Tag Archives: Anna Jackson

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Eleven poems about breakfast

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.

Anna Jackson

from Pasture and Flock: New & Selected Poems, Auckland University Press, 2018

By Sunday

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

Therese Lloyd

From The Facts, Victoria University Press, 2018

How time walks

I woke up and smelled the sun mummy

my son

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

almost translucent

sometimes when he sleeps

I lock the windows

to secure him in this world

Serie Barford

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.

Kate Camp

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.

Helen Rickerby

from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

Morning song

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.

Maria McMillan

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.

Amy Brown  

from Neon Daze, Victoria University Press, 2019

break/fast and mend/slowly

                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                               

Tate Fountain

from Starling 11


Biologist abandoned

I lay in our bed all morning             

next to the half-glass of juice you brought me 

to sweeten your leaving

ochre sediments settled in the liquid

a thin dusty film formed on the meniscus

but eventually I drank it                 

siphoning pulp through my teeth 

like a baleen whale sifting krill from brine

for months after your departure I refused to look 

at the moon

where it loomed in the sky outside              

just some huge rude dinner plate you left unwashed

now ascendant                   

brilliant with bioluminescent mould

how dare you rhapsodize my loneliness into orbit

I laughed                 

enraged                       

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    

beyond apology

to lunar dust     

Rebecca Hawkes

in New Poets 5, Auckland University Press, 2019, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

everything changing

I never meant to want you.

But somewhere

between

the laughter and the toast

the talking and the muffins

somewhere in our Tuesday mornings

together

I started falling for you.

Now I can’t go back

and I’m not sure if I want to.

Paula Harris

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.

 

for homesickness

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 StuffStarling, 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 songtakes 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.

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Ten poems about dreaming

Not many younger poets sent me poems about ice but there were loads of dreaming poems. I have always loved poems that dream because poetry is a close relation with its slants, mists, hallucinations, and deep personal cores. I sometimes think that to dream is to write. To enter the opaque, to reclaim the obvious, to have no idea where you will end up or how you will get there. To astonish yourself.

I am so very grateful to the poets and publishers who have backed my themed poetry season with such loving support.

Ten poems about dreaming

the dream is real

the moon is an open eye

high in the sky or winking

at the world below

the wind is the sea’s breath

rustling the leaves in the trees

night is a dark river

flowing through the day

a bird is a song

the dream is real

clouds are ghosts

flight is a wing

Apirana Taylor

from a canoe in midstream, Canterbury University Press, 2009

Insomnia

it is a black night

I lie perfectly still

mine is the long

awake adult body

two small boys

flickering at either side

night sweats

bad dreams

fluttering in and

out of sheets

I lie black

in between

head

thorax, abdomen

trembling children

my wings

Karlo Mila

from A Well Written Body, Huia Press, 2008

My Father Dreams of His Father

My father dreams of his father

walking in the garden of the old family homestead

on Kawaha Point.

I have not been back since he passed away.

As decrepit dogs wander off under trees

to sniff out their final resting places,

elderly men wait in the wings

rehearsing exit lines.

I’m sure my grandfather never envied his dog more

than during those last days.

I’m sure, given the choice, he would have preferred

to slip away under the magnolias.

The garden is tended by different hands now.

My grandmother still walks by the lake,

her little dog in tow. The current man of the house

is more interested in the chasing of swans

than the cultivating of camellias.

My father dreams of his father

walking in the garden of the old family homestead

on Kawaha Point.

I have not been back since he passed away.

Claudia Jardine

from AUP New Poets 7, ed. Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press, 2020

Sentries

I’m frantically chasing my mother who weaves in and out of the aisles throwing down craft supplies. I trip over scissors and quick unpicks

not seeing her face, only clean ponytail and collar poking out over plum cardigan. We run between shelves of antique vases but lose contact with the linoleum

and float out. In this world we drive couches like cars. I’m picking one up from the junkyard with a blue shag cushion for reference. Bumper stickers are glinting

while the couches lie gridlike. We scramble through the drivers’ seats running fingers through the upholstery. In the winter gardens there are fish tanks

nestled between succulents. One has a tangle of thin eels within it. Boys tap on the home of a solitary neon tetra until it shatters. I hold the fragments together

and try to keep the fish swimming in a handful of glass and water. They put me in the newspaper. I run out to catch you in the ocean, my mother

but you keep dipping under. As I look around I notice, embedded in rock formations are those white plastic fans, not rotating anymore just facing the horizon.

Lily Holloway

originally published at The Spin Off, October, 2020

interventionalist god

in my dream nick cave had a long, thick black mane.

it swung around his hips, kissed

with a bright white streak

snaking its length.

he served noodle soup at the concert

full of moving mushrooms, blooming

into elegant dancing technicolour spores;

tasted like purple.

the show was very red, like the blood

of his falling son. my mother

was falling too,

drunkenly, over crimson seats,

hurting her back and lying down with the room spinning.

pissing off the man in the toupee, and toupee’s wife.

nick drawled, don’t worry,

sung a song sad and it broke us,

spun around inside a steel cage,

spray-painted KINGS on our leather jackets

so we could get into his next stadium show free.

afterwards, we matched up our snails in the foyer.

nick was smoking through tears out back,

about to catch a flight, saying,

i think i’ve met someone with your name,

and it was you already.

Hebe Kearney

Lake Wakatipu

A jade lizard bends in a circle,

chasing its tail;

straightens, and darts for a crevice.

Mist swathes in grey silk the lake:

flat-stomached, calm, slow-pulsed,

a seamless bulk.

Vapours spiral,

pushing up to a cloud-piercer,

where snow has been sprinkled

like powder from a talc can at height.

Grandeur stands muffled.

The Earnslaw headbutts shorewards.

After lying prone for years,

rocks shift downwards

at speed, eager to wheel

through air, crash in a gully,

and not move.

The lake buttons up to dive deep,

leaving a perfectly blank black space,

through which you might fall forever.

David Eggleton

from Edgeland and other poems, Otago University Press, 2018

Daisy

This town is just one great big farm. The main road runs alongside these power poles tilted over green green paddocks, the lines all sagging, the poles on the piss. You hit it at forty k and slug down the main street, past the Strand, the Top Pub, the Nott. Past blue election billboards and wooden fences painted red with Water Gouging and Inheritance Tax. The arterial line is just panel beaters, tractors, pots of pink flowers dripping from shop windows. She says they look like icing. And these cows. There are forty-two of them, all painted up to look cultural. Blue like an old tea cup, pearls and roses dribbling over the rim. One unzipped at the side, with muscle and guts peeking out like baked beans and salmon. One flower power cow, real LSD yellow and orange, like it sorta wandered over from Woodstock and got lost for years and years. Little kids run across the road just to touch them. Name their favourites after their pet cats. Rusty, Mittens, Boots. They’re bolted to the pavement so at night they just haunt the main street, all washed out and hollow. But the worst is that giant one right at the start of town. Two stories high, with black splotches like flames of tar. I have these dreams that the paddocks are on fire and the ground is opening up and all you can hear is mooing. The Mega Cow watching over his herd like some great milky God. The trains rattle past at dawn and wake me up. The cows hardly blink.

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

from Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato Poetry, ed. Vaughan Rapatahana, Self Published, 2019

Tilting

The woman on the bus said

I’ve never been on a bus before

as she lifted her bag

a miniature suitcase

black and shiny as a beetle.

Next time you’ll know what to do

said the driver as he stood on the brakes

pointed to the building on the left and said

The lift’ll take you to The Terrace.

There were no ledges on The Terrace

just buildings tilting and leaning

and the wind to push against.

That night, unpacked and tired

the woman climbed on her black beetle bag

and flew across the harbour

soaring above its flat cool face

staring deep into its mouth

and wondering about earthquakes.

The next morning the bus driver couldn’t shake

the woman from his mind.

As he left the depot

his bus pshishing and grinding through peak hour flow

he checked his mirror

but she wasn’t there

instead he saw the edges of his bus converting

row by row, slice by slice

into a huge loaf of bread.

The aroma filled the aisles

stirring the appetites of even

his sleepiest passengers

and when he neared the end of Lambton Quay

all that was left of the bus, was the crust.

Some like the crust, some don’t, he thought

as he chewed and chomped

until the last crumb fell

into the gutter, into the drain

into the harbour, and out to sea.

What now? he said

peering skywards, catching a glint.

Trish Harris

published under the title ‘Openings’ in New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology 2015/2016

bone / tired

I am tired to my bones

this exhaustion

has wrapped around my ribs

sunk into my jaw

slunk

down

each vertebrae

I take deep slow breaths

each exhale

rattles the cage of ribs

I don’t sleep anymore

I just rattle around the house

the rooms empty of the wakeful

I touch each wall

like a talisman

like an averter of the evil eye

to avert whichever evil

might choose us tonight

I keep vigil

I don’t sleep anymore

rattle the bones

of the sleeping

I am rattled

to my bones

I don’t sleep anymore

the bones of my shoulders

have permanently rolled inward

they hunch

waiting for a fight

for a blow

I have never been in a fight

just in anticipation

of the fight, the flight

there are 27 bones in the human hand

I count them all

in lieu of sleeping

I am tired to my bones

I don’t sleep anymore

Rose Peoples

Pasture and flock

Staring up into the sky my feet

anchor me to the ground so hard

I’m almost drowning, drowning,

in air, my hair falling upwards

around my shoulders, I think I’ll hug

my coat closer. I’m standing

on hundreds of blades of grass, and

still there are so many more

untrodden on. Last night, in bed,

you said, ‘you are the sheet

of linen and I am the threads,’ and

I wanted to know what you meant

but you wouldn’t wake up to tell me

and in the morning you didn’t

remember, and I had forgotten

till now when I think, who is

the blades of grass, who is the pasture?

It is awfully cold, and my coat

smells of something unusual.

It almost seems as if it is the stars

smelling, as if there were

an electrical fault in the sky,

and though it is almost too dark

to see I can see the sheep

moving closer, and the stars

falling. I feel like we are all

going to plunge into the sky

at once, the sheep and I,

and I am the sheep and I am

the flock, and you are the pasture

I fall from, the stars and the sky.

Anna Jackson

from Pasture and Flock: New & Selected Poems, Auckland University Press, 2018

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition, and the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers. Her work has appeared in Starling, Mayhem, Brief, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Turbine, Flash Frontier, Mimicry, Min-a-rets, Sweet Mammalian, Sport and Verge. She is Poetry New Zealand‘s 2021 Featured Poet. She writes thanks to the support of some of the best people on this great watery rock.

David Eggleton is the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019 – 2022. His most recent book is The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, published by Otago University Press. 

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?

Lily Holloway has a Teletubby tattoo and is forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8. You can find more of her work here

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). Thoughts on dreaming and on being dreamed about can be found here and here.

Claudia Jardine (she/her) is a poet and musician based in Ōtautahi/Christchurch. In 2020 she published her first chapbook, The Temple of Your Girl, with Auckland University Press in AUP New Poets 7 alongside Rhys Feeney and Ria Masae. Her work has also been published in Starling, Sport, Landfall and Stasis. For the winter of 2021, Jardine will be one of the Arts Four Creative Residents in The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, where she will be working on a collection of poems.

Hebe Kearney is a poet from Christchurch who now calls Auckland her home. Her work has appeared in The Three Lamps, Oscen, Starling, Forest and Bird, a fine line, and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021.

Dr Karlo Mila (MNZM) is a mother, writer, award-winning poet and leadership programme director. Of Tongan and Pākehā descent, her creative and professional career has focused upon Pasifika peoples in Aotearoa. Her book Dream Fish Floating won the best first book of poetry in the NZ literary awards in 2005. Karlo lives in Tāmaki Makaurau with her three sons. Her third poetry book Goddess Muscle was published by Huia in 2020.

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.


Apirana Taylor, Ngati Porou, Te Whanau a Apanui, Ngati Ruanui, Te Ati Awa, is a nationally and internationally published poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, actor, painter and musician. He has been Writer in Residence at Canterbury and Massey Universities. He frequently tours nationally and internationally visiting schools, tertiary institutions and prisons reading his poetry, storytelling and taking creative writing workshops. He has written six collections of poetry, a book of plays, three collections of short stories, and two novels. His work has been included in many national and international anthologies.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Poetry Shelf review: AUP New Poets 7

AUP New Poets 7 features the work of Rhys Feeney, Ria Masae and Claudia Jardine. The series is edited by Anna Jackson.

Editor Anna Jackson suggests the collection ‘presents three poets whose work is alert to contemporary anxieties, writing at a time when poetry is taking on an increasingly urgent as well as consolatory role role as it is shared on social media, read to friends and followers, and returned to again in print form’.

I agree. Poetry is an open house for us at the moment, a meeting ground, a comfort, a gift, an embrace. But poetry also holds fast to its ability to challenge, to provoke, to unsettle. In the past months I have read the spikiest of poems and have still found poetry solace.

AUP New Poets 7 came out in lockdown last year and missed out on a physical launch. To make up for that loss I posted a set of readings from the featured poets. One advantage with a virtual celebration is a poetry launch becomes a national gathering. I still find enormous pleasure in online readings – getting to hear terrific new voices along with old favourites.

Herein lies one of the joys of the AUP New Poets series: the discovery of new voices that so often have gone onto poetry brilliance (think Anna Jackson and Chris Tse).

Rhys Feeney is a high school teacher and voluntary health worker in Te Whanganui-a-Tara with a BA (Hons) in English Literature and a MTchLrn (Secondary). Ria Masae is an Auckland-based poet, writer and spoken-word artist. In 2018 she was the Going West Poetry Slam champion. Claudia Jardine is a Pākehā/ Maltese poet and musician with a BA in Classics with First Class Honours. The three poets have work in various print and online journals.

Rhys Feeney

I am thinking poetry is a way of holding the tracks of life as I read Rhys’s sequence of poems, ‘soy boy’. He is writing at the edge of living, of mental well being. There is the punch-gut effect of climate change and capitalism. There are crucial signals on how to keep moving, how to be.

The poems are written as though on one breath, like a train of thought that picks up a thousand curiosities along the way. As an audio track the poetry is exhilarating in its sheer honeyed fluency. Poems such as ‘the world is at least fifty percent terrible’ pulls in daily routine, chores, political barbs. The combination matters because the state of the world is always implicated in the personal and vice versa. The combination matters in how we choose to live our lives and how we choose to care for ourselves along with our planet.

waking up from a dream abt owning a house

for a moment i think i’m in utopia

      or maybe australia

           but then i see the little patches of mould on the ceiling

i roll over to check my phone

    but i forgot to put it on charge last night bc i was too tired

          why am i am so fucking tired all the time

i should find some better alternative to sugar

i should find some better alternative to lying there in the morning thinking

Artificial Intelligence is a Fundamental Risk to Human Civilisation

      or what i am going to have for breakfast

           how can i reduce my environmental footprint

                but increase the impact of my handshake

 

from ‘the world is at least fifty percent terrible’

I love the way Rhys plays with form, never settling on one shape or layout; the poems are restless, catching the performer’s breath, the daily hiccups, the unexpected syncopation. Words are abbreviated, lines broken, capitals abandoned as though the hegemony of grammar and self and state (power) must be wobbled. Yet I still see this as breath poetry. Survival poetry.

I am especially drawn to ‘overshoot’; a poem that lists things to do that get you through the day, get you living. The list is more than a set of bullet points though because you get poignant flashes into a shadow portrait, whether self or invented or borrowed.

     5) give yourself time to yourself

light fresh linen candles

       & cry in the bath

           call it self-care

6) eat a whole loaf of bread in the dark

7) start working again

           the topsoil of your tolerance is gone

you break in two days

      this is called a feedback loop

your coping strategies don’t work

           in this new atmosphere

Rhys’s affecting gathering of poems matches rawness with humour, anxiety about the world with anxiety about self. Yet in the bleakest moments humour cuts through, gloriously, like sweet respite, and then sweesh we are right back in the thick of global worry. How big is our footprint? What will we choose to put in our toasters? Have we ever truly experienced wilderness other than on a screen? This is an energetic and thought-provoking debut.

Ria Masae

What She Sees from Atop the Mauga opens with a wonderful grandmother poem: ‘Native Rivalry’. The poem exposes the undercurrents of living with two motherlands, Samoa and Aotearoa, of here and there, different roots and stars and languages, a sea that separates and a sea that connects. There is such an intense and intimate connection in this poem that goes beyond difference, and I am wondering if I am imagining this. It feels like I am eavesdropping on something infinitely precious.

i tilted my face up to the stars

that were more familiar to me

than the ones on Samoan thighs.

without turning to her, i answered

Leai fa‘afetai, Nana.’

i felt her stare at me for a long pause

before puffing on her rolled tobacco.

we sat there silently looking at the night sky

until we were tired and went to sleep

side by side on a falalili‘i in her fale.

 

from ‘Saipipi, Savai‘i, Samoa’ in ‘Native Rivalry’

Perhaps the lines that really strike are: ‘Mum was fa’a pālagi, out of necessity / i was pālagified by consequence / so, was i much different?’

I am so affected reading these poems on the page but I long to hear them sounding in the air because the harmonics are sweet sweet sweet. ‘Intersection’ is an urban poem and it is tough and cutting and despairing, but it is also stretching out across the Pacific Ocean and it is as though you can hear the lip lip lap of the sea along with the throb throb throb of urban heart.

She sits at her window

staring down at the city lights.

Her scared, her scarred, her marred wrists

hugging her carpet-burnt knees.

The waves in her hair

no longer carry the scent of her Pacific Ocean

but burn with the stink of

roll-your-own cigarettes.

Ah, enter these poems and you are standing alongside the lost, the dispossessed, the in-despair, you are pulled between a so often inhumane, concrete wilderness and the uplift and magnetic pull of a Pacific Island. I find these poems necessary reading because it makes me feel but it also makes me see things afresh. I know from decades with another language (Italian) some things do not have a corresponding word (for all kinds of reasons). ‘There is No Translation for Post-Natal Depression in the Samoan Language’ is illuminating. There is no word because of the Samoan way: ‘be back home that same evening / to multiple outstretched brown hands / welcoming the newborn baby into the extended alofa.‘ How many other English words are redundant in a Samoan setting, where ‘isolation’ and ‘individualism’ are alien concepts?

At this moment, in a time I am so grateful for poetry that changes my relationship with the world, with human experience, on the level of music and connections and heart. This is exactly what Ria’s collection does.

Claudia Jardine

Claudia Jardine’s studies in Ancient Greece and Rome, with a particular interest in women, have influenced her sequence, The Temple of Your Girl. I was reading the first poem, ‘A Gift to Their Daughters: A Poetic Essay on Loom Weights in Ancient Greece’, in a cafe and was so floored by the title I shut the book and wrote a poem.

The sequence opens and closes with the poems inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome, with a cluster of contemporary poems in the middle. Yet the contemporary settings and anecdotes, the current concerns, permeate. There is sway and slip between the contemporary and the ancient in the classical poems. History isn’t left jettisoned in the past – there are step bridges so you move to and fro, space for the reader to muse upon the then and the now. The opening poem, ‘A Gift to their Daughters’, focuses on the weaving girls/women of ancient Greece, and the threads (please excuse the delicious pun) carry you with startle and wit and barb. I am musing on the visibility of the work and art women have produced over time, in fact women’s lives, and the troublesome dismissal of craft and the domestic. Here is a sample from the poem which showcases the sublime slippage:

Weaving provided women with a means to socialise and help one

another, strengthening their own emotional associations to the oikos and

to textile manufacturer itself.

The school is filled with Berninas, Singers, Vikings and Behringers.

Our mums are making cat-convict costumes for the school musical,

a mash-up of plagerised Lloyd Webber and local gossip.

I already hate CATS – The Musical.

from ‘The Importance of Textile Manufacture for the relationship of Women’ in ‘A Gift to their Daughters’

These lines reverberate: ‘My dad is furious when I decide to take a textiles class in Year 10. My mother has a needle in her mouth during this conversation.’ The characters may be fictional or the poet’s parents but the contemporary kick hits its mark. How many of us know how to sew? How many of us were frowned upon for selecting domestic subjects at secondary school? So many threads. The speaker / poet muses on ‘all the queens on Drag Race who do not how to sew’.

At times the movement between then and now borders on laugh-out-loud surprise, but then you read the lines again, and absorb the more serious prods. I adore ‘Catullus Drops the Tab’. Here is the first of two verses (sorry to leave you hanging):

there were no bugs

crawling under his skin

where that Clodia

had dug her nails in

rather

The middle section gets personal (or fictional in a personal way) as the poems weave gardening and beaching and family. Having read these, I find they then move between the lines of the classical poems, a contemporary undercurrent that contextualises a contemporary woman scholar and poet with pen in hand. I particularly love ‘My Father Dreams of His Father’ with its various loops and lyricisms.

My father dreams of his father

walking in the garden of the old family homestead at Kawakawa Point

I have not been back since he passed away

 

As decrepit dogs wander off under trees

to sniff out their final resting places,

elderly men wait in the wings

rehearsing exit lines.

 

Claudia’s sequence hit a chord with me, and I am keen to see a whole book of her weavings and weft.

Anna Jackson’s lucid introduction ( I read after I had written down my own thoughts) opens up further pathways through the three sequences. I love the fit of the three poets together. They are distinctive in voice, form and subject matter, but there are vital connections. All three poets navigate light and dark, self exposures, political opinions, personal experience. They write at the edge, taking risks but never losing touch with what matters enormously to them, to humanity. I think that is why I have loved AUP New Poets 7 so much. This is poetry that matters. We are reading three poets who write from their own significant starting points and venture into the unknown, into the joys (and pains) of writing. Glorious.

Poetry Shelf launch feature: Claudia, Rhys and Ria talk and read poetry

Auckland University page

Review at ANZL by Lynley Edmeades

Review at Radio NZ National by Harry Ricketts

Poetry Shelf: Anna Jackson’s equinox sonnet

Untitled spring equinox sonnet.  

I will not ever leave this winter

mood and be a winner,

I refuse, I insist on being wanner

than anyone, wander

where I will, past warder

and hoarder, walking harder

and faster, still harping on, harper

that I am, about my cold hands and damper

feet, my hair, too, damped

and darkened in the rain. Dammed

up I’ll remain like a gutter full of dimmed

autumn leaves, washed white but not dimmer

than I insist of remaining as I simmer

about your supposedly approaching summer.

Anna Jackson

Anna Jackson made her debut in AUP New Poets 1 before publishing six collections with Auckland University Press, including I, Clodia, and Other Portraits (2014). She has a DPhil from Oxford and is now an associate professor in English literature at Victoria University of Wellington. Jackson is the author of Diary Poetics: Form and Style in Writers’ Diaries 1915–1962 (Routledge, 2010) and, with Charles Ferrall, British Juvenile Fiction 1850–1950: The Age of Adolescence (Routledge, 2009).

A Poetry Shelf gathering: AUP NEW Poets 7 read and talk poetry

AUP New Poets 7: Rhys Feeney, Ria Masae, Claudia Jardine, ed. Anna Jackson

Auckland University Press, 2020

Anna Jackson, editor of AUP New Poets 7, suggests the collection ‘presents three poets whose work is alert to contemporary anxieties, writing at a time when poetry is taking on an increasingly urgent as well as consolatory role role as it is shared on social media, read to friends and followers, and returned to again in print form’.

I agree. Poetry is an open house for us at the moment, a meeting ground, a comfort, a gift, an embrace. But poetry also holds fast to its ability to challenge, to provoke, to unsettle. In the past months I have read the spikiest of poems and have still found poetry solace.

It feels really important to maintain our poetry hubs – to listen to poets as well spend time with the book in hand. So many new books have missed launches. I haven’t been to a poetry reading since the Wellington Writers and Readers Festival. This is partly why I am compelled to create Friday gatherings so we can connect with poets across Aotearoa.

I am the lucky one. Each of these poets emailed me their readings and I felt I was at an intimate private preview. Just me and the poems, and the heart-moving discussions on poetry, poems and the book itself.

I will review this anthology at a later date, but in the meantime, settle back in a comfy spot and take a listen, and the support the poetry world and buy a copy! I love this gathering so much I am walking on air, boosted out of covid flatness into glorious activity.

Thank you so much Ria, Rhys and Claudia for the mahi, the poetry love. Thank you.

The Poets

Ria Masae talks poetry and the book:

Ria reads poems:

Claudia Jardine reads and talks poetry:

Rhys Feeney reads two poems and talks about the book:

The Poets

Rhys Feeney is a high school teacher, volunteer peer support worker and fledgeling doomsday prepper who lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. He writes with terrible grammar about things he is scared of. His work can be found in Starling, Sponge, Salty x Foodcourt, and forthcoming in The Spinoff. You can buy his debut chapbook ‘soyboy’ as part of AUP New Poets 7.

Claudia Jardine (she/her) is a poet and musician based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her most recent publication is AUP New Poets 7 which also contains collections by Ria Masae and Rhys Feeney. In recent months she has completed an MA thesis on intertextuality in Anna Komnene’s Alexiad, and now she is learning to groom dogs. Jardine’s writing can be found in Sport 47, Starling, The Spinoff, Stasis and Landfall 237.

Ria Masae is of Samoan descent, born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau. She is a writer, poet, and spoken word artist whose work has appeared in various literary publications, as well as a handful of theatre productions. Her family includes an exasperating, but adorable dog who looks like a cow and neighs like a horse. Since her acceptance into the AUP New Poets 7 anthology, Ria has been working on a poetry collection for her first sole anthology.

Auckland University page

Poetry Shelf poets on poems: Anna Jackson on Bill Manhire’s ‘Across Brooklyn’

One of the things I like about what poetry can allow is the holding open of a sense of mystery even when there is nothing obvious that needs to be solved.  I find this in Bill Manhire’s elliptical “Across Brooklyn.”  That it is a poem about mortality is no mystery: the very first line places the speaker of the poem in “the street where they still make coffins.”  We are given, in fact, a very vividly realised scene, with concrete details we can visualise, and hear – planks and nails, darkening entrances, the sound of someone whistling.  Yet the significance of these details doesn’t seem quite limited to the literal meaning of them, though it is hard in this poem to point to any obvious symbolic meaning they might hold.  The mystery of the poem is, perhaps, simply the mystery of our unease about our own mortality, in this poem figured as a kind of uncanny tourism:

Across Brooklyn

This is the street where they still make coffins:

the little workshops, side by side.

I pass them with my daughter on our walk to the river.

Are we seeking the bridge itself,

Or the famous, much-reported view?

A few planks and nails lie around,

And each of the entrances seems to darken.

Far back, out of sight, someone is whistling.

Yes, I suppose we do walk a little faster.

There is a faint noise of hammering, too.

Bill Manhire 

from Lifted Victoria University Press, 2005, reissued as a VUP Classic in 2018

The first line of the poem introduces the coffins that the rest of the poem seems to try to run away from, passing the coffins by on the way to the bridge.  Brooklyn Bridge is well known for its view – these are tourists, looking for well-known sights – but this is a bridge well known in poetry too, so well known that I misremembered the title of the poem not as “Across Brooklyn” but as the more expected “Across Brooklyn Bridge.”  I might have been thinking of Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” or Hart Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bridge.”  Even reading poetry we can read like tourists, wanting to keep revisiting familiar or famous sites, seeing what we expect to find, getting ahead of ourselves.  But in our search for the already-famous, we might find something unexpected, something unsettling – though what could be more famous than death? 

The coupling together of tourism and mortality does something strange to the sense of audience, too, that this poem evokes.  Lyric poetry often involves a certain strangeness of address, so that reading a poem can be like eavesdropping on an improbable relationship, as a poet addresses a rose, or talks to themselves, or addresses a lover whose replies can only be imagined.  This poem seems to draw particular attention to the strangeness of lyric address, the last couplet in particular throwing a sense of address somehow off kilter.  The ending, with the introduction of “a faint noise of hammering, too,” is curiously inconclusive, bringing in one more additional detail, as if in a hurry to get it in before the poem ends.  It comes as the second line of a couplet that seems to have been already interrupted by its own first line, “Yes, I suppose we do walk a little faster.”  This seems to be a reply – but no one has asked a question.  Yet there is a sense, perhaps, of someone else present, someone this anecdote is being reported to.  Perhaps this sense of someone else there, but not there (are we, the readers, beginning to feel a little ghostly ourselves?) might add to the unease of the poem, a poem that seems to speed up as if hurrying past its own subject matter.  This is no ordinary tourism anecdote, that we might expect to be told in the past tense, perhaps with some pictures to accompany it.  If this is a tourism anecdote, why is it being told in the present tense?  Is it still happening?  Are we ever going to get across Brooklyn to the bridge, let alone to the other side?

Anna Jackson

Anna Jackson made her debut in AUP New Poets 1 before publishing six collections with Auckland University Press, including I, Clodia, and Other Portraits (2014). She has a DPhil from Oxford and is now an associate professor in English literature at Victoria University of Wellington. Jackson is the author of Diary Poetics: Form and Style in Writers’ Diaries 1915–1962 (Routledge, 2010) and, with Charles Ferrall, British Juvenile Fiction 1850–1950: The Age of Adolescence (Routledge, 2009).

Bill Manhire’s most recent books include Some Things to Place in a Coffin (2017), Tell Me My Name (with Hannah Griffin and Norman Meehan, 2017) and The Stories of Bill Manhire (2015). He was New Zealand’s inaugural poet laureate, and founded and until recently directed the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. He has edited major anthologies, including, with Marion McLeod, the now classic Some Other Country: New Zealand’s Best Short Stories (1984).

Poetry Shelf review: AUP New Poets 6

 

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AUP New Poets 6 Ben Kemp, Vanessa Crofskey, Chris Stewart, edited and introduced by Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press, 2020

 

 

 

Salt my song …

I have to love you,

and this farmland upon which I live.

I evolve here.

 

One day I will journey to the sea,

become that river and dissolve into the essence of I.

 

Ben Kemp from ‘The Esssence of I’

 

 

The Auckland University Press series devoted to new poets was launched in 1999 and featured the work of Anna Jackson, Sarah Quigley and Raewyn Alexander. Each volume features three poets, a number of whom have since published highly regarded collections of their own (for example Chris Tse, Sonya Yelich, Reihana Robinson). Anna Jackson took over as editor with AUP New Poets 5 (Carolyn DeCarlo, Rebecca Hawkes and Sophie van Waardenberg).

Volume 7 will be out in August, but first I want to mark the arrival of AUP New Poets 6: Ben Kemp, Vanessa Crofskey, Chris Stewart. The collection was launched on Poetry Shelf during lockdown, level four, with a series of readings, poems and interviews. This was a challenging time for new books when many of us felt tilted as readers and writers, and our major contact with the world was via our screens. The events and mahi that did occur during this time is pretty special. There were opportunities to hear people read and talk about things beyond our local venues. Getting to hear the three poets read at the online launch expanded tha audience, and am keen to make online readings an ongoing feature on Poetry Shelf.

 

However we are now at level one, the sun is shining after endless rain and thunder, the political point scoring is on mute, I am listening to opera divas in my earpiece, the bread is cooling, and I can return to the collection with more focus. For me, reading during level four was like collecting gleams and shards. This word stuck, that phrase, this image. I had the attention span of a gnat. Now I am luxuriating in the way a sequence of poem unfolds, the way it takes you surprise and transports heart and mind. Still at a snail’s pace.

AUP New Poets 6 includes three very different poets – delivers three different reading impacts. Truth is such a dubious word, unstable, hard to pin down, we all know that, but truth seems to matter so very much in a world threatened by liars, catastrophe. I love the way the poetry moves into the truth of their experiences, thoughts, admissions. To be reading at such a human and humane level is significant. I want this complexity of comfort and challenge. Of how being human is neither formulaic nor flippant. This poetry is witty, vulnerable, challenging, complicated …. yes!

Anna Jackson’s lithe introduction (which I read after reading the poems as is my habit) confirms her role as an astute and surefooted editor of this series, with her fine eye for poetry that holds and satisfies attention regardless of the world that bombards.

 

Chris Stewart’s sequence, ‘Gravity’, navigates the miraculous within everyday settings. He faces big subjects such as birth, death and love, and rejuvenates them to the point your skin pricks as you read. He embeds the physical in order to evoke the intangible, the hard to say. There is darkness and there is light.

The title poem is a gem (well they all are!) as it stencils birth on the white page:

 

I hear nostalgia for the womb

the way light misses the hearts of stars

we glove the light in our skin

find sleep in solar wind

wrap ourselves in the gravity

of your arrival

 

from ‘gravity’

 

The agile syntax (‘we glove the light’) signals a heightened state, the sense of miracle, the wonder. I am hard pressed to think of a poet who has evoked birth, fatherhood, parenthood, so beautifully. I am reminded of Emma Neale’s power to deliver wonder and awe in a poem. Turn over the page, and again there is a shift between light and dark, a sense of awe:

 

the first time we bathed

our daughter in the lounge

it was dark except for the fireplace

she lay between us and flickered

 

from ’embers’

 

This is poetry at its rejuvenating best. There is rawness to the point of wound, such as in the poem, ‘a tooth emerges’. The father is wakened by a teething baby at night. The poem spins on the page, a spinning vignette of fatherhood, sharp, on edge, knowing. Here are the final verses:

 

now I am sore tooth pulled

from a soft bed

 

my swollen nerves erupt

you only see my crown

 

but my roots are still

embedded in the bone

 

Ah. Every poem in this sequence hits the right potent note. One poem links the health of the newborn to the health of a genealogy of grandmothers. Yes, family is the glue that holds the sequence together, along with the poet’s astute and probing gaze into experience. A couple of poems near the end situate the poet as son, and the ominous mother father portraits hold out dark hints. There are holes in the telling, dust-like veils, and startling images. These poems are why I keep reading poetry, and why I very much hope Chris has a book in the pipeline.

 

Vanessa Crofskey’s poetry was already familiar to me but her sequence, ‘ Shopping List of Small Violences’ widens my appreciation of where and how her poetry roams. She braids the personal and the political as she moves into the truths of her experience. As she does so, writing poetry is testing and playing with form, discovering form. I am reminded of how language shapes us as much as we shape the languages we use. It comes down to our mother tongue, to languages that are imposed, expectations on how we use language, and our own private relationships with how we speak ourselves. How we might stutter or provoke or soothe or struggle with words.

Just as with Chris’s sequence, the poet produces poems that matter greatly, that broadcast self along myriad airwaves. There is political edge and personal vulnerability. One poem fills a passenger arrival card, another completes a time sheet. There are white-out poems and black-out poems, shopping lists, and graphs. As she navigates form, she navigates being comfortable in her own skin.

The poem ‘dumplings are fake’ sits on the page with verses and measured space, moves with a conversational flow and that characteristic probe into self. There is wit at work, but it is also serious – reading poetry becomes a way of listening.

 

i’m so authentic i use chopsticks to eat macaroni

watch  hentai on my huawei

and go to ponsonby central to eat chinese

 

i don’t carry hot sauce in my bag but i do bring soy to the party

my favourite movie of all time is studio ghibli

and my dad is the white side of the family

 

every time auckland council says ‘diversity targets’, my phone vibrates

i get suggested ads for the national party in chinese

and that think piece on bubble tea is a redirect to my

dot com slash about me

 

Again I am very much hoping there is a book in the pipeline.

 

Ben Kemp’s The Monks Who Tend the Garden with Tiny Scissors’ also assembles poetry as a way of listening. Ben currently lives in New Guinea with his diplomatic wife and three children. He was born in Gisborne, has Rongowhakaata roots, grew up in Manutuke and Matawhero, lived in Australia for six years and ten in Japan. For me his poems are deeply attached to home, to a way of grounding place, of establishing anchors. Of being home when home is mobile. The sequence establishes a series of bridges between Japan and Aotearoa. He carries Aotearoa into every poem, regardless of the setting, while his experience in Japan also deeply permeates his point of view. The poetry welcomes both here and there.

Ben’s poetry is alive with physical detail, sometimes ornate, sometimes shimmering with the deceptive simplicity reminiscent of haiku or tanka. From ‘Food to Song’:

 

Rekamaroa,

a bed of hot riverstones,

under the earthern blanket,

steam rises, the buttery smell of pork belly.

 

Perhaps the most  gripping poem is the longer ‘The Essence of I’, an ode to Walt Whitman. Reading this, I am hoping there is a book in the making.  I find the poem deliciously quiet, slow paced, speaking of homeplace and ancestors, oceans and rivers. Astonishing. There is love and there are longings. I keep reading Ben’s poems and adjusting what I think poetry is and what it might be. Poetry, for example, is a way of becoming. And listening. And building bridges. ‘The Essence of I’ signals a way of becoming.

 

Underground are the ancestors lined up in single file,

feathers in their hair, with paintbrushes for fingers and flutes for mouths.

In the darkness that is their light they are whole,

yet the line they form is for me,

carrying the burden of my impatience, they vent it.

I often pierce my hands through the earth, arms dug deep,

softer in the tractor tracks, we tough hands.

The movements in hand, saying we love each other …

 

The northeastern tip is the desert,

I hitched a ride on that wind-blowing orchestra,

and I found a well,

my consciousness, and perfect white sunlight on a vast bed of sand …

The well was filled with embers, breathing smoke,

I sat for days contemplating its meaning to me,

these loose and odd snippets.

Why burn? Why burn?

 

AUP NEW Poets 6 is a glorious read. Exactly what I want to be reading now. I am hungry for poetry that offers facets of humanity, of humaneness. The anthology brings together  voices speaking in multiple poetic forms, across multiple subjects, in shifting tones and hues. Glorious, simply glorious.

 

 

AUP NEW Poets 6 launch: listen to the poets read here

Auckland University Press page

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Poem Festival: Furniture

 

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Each month I gather and invite poems on a particular theme. End of February I was musing on the idea of furniture. On Tuesday night (March 24th) I woke at 12.30 am and was awake until dawn. At one point I was thinking about how most of us are now living in domestic bubbles and how some of us might be developing new relationships with the furniture. We might sit at the table longer and talk after dinner. We might choose a chair on the deck to read a novel until we get to the last page. We might heap all the furniture in the lounge like a miraculous Quentin Blake hut for our children to play in. But then I began thinking about the beauty,  the craft and the comfort a chair might offer. The way our minds might sometimes be full of chairs and tables.

Thank you for all those who contributed.

 

for Felix

a black shawl over a chair

& the corner

composed itself.

the light came from outside

& delayed/on the

delphinium

& behind the oak trees

1 2 3

a grey stripe

is a tennis court

& men have

white shirts only

& sometimes

arms

while the ball

flying/occasionally

thru trees

keeps the moon

in motion.

 

Joanna Margaret Paul  Like Love Poems (Victoria University Press, 2006)

 

 

 

Summer

 

New white sheets

on the line.

Even the pegs

are warm.

 

Our youngest son

leaks sand.

 

Iris the dog snores

on the green sofa.

 

Cat!

 

Out!                we cry.

My husband glows

in the dark.

 

Jenny Bornholdt  Selected Poems (Victoria University Press, 2016)

 

 

The Camphorwood Chest  

 

my husband dreams of a Japanese garden

 

a room with nothing but a chair

a vase of white lilies

a view of water

 

but my home is like a camphorwood chest

that Chinese mothers give to their daughters

it is carved with the detail of living

a phoenix with wings raised for flight

a pine tree leaning forever in the wind

lotus flowers and chrysanthemums

clouds that could be leaves that could be clouds

 

from here I look out over water

 

Alison Wong from Cup (Steele Roberts, 2005)

 

 

tastes like wine (dawn sonnet)

after Catullus 48

 

tastes like wine, this boy sitting across from me, his

honey eyes looking like yours as he implores

me to join him on the floor

the table a low ceiling swirling

like a chandelier

in the earthquake of these kisses

table legs circling

like the blades of a combine harvester

every kiss is a near miss

my heart escaping like a mouse

into the corn

the summer’s sun all rolled into one

ripeness I can

never get enough of

 

Anna Jackson

 

 

Late bloomers

 

It is still warm enough to sit outside. Einstein sits at the end of the table

to light the citronella candle. He is not sure how effective it will be, but

mosquitoes tend to gravitate towards him. He is full of enthusiasm about

taking the opposite direction.

 

Paula Green  The Baker’s Thumbprint (Seraph Press, 2013)

 

 

Reading room

 

Up in the great reading-room in the sky,

the writers twitch, deep in leather armchairs,

dreaming about all those they are read by

or what rival’s work is ignored for theirs.

Ping. Someone’s begun Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger grins: still ringing down the years.

Austen rolls her eyes; Fowles lets out a sigh.

Ping. Ping. Ping. No ping-a-ling like Shakespeare’s.

 

Li Bo leans over, taps Plath on the arm.

Woolf and Dante quiz Byron on sin.

Eliot smiles his Giaconda smile.

Pung. Nichols starts up. Just a false alarm.

Montaigne gives Wilde some tips on style.

The Brontës share a joint with Larkin.

 

Harry Ricketts

 

 

 

the first time i told, i was drunk

 

the  second  time  i  told,  i  was

euphoric and

 

the third time too

 

it  was  like  i  was  speaking  myself

into being

by  saying  the  words  i

was

weaving     my     Abstract     Internal

Furniture      into      a      gown      of

shimmering fabric

 

or at least that’s how i

IMAGINE it, and

thewordsbecamefleshanddwelt amongusandisaidlettherebe …

 

Helen Rickerby    Abstract Internal Furniture (HeadworX, 2001)

 

 

Kia kaha

Keep well

Keep imagining

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf fascinations: AUP New Poets 5

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AUP New Poets 5: Carolyn DeCarlo, Sophie van Waardenberg, Rebecca Hawkes, edited by Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press

 

Auckland University Press’s New Poets collections began in 1999 and, after an eight-year hiatus, has relaunched the series. Anna Jackson, who appeared in the debut issue, has  edited volume 5 and written the foreword. The series serves as welcome launchpad for emerging poets and has, for example, included the work of Chris Tse, Sarah Quigley, Sonja Yelich, Erin Scudder and Reihana Robinson in previous volumes.

The recent launch at Unity Books (Wellington) was packed with an attentive audience – the reading highlighted three distinctive voices linked by poetic charisma: Carolyn DeCarlo, Sophie van Waardenberg and Rebecca Hawkes.

 

Carolyn DeCarlo, originally from USA, has read at various literary events including Welington’s LitCrawl, and runs the literary reading series Food Court. Her writing delivers mesmerising physicality, detail that illuminates the present tense, a moment that might be hyperreal in ways that startle or soothe or move you.

The opening poem ‘Spy Valley’ is a sumptuous rendition of a scene to the point it glows with heat and crackling light: it’s sensual, surprising, moreish. Every word is pitch perfect and every word adds to a building physicality that clings to you as you read.

 

(…) Their calls cleave the

valley like lightning, crackling in the air,

striking the dirt beneath your toes,

and when the drops of rain hit your face

thick as bread you’re unafraid,

you open wide, you spread your arms

and soak your skin in sanguine heat,

its spongy hug lulling you to sleep.

 

Carolyn offers textured poetry – almost as though you can brush your fingers over the surface of a poem and feel grains of feeling, its physicality, its movement. The poems often bridge the hyperreal and an everyday real, relishing the slow occupation of a moment, a place, a state of being. In ‘Fields of Glass’ the speaker stands musing on a glass hill – there is a building (sometimes sad and green, sometimes uncomfortable) driving the movement of the poem, the thoughts of the muser. Everything is slightly mysterious, anchorless, as though each stanza is a shortcut to censored feeling, reserved circumstances. Again the reading effect is addictive.

 

Another time, we danced

on the floor. Do you remember that?

Our socks bunched up

around our ankles

then our ankles around our knees

and so on.

 

I am eating tomatoes and crying,

if you sit beside me

I will let you carry the juice,

I am carrying the rain.

 

Much thought has been given to the order of the poems – water and rain ripple through, along with birds, trees, piquant colour. In the middle the speaker is anchored in the land, their body made visible, and anxiety appears like little body fractures, the physicality of the writing potent. This from ‘The Year I Let My Heart Go Asunder’:

 

I am crouched down on the bank of Wellington Harbour

and I am huge as the hills.

I am squatting with my bottom on Khandallah,

my feet in the harbour and the water barely splashing my ankles.

 

I love Carolyn’s selection of poems (Winter Swimmers) so much: it’s beautifully crafted, aurally satisfying, surprising in turn and revelation. There are a number of poems named ‘Winter Swimmers’; like a swelling and shifting contemplation that keeps changing hue and effect, yet never losing sight of the water, the swim stroke, the breath necessary for living, for writing, for reading. This selection is like a pair of lungs inside me, expanding and dilating, expanding and dilating. Glorious.

 

At the time of publication Sophie van Waardenberg was working at the Open Book in Ponsonby. She has completed a BA at the University of Auckland and is now undertaking an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University, New York State. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals.

Sophie’s selection of poems – does a potato have a heart? – navigates learning the world in all its brittleness and wonder, especially through the glints and sharp edges of love.

In ‘Unhatched egg/two girls at easter’, a precious bird’s egg is discovered, wrapped and held close to the girl’s belly. The egg’s potential life is in razor contrast to the felled trees, the scarred landscape, but then life delivers the little blow with the cracked egg, the cracked future.

 

in the morning we two bury the fresh-cut shell by the river

where her parents had their honeymoon

and at hot noon with downy arms we swim there

under trees our failure has grown for us so quickly.

 

Love is a constant infusion, whether of a particular person close or at a distant. In ‘schön’ a woman (a beloved one) appears in a lyrical list poem like a chant; the love portrait builds sweetness and good feeling, along with topple and enigma:

 

my girl becomes a calendar and I curl up inside her

my girl becomes a tongue twister and I curl up inside her

 

my girl lets the spring in through her hands

she puts her hands over my ears and I remember how it feels

 

it is nice and nice and nice

 

One poem – ‘all the friendship bracelet makers have retreated’ – hooked me with its evocation of yearning and ache: of missing someone, missing home, of negotiating elsewhere and of being apart. The writing is confessional, yet prismatic in its different slants. Dislocation tempers location, location tempers mascara-smudged cheeks. The middle stanza is the exquisite heart of confession, the simile potent in meaning:

 

I want to be far away but I want to be home.

breath by breath I want these things.

let me show you how little I want to know:

make a fist and let no air in.

I want to make the world as tight around me

as I make my single duvet cover in winter.

 

On the adjacent page, ‘to keep all the bees out’ signals love’s potential pain and potential joy. The poem, with intricate and surprising detail, layers what ‘we’ do. Sophie is refreshing the scope and dimensions of confessional poetry; not everything is visible, not everything is stable, not everything is knowable. The hills they climb together ‘are eaten by their own edges’. Such a striking image of mist and uncertainty heightens the final stanza:

 

and the right ventricle of the human heart

does not have doors heavy enough

to keep all the bees out, and their stings

 

Sophie’s selection of poetry haunts me; it is an atlas of love, experience and feeling, with pronouns shifting to accommodate you and you and we and I, and poems that keep drawing you back. It feels fresh and original, and I love it.

 

Rebecca Hawkes grew up on a high-country farm near Methven. She graduated in media studies and then completed an MA in creative non-fiction at Victoria  University.

As the title suggests Softcore coldsores is an audible kaleidoscopic rendition of life: startling, a sonic explosion in your ear, acutely visual, utterly satisfying. The poems move from milking cows to trying to go vegetarian, sexual fumblings, all manner of hungers and yearnings. ‘Gremlin in sundress’ is an intense and captivating blast of sound that catches an intensity of living and craving for life. I have heard Rebecca read live several times and it is an addictive experience – the sonic rewards find new traction in the air / ear. Here is the middle bit of the free-flowing, page-long ‘Gremlin in sundress’:

 

gimme something pretty but with brains

I can crack open gimme salt’n’pepper

tentacle dredged from the abyss and deep

fried gimme hot cephalopod gimme yer cold

shoulder gimme drunkenness gimme the vomitorium

next door to the buffet gimme mortal clay

with tingle and baby fat to live in

gimme glory gimme eternity gimme your likings

 

There are many paths through Rebecca’s poetry but every reading path is an intricate interplay of the visual and the aural. I keep rereading a poem to savour the music and  and the visual impact. Maybe it makes a difference that Rebecca is a painter with a richly-hued palette and eye for massed and sensual detail. She takes me to the edge of vertigo at times, even squeamishness, in both her art and her poetry. Reading her poetry becomes a whole body experience (as it so often is) and I find myself unable to move onto the next thing, the next book, the next chore, the next outing. Perhaps at the core is the notion want: I am thinking of its varied meanings as Rebecca’s poetry pivots upon desire and upon lack.

With her high-country childhood it is not surprising the back blocks feature in some poems. The magnificent and utterly surprising ‘Dairy queen’ begins in the milking shed with an image of a shedhand:

 

you’re the other shedhand on the early morning shift

and you work shirtless

under your heavy rubber apron

which I appreciate from behind –

muscles moving under your tan

perspiring          glossy as a cold can of golden pash

unfortunately the overall effect is ruined

by your bleach-blonde dreadlocks             Grinch fingers

dyed greenish by weeks of cowpat splashback

 

Lust makes way for private musings on love and sadness, on loving people for their sadness and equally resenting a desire to be loved despite internal sadness. I am out of the cowshed into the secret moment, the little confession on the power of trust and tenderness: ‘all summer / I’ve been skittish    and gentle    like a puppy / saying hello by resting my whole mouth around your hand but not biting’. This sweet piquant moment is like a eyecatching flash before we return to the cowshed, the sexual pulls, and an image of the speaker in a water trough, bathed in barley seed and molasses.

I am also entranced (held in the grip of) by ‘Add penetrant to preferred broadleaf herbicide & devastate the wildflowers’. The poem brings the rabbit-infested, lupin-covered Mackenzie Country into sight by interweaving opposing views, both opinion and what you frame in your camera lens. Driving through the beauty in this poem is to drive through the Mackenzie basin with reactivated eyes:

 

as the lupins bloom out the summer in their splendid blushing colonies

both the planters of lupins & their weedkiller neighbours insists

that nature should take its course

but they can’t agree on what nature means:

conserving shrivelled unpalatable tussock or letting slip

the lupine war on the landscape

 

Rebecca’s poetry has such potency the poems stick to your skin and you carry them all day, reflecting back on the twisty turns, the compounding rhythms that act as both torrent and ripple, the bits that make little bites which get you thinking and feeling. For a small cluster of poems to do this is astonishing.

 

A welcome return, AUP New Poets 5 delivers three poets who fit together beautifully. Their writing is complex, unafraid of feeling, physical, invigorated and invigorating. Yet each poet offers a distinctive voice that is highly addictive; it is like getting to swim in three very different locations with three very different impacts on your body as you move. I can’t wait for the next volume (it’s in the pipeline) and I can’t wait for debut collections from these three fresh voices.

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Anna Jackson’s launch speech for Helen Rickerby’s How to Live

 

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Helen Rickerby, How to Live

 Helen Rickerby’s ‘Notes on the Unsilent Woman, Note 2’: ‘Perhaps the first thing you need to know is that women in ancient Athens didn’t get out much. No dinner parties, no debate, no public life. Unless you were already ruined. Or unless you were Hipparchia.’

Times have changed – and here we all are – to launch Helen Rickerby’s How to Live alongside AUP New Poets 5.

Before I talk about How to Live, I want to thank Sam Elworthy for supporting my wish to see the AUP New Poets series relaunched, for sharing my enthusiasm for poetry and projects generally, and for all he does for New Zealand poetry. I’d also like to acknowledge Elizabeth Caffin’s role in launching the series of AUP New Poets in 1999, and Anna Hodge’s support of the series under her editorship, and I’d like to thank the whole AUP team for everything they have done to support this beautiful collection of poems I love so much from Rebecca Hawkes, Sophie van Waardenberg and Carolyn DeCarlo. Most of all I want to thank the poets themselves for the extraordinary poetry which is setting this series back in motion.

I first knew Helen Rickerby when we were both fairly new poets ourselves, and I knew her poetry before I met her. I was very taken by her Theodora character in her first collection Abstract Internal Furniture, and the way the whole collection glitters with dark comedy, rapid shifts of scene, and exuberant detail. ‘I think I’ll edit out those long   silences’, she writes in one poem from that book, though even back then she was deciding to ‘leave in some of the shorter ones for effect.’

Now – several books of poetry and many years later – we have the book-length considered take on silence – and outspokenness – of How to Live: book-length because the ‘Notes on the Unsilent Woman’ which opens the book sets up questions and ideas that resonate all through the collection.

Notes on the Unsilent Woman, Note 53:

Hipparchia wrote treatises such as Philosophical Hypotheses, Epicheremas and Questions to Theodorus. Letters, jokes, philosophical refutations. All are lost. (Crates wrote Knapsack and Praise of the Lentil.)

A small note can say a lot, and it is a characteristic Rickerby move to pair the loss of intellectual history represented by Hipparchia’s lost treatises with the pointed addition of the titles of the work of Hipparchia’s more famous philosopher husband, to whose life she typically appears as a footnote, at best. His place in this note, in parentheses, after the main point is made, is just one of the many lightly undertaken total overhauls of intellectual history this book of poetry offers.

Its own title – How to Live – indicates its philosophical reach: this is a book that asks the biggest questions. The title poem references Susan Sontag, Helen Keller, Empedocles, Adorno and other philosophers and writers, alongside friends discussing the big questions in person and on facebook – ‘I am forever putting my friends in’, Helen confesses, and her friends are forever finding themselves caught up in extended conversations that take in the details, big and small, of their own lives.

The collection as a whole takes in questions such as how to choose a good fork or how to choose a house; how to read and how to listen; when we choose to suffer – ‘It all depends on / what the other choice is’ – and the question of what poetry is for, what is poetry? It is an urgent question for a poet constantly questioning her own practice, constantly experimenting with form: about the prose-like appearance of some of these poems on the page, she says, ‘I have long struggled against the tyranny of the line break. Am I afraid that if I let the words leak out, they’ll mix with oxygen and become prose?’

What happens in fact is a collection which rewrites the boundaries of poetry and prose to dazzling effect, as, for instance, the interest in portraiture that goes right back to the Theodora character of her first book now gives rise to entirely new forms of biography – the sharply comic, occasionally personal, often poignant and brilliantly illuminating verse essay on George Eliot, in thirteen numbered sections (with sub-sections); the ‘poem for three voices’ moving between the perspectives of Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein and the monster himself; the meditation on the life of Ban Zhao as palimpsest, pillow book and personal essay.

If Helen Rickerby is New Zealand’s most intellectually exciting writer (and I think she is), it is not although but because she writes always as a poet, with a poet’s interest always in form.  And it works just as well to turn the equation around to say she is one of the most formally innovative poets in New Zealand, because her interest in formal innovation is always driven by the intellectual ideas she grapples with.

And she’s funny. For all its formal interest and intellectual brilliance, what I really most love about the book is the voice – but for that, I can do no better than to hand over to Helen herself.

 

– Anna Jackson, 7 August 2019

 

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