Category Archives: NZ poetry book

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Jack Ross reads from The Oceanic Feeling

Jack Ross reads four poems from The Oceanic Feeling, Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021

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

Notes to The Oceanic Feeling

Jack reads and comments on ‘1942’

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Liz Breslin launches new book

My book, In bed with the feminists, is officially pre-orderable today! It’s being published by Dead Bird Books, and has a stunning cover which started out as a hand-single-stitched piece by the amazing Lucinda King. Emer Lyons has been the editor with the mostess.

If you want to hear me read from it, we’re having launches in Wānaka (9th June – official release date!), Ōtautahi (18th June) and Ōtepoti (19th June).

In Wānaka, the very brilliant Laura Williamson will be launching the book for me at Creative Juices at Rhyme x Reason brewery. In Ōtautahi and Ōtepoti, Dominic Hoey from Dead Bird Books will be doing the launching. Not sure who is guesting yet at Space Academy in Ōtautahi but I’m already superexcited that Iona Winter will open in Ōtepoti at Adjø.

If you want to preorder the book or read a bit more about it, here’s the link.

Liz Breslin

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Siobhan Harvey reads from Ghosts

Siobhan Harvey, Ghosts, Otago University Press, 2021

Siobhan Harvey is the author of eight books, including Ghosts (Otago University Press, 2021) and 2013 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award-winning Cloudboy (OUP, 2014). She received the 2020 NZSA Peter & Dianne Beatson Fellowship, and won the 2020 Robert Burns Poetry Award and the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Award for a Sequence of Poems. Her work appears in recent anthologies: Arcadian Rustbelt: Poets Emerging 1980–-1995 (University of Liverpool Press, 2021), Feminist Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility (Cyren US, 2019) and, translated into Italian, in Alessandra Bava (ed.), HerKind: Anthology of Contemporary New Zealand Poets (Editione Ensemble, 2021).

Otago University Press page

Siobhan in conversation with Lynn Freeman, Standing Room Only, RNZ

The Friday Poem: ‘If befriending Ghosts’ from Ghosts

Kiri Piahana-Wong review for Kete Books

Poetry Shelf congratulates Tusiata Avia, the Ockham NZ Book Award Poetry winner (ten things she loves, a poem, an interview)

Such heartfelt congratulations to Tusiata Avia, a much loved poet who has and who continues to inspire generations of poets. Yes Pasifika poets, yes young women writing, and yes, most importantly, yes us all. Her award-winning book is magnificent. She places herself in these necessary poems: her ravaged heart, her experience, wounds, scars, thinking, feeling, urge to speak out, sing, perform, no matter the price, holding out history, the coloniser, the colonised, Ihumātao, the Australian bush fires, translating for the gutted woman, the abortioned woman, her mother, her daughter, her lovers, but at times she is disabled with epilepsy, her father a presence, and she places a prayer for her daughter, for the stars, water, lungs, and for the reader, here in these poems, she places a prayer. Extraordinary.

Ten things I love

1. A photograph: The photo is of Sepela – exactly 10 years ago, a week after the big earthquake when we escaped to Hinemoana’s who lived in Kapiti then.

2. A poem by someone else: All they want is my money my pussy my blood by Morgan Parker (and pretty much anything from her book, There are more beautiful things than Beyonce.

3. A song: Back to Life by Soul II Soul

4. A book: Hurricane Season, Fernando Melchor, trans. Sophie Hughes, New Directions, 2020 (my favourite book of 2020)

5. A movie: My Neighbour Totoro

6. A place: South Sinai coast, Egypt

7. A meal: taro (cooked in the umu) and palusamu

8. A poetic motif: Can’t think of one, but I can think of a form I love – the pantoum.

9.  A place to write: Where ever the ‘thing’ is happening (see Five questions below)

10. A poem from my book (Tusiata did a stunning performance of this at the awards PG):

250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand

Hey James,

yeah, you

in the white wig

in that big Endeavour

sailing the blue, blue water

like a big arsehole

FUCK YOU, BITCH.

James,

I heard someone

shoved a knife

right up

into the gap between

your white ribs

at Kealakekua Bay.

I’m gonna go there

make a big Makahiki luau

cook a white pig

feed it to the dogs

and FUCK YOU UP, BITCH.

Hey James,

it’s us.

These days

we’re driving round

in SUVs

looking for ya

or white men like you

who might be thieves

or rapists

or kidnappers

or murderers

yeah, or any of your descendants

or any of your incarnations

cos, you know

ay, bitch?

We’re gonna FUCK YOU UP.

Tonight, James,

it’s me

Lani, Danielle

and a car full of brown girls

we find you

on the corner

of the Justice Precinct.

You’ve got another woman

in a headlock

and I’ve got my father’s

pig-hunting knife

in my fist

and we’re coming to get you

sailing round

in your Resolution

your Friendship

your Discovery

and your fucking Freelove.

Watch your ribs, James

cos, I’m coming with

Kalaniōpu‘u

Kānekapōlei

Kana‘ina

Keawe‘ōpala

Kūka‘ilimoku

who is a god

and Nua‘a

who is king with a knife.

And then

James,

then

we’re gonna

FUCK.

YOU.

UP.

FOR.

GOOD.

BITCH.


Tusiata Avia

Five questions

Is writing a pain or a joy, a mix of both, or something altogether different for you?

A mix, for sure. Often, I don’t feel like writing – unless I have an experience (internal or out in the world) that I feel the need to write about immediately. At times like that, I feel a sense of urgency, sometimes verging on desperation, to stop whatever I’m doing and write. I have pulled the car over on a busy motorway and searched for a piece of paper to scribble it down . I’m not great at the discipline of writing every day.

Name a poet who has particularly influenced your writing or who supports you.

I don’t read her so much these days, but I love Sharon Olds. She helped me to write more openly – to be honest and vulnerable.

Was your shortlisted collection shaped by particular experiences or feelings?

Colonisation, racism, illness, a bit of Covid – all the relaxing stuff.

Did you make any unexpected discoveries as you wrote?

The whole book was unexpected. I was writing another book called Giving Birth To My Father, which took ages. After a while (quite close to my deadline) I realised it wasn’t ready for the outside world. The Savage Coloniser Book had to come together really quickly, if I wanted it published for 2020. I knew I had a few poems that were very ‘2020’ lying about. I wrote to those poems in a short amount of time.

Do you like to talk about your poems or would you rather let them speak for themselves? Is there one poem where an introduction (say at a poetry reading) would fascinate the audience/ reader? Offer different pathways through the poem?

During poetry readings/ performances I used to think the poem should speak for itself but many poems really need an introduction, particularly when people are not experiencing them on the page.

Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.

Poetry Shelf review

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

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Nine poets read from A Clear Dawn

A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand

eds. Paula Morris and Alison Wong, Auckland University Press, 2021

To celebrate the arrival of A Clear Dawn, I invited nine poets to read one of their poems in the collection as audio or video. This fabulous anthology of poetry and fiction, so astutely and loving assembled by Paula Morris and Alison Wong, is sheer reading joy. I am delighted you get to have a taste of nine of the poets’ voices here. Auckland University Press have created an exquisite book. I love holding it, I love finding my way through the beautifully designed pages. I just love this book.

If you live in Auckland you might like to go to the launch at the Auckland Writer’s Festival:

Saturday May 15th, 5:00pm – 6:00pm Balcony Bar, Level Five, Aotea Centre

Enjoy a complimentary glass of wine with selected readings as this ground-breaking contribution to our literature is launched.

You can listen to Alison Wong discuss the book with Kathryn Ryan here.

Auckland University Press page.

The Readings

Isabelle Johns reads ‘The Dance’

Maryana Garcia reads ‘Glass questions’

Modi Deng reads ‘Ben Lomond’

Neema Singh reads ‘A proper way to make tea’

Jiaqiao Liu reads ‘to a future you’

E Wen Wong reads ‘one world sleeps in an apple’

Chris Tse reads ‘Punctum’

Rushi Vyas reads ‘I saw you and I learned this, beloved

Vanessa Mei Crofskey reads ‘What’s the pH balance of yin + yang?’

Vanessa Mei Crofskey is an artist and writer based in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara, who features in A Clear Dawn, the first-ever anthology of Asian New Zealand creative writing. She is the current director of Enjoy Contemporary Art Space. 

Modi Deng is a postgraduate candidate in piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music on scholarship. Currently based in London, Modi received a MMus (First Class Hons, Marsden research scholarship) and a BA from Auckland University. Her first chapbook-length collection of poetry will be part of AUP New Poets 8. She cares deeply about literature (especially poetry, diaspora), music, psychology, and her family.

Maryana Goco Garcia is a poet, and a journalist who dabbles in photography. All of Maryana’s work, visual or written, attempts to find the miracle in the moment, to encourage pausing, to look hard at what lies before us until we notice something new. You can find her poetry on Instagram where she keeps a visual and word archive as @ripagepoet. 

Isabelle Johns likes to write when she has the inspiration, and is (grudgingly) practising doing so without the inspiration part, too. She studies Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Auckland, where she can be found most of the time, either catching up on missed lectures or frantically debugging code before a deadline. Her poems have been published in The Three Lamps, University of Auckland’s literary journal, as well as the upcoming anthology for Asian New Zealand writers, A Clear Dawn.

Jiaqiao (Jay) Liu is a Chinese nonbinary poet currently doing a creative writing MA in Pōneke. They write about family, queerness, longing, myth and tech, among other obsessions. Some of their work can be found in brief, Blackmail Press, takahē and Queer the Pitch.

Neema Singh is a poet from Christchurch of Gujarati Indian descent. Her work appears in Ko Aotearoa Tātou: We Are New Zealand(2020) and A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (2021) and she is currently working on her first collection of poetry, a series of poems unfolding the layers of culture, identity and history contained within ordinary moments. Neema is an experienced secondary school English teacher and holds a Master of Creative Writing from The University of Auckland.

Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC. He and Emma Barnes are co-editors of Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers From Aotearoa, due to be published in October 2021. He is The Spinoff‘s Poetry Editor.

Rushi Vyas is a writer, educator, and PhD candidate at Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou / University of Otago. He is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection When I Reach For Your Pulse (Four Way Books, 2023) which was a two-time finalist for the National Poetry Series in the US, and the co-author of the chapbook Between Us, Not Half a Saint, with Rajiv Mohabir. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Colorado-Boulder. He currently serves as Reviews/Interviews Editor for GASHER Journal. Recent poetry is forthcoming or published in The Georgia Review, Indiana ReviewPigeon PagesLandfall (NZ)RedividerThe OffingAdroitWaxwing, and elsewhere.

E Wen Wong is a first-year Law and Science student at the University of Canterbury. She was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award.

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Courtney Sina Meredith reads from Burst Kisses on the Actual Wind 

Courtney Sina Meredith reads two poems

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 just this month by Beatnik Books. 

Beatnik Books page

Poetry Shelf review: Hana Pera Aoake’s A bathful of kawakawa and hot water

A bathful of kawakawa and hot water, Hana Pera Aoake, Compound Press, 2020 (reprinted 2021)

The opening poem, ‘Perhaps we should have stayed’, in Hana Pera Aoake’s collection of poetry and prose is like a chant, like a manifesto for self, like a list to pin to a fridge or a heart, to keep you moving and remembering, and thinking and feeling, and the title keeps repeating like an insistent beat, and it is political and it is personal, and it is sideways and direct, and it is searing and it is balm, and I can’t stop reading it, and I have read it five times in a bath with mānuka leaves that drift in on the wind.

PERHAPS WE SHOULD HAVE STAYED.

SOMETIMES THE LONGING MIGHT KILL YOU.

OTHER TIMES IT MIGHT BE THE EXHAUSTION.

IT’S GOOD TO BE YEARNING.

MAYBE YOU YEARN FOR SOMEONE OR MAYBE YOU

JUST YEARN FOR SOMETHING BETTER.

WATCHING BODIES FROM VERY FAR AWAY

THROUGH A SCREEN  DOES NOT GIVE YOU A SENSE

OF WHO SOMEONE REALLY IS.

PERHAPS WE SHOULD HAVE STAYED.

THE IDEA OF HAPPINESS IS JUST CAPITALISM.

Hana is writing this book from Lisboa, from that far away point, where writing becomes the connective bridge to the land that they hold dear, and as you read you move across the memory bridge, from the waterfront there to the water here, from the Portuguese river to the line of police removing Ihumaato protestors. The prose piece is rich in direction, building in momentum like the Pacific ocean flowing and the voices of the protestors, never ever losing sight of the sea, and it is an umbilical chord and it is a cry, an insistent poetic cry to do better.

Elsewhere there is a yoga teacher that reminds the writer of a vegan flatmate ‘who didn’t clean and was really racist and ate all my food, and had a trust fund’. There is puking and there are drugs. There is a cameo in Sex and the City. There is a Lisboa square where the Jewish were once slaughtered. There are emails to write and fliers to be designed. There is an empty womb. There is all this and there is so much more. Hana’s language is the most super-charged gloriously exhilarating uplift of words you can hope to meet, that draw in Te Reo Maaori and Portuguese, and pay attention to rhythm, so that you are itching to hear it read aloud, because this is prose and this is poetry, and yes this is song. Song from the heart, from the whole body, moving and yearning and finding a way to be.

Yet if this collection is song, it is also an incisive and vital probe, drawing on reading, ideas, history, the present and the future, challenging Western discourse, asking questions, musing on what ‘constitutes a common’, on the co-option of Maaori concepts by Paakeha, on the inseparability of body and mauri, on the damaged world, on the power of myth.

As a Maaori I feel death all around; not just because fantails follow me most days, but because I carry dead bodies inside me. I name them as I name myself, my rivers and my mountains. I ache at night thinking of my grandmother dying alone in a rest home during this pandemic.

from ‘We were like stones like weeds in  the road’

Chris Holdaway (Compound Press) has produced an exquisite book, using mid-20th Century typefaces designed by Samoan New Zealander Joseph Churchward. Hana has produced a collection of writings that within 83 pages take you out of yourself into a state of wider contemplation and deeper mourning and intricate learning and necessary action. This book I hold to my heart.

Hana Pera Aoake (Ngaati Mahuta, Tainui/Waikato, Ngaati Hinerangi) is an artist and writer based in Waikouaiti on stolen Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Waitaha lands. They are keen to restart the land wars and love eating kaimoana and defacing colonial property.

Compound Press page

A poem on Poetry Shelf, ‘Going on Strike’

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Ash Davida Jane reads from How to Live with Mammals

How to Live with Mammals, Ash Davida Jane, Victoria University Press, 2021

Ash reads ‘water levels’

Ash reads ‘mating in suburbia’

Ash reads ‘transplanting’

Ash reads ‘carrying capacity’

Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in MimicrySweet MammalianStarlingThe Spinoff and elsewhere. Her second book, How to Live With Mammals, was published by Victoria University Press in April 2021. She lives and works in Wellington.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf Ash’s poem ‘undergrowth

Poetry Shelf Ash muses on ecopoetics

Poetry Shelf review: Bernadette Hall’s Fancy Dancing: New and Selected Poems 2004 – 2020

Bernadette Hall, Fancy Dancing: New and Selected Poems 2004 -2020, Victoria University Press, 2020

Campfires flicker in the night, ice masks the harbour.

I’ve made up my mind at last. I’m going to walk across

to see the others. We can sit down then

and talk about poetry, the way ‘water’ chimes

with ‘daughter’ and is there any news of her yet.

from ‘Wai-te-ta’

2020 was a year rich in New Zealand poetry and I am still dipping into my wee stack for treasures. I have long been a fan of Bernadette Hall’s poetry with its sumptuous sound and visual effects, its wide roving subject matter, and its agile engagement with ideas, experience and feeling, it’s humour.

Interestingly, picking up Fancy Dancing set me on a slightly different response to the poetry, because I stalled on Robyn Webster’s artwork before I read the poems. Robyn’s works are enticing. They appear like a fusion of needlework, embroidery and painting with maybe a whiff of printmaking. I haven’t seen them in real life so am only connecting with them as illustrations in a book and have no idea of the media. I am struck by the allure of threads, branches and tributaries, by a colour palette that shifts between soothing harmonies and piquant contrasts. There is both simplicity and intricacy.

Here I am stalling on the artworks and I see them as shadow maps of the poetry. To think of Bernadette’s poetry as rich in tributaries, branches and threads is rewarding. One thread takes you along Irish roads into experience and ancestors, another into ice and snow and the Antarctic. Gardens and friends, weather and the sea, the mountain and the angels are stitched exquisitely along the lines. There is the close-at-hand and there is the wider world. There is the warmth in harmonies and the edge in contrasts. It was so satisfying to read my way through samples from the collections I am familiar with (The Ponies (2007), The Lustre Jug (2009), Life & Customs (2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (2016).

The final section is devoted to new poems, including an exquisite sonnet sequence that is akin to brocade it is so rich in effect. Bernadette’s included author bio is revelatory : “And as for the wilful sonnets that explode in the final pages of this book, she wonders where on earth they came from. ‘It was such fun writing them,’ she says, ‘as if I‘d kicked down the stable doors and taken to the hills.’”

If I continue making analogies with the artwork, I see the 25 sonnets as embroidery at its most intricate and dazzling. Classical threads are stitched into a contemporary context, the personal is threaded with the fictional, the imagined with the recalled. Both Phaedra and the poet are shadowy presences, their back narratives bubbling beneath the surface. The poet speaks:

Now it’s time to expand the narrative. So come

with me into a dimly lit corridor in the Mayflower

Student Hostel beside the Mississippi River

in Iowa.  (…)

from ‘v.’

Think of brocade that glints and gleams and offers pocket narratives and pinches of the surreal. Guests make appearances: friends, family, writers, artists, goddesses. You will hear rain and footsteps, but you will also hear the sumptuous audio effects that are a trademark of Bernadette’s writing. Such an ear for the resounding line. I keep wanting to quote lines to you, whole sonnets.

In sonnet xix, the ‘crazy lady, how she strides down Cuba Mall in full combat gear’ declares the area is under control. The poem culminates in the poet/speaker imagining how she would behave kindly if it were a movie: she would approach the woman in combat gear saying, ‘Thank you, / I feel so much safer in this crazy world with you around.’

I am repeatedly drawn to sonnet xxiv, a sonnet dedicated to grandchildren, a sonnet that sways between past and present, between Italian marble and four children harbour swimming, ‘their arms / like triangle roof-lines’. The image is potent, the shiver between past and present fertile, and the ending so very moving:

(…) How long it took to see

the eating, drinking, gulping, feasting of the water

body, the spasmodic sun, the specific shade.

Beautiful children, you are forever and thereafter

swimming me to shore. I could not love you more.

The final sonnet is a form of counting blessings as it gives thanks. It becomes a rich celebratory brocade, luminous and heartfelt, a gift for ear and eye. I will pin this sonnet to my study wall as I continue to give thanks to poetry, to the things near me, to what gives me courage and furnishes each precious day.

Let us give thanks for the cranesbill geranium

and the mouse eared myositis,

for the ranunculus (little frog mouth, little friend),

for the feathered nival zone, for the bug moss

in the tarn, for all that is and all that

has been and all that is to come. It is for us

to keep our courage firm, to nurse our appointed

pain, to await ‘that which springs ablaze of itself’.

from sonnet xxv

Fancy Dancing showcases the work of one of our most treasured poets. The poems will dance in your ear and on your tongue, in your limbs and in your heart. Take a read. Pick a favourite and pin it to the wall. Take heart from this gift of poetry.

Bernadette Hall is Otago born and bred. Following a long and much enjoyed career as a high school teacher in Dunedin and Christchurch, she has for the last eighteen years lived in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury, where she has built up a beautiful garden. Fancy Dancing is her eleventh collection of poetry. ‘It’s as close as I’ll ever get to writing an autobiography,’ she says, laughing. And as for the wilful sonnets that explode in the final pages of this book, she wonders where on earth they came from. ‘It was such fun writing them,’ she says, ‘as if I‘d kicked down the stable doors and taken to the hills.’ In 2015 she collaborated with Robyn Webster on Matakaea, Shag Point, an art /text installation exhibited at the Ashburton Art Gallery. In the same year she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for literary achievement in poetry. In 2017 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf sonnet from Fancy Dancing

ANZL review by Lynley Eadmeades

Best NZ Poems, sonnet from Fancy Dancing