Category Archives: NZ poetry

Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Elizabeth Smither picks Kendrick Smithyman

 

Cutty Sark

 

In company with Cutty Sark at sea

only once, on Himalaya off Brazil.

They sailed into the doldrums.

Day after day another sail came into sight,

would lose the wind, then idle.

Forty-two ships counted from the masthead.

 

Sent up with a glass at daybreak

to mark if anything stirred, reported

a clipper coming from the south carrying

canvas, the mate observing from the poop

later was first to say ’That’s Cutty Sark.’

They watched her through the day.

At last she was hull down, northing,

had sailed right through the might as well

have been derelict fleet, forty-plus of them,

some getting on for four weeks there.

 

That’s what poetry may be about, the impossible

part of it which achieves insubstantial

fact, as little material as Sybil Sanderson’s

G in alt or Fonteyn’s unpredicted change

(‘if you didn’t see why I did it when I did

it then it didn’t work’) not to be described;

when seen, if seen, in a kind of dumbshow

to strike dumbstruck any who looked out

hearing something beyond likely hearing,

seeing something not likely seen, gone

without leaving words for.

 

©Kendrick Smithyman from Imperial Vistas Family Fictions (AUP, 2002)

 

 

On the poem

If you’ve ever been aboard Cutty Sark at Greenwich your head will be full of

legends. The figurehead of Nannie, the witch, clutching the tail of a horse in

her fist; The fabulous races with its rival tea clipper, Thermopylae;  the romance

of sail before the advent of steam. Kendrick Smithyman has captured all this

and more in his wonderful poem.  It begins with the facts: location, doldrums,

number of ships becalmed. Then the manifestation, like an opera star, a

ballerina assoluta. Cutty Sark appears and those lovely nautical terms: ‘carrying

canvas’, ‘hull down, northing’; the other ships might as well be derelict; Cutty

Sark cuts right through them. The last stanza, the longest, turns to the mystery

of poetry, the sighting which not everyone sees, the thing ‘not to be described’

that strikes dumb anyone who is looking or hearing, something that is moving

away as fast as Cutty Sark.

 

Elizabeth Smither

 

Elizabeth Smither, an award-wi9nning poet and fiction writer, has published eighteen collections of poetry, six novels and five short-story collections, as well as journals, essays, criticism. She was the Te Mata Poet Laureate (2001–03), was awarded an Hon D Litt from the University of Auckland and made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004, and was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2008. She was also awarded the 2014 Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature and the 2016 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection of poems, Night Horse (Auckland University Press, 2017), won the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Ockham NZ Book Award poetry finalists

The Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry
Are Friends Electric? by Helen Heath (Victoria University Press)
There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime by Erik Kennedy (Victoria University Press)
The Facts by Therese Lloyd (Victoria University Press)
Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Victoria University Press)

 

Great to see we have new sponsors, Mary and Peter Biggs, for the Poetry Category at the Book Awards.

I have featured all four finalists on my blog because I have found much to love about these books – this therefore is a moment of celebration. Of course there are books not here that I loved immensely. Poetry Shelf is whole-heatedly devoted to celebrating local books and the fact that I don’t have time to feature all my poetry loves is testimony to the excellent poetry we publish – through both big and small presses. Victoria University Press is becoming a flagship for NZ poetry – publishing at least 9 books a year of high quality and diverse scope. I applaud them for that. And all the other publishers issuing standout poetry (there are many) and the booksellers who put local poetry books on their shelves.

Thank you!

Congratulations to the four finalists! And to VUP.

 

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Listen to Helen read two poems here

Helen’s book is a complex, satisfying read with enticing layers and provocative subject matter. It is a book of seeing, strolling, collecting; as though this poet is a bricoleur and   the book is a cabinet of curious things. What I love in the poems is the shifting voice, the conversational tones. The poems that link grief with the effect of technology upon our bodies get under my skin. Most importantly there is a carousel of voices that may or may not be invented or borrowed but that make you feel something.

 

I ask if you would like a body.

You say, ‘No I’m beyond bodies now,

I’m ready to be fluid, spilling out all over.

I’m ready to spread myself so thin that I’m

a membrane over the world.’ I’m not ready.

I take off my socks and shoes and walk

over a patch of grass very slowly.

 

from ‘Spilling out all over’

 

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Erik’s first-full length collection sparks with multiple fascinations, experience, thought, wit, politics, optical delights and aural treats. It is a book of harmonics and elastic thinking, and is a pleasure to read. The collection navigates eclectic subject matter but I was initially drawn to the interplay between a virtual world and a classical world. I began to muse on how poetry fits into movement between the arrival of the internet and a legacy of classical knowledge. I also love the idea of poetry reacting to collisions, intersections, juxtapositions. Interestingly when I was jotting down notes I wrote the words ‘detail’, ‘things’ and ‘juxtaposition’ but not just for the embedded ideas. Yes, the detail in the poems is striking in itself, but I was drawn to the ‘static’ or the ‘conversation’ or ‘kinetic energy’ between things as I read.

 

Two feet of snow at my parents’ place, in another season.

Here, the cicadas sing like Christian women’s choirs

in a disused cotton mill. Belief is a kind of weather.

I haven’t seen proper snow for three years.

 

from ‘Letter from the Estuary’

 

 

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Therese’s new collection resides in a captivating interplay of chords. You could say that any poetry book delivers chords whether aural, visual or thematic, and in the light of ideas and feelings. This book does it to a stunning degree. Once you start hunting for them – whether in harmony or not, between poems or within a single example – the rewards are myriad. At the core of the book the title poem, the standout-lift-you-off-your-feet poem, achieves a blinding intensity: raw, surprising, probing, accumulative, fearless. I particularly love the surprising turns of ‘Mr Anne Carson’. Therese’s collection takes you deep into personal experience that gets hooked up in the poetry of another (Anne Carson), in matted ideas and the need to write as a form of survival. It makes you feel as much as it makes you think. It is a riveting read.

 

For three months I tried

to make sense of something.

I applied various methods:

logic, illogic, meditation, physical exertion,

starvation, gluttony. Other things too

that are not necessarily the opposite of one another,

writing and reading for example.

 

from ‘The Facts’

 

 

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Tayi’s debut collection, Poūkahangatus, has already and understandably attracted widespread media attention. The poetry is utterly agile on the beam of its making; and take ‘beam’ as you will. There is brightness, daring and sure-footedness. The poems move in distinctive directions: drawing whanau close, respecting a matrilineal bloodline (I adore this!), delving into the dark and reaping the light, cultural time-travelling, with baroque detail and sinewy gaps. The collection charts the engagement of a young, strong woman with her worlds and words  – and the poetic interplay, the sheer joy and magnetism of the writing, is addictive. I treasure this book for its kaleidoscopic female relations and views of women; and the way women are the vital overcurrents and undercurrents of the collection. Above all I loved the kaleidoscopic effect of the book; the way it is edgy and dark and full of light. The way it catches living within popular culture and within family relations, the way it carries sharp ideas and equally sharp feelings.

 

Poūkahangatus

in 1995 I was born and Walt Disney’s Animated Classic Pocahontas was

released. Have you ever heard a wolf cry to the blue corn moon? Mum has.

I howled when my mother told me Pocahontas was real but went with John

Smith to England and got a disease and died. Representation is important.

 

from ‘Poūkahangatus’

 

I am not a journalist punting on a winner – I am a poetry fan and have read all these books several times – any one of these books deserves to win. A toast from me x.

Poetry Shelf review: Dinah Hawken’s There is no harbour

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cover image by Marian Maguire

 

When I trained in social work

in 1968—the year we saw Earth from space—

I found the History of New Zealand

could shake me like an earthquake

and make me cry.

 

from ‘”All the history that did not happen'”

 

Dinah Hawken’s eighth poetry collection, There is no harbour (Victoria University Press, 2019), presents three entwined Taranaki strands. The first comprises her family history during the years of early Pākehā settlement, the second a brief history of the Taranaki wars and the third reveals her thoughts and feelings as she researched and wrote her long poem. Dinah always gifts her poetry with musicality, breathing room, heart and contemplation. This new book is no exception. It is an addictive mix that inspires me as both reader and writer.

In her brief frontnote Dinah writes:

The completion of the poem has not lead me to any sense of resolution. It has led to something less measurable, perhaps more valuable—greater clarity, particularly of the depth of injustice Māori have endured in Taranaki. At the same time it has strengthened my attachment and my gratitude to my great and great-great grandparents, whom I know as essentially good people. And it has led me back to Parihaka: to profound respect for Te Whiti and Tohu, the art of leadership, the art of passive resistance, and their refusal of human war.

Dinah brings together family voices, anecdotes, settings, facts and musings to re-present history in poetic form—history that was hidden, manipulated and muted in the past. She stands as a Pākehā in multiple places, searching for other points of view, other ways of seeing and feeling. I am looking through her poem view-finder and the effect is significant. I am mourning the arrogance and the atrocities, I am celebrating the courage.

 

Tītokowaru

fired his tūpara in the air

in front of 600 people

threw it down at his feet

and kicked it.

 

The evil weapon, he said,

which has caused so much mischief and ill-will

and been loaded with the blood of men,

should never hereafter

be taken up again.

 

from ‘1867, “The Year of the Daughters”‘

 

As a poet Dinah utilises economy on the line to build richness above, between and beyond. That plainness of talking makes the impact even stronger, deeper, wider.

 

Wherever you looked at it from,

whoever lived inside it,

a whare was a welcome shelter.

One in which a family could sleep,

in which a child could be born.

 

It was the kind of house

that could easily

go up in smoke. And it did.

 

from ‘Oswald, from his notebook’

 

How to imagine the past? How to imagine the cruel past? How to imagine the day and its sheen of sun on the leaves? How to imagine both sides of  an unforgivable war? How to imagine how to proceed in your Pākehā skin with your Taranaki family tree and the ancestral tree in Britain?  This is what Dinah does as she creates her chain of connections towards the present and back into the past.

Individual lines stand out and they feel like entrances into the stories I /we need to hear:

 

‘I am the beneficiary of injustice.’

 

In one poem the voices of Robin Hyde, Virginia Woolf, J. C. Sturm and Te Whiti sit side by side.

 

In 1940 Virginia Woolf said:

 

Unless we can think peace into existence

we—not this one body

but millions of bodies yet to be born—

will lie in the same darkness and hear

the same death rattle overhead

 

from ‘Found Poetry’

 

I adore this book, this contemplative, self-vulnerable exploration that faces a past that makes me feel shame, but that offers empathetic heart-lines out in the open. I can’t take it all in, in my first reading. I have read it again, and then again. There is no harbour is a vital reminder to bring our stories into the open and to keep finding ways to build peace in our homes and our villages and our cities. And our hearts. I want you to read it and find your own connections, your own lines to treasure, because this is a poetry book that matters so very very much.

 

‘Loss of possessions is a kind of freedom;

loss of land is exile’

 

This is what it comes down to:

Taranaki land was stolen.

My people—at first lost—were then

steadied by it. Pakakohe

were wrenched from it.

They were promised reserves,

instead they were jailed.

 

When you come down to it

everything comes back

to the vital, absorbing land.

And although a poem

can enclose you

like the rocky arms

of a Cornish cove,

justice is so much stronger than injustice

and this poem

has no solace to offer:

it is a phrase or two in a story

being written and woven together

by numerous, various,

generational hands.

 

©Dinah Hawken There is no harbour

 

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Geoff Cochrane launch

 

 

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Unity Books & Victoria University Press warmly invite you to hear Geoff Cochrane discuss his new poetry book ‘The Black and the White’ with fellow author Carl Shuker.

‘The Black and the White’ is a new work – witty, fearless, formidably concise – from one of the most distinctive voices in New Zealand poetry.

Geoff Cochrane is the author of seventeen collections of poetry, two novels, and Astonished Dice: Collected Short Stories (2014). In 2009 he was awarded the Janet Frame Prize for Poetry, and in 2010 the inaugural Nigel Cox Unity Books Award. Geoff received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award in 2014.

 

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Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Emer Lyons on Heather McPherson

 

 

Have you heard of Artemisia?

 

Have you heard of Artemisia of Halicarnassus,

or Cartismandua? or Camilla?

 

Have you heard of Hiera of Mysia? Or Julia

Mammaea who ruled Rome? Or Tomyris the Celtic

queen who killed great Cyrus of the invading

Medes and Persians?

 

Have you heard of Boadicea who fought

an attacking empire – who would not be a Roman

Triumph and died by her own hand?

 

Have you heard of Martia Proba, Martia the Just?

Her Martian Statue after a thousand years

was the source of Alfred’s code . . .

 

And what of Hypatia of Alexandria? head of

the School of Philosophy, logician, astronomer,

mathematician, torn to pieces by a Christian

bishop’s flock . . .

 

Have you heard of Thecla the Apostle, or Aspasia,

or Nausicaa? and if you know passionate Sappho

what of Corinna, St. Bridget, or the Lady Uallach?

and since you know Joan of Arc, should I

mention the Papess Joan or good Queen Maud,

or Philippa the beloved queen whose merchants

bought her pawned crown back . . .

 

I did not learn them at school, these queens

and scholars . . . but scan names such as Mary,

Elizabeth, Shulamith, for their story – vivid

women who lived as the Celts did, with audacia,

and loved their sisters . . .

 

In a wheel’s radiation all spokes fit the motion . . .

old Europe’s strain has crossed the Pacific Ocean

and I have heard it, who am a descendant

in a train, going back to a flat with a goddess

wall, who connections travel countrywide

in quiet woman’s guise . . .

 

dedicated to Elizabeth Gould Davis and Max Jacob

 

Heather McPherson, from A Figurehead: A Face (Spiral, 1982)

 

 

Have you heard of Heather McPherson?

Emma Neale asked me this question when I was searching for lesbian and queer poets for my PhD research. I hadn’t which is hard to imagine now.

‘Have you heard of Artemisia?’ was painted on the outside wall of the Women’s Gallery on Harris Street, Wellington in 1981.

As I typed the poem it became apparent that Microsoft Word had not heard of Cartismandua, or Hiera of Mysia or Tomyris. Neither had I. My middle name is Bridget. A name I share with many women in my family. Every year in my Catholic primary school in Ireland we weaved St. Bridget (most commonly spelt Brigid) crosses on her saint’s day, the first of February. Nobody mentioned Darlughdach, Bridget’s apparent female lover and soulmate. Catholic forums online call this a conspiracy theory.

Heather was the first out lesbian to publish a poetry collection in New Zealand.

I’m not a “gold star lesbian” (watch Hinemoana Baker explain the term here). It took me a long time to own my feminism. The Guerilla Girls came to my university in Cork sometime in 2007 (or 2008 or 2009 . . . ) and when they asked the crowd, “How many people here tonight call themselves a feminist?”, I did not raise my hand. I didn’t think then that it mattered that men always won the Oscar for best director, or that women feature in the Met predominately as nudes not as artists. I believe my religious upbringing ensured that the patriarchal domination of society remained unquestioned within me for far too long. I did not learn to question at school.

There are ten question marks in this poem. I encourage you to ask yourself ten questions today. And to ask ten people, “Have you heard of Heather McPherson?”

 

Emer Lyons is an Irish writer who has had poetry and fiction published in journals such as TurbineLondon GripThe New Zealand Poetry Society AnthologySouthwordThe Spinoff and Queen Mob’s Tea House. She has appeared on shortlists for the Fish Poetry Competition, the Bridport Poetry Prize, the takahé short story competition, The Collinson’s short story prize and her chapbook Throwing Shapes was long-listed for the Munster Literature Fool For Poetry competition in 2017. Last year she was the recipient of the inaugural University of Otago City of Literature scholarship and is a creative/critical PhD candidate in contemporary queer poetry.

Heather McPherson (1942–2017) was a poet, editor, teacher and feminist activist. In 1974 she founded Christchurch Women Artists Group and Spiral, a woman’s art and literary journal. She published five collections of poetry, with her poems appearing in numerous journals and anthologies. Figurehead: A Face (Spiral, 1982) was the first poetry collection by an out lesbian in New Zealand. Janet Charman selected the poems for McPherson’s posthumous collection, This Joyous, Chaotic Place: Garden Poems (Spiral, 2018).

 

 

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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Albert Wendt’s ‘Packs’

 

 

 Packs

 

We try to breath as long as technology

and medicine can stretch it

and don’t know why we are wretched with anxiety

 

Every dawn in Samoa the neighbourhood packs of dogs

cracked open our sleep:  barking  howling  yelping  screeching

Theirs was the desperation of hunger and ill-treatment

I needed to quench the undeniable accusation in their howling

 

Now back in our safe Ponsonby bedroom the spring dawn sprawls

across our bed and refuses to leave but it will be swallowed up

eventually by the morning and our need to walk out

into the embracing routines of our tidy lives

 

The packs will continue to stalk us with their slow howling

 

No set plan or final intention

Just let go – just let it go  all of it

even the accusing packs

 

It will not come again

 

©Albert Wendt  (August-Sept, 2017)  (November 2018)

 

Albert Wendt has published many novels, collections of poetry and short stories, and edited numerous anthologies. In 2018, along with four others, he was recognised as a New Zealand Icon at a medallion ceremony for his significant contribution to the Arts.