Category Archives: NZ poetry book

Poetry Shelf review: Fiona Farrell’s Nouns, verbs, etc

Nouns, verbs, etc. Fiona Farrell, Otago University Press, 2020

Once upon a time there was

a story.

It lived in the mouth of an

old woman.

It was a bad-tempered story

that kicked the door in and

threw plates. It did not behave

itself.

But she gave it shelter.

She had made it herself.

She had fed it with her own

blood. She had spat her own

stomach into its straining

beak. She knew why it cried.

from ‘The old woman’s story’

Fiona Farrell, much loved poet, novelist and nonfiction author, began writing poems in childhood, at times in ‘wonky capitals’ with the delicious ‘thump’ of end rhyme. She discusses her evolution as poet in the terrific preface to her selected poems published last year. There were comic poems that made her class laugh, the earnest poems of high school with elevated expectations of what a poem ought to be, and the kick in the gut when, at 19, a young man laughed at the poem she showed him. She stopped writing.

It’s so difficult in 2020 to convey just how it felt to be in this world where men, past and present, stood about booming to one another like so many kākāpō on a steep hillside.

from ‘Preface’

So many other women in the 1960s through to the 1970s were writing on scraps of paper in scraps of time getting scraps of attention and rarely making it onto the hallowed ground of men, their journals, their university course material, their poetry gigs.

Today I’ve embroidered relativity

polished the Acropolis

knitted Ulysses

and baked two trayloads of cantatas

for the kindy.

Now, if the baby sleeps another hour

I’ll just about have time

to whip up some of that

Instant Immortality.

from ‘Preface’

Fiona’s ‘Preface’ echoes so many women’s voices I read in my Wild Honey travels. I think of how long it took me, along with other women, to move from hidden notebooks to going public and getting published. For Fiona it was the death of her father, and his complicated presence in her life, that started her poetry pen moving again: ‘The way the simple act of choosing words can give the illusion, however temporary, of control when emotion threatens to overwhelm’ (‘Preface’). She showed the poem to someone she shared a teacher’s college office with and took up the suggestion to get it published.

Fiona’s Nouns, verbs, etc. (selected poems) includes extracts from her four collections: Cutting Out (1987), The Inhabited Initial (1999), The Pop-Up Book of Invasions (2007) and The Broken Book (2011). Interspersed between the extracts are clusters of uncollected poems and, at the end, my favourite endnotes ever, a suite of fascinations that complement the joys of reading the poems, unexpectedly, beautifully. Fiona said she heeded the positive response to the endnotes in The PopUp Book of Invasions.

Nouns, verbs, etc. is a Poetry Treasure House. Across decades of writing, the poems are guided by inquisitiveness, linguistic nimbleness, a freshness of voice that survives over time, an exposed heart, the presence of I and we, political undercurrents. There are human and humane attachments because the recurring revelation is that this poet cares. Poetry stands as a means of care: for self, for loved ones, for the world, for the present and the past, for the stretch and possibilities of languages. In particular Fiona has cared about women; in their daily lives, in a history of writing, in genealogies, in other places and other times, in the need to resist subjugation and erasure.

She sits in the dark

on the rough side of

Sunday. The wood is

bare down here, torn

from a tree. She gets

her woolly hat. The

table is saw scrawl

screw and scratch.

She brings a cushion

and some crackers.

The table is a bare

bivvy. Brace and

bruised knuckle.

She flings a sheet

over. She will

live here

for ever.

from ‘The table’ – The Broken Book

The poem Fiona wrote upon the death of her father signalled the way poetry can be a necessary part of our lives as both readers and writers. I know through the extraordinary number of letters and poetry I received during our various lockdowns how vital poems were, whether we were writing or reading.

Each of Fiona’s books, both poetry or prose, has been necessary reading for me, right from the goosebump discovery of The Skinny Louie Book in 1992 to a suite of books responding to the earthquakes in Christchurch. The Broken Book transmuted from a book of walking essays to an earthquake book where the essays were interrupted by poems like quake jolts. It was written because of the Christchurch quake, and it makes the everyday voices away-from-the-cameras visible, the living with damage and daily fear and little blessings palpable. Again poetry becomes necessary.

The PopUp Book of Invasions was prompted by Fiona’s writing residency in Donoughmore, Ireland, the manuscripts her book borrows its title from, and the layering of contemporary invasions along with those in her whakapapa and Aotearoa. She wrote: ‘It was a strange feeling, being there. I wrote to express that’ (from ‘Endnotes’).  Again the book becomes necessary reading.

I love the insertion of the unpublished poems in thematic clusters. There are a handful of love poems – so you get to enter a poetry love glade and imbibe the heat and shimmer and connectivity of love. I have no idea when the poems were written, but they feel so vital and fresh. Original. I want to quote from all of them but here is a taster:

They tied the knot.

It was a knot of their

own devising. They

went over and under,

over and under many

times, and it held. So

they could fly, tied

to earth by the knots

around their ties.

So they could always

find their way home.

from ‘Knot-tying for beginners’

Another cluster centres upon travel, upon home and not home, upon hills and mountains, lakes and harbours that anchor you into the guts and grit of the land, and then sets you drifting through place to people and back to the way place shapes and nourishes us. I especially love ‘Our trip to Tākaka’. I want to hear this poem read aloud, to hear the mood ripple through the understated repetitions and motion, the effect travel has upon us, the surprises that become part of our luggage, as we move along, and as we arrive back home.

Some poems carry whiffs of fable – I am picturing the poet blowing on the white page as though it were glass, with a fable presence making its subtle mark. There is always the everyday commonplace experience, relationships or objects in Fiona’s poetry, but there is also the way the poem transcends the realism and makes the ordinary glow.

The fathers swayed beneath us

walking like mountains on

their big legs. We looked

about, seeing the way ahead.

The fathers said hang on!

They held us by the ankles

lest we fall. And sometimes,

they flung us out into empty

air, and we were lost. We

squealed, flailed, knowing

already the pain of solid

ground. But the fathers

caught us on the downward

flight. Gathered us to the

knotting of old jerseys

smelling of fish and vege

gardens and Best Bets and

the whole wide place we’d

glimpsed from their tops.

from ‘The fathers’

Fiona Farrell’s poetry sparks language into dynamic combinations because, as the title of the book suggests, words have mattered to her – from the origins of words, to ancient languages, to codes and punctuation. In The Inhabited Initial endnotes – a collection that celebrates the organic states of words and languages – I discover the origin of the question mark and the punctuation mark. The original exclamation mark was a word that monastic monks inserted to denote moments of joy. I love this! Little glades of joy in the flow of a text. Nowadays the exclamation mark can be a form of shout and exhibitionism. Equally fascinating: Roman scribes used full stops to mark rest bays for breath in the flow of a text. I am thinking poets have a more open relationship with punctuation and how it adds to the reading of poetry.

Nouns, Verbs etc is a reading delight. It offers distinctive travel itineraries that set you drifting in unfamiliar skies, lingering in some poems as though you stall in the familiar rooms of your house, daydreaming between the lines, wondering at the power of nouns and verbs to provoke such intense feelings and connections. Let me raise my poetry glass and toast this glorious book (and loving Otago University Press production). Thank you Fiona, this necessary book is a gift.

FIONA FARRELL has published poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction. Uniquely among New Zealand writers, she has received awards in all genres. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards and has been widely anthologised. Her first novel, The Skinny Louie Book, won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction. Three later novels have been shortlisted for that award, and five have been longlisted for the prestigious International Dublin IMPAC Award. In 2013 she received the Michael King Award to write twinned books prompted by the Christchurch earthquakes and the city’s reconstruction. The non-fiction work, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire, was shortlisted for the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards. In 2018 she edited Best New Zealand Poems for the International Institute of Modern Letters. Farrell has received numerous awards, including the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction and the ONZM for Services to Literature. She made Dunedin home in 2018.

Otago University Press page

Kete Books review by Renee Liang

ANZL review by Stephanie Johnson

Fiona Farrell: interview with Robert Kelly, Standing Room Only, Radio NZ

Readings and interview with Morrin Rout, Bookenz, Plains FM

Poetry Shelf interviews Fiona Farrell

Poetry Shelf summer reviews: Helen Jacobs’s A Habit of Reading

Helen Jacobs, A Habit of Writing The Cuba Press, 2020

Flying

I am being ordinary

and flying on a word

as the mist of the morning

unfolds.

I am being ordinary

in a community

where all are old and ordinary

and I am flying on a word

to meet the sun.

Helen Jacobs

Helen Jacobs (the pen name of Elaine Jakobssen) was born in Pātea, Taranaki in 1929. She has published eight poetry collections, and contributed to numerous journals both in Aotearoa and offshore. During her time as Mayor of Eastbourne, Helen advocated for the local environment and local writers and artists. She worked at the Women’s Electoral Body and was appointed to the Planning Tribunal. Since her time in Christchurch she has been a longtime member of the Canterbury Poets Collective. Aged 91, she lives in a retirement village and is still writing.

Helen’s new collection A Habit of Writing is a delight. Here is a poet writing in old age, absorbing things, often small, but sometimes large, always captivating: an object, walking, a flower uncurling, the hills, the wind, a pot of utensils. Each poem slowly and exquisitely unfolds its subject with rivered fluency, with enviable economy.

These are poems to place on your tongue, one at a time, where they will slowly dissolve leaving vibrant aftertastes that last all day. I read the poems before I went to sleep and I got straight back when I woke up. Perhaps I am drawn to the state-of-being of a woman in her nineties, where relations with life and death shift a tad. Where age is a close companion. Words matter a lot. She reaches out for words. She writes. She celebrates.

Fluency

Fluency traipsed off with the years,

shuffled out imagery.

I look at the pots on the balcony

the plants static, consonants and vowels

straight up.

They do not speak in the wind.

Look to the hills. I do,

as the low cloud ends wisp

across the ridges.

This is a collection of miniature pieces that form a larger mosaic, a wider picture that holds up the poet’s lived-in world. I am acutely drawn into an experience of age that makes me see things a little differently. And that is good. When Helen was ‘young’ and in her sixties she would see the ‘oldies’ out on a bus excursion, and now when she is out on the retirement-village bus she sees the young go by on bicycles. Her steps might be slow. She might slowly examine a geranium leaf as she waters her pots. She might repeat her mother’s ritual and drink a glass of port wine at Christmas. A sonnet would never suit ‘the bowls we play’; free verse is the ticket. It is the ‘small things / as my time grows old’ she observes, that ‘remark the larger world.’

Here I am, a young one on Helen’s time scale, but I am drawn to the slow step, to the measured pace, the prolonged look, to the way a single object or activity can be both rich and comforting in reward. The poem ‘Thinking of lemons’ reminds me how we skate over the surface of things, places, people, experiences. How every person we brush against in the street has a story, a sequence of dreams and mishaps. How every view is on the move, and like a good book, or a good poem, reveals further lights and shadows.

Reading A Habit of Writing offers the utmost joy and comfort. This is a book to savour and to give away. Glorious.

Watercolours

You said, ‘Write me sonnets,’

perhaps –

If I squeeze the day,

wring the hours, spin-dry the minutes,

perhaps the drips will swell dry words.

There will be watercolours,

washes of light.

The Cuba Press author page

ODT review

Rachel McAlpine piece

Poetry Shelf review: Nina Powles’s MAGNOLIA 木蘭

Nina Powles, MAGNOLIA 木蘭, Seraph Press, 2020

鸣 (míng), the cry of animals and insects, rhymes with tooth, which rhymes with precipice, which rhymes with the first part of my Chinese name.

I am full of nouns and verbs; I don’t know how to live any other way. I am a tooth-like thing. I am half sun half moon, and the scissors used to cut away the steamed lotus leaves. I am honey strokes spreading over the tiles.

Certain languages contain more kinds of rain than others, and I have eaten them all.

from ‘Fieldnotes on a downpour’

I have been a fan of Nina Mingya Powles’s poetry since her chapbook Girls of the Drift (2014) through to her glorious poetry boxset Luminescent (2017). The poems are probing, lyrical, self-inquisitive, with women placed centre stage. Her new collection Magnolia 木蘭was also published in the UK (Nine Arches Press) and was shortlisted for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. In 2018 she was one of three winners of the inaugural Poetry Prize, and won the Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing the following year.

Currently living in London, Nina is a poet, zine-maker and nonfiction writer of Malaysian-Chinese and Pākehā descent. I have long been fascinated with the idea that poetry is way of writing home, whether home is physical, on the move, a state of mind, ancestral connections, familial relations, an anchor, an epiphany. And if poetry is a way of writing home it is also a way of writing to / for / with / by / underneath / inside / from (home). Magnolia is an organic version of this as it shifts languages on the tongue, layers sensual detail, raises identity questions, and moves from London to Shanghai to Aotearoa. Smells and tastes of elsewhere bring elsewhere closer to the point the paper is imbued with scent and living matter, and your reading taste buds pop.

there are only dream mountains high above the cloudline

I come from a place full of mountains and volcanoes

I often say when people ask about home

from ‘Night train to Anyang’

Senses are on alert as you read a Nina Powles poem, and I love the physical sensation as you read:

After Mulan saves China / fireworks rain down in waves of multi-coloured

stars

from ‘Girl warrior, or: watching Mulan (1998) / in Englsih with subtitles

Food is an exquisite presence, often connecting you to place, a particular memory or event, love, home. But sometimes Nina lingers on food for the sheer pleasure of food itself: it’s tofu for the love and sake of tofu, lotus leaves and sticky rice ‘sucked clean’. I have felt a similar addictive tastebud reaction reading the poetry of Ian Wedde, particularly The Commonplace Odes.

for the morning after a downpour

Layers of silken tofu float in the shape of a lotus slowly

opening under swirls of soy sauce. Each mouthful of dòufu

huā, literally tofu flower, slips down in one swallow. The

texture reminds me of last night’s rain: how it came down

fast and washed the city clean.

from ‘Breakfast in Shanghai’

Colour is equally vital, sometimes the hue of the land is evoked but, at other times, the tone of a particular painting is foregrounded. It makes a difference that I have stood in the Tate Gallery in London and felt the astonishing hum of Rothko’s colour palate, and have imbibed the colour in Agnes Martin’s equally heavenly paintings. I am curious that Nina’s poems, so active with colour, affect me as much as the artworks. It is as though the poem and the artwork are placed on my wrist like perfume and I feel the colour-pulse streaming through. Really the whole experience is both words and greater than words. Really it is as though a poem has the ability to hum inside us. Like colour.  

#fee10c | saffron: pigment in medieval manuscripts

If I could step inside any Rothko painting it would be Saffron

(1957), which is different from his other yellows because of the thin

bright line that divides the colour fields, not colour shapes or colour

squares or colour blocks, none of which are wide enough to contain

the light. A line dividing two yellow atmospheres glows along the

edges, an electric current. If you stare long enough it seems to get

bigger, slowly opening at one end until it forms a bright gap that

you could just fit through by putting each one of your limbs inside,

one by one, until you are swallowed by light and your skin is the

colour of sunflower petals right before they die and you are either

floating or drowning or both at the same time.

from ‘Colour fragments’

Reading Nina’s collection, I keep fine-tuning what a poem can do. One moment it is the origami bud unfolding in my palm to expose surprising petals of feeling. The next moment she retraces her steps though a city she once lived in; walking and writing through the city and subsequently the miniature poem version. We choose how we move through the poem as miniature city, me on tiptoe, slowly, slowly. This experience is deeply affecting in ‘Falling city’, where the poet lived when young, where she is falling in love, where things have changed and things have remained constant. Nina is seeing and imagining and writing Shanghai by walking; and by reading Shanghai writer Eileen Chang / Zhāng Àilíng, by reading Robin Hyde, by reading maps (‘each person has their own secret map’), visiting ramen bars, musing on ‘New Woman’.

18. What was Chang herself like? I don’t know, but I think she

understood this moment when the dream and the real begin to blur.

She understood how the sky in Shanghai contains many different

colours at once: “At the horizon the morning colours were a layer of

green, a layer of yellow, and a layer of red like a watermelon cut open.”

19. When reading her stories in translation it’s like trying to see

her from a great distance. Or through a thick pane of glass. I am

standing outside, peering into rooms where her ghost has been.

20. As autumn deepened I expected to see your face on the street

or in the subway station. After you left I thought I might feel sad

that this possibility could no longer exist. Instead after a while the

outlines of trees looked sharper, like a fog had lifted.

from ‘Falling city’

The shortish middle sequence, ‘Field notes on a downpour’, is a favourite. There is a hunger for words that fit, for Mandarin fluency, for her mother whose name means rain and language, together meaning ‘cloud tints’. In its intimacy, small details, flâneur pace, mother closeness, disappearances, its repeating motifs, particularly clouds and rain, its naming and its confessions, its love yearnings, this sequence is succulent poetry. And I keep musing on why I am so attracted to the making of poetry, whether writing it reading it, and that it maybe comes down to poems that move into and from the heart of the matter. I don’t mean it has to be full of feeling. I don’t mean it has to fit the facts or perceived realities. I mean it navigates poetic truths: that on certain occasions, in certain places, for a particular person, radiating multiple lights and nuances, this is how it is. In this crumpled and self-challenging world – poetry flicks on the human switch. I am musing this because Nina’s incandescent poetry navigates a bundle of vital questions on who and how and where she is. On what being a particular human in a particular place means to her. On when being asked where you come from digs deep. On needing to eat words. On feeling the rain in all its colours. On being in love.

In order to make learning Mandarin easier, I started to see the

characters as objects I could collect and keep close to me.

魔 (mó), spoken like a murmur, an evil spirit or demon.

One night you said my name in the dark and it came out like a ghost

鬼 from between two trees 林. A ghost that rhymes with a path

between rice fields which rhymes with a piece of steamed bread which

rhymes with paralysis of one side of the body which rhymes with thin

blood vessels.

In June the cicadas were so loud we thought the trees would swallow

us whole.

from ‘Field notes on a downpour’

I turn to the blurb on the back of the book and see so many of the words that have guided my reading: hunger, longing, home, mixed-race, languages, women, colour, rain. Magnolia 木蘭 is origami poetry – it will unfold in your body as you read. It is miniature-city poetry that will reinstate multiple existences of home. It is rain poetry that will fall as gleaming light and stomach nourishment and tattoo your skin. It is love poetry and disappearance poetry. It is heart poetry and human poetry that, in this extraordinary year, will get you contemplating your own downpours and magnolias, and in those musings discover poetry solace. Oh, and it has my favourite cover of the year: an image by Kerry Ann Lee (Allora, 2017), and it is lovingly produced by Helen Rickerby and Seraph Press. Glorious!

I want to know the names of the trees in all other languages too so

that I find out what they taste like to other people. But my mouth

can only hold so much.

from ‘Magnolia, jade orchard, she-wolf’

Nina Mingya Powles is a poet, zinemaker and non-fiction writer of Malaysian-Chinese and Pākehā heritage, currently living in London. She is the author of a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai (The Emma Press, 2020), poetry box-set Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017), and several poetry chapbooks and zines, including Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press, 2014). In 2018 she was one of three winners of the inaugural Women Poets’ Prize, and in 2019 won the Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing. Magnolia 木蘭 was shortlisted for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Nina has an MA in creative writing from Victoria University of Wellington and won the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry. She is the founding editor of Bitter Melon 苦瓜, a risograph press that publishes limited-edition poetry pamphlets by Asian writers. Her collection of essays, Small Bodies of Water, is forthcoming from Canongate Books in 2021. 

Seraph Press page

Poetry Book Society review

Poetry Shelf radio review of the year: Chris Tse reviews Bill Manhire’s Wow @ninetonoon

My favourite 2020 poetry review on the radio:

Chris Tse discusses Bill Manhire’s Wow with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon. I loved how Chris said reading the collection reminded him of strolling through the emptied city in lockdown. Yes! Strolling through Bill’s poetry – everything sharpens, the birds are returning, it affects you on so many levels, the invisible is present, fleetingly, lyrically.

This is just wonderful! Listen here.

Poetry Shelf review: Mohamed Hassan’s National anthem

Mohamed Hassan, National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020

the songs I breathe to

make my bones ache

smell like mama’s deep

fried cauliflower after

a long day of diaspora

 

from ‘John Lennon’

Reading Mohamed Hassan’s new collection, National Anthem, opens up what poetry can do. It widens your heart. It makes you feel. It makes you think. It gets you listening. It makes you think about things that matter. Humanity. Family. Soil.

It makes me yearn for a world where divisions and privileges – based on where you come from, the colour of your skin and the language you speak – are no longer active.

The poetry I have loved this year keeps returning to the word listen. For all kinds of reasons. The way poetry is music, the way poems active with sound feed your ear. The way you listen to other voices that are distinctive and are vital chimes on human experience. I need to read these poems. I need to read these poems and listen to how tough it is when people insist on sideswiping those who do not match their own reflection and choices.

Mohamed’s poetry, amongst other things, is written in soil, with all its significance – this living breathing life-essential earth that nourishes us, hearts, minds, bodies, connections. Soil, as a living entity is so contested and so unbearably damaged by greed and ignorance. It defines where we stand and where we have stood. Mohamed writes from the soil he has left behind in Egypt and the soil of his second home Aotearoa, the soil of his travels. The ink soil in his pen carries the earth of dreams, experiences, kinship, wounds, connections. Islamophobia. Revelations. Griefs. Hopes.  

Such acutely personal poetry is sometimes filtered through other characters, whether speaking of racism, isolation, separation, love:

I am a poet who writes about my feelings but can’t open up without being in character

without the stage lights and the orange diffusers softening my face for the audience 

from ‘Grief is an expensive habit’

 

 

Family is important. The poems never lose sight or contact with family. The grandfather looms large in particular dreams and memories. He is in a humiliating childhood scene, but he is also loss:

you can’t discard a loss the way you can

a birthday gift or a broken laptop

 

it lives with you, sleeps in the spare room

by the laundry and occasionally eats your food

 

I want to never lose my parents

but find a loss like that in someone

 

a love that sears into your lungs and lingers

if you draw the short straw and not die first

 

 

from ‘Bury me’

The grandmother is equally important. She is there in ‘When they ask you / why you speak so well for an immigrant’, a poem that reacts to the title’s misguided and recurring compliment:

Tell them

about your grandmother’s laugh

how you never quite knew whether she was story or myth

the upper lip in your conviction

or a song ringing in your bones

drifting through the kitchen window

with the fried shrimp and newspaper voodoo dolls

National anthem layers experience, and that layered experience opens up what immigrants deal with. This cannot be underestimated. This daily erosion. The intricate and extraordinary poem, ‘Life at a distance’, recounts the family’s move to Aotearoa, the mother yearning for home, bearing the racial slurs, crying bathroom tears. Twenty years later, the educated, assimilated and beloved son moves to Istanbul with his ‘kiwiness’.

migration is its own form

of social isolation

 

an ocean that sits between you

and everyone else

This is the kind of poem that burrows in deep with its complications and toughness, its epiphanies and its wisdoms. I want to hear it read aloud. To hear it sung in the air. This is a son’s story and a mother’s story, a braid of realisations: ‘and you realise she is wading through / her own migration, that like her / you are a dandelion flung in the wind’. One verse depicts the mother still watching Egyptian soap operas and skyping the grandmother, but doing things and being in a country she no longer wants to leave. ‘Home’ has doubled back on itself.

she tells me she is praying

I come home

 

and home

by any other name

 

is a quarantine

you have chosen

 

is a field of dandelions

flung together

 

learning to grow

In fact this is the kind of book that burrows in deep with its deft and moving exposures. The poetry is the hand on the heart, the hand never leaving the heart, especially after the individual, societal and cultural wounds of the mosque attacks, and the cumulative stories of grief, disharmony, anxiety, uncertainty, ignorance. The personal stories. The politics. Mohamed names the terrorist because he wants the repeated name to fade to oblivion. Jacinda refuses to name the terrorist because she too wants to demolish any shard of power or presence. Mohamed is using words, shaping poems, intensely personal, searingly political, to dissipate a name and move towards healing a community.

we will say your name

until you you are no more real

until your oblivion fades

 

and we will have sprouted

daffodils from our pain

a forest from our eyes

a mountain

a most beautiful way to heal

 

and who will worship you then?

 

from ‘The Prime Minister will not say his name but I will’

The poems hold out hope, time and time again, in an image or a phrase, in a word such as daffodils, in the idea that arms opening wide will embrace the whole person not just what they choose, in the dissatisfaction of arm’s length, in ‘the five stages of peace’. I keep wanting to share a poem with you, to sit down with you in café and say read this, feel this, ponder this, be changed, open your arms wide and greet the whole person, the poem. I am a privileged white woman with a warm home and food in the fridge, a loving family, a long history of publication, a tertiary education, a history of travel, a place to call home. But I need to listen harder. When will these global hierarchies and inequities end?

Mohamed brings us back to a person holding a pen fuelled with ink and soil and memory and challenge. He puts himself on show (albeit in character at times) no matter the pain. Here he is at the airport, at customs where some people sail through invisibly, while some people are interrogated because of name or colour. It is the poem’s ending that gets me, that keeps reminding me – in this catastrophic year of pandemic, overstretched frontline staff, hate crimes, wars, conspiracy theories, poverty, insufferable greed, and sexual and domestic abuse – every name and statistic is a real person. A real person with story.

This ending. This poem. Buy the book and read the poem:

listen

let’s take things slow

I want this, I do

but let’s build a relationship

on more than just racial profiling

 

I want you to know the real me

 

can’t you that I

well …

 

I’m just a boy

standing in front of a boy

asking him

 

 

to let me in

 

 

from ‘Customs: a love story’

The title poem, ‘National anthem’ is also a beauty, a poem of pledges that include good coffee, voices in unison, the grandmother’s laugh, zero flags and borders. The final stanza, the final lines in the collection are the kind of lines that will keep you going over corrugated roads and spiky living, that will keep you going whatever your story, whatever your challenges, and pain and love and prospects of death or hope. I am so hoping that Mohamed gets to read at Aotearoa festivals next year, not just five minutes in a poetry line up, but in a whole session where we can hear his words sing and shine and cut and hold out arms and offer such exquisite and necessary hope.

to those who would plot to sow me love

to bake me warmth and never break my art

to rob my eyes for safe keeping

to drown me in unconditional trust

 

to build with me

a new sun

 

I pledge myself

 

to you

 

from ‘National anthem’

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer who has lived in Egypt, Aotearoa and Turkey. Hewas the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally.

Dead Bird Books page

Poetry Shelf review: Rhian Gallagher’s Far-Flung

Rhian Gallagher,Far-Flung Auckland University Press, 2020

Into the Blue Light

for Kate Vercoe

 

I’m walking above myself in the blue light

indecently blue above the bay with its walk-on-water skin

here is the Kilmog slumping seaward

and the men in their high-vis vests

pouring tar and metal on gaping wounds

the last repair broke free; the highway

doesn’t want to lie still, none of us

want to be where we are

 

exactly but somewhere else

the track a tree’s ascent, kaikawaka! hold on

to the growing power, sun igniting little shouts

against my eyeballs

and clouds came from Australia

hunkering over the Tasman with their strange accent

 

I’m high as a wing tip

where the ache meets the bliss

summit rocks exploding with lichen and moss –

little soft fellas suckered to a groove

bloom and bloom – the track isn’t content

with an end, flax rattling their sabres, tussocks

drying their hair in the stiff south-easterly;

the track wants to go on

forever because it comes to nothing

but the blue light. I’m going out, out

out into the blue light, walking above myself.

 

 

Rhian Gallagher, from Far-Flung

 

 

Rhian Gallagher’s debut poetry book, Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize First Collection, while her second book Shift was awarded the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. She has received a Canterbury History Foundation Award, The Janet Frame Literary Trust Award and in 2018 she held the University of Otago Burns Fellowship. This year I welcomed the arrival of Far-Flung (Auckland University Press). It is a glorious book, a book to slowly savour.

Far-Flung is in two sections. The first section, with deep and roving attachments, navigates place. Think of the shimmering land, the peopled land, the lived-upon and recollected land, with relationships, experiences, epiphanies and upheavals. Think of the past and think of the present. Think of school classrooms, macrocarpa and our smallest birds. Think of a nor-west wind and Donegal women. These poems exude a delicious quietness, a stalled pace, because this is poetry of contemplation, musings upon a stretching home along with ideas that have shaped, and are shaping, how the world is.

The other day I turned up in an Auckland café to meet poet Anna Jackson for lunch, and we both brought along Far-Flung to read (if we got to wait for the other). I read the opening lines aloud to Anna when she arrived, and then she started reading the book. We were lost in the book. I am now imagining how perfect it would be to have a weekly poetry meeting with a friend, where you sit and read the exact same book over lunch. Perhaps I am returning to the afternoon-tea poems from my debut book Cookhouse, where I thought I would take afternoon with poets I loved (in the shape of a poem) for the rest of my life. That didn’t exactly happen (in the shape of a poem), but I guess I have been engaging with poetry in Aotearoa ever since.

Rhian’s opening poem ‘Into the Blue Light’ is a form of poetry astonishment. Let’s say awe, wonder, uplift. The spiritual meets the incandescent meets the hot sticky tar of the road repairs, and the ever-moving scene, with its biblical overtones (‘the bay with its walk-on-water skin’), references a fidgety self as it much as it scores physical locations. I keep coming back to the word ‘miracle’, and the way we become immune to the little and large miracles about us. Miracle can be a way of transcending the burdensome body, daily stasis, the anchor of here and there, the shadow of death, and embrace light  and engage in light-footed movement. This is definitely a poem to get lost in. You don’t need to know what it is about or the personal implications for both poet and speaker. Perhaps this is what astonishment poems can do: they draw us into the blue light so that we may walk or drift above ourselves.

The second poem, ‘The Speed of God’, underlines the range of a nimble poet whose poetic craft includes the lyrical, the political, the personal and the reflective. Here Rhian wittingly but bitingly muses on the idea that God made the world too fast to get men right.


Or maybe if he’d made man and said, ‘You learn how to
live with yourself and do housework and then I might think
about woman.’

The second section of the book focuses upon voices from Dunedin’s Seacliff Lunatic Asylum and is in debt to research along with imaginings. The Lunatic Act of 1882 defines a lunatic within legal parameters rather a medical diagnosis. The institution was more akin to a prison than a place of healing, with those incarcerated granted no legal rights.  As a national inspector of lunatic asylums, hospitals and charitable institutions, Dr Duncan MacGregor ‘feared New Zealand was being overrun by a flood of immigrants from lowly backgrounds’.

Rhian’s ‘The Seacliffe Epistles’ sequence is unbearably haunting. The endnotes acknowledge the sources, many poems in debt to inmate’s letters. Reading the poignant poetry, I am reminded of the way we still haven’t got everything right yet. We still have the dispossessed, the muted, the disenfranchised, the underprivileged. And that is another haunting seeping into the crevices of the book.

Far-Flung showcases multiple bearings of self, place, and across time. There is the child smelling the ‘gum trees in the gully’, rhyming her way across a wheat field, as letters and words start to produce sound and sense. From those tentative beginnings, words now offer sumptuous music for the ear, groundings for the heart, little portholes into our own contemplative meanderings. As Vincent O’Sullivan says on the back of the book: ‘I can think of no more than a handful of poets, whose work I admire to anything like a similar degree.’ This is a glorious arrival, a book of exquisite returns that slowly unfold across months.

Rhian Gallagher’s first poetry book Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press, 2003) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for First Collection. In 2007 Gallagher won a Canterbury History Foundation Award, which led to the publication of her book Feeling for Daylight: The Photographs of Jack Adamson (South Canterbury Museum, 2010). She also received the 2008 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award. Gallagher’s Shift (AUP, 2011) won the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. In 2018, she held the University of Otago Robert Burns Fellowship.

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf review: Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book

Tusiata Avia, The Savage Coloniser Book, Victoria University Press, 2020

I have just read Selina Tusitala Marsh’s brilliant review of The Savage Coloniser Book at the Academy of New Zealand Literature, and if you read one book review this year, from first line to last line, read this. It pays sublime tribute to Tusiata Avia’s book at a personal level and at a wider level. This is a taster:

The Savage Coloniser Book poetically documents our wounds, and by doing this provides poetic catharsis. Avia goes through the wound – colonisation, slavery, genocide and racism – and back through it several times. It’s an uncomfortable read in many places. Some might avert their eyes, refuse to lift off their own bandages to see, but it’s a wound that belongs to all of us and one shared by people of colour the world over. These are wounds that leak into our day-to-day lives, whether you’re paying in a bookshop or praying in a mosque, whether you are having coffee with blithely racist friends or standing in a protest line.

Tusiata Avia places herself – her ravaged heart, her experience, wounds, scars, thinking, feeling, her urge to speak, sing, perform, make poetry, no matter the price, the energy needed, holding history out, with tempered rage, with unadulterated rage, quietly, loudly, singing, shining, her heart on the travesties, the coloniser, the colonised, on the Pākehā who crossed lines into abuse, and into the light there, right there the unspeakable abuse that needs to be heard, whacking Captain Cook from his pedestal, sighting Ihumātao, the Australian bush fires, ‘The white fella houses go up in smoke. // They start living in caravans / like they’re the dispossessed’, and the refugees, in lines of sight, heart lines ear lines, ah the point of the blade when you hear the Manus Island refugees, the plundering of lives and loves and dreams and ways of being across time, the plundering of the land, the living growing nurturing land, ‘you might even have to remove a mountain’ to get to the ore, Jacinda’s house colonised by a Polynesian family, worried daughter listening to Jacinda and her daily Covid briefing, translating for worried mother, worried daughter, finding her mother’s Broadsheets, the gutted woman, the abortioned woman, her lovers, her daughter who wants her mother to be more specific, but she is disabled with epilepsy, saying thingy to beloved daughter, disinfectant wiping surfaces for her beloved mother, in the time of Covid, in the time of reckoning, the near death, again the near death, epilepsy on the floor, her passed father a presence, the white people who claim white as colour, and more, and worse, and notes for the critic with their suffocating paradigms and agendas, racism, and standing in the room with the white people who are finding it hard to be white and just won’t shut up, and she places a prayer, a prayer for water, her daughter, the stars, lungs, child, air, the reader and more – in her poems, in these necessary poems.

dear Tusiata

hold your book to my ear

hold your book to my eye

hold your book to my lungs

hold your book in my bloodstream

hold your book up for my forebears

hold your book up for my friends and family

hold your book in my heart

hold your book, hold your book

love Paula

Selina Tusitala Marsh’s review at ANZL

Poetry Shelf: Tusiata‘s ‘Love in the Time of Primeminiscinda’ (The Savage Coloniser Book)

Tusiata reads ‘Massacre’ (The Savage Coloniser Book)

Leilani Tamu review at KeteBooks

Faith Wilson review at RNZ National

Victoria University Press page

‘Protest is telling the truth in public … We use our bodies, our words, our art and our sounds both to tell the truth about the pain we endure and to demand the justice that we know is possible.’ DeRay Mckesson, On the Other Side of Freedom  (quoted at front of book)

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Nina Mingya Powles’s live (from London) book launch

Help us celebrate the launch of Magnolia 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles in the time of covid! Nina is stuck in lockdown in London, from where she will do an Instagram Live reading to celebrate the publication of the New Zealand edition of her fabulous new poetry collection.

Join us on Wednesday 2 December at 9 pm NZ time on Nina’s Instagram page. (It will also be available to view later, but live is best!) To view the video you’ll need to have an Instagram account.

If Instagram isn’t your thing, or even if it is, you can also look forward to the real-life launch we’re planning with Nina in March!! Details TBC.

You can buy Magnolia 木蘭 from good bookshops, or direct from us. First 100 direct orders will also get a limited edition risograph print made by Nina herself of one of the poems in the collection.

About Magnolia 木蘭

Home is not a place but a string of colours threaded together and knotted at one end.

Shanghai, Aotearoa, Malaysia, London—all are places poet Nina Mingya Powles calls home and not-home; from each she can be homesick for another. A gorgeous bittersweet longing and hunger runs through the poems in this new collection from one of our most exciting poetic voices.

In Magnolia 木蘭 Powles explores her experience of being mixed-race and trying to find her way through multiple languages: English, Mandarin, Hakka, Māori. Powles uses every sense to take us on a journey through cities, food and even time, weaving her story with the stories of women from history, myth and film.

The gorgeous cover features an artwork by Kerry Ann Lee.

The UK edition of Magnolia 木蘭 was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best first collection.

“This is a book of the body and the senses, whether the million tiny nerve endings of young love; the hunger that turns ‘your bones soft in the heat’; the painterly, edible, physical colour of flowers and the fabric lantern in the pattern of Maggie Cheung’s blue cheongsam; or ‘the soft scratchings of dusk’. These are poems of ‘warm blue longing’ and understated beauty, poems to linger over, taste, and taste again. As Powles searches for home she leaves an ‘imprint of rain’ in your dreams.”
—Alison Wong

About the author

Nina Mingya Powles is a poet, zinemaker and non-fiction writer of Malaysian-Chinese and Pākehā heritage, currently living in London. She is the author of a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai (The Emma Press, 2020), poetry box-set Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017), and several poetry chapbooks and zines, including Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press, 2014). In 2018 she was one of three winners of the inaugural Women Poets’ Prize, and in 2019 won the Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing. Magnolia 木蘭 was shortlisted for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Nina has an MA in creative writing from Victoria University of Wellington and won the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry. She is the founding editor of Bitter Melon 苦瓜, a risograph press that publishes limited-edition poetry pamphlets by Asian writers. Her collection of essays, Small Bodies of Water, is forthcoming from Canongate Books in 2021.

Poetry Shelf review: Bill Manhire’s Wow

Bill Manhire, Wow, Victoria University Press, 2020

Excuse me if I laugh.

The roads are dark and large books block our path.

The air we breathe is made of evening air.

The world is longer than the road that brings us here.

from ‘The Armchair Traveller’

Over my decades of reading New Zealand poetry, some poets stand out. To my discovery of Hone Tuwhare in my secondary-school library in the early 1970s, I add the joy of reading Jenny Bornholdt, Bernadette Hall, JC Sturm, Michele Leggott, Emma Neale, Tusiata Avia, Cilla McQueen, Anna jackson, Bill Manhire. So many other poets have given me goosebumps across the decades, poets who have made me pick up a pen and write, who have hooked my attention and then kept me listening. What is it that makes a particular poet, such as Bill Manhire, our first national poet laureate, a favoured return over years? For me it starts with music, moves through heart, silence, mystery, ideas, wit. I seem to favour bridges into poetry thickets, and these thickets might appear within a handful of words or a book-long sequence.

At WORD Christchurch a few weeks ago, I went to some excellent sessions. I have already written about the miracle of being there in the time of Covid, along with my festival highlights – but how fitting one favourite was the Bill Manhire / John Campbell conversation celebrating Bill’s new collection, Wow. John discussed the lasting effect of being in a Bill Manhire class at university and reading his poetry. I carried away such warmth and enthusiasm for poems and what poetry can do. John launched the conversation by explaining Bill’s impact on him: ‘A light went on in my head and heart which has never gone out’. This line has stuck with me. Poetry turns on internal lights. Gifts us an internal galaxy system. Coincidentally the house lights are always up in WORD sessions so it felt like a living-room or café conversation without the usual audience / speaker barrier at work. I kept wanting to join in! Afterwards fans lined up with the book to get signed and I pictured the queue of people racing home to find their own Wow enthusiasms. I will barely scrape the surface of how many paths through the collection.

Wow, co-published by Carcanet in the UK and Victoria University Press here, is one of four winter recommendations by the Poetry Book Society, an organisation TS Eliot and friends founded in 1953.

I begin with Wow’s preface: ‘they’ve cleared away / the clearings’.

The mystery is potent. The image haunting. I was sitting in my Ōtautahi hotel room, looking out at the parking-lot clearings, with Wow in hand, and I couldn’t stop leapfrogging from city clearings to bush clearings to mental clearings to poem clearings. And I couldn’t stop wondering what replaces the clearing, and the word bounced about in my head so much it lost sense. And then it became vital: we need clearings. We need clearings in the city, and the bush, and in our heads. Maybe we need clearings in poems, where the the light and dark intermingle, and the glints sit next to the ominous.

Thickets and clearings. The first poem is a song of the extinct huia, a fitting call onto the book’s musical terrain, and to uncertain and unsettling presents and futures. Such a poignant note to enter a collection with:

I lived among you once

and now I can’t be found

I’m made of things that vanish

a feather on the ground

from ‘Huia’

Turn the page and ‘Untitled’, a short poem, is an altogether different form of song. The dark edges are prominent, the silence (the unspoken, the withheld) a hook. This poem is the complete Manhire package: you get music, silence, mystery, dark edges, light turns.

Untitled

This book about extinct birds is heavier than any bird:

heavier than the dark bird eating my heart,

page after page of abandoned wings.

I lift it up and sit it on my lap

and listen to it purring.

Bill Manhire

John invited Bill to read the four-lined ‘A Really Nice Trip’, where the speaker visits several ‘Pleasant’ places: ‘Then we went all the way out to Pleasant Point.’ The audience laughed and loved it, and I pictured everyone picturing a mindstream of pleasant places. The poem is a wee joke. The poem turns up in reviews and on festival stages. The poem is also like a clearing for our own pleasant places, in my case, reeking of summer and green tea in a flask. Ah such a tongue-in-cheek, underrated word that scoots over how a Valley or a Flat or a Point can be satisfying, pleasing, a downright pleasure.

Yes! Bill is the maestro of ordinariness (a bit like Jenny Bornholdt is too) where an economy of words releases any number of treats. There is comfort in the ordinary – that pleasant place – that is sometimes so ordinary it becomes unreal, super-real. This kind of poetic ordinariness makes pinpricks on your eyelids, and you settle back in your chair or hammock as the armchair traveller, the poetry traveller, and it is altogether wonderful. I quoted the first stanza from ‘The Armchair Traveller’ at the start of this review, because it is this one of those classic Manhire poems that is going to haunt like ‘Kevin’ haunts you, or ‘The Ladder’ or ‘Erebus Voices’ or ‘Hotel Emergencies’ or ‘The Victims of Lightning’. Here is the last verse:

Time now to let the story take its course,

just settle back and let the driver drive.

Bliss is it late at night to be alive,

learning to yield, and not to strive.

from ‘The Armchair Traveller’

‘The Armchair Traveller’ is a poetry thicket at its very best – you get the light and dark, the mystery, the silence and the exquisite music. There is comfort but there is also discomfort. Perhaps the comfort –for me even in the darkest threats – is expanded by Bill’s fondness for rhyme and repetition. At times the rhyme resembles an incantation, a list, or repeating sounds, an insistent beat, but at other times, rhyme feeds the mysterious business of being human. ‘Warm Ocean’ is full of repetition and rhyme, assonance and alliteration, a sweet concatenation of musical effects and human connections, both within hearing and at a whisper.

Don’t play the music don’t play the music

says the man

who walks around town saying

over and over don’t play the music

all songs being made

as we know from things that hurt

ice that melts flames that fall from the sky

yes all of that and more

and the father goes on singing

long after his daughter leaves the church

from ‘Warm Ocean’

Yes! Wow offers multiple impacts as you read. Three poems in a row are heart catchers: ‘Knots’, ‘Our Teacher’, ‘The Sky’. Things are missed and missing. So poignant. Such treasures. How to tear yourself apart from the magical movement of ‘The Sky’? Impossible:

A man comes by with coal in a wheelbarrow,

muttering, muttering. He wants

to sell us warmth, his feet don’t leave the ground.

We think that we will always miss the sky.

It says look up whenever we look down.

from ‘The Sky’

Read Wow and you get story and song, light and dark, the surreal, constant surprise, but there is also always wit and humour. I laughed out loud at the indignant woman who thought she had phoned the cattery to get her vegetarian cat named Coleslaw back, and the bemused listener couldn’t get a word in edgeways. ‘The Lazy Poet’ is hilarious as it overlays cricket and poetry (‘He wonders about the word “thicket” …/ then turns on the cricket’) until ‘rain stops play’. I also laughed out loud at ‘The Deerculler’s Wife’, as it signals a poem that might be drowning, or yelling to get attention, or even blowing a yellow whistle.

Like many poets, Bill uses a roving speaker, who may or may not be autobiographical, invented, borrowed, an amalgamation of voices, experiences, imaginings. In a blog he wrote for Carcanet, he talks about the action between the speaker in the poem and the person who writes, and the way characters, one in particular, who keep turning up in his poetry. This nimble voice keeps us on our reading toes. Bill’s vagabond ‘I’ is best friends with an inquisitive and acquisitive eye and ear as it gathers in the world, real or imagined.

Wow will haunt you – so many of these poems have joined my list of memorable poetry encounters (see my list above to add to). The baby in the title poem says ‘wow’ while the big brother says ‘also’. This new collection sparks both the ‘wow’ moments and the ‘also’ moments. Get lost in its glorious thickets and then find your way out to take stock of the ordinary (and out-of-the-ordinary) world about you.

Bill closed his WORD session by reading ‘Little Prayers’, written in response to the Christchurch terrorist attack, 15 March 2019. This is a poem to hold in your heart. I will leave you with the opening verse, in the hope you will open the book, in your armchair or hammock, and begin reading:

Let the closing line be the opening line

Let us open ourselves to grief and shame

Let pain be felt and be felt again

May our eyes see when they cease crying

Let the closing line be the opening line

from ‘Little Prayers’

Bill Manhire’s most recent books include Some Things to Place in a Coffin (2017), Tell Me My Name (with Hannah Griffin and Norman Meehan, 2017) and The Stories of Bill Manhire (2015). He was New Zealand’s inaugural poet laureate, and founded and until recently directed the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. He has edited major anthologies, including, with Marion McLeod, the now classic Some Other Country: New Zealand’s Best Short Stories (1984).

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf review: Jackson Nieuwland’s I am a human being

I am a human being, Jackson Nieuwland, Compound Press, 2020

Sometimes you pick up a poetry book and you know within a page or two, it is a perfect fit, a slow-speed read to savour with joy. That’s how I felt when I started reading Jackson Nieuwland’s I am a human being. I love the premise embedded in the title, that in turn generates a sequence of poems that form a secret title list poem (I am an egg, I am a tree, I am tree, I am a beaver, I am a bear, I am a dog, I am a bottomless pit, and so on).

The opening poem offers an image that, in its exquisite and heart-moving detail, underlines the range of the book: physical, metaphorical, fable-like, metaphysical, autobiographical. In one poem the speaker suggests they are not quite sure who they are yet, that there is no single word that adequately defines them (‘agender, genderfluid, trans …’). This book, so long in the making, lovingly crafted with the loving support of friends, with both doubt and with grace (think poise, fluency, adroitness), this book, in its lists and its expansions, moves beyond the need for a single self-defining word.

Instead we are offered the image of the egg – and the way we hold a universe of things inside us, and that sometimes we might break.

This is intimate poetry. This is slowing down to observe the quotidian, the daily comings and goings, the things you see and feel when you stop and reflect and imagine, that then tilts to surprise. There is uplift and there is slipstream.

This is contoured poetry because it ignites so many parts of you as you read. You will laugh out loud as you read. You will feel the poignant witty wise delightful magical joy. The shifting melodies. There are keyholes to light and keyholes to dark. The speaker speaks of outsiderness, of what it is to fit, and what it is to not fit.

Sometime you will turn the page to a glorious pun.

Sometimes the vulnerability is a sharp ache above the surface of the line. This from ‘I am version of you from the future’:

Your past self looks at you with sympathy.

They pull you into a tight hug.

You begin to sob

releasing years of tears

that had been held inside

due to the conditioning you received

from a patriarchal society

and the overload of testosterone

pumping through you body.

As you sink into your own embrace,

the two versions of you merge into one,

and you begin again

given a chance to do it all over

but differently this time,

with an open heart

like quadruple bypass surgery.

The risk of death is high

but what other choice do you have?

I am a version of you from the future.

This is just the beginning—

I am a human being is my favourite poetry book of 2020 so far. I like the addition of Steph Maree’s line drawings. I like the way the poetry stretches in its imaginings to draw closer to an interior real that is never fixed. I like the way the poetry is both anchor and liberating kite. I like the acknowledgement that, in order to know who you are, you need to embrace many things. I love this book so very much from first page to last. In the endnotes, the page where the poet gives thanks, I read the best acknowledgement ever:

And thank you for reading

this book. I’ve gone back and

forth with myself for years

about whether these words are

worth anyone’s time. It means

the universe to me that you’ve

read all the way to the end. I

hope you found something that

meant something to you.

Jackson Nieuwland is a genderqueer writer from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Their poetry has appeared in a number of journals, in print and online.

Compound Press page