Category Archives: nz poetry review

Poetry Shelf summer reading: Jane Arthur’s Craven

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Craven, Jane Arthur, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

I have a broth at a simmer on the stove.

Salty water like I’ve scooped up some ocean

and am cooking it in my home. Here,

gulp it back like a whale sieving plankton.

Anything can be a weapon if you

swallow hard enough:

nail scissors, a butter knife, dental floss,

a kindergarten guillotine, hot soup,

waves, whales.

 

from ‘Circles of Lassitude’

 

 

Jane Arthur’s debut collection Craven inhabits moments until they shine – brilliantly, surprisingly, refractingly, bitingly. Present-tense poetry is somewhat addictive. With her free floating pronouns (I, you, we) poetry becomes a way of being, of inhabiting the moment, as you either reader or poet, from shifting points of view.

It is not surprising it has been longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

The collection title references lack of courage, but it is as though Jane’s debut collection steps across a line into poetic forms of grit. This is a book of unabashed feeling; of showing the underseam, the awkward stitching, the rips and tears. Of daring to expose. The poems are always travelling and I delight in every surprising step. You move from taxidermy to piano lessons to heart checks and heart beats, but there is always a core of exposed self. And that moves me. You shift from a thing such as a plastic rose to Brad Pitt to parental quarrels. One poem speaks from the point of view of a ship’s figurehead, another from that of Constance. There is anxiety – there are dilemmas and epiphanies. The poetic movement is honeyed, fluid, divinely crafted – no matter where the subject travels, no matter the anxious veins, the tough knots.

An early poem, ‘Idiots’, is like an ode to life, to ways of being. I keep crossing between the title and the poem, the spare arrival of words punctuated by ample white space, elongated silent beats that fill with the links between brokenness, strength and pressing on.

 

Idiots

I’ve known people who decided

to carry their brokenness like strength

idiots

I’m a tree

I mean I’m tall, I sway

I don’t say, treat me gently

No¾I say, cool cool cool cool

I say, that really sucks but I guess I’ll survive it

or, that wind’s really strong

but so are my roots, so are my thighs

my branches my lungs my leaves my capacity to wait things out

I can get up in the morning

I do things

 

 

I heard Jane read for the first time at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize session at the Auckland Writers Festival in 2018. Her reading blew my socks off, just as her poems had delighted American judge, Eileen Myles, and it was with great pleasure I announced her as the winner. Eileen described Jane’s poetry: ‘poetry’s a connection to everything which I felt in all these [shortlisted] poets but in this final winning one the most. There’s an unperturbed confident “real” here.’ In her report, Eileen wrote:

The poet shocked me. I was thrust into their work right away and it evoked the very situation of the poem and the cold suddenness of the clinical encounter, the matter of fact weirdness of being female though so many in the world are us. And still we are a ‘peculiarity’ here and this poet manages to instantly say that in poetry. They more than caught me. I like exactly how they do this – shifting from body to macro, celestial, clinical, and maybe even speaking a little out of an official history. She seems to me a poet of scale and embodiment. Her moves are clean and well-choreographed & delivers each poem’s end & abruptly and deeply I think. There’s a from the hip authority that inhabits each and all of these poems.

 

I am revisiting these words in view of Craven’s multiple poetry thrills. So often we talk about the way a poem steps off from the ordinary and blasts your heart and senses, if not your mind, with such a gust of freshness everything becomes out of the ordinary. This is what happens with Craven. A sense of verve and outspokenness is both intoxicating and necessary:

 

I’m entertaining the idea of never being silent again,

of walking into a room and shouting, You Fuckers Better Toe the Line

like a prophylactic.

from ‘Sit Down’

A sense of brittleness, vulnerability and self-testing is equally present:

I’ve been preoccupied with what others think again.

I’ve been trying not to let people down.

Nights are not long enough.

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

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

From ‘Situation’

 

The movement between edge and smooth sailing, between light and dark, puzzle and resolution, and all shades within any dichotomy you might spot – enhances the reading experience. This is a book to treasure – its complexities and its economies, its confession and its reserve. It never fails to surprise. I am so excited she will be reading at my Poetry Shelf Live session at Wellington’s Writers Festival in March (see below). Triple yeah!

 

 

Jane Arthur was the recipient of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize  (2018). She has worked in the book industry as a bookseller and a book editor for over fifteen years. She has a master of Arts in Creative Writing from IIML at Victoria University of wellington. She was co-founder of the The Sapling, an online site for children’s literature. She lives in Wellington.

Jane will be appearing in my Poetry Shelf Live session at NZ Festival of the Arts,

Michael Fowler Centre,  Sunday 8 March 2020 12:30pm – 1:30pm

 

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: ‘Situation’ by Jane Arthur

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Jane Arthur reads ‘Snowglobe’

Poetry Shelf: Conversation with Sarah Broom Prize finalist, Jane Arthur

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf summer reading: essa may ranapiri’s ransack

 

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ransack, essa may ranapiri, Victoria University, 2019

 

 

 

he is like a bumblebee stinger on my tongue when I say it’

from ‘Dear Orlando’

 

 

 

essa may ranapiri begins their debut poetry collection ransack with a quote from Virginia Woolf’s gender-switching Orlando: ‘Ransack the language as he might, words failed him. He wanted another landscape, and another tongue.’

When I was doing my doctoral thesis (Italian) I carried a Virginia Woolf quote from A Room of One’s Own with me and I still do: ‘Mary is tampering with the expected sequence.  First she broke the sentence; now she has broken the sequence. Very well, she has every right to do both these things if she does them not for the sake of breaking, but for the sake of creating.’

Sometimes we need to break language, to smash how we do things in order to begin again, in order to find form and fluidity for our voices. Sometime language fails us. Sometimes we have to smash muteness and test our way into a new musicality, a new sequence of connections. We may be fierce and we may be vulnerable.

I dipped in and out of ransack last year, and loved every snatched moment, but a few weekends ago I sat down in the cool shade and read the book slowly, cover to cover, and felt myself upturn, overturn, inturn and sideturn as the poetry pulsed through my being (I am thinking of that as a verb). This is what a book can do.

essa’s book is a glorious sequence of creating – of ransacking what has been, in order to refresh what will be. Letters written to Orlando make an appearance – like a epistle spine for the collection or a poetry pivot for both reader and writer.

The opening poem ‘my tongue as rope’ lays down a thicket image – the kind of image that hooks you, especially when you think of  writing, speaking and even self as braid. The braided rope is the anchor, the preserver, the tough knot, ‘the single knot’, the finder.

essa writes: to pull in sound / draw in lists / the endeavour hits the land’. Can the poems be a form of rope? ‘my tongue-rope wraps itself until it is a single knot.’

A single poem breaks apart in my mouth and heart. The break in the flow creates a new current.

 

 

fetal

 

a mothe

r returnin

g to the grown ground like a gow

n of weeds got a stretching motion

n to stil

l body corps

e the wood in the wax in the flowe

r chains a bab

y stil

l bor

n rattling i

n the mutton skie

s chubby in the loa

m to no mor

e

 

Reading ransack allows me to absorb the nonbinary experience afresh. Unsettling the line on the page unsettles the line of thought, the entrenched dichotomies of either / or / male / female / she / he / soft / hard / weak / strong

A long poem ‘Con-ception’ is dedicated to essa’s mother and is a reading explosion of arrival, pregnancy, forming embryo, forming mother. I have never read a piece that breaks into and out of the maternal that has affected me so much. I am going to give you a quote that is also right-hand margin justified, but not all the book is (the forms are dancing on their toes in an exuberant display of variousness:

 

in the world and into the world of tubes

ride the machine

incubate in plastic

and drench in yellow light

the air is whole new in-the-world

and out of the old world

recognise voices

am i

an i?

 

put in

alove?

When she finally has a shower afterwards she is crying.

 

Reading the ransack sequences and I am feeling poetry. essa tells Orlando ‘You never had to discover yourself in a book. You never questioned your gendered nature – you moved from one perfect set of genitalia to another according to Aristophanes and the great round people of concave and convex, of female and male.’

essa places body and experience at its white hot core – a gift in its sharpness, its broken cutting lines and its sweet fluencies as the writer navigates how to be, how to be body, how to be bodymindheart in the world. Part of the writing of experience, with that backstory sting of ‘he’, is claiming name, celebrating a pronoun:

 

u said you liked the ‘th’ sound in they and them the softening of it

and how it fitted around my rage

made it/for it

to be okay to touch

i talk you through other constructions

ones that subverted phonetics

me as a slice of not that

when expecting this

the xe sound like zay

 

from ‘a phone call about the nature of pronouns gendered and otherwise’

 

ransack is a skin-prickling, heart-blasting, mind-opening glorious feast of a book that in the spirit of Virginia breaks up language in order to create something breathtakingly new.

 

 

 

essa may ranapiri, Ngāti Raukawa, is a poet from Kirikiriroa, Aotearoa. They graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University of Wellington (2018) and their work has appeared in many local journals. They are the featured poet in Poetry Yearbook 2020 (Massey University Press). ransack has been longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2020.

 

essa may ranapiri website

Victoria University Press page

The Pantograph Punch Jackson Nieuwland reviews ransack

RNZ interview

Poetry Shelf: essa reads ‘Glass Breaking’

essa on being at IIML with Tayi Tibble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf summer reading: Amy Brown’s neon daze

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neon daze, Amy Brown, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

 

The title of Amy Brown’s new collection neon daze hooked me. Having published extracts from the book on the blog, I knew the collection came out of motherhood. I mused on the way you can be caught in a blazing daze as you invent your own mother role. How moments can also gleam with light, the miracle of a newborn baby you are responsible for. Not everyone chooses or can be mothers and there is no standardised mothering role. Thanks heavens. Women have written mother poems for centuries despite denigration from men. I came across the denigration in my Wild Honey travels, but I also came across a rich harvest of mother poems that shed light on the multiplicity of experience, experience that shaped the way poems were written as well as the content. I also encountered relentless doubt – doubt about whether what women were writing could be claimed as poetry when it retained a domestic or maternal focus.

I still encounter this!

At the Poetry & Essay conference in Wellington (2017), I sat with Amy, Joan Fleming and Brian Blanchfield over lunch and we talked about how being a mother does not shut down the option of being a poet, of being a published poet, of being read and valued. And most importantly, about the significance of publishing poems about motherhood, about sons and daughters and domestic matters.

Amy’s glorious evocation of motherhood tests how poems form on the page. neon daze raises questions about both writing and mothering and resists turning away from the difficult, the intensely private. There is a sense of inquiry, contemplation and play, along with the doubt and constrained time. Amy discusses the genesis of the title – she had ‘Neonatal’ to being with and then began playing:

 

(…) Too clinical to be appropriate now,

I play with the cursor, like the baby plays with the

nipple when he wants comfort rather than food.

I keep Neon: a bright, new, elemental word

like a swipe of highlighter over these days

in the calendar. I add Days, then change it

to Daze. This is where I am, in a floodlit

stupor, so bright I can barely see, like in Dante’s

Paradise, shadowless knowledge so pure it’s empty.

 

from ‘9 October 2016’

 

Amy admitted she told people she was writing even when she privately thought ‘this writing didn’t count’. She kept a verse journal for three months after her baby was born – subsequently editing and adding footnotes which pick up on a word or idea prompted by the poem.  The footnote titles track a mind musing, raising questions, allowing doubt to surface and resettle. They are like an infinitive-verb poem:

to admit, to edit, to push, to sate, to repeat, to define, to expect, to hallucinate, to dream, to dance, to address, to winter, to resolve , to heal, to regret, to visit, to abstract, to doubt, to donate, to sever, to touch, to cringe, to name, to eat, to earn, to permit, to wake, to care, to wean, to wave, to finish

The footnotes ( I want to call them something else) form their own vital presence, not as asides, but as a sequence of numbered prose pieces that enervate the poetry.

I cross the bridges between poems and prose. Sometimes I make a clearing for the poem and surround it with silent beats like the white space on the page. Sometimes I dwell on the pirouetting trains of thought in the prose and let the questions gain momentum. I am particularly interested in Amy’s double self-exposure in both poetry and prose. The writing is called into question. Is it poetry? Is it poetry of value? Does it make a difference that the writer is a woman? A mother? What lines are crossed? What lines are tested?

I am affected by this collection because it draws me deep into the challenges of writing and motherhood. How can I write when I am so depleted? How can I write anything of worth? I still feel this.

The poetry exposes both physical and emotional realities. At times it underlines the relentless day-in-day-out routines that both exhaust and provide uplift, while at other times the poetry holds a scene (still, luminous) for us to absorb. This is a personal record of mothering: of baby stages, breastfeeding, a need to avoid baby bragging, to settle baby to sleep, to listen to baby coos and baby cries. This is a personal record of climbing to the rock summit, behind baby and father, like a baby mountain goat up the less than easy walk. The poem reverberates with feeling (sharp, understated, complicated)

 

(…) I have seen you fall, your father replies.

And I think it has something too do with you thinking

you are a mountain goat. The words are said tensely

as he holds his left arm around you and balances

with his right palm against a rock. The sky is

granite too – shimmering, hard and slick.

 

from ’16 0ctober 2016′

 

For me neon daze satisfies on so many levels. Lines spring out with musical and visual agility. Scenes shimmer with a sensual underlay. The poetry is fluent, intricate, detail-rich. A question could stall me all day such as the thorny issue of writing the lives of others; of making public what is intimate and private. Amy admitted when she was younger she ‘had no qualms / about giving air and light to what now / seems better off private’. But now she is more inclined to keep secrets yet is compelled still ‘to expose private parts of life’. She claims: ‘now I see that even if it is just / me on display, there is still a problem: / I no longer own myself’. After Amy heard Jenny Bornholdt read a poem about the death of her father and her friend Nigel Cox at the Poetry & Essay conference she asked Jenny a question:

 

During the reading, Jenny invited questions, so I asked about the responsibility of writing about loved ones – Where I asked, do you draw a line? I don’t, she replied, firm and gentle at once. I don’t draw a line.

 

from ’26 To Permit’

 

Ah, this is a question pertinent to the making of neon daze. But the strongest presence is the mother poet, the poet mother. I am drawn into her world, her challenges, her delights, her epiphanies. She has placed herself on show but she had to think equally hard about putting her son and husband in the poetry frame. This questioning of the line Amy may or may not cross, and the various revelations she makes that place family and friends in good and bad lights, affected me as I read. How to write those closest to us?

I love this book. I love navigating the alleys and the undergrowth. I love coming across the hard stuff and then falling into a piquant scene. The mother rests on the sofa with her baby sleeping and watches the men in the garden working. This exquisite juxtaposition of stillness and movement is heightened by the poet’s movement of thought. She meanders from clods of earth and labour to dreams of the future, of what may or may not be. It enters me like the wind. I am replete with the movement of this book. Grateful this book exists.

 

What if, I wondered, looking at Alison Lester’s illustrations

of things parents want to give their child – a cosy bedroom

with a view of a tree full of wattlebirds; a garden rippling

with tulips and roses; a perfectly weeded vegetable patch

with benign insects for a child to discover; friendly cats,

dogs and horses; a rock pool full of rainbow-coloured fish;

a kaola above us in a tree; a woollen blanket and a steaming

mug of tea at the fireside. What if we never have a garden?

Or pets. or perfect holidays. At least he will know

that we wished such pleasures would be his. This book

is a petitionary prayer of sorts, and I realise now

that the answer to these requests is here, dilapidated

and overgrown and snake-infested, but here.

 

from ‘8 October 2016’

 

 

 

Amy Brown is a poet, novelist and teacher. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propoganda Girl (VUP, 2018), which was shortlisted in the 2009 NZ Book Awards, and The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels.

 

The Spin Off – ‘Turning on the Light Ladder: Amy Brown on motherhood and writing neon daze

Radio NZ – Harry Ricketts reviews neon daze

Poetry Shelf – excerpt from neon daze

Victoria University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: @pantographpunch Jackson Nieuwland reviews essa may ranapiri’s ransack

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Jackson Nieuwland reviews essa may ranapiri’s debut collection of poetry.

ransack is a landmark in Aotearoa publishing. A collection by an openly takatāpui/nonbinary poet, writing explicitly about queer issues and experiences, published by Aotearoa’s largest publisher of poetry. I and many others have been waiting for this for a long time, longer than we ourselves have even realised, and essa may ranapiri has delivered it for us: a book that speaks to our experience, a book full of beauty and pain.

go here. It’s a terrific review!

Poetry Shelf review: Bob Orr’s One Hundred Poems and a Year

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Bob Orr, One Hundred Poems and a Year Steele Roberts, 2018

 

 

Consider this book of mine

as if it were a rucksack

 

containing what you might need

if you were to step outside your door.

 

There are poems heavily knitted

as fisherman’s jerseys

 

in case you should find yourself

all at sea.  (…)

 

from ‘Rucksack

 

Bob Orr was born in the Waikato. He worked as a seafarer on Waitematā Harbour for 38 years and now lives in a cottage on the Thames Coast. In 2016 he received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry and in 2017 was the Writer in Residence at the University of Waikato where he wrote most of One Hundred Poems and a Year, his ninth collection.

The book looks gorgeous – beautiful cover design with an oxygenated font and layout inside. Everything has room to breathe. Barry Lett’s exquisite drawing of ‘Blue Flowers’ on the cover is revisited in a poem.

 

Because sometimes you

remind me of a Catalan fisherman

these are the blue flowers of the Mediterranean

 

***

 

With a felt-tip pen

bought in a supermarket

one day you created myriad blue stems

 

from ‘A vase of blue flowers’ for Barry Lett

 

The poems are equally full of air and verve. The opening poem, ‘Rucksack’, is a perfect entry point as it likens the collection to a rucksack you might take with you for the day. We can expect poems we might shower with; that favour the casualness of jandals, the toughness of tramping boots, bare feet. The poem’s final image flipped me. Bob’s poetry moves through the air, out in the complicated, beautiful world and then underlines human vulnerability with the final line’s ‘bare feet’:

I wrote them while walking down a road with bare feet.

The collection is steeped in the sea: you will find boats, sea birds, ocean harvests and harbours as Bob travels by land and by ocean. He travels in the present time and he travels back through the past, gathering in friends and places, other poets, beginnings and endings. Poetry, the writing and reading of it, is ever present as the world becomes a page, a script to be read, a poem to be crafted.

 

I mention the containers

of the Maersk Hamburg Sud or P&O Line

 

if only because my autobiography

 or even this poem

 

and the cargo it must carry

would be incomplete without them.

 

from ‘Autobiographic’

 

There is death and endings; there is marriage and beginnings.

 

This evening I fly back

a delta-winged moth

 

my sadness like moondust

my night vision glowing like an infra-red camera

 

a stranger to these parts

gliding between the bittersweet shadows of apartments

 

to enter again if only I could find them

the strawberry fields that were said to be forever.

 

How many times and for what purpose

did we have to break

each other’s

hearts?

 

from ‘A woman in red slacks’

 

I missed this book when it came out last year – and it is such a treasure. The fluid lines at times feel like the arc of a bird drifting across the sky and at other times draw upon the ebb and flow of the sea – always beautifully measured. Poetry has so many effects upon us – reading this book the effects are both multiple and satisfying. It comes down to music, intimacy and exquisite reflection, and an engagement with the world that matters. I love this book.

 

Steele Roberts author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Lynn Davidson’s Islander

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Lynn Davidson Islander Victoria University Press 2019

 

 

Time goes slower in the sea

and faster in the mountains.

Physics has taken over

where poetry left off.

 

from ‘Pearls’

 

 

Lynn Davidson’s terrific new poetry collection, Islander, travels between Scotland and New Zealand, between the place she grew up (Kapiti, Wellington) and the place she now lives (Edinburgh). Divided into five parts the poems move amidst light, fire and earth. Like Dinah Hawken, Lynn pays close attention to the world about her, the physical world, the inhabited world, a world buffeted by weather, seasons, time. Her poems are layered and fluent and measured.

The opening poem, ‘My stair’, sees the speaker (the poet?) looking out, in an eerie night light, from her second-floor window onto the bus depot. She evokes a scene through pitch perfect detail and a surprising simile (‘buses lightly lumber / into the yellow depot / like bubbles back / into solution’). But the surprise for me, the point of ruffle and ripple, is the mention of the father:

 

My father’s heart is failing, he fills up

 

with fluid (like an empty bus fills up with light?)

I look for flights.

 

One of the pleasures of this collection is the eclectic movement. There is movement born from departure, from the sway between presence and absence, birds in flight, the ripple of water, the movement of a musing and contemplative mind. A number of poems struck me. ‘A hillside of houses leave’ is mysterious, magical and rich in movement. Like many of the poems, there is a link to birds that might be symbolic but that is always physical.

 

Steeped in old weather the wooden houses

remember their bird-selves and unfold

barely-jointed wings.

 

The poem holds the conundrum of life – its impermanence, its fragility and the little anchors, the necessary bones.

 

People curl inside

the bones that keep them

that will not keep them long.

 

The presence of birds is fitting in a collection that navigates islands – the birds might signal the ocean’s presence, the multiple flights, the multiple nests, the bird on the poet’s sight line, the bird carried by heart, the bird house and the bird lungs.

I began to see the collection as a poetry chain; where this poem rubs against that poem and that poem rubs against this. Here the light of this day touches the light of that day which touches the light of the day before all the way back to ancient times. Dinah has a poem dedicated to her and I am reminded of Dinah’s ability to evoke the spare and the luminous within a cluster of lines that then open out with absorbing richness. Lynn is similarly dexterous. This from Lynn’s ‘Bonfire’:

 

The mainland is rendered down

silvers and is gone.

 

My heart is green and raw – a pea not a heart –

front to the fire back to the wind.

 

The groan of stone on stone unsettles

me as I unsettle them.

 

Islands is also inhabited with daily lives, with anecdote and incident, thus rendering landscape humane as well as wild and beautiful. At times it made me laugh out loud as in ‘Lineage’:

 

I was nine months pregnant, and waiting, when the man in the

Taranaki airport shop snapped this isn’t a library you know,

 

and when I turned my great belly full of fingernails and teeth-in-bud

towards him he asked (hotly) if I was actually going to buy anything.

 

The baby made exclamation marks with its soft bones,

glared with its wide open eyes – two Os. No I said I won’t buy

 

my news from you.

 

Lynn traces family, the children who leave, the children who make home solid, the unnamed boy who names home hame, the children half a hemisphere away. This from ‘Leaving Wellington’:

 

Hours go by and elements still gather.

Each day my waking children, just by naming

assembled all the solid things of world:

the bath, stove, chair, the bed, the window,

the shoe, the dinosaur, the door, the wall.

Then in a kind of via negativa

they composed two empty rooms by leaving home.

 

I said it was an anchor but it’s not.

It’s a shadow roughly like a kiss.

 

 

This is a book to slow down with – just as you slow down when you walk the perimeter of an island – gazing into a shifting sky vista and towards the unreachable but alluring horizon line  –letting your own thoughts cascade and catch. It is a book where the view of a poem never settles but keeps revealing new lights, new joys, new surprises. I love this considered pace, this sharp revelation, this anchored heart. I love this book.

 

Victoria University Press author page

 

Lynn Davidson is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live by the Sea (2009, VUP) and a novel, Ghost Net, along with essays and short stories. She grew up in Kāpiti, Wellington and currently lives in Edinburgh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2019

 

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Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2019 

editor Jack Ross, published by Massey University Press

 

 

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook always offers a substantial selection of poetry. This issue includes essays, reviews and the results of two poetry competitions, along with poems from new and established poets. I started reading the issue – I always dip and dive into literary journals – and made notes, gathering the poems that ‘spoke to me’. But then I hit the rest button and realised I was running on empty post big project. I have lain on a couch for a week and stared at the sky and after the horrendous terrorist event in Christchurch everything feels different. Because everything must be different. What happens when I pick up this journal again with a raucous bust-up of questions in my head: How to live? How to speak? How to connect? How to write a poem? How to run a blog? How to widen us and make room for past, present and future, to celebrate the good things and challenge the rest?

I picked up Poetry New Zealand again and started at the first page. No dipping and diving. Just tracking an alphabet of voices and letting poetry work its magic.

Certain poems set me musing. Marisa Cappetta‘s ‘Homeless like bones’ is both an anchor and a kite. This poem is worth the buying the book for, as a keepsake, a drifting catalyst.

 

My house is like a thing that flies

a warm bodied creature with wooden wings and moss

stuffed in the cracks to keep out

the draft at high altitudes.

Every night I burrow into its feathers.

 

Ria Masae’s magical ‘Children’s Eyes’ takes me back to a childhood looking, to stepping off from the knowable physical world to a world without limits or rules, a world bright with colour and possibilities. The poem is the thread that stitches child to adult.

 

In autumn

I would walk from school

under a canopy of different shades of Papatuanuku.

The flakes of her skin

drifted gently from her offspring trees

and whispered the earth’s secrets

into my childish ears

before playfully licking my cheeks

and falling to the ground

paving my golden-leaf road home.

 

 

Emma Neale’s poetry always catches hold me because its musical effects equal the craft of a silversmith – intricate, alluring, bright. However Emma’s ‘The TastiTM Taste Guarantee’ leads me in a different direction as the poem showcases her ability to write wit in all seriousness. She explains why, in the form of a letter, she has eaten the museli bar destined for her child’s lunchbox. The ending is a knockout – you get wit and seriousness with her characteristic deft musical touch.

 

All of which I guess

is just to say

(hey WCW, still got it!)

since you asked, I would like to know

how closed-grained and sweet-glazed

is the happiness of the future

assuming there is happiness in the future?

Because sometimes, when I do catch a glimpse

of time’s webbed, oil-black wings,

its tangerine-stained, crazed-bullet teeth,

I’m so stunned and dread-run

that even eating a candy bar

in Supergrain disguise

seems to be a legitimate opposite

to inaction.

 

Vaughan Rapatahana has poetry here in te reo along with a poem, ‘Rangiaowhia, 1864’, that takes us back to a massacre, an event we should become aware of in school, an event that returns us to the pronouns we and us. Again the questions compound. How to link the past to the future in order to understand the present?  How join hands and stand and listen. What to do with the breaking hearts?

 

who knows about the murders at Rangiaowhia?

not the majority in this country nowadays.

who remembers the burned children?

not the majority in this district.

who believes the word of the survivors?

only a minority outside that town.

alas

alas

alas.

 

I read Tracey Slaughter’s ‘archealogical’ and I just wanted to hear her read it aloud because it is such a sumptuous aural display of what words can do in a poem. The sound effects are as effective as the detail and the mood, and the surprising arrival of individual words; I am right back in the fumbling sexual awakenings of adolescence. I can’t wait to read Tracey’s debut collection out this year with VUP.

 

When the bell rings we are archealogical, cutting

through the harbour home, shins uprooting litres of slush

& levelling bubbles & barbs of creatures triggered back

into their chinks of flood. Their pinprick beds turn the sand

grid silver before your ranchslider shines up the low slope – beyond

your scalp the view’s not a bad excuse for stars. Inside we crumble

from the waded calves, the tight-knit glisten of mud scuffed

off by inches, the silhouette of grains slid of our sip.

 

Sue Wootton also draws me into the musicality of her writing, the luminous detail and the rendering of miniature stories and settings. ‘Anywhen’ is an electric read – taking me back to the 1960s and a foreign magazine sent to me by my French penfriend with Mary Quant products and miniskirts and velvet every way you looked.

 

Anywhere and anywhen

you unzip the hip-knock swing-along

to see what pops up

to hear what’s blowin’ in the wind.

You write past midnight on the blue machine

with your Mary Quant eyelashes a-droop

and the moon watches you and you watch

the moon. You’d like to land on the moon

but in colour. Page after page comes back to earth

with a crumpled thump

 

I have never read any poems by Sigred Yamit before and now I am keen to track down more because ‘Sweater’ blew the top off my head off (to borrow from Emily Dickinson) and really this skinny poem is sharp and sweet and utterly original and you have to read the whole thing to get the effect so I will just give you the start.

 

I’m supposed to write

something poignant

earth-shattering

eradicate cancer

but all I can think of

is my itchy red sweater

and how I fucking love it

and sad I get

when a boy is more

beautiful than me

 

I also loved Zuo You’s poem ‘I accepted His Apologies’ because it made me laugh out loud. Just two verses. Here is the second one.

 

The cold noodles I ordered

turned into hot ones

as if by magic.

After lunch

I posted a five-star review on the food.

 

 

Of all the finalists in the two poetry competitions I was hooked by Wes Lee‘s winning tour-de-force of a poem, The Things She Remembered #1’.   Phrases accumulate like a rollercoaster memory pulling you along in a blaze of sharpness and surprise. I was equally gripped by secondary school winner, Aigagalefili Fepulea’i-Tapua’i’s ‘275 Letters to Southside’. The poem, also sharp and rhythm rich, makes it clear that ‘Auckland is not the same place as South Auckland’.

 

Such is the strength of anthologies and literary journals: they can poke your skin and make you feel things – reading these poems I got sad, I laughed out loud and I got lost in trains of thought. Not everything hooked me but there is superlative poetry on offer. It was just what I needed. Now for the essays and reviews ….

 

 

Massey University Press page