Tag Archives: Alan Brunton

On The Shelf in September: Poetry picks by Chris Tse, Hinemoana Baker, Karen Craig

Chris Tse

I emerged from a film festival-induced haze to find that my to-read pile has grown exponentially. (Fittingly, one of the books that I’ve recently finished and enjoyed is Helen Rickerby’s Cinema for its wistful and charming tales of reality colliding with the world of movies.) Near the top of my daunting pile are Maria McMillan’s Tree Space and Hinemoana Baker’s waha | mouth (both VUP, 2014), and Sam Sampson’s Halcyon Ghosts (AUP, 2014). I’ve also been itching to get stuck into When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). I stumbled across her poem ‘My Brother at 3am’ and then went searching for whatever else I could find by her.

I’ve been dipping in and out of books by two American poets (there’s a spooky synchronicity with their titles): Scarecrone by Melissa Broder (Publishing Genius Press, 2014) and Scary, No Scary by Zachary Schomburg (Black Ocean, 2011). Both write deliciously dark poems, which read like fables that speak of how terrifying and confusing the modern world can be. At times these poems have an irreverent edge to them, and both poets use such precise language and ominous images to conjure up worlds of unease.

Chris Tse‘s first poetry collection, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (AUP), will be available in stores and online from 22 September.


Hinemoana Baker

Bird murder  When I closed this book after reading it for the first time, my exact words were ‘Now that’s how it’s done.’ Bird murder is a dark chronicle of close-packed language and noir thrills. Being a bird-lover from way back, I delighted in the book’s central murder, and I secretly hoped it was the Stellar’s Jay itself that did it. Overall, though, it’s simply the exceptional quality and music of the sentences that blows me away. An example from ‘Setting’:

Mrs Cockatrice, pink hair a-boule

sets the table for her guests.

Her ornamental milking stool


will do for a child.



And one more, from ‘Solar midnight’:


I came from a lake with an island on it

and on the island there was a lake.

The water was so silver. I had feathers then.’

– Bird murder by Stefanie Lash, Mākaro Press, Hoopla Series. Eastbourne, 2014.


The Red Bird I was alerted to Joyelle by Shannon Welch, whose Iowa Writing Workshop I attended at the IIML in 2003. It would be hard to overstate the effect it had on me reading these lines from ‘Still Life w/ Influences’:


Up on the hill,

a white tent had just got unsteadily to its feet

like a foal or a just-foaled cathedral.

I’ve been known to say loudly, on several occasions since, if I’d written that I could die happy. A glib hat-tip but the feeling is entirely genuine. This particular book travels from whales to guitarists to car accidents and beagles and doubles back. In the introduction, Allen Grossman says Joyelle ‘is a poetic realist. Her poems are neither reductive nor fantastic. But they are profoundly mysterious in the way any truthful account of the world must be.’

– The Red Bird by Joyelle McSweeney, Fence Books / Saturnalia Books. New York NY, 2002.

Hinemoana Baker‘s latest collection of poetry, waha | mouth, has just been released by Victoria University Press. I will review it on Poetry Shelf.


Karen Craig

Two poets I’ve been spending a lot of time with recently are Thom Gunn and Mark Doty, prompted by my job at Auckland Libraries, where we’ve been working on adding some lists of recommended reads in GLBTQI fiction and literature to our website. Thom Gunn is an old acquaintance who never ceases to awe me with the hard (yet supple — how they suited his poems, those black leather biker jackets) intelligence of his vision and the cool leanness of his language. The book I’m reading now is the Selected Poems edited by August Kleinzahler (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), which includes my favourite poem ‘Considering the Snail’, where the snail “moves in a wood of desire,/ pale antlers barely stirring/ as he hunts.” That’s already good. “What is a snail’s fury?” That’s genius, for me.

Mark Doty is a new find for me. A friend recommended his memoir Dog Years for a “Sadness” display we did at Central Library, saying it was the saddest book she’d ever read. If I tell you it’s over 200 pages and I read it all in one day and night, that will give you an idea of how this man gets inside your heart. He’s one of those people that when I was in high-school we used to call “beautiful”, and, when we used the term in our English essays, be told — rightly — that it was too imprecise. So to be more precise on Mark Doty’s beauty: a largeness of spirit, a sense of wonder and mystery, emotivity and desire, the musicality of the ordinary.  I’m reading Paragon Park (David R. Godine, 2012), a collection of his early poems, while waiting for the more complete collection Fire to Fire (New York : HarperCollins, c2008). To match Thom Gunn’s snail, an amazing “Turtle, Swan”, where he addresses his lover, at the start of the AIDS epidemic, “you with your white and muscular wings / that rise and ripple beneath or above me, / your magnificent neck, eyes the deep mottled autumnal colors / of polished tortoise —  I do not want you ever to die.”

On an other note, I’ve got Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond’s Beyond the Ohlala Mountains: Alan Brunton, poems 1968-2002 (Titus Books, 2013) from the library. I’ve just started dipping in, but I could see immediately that this is the kind of book which makes you really understand what is meant by “labour of love”. Beautifully composed, a careful, pondered – never ponderous – and, subtly, poetic introduction, which will have something for everyone. And the poems! A universe, no, a multiverse, of raptures and pandemoniums.

About me:
I work at Auckland’s Central City Library promoting fiction and literature both on the shelves and off the shelves, through book launches, author talks, lectures and — with great joy, always – poetry celebrations, including National Poetry Day evenings in conjunction with nzepc, Stars of Pasifika Poetry every March, and The Day of the Dead Beat Poets, every November 2. For the next 12 months I’m serving in a just-created role focussing on initiatives across the libraries to raise awareness of our collections. I write the Books in the City (http://albooksinthecity.blogspot.co.nz/) blog.

Gregory O’Brien in conversation with Kim Hill (on Alan Brunton) Just wonderful!

This is a wonderful discussion — Kim Hill and Gregory O’Brien talking about Alan Brunton and Alan’s new book, Beyond the Ohlala Mountains. It was terrific hearing archival material of Alan reading on the show. You can hear more of that here. You can also catch up with the splendid book launch here.


Poetry with Gregory O’Brien: Alan Brunton  here.

Discussing the poems of Alan Brunton, as collected in Beyond the Ohlala Mountains: Alan Brunton Poems 1968-2002 (Titus Books, 2014) edited by Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond.

From Saturday Morning on 05 Apr 2014

On the Shelf: A Monthly Poetry List

This is the first of a regular feature on NZ Poetry Shelf. I cribbed the idea from The Poetry Foundation (which I follow on Twitter). Each month I will invite a handful of NZ poets and poetry fans to share a handful of poetry books they are currently reading and loving. Where it is relevant, I will flag any new venture, project, award, book, event or news associated with them.


First up this month is Emma Neale, a Dunedin poet and novelist that currently holds the University of Otago Wallace Residency at the Pah Homestead. She will be reading at an event at the homestead on March 20th.  Details here.

Three poetry books I have on the go:
1. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth  by Warsan Shire (London: Flipped Eye, 2011). Shire is a poet born in Kenya to Somalian parents, who now lives in London. This collection works less through the music of the language and the dramatic potential of the line break than it does through a strong sense of narrative, and sexual and political frankness. Her real strength, it seems to me from this book, is in the prose poem. It confronts the trauma of civil war, diaspora, the conflicting demands of Islam and secularism, traditional and contemporary views of women’s sexuality. The men are almost uniformly brutal; the women assert themselves mainly through sexual defiance: there are deeply troubling themes here, but Shire’s gifts for sensuous imagery and the vividness with which she captures the shock and dislocation of war’s effects, particularly on women and children, is unforgettable. It’s direct and disturbing; leaves you with a contrail of sadness over the ongoing shame and trauma of witnessing family members complicit in nationalised violence.
2. The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton (New York: New Directions, 2006.) Quiet, lyrical, pared back contemplations of the relationship between humans and landscape, and pushing on the borderlands between the subconscious and conscious mind. I love his explorations of the dreamworld, the half-waking state, and moments of silence and suspension when the social word seems to have been softened, turned down, by dusk and the colder seasons.

3. New Collected Poems by Sylvia Townsend Warner (Manchester: Carcanet 2008.) Not the New Zealand educationalist, Sylvia Ashton Warner, but the English author, who lived from 1893-1978, and who was in a relationship with another woman for about 40 years. I’ve just started this, and it’s a borrowed copy, recommended by friend and academic Pete Swaab, but already I’m reminded of Robin Hyde and the way she seems to move between Georgian and modernist aspects of style; and I’m amazed at how dexterous she is with very simple rhymes; and at the range of characters within her poems. She seems to fuse all the traditional aspects of prosody with a good sense of psychological narrative.


Second is Ian Wedde, our previous Poet Laureate:

1. Michael Hofmann‘s great Twentieth-Century German Poetry: An Anthology (Farrar, Straus and Giraux, 2005). Ends with the laconic Jan Wagner (b. 1971) and begins with the equally astringent Else Lasker-Schuler (umlaut u) (b. 1869). In between, of course, Rilke et al, not always so terse.

2. Am in pursuit of my remote nineteenth century relative Johannes Wedde‘s long poem in praise of the Paris Commune of 1871. Johannes (b. 1843) was a German Socialist Workers Party member, newspaper editor, and scourge of Bismark, who corresponded with Engels in London in the 1880s. The poem may not be much good but I’m enjoying looking for it.


Thirdly Marty Smith whose debut collection, Horse with Hat, was recently launched by Victoria University Press. I will review this book shortly.

1. I love D. A. Powell’s  Cocktails  (and Tea and Lunch ) because I can go for a wander through the New York of cocktail bars, and cinemas and The Gospels. The poems are really horrifying and funny and sad. They’re fragmentary, and there’s a breathless quality, a breath-taking stop-start set of startling images that pull you through each poem,

when you touch down upon this earth/
little reindeers
hoofing murderously at the gray slate roof/
I lie beneath
dearest father xmas: will you bring me another/
17 years


2. Anne Carson’s If not, Winter   Fragments of Sappho  is always in the back of my mind, for the sheer brilliant power of the lining. The original fragments are reproduced on the left of each page, with Carson’s translations on the right, so you can see how she’s used brackets and space to illuminate the fragments that are present, lifting them out of profound absence into startling beauty.


Finally Martin Edmond on what he loved about editing the new Alan Brunton anthology:

Beyond the Ohlala Mountains Alan Brunton; eds. Michele Leggott & Martin Edmond (Titus Books, March 2014). The pleasure for me is in seeing such a handsome presentation of a selection of poems from a corpus I have been speaking in my head all my adult life; and that these resonant, intelligent, strange and resolutely engagé poems are now available for anyone to read.

Invitation to a Book Launch: Alan Brunton’s Beyond the Ohlala Mountains with a terrific lineup of guests

Beyond the Ohlala Mountains 
Alan Brunton / Poems 1968-2002

Book Launch

Date: Thursday, 27 March 2014

Time: 6:30 for 7-9pm

Venue: Wharekai at the University of Auckland’s Waipapa Marae, 16 Wynyard St.

Titus Books is proud to launch Beyond the Ohlala Mountains: Alan Brunton / Poems 1968-2002. Drawing on twelve published collections and the rich resource of his papers, editors Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond present a selection that shows for the first time the scope of Brunton’s poetics as well as his trademark linguistic bravura.

Join us for a glass of wine to launch the book with readings and performances in the spirit of Red Mole and Roadworks, those experimental theatre troupes that put so many of Alan Brunton’s words in the mouths of singers, musicians and actors.

Performers include Anne Kennedy, Arthur Baysting, Barry Saunders, Bob Orr, Brian Potiki, International Superstars of Westlynn, Jean McAllister, Jeff Henderson, John Davies, John Newton, Kilda Northcott, Ksenija Chobanovich, Leila Adu, Madeline McNamara, Mr Sterile Assembly, Murray Edmond, Nisha Madhan, Peter Simpson, Ruby Brunton, Russell Haley, Stephen Bain and Tony McMaster.

For further information please contact publicist Simone Kerr simonekerr@gmail.com.