Category Archives: Uncategorized

Poetry Shelf review Fleur Beale’s The Faraway Girl

The Faraway Girl, Fleur Beale, Penguin, 2022

Without planning it, I have been reading a bunch of Aotearoa children’s and YA ghost novels. And so far they have been excellent! Fleur Beale’s The Faraway Girl is a YA ghost story that works on so many levels. It underlines why I am a devoted book fan. Novels can divert, amuse, entertain. They can challenge you at the level of feeling and of ideas. They might reflect parts of the world back to you – in ways that are refreshing, transformational, revealing. Things you have forgotten, things you never knew.

Fleur’s novel is so very satisfying. It is action plus, heart-in-the-mouth paced, character rich, dialogue smart. I love the ghost story but I also love the way I engage with both our contemporary time and with 1869. The key issue: what is it like to be a girl or a woman in England 1869 and in Aotearoa 2019. I become the eavesdropping ghost amassing rekindled despair at how it was for women in 1869 – how they were owned and shared, were without rights and chattels, were straitjacketed under corsets and awkward clothing, how they could seldom speak their minds as their minds were consistently denigrated, how they were baby factories. Fleur layers such piquant detail the misogynistic world is bitingly real.

But I am also musing on how things are for women and girls now. So much has changed, our lives are so much better and freer, and more independent. Yet no way are we there yet. Look at how our Prime Minister is treated compared with how men Prime Ministers are treated. If the All Blacks had been playing in a World Cup tonight, the Herald would have been full of it – instead it’s half a page for the Black Ferns. Not forgetting the curious and disturbing responses to men treating women badly, in law courts and politics. We still do not have equity.

Today a brilliant ghost novel got me re-viewing women’s issues, issues that I explored at university, in the theses I wrote, and in the anthologies I have edited.

I love Fleur’s book so much. Every teenager should read it. Get thrilled by a ghost story tugging you to the last page, and muse upon how we need to work harder to remove gender bias, privilege, hierarchies, ignorance. We cannot hold white men as the norm, the standard, the voice of authority.

I hold this sublime book to my heart. It is both entertaining and an essential challenge. Novels like this underline the power and value of books. A glorious reading day.


Fleur Beale is the author of many award-winning books for children and young adults — she has published more than 40 books in New Zealand, as well as in the United States and England. A former high school teacher, Fleur was inspired to write her acclaimed novel I Am Not Esther when one of her students was beaten and expelled from his family for going against their religious beliefs. Fleur is a leading advocate for New Zealand authors, and home-grown literature for children and young adults.

Penguin page

Poetry Shelf Occasional poems: Khadro Mohamed’s ‘saffron’

saffron 

//

there is a fire
cloud in the air
crawling up the 
side of her 
forearms & mixing 
with the smell of 
onion & olive oil 
that makes the 
entire house sweat
like it’s the 
middle of a
hot african summer

i’m never sure 
what she’s making
it always feels 
like a secret.
but i trust 
that it will 
somehow remind me 
of something i 
thought i have 
forgotten & tucked 
away 

she’ll say: 
the most important 
ingredient in somali 
cuisine is deep 
set curiosity & 
a sharp tongue 
she’ll say:
you have to 
get used to 
the zest of 
a lemon chopping
through the centre
of your lips 
& the deep 
orange stain of 
saffron that lingers
on the tips 
of your fingers 
like a light 
henna stain 
pressed delicately
on the night 
before eid 

& i smile 

& i believe her

because it’s easier 
that way 

Khadro Mohamed

Khadro Mohamed is a writer based in Wellington. Her work has appeared in various online magazines and websites including: Starling Magazine, Sweet Mammalian, Pantograph Punch, The Spinoff and more. Her newest body of work We’re All Made of Lightning published by Poneke based press We Are Babies, can be found in all good bookstores across the motu. 

Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: Michael Harlow’s Renoir’s Bicycle

Renoir’s Bicycle: a collection of prose poems, Michael Harlow, Cold Hub Press, 2022

Michael Harlow’s new collection delivers a poem grove of contemplation. I keep sinking into individual poems and taking up residency. There is sweet alchemy between the visual and the aural. Repeating motifs form threads that offer connections, enhance a rich gathering. I am thinking of light dark love death life song. The notion that poetry becomes song, and stands in as musical score is important. You could say the poetry becomes love light dark death life. There is an insistence of song, the audibility of music, the stretchiness of chords.

The collection gets me thinking about poetry as both maker and made, as dreamer and dreamed: ‘Poems live / beyond where dreams were born’ (from ‘the living girl’). It’s poetry as protagonist. How poems live on the page – in the ear, in the mind, in the pen – promotes endless speculation.

Michael has created a poem grove where the abstract dwells alongside the tangible. Hands, names and water are as important as the unspeakable, the knowing, the speakable. The ideas are philosophical rather than political, although I say that hesitantly, knowing there is a political edge to everything. But I am jamming on a notion; unknowing becomes not knowing and then I opt for beknowing. Playfully. I am investing the poem grove in variations of becoming: beseeing, be-ending, bebeginning, bespeakable.

This is the joy of poetry. Who knows how it becomes you?

We enter a peopled grove: Dante Alighieri, Jean Renoir, Mary Oliver, Sappho, Gertrude Stein, President Lincoln. Such arrivals suggest the collection can also be experienced as narrative with beginnings, middles, endings, scenes and settings, incident and epiphany, turning points and story arcs.

Renoir’s Bicycle is a satisfying read on so many levels. One niggle: I do advocate for larger fonts (there is a trend at the moment to go tiny) because those of us with impaired vision find small fonts difficult to read. That said, I loved spending prolonged time within the rich rewards of Michael’s poem grove.

      Out of the rondeaux of astonishments the dark
sea and the green sea, starfish blooming at your wrist;
on the dark road under star-fall pools of far light
more near, out of the loneliness the cold touch of
loneliness; alone and not alone in the known world.
      The descending dark with its haunting shadows,
how death makes living, makes loving more loveable;
out of the canticles of the poetry of song, and the song
of poetry everywhere in the natural world, the swell
of joy and laughter, cloud cast moments that make light
and dark a wonder.

from ‘Mary Oliver, Poet’

Michael Harlow has published twelve books of poetry, including Cassandra’s Daughter (2005, 2006), The Tram Conductor’s Blue Cap (a finalist in the 2010 New Zealand Book Awards), Sweeping the Courtyard, Selected Poems (2014), Heart Absolutely I Can (2014), Nothing For It But To Sing (2016, winner of the Otago University Press Kathleen Grattan Award) and The Moon in a Bowl of Water (2019). Take a Risk, Trust Your Language, Make a Poem (1986) won the PEN/NZ award for Best First Book of Prose. Residencies he has held include the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship and the Robert Burns Fellowship. In 2014 he was awarded the Lauris Edmond Memorial Prize for Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry, and in 2018 he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry.

Cold Hub Press page

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Anne Kennedy’s ‘The Slumber Pin’

The Slumber Pin

The Hawthorn bought at the garden supermarket
on an ordinary day. Commoner of the Woods
it said on the label. Don’t you love that, commoner?
Against the tall fence it grew all beautiful.
The white blossoms ate the young leaves,
the exquisite berries ate the autumn air.
The internet said it would bring good things,
love and babies in the warm spring. It would grow
into a hedge and under the hedge would be
the entrance to the fairy world. Don’t you love
the mythology? Like if you pricked your finger
on a Hawthorn spike you’d fall into a deep sleep
and wake up in a new place. So yeah, never
do that. And it was bad luck to harm a Hawthorn,
so never do that either, don’t harm the common tree.
You’re a commoner and proud of it, you love your
mythology and all that. And under the hedge
are settler ghosts who came on the ship because
why wouldn’t you? Under the hedge they
set up shop because why wouldn’t you.
In the end you do prick your finger, in fact
you’d already pricked your finger, you had
previously pricked your finger
on why we are here. 

Anne Kennedy

Anne Kennedy is an Auckland poet, novelist, script consultant and teacher. Recent books are The Sea Walks into a Wall (AUP) and The Ice Shelf (VUP). Awards include the 2021 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement and the Montana NZ Book Award for Poetry. Anne has taught creative writing at the University of Hawai`i and Manukau Institute of Technology. Remember Me, an anthology of NZ poems to learn by heart, edited by Anne, is forthcoming from AUP in 2023.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Rachel McAlpine’s ‘Making Faces’

Making Faces

I do not
have a face I draw one
in the empty space

the wrinkles written
with good cause are  known
as flaws so I
anoint my pores (this
is one of the local laws)

I paint
my eyelids blue
my lashes too
they make a pretty view

to smile and pout as I
have learned I make a mouth
red
like a burn

I believe, I believe
it is not enough to be clean

I curl my pubic hair
I wear mascara there

Rachel McAlpine

Here is a vintage poem that is even more horribly relevant today. In the early 1970s I wore mascara all my waking hours. Even when swimming and hanging nappies on the line. I was deeply convinced that with mascara I was beautiful and without mascara I was ugly. I kicked the dependence on a trip to Canada where nobody would notice my transformation. Now I am mystified by the grotesque faces of women on “reality” shows like Married at First Sight. And I’m saddened by all women fixated on imaginary flaws in their beautiful faces and bodies. I’ve been there. The juddery line breaks reflect my own distorted perceptions — and a natural rhythm is hiding underneath. Published in Fancy Dress (Cicada Press, 1979). PS I still like red lipstick. Rachel McAlpine

Rachel McAlpine has been writing, publishing and performing poems for nearly 50 years. After many books in other fields and a career as a digital content pioneer, she returned to poetry with How To Be Old (Cuba Press, 2020). Soon she joins a thrilling line of younger performers in the poets’ cabaret, Show Ponies. For VERB, at Meow Cafe, Wellington, 4 November 2022.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Robert Sullivan receives Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry 2022

Join us to celebrate the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry for 2022. We are thrilled to announce that the award is going to poet, Robert Sullivan (Ngāpuhi and Kāi Tahu) who has won awards for his poetry, editing, and writing for children. Tunui Comet is his eighth collection of poetry. His book Star Waka has been reprinted many times.Robert’s an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Massey University. He is a great fan of all kinds of decolonisation.

Robert will be joined by guests, Arihia Latham and Ruby Solly.

Supported by The Lauris Edmond Literary Estate and the Friends of the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry with sponsorship from The NZ Poetry Society, Victoria University Press and the Todd Trust.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Amy Brown’s Pneumonia/Garden Poems

Pneumonia/Garden Poems, Sept 2022

 

Photosynthesis

My lung’s struggle roots me in place
offering time to notice new blood

orange leaves delicate and jagged
as neonatal fingernails angle

their waxy crescents
toward the light. I follow

their example, focussing
on the green cells of myself.

 

Unnatural

It’s so bright I can’t focus
he says, trying, staring
at the petals that from here

glow neon red but in natural
light, close up, are dark pink

velvet. He doesn’t talk
about flowers often.
When he does, I soften.

Geranium or pelargonium?
Crane’s bill or stork’s?

I Google “crane” and find
a page of heads vividly
blurring at the edge.

Natural

They are honey-eater
eaters—that’s why they stay
inside. I apologise to their blank
green eyes for keeping
the glass door closed.
One quacks—coos, absurd
bird gurgle where purr should go
and roosts on her haunches
watching the sweet yellow-
striped creature hang
upside-down, stick
his beak into the dark
pink pocket of the swan
river pea and drink.
Not for you, I tell her,
happy to be God of this
situation, until the afternoon
when I find feather confetti
over the rhubarb’s crown.

Viriditas

there is no dishonest flower
unless they all lie
like literature

green and truth
grow together
at a depth

sleeplessly
I see seeds reach weak
white necks through soil

night sweats add a stop-
motion effect to all
I sow    making me turn

over what I know

Amy Brown

Amy Brown is from Hawkes Bay and lives in Melbourne. Her latest collection of poetry, Neon Daze, was named one of the Saturday Paper’s best books of 2019. She has recently finished a novel loosely based on the relationship between Australian novelist Stella Miles Franklin and her lesser known sister, Linda. 

Poetry Shelf occasional reviews: Joanna Cho’s People Person

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.

The poems deliver everything I love about poetry. Descriptive energy that draws people, place, situations closer:

The veins on her hands have shot up overnight, like the backs of cornered
cats. They are rough as the edges of torn paper.

 

from ‘You’ll Thank Me for It Later’

The visual tracks are coupled with attention to audio tracks. The way poems are a gift for the ear. Ideas establish meshed thought, especially ideas connected to home and identity, to name calling and being named.

Our parents bought our names from fortune-tellers,
each of the three syllables laying out our ancestry and personal truths
in the immortal wind

                                 our names are gifts and expectations

but our English names were picked hastily
while flicking through TV channels.

 

from ‘The Gift’

There is the allure of metonymy, where this thought or object placed alongside that thought or object produces electric currents.

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.

I tried to be chill, for you and for me.
I tried to be chill,
but at the gig I scoped out the exit, just in case,
and you sculled your beer and turned
cos there was nothing left to say.

The next day we walked around town
and noticed the loop pedal at the busker’s feet.

We got hungry.
We got food.

I knew these would be our last fish and chips.

 

from ‘Pull Over, I’ll Drive’

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.

These are the narratives we tell over and over again; they keep us
connected through all the distance we have created and maintained.
Our relationships shrink and expand and shrink again like a jellyfish
opening and closing its bell. Blood tethers, clots.

Our true reactions and preferences are inconsistent, but we smooth these
out by reframing our experiences in a consistent narrative.

We are good at keeping secrets from each other, our bodies an advent
calendar—occasionally one of the little flaps opens and a piece of
chocolate falls out.

Each version of the family stories forms an overlapping polyphony.
These are our heirlooms and we are the school choir.

 

from ‘The White Swans Are Dancing / With Their Eyes Closed, in the Flurry’

 

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

Te Herenga Waka University Press page

Joanna Cho was born in South Korea and currently lives in Wellington. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2020 and received the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Kay Mckenzie Cooke’s ‘trickster’

trickster

Just little things, like endless rain,
the spilt milk, parcels
left behind, newly-bought necessities
disappearing, a waiter forgetting an order
and not being able to find our way
out of Blenheim.

Was it coyote, Bugs Bunny, Loki,
Maui, a leprechaun, a fox, a crow,
Pippi Longstocking, Puck,
or Anansi? Might the trickster have been
my father being a monkey
(his animal sign in the Chinese zodiac)

making me leave my handbag behind
on the top of the hill at the war memorial
in Seddon? A town I will forever associate
with Fay & Peter’s tin sleep-out,
a passionfruit vine, the cabbage train, yellow shoes
and three men: Joe the sullen, Paul the optimistic

and born-again Max. Perhaps the last hand
played was the missed call from Liz in Ashburton
just as we were leaving that dusty town.
But the pick of them all, the high winds
thrashing trees near Hinds, the hint of home
still just a trick of light on the road ahead.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Kay McKenzie Cooke (Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe) lives in Otepoti and is slowly working towards a fifth poetry collection, as yet un-named.