The Baby Shark Song eats the part of me that cares
for rhythm, for pattern. Time is a parent on leave, retired even.
What an age to be alive, I sigh to my partner while playing a live
stream of a writer I admire (her face fits my palm). I turn the screen
to show him and imagine my camera has shown him steaming from the shower
where our son hammers the glass with a plastic orca and chants
the words stuck in our shared head. How does the Duchess know
Alice is thinking? he asks. I say I can tell when he’s thinking.
Now? His focus relaxes. Yes.
No! It was a trick. He wasn’t thinking,
just looking. Thoughts are made,
looking is a sort of finding, knitting is done, dreams are suffered,
and listening to your mother read Alice inWonderland
is in between. Is it possible to behead something
bodiless? I ask. Of course not. He’s learning independence.
The balding Sylvanian badger once belonged to me. I’d have it
speak to that same grey rabbit. He’s built them a magnetic castle.
Mine was a red-roofed doll’s house handmade by Grandad (ready to go—
now gone). Badger says to Rabbit, It’s not lockdown here, so come on
inside and have a nice glass of wine. It’s a good game, my son explains
You’d like it because there’s no fighting.
I like watching the show Alone because Vancouver Island
is a limpid coastline of the general wild. Those whining men
living off limpets while yearning for buckets of chicken gradually
know they’ll never be rescued. A boat might deliver them
back to families, places where lost fat is found, but there will always be want.
So, I tell my only child we must learn to play alone—
to shape a shelter from fallen branches, snack on oxalis and set traps to catch fathers.
Amy Brown was born in Hawkes Bay and now lives in Melbourne. Her latest poetry collection, Neon Daze, a verse journal of the first four months of motherhood, was one of the Saturday Paper‘s 2019 books of the year. She is also the author of The Odour of Sanctity, The Propaganda Poster Girl, and Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels.
Breakfast is a lifelong ritual for me: the fruit, the cereal, the toast, the slowly-brewed tea, the short black. It is the reading, it is the silence, it is the companionship. It is finding the best breakfast when you are away at festivals or on tour, on holiday. This photograph was taken last year at Little Poms in Christchurch when I was at WORD. One of my favourite breakfast destinations. Breakfast is my gateway into the day ahead, it is food but it is more than food. It is the ideas simmering, the map unfolding, the poem making itself felt.
The poems I have selected are not so much about breakfast but have a breakfast presence that leads in multiple directions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.
Unspoken, at breakfast
I dreamed last night that you were not you
but much younger, as young as our daughter
tuning out your instructions, her eyes not
looking at a thing around her, a fragrance
surrounding her probably from her
freshly washed hair, though
I like to think it is her dreams
still surrounding her
from her sleep. In my sleep last night
I dreamed you were much younger,
and I was younger too and had all the power –
I could say anything but needed to say
nothing, and you, lovely like our daughter,
worried you might be talking too much
about yourself. I stopped you
in my arms, pressed my face
up close to yours, whispered into
your ear, your curls
around my mouth, that you were
my favourite topic. That
was my dream, and that is still
my dream, that you were my favourite topic –
but in my dream you were
much younger, and you were not you.
from Pasture and Flock: New & Selected Poems, Auckland University Press, 2018
You refused the grapefruit
I carefully prepared
Serrated knife is best
less tearing, less waste
To sever the flesh from the sinew
the chambers where God grew this fruit
the home of the sun, that is
A delicate shimmer of sugar
and perfect grapefruit sized bowl
and you said, no, God, no
I deflated a little
and was surprised by that
What do we do when we serve?
Offer little things
as stand-ins for ourselves
All of us here
women standing to attention
knives and love in our hands
From The Facts, Victoria University Press, 2018
How time walks
I woke up and smelled the sun mummy
a pattern of paradise
casting shadows before breakfast
he’s fascinated by mini beasts
how black widows transport time
a red hourglass
under their bellies
how centipedes and worms
curl at prodding fingers
he’s ice fair
sometimes when he sleeps
I lock the windows
to secure him in this world
from Entangled islands, Anahera Press, 2015
Woman at Breakfast
June 5, 2015
This yellow orange egg full of goodness and instructions.
Round end of the knife against the yolk, the joy which can only be known
as a kind of relief for disappointed hopes and poached eggs go hand in hand.
Clouds puff past the window it takes a while to realise they’re home made
our house is powered by steam like the ferry that waits by the rain-soaked wharf
I think I see the young Katherine Mansfield boarding with her grandmother with her duck-handled umbrella.
I am surprised to find I am someone who cares for the bygone days of the harbour.
The very best bread is mostly holes networks, archways and chambers
as most of us is empty space around which our elements move in their microscopic orbits.
Accepting all the sacrifices of the meal the unmade feathers and the wild yeast I think of you. Happy birthday.
from The Internet of Things, Victoria University Press, 2017
How to live through this
We will make sure we get a good night’s sleep. We will eat a decent breakfast, probably involving eggs and bacon. We will make sure we drink enough water. We will go for a walk, preferably in the sunshine. We will gently inhale lungsful of air. We will try to not gulp in the lungsful of air. We will go to the sea. We will watch the waves. We will phone our mothers. We will phone our fathers. We will phone our friends. We will sit on the couch with our friends. We will hold hands with our friends while sitting on the couch. We will cry on the couch with our friends. We will watch movies without tension – comedies or concert movies – on the couch with our friends while holding hands and crying. We will think about running away and hiding. We will think about fighting, both metaphorically and actually. We will consider bricks. We will buy a sturdy padlock. We will lock the gate with the sturdy padlock, even though the gate isn’t really high enough. We will lock our doors. We will screen our calls. We will unlist our phone numbers. We will wait. We will make appointments with our doctors. We will make sure to eat our vegetables. We will read comforting books before bedtime. We will make sure our sheets are clean. We will make sure our room is aired. We will make plans. We will talk around it and talk through it and talk it out. We will try to be grateful. We will be grateful. We will make sure we get a good night’s sleep.
from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019
Your high bed held you like royalty.
I reached up and stroked your hair, you looked at me blearily,
forgetting for a moment to be angry.
By breakfast you’d remembered how we were all cruel
and the starry jacket I brought you was wrong.
Every room is painted the spectacular colour of your yelling.
I try and think of you as a puzzle
whose fat wooden pieces are every morning changed
and you must build again the irreproachable sun,
the sky, the glittering route of your day. How tired you are
and magnanimous. You tell me yes
you’d like new curtains because the old ones make you feel glim.
And those people can’t have been joking, because they seemed very solemn.
And what if I forget to sign you up for bike club.
The ways you’d break. The dizzy worlds wheeling on without you.
from The Ski Flier, Victoria University Press, 2017
14 August 2016
The day begins early, fast broken with paracetamol ibuprofen, oxycodone, a jug of iced water too heavy to lift. I want the toast and tea a friend was given, but it doesn’t come, so resort to Apricot Delights intended to sustain me during yesterday’s labour. Naked with a wad of something wet between my legs, a token gown draped across my stomach and our son on my chest, I admire him foraging for sustenance and share his brilliant hunger. Kicking strong frog legs, snuffling, maw wide and blunt, nose swiping from side to side, he senses the right place to anchor himself and drives forward with all the power a minutes-old neck can possess, as if the nipple and aureole were prey about to escape, he catches his first meal; the trap of his mouth closes, sucks and we are both sated.
just some huge rude dinner plate you left unwashed
brilliant with bioluminescent mould
how dare you rhapsodize my loneliness into orbit
to the thought of us
halfway across the planet staring up
at some self-same moon & pining for each other
but now I long for a fixed point between us
because from here
even the moon is different
a broken bowl
unlatched from its usual arc & butchered
by grievous rainbows
celestial ceramic irreparably splintered
as though thrown there
and all you have left me with is
this gift of white phosphorous
dissolving the body I knew you in
to lunar dust
in New Poets 5, Auckland University Press, 2019, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor
I never meant to want you.
the laughter and the toast
the talking and the muffins
somewhere in our Tuesday mornings
I started falling for you.
Now I can’t go back
and I’m not sure if I want to.
from woman, phenomenally
Breakfast in Shanghai
for a morning of coldest smog
A cup of black pǔ’ěr tea in my bedroom & two bāozi from the
lady at the bāozi shop who has red cheeks. I take off my gloves,
unpeel the square of thin paper from the bun’s round bottom.
I burn my fingers in the steam and breathe in.
for the morning after a downpour
Layers of silken tofu float in the shape of a lotus slowly
opening under swirls of soy sauce. Each mouthful of doufu
huā, literally tofu flower, slips down in one swallow. The
texture reminds me of last night’s rain: how it came down
fast and washed the city clean.
On the table, matching tiny blue ceramic pots of chilli oil,
vinegar and soy sauce. In front of me, the only thing that
warms: a plate of shuǐjiǎo filled with ginger, pork and cabbage.
I dip once in vinegar, twice in soy sauce and eat while the
woman rolls pieces of dough into small white moons that fit
inside her palm.
for a pink morning in late spring
I pierce skin with my knife and pull, splitting the fruit open.
I am addicted to the soft ripping sound of pink pomelo flesh
pulling away from its skin. I sit by the window and suck on the
rinds, then I cut into a fresh zongzi with scissors, opening the
lotus leaves to get at the sticky rice inside. Bright skins and leaves
sucked clean, my hands smelling tea-sweet. Something inside
me uncurling. A hunger that won’t go away.
NIna Mingya Powles
from Magnolia 木蘭, Seraph Press, 20020
Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a German-Samoan mother and a Palagi father. She was the recipient of a 2018 Pasifika Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Serie promoted her collections Tapa Talk and Entangled Islands at the 2019 International Arsenal Book Festival in Kiev. She collaborated with filmmaker Anna Marbrook to produce a short film, Te Ara Kanohi, for Going West 2021. Her latest poetry collection, Sleeping With Stones, will be launched during Matariki 2021.
Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper‘s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.
Kate Camp’s most recent book is How to Be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems published by VUP in New Zealand, and House of Anansi Press in Canada.
Tate Fountain is a writer, performer, and academic based in Tāmaki Makaurau. She has recently been published in Stuff, Starling, and the Agenda, and her short fiction was highly commended in the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition (2020).
Paula Harris lives in Palmerston North, where she writes and sleeps in a lot, because that’s what depression makes you do. She won the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize and the 2017 Lilian Ida Smith Award. Her writing has been published in various journals, including The Sun, Hobart, Passages North, New Ohio Review and Aotearotica. She is extremely fond of dark chocolate, shoes and hoarding fabric. website: http://www.paulaharris.co.nz | Twitter: @paulaoffkilter | Instagram: @paulaharris_poet | Facebook: @paulaharrispoet
Rebecca Hawkes works, writes, and walks around in Wellington. This poem features some breakfast but mostly her wife (the moon), and was inspired by Alex Garland’s film adaptation of Jeff Vandermeer’s novel Annihilation. You can find it, among others, in her chapbook-length collection Softcore coldsores in AUP New Poets 5. Rebecca is a co-editor for Sweet Mammalian and a forthcoming collection of poetry on climate change, prances about with the Show Ponies, and otherwise maintains a vanity shrine at rebeccahawkesart.com
Anna Jackson lectures at Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington, lives in Island Bay, edits AUP New Poets and has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP 2018).
Therese Lloyd is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Other Animals (VUP, 2013) and The Facts (VUP, 2018). In 2017 she completed a doctorate at Victoria University focusing on ekphrasis – poetry about or inspired by visual art. In 2018 she was the University of Waikato Writer in Residence and more recently she has been working (slowly) on an anthology of ekphrastic poetry in Aotearoa New Zealand, with funding by CNZ.
Maria McMillan is a poet who lives on the Kāpit Coast, originally from Ōtautahi, with mostly Scottish and English ancestors who settled in and around Ōtepoti and Murihiku. Her books are The Rope Walk (Seraph Press), Tree Space and The Ski Flier (both VUP) ‘Morning song‘ takes its title from Plath.
Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Wellington, currently living in London. She is the author of Magnolia 木蘭, a finalist in the Ockham Book Awards, a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai, and several poetry chapbooks and zines. Her debut essay collection, Small Bodies of Water, will be published in September 2021.
Helen Rickerby lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley. She’s the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019), which won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, which mostly publishes poetry.
So many poets have written walking poems. So many poets have commented on the relationship between walking and a poem gathering momentum in the pedestrian’s head. Just for a start, I am thinking of Jenny Bornholdt’s magnificent poem ‘Confessional’, Michele Leggott’s walking blind, a vital thread, with different insight and senses on alert in her poems, and of course Blanche Baughan’s love of hill walking. A poem itself is a form of walking with its various rhythms and absorptions. The poet becomes walker, bricoleur, observer, mind-drifter.
My most recent collection The Track (Seraph Press) was written as I walked the third day of the Queen Charlotte Track with a broken foot in a wild storm. To keep walking I used the alphabet to compose poems and returned home with a book-length sequence. Whenever I have read from it, I am right back in the storm diverting pain with words. A strange feeling indeed. But I also have the early mornings at Te Henga Bethells. Walking on the near empty beach in the early morning light is an opening for poetry. Glorious.
I am currently reading Foxtrot and Other Collisons, Shari Kocher’s sublime second collection. In her endnote she says the poems were written over a five-year period. She wrote:
No poem in this collection was written before it was walked: arbitrary or otherwise, the rule I applied to the book’s organic growth was that each poem was to be ‘discovered’ on foot, and many continued to be composed peripatetically across many drafts while out walking in ways dedicated to that terrain.
The poems I have selected are not so much about walking but have a walking presence that leads in multiple directions. Many of the poems are longer rather shorter and take you on glorious excursions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.
She is walking at the edge of the sea
on the wet shining sand.
The bright sky is behind her.
She is travelling
on a sheet of grey light.
We pass, and I wave.
She laughs. Of course.
A woman who walks at the edge,
on light, would laugh.
Madeline McGovern’s ‘Enchanted forest’, source of Rose People’s poem
A path of stars
There are many things
I would like to tell you,
I would like to tell you
in this life
everything will be okay
I would like to tell you
that you will walk upon a path of stars
that you will travel through the forest
and never lose your way
I would like to tell you
to look only at the stars
and not the gaps between them
to look at the sun
and not the clouds.
My darling, I would like to tell you all these things
for the same reason we read fairy stories to children
and weave their years with mythologies
because there is comfort is such lies
because I want the world you live in
to carry more magic
and less sharp edges.
But, on this dark night
I have run out of comforting lies.
I cannot promise you a path of stars.
some days you will walk upon
unforgiving concrete or sharp-edged gravel
some days you will wade through quicksand.
Tonight, I cannot conjure stars
without the black between them.
My darling, I can only wish
when you walk through the dark and tangled forest
and lose your way a thousand times
that one day
you come across a clearing
where you can sit
and where the sun will find you
and warm your face
and where you can rest.
you can rest.
we’re monitoring pests at the Maungatautari reserve
gluing bait to ink slick cardboard with peanut butter
extracted from a single hole in the finger of a latex
glove bulging with the breakfast spread
our hands were all sticky fingers and dirt
made it to the first true slope
gorse brushing our knees the angle necessitating
a fuck-this what-are we doing crawl upwards
the trees move back and forth
poles caught in a tide
swinging long ways
between sickly white clouds
and glare-blue sky
a miromiro sitting plump on a ponga
squeaking like a mouse
then fluttering caught blurry on a camera
there are no edgerleyi in sight
Māhinaarangi’s perfume a ghost in the clouds
replaced by sweat-stink
the trip back down is a chorus of snaps
and low groans from wood and soil
giving way under our weight grown careless
then we’re back through the mechanical gate
one shuts and locks for the other to unlock and open
pull it back on its squealing hinge
to leave the reserve behind
it’s a short trek down the hill back to the car
the air made pungent by cowpats
essa may ranapiri
from Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato poetry, ed Vaughan Rapatahana, Waikato Press, 2019, selected by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor
A Walk with Your Father
Before you do anything else, check your lungs.
Are they the right size for you, are you the right size for them?
Are they nice and snug against your ribs and spine?
Don’t worry if they’re a bit big for you, you’ll grow into them.
They must be full, however; you don’t want them empty.
You have a long way to go.
Put your hand inside your mouth and make sure
everything’s in it’s place, check that all the pipes and hoses
leading from your lungs into your mouth are in position and in good nick.
You don’t want any leaks or sudden explosions
this is your air we’re talking about.
Close your mouth securely around this apparatus.
Next check your weight. If you are too heavy
or too light you won’t get anywhere. By the way
there’s no need to take a whole lot of extras with you.
Some people strap expensive knives to their legs and wear protective gloves.
There’s no real need for any of this – an ordinary old sharp knife
from the kitchen drawer will do. And just your bare hands.
You may need to signal to each other.
Now pay some attention to your skin.
It should feel secure and warm
but also allow plenty of room to move freely.
There are any number of colours available nowadays –
they all do pretty much the same job.
Your feet, are they the right size?
If they’re too large you will tire quickly,
too small and you’ll be left behind.
You’re probably looking at feet
about the same size as his.
Your eyes – spit in them.
It keeps everything clear.
That step you’re about to take
will have to be wider than you’re used to.
Don’t forget to move forwards, not backwards.
Keep your hand on your mouth so everything stays in place
when you break the surface.
Mihi to Tangaroa. Mihi to Hinemoana.
Now get yourself in under there,
Do it now, go.
He’ll be right behind you.
from mātuhi / needle, Victoria University Press, 2004
When I Head Home I Like To Be On The Left Side Of The Road SoAs To Be Closer ToWhere I Am Heading
I walk home with a bouquet of flowers held up
like an explorer holding up a torch,
in the early days of these days.
The flowers do not emanate
light, but they do catch the eyes of the people
I might like. The flowers will sit by my bed
waiting for when I open my nose from sleep.
from horse power, printed by Fernbank Studio, 2019
The verb ‘to be’
It is foggy.
There is a mountain.
I am climbing the mountain.
She is climbing the mountain.
The path is slippery.
She says, ‘It is all right.
It will all be all right.’
She is right.
There are people behind us.
They are climbing the mountain.
They are in the fog.
Their voices are broken.
There is a shout.
There is laughter.
We are all climbing the mountain.
She is climbing ahead of me.
There is fog in her hair.
Her hair is glittering.
The wind is cold.
There is a man with a walking stick.
There are names scratched on the stick.
He carries the names as if they were eggs.
They could fall and smash.
We are carrying names too.
They are carved on bone.
They are scratched on skin.
We are all carrying names up the mountain.
There is a chapel at the top.
It is locked.
Its walls are damp.
There is broken timber.
There are fallen stones.
It is cold here.
Now we are turning.
We are going down.
She is running.
She is sliding down the mountain.
I am following her.
She is running ahead in the fog.
That is how it is now.
That is how it will be.
That is how it will be
till she is and I am not.
She will be.
I will not be.
The verbs slip under our boots,
like small changeable stones.
from The Pop-Up Book of Invasions, Auckland University Press, 2007
A note about ‘The verb ‘to be’’
This poem was written when I had a writing fellowship in Ireland. My younger daughter took leave from her job working with kakapo recovery on Codfish Island and came to stay for a month. We climbed the high hills.
We climbed Croagh Patrick, up the slippery path from the enormous carpark and visitor centre to the crest where the fog was thick and the chapel was closed and a chill wind tore at the flimsy remnants of shelters built to give some protection to the thousands who come here each year. Toward the top we met a man who was climbing using a camán (the stick used in hurling or the women’s version of the game, camogie) as a support on the stony ground. He showed us some names written on the flat head of the camán. ‘You’ll recognise these’ he said. We didn’t, and felt awkward for not knowing. It was an All-Irish champion camogie team he had coached, his daughter’s name among them. Some time after their victory she had become ill and was now in hospital, and he had made a vow to climb Croagh Patrick 30 times, if only she could be made well. He carried the camán each time. This was his 29th pilgrimage.
We climbed Errigal, a steep-sided hill in Donegal. Irish is still spoken around here and the man who ran the hostel was passionate for the language. It is subtle, he said. There are, for instance, two verbs meaning ‘to be’: one suggests permanence (‘this is the floor’). The other suggests transience and is used, for example, when speaking of the weather (‘it is sunny’).
I walked up the tracks behind my daughter with her strong legs, her dreadlocked hair. Not that long ago, I led her. I can still feel the weight of her in my arms, carrying her when she didn’t want to walk any more between banks of tussocks and flowering hebes on the track at Tongariro, or through the bearded bush at Dawson Falls, or on some sunny Sunday walk near Pohangina. The feel of her little duffel coat and her red tights and her feathery hair, usually chopped into a jagged fringe by herself using the toenail scissors. Now she takes the lead and I’m following, and behind us, there’s that long queue of people, living and dead, stretching back down into the fog.
Past the green flowers
past the red stool
past the drying towels
past the letter from school
past the newspapers
past the glass fruit bowl
past the decanter
past the ‘Hoptimist’ doll
and into the kitchen.
Past the oven
past the breadbin
past the broken dishwasher
past the empty tomato tin
and towards the table.
Around the red chair
over the floorboards
past the stairs
and onto the rug.
Past the lamp
past the outside world
past the radio
past the Argentinian print
and around the bassinet.
Past the novels
past the poetry
past the proteas
past the pottery
and into the sun.
Past the breeze
past the ottoman
past the unwrapped cheese
past the pestle
past the wine rack
under my armpit:
two deep eyes
still shining wide,
so we keep circling
until sleep arrives.
from neon daze, Victoria University Press, 2019
How normal it feels to get around new places— how basely, physically normal it is for our feet to touch the ground and propel us forward, step after step exactly as they do anywhere.
And if these roads home one day become the rivers they once were— though we might have to pedal the currents or steady our soles on pebbles— we’ll soon get used to it.
A flavour’s only new at first taste; and common sights become invisible; and love dulls into something necessary; and in grief we think this new lack is impossible to live with but we do.
from Craven, Victoria University Press, 2019
By the Bosphorous Strait I sat down and wept
when Istanbulites woke to find the water a bright turquois they thought
the worst, a curse had taken over the city or toxins seeped from textile
factories but scientists agreed it was just an explosion of plankton migrating
from the Black Sea, a milky blessing heralding the summer calm, I am told
I did not find out I was colour blind until they tested our class at the library
in Form 2, it explained so much, why I always coloured grass in brown and
tree bark green, why I’d clash my outfits and no one is impolite enough
to tell me, my parents must have thought I was stupid or acting out, the
scientists agreed it was neither
my manager told me that things can be difficult here, but when you walk
along the Bosphorous it makes it all worth it, sometimes I think this
city is magical, other times I’m sure it is cursed, a dark pact signed in its
catacombs centuries ago threatening to explode, most of the time it is sad,
mourning a lover lost or a friend it couldn’t save
everyday at 12.30pm I walk out of the office and stand at its mouth waiting
for a sign, for the air to return, the explosions in my lungs to subside, the
panic attacks are a daily occurrence, a striking in the middle of a meeting, a
hungry mall, a dolmus packed with strangers and I tense my abdomen and
squeeze my shirt with my hands and try not to remember
for the life of me all I can see is blue, even the scientists are at a loss on this
one, they tell me to relax my shoulders and focus on my breathing, not
worry about time I can’t unwind
it’s amazing how something can be right in front of you and you just can’t see it
from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020, selected by Alison Wong
as you walk you become the vanishing
as you walk you lose the point
as you walk you snow
the ranges hold the storm
the ranges bite the neck
and night and day unfix
and night and day turn stone
snow monkeys sit with ice on lashes
coast monkeys pick snails from pools
shop monkeys flip fish in milk and flour
as you walk through autumn, the ranges
unfix snow, and pool you lose
ice-pick, milk-lash, snail-bite—
turn your neck to the day—
from Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018).
I became an old woman
Doctor and physio
circling my fingers
around a stick
bone on wood
Swinging my legs
to a new rhythm
wood on bone
bone on wood
in the art
of walking a duet
published NZ Listener, 1999
She collected broken things: fragments of a delicate speckled eggshell she found on the gravel driveway, a starfish arm from the beach. She kept them in a leadlight box, along with her imaginings.
He was the one who knew the way back: just to the left of the forked piece of driftwood standing upright on the shore. Over the bed of African daisies and ice plants. Past the clump of marram and close to the flat patch of sand where they’d lain together that time. That time he hardly thought about any more.
She walked briskly, in a way that made you think the act of walking was the purpose of the walk. Not the view of the island, nor the chirrup of pipits camouflaged in the dunes. Not the way a shoe sinks into the sand, nor the sight of a collie hurtling after a stick. No, her walk was for the sake of walking and she’d dressed accordingly: the sneakers, the sun visor, the sensible orange windbreaker.
The sheets were so bright against the dull sky, he almost couldn’t bear it. He wanted to take a pot of red paint and throw it against them. He wanted to tell her, you bring out the red in me.
She lay on top of the duvet being a starfish, each of her hands touching an edge of the bed. She thought how nice it would be, not to have to share.
He found himself walking up and down the gravel driveway, just to hear it crunch underfoot as the stones scraped against each other. When he noticed her watching him from the bedroom window, he just kept crunching.
She lifted the speckled egg from its cotton wool cradle in the leadlight box and fitted the pieces together to make it whole again. There was one piece missing. She turned the shell so she couldn’t see the gap.
Pounding the driveway. Grinding the stones. He supposed he could do it all day. His heavy tread. His trample. He didn’t see her leave the house.
The beach was a beacon, making her way clear. She could feel the island’s solid presence, even when she couldn’t quite see it.
He recognised her footsteps, getting louder. There she was at his shoulder, joining her crunching pace to his. His foot, her foot. Stamping together on a firm earth. Her foot, his foot. Two in step. A two-step. She smelt like biscuits. He reached for her hand.
from Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus Auckland University Press, 2011
We often wonder what moves us in a day – was it words in a sequence that surprised us
or notes played by someone who kept their mouth closed & let the sound leave their broken body
or maybe after years it was the sight of your brother nursing his leg down the hill catching up with you
so you could walk on together to discuss what bird that was in the bush making the sound
neither of you were certain of.
from Five O’Clock Shadows The Cuba Press, 2020
walking with Dorothy
a dog bothers the scraps
of food around the compost bin
it howls at the murmur of the village stream
ignoring the voice calling from the hill
the trees gleam with overnight rain
each tree, taken singly, was beautiful
the bees emerging
from their wooden house
mistake me for
a flower and for
a moment I am one
hopelessly lacking in pollen
swaying in the breeze
and taking up space
standing still in the mud
unmaking myself amid
leaves I’ve seen a thousand times
and never wondered the names of
some trees putting out red shoots
query: what trees are they?
a fantail flits from branch to branch
something bigger than language
in its movements
their sheen when captured
and later the sky between
apartments and streetlamps
empties but for the full moon
and Venus striving to be seen
all the heavens seemed in one perpetual motion
grit on the footpath like glitter
the roads very dirty
a morepork somewhere in the dark
oblivious to me and better for it
Ash Davida Jane
from How to Live with Mammals, Victoria University Press, 2021
Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.
Hinemoana Baker is a poet, musician and creative writing teacher. She traces her ancestry from Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Āti Awa and Ngāi Tahu, as well as from England and Germany (Oberammergau in Bayern). Hinemoana’s latest poetry collection Funkhaus (VUP, 2020), was shortlisted for The Ockham NZ Book Awards 2021. She has edited several online and print anthologies and released several albums of original music and more experimental sound art. She works in English, Māori and more recently German, the latter in collaboration with German poet and sound performer Ulrike Almut Sandig. She is currently living in Berlin, where she was 2016 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence, and is completing a PhD at Potsdam University. Hinemoana’s website
Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper‘s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.
Nicola Easthope (Pākehā, with roots in Orkney, Scotland, England and Wales) is a high school English and psychology teacher, and mentor of young activists and writers. Her two books of poetry are: leaving my arms free to fly around you (Steele Roberts, 2011) and Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018). She has appeared at the Queensland, Tasmanian and Manawatū poetry festivals, as well as LitCrawl in Pōneke. Nicola’s very occasional blog is gannet ink.
Fiona Farrell publishes poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction. In 2007 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, and in 2012 she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Literature. Her most recent publication, Nouns, verbs, etc.Selected Poems (OUP 2020) has been warmly reviewed as ‘a Poetry Treasure House…a glorious book’ (Paula Green, Poetry Shelf), and ‘an excellent retrospective… remarkable for drawing small personal realities together with the broad sweep of history.” (Nicholas Reid, The Listener). After many years in remote Otanerito bay on Banks Peninsula, she now lives in Dunedin.
Wellington-based Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), as well a novel, The Year of Falling (Mākaro Press). She was the inaugural Ema Saikō Poetry Fellow at New Zealand Pacific Studio and has previously won the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Prize and the Geometry/Open Book Poetry Prize. She grew up in the UK, South Africa and Australia before her family settled in Aotearoa when she was twelve. ‘Crunch’ was placed third in the Manawatu Festival of New Arts Poetry for Performance competition and performed in Palmerston North.
Trish Harris has written two books – a poetry collection (My wide white bed) and a memoir (The Walking Stick Tree). She teaches non-fiction on the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, is co-founder of Crip the Lit and edited their 2019 pocketbook, ‘Here we are, read us: Women, disability and writing’. She says she’s a part-time crane operator…but maybe she’s dreaming?
Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer who has lived in Egypt, Aotearoa and Turkey. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His collection, National Anthem, was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, poetry category.
Maeve Hughes is a recent graduate of English literature with a minor in creative writing. She lives in Wellington where she loves to walk home.
Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in Mimicry, Sweet Mammalian, Starling, The Spinoff and elsewhere. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, was published by Victoria University Press in April 2021. She lives and works in Wellington.
Adrienne Jansen writes fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children, but for her, poetry is where the magic is. Her fourth collection of poetry, All of Us, published in 2018, is a series of poems, with carina gallegos, around the themes of migration and refugees. She is the co-founder of Landing Press, a small Wellington poetry publisher. She lives at Titahi Bay, north of Wellington. Website
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.
Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.
essa may ranapiri (Na Guinnich, Ngaati Wehi Wehi, Highgate, Ngaati Raukawa) is a Tainui poet from Kirikiriroa living on Ngaati Wairere land / they want everyone to know that the Echidna they write about isn’t a spikey mammal but a lady with two long snake tails instead of legs / go figure / tino takatāpuitanga 4eva
A while ago the world seemed unbearably bleak and dark, and whenever the world seems bleak and dark, an idea unexpectedly falls into my head like rescue remedy. I had bought a bundle of UK poem booklets that came with an envelopes from the wonderful McLeods Bookshop in Palmerston North on my Wild Honey tour. Each featured ten poems on a theme and I loved the idea of sending one to someone just when they needed a poem boost (The Women’s Bookshop in Auckland stocks them I see). My rescue remedy was to host a season of themes over autumn and winter – with me picking poems but also inviting some poets to send poems and suggestions. The response has been overwhelming. Rescue remedy de luxe!
I wanted the presence of the theme to range from subtle to loud so I struggled over the preposition in the title. It might be a poem after or towards or with or from or by or under or hinting at a theme. Not necessarily about! It might simply be a single word resonating. A cameo appearance. I had 15 themes, but Alison Wong suggested ‘Light’, and Hinemoana Baker suggested ‘Land’, so 17 poetry themes will be appearing over the coming months.
If this had been for a print anthology, I would have spent several years reading and selecting, going to libraries, bookshops, agonising, agonising, agonising. But my rescue-remedy plan meant staying at home and returning to my vast New Zealand poetry collection which as you can imagine after Wild Honey is rich in women’s books. I felt like I wanted to do a whole book on each theme so many poems sung out.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my rescue remedy. It means a lot. You cannot imagine what a delight it has been to return to books I have loved over the past decades and to savour new poems sent me. To feel poetry work its magic.
Ten poems about clouds
The sky thinks it is a flock of birds.
Then it thinks it is a cloud.
It also thinks it is widespread words.
Sometimes it looks up at the stars,
imagining other skies,
and sometimes down at the water
where it thinks it sees more stars.
At such times it believes itself to be a god.
But no such luck, poor sky! Soon enough
it is saying hello sir and madam
what a nice day it’s turning out to be
and can you perhaps spare a dollar,
thank you, thank you kindly. The sky
can still hold a small cloud in its hands.
Today it does so, and it rains.
It held our old home that way, too,
awkward and vertical and cold –
the snow caught fire as each day died.
But yes, it is safer here on the flat.
A man comes by with coal in a wheelbarrow,
muttering, muttering. He wants
to sell us warmth, his feet don’t leave the ground.
We think that we will always miss the sky.
It says look up whenever we look down.
from Wow, Victoria University Press, 2020
The Sky as a Metaphor for Everything
We can’t tell if the sky is clinging
to night or happy to welcome this new morning—
everything in this existence wrapped up and encapsulated
in the changing colours and how we constantly remark on clouds’
silly, ever-shifting shapes, how fast they travel, and so on.
Truthfully, we hate how light always wins
in the sky, in rooms, in movies where it’s a stand-in
for goodness— but never in our real lives.
Though our eyes do adjust eventually, and we get by—
like the sun rising in the morning in the sky.
from Craven Victoria University Press
south of the volcanoes.
You cut mushroom gills
soft as moth wings
that fluttering in the belly.
Bread rising on the water tank,
look out to patchy light
on the hills — moving.
Try to forget the names
of everything and call
them out new like rain
dropping on lava.
Steam born and gone
in the same instant.
A thought of one
you still look up to see
in JAAM 33, 2015
Long White Clouds
all anyone ever does around here is / grow weed and stare / into burnt-
out houses / into the rabbit hole / into the cards / into the skin /
and roll their cars / their eyes / their r’s / their cigarettes / and kick
snow / kick rugby balls / kick each other / kick bad habits / only to
find another / like an eel / in the creek / in the backyard / in the
dark / in winter / and try to kill it on the rocks / chase the girls /
in a shed / a bathtub / a bed / with wet fingers / eyes / tongues /
and T-shirts / from spilled beer / spilled cum / spilled blood / spilled
secrets / bad boys / with bad skin / bad tattoos / and bad reputations /
because here / all anyone ever does is / swear / across their hearts /
at referees / at other drivers / taking to the road / cos all anyone
ever wants around here is / out / of home / of the closet / of the
relationship / of the sixth-storey window / open it / to the cold / to
the clouds / to the sky / cos all anyone ever does around here is / dive /
from Poūkahangatus, Victoria University Press, 2018, picked by Amy Brown
Spelling Out Goodbye
“This doesn’t seem to be working,” he said quietly, “Perhaps we should try it another way. “Like this!” He split his shoes, laughed all the way to the top of the roof. “The plane will be coming soon,” he said, “Before that, would you help me out and make me a cheese sandwich?”
“Cheese,” said she, “Of course.” She clattered off like a train carriage. When she returned he was snuggled up on the nearest cloud with his breath spelling out hello goodbye. He left his pocketknife in his pocket, stuffed stars by hand into black-eyed plastic bags. He said catch as he floated them down to her.
in Miss Dust, Seraph Press, 2015
The couple with clouds in their heads
are just outlines cut into a wall
so what you’re seeing is what’s behind
on cloudy days it’s clouds
on rainy days water.
in Wild Dogs under My Skirt, Victoria University Press, 2004
I had never seen you so open
Crumpled on the couch saying
seventh of the seventh
you seemed to be between
trying to get up and sinking further.
A soft redness about you
and a kind of shift somewhere,
to dreams, or clouds,
not things we usually have been
to each other.
Later, you folded the card sent from the office
inside his cap that served
on the deck of a warship in Korea.
Kept it beside you for weeks
until one day it was gone.
appeared in The New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology 2020
Winter rain beats on the windows;
there is cloud-hidden snow
on the hills.
In our space, built for the elderly,
warm air encloses thoughts
of long ago:
the coal range, pots of soup
from A Habit of Writing, The Cuba Press, 2020
dawn the sky is splattered
by my juicy mandarin,
the sea a mirror
of tears soon to fall.
we capture the skyline,
grey lines folding like pursed lips.
wrapped in thick ash and two woven wings,
the sun sets a foot on our city
one eye blending
across an open sea.
E Wen Wong
Lyall Bay is often the scene
of tempests, everything pelted
with salt water, rust spreading
like ill humour. The police
are often patrolling in Lyall Bay.
When the cumulonimbus sit like fat
white cauldrons steaming with cirrus,
look our for brush strokes-
someone’s been sweeping the sky
clean as linoleum after an accident.
from The Propaganda Poster Girl, Victoria University Press, 2008
Johanna Aitchison has published three collections of poems, Miss Dust (2015), a long girl ago (2007), and Oh My God I’m Flying (199). She was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference (Tennessee) in 2019; and her poetry has been published in New Zealand, the U.S., and Japan. Her poem “Miss Dust in a Motel Room” is forthcoming in Landfall 241.
Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.
Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.
Morgan Bach is a poet recently returned to her home town of Wellington, where she also works as a bookseller.
Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper’s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.
Helen Jacobs, aged 92, was born in Pātea and wrote her first poem nearly fifty years ago in response to a TV programme on nuclear war, publishing her first collection of poetry in 1984 and becoming actively involved with the poetry community in Christchurch for many years. She adopted the name Helen Jacobs to keep her writing separate from her life as local body politician, environmental activist and art advocate Elaine Jakobsson. Helen lives in a retirement village with the art she has collected over the years and a balcony of pot plants, delighted the world continues to offer her things to write about.
Wes Lee lives in Paekakariki. Her latest poetry collection, By the Lapels, was launched in Wellington (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2019). Her work has appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Poetry London, Turbine, Poetry New Zealand, Westerly, The Stinging Fly, Landfall, The New Zealand Listener, Australian Poetry Journal, among others. She has won a number of awards for her writing, including, The BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award. Most recently she was awarded the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019 by Massey University Press, and shortlisted for The Inaugural NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize 2021.
Bill Manhire founded the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington, which a little over 20 years ago became the International Institute of Modern Letters. His new book Wow is published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and Carcanet in the UK.
Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou) was born in 1995 and lives in Wellington. Her first book Poūkahangatus won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in 2019. Her new collection Rangikura will be published in June by Victoria University Press.
E Wen Wong is a first-year Law and Science student at the University of Canterbury. She was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award.
Welcome to the Poetry Shelf gathering on National Poetry Day. One of my favourite Poetry Days was in Wellington when I jumped in a taxi and went from one event to the next: Vic Books, the National Library, Unity Books, the Book Hound, Miaow. Listening to others read, reading a snippet myself or mc-ing, it felt like the best thing in the world (well right up there with early morning beach walks, and cooking meals, writing secret things, reading books for hours on end).
These days it feels good to count blessings because there is so much toxic stuff out there. I feel utterly privileged to get sent loads of poetry books published in Aotearoa, and to celebrate some of them on the blog. So many times this year I have picked up a new book and felt goosebumps as I settled into the poem thickets and clearings. You know the feeling – when the music and the mystery and the freshness, the challenges and the sensualness and the connective currents – make you feel so darn good.
I invited a handful of poets to send me an audio or video to celebrate National Poetry Day – it was over to them what they did: read their own poems, read the poems of others, share a favourite book or poet, muse on poetry. Bernadette Hall drove 30 km to hook up with Doc Drumheller and Rangiora Library staff at the band rotunda to create her video. Amy Brown did two versions, one with interruptions and a wee poem from her son Robin. I posted both for you! Student E Wen Wong recorded a poem by Cilla McQueen.
I have been getting these files as Auckland is in level 3 – and everyone else level 2 – and what a treat to listen to them. Poetry can do so much! The past few months it has been of immense comfort, and the way so many of you say yes to my requests.
As some of you know I had a melt down yesterday as WordPress has put us onto a new system that I find hard to manage yet. My daughter helped me a bit, but I had to make a few compromises, and one poet will make a future appearance. Thank you for the boosts on social media.
Happy National Poetry Day everyone. Dip and delve into this glorious and utterly special poetry gathering.
Amy Brown reads two poems of her own: ’16 August 2016′ and ‘Pacing Poem’ from Neon Daze Victoria University Press, 2019. She also reads Airini Beautrais’s ‘Flow’ from Victoria University Press, 2017. Amy sent me two versions, one with interruptions by her son Robin (he does a poem at the end) and one without Robin present. I couldn’t pick as I loved so both, so you get to choose which one to listen to. I think the Robin one is rather special.
Amy Brown reads two poems with the help of Robin
Amy Brown reads the two poems without help
David Eggleton reads ‘The Sound and the Fury’ filmed by Richard C. Wallis in Waikouaiti, North Otago, on Wednesday 19.08.20. Not his tokotoko but a walking stick. Still waiting for the tokotoko ceremony at Matahiwi marae.
Erik Kennedy reads ‘There Is a Man Dancing on the Rudder of an Enormous Cargo Ship’
Bernadette Hall reads two sonnets, one published in Aotearotica and the other in Landfall 239. Her guest Doc Drumheller reads his haiku in Landfall 239. Bernadette had travelled 30 kms to the band rotunda in Rangiora to film this reading with the help of Paula and Daniel from Rangiora Library.
Marty Smith reads ‘Agnus Dei’ from Horse with Hat, Victoria University Press, 2013
Ruby Solly reads two poems, a very early one and a very new one
Chris Tse reads ‘(Green-Nature)’
Louise Wallace reads three poems on a women/mother/daughter theme: by herself, (from Bad Things Victoria University Press, 2017), and by Naomii Seah and Modi Deng (from the latest issue of Starling).
E Wen Wong reads ‘Vegetable Garden Poem iv’ by Cilla McQueen from Axis: Poems and drawings Otago University Press 2001
Amy Brown is a New Zealand poet, novelist and teacher, living in Melbourne. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propaganda Poster Girl (VUP, 2008), which was shortlisted at the 2009 New Zealand Book Awards, The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem, and Neon Daze (VUP, 2019), a verse journal of the first four months of motherhood. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels.
Doc Drumheller was born in South Carolina and has lived in NZ for more than half his life. He has worked in award-winning groups for theatre and music and has published 10 collections of poetry. His poems have been translated into more than 20 languages. He lives in Oxford, where he edits and publishes the literary journal, Catalyst.
David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based poet and writer. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate. His Selected Poems is forthcoming.
Bernadette Hall is Otago born and bred. Following a long career as a high school teacher in Dunedin and Christchurch, she has now lived 17 years in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury where she has built up a beautiful garden. Her 12th collection of poetry, Fancy Dancing (VUP), will be launched at the WORD festival in Christchurch in November. ‘It’s as close as I’ll ever get to writing an autobiography,’ she says, laughing. And as for the wilful sonnets that explode in the final pages of this book, she wonders where on earth they came from. ‘It was such fun writing them,’ she says, ‘as if I‘d kicked down the stable doors and taken to the hills.’ In 2015 she collaborated with Robyn Webster on Matakaea, Shag Point, an art /text installation exhibited at the Ashburton ArGallery. In the same year she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for outstanding achievement in Poetry. In 2017 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to New Zealand literature.
Erik Kennedy is the author of There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), and he is co-editing a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific forthcoming from Auckland University Press in 2021. His poems and criticism have recently been published in places like FENCE, Landfall, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Bill Manhire Aside from publishing his own widely acclaimed poetry, Bill Manhire has edited a number of anthologies and written extensively on New Zealand literature. He was New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate. His most recent collections include Tell Me My Name and Things to Place in a Coffin. Victoria University Press are publishing his new collection Wow November 2020.
Emma Neale is the author of six novels and six collections of poetry. Her most recent novel, Billy Bird (2016) was short-listed for the Acorn Prize at the Ockham NZ Book Awards and long-listed for the Dublin International Literary Award. Emma has received a number of literary fellowships, residencies and awards, the most recent of which is the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for 2020. Her first collection of short stories, Party Games, is due out late 2020/early 2021. Emma lives and works in Ōtepoti/Dunedin, and she is the current editor of Landfall, New Zealand’s longest-running literary journal.
Marty Smith’s Horse with hat won the 2014 Jesse Mackay award for Best First Book of Poetry. Some of the book looks at the cost to her father of not talking about the war. ‘Agnus Dei’ is a poem that crosses religion over into war, although it looks like farming. She grew up riding beside her father, hence the horse strand in Horse with hat, hence the book she is writing about the obsession of people who risk their lives to ride racehorses. She would risk her life right now to ride a racehorse, if she were allowed.
Ruby Solly is a Kai Tahu / Waitaha writer and musician from Aotearoa, New Zealand. She has had poetry and creative non-fiction published in Landfall, Sport, Poetry NZ, Starling, Mimicry, Minarets, E-Tangata, The Spinoff, and Pantograph Punch amongst others. Victoria University Press will be publishing her debut book of poetry ‘Tōku Pāpā’ in 2021. Ruby is also a scriptwriter and her film ‘Super Special’ which aims to share knowledge around traditional Māori views and practices around menstruation has been featured in film festivals within New Zealand and the US. As a musician, she has played with artists such as Yo-yo Ma as part of his Bach Project, Trinity Roots, Whirimako Black, Rikki Gooch, and Ariana Tikao. Ruby is a taonga puoro (traditional Māori musical instruments) player and therapist with a first-class master’s in music therapy where she conducted kaupapa Māori research into the use of taonga puoro in acute mental health. As a taonga puoro player and therapist, she is privileged to work around Aotearoa with people from all walks of life sharing the taonga of her ancestors. She will be beginning a PhD to further her research this year. Her first album, ‘Pōneke’, which also features poetry, is available from rubysolly.bandcamp.cpm
Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC, both published by Auckland University Press. He is a regular book reviewer on Radio New Zealand and contributor to Capital’s Re-Verse column. He is currently co-editing an anthology of queer writers from Aotearoa.
Louise Wallace is the author of three collections of poetry published by Victoria University Press, most recently Bad Things. She is the founder and editor of Starling, and is currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Otago on women, [domestic] paralysis and poetic form.
E Wen Wong is in her final year at Burnside High School, where she is Head Girl for 2020. Last year, her poem Boston Building Blockswon first prize in the Year 12 category of the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Competition.
to divide batter into bowls and drop a different colour into each, then tip the mixtures
into a tin and use a knife to drag pink through blue and yellow through green knowing
in this, at least, there’s no getting it wrong
to lie on the driveway, arms angelic, and be tickled with chalk tracing our edges
to say, This is how big you are – enormous! – look at how much space is yours
to adopt kittens and not be annoyed when they pad across our faces overnight because
really we aren’t sleeping
to read little and slowly, attention brittle and bracketed
to turn the spare bedroom into a quarantine zone for when he comes home
from the COVID ward with symptoms and should no longer touch us
to count the hairs that come away between my fingers
to order three plain grey T-shirts because the world has sold out of scrubs
to answer teenagers’ emails which begin, As you know these are uncertain times and
I’m truly sorry I haven’t submitted my essay yet, and end, I hope you don’t get sick
to hear fear in his language that reminds me of his dearness
to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or The Barrel as our hands turn into volcanoes –
Look at my lava!
to spray all the handles with Ajax and feel like an Ancient Greek propitiating Apollo
to ward off the plague
to find glitter on my cheek three months after New Year’s Eve
to smile at the three-year-old announcing, The kitten’s pooing in her glitter tray again
to imagine holding a social proximity party at which everyone must be within 1.5 metres
of more than one other person
to consider how to get our wills witnessed from a safe distance
to listen to a kids’ podcast about why leaves fall off trees; when the days get too dark it is
right to let go of what allows you to grow
Amy Brown is a poet, novelist and teacher. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propoganda Girl (VUP, 2018), which was shortlisted in the 2009 NZ Book Awards, and The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels. Amy’s most recent collection, neon daze, was published by Victoria University Press in 2019.
neon daze, Amy Brown, Victoria University Press, 2019
The title of Amy Brown’s new collection neondaze hooked me. Having published extracts from the book on the blog, I knew the collection came out of motherhood. I mused on the way you can be caught in a blazing daze as you invent your own mother role. How moments can also gleam with light, the miracle of a newborn baby you are responsible for. Not everyone chooses or can be mothers and there is no standardised mothering role. Thanks heavens. Women have written mother poems for centuries despite denigration from men. I came across the denigration in my Wild Honey travels, but I also came across a rich harvest of mother poems that shed light on the multiplicity of experience, experience that shaped the way poems were written as well as the content. I also encountered relentless doubt – doubt about whether what women were writing could be claimed as poetry when it retained a domestic or maternal focus.
I still encounter this!
At the Poetry & Essay conference in Wellington (2017), I sat with Amy, Joan Fleming and Brian Blanchfield over lunch and we talked about how being a mother does not shut down the option of being a poet, of being a published poet, of being read and valued. And most importantly, about the significance of publishing poems about motherhood, about sons and daughters and domestic matters.
Amy’s glorious evocation of motherhood tests how poems form on the page. neon daze raises questions about both writing and mothering and resists turning away from the difficult, the intensely private. There is a sense of inquiry, contemplation and play, along with the doubt and constrained time. Amy discusses the genesis of the title – she had ‘Neonatal’ to being with and then began playing:
(…) Too clinical to be appropriate now,
I play with the cursor, like the baby plays with the
nipple when he wants comfort rather than food.
I keep Neon: a bright, new, elemental word
like a swipe of highlighter over these days
in the calendar. I add Days, then change it
to Daze. This is where I am, in a floodlit
stupor, so bright I can barely see, like in Dante’s
Paradise, shadowless knowledge so pure it’s empty.
from ‘9 October 2016’
Amy admitted she told people she was writing even when she privately thought ‘this writing didn’t count’. She kept a verse journal for three months after her baby was born – subsequently editing and adding footnotes which pick up on a word or idea prompted by the poem. The footnote titles track a mind musing, raising questions, allowing doubt to surface and resettle. They are like an infinitive-verb poem:
to admit, to edit, to push, to sate, to repeat, to define, to expect, to hallucinate, to dream, to dance, to address, to winter, to resolve , to heal, to regret, to visit, to abstract, to doubt, to donate, to sever, to touch, to cringe, to name, to eat, to earn, to permit, to wake, to care, to wean, to wave, to finish
The footnotes ( I want to call them something else) form their own vital presence, not as asides, but as a sequence of numbered prose pieces that enervate the poetry.
I cross the bridges between poems and prose. Sometimes I make a clearing for the poem and surround it with silent beats like the white space on the page. Sometimes I dwell on the pirouetting trains of thought in the prose and let the questions gain momentum. I am particularly interested in Amy’s double self-exposure in both poetry and prose. The writing is called into question. Is it poetry? Is it poetry of value? Does it make a difference that the writer is a woman? A mother? What lines are crossed? What lines are tested?
I am affected by this collection because it draws me deep into the challenges of writing and motherhood. How can I write when I am so depleted? How can I write anything of worth? I still feel this.
The poetry exposes both physical and emotional realities. At times it underlines the relentless day-in-day-out routines that both exhaust and provide uplift, while at other times the poetry holds a scene (still, luminous) for us to absorb. This is a personal record of mothering: of baby stages, breastfeeding, a need to avoid baby bragging, to settle baby to sleep, to listen to baby coos and baby cries. This is a personal record of climbing to the rock summit, behind baby and father, like a baby mountain goat up the less than easy walk. The poem reverberates with feeling (sharp, understated, complicated)
(…) I have seen you fall, your father replies.
And I think it has something too do with you thinking
you are a mountain goat. The words are said tensely
as he holds his left arm around you and balances
with his right palm against a rock. The sky is
granite too – shimmering, hard and slick.
from ’16 0ctober 2016′
For me neon daze satisfies on so many levels. Lines spring out with musical and visual agility. Scenes shimmer with a sensual underlay. The poetry is fluent, intricate, detail-rich. A question could stall me all day such as the thorny issue of writing the lives of others; of making public what is intimate and private. Amy admitted when she was younger she ‘had no qualms / about giving air and light to what now / seems better off private’. But now she is more inclined to keep secrets yet is compelled still ‘to expose private parts of life’. She claims: ‘now I see that even if it is just / me on display, there is still a problem: / I no longer own myself’. After Amy heard Jenny Bornholdt read a poem about the death of her father and her friend Nigel Cox at the Poetry & Essay conference she asked Jenny a question:
During the reading, Jenny invited questions, so I asked about the responsibility of writing about loved ones – Where I asked, do you draw a line? I don’t, she replied, firm and gentle at once. I don’t draw a line.
from ’26 To Permit’
Ah, this is a question pertinent to the making of neon daze. But the strongest presence is the mother poet, the poet mother. I am drawn into her world, her challenges, her delights, her epiphanies. She has placed herself on show but she had to think equally hard about putting her son and husband in the poetry frame. This questioning of the line Amy may or may not cross, and the various revelations she makes that place family and friends in good and bad lights, affected me as I read. How to write those closest to us?
I love this book. I love navigating the alleys and the undergrowth. I love coming across the hard stuff and then falling into a piquant scene. The mother rests on the sofa with her baby sleeping and watches the men in the garden working. This exquisite juxtaposition of stillness and movement is heightened by the poet’s movement of thought. She meanders from clods of earth and labour to dreams of the future, of what may or may not be. It enters me like the wind. I am replete with the movement of this book. Grateful this book exists.
What if, I wondered, looking at Alison Lester’s illustrations
of things parents want to give their child – a cosy bedroom
with a view of a tree full of wattlebirds; a garden rippling
with tulips and roses; a perfectly weeded vegetable patch
with benign insects for a child to discover; friendly cats,
dogs and horses; a rock pool full of rainbow-coloured fish;
a kaola above us in a tree; a woollen blanket and a steaming
mug of tea at the fireside. What if we never have a garden?
Or pets. or perfect holidays. At least he will know
that we wished such pleasures would be his. This book
is a petitionary prayer of sorts, and I realise now
that the answer to these requests is here, dilapidated
and overgrown and snake-infested, but here.
from ‘8 October 2016’
Amy Brown is a poet, novelist and teacher. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propoganda Girl (VUP, 2018), which was shortlisted in the 2009 NZ Book Awards, and The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels.
The Spin Off – ‘Turning on the Light Ladder: Amy Brown on motherhood and writing neon daze‘
To move to and fro, from the Old Norse vagr meaning billowing water. Waves, Robin, look! I told him today, both of us squinting into the glare of the mid-morning horizon, paddling along the edge of the Bass Strait. His right hand lifted and twisted back and forth, to and fro at the breakers.
I am wavering between then and now. This is our third time at Skene’s Creek. The first was the first weekend away with my partner – my first conventional weekend away with any partner. He booked a cabin whose view from the bedroom window was dense and private with eucalypts and which was all sea and sky from the balcony, where I sat typing away at my thesis with a beer while he barbecued us fresh fish. I had about $36 in my bank account then and was both luxuriating in and anxious about the incongruity of this experience. In the spa bath we sucked each other’s toes and played lavishly with the jets. The photos I took were all of us – our feet the same size and sandy, only distinguishable by my red nail polish; him on the swing, a joyful blur of beard and beer.
The second time we came to this beach we stayed at the same cabin, but the weather was miserable. I photographed the food we made and the special bottle of wine we drank and my partner’s back as he walked away from me in his red jacket along the deserted beach. We brought our yoga mats and held postures together while rain hung white in the trees, obscuring the sea. I had just got my period for the twelfth time of hoping it wouldn’t come and was allowing myself to drink the wine, which tasted of nothing. We still didn’t know why I wasn’t getting pregnant, or how to fix it, or how lucky we would be when the weeks of injections started.
This time we are staying in a family’s beach house. I move the bowls of shells and driftwood ornaments to higher ground. My partner blocks the steps from the deck to the wild garden with three chairs. We coax our toddler to not use the length of timber dowel locking the sliding door in place to drum on the glass coffee table. We find empty snail shells, stones of all varieties and point at the sulphur-yellow underside of the wings of the cockatoos, which shriek en masse as they fly. I photograph the baby in the hammock, the baby in the sea, the baby scooping sand into his bucket; his face is always behind a broad-brimmed sunhat patterned with leaves. After seven, when Robin is asleep, we play quiet games of Scrabble and Monopoly at the outdoor table, drinking wine and eating chocolate to keep warm. On every visit I’ve forgotten how cold the beach gets at night and pack inadequately. This time I bring socks but no shoes, and many T-shirts but no heavy jersey. Like an eighteen-month-old I wear socks and sandals and eccentric layers. To warm up after swimming in the sea, we all shower together. I show Robin how I wash my face by closing my eyes and dipping my head under the stream. Nick demonstrates how he washes his face, carefully with a flannel. We both applaud when Robin’s wet eyelashes open and he smiles.
9th December 2016
There are creases in the back
of my father’s tanned neck, like
Hemingway’s old man. He spends
two hours longer than usual out
in his boat, trying to catch enough
kahawai for our dinner. It is filleted,
barbecued and served with a Persian
marinade from a cookbook I gave
my mother two Christmases ago.
The recipe calls for dried rose petals.
She laid them out in the sun (and
later microwave, to speed the process)
herself, picked from her own garden.
She lets the baby take handfuls
of petals off the aging bunch in
the dining room. He scatters them
romantically across the floorboards.
Later, I find one still clutched, bruised
perfumed and bright as blood in his fist.
Amy Brown lives in Melbourne, where she teaches literature and philosophy. Her first poetry collection, The Propaganda Poster Girl (Victoria University Press, 2008), was shortlisted for a Montana New Zealand Book Award in 2009. Her next work of poetry, The Odour of Sanctity (Victoria University Press, 2013) was the creative component of a PhD on contemporary epic poetry. Her next book, Neon Daze, will be released by Victoria University Press in 2019.
International poetry traffic is so often dependent upon fortuitous connections. The degree of familiarity with poetry from elsewhere is utterly paltry compared with the degree of familiarity I have with local writing. Yes I have studied American and British poetry but I am more aware of the luminous stars in these poetry constellations than the grassroot outings.
On the other hand, we are no longer dependent upon ocean voyages and the constraints of distance, but to what degree does our poetry travel (compared say with fiction)? Or our poetry conversations extend beyond our lapping tidelines.
I am acutely aware of my impoverished relations with contemporary Australian poetry. Perhaps Joan Fleming and Amy Brown could guest edit a local journal with an Australian focus? But then again our journals are often annual and offer vital but scant opportunities for local poets.
This is not the first time an overseas journal has showcased New Zealand poetry, but it is perhaps the example I am most excited by. The editors – Stephanie Burt (USA), Paul Millar (NZ) and Chris Price (NZ) – have worked hard to present a distinctive and diverse overview of our current poetry. The selected poets cross all manner of borders: age, geographical location, style, university affiliation, gender, ethnicity. This matters if we want to move beyond the legacy of white male predomination, urban bias and privileged poetry models. I cannot name a NZ journal that has achieved such movement.
Yes the five books Daisy Fried reviewed – from the fifteen 2017 publications she was sent – were all Victoria University Press. Her selection certainly does not reflect the contours of that year, and we can all stand on the sidelines and shout (or sing) about the books we loved, but I have no issue with reviews reflecting individual taste. However I do take issue that a short intro and five VUP books can respond to her opening question: ‘How to characterise a national poetry?’ Why would you even try! It is a personal take on five excellent books.
The rest of the journal is an altogether different joy. The effect of reading is symphonic in the different hues and chords. Every single poem lifts off the page and catches both ear and eye. Such freshness, such lightness, darkness, musicality, room to breathe, surprising arcs and links and undercurrents. I keep swaying between Anna Jackson’s glorious bee poem and the flickering titles that coalesce in Nina Powles’s offering or the infectious wit of James Brown, Ashleigh Young and Tim Upperton. I am pulled into the bite of Anahera Gildea, Chris Tse and then Tayi Tibble and stop in the tracks of reading. Travelling with Janet Charman and the revelatory suite makes me weep. Switching to Anne Kennedy and the momentum coils and overlaps and poetry transforms a starting point into elasticity on the line. Bill Manhire flips me over into the second stanza, and the lacework of reading – intricate yet full of holes – offers mystery, surprise, wit, curious things.
The time of breathing into clasped hands
hovering over a lighter to make a flame
that an angry man threw his eyes into the night
the belly of his shattered father
weeping rain for separation of earth and sky
Jessie Puru from ‘Matariki’
The editors did not feel beholden to poetry that targets versions of New Zealand/ Aotearoa; our poetry might do this and then again it might not. The poems have the freedom to do and be anything whether they spring from spoken-word rhythms or talkiness or thinginess or anecdotal revelations or sumptuous Baroque-detail or story or slanted humour or cutting political edges.
The poets: Anna Jackson, Kate Camp, Michele Leggott, Therese Lloyd, Jessie Puru, Essa Ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, Robert Sullivan, Kerrin P. Sharpe, Hera Lindsay Bird, Dylan Horrocks, James Brown, Murray Edmond, Jenny Bornholdt, Anne Kennedy, Bill Manhire, Nina Powles, Janet Charman, Anahera Gildea, Bernadette Hall, Vincent O’Sullivan, Courtney Sina Meredith, C.K. Stead, Chris Tse, Tim Upperton, Gregory O’Brien and John Pule, Faith Wilson, Ashleigh Young, Albert Wendt, Steven Toussaint, Erik Kennedy
This issue is a cause for celebration – I absolutely love it – and my celebration will take the form of a subscription. New Zealand poetry has been well served – congratulations!