Category Archives: NZ Poets

Monday Poem: by Gregory Kan

 

 

I wanted what happened to be something

I could know

and I wanted what I knew to be something

I could describe

something to which others could say

I know this

this happened to me also.

At the back of the room is a mirror

dreaming it’s become itself at last.

I keep walking

as if I know all the parts

and could play them.

 

 

©Gregory Kan

 

 

Gregory Kan is a writer and coder based in Wellington. His poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in literary journals such as the Atlanta Review, Landfall, The Listener, SPORT and Best New Zealand Poems. His poetry and philosophical works have also featured in exhibitions and publications for contemporary art institutions such as the Auckland Art Gallery, Artspace, the Adam Art Gallery, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the Physics Room. Auckland University Press published his first book, This Paper Boat, in 2016. An earlier incarnation of This Paper Boat was shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize in 2013. The book was also a finalist in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Best Poetry in 2017. He was a Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellow for 2017. His second poetry collection, Under Glass, is forthcoming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Review: Heather McPherson’s This Joyous, Chaotic Place

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This Joyous, Chaotic Place, Heather McPherson, Spiral, 2018

(cover image by Joanna Margaret Paul with a portrait of Heather on the back by Allie Eagle)

 

 

Heather McPherson (1942 – 2017) published 4 poetry collections in her lifetime, with her first, A Figurehead: A Face, paving the way for future poets. It was the first poetry book by an out lesbian in Aotearoa/ New Zealand.  In 1974 she founded both the Christchurch Women Artists group and Spiral, a women’s literary and arts journal.

Before her death, Heather asked poet Janet Charman to edit her garden poems while Lynne Ciochetto and Marian Evans formed a Spiral collective to publish the volume.

When I think of garden poems, I think of Ursula Bethell and the decade she devoted to writing and gardening when she lived with her beloved companion, Effie Pollen. I have thought about these intensities a lot, and write about them in my forthcoming book.

To enter the glades of Heather’s final collection, lovingly tended by Janet, is to enter a garden rich in aroma, with diverse plantings and seasonal changes. As with Ursula, to view Heather’s writing through a garden lens is extremely productive.

 

This graveyard’s a bit like the one

where we buried my mum and dad. Oldish,

a small town Anglian acreage

 

from ‘At Rangiora’s Ashley Street Cemetery’

 

We begin at Ursula’s grave, and while the poem draws us in close, it also generates little waves that connect admired poet – mentor almost – to Heather’s parents: one grave seeking pilgrimage as much as the next. And herein lies the delight of the poetry, the way the visual piquancy (‘the bird droppings// and twigs’) interweaves with the many selves: daughter, poet, companion, political attendee.

Attendance is vital because this is a poet who paid attention to things, small and large, the one nestled in the other, crafted within the reflective surface of poems. At times it is the joy of the thing itself that matters:

 

but this shape-shifter tree blossoms

tight thick-skinned buds like thrusting rose-hips

 

from ‘fragment’

 

On other occasions the poem is a vehicle for story or anecdote, and a way of tending vital bonds, personal experience, inner movement. Age is a preoccupation as is the necessity of companionship.

 

No. No. See, it’s like old age, he says, eyeing my face.

Goes slack and perishes. Soon as I touched it, it gave way.

Dangerous. Gone holey. I’ll get you a tow.

 

from ‘Waiting for the breakdown truck’

 

I spend time in Heather’s poetic glades, because the senses are on alert, the description compounding, and it imbues my own contemplative state. I like that. I like the way my mind wanders through my open window to the kereru plundering the cabbage tree, and then I am back within an intensity of poppies:

 

Poppies poppies poppies … red-headed

black-bellied upright masses on light green

sea-milk stalks – surely such riotously

frilly leaves can’t be edible – can’t be

blanched – baked – boiled – toast …

 

from ‘Poppies’

 

In a poem for Fran, Heather responds to her friend’s paintings, and it seems to me, the astute observation might also be applied to the poems.

 

But I don’t have lots of things in

my work – like Anna does, you said;

ah, I said, but your painting traps

amazing movement in it – it moves,

it moves – whether or not your

subject does  – it moves internally

& moving, spills (…)

 

from ‘Things shift’

 

As much as stillness gifts Heather’s poetry a translucent layering, the internal movement – the links and arcs, the revelations, the richnesses and the reserve – offer an uplift along with countless movements. By paying attention to the garden in which she lived, and the people close to her, her poetry establishes contrasting intensities – from the joyful to the chaotic. It is a pleasure to read.

 

 

Until April 14th

‘This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu’ is a multi-media project to celebrate poet and lesbian activist Heather McPherson (1942-2017) and her peers in the Aotearoa New Zealand’s women’s art and literature movement of the 1970s and 1980s. It is a #suffrage125 project, funded by Creative New Zealand and includes an exhibition, a collection of Heather’s ‘garden poems’ and a shopfront cinema showing 70s and 80s short films and raw footage.

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12 Questions for the Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry finalists: Briar Wood

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Congratulations on your short-list placing!

Kia Ora.

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

 

Say Something Back – Denise Riley

The Bonniest Companie – Kathleen Jamie

Dark Sparring – Selina Tusitala Marsh

Citizen – Claudia Rankine

Deep River Talk Hone Tuwhare

 

What other reading attracts you?

 

Fiction – La Rose Louise Erdrich; Parable of the Sower Octavia Butler; A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing Eimear McBride; Sleeps Standing Moetu Witi Ihimaera with Hemi Kelly; Foreign Soil  Maxine Beneba Clarke

History  – Tuai Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins; Inglorious Empire: What the British Did To India Shashi Tharoor

Journalism and Essays –   Feel Free Zadie Smith; False River Paula Morris; The Best and the Brightest David Halberstam

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection

wāhi, places, the ambience and etymology of words, kupu kōtuitui

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being?

Yes, the thematic intensity and interconnections as the collection e-merged.

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

negotiating,  rerenga, ecoconscious, beò, karadow

 

Which poem particularly falls into place for you?

‘Kuramārōtini’

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

Aligning kupu

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

I don’t loathe anything or nothing in poetry.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

Near Maungatapere.

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

Te reo writing and performance is a strength – there should be more promotion of it.

The performance and publishing scene is quite inclusive and can be more so.

More consistent newspaper reviews of poetry and media outlets paying to publish poems.

 

Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

 

Performances at hui for Te Hā ki Tāmaki – Contemporary Maori Writers by Whaitiri Mikaere and Te Kahu Rolleston pass on their energy and  aroha for te reo with an integrated intensity.

 

If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

 

Any of the poets could mc or chair it.

Kiri Piahana-Wong

Jacqs Carter

Te Kahu Rolleston

Paula Morris

David Eggleton

Brian Turner

 

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Anahera press page

12 Questions for the Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry finalists: Elizabeth Smither

 

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Congratulations on your short-list placing Elizabeth!

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

Everything by Wislawa Szymborska and the Penguin Modern Poets series (3 poets in each clutch purse-sized collection): Emily Berry/Anne Carson/Sophie Collins; Malika Booker/Sharon Olds/Warsan Shire etc.

 

What other reading attracts you?

Almost anything. At the moment I am re-reading Rex Stout and the yellow pyjama-wearing detective Nero Wolfe.

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection.

I never discover a theme until a collection is put together. The connections between individual poems can be as subtle and perverse as the most delicate rhyme or rhythm.

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being?

Perhaps the secret life of animals?

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

‘The heart heals itself between beats’ because it was a commission with an extra scoop of fear attached.

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

Depth and uncertainty.

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

Nothing. It’s important not to loathe anything.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

Propped up on a bank of pillows in bed, with the concert programme on the radio and perhaps a glass of wine.

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

The chutzpah of our independent publishers; a tendency for too much adulation.

 

Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

Margaret Atwood and Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the Aldeburgh festival. I read first and sat down between them, shivering.

 

If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

I think I’d do a Dead Poets session. Keats and Shelley, Robert Lowell, William Empson, John Crowe Ransom, Tomas Tranströmer, Szymborska, of course… the possibilities are endless. It might have something of the bitchy tone of ‘The Real Housewives of Melbourne’.  To chair it one of the Paulas: Green or Morris.

 

Night Horse AUP author page

 

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The NZ edition of Poetry

 

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I know I find it hard to listen.

I read too much. I often need a drink.

It isn’t the world that makes us think,

it’s words that we can’t come up with.

Sure, I can work up fresh examples

and send them off to the committee.

But the poetry is in the bird. And in the pretty.

 

Bill Manhire, from ‘Polly’

 

International poetry traffic is so often dependent upon fortuitous connections. The degree of familiarity with poetry from elsewhere is utterly paltry compared with the degree of familiarity I have with local writing. Yes I have studied American and British poetry but I am more aware of the luminous stars in these poetry constellations than the grassroot outings.

On the other hand, we are no longer dependent upon ocean voyages and the constraints of distance, but to what degree does our poetry travel (compared say with fiction)? Or our poetry conversations extend beyond our lapping tidelines.

I am acutely aware of my impoverished relations with contemporary Australian poetry. Perhaps Joan Fleming and Amy Brown could guest edit a local journal with an Australian focus? But then again our journals are often annual and offer vital but scant opportunities for local poets.

This is not the first time an overseas journal has showcased New Zealand poetry, but it is perhaps the example I am most excited by. The editors – Stephanie Burt (USA), Paul Millar (NZ) and Chris Price (NZ) – have worked hard to present a distinctive and diverse overview of our current poetry. The selected poets cross all manner of borders: age, geographical location, style, university affiliation, gender, ethnicity. This matters if we want to move beyond the legacy of white male predomination, urban bias and privileged poetry models. I cannot name a NZ journal that has achieved such movement.

Yes the five books Daisy Fried reviewed – from the fifteen 2017 publications she was sent – were all Victoria University Press. Her selection certainly does not reflect the contours of that year, and we can all stand on the sidelines and shout (or sing) about the books we loved, but I have no issue with reviews reflecting individual taste. However I do take issue that a short intro and five VUP books can respond to her opening question: ‘How to characterise a national poetry?’ Why would you even try! It is a personal take on five excellent books.

The rest of the journal is an altogether different joy. The effect of reading is symphonic in the different hues and chords. Every single poem lifts off the page and catches both ear and eye. Such freshness, such lightness, darkness, musicality, room to breathe, surprising arcs and links and undercurrents. I keep swaying between Anna Jackson’s glorious bee poem and the flickering titles that coalesce in Nina Powles’s offering or the infectious wit of James Brown, Ashleigh Young and Tim Upperton.  I am pulled into the bite of Anahera Gildea, Chris Tse and then Tayi Tibble and stop in the tracks of reading. Travelling with Janet Charman and the revelatory suite makes me weep. Switching to Anne Kennedy and the momentum coils and overlaps and poetry transforms a starting point into elasticity on the line. Bill Manhire flips me over into the second stanza, and the lacework of reading – intricate yet full of holes – offers mystery, surprise, wit, curious things.

 

The time of breathing into clasped hands

hovering over a lighter to make a flame

 

not knowing

that an angry man threw his eyes into the night

 

the belly of his shattered father

weeping rain for separation of earth and sky

 

Jessie Puru from ‘Matariki’

 

 

The editors did not feel beholden to poetry that targets versions of New Zealand/ Aotearoa; our poetry might do this and then again it might not. The poems have the freedom to do and be anything whether they spring from spoken-word rhythms or  talkiness or thinginess or anecdotal revelations or sumptuous Baroque-detail or story or slanted humour or cutting political edges.

The poets: Anna Jackson, Kate Camp, Michele Leggott, Therese Lloyd, Jessie Puru, Essa Ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, Robert Sullivan, Kerrin P. Sharpe, Hera Lindsay Bird, Dylan Horrocks, James Brown, Murray Edmond, Jenny Bornholdt, Anne Kennedy, Bill Manhire, Nina Powles, Janet Charman, Anahera Gildea, Bernadette Hall, Vincent O’Sullivan, Courtney Sina Meredith, C.K. Stead, Chris Tse, Tim Upperton, Gregory O’Brien and John Pule, Faith Wilson, Ashleigh Young, Albert Wendt, Steven Toussaint, Erik Kennedy

This issue is a cause for celebration – I absolutely love it – and my celebration will take  the form of a subscription. New Zealand poetry has been well served – congratulations!

 

Poetry here

 

everything I never asked my grandmother

I can understand but I can’t speak

no one has played that piano since

New Zealand is so far away from here

let me translate for you the poem on the wall

 

Nina Powles from ‘Some titles for my childhood memoir’

Final episode of Poem on a Madrid Terrace

‘It appears the cold weather has finally arrived in Madrid after an extended summer… Anna Borrie and I read ‘You’ by C.K. Stead in the final episode of ‘Poem on the Terrace – New Zealand Poets’, where we introduce kiwi poets to a Spanish-speaking audience.’

Charles Olsen

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Listen here

Trevor Hayes’s excellent Two Lagoons – a wee review and a poem

 

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Two Lagoons, Trevor Hayes, Seraph Press, 2017

 

‘I have invented

myself this morning.

 

These lines

I have not imagined.’

 

from ‘Ash Song’

 

Trevor Haye’s Two Lagoons offers various resonant pools to sink into—forgive the pun, I rather like the idea of a poem as lagoon—and then establishes myriad links between. There is a here to there shimmer; from the South Island’s West Coast to South America; from a lived world, physically detailed and sensually lifted, to abstract movements, imaginings, sidesteps. The poems – there are 12 – are like surprise pockets: luminous with fizzing alchemy, grace, agility and rich layerings.  The placement of this next to that, of the 19 letters in the mailbox alongside the milkman’s history, of the ‘trickery of phrasal verbs’ next to ‘the benefits of good manners’ is akin to sparks on the line. It’s a delight to read and I look forward to the next book.

 

Going Nowhere

 

I pack my suitcase lightly.

I have a toothbrush and floss,

as even nowhere is better

 

with healthy gums. I have some

reading material: a guide

to the extinct flora and fauna

 

and a book that translates silence.

I intend to visit the empty museums

and the vacant parking lots.

 

I’ll be able to take photos of nothing

but the wind. It seems unlikely

I will meet anybody there, as recent

 

political developments and negative

coverage by news media have discouraged

the travelling public.

 

©Trevor Hayes from Two Lagoons

 

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Photo by Richard Arlidge
​Trevor Hayes has an MA in creative writing and a BA in Spanish and English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington. In his adventures around the world he has taught English in Spain, been a gardener in Ireland, a store-man in Australia and a grill chef in the USA. He now lives near Punakaiki on the West Coast.