Category Archives: NZ poetry event

Poetry Shelf audio spot: AWF guest Airini Beautrais reads ‘Listening’

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In case you don’t get to hear Airini Beautrais read at the Auckland Writers Festival this weekend – you can hear her reading a new poem.





Your love’s a country I will never see

again, a horse that will not take the bit,

a dusty dress I am too fat to fit,

(read: passionate – you’d bust too easily),

a box I’ve locked and then misplaced the key,

a post card I will never receive, a hit

I simply missed, a dog that will not sit,

a prize catch on the hook that wriggles free.

But still I am a wide receiving dish,

listening, listening to signals from the sky

until my ears are thrashed. The cries of birds,

the groans of growing trees, movements of fish,

the rumbling earth, crowd out the sounds that I

am searching for: mute thunder of your words.

© Airini Beautrais



Airini Beautrais lives in Whanganui. Her most recent book of poetry is Flow: Whanganui River Poems (Victoria University Press, 2017). ‘Listening’ is from a work in progress, a narrative sonnet sequence.


You can catch Airini at the Auckland Writers Festival:

Friday May 18th 5.30 until 6.30   Homage to the River   Upper NZI Room

Friday May 18th 6 until 7.30   Call on O’Connell    90 minutes literary mayhem on O’Connell Street

Sunday May 20  10.30 – 11.30 The Art of the Poem with James Brown, Choman Hardi and Terese Svoboda.  Upper NZI Room











Celebrating Hannah Mettner’s Best First Book of Poetry Award


Hannah Mettner, Fully Clothed and So Forgetful – winner of the Best First Book Award at the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2018


We believe in the steps.

We tell our children and then our

grandchildren about the cool

pond at the top where sun-

carp clean our feet and where

we can sleep. The steps are one of

the beautiful mysteries of

life, like how did we get here,

fully clothed and so forgetful?


from ‘Higher ground’


Paula: ‘Fully Clothed and So Forgetful gave me goose bumps as I read and took me beyond words to that state where you stand somewhere wild and beautiful and just stall beyond language to absorb the world. My initial reaction is simply to tell the reader to read the book. But then I start accumulating a list of what I think the poetry is doing: the poems are inventive, unpredictable, melodic, on the move, strange, love-soaked.’

Hannah: The key thing that matters to me in a poem (whether one I’m writing or reading) is that it gets me in the gut. I get very frustrated by poetry that feels empty, or emotionally disengaged or distant, or is teasing the reader or holding them at arm’s length. I just find it boring, I mean, I know that different poems and poets have all sorts of intellectual fare to offer, but I want to be emotionally moved by a poem, and nothing less.

from our interview


My children are abducted by 17th-century French courtesans

In the rose garden near the big house
where somebody famous was either
born, or not, all the ladies spread their
pinks out in the sun. Pretty young ladies
with expensive, dewy faces who want
my children for their photogenic walls.
They look as though they’re picnicking
with their floral bubbles and their green
men but their stiletto fingers give them
away. And my children were just feeding
ducks, but where have they gone?! Quick
say the birds Find them Find them, gobbling
their trails of bread. The ladies strengthen
in the light and their prickles rise and my
nose is so full of their French scent that
I start to sneeze. The ladies wilt a little in
revulsion. Their corals and blushes and rouges
are falling brown, then grey; old ladies with
shallow bones and prickles blunted with
age. And where are your children they
want to know and I want to know too.
I’ve looked everywhere. There’s a low
graze of desperation in my throat, which
stings as I call their names. I uproot one
of the ladies and use her to beat back a
path through the others, until they look
almost young again in the freshness
of their bruises. When I get back to the
pond most of the spinsters have frosted
in the ground. The children are there
wearing new fur coats. One is putting logs
on a fire, while the other pulls dinner
from the snow.

©Hannah Mettner, from Fully clothed and so forgetful (Victoria University Press, 2017)


Author note: This is the poem that helped me realise that there was a way to integrate the emotional authenticity that I want my poems to convey (in this case the fear of ‘losing my children’) with something less literal. For me, this meant that rather than merely ‘stating facts’ in a pleasant or interesting way with line breaks, I was able to tease out multiple concepts and feelings simultaneously in an environment less concretely related to the real world. So, this poem deals with my fear of losing my children after the breakup of my relationship with their father, but holds with that the fear of a potential ‘stepmother’, and the fear of them doing fine without me, but because none of this takes place in a recognisable world (rosebushes don’t usually turn into young women), I felt freer to say all that.




Victoria University Press page

Radio NZ  National: Harry Ricketts reviews the book with Kathryn Ryan


Award night:



Bill Manhire and Albert Wendt recognised as Icons



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Last night The Arts Foundation recognised Bill Manhire and Albert Wendt as Icons. Both  Bill and Albert have produced writing that is a significant part of our literary landscape, yet both have done so much more. Their mentorship of and generosity towards other writers is noteworthy. Their writing stands as uniquely theirs, offering nimble and wide ranging voices, an ability to tap into the humane, the surprising, the musicality of the world. I find their poetry utterly nourishing.

Congratulations from Poetry Shelf on this well deserved honour.

See here for more details. The other Icons were: artist Billy Apple, composer Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead and sculptor Fred Graham.


Albert’s poem ‘New Coat’

Bill Manhire talks to Poetry Shelf

A conversation and poem from the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize Finalists: Jane Arthur

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To check up on the state of your heart you must lie back


with your tits out so a warm-handed stranger-

technician can run a small device across your ribs

like a barcode scanner. She seems not to see your skin,

is only concerned with looking beneath it. You want to ask her,

What is it that makes me different

from others who’ve lain here, does my heart hide deeper

in my chest, do my nipples watch you cock-eyed, disturbingly,

am I more beautiful than 50% of others or.

On a black-and-white screen there’s something grainy

and pulsing, trapped in a wedge frame

like an embryo, unheard. This is your heart, twitching.

Watching it you can’t tell what from what, all you know is

the image is moving and you are alive. What a miracle

of existence, you now understand, to have a life inside you

and you want to clutch the technician and rejoice.

Now you can hear it, too, your heart—thumping, muffled,

like listening with your ear pressed up against a wall,

the white-noise hiss of the ocean trapped behind.

But that’s not ocean, not white noise,

it’s blood noise. That’s blood pumping through your heart

to your veins. You hear it through a wall

of veins, bones, fat, flesh, skin keeping all this life inside you

like one big intricate loving dam.


©Jane Arthur


If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates?

Formatively, I was a music-obsessed teen, so the liner notes of the angsty ’90s: Kristin Hersh, Tori Amos, R.E.M.. Patti Smith. Before that: the poems of Leonard Cohen and Pam Ayres. More recent inspirations: Jenny Bornholdt’s Miss New Zealand; Geoff Cochrane; Kim Addonizio’s What Is This Thing Called Love; Louise Glück’s Vita Nova; random editions of Sport; A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Online poetry journals, including Sweet Mammalian, Starling, Turbine/Kapohau. The Poetry Foundation website. And most recently: essa ranapiri’s incredible Twitter thread of great NZ poems.


What do you want your poems to do?

I guess I want them to be intellectual exercises that end up appearing thoroughly non-intellectual. I want them to be approachable, definitely messy and imperfect, a bit funny but completely heartfelt without being gross? At least, that’s what I want them to “be”. What I want them to do is … reassure awkward readers that we’ve all been there and it’s cool, don’t worry about it.


Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?

“To check up on the state of your heart you must lie back” is one of those rare poems that burst out of me in one sitting (having been rolled around my brain for a day or so) and didn’t change significantly after that. An earlier version was published in Ika and two years later only a few words have changed. I wish I knew why some poems come out easily, it’s much more efficient. I am typically the world’s most painfully slow and fussy writer … more of a deleter.


There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you?

Standing in the shower. Brushing my teeth. Trying to write a different poem. Reading fiction. Going for a walk. Restless nights. Pretending to be someone else. Deadlines.


If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?

Familiar, surprising, dorky


You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?

HRH Selina Tusitala Marsh as MC because I want her to be everywhere at all times. Some of the finest new, super-young poets like Tayi Tibble, Nina Powles and Freya Sadgrove – I’d ask the Starling eds to organize that bit. With interludes from Faith Wilson, Coco Solid, Hera Lindsay Bird, Chris Tse and Fleur Adcock. With a surprise VIP encore from Margaret Mahy during a round of whisky.


Jane Arthur was born in New Plymouth and lives in Wellington with her partner, baby and dogs. She has worked in the book industry for over 15 years as a bookseller and editor, and is a founder of the New Zealand children’s literature website The Sapling. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University, where her supervisor was Cliff Fell, a 2017 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize finalist. She also has a Diploma in Publishing from Whitireia Polytech and a Master’s in English Literature from Auckland University. Her poems have appeared in journals including SportTurbineIka, and Sweet Mammalian.



The four finalists will read from their work at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 20 May, 3.15-4.15pm. 

Sarah Broom Poetry Prize page.


A conversation and poem from the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize finalists: Stuart Airey




Horse on the Ice


at first horse and rider rode easily

it was cold and bright across the ice

the frozen lake

we can’t feed you all

you’ll have to go to New Zealand

the next ride was still clear

a little mist hugged the surface

perhaps joinery carpentry building

then a little icy fog formed on the brow

some sort of motorcycle racing

a fall at night and a broken wrist

permanently numb fingers on one hand

now the rider dismounted halfway across

knelt down to get a closer look

if you peered carefully there were fine cracks

a web of spidery blue veins

a small stone bridge in the Lake District

uncle Franks boat accelerating an arc

to test the waterskier

but not last week last month last year

the horse and rider snorted steam

riding faster the crack of hooves on ice

the sure clip of memory

its web of fissures and creaking pressures

he was sure we were sure i was sure

we were all nearly quite certain

it could take the weight


©Stuart Airey



If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates?

In primary school I loved Louis Untermeyer’s Golden Treasury of Poetry especially the limericks and ‘The Highwayman’. There’s a fair bit of a lull after that until my brother passed away and then I turned a lot to The Oxford Book of English Verse – particularly Thomas Hood’s ‘The Sea of Death’. A few years back I discovered the Bloodaxe ‘Staying Alive’ trilogy which opened up a whole new world of modern poems and poets, particularly shorter ones. (Poems that is). I started writing more seriously about this time. Favourite writers would be Carol Ann Duffy, Wislawa Szymborska, Stephen Dunn and especially Alden Nowlan – a Canadian genius and earthy, accessible poet.


What do you want your poems to do?

I think that first of all I write for myself. I have discovered that quite often the poem is telling me something about myself that I couldn’t get to another way – a sort of self-therapy I guess. If I’m writing about an idea or a feeling it’s a way of turning it over and looking at all the edges. Sometimes it’s the poem that tells me how I’m feeling. After that though I definitely enjoy sharing (mostly) the poem with others and seeing if it touches some vital part of being human. It’s a real kick when others find layers of meaning that I was unaware of or hadn’t really intended. Some are written just to be enjoyed, a bit of a laugh or even more visceral.

A few to provoke though this rarely raises much angst.


Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?

I find this quite a difficult question. As none of my poems have (yet!) been published I had quite a few to select from for the competition. I have submitted to a few journals and competitions, as yet unsuccessfully, so I found it really hard to gauge which poems I should put in – actually I think I got a little cavalier with the entry. I think ‘Mercury’ fell into place as the last to be picked as it’s one of the earliest poems I wrote and got excited about. I love the word Mercury so much I’ve written several poems all with that title but the one I’ve included is the original.


There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you?

I’ve found that poems come to me in quite different ways. Usually the best or at least easiest to write is when a first line comes out of the blue, closely followed by the last line. I’m not sure exactly what the prompt in these instances is, whether a scene or a feeling or just a thought. Perhaps a glimpse into someone’s life. Then there are poems that start with an idea or a feeling I want to convey. These are a little harder to write but if the idea or feeling is quite solid they carry through and if they don’t they often morph into something else. I love it when the poem ends with so much more than it started with. I have also written a few poems to a particular theme (one was borders) – these are usually a little slower to start but once momentum kicks in they get there. There’s a lot of polishing that goes on. It’s a real high when a poem is finished.


If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?

So I think you mean if I could detach myself from the poems in a sort of impartial way? In that case variety, accessibility and aftertaste.


You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?

Carol Ann Duffy, Paul Muldoon, Carolyn Forche, Stephen Dunn, perhaps John Burnside. Would have loved to have heard John O’Donohue live but at least we have Youtube.




Stuart Airey graduated in Optometry from Auckland University in 1986 and has worked in this role for over 30 years. He also has a post-graduate Diploma in Theology from Laidlaw College. He is married with three children and lives in Hamilton. Apart from dabbling in short stories in high school Stuart began writing poetry more seriously after the Christchurch earthquake which resonated with personal loss in his family. Stuart has enjoyed performing some of his poetry in a series of dedicated evenings featuring a mix of drama, audio-visual, lighting and special effects. His poems are currently unpublished and he feels he is very much on the threshold of an unknown yet inspiring path.



The four finalists will read from their work at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 20 May, 3.15-4.15pm. 

Sarah Broom Poetry Prize page.

A conversation and poem from the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize Finalists: Wes Lee

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They don’t do it anymore,
breathe into the mouth to save.

We had learnt it reluctantly,
lined up beside a recumbent dummy,

waiting to take our turn to kneel at that mouth.
The simplest things disturb –

at night when the fluoros shut off and the cover is pulled,
the tiles swabbed – there it lies open,

not even a ventriloquist’s dummy
is so exposed.


©Wes Lee    ‘Lifesaving’ won second place in The London Magazine‘s 2015 Poetry Competition



A conversation:


If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates? 

I have always admired truth-tellers: Anne Sexton (The Awful Rowing Toward God), Raymond Carver (All of Us), Denis Johnson (The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly), Dorothea Lasky (Thunderbird), Sharon Olds (Satan Says), Rachel Wetzsteon (Sakura Park), Claudia Rankine (Don’t Let Me Be Lonely), Douglas Wright (Laughing Mirror), Alice Anderson (Human Nature). To name a few.

One of my favourite poets at the moment is a Lovelock Paiute writer from Nevada, Adrian C. Louis (Ceremonies of the Damned), who blows my hair back, and makes me laugh out loud! He speaks such truths, I am in awe of him.

I also recently loved Michel Faber’s first book of poems on the subject of his late wife’s struggle with cancer: ‘Undying’. Brilliant book.

I am waiting to receive (through the mail) the Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon.


What do you want your poems to do?  

Sharon Olds has said that she wants her poems to do something useful. I agree with that.

I want my poems to be brave, to connect, to surprise. I want to trust my voice, to resist self-censorship; to learn something each day about my own drama, as I learn each day from other poets. A journey of surprise and discovery.


Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?  

I suppose a poem like: ‘Mania Come Back!’ which goes against the grain of the prevailing idea that the stable world is the desired world. It’s a poem that grinds against the flat plane of balance.


There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you? 

I read poetry every day, and often other people’s writing is a trigger. Not only poetry but articles, essays, interviews, world news, movies, etc. And of course lines come up from “nowhere” and set the thing off.


If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?





You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?


Probably poets I would like to meet, reading from the following collections:

Julian Stannard (The Parrots of Villa Gruber Discover Lapis Lazuli)

Michel Faber (Undying)

Vicki Feaver (The Book of Blood)

Elspeth Smith (Dangerous Cakes)

John Burnside (Black Cat Bone)

Martin Figura (Whistle)


Wes Lee is the author of Body, Remember (Eyewear Publishing, 2017), Shooting Gallery (Steele Roberts, 2016), and Cowboy Genes (Grist Books, University of Huddersfield Press, 2014). Her work has appeared in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018, New Writing Scotland, Westerly, The London Magazine, Landfall, Cordite, Poetry London, Irises: The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize Anthology 2017, and many other journals and anthologies. She has won a number of awards for her writing including the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award; The Short FICTION Writing Prize (University of Plymouth Press); The Bronwyn Tate Memorial Award. She is currently working on her third poetry collection, By the Lapels


The four finalists will read from their work at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 20 May, 3.15-4.15pm. Guest judge Eileen Myles will introduce the finalists and announce the winner.

Sarah Broom Poetry Prize page.




Phantom Billstickers pay tribute to the nation’s poets as they announce National Poetry Day 2018

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New Zealand is a nation of poets and poetry lovers. Last year Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day broke all records, with 120 events taking place in cities and towns all over the country.

This year, Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day (#NZPoetryDay) will be held on Friday 24 August 2018 and is set to be even bigger. Expect chances to read poetry on public transport, street posters and footpaths; to hear it in special events in cafes, bars, bookshops, libraries, schools, universities, theatres, clubs and community centres; and to enter your own work in to poetry competitions for all ages.

 Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day 2018 will feature a range of events and activities, from readings headlined by Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh to Slam Poetry contests to events that celebrate local writers and places. David Merritt’s ‘Poetry in a Box’ will see poetry bricks in 25 different locations around the country – in schools, cafés, libraries, galleries – culminating in a co-ordinated “simultaneous reading” on the day.


The cut-off date for organisers to register events and apply for seed funding is Wednesday 23 May 2018 at 5:00pm. Events can be registered online via this link. For enquiries about registering an event or applying for seed funding, please contact National Administrator Harley Hern on email  For full information go here

Held on the fourth Friday in August, National Poetry Day is a popular fixture on the nation’s cultural calendar. For the third year Phantom Billstickers are supporting this through a naming rights sponsorship, and plan to proudly ‘splash poetry across New Zealand’ in the weeks leading up to National Poetry Day with a massive street poster campaign.

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Paula Morris, National Poetry Day spokesperson for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust said, “Last year’s twentieth-anniversary celebrations brought out more great poets, charismatic performers and avid readers than ever before. Poetry has the power to speak to and for us, from the personal to the political – to mark our big occasions, comment on our society, and challenge the way we see the world. National Poetry Day is a chance to encounter poetry in unexpected places, and to engage with the many things it’s able to do and say.”

The poetry winner of the prestigious Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, announced on Tuesday 15 May 2018, will be available to take part in selected events on Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day, as will the other poetry finalists. The shortlisted writers for the Poetry prize are: Tony Beyer (New Plymouth), Elizabeth Smither (Taranaki), Briar Wood (Northland), and Sue Wootton (Dunedin).


Nicola Legat, New Zealand Book Awards Trust Chair, said: “In the year that we celebrate 50 years since New Zealand’s prestigious book awards were first established, it’s rewarding and affirming to reflect on how many great books of poetry have been celebrated in the awards’ winner lists. These books of poetry were noticed, brought richness to readers’ lives and are eminently worth rereading. They have held their ground and their authors constitute a poetry hall of fame: Allen Curnow, Bill Manhire, Fleur Adcock, Elizabeth Smither, Brian Turner, Vincent O’Sullivan, Michelle Leggott, Hone Tuwhare, Kate Camp, Ian Wedde, Jenny Bornholdt, Glenn Colquhoun and so many more. Here’s to New Zealand poetry!”