Category Archives: NZ Poets

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

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 8.32.23 AM.png

Listen here

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

 

two-lagoons-front-cover.jpg

 

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

 

Picture

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.

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf reviews Nina Powles’s Luminescent – Every poem is a jewel of a thing

 

luminescent-cover-low-res_1_orig.jpg

Luminescent, Nina Powles, Seraph Press, 2017

 

Nina Powles’s debut poetry collection, Luminescent, is a set of five slender chapbooks in a night-sky sleeve. Each book is like a constellation, with a particular woman, its luminosity. (Auto)biography of Ghost catches a ghost who was said to haunted Queen Margaret College’s bell tower where she fell to her death; Sunflowers becomes a conversation and an homage to Katherine Mansfield; Whale Fall imagines the world of Betty Guard, perhaps the first Pākehā woman to have lived in the South Island; Her and the Flames draws upon Phyllis Porter who died at 19 when her costume caught alight in a theatrical performance; The Glowing Space Between the Stars turns to Beatrice Tinsley, a New Zealand cosmologist. There are notes in the back of each booklet that background each woman.

 

I love the way the poems talk to each other within each booklet and between booklets.

 

The poetry extends itself in imaginings, yet grounds itself in the light of an autobiographical presence and research. Motifs such as dust, moths, ghosts and dreams are like connecting lacework that render a sense of ethereal wholeness to the set. The poems accumulate exquisitely textured voice; confident and idiosyncratic, searching and still, melodic and spare, intricate and warm. Every poem is a jewel of a thing.

 

katherine-low-res_1_orig.jpg

 

Sunflowers takes several Mansfield experiences as starting points for poems: she burnt all her letters and journals when she was in her early turbulent twenties; she wrote about a writing epiphany after seeing a Van Gogh painting for the first time; she recorded a dream after her brother’s death. In an early chapbook, Girls of the Drift, Nina put New Zealand poets, Jessie Mackay and Blanch Baughan together in poetry. The poems offered surprising pathways into our first women poets in print alongside a young contemporary poet forging her own poetic trails. With the Mansfield poems, I feel like I am sitting in a room in the South of France, and each poem resembles an aperture in the wall that pulls me into a Mansfield dreaming.

‘Fever dream’ is without punctuation, a slim short-lined poem that sizzles with ‘s’ alliterations that cut into the feverish night. In the midst of the hissing heat (stinging scorching nerves skin simmers inside struck bones sky she rising), two words cut into the fevered skin (teeth cracking). The poem is visually alert with its storm inflected sky. What stamps the poem indelibly is the final image:

 

bones cracking under

a New Zealand sky

and she is the wave

rising to meet it

 

‘She’ is Mansfield, and in that wave of fevered self, I am hooked into Mansfield musings.

The poems tap nostalgia, calling upon the senses to electrify the page. ‘Silver dream’ is set in a London garden in 1915, where Katherine bites into the pear her brother hands her:

It tastes like jam sandwiches

and sunshine on her mother’s hair.

 

After physical details that light the scene, the poem shifts to dream again, to the ghost-like vein that runs through all the poems, and it’s a surprising nudge. The pear leads us to ‘where everything is silver/ and he is alive again’, and the idyllic setting shifts. We are also lead to the collection’s title, as the whole poem glows with ache and loss in subtle overlaps:

 

Later she plants a pear tree

in one of her stories,

 

makes it glow in the window,

makes it touch the moon.

 

Several booklets feature erasure poems, where blocks of ghostly grey enable certain words to shine out as a poem. That we can see the journal entry in ‘Lucid dream’, through the grey veil, adds to the dream-like state of shiver and float. I pictured the whole journal translated into grey-veil poems. The lines that lift up feel so apt: ‘Time/ was shaken/ out of me.’ The final word, ‘violet’, pulls back to sweet-scented earth, to that nostalgic hunt for elsewhere places and elsewhere memories.

 

I love this set of poetry booklets, because we still need light shining on the shadows to recover the women who did extraordinary things, or everyday things, so they form a constellation, a suite of coordinates that might shift our contemporary means of navigation.

 

beatrice-low-res_1_orig.jpg

 

The Glowing Space Between Stars again links to the collection’s title, and underlines the idea that poetry can light up things, experiences, relations, ideas, feelings, memory. Beatrice, the cosmologist, shows how the space between things is the domain of curiosity. And for me, that feeds back into the way poetry is also curious about the gaps between. When you enter the poem gap, you enter a luminous field that so often surprises or delights or upturns.

Nina lists things in Beatrice’s childhood room; out of these things grew the adult curiosity (did anyone do this for Einstein or Newton?). She imagines the girl at 16:

 

then rushing home immediately

to write down what she’s seen,

noting especially

the glowing space between stars,

how it seems to have changed

since the night before.

 

Nina is making poems and she is making biographies, the one coming out of the other, and it is as though she is not tied to the rules of one or the rules of the other but can imagine and detour and intrude. In ‘Minutes’, the poet moves behind the galaxy facts, and the ongoing discoveries, to reveal the hiding narratives, the domestic underlay:

 

The light emitted by distant galaxies

takes billions of years to reach us.

It comes from a far younger universe,

somewhere where no one ever worried

about ironing their husband’s shirts

or arranging after-school childcare

because there were no ironing boards

and no children and no husbands

 

Five glowing booklets of poems that shine beyond the individual poems to gather a necessary and inventive, a lyrical and seismic, view of five very different women. I love this collection with its feminist energy, its poetic agility and its warm heart.

 

This, too, was the perfect time

to measure things in infinities.

 

from ‘Red (ii)’

 

Nina Powles, half Malasian-Chinese and half Pākehā, is from Wellington where she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University. There, she won the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry for Luminescent’s first draft. She writes poetry, non-fiction and makes poetry zines. Her chapbook, Girls of the Drift, was published by Seraph Press in 2014.

 

Seraph Press page

Nina Powles web page

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 12.56.14 PM.png

 

8854932.jpg

 

Louise Wallace’s Bad Things – There is a freshness and a daring at work here

DAx7e6VUQAAZPoh.jpg

 

Bad Things, Louise Wallace, Victoria University Press, 2017

Some poetry collections depend upon a thread of similarity; connective subject matter, recurring motifs, a cohesion of form, tone and voice. Other collections resemble mosaics made of infinitely varied pieces that come together in surprising and satisfying ways. Louise Wallace’s new book, Bad Taste, exemplifies the latter. Turn the page and you have no idea what to expect – yet everything fits in the same animated package. There is a freshness and a daring at work here, because the poetry seems beholden only to its own choreography. I love that. I can’t think of another book quite like it. The cover, with the little patch of flame in the dark, and the boat waiting with its strange mix of birds, is the perfect entry into the poems.

Sometimes the poems relate little stories; condensed in prose paragraphs or strung with slashes to read in a single outbreath. Certain poems stop you in your tracks when you get to the last line and then tip you off the tracks of reading. ‘The hunt’ begins with a woman needing silence, yet it’s impossible to find when her voice rings out ‘like bells in the library’. She needs ‘to go church to pray’, but the poem does the twist and tilt and the ending becomes uneasy:

 

and without the silence she can’t pray / and if she doesn’t pray she will starve

 

Images also keep you on your reading toes: they might be strange, brightly-lit, smudged. There is, for example, a depiction of terrible things, ‘bad things’, that might fill a head:

 

They grow there—

a forest of tiny umbrellas.

They flourish—

a crown of terrible heads.

 

from ‘Bad things’

 

Or the sight and sound of a woman in a dump shop; ‘I’m amazed, she says’ over and over (‘Trash Palace’).

Or the sight and sound of a woman packing her husband and various assorted characters, including ‘the owner of the local chip shop’, into a row boat:

 

though it was extremely cramped

and they rowed

out to the open ocean

and sat quiet

and waited.

 

from ‘The body began to balance itself’

 

One poem may be densely packed and prose-like, while the next might offer short snappy lines that extend a poetic spine down the page:

 

resting shoulder

touching elbow

 

fingers to forehead

hand to cheek

 

from ‘Arrivals’

 

Strange poems, that may be hyper-real or surreal, hook with the element of surprise crouching somewhere:

 

7. You cannot take off the backpack.

8. You cannot just take off either.

9. You try to escape your own skin.

 

from ‘Right of return’

 

Sometimes it is a matter of taking three or four things (a man in a bus, the downhill, the light and the safety) and seeing what happens:

 

the light bounces

off the hill blindingly

bright and he’s saying

to himself

safety first

safety first

and he’s right, and all

through the bus

there is light.

 

from ‘Safety first’

 

Politics hue the mosaic pieces and slip in different directions, whether gender or ecological. Famous people glint the surface because their very presence is out-of-the-ordinary in the day-to-day ordinariness of what goes on. I especially like Meryl Streep, (but you also get Robert Redford and Reese Witherspoon): ‘Meryl Streep went nuts at me in the breakfast room, because I’d taken her table by mistake.’ I also like the arrival of Reeese, in ‘There are lots of ladies who have survived the desert’. The protagonist is walking in the desert, parched and desperate, when she hears wailing: ‘Reese Witherspoon emerges from behind a shrub, holding a plastic bowl full of oats and water.’ She cannot get her primus to work. Again Louise delivers the twist and tilt at the end of the poem, as though a shadow voice whispers to us to find perspective when we read of her neighbour: ‘Janet’s husband came home drunk one night and smashed a chair across her back.’

 

To understand the ability of the collection to travel and arc and shuffle, you need to juxtapose the offbeat with the achingly real. ‘Helping my father remember’ is the white hot searing heart of the collection. Communication is impaired: ‘Except something’s/ gone wrong with the wiring/ and he didn’t teach me/ how to fix it.’ The poem delivers such an emotional hit because of the way it lays little details alongside each other; the fact that the daughter is most like her father and his mother, and that sound might reactivate memory or that she is following him ‘through/ tall grasses, as high/ as my head.’  This time the ending is not a strange tilt but a poignant dive deeper below the poem’s surface:

 

We’re heading

to the river.

You find Nana,

and I’ll find you.

We won’t be lost

if we’re together.

 

If Louise’s new collection pulls you into a mosaic of dream, confession, anecdote or troublesome issues, it does so with a deft and darting accumulation of line. The overall effect works upon your ear, eye, heart and mind. There is stillness and movement, gaps and prickling images. I couldn’t ask for more – it’s a terrific read.

 

Louise Wallace is a poet and the founder and editor of The Starling, a literary journal for young NZ writers. She has published two previous collections: Since June (2009) and Enough(2013) . She was the 2015 Robert Burns Literary Fellow at Otago University.

 

Victoria University page

‘Reminders for December’ plus author note posted on Poetry Shelf

Louise in conversation with Pip Adam on Bad Things at Better Off Read

The Starling an online literary journal for young NZ writers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Brown launching new collection

586d7a07-8f13-49e8-a845-33892c5a4a4f.jpg

 

Victoria University Press warmly invites you to the launch of
James Brown’s brand new poetry collection

Floods Another Chamber

on Wednesday 4 October, 6pm–7.30pm
at The Guest Room, Southern Cross Garden Bar,
39 Abel Smith St, Te Aro.

Greg O’Brien will launch Floods Another Chamber

Books will be for sale courtesy of Unity Books.
p/b, $25
About Floods Another Chamber

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Emma Neale off-piste

 

 

Fourteen Daydreams through Spanish Translation

 

The wind rotates in the sky’s blue socket.

I wish Ryan would love me.

Okay, notice me. Look at me, even.

But not when I’m smiling with my braces showing.

 

‘Turn over your tests. You may start.’

 

Ode to Sunday.

 

Oh yellow sun, lonely armadillo,

cancel your gut’s groans

with a spade

under the sober trucks

a zap of cheese.

 

What? Starving. Skipped breakfast. Want cheekbones though.

My sandwiches cat-nap in my lunch box

all fat white stomachy with family love

big and bricky as awful school shoes.

 

In the cities

the dearness, the world,

agonise us, peg us

in the egg yolks

of the pulverised chicken.

 

That can’t be right

but the clock’s got hysterics, the minutes

are spilling down its face, gotta crack on with it …

 

We are suddenly gulping gold

accusing ourselves

with piety pie

and cactus spines

with hot stones

and the mouth

sulphurates

 

Rotorua. Smelly eggy air. We went there.

Dad was relaxed for once. Funny that it stunk.

 

More than all the gifts:

it has salt, the throat, the teeth,

the lips and the language

 

Ryan hardly speaks, but I’ve seen the soft hairs

on his upper lip and I haven’t minded them at all,

so do I smile too wide? Feelings coated all over me

in oily sheen? Do I clip my hair too tight?

Is it my ugly yellow school bag that cries out, gormless?

I know it is. I’m so ashamed. And of how near my breasts

the gap between my shirt-buttons pouches

on plump skin white as baby scorpions.

But Ryan, he’s café au lait calm,

he’s a cool bronze casting

of himself.

 

We want to drink cataracts

the blue night, the poles

and then, crucifying the sky,

the coldest of all the planets,

the round, the supreme,

the heavenly sanity.

 

Oh what? Change the title, quick! ‘Ode to Sanity’?

 

It is the fruit of the tree of salt.

It is the ballerina of green truth.

 

The ballerina of green truth!

Ryan — sanity is the ballerina of green truth.

Do you like that, would you agree?

I’ve heard your mother is very strict

she hasn’t been well, people say she isn’t coping

and I don’t really know what that means.

Could I help, like, somehow? With the dishes?

Is it hard to be so much older than your brother?

You shouldn’t be embarrassed; it makes you seem wiser,

the way you walk him in his carriage, your face so I don’t know,

iron of jawbone, so soccer-practice-serious,

looking like science somehow,

upright, serious science. But your baby brother:

that you have to be another father to him,

and your mother doesn’t like you to be with girls…

 

If I were thinner, if I were a dancer,

would you fall at my feet so I could laugh,

flick back my hair like some Follyfoot filly,

(‘Grow, grow the Lightening tree …’)

then say, Ryan, no! Stand up! Please don’t!

So you could say, ‘You are even worth asphalt scrape-holes

on my school uniform knees…’

 

It is the dry universe

all of a sudden stained

by this fresh heaven

 

Yes, yes, yes, Ryan when I see you,

it is the dry universe

all of a sudden stained

by this fresh heaven

 

Quiet water coffin

queen

of the fruit stall

 

(What? That’s a compliment?

I thought they said this poet was romantic.

If only Ryan would say,

my golden colt, my blazing girl,

my ballerina of the heart, my zap of cheese

it doesn’t matter that you are fat,

you are not fat to me ….)

 

earthly bistro of depth, moon.

Oh pure one

in your abundance

of undressed rubies.

 

Well that’s just rude.

blah, skip, skip, skip.

 

If I could see his soul … pink, glowy,

like when the sun shone through his ears

yesterday at the bus stop

and it wasn’t even geeky somehow, it was ….

 

We divide you in the soft salt

like a mini mountain

of splendid food

 

Oh crap, is this about FOOD?

 

Skip skip skip

blah blah blah

we haven’t even been given half this vocabulary

this test SUCKS.

 

Oh hell, the bell! I can’t revise, that was way too fast.

 

‘Papers to the front. Pack your bags.’

 

Oh my GOD my skirt’s side zip’s undone. Please don’t tell me Ryan saw that today. Shit-shit. He would have. It’s been undone all day. You can see the gap between where my shirt tucks in and — God my school regulation underwear. I hate my parents for buying them. I am going to pass out from shame. That’s why he looked away and hardly spoke. Thinks he’s so superior. I’m giving up boys forever. My big fat watermelon hips. My big fat watermelon belly. I’m skipping lunch. I’m throwing myself into my schoolwork from now on. Oh yellow sun. Oh lonely armadillo.ª

 

ª Fourteen is struggling with ‘Oda a la Sandía’ (‘Ode to the Watermelon’) by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The version set for the test (‘No dictionaries allowed. You have forty-five minutes, starting from now’) is reprinted in The FSG Book of Twentieth Century Latin American Poetry, edited by Ilan Stavans. The translation here is entirely her own.

 

© Emma Neale

 

Author note: I’ve been working and reworking this adolesecent girl’s monologue for a couple of years. I’ve submitted it elsewhere once or twice, immediately sticking my fingers in my ears as if waiting for an explosion (of distaste or mockery, etc.). As the two modes it uses are quite far apart – the teenager speaker’s bad translation, and her internal thoughts – it stretches the container of the poem so far it might split. Perhaps that feeling of excess is okay, though, for an adolescent voice. Young people can be so receptive, sensitive, energetic, inventive, critical, vulnerable, wise and yet also wildly unknowing, there’s a symphonic orchestra of emotions competing on any ordinary day during these years, it seems to me. And each emotion is such an intensely coloured version of itself, what single poem could contain them all, even if it limited itself to one class test, on one day?

 

Emma Neale‘s most recent poetry collection, Tender Machines, was long-listed in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2016 and her latest novel, Billy Bird, was short-listed for the Acorn Prize at the same awards in 2017. She works as a freelance editor.

 

From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!