Category Archives: Uncategorized

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Philip Matthews picks C. K. Stead


Crossing Cook Strait
going home to be
ordained in the

parish of his
father, while seas wished
by and the wind

had its say in the
wires, it came to
him there was no

God. Not that
God was sulking or had
turned His back—that

had happened
often. It was that God
wasn’t there, was

nowhere, a Word
without reference or
object. Who was

God? He was the
Lord. What Lord was
that? The Lord God. Back

and forth it went while
stern lifted, screw
shuddered, stars glowed

and faded. The
universe was losing
weight. It was

then he threw his
Bible into the
sea. He was a

poet and would
write his own. Happiness
was nothing

but not being
sad. It was your
self in this one and

only moment
without grief or
remorse, without God

or a future—sea,
sky, the decks
rolling underfoot.


CK Stead from The Red Tram (Auckland University Press, 2004)


Note from Philip:

‘Without’ takes a true story of a crisis of faith and makes it a founding myth of New Zealand literature. Allen Curnow had intended to follow in the footsteps of his father, an Anglican priest, and started his theological training at St John’s in Auckland. Curnow tells the story in Shirley Horrocks’ 2001 documentary Early Days Yet, as Horrocks follows the poet through the wooden Canterbury churches he had not seen since childhood. “I changed my mind about being ordained in the middle of Cook Strait,” he says. “It was rather a stormy night, and I was on my way back from north to south.”

Stead’s poem appeared in The Red Tram in 2004, three years after Curnow died. One of the great legends of New Zealand poetry is that Stead and Curnow lived on opposite sides of the same street in Parnell. They passed each other messages. Sometimes, Stead says in the documentary, they stood and talked in the middle of the road. Maybe Curnow told Stead this story during one of those times, when he popped out to get the mail or a newspaper. I like the idea that the poem is a personal tribute wrestled out of what must have been a time of doubt, disappointment and personal confusion for Curnow. It suggests that literature is worth the personal sacrifices that writers make, and that a kind of destiny drove his decision.
Stead is a rationalist who would view the loss of faith as a personal gain. I don’t know if Curnow’s doubt was as simple or complete as switching from God to no God, but the drama of the poem required something that decisive, as though we are reading a description of the closing scene in the first of three movies about the life of a great writer. It is the origin story. The final shot in that movie would be the black Bible sinking into the dark water. By now it is day, and you can see the emerging outlines of Lyttelton, where his own father had been the local priest. Now everything around him, familiar as it is, seems more present somehow: “This world’s the one you’re in,” as Curnow says in a poem about those times, also titled ‘Early Days Yet’.


Philip Matthews is a journalist and reviewer who works for The Press and Stuff. He lives in Christchurch.

C. K. Stead‘s tenure as New Zealand Poetry Laureate ended August 2017. To mark the occasion, Fernbank Studio, with support from The Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust, published his new poetry collection: In the mirror, and dancing. The limited edition was designed and printed by Bendan O’Brien with drawings by Douglas MacDiarmid. His new novel, The Necessary Angel, was recently published by Allen & Unwin NZ.


1400026620222.jpg       cv_the_necessary_angel.jpg

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Pip Adam picks Charlotte Simmonds


Giant Invisible Grandma God


God enters the room as a grandma, a Southern Jewish grandma.

His grandma aroma fills every space.


God enters the room as a grandma and His heavy weight fills the corner

with a wide whump! God is large after all                          these years.


When He is around there is so little room in this place for anyone else.

He takes up all the space but you can hear the swish from the corner seat


that calls all the grandchildren chicky, pats their heads while saying,

There, chicky, there now, chickling chickpea chickaree-dee-bee,


and the click-click of the crochet needle against the knitting loom

as He clicks out hats for all the grandkiddies and I am not


one of those feminists that writes poetry about the goddess within

and ruptures up all this performance art from my menstruations,


no, this is the same patriarchal God you’ve always railed against,

except today He is a grandma and His grandma perfume fills the room


and he says to all His granddaughters,

Chicky, what colour yarn you want for your hat? You choose, dearie.


and when they tell him what colour yarn is them most preferable,

He smiles,

takes a different colour and goes on calmly knitting hats, and


now the granddaughters begin to rail against Him, and

with them, me, and all the feminists too,


we all rail and everyone is crying, yelling, all at once,

No, Savtush! No! I didn’t want the blue one!


I didn’t ask for that! Saaav-TUSH!

I said a yellow one! You’re not listening to me!


You’re not listening! That’s not what I told you,

Savtush! You never listen to me!” and


while the railing rails on, Grandma God is calmly

clicking out hats, smiling sweetly from His corner chair and

His grandma perfume is warm and comforting, and


when He clicks out your hat, chicky, why, isn’t that just

the darlingest hat you ever set your head beneath and


doesn’t it just look so much better than the yarn that was you preferable and

aren’t you just so peacified to be sitting on God in the corner chair


there, your head inside His warm grandma perfume sniffing

His large breasted chest instead of kicking in the middle of the floor and


His smile never changes, it’s the same smile he clicked out his hats with and

He’s calm and warm and Savtush and He never changes because


He’s your great big giant invisible Grandma God.


©Charlotte Simmonds




Note from Pip: Charlotte Simmonds is one of the funniest people I know. I always laugh heartily when we are together. One of her super-powers is puns. For me, puns work because I have to hold two ideas in my head at the same time and there is something destabilising to reality about that state – the horse has a long face and a long face, the socks are holy and holy, the man who swallowed the eight plastic horses is in a stable condition and a stable condition. I have this theory that only language can do this, because a lot of other art forms (film, theatre) unfold in a particular order – one thing following another. But language has this ability to mean two things at once and cause this shimmering effect as the two things come in and out of focus. Which is a long-winded way of saying, this is what I love about ‘Giant Invisible Grandma God’ by Charlotte.

Throughout the poem I have to hold the two ideas of God and Grandma in my head, so it has this volatility to it, this energy. God is knitting hats, grandma is knitting hats. So I find it a very funny poem. I get a lot of joy out of it and that joy opens me up to the ideas in it. The idea of the way God takes up so much space that there is not a lot of room for anyone else. Also, the child in me loves the idea of a huge grandmother squashed into a regular sized world. Another amazing artist Rachel O’Neill once raised the idea that humour is cultural, that it’s one of the ways we enact cultural belonging. Charlotte speaks many languages and I often think that her writing and her sense of humour has this kind of multi-lingualism to it. That it can call on many places and languages for a laugh. That it is performed from a comedy club in the multiverse.


Pip Adam‘s second novel, The New Animals, was released this year. Her debut novel, I’m Working on a Building appeared in 2011, and her short story collection, Everything We Hoped For, won NZ Post Best First Book Award for Fiction. She makes the Better Off Read podcast.

Charlotte Simmonds is a Wellington writer, translator and PhD student who spends her time reading the news and her tears on the elections.

Arts Foundation Recipients – Congratulations!

Eleven extraordinary New Zealand artists have been chosen as the 2017 recipients of the coveted Laureate and New Generation Awards, Marti Friedlander Photographic Award, Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award and the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship. The recipients represent classical music, popular music, film, theatre, contemporary dance, poetry, photography and illustration. The recipients will be celebrated at the New Zealand Arts Awards, hosted by ASB at the ASB Waterfront Theatre on Monday 6 November. They will join a family of 191 artists who have received a total of over $6million from the Arts Foundation, thanks to the support of some of New Zealand’s most generous arts patrons.

For 17 years the Arts Foundation has provided New Zealand artists with no-strings attached monetary awards. Artists do not apply for the awards, instead they are selected by a panel independent of Arts Foundation staff and governance. They are called out of the blue with the life-changing news they have been selected. This year six panelists came together to discuss the work of New Zealand’s finest artists and had to make the extraordinarily tough decisions as to who should be the this year’s Laureate and New Generation Award recipients. The panellists were Gregory O’Brien (literature and visual arts), Sue Paterson (dance and multi-discplinary), Lynda Chanwai Earle (literature, performing arts), Rachel House (theatre, film, moving image), Brendan Smythe (music) and Nina Tonga (visual arts).

2017 Laureate Awards
Each Laureate Award includes a gift of $50,000

Niki Caro – Director, Filmmaker
Jemaine Clement – Actor, Writer, Comedian, Multi-Instrumentalist
Ross McCormack – Choreographer, Contemporary Dancer
Rob Ruha – Haka Soul Musician
Robin White – Painter, Print Maker

About the Laureate Award:
The Laureate Award is an investment in excellence across a range of art forms for an artist with prominence and outstanding potential for future growth. Each artist also receives a Terry Stringer designed bronze statuette.

2017 New Generation Awards
Each New Generation Award includes a gift of $25,000

Hera Lindsay Bird – Poet
Salina Fisher – Contemporary Classical Composer, Violinist
Tiffany Singh – Interdiscplinary Site Specific Installation Based Artist

About the Award:
New Generation artists have assured potential, their work is exciting and they show outstanding promise. Three Awards are presented annually and each artist receives a Christine Cathie designed glasswork in a different colour.

Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award
This award includes a gift of $15,000

Donovan Bixley – Children’s Book Illustrator and Author

About the award:
The Award is presented every two years to a children’s book illustrator with published work of a high standard and includes a no-strings cash gift of $15,000 and a certificate designed by Sarah Maxey.

Marti Friedlander Photographic Award
This award includes a gift of $25,000

Roberta Thornley – Photographer

About the award:
The Award is presented every two years to an established photographer with a record of excellence and potential to continue working at high levels.

Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship
This fellowship includes a sum of $35,000 to cover expenses during the time in Menton, France

Carl Nixon – Novelist, Short Story Writer and Playwright


Vincent O’Sullivan in Victoria CD collaboration

Making Light of Time CD a Victoria collaboration

A CD launching at Victoria University of Wellington next month represents the fruits of a decade-long collaborative partnership between three of New Zealand’s creative masters.

New Zealand School of Music (NZSM) lecturer—and one of New Zealand’s best-known sopranos—Jenny Wollerman collaborated with Emeritus Professor and writer Vincent O’Sullivan, and composer and former lecturer Ross Harris on the three vocal works that feature on the CD Making Light of Time.

image012.jpg“For a composer it’s ideal,” says Mr Harris. “Vincent’s poems were written with the express purpose of being set to music and his words are very evocative of things I like to be able express in music,” he says.

Emeritus Professor O’Sullivan says “Jenny doesn’t just present the songs with her total professionalism, or gift them her splendid voice—she enters them, she makes them her own as much as they are Ross’s or mine.”

Recorded with the New Zealand String Quartet (NZSQ) and pianist Dr Jian Liu, NZSM Senior Lecturer, ‘Songs for Beatrice: Making Light of Time’ celebrates New Zealand astronomer Beatrice Tinsley, who was amongst the first to prove the universe is infinitely expanding.

‘Abiding Tides’ begins with the optimism of passengers aboard the Titanic then slips into a dark allegory of modern-day migrant ships and losses at sea; while ‘The Floating Bride, the Crimson Village’ is a homage to Chagall’s paintings and profound imagination.

Ms Wollerman says she was delighted when Ross Harris suggested recording three of his most recent song cycle works. “I have been honoured to have the opportunity to work with Ross and Vincent in creating the premiere performances for both ‘The Abiding Tides’ and ‘The Floating Bride’. Having their input into my work as a performer through multiple performances over the past years has been a wonderful stimulus now resulting in the hugely satisfying and enlightening interaction I experienced in making this recording.”

A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, soprano Jenny Wollerman has performed as a soloist with major arts organisations throughout Australasia. Her interest in New Zealand composition has led to the premieres of numerous works, including the first performances of two of the song cycles on the Making Light of Time recording: ‘The Floating Bride, The Crimson Village’, premiered with pianist Piers Lane at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in 2009, then with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 2010, and ‘The Abiding Tides’ in 2010 with the New Zealand String Quartet.

What: Making Light of Time—songs by Ross Harris and Vincent O’ Sullivan, sung by soprano Jenny Wollerman
CD release date: 13 November 2017

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Paul Diamond picks Gregory O’Brien


Ode to the Sarjeant Gallery


Likened, on occasion, to a boom-box on a grassy shelf,

Sarjeant Gallery, I think of you mostly


as a tin

in which the finest bread

is baked, with your airy dome


and ample intelligence, your south-facing wall

on which the paintings of Joanna Paul


and Edith Collier sing to the river birds,

and are sung back to.


A steadying influence,

above which clouds like

thought balloons moor a while


and around which gather

the moonlit streets of Whanganui.

On your lawn this morning I watched


a film crew being washed down-river, an empty shoebox

blowing towards Moutoa Gardens – but all I could hear


was a distant burbling of the mayor

and his accountants

marooned in the small towns


of their suits, nose-deep in their yellowing pages,

in whose minds


the Whanganui River would be diverted

so it comes out

at Patea, and by whose good judgement


Pak ‘N Save would be enlarged

to enclose the whole town,


and the marble wrestlers in the Sarjeant foyer, this goes

without saying, would be replaced with


jelly. In the council chambers, a hundred years

of Whanganui River fog would seem


to have obscured the mayoral judgement,

the mist outside

clearing to reveal, on the forecourt,


a bullroarer and baby’s rattle – emblems of the town’s

leadership – and towering above it all,


our observatory

of earthbound constellations,

your patient dome, looking down on


the dust-gatherers and nay-sayers, the elected

and the naturally selected. It all comes down,


like the Whanganui River,

to this. And every city

has its limits.



©Gregory O’Brien  NZ Listener April 2-8 2005 Vol 198 No 3386


Note from Paul:

I’m writing a book about Charles Mackay, a former mayor of Whanganui, who was a driving force behind the building of the glorious Sarjeant Art Gallery in Whanganui. In 1920, Mackay shot D’Arcy Cresswell, who threatened to expose the mayor’s homosexuality unless he resigned. Subsequently, the mayor’s name and title were erased from the Sarjeant Gallery foundation stone (but restored in 1985). Spending time at the Sarjeant Gallery and getting to know its staff and collections has been one of the highlights of my research visits to Whanganui. Greg O’Brien’s poem came out of an unhappier, divisive time in the life of the city and the gallery. More than a decade on, fundraising for the gallery redevelopment plan is well underway, and there’s greater awareness of the significance of the Sarjeant building and its collections for the nation, as well as Whanganui. I like to think Charles Mackay would be proud.


Paul Diamond (Ngäti Hauä, Te Rarawa and Ngäpuhi) was appointed as the inaugural Curator, Mäori at the Alexander Turnbull Library in 2011. He worked as an accountant for seven years, before switching to journalism in 1997. He is the author of two books (A Fire in Your Belly, and Makereti: taking Mäori to the World) and has also worked as an oral historian and broadcaster. In 2017 he was awarded the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency, to work on his book about former Whanganui mayor Charles Mackay, who was shot in Berlin in 1929.


Gregory O’Brien is a poet, essayist and writer, currently finishing a non-fiction book, Always song in the water–New Zealand art, letters and the environment. ‘Ode to the Sarjeant Gallery’ was written at a time when the Sarjeant was getting a very bad rap from the local council under mayor Michael Laws. It appeared in the Listener and hasn’t surfaced again until now.

Poetry Shelf – Spring Season’s poetry fans: Steve Braunias picks Vincent O ‘Sullivan

To Miss the Point Entirely

It isn’t good for a writer to live in a country
where a cut-price banker with his next-door smile
is all we have to throw stones at. How one
envies a Chilean say who could dream of knifing
a home-grown monster, the English even
who might smash a TV any day of the year
when a government of schoolboys quiver as if Matron
threatened to punish arse.
‘A country without snakes!’
as tourists at times are amazed to hear. ‘Then what
do people here die of?’, another traveller once
asked me. ‘Of being ourselves,’ I told him,
‘the big tourist pictures falling off the wall with mould.’

©Vincent O’Sullivan


Note from Steve: This is such a fun poem, a genuine LOL. There are some great examples of comic verse – CK Stead’s collection “Dog” is full of them, and I’ve always loved one by Kevin Ireland about a friend who made a bust of his head; it ends with the jokeshop word, quite properly in capital letters, “BOING”. Vince’s poem also works as political verse. I don’t think there are that many good examples of that. They’re often too emphatic, too one-dimensional, just a rant. Vince applies a nice, gentle touch on the poem from beginning to end. I really love the space on line 9, when he introduces a new slant on the poem. It’s like a paragraph break and it allows the poem to take a kind of breath. I love everything about the poem, really, right down to the final line, which is a deeply mordant, black-comedy punchline. This poem can do no wrong.

SB works as a staff writer at the New Zealand Herald, and as the books editor at the Spinoff, where he chooses a new poem every week as the Friday Poem. Publishing verse each week was something he introduced right from the very start of creating a books section at the Spinoff.


Vincent O’Sullivan, poet, novelist, playwright and short story writer, was the New Zealand Poet Laureate from 2013 – 2015. His latest collection of poems, And so it is was published by Victoria University Press in March.

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Morrin Rout picks Fiona Farrell


No words to start. No
names. Trees learned
the land by touching
it with dumb fingers.

The names flew in
and hovered, light
as mayflies, skimming
the river of the white
calf, the hill of gorse,
the crag of the cat.

They shifted shape,
became other things.
The river is black
now and deep, the
hill is the hill of
hanging, and the
cats have been
butted from the
crags by shaggy

As my house
stands on the lip
of the bailer of a
black canoe.

And on a heap
of broken timber.

And on a green shoot.

And on the rocky
point of a man.

Or named Long Bay,
plain words,
printed out
in daffodils.

But already, look:
they’ve multiplied.

Gone wild.

Danced over the lines.
Invaded the field.

They are popping up
in odd places, as if they
have forgotten completely

how to spell.


©Fiona Farrell, The Pop-up Book of Invasions (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2007).


Note from Morrin: Fiona’s poem continues to delight me and reward each reading. I too live on Banks Peninsula and feel at times precarious. Words and names mutate and the landscape continually reminds us that we are newcomers and much has gone before. I love the image of the daffodils being bidden to spell out the name of the bay but over time breaking free and defying human intent.

Morrin Rout has co-produced and presented ‘Bookenz’ on PlainsFM 96,9 for over 20 years and is the director of the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

Multiple award -winner, Fiona Farrell writes across a variety of genres; she has been a finalist in all three categories at the NZ Book Awards, for fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The critically acclaimed, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire, the factual half of a two-volume work, examines the rebuilding of a city through the twinned lenses of non-fiction and fiction. The accompanying novel, ‘Decline and Fall on Savage Street’ has just been published.