Poetry Shelf health update

Dear Poetry Shelf fans

It is weird going public after keeping my personal hurdles private for so long! Talking so much about me rather than about you.

I am now at Day 153 and making great progress on my long slow bumpy uncertain recovery road. My specialist is pleased with where I am at, and reassures me that bumps are part of it. He says it probably takes a year to get to a smoother zone after a bone marrow transplant. Normal is a distant horizon and I try not to dwell on what I can’t do. What I can do is a far more helpful position to be in.

My recipe for a calm, happy, strong headspace includes reading, writing, blogging, baking, walking, doing jigsaws and watching things. Children’s books are essential, but I am also loving novels and poetry.

For the first time since I went to hospital, I recently hit a dark hole and found it really hard to focus on my mantra to Live and Love the Day. I think it was because my body has delivered all kinds of challenging bumps that I have weathered – I thought I had done so well getting though them all. Then it threw another one at me: dizziness, wooziness, light-headedness. Who knows when it will ease up! My head has been the key to keeping strong and calm and happy, and miraculously I have been able to write. So it threw me off course to be spinning-out, forgetful, foggy, near fainting.

Ah, the doubt. We all have doubt – I found myself double doubting in my dark hole that I could write or blog. Telling myself I was the crappiest writer and blogger in the world! But I kept/keep/will keep doing as way of being. Picking up a new poetry or children’s book is a vital diversion but I am making mistakes in my reviews. I don’t want to get names wrong or book details wrong. I want to honour and celebrate the fabulous books we are producing in Aotearoa. For the past week or so, I have wondered if I should put my blogs back on holiday – but no, I am selfish. They are too important to my well-being. They are my anchor and kite, my lifeline and source of joy.

I want to keep doing them but I want you to kindly tell me when I make mistakes. I will be grateful not offended.

If I don’t answer your email straightaway that is to be expected – but if too long goes by nudge me as I may have missed it.

Ah, the joy. My idea to get children to illustrate poems by authors is one of the most rewarding things I have done on Poetry Box. They are so keen to do it, it gives them truckloads of pleasure and satisfaction. It draws them closer to a poem and they create something where imagination knows no bounds. Rules and regulations are not paramount.

Your support is astonishing. Your understanding. I used the word ‘occasional’ to protect myself, knowing there will be days I can’t even turn my lap top on. Books I don’t review. Yet I always seem to have a gathering of posts ready to go, and am able to post poems and reviews most days. I am sticking with the word ‘occasional’!

Yes, it is a long slow bumpy recovery road, but having a happy zone, a support crew and a big stack of books to read and jigsaws to do, is gold. Having two new books in the world, so lovingly steered by Penguin, is also gold. I got sad I couldn’t be out in the world promoting them, but Poetry Box has helped. AND being part of our sublime writing communities matters so very much. You matter. Thank you.

Aroha nui
Paula x

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Gail Ingram’s ‘Give women the vote: Flowers for women’s suffrage’

Give women the vote: Flowers for women’s suffrage

Green Jewel (Griselinia littoralis) –   
       here is a leaflet
       for you and you
       and you

Wild Irish(wo)man –   
       forget the white flowers
       stay prickly, take
       no prisoners

Viola (mountain) – 
       conditions are rugged
       you will not be thanked
       by those drunken men
       falling in the River Avon
       but you are on the money

Gail Ingram

Gail Ingram writes from the Port Hills of Ōtautahi and is author of Contents Under Pressure (Pūkeko Publications 2019). She won the Caselberg International Poetry Award 2019 and the NZPS International Poetry Competition in 2016. Her work has appeared widely across Aotearoa, and in Australia, UK, Africa and USA. She is editor for a fine line and Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. Website 

Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: Roger Hickin and Peter Olds – A Town Trod by Poets

A Town Trod by Poets, by Roger Hickin, photographs and poetry by Peter Olds

On writing

That great ‘W’ of sparkling gulls
adrift in the blue heaven;
I wonder if they see me
down here in the dark yard
hanging out my washing,

and do they struggle too
for a descriptive line?

Peter Olds, from You fit the description, Cold Hub Press, 2014

This gorgeous wee book fits in the palm of your hand which is perfect because you could think of it as a miniature travel guide. A Town Trod by Poets is a map of Ōtepoti Dunedin in words and images. It is published by Ō He Puna Auaha Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature. Poet and publisher, Roger Hickin, gathers and comments upon poems with links to the city, while Peter Olds has supplied poems along with photographs of city graffiti he spotted in 1990s Ōtepoti. There is also a Rogelio Guedea poem, ‘Conversación con Peter Olds’, translated by Roger.

I love the chapbook’s title and I love the idea of different ways of mapping a city. I am keen to see other cities producing city palm guides with images and poems. I started jotting down names for Tāmaki Makaurau: CK Stead, Karlo Mila, Robert Sullivan, Michele Leggott, Serie Barford, Ian Wedde, Courtney Sina Meredith, Kiri Piahana Wong, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Allen Curnow. Walking and poetry is such a lure. Grounding poetry in place is such an anchor. The geography of place can be mapped in so many different and distinctive ways, so many town layers or hints within the lines of a poem.

Poetry forms the tread. The poem is walked into being.
The town forms the tread. The town is poemed into being.

Years ago I got to curate Poetry on the Pavement for Tamaki Mākaurau – poems painted on the footpath in the central city created a fascinating inner city walk. I once saw a couple of Irish tourists reading the poem I had picked for Kitchener Street (was one of mine), and when I told them I had written the poem, they slapped their knees, shrieked with glee, and said ‘What a city of culture!’

Poetry frees the personal stories!

Roger Hickin has assembled a stellar Ōtepoti-gathering of poets: Janet Frame, Ruth Dallas, David Howard, James K Baxter, Iain Lonie, Bill Sewell, Ian Wedde, Charles Brasch, Brian Turner, Hone Tuwhare. Some locals, some visiting guests. The town poems speak of weather, people, other writers, smashing seas, buildings – think houses, galleries, bookshops – land and sky, panoramic and microscopic views. It is documentary, it is description, it is confession. It is gap, it is presence.

Peter Olds captivates with poems that are as much about being as they lay down the co-ordinates of place. There is a vital present tense: I am exquisitely in the moment as reader, in the scene and the anecdote.

I am so inspired by this gift of a book, I want to get on down to Ōtepoti and walk the city, palm book in hand. Stand at the top of the steepest street, stand by the art gallery in the Octagon. But I am also tempted to host some city gatherings on the blog so watch this space. I can’t do physical travels yet, but I can definitely travel in the imagination and virtual zones. Gathering the way younger generation poets are treading the towns and cities is a drawcard. How we poem tread our towns will keep me musing all day. Glorious.

I am writing this from
the top of the world’s
steepest street:
Baldwin.

There’s a cold wind
blowing, and all I can
see in the dark (apart
from this page) are

the receding tailights
of cautious cars

from ‘Nostalgic’ in Graffiti, Earl of Seacliffe Workshop, 2008

Dunedin City Library page and Ō He Puna Auaha UNESCO City of Literature book offer

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Louise Wallace’s ‘delaying tactics’

delaying tactics

in one sentence
how do you get a book deal?

if you removed as many responsibilities as possible
what kind of things would you write?

when people ask what’s your favourite movie
what criteria do you use to narrow it down to just one?

on a scale of one to ten
how productive are you during episodes of insomnia?

how many times would you say
you need to test pool water?

how far into summer is too late
to start reading your holiday novel?

would you rather only be able to invite strangers
to dinner parties for the rest of your life

or have to listen to radio segments about protein
for an hour every day?

how can you get a very expensive ring back from a sibling
when you gave it to them as a gift?

after a chain of terrible dates
what happens to your breathing?

let’s say you’re curious
what’s the ideal age to try stripping?

what options are there
for an elaborate wax job?

Louise Wallace

Louise Wallace is the author of three collections of poetry published by Te Herenga Waka University Press, with her next book forthcoming in May 2023. She lives in Ōtepoti | Dunedin with her husband and their young son, and she is the founder and editor of Starling.

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Dinah Hawken’s Speaking of Trees

Speaking of Trees

What does it take to break ground?
What does it take to carry yourself
with dignity through mist and rise?

You can see the fragility of trees
and the forbearance of trees.
You can see the agility of trees.

You know where you stand with a tree:
sheltered and strengthened,
beholden to the nature and network

of trees; the assembly of trees,
the farmland haunted by trees  
and the regiment of trees.

You can see the bearing of trees,
the felling and falling of trees,
the shipment of trees, the return on trees.

The return of trees.

What does it take to carry yourself into a forest
one valley over
from the one, right now, on fire?

                                           

Dinah Hawken

Dinah Hawken’s ninth collection of poems, Sea-light, was published by THWUP in 2021. ‘Speaking of Trees’ was written for Gerda Leenard’s exhibition of paintings at Pataka in Porirua : Regeneration – A Story of Trees

Poetry Shelf review: Frankie McMillan’s The Wandering Nature of Us Girls

The Wandering Nature of Us Girls, Frankie McMillan, Canterbury University Press, 2022

The feel of a book in hand matters. Holding Frankie McMillan’s new collection, The Wandering Nature of Us Girls, is immensely satisfying. The size and shape, the paper stock, the pale blue title pages, the choice of font and font size, the breathing space. A perfect alchemy of design and production.

The dedication page: “For Marvin, / who taught me how to wander. / Without you, I would never have gotten lost.” This is the keyhole entry into a book where wandering becomes wondering; we get lost in wonder and wander, whether reader or writer. The collection of small stories performs bridges between both, in so many delicious ways. Even me naming the pieces is a mental excursion through form and label; how we tag what we write from poetry to prose to essay to fiction to short story, and any number of hybrid marriages.

The book is offered as small stories so I am running with that. Think mouthfuls of narrative or let’s say fiction. Think past and present. Think stepping stones from the miniature to wider issues, issues hungry for human attention: love, death, loss, violence, curiosity. Think anchors in the real, and offshoots in the hyperreal, sidelines in the surreal.

Water is the connective tissue, and if you think of the ever-changing appearance and movement of water, it is extremely apt. Frankie often crafts long sentences, sentences an Italian novelist might favour, sentences that showcase the currency of water. Extended tidal rhythms, the water breathing in and out. It makes me think again of wander, and the flâneur comes to mind, the bricoleuer, with both reader and writer meandering, amassing detail, absorbing atmosphere.

Water is the connective tissue and like the ocean it is a meeting ground of dark and light. The grandmother goes swimming, others go swimming, but there are drownings, there are bodies missing at sea. This is a collection of mystery, of gaps in the narrative, of surprising turn of events, of tragedy. Most definitely tragedy, terrible twists in events. The aunt who loves sweeping stays home in the flood, sweeping out the water, until the point she is on the roof, still sweeping, still sweeping, until she and broom and house are swept away.

There is such power in Frankie’s imagination. A beaked mouth, an antlered head. A baby under a tree writing a thesis on “aerial domesticity”. There are the acrobatics of circuses, of putting on a show. There are the subcurrents of our planet under grave threat. The tragedy we must face. Along with violence against women, ‘us girls’, and suddenly, slowly, the meandering takes on a greater insistent force. We are wandering and wondering, and there are consequences, cause and effect.

The mood and ideas a book generates matters. The Wandering Nature of Us Girls is less concerned with geography than with movement, with action, with human connections. It is a handbook of curious and gut smacking things. It is a book you feel as well as a book you think. It is a book of catastrophe and a book of epiphany. Small story brilliance.

Frankie McMillan is the author of five books of poetry and short fiction. Her most recent collection, The Father of Octopus Wrestling, was listed by The Spinoff as one of the 10 best New Zealand fiction books of 2019 and shortlisted for the NZSA Heritage Book Awards, and her 2016 collection, My Mother and the Hungarians, was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. She has twice won the New Zealand Flash Fiction Day competition and has been the recipient of numerous awards and residencies, including the NZSA Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship (2019), the Michael King writing residency at the University of Auckland (2017), and the Ursula Bethell residency in creative writing at the University of Canterbury (2014). McMillan spends her time between Ōtautahi Christchurch and Mohua Golden Bay.

Canterbury University Press page

Girls Raised by Swans on Poetry Shelf (‘Accounts of Girls Raised by Swans’)

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Courtney Sina Meredith’s ‘Keep the diamonds Keep the pearls’

Keep the diamonds Keep the pearls 

I want sweet marrow bracelets
I want leathered threaded innards
Womb flowers is what I call them 
Give me ripe tumour florets 
Give me righteous hot growths
I can take it a whole river of it 
I can grow it a whole field of it 
Keep the ease Keep the quiet 
I want childhood dandelion 
And common black-eyed Susan
Found along the roadside 

Courtney Sina Meredith

Courtney Sina Meredith is a distinguished poet, playwright, fiction writer, performer, children’s author and essayist, with her works being translated and published around the world. A leading figure in the New Zealand arts sector, Courtney is the Director of Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, an organisation committed to championing Oceanic arts and artists. Courtney’s award-winning works include her play Rushing Dolls, poetry Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick, short stories Tail of the Taniwha and children’s book The Adventures of Tupaia. Burst Kisses On The Actual Wind is Courtney’s new collection of poetry, the book was released in 2021 by Beatnik Books. 

Poetry Shelf review Tate Fountain’s Short Films

Short Films, Tate Fountain, We Are Babies, 2022

and I, well, I have had practice at this; I am far
better attuned to wanting things than I have ever
been to having them, and the day is clear, and the
scent of the kitchen of each nearby restaurant is
carrying. I am alive, and I am settling in, and I have 
in my hand at last something I could not bear to lose, 
some fibrous imperfect gift of a life in the place of
theoretical triumph: blistered heels and my mother’s 
old dress and a self I can face in the mirror; three 
long-stemmed lilies wrapped in cellophane, an 
unripe blushing hydra, five dust-pink tongues 
unfurled to catch the light.

from ‘SUNDAY, 7 NOVEMBER’

Love the idea of a poetry collection called Short Films, especially when it isn’t lifted from a poem title in the book. At the back is the director’s commentary, a HEX index and credits. Rhythm is a vital ingredient in the collection as a whole, the poet’s editing suite has resisted long slow panning camerawork. Instead there are jumpcuts and oblique camera angles, fascinating montage and hypnotic soundtracks. It is an opulent surprising reading experience, that depends upon the visual as much as the aural.

For some reason I made a leap from activated hazelnuts to activated language. Tate’s linguistic agility is spellbinding. Her language is alive, mobile, playful, inventive, active. The word activate is counterbalanced by bracketed space that is rich in possibility. At times it is a blank slate for the reader to scrawl upon, a foyer for musing points, a series of silent beats, a signpost to the unsayable, the unsaid, the gaps in the telling. They strike the eye and they resonate in the ear.

Colour is ubiquitous. Colour pops on the line, sparks across the wider scope of the book. There are individual colour poem clusters. You move from yellow-rayed blossoms to summer to pineapple, and housed in that yellow embrace is ‘a riverside lunch with my mother / We are learning again / / how to be around each other’ (from ‘Yellow’). It is the heightened power of metonymy where you place this shot next to that shot next to this shot. This frame next to that frame next to this frame. Feeling, experience, reaction is heightened.

A stripped back blackout poem uses a prose poem we have just read. I was reminded of how certain words pierced and stuck as I read. And there they were, isolated in the dark black shapes. Tate is taking a form, a convention and then playing with it, pushing it further.

In the inside blurb, the book is aptly compared to ‘a lush bouquet of poems’. I step from the flowers and the fruit, like brocaded still life, like kinetic life, finding mouth and heart, finding float and drift, the light and dark of chiaroscuro. The poetry is bouquet, held out to ignite the senses, but it is also mirror, looking glass for both reader and writer. Love is paramount. YES! These are love poems, heart poems, little outings with glints of self exposure. One poem, ‘LOVE POEM’, plays with ‘I want’, think light and serious, and you move to and fro, between need and desire.

Short films is, as Anna Jackson and Emma Barnes say on the back of the book, wonderful. It is a terrific cinematic experience, Maya Deren flashed in my head, where rhyme feeds motifs and subject matter, and rhythm performs the syncopation of daily life, of love life, of heart life. Utterly wonderful.

stop looking for me in my work /
I am not there /
you are in a hall of funhouse mirrors

from ‘ORANGE’

Tate Fountain is a writer, theatremaker, and DVD Special Features advocate splitting her time between Tāmaki Makaurau and Tauranga. She is a current member of the Starlingeditorial committee, and also works as the coordinator for samesame but different, Aotearoa New Zealand’s LGBTQIA+ Writers and Readers Festival. As an assistant director, actor, and stage manager, she’s worked with Auckland Theatre Company, Binge Culture, and the Pop-up Globe, as well as at Basement Theatre. Her poetry has been published in eel, Aniko Press Magazine, and Min-a-rets (Annexe), among others, and her screenwriting has been recognised by several feature development initiatives. She completed her Master of Arts (First Class Honours) at the University of Auckland, with a thesis on appropriations of the Eurydice myth by H.D., Carol Ann Duffy, and Céline Sciamma. Each month, she releases a new bouquet on Substack. She’s pretty much always thinking about films.

We Are Babies page

Poetry Shelf Occasional Poems: Jane Arthur’s ‘Autumn’

Autumn 

When autumn hits here, 
the leaves tend not to fall. 

They cling and quiver in the wind 
like our disappointment in them  

and the few that fall go slippery and annoy us. 
The light, though, thaws our cold hearts 

and we don’t even care we’re being cheesy 
for a moment or so. Who needs  

a new cliché? Not us, not 
when there are bigger things to worry about – 

and not when it’s still possible to put them aside 
to look at the low shadows, the glow 

of the evening sun across the branches 
of the trees that refuse to be anything but green. 

Jane Arthur

Jane Arthur lives in Pōneke, where she is manager and co-owner of a small bookshop. Her first poetry collection, Craven, was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press (then VUP) in 2019 and won the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry at the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. A second collection will be published in 2023.

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