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Poetry Shelf on live streaming the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2022

I usually do a poetry post to celebrate the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards but need to restock my energy jar today. My mind is all over the show. I woke at 4 am and couldn’t stop thinking about Tayi Tibble reading her mother poem from Rangikura (‘My Mother Meets My Father in an Alternate Koru’). The sun was nowhere ready to come up and I was electrified body and soul, replaying the poem in my head. I was lead back to Tayi’s sublime book. I wanted to whisper in all your sleeping ears: read this collection, please read this collection. I have written about it here.

I was also blown apart hearing Whiti Hereaka read from Kurangaituku. I so wanted to write about her path-carving, heart-boosting book last year, but every time I tried, words failed me. I wanted to hold the book out to you and say, read it. Say, this is what an extraordinary book can do. This is the kind of risks we can take as writers, not at the expense of reading connections, nor at the expense of human connections. Far from it. So to see this superlative book awarded the supreme fiction prize is something special.

I also loved hearing Bryan Walpert read from Entanglement, to hear the musical pitch of his narrative enthralled me, and supported my review.

What a joy to see Nicole Titihuia Hawkins’ Whai win best first book of poetry. And it is also a fine acknowledgement of an excellent new poetry press, We Are Babies. I adored Nicole’s book (from my review):

I have things to share about Nicole Titihuia Hawkin’s debut collection Whai, but one part of me wants you to find a quiet nook and find your own bridges and poem trails. I love it so much – the way from the first page the rhythm pulls me in, a rhythm that is life and that is writing. We are welcomed into a space that is whanau, marae and connection. That is breathing the past, the present and the future. That is fed upon potatoes from warm earth, and by words that are nourished on warm tongues. It is discomfort, it is scars and it is let down. It is to be held close and it is to sing. Oh so much to sing, with waiata the energy force, the structure, the passed-down precious melody that sings mother father ancestors, the earth, sings names and naming, singing out in protest, singing in te reo Māori.

Every year I seem to mourn and celebrate. I know how awards can impact on writers, even those with a fleet of publications under their belts. But especially young writers who have launched a debut publication into the world. Ruby Solly’s Tōku Pāpā was an arrival that struck me deeply: “This precious book – that in its making, its stands, rests and journeys from and towards so much – is the reason why I cannot stop reading and sharing thoughts on and writing my own poetry. The book is a gift and like so many other readers I am grateful.” I was so glad it made the longlist.

I started reading Joanna Preston’s book Tumble yesterday (Poetry winner) and noted it is a collection of visual and aural uplift. Metaphors surprise and enhance the physical. The speaker steps into other scenes, situations, voices, memories, always observing, maintaining stillness as much as movement. It is deftly crafted with both economy and richness.

Last year was the only time I have ever felt personally invested in an award night. When Wild Honey didn’t win, I was able to say fuck in a loud voice, get the champagne out of the fridge, and tell my family I would be really sad for one night, but would be okay in the morning. And I was. Really really sad not to win. And then really really glad the next morning when I picked up my pen and start writing.

At 7 am I drove into the city today for an appointment and I couldn’t stop thinking about books that have affected me over the past year. I wish the awards would be streamed every year, because so many readers and writers tuned in across the country last night. I was reminded how short readings are like the best holiday imaginable. AND! I decided I wanted to put in a pitch for audio books from Tayi, Whiti and Bryan because I didn’t want them to stop.

Listening in last night was a rare treat. Grateful thanks to the Ockhams, to all the authors, the publishers and booksellers. 🌷💜

May we pick up our pens and start writing today, and may we open the next book on our piles and begin reading. Or simply open a window and go drifting in the clouds. Kia kaha.

Poetry Shelf review: michaela keeble’s Surrender

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

there are so many
rivers inside me
i may as well be
a continent

the rivers
when i run
are running

when i tilt
this way, that way
the rivers slow down
and change direction

 

from ‘mother, crab’

I have about thirty poetry books in a stack on my desk, a stack of children’s books and a stack of novels. I pick a book and start reading, and I am delighted at how many books I fall in love with. Deeply. Last week it was a picture book, The Lighthouse Princess by Susan Wardell and Rose Northey (Penguin), along with Entanglement by Bryan Walpert (Mākaro Press). Is it a matter of contagious charisma? Are the books touching a human chord with language that electrifies me?

I picked up michaela keeble’s poetry collection Surrender and it stuck to my white skin like honey, like biddy bids, like a lattice of ideas and confessions that resonate. Michaela is a white Australian, living in Aotearoa with her partner and children, who has worked as an editor, writes fiction and poetry, and works in multiple ways towards anticolonial social justice, including climate justice. Her book is published by Taraheke | Bush Lawyer, ‘a new publishing collective of indigenous women and their allies from Aotearoa and so-called Australia’.

you give my poem a gift
you give my poem a ledge
a place to be seen
to rest

i greet your poem, a place
the way i greet each voice
within and around me
i pick up a pen

 

from ‘revision is a kind of faith’

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?

white poem
goes on holiday
white poem escapes heat
nice white holiday
package
nice white plastic
travel shop
nice big white plane
nice carbon
got the budget

 

from ‘white poem goes on’

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.

i’m still here
but now
i’m made of fire

if this wind ever turns
i’ll return
a message

send
my searing selves
to the sky

honour
the hard seams of m
of my mother’s cloths

 

from ‘hard seams’

Pronouns form the book’s structure: you, me / other, self / we, us / her, she, they. Check what Emma Barnes said recently in my second Paragraph Room. We cannot take pronouns for granted. Making the ‘i’ lower case links back to feminist calls to dismantle authority. Decades later, each pronoun embraces community, communities, connection, connections, personal narratives. And that is important here. In the poem ‘even Alice’, the ‘you’ is personal, an intimate and known ‘you’, but I am drawn into its shape. The occasion is a gathering of writers on the marae to hear Joy Harjo read.

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.

i remember who else read:
Briar and Api and that other poet Rob
from Paekākāriki

even Alice Te Punga Somerville
was there
i remember washing dishes
i remember thinking

read poetry
for community

to be a poet with community

 

from ‘even Alice’

Michaela Keeble is a white Australian writer living in Aotearoa with her partner and children. Her chapbook intertidal about change underway in our oceans was published in early 2020 and she has a children’s book, co-authored with her son Kerehi Grace and illustrated by Tokerau Brown, forthcoming from Gecko Press in 2022. Watch out for Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai!

Michaela’s anticolonial poetry has been published and anthologised widely, including in Intimate Relations: Communicating in the Anthropocene (Lexington Press, 2021), No Other Place to Stand (AUP, 2022); and Not Very Quiet (Recent Work Press, 2021). Her poetry & fiction have appeared in Pantograph Punch, Capital, The Spinoff, Newsroom, Cordite, Plumwood, Westerly & elsewhere. 

Michaela is a guest poet at the 2022 Brisbane Writers Festival. Find out more at her writer’s website.

Taraheke | Bush Layer page

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Tim Grgec’s Electric Kiwi

Electric Kiwi

Every day, my power company offers customers an hour of free power—
at an off-peak time, of course, so before bed
I make sure I turn on the dishwasher, get a load of washing in,
charge my laptop and phone, vacuum, and maybe,
if I remember, use the dryer for no real reason
other than to heat my towel so the winter air doesn’t slice through me

after a shower, and by then I’ve done pretty well on the savings for the night,
so I boil the jug for a cup of tea, marking the end
of the day by blowing on the white knots of steam;
and because I rushed home from work to get dinner on early
and set my alarm—as usual—for 8:55 p.m., ready to vault through the house,
there’s still time in the hour of power,
so I boil the jug again to soak the pots and pans,
put the electric blanket on and even

blow dry my hair, and I’m starting to get on a bit of roll by this point,

so I do my ironing in advance for a change,
pop tomorrow’s roast in the slow cooker and stream
an entire Netflix series
so I have something to talk about at work tomorrow; and it’s about now I’m hoping
I’m not bothering the upstairs neighbours too much,
or worse, if they’re contracted with Electric Kiwi themselves
and are saving more than I am, so I turn the shower on just to leave it running
go down to the garage for last year’s Christmas decorations

and line the fence with fairy-lights,
restart the chest freezer that hasn’t been used in years,
play my stereo as loud as it goes; and even after all that
there’s still time in the hour of power,
and I’m not a handyperson by any means but
I get the electric saw going—finally getting around to that bookcase I started over lockdown—
and as I’m buzzing away, part of me wonders if I should really write a list next time
of all the things to use and save money on

until I run out of cords and power sockets to plug into

and the whole house swells, swells;
and the only thing stopping me now is if the fuse box blows
(which my landlord wouldn’t be happy about)
but at least I’d finally have some peace and quiet,
and all the spaces would be flooded with darkness
and I could creep upstairs into my bedroom,
tracing my hands along the wall, until I’m under the duvet
and everything is still.

Tim Grgec

Tim Grgec is a writer and public servant based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. His first poetry collection, All Tito’s Children (Te Heranga Waka Press, 2021), is a verse biography of the Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito. He was the 2018 recipient of the Biggs Family Prize for Poetry.

Poetry Shelf Paragraph Room 2

Ideas for my blog drop into my head like golden peaches. The next thing I know I am sending out invitations, poets are getting on board, and the Poetry Shelf community is engaged. I recently adored Tracey Slaughter’s editorial to Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2022. Rather than introduce the poets, she spoke to the idea of breakage in poetry. More than that, she offered a vital plea for us to bring everything when we enter the issue. I felt galvanised,on so many levels, by her piece. I compiled a list of words with links to writing and reading poetry, and invited a few poets to pick a word and write a paragraph in response. I am hoping to do one more Paragraph Room before early June. You can read the first Paragraph Room here.

With thanks to all the contributors, and to the ongoing supporters of Poetry Shelf. It means a lot.

Refuge

I’ve been thinking about writing as a refuge, as a place of safety and freedom, which means thinking about my poetry’s relationship to me and to the world. I’ve recently written what I used to disparagingly call poetry-as-therapy, a neighbour of poetry-as-refuge. There are lots of contradictions. I like to think of poetry as a place of freedom, somewhere you can write about anything in whatever way you like. But of course it isn’t. For example, I believe you should be careful how you use people who might recognise themselves in your poems. And although I like using personas because I like to imagine what it might be like to be somebody else, I’m not entitled to take on any voice I like. So can you write about what you don’t know or only about what you know? And where is the imagination in all this?

There are no easy answers, but there is a solution. You have the absolute freedom of your head. You can dream, try things, be someone else, make a mess, bore yourself, shock yourself, disgrace yourself at the keyboard. It’s what I like most about writing … the act of writing. When it comes to publishing, however, you leave your refuge and enter the world.

James Brown

music

it begins with a bird, one that claps its beak together, another that seems about to vomit, a shriek that is countermanded by a note so pure Mozart might have approved. It’s Radio NZ concert and it’s how I feel about writing. There is music and there are preambles: Handel’s first performance of ‘Messiah’ was dangerously short of seats so gentlemen were instructed to leave their swords at home and ladies to jettison their hoop petticoats. On which side does a sword go; what if a gentleman encountered a brigand on the way home; would love be less encumbered minus a hoop? The bird and then imagination and then the music. I used to admire those who scorned a room of one’s own and could write with children galloping around the dining room table, but now I realise I need music. Perhaps I am thinking of the music in poetry – not the obvious end rhymes – but the mysterious, not-quite rhymes that surprise you and lead you on like notes in pursuit of a theme. There is so much to think about, so much humour. Rachmaninoff’s big hands (another preamble) or the way some composers (Rachmaninoff is one) pummel and pulverise the end of a symphony as if they are beating it to death.  Sometimes, thinking of music and poetry together, I say to myself my favourite rhyme from ‘The Owl and the Pussy-Cat’.

         “Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling                                                
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”

It’s that willing and shilling and will and the subtler pig and ring that never fail to enchant me.

Elizabeth Smither

Grief

I haven’t written much poetry in the last five years, but what I have written has been suffused with grief. Every creative practitioner goes through ebbs and flows, and I have been going through a poetic ebb. Poetry has been a place where I have been spending time alone, working through grief. The grief of losing family members, the grief of relationship breakups, the grief of dealing with trauma. Old griefs surface amongst the more recent ones and it feels like walking through a weird forest or a very biodiverse swamp. After pursuing a writing career for over 20 years I am only just getting to a point where I feel comfortable in this space. I have found poetic forms useful for providing emotional distance but also as a kind of packaging or container I can put things into and observe them. I don’t know when and how this work will find a home in the world – dark formalism is a very acquired taste – but for now it is enough that it functions as reflective practice.

Airini Beautrais

Time Travel

I love the idea of poetry as time travel.  How amazing that we can sing our words onto a page and a minute or a day or a century later someone can read it and the song will flow into them. The song will sound subtly different to each listener, but it will still spark and ignite and fizz and I as the writer will speak directly to you, the reader. That’s the magic of poetry. In a time when seemingly it’s harder for us to listen to others, here is a room – a space – where two consenting people can touch, across space and time.  That is something to hold on to.

Renee Liang

grief


I went past the word ‘grief’ near the top of the list and got stuck on it, I couldn’t concentrate on the other words and kept going back to it. I have been writing a lot of grief-ridden poems lately, trying to process ‘losing’ my father to dementia, as well as this communal grief we are all experiencing to some extent, for the way of living and connecting we used to have, and the way covid has put a stop to a lot of that life. At first that stop felt temporary, but now, two years on, it does not seem to be leaving. Poems are a sort of beacon in that darkness. I often think of a poem by James Brown called ‘Beyond Repair’, that I read as a young writer and loved. Although the poem was about a broken umbrella, there was a sadness sitting underneath it that I felt moved by. There are plenty of great celebratory poems, or f-you poems, or / or / or, but poems about grief seem to come from a deep and obviously painful place in the physical body. By writing poems about grief, I hope to reach people grieving. And as someone grieving, I want to read poems to see that I’m not alone. Poems are a place of kinship that you don’t have to be in the same room (or even the same time) as someone else to experience.

Louise Wallace

Fragment

In a way, all poems are made of fragments. Each line is created by a sort of breaking, making the poem a form fissured with cracks. Some poetry is literally fragmented; only sections survive. Lots of ancient poetry is like this; it is as if we possess a handful of sea glass rather than a complete bottle. I like the mystery of never quite knowing the whole. Because, I think, mystery is important to poetry, too. Good poetry is about what you know and can read, sure, but it is also about what is hidden, implied, unknown. What is lurking outside the text and exerting pressure on it. Poetry, to me, is always about what we know and what we cannot simultaneously. At once complementary and oppositional. So give me sea glass over a bottle any day; give me a fragment; give me a poem.

Hebe Kearney

Knot

I am fascinated by the presence of knots in both corporeal bodies and bodies of words. The innumerable ways knots are tied and undone in/through people and poetry constantly impresses me. I often catch myself chewing over everyday reversals/oppositions and getting quite furious at how quickly I diagnose their nature or belonging as ‘oppositional’. Every bit of me doesn’t want to arrive at these conclusions but I do, but I am always ready to interrogate my arrivals and departures. Humans seem to have some chronic compulsion—some biological compulsion—to disentangle, to cling to the asynchronous over the synchronous, but unless this compulsion is actually going to save our lives, I believe we ought to reassess it. There is a blend about almost everything: it is possible to be dreaming and not dreaming, truly overjoyed and truly miserable at once. Perhaps Maggie Nelson’s keen awareness of mutual inclusivity in The Argonauts best articulates how I feel about the responsibility of people, and the page, to examine a chronically loose knot: “I had spent a lifetime devoted to Wittgenstein’s idea that the inexpressible is contained—inexpressibly!—in the expressed.” Poetry is special for the way it knits so intricately together the forces and feelings we aren’t sure how to make sense of (and often we still don’t know how to make sense of them after the poem, only feel we know them better) but for poetry to do such work it requires first a person to acknowledge this work as necessary, and more, to need this work to be necessary. I am thinking now of essa may ranapiri’s ransack. I am thinking of Anna Jackson’s Actions and Travels. I am thinking about the way I want my writing to always be honest about the knot: the deep-rooted (I accidentally typed deep-rotted, hmm) drive to disentangle, and the desire, the urgency, to keep the braid. My current MA project aspires to gallop through and around the knot. I wonder where I will arrive, where I will depart, and why, and why not?

Amy Marguerite

Time

I find it essential to be on time for everything (including the present assignment). If I’m invited anywhere, I count backwards to find the latest moment I can leave in order to be at my destination punctually. Occasionally I try to factor in a bit of fashionable lateness, but mostly in vain. Time in poetry, though, is a horse of a different colour. I wrote a poem while travelling in the Lake District with my family in 1981. The first two lines ran:

We built a man of slates, and after years,
revisited, the rock had grown a face.

I liked them, but I wasn’t really sure what they meant. Perhaps for that reason, what came next was less satisfactory – to me, and to others. The poem stayed with me, though, and fifteen or so years later I made a concerted attempt to complete it with some entirely new lines. And in that form it appeared in my first book, City of Strange Brunettes (1998), under the title “First Love.” But I didn’t entirely like that version either, so later on I had a go at changing the second stanza. Just now, in 2022, I had a look at the poem again and decided to change it back to the way it’d been in the book. Even as I read it, though, I can still hear the original 1981 version of the last four lines going round and round in my head. My point is not so much that the poem is still alive for me, after forty-odd years (though it is); rather, the thing that fascinates me is the number of different moments over those four decades that are somehow miraculously preserved in this one six-line poem. Writing a poem is the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to that Proustian idea of recovering lost time – not just as it was, but with the added patina of what has come in between then and now. It’s a snapshot of a buried past, but with the advantage that the people in the picture are still able to live and breathe. Going back to old poems to rewrite and reshape them is not so much about improving them as asserting their ongoing vitality – and, I suppose, my own.

Jack Ross

Tongue

One of the things I value most about poetry is its ability to put me into contact with the feel of language, to allow me to hold language in my mouth, to taste language anew, to slow and savour. I have been immensely lucky to be lead in my writing and reading life by Tracey Slaughter, who encourages her students to encounter language in the limbic system, to practice out the sounds and shapes of words in our mouths like babies learning to talk, like kids crowing the same word over and over just to hear it echo. The rush of poetic lines are only liberated when the tongue is loosed, when those pursed lips of self-censor are softened. That’s the thing I’ve been holding onto most about writing and reading poetry lately: the invitation to slow and notice where words come from, where they live in the body, and what they do there. I’m really interested in the power of ink and tongues, of words and bodies—in language and the way it moves us, for better and worse. Poetry is maybe the lab where I go to tune my ear into the layers of inheritance and learning that lace our tongues, where I begin to untangle these shouting, baffling seasons that seem to just keep unfurling.

Aimee Jane Anderson-O’Connor

Politics

‘All poetry is political’ is one of the most abused adages in the game. What people want it to mean is that their 16-line sonnets about urban ennui are quite radical, politically. What it really means is that most bodies of non-revolutionary poetry implicitly rubber-stamp the status quo. Being mindful of the difference between those two very different kinds of writing has been helpful to me as I consider what I really need to say and how I want to say it. (And don’t get me wrong: I love a good ennui poem!)

Erik Kennedy

Line-break


With each line-break I take a breath in, and in the out breath there is often a protest where I question what I’ve left unspoken. 
Line-break. 
wince at the constriction of my tongue 
Line-break. 
What does poetry mean for the environment we have created?
Line break. 
There is uncertainty around what constitutes freedom of speech for humanity nowadays. Who listens to the wild voices, of all ages, who press us with an acute urgency to look deeply at our foundations?
Line-break. 
Is there space for another vernacular
Line-break.
I imagine, if our collective can move forwards with aroha, that the external/internal/existential chaos might have less power. 
Line-break.
And while I may wish in secret, for outdated oppressive systems to collapse, so that we might find stillness inside a new landscape, I know ultimately that the answers lie inside ourselves. 
Line-break.
Am I a poet utilising line-breaks as moments to reflect? I sure hope so.

Iona Winter 

Chaos

In Game of Thrones season 3 episode 6, Lord Petyr Baelish famously says to Master of Whispers Varys ‘chaos is a ladder’. I can only assume he was referring to employing chaos as a poetic device. Chaos in a poem can be a powerful tool, able to cut through a poem straight to the reader or audience. It can act as a sort of shortcut to an emotional evocation or provocation. But it can also be fool’s gold, an enticing siren seducing you on your poetry voyage, you hear its gorgeous call, then before you know it, you’ve crashed, and your poem has been obliterated into something unrecognisable. My personal philosophy is that more young poets should experiment with chaos. Sure, we’re following you through a golden field, eating pomegranate seeds, in a soothing state of cottagecore bliss, but where’s the chaos? Where’s the amplified effects of climate change setting the field immediately ablaze? Where’s the sudden ennui that leads to the speaker choking on the pomengranate? Where’s the local elderly occult devotees performing sacrifices in the neighbouring field? Maybe it’s all terrible and should never make it in the poem, but what’s the harm in trying? My favourite poets are those who have realised the secret to chaos is restraint, who can control it with ease and employ it when it is most effective, it raises the ceiling on the effect their poetry can have on their audience. 

Jordan Hamel

Slippage

Perhaps more than prose, poetry always has the potential to slip into something else, which is part of what makes the writing process so challenging. You’re often drawing on influences both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the poem — there’s the content of the poem itself, but then there are all the poems you’ve read and loved before it; that live in your mind while you construct this one. A poem can be a séance: you’re never quite sure what you’re summoning; but what you let in can change it forever. A poem might slip into different places. It can slip wholly into memory or a vision of the future. The reality of the poem can slip. So can the language itself; it might shift into another language, or entirely into incoherence. The form of a poem can unwind and fray. It can slip into something no longer resembling a poem. The poet’s relationship with the reader can change. And you can change too.

Anuja Mitra

Landscape


When I’m writing, what I’m really doing is chasing a feeling. That’s why I love poetry so much because it does what no other genre of writing seems to do: it allows for the creation of emotional landscapes, to build these microcosms of feelings with as many or as few words as you like. You can put someone in the middle of the dining room, your childhood home, the eye of a mental breakdown, taking and giving, being honest, telling lies. Part of me really likes that challenge, likes trying to use a small number of words to put my reader inside a certain perspective. It’s one of the first things I notice about a poem I read and the thing I’m always reaching for in the dark of my draft work. That little world that pulls me in and sinks me to the core, where you look up from the page like you’ve just been somewhere far away, and now the light is seeping back in, and you can go about your day again.

Brecon Dobbie

Loathing 

For poetry, loathing is recommended. I am only being half-facetious. It’s important I think, the loathing. The loathing of poetry. One’s own, sure. A bit. But the poetry of others. Particular poets. Some in far-off cities and some that you fraternise with and find charming. You may choose not to announce it out loud, and you’ll certainly deny it. Consider the opposite, that you loved all poems, that you applauded every line. You would surely be an idiot. Or at least undiscriminating. Liking everything would dilute your love of poetry. If you love it, you’ve got to loathe it. Right? What you love and what you loathe defines your aesthetic. I think it’s common to disagree with the list of poets and poems that others loathe. But I see the loathing itself as a good sign. It shows they care. And the lens of that loathing focuses a poet’s own writing. If you loathe every Nick Ascroft poem I applaud you. You have the good sense to loathe. Me, I like everything and everyone. 

Nick Ascroft

Findability

When I write a poem, one thing has never changed: the thrill is in the process, which is bristlingly private. If I’m writing, I’m smiling. So what could possibly add to that? A live audience. These days, something else adds value to my poems: findability. My tired short-term memory abandons any lines scribbled on envelopes, no matter how fascinating. If they’re not in the file named “2022-half-baked-poems” they don’t exist. They have plopped out of my fingers like tadpoles. From the poems I read, I ask nothing. They may add or they may do mysterious things with a slide rule. If I could analyse this, would it be poetry?

Rachel McAlpine

Human

I don’t want much really. I just want to learn what another person knows about the human condition. I want to hear this experience in language that is mine and also not mine, with cadence that draws me up hills and through valleys. I want the poem to penetrate my body and leave me both weaker and stronger. That’s all.

Lynn Jenner

Line break

To me, line breaks are one of the most important tools in poetry. People joke that anyone can write a poem by spamming the enter key lots of times, but I think that knowing when to break up a sentence is very important. It can feel very intuitive or extremely calculated, depending on the poem. When I first started reading poetry, I found it confusing when a poem would break suddenly, seemingly against the natural rhythm of its structure, against what my brain wanted to do. But now I understand that this is often the art of poetry – to highlight something that normally might go unnoticed in the grinding rhythm of things. By changing the emphasis to fall on a certain word, you can create whole new worlds of meaning. It’s exciting, when you fall into a rhythm only to have it thwarted by where the words sit on the page. Like you can’t predict where the poem will fall next.

Cadence Chung

Pronouns

Whether or not you consider non-binary people trans depends on so many things both internal and external to the individual thinking about it. I, personally, live outside the binary and across it. Sometimes seen. Sometimes not. In general extremely hidden. I find these days eventually things boil down to pronouns. Things are revealed by pronouns. For better, for worse. Sometimes they are something good. Regularly, they are an uncomfortable choice between uncomfortable choices layered with further uncomfortable choices. I’m not drawn to any of the pronouns in regular circulation, poetically, they just exist. The pronoun I am most obsessed with when it comes to my writing is you. It’s me, it’s you, it’s a different you, it’s all of us in general. It’s a flexible cover for a multitude of people. It’s a flexible cover for a multitude of selves. I sometimes feel it’s the central working theme in my work to obscure and reveal who is speaking and spoken of. Who is the object and who is the subject. I love what I can do with you. I love what you, the reader, can do with you. I love who I can be with you. I love you.

Emma Barnes

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: autumn edition of a fine line available

Artwork by Aine Whelan-Kopa 

Welcome to the autumn edition of a fine line, flagship magazine for New Zealand Poetry Society / Te Hunga Tito Ruri o Aotearoa, edited by Gail Ingram with Assistant Editor Lily Holloway. 

Featured Poet: Johanna Aitchison

Our featured poet, Johanna Aitchison, lives, writes, and teaches in the Manawatū. She completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Massey University 2021, and will publish her next collection of poetry, 57 New Words, in 2023.

Featured Article: Juanita Hepi

Juanita Hepi (Kāi Tahu) is a storyteller exploring the intersections of race, class and gender through Indigenous storytelling. She holds a Masters of Māori and Indigenous leadership and is māmā to three.

Poets include: Susan Howard, Brent Cantwell, Anita Mortlock, Gillian Roach, Laurice Gilbert, Susan Howard, Sophia Wilson, Aine Whelan-Kopa, Mercedes Webb-Pullman, Alexandra Fraser, Denise O’Hagan, Susan Wills, Michael Giacon, Peter Free, Barbara Strang, Hester Ullyart, Julie Adamson, Debbie Strange, Craig McLanachan, Sue Courtney and Karen Peterson Butterworth

Interview with Tim Wilson, editor of New Zealand Poetry Society Annual Anthology Kissing A Ghost 2021 & this year’s editor for 2022. Tim tells us what it’s like to go through over 1000 submissions and put together an anthology, along with sharing his own work.

Book reviews

The Gnawing Flood by John Gallas is reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana
I Am in Bed with You by Emma Barnes is reviewed by Molly Crighton

Art: Anita Mortlock, Tiana Malina, Jan Fitzgerald, Aine Whelan-Kopa, Edna Heled

The next edition of a fine line will feature a student poet who will win publication as our featured poet, a year’s membership to New Zealand Poetry Society and a year’s membership to New Zealand Society of Authors. This is open to students from secondary schools as well as tertiary level students. 

We also welcome poetry submissions from members on any theme. Send up to four poems (no more than 40 lines each) and/or up to four haiku to editor@poetrysociety.org by June 10 2022. Submission guidelines here.

WEBSITE

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Carolyn DeCarlo’s ‘Hilma Invokes Mother Earth’

Hilma Invokes Mother Earth

Amazonite is a soothing stone.
It calms the brain and nervous system,
aids in maintaining optimum health,
balances the masculine and feminine energies,
helps in seeing both sides of a problem
or different points of view,
soothes emotional trauma,
alleviating worry and fear.
I wear a pillar of amazonite
on a gold chain around my neck,
the yellow and gold interplay
keeping me at my centre point –
neither woman nor man,
at my most natural state.
My work pushes me to that place,
an existence without binary,
a study in how to be both,
or neither, or outsider.
Outsider artists require
no formal training –
but what does that mean
when you’re working with ghosts?
I channel my work through them,
and my technique – all realism –
goes out of my brain,
I am free for true expression –
the abstract reality at the base of everything.
Realism is the mask reality wears
when the truth becomes too much to bear.
Strip back the veil 
that separates life and death,
and the figure is infinitely more beautiful
than the shroud used to cover her.
It is infinitely more exciting
to consider that life after death
could also occur here, on Earth –
not 100 million light years away
on some distant planet,
not up in the clouds, in Heaven,
but in the natural world around us,
existing symbiotically.
What if I told you that plants had souls?
What if I told you I could see their auras –
I am not a Romani fortune-teller reading energy,
rather, a naturalist surveying the land,
sketching plants and flowers
as I see them –
the stems and the leaves,
and also the imprints they make on the air.
If plants have souls,
the significance of things expands infinitely –
burying your father beneath the tree
in his yard that he sat under as a boy
sets his soul at rest,
but also in communion with his tree.
For the rest of the time that the Earth exists,
their two afterlives will be in union.
That is the power of this land –
its fertility extends to all living things,
provides them with the code
to run out their course as she intended,
whether or not we believe.

Carolyn DeCarlo

Carolyn DeCarlo lives in Aro Valley. Caro’s chapbook, Winter Swimmers, was published in AUP New Poets 5. Caro is part of We Are Babies Press.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Lydia Wevers Seminar Series

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies is hosting a series of events to honour the legacy and work of Emerita Professor Lydia Wevers. 

The seminar series begins on Wednesday 27 April and runs every Wednesday evening until 8 June.

“Lydia is remembered as an academic mentor, an astute and acute ally, an avid gardener, a passionate walker, and a generous host. And above all, as a reader in the fullest sense of the word,” says Professor Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich from the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Te Herenga Waka, who has helped to programme the series.

The series aims to explore how we read here in Aotearoa New Zealand. “While we often imagine reading as a solitary activity, many of us read as Lydia Wevers read: surrounded by family, community, and culture,” says Professor Bönisch-Brednich. 

“‘Reading’ New Zealand through the lens of writers, columnists, journalists, librarians, booksellers, and academic colleagues will help us explore our understanding of our country through the lens of reading and writing.”

The variety of speakers shows the impact Professor Wevers had on those she knew and worked with during her rich life. “Professor Wevers’ contribution to both academic life here at the university and the lives of her friends and readers was immense. I am very much looking forward to us coming together to celebrate her legacy and life in this way,” says Professor Sarah Leggott, Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Education. 

The events in the series are listed below. Follow the links for further information about each seminar:

27 April—The Infrastructure of reading 
Chair: Chief Librarian Chris Szekely from the Alexander Turnbull Library. Panel: Juliet Blyth from Read NZ, Annette Beattie from the Wairarapa library service, and David Hedley from Hedley’s Books in Masterton.

4 May—Cultures of reading 
Chair: Associate Professor Nikki Hessel from the English programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Panel: Professor Ingrid Horrocks from Massey University and Dr Tina Makereti from the International Institute of Modern Letters.

11 May—Writing and reading for/in public
Chair: Anna Fifield, editor of the Dominion Post. Panel: Robert Kelly from Radio NZ and TVNZ, journalist Rebecca Macfie, and Professor Marc Wilson from the Psychology programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

18 May—Women ‘readings’ of Aotearoa New Zealand
Chair: Writer and publisher Kate De Goldi. Panel: Emeritus Professor Harry Ricketts, writer Linda Burgess, and Te Herenga Waka’s Professor Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich from the School of Social and Cultural Studies.

25 May—Reading the short story 
Chair: Dr Dougal McNeill from the English programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Panel: publisher Fergus Barrowman from Te Herenga Waka University Press, Professor Jane Stafford from the English programme, and poet Khadro Mohamed. NB: This event is 5 pm–6.30 pm.

1 June—Being Pākehā
Chair: Dr Amanda Thomas from the Environmental Studies programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Panel: Associate Professor Maria Bargh from Te Kawa a Māui and Dr Sara Salman from the Institute of Criminology.

8 June—Honouring Lydia Wevers’ legacy 
Chair: Professor Rawinia Higgins, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Panel: Professor and author Witi Ihimaera, Te Herenga Waka’s Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Jennifer Windsor, Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Professor Sarah Leggott, Professor Simon Keller from the Philosophy programme, and Professor David O’Donnell from the Theatre programme.

Each afternoon will start with a short reflection on Lydia Wevers’ reading of the chosen theme, before the panellists take this theme in new directions.

All seminars except that on 25 May run from 4.30–5.30 pm, and will be held at room 103, Maclaurin Lecture Theatre, Kelburn campus, Wellington.

Register to attend any of these events, online or in-person, using this link