or, perhaps, counter-ethnopoetics. I was needing and seeking it, and its sensibility has offered me a kind of permission for my own work.

I wonder if all writers read as opportunistically as this? Maybe we’re all like exploration geologists, searching for those forms and sensibilities that we can mine for our own nefarious compositional purposes. The latest book of this ilk for me has been Rachel Zucker’s Mothers. What gets me about this book is the collage essay form, the candid revelations, and the way Zucker’s poetics walk the line between sentimentality and the rejection of sentimentality. I’m completely charged by the possibilities of this book’s form. Watch this space, I guess.

 

Hannah Mettner

Every birthday when I was a girl, my parents would get me an obligatory book. This wasn’t a problem, as I liked reading, but the choices were a bit hit or miss, and I was often far more thrilled by other gifts. One year though, they got me The Door in the Air and other stories by Margaret Mahy, and it has become my enduring favourite book, certainly the book I’ve re-read most. My current favourite story (it changes all the time) is about a woman who bakes her grown-up son a birthday cake, ices it, and leaves it in a glass dome for the month leading up to his birthday (I presume it’s a fruit cake, otherwise, ew). In a hilarious twist, the cake becomes the next big thing in art, when it’s “discovered” by two gallery owners. I think it’s the perfect take-down of the art scene, and I often wonder what had happened in Mahy’s life that had inspired this gentle trashing of “taste-makers”. It’s also a really beautiful allegory for women’s work, which is so often un-recognised and un-celebrated: by elevating a cake, made with love by the light of a new moon, Mahy draws our attention to how little we do recognise this work, in the usual course of things. In the end, much to the chagrin of the gallery owners, who are considering taking the cake on an international art tour, the cake is eaten when the son comes home for his birthday, as intended. And all the stories in the book are these complicated, magical-realism, gently humorous, domestic, relationship-centred stories that do so much in such a short space.

My current favourite book of poems is Morgan Parker’s There are more Beautiful Things than Beyoncé, which I bought for its provocative title. It is the perfect mix of pop culture, politics and outrageously beautiful lines of poetry. It’s the kind of book that you can’t read all at once because each poem slays you. One of the poems, ‘The Gospel According to Her’ opens with this couplet:

What to a slave is the fourth of July
What to a woman is a vote

I mean! Wow! I’m so tired of the kind of ‘flippant cool’ and ‘awkward funny’ poetic voice that’s been popular for a bit now, and this book feels like such an antidote to that. It’s really important writing about the intersections of race, gender, class and pop culture in America, and it feels fiercely genuine.

And obviously one of my all-time favourite books of poems is Mags’ (Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s) new collectiom Because a Woman’s Heart is like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean. I’ve been waiting for this book since I first met Mags in our MA course in 2012, and, though I’d seen (I think) all of the poems in it before it was published, having them gathered together in one place makes them all seem to glow a bit brighter. It possesses some of the magical realism that brings me back time and again to the Mahy, with a slightly darker, more grown-up edge. It feels like a book that has already lived a thousand lives, and lived them richly, and has picked up scraps and talismans along the way to adorn its stories, like the bower birds in the poem ‘Glamour’. It does what the best poetry does, which is to offer you something beautiful and immediate on the surface, but with more and more layers of meaning to unpick as you make repeat visits. I think what it has to say on how we define ourselves in relation to other people is genuinely complex and profound.

 

David Eggleton

The Walled Garden by Russell Haley, published in 1972 by The Mandrake Root, was one of the first poetry books I ever bought, and I bought it in order to read it over and over and internalise it. Its verses I found visionary, oneiric, hallucinatory. I had seen it displayed in Auckland’s University Book Shop, which was then in the Student Quad on campus. I picked it up off the shelf, began idly flicking through and became immediately ensnared by its strange chanting lines:

 

Invest the real with moths of dream

white paper is a time machine

 

and

 

six inches of semantic dust cover the carpet

he drew with his fingers

new maps of home

Grafton Road and Carlton Gore …

 

As I was living in Grafton Road at the time, just along the bustling hippie encampments in the grand old villas near Carlton Gore Road, my brain began to hum. I bought the book and it immediately became my guide to a certain state of mind a celebration of another, more phantasmal, Auckland in the decade of the 1970s:

 

Gagarin is finding a new way to walk

both the rock and the lion are starting to talk …

 

Russell Haley was a British migrant who grew up in the north of England and then served in the R.A. F. in Iraq in the 1950s, at a time when the oil wells of Middle East were relatively untroubled by the meddling of the United States, and archeological expeditions to the Fertile Crescent were proceeding in an orderly fashion, and Persian poetry was being celebrated as the ne plus ultra of the Islamic Golden Age. In Haley’s The Walled Garden, still to me a wondrous book, I was attracted to the private mythology, the prophetic quality, the dream-like imagery, the air of premonition, of the circularity of history he was invoking: a sense of time of time regained out of a kind of colourful rubble — the bric a brac of twentieth century international modernism — which seemed to me at the time seductively exotic. Moreover, he managed to make tenets of Sufi mysticism rhyme and chime with kite-flying in the small hours on Bethells Beach:

 

3.30 am …

 

There are two voices —

the first is that of the man

holding the kite string —

he says everything and yet nothing.

The second is the deep hum of the rope

linking the man and the kite  —

this voice says nothing and yet everything

(from night flying with hanly)

 

Published in Auckland by Stephen Chan’s Association of Orientally Flavoured Syndics in 1972, David Mitchell’s first, and for several decades his only poetry collection, Pipe Dreams in Ponsonby, was reprinted in a second edition in 1975 by Caveman Press, whose publisher was Trevor Reeves. That is the edition, acquired second-hand years later, that I have in my possession, knocked out by Tablet Print in Dunedin and, though in a similar thin black cardboard jacket, not quite as elegant and well-printed as the earlier one. Yet it still conveys the magic, the mojo, of a poet who celebrated the poem as spoken word. For me, David Mitchell is an exemplar of the shaman able to take a poem off the page and make it into something performative, transcendent, on a stage. In Auckland in 1980, David Mitchell established the Globe Hotel weekly poetry readings which became inspirational. Mitchell was a poet of the primal, one who had an ability to suggest and conjure up the electric atmosphere of raw improvisation. A master of syllabics, the man with the golden ear, he was actually all craft. He worked with silence, building up cadences out of short phrases and using the pregnant pause to create resonance. He was intent on emphasising the evanescence of the moment; with the use of subtle intonation and enunciation, seeking to establish an authentic encounter with the poem he was reciting, its mood, its music.

Kendrick Smithyman was another early enthusiasm of mine, in particular his 1972 collection Earthquake Weather in its drab olive green cover, containing the poem ‘Hail’ whose last lines give the book its resonantly memorable title: ‘We call this earthquake weather. We may not be wrong.’

But it is his later epic 1997 poem Atua Wera that spun my compass round as an example of what a truly ambitious New Zealand poem could be. Atua Wera, is a poem glued together out of bits and bobs. It muses on historical hearsay, folklore, museological keepsakes, and intertextual chunks of letters and journals. It requires you to latch onto the poet’s rhythms of thought, his oblique way of saying things as he tells the story of Papahurihia, a Northland Māori millennial prophet who was a tohunga descended from tohunga.

In this verse biography, Smithyman is a prose Browning, up to his elbows in the old colonial dust, breaking up journalistic reportage into cryptic fragments, into crabbed lines scattered across the page, except that where Robert Browning embroidered endlessly in his epic The Ring and the Book on a story that, as Thomas Carlyle said, might have been told in ten lines and were better forgotten, Smithyman’s effort is a superb revivification of an amazing chapter in New Zealand colonial history.

A master-ventriloquist, like his subject, Smithyman uses James Busby, Thomas Kendall and Frederic Maning to tell us about Yankee sailors encountering Moriori voodoo, and about the Garden of Eden snake in Genesis being transformed into a lizard, then a dragon, then ‘a fiery flying serpent’ who turns out to be Te Atau Wera himself, the shape-shifter. Atua Wera is itself a shape-shifting poem of ghost-riders and end-of-world portents, of the phantom canoe on Lake Tarawera before the eruption, and of a light in the sky which turns out to be a TV repeater mast. It’s a book which is a palimpest, a treasure trove, a landmark, a beacon.

 

Sam Duckor-Jones

DIFFERENT DANCES / SHEL SILVERSTEIN
This is a large coffee table book of drawings of naked men and women fucking and sucking and being impaled in various ways. There is straight sex, queer sex, and not-so-subtle nods towards fun things like necrophilia! incest! bestiality! We loved this book when we were kids, we poured over it wide eyed, impatient, tingling and desirous and competitively appalled or nonchalant, depending. A little later, ie adolescence, when my friends and I started liking boys but had no language or real world models with which to express it, we drew: cousins rutting in basements, fey teachers with debased secrets, musclemen kissing in pantries… Different Dances was my manual for lusty expression: put it on the page. To this day I still prefer a pen and paper to real life, sigh.

DEAR PRUDENCE / DAVID TRINIDAD
David Trinidad has this long prose poem called ‘Mothers’ in which he remembers all the mothers from his childhood neighbourhoods. It’s intimate and cinematic and filled with satisfyingly stifling pastels and veneers of conformity and simmering desperations and a serious deluge of kitsch, moving from comic portrait to heartbreaking confession. I read it in 2016 and immediately made David Trinidad one of my favourite poets and Dear Prudence one of my most frequently thumbed books. David Trinidad constructs his poems from celebrity interviews, soap opera scripts, trashy novels, idol infatuations, all with a serious wash of queer love and it’s associated traumas. He takes plain language and wrings it with tight margins til it becomes something crystalized. I love him.

BLISS / PETER CAREY
When I lived in Auckland I was a bad employee. I worked in a number of cafes, briefly. I was scared of the customers and didn’t have the cahones for kitchen trash talk. All I wanted to do was read and draw, why was this not allowed? On a lunch break at a Ponsonby spot where I was the lame FOH, I read Bliss in the upstairs staffroom. The barista came and sat beside me and talked and talked and would not stop talking so I picked up my book and climbed right out the window. I ran along the awnings and shimmied down a drainpipe, stormed righteously to Grey Lynn park, finished my chapter. Caught the next train home to Wellington. Ever since, Bliss has represented a real particular sort of escape to me, and is a reminder that a good book is worth it.

 

Amy Leigh Wicks

I came across Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in university. I resonated with his ability to articulate the insatiable longings of the human heart. The novel wasn’t the best written thing I’d read, but the timing of it, the casual language paired with a desperate feeling of urgency coincided perfectly with my itch for travel and spiritual discovery. Kerouac said in a later interview that the book was really just about two catholic boys in search of God. I think a lot of people might have trouble seeing it because of all the Benzedrine and riotous living, but it hit me in the guts as true.

I was in my early twenties when I read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Collected Poems. Her sonnets continue to be one great sources of inspiration and reflection. From Sonnet XXX which begins, ‘Love is not all,’ and ends in a surprising turn, to her sonnet What lips my lips have kissed and where and why, which appeared in Vanity Fair in 1920, but reads to me as if it were written now, her poems are delicious, layered, and precisely crafted.

I started studying James K. Baxter while I was working on my Masters in New York, and found a very hard time finding his books. When I moved to New Zealand and came across New Selected Poems: James K. Baxter edited by Paul Millar, I felt I had struck gold. I carry it with me in my purse most days, as it is not cumbersome, and it has a selection of poetry from all of Baxter’s books as well as a selection of previously unpublished works. I find myself coming back to Farmhand, where ‘He has his awkward hopes, his envious dreams to yarn to […]’ to later in his life, the bittersweet but undeniably beautiful He Waiata mo Te Kare where he says, ‘Nobody would have given tuppence for our chances,/ Yet our love did not turn to hate.’

 

Murray Edmond

Plants of New Zealand by R.M.Laing and E.W.Blackwell (Whitcombe and Tombs , 1906)

Shanties by the Way: a selection of New Zealand Popular Songs and Ballads collected and edited by Rona Baily and Herbert Roth (Whitcombe and Tombs, 1967)

Hidden Camera by Zoran Zivkovic, trans. Alice Copple-Tosic, (London: Dalkey Archive, 2008)

I think I was given ‘Laing and Blackwell’ (as it was always called) for my 12th birthday, at the end of 1961. I would have asked for it. I had recently joined the Hamilton Junior Naturalists Club and had begun to discover ‘another world’ in the flora of Aotearoa, which was to be a gateway for understanding many other things about the country I lived in that no one had yet mentioned. Robert Laing and Ellen Blackwell’s Plants of New Zealand was the first serious, semi-populist, reasonably comprehensive book on New Zealand plants. Ellen Blackwell, an amateur botanist in her late thirties, had met Robert Laing, Christchurch school teacher, graduate of Canterbury University College, and botanist with a special interest in marine algae, on a ship heading for New Zealand in 1903. Laing was returning from an overseas trip, Blackwell was visiting her brother Frank at Pahi in the northern Kaipara, her first (and only!) visit to New Zealand. The fruit of this meeting was the publication of the evergreen ‘Laing and Blackwell’ in 1906, with Ellen contributing photos (along with brother Frank) and much of the northern botanical information. The sixth edition I received had been published in 1957. It’s a strange old hodge-podge of a book, with reliable basic botanical coverage, mixed with Maori ‘lore’ on plant use, plus some poetical diversions to William Pember Reeves and Alfred Domett. Pretty soon us budding naturalists had graduated to Lucy Moore and H.H.Allan’s properly scientific Flora of New Zealand, but we never forgot our Laing and Blackwell. Ellen Blackwell returned to England after three years in New Zealand, never to return, but she left a little gem behind her. I wrote a poem called ‘Te Ngahere’ (‘The Bush’), using my new discoveries, and next year, 1963, my first year at high school, it was published in the school magazine.

I bought Rona Bailey and Bert Roth’s anthology Shanties by the Way, when I was a first year student at Auckland University in 1968. It might be my favourite New Zealand poetry anthology. Of the 85 songs, ballads, chants, rhymes, jingles, ditties, shanties, broadsides, protests, burlesques, etc. 21 are by the illustrious Anon. It’s a history book and a poetry book at the same time, a collection of voices, registers and, indeed, languages of Aotearoa. When Russell Haley and I wrote our satire, Progress in the Dark, on the sordid history of Auckland city, for the Living Theatre Troupe in 1971, I raided the prohibition section of the anthology for our play:

 

I am a young teetotaller

And though but six years old,

Within my little breast there beats

A heart as true as gold.

 

Bert Roth, socialist, Viennese Jew, escapee from Hitler’s Austria, declared ‘enemy alien’ by the New Zealand Government, became the historian of the Union movement in New Zealand; Rona Bailey, physical education teacher, dancer, communist, activist, had studied modern dance and the collecting of folk dance and song in the USA just before World War Two. Together these two created a rich record in verse and song of the story of Aotearoa – read it, sing it, and you’ll get the picture!

Lisa Samuels gave me Zoran Zivkovic’s novel Hidden Camera not so long ago. It’s a scary, funny, dark, narratively powerful and hauntingly intoxicating tale that makes you question the very reality around you as you read. Zivkovic, who wrote his masters’ thesis at Belgrade University on Arthur C. Clarke, and latterly taught there for many years, knows his Lem, his Kafka, his Bulgakov and his Gogol. Perhaps his work evokes what a Robert Louis Stevenson thriller or a Henry James ghost story in the 21st century might read like. Aren’t we all being recorded, all the time? Are the narratives of us that are recorded more real than the lives we think we are living? Zivkovic is a writer who makes me want to record narratives myself, if only to fight back against the capture of ourselves, to escape the horror of the prisons we have built for ourselves.

 

Contributors

Sam Duckor-Jones is a sculptor and poet who lives in Featherston. In 2017 he won the Biggs Poetry Prize from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. Victoria University press published his debut collection People from the Pit Stand Up in 2018.  His website.

Murray Edmond is a playwright, poet and fiction writer; he has worked as an editor, critic and dramaturge. Several of his poetry collections have been finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards:   Letters and Paragraphs, Fool Moon and Shaggy Magpie Songs. He has worked extensively in theatre including twenty years with Indian Ink on the creation of all the company’s scripts. His latest poetry collection Back Before You Know was published by Compound Press in 2019.

David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based poet and writer, who was formerly the editor of Landfall. He is working on a number of projects, including a new poetry collection.

Joan Fleming is a poet, teacher, and researcher. She is the author of two books of poetry, The Same as Yes and Failed Love Poems (both with Victoria University Press), and her third book is forthcoming with Cordite Books. She has recently completed a PhD in ethnopoetics at Monash University, a project which arose out of deep family ties and ongoing relationships with Warlpiri families in Central Australia. She is the New Zealand/Aotearoa Commissioning Editor for Cordite Poetry Review and teaches creative writing from Madrid, where she currently lives. She recently performed and served as Impresario for the Unamuno Author Series Festival in Madrid, and in 2020 she will travel to Honduras for the Our Little Roses Poetry Teaching Fellowship.

Fiona Kidman has published over 30 books including novels, poetry, memoir and a play. She has received a number of awards and honours including a DNZM, OBE and the French Legion of Honour. Her most recent book This Mortal Boy won the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham Book Awards 2019. She has published a number of poetry collections; her debut Honey and Bitters appeared in 1975 while her more recent collections were published by Random House: Where Your Left Hand Rests (2010) and This Change in the Light (2016).

Amy Leigh Wicks is the author of The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage (Auckland University Press 2019) and Orange Juice and Rooftops.

Hannah Mettner is a Wellington-based poet from Gisborne. Her first collection, Fully Clothed and so Forgetful (VUP 2017), was longlisted for the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, and won the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry. She is co-editor with Morgan Bach and Sugar Magnolia Wilson of Sweet Mammalian, an online poetry journal launched in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Anna Livesey’s ‘Little words’

 

Little words

 

Dear heart, a word —

which word? Shall we choose something

secret and unexpected?

 

Don’t say ‘moon’, everyone knows

that code of longing. Don’t say ‘talk’, the running sound

of every banal conversation.

 

Don’t say ‘bread’ or ‘wine’ or ‘salt’ —

those easy gestures towards

humanity and history.

 

Don’t say ‘love’ — that hollow ‘o’ so easy to look through.

One might say ‘bird’ or ‘house’ or ‘hand’ —

nearer sounds to the one we are looking for.

 

There is always ‘silence’

or ‘question’ — don’t say these words,

too large to qualify.

 

Let us sit quietly.

 

Let us shape a small word that holds us.

Let that little word

be ‘name’.

 

Anna Livesey

 

 

Anna Livesey is a poet, corporate strategist, stand-up comic, policy analyst, literary curator-at-large, podcaster, shouting yogi and early morning raver. Born and raised in Wellington, Anna studied at Victoria University where she completed a BA in English and an MA in Creative Writing. Anna also holds Masters degrees in Public Policy and Business Administration.

Anna has published three poetry collections to date: Good Luck (2003), The Moonmen (2010), and Ordinary Time (2017). She currently lives in Auckland with her husband and two children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Jane Arthur reads ‘Snowglobe’

 

 

 

 

 

 

The poem, ‘Snowglobe’, was published in Mimicry 5 and will appear in Jane’s first collection CRAVEN to be published by Victoria University Press in September 2019.

 

 

 

Jane Arthur was the recipient of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize in 2018, judged by Eileen Myles. She has worked in the book industry for over fifteen years as a bookseller and editor, and has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University of Wellington. Born in New Plymouth, she lives in Wellington with her family. Her first poetry collection will be published in September 2019 by Victoria University Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Elizabeth Morton picks Janet Frame’s ‘I Visited’

 

I Visited

 

I visited
the angels and stars and stones;
also, adjectival poets, preferably original.
There was an air of restlessness
an inability to subside, a state of being at attention,
at worst, at war with the immediately beating heart and breathing lung.
I looked then in the word-chambers, the packed warehouses by the sea,
the decently kept but always decaying places where nouns and their
representative images lay together on high shelves
among abbreviations and longlost quotations. I listened.
Water lapped at the crumbling walls; it was a place
for murder, piracy; salt hunger seeped between the shelves;
it was time to write. Now or never. The now unbearable,
the never a complete denial of memory:
I was not, I never have been.

 

Janet Frame from The Goose Bath: Poems, Vintage, 2006

 

published with kind permission from The Janet Frame Estate (note in The Goose Bath states that this appeared as a section in a long untitled sequence)

 

 

Notes from Elizabeth Morton:

Veni Vedi Veci is a T-shirt-perfect slogan, gloating in its victory of ancient history, and its facility with Latin grammar. As an undergraduate I likely sported such an item of casual alliteration. I may have stood at the fence of Albert Park, smoking a Wee Willem cigarillo, mispronouncing the words to passing first-years and telling a bastardised yarn about Julius Caesar. Janet Frame’s poem, ‘I Visited’ relates a quieter, more tentative conquest – that ends in brute self-nihilation – ‘I was not, I never have been’. This is no Caesar. Here is a concession that our words are things to be borrowed, not usurped. There is a sense of things in flux, things that spill through the gaps in your fingers – ‘decaying places’ and ‘crumbling walls’. There is no pillaging of intangibles. The world of words is a lending library with ‘word chambers’ and ‘high shelves’.

Frame’s poem is gently playful. Through it, I recognise this impossibility of ownership. Words are slippery; words alter to their context; words are shared but never spent. I have supermarket bags full of words – words for ‘angels and stars and stones’, earthly and metaphysical – words like ‘turophile’ and ‘oleaginous’ and ‘eosophobia’ and ‘absquatulate’. They can never be conquests. I visit them. Visito. And I try to shake the dust off the words that have been left for dead. Words are people too, you know – ‘with beating heart and breathing lung’. Frame’s poem captures an excitement, a vitality, and also an humility. Also, ‘salt hunger’ makes me shiver.

 

 

 

Auckland writer, Auckland writer, Elizabeth Morton, is published in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the UK, Canada and the USA. She was feature poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017, and is included in Best Small Fictions 2016. Her first poetry collection, Wolf, was published with Mākaro Press in 2017. She is completing a MLitt at the University of Glasgow, usually in her pyjamas.

Janet Frame (1924-2004) published eleven novels, five story collections, a previous volume of poetry (The Pocket Mirror, 1967), a children’s book and a three-volume autobiography. She won numerous awards and honours, including New Zealand’s highest civil honour when she was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 1990. In 2003 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement and was named an Arts Foundation Icon Artist. Pamela Gordon, Denis Harold and Bill Manhire edited The Goose Bath, Janet’s posthumous collection of poems in 2006.

 

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Poetry Shelf review: Murray Edmond’s Back Before You Know

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Murray Edmond, Back Before You Know, Compound Press, 2019

Jonas Bones, Jonas Bones esquire,

whale-stabber, seal-clubber,

great hands held like tongs in the fire,

road-digger, gold-grubber—

JONAS: Never did have no blasted luck,

every plan came unstuck—

Always up to his ears in muck

couldn’t make two ends meet.

So one last chance to call a stop

one last throw on a crumbling life,

on the King Country line he set up shop,

with one lone child and one sharp wife.

from ‘The Ballad of Jonas Bones’

 

 

Murray Edmond is a playwright, poet and fiction writer; he has worked as an editor, critic and dramaturge. Several of his poetry collections have been finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards:   Letters and Paragraphs, Fool Moon and Shaggy Magpie Songs. He has worked extensively in theatre including twenty years with Indian Ink on the creation of all the company’s scripts.

Murray’s new collection comprises two long poems that play with other sources; with fable, allegory, history, theatre, poetics, the ballad form. The first poem, ‘The Ballad of Jonas Bones’ steps off from Robert Penn Warren’s ‘The Ballad of Billie Potts’ (1943), from Kentucky to the Waikato / King Country. Murray claims his version as a palimpsest or adaptation, leaving traces of the original version, ghost-like and haunting. We may find vestiges of place, the story that gets passed down the line from ear to mouth, the innkeepers who rob their well-off guests, a character’s return to origins, the cutting shards of history, the kaleidoscopic turns of humanity. I haven’t read Warren’s poem but I sense its eerie presence.

Murray’s fluctuating rhythm and rhymes are like shifting river currents, his poem a river poem carrying the debris of story, hand-me-down anecdote. There’s gold and there’s mud, there’s error and there’s incident, there’s greed and there’s survival. Dialogue gives it life as a theatre piece, staged to the point I invent the presence of audience and a live version runs through my head. I am watching as the past is made present and the future present is gestured at in the revised story along with the original skelton. A wider context is superimposed and hides in the seams: ‘frontier’ stories that mutate in the telling, the more significant misrepresentations that shaped our histories, the way individual stories are muffled within the dominant narratives.

Ah but alongside these fertile underground veins is the fact this is a cracking good story with its blinding twists and wounding heart. For some reason I kept thinking of Blanche Baughan’s affecting long ballad, ‘Shingle Short’.

The second poem, ‘The Fancier Pigeon’, is equally arresting with Murray characteristically playful. I am reading with a wry smile, every sense provoked, my reading momentum both fluid and addictive.  We meet the fancier pigeon and the pigeon fancier (she with her hair aglint) when they meet perched on stools at a bar:

 

She had hair the colour of apricot

she smelt like a cake just taken

from the oven and her father played

drums in a band in the only night club

in town

 

I am always reluctant to spoil the unfolding of a poem, long or short, in ways that ruin the reading experience, that spotlight the darkened nooks and crannies, the poem’s pauses or digressions. That dampens the joy of reading. But I will say when the two characters kiss a pigeon drops a ring at their feet – they decide they will each keep the ring for a week and then only met when they exchange the ring. Such an emblematic hook.

The poem feels cinematic (visually sharp, moody hued), theatrical (with both dialogue and action body gripping) and fable-like (overlaying universal themes of love, betrayal, mishap and destiny). The poem also feels cinematic with its smudged lighting as though we can’t quite be sure what happens between this scene and the next, with the cue to fable never far off, the characters, a quartet, shifting and sliding in and out of view.

 

and it was there

the girl had stopped her

as she walked

“Has he come asking for me”

of course he had so she said “No”

and as if she were granting wishes

she asked

“You wanna come out on the lake

with me in the canoe?”

and she had lead her down

among the bulrushes

 

What I love about the poem – beyond the supple language play and the sensual images, the addictive and offbeat characters, and the narrative tug – is the way the world adheres. As reader you can’t just stick to the poet’s diverting fable – because the real world intrudes, the hurt and broken world if you hold the bigger picture, and the miniature daily stories if you hold the way humanity is formed by individuals. Both things matter at the level of the humane.

The book’s punning title, like a cypher, a tease, is also a ‘dropped ring’. It is re-sited as the last line: ‘BACK AGAIN BEFORE YOU KNOW’.  And I am looping back on the unknown and the achingly familiar, the beginning that is ending that is beginning and so on, the switch back roads and the clifftop vantage points, the downright miraculous and the daily mundane. Ah setting sail on this poetic loop, with its blurs and its epiphanies, is sheer bliss. Poetry bliss.

 

Compound Press author page

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Liz Breslin’s ‘getting away from it all with the feminists’

 

getting away from it all with the feminists

 

she is self sufficient, thank you very much

she has packed tea bags, brandy, chocolate, honey, wine, scroggin, olives, crackers, cheese, 30 second oats, a jar of ready espresso-ed coffee, double-wrapped, a home-made mix of potato mash, French onion soup power, salt, pepper, hand-chopped spring onion and bacon flakes, toilet paper, sanitiser, matches, candles, firelighter, New Yorker, cook pot, gas canister, three-prong burner, spork, mug, a whole, firm salami and

she is carrying a sleeping bag for all seasons, a midweight puffer jacket, a water-resistant shell. she wouldn’t be conned into buying something tagged waterproof for twice the price. very few things are truly impermeable, this she knows. she has her beanie, her sunnies, her sun hat, her thermals, the nagging start of a blister and a throb in the nub of her back. a deep breath. keeping it light. they are on a ridge, just emerged from the bush, and he turns back and offers his hand and

she is distracted by a twitch in his southwest forearm and a hint of tannin sweat and the glint of the sun refracting on his teeth and that little chinlip tuft he hasn’t quite shaved and

she hasn’t even stumbled when he says if you feel yourself falling remember there’s time to decide which way you’re going to jump

 

 

Liz Breslin writes plays, poems, stories and a fortnightly column, ‘Thinking Allowed’, for the Otago Daily Times. Her poetry collection, Alzheimer’s and a spoon (OUP), was listed as one of The Listener’s Top 100 Books of 2017. At home on the page and on the stage, Liz’s recent performances include ‘Love in a time of netball’ at the sold-out Wanaka season of Tall Tales and True, and a stint as the back end of Jill the Cow for her 2018 pantomime, Jac and the Beansprouts. In 2019 she’s heading to Dunedin, Vancouver and Krakow to read, write and perform. Her website

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot:Rebecca Hawkes on the poem as a snowglobe to contain the Anthropocene

 

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At the moment it feels like pretty much every bright future I’d hoped for is at stake. On a grand scale the triple threats of economic precarity, bigoted populist political bullshit, and environmental degradation aren’t, uhhhh, great. And given human carelessness with our pollution, poisons, and climate apocalypse, basking in the glory of nature isn’t really cutting it anymore as a source of solace. Even David Attenborough is freaking out.

And still, to not be helpless, I turn to poetry. How else to process a planet-sized grief?

Ecopoetry as political activism and/or aesthetic impulse isn’t a new idea. But right now I’m interested in how others write about the effects humans have on nature, and how that affects us.

A poem that floats to the surface of my mind regularly, naming the current epoch, is ‘The Anthropocene‘ from Helen Heath’s Ockham winning (!!!!!!!!!) Are Friends Electric? The poem stars a tui and lyrebird mimicking the technological music of the species that destroys their native forests – cellphone trill, car alarm, camera shutter, chainsaw. Chainsaws in birdsong! I think of this too often.

Speaking of mimics, the new issue of Mimicry I just received contains two back-to-back poems on the drift of plastics through the furthest reaches of the ‘natural’ environment. Rhys Feeney’s ‘current mood’ and Erik Kennedy’s ‘Microplastics in Antarctica’ work to process the sheer scale of human junk, and model ways to respond to the guilt and arrogance of that phenomenon.

From Feeney:

“you thought you
were a god / but this sushi container
will outlive you /”

From Kennedy:

“Scratch the scalp of civilisation
and bits of it go all over the place.
Concerned about those embarrassing flakes?
You should be.”

Feeney’s poem is inspired by Pip Adam’s The New Animals which is great because I’d wanted to shoehorn that novel (with its hypnotic trajectory towards a widening gyre of sea-garbage) into this discussion somehow. Having dipped a toe in prose, it’s worth noting that my own poetry on nature (and the work of local poets like Gregory Kan and essa may ranapiri) has been influenced by Jeff Vandermeer’s novels too – testing out new ways to live in a changed world.

Poems about what people do to the environment, and what that means for us, help me work out how to rage and cope as well. When I’m overwhelmed, picking up a poem can help. Poems can help us look at the impact we have on our planet – but in a container compact as a snowglobe, enough to hold in two hands. A poem asks you to sit mesmerised by something and turn it over to see how it shifts. Shake the poem and watch what happens to the tiny landscape in the swirling glitter.

Showing off the capacity of a poem to be both moving and scientifically informative is a knack shared by Heath and Kennedy – their poems often incorporate research, like the press release that kicks off ‘Microplastics in Antarctica’. And ecopoetry is not always straightforwardly scientific – take Lucie Brock-Broido’s dreamy elegy ‘For a Snow Leopard in October‘. But each poem is also a way to pick up something about what’s happening to our world and ourselves. To write like this is a way to stake out what’s real and important. What vision of the world we should hold on to, what kind of mark we want to leave – from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the snow leopard vanishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Hawkes is a poet, painter, and reluctant corporate ladder ascender. She’s from a high country farm near Methven and is now making it biggish in the small-medium city of Wellington. Find Rebecca’s poems scattered through journals like Starling, Sport, and Sweet Mammalian – or on her website. A collection of her writing will be published in August 2019 in the revival issue of the AUP New Poets series, alongside the work of Carolyn DeCarlo and Sophie van Waardenberg.