Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Poetry at Christchurch’s WORD Festival

WORD 2020 in Christchurch is a celebration of writers, books, thinks, talkers, journalists in Aotearoa. Honestly I haven’t dared look at the programme until today because I didn’t want to jinx heading south to participate in this festival.

This is a WONDERFUL feast and I can’t wait to go! Yes you can feast on words! Banquet on stories. Long lunch on poetry. Smorgasbord on ideas.

Take poetry for example. There is such a glorious range of poetry events from book launches to readings to a stand-up poetry quiz.

Check out book launches by Mohamed Hassan, Fiona Farrell, Tusiata Avia, Bernadette Hall and John Newton

You can listen to Bill Manhire in conversation with John Campbell (Wow).

You can go to New Zealand Poet Laureate David Eggleton’s poetry picks: Cilla McQueen, Kay McKenzie Cooke, James Norcliffe, Owen Marshall and Bernadatte Hall.

You can go to the Poetry Slam Finals.

The Canterbury Poets’ Collective poetry performances.

Go to Ray Shipley’s Late Night Poetry Hour: Mohamed Hassan, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Dominic Hoey, essa may ranapiri and more

My Wild Honey session where I will be in conversation with Morrin Rout plus readings by Cilla McQueen, Bernadette Hall, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Tusiata Avia, Jess Fiebig, Freya Daly Sadgrove and Frankie McMillan.

PLUS I am doing an interactive Poetry Playground interactive session for children.

So many great things in this programme but I can highly recommend:

The astonishing Witi Ihimaera with sublime musician Kingsley Spargo (saw a version at GOING WEST and wow!!).

Elizabeth Knox talking about her supremely good read The Absolute Book.

Eileen Merriman discussing her breathtaking YA novels.

Five writers writing a letter to Katherine Mansfield.

A Ralph Hotere session that includes Bill Manhire and Cilla McQueen.

The GALA night that might be sold out now.

The great debate.

Adventurous women.

The arrival of Ko Aotearoa Tātou | We Are New Zealand

So many good things – and yes there are some clashes that will be tough on the day for me!

Congratulations WORD (esp Rachael King for designing this wide-roving programme). You can check out the WORD banquet here – do pop down to Christchurch for a long weekend and join us for an inspirational, heartwarming, mindfeeding occasion.

You can see the full programme here

Poetry Shelf Lounge: Kay McKenzie Cooke and Jenny Powell celebrate David Eggleton’s Poet Laureate Weekend at Matahiwi marae

David Eggleton at Matahiwi Marae (photo Lynette Shum)

Last weekend David Eggleton celebrated his New Zealand Poet Laureateship at Matahiwi marae accompanied by Charles Ropitini, whanau, friends, National Library staff (including the Library’s empathetic Laureate champion Peter Ireland) and poets (Jenny Powell, Kay McKenzie Cooke and Michael O’Leary). David was presented his tokotoko carved by Haumoana carver Jacob Scott. On the Saturday evening Marty Smith hosted Poets Night Out at the Hasting Events and Arts Centre, Toitoi.

The National Library also announced that due to the restrictions Covid has placed upon David’s Poet Laureate plans his term would be extended for another year. David has gifted Aotearoa a richness of poetry in printed form, but his appearances as a performance poet are legendary, inspirational, charismatic. He is appearing at the Christchurch Word Festival late October and will now be able to bring his poetry to the people over the next two years, as was his aim. Wonderful!

Two of David’s guest poets – Kay McKenzie Cooke and Jenny Powell – share their experience of this special weekend.

Jenny Powell and Kay McKenzie Cooke

David’s tokotoko is called Te Kore, meaning ‘the void’. The dark maire has a natural hole near the upper end. When he received it his body straightened, as if a spiritual and physical source of creativity became one.


Like the tangata whenua of Matahiwi marae, the tokotoko radiates what is needed. I held it on the way to the evening poetry reading in Hastings and again on the way home. Did it matter? Yes.


The void. The beginning, the creation, the end. Here it was, playing out in a bend of time and words. In the before of my ton weight suitcase, organisational order, waiata to practise, transport logistics, food and food. In the then. Matahiwi marae in its glory of green bounty, Māui hooking us into his welcome, kuia hooking us into love. River flow of oratory, Poems of the south, of love, of colour, of rapid fire Eggleton resonance and the moon beaming in story and song.


In the leaving, small children bound on fields, frail elders offer blessings, words spiral, tears flower. In the meeting house, enduring peace of the deep void.

Jenny Powell

Matahiwi marae (photo Katrina Hatherly)

After Being Introduced

Naturally, there are many other memories but maybe I particularly remember David’s grin, Fieke’s calmness, Jenny’s silver boots, Peter’s careful attention, the humour and innate sense of arrangement from the National library trio (Joan, Lynette and Katrina) and Michael’s Fleetwood Mac black hat and white t-shirt emblazoned with the words: A Hard Day’s Night.

~*~

Friday:

Michael, Jenny and I practice our waiata for David. E Tu Kahikatea. We sing it out in a patch of sun cut to the shape of a motel’s open door. We are kind of happy with how it sounds. Jenny’s top notes, my more middling muddle, Michael’s lower notes verging on bass, all blending to invoke a tree standing braced for whatever will come at it, bolstered by those who stand close to protect and the togetherness of all this conjured up in the final lines.

~*~

Our first chance to meet the National Library trio: Lynette, Joan and Katrina, is at tonight’s dinner. They exude friendliness, kindness, humour, order and care – and that’s just on the first take. There’s room for even more to surface as the weekend unfolds. (Such as the Joni incident – but I am jumping ahead of myself and anyway, it’s probably one of those you-had-to-be-there episodes.)

~*~

Saturday:

Jenny and I are on the hunt for breakfast early and surprisingly enough for us, we manage not to get lost. Go us! As we look out from our outside table onto Havelock North’s shiny newness, including a fountain and locals setting up stalls for a market on clean concrete, a brittle breeze reminiscent of Ōtepoti’s nor’easterly, licks at our ankles.

~*~

Outside the Matahiwi marae gates, that same cold breeze niggles at our backs and shoulders. Charles our te reo-speaking representative, tells us the moon is in a benevolent phase – all augurs well – and points out the maunga, the mountains, in the distance. He names them and tells us the meaning of the name – which, sadly, I promptly forget. However, I do notice that after being introduced, the mountains appear to draw a little nearer.

~*~

More people arrive to join the waiting group. David’s no-fuss whanau flock quietly together. And then the pōwhiri begins, a karanga calling us to proceed in safety. Wings of grief beat in my chest like something fighting waves of memory.

~*~

We are welcomed with kōrero, karakia, by tīpuna, voice, mountain, awa, spirit, wairua, with love, aroha. Charles responds with an operatic kōrero sung on our behalf in te reo, laced with waiata that soars and rolls in an awa of pride. We line up to elbow-hongi, covid-style. A kuia at the end of the line grabs each of us into a hug.

~*~

The unwrapping of the tokotoko begins with a blessing by Jacob, then revealed and handed to David by the carver. Made of maire, it is tall and straight, yet shapely. It is black with a small sweep, or wave, of brown. Pango and parauri. Somewhere, silver glints. The carver tells us it speaks of Māui and his brothers, of boldness and spirit. Of stirring, mischief-making, mixing things up and pitting against. It has weight. Mana. David tests its strength by thumping the ground with it. He appears satisfied. He smiles.

It is time for Michael, Jenny and me to sing our waiata. Unfortunately, all of the previous day’s blend and timing takes flight leaving only the unpolished, rough side of the päua, shy of colour and magic. It’s a pretty rough delivery. No matter. It’s done. The tree still stands. It takes more than that to fell a kahikatea.

David’s son does a far better job, calmly, confidently singing a self-composed song that soothes, charms and rocks like a waka launched on to slowly moving water.

~*~

Saturday night, David, Michael, Jenny and I make poetry the winner at Poets Night Out at the Hastings Events and Arts Centre, Toitoi, in all its glory and glamour; sumptuous flower displays, laser beams creating a dancing landscape on ceiling and walls. The event is bookended by two beautiful young singers and linking it all, Marty in shimmering gold jacket delivering her diamante introductions.

~*~

Sunday:

Mōrena. Back at the Matahiwi marae, we are hugged. Fed. Allowed into more stories. Humour sparks. We are told a little more of the coming into being of David’s Poet Laureate tokotoko; its name, Te Kore; its character, its insistence not to be firewood, but instead a walking, talking stick with fire to fill any void in its belly.

~*~

As we make our reluctant farewells, a kuia gifts Jenny and myself quiet words of encouragement to take back home to Ōtepoti with us. She loves our poetry. She may write some herself now. She particularly loves the way Jenny speaks her poems. I feel there is more she wants to say. Deeper things. But there is no time left.

~*~

More farewells outside the marae as we get into cars. Some of the good-byes are to people we will see again. Others, maybe not. As the car I am in moves away, I notice the maunga, the mountains, have moved. I watch as they fade back into the distance.

~*~

Jenny Powell has published seven individual and two collaborative collections of poems. She is part of the touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling. Jenny is currently in the Wairarapa as the RAK Mason Writing Fellow.

Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection, titled Upturned, was published by The Cuba Press, mid-2020. At present she is far too busy to write. A predicament she hopes will not be permanent.

David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based writer, critic and poet. His first collection of poems, ‘South Pacific Sunrise’, was co-winner of the PEN Best First Book of Poetry Award in 1987. His seventh collection of poems, ‘The Conch Trumpet’, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. He received the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Poetry in 2016. His most recent collection of poetry is Edgeland and Other Poems, with artwork by James Robinson, published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate.

The New Zealand Poet Laureate Blog

Piece by Peter Ireland on NZ Poet Laureate site

Photos by Joan McCracken, Katrina Hatherly and Lynette Shum from the National Library and Jenny Powell and Kay McKenzie Cooke

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Tusiata Avia’s ‘Covid in the time of Primeminiscinda’

Covid in the time of Primeminiscinda

I’m not listening to Jacinda

I’m going to my friend’s party and all the herbalists are there

listing all the things:

Thieves Oil, whiteywood, kānuka, honeysuckle, pōhutukawa,

horopito, elderberry syrup.

It’s really easy, they say, all you have to do is go for many

miles into the wilds, recognise the right things, pick them,

dry them in a confusing and special way, boil them, decant

them, strain them into pure glass bottles and seal them.

You’ll be lucky to find them for sale anymore.

This freaks me out so I go home.

Level 1

I’m listening to Jacinda

I’m telling myself that I’m staying the hell away from herbalists

and Facebook

I’m sitting in cafés with the panickers, the terrified and the lonely.

I know there is plenty to panic about.

I’m staying six feet away

chatting to the old man with the stroke in his arm and his leg.

How are you? he asks. I’m good, I answer.

I’m watching the surprise in his droopy eye

and his lopsided smile.

I’m talking to the German Hare Krishna, who owns the café,

and asking her how she copes with everyone coming in

and eating their anxiety and leaving saliva on the plates.

They’re just stimulated by all of this, she says, but I have Krishna

and I will be all right.

Level 2

I’m waking up at five in the morning and I’m thinking maybe

Jacinda has become my Krishna

Hare Jacinda

Rama Primeminiscinda

I take her picture down and light my incense to nothing at all.

I’m asking my eighty-six-year-old mother to ring me half

an hour before she comes into the same room as

me and my daughter, so I can disinfect:

the light switches and the door knobs and the cupboard handles

and the fridge door and the microwave door and the knife-

drawer handle and the taps and the dishwasher door and the

bench and the tabletop and her dining-room chair and the

back of her chair and the landline phone and the TV remote

and the heat-pump remote

and then I walk quickly to the other end of the house

and disinfect the toilet and the flush button and all the light

switches and the taps and the empty towel rail.

I keep reminding my daughter:

Imagine Uncle is lying on the floor with his feet here and

his head there, that’s how far you have to stay away from Granny.

I speak loudly to Mum (cos she’s pretty deaf):

Stay away Mum, stay away.

Before my brother and my niece arrive for the last time,

my daughter is deep-frying panikeke

I say the word dangerous more than fifteen times

then I’m standing under the shower and forcing myself to

breathe

just leaving her with the boiling oil and standing under

the water and trying to breathe. I am just having a shower I am just

having a shower I am just having a shower.

I’m listening to Jacinda and clicking on her message to the nation

and the full media briefing she does afterwards

and the science woman with bright pink hair who shows us how

to wash our hands.

I am calling a briefing for my mother and daughter.

I am Jacinda

I’m plugging myself in to the TV and turning the volume up

loud enough that my daughter

has to cover her ears

and my mum can hear.

Are you ready, I ask them? Are you ready?

Level 3

Jacinda is saying tomorrow is lockdown

I know my daughter is out of sanitary pads and I’m not sure

if the taxis will keep running, so, I’m going to Wainoni

Pak’nSave with six zillion other people.

Jacinda told us to shop normally.

I’m telling myself: Shop normally shop normally shop normally

I’m forcing myself to buy one packet of toilet paper

and four cans of baby beetroot. A woman is taking photos of all

the different kinds of sanitary pads to send to her daughter.

She steps back and bumps into me. I’m trying not to freak out,

I’m forcing myself to walk slowly around the supermarket

walk slowly walk slowly walk slowly.

I’m going back to the health and beauty aisle and searching for

Rescue Remedy and not finding it

I see a guy I met on Tinder ages ago and didn’t sleep with

and he says, Well, how do you tell the story?

and gives me a look as if it is a thing that neither of us

could know, as if it is a thing perhaps no one could know.

In the carpark a couple of young bogans

stick their heads out of the car window

and cough as loud as they can, laugh and drive off.

I’m reading what the microbiologist has said about

disinfecting.

You have to let it sit for ten minutes

or you’re just moving the bacteria around.

I thought I was doing a good job keeping my mum safe.

I thought I was keeping her safe, so if she does die,

at least I will know I did all the right things

but I’ve just been moving it around.

Level 4

I’m listening to the bugle call in the kitchen.

Jesus isn’t coming back or Armageddon

or even the end of Level 4

but here is the moment of silence, so I stop

whatever ten-minute meal I am making

and remember those who have fallen: the Anzacs and the Covid

cluster down the road at the Rosewood Rest Home.

Tusiata Avia from The Savage Coloniser Book Victoria University Press, 2020

Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Her latest collection, The Savage Coloniser Book, has just been published by Victoria University Press.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf Lounge: Richard Langston reads from his new collection, Five O’Clock Shadows

Richard Langston reads three poems from his new collection, Five O’Clock Shadows (The Cuba Press, 2020)

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. Five O’Clock Shadows is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

The Cuba Press author page

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Poet Laureate news

This is excellent news!

New Zealand’s poet laureate, David Eggleton, will get more time to write and perform after compromised his two-year tenure as laureate.

Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa National Library of New Zealand has extended his term by an extra year to give Eggleton the ability to deliver live, on-site performances around the country.

“Due to the lockdown and social distancing requirements, we felt it only fair to offer Eggleton the opportunity of a third year,” Alexander Turnbull Library chief librarian Chris Szekely said.

While Eggleton’s “been delivering brilliantly through online channels… for someone who is known as an outstanding live-performance poet, it was particularly unfortunate that this aspect has been impacted by the pandemic,” Szekely said.

See more here at Stuff.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Cerys Fletcher’s ‘GERONI-MOA’

GERONI-MOA

all the new thinking is about moa, cloning moa, bringing moa into civic square in one long line

each with shit to air (the criticism of the thin-shelled eggs, the misassembled

bones). all the new thinking is about

moa, stupid-big, signifying nothing & leaving

trails of pronged footprint & feather. a species is a tribute to its unlikely egg. oh

moa, there is lovemaking occurring beneath every chimney in the

nation. take it this way: you are the great revitaliser. everything i have ever said to you

i have said with a mouthful of small hopes. the meat of your birdbones once gripped

me incomprehensibly as you

navigated the long islands. your gift is a great bellow, followed by the turning over

of a full glass recycling bin. your presence here was not requested, it was

formulated. we wanted you back but we wanted you better. this time

stronger. now, you make it as far as the port

before you remember the peat bogs, the beaks, &

you come to a stop. everything i have ever loved i have loved

with a mouthful of small doubts. i am eating my lunch in civic

square & you are just another miracle. pick up

the bottles. quieten down. yesterday

i had an orgasm. moa, you are indignant. all the new thinking is about you, & yet

i have reason to believe i am the best thing that has ever lived.

Cerys Fletcher

Cerys Fletcher (she/her) is in her first year at Te Herenga Waka. She is in love. She can be found on instagram as @cerys_is_tired.

Cerys reads her poem in the latest Starling here

Poetry Shelf Lounge: Robyn Maree Pickens’ Finland Residency – a poem, an interview, photographs

Flaunted temporality

It is a rare winter      the blood of the earth runs unfrozen

The coldest thing is this peach & passionfruit juice in a glass bottle

I open it & take a sounding dive into you  through

pinked granite, epipelagic ocean rifts & twenty-eight lost seasons

I’m back on that dusty strip between the disused train station

& the eroding coastline where we practiced chi gong

& the ocean gulped & purged our broken teeth & awkward outs

One summer’s day we cupped a warm peach in our hands &

meditated on the distillation of sun as dust peeled the pyramids

In divinity pleats the sun magnetised the seed’s first stretch

into light & between the movement of thought & the movement

of growth there was no paralysis until we held all the sun

that had ever shone & uncupped into an orchard in a disorder

of tongues & disrobing & grasping & pressing & scent & stick

the consistency of sun-hot bruised fruit    pinnately veined 

Robyn Maree Pickens    

my accommodation on the day I left (28 February)

The interview

What three words come to mind when you think of your Finland experiences:

nourishment / squirrels / ice

Did you know anything about Finland before you went?

Initially nothing more than generalised projections of Nordic countries: wintry yet cosy inside, great jerseys, fish, forests of evergreens, sleek design, sauna…

Can you introduce us to the residency please?

You get off a local bus on the side of the highway in the midst of bare, flat farmland in southwest Finland, and are greeted by Iiris who takes you a short distance in a minivan to Saari Residence, which used to be a manor. It now supports two-month individual artist residencies for eight practitioners at a time, while collective residencies are held over the summer months. The invited artist is there for eight months. During the time I was at Saari, the practitioners included dancers/choreographers, filmmakers, a composer, an artist, and a PhD student.

Were you located in one place or did you travel around?

Just in one place.

What struck you most when you arrived and settled into the residency?

So many things! The level of care we were given, the seriousness with which we, and our projects, were treated, the incredible warmth inside, amazing welcome dinner and weekly lunches made by a local chef, and the smoothness of understated wealth.

Did you travel with predetermined writing plans?

Yes, I submitted a proposal centred on an eco-phenomenological response to place and climate as a source for a collection of poems nine or ten months before the actual residency. I selected the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months of January and February as my first option because I was aware that snowfall has been reducing over the past decades, and it was starting to feel like an increasingly rare experience. But to fly to the other side of the world… It was becoming harder and harder to justify flying, and it seems even more absurd now with Covid. Yet the pull of difference is still strong.

Did the place change what you had planned?

It did, but in the almost year long interval between proposal and residency, I had become seduced by Hannah Arendt’s concept of amor mundi (love of the world) and her definition of the Latin phrase Amo: Volo ut sis which is translated either as ‘I love you: I will you to be,’ or ‘I love you: I want you to be.’ Arendt writes, ‘[i]t is the affirmation of the other who is loved for his [sic] own sake and not as an object of desire… not “I want to have you” or “I want to rule you,”[1] and I wondered if this could shape an ecopoetic and ethical relationship with the rest of nature. So I read quite a bit of Arendt.

Ironically, it was also one of the warmest winters, which in the warmer southern region of Finland still means approximately (or at least) thirty centimetres of snow over those first two months of the year. While there was some snow and plenty of frosts and ice, it didn’t last that long. So if I had been fixed on my original proposal, I would’ve had to have dealt with absence, or partial absence, which could’ve been interesting as well.

Where was your favourite place to write?

There was a desk and table in the living room of my apartment (which was originally the farmhands’ building), but I always worked at the table because it looked out onto a stand of trees, and there were squirrels leaping from branches and racing up tree trunks.

What did you love most about the experience?

The quality of T I M E and the feeling of being cared for. The people I met. And being continuously warm inside when it was cold out.

Did you have any epiphanies? Life or writing?

I experienced a deep, platonic connection with the invited artist Essi Kausalainen that was more than shared interests, values, aesthetic sensibilities, and ethics. We continued the conversations we had at Saari via email, some of which you can read here

Was there something you missed about Aotearoa when you were there?

The diversity of plants and the sound of native birds. And kombucha.

What books did you take?

CA Conrad’s three most recent collections (A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon 2012, Eco Deviance: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness 2014, While Standing in Line for Death 2017), Mal: a journal of sexuality and erotics: Plant Sex, Anne Carson Decreation, Sappho Come Close, Ocean Vuong Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Kaveh Akbar Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Max Ritvo Four Reincarnations, Lucie Brock-Broido Stay, Illusion.

I am incredibly grateful to the Kone Foundation who fund Saari, the staff at Saari, the other residents (their personalities and creativity), and all the other sentient beings: birch and pine trees (and their mycorrhizal synergies), pack ice, migratory birds, and squirrels. Thank you!


[1] Tatjana Noemi Tömmel, ‘Vita Passiva: Love in Arendt’s Denktagebuch’, in Artifacts of Thinking: Reading Hannah Arendt’s Denktagebuch, ed. by Roger Berkowitz and Ian Storey (New York: Fordham University, 2017), pp. 116, 117.

Robyn Maree Pickens is an art writer, poet, and a critical/creative PhD candidate in ecological aesthetics at the University of Otago. Her poetry is forthcoming in Southword, and has appeared in Empty Mirror, Into the Void, this gender is a million things that we are more than, Peach Mag, SAND Berlin, amberflora, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Matador Review, Jacket 2 (US), at ARTSPACE, Auckland, in the Brotherton Poetry Prize Anthology published by Carcanet Press and in Fractured Ecologies. Website Twitter: @RobynPickens

my accommodation (four individual apartments in what was originally the farmhands’ building)

my accommodation

the barn, communal area, and studios

pack ice at the nearby inlet

pack ice at the nearby inlet

Poetry Shelf review: Diane Brown’s Every now and then I have another child

Every now and then I have another child, Diane Brown, Otago University Press, 2020

Sometimes you reach for memory,

an impossible task in this throw-away

world. What choice is there but to slip

on your new self as if you come clean

without story

from ‘This Is How It Is for All of Us’ in Every now and then I have another child

Diane’s Brown previous book, a poetic memoir entitled Taking My Mother to the Opera, was ‘a rollercoasting, detail-clinging, self-catapulting, beautiful read’ (from my review ). I loved the book so was very interested to see how I engaged with Diane’s new one: Every now and then I have another child.

The new book is narrative poetry; a narrative comprising individual poems with a cast of characters that offer multiple viewpoints. For me it is a collection of border crossings, with notions and experiences of motherhood the key narrative propulsion. Everything blurs and overlaps as the fictional touches the surreal and brushes against the real.

I am reminded of Luigi Pirandello’s play, Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), but in this case it is an author in search of characters and characters in search of each other. Joanna is a writer, poet, creative writing teacher and mother. Anna, her doppelgänger, is homeless and gatecrashes funerals. There is a mysterious baby, both phantom and pseudo-real. There are two sons, one a geek on the spectrum scale and one a sensitive surfer. There is a stepmother, a missing mother and an alcoholic father. Add in a detective, a former lover and a baby in the mural on the wall.

Life is dislocating; the borders are porous with movement between what is real and what is not real, what is present and what is missing, what is longed for and what is abandoned. Reading your way through the poetry thickets is reading symphonic psychological effects. It is reading deep into the shadows and discovering shards of light. Being mother and being daughter is complicated and complicating. There are cryptic clues, a dead body, another dead body, a crying baby, a need to imagine, a need to name and be named. Reading the list of characters underlines the way in which the narrative is also genre crossing: think fiction, memoir, poetry, detective fiction, flash fiction.

I can’t think of another book like it in Aotearoa. The spooky porcelain doll photographed by Judith White on the cover (my standard reaction to porcelain dolls) sets me up for various hauntings. Joanna is haunted by a phantom baby and her missing mother. Anna is haunted by Joanna, and by life itself. There is the way in which writing itself is a kind of haunting. How do you start? How do you keep going? How do words matter? And i would add reading. Reading this is a kind of haunting. I am thinking of the way the past – with its shadows and its light – has the ability to haunt.

Issues of creative writing are touched upon, and make you reflect back on the making of the narrative, on the author herself. If there are multiple border crossings, are there also ways in which ‘Diane’ hides in the thickets, leaves traces of herself in various characters, encounters, epiphanies? You cannot package this sequence within a neat and tidy story where everything makes sense and the real outweighs the dream or imaginary scape. Nor would you want to. We are reading poetry that draws upon rich genre possibilities, the slipperiness of writing when you try to pin it down, the evasiveness of memory, the multifaceted prongs of experience.

And that’s what makes the collection such a rewarding read. You will bump into the calamitous real world with the homeless, conspiracy theories, alternative facts, North Korean missiles. You will move from Dunedin to Auckland to Alice Springs and London, with Dunedin being the physical heart of the narrative. Geographic movement, temporal movement, emotional movement: with all roads leading to motherhood and creative processes. It is a sumptuous and haunting book that you need to experience for yourself without a reviewer ruining the startles, the surprises, the puzzles and the moving connections. I am going to do something I have never done before and leave you with the terrific last poem so you can read it, then get the book, open it at page one and find your own way to the ending. Listening hard along the way. Poetry is most definitely a way of listening. ‘Listen.’

Written on the Body

The Baby

I’ve heard the narrator give

borrowed advice: writers

need to kill their ego.

Never easy to follow yourself,

harder still to coax children

from cocoons into the light,

tracing every inch of skin

and reading what is written

with indelible ink.

Word that may unearth

the buried and extinct,

can re-ice glaciers,

turn petrified trees back

 into lush green leafiness,

repopulate the seas,

and extinguish fires

raging out of control

at the top of the world.

But to see such words,

you have to strip bare, hold

nothing back and listen. Listen.

Diane Brown

DIANE BROWN is a novelist, memoirist and poet who runs her own creative writing school, Creative Writing Dunedin. Her publications include two collections of poetry (Before the Divorce We Go to Disneyland and Learning to Lie Together), a novel (If the Tongue Fits), a verse novel (Eight Stages of Grace), a travel memoir (Liars and Lovers), a prose/poetic memoir (Here Comes Another Vital Moment) and a poetic family memoir (Taking My Mother to the Opera). In 2013 she was made a Member of New Zealand Order of Merit for services to writing and education.

Otago University Press page