Category Archives: NZ poetry

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Best NZ Poems 2020 goes live

Poet Laureate David Eggleton has edited the latest edition of Best NZ Poems 2020. He concludes his introduction with these words:

I hope you will enjoy reading these poems as much I have on my year-long odyssey for which I didn’t have to leave home. I’m glad to have had the privilege of the journey and its discoveries. Discoveries rather than judgements because poems are essentially playful and deeply wilful and a law unto themselves and won’t be judged. As the American poet Archibald MacLeish put it in his brilliant formulation about the art of poetry: ‘A poem should not mean/ But be.’

I had already read most of the poems – but I loved revisiting them. Poems are like albums; you can put them on replay and they just get better.

Go here for poems, introduction and audios.

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Victor Billot reads from The Sets

The Sets, Victor Billot, Otago University Press, 2021

Victor Billot reads ‘The Sets’ from his collection plus two new poems: ‘An Award Winning Campaign’ and ‘The Youngest One’.

Victor Billot was born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972. He has worked in communications, publishing and the maritime industry. His collection The Sets was published by Otago University Press in February 2021.

In 2020 he was commissioned by the Newsroom website to write a series of political satires in verse and is now embarking on a new series. His poems have been displayed in the Reykjavik City Hall and in Antarctica.

Otago University Press page

Victor’s website

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Poet Laureate David Eggleton picks two Peter Olds poems

The sky turned black as night,
sirens wailed, streetlights blinked
at stalled streets, the air streaked
like some New York modern painting:
Surreal, unreal, leaving high tide
marks of ice in the doorways of
mid-town shops

from ‘Hail & Water ‘ by Peter Olds

Two terrific poems by Peter Olds on The Poet Laureate site

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Going West podcast – Paula Green in conversation with Bill Manhire and Norman Meehan

This is one of my favourite sessions I have chaired ever!

Paula Green, poet, anthologist, reviewer and children’s author, with her newly minted honours and awards, shares the stage in a charming conversation with poet, short story writer and academic Bill Manhire, and jazz composer and performer Norman Meehan, as they disclose the alchemy of setting poetic text as song. They discuss their latest collaboration, the riddle project, Tell Me My Name, and along the way Bill Manhire reads two of his poems Frolic and I am quiet when I call.

This session took place the day after Manhire, Meehan and friends delivered a captivating opening night performance, Small Holes in the Silence for the Going West audience.

Listen here

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Rebecca Hawkes’s ‘Poem about my heart’

Poem about my heart

you have one job
which is to hold this
disturbingly large moth
battering the woven
basket of your fingers

every instinct whirring
to close your fist and crush it
or open your palms
set the gross insect loose
free your hands for other tasks

but this is your job
the having and the holding
the moth fluttering scaly wings
into moon dust that stains your skin
ghastly silver as you do not ask

how did this thing even get in here
just maintain your grasp
on the fragile stupid alien
that flew to your light and would not go
until you caught it and it was yours

Rebecca Hawkes

Rebecca Hawkes is a queer pākehā poet, painter, and PowerPoint slide ghostwriter living in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara. Her chapbook ‘Softcore coldsores’ can be found in AUP New Poets 5. She is co-editor of the journal Sweet Mammalian and an upcoming anthology of climate change poetry, and is a founding member of popstar performance posse Show Ponies. More of Rebecca’s writing and paintings can be found in journals like Starling, Sport, Scum, and Stasis, or online at her vanity mirror.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Indicator’

Indicator

All through thin winter

a single yellow-lipped flower

hangs like honeydrip

from the tip of a twig

on the kowhai outside our window.

Now and then a wax-eye

or an eerily silent tūī slips by,

suckles there, each visit so swift

we soon guess the teat’s run dry:

no languid glug of nectar

like those summer-dusty kids,

canter-and-cartwheel parched

at the schoolyard drinking fountain,

when their every mouthful sounds

a grateful, gulping hum

like the rev of a warming engine.

Through ice, hail and fog

this blossom that grips the brink

seems bitter, withered emblem

of what is not; of tense lockdown;

of what cost; futures lost,

the tired earth’s toxin-clogged, wild demise

I even cuss some fossicking birds

as if they’re mad deniers —

boom-times are gone.

Can’t you just goddamn leave

that last poor scrap alone?

Then one cold but blueing morning

I lift the kitchen blind

wait for coffee to send its sun

through the hoar-frost of sleep

to see the whole tree

buckets with its own bright rain

a thousand beak-mouthed flowers

sing the aria of themselves

as if that one yellow blossom

in its winter death clench

was the stoic pilot light

that set the whole tree ablaze

a Kali-armed candelabra

peacocking with gold —

yet this silken dart and glitter

of unbidden happiness —

now grown so unfamiliar —

is it dangerous?

What have I turned my back on

for that moment

it takes a small child

to rush before a speeding van,

slip into an unfenced pool,

for some link in the web to fray

by the time night flows over the tree

as dark as the inside of a body?

Emma Neale

Emma Neale is a Dunedin based writer and editor. The author of 6 novels and 6 collections of poetry, Emma is the current editor of Landfall.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Vana Manasiadis in conversation with Nicholas Wright

Go here for details (tickets are free)

λυρικό ελεγείο : Vana Manasiadis in conversation with Nicholas Wright

About this Event

This is the first in our An Evening With Series, hosted at UC Arts at the Arts Centre Christchurch.

Vana Manasiadis’s The Grief Almanac: A Sequel (2019) is, as the title of this talk suggests, deeply involved with the forms of lyric and elegy. Indeed, her volume has been described as a “hybrid of poetry, memoir, letter, essay and ekphrasis” that pushes at the boundaries of poetic form “melding Greek with English, prose with poetry, and the past and present with fantasy and myth”. Do come along to hear Vana talk about the poems in this volume, her thoughts on poetic form, as well as the new work she is writing as Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence, in the University of Canterbury’s English Department.

———————-

Vana Manasiadis is a Greek-New Zealand poet and translator who has been moving between Aotearoa and Kirihi Greece the last twenty years. Her most recent book The Grief Almanac: A Sequel, followed her earlier Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima in experimenting with hybridity and pluralism and is being translated into Greek for forthcoming publication in Greece. She has also edited and translated Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια Shipwrecks/Shelters, a selection of contemporary Greek poetry, and co-edited a bilingual volume of poetry, Tatai Whetu, Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation, a Spinoff ‘20 Best Poetry Books of 2018’, with playwright Maraea Rakuraku. Her residency project will include an exploration of translanguage and poetic form, of territory and authority. She will be working on poetic texts in response to various geographies of Christchurch and Canterbury, and on a series of multilingual and multimodal dialogues between exiled speakers.

Nicholas Wright is a lecturer in the English Department, University of Canterbury. He has published on a host of New Zealand poets, and is currently working on a book of essays on the contemporary lyric in Aotearoa.

Poetry Shelf review: Janis Freegard’s reading the signs

reading the signs Janis Freegard, The Cuba Press, 2020

I walk into Ema Saikō’s room to find the poet herself at the writing desk,

long hair scraped back in a bun. She wears an embroidered robe. Tea? I

offer. It seems the right thing to do.

I let her choose the teapot. I was tossing up between late evening 

blue and bright green. She claps her hands and says something about

bamboo. So I go with the green one that looks like a Dalek.

from ’11. Meeting Ema Saikō’

I have been musing on national book awards and how they expand the life of shortlisted books and boost the authors and boost readership. Without a doubt they are a vital and important part of book landscapes. But like so many people, I find the idea of a ‘best’ book a little twitchy. I flagged the 2021 Ockham NZ Book Award poetry longlist as the best I have seen in ages, especially because (for once) it wasn’t top heavy with Pākehā poets. I had read, reviewed and adored eight of the books and then read, reviewed and adored the other two. If you haven’t read these fabulous books check them out. Yet there are other nz poetry books I have read, reviewed and adored that didn’t make the long list. Slowing down with a poetry book, finding the ways your body, heart and mind absorb the poetic affects is a privilege. A joy. As both author and reader I claim the writing and reading process as the most important thing.

A book has the ability to lift you.

I have been reading Janis Freegard’s poetry collection reading the signs over the past months and falling in love with the way it inhabits the moment. Janis had been awarded a residency at the Ema Saikō room in the Wairarapa. This room and the rituals Janis observed were the springboard for a sequence of connected poems.

Halfway through the book I became curious about Ema Saikō (1787 – 1861). She was a Japanese poet, painter and calligrapher much influenced by Chinese art, and who was producing work at a time when it was rare for women to do so (publicly anyway). I know nothing about her beyond her attachment to the physical world. But I am curious about the bridge from this much lauded woman to the occupants of a room named after her. It seems like Janis was also curious about Ema as her poetry and her occupation of the room become more and influenced by the poet / painter from the past. In both writing and in observing daily rituals such as making tea, especially in the making of loose-leaf tea with an exquisite concentration, Janis moves closer to Ema.

While you’re drinking the tea,

only drink the tea. By all means

notice twig shadows fluttering on the ground,

the calls of kiwi and kākā,

but do nothing else with your hands.

Let drinking the tea be the whole of it.

from ‘4. If you’re looking for a teapot, make sure

there’s a lug on the lid’

Janis writes after a fracture in her life, mending herself by writing poetry, paying attention to what is close at hand. A gender-fluid interpreter arrives in the sequence to direct her attention to things, questions, possibilities. Poetry stands in for the gold that ‘seals the fissures’:

You’ll break until you feel you may never be whole again.

(You will be.)

But you’ll be altered. Now is the time for kintsugi,

the Japanese art of repairing with gold, mending the cracks

in smashed ceramics to make something more beautiful.

You’ll reassemble yourself and use gold to seal the fissures.

from ‘8. Kintsugi’

So you could see this sequence as therapeutic, and no doubt it is, but it transcends the therapeutic and becomes a mesh of experiences: of slowing down and taking note of, of absorbing beauty in nature, from the sky to birds to trees. She is reading the sky – and the way a poem is a tree and a tree is a poem. She is reading the tea. She is absorbing stages of grief and loss and peace and life. She is translating what she feels, thinks, observes into lyrical poetry that is both steadfast and ethereal.

Ema Saikō says, ‘It is true things get lost in translation, but if you lose so much more if you don’t translate at all.’ In a sense Janis is translating herself on the line, finding lyrical form for experience, memories, feelings, contemplation. She is translating myriad connections with the world, with life – with an endangered world, with an endangered self.

It is warming to read, this book of dreaming, of signs, of being. I imagine it as a prism in the hand that shifts in the light. And here is the thing. I am never after the best book. I am after the prismatic effects that poetry has upon me, the way a book can shift and glint in my heart and mind as I read. Think how the effect changes with each book you pick up. The way it lifts you off the ground and out of daily routine and then returns you to your own daily rituals observations concentrations. An exquisitely layered and fluent book that reminds you of the power of the moment. I loved this book.

Janis Freegard is a Wellington poet, novelist and short story writer. She has won a number of awards including the Geometry | Open Book Poetry Competition and the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award, and she was the inaugural Ema Saikō Poetry Fellow in the Wairarapa. Janis performs with the Meow Gurrrls poetry collective.

The Cuba Press page

Janis Freegard’s Weblog

VIDEO: Janis reading poems from reading the signs (Wellington City Libraries)

Janis held the inaugural Ema Saikō Poetry Fellowship with NZ Pacific Studio in Wairarapa. The 2015 Fellow: Yukari Nikawa (Japan); 2016: Alan Jefferies (Australia) and Ya-wen Ho (NZ); 2017: Makyla Curtis (NZ); 2018: Leanne Dunic (Canada); 2019/2020: Rebecca Hawkes (NZ). For more