Category Archives: NZ poetry book

Poetry Shelf review: Janet Charman’s The Pistils

The Pistils Janet Charman, Otago University Press, 2022

little lapping waves
to inundate
the shoes of makers
whose texts
i’ve addressed
and assessed
in the dark inland towns
of my imagination
the large waves of the fire siren
call me out
in the middle of the night

from ‘welling’

I started reading Janet Charman’s poetry when I emerged from my poetry cocoon with Cookhouse, my debut collection, and she knocked my socks off. First up it was Janet’s musical ear: an elasticity with words, linguistic play, surprising syntax. And then, so essential when my academic research focused on women and writing, her feminist core. Not an adjunct, nor a side track, but an essential feminist core. When I walked across the university threshold onto Simmonds Street, with my PhD and carton of books, I walked out of the academy into life as a poet. And a hunger to immerse myself in an Aotearoa New Zealand context. To discover the women who had written before me, who were writing alongside me, and who would write ahead of me. Janet Charman was busting out of the men’s canon and opening up notions of ‘she’, ‘i’, ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘they’. The ink in her pen and her preferences were placed centre stage, whether in trousers or skirts, folding nappies or building houses.

Janet’s new collection The Pistils opens with a terrific sequence, ‘High days and holy days’. Twelve poems that mark holidays or significant occasions (Waitangi Day, Parihaka Day Guy Fawkes Night, Wahine Day, Matariki, Picnic Days). Each poem contributes to a life – within a sequence of panels. Bare bones. Ample white space. A miniature narrative of excavation. Remember when. Remember how. Remember why. The sequence opens scenes, moments, places – and we enter the collection grounded.

winds drain to the horizon
tides
lap below the wrought-iron railing

here
we are sheltered in the hollow of the year
the hollow of the day

blowflies
loll and bang the afternoon to a close
the windows

from ‘1. Northland Panels‘ from ‘high days and holy days’

Move into the heart of the book, and the mind leaps and bounds along the rhythm of the line. Exquisitely crafted. Scored. Composed. In ‘Mrs Valentine’s instructions’, the rhythm of revelation shapes memory. On the next page, in ‘hometime’, attention to the sound of the line is equally arresting. Memory is translated into music and image. It is a portrait of the child but it is also a portrait of the mother. In parings and traces. Surprising arrivals. It is religion and Freud, a mother lost in a novel, it is fingers worn to the bone, the news on the radio, family dinners, walking home. Life and death. It is home.

and the mother weighting at the top of the hill
her red roof tile her front windows
black blank shine
her white two-storeyed weatherboard authority of home time
—untangle the latch race the path
hunt through the house to find her where she sits
adrift in a novel
or conducting her day in some regimen of intellectual longing
with Freud and Jung in the sunroom
—on three sides light pulses in
Father Son and the Holy Ghost
summer on summer through glass the great gum nods

from ‘hometime’

Rhythm is so important. It renders Janet’s poetry fully charged, and accumulates life, detail, confession, insight, opinion, grief, reflection. It feels real, it feels personal, it feels political. The mother is a constant presence, in the shadows and in the light, a vital connection. Rhythm accommodates the feminist spotlight on life. The stamen and the pistil, the difficulty of childbirth and a baby in an incubator, a war memorial, waste management, Pakehā privilege, an aging body image, a breast removed, James K Baxter’s rape boast, literary criticism, sex, grief, having breakfast while watching John Campbell rather than listening to National Radio because your beloved has gone. It is the rhythm of mourning. Ah. So many layers.

i waited into the summer for my diagnosis
saw how a benign White Island
only became Whakaari
for the pakehā
after an eruption with deaths

from ‘bra dollars’

I speak of rhythm in such glowing terms but it is of course part of a sonic festival. Janet’s poetry strikes the ear (as Rebecca Hawke’s debut collection does). This leaning in to listen is rewarding: the leapfrogging alliteration, assonance, short lines, slightly longer lines, punctuating breath, free flowing currents. Again Janet’s agile music enhances my engagement with her roving subject matter. With the sharp edges and the necessary subterranean questions. How to live? How to live and love on planet Earth? How to speak against subjugation based on gender or skin colour? How to see your parents? How to go on when your beloved is no longer there? How to continue probing and resisting? How to be yourself? Ah. Such layerings.

Reading Pistil is exhilarating. I am loving this book because it is vulnerable and open, it is edgy and crafted, and because it shines a light on how it is for women. We still need that persistent light. We still need poetry that misbehaves as much as it makes music on the line. The poems call out and call for, stand out and stand for. It is a stunning collection.

Janet Charman is one of New Zealand’s sharpest and most subversive writers. In 2008 she won the Montana Book Award for Poetry for her sixth collection, Cold Snack. In 2009 she was a Visiting Fellow at the International Writers’ Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University. In 2014 she appeared as a Guest Reader at the Taipei International Poetry Forum. Her collection 仁 Surrender (2017, OUP) chronicles her writing residencies in Hong Kong and Taiwan. This is her ninth collection of poetry.

Otago University Press page

Interview: Janet Charman on Standing Room Only with Lynn Freeman Listen

Review: Sophie van Waardenberg for Academy of New Zealand Literature Read

Review: Chris Tse for Nine to Noon Listen

Poetry Shelf review: Frances Samuel’s Museum

Museum, Frances Samuel, Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2022

Up here in the thin green air,
I’m feeling the wind on my face
with the joy of a dog on a family car trip,
head out of the window.

from ‘Exhibition (DNA)’

Frances Samuel worked in a museum writing texts for exhibitions for many years. For me, museums are an endless source of fascination and marvel. I wrote about the intoxicating thrill of museums in New York Pocketbook. Standing, for example, before a pair of child’s boots in Ellis Island’s Immigration Centre or moving with the wonders of the Natural History Museum. Or the roll call of museums that fed my Italian degrees. There are the hungry gaps of the past that you seek to fill by studying scuffed toes, wrinkled leather, the uncanny emptiness, the child that once ran or skipped or hid. In my self-imposed lockdown, picking up Frances’s new collection felt like a trip to a museum and, as happens on the threshold of any museum space, I felt a heady mix of anticipation, joy, curiosity. Where would this book take me?

I pass through the book’s opening poem, ‘Exhibition (Security)’, and then move through three exhibitions: ‘SUPER(NATURAL) WORLD’, ‘(IM)MATERIAL WORLD’ and ‘OBJECT LESSONS’. I am following the poet, the museum maker, but the museum on offer is porous. It reaches out beyond walls and still life into the air we breathe, and with each poem I track twist unfold pursue peruse fold untwist. Just like I do on Ellis Island. Or in Roma. It is discovery and it is magical.

The poem ‘Climate Change’ proposes a change in perspective. Inventive in its start:

Since we are all made up of atoms and vibrations,
let’s rearrange ourselves.
You be a bird and I’ll be a buffalo,
stand on my back and off we go, carefully
stepping over our discard clothes

And utterly moving, when you reach the final stanza. I keep bouncing back to the poem’s title, just as I might switch and flick between museum diorama, museum label and someone else’s shoes:

From above, we watch travellers on the trails
tying and retying their loads to donkeys’ backs.
They take a few steps and the load slips again.
Over and over again, agreement can only come
when the bird in me bleats
to the buffalo in you.

Frances writes lightfootedly. It’s not just a matter of weight but a matter of luminosity. If the poems were written in ink, the ink would be imbued with a wonder that slips in and out of view. You need to read each poem whole to get the effect of fitting together, but certain lines stand out and settle on you, little talismans, little points of fascinations.

‘Rain is hole-punching its way in.’ from ‘Moonhopppers’

‘My friend wears a grass jumpsuit / teeming with ants and worms.’ from ‘Fashion’

‘A poet explodes at a kitchen table / taking everything else with her.’ from ‘Pottery’

‘The words are falling from him like seeds.’ from ‘Fast Forest’

‘If one hundred thousand leaves / can make a clean break every day / then what are you waiting for?’ from ‘Seed/Leaf/Tree’

In the first section/exhibition, you enter forests, mountains, deserts, fields, physical exhibition spaces. In the second section/exhibition space, the immaterial shifts my view on existence. Ghosts and trees jangle eyes. Things leap off the page, the canvas, out of the shadows, or from the anecdote, to gain provisional flesh, and you are back in the invigorating and mysterious air of the world.

And suddenly it’s a good thing
you extinguished your shoes
because now you are walking on air.
And when you are walking on air
you can go anywhere.

from ‘Exhibition (Shoes)

And then poet becomes mother, and the maternal role, reframed time and fatigue, chores and the tendering, are made visible. The mother is still of course poet, and the third section/exhibition refuses to keep the world confined in glass cases. The domestic enters and still the writing mind roves and creates and muses. In such an airy space, the wonder and discovery expands. For both reader and writer. In ‘Coin Rubbings’, the speaker finds buried civilisations and buried self elusive, so she tries this:

(…) So maybe it’s as easy
as placing the paper over your own face
and rubbing to see what impression
you are making on the world.

In each section/exhibition space, you turn upon notions of perspective, ways of absorbing and reacting, seeing and feeling. Your place(s) in the world comes into question, or into view, or dissolves, and you turn the page and keep reading. This sublime stanza appears in ‘The Kindness of Giants’ and appears in other guises or translations throughout the book.

Your feet are shod in cruise ships, and your eyes
look though spectacles made of frozen lakes.
Trapped fish obscure your vision.

When I first visited foreign museums in my twenties, I found them dead. Nothing jumped out and poked me in the eye or heart. Yet all these decades later, both poetry and museums are alive to me. I get to carry bits of humanity, song, epiphany, storytelling, dread, mystery, roadmaps, possibility atlases, the real, the unreal. The power of words, in both locations, along with the power of objects, get to sing in heart and mind. I finished France’s new collection and, how can I explain it, I was bursting with gladness and sadness. Maybe because instead of listening to the 11 am announcement on Covid changes yesterday, I read the book. I reread the collection today, writing this on one breath, on the wire of living, on the lightning rod of uncertain times, and as I put the book on my shelf, I am busting up with joy. That is what poetry can do. Read this book.

Inside your heart, a museum
and not the free-entry kind,
not the kind with a rollercoaster
and a cafe and a shop.

from ‘Museum Without an End’

Frances Samuel‘s first book was Sleeping on Horseback (VUP, 2014). Her poems have appeared in many print and online publications, including Sport, Best New Zealand Poems, Short Poems of New Zealand, and the National Library exhibition The Next Word: Contemporary New Zealand Poetry.

Te Herenga Waka University Press page

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Chris Tse reads from Super Model Minority

Super Model Minority, Chris Tse, Auckland University Press, 2022

Chris reads ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’

Chris reads ‘BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY’

Chris Tse is the author of three poetry collections published by Auckland University Press: How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards), HE’S SO MASC and Super Model Minority. He and Emma Barnes are the co-editors of Out Here: An anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aotearoa.

Poetry Shelf celebrates: Ursula Bethell Collected Poems

Today is International Women’s Day. At breakfast, I read NZ Supreme Court Judge Susan Glazebrook’s terrific story about her ongoing ZOOM efforts to help get women Judges out of Afghanistan last year (with the help the International Association of Women Judges). The story is in the February issue of North & South and it is unmissable. It feels like we are living and breathing under such a blanket of darkness at the moment. We know the list: the pandemic and its ripple effects, misguided protests, impending war, human suffering under despots across the globe, misguided journalism, mis-and-disinformation, poverty, greed. At times it is too much. I switch off social media, the radio, the papers to avoid toxic voices creeping in with their destructive influences influencing the vulnerable and the disenfranchised. But here I am reading a magazine presenting good journalism under Rachel Morris’s astute editorship. Rachel is stepping back now from the role, but I am grateful for the issues she has presented (not forgetting worthy attention to books in Aotearoa).

It seems an eon since Wild Honey appeared in the world, yet it was only last year I was doing the online Ockham NZ Book Award celebration for it. But it is fitting to remember this project of love – I set out to celebrate and retrieve women poets in Aotearoa. The younger generations of women poets are vibrant, inspiring, active, revealing, political, personal, edgy, lyrical, path-forging and it is a joy to read them. To write about their work on Poetry Shelf. But I don’t write out of a vacuum. I write out of the women poets who preceded me. Who also wrote with vigour, with various connections to the personal and the political. And so to celebrate International Women’s Day, to celebrate women’s poetry in Aotearoa, I draw your attention to Te Herenga Waka University Press’s reissue of Ursula Bethell’s Collected Poems.

I have several copies of Wild Honey to give away. Email or DM or leave a comment if you would like a copy.

Let’s shine lights this week on all the wonderful things women are doing – but hey, not just women, everyone. Let’s shine lights on humanity’s goodness.

Ursula Bethell Collected Poems, ed Vincent O’Sullian, VUP Classic, 2021

Detail

My garage is a structure of excessive plainness.
it springs from a dry bank in the back garden.
It is made of corrugated iron,
And painted all over with brick-red.

But beside it I have planted a green Bay-tree
— A sweet Bay, an Olive and a Turkey Fig,
— A Fig, an Olive, and a Bay.

Ursula Bethell, From a Garden in the Antipodes, 1929

Ursula Bethell is the kind of poet I turn to when I want uplift, when I crave the poetic line as transport beyond ongoing despair at this sad-sack world. Ursula Bethell’s reissued Collective Poems is now a member of the VUP Classic series. Oxford University Press originally published the collection in 1985, and it was reissued in 1997 with corrections and a new introduction by editor Vincent O’Sullivan.

I utterly loved engaging with Ursula’s poetry in Wild Honey. I considered it in three parts:

“I want to approach her poetry as three distinctive garden plots with a memorial garden to the side: From a Garden in the Antipodes (1929), Time and Place (1936) and Day and Night (1939) and ‘Six Memorials’. You could consider the debut collection as poem bouquets for friends, the second as a poetry posy handpicked for Pollen after her death, while the final collection, a late harvest from the same ground, almost like a consolation bouquet for self. The memorial poems were penned annually on the anniversary, or thereabouts, of Pollen’s death.”


I wrote in my Wild Honey notebooks:

Bethell published three collections of poetry in her lifetime, all anonymously, with the poems chiefly drawn from a decade she devoted to writing, gardening and her cherished companion, Effie Pollen. For ten years, the two women lived in Rise Cottage in the Cashmere Hills, until Pollen’s premature death, at which point Bethell’s life was ripped to unbearable shreds.  The more I read Bethell’s poetry and letters, and the more I muse beyond her characteristic reserve, I feel as though this is the woman to whom I would devote an entire book. She is a knotty collision of reticence, acute intellect, acerbic advice, crippling heartbreak and poetic dexterity. Bethell rightly counters the claim that she ‘knows no school mistress but her garden’, with the point that the garden was ‘a brief episode in a life otherwise spent’. Yet her gardening decade was the most joyous of her life, responsible for the bulk of her poetry, and a period she could not relinquish in letters and the grief that endured until her death. She moved back into the city with ‘no cottage, no garden, no car, no cat, no view of mountains’, no dearest companion and an impaired ability or desire to write poetry.


I was uplifted by individual poems and by the threads and luminosity as a whole:

“How can poetry ever match the joy and beauty a garden offers? Bethell brings us to the pleasure of words, the way words bloom and bristle. For Ruth Mayhew, a close friend to whom she dedicated a number of poems, Bethell builds her green garden symphony in ‘Verdure’: an abundant foliage of lemon, myrtle, rosemary, mimosa, macrocarpa. Without these variations, Bethell confesses she ‘should have, not a pleasaunce, not a garden/ But a heterogeneous botanical garden display’. The word, ‘pleasaunce’, is the spicy fertiliser waiting to explode the poem into new richness. Bethell favours flowers over produce, a pleasure enticement for the senses over fruit and vegetables for the kitchen (‘I find vegetables fatiguing/ And would rather buy them in a shop’. Her poetry ferments as a form of pleasaunce where the ‘plausible’, easily digested details of domestic routine, the house interior, daily conversations, intimate preferences and relations are sidestepped for words that provoke sensual and intellectual variegation in an outside setting.” from my Wild Honey notebook


To re-enter Ursula’s poetry is an act of restoration, just for a blissful moment, because it’s a way of feeling the warmth of the ground, the warmth of humanity (as opposed to its cruelty and ignorance). It is reminder that our literature offers so many rewards, on so many levels, and it is at times like these, poetry can be such necessary solace, respite, prismatic viewfinders, idea boosters. I am toasting the poetry of Ursula Bethell with thanks to Te Herenga Waka University Press.

Vincent O’Sullivan is the author of the novels Let the River Stand, Believers to the Bright Coast, and most recently All This by Chance. He has written many plays and collections of short stories and poems, was joint editor of the five-volume Letters of Katherine Mansfield, has edited a number of major anthologies, and is the author of acclaimed biographies of John Mulgan and Ralph Hotere.

Ursula (Mary) Bethell (1874-1945) was born in England, raised in New Zealand, educated in England and moved back to Christchurch in the 1920s. Bethell published three poetry collections in her lifetime (From a Garden in the Antipodes, 1929; Time and Place, 1936; Day and Night, 1939). She did not begin writing until she was fifty, and was part of Christchurch’s active art and literary scene in the 1930s. A Collected Poems appeared posthumously (1950). Her productive decade of writing was at Rise Cottage in the Cashmere Hills, but after the death of her companion, Effie Pollen, she wrote very little. Vincent O’Sullivan edited a collection of her poetry in 1977 (1985).   

Te Herenga Waka University Press page

Poetry Shelf noticebaord: Paula Green reviews AUP New Poets 8 at Kete Books

AUP New Poets 8: Lily Holloway, Tru Paraha, Modi Deng, Auckland University Press, 2021

Review extract:

Editor Anna Jackson has selected three distinctive poets for AUP New Poets 8 and has placed them in the perfect tonal order.

The title of Lily Holloway’s suite, a child in the alcove, reminds me of poetry’s alcove-like features. Poems can be miniature shelters, places of refuge, an interplay of dark and light, secret, mysterious, challenging, bulging with nooks and crannies. Reading the work is to read across myriad directions, to peer into captivating cubbyholes and, as Jackson writes in her terrific foreword, to read distance and depth.

Holloway is an award-winning writer and postgraduate student who has been published in numerous journals. I have long admired her poetry: her aural and linguistic deftness, the sweet measure of surprise, the variegated forms, the connecting undercurrents, the honey, the bitterness. Her poems run on the rewarding premise that poems don’t need the full explanation, that tactile detail and deft juxtapositions can unmask love, desire, razor edges, self-exposure. Pocket narratives are equally sublime.

Full review here

Listen to the three poets read

Auckland University Press page

Lily Holloway (born in 1998, she / they) is a queer writer and postgraduate English student. While she mostly writes poetry, she has also tried her hand at non-fiction, fiction and playwriting. You can find her work in places like Starling, Midway Journal, Scum, The Pantograph Punch and The Spinoff amongst various other literary nooks and crannies. In 2020 she was honoured to receive the Shimon Weinroth Prize in Poetry, the Kendrick Smithyman Scholarship in Poetry and second place in the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition. In her spare time she enjoys op-shopping, letter writing, visiting small towns and collecting vintage Teletubbies paraphernalia. She is passionate about survivor advocacy and taking up space. You can find a list of her writing at lilyholloway.co.nz.

Tru Paraha resides in Tāmaki Makaurau in the suburb of Tukituki Muka (aka Herne Bay). She works as a choreographer and director, having enjoyed an extensive career in experimental dance, theatre and audio-visual arts. She is currently in the final year of a postdoctoral research fellowship in the English and Drama department at the University of Auckland. Moving between choreography, philosophy and creative writing, Tru produces live performances, artists’ pages and poems drawing on materials from deep space. She is a member of the International Dark-Sky Association and advocate for the preservation of the night sky as a world cultural heritage.

Modi Deng is a pianist based in London, currently pursuing postgraduate performance studies on a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. Her Chinese name 默笛 means ‘silent flute’, which her father drew from a poem by Tagore. Performances with her ensemble, the Korimako Trio, have taken her throughout the UK and her concerts have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and RNZ Concert. After growing up in Dunedin, she went on to complete a Master of Music with First Class Honours on a Marsden research scholarship, while completing a Bachelor of English at the University of Auckland. Modi cares deeply about literature (diaspora and poetry), music, psychology and her family.

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: AUP New Poets 8

AUP New Poets 8: Lily Holloway, Tru Paraha, Modi Deng, Auckland University Press, 2021

I am loving the AUP New Poets series under the astute editorship of Anna Jackson. Each volume draws new voices into compelling view, each volume sparks essential poetry conversations. How we write. Why we write. What we write. How we write ourselves and how we write the imagined.

This on AUP New Poets 8, from my Kete Books review appearing shortly: ‘Editor Anna Jackson has selected three distinctive poets for AUP New Poets 8 and has placed them in the perfect tonal order. The title of Lily Holloway’s suite, ‘a child in that alcove’, reminds me of poetry’s alcove-like features. Poems can be miniature shelters, places of refuge, an interplay of dark and light, secret, mysterious, challenging, bulging with nooks and crannies. Reading the work is to read across myriad directions, to peer into captivating cubbyholes and, as Anna writes in her terrific foreword, to read distance and depth.’

This is an arrival to celebrate – and how better than with a suite of readings – not as good as book launch for sure – but online readings offer a lounge of returns. Make a coffee, a cup of tea, pour a glass of wine, you choose, find a sweet spot and have a listen. I raise my glass to Anna, Lily, Tru, Modi and AUP. This is essential listening (and reading!).

The readings

Lily Holloway

Photo credit: Angela Zhang

Lily Holloway reads ‘Reverb or Aftermath’

Lily Holloway reads ‘return again’

Tru Paraha

Tru Paraha reads ‘Paradox’

Tru Paraha reads ‘Postcard from Israel’

Modi Deng

Photo credit: Mikayla Bollen

Modi Deng reads ‘field notes on Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’’

Modi Deng reads ‘unrest • an wei’

Modi Deng reads ‘now and then things come in tandem’

The poets

Lily Holloway (born in 1998, she / they) is a queer writer and postgraduate English student. While she mostly writes poetry, she has also tried her hand at non-fiction, fiction and playwriting. You can find her work in places like Starling, Midway Journal, Scum, The Pantograph Punch and The Spinoff amongst various other literary nooks and crannies. In 2020 she was honoured to receive the Shimon Weinroth Prize in Poetry, the Kendrick Smithyman Scholarship in Poetry and second place in the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition. In her spare time she enjoys op-shopping, letter writing, visiting small towns and collecting vintage Teletubbies paraphernalia. She is passionate about survivor advocacy and taking up space. You can find a list of her writing at lilyholloway.co.nz.

Tru Paraha resides in Tāmaki Makaurau in the suburb of Tukituki Muka (aka Herne Bay). She works as a choreographer and director, having enjoyed an extensive career in experimental dance, theatre and audio-visual arts. She is currently in the final year of a postdoctoral research fellowship in the English and Drama department at the University of Auckland. Moving between choreography, philosophy and creative writing, Tru produces live performances, artists’ pages and poems drawing on materials from deep space. She is a member of the International Dark-Sky Association and advocate for the preservation of the night sky as a world cultural heritage.

Modi Deng is a pianist based in London, currently pursuing postgraduate performance studies on a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. Her Chinese name 默笛 means ‘silent flute’, which her father drew from a poem by Tagore. Performances with her ensemble, the Korimako Trio, have taken her throughout the UK and her concerts have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and RNZ Concert. After growing up in Dunedin, she went on to complete a Master of Music with First Class Honours on a Marsden research scholarship, while completing a Bachelor of English at the University of Auckland. Modi cares deeply about literature (diaspora and poetry), music, psychology and her family.

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf review: David Eggleton’s Throw Net | Upena Ho’olei

Throw Net | Upena Ho’olei, David Eggleton, artwork by Tonu Shane Eggleton, National Library / Fernbank Studios, 2021

 

 

 

I’m mesmerised by the sunshine’s sheen,
and every minute particular feels mine.

The sea disgorges its catalogue of shells
on the white page of sand for no-one.

On my hotel bed, I dream and sail.

 

from ‘Tourist Island’

Our current Poet Laureate, David Eggleton, has published a handset, hand-bound collection of poetry with artwork (woodblock prints) by his brother Tonu Shane Eggleton. Brendan O’Brien, beautiful-book craftsman extraordinaire, has produced an edition of 100 at his Fernbank Studios. The book is exquisite. I run my hand over the rough edged paper (Kerkall, plus Stonehenge for the covers). It is book joy. Holding this book. Holding this beauty. The artwork is an evocative sheen on the page.

The National Library, which has administered the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award since 2007, published the book. The award was established by Bill Manhire and winemaker John Buck as the Te Mata Poet Laureate Award n 1996. Throw Net | Upena Ho’olei is fittingly dedicated to John.

In 2018 David spent three months at the University of Hawai’i’s Moana Campus, as the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer Resident. The poems began in notebooks while he was there, and were completed upon his return.

Throw Net | Upena Ho’olei, with nine poems and a scattering of artworks, is the perfect place to sojourn.

This is poetry that celebrates the moment. It feels like the poet is inhabiting a particular place, at a particular time, and slowly breathes in the experience. The poem establishes a heightened relationship with place, a translation of experience within measure poetic form. The treasured details offer sound and visual explosions to the point I am imbibing a poetry feast, a delectable banquet. I am unashamedly drawn to food metaphors because poetry is a form of nourishment on the tongue, in the heart, in the lungs. This is poetry that is so very nourishing.

There is quietness, there is melody, there are shifting keys and multiple forms. I am breathing in salt and ocean, and undulating voyage. I am lingering over vignette and anecdote. In this time of limited travel and strict local borders, poetry is a travel plan, an itinerary of respite and joy. You might swim with turtles and hear the church bells ring out. There is ‘the chop of waves’ and ‘ukelele strums’. Expect mountains and lava and sun, much much sun. I am feeling skin glazed as I spend a whole Saturday drifting in and out of these poems. Pleasure crafts. Such honeyed vessels.

I love this lovingly crafted chapbook. Such economy, such fluidity, such reach. I dream and I set sail.

 

The snores of a sleeper on a beach towel
recite genealogy under volcano’s glow.
A sunken raft of manta rays stirs after dark.

Hands hula-hula, shaping sandwiches
into islands; mechanically, a shark
takes a bite out of the moonlight.

Someone slings a hammock between trees.
Each wave is a line; each line is breaking;
and even the mountains are setting sail.

 

from ‘Throw Net’

David Eggleton NZ Poet Laureate blog

You can order a copy at the Library Store at $70 per copy. email: natlib-retail@dia.govt.nz

NZ Poetry Shelf interview

Otago University Press page

NZEPC page with poems

Poetry Shelf review: Jack Ross’s The Oceanic Feeling

The Oceanic Feeling, Jack Ross, Salt and Greyboy Press, 2021

Here I go reviewing a book again with the subterranean feeling I experienced last March, barely articulated, drenched in uncertainty, fearing for the well being of Aotearoa, fearing for the well being of our frontline workers, fearing for our understaffed hospitals, fearing that supermarkets will deal with aggressive behaviour from some shoppers, yet full of gratitude for our Government’s swift response, for everyone choosing to stay at home and wear a mask. The subterranean Covid effect saw me drifting around the house yesterday with Jack Ross’s new poetry collection, The Oceanic Feeling, in my hand. Not writing a word. Word-drifitng in and out of countless books. Worrying about Afghanistan. Listening to Reb Fountain. Worrying about Haiti. Sydney. All the people living alone. The homeless.

The title is so fitting. The oceanic feeling.

Layer it up. Stand by the ocean and get an intake of ocean beauty. Sit at my kitchen table looking onto the tail end of the Waitākere ranges and my potential for worry is oceanic. Below the surface in my blood and bones. Above the surface in those intruding thoughts that I try not to let settle at the station.

I love this title. This beautifully produced book with its white cover and striking image holds an ocean of feeling. Add in the white space, the unsaid. Add in the physical, the images that glint and hold your attention.

The cover drawing is by Swiss-New Zealand artist Katharina Jaeger, and is part of the suite of images included in the collection. Bronwyn Lloyd’s afterword explores the connections between the drawings and the poetry. Katharina was inspired by her father’s manic pruning, and rather than use the the pile of clippings as prunings, drew them instead. Bronwyn makes a vital link between prunings and the skeletons in the artist’s closets, in the poet’s closet, and by extension in our closets.

Poetry is both pruning and planting and, at times, opening the closet door is to shine a light on the tough, the difficult, the surprising.

Jack’s terrific new collection does just this. The poetry seeks perspective in the corrugations and felicities of the everyday. In the little and larger events that shape and have shaped life. That nurture love, that spark a sense of humour, that trigger contemplation. The poems occupy the present but they also recuperate the past. I am moved by this.

The book is essentially in two sections, like two halves of a heart, with ‘Family Plot’ alongside ‘Ice Road Trucker’. Family poems alongside poems that consider the academy, poetry journals, travel, public art, reading, thinking. There is also a tiny cluster of small poems and of translations.

The poetry peers into the mist, and swivels to embrace the clearly sighted.

A sublime example is ‘What to do till the sentinels come’. The poet’s mother (I am making this assumption) has forgotten to feed Zero the cat when they are away. The cat hides in the garden shed, unfed. Here is the mist and the close at hand. The poem as the pruned twig.

it’s not that my mother
neglected her task
on purpose
she’d written in her diary

FEED THE CAT!
it’s just that her mind
now fills in blanks
with certainties

not doubts
there was a slight pause
before that “fine”
all I know is our cat

left alone
in the storm
my mother alone
in the fog of her brain

In the opening poem, ‘Lone Pine’, a tree crew are pruning the pines. The physical scene unfolds, and in reaching the visual impact of the tallest tree with its branches stripped bare, the loss doubles back. This is the pruned branch laid on the page: ‘standing bare / just like my father at the end’.

2021 is the season of memoirs. Long form and all revealing.

And yes, The Oceanic Feeling is a form of memoir. Fragmented. Selective. Revealing. It is also a form of engagement with both ideas and feelings. Poetry as a way of discovering chords between here and there, this and that, now and then. So many layers. So many connections. ‘Family skeletons’ does this. The sister with her suicidal thoughts, witnessed throwing a rope over a tree, who later succeeds with pills, is both presence and absence. Again I am picking up a branch laid upon the page and I am feeling it deeply.

Ah, I am moving in so many directions, as I read Jack’s collection, from the cars loved and then replaced, to bookshelves and superstitions, to wrangling over the colours of a graduation hood, to a university department lovingly built up over time, to be faced with cutbacks.

What makes this book resonate so deeply with me is movement. Physical and emotional movement. Not on a grand over-the-top flare of sentimentality but in small measured steps that favour contiguity. I relish the shift between what is easily witnessed in the everyday and what is much harder to fathom, what is retrieved in glimmers and shards across time. it is a collection that warrants a prolonged sojourn. Glorious.

I am going to leave you with ‘What do you want?’. The poet is in a Feilding library, having driven down for a function. The poem swerves and I am utterly affected.

What do you want?

said the librarian
       in Friendly Feilding
to come in from the cold
       was my reply

we’re closing an hour early
       for a function
the function I’d driven down for
       I walked away

he’s crying
       but he doesn’t know
why he’s crying
       said my sister

to the primer one teacher
       who wanted to know why
I guess I do too
       I guess I do

I was small and afraid
       of a brand-new place
so many people
       but what remains

is kindness
      my sister
trying to help
      unavailingly

Jack Ross

Jack Ross works as a senior lecturer in creative writing at Massey University. He is the author of five poetry collections and eight works of fiction, most recently Ghost Stories (Lasavia Publishing, 2019) and The Oceanic Feeling (Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021). He blogs here

Jack reads from The Oceanic Feeling

Notes to The Oceanic Feeling

Jack reads and comments on ‘1942’

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Dinah Hawken reads from Sea-light

Sea-light, Dinah Hawken, Victoria University Press, 2021

Cover: Breaker Bay, Looking South, Gerda Leenards, 2007

Dinah Hawken reads ‘Haze’, ‘The sea’ and ‘Faith’ from Sea-light

Dinah Hawken is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated poets. She was born in Hāwera in 1943 and now lives in Paekākāriki. Sea-light is her ninth collection of poetry.

Few writers have the skill to return to the land and the sea with such originality and genuine knowing as Hawken.’ —Sarah Jane Barnett, NZ Booksellers

‘As a poet she utilises economy on the line to build richness above, between and beyond. That plainness of talking makes the impact even stronger, deeper, wider.’ —Paula Green, NZ Poetry Shelf

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf review: Courtney Sina Meredith’s Burst Kisses on the Actual Wind

Burst Kisses on the Actual Wind, Courtney Sina Meredith, Beatnik Books, 2021

Courtney Sina Meredith’s mother, poet Kim Meredith, has edited Courtney’s new collection and has written a moving introduction. I love this. And I love the gratitude list at the back, where thanks is offered to her editor, publisher, true love, village and children. It infuses the book with love.

This is a book of love.

The opening poem is like a staircase, with the opening line (‘I am aware of my privilege. Could you connect me to my community?’) dropping a word, one by one, to become ‘community’. For me this collection is the incandescent, life-affirming bridge between ‘I’ and ‘community’.

And if the collection is a poem bridge, it is built with diverse material, every time you shift your eye it shifts form, becomes visually distinct. The love and themes that hold the collection together are a constant; think love, travel, dailiness, mother, daughter, lover. Self and community. I adore this fluctuation between constancy and a mobility of form. The mind and heart go flying. The mind and heart are grounded.

This is a book of self.

One poem resembles a vessel, a mouth, a self container. The opening and closing lines (‘How about being a woman?’) move, one extra word at a time, to the fullness of the middle line (‘How about being a young brown queer single educated professional creative woman?’). It is a song, a chant, a plea, a mantra. It resonates thorough the connection as a whole.

A second poem, ‘eye’, removes the letter ‘i’, and enacts missing self, elusiveness, restless, regret, arrival, departure. The peppery gaps are signposting the vagabond ‘I’, so full of possibilities.

This is a book of travel.

Foreign cities, physical travel away from home, charting the distractions and attractions of elsewhere (New York, London, Mexico City, Iowa, maybe Chicago). Yet the travel is also internal, inscribing the pathways home, to an interior home. Coming home to self. Poetry is most definitely a sublime means of travel.

This is a book of the matter of fact and this is a book of the intensely moving.

I made a big curry for all of my friends.
One of them gave me Twenty Love Poems and a Song of
Despair.

My cousin went to see another friend at a bar. A guy
asked them for a threesome. They said no.

I read about Nelson when everybody left.

 

from ‘Aso fanau’

I have stolen away into the secret room

mothers build inside their daughters

I am feeding on a dowry centuries old

the bones sucked dry

a feast of bright quiet.

 

My mother’s dreams are here

beside the red gold river

born of shame and laughter

the shifting bank won’t hold.

 

from ‘I have stolen away into the secret room’

 

Courtney’s poetry is so lovingly crafted, the silence as potent as the kinetic line, the evocation of the physical, the need to feel the word and the day and the vital connections. In Burst Kisses on the Actual Wind, the poems open out, gloriously, and as readers we are invited to step in. My only misgiving is the smaller font is a challenge for the visually impaired. But this is a joy to read. A beautiful object thanks to Beatnik. In the final poem, ‘Avondale Heights’, the poet is home, and in the final line, ‘The horizon is vast’, the possibilities of life stretch wide. And that includes poetry. Sublime.

Courtney Sina Meredith is a distinguished poet, playwright, fiction writer, performer, children’s author and essayist, with her works being translated and published around the world. A leading figure in the New Zealand arts sector, Courtney is the Director of Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, an organisation committed to championing Oceanic arts and artists. Courtney’s award-winning works include her play Rushing Dolls, poetry Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick, short stories Tail of the Taniwha and children’s book The Adventures of Tupaia. Burst Kisses On The Actual Wind is Courtney’s new collection of poetry, the book was released in 2021 by Beatnik Books. 

Beatnik Books page

Courtney reads from Burnt Kisses on the Wind