Category Archives: NZ poetry

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Simone Kaho’s ‘Tour’

 

Tour

The crows will be her friends.
They are waiting on powerlines in the rain.
It’s exciting to be in another country with different birds even if they’re black and mawkish, and it’s only England, so kind of coming home.
‘Do they think dark thoughts?’
He comes back from training and through unspoken agreement she holds him at bay, at first.
Later, he says – ‘You held me off just the right amount’.
It’s the only kind thing he says all day.
She watches British bunnies run across the green British lawn in the British mist, into a British hedge.
That evening New Zealand loses.
Someone has scrawled a rude note for him on a napkin, he sees her looking and says
‘You’re laughing’.
She’s not.
She wishes she could.
I don’t wonder how he is doing she thinks ‘Now’.
It doesn’t even creak.
Her heart pulp; memories.
The overwhelming smell of little old ladies’ heads at mass at the Vatican.
Crouching down between acres of knees.
Him lifting her onto his shoulders, in fresh air above the churchgoers, with her battered face and oversized sunglasses.
Pope John Paul passing so close in his glass cartoon car, she could have reached out and left a fingerprint.
Her queen wave.
The ornate courtesy of him helping little old ladies over the barricades.
His beaming, bashful, face, which had gotten battered too.
Him walking straight into the Vatican while a two-mile line formed behind.
Both kneeling before the Michelangelo, not noticing marble Mary was the same age as Jesus.
Noticing nothing but the stillness of her chest
until he shifts beside her
and she wants to take it all back,
the gravel in her face,
the gravel in his.
The bottles she threw at the hostel, his blazed green eyes on the bottom bunk as the cops knocked.
The contrite blowjob in the church graveyard behind the homestay.
I can’t help being helpless, your contempt is not helping me.
She rolls her eyes as he slaps her.
That vein in his forehead is pulsing again and in a way, it has something to say and no one knows any better and
she wishes he hadn’t thrown stones at her window
and she hadn’t opened it
and he hadn’t climbed in
and she wishes she had knees instead of jelly and
she wishes she could put her heart out of her body and
let it live wild in the bush

 

Simone Kaho

 

 

 

 

Simone Kaho is a New Zealand poet of Tongan descent. She was born in Auckland and received an MA in creative writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington.

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Nicola Easthope reads ‘Kitesurfing’

 

Working-the-tang-front-cover-updated-778x1024.jpg

 

 

 

 

Nicola Easthope reads ‘Kitesurfing’ from Working the Tang The Cuba Press, 2018

 

 

Nicola Easthope is a teacher and poet from the Kāpiti Coast. Her first book of poems, leaving my arms free to fly around you, was published by Steele Roberts Aotearoa in 2011. ‘Working the tang, Birsay’ is inspired by her Orcadian roots and the etymologies and experiences of the Norse word for seaweed (among other things). She was a guest poet at the Queensland Poetry Festival in 2012, and at the Tasmanian Poetry Festival in October 2018.

The Cuba Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Kiri Piahana-Wong picks Hone Tuwhare’s ‘Toroa: Albatross’

 

Toroa: Albatross

 

Day and night endlessly you have flown effortless of wing

over chest-expanding oceans far from land.

Do you switch on an automatic pilot, close your eyes

in sleep, Toroa?

 

On your way to your home-ground at Otakou Heads

you tried to rest briefly on the Wai-o-te-mata

but were shot at by ignorant people.

Crippled, you found a resting-place at Whanga-nui-a-Tara;

found space at last to recompose yourself. And now

 

without skin and flesh to hold you together

the division of your aerodynamic parts lies whitening

licked clean by sun and air and water. Children will

discover narrow corridors of airiness between, the suddenness

of bulk. Naked, laugh in the gush and ripple—the play

of light on water.

 

You are not alone, Toroa. A taniwha once tried to break out

of the harbour for the open sea. He failed.

He is lonely. From the top of the mountain nearby he calls

to you: Haeremai, haeremai, welcome home, traveller.

Your head tilts, your eyes open to the world.

 

Hone Tuwhare

 

Originally published in Mihi: Collected Poems (Penguin, 1987) and subsequently published in Small Holes in the Silence: Collected Poems (Godwit, 2011). Published with kind permission of the Estate of Hone Tuwhare.

 

 

Note from Kiri:

Hone Tuwhare has written so many beloved and iconic poems, but for me, this poem ­– ‘Toroa: Albatross’ – has always particularly resonated. It’s a poem about a bird that is so much more than a poem about a bird. The poem speaks of death, loneliness and homecoming. It crosses effortlessly from the physical world into the metaphysical. When I read this poem, I hear the voices of my departed tūpuna calling from the other side. I hear the ineffable beat of wings.

 

Kiri Piahana-Wong, Ngāti Ranginui, is a poet and editor, and is the publisher at Anahera Press. Kiri is currently working on the fourth edition of Māori literary journal Ora Nui, due out this September.

Hone Tuwhare (1922- 2008) was a father, poet, political activist and boilermaker. He published at least thirteen collections of poetry, won two New Zealand Book Awards, held two honorary doctorates and, in 1999, was Te Mata Poet Laureate. In 2003 he was named an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Artist.

 

9781869795788.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Gregory O’Brien’s launch speech for Richard von Sturmer’s Postcard Stories

9781877441622.jpg

 

POSTCARD STORIES…a launching speech, VicBooks, Wellington, 12 April 2019

 

It’s over thirty years ago since Richard von Sturmer appeared on the cover of Robert Cross’s and my book about New Zealand writers Moments of Invention. Back in 1987 I remember Richard suggesting that Robert photograph him in his ‘most natural habitat’. So we went to Smales Quarry, near Lake Pupuke—a flooded, desolate, you could almost say post-apocalyptic zone—a lunar landscape with the occasional sprig of kowhai. After spending quality time in a trench-coat and mask (as the ‘Neanderthal businessman’ character, Mr Chipden), Richard donned striped overalls and a papier mache zebra-head.

Screen Shot 2019-04-17 at 7.43.56 AM.png

Was the zebra outfit a uniform or a disguise—an act of self-expression of concealment? Either way, the photo on the book’s cover raised the question, for me, of how it might be that writers, more generally, fit into this world. Richard was, and still is, proposing we should all look, listen and think beyond the obvious. Maybe the lesson of Smales Quarry is that we should look for answers in the direction of archaeology or possibly the analysis of dreams, rather than in the realms of sociology, cultural history or literary theory. The cover photo of Richard, zebra-headed and humanimal (in the adjectival sense), begged the question whether the life of the writer is ultimately an absurdity, a theatrical production or maybe even an inexplicable folly. More than anything else, the image reminds me of one characteristic of all good writers: they are up to something. They ask that we follow them somewhere new and surprising. ‘I think we should go into the jungle,’ as Barbara Anderson would have put it. Their jungle.

The cover photo was taken shortly after the appearance of Richard’s We Xerox Your Zebras appeared—a book which has long been something of a cult classic and which, infamously, upon publication prompted threats of legal action from Rank Xerox Corporation, on account of copyright infringement. Still in his twenties, Richard’s creative trajectory as a genre-bending, world-expanding writer was set, as was his now longstanding allegiance with, and commitment to, the unexpected, the odd and the illuminating. He struck me then, as he strikes me now, as an improving influence not only on the world of letters but on the world itself.

Over the three decades since then, there have been collections of poems from Richard and –to much-deserved acclaim upon its publication three years ago–a memoir about his father and grandfather, This Explains Everything. Yet, as the new book reiterates, nothing is ever really explained. Explanation is too often simply a misreading, simplification or a reduction of the matter at hand. Reality is full of live circuitry and ongoingness and expansiveness. We reach conclusions at our peril.

Richard’s books are working documents of a life-in-progress, a sensibility in the making and constant remaking. Reality is put, much of the time, through a Zen Buddhist filter, yet his writing can be as rowdy and colourful as the line-dancing Filipino women on the cover of Postcard Stories. Such a paradoxical, contrary state remains at the heart of his creative project. Also worth noting is a curious propensity for the transmutation or transubstantiation of the mundane or the misguided into a state of meaningful joyfulness.

What sort of narratives are on offer in Postcard Stories? Are these stories about postcards or inspired by postcards—or are these the stories the postcards themselves might have told, if they could speak. Through the first half of the book, Richard performs a visual/verbal two-step, offering short sequences of text—a hybrid of short story and  haiku—to enhance, elaborate upon, subvert and embrace the images which they accompany.

 

Quickly enough, the book gets one thinking about the nature of postcards. It becomes a protracted meditation on that endangered if not dying species. In the era of the jpeg and digital file, postcard stands are becoming fewer and further between. Postcard Stories offers the gentlest of interrogations, a backward glance at these printed images, their industry and their format. It asks questions, but without, of course, requiring any kind of answer.

Most of the time, postcards relate to a specific location yet, as this book manifests, they often reflect a certain lostness, aimlessness, waywardness. You would not want to use them to get your bearings in the physical world. I remember, years ago when Jen and I were spending six months in the South of France courtesy of the Katherine Mansfield fellowship, Richard sent us—in Menton—an antique Greetings from Menton postcard which he had procured from a South Auckland second hand shop.  As Richard’s new book attests, postcards, like the rest of us, lead paradoxical, complex and unreliable lives. In his bright and user-friendly introduction, he goes so far as to describe postcards as ‘cells in a giant, universal brain’ then adds, instructively: ’I like to dream with postcards’.

Traversing such inner and outer realities, the texts in Postcard Stories feature a surprising number of flowers. Ditto monuments, towers, clocks and water features. In deep amidst the imagistic ebb and flow, we are asked to consider how flowers flower differently in words than they do in pictures. We are back in the quarry. We are back at the beginning of the world, and the beginning of the word. We are once again keeping company with a zebra-headed youth in his wasteland-quarry. Yet we are also in the world of a film-maker, one half of the Humanimals who is now one half of a group called the Floral Clocks (greetings to the other half, Gabriel White, here with us tonight)… We are in the world of a man- or person-of-letters, an exemplary citizen of Aotearoa, a Buddhist, activist, free radical and traveller in the universe of postcards; a surveyor also of the lives contained in these most wistful of images and of the lives that continue to swirl around them long after they have been posted, received and put to one side.

 

Gregory O’Brien

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: David Howard awarded UNESCO Ulyanovsk residency

Writers from Slovenia and New Zealand to be the first participants of the Ulyanovsk UNESCO City of Literature Residency Programme

D4OrruYVUAEUk6M.png

In September, David Howard from Dunedin (New Zealand) will visit Ulyanovsk. The author is going to develop a poetic sequence set in Ulyanovsk, as well as to collaborate with a local composer on a musical setting for his texts. Howard is the author of six books, a participant of several international residencies, was awarded several literary awards, was a participant of exhibitions and performances, an editor of several books, including the book, devoted to Russian authors. His works were translated into European languages; the book «The Ones Who Keep Quiet» (Otago University Press, 2017) featured in the New Zealand Listener’s Books of the Year. David received the New Zealand Society of Authors Mid-Career Writers’ Award (2009), the University of South Pacific Poetry Prize (2011), and the University of Otago Robert Burns Fellowship (2013).

Full details here

Poetry Shelf in conversation with Elizabeth Welsh

 

 

DSC_0937.jpg

 

 

Elizabeth Welsh, Over There a Mountain, HoopLa Series, Mākaro Press, 2018

 

Elizabeth Welsh’s debut poetry collection, Over There a Mountain, is an exquisite read: surprising, absorbing, complex. She is an academic editor working for international university presses, she founded the online journal The Typewriter, and co-edited Flash Frontier. Her poetry has appeared in local and overseas journals and in 2012 she won the Auckland University Divine Muses Emerging Poets Award. She lives in Auckland with her family.

The collection brought Anne Kennedy’s marvelous Time of the Giants to mind as Elizabeth has also produced a long narrative poem made of glistening pieces and fluent lines. There is a sense of magic at work, a myth-like underlay, seams of real experience, and a satisfying blend of true and invented settings. This is the story of a daughter whose parents are mountains  – who puzzles and struggles and faces what it is to be a mountain daughter, to be with a mountain mother and a mountain father. This is fable but this is also satisfyingly human as the mountain daughter navigates how she is formed ‘by’ and ‘outside’ relationships.

Over There a Mountain was one of my favourite poetry reads of 2018.

 

Over-there-a-mountain-cover

 

 

It’s hard to know how to be    with a mother who is

a mountain. It’s hard to feel how to be   with a father

who is a mountain. It’s hard to understand how to be.

It’s hard to explain that luminous bond, that bewilderingly

stretched distance.

 

 

Paula: Narrative and character mattered so much as I read Over There a Mountain. What poetic effects were you drawn to as you wrote?

 

They were slow-moving, glistening tail-lights

in the guttering of a kasrt dawn.

 

Elizabeth: Yes, both narrative and character are central to Over There a Mountain, given its form as a narrative poem. It was actually near to completion when the poem evolved and settled into a book-length narrative (albeit split into three distinct parts – the mountain-daughter’s childhood, adulthood and last years), tracing the arc of the mountain-daughter’s life and eventual transformation. As it is involved in, or at least plays with, contemporary myth-making, the oral quality and auditory effects were particularly important to me. When I was unable to find a specific sound or rhythm, I took liberties with words, much to the confusion of my publisher at times. I remember ‘alpinic’ and ‘huffly’ both resulting in interesting discussions.

 

Paula: I love the liberties with words, the sonic playfulness, because that added to the mysteriousness, the strangeness. You hear mystery. Poetry is all the better for made up words.

I was totally captivated by the protagonist daughter – the underlying daughterness – and her electric movements. What discoveries, joys and struggles unfolded as you wrote your way into the daughter?

 

Her mountain-father found it easy, catching sight of her

in a bottle-green jersey scaling a vertiginous cliff, shoulder

blades painted with a dipped sphere of wet Cheshire moon;

 

she became all manner of oceans.

 

Elizabeth: Thank you – I’m really pleased you felt that way about the mountain-daughter. It was an interesting exercise, as I fell pregnant and gave birth to my daughter around roughly the same time (tracing my notes back, it appears the mountain-daughter began to emerge about a year before I fell pregnant when I was living far from home in south London). Whether it was timing or synchronicity or chance, I became increasingly fascinated by familial bonds and ways to refigure, disrupt, defamiliarise them. The domestic is traditionally wrought as such a safe, sanitised space, but is so expansive in its reach; it maintains such a hold on us, even as we age. And the mountain-daughter is both us and not-us, she struggles in ways we don’t and struggles in ways we do; at times, it was quite liberating to construct her character. The particular challenge for me was tracing her ‘daughterness’ – I love that word(!) – throughout her later years as a chronicle of growth, with grafts and accretions, trying to do justice to the shape her inheritance would take. I’m sure we never lose our sense of being the child of our parent(s), whatever form that relationship takes.

 

They told her the mountain stories as love stories, taking

her each dusk to pick bear’s garlic together. Not touching,

they bobbed like pendulums as she murmured: we just keep

hardening and hardening and hardening until all we are

is unfolded, thrown wide.

 

Paula: I love the way I build a setting for the narrative in my head that draws upon my own mountain experiences. Did you have real places that loomed large in your imagination?

 

Sleeping afterwards in the southern heat of a midday sun,

she dreamed of Tākaha Hill, Pancake Rocks, both faint

and singing outlines.

 

Fa!

 

Elizabeth: The collection is deeply rooted in the New Zealand landscape, so there are quite a number of real places that surface throughout the poem. But while parts of the poem are specifically geographically located – including Mount Saint Bathans, Punakaiki, Mount Peel, Tākaka Hill, Mount Aspiring, Dolomite Point, Miranda and Picton – a significant portion of the narrative is deliberately hazy as to its precise location. The Southern Alps, around the Mackenzie country, particularly Lake Tekapo and Mount John, as well as Arthur’s Pass, heavily influenced ‘the mountain-daughter’s childhood’. And the edge where the Waitākere Ranges meets the Tasman Sea provided inspiration for the final section – that wild, untamed, rugged topography ‘what is this line of sea she came to? […] Bucking the empty trug to the picketed boundary of sopping, wolfing dunes’.

Also, venturing globally, a very fortunate and well-timed encounter with the ancient Montserrat (and the Benedictine Abbey there, complete with Holy Grotto), a multi-peaked mountain range that is part of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range in Spain, spurred on the narrative and general ‘mountain thoughts’.

 

Paula: Ah maybe that is one part of the strong connections I feel with the book – like a channel for subconscious attachment- because I see the tail end of the ranges and smell the Tasman Sea from our place and I drive around the Mackenzie country and Central Otago with my partner artist.

Do you have a cluster of poetry books with which you have strong goosebump connections? Whatever they might be?

Elizabeth: Oh yes, I know what you mean – that feeling of simultaneous exhilaration and unease/disquietude. Poetry collections that I have felt an extremely strong kinship with over the years and which, without doubt, have hugely informed my creative practice include Maggie Nelson’s Bluets – these fragments/propositions change me, confront me every time I read them with their candour, urgency and meditative illumination – Anne Kennedy’s Sing-Song, Mary Oliver’s Swan, Alice Oswald’s Dart – the primal, polyvocal, experimental quality of this poem still haunts me – as well as Woods etc., Fleur Adcock’s Tigers, William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, Anna Livesey’s Ordinary Time – this collection is a true gift; it lived within arm’s reach when my daughter was very young – Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Mary Stanley’s Starveling Year, H.D.’s Helen in Egypt and for its shimmering poetic sensibility, Jessie Greengrass’ Sight.

 

 

 

 

Paula: I love this list! I haven’t read Jessie Greengrass. I have been musing on activities that augment poetry writing. For me: running, walking, gardening, cooking and of course reading. Listening to music. What activities enhance writing for you or keep it in balance?

Elizabeth: So much of my life is filled with motherhood at the moment, which enriches and enhances my writing and thinking and being in every way (although actually getting words to paper can be somewhat challenging). In particular, baking bread with my daughter each week is such a therapeutic act for us both and always leaves me poetically inspired. Tending to our garden and wild span of bush also slows me down and reminds me to be patient, to be present.

 

Two mountains encase a flushed fire,

two mountains eat hot soda damper with their daughter.

 

 

Elizabeth reads from Over There a Mountain

Mākaro Press page

Extract at Turbine / Kapohau

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jack Ross’s ‘What do you want?’

 

 

What do you want?

 

 

said the librarian

in Friendly Feilding

to come in from the cold

was my reply

 

we’re closing an hour early

for a function

the function I’d driven down for

I walked away

 

he’s crying

but he doesn’t know

why he’s crying

said my sister

 

to the primer one teacher

who wanted to know why

I guess I do too

I guess I do

 

I was small and afraid

of a brand-new place

so many people

but what remains

 

is kindness

my sister

trying to help

unavailingly

 

Jack Ross

 

 

Jack Ross’s novel The Annotated Tree Worship was highly commended in the 2018 NZ Heritage Book Awards. He has written five poetry collections and six other volumes of fiction. He works at Massey University, and is the managing editor of Poetry New Zealand. His blogs here.