Tag Archives: Amy Leigh Wicks

A week of Poems: Amy Leigh Wick’s ‘I, Melchoir’



I, Melchior


To be honest, I didn’t know Baz or Casper

before we took the trip.  We studied

in different cities and my focus was on the history of stars

while Casper predicted movement. Neither of us

know what Baz studied exactly, but it was good

having him around.


Many nights over the small flame of our fire

we guessed at why the dream chose us,

and most days I wondered if I was a fool

to leave my life’s work for a single light.


Traveling west we saw the far reaches

of an empire whose gold leafed crown

would wrap around the head of every

nation if it could.  I didn’t mind the welcome

given to us by its governors and princes,

the cold limoncello and soft cheeses, the grapes

brought to our mouths by slender bangled wrists;


But there was something about that king—rouged

and fat, chewing a leg of meat, feeding us like we

were to be eaten next, asking exactly who it was

we were off to see—that reminded me not to be a man

given to appetite. I closed my eyes to the women

and remembered there was somewhere

I was supposed to be going.


The last days of travel were quiet, thirsty days,

full of dust and flies.  Nights we slept close in the dark,

because Baz insisted we not light any fires.  We argued

about whether we were on course and what we were

looking for in the first place until we found ourselves


under the star, at the door of a house.

It was nothing really.  A poor place and the girl

who answered the door was about fourteen, with a naked baby

looking out at us from behind her skirts where he stood.


Casper shoved me and I almost spoke, but didn’t.

Baz knelt, and that decided it. I lowered myself to my knees

right in the doorway, and as I did I felt something

no book has ever been able to explain.  Some strange peace,

the sound of beating wings filled the air and the child laughed.


We unloaded our treasures and as we did his mother’s

face was wet with tears.  She didn’t look at the spices,

she wasn’t marveling at the cost. Her head was tilted,

her mouth slightly open as if dreams she’d had

were playing out before her.  It was enough,

her silent grace, the child’s laugh–to answer at least

the only question worth asking.  We left at dusk

into a different world than we had come from.


The first sleep in the desert brought us the same nightmare;

a slaughter of children and the rouged king’s laughter

heard above the moan of young mothers.  We parted ways

in the dark, with a vow to never look for each other again

for fear of killing the King we’d found.


Did we find what we were looking for, or were we meant

to find something that would take all of history to unravel?

I think about Baz, face to the ground in that doorway,

when a star falls suddenly from the sky and wind blows out the last embers of fire.


©Amy Leigh Wicks




My two poetry readings to launch my new book feature some of my favourite poets

Like so many poets, I loathe people making speeches about me or my work. Much better to stage a poetry reading and celebrate the pull of cities.

My new poetry collection comes out of ten exceptional days I spent in New York with my family awhile ago. So I have invited a bunch of poets I love to read city poems by themselves and others. Big line-ups but it will free flow and leave time for wine and nibbles.

Once I got to fifteen I realised what poetry wealth we have in these places. I could have hosted another 15  in each place easily. That was so reassuring.

If I had time and money, I would have staged similar events in Christchurch and Dunedin where there bundles of poets I love too.

Please share if you have the inclination.

And you are ALL warmly invited!








On discovering Amy Leigh Wicks




I got to introduce Amy Leigh Wicks at the Rupaehu Writers Festival, but I had barely sighted her poetry. What a discovery! Like most people in the audience, she blew my socks off. Amy is an American from New York City whose debut collection is Orange Juice and Rooftops. She is currently enrolled in the PhD programme at IIML and will write the critical component of her thesis on the poetry of James K Baxter.

Listening to her read as opposing to reading her for the first time on the page offers quite a different poetry experience. I cheekily asked if could take away the printouts so I could write about the poems. Usually I just depend upon my scrawlings but as chair I tempered my notebook entries. Amy is one of those poets who really knows how to bring a poem to life in the air (she has a background as a slam poet). And in fact won the slam competition at Ruapehu.

This is what linked the the words in the air to the words on the page: space, silence,  pause, what is not said, mysterious bits, strangeness, poetic tilts.

What struck me on the page: these poems feed on questions, curiosity fizzes both above and below the surface. Alongside the the room to breathe, I rediscovered a clarity of voice, sometimes conversational, sometimes lyrical, always fluent. And then the effervescent detail that forms a little uplift in a line.


Here is an Amy Leigh Wicks poetry sampler:


from Honey Moon

The first time we climbed into bed

it seemed like there was no one


else in the world. Then we left New York

and by the time we reached California


we noticed an army of ghosts floating

like balloons above us each night


The word honeymoon is fractured in two  because although you might think this poem is about bed, love, marriage and travelling, those ghosts bust it apart so you shift a little. Often I enjoy strange presences without analysing their status as tropes in a poem. The ghosts float like balloons above the bed. Beautiful. Strange. They don’t need to mean anything. Yet the balloon-ghosts (or ghost-balloons) keep tugging me back to the poem as though I want to make a story for them and give them a part to play beyond the unsettled sleep of a honeymoon couple. This poem, excuse the pun, haunts me. Read the full poem here.


from Learning to Swim

When ____________happened it made me feel …

This is the first rule. It’s like swimming, our new game –

The facts are false, the world inside is real.


Am I still in Vienna, floating from Klimt’s kiss to Schiele?

No.We are at our dining room table, I am learning how not to blame.

When ____________happened it made me feel …


Usually the repetitive lure of a villanelle is like free flowing honey, and the sweetness of repetition infuses fluency. But here the repetition is like a set of judder bars that shakes you out of easy coasting.


from First Night in Aotearoa

I was sitting at a stone table

there was a fire behind me

and a candle before me and

it was raining all around and the papers

on the table were soaking wet

with black ink bleeding through


A few poems are part of a sequence entitled ‘Kiwi Dairy’ and touch upon Amy’s experience of New Zealand (she is from New York). With this poem, again you get the white space, the shiny detail, the strangeness and the multiple questions. It is addictive listening/reading.


Keep an eye out for Amy’s poetry. You will find some poems on Turbine.


Why I loved the Ruapehu Writers Festival


‘Memoir is a place to illuminate, not seek revenge.’ Elizabeth Knox

‘The Villa is a book of 100 tiny pieces. That’s how my brain was. Everything had fallen to pieces. I was writing in a state of shock.’ Fiona Farrell

‘I am a product of socialism and feminism.’ Fiona Farrell

‘We are not just a who or a what we are also a here.’ Martin Edmond

‘Archives are as questionable as memory.’ Martin Edmond

‘Poems have tended to ambush me every few decades.’ Fiona Kidman


[ I   k e e p   r e m e m b e r i n g

t h i n g s  a n d    a d d i n g     b i t s]


Yesterday there was a flurry of writers on social media suggesting the Ruapehu Writers Festival was the best festival ever. I have loved the richness and discoveries of so many other festivals, along with the family warmth of Going West. Yet this festival was special. The best ever.

The setting: The mountain to the north loomed large out of clouds, and on some days into bright blue sky. The mountain stream babbled past like a soothing mountain soundtrack. The trains punctuated sessions and we all stopped and listened to the comforting sound of travel.

The writers: The writers came from far and wide (Martin Edmond, Fiona Farrell). Bigger publishers were represented (Penguin Random House, Auckland University Press, Victoria University Press) and so too were the boutique Presses (Seraph Press, Anahera Press, Mākaro Press, Cat & Spaghetti Press, Hue & Cry – to name a few).


The sessions: Not a single dud. Just smorgasbord of highlights. I do want to pick out a couple of presentations that struck a chord with me.

Merrilyn George shared Ohakune stories with Martin Edmond. Wow! I wish the whole country could have squeezed in to hear the way the local matters. Has mattered, does matter and will matter. It was Martin’s session too, but he let Merrilyn take centre stage with his little anecdotal prompts.

The fluency of my good friend Sue Orr when she got talking about place as character.

Three writers musing on the Desert Road: Fiona Kidman, Ingrid Horrocks and Fergus Barrowman (standing in for Nigel Cox). The conversation just flowed and the extracts were riveting. I have tracked down Ingrid’s essay, ‘A Small Town Event,’ in Sport 43. The sample stuck with me so I need to read the whole thing.

Elizabeth Knox‘s festival lecture, ‘On Doubt, Doubtingly,’  explored the implications and means of building memoir. Particularly in view of multiple selves, and the multiple reception and behaviour of selves. Elizabeth showed the way ideas can move, stimulate and challenge. Deliciously complicated and moving.

The children who came to my poetry session. Some as a result of my visit to Ohakune Primary School on the Thursday. I had an outstanding time there. This is a school where the teachers have already sown the fertile seeds of poetry. PS Jenny and Laughton Patrick did a great job getting the whole room singing!

Three writers talk on structure: Pip Adams, Emily Perkins and Fiona Farrell. This session got on National Radio because Fiona let her guard down and moved most of us to tears. I thought I was going to start sobbing out loud. Listening to Fiona read from The Villa at the End of the Empire — a book shortlisted in the nonfiction section of the Ockham NZ Book Awards — was extraordinary. Yet the session was this and was more than this. It embraced two other terrific readings and generated a conversation on structure that made me want to get writing.

Six writers read from Extraordinary Elsewhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand (forthcoming VUP). Ashleigh Young‘s detail kept ringing in my ear, along with the moving circularity of Harry Rickett‘s essay and the philosophical nuggets of Martin Edmond (which I tweeted throughout the session).

I was quite taken with the response of Tim Corballis and Thom Conroy (chair) in my session on POV. I just loved the way Tim proposed the leaf on the boy’s shoe acted as a transcendental point of view. Ha! Thom was an excellent chair.

The final session of poets was a perfect way to end. I discovered the poetry of Hannah Mettner and will go hunting for it in issues of Turbine. I loved hearing Fiona Kidman read from her new book (out next week) and Vana Manasiadis from her old. Magnolia Wilson was also a new find off the page (I had loved her foldout poems). A local poet and ex-librarian, Helen Reynolds read her poems in the quietest of quiet voices. We stretched forward, further and further into her reading. It felt like I was bending forward into the end/ear of the festival.


The atmosphere: Warm, intimate, stimulating, generous. The festival had the family flavour of Going West but in a mountain setting. At four thirty each day we spilled into the bar for a glass of wine and platters of gratis nibbles before the final sessions. We shared conversation and that conversation was infused with a common love of books. And an infectious engagement with ideas.

The chance(ish) encounters: Hearing Amy Leigh Wicks read poetry for the first time and having lunch with her. I am itching to write about her poems on the blog. Sitting under the cool of a tree and talking women’s poetry with Sarah Jane Barnett (she was there as reader, as were other writers!). Eating breakfast with the very lovely Fiona Kidman and talking about women’s poetry in the seventies. Meeting a man who lived next to Eileen Duggan but not getting to follow that revelation up (ah! rue!). Drinking coffee with Fiona Farrell and talking about how something in the air or on the page prompted us to let our guard down. Just a tad. Meeting old friends.

The special features: A band of writers cycled back from Horopito Hall with James Brown after hearing a session on cycling and poetry (ok Ashleigh Young where can I read a version of your lost-things poem?). A local kaumatua guided at least forty readers and writers up to a waterfall and back (around two hours). Stacy Gregg led some fans on a horse trek.

The audiences: Most sessions were full to the brim.

The chairs: I especially loved Fergus Barrowman (he did zillions with just the right degree of input), Nick Ascroft (he was hilarious) and Thom Conroy (astute listener!).

The organisers: Anna Jackson, Helen Rickerby and Simon Edmonds built a festival out of nothing yet when I reflect upon this daring, I realise it was out of something. The festival grew out of the hard labour and inventive thinking of these three. It also grew out of the good will these three can harness: from the locals, the venue, the schools, the publishers and the out-of-town readers and writers. It might sound corny but it also grew out of the physical location and its beauty. The festival always bore this mind.

It was really good to hear Anna and Helen read and share ideas. I loved too the way they sat in the front row in every shared and listened so intently. I could see the joy of the occasion on their faces. You don’t usually see festival organisers with freedom to sit in the front row and listen. Yet another sign of what made this occasion special.

Place matters.

I think if I were to ask all writers and readers to join me in a huge pakipaki for Anna, Helen and Simon we would drown out the mountain stream and the passing train. Just for a moment. We are in debt to you. Thank you.


Excuse my phone photos!