Min-a-rets 10, Compound Press, editor Sarah Jane Barnett
Poetry Shelf has put me in the sublime position of receiving pretty much every poetry book and journal published in Aotearoa NZ – but I never have enough time or energy to review everything. Yes I only review books I love, but I don’t get a chance to feature all of them. There is always a hopeful pile of books and journals that have enchanted me but that I have not yet shared. I guess it is even worse this year as I have cleared space for my own writing in the mornings and I don’t want to encroach upon that. I am really grateful that most poets don’t badger me and expect superhuman efforts on a blog that runs on the currency of love and my fluctuating energy levels. I have decided to make little returns to that hopeful stack and, every now and then, share something that you might want track it down.
I sometimes pick a poetry book hoping it will offer the right dose of rescue remedy – a mix of poetic inspiration along with heart and mind sustenance. My return to Min-a-rets10 did exactly that. Poet Sarah Jane Barnett has edited an issue that is supremely satisfying. In her introduction she expresses anxiety at not being ‘cool’ or young enough to edit a journal that is to date cutting edge, experimental, younger rather older. But once she had read the 100 or so submissions, her fears were allayed. I totally agree with her summation of the Min-a-ret gathering:
In the end I had nothing to worry about. The poems I’ve selected are beautiful, painful, challenging, thought-provoking, heartbreaking and funny. They reminded me that good poems shine no matter their genre or when they were written. They make life feel intense and bright. While this issue includes mid-career poets, there’s definitely a new generation stepping forward, and I have admiration for their commitment to craft, and to sharing an authentic experience—to not conforming. That’s cool.
10 poets with art by Toyah Webb. A slender hand-bound object published by Compound Press. Within a handful of pages, the poetry prompts such diverse reactions, it is like the very best reading vacation. I laughed out loud, I stalled and mused, I felt my heart crack. Above all I felt inspired to write. That exquisite moment when you read the poetry of others that is so good you feel compelled to write a poem.
essa may ranapiri has written a counting poem from tahi to iwa, with deep-rooted personal threads that underline there are myriad ways to count self and the world and experience. Memory. Then the honeyed currents of Elizabeth Welsh’s mother poem that free floats because motherhood cannot be limited. And yes Erik Kennedy made me laugh inside and then laugh out loud as the ending took me by surprise. Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor transports me from the optician leaning in to staring at strangers to probability to ‘wow’. I am so loving the little leaps that intensify the scene.
Oh the aural genius of a Louise Wallace poem, especially when she pivots upon the word ‘trying’.
Or Joan Fleming’s line ‘Some confessions stick like stove filth’. Or Travis Tate: ‘Love is the sky, pitched black, radiant dot / of white to guide young hearts to this spot’. Or Eliana Gray’s: ‘We can’t save the people we love from drowning when it / happens on sand’.
Two list poems from Jackson Nieuwland, a witty serious funny precursor to their sublime award-winning collection I am a human being (Compound Press). And finally the laugh-out loud glorious prose poem by Rachel O’Neill where reason becomes raisin: ‘If only there was one good raisin left in the world, you think.’
Read this body-jolting issue and you will surely be inspired to get a subscription.
Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based writer, poet and performer. He was the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and represented NZ at the World Poetry Slam Champs in the US in 2019. He is the co-editor of Stasis Journal and co-editor of a forthcoming NZ Climate Change Poetry Anthology from Auckland University Press. He is a 2021 Michael King Writer-in-Residence and has words published in The Spinoff, Newsroom, Poetry New Zealand, Sport, Turbine, Landfall, and elsewhere.
Poetry is a way of bridging the faraway and the close at hand. A poem can make the achingly distant comfortingly close. Poetry can be a satisfying form of travel, whether to the other side of the world, to the past or to imagined realms. Reading poems that offer the faraway as some kind of presence, I feel such a range of emotions. Moved, yes. Goose bumps on the skin, yes. Boosted, yes. This is such a fertile theme, I keep picturing a whole book moving in marvellous directions.
I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who continue to support my season of themes.
if you can you can try to recall
the sun across the roof and you
knee-deep in childhood playing
near the fence with the storm
of daisies still impressionable
in the way of dreams still
believing leaves had voices
and you might then remember
curtains drowned in burnished light
how at night the sky emptied
into a field of stars leaching out
the guilt you’d soon forget unlike
the woman you called Nana who kept
knitting you hats while you kept not
writing back and maybe then you’d know
the injustices you had no part in
the lady who bought your house how
she ravaged your kingdom while
you were away oh these memories
spiralling into memories into
nothing this helter skelter art of
remembering this bending
over backwards running out of light
from Mayhem Literary Journal, Issue 6 (2018)
Acknowledgement to David Eggleton
She said we discussed post
structuralism in a post modern
context. She said in order
to remember such crucial
poetic phrases she had bought
a small exercise book in which
to record them.
It was, she said, a book
of semantic importance.
She said we considered
the deception of disjointed
parody and the fragmentation
of shallow consumer culture.
I can only remember
in her pale blue cardigan
in a zither of light.
from Four French Horns, HeadworX, 2004
I want to paint my nails apricot as an homage to call me by your name and the fake italian summer I had last year —
fake because I didn’t cycle beside slow streams or in slow towns
Instead I lay on a 70 euro pinstripe lounger and couldn’t see the water only other tourists
And the apricots I ate came from peach spritzes at sea salt restaurants and clouded supermarket jars
But all the shops are shut and the closest nail colour I have is dark red
I want to be somewhere in northern italy with light green water and deep green conversations
I want to pick fresh apricots from drooping branches and kiss a boy I shouldn’t on cobblestone paths against cobblestone walls
I want to lick a love heart on to his shoulder so that when he gets on a train my hands shake like a thunderstorm
and I can’t cycle home past the fields we held each other in and mum has to pick me up from the station
I want to walk down a staircase with winter at the bottom waiting to sweep me into snow
I want the phone to ring when the sky is white and hear an apricot voice ripe and ready to be plucked from the tree
he’ll say how are you and I’ll slowly leak
from Stasis 5 May 2020, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor
Wearing Katherine Mansfield’s Shawl
Seventy years on, shut
in a cardboard box in the basement
of City Hall, you might think
the shawl would have lost
its force to charm, the airy fragrance
of its wearer departed, threads
stripped bare as bones,
yet here it is, another short story:
it felt like love at the Hôtel
d’Adhémar the moment you placed
the silk skein around my shoulders,
the dim red and rusty green fabric
and a fringe gliding like fingertips
over my arm, a draught of bitter
scent – Katherine’s illness,
Virginia’s sarcasm – and
yes, a trace of wild gorse
flowers and New Zealand, not
to mention the drift of her skin
and yours during the photograph,
the stately walk through the town.
from Where Your Left Hand Rests, Godwit, Random House, 2010
On the occasion of the Sew Hoy 150th Year Family Reunion, September 2019
Here in this earth you once made a start
home treasure watered with sweat, new seeds
a fire you can light and which gives off sparks
the gleam of gold glowing in darkness
an open door, warm tea, friendships in need
here on this earth you once made a start
sometimes you imagined you left your heart
elsewhere, a woman’s voice and paddies of green
a fire which was lit, remembering its sparks
but even halfway round the world, shoots start
old songs grow distant, sink into bones unseen
here in this earth you can make a new start
with stone and wood you made your mark
built houses of diplomacy and meaning
a new fire was lit, with many sparks
flame to flame, hand to hand, heart to heart
150 years, sixteen harvests of seed
here, in this earth, you once made a start
A fire was once lit. We all are its sparks.
Once, I climbed a tree
too tall for climbing
and threw my voice out
into the world. I screamed.
I hollered. I snapped
innocent branches. i took the view
as a vivid but painful truth gifted
to me, but did not think to lay down
my own sight in recompense.
All I wanted was someone to say
they could hear me, but the tree said
that in order to be heard I must
first let silence do the heavy lifting
and clear my mind of any
questions and anxieties
such as contemplating whether
I am the favourite son. If I am not,
I am open to being a favourite uncle
or an ex-lover whose hands still cover
the former half’s eyes. I’ll probably never
have children of my own to disappoint
so I’ll settle for being famous instead
with my mouth forced open on TV like
a Venus fly-trap lip-synching for its life.
The first and last of everything
are always connected by
the dotted line of choice.
If there is an order to such things,
then surely I should resist it.
from he’s so MASC, Auckland University Press, 2018
drawing blank amber cartridges in windows
from which we see children hanging, high fires
of warehouse colours, a reimagining, my city fluttering
far and further away with flags netted
and ziplining west to east, knotted
and raining sunshine,
paving cinder-block-lit-tinder music in alleys
where we visit for the first time, signal murals
to leapfrog smoke, a wandering, my city gathering
close and closer together a wilderness
of voices shifting over each other
and the orchestra,
constructing silver half-heresies in storefronts
to catch seconds of ourselves, herald nighttimes
from singing corners, a remembering, my city resounding
in and out the shout of light on water
and people on water, the work of day
and each other,
my city in the near distance fooling me
into letting my words down, my city visible
a hundred years from tomorrow,
coming out of my ears and
until i am disappeared someways and no longer
finding me to you
I call it my looming
dread, like the mornings I wake
crying quietly at the grey
in my room, like whispering to my sleeping
mother – do I have to
like the short cuts I can’t take
like the standing outside not breathing
like my hand on the doorknob
counting to twenty and twenty
from Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Victoria University Press, 2004
I am coming home to myself
my mother going away from herself.
Every move you make
so much slower now, mother
like your body is trying to keep pace
with your mind
everything about you reads as
but sometimes I read as
FUCK THIS! silently salts my tongue
a tight fist slamming the steering wheel
gas under my foot
tears choking my ears
smoke swallowing my chest.
I am a mother:
Mothering her son,
a motherless daughter mothering her mother.
It’s hard somedays not to be swallowed.
from full broken bloom, ala press, 2017
Preparing for death is a wicker basket.
Elderly women know the road.
One grandmother worked in munitions, brown
bonnet, red stripe rampant. the other, a washerwoman:
letters from the Front would surface, tattered.
You must take the journey, ready or not.
The old, old stream of refugees: prams
of books and carts with parrots.
Meanwhile the speeches, speeches: interminable.
When the blood in your ears has time to dry: silence.
The angel will tie a golden ribbon to the basket’s rim.
You will disappear, then reappear, quite weightless.
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
from Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963- 2016, Canterbury University Press, 2017
moving away from the orchard plots,
laundry lines that sag under the macrocarpa.
moving away from the crystalline skies,
the salt-struck grasses, the train carts
and the underpasses. i astral travel
with a flannel on my head, drink litres
of holy water, chicken broth. i vomit
words into the plastic bucket, brush
the acid from my teeth. i move away,
over tussock country, along the desert
road. i chew the pillowcase. i cling
my body to the bunk. the streets
unfurl. slick with gum and cigarettes.
somebody is yelling my name. i quiver
like a sparrow. hello hello, says the
paramedic. but i am moving away from
the city lights, the steel towers.
and i shed my skin on a motorway
and i float up into the sky.
from This Is Your Real Name, Otago University Press, 2019
Black Stump Story
After a number of numberless days
we took the wrong turning
and so began a slow descent
past churches and farmhouses
past mortgages and maraes
only our dust followed us
the thin cabbage trees were standing
in the swamp like illustrations
brown cows and black and white and red
the concrete pub the carved virgin
road like a beach and beach like a road
two toothless tokers in a windowless Toyota
nice of you to come no one comes
down here bro – so near and
yet so far – it takes hours
not worth your while –
turned the car and headed back
shaggy dogs with shaggy tales
from Fool Moon, Auckland University Press, 2004
Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Tusiata’s most recent collection The Savage ColoniserBook won The Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Poetry Book 2021.
Murray Edmond, b. Kirikiriroa 1949, lives in Glen Eden. 14 books of poetry (Shaggy Magpie Songs, 2015, and Back Before You Know, 2019 most recent); book of novellas (Strait Men and Other Tales, 2015); Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing (2014); editor, Ka Mate Ka Ora; dramaturge for Indian Ink Theatre. Forthcoming: Time to Make a Song and Dance: Cultural Revolt in Auckland in the 1960s, from Atuanui Press in May, 2021.
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a Christchurch poet and non-fiction writer. A poetry collection, Blood Ties: selected poems, 1963-2016 was published by Canterbury University Press in 2017. A memoir, Now When It Rains came out from Steele Roberts in 2018. He makes his living as a stay-at-home puppy wrangler for Hari, a Jack Russell-Fox Terrier cross. Hari ensures that little writing takes place, while psychogeography and excavating parks happen daily. Recent work has appeared in Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, an essay on prison reform, and poetry; also, an inclusion in The Cuba Press anthology, More Favourable Waters – Aotearoa Poets respond to Dante’s Purgatory.
Grace Iwashita-Taylor, breathing bloodlines of Samoa, England and Japan. An artist of upu/words led her to the world of performing arts. Dedicated to carving, elevating and holding spaces for storytellers of Te Moana nui a Kiwa. Recipient of the CNZ Emerging Pacific Artist 2014 and the Auckland Mayoral Writers Grant 2016. Highlights include holding the visiting international writer in residence at the University of Hawaii 2018, Co-Founder of the first youth poetry slam in Aoteroa, Rising Voices (2011 – 2016) and the South Auckland Poets Collective and published collections Afakasi Speaks (2013) & Full Broken Bloom (2017) with ala press. Writer of MY OWN DARLING commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company (2015, 2017, 2019) and Curator of UPU (Auckland Arts Festival 2020).
Pippi Jean is eighteen and just moved to Wellington for her first year at Victoria University. Her most recent works can be found in Landfall, Starling, Takahe, Mayhem, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook among others.
Fiona Kidman has written more than 30 books and won a number of prizes, including the Jann Medlicott Acorn Fiction Prize for This Mortal Boy. Her most recent book is All the way to summer:stories of love and longing. She has published six books of poems.In 2006, she was the Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton. The poem ‘Wearing Katherine Mansfield’s shawl ‘is based on an event during that time. Her home is in Wellington, overlooking Cook Strait.
Renee Liang is a second-generation Chinese New Zealander whose parents immigrated in the 1970s from Hong Kong. Renee explores the migrant experience; she wrote, produced and nationally toured eight plays; made operas, musicals and community arts programmes; her poems, essays and short stories are studied from primary to tertiary level. In recent years she has been reclaiming her proud Cantonese heritage in her work. Renee was made MNZM in 2018 for Services to the Arts.
Anuja Mitra lives in Auckland. Her writing has appeared in Takahe, Mayhem, Cordite Poetry Review, Starling, Sweet Mammalian, Poetry Shelf and The Three Lamps, and will appear in the AUP anthology A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand. She has also written theatre and poetry reviews for Tearaway, Theatre Scenes, Minarets and the New Zealand Poetry Society. She is co-founder of the online arts magazine Oscen.
Elizabeth Morton is a teller of poems and tall tales. She has two collections of poetry – Wolf (Mākaro Press, 2017) and This is your real name (Otago University Press, 2020). She has an MLitt in creative writing from the University of Glasgow, and is completing an MSc in applied neuroscience at King’s College London. She likes to write about broken things, and things with teeth.
Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet and performer. Her work has been part of various journals and collaborations. She has a deep interest in music and used to be a french horn player.
Chris Tse is the author of two poetry collections published by Auckland University Press – How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards) and HE’S SO MASC – and is co-editor of the forthcoming Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers From Aotearoa.
Rhegan Tu‘akoi is a Tongan/Pākehā living in Pōneke. She is a Master’s student at Victoria and her words have appeared in Turbine | Kapohau, Mayhem and Sweet Mammalian. She has also been published in the first issue of Tupuranga Journal
I Am in Bed with You, Emma Barnes, Auckland University Press, 2021
I am in bed with you. The room varies. But I’m always on the
left. I am pulling the pieces of myself into myself. In the winter
I left myself behind in the 90s. I’m coming back now. You
can see the light touching me. I can see layers of tissue finally
making a body. And once I have a body I have a head. And in
my head are these thoughts. I can’t tell you what it is like with
words. You can hold my hand and feel my pulse, but I was in
1994. I didn’t like
it there. When I am getting through days I don’t even know I
am making it. I am the legume in that story about royalty. And
then on the other side I open up like a lake into a river. I can
survey the lean fields of my insides as if I am owner of all
those glistening blades. In 1994 I was fourteen. I buried some-
thing back there. I buried it alive in a biscuit tin. This winter
makes choices I’d have made differently. Your mother cooked
a roast chicken every
Saturday unless a larger animal had died. (…)
from ‘I am in bed with you’
Emma Barnes’s debut collection I Am in Bed with You is a sublime read. Their poems hit such pitch-perfect notes any attempt to share my reading engagements will fall short. It’s like when someone asks why you like this painting or this song or this poem and all you can say I love it. Get the book. Find your own engagements.
And yet this book haunts me to the degree I want to talk about it with you. There are three sections: ‘This is a creation myth’, ‘Sigourney Weaver in your dreams’ and ‘The Run-Around’.
There is a moving acknowledgements page. I love this page. In fact I am loving this choice in a number of recent publications – tributes paid to the communities and individuals that a book is in debt to. Emma begins by saying: ‘The most important thank you for any Pākehā writer is to mihi the mana whenua of Aotearoa for their generosity in the face of continued acts non-consent and disrespect by us, their Treaty partners. I am truly privileged to be a treaty partner, to have this place to stand and to receive repeated gifts and offerings of manaakitanga.’
Emma thanks a high-school teacher and her publisher Sam Elworthy (Auckland University Press) who prompted her ‘to transform reluctance into curiosity’. I love this too. A publisher who is nurturing all manner of vital poetry collections and connections into the world (think A Clear Dawn, AUP New Poets 8). And of course friends and family. Taking time to offer such a heartfelt mihi matters.
Emma’s collection refreshes a joy in sentences. This is a book where sentences are the exquisite building blocks of poetry. Crafted with an ear attuned to sound, rhythm and chords, and an eye for movement that may startle, dazzle, draw you in closer.
The opening poem in the opening section is akin to a creation myth; an original origin story: inventive funny fabulous. The poems that follow resemble creation episodes; the speaker is vulnerable and bold in their self exposures, in the creating and making of self, dismissed body, gendered self, self expectation. The mother is missing, longed for or discounted. Being woman being man being another is faced. The sentences are off-real surreal cloaked hyper-real skating and free-sliding from feeling to nothing to question to admission to nothing to strange detail to wounding edge to invisibility to laugh out loud. To being unbearably moved.
Sigourney Weaver tells me that desire has a hard edge. The end. The
limit it enforces by virtue of its own inevitability. She’s been reading
the internet again. Sigourney Weaver says that our bodies are wishes
made from DNA and that time and time again we defeat ourselves with
our limited thinking. Always imagining edges. The edge of desire
is only there because we out it there. And we put it there because we
can’t make sense of a world where we could desire and act in equal
measure. Trust Sigourney Weaver to get me tied up in knots without any
rope. Not even the tiniest string around my finger. I like a boundary,
Sigourney Weaver. I like clear statements. I like small words. (…)
from ‘Sigourney Weaver confronts the limits of desire’
The middle section of poems stars Sigourney Weaver. If you want to hang out with a famous film star you can do it in a sequence of poems and then you get to choose how things will pan out. The speaker is hanging out with Sigourney in Aro Valley. They rent movies, kiss, take ecstasy, kiss, have an android baby. It is wickedly funny, so so funny, with a twist of weird and strange and creepy. Sigourney buys a place, a van, becomes a citizen, and in all the curious surreal twists – exhilarating, hilarious, uplifting – your heart is consistently tugged. Look to the weird and you find the ordinary: house-moving cartons, dresses and pigtails, ballgowns, mint-flavoured life savers. This sweetly crafted sequence also finds sustenance in the joy of the sentence.
The final section’s refrain is love. Love poems that are like prismatic love songs with shifting chords and rhythms, the ‘you’ elusive and on the move. In the other sections poems are given breathing-space as they break apart into stanzas. Here the poems appear as dense paragraphs – framed by the white space of breath yes – but catching love’s intensity, love as unfathomable, physical, intimate, complicated, hard to say. Again there is a glorious sway between the weird and the surreal and a familiar heart-grasp of relationships, aloneness, closeness. You can’t breathe as you read, as you feel.
Emma has produced a collection unlike any other I know with its unifying addiction to the sentence, and motifs that go deeper than surface beacons: think age, body expectations, gender, the making of self, the lasting effects of childhood, experiences that bite, disappearing acts, love, desire, more love, more desire. You will meet dreams and demons and epiphanies. Writing is musing, reflecting back, side-drifting, inventing, confessing. You will revel in the joy (and pain) of writing, and yes writing becomes, and yes writing is a form of becoming. Extraordinary.
Emma Barnes studied at the University of Canterbury and lives in Aro Valley, Wellington. Their poetry has been widely published for more than a decade in journals including Landfall, Turbine | Kapohau, Cordite and Best New Zealand Poems. They are currently co-editing with Chris Tse an anthology of LGBTQIA+ and takatāpui writing from Aotearoa New Zealand for Auckland University Press.
The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, Otago University Press, 2021
David Eggleton is a poet and writer of Palagi, Rotuman and Tongan descent based in Dunedin. He has published a number of poetry collections, and has also released a number of recordings with his poetry set to music by a variety of musicians and composers. He is the former Editor of Landfall and Landfall Review Online as well as the Phantom Billstickers Cafe Reader. His book The Conch Trumpet won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. In 2016, he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. His most recent poetry collection is The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, published by Otago University Press in May 2021. He is the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2019 – 2022.
Grace Iwashita-Taylor, breathing bloodlines of Samoa, England and Japan. An artist of upu/words led her to the world of performing arts. Dedicated to carving, elevating and holding spaces for storytellers of Te Moana nui a Kiwa. Recipient of the CNZ Emerging Pacific Artist 2014 and the Auckland Mayoral Writers Grant 2016. Highlights include holding the visiting international writer in residence at the University of Hawaii 2018, Co-Founder of the first youth poetry slam in Aoteroa, Rising Voices (2011 – 2016) and the South Auckland Poets Collective and published collections Afakasi Speaks (2013) & Full Broken Bloom (2017) with ala press. Writer of MY OWN DARLING commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company (2015, 2017, 2019) and Curator of UPU (Auckland Arts Festival 2020 & Kia Mau Festival 2021). Currently working on next body of work WATER MEMORIES.
‘A poem is / a ripple of words / on water wind-huffed’
from ‘Wind, Song and Rain’ in Sap-wood & Milk, Caveman Press, 1972
The ocean is my go-to salve. Before we went into level-four lockdown last year, I went to Te Henga Bethells Beach near where I live. I stood by the water’s edge as the sun was coming up. The air was clear and salty. Not a soul in sight. I breathed in and I breathed out, and I saved that sublime moment for later. Like a screen shot. Over the ensuing weeks in lockdown, I was able to return to that spot, my eyes on the water, my senses feeding on wildness and beauty. Look through my poetry collections and you will see I can’t keep the ocean out. It is always there somewhere.
Unsurprisingly there is a profusion of water poems in Aotearoa – think the ocean yes, but lakes and rivers and floods and dripping taps. This was an impossible challenge: whittling all the poems I loved down to a handful. I hadn’t factored in leaving poems out when I came up with my theme-season plan. Some poets are particularly drawn to water. Kiri Piahana-Wong’s sublime collection Night Swimming is like an ode to water. The same can be said of Lynn Davidson’s glorious collections How to Live by the Sea and The Islander. Or read your way through Apirana Taylor’s poems and you will find they are water rich – and his poetry flows like water currents. As does the poetry of Hone Tuwhare. Again water rich. And of course the poetry of Dinah Hawken, with her lyrical eye bringing the natural world closer, water a constant companion.
I have so loved this water sojourn. The poems are not so much about water but have a water presence. I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who continue to support my season of themes.
Girl from Tuvalu
girl sits on porch
back of house
salt water skimming
like her nation
nowhere to go
held up by
An Inconvenient Truth
this week her name is Siligia
next week her name will be
Girl from Tuvalu: Environmental Refugee
her face is 10,000
her land is 10 square miles
she is a dot
below someone’s accidental finger
the bare-chested boys
bravado in sea spray
running on tar-seal
they are cars
they are bikes
they are fish out of water
moana waves a hand
a yellow median strip
moana laps at pole houses
in spring tide
gulping lost piglets
and flapping washing
girl sits on porch
Selina Tusitala Marsh
from Dark Sparring, Auckland University Press, 2013, picked by Amy Brown
The body began to balance itself
It started to rain
and it was not clear
if this would last a short time
or a long time
so I got my husband
and the librarian
and the owner of the local chip shop
and the humourless lady who failed me
on eyesight at the driver licence testing station
into a boat
though it was extremely cramped
and they rowed
out to the open ocean
and sat quiet
from Bad Things, Victoria University Press, 2017
The Lid Slides Back
Let me open
my pencil-case made of native woods.
It is light and dark in bits and pieces.
The lid slides back.
The seven pencils are there, called Lakeland.
I could draw a sunset.
I could draw the stars.
I could draw this quiet tree beside the water.
from The Victims of Lightning, Victoria University Press, 2010
Train of thought
I thought of vitality,
I thought of course of a spring.
I thought of the give inherent
in the abiding nature of things.
I thought of the curve of a hammock
between amenable trees.
I thought of the lake beyond it
calm and inwardly fluent
and then I was thinking of you.
You appeared out of the water
like a saint appearing from nowhere
as bright as a shining cuckoo
then dripping you stood in the doorway
as delighted by friendship as water
and beaming welcomed us in.
The ripples are small enough. The lake surface is the lake surface is the lake surface. All lakes exist in the same space of memory. Deep dark water. The scent of stones. I think of a swift angle to depth. I think of the sound when you’re underwater and the gravel shifts beneath your feet. I think of all the colours of water that look black, that look wine dark, that look like youth looking back at me. I can barely take it. I can see the lake breathing. I am the lake breathing. The lake breathes and I breathe and the depth of both of us is able to be felt by finger, by phone, by feeling. Don’t ask what you don’t want to know. I ask everything. I want to know nothing, everything, just tell it all to me. The gravel shifts again with the long-range round echo of stones underwater. I am separate parts breathing together. You say that I am a little secret. You say, as your brain seizes, that you have lost the way. Your eyes flicker and flutter under your eyelids as you try to find what’s lost, what’s gone forever. Nothing can really be found. I am never located when I want to be located the most. I am instead still that teenager on the side of the road with a cello hard case for company. I forget I exist. You forget I exist. I’ve forgotten I’ve believed I’ve not existed before. I’ve not forgotten you. Never forgotten your face. Could never. Would never. I don’t know how to communicate this with you in a way that you’ll understand. My mouth waters. I am back in the lake again. Except I’m the lake and I’m water myself.
To the stone, to the hill, to the heap, to the seep,
to the drip, to the weep, to the rock, to the rill,
to the fell, to the wash, to the splash, to the rush,
to the bush, to the creep, to the hush;
to the down, to the plain, to the green, to the drift,
to the rift, to the graft, to the shift, to the break,
to the shake, to the lift, to the fall, to the wall,
to the heft, to the cleft, to the call;
to the bend, to the wend, to the wind, to the run,
to the roam, to the rend, to the seam, to the foam,
to the scum, to the moss, to the mist, to the grist,
to the grind, to the grain, to the dust;
to the core, to the gorge, to the grove, to the cave,
to the dive, to the shore, to the grave, to the give,
to the leave, to the oar, to the spring, to the tongue,
to the ring, to the roar, to the song;
to the surge, to the flood, to the blood, to the urge
to the rage, to the rod, to the rood, to the vein,
to the chain, to the town, to the side, to the slide,
to the breadth, to the depth, to the tide;
to the neap, to the deep, to the drag, to the fog,
to the stick, to the slick, to the sweep, to the twig,
to the roll, to the tug, to the roil, to the shell,
to the swell, to the ebb, to the well, to the sea.
from Flow, Victoria University Press, 2017, picked by Amy Brown
as the tide
i am walking the path
around hobson bay point
nasturtiums grow up the cliff face
and the pitted mud has a scattering
of thick jagged pottery, bricks
faded edam cheese packaging
and a rusty dish rack
all of the green algae
is swept in one direction
i am only aware of the blanketed crabs
when a cloud passes overhead
and they escape in unison
into their corresponding homes
claws nestling under aprons
my dad talks about my depression
as if it were the tide
he says, ‘well, you know,
the water is bound to go in and out’
and to ‘hunker down’
he’s trying to make sense of it
in a way he understands
so he can show me his working
i look out to that expanse,
bare now to the beaks of grey herons, which i realise is me
in this metaphor
Ode to the water molecule
‘Our body is a moulded river.’ Novalis
Promiscuous, by some accounts,
or simply playing the field—
indecisive, yet so decidedly
yourself, you are
all these things: ice flow,
bend of a river,
on an aeroplane window, fire-
bucket or drop
in the ocean, dissolver of a morning’s
mountain range. We envy you
the way you get along
with yourself, as glacier
or humidity of
an overheated afternoon. A glass
of pitch-black water
drunk at night.
Catchment and run-off. Water,
we allow you
your flat roof and rocky bed
but there are also
tricks we have taught you:
papal fountain, water
feature, liquid chandelier and
boiling jug. It is, however,
your own mind
you make up, adept as you are
—‘the universal solvent’—
at both piecing together
and tearing apart. With or
without us, you find your own
structure, an O and two H’s
in the infinity
of your three-sidedness, your
triangulation, at once trinity
and tricycle. Two oars
and a dinghy, rowed.
Colourless, but for
‘an inherent hint of blue’,
molecule in which
we are made soluble, the sum
of our water-based parts—
resourceful, exemplary friend
kindred spirit – not one to jump to
as you would traverse a stream, but rather
as you would leap in. Fluid,
by nature—given to swimming more than
with rain as your spokesperson,
tattooed surface of a river’s
snowfall and drift,
you enter the flow
of each of us, turn us around
as you turn yourself around
first appeared (in a typeset and ‘drawn’ version) in PN Review 252, in the UK, March-April 2020.
First dusk of autumn here and i swim
through fish flicker through
little erasing tails
that rub the seafloor’s light-net out
that ink in night
down south winter warms to her task and
will arrive smelling of wet shale in
a veil of rain
bats flicker into leaves
to rub the tree-cast light-net from the grass
to ink in night
You yearn so much you could be a yacht. Your mind has already set sail. It takes a few days to arrive
at island pace, but soon you are barefoot on the sand, the slim waves testing your feet
like health professionals. You toe shells, sea glass, and odd things that have drifted for years and finally washed up here.
You drop your towel and step out of your togs, ungainly, first your right foot, then
the other stepping down the sand to stand in the water.
There is no discernible difference in temperature. You breaststroke in the lazy blue.
A guy passing in a rowboat says, ‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ And it is. Your body afloat in salt as if cured.
from Poetry, 2018, picked by Frankie McMillan
Write the sea in your heart, write the rain.
Only that. Words are a poor habit. Let
the wind slide under your ribs let the rain,
for no one will love you the way
you write to be loved,
and your name only a name – but the green
edge of a wave made knifish by light
or some hurtful winter clarity in the water:
a bright sheet of sky against the horizon as if
breathing, as if the air itself
is your own self, waiting. Only there.
And know how your heart is the green deep sea,
dark and clear and untame,
and its chambers are salt and the beating
of waves, and the waves breaking,
and the waves.
from Takahē, issue 90
Deep water talk
In honour of Hone Tuwhare
& no-one knows
if your eyes are
blurred red from
the wind, too
much sun, or the
tears streaking your
face that could be
tears or just lines of
dried salt, who
& you never can tell
if you are seasick,
drunk, or just
symptoms are the
& sea and sky merge
until the horizon is
nothing but an
endless blue line
in every direction,
so that you are sailing,
not on the sea, as you
thought, but in a
perfectly blue, circular
bowl, never leaving
& you wonder who
is moving, you or
the clouds racing
by the mast-head
& you wonder if
those dark shapes
in the water are
sharks, shadows, or
nothing but old fears
chasing along behind
& the great mass of
land recedes, you
forget you were
feeling the pull
of ancient genes
—in every tide, your
blood sings against
& food never tasted
so good, or water
never conserved water
by drinking wine
and coke; and rum
and coke; and can
after can of cold
& your sleep is
by the roar of traffic
on the highway,
but by the creaks
and twangs of your
ship as she pitches
and moans through
the dark ocean,
& you wonder—
where did that bird,
that great gull perching
on the bowsprit,
from Night Swimming, Anahera Press, 2013
Emma Barnes lives and writes in Pōneke / Wellington. They have just released their first book I Am In Bed With You. For the last two years they’ve been working with Chris Tse on an anthology of LGBTQIA+ and Takatāpui writing to be released this year by Auckland University Press. They work in Tech and spend a lot of time picking heavy things up and putting them back down again.
Airini Beautrais lives in Whanganui and is the author of four poetry collections and a collection of short fiction. Her most recent poetry collection is Flow: Whanganui River Poems (VUP 2017). Bug Week and Other Stories recently won the Ockham NZ Book Fiction Award 2021.
James Brown’sSelected Poems was published by VUP in 2020. He is working on a new book.
Lynn Davidson’s latest poetry collection Islander is published by Shearsman Books and Victoria University Press. She had a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 and a Bothy Project Residency at Inshriach Bothy in the Cairngorms in 2016. In 2011 she was Visiting Artist at Massey University. She won the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Award, 2020 and is the 2021 Randell Cottage Writer in Residence. Lynn has a doctorate in creative writing and teaches creative writing. She recently returned to New Zealand after four years living and writing in Edinburgh.
Dinah Hawken lives and writes in Paekakariki. Her ninth collection of poetry, Sea-light, will be published by Victoria University Press in August, 2021.
Lily Holloway is a queer nacho-enthusiast. She is forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8 and you can find her work here.
Olivia Macassey’s poems have appeared in Poetry New Zealand, Takahē, Landfall, Brief, Otoliths, Rabbit and other places. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and The Burnt Hotel (Titus). Her website
Bill Manhire founded the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington, which a little over 20 years ago became the International Institute of Modern Letters. His new book Wow is published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and Carcanet in the UK.
Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FRSNZ) is the former New Zealand Poet Laureate and has performed poetry for primary schoolers and presidents (Obama), queers and Queens (HRH Elizabeth II). She has published three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Fast Talking PI (2009), Dark Sparring (2013), Tightrope (2017) and an award-winning graphic memoir, Mophead (Auckland University Press, 2019) followed by Mophead TU (2020), dubbed as ‘colonialism 101 for kids’.
Gregory O’Brien recently completed a new collection of poems Streets and Mountains and is presently working on a monograph about artist Don Binney for AUP.
Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. She lives in Auckland.
Mere Taito is a poet living and working in Kirikiriroa. She is interested in the way poetry can be used to revitalise minority Indigenous languages like Fäeag Rotuạm ta.
Louise Wallace is the author of three collections of poetry published by Victoria University Press, most recently Bad Things. She is the founder and editor of Starling, and is currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Otago.
How to Live with Mammals, Ash Davida Jane, Victoria University Press, 2021
Every poem in Ash Davida Jane’s new collection How to Live with Mammals is an explosion in the mouth; the intricacies and nuances last all day, and beyond. I keep saying to myself well this is my favourite, this is the one I want to dally over and dive in deep. But then I turn the page and encounter another favourite. Therein lies the joy of poetry: the way a poem can you hold you.
I am scared I am going to pin the collection down to a single idiosyncratic reading when the poetry is full of movement and surprise, revelation and comedy. I am thinking the collection faces knowing and not knowing, paying close attention both to self and to the complicated world. There is the way things slip from grasp and the way a poem marks a place – a way of being – in the world. It is rich in multiple notes like I’m holding a refracting prism that keeps hooking me with glint and gleam. Subject matter and motifs repeat like connecting bridges: mammals, food, asparagus, the body, naming, birds, trees.
The poet – the speaking voice – looks back and looks forward, and the poem becomes present participle, a glorious bearer of movement that touches the past and the present, with longing and with forgetting. Perhaps I am saying this is a book of verbs where living feels personal, enriched by imaginings and replay, punctuated by white space, the poet’s breath.
I love considering these poems within the fertility of verbs. Take looking for example. Observing. Seeing what we have lost the ability to see. Being looked at. Not being looked at. Looking back with longing. Paying attention. Looking forward. This is just one verb-al thread that offers glorious sustenance to the collection’s arc. This from a poem that mourns a world affected by climate change:
I pay daily attentions to colour
7am waiting at the bus stop under
a sulphur-red sky
burnt at the edges where it
sticks to the horizon
fading to a midday dull white sheen
the ocean a room of
mirrors reflecting itself
the edges of waves tinged pink
like we’re on another planet
but we’re exactly
where we’ve always been
except there’s a PE teacher
pushing us to go faster than we want to
jogging into an apocalyptic future
in polyester shorts
You could track the naming of things, the vanished names, the recalled names, the way names matter. You could trace the talking thread, self talk, alone talk, intimate talk, talking in a crowded room. You could take the bridge from assumed point of view to the poet’s place to other shoes. The poet steps into another character after her partner jokes that she’s his ‘farm wife / in my long brown skirt / and beige sweater / sleeves rolled up’. She steps into the walking shoes of Dorothy Wordsworth, borrowing lines, overlaying English lake with flittery fantail and a shared moon.
the bees emerging
from their wooden house
mistake me for
a flower and for
a moment I am one
hopelessly lacking in pollen
swaying in the breeze
and taking up space
standing still in the mud
unmaking myself amid
leaves I’ve seen a thousand times
and never wondered the names of
some trees putting out red shoots
query: what trees are they?
from ‘walking with Dorothy’
The reading rewards of Ash’s poetry are numerous. A single poem might make you laugh, recoil, identity, empathise, leap unexpectedly, gather facts, process feelings. ‘marine snow’ provoked such movement. Crikey I love this poem that moves from underwater swimming to a hatred of swimming, especially when the instructor tells the three year old a crab lives on the bottom of the pool, to the grief of last things to the grief of last things flowing into other things ( ‘the pot of coffee / is in mourning / now / the laundry / drips wet tears’) to the fact it snows underwater. Glorious. Sad. Challenging.
I don’t want to limit this book to narrow pathways and dead ends. I want you to find your own bridges and sidetracks, to leap and dive deep. Expect to be embraced in the scene. Expect heat shimmer steam. Expect the lucid and the poignant. I’m in love with these poems, every single one of them.
Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in Mimicry, Sweet Mammalian, Starling, The Spinoff and elsewhere. Her first book, Every Dark Waning, was published in 2016 by UK indie publisher Platypus Press. She lives in Wellington, where she works as a bookseller.
Pip Adam’s launch speech via Victoria University Press page
there are captain cooks amongst us too – bullies, throwing their weight around
they think they are the centre of the room but that’s only because they have never been anywhere but there they have no idea about the edges or even how far the room extends one day they will realise that we in the corners are really in other centres they will realise there are no corners no walls
is it a room? is it a room then, when there are no walls?
i used to want to tell them to move over because they take up all the room but there’s no room there is no room
no walls, no room – just links and connections and space
you’re not at the centre; there are no centres you’re just standing there one node in a massive network like the rest of us
Alice Te Punga Somerville
Alice Te Punga Somerville (Te Āti Awa, Taranaki) is a scholar, poet and irredentist. Her poetry has been published in various venues including Ōrongohau: Best New Zealand Poems 2018, Te Rito o te Harakeke, Tātai Whetū, 4th floor, Puna Wai Kōrero, Ora Nui, Mauri Ola and Whetū Moana. Her scholarly publications include Once Were Pacific: Maori Connections to Oceania (Minnesota 2012) and 250 Ways To Start an Essay about Captain Cook (BWB 2020).