Category Archives: Uncategorized

Poetry Shelf new poems: Fleur Adcock’s ‘In the Desert’


As the Taliban surged back into Kabul
and the international correspondents
looked more exhausted with every broadcast
but not as exhausted as the refugees

I thought of my young second cousin Matthew,
one of the four hundred and fifty-seven
flown back from Afghanistan in sealed coffins
to Wootten Bassett and then, in Matthew’s case,

to York for his military funeral
in the Minster, after which the gun-carriage
paraded him on a tour of the packed streets
before beginning its sedate procession

to the cemetery while we, the mourners,
plus vanloads of soldiery sped off ahead
at a pace Matthew would surely have preferred,
with sirens and flashing lights, to get there first;

all of which might have been designed to persuade
his parents that being blown up by a bomb
at twenty-three was a worthy destiny –
an opinion they are perhaps revising.

Fleur Adcock

Fleur Adcock, born in Auckland in 1934, is a highly acclaimed New Zealand poet, editor and translator who resides in Britain. She has published many collections of poems, most recently Glass Wings (2013), The Land Ballot (2014), Hoard (2017) and The Mermaid’s Purse (2021). Her awards include the 1961 Festival of Wellington Poetry Award, the Jessie Mackay Prize in 1968 and 1972, the Buckland Award in 1968 and 1979, the New Zealand National Book Award in 1984, an OBE in 1986, the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2006, and a CNZM for services to literature in 2008. In 2019 she was the recipient of a Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Sargeson Prize 2021 winners

Sargeson Prize 2021 winners focus on relationships and families

A story about the harm patriarchal communities can do is the overall winner of this year’s Sargeson Prize.

The University of Waikato sponsors the short story competition and announced the winners at the annual Frank Sargeson Memorial Lecture, which was streamed online on Wednesday night due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Lara Markstein’s story ‘Good Men’ was the Open Division winner selected from 847 entries, and Shima Jack won the Secondary Schools Division with ‘Muscle Memory’, selected from 139 entries.

Markstein’s story is about the harshness of growing up in conservative, patriarchal communities.

Chief judge Patricia Grace says this story opens out, stage by stage, to form a picture of the main protagonist as part of an extended family, embracing three generations, in a particular time and place.

“Not an easy task within the confines of a short piece of writing,” says Grace, who is regarded as one of New Zealand’s best fiction writers. “Through action, reaction, interaction and vivid dialogue, characters and their circumstances are revealed.”

Markstein, from Picton, says she’d been thinking about this story after a family member revealed that their cousin wasn’t allowed to learn French. 

“I find the idea of closing off knowledge to children heartbreaking, and often thought of this distant relation, until I felt compelled to write about it.

“So the story came relatively easily, by which I mean, it percolated unwritten for several years, and then I wrote (and rewrote) for several weeks.”

Markstein was born in South Africa, raised in Aotearoa, with a longer than intended interlude in the United States, where she graduated from Harvard University with a BA in English and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in a variety of literary journals and she’s currently completing an epistolary novel, titled Little Wonder.

She takes away $6000 for her prize-winning story, plus a publication fee, making the Sargeson Prize New Zealand’s richest short-story competition.

Second place and $1000 went to ‘The Duwende’ by Mikee Sto Domingo from Wellington and third place went to another Wellingtonian, Jordan Hamel, for his story ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’.

Secondary Schools Division winner Shima Jack is a Year 12 student at Dunedin’s Logan Park High School. Her winning story ‘Muscle Memory’ explores the intricacies of relationships and the quiet permanence of childhood memories.

Grace says of all the stories in the student section, Jack’s stood out as the one most clearly defined in regards to the short story genre. 

“But it stood out in other ways too,” says Grace. “Sharply drawn images bring the reader into the story. From this beginning, it progresses via the thought processes of the narrator and through words spoken … We learn of a grievance, and of a relationship somewhat on edge at this moment in time. Writing is spare, and appropriate to the mood it sets up.”

Jack says she wrote it in one intense period while listening to the song ‘Papillon’ by Johannes Motschmann, months after the idea first came to her in the form of the line ‘the slow blush of blood to skin’. 

“That line sat in the Notes app on my phone for a while!” she says. 

Jack has already published poetry and is the founder and editor of a writing anthology for her school where students can anonymously submit their writing to be featured in each edition.

“Towards the future, I’m focused on being more open-minded as a reader and writer and exploring different writing styles. Another ambition of mine is to start a youth writers’ group in my home city.”

Alongside $500 prize money, Jack wins a one-week summer writing residency at the University of Waikato, including accommodation, meals and mentoring.

Now in its third year, the Sargeson Prize was established in 2019 by novelist Catherine Chidgey, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University. 

She says she was impressed with the extremely high quality of entries this year. 

“There were enough fantastic stories to fill several anthologies and it was tough for the panel to narrow them down. Of particular note was the skill and range seen in the secondary schools entries.”

This year’s winning stories will be published on ReadingRoom, Steve Braunias’ literary section of Newsroom. 

He will publish ‘Good Men’ on 16 October, ‘Muscle Memory’ on 23 October, ‘The Duwende’ on 6 November and ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’ on 13 November.


Open Division:

  • First: ‘Good Men’ by Lara Markstein, Picton
  • Second: ‘The Duwende’ by Mikee Sto Domingo, Wellington
  • Third: ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’ by Jordan Hamel, Wellington

Highly Commended:

  • ‘Close Your Eyes, Girls’ by Caoimhe McKeogh, Wellington
  • ‘Inside the Ribcage’ by Marama Salsano, Hamilton
  • ‘Precipitation’ by Harley Hern, Puhoi
  • ‘Honeymoon in a Town Called Fog’ by Pip Robertson, Wellington
  • ‘Mam’s Tables’ by Kirsty Gunn, Scotland

Secondary Schools Division:

  • First: ‘Muscle Memory’ by Shima Jack, Logan Park High School, Dunedin
  • Second: ‘What Makes a Forest’ by Jade Wilson, Kaiapoi High School
  • Third: ‘Ghosts’ by Stella Weston, Rotorua Lakes High School

Highly Commended:

  • ‘Blood Orange Season/The Girl Without a Heart’ by Zia Rogers, Feilding High School
  • ‘Flowers from 1970’ by Ryan Davidson, Wairarapa College
  • ‘Prelude’ by Ana Faville, Palmerston North Girls’ High School
  • ‘Second Sight’ by Gemma Bennion, Hutt Valley High School
  • ‘Ghosts’ by Andrew Crotty, Takapuna Grammar School
  • ‘roll the bones’ by Cadence Chung, Wellington High School

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The 2021 Laurel Prize, second place Ash Davida Jane

The Laurel Prize is an award for the best collection of environmental, ecopoetry or nature poetry. The Prize will further the discourse around climate crisis, environmental and ecological topics and aims to reach new audiences with environmental messages.

Simon Armitage donates his Laureate’s Honorarium of £5,000 each year to support the project.

Laurel Prize website

My Poetry Shelf review of How to Live with Mammals

Poetry Shelf Eight Poets, Eight Sentences: Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Possibilities

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Chen Chen, Boa Editions, 2017

I am a gay sipper, & my mother has placed what’s left of her hope on my brothers.

She wants them to gulp up the world, spit out solid degrees, responsible
              grandchildren to gobble.

They will be better than mangoes, my brothers.

Though I have trouble imagining what that could be.

Flying mangoes, perhaps. Flying mango-tomato hybrids. beautiful sons.


from ‘Self-Portrait As So Much Potential’

Each poem is a list of further possibilities that stretch out with such word beauty to embrace life. Love sadness mother lover constellations emigration wonder kissing winter grandmother song. There is sublime melody in the story and there is sublime story in the song. Picture a footpath incandescent after rainfall and the goosebump tattoo on your skin is what you get as you read. Lists appear; like miniature self portraits, like slow-release puffs of life, suprising, complex, stingingly real. You cannot imbibe Chen’s poems without imbibing word joy. Poetry as a meditation device, contemplation. Luminous.

I want to say, No, it’s completely different, which in many ways it is, but really
I’m remembering what a writer friend once said to me, All you write about
is being gay or Chinese—
how I can’t get over that, & wonder if it’s true,

if everything I write is in some way an immigrant narrative or another
coming out story. I recall a recent poem, featuring fishmongers in Seattle,
& that makes me happy—clearly one that isn’t about being gay or Chinese.

But then I remember a significant number of Chinese immigrants
live in Seattle & how I found several of the Pike Place fishmongers
attractive when I visited, so I guess that poem’s about being gay

& Chinese, too. So I say to my friend, I’m not sure, & keep eating
the popcorn. Thank god we chose the “family size” bag. Can’t stop
the greasy handfuls, noisy mouthfuls. Can’t eat popcorn quietly.


from ‘Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls’


Chen Chen is a poet and essayist interested in Asian American histories and futures, family (bio and found), queer friendship, multilingualism, hybrid texts, humor, and pop culture. His work has appeared in two chapbooks and in such publications as Poetry, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Best of the Net, and The Best American Poetry. He is the recipient of fellowships from Kundiman, the Saltonstall Foundation, and Lambda Literary. He earned his BA at Hampshire College and his MFA at Syracuse University. He lives in Lubbock, Texas, where he is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. His second book of poems, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in Sept. 2022. His first book of essays, In Cahoots with the Rabbit God, is forthcoming from Noemi Press in late 2023.

Chen Chen’s website

Boa editions page

Winner of the GLCA New Writers Award
Winner of the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry
A Barabara Gittings Literature Award Honor Book

Poetry Shelf noticeboard – Surrealist Sisters: Writers Respond

Surrealist Sisters: Writers Respond
31 October, 2pm
Te Papa – Te Marae, Level 4

Free event

Verb guest curator, poet Rebecca Hawkes, has taken a gathering of writers to experience Te Papa’s latest international exhibition, Surrealist Art: Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Each writer has crafted a written response to the exhibition: what played on their minds? What images and ideas latched on? Find out in this free event in which we’ll hear responses to the stars of surrealism shared for the first time. Featuring: Khadro Mohamed, Rebecca Hawkes, Sarah Scott, Jo Randerson and Cadence Chung. Curated by Rebecca Hawkes.

Presented in partnership with Te Papa.

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Rosina Baxter and Amy Marguerite’s ‘Pathetic Fallacy’

Pathetic Fallacy

The rain is falling hard on the farm today
We’ve just messaged about loving older humans
How it’s true that age is just a number
How we want the whole world (two people) 
To eat our truth.   But how?
At noon certain numbers make a nation 
Sigh in unison
In the morning certain numbers make a city
Take out their thickest coat
At midlife certain numbers make a person 
Wistful for the bygone.
My grandmother is watching the kārearea soar 
Across the valley on warm spring waves
We give our lovers nicknames 
Like birds giving each patch of air a wing.
Punching my keyboard I ask is there is a way
to give without giving everything?  
I can’t help but think we are the kārearea
Our lovers the old ones watching 
Us soar, somewhere, like eyelashes
Licking golden cheeks 
Watching us watch the whole world
Watch each other 
For the wrong kind of answer.

Rosina Baxter and Amy Marguerite

Rosina Baxter is an emerging poet and songwriter who has used written word as personal catharsis from a young age. She is a regular performer at Poetry Live on Karangahape Road, she narrates poetry and prose for Passengers Journal, and has recently been published in Tarot Magazine.

Amy Marguerite is a poet and writer of non-fiction based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Wellington. Her poetry has featured in a number of journals and literary magazines, most recently the Food Court S08E01 zine. She is currently working alongside Rosina toward a collaborative collection of poetry. 

Poetry Shelf reviews YA fiction: Eileen Merriman’s Black Wolf

Black Wolf, Eileen Merriman, Penguin Books, 2021

I gobbled up the first book, Violet Black, in Eileen Merriman’s The Black Spiral Trilogy, in two greedy sittings. The book has suspense, gritty characters, vital borders between good and evil, porous ethics, romance. When I closed it I felt bereft – knowing how long I had to wait to read the next volume.

Aotearoa is rich in YA writers, writers who delve into the point of view of teenagers, and who navigate contemporary circumstances that challenge both at the level of the personal and an onslaught of ideas and decision making. NZ Bookshop day is coming up this Saturday and I am dreaming that everyone who can afford it will order a local book. Wishing for this. More than ever publishers and booksellers need our support. Let’s celebrate YA fiction, such a magnificent genre.

I recommend getting hooked into Eileen’s gripping trilogy. I read the second book, Black Wolf, in two days. And again I felt bereft when it ended and, in the same breath, utterly satisfied with the rollercoaster, heart-pounding story arc. Phoenix and Violet have become experimental subjects of The Foundation after having caught a mysterious virus, M-fever. They are under the control of The Foundation because they acquired super gifts, the key one being able to communicate telepathically. The rest of the world thinks they are dead. Other subjects die or are decommissioned. They resolve to fight for what is right.

On the one hand this is a struggle of good versus evil, but even more compelling, it is the interior struggle of two teenagers wanting to make good choices, wanting to care for fellow human beings, to work for the good of the whole rather than the benefit of the greedy individual. This is not easy. Being a teenager is not always easy. There is unbearable kindness. There is sex, there are drugs, there is romance. Relationships to unravel. There is mystery. The medical issues and implications.

Eileen’s sentences flow like honey. The dialogue is pitch perfect. I care so much about the characters I woke at 2 am, after the first day’s reading, plotting what might happen next. Worried for everyone!

Reading this book lifted me out of the black hole that keeps dragging me down. So sweetly. So rewardingly. I don’t want to go giving everything away – you just need to find a comfort corner and board the exhilarating ride with its spiky twists and turns, gathering in strength, kindness, empathy. Three qualities we need in our collective response devices, in our own challenging virus-stoked times.

I toast this glorious book. It was just what I needed. Oh and the final volume is out 1 March 2022.

Eileen Merriman’s first young adult novel, Pieces of You, was published in 2017, and was a finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and a Storylines Notable Book. Since then, she has published another nine novels for adults and young adults and received huge critical praise, with one reviewer saying: ‘Merriman is an instinctive storyteller with an innate sense of timing.’ In addition to being a regular finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, Merriman was a finalist in the 2021 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and Moonlight Sonata was longlisted for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction 2020. Editions of some of her young adult novels have been released in Germany, Turkey and the UK and three have been optioned for film or TV, including the Black Spiral Trilogy.

Her other awards include runner-up in the 2018 Sunday Star-Times Short Story Award and third in the same award for three consecutive years previously. She works as a consultant haematologist at North Shore Hospital.

Penguin page

Eileen’s website

Poetry Shelf review: Anne Noble’s Conversātiō – in the company of bees

Conversātiō – in the company of bees, Anne Noble with Zara Stanhope and Anna Brown, Massey University Press, 2021

each morning in the bright window she’s there

on the tip of your tongue her bees working

the red flowers that take you from vine to fire

as she contemplates another shift in the pronouns

Michele Leggott

from ‘Blue Irises’, from DIA, Auckland University Press, 1994

Anne Noble’s Conversātiō – in the company of bees is a precious object with its luxurious velveteen cover, generous serving of images, handbound look, luxuriant paper stock. The book as art work. An artwork as book. There are conversations, essays and a smattering of bee-related writings from Xenophon of Athens (c. 430 – 350 BCE) through to Emily Dickinson (1830 -1886), Carl Jung (1875 – 1961), Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321), Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963), and many more.

I was drawn to this book because for over 35 years I have lived with an artist known for his beehive paintings, who views the hive on the landscape as a found object, as a site of transformation, as a sublime interplay of light and dark. As a family we have travelled the South Island roads taking photographs. We have smelt linseed oil and paint for decades, even watched a honeybee land on a painted hive. We have a beehive work hanging on the lounge wall that is my point of uplift, my transcendental device, my place to restore balance. Outside, honeybees dart in the manukā, land on flowers in the vegetable patches. The bees, and the beehive paintings, are a source of interior glow as I sit still and watch and reboot. The bees are doing what bees do, and it feels good. It is of the greatest comfort.

Anne’s bee-thicket book (it is of course a collective project) will offer the reader many sidetrack diversions, parallel lines of thought and feeling. I am catapaulted back into the honey-rich poetry of Michele Leggott, the dulcet threads and motifs. Find me a collection of hers where the honeybee does not make an appearance, and I will be surprised. Across centuries the bee has pollinated the poetic line with sweetness, fostering a delight in connectivity, awe, the miraculous. As a motif it fertilises a poem with the visual, the sensual, the unsayable, with patterns, transformations. This is what Michele’s poetry does for me.

Looking at one of Michael’s paintings, reading Michele’s poems or glimpsing the bee in our vegetable gardens, I am filled with life-sustaining joy. And how that matters. This is what the bee does for me.

Pick up Conversātiō, this sumptuous book, with its title demanding attentiveness, and you will fall into Anne’s close-up photographs of bees at work, how the collective labour is paramount. You will read of the mystery of the bee’s flight patterns and interpretations of their dances. You will read of the miracle of survival, the need for bee survival, the tending of hives, the harvesting of honey.

How you travel through this book is open. It is over to you. It feels like a thicket with interlocking paths, rich in images and ideas, possibilities. It is a beauty of a book. It is a book of beauty.

Massey University Press page

‘A journey of discovery into the life of bees’ — John Daly-Peoples, New Zealand Arts Review
‘A remarkable and beautifully produced book’ — Peter Simpson, Kete
‘Another sumptuous book from Massey University Press’ — David Hill, RNZ
‘A fascinating hybrid work, formed by the streams of art, science, poetry and philosophical thinking that flow into it’ — Landfall Review Online
Anne Noble talks to Lynn Freeman on RNZ
Anne Noble is interviewed by Woman magazine
Anne Noble talks to Stuff

‘Crown Range’, Michael Hight, 2017

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Canterbury Poets Collective Spring poetry reading series

Reading Series organised each Spring by the Canterbury Poets Collective.

Wednesday 6th October: Claire Beynon, John Allison and Catherine Fitchett

The open mic session begins at 6.30pm, with the featured poets on from 7.30,

Imagitech Theatre, ARA, 130 Madras Street Christchurch

$6.00 entry or you can buy a concession season pass.