Category Archives: NZ poetry book

Poetry Shelf fascinations: Tony Beyer’s Friday Prayers

 

the moon’s reflected path on water

leads only to the moon

from ‘Island time’ Friday Prayers Cold Hub Press, 2019

 

 

For some poets poetry is a form of contemplation – a bridge to the unreachable sublime, a way of achieving inner equilibrium, even stillness amidst the arrival of words – regardless of the boundaries you push, regardless of pressing issues or wayward circumstances. Writing and reading poetry can be rewardingly untethered – a way to activate cells, to follow trails with only the haziest of maps.

For some of us poetry is something as both readers and writers we cannot do without. For me poetry is my anchor, my flotation device, my equilibrium.

This year has produced a glorious crop of poetry published in Aotearoa, some of which has been reviewed elsewhere and some which has not. I have over 30 books on my shelf I am dead keen to share over summer.

I have picked out Tony Beyer’s Friday Prayers and the chapbook fills me with joy. Everything washes to the side and I am there with the words on the page, the trails and bridges that lead beyond the font and white paper to how we live our lives, how we absorb the world.

This is a human-rich view: there’s a ghost city under Christchurch, the possibility of wisdom, broken buildings, daily chores, the chives planted, sheets on the line, a poem wending its mysterious way into being.

This is a human-rich view: ‘Crusade’ replays a rugby game with breathless momentum until full time.  The final kick though is the polemical question for the pack of gladiators and supporters.  How far does our respect and empathy go when it comes to the currency of a word?

 

so is Sam Whitelock

taking it on the chin

a gladiator

the Crusaders

threatened with losing their name

did it proud

 

The collection’s title poem, ‘Friday prayers’, is a response to the Christchurch massacre – it opens its arms wide. Its explicit call to how we proceed underlines how little bad behaviours born out of indifference or ignorance count and are ‘not small’. The last page makes me weep.

 

I know I

and those I love

living and dead

have done these things

and it must cease

children in my classroom

eagerly anticipated

the before and after

feasts of Eid

and wrote stories about them

the blood on the mosque floor

is human blood

like that of Christ

or of countless

helpless bystanders

everything we love

songs prayers

our children’s faces

and their children’s

gone in a gunshot

 

 

Tony’s book moves in multiple directions, traversing everyday experience with both heart and insight while facing catastrophic events both politically and personally. The overall effect is one of sublime fluency. I read this book and I am tipped into a state of profound contemplation and I am glad of it. Thank you.

 

Cold Hub Press author page

Tony’s previous collection Anchor Stone was a finalist in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Poetry (Cold Hub Press 2018). He lives in Taranaki.

 

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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jenny Bornholdt’s ‘Crossing’

 

Crossing

 

Driving across town

she feels plain

and botanical.

 

At a crossing

there’s a man

with a cake, girl

with a tune.

Four young people

wheel a bed,

headed for a house

where a young woman

might read, love a man/some

men, might hold their bodies

close and welcome some parts

of those bodies

into hers.

 

Years later

she might see these men

in suits and on television and

many years later

might pass one, a house painter,

as she drives to buy

paint, for heaven’s sake.

 

Now, nearing sixty,

this woman loves her husband

ferociously.

When she turns the compost

and finds the flat wrinkled body

of a mouse,

she remembers the time

he rang her in Scotland

to say he’d seen one in the pile

and what should he do?

 

She shovels the remains

of the mouse with the rest

of the compost to beneath

the blossom, which bows

low and graceful over neglect,

which abounds, as it does,

wonderfully, in the garden of the

southern house they move to

for a time.

 

He’s up to his ears

in sadness, both of them aghast

at landscape. Being asthmatic

he is immediately attractive

to animals – at the lake

a fox terrier pup takes shelter

under his chest as he lies down

on a towel after a swim.

In the kitchen a mouse

bumps into his foot. Drama

in the house! Not for the first

time. These were rooms

of costume, scenery,

leading ladies and men

on the front terrace, leaning

on architect Ernst Plischke’s rail,

stone warm underfoot, snowed

mountains as backdrop

while the deep, broad river passed

below them, always

on its way.

 

Jenny Bornholdt, from Lost and Somewhere Else, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

Jenny Bornholdt is the author of many poetry collections, including The Rocky Shore (Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry winner, 2009) and Selected Poems (2016). She has edited several notable anthologies including Short Poems of New Zealand (2018).

Victoria University Press author page

 

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Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Alison Glenny picks Rachel O’Neill’s ‘The Kafka Divers’

 

 

 

 

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Note from Alison:

 

The Kafka Divers comes from One Human in Height, the debut collection by poet, artist and film-maker Rachel O’Neill.  Published by Hue & Cry Press in 2013, the book contains a number of candidates for ‘classic poem’, including some that have been anthologised elswhere. I’ve chosen The Kafka Divers because I admire how much it fits into a small space, and because reading it always makes me smile.

The Kafka Divers is a prose poem – that deceptively simple form which is really a chameleon, with a sneaky ability to impersonate more apparently informational/straightforward kinds of prose. The poem’s style evokes taxonomy, a form of classificatory and descriptive writing associated with the natural sciences. It’s a genre with its own distinct language and way of looking at the world, which the author, who identifies as queer and non-binary, appropriates for her own purposes.

The poem invents a new thing – a plant called the Kafka Diver. At least it seems to be a plant, although it could be other things as well. A young person with a sense of isolation for instance, or even a poem that immerses its readers and draws them into its faintly ‘reptilian’ interior, an experience from which they will emerge after a period of time unscathed, if not unchanged.

I was curious about whether any particular model (field guide? botany lecture?) prompted The Kafka Divers, so I asked Rachel if she could comment on the poem’s origin. She replied that at the time she wrote it she was reading anthologies of nature, garden, and landscape writing published in the 1950s that she kept in her bathroom, and added:

‘In the anthology excerpts there is an exultation of the human longingly observing the non-human, yet the distinction between human and non-human collapses in the entanglement of gaze, mystery and desire, and in the tensions around whether order and/or chaos dictates attention and preference. I think The Kafka Divers taps into the whole mutual yet fragile (and potentially queer and erotic) performance of looking and being seen, bringing to the fore queer circuits of desire.’

In The Kafka Divers the potential for fascination to undermine the separation between observer and observed is figured as literal engulfment – the act of ‘diving in’.  But a sense of ambiguous or permeable boundaries is also conveyed by the description of the Kafka Diver as a kind of hairy plant/umbrella/reptile assemblage, with a human (and very queer) capacity to succumb to loneliness/isolation, learn patience, or startle strangers with its singular appearance.

A similar ambiguity surrounds the roles of host and visitor, hospitality and predation, the description of ‘diving in’, which makes it unclear who (or perhaps both) or these actors is the ‘Diver’, and the relating of their encounter, with its alternating shocks of disappearing and emergence, creepiness and delight, horror and comedy.

You could argue that the coexistence of these contrasting emotional possibilities, whose resolution is left to the attention and preference of the reader, is signalled by the plant/poem’s title. After all, ‘Kafkaesque’ is a term we use to evoke the kind of bizarre and disturbing world in which a man might conceivably wake to discover he is an insect – the human subject turned, by a mysterious act of identification, into an ‘object’. But if the name ‘Kafka’ evokes a somewhat nightmarish state in which humans can lose their humanity or be subjected to inexplicable persecution, ‘Diver’ has connotations of commitment, courage, strength and grace. As Rachel comments,

‘I . . . set about to queer observational details and centred everything in Aotearoa, while still recruiting Kafka – though in the poem I question what might be perceived as Kafkaesque/nightmarish, so what ‘nightmarish’ might look like from a queer perspective.’

Read queerly, The Kafka Divers turns what might have been a horror tale of abduction in the sub-alpine zone of Aotearoa into a fable about the quiet or even ‘secretive’ triumph of connection over loneliness, hairiness, and a sub-prime position.

For me, another pleasure provided by the form the poem uses to explore issues of seeing and being seen is its reminder that histories of queer identifications (like those of other minorities) are entangled with the classifying gaze of science – whether sexology, medicine, psychiatry, or biology – approaches that have characteristically viewed queerness as, at best, a puzzle to be explained (‘gay gene’ anyone?) and at its most damaging, an aberration to be condemned or ‘cured’. In this sense the poem’s queering of perspective includes the suggestion that viewing human sexuality through the same set of field glasses used to study other species has the potential not only to reinforce stigma, but to open an Aladdin’s cave of specialisations and oddness, whose diversity and utopic potential remind me of Bruce Bagemihl’s concept of ‘biological exuberance’:

‘an affirmation of life’s vitality and infinite possibilities. . . at once primordial and furturistic; in which gender is kaleidoscopic, sexualities are multiple, and the categories of male and female are fluid . . A world, in short, exactly like the one we inhabit.’

 

References:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: animal homosexuality and natural diversity (1999) Profile Books, p 262.

O’Neill, Rachel: email

 

 

Alison Glenny’s Antarctic-themed collection of prose poems and fragments, The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018.

Rachel O’Neill (pronouns: she / her / hers / they / them / theirs) is a Pākehā Non-binary queer filmmaker, writer and artist who was raised in the Waikato and is now based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa. Their debut book, One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press) was published in 2013.

 

Hue & Cry Press author page

 

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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jane Arthur’s ‘Situation’

 

Situation

 

Kākā have been screaming across the sky.

I’ve been thinking up jokes to tell myself.

One of the dogs pisses on the floor as soon as I leave the room.

The other dog follows me around the house.

There are a lot of dogs in the neighbourhood.

I am sure they know how to behave.

They don’t bark so much.

I’ve been preoccupied with what others think again.

I’ve been trying not to let people down.

Nights are not long enough.

Lately there’s been more sun than I would’ve expected.

I keep the weather report open in its own tab and check it often.

The internet has most of the answers I’m looking for.

Some of my questions come up at inconvenient times.

Some are just hard to explain.

Like, when people say ‘I want you inside me’

do they sometimes mean cannibalism?

Or that they want to inject your fluids into their veins?

Or do they only ever mean something plainly sexual?

Don’t laugh, it’s not always obvious, and

sometimes desire can make us hungry or violent.

Maybe healthy emotional behaviour wasn’t modelled to us as children.

So we bite. We draw blood. We take things that aren’t ours, I don’t know.

 

Jane Arthur, Craven, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

Jane Arthur was the recipient of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize in 2018, judged by Eileen Myles. She has worked in the book industry for over fifteen years as a bookseller and editor, and has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University of Wellington. Born in New Plymouth, she lives in Wellington with her family. Her first poetry collection, Craven, was published in September 2019 by Victoria University Press.

Victoria University Press page

 

 

 

 

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Poetry Shelf fascinations: AUP New Poets 5

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AUP New Poets 5: Carolyn DeCarlo, Sophie van Waardenberg, Rebecca Hawkes, edited by Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press

 

Auckland University Press’s New Poets collections began in 1999 and, after an eight-year hiatus, has relaunched the series. Anna Jackson, who appeared in the debut issue, has  edited volume 5 and written the foreword. The series serves as welcome launchpad for emerging poets and has, for example, included the work of Chris Tse, Sarah Quigley, Sonja Yelich, Erin Scudder and Reihana Robinson in previous volumes.

The recent launch at Unity Books (Wellington) was packed with an attentive audience – the reading highlighted three distinctive voices linked by poetic charisma: Carolyn DeCarlo, Sophie van Waardenberg and Rebecca Hawkes.

 

Carolyn DeCarlo, originally from USA, has read at various literary events including Welington’s LitCrawl, and runs the literary reading series Food Court. Her writing delivers mesmerising physicality, detail that illuminates the present tense, a moment that might be hyperreal in ways that startle or soothe or move you.

The opening poem ‘Spy Valley’ is a sumptuous rendition of a scene to the point it glows with heat and crackling light: it’s sensual, surprising, moreish. Every word is pitch perfect and every word adds to a building physicality that clings to you as you read.

 

(…) Their calls cleave the

valley like lightning, crackling in the air,

striking the dirt beneath your toes,

and when the drops of rain hit your face

thick as bread you’re unafraid,

you open wide, you spread your arms

and soak your skin in sanguine heat,

its spongy hug lulling you to sleep.

 

Carolyn offers textured poetry – almost as though you can brush your fingers over the surface of a poem and feel grains of feeling, its physicality, its movement. The poems often bridge the hyperreal and an everyday real, relishing the slow occupation of a moment, a place, a state of being. In ‘Fields of Glass’ the speaker stands musing on a glass hill – there is a building (sometimes sad and green, sometimes uncomfortable) driving the movement of the poem, the thoughts of the muser. Everything is slightly mysterious, anchorless, as though each stanza is a shortcut to censored feeling, reserved circumstances. Again the reading effect is addictive.

 

Another time, we danced

on the floor. Do you remember that?

Our socks bunched up

around our ankles

then our ankles around our knees

and so on.

 

I am eating tomatoes and crying,

if you sit beside me

I will let you carry the juice,

I am carrying the rain.

 

Much thought has been given to the order of the poems – water and rain ripple through, along with birds, trees, piquant colour. In the middle the speaker is anchored in the land, their body made visible, and anxiety appears like little body fractures, the physicality of the writing potent. This from ‘The Year I Let My Heart Go Asunder’:

 

I am crouched down on the bank of Wellington Harbour

and I am huge as the hills.

I am squatting with my bottom on Khandallah,

my feet in the harbour and the water barely splashing my ankles.

 

I love Carolyn’s selection of poems (Winter Swimmers) so much: it’s beautifully crafted, aurally satisfying, surprising in turn and revelation. There are a number of poems named ‘Winter Swimmers’; like a swelling and shifting contemplation that keeps changing hue and effect, yet never losing sight of the water, the swim stroke, the breath necessary for living, for writing, for reading. This selection is like a pair of lungs inside me, expanding and dilating, expanding and dilating. Glorious.

 

At the time of publication Sophie van Waardenberg was working at the Open Book in Ponsonby. She has completed a BA at the University of Auckland and is now undertaking an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University, New York State. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals.

Sophie’s selection of poems – does a potato have a heart? – navigates learning the world in all its brittleness and wonder, especially through the glints and sharp edges of love.

In ‘Unhatched egg/two girls at easter’, a precious bird’s egg is discovered, wrapped and held close to the girl’s belly. The egg’s potential life is in razor contrast to the felled trees, the scarred landscape, but then life delivers the little blow with the cracked egg, the cracked future.

 

in the morning we two bury the fresh-cut shell by the river

where her parents had their honeymoon

and at hot noon with downy arms we swim there

under trees our failure has grown for us so quickly.

 

Love is a constant infusion, whether of a particular person close or at a distant. In ‘schön’ a woman (a beloved one) appears in a lyrical list poem like a chant; the love portrait builds sweetness and good feeling, along with topple and enigma:

 

my girl becomes a calendar and I curl up inside her

my girl becomes a tongue twister and I curl up inside her

 

my girl lets the spring in through her hands

she puts her hands over my ears and I remember how it feels

 

it is nice and nice and nice

 

One poem – ‘all the friendship bracelet makers have retreated’ – hooked me with its evocation of yearning and ache: of missing someone, missing home, of negotiating elsewhere and of being apart. The writing is confessional, yet prismatic in its different slants. Dislocation tempers location, location tempers mascara-smudged cheeks. The middle stanza is the exquisite heart of confession, the simile potent in meaning:

 

I want to be far away but I want to be home.

breath by breath I want these things.

let me show you how little I want to know:

make a fist and let no air in.

I want to make the world as tight around me

as I make my single duvet cover in winter.

 

On the adjacent page, ‘to keep all the bees out’ signals love’s potential pain and potential joy. The poem, with intricate and surprising detail, layers what ‘we’ do. Sophie is refreshing the scope and dimensions of confessional poetry; not everything is visible, not everything is stable, not everything is knowable. The hills they climb together ‘are eaten by their own edges’. Such a striking image of mist and uncertainty heightens the final stanza:

 

and the right ventricle of the human heart

does not have doors heavy enough

to keep all the bees out, and their stings

 

Sophie’s selection of poetry haunts me; it is an atlas of love, experience and feeling, with pronouns shifting to accommodate you and you and we and I, and poems that keep drawing you back. It feels fresh and original, and I love it.

 

Rebecca Hawkes grew up on a high-country farm near Methven. She graduated in media studies and then completed an MA in creative non-fiction at Victoria  University.

As the title suggests Softcore coldsores is an audible kaleidoscopic rendition of life: startling, a sonic explosion in your ear, acutely visual, utterly satisfying. The poems move from milking cows to trying to go vegetarian, sexual fumblings, all manner of hungers and yearnings. ‘Gremlin in sundress’ is an intense and captivating blast of sound that catches an intensity of living and craving for life. I have heard Rebecca read live several times and it is an addictive experience – the sonic rewards find new traction in the air / ear. Here is the middle bit of the free-flowing, page-long ‘Gremlin in sundress’:

 

gimme something pretty but with brains

I can crack open gimme salt’n’pepper

tentacle dredged from the abyss and deep

fried gimme hot cephalopod gimme yer cold

shoulder gimme drunkenness gimme the vomitorium

next door to the buffet gimme mortal clay

with tingle and baby fat to live in

gimme glory gimme eternity gimme your likings

 

There are many paths through Rebecca’s poetry but every reading path is an intricate interplay of the visual and the aural. I keep rereading a poem to savour the music and  and the visual impact. Maybe it makes a difference that Rebecca is a painter with a richly-hued palette and eye for massed and sensual detail. She takes me to the edge of vertigo at times, even squeamishness, in both her art and her poetry. Reading her poetry becomes a whole body experience (as it so often is) and I find myself unable to move onto the next thing, the next book, the next chore, the next outing. Perhaps at the core is the notion want: I am thinking of its varied meanings as Rebecca’s poetry pivots upon desire and upon lack.

With her high-country childhood it is not surprising the back blocks feature in some poems. The magnificent and utterly surprising ‘Dairy queen’ begins in the milking shed with an image of a shedhand:

 

you’re the other shedhand on the early morning shift

and you work shirtless

under your heavy rubber apron

which I appreciate from behind –

muscles moving under your tan

perspiring          glossy as a cold can of golden pash

unfortunately the overall effect is ruined

by your bleach-blonde dreadlocks             Grinch fingers

dyed greenish by weeks of cowpat splashback

 

Lust makes way for private musings on love and sadness, on loving people for their sadness and equally resenting a desire to be loved despite internal sadness. I am out of the cowshed into the secret moment, the little confession on the power of trust and tenderness: ‘all summer / I’ve been skittish    and gentle    like a puppy / saying hello by resting my whole mouth around your hand but not biting’. This sweet piquant moment is like a eyecatching flash before we return to the cowshed, the sexual pulls, and an image of the speaker in a water trough, bathed in barley seed and molasses.

I am also entranced (held in the grip of) by ‘Add penetrant to preferred broadleaf herbicide & devastate the wildflowers’. The poem brings the rabbit-infested, lupin-covered Mackenzie Country into sight by interweaving opposing views, both opinion and what you frame in your camera lens. Driving through the beauty in this poem is to drive through the Mackenzie basin with reactivated eyes:

 

as the lupins bloom out the summer in their splendid blushing colonies

both the planters of lupins & their weedkiller neighbours insists

that nature should take its course

but they can’t agree on what nature means:

conserving shrivelled unpalatable tussock or letting slip

the lupine war on the landscape

 

Rebecca’s poetry has such potency the poems stick to your skin and you carry them all day, reflecting back on the twisty turns, the compounding rhythms that act as both torrent and ripple, the bits that make little bites which get you thinking and feeling. For a small cluster of poems to do this is astonishing.

 

A welcome return, AUP New Poets 5 delivers three poets who fit together beautifully. Their writing is complex, unafraid of feeling, physical, invigorated and invigorating. Yet each poet offers a distinctive voice that is highly addictive; it is like getting to swim in three very different locations with three very different impacts on your body as you move. I can’t wait for the next volume (it’s in the pipeline) and I can’t wait for debut collections from these three fresh voices.

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Helen Rickerby’s ‘Mr Anderson, you heartbreaker you’

 

Mr Anderson, you heartbreaker you

 

Oh Hans Christian Andersen, you tormentor

of children, creator of nightmares

The Little Mermaid always did me in

with her big love and her

enormous silence and giving up

her fishy tail for two legs

maybe to part them for

her sweet prince, but

relegated to the friend-zone

each shard of glass she stepped on

pricked a tiny hole into my

squishy little heart

And, really, if she’d just held on to her tongue

she could have sung him to her

reeled him in, drunk him down

One prince, on the rocks, coming up

 

*

 

And at the same time as the prince married the princess and the Little Mermaid turned into not even sea foam, but air, Andersen wrote to his friend Edvard Collin, who was also about to marry: ‘I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench … my sentiments for you are those of a woman.’ Collin later wrote in his memoir, ‘I found myself unable to respond to this love, and this caused the author much suffering.’ Gosh, I can barely move for the shards of broken hearts beneath my feet.

 

Helen Rickerby, How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

 

Helen Rickerby is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019). She likes questions even more than answers. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, an increasingly important publisher of New Zealand literature, focusing on poetry. Helen lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley, and works as an editor.

 

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