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Listening to poet Mohamed Hassan


I am listening to poet and journalist, Mohamed Hassan, on National Radio, and his short video piece on the terror attack (you can find this on his Facebook page), and again his poems, because local poets are sharing links to them on social media. Like everyone he is lost for words, lost in the way words stretch and struggle at a time of such human catastrophe. And like so many Aotearoa Muslims he speaks.

This week my blog has faltered, my normal blog features have stalled – my internet was down all day yesterday but, more than that enforced silence, my blog felt numb mute wrong.

When such an inhuman ignorant incomprehensible event wounds the hearts of communities, of a country,  it is hard to know how to continue. Many journalists and media platforms are bringing us Muslim voices, are questioning how media questions and presents a terror attack – its terrible effects, its deep-reaching context and the ongoing issues, a desire for unity.

We are what we speak.

Poetry is such a little thing, a little drop in the massive seas of human endeavour – yet like stories – poetry connects us to human experience, to how we live and love and mourn.  It is a window, it is a balm and it is an eye-opener.

This is a time to reach out and make connections, to listen.





Mohamed Hassan ‘The Muslim Women Who Raised Me’




Mohamed Hassan ‘(un)LEARNING My Name  ⁄  Spoken Word’




Mohamed Hassan ‘Secrets of the Sea – (for Alan Kurdi)’



You can also listen to Mohamed at Radio NZ’s ‘Public Enemy’s’ series: This series looks at the growing Muslim communities in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and how elections, counter-terrorism policies, war and xenophobia have impacted their lives.

In this episode, Mohamed Hassan looks at how the events of 9/11 kicked off an ‘us versus them’ attitude around Muslims in the West.

He speaks to Muslims living in the United States and in New Zealand and gets their perspective.

Heard this again the other night and it is essential listening.


Mohamed Hassan is a poet and journalist from Auckland, and co-founder of the Waxed Poetic Revival.










Poetry Shelf noticeboard: NZSA mentorships announced

Read more details here


Recipients have been selected for the New Zealand Society of Authors Mentorship Programme 2019 with thirteen chosen from a pool of 79 applicants. With a high level of commitment shown by the applicants and a wide variety of fascinating projects the judges had quite a task making their selection.

Our 2019 mentees are emerging writers with unique voices who have chosen to write in a diverse array of genres including Poetry, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary fiction, Short fiction – flash, speculative, Young adult fiction, Poetry, Biographical Novel, Short fiction and Biography/Memoir.

The 2019 recipients are: Semira Davis, Frank Eggleton, Saige England, Mia Gaudin, Jenna Heller, Katie Levendis, Anna Mahoney, Ria Masae, Simone McKegg, Sinead Overbye, Jackson Payne, Marnie Walters, Anna Woods.

They will spend the remainder of 2019 honing their skills and developing their craft under the mentorship of some of New Zealand’s finest professional writers.

Selection panel convener Mandy Hager commented that: ‘It was a privilege to meet these writers through their work. Everyone who applied showed dedication and a serious approach towards their craft. It was a daunting task trying to whittle down 79 applications to just 13 but the successful applicants stood out for their interesting projects and strong writing samples. It’s exciting to see the range and depth of our writing talent’.

Mentorships are offered by the NZSA every year with the intent of fostering and developing emerging writers with the support of established practitioners. The NZSA has run a highly successful mentoring programme for writers since 1999 and it is supported by funding from Creative New Zealand.

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: 15.3.19





This poem can hold the sky for you to see

you will fall into the wide blue of hope

and the wide blue of the next day and the day before


and you will see beauty and you will pause

at the sight of the plunging kereru


but this poem is different because it struggles to hold


the surge of grief and the loss of words so so

so poetry feels helpless because


what good a poem in the face of massacre

what good a poem against the home made unsafe

what good a poem in my white skin

what good a poem when my skin is crying

what good a poem when we feel so bad

what good a poem for the bereft families

what good a poem when life’s fabric changes

what good a poem for intolerance

what good a poem against the racist taunt

what good a poem when mothers fathers

grandparents children friends are dead


or when the Muslim family is detained at the airport

or when the young girl in hijab is abused on her way to school

or when a detained Muslim poet shares his dream

or when you are told to go back where you came from


which is here

which is home

which is where

your children

are born


and so and so

this poem is holding out you     a fragile pronoun

not knowing who will fit and who will agree

you and you and you and we are in mourning


and so and then

when our children marched for the good of the planet

and when we will all march for the good of the planet

and when we will all march and we will all speak for the good

of the beating heart of the planet which is you and you and we


and I am writing heart and we will keep writing heart

because the heart of the planet depends on

kindness and respect and love and open arms


and in this surge of tears and voices speaking

as we stand and sit and bow and pray in solidarity

and I hear National Radio

and I cannot stop listening

to Mohamed Hassan’s podcasts


and a Sikh taxi driver speaks of human solidarity

and a Muslim looks at his neighbours laying flowers

and they are all lost for words and he speaks

and the white flowers are laid and the family gathers

and the families gather and a nation gathers

and candles are lit and vows are made to


make this place home to make this our home and to

stand against racism and this is yes you and you and your

and we are heart to heart and I am holding out words

yes these words after making salty bread and spreading butter

and trying to move through the day and writing words

like white flowers like a wreath of sadness

like human warmth like human peace like hope for we



Paula Green












Poetry Shelf Friday talk: Johanna Aitchison on anagram poems


Anagram Poems


Like many obsessions, my preoccupation with anagrams began by accident. I am writing my doctoral thesis at the moment, and had been struggling with my topic: alter egos in elliptical poetry. To put it bluntly: all of the alter ego poetry that I was writing for the creative section of my thesis was terrible; not so terrible that it was not even recognisable as poetry, but that uglier low level kind of terrible you get when you’re mining an area that has been all mined out and the work that results is simply boring. So I was on the lookout for inspiration, trawling for ideas that were more interesting than my thesis “starter idea”, when U.S. poet Dora Malech’s latest collection of poetry, Stet (2018), landed on our veranda in an Amazon package. My first thought on reading the poems was, “Huh?”; second thought, “What even is this?”; and then a series of thoughts that tumbled out on top of each other such as, “How does she do this?” “This is amazing!”, and “Wow, I’m so jealous, I wanna write anagram poems, too.”

Stet is a book of poetry which is composed primarily of anagrams, with a side of erasures. Malech states that she is influenced by the German artist and poet, Urnica Zurn, who wrote a series of vivid and disquieting anagram poems in the 1950s, as well as the French school of poetry Oulipo, which uses various restrictive forms to enable creativity, of which the anagram is one.

Thus began my obsession with this form–and the way that you can mine a single sentence or word or, in the case of the third section of Malech’s book, an entire poem (she writes a series of poems which are anagrams of the Sylvia Plath poem “Metaphors”)–and resulting questions (some of which Malech explores in Stet), such as:  How can lyric subjectivity survive within such a tight machine? Is this kind of poetry too sterile and fragmented to really connect with a reader? I am at the beginnings of my explorations in this area, so don’t have any firm answers yet. But writing anagram poems (in which, for example, an entire poem may be made out of a single line, re-arranged) is kind of like build-your-own-nightmare. You get to choose the particular brand of nightmare, and that ambit of it, but within very tight parameters. To put it more another way, it’s like performing back flips in a very tight space; but if you pull it off, the thrill is real.


Johanna Aitchsion



Johanna Aitchison is a doctoral student at Massey University, Palmerston North, examining anagrams and erasures in hybrid poetry. Her most recent volume of poems, Miss Dust (Seraph Press, 2015), was described by reviewer Sarah Quigley as “Emily Dickinson for the 21st century”. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Best New Zealand Poems 2008 and 2009, and Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011). She was a 2015 resident at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and the 2012 Visiting Artist at Massey University.