Category Archives: NZ poetry

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Brian Turner – an unpublished poem and a new book

 

In the Middle of Nowhere

 

On a late winter morning when driving east towards Ranfurly

pale grey fog’s smothering most of the land from Wedderburn

to Naseby, Kyeburn, Kokonga, Waipiata, Hamilton’s, Patearoa

and beyond. And I’m thinking how often we’re told we live

in the middle of nowhere: that nowadays people everywhere

are categorised, seen as somewheres, anywheres, or nowheres,

and that, in particular, this place is empty, needs more people.

So it goes. In ‘Furl’ I shop at the corner Four Square, pluck

some cash from a money machine, buy a long black and two

thick egg and chive sandwiches at the E-Café, fill up with gas

at the garage and set off homewards. Then, when re-entering

the Ida Valley and emerging into sharp sunlight, and wondering,

yet again, whether what is ever present always feels burdened

by the past, everywhere one looks – north south east and west –

bulky hills and shining mountains glisten with heavy snow.

And, oddly perhaps, so-called nowhere’s nowhere to be found.

 

Brian Turner

 

Brian Turner was born in Dunedin in 1944. His debut collection Ladders of Rain (1978) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. He has published a number of collections including Just This which won the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry in 2010. He has received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry (2009) and was NZ Poet Laureate (2003-5).  He lives in Central Otago.

In April Victoria University Press published Brian’s Selected Poems, a hardback treasury of poetry that gains life from southern skies and soil, and so much more. When I am longing to retreat to the beauty of the south, I find refuge in one of Brian’s poems. The economy on the line, the exquisite images, the braided rhythms. Read a poem and your feet are in the current of a gleaming river, your eyes fixed on a purple gold horizon line.

 

Once in a while

you may come across a place

where everything

seems as close to perfection

as you will ever need.

from ‘Place’

 

Yet the joy of reading the Selected Poems is also in the diverse subject matter: the acerbic political bite when he considers a world under threat, the love poems, poems of his mother and his father, the elegies, the humour, the storms, the seasons. In ‘The mixing bowl’ the mother is kneading, she feeds her son cakes and scones, along with ‘a rough and tart / unstinting love’. The final stanzas catch my heart:

 

But I did not know

it would be so hard

to watch her grow,

enfeebled, toward oblivion,

her hands and face

yellow as floury

butter, her arms

white as gentled flour.

 

I love ‘In Ladbroke Grove’: a woman in a London cafe is surprised he is writer because she didn’t ‘know there were any in New Zealand.’ When she asked where New Zealand was ‘he refused to answer that because too many know anyway’. Ha!

I emailed Brain earlier in the year to see if had any new poems -and he said he had hundreds. ‘In the middle of nowhere’ is one of them – a Turner taste before you read the glorious Selected Poems. His poetry might carry you to the middle of nowhere (a fiction of course!) but his poems are rich in the sumptuous experience of somewhere. His poetry somewhere is vital, humane, illuminating. His Selected Poems is an essential volume for me and I want to keep quoting poems to you because they are so rewarding. Instead I  recommend you pack the book in your bag and take time out for a Turner retreat.

 

The dead do

sing in us, in

us and through

us, and to themselves

under their mounds of earth

swelling  in the sun, or in their

ashes that shine

as they depart on the wind.

from ‘After’ for Grahame

 

Victoria University Press page

 

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Poetry Shelf review: Starling 8 Winter 2019

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Read the journal here

I have poetry interviews on the go, poetry reviews on the go, a leaning tower of poetry books to read (this morning it toppled), questions for me to answer for my new books, a study that needs sorting after four years of intense work ( it needs to be like the clean sheet before I begin again), a house that needs spring cleaning, a veggie garden that needs weeding, fruit trees that need planting, novels that call to be read, doodles that need doodling ….. and after being awake for hours with the marine forecast and Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s pilot memoir on RNZ National all I feel like doing is making a lemon honey and ginger drink and reading the brand new Starling.

Starling is edited by Starling founder Louise Wallace and Francis Cooke and publishes the work of writers under 25 which is a very good thing. Starling always exposes me to new voices that I am dead keen to read more from.

This issues includes the work of 20 writers, an eye-opening interview with Brannavan Gnanalingam and the extra cool cover art of Jessica Thompson Carr. It is women rich, there is fire and cut and lyricism. I loved every piece of writing – no dull grey spots. Just an inspired and inspiring celebration of what young writers are doing

 

Here are a few tastes to get you linking.

Tate Fountain is a writer, actor and student in Auckland. Her tour-de -force poem ‘Dolores’ busts up form, ‘you’,  expectation and what good is poetry. It gently kicks you in the gut with ‘ashes in the back of a car’ and shakes your heart with ‘maybe craft is love and love is attention’. The pronouns are adrift as the lines stutter and break;  F Scott Fitzgerald makes an appearance, and Kandinsky. Sheez this poem electrifies. I am now on the hunt for Tate’s Letters; she describes it ‘perhaps [..] blasphemously as an extended chapbook’.

Nithya Narayanan is currently doing a conjoint degree (BA / LLB) at the University of Auckland. Her poem ‘Hiroshima’ held me in one long gasp as the mother / daughter relationship links the title to the final ‘bomb’ stanza. This is confession at its most radioactive (excuse the pun) with a rhythm that pulls and detail that hooks.

Rose Peoples is a student at Victoria University. Her poetry has appeared in Mimicry and Cordite. Her extraordinary poem ‘The Politics of Body Heat’ begins with a woman pegging washing on a line, then moves through cold and sexism, female syndromes and disappearances. You just must read it.

Think –
Have they forgotten the fear
of a cold hand on the back of the neck?
The dread of an icy whisper?
Remember this –
It is easy to disappear in the cold.

 

Morgan McLaughlin is an English lit graduate and describes herself as a fierce feminist. It shows in her poem ‘1-4’, four prose-poem pieces that subvert numerical order as clearly as they lay down a challenge to patriarchy. The writing is lucid, sharp as a blade and deliciously rhythmic.  I would love to hear this read aloud. I want to read more.

Meg Doughty recently completed an Honours degree in English at Victoria University of Wellington. She says she is a reactionary writer who is fascinated by the everyday mystic. Her poem is like two heavenly long inhalations that pick up all manner of things, herbs, birds, cats, fire, and I am caught up in the idea of poetry as breath (again, see today’s Herald!!). Then I reach the end of the poem and here is the poet breathing:

I stir
hover over the steam
and breathe in
I know how to live in this world

 

Mel Ansell is a Wellington poet whose brocade-like poem ‘Cook, Little Pot, Cook’ (I have used this term before) shimmers and sparks with surprise arrivals as I read. Ah poetry bliss where food and love and place and home rub close together.
Rebecca Hawkes is in the recently published AUP New Poets 5 with Sophie van Waardenberg and Carolyn DeCarlo. She has a cluster of poems here that show her dazzling word play, the way images and detail build so you are swimming through the poetic layers with a sense of exhilaration (it was like that when I heard her read at the launch). Her poetry is so on my radar at the moment.

I want to read more from Danica Soich.

Joy Tong is a Year 13 student at St Cuthbert’s College. ‘Tiny Love Poem‘ is pitch perfect.

Hebe Kearney is from Christchurch but is currently studying to complete her Honours in Classics at the University of Auckland. Her poem ‘Bukit Ibam, 1968’ is so divinely spare but opens up inside me, like an origami flower that unfolds family:

a story in a cage. dad,
you recount my grandmother
through the mosquito netting baking
tiny raised cakes.

 

Thanks Louise and Francis. This is a terrific issue. Now I need to head back to my long list of jobs to do before I head back down to Wellington for National Poetry Day.

 

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Frankie McMillan reads ‘The Honking of Ducks’

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‘The Honking of Ducks’ is a prose poem from Frankie’s new collection The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions, Canterbury University Press, 2019.

 

 

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short fiction writer. She has published five books including My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions, long listed for the 2017 NZ Ockham awards. In 2018 she co edited Bonsai best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. She has won a number of awards and in 2014 held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University. In 2017 she held the University of Auckland/Michael King writing residency. Her forthcoming book The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other stories will be launched by Canterbury University Press on August 31st 2019.

 

Canterbury University press author page

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Anna Jackson’s launch speech for Helen Rickerby’s How to Live

 

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Helen Rickerby, How to Live

 Helen Rickerby’s ‘Notes on the Unsilent Woman, Note 2’: ‘Perhaps the first thing you need to know is that women in ancient Athens didn’t get out much. No dinner parties, no debate, no public life. Unless you were already ruined. Or unless you were Hipparchia.’

Times have changed – and here we all are – to launch Helen Rickerby’s How to Live alongside AUP New Poets 5.

Before I talk about How to Live, I want to thank Sam Elworthy for supporting my wish to see the AUP New Poets series relaunched, for sharing my enthusiasm for poetry and projects generally, and for all he does for New Zealand poetry. I’d also like to acknowledge Elizabeth Caffin’s role in launching the series of AUP New Poets in 1999, and Anna Hodge’s support of the series under her editorship, and I’d like to thank the whole AUP team for everything they have done to support this beautiful collection of poems I love so much from Rebecca Hawkes, Sophie van Waardenberg and Carolyn DeCarlo. Most of all I want to thank the poets themselves for the extraordinary poetry which is setting this series back in motion.

I first knew Helen Rickerby when we were both fairly new poets ourselves, and I knew her poetry before I met her. I was very taken by her Theodora character in her first collection Abstract Internal Furniture, and the way the whole collection glitters with dark comedy, rapid shifts of scene, and exuberant detail. ‘I think I’ll edit out those long   silences’, she writes in one poem from that book, though even back then she was deciding to ‘leave in some of the shorter ones for effect.’

Now – several books of poetry and many years later – we have the book-length considered take on silence – and outspokenness – of How to Live: book-length because the ‘Notes on the Unsilent Woman’ which opens the book sets up questions and ideas that resonate all through the collection.

Notes on the Unsilent Woman, Note 53:

Hipparchia wrote treatises such as Philosophical Hypotheses, Epicheremas and Questions to Theodorus. Letters, jokes, philosophical refutations. All are lost. (Crates wrote Knapsack and Praise of the Lentil.)

A small note can say a lot, and it is a characteristic Rickerby move to pair the loss of intellectual history represented by Hipparchia’s lost treatises with the pointed addition of the titles of the work of Hipparchia’s more famous philosopher husband, to whose life she typically appears as a footnote, at best. His place in this note, in parentheses, after the main point is made, is just one of the many lightly undertaken total overhauls of intellectual history this book of poetry offers.

Its own title – How to Live – indicates its philosophical reach: this is a book that asks the biggest questions. The title poem references Susan Sontag, Helen Keller, Empedocles, Adorno and other philosophers and writers, alongside friends discussing the big questions in person and on facebook – ‘I am forever putting my friends in’, Helen confesses, and her friends are forever finding themselves caught up in extended conversations that take in the details, big and small, of their own lives.

The collection as a whole takes in questions such as how to choose a good fork or how to choose a house; how to read and how to listen; when we choose to suffer – ‘It all depends on / what the other choice is’ – and the question of what poetry is for, what is poetry? It is an urgent question for a poet constantly questioning her own practice, constantly experimenting with form: about the prose-like appearance of some of these poems on the page, she says, ‘I have long struggled against the tyranny of the line break. Am I afraid that if I let the words leak out, they’ll mix with oxygen and become prose?’

What happens in fact is a collection which rewrites the boundaries of poetry and prose to dazzling effect, as, for instance, the interest in portraiture that goes right back to the Theodora character of her first book now gives rise to entirely new forms of biography – the sharply comic, occasionally personal, often poignant and brilliantly illuminating verse essay on George Eliot, in thirteen numbered sections (with sub-sections); the ‘poem for three voices’ moving between the perspectives of Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein and the monster himself; the meditation on the life of Ban Zhao as palimpsest, pillow book and personal essay.

If Helen Rickerby is New Zealand’s most intellectually exciting writer (and I think she is), it is not although but because she writes always as a poet, with a poet’s interest always in form.  And it works just as well to turn the equation around to say she is one of the most formally innovative poets in New Zealand, because her interest in formal innovation is always driven by the intellectual ideas she grapples with.

And she’s funny. For all its formal interest and intellectual brilliance, what I really most love about the book is the voice – but for that, I can do no better than to hand over to Helen herself.

 

– Anna Jackson, 7 August 2019

 

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Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Sugar Magnolia Wilson picks Hera Lindsay Bird’s ‘ Kiss me harder, Abraham Lincoln’

 

Kiss me harder, Abraham Lincoln

 

In poems you can do anything you like. You can start fires, or break the law. You can break the law by starting fires. You can set fire to the house of your worst enemy. In poetry, you can have worst enemies. In real life, I’m still working on it. In terms of candidates there’s that dickhead at the salad bar, not to mention the girl who used to ring me up and scream at me, but I’ve got a new phone number now and as much as I hate the salad guy, I’d like to think that I’m a contentious citizen who wouldn’t intentionally try to burn his house down. Besides, I don’t have his address. But I’m totally onto you, salad man! In poems you can make out with whoever you like, even if they died forever ago. In poems you can say, ‘Oh Abraham Lincoln, kiss me harder.’ I have a friend who’s angry at poetry because he says it makes life more beautiful than it really is, which is a dumb reason to hate anything. Hating poetry because it makes life more beautiful is like hating ketchup on your burger because it makes your burger more delicious than it really is, or hating the swans on the lake, for making the lake seem more peaceful. Fuck off swans! How am I supposed to make an accurate emotional assessment of the lake with you gliding around like a toilet paper commercial? Sometimes all I want is a poem that feels like real life. Something directionless and frightened, without any literary subtext, or clever double meanings. Clever double meanings are like those magic eye puzzle. You can get really good at seeing the hidden picture, but in the end you’re still the asshole sitting in the library at lunchtime saying ‘I can’t believe you guys can’t see the dolphins,’ to no-one, because your friends all left hours ago. Sometimes all I want is the poet to come clean and say, ‘I have no idea how to live.’ Sometimes I just want to list some things that I like. That song ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King.’ The names of lipsticks. Poached eggs on a stack of potato cakes. Houses. Flowers. Swamps and the monsters who live in them.  The internet.

 

Hera Lindsey Bird

The poem originally appeared in Sport 40, 2012 in a slightly different version.

 

 

Sugar Magnolia Wilson on ‘Kiss me harder, Abraham Lincoln’

I had a dream a few weeks ago that I asked Hera why she’d changed the line “Fuck off swans! How am I supposed to make an accurate emotional assessment of the lake with you gliding around all serene?” to “Fuck off swans! How am I supposed to make an accurate emotional assessment of the lake with you gliding around like a toilet paper commercial”. The first iteration comes from an issue of Sport back yonky-donks ago, I think 2011 or 2012. So, I assume it was a poem written in her MA year at the IIML. It was the first time I’d read anything by Hera, and I think the first time I’d really read anything by a young New Zealand poet that really spoke to me. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew that people under 300 could have poems published in New Zealand.

I think the toilet paper version is what’s in her book, and I feel like that line got snazzed up, but, I wish it hadn’t been snazzed. I love how not loud this poem is, how it’s almost bored. I read this line in a book once that said all beautiful girls are bored. And I think this is the poem version of that, a beautiful, bored girl. I love how it’s not trying to prove anything big or deep, but at the same time it stands up and says ‘you fucking know what? Poetry can be whatever the hell you want it to be” – it hits right at the heart of what old white dudes have been telling us poetry shouldn’t be since forever. But I’m totally onto you, poetry book guy! I think I took this poem too literally. I literally wrote a poem for my MA manuscript which was JUST a list of things I liked – my friend Ada, miso soup, small glittery things in dusty corners. No one in my class liked it. But I did and it was a confusing time.

I also love that this poem is like Dorian Gray, and Keats is Dead so Fuck Me From Behind is like his bloated painting in the attic. Or maybe this poem is like Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men, and Keats is Dead is like his coked-out body lying on a velvet bed with a neon orange party hat on? See? It’s way harder than she makes it seem.

Anyway. It’s one of my all-time favourite classic NZ poems. It’s changed the way I write and I am so grateful to have encountered it when I did. I also love the poem Hooting, but Paula says I’m only allowed to write about one (she didn’t, I’m just too lazy). But read it here

 

 

Sugar Magnolia Wilson is from a valley called Fern Flat in the Far North of New Zealand. She completed her MA in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington in 2012. Her work has been published in literary journals such as Turbine, Shenandoah, Cordite, Landfall and Sport. She is co-editing an anthology of the new generation of New Zealand poets with Hannah Mettner for AUP. Auckland University Press published her debut collection Because a Woman’s Heart Is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean earlier this year.

 

Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet from Wellington. Her debut collection Hera Lindsay Bird was published with Victoria University Press in 2016, and Penguin UK in 2017, and a Laureate’s Choice Pamphlet ‘Pamper Me to Hell & Back’ came out in 2018. She is an Arts Foundation new generation recipient, winner of the 2011 Adam Prize, the 2017 Jessie McKay Prize for Best First Book, and the 2017 Sarah Broom Prize.

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jess Fiebig’s ‘Summer’

 

Summer 2016

 

that summer was heavy, thick

I felt myself weighted,

struggling to move through air

it was underwater with open eyes

breathless and pressurised

seeing everything through

the blur and sting

of sea water

 

my new breasts were tight and hard in my chest,

and I had to sleep on my back for the first time;

my body was an unfamiliar collection of bones,

brittle as shells, and freshly bleached hair.

 

it was an achingly empty summer,

it was bitten, itchy skin,

damp thighs rubbing on denim,

it was bare chested and freckled,

salt licking new scars

 

it was the season of lemons

softening in the bowl,

damp fur, and fingernails bitter and green

from tearing and linking

daisy stems

 

it was clotted black blood, sprinklers,

strawberries and razorblades,

it was warm, long nights alone

 

it was the summer of the 6 am hate poem,

the first summer the soles of my feet

grew thick and hard

and as I watched shadows stretch

and felt cool wind come off the water,

it was the summer

I fell in love with

myself.

 

Jess Fiebig

 

 

Jess Fiebig is a nationally-recognised poet, educator and performer living in Otautahi/Christchurch, New Zealand. Her writing has featured in journals such as Aotearotica, Catalyst, Landfall, takahē, Turbine, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook and Best New Zealand Poems 2018. Jess was commended in the 2017 and 2018 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competitions and was highly commended in 2019 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. Her poetry explores themes such as madness, sex, love, family violence, friendship, drugs and dislocation. Jess teaches creative writing and is a tutor at the Christchurch School for Young Writers.  Jess’s website.