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Poetry Shelf celebrates the NZ Book Awards Poetry Longlist

Warm congratulations to all the books on this brilliant poetry longlist – and warm commiserations to the equally brilliant poetry books that didn’t make it. Poetry awards are a time for joy and whoops for some, and slump and self doubt for others. I never forget this. I always say that good books attract readers and good books endure, regardless of awards.

But today I celebrate the longlisted books I have read so far (deep apologies I haven’t yet reviewed Anahera Gildea’s and Michael Steven’s fabulous collections on Poetry Shelf). I have included links to my reviews/conversations.

Reading back through my reviews, I was reminded of the incredible reach and range of our poets. So many books to hold to our hearts.

Grateful thanks to the publishers, booksellers, book reviewers and readers who continue to support our vibrant and essential poetry communities in Aotearoa.

The Longlist

Always Italicise: how to write while colonised, Alice Te Punga Somerville, Auckland University Press, 2022

Alice Te Punga Somerville’s new collection offers four vital sections: reo / invisible ink / mahi / aroha. Sections in their own right but the discrete boundaries blur as movement and connections abound. The categories strike a chord, deep seated, poignant, as though this exquisitely designed book becomes a register of life – how we speak, how we are unseen and unspoken, how we work, and how we love. Importantly, how we become.

The overturned italics convention, carried across the length of a book, is an insistence. It is personal, it is political and it is ancestral. We are what and how and why and where and who we speak. The historical and contemporary silencing, the historical and contemporary othering of language is inexcusable.

Alice’s poems are writing on the breath, breathpoetry, utterly fluid; it is writing on the breath of memory, story, change, ideas, feeling. Her poems carry the rhythm of life – of reo, invisible ink, mahi, aroha. There is the rhythm of prayer and the rhythm of waiata. The poetic rhythms and crafted fluencies carry the reader across eclectic subject matter.

Books reach us at different times and in different ways. As readers we establish myriad travel routes through a book, we bring our own experience close or hold at a vulnerable distance. Books are my life rafts at the moment. With the road ahead still bumpy, still uncertain, I hold language and love close, I work and take little steps each day. I see Alice’s glorious, ground-establishing poetry collection as her mahi, her aroha. It is a book spiked with anger and it is a book stitched with love. It has made me smile and it has gripped my heart. It is the most affecting book I have read this year.

my review

Echidna, essa may ranapiri, Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2022

Spending extended time with essa may ranapiri’s new collection Echidna is a catalyst for contemplation, deep-seated musing, sinking into the knowable, wallowing in the unknowable, brushing against the light, scratching at the dark. All this and more. essa is writing in the present tense, that intimate prolonged precious moment when their words meet screen or page but, as their dedication indicates, are writing – for to from – their ancestors (past) and descendants (future). And past present future become weave. And writing becomes weave. And weave becomes writing.

essa offers sensual hooks so poems become tactile, aromatic, igniting taste buds. There is the physical and there is the intangible. The form of the poems shift like the shifting voice of the storyteller, the point of view swivelling. Sometimes a poem might appear like two salt pillars, sometimes ravined with space and ache, sometimes wider gaps punctuate the line, allowing room for float and drift.

And the sound. There is the music of the storytelling voice, a voice attuned to holding a listener entranced, to composing aural connections, undulating chords. Yes, it is music for the entranced listener.

Books find you. You find books. Poetry, like storytelling, has an incredible ability to invigorate every body pore, in ways that both heal and challenge. We need poetry in these turbulent times. We need this book. This remarkable groundbreaking Echidna.

my review

Meat Lovers, Rebecca Hawkes, Auckland University Press, 2022

Rebecca Hawkes’s debut full-length collection is a triumphant display of the power of words. The book is in two halves, Meat and Lovers; two sides to a beating heart, both dependent upon the other.

I am a vegetarian who cooks meat for my family and I wondered whether I would hold the ‘meatiness’ of Rebecca’s collection at arm’s length. The first poem, The Flexitarian, begins in a supermarket meat aisle and ends with meat sizzling in a pan. The sensual dexterity, the aural finesse, are so compelling I am transfixed. Assonance meets alliteration meets addictive rhythm. It’s like falling upon a song you love that you keep on replay. This poet can write.

She moves from the density of the opening poem to the lush detail of stealing sweets in Countdown (Help yourself) to the sweet economy of Sighting. The movement between spare and opulent is a trait of the collection as a whole. At times, the poems draw upon distant memories, using distinctive and shifting chords to translate the past.

I am hard pressed to think of a poetry collection that has affected me as much as this one has. I welcome the ‘meat’ and the ‘lovers.’ The poetic craft captivates, yet it is the glint and gleam of life, as young girl and as young woman, at times macabre, at times lust, at times vulnerable, always astonishing, that transports and impales. Meat lovers is a significant arrival in our poetry landscapes. Glorious.

my review / my conversation

People Person, Joanna Cho, Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2022

Joanna Cho’s debut poetry collection, People Person, is poetry pleasure. I experience a sequence of poetic delights, poems that offer multiple rewards, poems to read again and again. The presence of Joanna’s mother’s ephemeral paintings is an exquisite addition: fleeting, hinting, translucent palette, subject rich. I adore them.

More than anything I am pulled into the pleats and folds of Joanna’s writing because it is personal. It is humorous and witty and revealing. It is confessional and withholding, gifting and gifted. Each time you read from cover to cover, you will discover new reading tracks, fresh possibilities for what we want and need from poetry. Each poem a provisional portrait, a self excursion, a self reckoning.

Joanna’s poetry relishes narrative, whether fractured, curtailed, elongated. The power of story, invented or recalled, attracts me as reader. Think fable or anecdote or ranging subject matter. I savour this collection on so many levels, on its ability to startle and sidetrack, on its use of loops, repetition, echoes.

People Person is a triumph – I have quoted more excepts than I would normally do (in my review) because it is the poetry that matters here, poetry that delivers myriad reading tracks that are so utterly satisfying. Glorious.

my review

Super Model Minority, Chris Tse, Auckland University Press, 2022

Paula: Inspired and comforted seem crucial for both readers and writers. Your new collection is body shattering and heart repairing. And yes, both inspiring and of comfort. The book includes the best endorsements ever (Nina Mingya Powles, Helen Rickerby, Rose Lu). They catch how the reading experience affected me perfectly. Would you couch the writing experience in similar terms?

Chris: Writing this book caught me off-guard, in a number of ways. First, I didn’t think I’d have a manuscript ready so soon after HE’S SO MASC – I was happy to take my time with the next book. Then a few things happened that set off something in me – an urgency to write and respond: the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, and the rise of anti-Asian sentiment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. These events all triggered powerful emotions, but the overriding frustration I felt was that things seem to stay the same no matter how much we push for societal change and equality. I was overcome by anger, sadness, and helplessness, so I decided to write myself out of that state and turn it into energy. The poems kept coming and I found myself confronting a lot that I’ve left unspoken for so long­ – some of it out of guilt, some of it out of fear. Overall, the writing process taught me a lot about myself because of these responses and the realisation that it’s important to hold on to hope throughout the dark times – I’m not as nihilistic as I thought I once was, even if that’s how it may come across in the book!

Paula: I wrote down ‘a bath bomb effect’ in my notebook as I was reading. The whole book really. A slow release of effervescence. The kind of poetry that you think and feel. That inspires and comforts! This comes through when you perform or record your poetry. The poems you recorded from the book for Poetry Shelf. Your performances with the Show Ponies. Your readings have got a whole lot of love on the blog. Mesmerising! Does it affect the writing? The future performances in the air? 

Chris: Sometimes I’ll have a feeling as I’m writing as to whether or not a poem will be one suited for performances. ‘The Magician’, ‘What’s fun until it gets weird?’ and ‘Poetry to make boys cry’ were written to be performed at particular events so I was conscious about how they flow and build during a performance. Having that embedded into the poem really helps me when it comes to performing it, and hopefully that effect comes across on the page when others are reading it. Reading my work out loud, either at home or to a crowd, has become a much more integral part of my writing and revision process in recent years, even if it isn’t necessarily a poem that I think will make it into high rotation as a ‘live’ poem. This wasn’t really a major consideration when I was writing Snakes because the thought of sharing my work in that way wasn’t really front of mind, although I do love the opportunities that book presents when I’m asked to do a long set and have the chance to read a substantial selection from it.

Paula: I agree that what you write must be a big deal for the queer and POC communities. I am heartened by an increased visibility of Asian writers not just as poets but as editors. But at times I am also disheartened. How do you feel?

Chris: It really is heartening to see so many POC and queer writers getting published and stepping into editing and leadership roles, but there’s still a long way to go to undo decades of erasure and disengagement with the industry, and to not feel like we exist only to be a tick in the diversity box. When it feels like we’re not getting anywhere, I hold on to as many moments of joy as I can and celebrate our achievements. I’ll never forget being on the bus home after the last event at Verb 2019 and being overwhelmed with emotion after spending the weekend attending events featuring so many Asian authors. It felt like such a turning point to have so many writers I could consider contemporaries, and to be graced by the presence of US poet Chen Chen, who has been a major inspiration. The other time I’ve had the same feeling was while rehearsing for a staged reading of Nathan Joe’s play Scenes from a Yellow Peril – the entire cast and crew were Asian. It’s the dual power of being seen and finding your people! When I started writing, the concept of ‘a Chinese New Zealand writer’ felt so murky and out of reach, and I also wasn’t even sure if it was a role I particularly wanted to inhabit. The word ‘whakama’ comes to mind when I think about who I was at that time, and it’s taken me literally decades to push back against that shame and unpack the effect of racism on my life to understand why I need to be loud and proud about who I am.

full conversation

Surrender: Poems, michaela keeble, Karaheke | Bush Lawyer, 2022

michaela’s book is cradled in a nest of other books. You can follow the thread to other writers, to books she has read, to your own reading connections. The short lines, self exposure, the lower case ‘i’, the vital political currents lead me to Janet Charman. I read the word ‘intertidal’, and I am back in the pages of Kiri Piahana-Wong. The white space around each poem establishes essential breathing room, new starts. It is writing out of white and not forgetting, searching for the ‘white tongue’, the ‘shame tongue’, seeking and discovering syllables, medicine, stories, communication lines, dialogue, metaphors. What does the ‘half tide’ stand for? Or the conference poem or the guilt poem? Or the throat or the river? The country? Or the person writing and reading next to you? What does the metaphor stand for, instead of, against? The poems face the earth, the sick earth, the beloved earth, the damaged state of affairs where hierarchies continue to gulf and elevate the privileged. They rattle complacency, my steady feet on the ground. Where I am? Who am I am? How I am?

And while the collection navigates an imperative of wider human stories, especially of belonging, it also brings an intimate core to the surface. A writing self. A mother father daughter. And there is pain. Heartache. Grief. The mother becomes ill. The mother is no longer here. The daughter becomes ill. Heart and wound and writing move close to the bone. So yes, wherever the poems lead me, there is heart, there is searing heart, and I feel this book turns interior ignition keys.

This need for community, this need to write and to speak, to be private and to share. That is exactly what Surrender does, in writing so sweetly crafted the hairs lift on my skin. The lines economical, yet satisfyingly rich. Pip Adams wrote on the cover: ‘One of the most welcome and important collections I’ve read.’ I agree. This book is both humble and extraordinary, and I love it to the moon and back.

my review

The Pistils Janet Charman, Otago University Press, 2022

Janet’s new collection The Pistils opens with a terrific sequence, ‘High days and holy days’. Twelve poems that mark holidays or significant occasions (Waitangi Day, Parihaka Day Guy Fawkes Night, Wahine Day, Matariki, Picnic Days). Each poem contributes to a life – within a sequence of panels. Bare bones. Ample white space. A miniature narrative of excavation. Remember when. Remember how. Remember why. The sequence opens scenes, moments, places – and we enter the collection grounded.

Move into the heart of the book, and the mind leaps and bounds along the rhythm of the line. Exquisitely crafted. Scored. Composed. In ‘Mrs Valentine’s instructions’, the rhythm of revelation shapes memory. On the next page, in ‘hometime’, attention to the sound of the line is equally arresting. Memory is translated into music and image. It is a portrait of the child but it is also a portrait of the mother. In parings and traces. Surprising arrivals. It is religion and Freud, a mother lost in a novel, it is fingers worn to the bone, the news on the radio, family dinners, walking home. Life and death. It is home.

I speak of rhythm in such glowing terms but it is of course part of a sonic festival. Janet’s poetry strikes the ear (as Rebecca Hawke’s debut collection does). This leaning in to listen is rewarding: the leapfrogging alliteration, assonance, short lines, slightly longer lines, punctuating breath, free flowing currents. Again Janet’s agile music enhances my engagement with her roving subject matter. With the sharp edges and the necessary subterranean questions. How to live? How to live and love on planet Earth? How to speak against subjugation based on gender or skin colour? How to see your parents? How to go on when your beloved is no longer there? How to continue probing and resisting? How to be yourself? Ah. Such layerings.

Reading Pistil is exhilarating. I am loving this book because it is vulnerable and open, it is edgy and crafted, and because it shines a light on how it is for women. We still need that persistent light. We still need poetry that misbehaves as much as it makes music on the line. The poems call out and call for, stand out and stand for. It is a stunning collection.

my review

We’re All Made of Lightning, Khadro Mohamed, We Are Babies, 2022

Khadro’s debut collection is prismatic, probing, resonant with heart pulse. The book is still sitting beside me on the bed sparking multiple lights into the room. The lights of elsewhere which are infused with the lights of here, the lights of here which are boosted by the lights of elsewhere. Each poem is tethered in some glorious and moving way to whakapapa, to homelands, to self. To the awkwardness of speaking another tongue. To the life that is etched, tattooed, imprinted upon skin. Feelings. Longings. Epiphanies.

The book is sitting bedside, and I am thinking home is a state of mind we carry in our hearts as well as on our skin, and that it is relationships, and it is the physicality of place that feeds all senses and that can be so badly missed.

Khadro is asking for story and song. How to speak? And she is speaking within the honeyed fluency of her lines, with recurring motifs: herbs and tea, storm, typhoon and hurricane, ghosts and rain, ash and pain, chocolate and dates, drownings and rescue.

She is showing the searing wound, the challenges of being a young Muslim woman in a different home. She is responding to the barely pronounceable impact of March 15th. And there it is. The intolerable virus: a hatred that is fuelled by the colour of skin, a language spoken, one’s lineage, one’s dress or food or religion. Here in Aotearoa and across the world.

The book is beside me on the bed, and I am willing poetry to make a difference. And for me it does. To pick up this astonishing book of vulnerability and strength, of journey and vision, is to take up Khadro’s invitation and step into her home, into her poems, to share her tea and listen to her songs, her stories, her hope and her comfort. In her endnote, which she admits she had trouble writing, she thanks the reader. I am thanking Khadro and We Are Baby Press for a book ‘worth holding onto’, in multiple milky star ways.

my review

Poetry Shelf celebrates Katherine Mansfield with ‘Pic-Nic’ (1918)

Pic-Nic

When the two women in white
Came down to the lonely beach
She threw away her paintbox
And she threw away her note book
And down they sat on the sand
The tide was low
Before them the weedy rocks
Were like some herd of shabby beasts
Come down to the pool to drink
And staying there – in a kind of stupor
Then she went off and dabbled her legs in a pool
Thinking about the colour of flesh under water
And she crawled into a dark cave
And sat there thinking about her childhood
Then they came back to the beach
And flung themselves down on their bellies
Hiding their heads in their arms
They looked like two swans.

Katherine Mansfield (1918)

“Mansfield’s poetry is unlike other local poetry of the time, in its distilled clarity, its intimate self revelations, its occasional child-like playfulness, its vivacious tones that at times seem conversational. In that sense, she was foreshadowing the writing contours to come.” Paula Green, Wild Honey: Reading NZ Women’s Poetry

Poems of Katherine Mansfield Vincent O’Sullivan, ed. and intro. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)

The Collected Poems of Katherine Mansfield, Gerri Kimber and Claire Davison (eds) (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2016)

Katherine Mansfield (Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp, 1888-1923) was born in Wellington and educated at Wellington Girls’ High School, and then at Fitzherbert Terrace School, Wellington. After a seven-year relationship, she married John Middleton Murray, and they moved between the literary circles of England and Europe. In 1917 she developed tuberculosis and eventually died in a sanatorium in Switzerland. Her literary reputation grew with the publication of In a German Pension (Stephen Swift, 1911), her collection of short stories. She published a number of short-story collections in her lifetime and, after her death, her husband published her letters, journals and poetry. In 1988 Vincent O’Sullivan edited an anthology of her poetry, and Gerri Kimber and Claire Davison edited a more comprehensive collection, including newly discovered poems, in 2016.

Poetry Shelf welcomes 2023 with a poem by our poet Laureate, Chris Tse

Hearts unfold

there is plenty to come
plenty that awaits us
plenty of reasons to
slow down
be here

           ~

crisp days clear the mind
for reflection      time lingers
on the tip of the tongue
trees store what they need
swap out their wardrobes
let the months play out their nature
after the harvest 
we light a fire to stir anticipation
brace for transformation
and fortify ourselves with shades from
the deepest water            the forests
the sun’s prismatic clockwork

            ~

coastline        salt spit        churned foam
             tickled tongues
siren songs and tides
                        sluice the shore
when you’re pummelled by the roar
of the ocean         you forget
that you have no sway over its force
      isn’t there a moon for that?

            ~

during the day we tend to earth
that both feeds and rages
at night we fold our comfort 
closer around us
find a line to our ancestors
in our steaming bowls
embrace what settles in our bones
on these slow nights

            ~

it must be the closeness of breath
that keeps us lingering at the table
to share words we’ve saved for one another
they bind the sweetness of our time together
and open us up to tenderness
escort us into the soft parts of the night
every sense is catalogued for good measure
what will you remember about this year?

            ~

when we named the stars
we placed faith in their brilliance
even when we think our hearts
are full         we look up and see
there is still so much more
               to embrace

Chris Tse

Chris Tse is New Zealand’s Poet Laureate for 2022-24. He is the author of three collections of poetry published by Auckland University Press: How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (winner of the 2016 Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry), HE’S SO MASC, and Super Model Minority. He and Emma Barnes edited Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers from Aotearoa (AUP, 2021).

Poetry Shelf 2022

Poems are arriving like confetti
you sprinkle on poached egg
like salt but poached eggs
are off the menu
unless they are boiled like leather.

You light yourself up
like the Sky Tower,
all resplendent in blue
but you have no idea
what the occasion is,
so you invent
The day of Underwater Dreams.

You can feel happiness
as solid as a wooden
kitchen table with six chairs
and a bowl of ripe fruit.

Paula Green, Auckland Hospital, 2022

Poetry Shelf is taking a nap, not sure for how long, as I get through a bump on my long slow recovery road after my bone marrow transplant. When the blog and I wake up, I am hoping to post the clusters of town and city poems and a leisurely summer reading series celebrating local poetry, novels and nonfiction. Doing my blogs is neither work nor a chore but a crucial part of wellbeing. Writing has always been a process of love and happiness for me, since I was a wee tot.

I want to thank you for the care and kindness you have shown me this year: the cards and poems you sent me when I was in hospital, the warm emails, the willingness to join in my crazy blog ideas, the sharing of posts, the multiple engagements with poetry. It has felt like a vibrant and vital community that stretches and grows and connects.

I especially want to thank Catherine O’Loughlin at Penguin for guiding my two children’s books into the world so beautifully. They are special to me. And to Jenny Cooper and Kimberley Andrews for illustrating them so perfectly. I want to thank my health team at Auckland Hospital, the extraordinary doctors and nurses who work under such tough constraints but offer phenomenal care and attention, no matter what you are going through. Special thanks to Richard, Tom, Sarah, Rosie and Mia. My wonderful health psychologist Hannah has been equally important. A rejuvenating holiday bouquet for you all. To Linda Herrick for the thoughtful and empathetic interview she did with me for The Listener, to dear Anna Jackson for her love and friendship, to Eileen Merriman for our deep friendship and shared love of books and writing in every pocket of time, to Michele Leggott for understanding, to Carole Beu and the Women’s Bookshop and Jane Arthur and Good Books for keeping me supplied with my book and jigsaw orders. To my dear family, especially Michael, Georgia and Estelle, who have been my rocks.

I thank publishers in Aotearoa who enrich our lives with extraordinary books, who send me extraordinary books to read and review. And to the authors who write these extraordinary books, the booksellers that sell them and the reviewers that review them.

Finally I want to thank all the poets who have contributed poems to Poetry Shelf. My blog would be nothing without your sublime presence.

It’s been a tough year for so many of us. I have switched the news off for awhile so I fill with warmth and peace and all things good. Having a major health hurdle is tough but it is also a wonderful way of assessing what is important. I keep pathways to joy in my pocket for when I need one: my special notebook to write in, a jigsaw, a Spotify playlist especially Georgia’s, a children’s picture book, a fruit salad, a children’s poem idea, my hospital poem sequence, a blog post to write. I favour what I can do, not what I can’t do. I favour what is helpful. I learn to say no and ignore pushy demands. I breathe in the bush and birds and west coast air. I walk up the country lanes and feel such calm and gratitude.

Have safe and replenishing summer!

Aroha nui
Paula

Poetry Shelf occasional poems: Anuja Mitra’s ‘on hold’

on hold

spend long enough with static 
and it resembles the speech 
of dispirited bees:

a reminder of our erstwhile industry,
bright and abuzz in our work shirts,
our capitalist fatigue.

beehives and hold times
are two things you can’t kick.
a honeyed voice tells me

I’m twelfth in the queue;
their lines overwhelmed
by the tide of our need.

I set down the phone,
let it roll through 
its repertoire of 2000s hits.

the tinny music loops
back like memory, 
bearing our better days

the way a shell bears the sea 
like a trauma: give it your ear
and exhale.

Anuja Mitra

Anuja Mitra lives in Auckland. Her poetry has appeared in places like Landfall, Poetry NZ, takahē, Sweet Mammalian and Starling, with essays and fiction in Cordite and recent anthologies.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Amber Esau’s ‘Monopoly Poem’

Monopoly Poem

After her dice roll, she pushes her wheelbarrow across the stiff cardboard,
lands on an already owned street that’s as bare as a honey puff pussy.

At least she doesn’t have to pay double yet, she tells the banker and hands
rent over. In her peripheral, Queens, Explorers, Warriors all laugh like a stack

of Guess Who? faces but when she looks directly at the money it sits
in a static smirk. Not one to mix her games, she focuses hard. Every time

she tries to hook the $, she loses it, and to be honest, is sick of the arcade
crane game of it all. So, she’s drawing a metal cart around town, hungry

for a quick fix and follows the carrot ‘til she’s collected enough faces
to throw at the banker. Eventually, she’ll get to the red plastic tower

and walk up to the rooftop, screaming into a box of Roses filled with
scrunched foil wrappers; a city at night lit by mouths unable to stop.

She wheels her cart around the whole board, rolling back on the same
street where the landlord has already built a city that prices them out

of the neighbourhood and invites them over for dinner,
making them pay to use the cutlery.

Amber Esau

Amber Esau is a Sā-māo-rish (Ngāpuhi / Manase) writer of things from Tāmaki Makaurau, with a Gemini Sun / Virgo Moon. She is a poet, storyteller, Amateur Astrologer, and professional bots. Always vibing at a languid pace, her work has been published both in print and online. 

Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: Doc Drumheller’s ‘Drinking with Li Bai: 100 haiku from China and India’

Drinking with Li Bai: 100 haiku from China and India, Doc Drumheller, trans Liang Yujing, Cold Hub Press, 2022

silk and poetry
in the local dialect
both mean the same thing

Doc Drumheller

This gorgeous collection, Drinking with Li Bai, is like a pocket guide book. Or an exquisite stand-in for taking travel photographs. Or sending memento postcards home. Doc Drumheller has written a sequence of haiku that capture moments, views, experience as he travels through India and China; visiting Enshi, Guangzhou, Guizhou, Suiyang, Shengze, Shanghai, and Beijing in China, and Odisha, Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, New Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Bodh Gaya, and Allahabad in India.

Haiku is such a divisive genre among poets, yet a good haiku is a poetry treat. Haiku offer sweet morsels that delight the senses, that deliver visual impact, that place little poetic frames on the world, that favour economy, that open out onto richness of effect.

There are haiku rules teachers insisted on in school, that are still observed but often played with. Doc has generally followed the traditional rules: three lines, no title and a syllabic pattern (5 – 7 – 5). The haiku are translated by Liang Yujing with Chinese calligraphy by Dr Gong Qin. Many of the poems have been published in online and print journals, with a number appearing in Best NZ Poems.

climbing the Great Wall
you must go further to see
how far you can go

Doc Drumheller

Nature is a traditional haiku theme, and Doc celebrates the beauty of the natural world but also draws in people, things, actions, anecdotes, cityscapes, philosophy. The poems thread surprise, fascinations, questions, a personal presence.

Drinking with Li Bai, is a treat of a book, especially if you like to imbibe little poetry morsels across a week.

view from the turret
All Along the Watchtower
playing in my mind

Doc Drumheller

ancient turtle shell
a man builds himself a home
inside the fossil

Doc Drumheller

Doc Drumheller was born in Charleston, South Carolina and has lived in New Zealand for more than half his life. He has worked in award- winning theatre and music groups and has published eleven collections of poetry. His poems have been translated into more than twenty languages, and he has performed in Cuba, Lithuania, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Japan, India, China, Nicaragua, USA, Mexico, El Salvador, and widely throughout New Zealand. On his travels Doc Drumheller has represented the Waimakariri District as a Cultural Ambassador to Enshi in a Sister City Cultural Exchange. He was appointed New Zealand Director of the Silk Road Poetry Project, and has represented New Zealand at international poetry festivals in China and India. He lives in Oxford, where he edits and publishes the literary journal Catalyst. Haiku from this collection were selected for Ōrongohau Best New Zealand Poems in 2018 and 2020. Election Day of the Dead, Seventy Haiku from the Americas by Doc Drumheller was published by Cold Hub Press in 2020.

Liang Yujing is a Chinese poet, translator and scholar who writes in both English and Chinese. He was born in Changde and studied for his BA and MA in Wuhan. From 2014 to 2020, he lived in New Zealand and completed his PhD in Chinese literature at Victoria University of Wellington.

Cold Hub Press page

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Frankie McMillan’s ‘Ode to Item #410096’

Ode to Item #410096 

Magnetic pen with extendable arm   

You are the cleverest of instruments to attract 

 from under the couch 

 a coin, a tiny screw 

come loose from sunglasses

— maybe even with your telescopic reach – the ring  

 the one that went missing

six months ago and further back, a silver watch,  

the keys to the studio in the woods, the house

 lost in the floods, the man I loved who disappeared, 

and then there’s my mother, red rooster in her arms, 

wandering through the magnetic fields. 

 Oh, wild heart, Oh item #410096 

I am charged with the certain kind of longing that

goes beyond The Department of Loss, beyond the prayers 

of Saint Anthony, even beyond that man I 

mentioned earlier, who held me with such force 

        before spinning off elsewhere. 

 Item #410096 also known as the magnetic pen, let us write

a treatise on retrieval, repatriation and recovery, 

let us travel to the North pole, 

the South pole, let us seek out all missing items  

and persons, 

restore them to this brave, rotating world.       

Frankie McMillan

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short fiction writer. In 2016 her collection, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions(Canterbury University Press) was long-listed for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. In 2019  The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions ( CUP)  was listed by Spinoff as one of the ten best New Zealand fiction books of 2019. In the same year it was shortlisted for the NZSA Heritage awards.

 In 2013 and 2015 she was the winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Day competition. She has won numerous awards and creative writing residencies including the Ursula Bethell residency in Creative Writing at the University of Canterbury (2014) the Michael King writing residency at the University of Auckland  ( 2017) and the NZSA Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship (2019). Her latest book, The Wandering Nature of Us Girls ( CUP) was launched in August, 2022.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Vasanti Unka’s ‘Mothers’

Our mothers

We
crafted our boats
with sugar cane sticks • we clinked
silvery anklets • we sang giggling x-rated lyrics
we laughed at our own silly antics • we were daring
we were betrothed at thirteen • we were betrothed at three
we met our husbands once • we tied a sari around our waist we tied
our hair into a bun • we painted a red sun on our foreheads •  we were
beautiful • we were dutiful • we said goodbye to our bha • we left our village
our dev • we travelled so far • we were children • we consoled the baby
in our womb • we carried our child on our hip • we climbed
aboard a ship • we spewed the journey • we chewed
the paan • we heard the waves chant • we shed no
tears • we are adventurers • we are
seers • we saw further than
the distance.

Vasanti Unka

Picture book creator Vasanti Unka is generally known for her quirky and colourful kids books for kids for which she was awarded an Arts Foundation Laurette for illustration (2021). Born in Pukekohe – her parents arrived here from India in the 1940s and ’50s – Vasanti has been unpicking her heritage. A book she compiled, With a Suitcase of Saris: From India to Aotearoa, Stories of Pioneer Indian Women, is being used in the new NZ history curriculum. More recently she has been writing a bit of poetry and prose about being Indian in Aotearoa.

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