Tag Archives: Ash Davida Jane

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Fourteen poems about walking

So many poets have written walking poems. So many poets have commented on the relationship between walking and a poem gathering momentum in the pedestrian’s head. Just for a start, I am thinking of Jenny Bornholdt’s magnificent poem ‘Confessional’, Michele Leggott’s walking blind, a vital thread, with different insight and senses on alert in her poems, and of course Blanche Baughan’s love of hill walking. A poem itself is a form of walking with its various rhythms and absorptions. The poet becomes walker, bricoleur, observer, mind-drifter.

My most recent collection The Track (Seraph Press) was written as I walked the third day of the Queen Charlotte Track with a broken foot in a wild storm. To keep walking I used the alphabet to compose poems and returned home with a book-length sequence. Whenever I have read from it, I am right back in the storm diverting pain with words. A strange feeling indeed. But I also have the early mornings at Te Henga Bethells. Walking on the near empty beach in the early morning light is an opening for poetry. Glorious.

I am currently reading Foxtrot and Other Collisons, Shari Kocher’s sublime second collection. In her endnote she says the poems were written over a five-year period. She wrote:

No poem in this collection was written before it was walked: arbitrary or otherwise, the rule I applied to the book’s organic growth was that each poem was to be ‘discovered’ on foot, and many continued to be composed peripatetically across many drafts while out walking in ways dedicated to that terrain.

The poems I have selected are not so much about walking but have a walking presence that leads in multiple directions. Many of the poems are longer rather shorter and take you on glorious excursions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.

The Poems

Travelling light

She is walking at the edge of the sea

on the wet shining sand.

The bright sky is behind her.

She is travelling

on a sheet of grey light.

We pass, and I wave.

She laughs. Of course.

A woman who walks at the edge,

on light, would laugh.

Adrienne Jansen

A path of stars

There are many things

I would like to tell you,

my darling

My darling,

I would like to tell you

in this life

everything will be okay

I would like to tell you

that you will walk upon a path of stars

that you will travel through the forest

and never lose your way

I would like to tell you

to look only at the stars

and not the gaps between them

to look at the sun

and not the clouds.

My darling, I would like to tell you all these things

for the same reason we read fairy stories to children

and weave their years with mythologies

because there is comfort is such lies

because I want the world you live in

to carry more magic

and less sharp edges.

But, on this dark night

I have run out of comforting lies.

My darling,

I cannot promise you a path of stars.

some days you will walk upon

unforgiving concrete or sharp-edged gravel

some days you will wade through quicksand.

Tonight, I cannot conjure stars

without the black between them.

My darling, I can only wish

when you walk through the dark and tangled forest

and lose your way a thousand times

that one day

you come across a clearing

where you can sit

and where the sun will find you

and warm your face

and where you can rest.

My darling

you can rest.

Rose Peoples

My Maunga

we’re monitoring pests at the Maungatautari reserve

gluing bait to ink slick cardboard with peanut butter

extracted from a single hole in the finger of a latex

glove bulging with the breakfast spread

our hands were all sticky fingers and dirt

made it to the first true slope

gorse brushing our knees the angle necessitating

a fuck-this what-are we doing crawl upwards

the trees move back and forth

poles caught in a tide

swinging long ways

between sickly white clouds

and glare-blue sky

a miromiro sitting plump on a ponga

squeaking like a mouse

then fluttering caught blurry on a camera

there are no edgerleyi in sight

Māhinaarangi’s perfume a ghost in the clouds

replaced by sweat-stink

the trip back down is a chorus of snaps

and low groans from wood and soil

giving way under our weight grown careless

with exhaustion

then we’re back through the mechanical gate

one shuts and locks for the other to unlock and open

pull it back on its squealing hinge

to leave the reserve behind

it’s a short trek down the hill back to the car

the air made pungent by cowpats

essa may ranapiri

from Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato poetry, ed Vaughan Rapatahana, Waikato Press, 2019, selected by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

A Walk with Your Father

Before you do anything else, check your lungs.

Are they the right size for you, are you the right size for them?

Are they nice and snug against your ribs and spine?

Don’t worry if they’re a bit big for you, you’ll grow into them.

They must be full, however; you don’t want them empty.

You have a long way to go.

Put your hand inside your mouth and make sure

everything’s in it’s place, check that all the pipes and hoses

leading from your lungs into your mouth are in position and in good nick.

You don’t want any leaks or sudden explosions

this is your air we’re talking about.

Close your mouth securely around this apparatus.

Next check your weight. If you are too heavy

or too light you won’t get anywhere. By the way

there’s no need to take a whole lot of extras with you.

Some people strap expensive knives to their legs and wear protective gloves.

There’s no real need for any of this – an ordinary old sharp knife

from the kitchen drawer will do. And just your bare hands.

You may need to signal to each other.

Now pay some attention to your skin.

It should feel secure and warm

but also allow plenty of room to move freely.

There are any number of colours available nowadays –

they all do pretty much the same job.

Your feet, are they the right size?

If they’re too large you will tire quickly,

too small and you’ll be left behind.

You’re probably looking at feet

about the same size as his.

Your eyes – spit in them.

It keeps everything clear.

That step you’re about to take

will have to be wider than you’re used to.

Don’t forget to move forwards, not backwards.

Keep your hand on your mouth so everything stays in place

when you break the surface.

Mihi to Tangaroa. Mihi to Hinemoana.

Now get yourself in under there,

immerse yourself.

Do it now, go.

He’ll be right behind you.

Hinemoana Baker

from mātuhi / needle, Victoria University Press, 2004

When I Head Home I Like To Be On The Left Side Of The Road So As To Be Closer To Where I Am Heading

I walk home with a bouquet of flowers held up

like an explorer holding up a torch,

in the early days of these days.

The flowers do not emanate

light, but they do catch the eyes of the people

I might like. The flowers will sit by my bed

waiting for when I open my nose from sleep.

Maeve Hughes

from horse power, printed by Fernbank Studio, 2019

The verb ‘to be’

It is foggy.

There is a mountain.

I am climbing the mountain.

She is climbing the mountain.

The path is slippery.

She says, ‘It is all right.

It will all be all right.’

She is right.

There are people behind us.

They are climbing the mountain.

They are in the fog.

Their voices are broken.

There is a shout.

There is laughter.

We are all climbing the mountain.

She is climbing ahead of me.

There is fog in her hair.

Her hair is glittering.

The wind is cold.

There is a man with a walking stick.

There are names scratched on the stick.

He carries the names as if they were eggs.

They could fall and smash.

We are carrying names too.

They are carved on bone.

They are scratched on skin.

We are all carrying names up the mountain.

There is a chapel at the top.

It is locked.

Its walls are damp.

There is broken timber.

There are fallen stones.

It is cold here.

Now we are turning.

We are going down.

She is running.

She is sliding down the mountain.

I am following her.

She is running ahead in the fog.

That is how it is now.

That is how it will be.

That is how it will be

till she is and I am not.   

She will be.

I will not be.

The verbs slip under our boots,

like small changeable stones.

Fiona Farrell

from The Pop-Up Book of Invasions, Auckland University Press, 2007

A note about ‘The verb ‘to be’’

This poem was written when I had a writing fellowship in Ireland. My younger daughter took leave from her job working with kakapo recovery on Codfish Island and came to stay for a month. We climbed the high hills.

We climbed Croagh Patrick, up the slippery path from the enormous carpark and visitor centre to the crest where the fog was thick and the chapel was closed and a chill wind tore at the flimsy remnants of shelters built to give some protection to the thousands who come here each year. Toward the top we met a man who was climbing using a camán (the stick used in hurling or the women’s version of the game, camogie) as a support on the stony ground. He showed us some names written on the flat head of the camán. ‘You’ll recognise these’ he said. We didn’t, and felt awkward for not knowing. It was an All-Irish champion camogie team he had coached, his daughter’s name among them. Some time after their victory she had become ill and was now in hospital, and he had made a vow to climb Croagh Patrick 30 times, if only she could be made well. He carried the camán each time. This was his 29th pilgrimage.

We climbed Errigal, a steep-sided hill in Donegal. Irish is still spoken around here and the man who ran the hostel was passionate for the language. It is subtle, he said. There are, for instance, two verbs meaning ‘to be’: one suggests permanence (‘this is the floor’). The other suggests transience and is used, for example, when speaking of the weather (‘it is sunny’).

I walked up the tracks behind my daughter with her strong legs, her dreadlocked hair. Not that long ago, I led her. I can still feel the weight of her in my arms, carrying her when she didn’t want to walk any more between banks of tussocks and flowering hebes on the track at Tongariro, or through the bearded bush at Dawson Falls, or on some sunny Sunday walk near Pohangina. The feel of her little duffel coat and her red tights and her feathery hair, usually chopped into a jagged fringe by herself using the toenail scissors. Now she takes the lead and I’m following, and behind us, there’s that long queue of people, living and dead, stretching back down into the fog.

Fiona Farrell

Pacing Poem

Past the green flowers

past the red stool

past the drying towels

past the letter from school

past the newspapers

past the glass fruit bowl

past the decanter

past the ‘Hoptimist’ doll

and into the kitchen.

Past the oven

past the breadbin

past the broken dishwasher

past the empty tomato tin

and towards the table.

Around the red chair

over the floorboards

past the stairs

and onto the rug.

Past the lamp

past the outside world

past the radio

past the Argentinian print

and around the bassinet.

Past the novels

past the poetry

past the proteas

past the pottery

and into the sun.

Past the breeze

past the ottoman

past the unwrapped cheese

past the pestle

past the wine rack

and nestled

under my armpit:

two deep eyes

still shining wide,

so we keep circling

until sleep arrives.

Amy Brown

from neon daze, Victoria University Press, 2019

Travelling


How normal it feels
to get around new places—
how basely, physically normal it is
for our feet to touch the ground
and propel us forward, step after step
exactly as they do anywhere.


And if these roads home
one day become
the rivers they once were—
though we might have to pedal the currents
or steady our soles on pebbles—
we’ll soon get used to it.


A flavour’s only new at first taste;
and common sights become invisible;
and love dulls into something necessary;
and in grief we think this new lack
is impossible to live with but we do.

Jane Arthur

from Craven, Victoria University Press, 2019

By the Bosphorous Strait I sat down and wept

Breathe in

when Istanbulites woke to find the water a bright turquois they thought

the worst, a curse had taken over the city or toxins seeped from textile

factories but scientists agreed it was just an explosion of plankton migrating

from the Black Sea, a milky blessing heralding the summer calm, I am told

it’s serene.

breathe out

I did not find out I was colour blind until they tested our class at the library

in Form 2, it explained so much, why I always coloured grass in brown and

tree bark green, why I’d clash my outfits and no one is impolite enough

to tell me, my parents must have thought I was stupid or acting out, the

scientists agreed it was neither

breath in

my manager told me that things can be difficult here, but when you walk

along the Bosphorous it makes it all worth it, sometimes I think this

city is magical, other times I’m sure it is cursed, a dark pact signed in its

catacombs centuries ago threatening to explode, most of the time it is sad,

mourning a lover lost or a friend it couldn’t save

breathe out

everyday at 12.30pm I walk out of the office and stand at its mouth waiting

for a sign, for the air to return, the explosions in my lungs to subside, the

panic attacks are a daily occurrence, a striking in the middle of a meeting, a

hungry mall, a dolmus packed with strangers and I tense my abdomen and

squeeze my shirt with my hands and try not to remember

for the life of me all I can see is blue, even the scientists are at a loss on this

one, they tell me to relax my shoulders and focus on my breathing, not

worry about time I can’t unwind

it’s amazing how something can be right in front of you and you just can’t see it

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020, selected by Alison Wong

Locus

as you walk you become the vanishing

as you walk you lose the point

as you walk you              snow

though autumn

the ranges hold the storm

the ranges bite the neck

and night and day unfix

and night and day turn stone

snow     monkeys sit with ice on lashes

coast     monkeys pick snails from pools

shop     monkeys flip fish in milk and flour

as you walk through autumn, the ranges

unfix snow, and pool                 you lose

ice-pick, milk-lash, snail-bite—

turn your neck to the day—

Nicola Easthope

from Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018). 

Duet

I became an old woman

age eleven

Doctor and physio

circling my fingers

around a stick

bone on wood

Swinging my legs

to a new rhythm

wood on bone

bone on wood

Instructing me

in the art

of walking a duet

heel toe

bone wood

stick stick

Trish Harris

published NZ Listener, 1999

Crunch

(i)

She collected broken things: fragments of a delicate speckled eggshell she found on the gravel driveway, a starfish arm from the beach.  She kept them in a leadlight box, along with her imaginings.

(ii)

He was the one who knew the way back: just to the left of the forked piece of driftwood standing upright on the shore.  Over the bed of African daisies and ice plants.  Past the clump of marram and close to the flat patch of sand where they’d lain together that time.  That time he hardly thought about any more.

(iii)

She walked briskly, in a way that made you think the act of walking was the purpose of the walk.  Not the view of the island, nor the chirrup of pipits camouflaged in the dunes.  Not the way a shoe sinks into the sand, nor the sight of a collie hurtling after a stick.  No, her walk was for the sake of walking and she’d dressed accordingly: the sneakers, the sun visor, the sensible orange windbreaker.

(iv)

The sheets were so bright against the dull sky, he almost couldn’t bear it.  He wanted to take a pot of red paint and throw it against them.  He wanted to tell her, you bring out the red in me.

(v)

She lay on top of the duvet being a starfish, each of her hands touching an edge of the bed.  She thought how nice it would be, not to have to share.

(vi)

He found himself walking up and down the gravel driveway, just to hear it crunch underfoot as the stones scraped against each other.  When he noticed her watching him from the bedroom window, he just kept crunching.

(vii)

She lifted the speckled egg from its cotton wool cradle in the leadlight box and fitted the pieces together to make it whole again.  There was one piece missing.  She turned the shell so she couldn’t see the gap.

(viii)

Pounding the driveway.  Grinding the stones.  He supposed he could do it all day.  His heavy tread.  His trample.  He didn’t see her leave the house.

(ix)

The beach was a beacon, making her way clear.  She could feel the island’s solid presence, even when she couldn’t quite see it.

(x)

He recognised her footsteps, getting louder.  There she was at his shoulder, joining her crunching pace to his.  His foot, her foot.  Stamping together on a firm earth.  Her foot, his foot.  Two in step.  A two-step.  She smelt like biscuits.  He reached for her hand.

Janis Freegard

from Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus Auckland University Press, 2011

Hill walk

We often wonder
what moves us in a day –
was it words in a sequence
that surprised us

or notes played by someone
who kept their mouth closed
& let the sound leave 
their broken body 

or maybe after years 
it was the sight of your brother
nursing his leg down the hill
catching up with you

so you could walk
on together to discuss
what bird that was in
the bush making the sound

neither of you were certain of.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows The Cuba Press, 2020

walking with Dorothy

a dog bothers the scraps

of food around the compost bin

                        it howls at the murmur of the village stream

ignoring the voice calling from the hill

the trees gleam with overnight rain

                        each tree, taken singly, was beautiful

the bees emerging

from their wooden house

mistake me for

a flower and for

a moment I am one

hopelessly lacking in pollen

swaying in the breeze

and taking up space

standing still in the mud

unmaking myself amid

leaves I’ve seen a thousand times

and never wondered the names of

                        some trees putting out red shoots

                        query: what trees are they?

a fantail flits from branch to branch

something bigger than language

in its movements

which lose

their sheen when captured

and later the sky between

apartments and streetlamps

empties but for the full moon

and Venus striving to be seen

as brightly

                        all the heavens seemed in one perpetual motion

grit on the footpath like glitter

                        the roads very dirty

a morepork somewhere in the dark

oblivious to me and better for it

Ash Davida Jane

from How to Live with Mammals, Victoria University Press, 2021

The Poets

Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.

Hinemoana Baker is a poet, musician and creative writing teacher. She traces her ancestry from Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Āti Awa and Ngāi Tahu, as well as from England and Germany (Oberammergau in Bayern). Hinemoana’s latest poetry collection Funkhaus (VUP, 2020), was shortlisted for The Ockham NZ Book Awards 2021. She has edited several online and print anthologies and released several albums of original music and more experimental sound art. She works in English, Māori and more recently German, the latter in collaboration with German poet and sound performer Ulrike Almut Sandig. She is currently living in Berlin, where she was 2016 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence, and is completing a PhD at Potsdam University. Hinemoana’s website

Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper‘s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.

Nicola Easthope (Pākehā, with roots in Orkney, Scotland, England and Wales) is a high school English and psychology teacher, and mentor of young activists and writers. Her two books of poetry are: leaving my arms free to fly around you (Steele Roberts, 2011) and Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018). She has appeared at the Queensland, Tasmanian and Manawatū poetry festivals, as well as LitCrawl in Pōneke. Nicola’s very occasional blog is gannet ink.

Fiona Farrell publishes poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction. In 2007 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, and in 2012 she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Literature. Her most recent publication, Nouns, verbs, etc. Selected Poems (OUP 2020) has been warmly reviewed as ‘a Poetry Treasure House…a glorious book’ (Paula Green, Poetry Shelf), and ‘an excellent retrospective… remarkable for drawing small personal realities together with the broad sweep of history.” (Nicholas Reid, The Listener).  After many years in remote Otanerito bay on Banks Peninsula, she now lives in Dunedin.

Wellington-based Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), as well a novel, The Year of Falling (Mākaro Press). She was the inaugural Ema Saikō Poetry Fellow at New Zealand Pacific Studio and has previously won the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Prize and the Geometry/Open Book Poetry Prize. She grew up in the UK, South Africa and Australia before her family settled in Aotearoa when she was twelve. ‘Crunch’ was placed third in the Manawatu Festival of New Arts Poetry for Performance competition and performed in Palmerston North. 

Trish Harris has written two books – a poetry collection (My wide white bed) and a memoir (The Walking Stick Tree). She teaches non-fiction on the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, is co-founder of Crip the Lit and edited their 2019 pocketbook, ‘Here we are, read us: Women, disability and writing’. She says she’s a part-time crane operator…but maybe she’s dreaming?

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer who has lived in Egypt, Aotearoa and Turkey. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His collection, National Anthem, was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, poetry category.

Maeve Hughes is a recent graduate of English literature with a minor in creative writing. She lives in Wellington where she loves to walk home.

Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in MimicrySweet MammalianStarlingThe Spinoff and elsewhere. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, was published by Victoria University Press in April 2021. She lives and works in Wellington.

Adrienne Jansen writes fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children, but for her, poetry is where the magic is. Her fourth collection of poetry, All of Us, published in 2018, is a series of poems, with carina gallegos, around the themes of migration and refugees. She is the co-founder of Landing Press, a small Wellington poetry publisher. She lives at Titahi Bay, north of Wellington. Website

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. Five O’Clock Shadows is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.

essa may ranapiri (Na Guinnich, Ngaati Wehi Wehi, Highgate, Ngaati Raukawa) is a Tainui poet from Kirikiriroa living on Ngaati Wairere land / they want everyone to know that the Echidna they write about isn’t a spikey mammal but a lady with two long snake tails instead of legs / go figure / tino takatāpuitanga 4eva

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Poetry Shelf review: Ash Davida Jane’s How to Live with Mammals

How to Live with Mammals, Ash Davida Jane, Victoria University Press, 2021

Every poem in Ash Davida Jane’s new collection How to Live with Mammals is an explosion in the mouth; the intricacies and nuances last all day, and beyond. I keep saying to myself well this is my favourite, this is the one I want to dally over and dive in deep. But then I turn the page and encounter another favourite. Therein lies the joy of poetry: the way a poem can you hold you.

I am scared I am going to pin the collection down to a single idiosyncratic reading when the poetry is full of movement and surprise, revelation and comedy. I am thinking the collection faces knowing and not knowing, paying close attention both to self and to the complicated world. There is the way things slip from grasp and the way a poem marks a place – a way of being – in the world. It is rich in multiple notes like I’m holding a refracting prism that keeps hooking me with glint and gleam. Subject matter and motifs repeat like connecting bridges: mammals, food, asparagus, the body, naming, birds, trees.

The poet – the speaking voice – looks back and looks forward, and the poem becomes present participle, a glorious bearer of movement that touches the past and the present, with longing and with forgetting. Perhaps I am saying this is a book of verbs where living feels personal, enriched by imaginings and replay, punctuated by white space, the poet’s breath.

I love considering these poems within the fertility of verbs. Take looking for example. Observing. Seeing what we have lost the ability to see. Being looked at. Not being looked at. Looking back with longing. Paying attention. Looking forward. This is just one verb-al thread that offers glorious sustenance to the collection’s arc. This from a poem that mourns a world affected by climate change:

I pay daily attentions to colour

7am waiting at the bus stop under

a sulphur-red sky

 burnt at the edges where it

sticks to the horizon

fading to a midday dull white sheen

 

the ocean a room of

mirrors reflecting itself

the edges of waves tinged pink

like we’re on another planet

but we’re exactly

where we’ve always been

 

except there’s a PE teacher

pushing us to go faster than we want to

jogging into an apocalyptic future

in polyester shorts

 

from ‘2050’

You could track the naming of things, the vanished names, the recalled names, the way names matter. You could trace the talking thread, self talk, alone talk, intimate talk, talking in a crowded room. You could take the bridge from assumed point of view to the poet’s place to other shoes. The poet steps into another character after her partner jokes that she’s his ‘farm wife / in my long brown skirt / and beige sweater / sleeves rolled up’. She steps into the walking shoes of Dorothy Wordsworth, borrowing lines, overlaying English lake with flittery fantail and a shared moon.

the bees emerging

from their wooden house

mistake me for

a flower and for

a moment I am one

hopelessly lacking in pollen

swaying in the breeze

and taking up space

standing still in the mud

unmaking myself amid

leaves I’ve seen a thousand times

and never wondered the names of

some trees putting out red shoots

query: what trees are they?

 

from ‘walking with Dorothy’

 

The reading rewards of Ash’s poetry are numerous. A single poem might make you laugh, recoil, identity, empathise, leap unexpectedly, gather facts, process feelings. ‘marine snow’ provoked such movement. Crikey I love this poem that moves from underwater swimming to a hatred of swimming, especially when the instructor tells the three year old a crab lives on the bottom of the pool, to the grief of last things to the grief of last things flowing into other things ( ‘the pot of coffee / is in mourning / now / the laundry / drips wet tears’) to the fact it snows underwater. Glorious. Sad. Challenging.

I don’t want to limit this book to narrow pathways and dead ends. I want you to find your own bridges and sidetracks, to leap and dive deep. Expect to be embraced in the scene. Expect heat shimmer steam. Expect the lucid and the poignant. I’m in love with these poems, every single one of them.

Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in MimicrySweet MammalianStarlingThe Spinoff and elsewhere. Her first book, Every Dark Waning, was published in 2016 by UK indie publisher Platypus Press. She lives in Wellington, where she works as a bookseller.

Pip Adam’s launch speech via Victoria University Press page

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf: Ash reads from the book

Tara Comics launch page

Starling online journal: ‘Love poems when all the flowers are dead’

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Ash Davida Jane reads from How to Live with Mammals

How to Live with Mammals, Ash Davida Jane, Victoria University Press, 2021

Ash reads ‘water levels’

Ash reads ‘mating in suburbia’

Ash reads ‘transplanting’

Ash reads ‘carrying capacity’

Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in MimicrySweet MammalianStarlingThe Spinoff and elsewhere. Her second book, How to Live With Mammals, was published by Victoria University Press in April 2021. She lives and works in Wellington.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf Ash’s poem ‘undergrowth

Poetry Shelf Ash muses on ecopoetics

Poetry Shelf reading room: A. Davida Jane’s Every Dark Waning

A Davida Jane, Every Dark Waning, Platypus Press, England (2016, second edition 2018)

Platypus Press author page

I keep trying to build a dam—

I keep coming up rainstorm,

I keep coming up flood.

 

from ‘A Study in Restoration’

So many poetry books escape my attention, and then a trail of lucky connections leads me to a new discovery. I find the online journal The Starling is an excellent lead to poets under 25. This year I discovered the poetry of Ash Davida Jane and invited her to send me a Monday Poem (‘Undergrowth‘), write a response to a much-loved book (Paige Lewis’s excellent collection Space Struck), and muse on a poetry topic (‘An Ecopoetics of the Future’). I managed to get a copy of her debut collection, Every Dark Waning, from Unity Books in Te Whanganui-a-Tara where she works. And it filled me with poetry delight.

I especially loved the first section which pulls in the stars, sky, water, fire, breath and breathing. These poems are both dark edged and light fringed. Maybe the poet is talking from a deep secret place that misses things, that feels pain, is full of feeling. The dark core of the poems is deeply mysterious. It will grip your arm or your lungs and you will stay. There are many selves but the poet is the most present: ‘The poet is the most / honest part of me.’ (from ‘An Attempt at an Explanation’). The poet reappears in ‘Apollo 11’:

The stickiness of the

atmosphere traps in

all the words I never

wrote down, and the poet

in me flinches as I soar

into outer space.

And later, in ‘The House of Pindar’, in this book where poetry is both reticent and confessional:

You burn every house in me

but the poet’s—raze them to

the ground and salt them so

they’ll never grow back.

Only the writer remains.

Why do I love this book so much? Maybe its the sharp edges, the nightmares and the monsters, the things that are held in reserve, the way writing poetry and being a poet is so vital, life-saving perhaps, and the way my attention is directed to things I want to retain, to put away for a cloudy day. This from ‘Upturned’:

did you see me tuck the

view into the back of my

mind, putting it away for a

cloudy day when the stars

aren’t there and i can’t think

of a reason to get out of bed.

today, i needed a reason

to get out of bed, and

the moon was the only thing

that came close.

Ash Davida Jane is a poet and bookseller from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She has a Master of Arts from the International Institute of Modern Letters. Some of her recent work can be found in Peach Mag, Turbine | Kapohau, Best New Zealand Poems, and Scum. How to Live with Mammals is due to be published by Victoria University Press in 2021.

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Ash Davida Jane’s ‘An Ecopoetics of the Future’

 

An Ecopoetics of the Future

 

Lately, a lot of people seem to be turning to poetry to work through their thoughts and feelings around the climate crisis. There’s a very specific way nature has been used in poetry for a long time, which is very symbolic and focused on the aesthetics of the natural world as some kind of perfect, untouched source of images. This feels to me like an appropriation of sorts, which ignores the reality of the natural world and our responsibilities towards it, as well as the fact that we’re complicit in a very calculated and systematic destruction of the very places we romanticise.

Of course, there’ve been poets writing with environmental themes for a long time, but the school specifically dubbed ‘eco-poetry’ has only been around since the early 2000s, with a few key works of ecocriticism and anthologies of poems claiming the term. Some ecopoets insist on a very rigorous set of criteria for the subgenre, such as John Shoptaw in his essay in Poetry, “Why Ecopoetry?”: “The second way in which an ecopoem is environmental is that it is ecocentric, not anthropocentric.” To earn the label, he says, a poem must not prioritise human interests. The distinction seems small, but it makes a big difference. If a poem can only be an ecopoem if it disregards human interests, it sets us apart as Other to the environment. It suggests that the devastation we inflict moves in one direction only, outwards from ourselves, and that the impacts are all in non-human spaces.

The reality is that we live within the environment. We are not separate from nature, no matter how much it can sometimes seem like it when you live in a city. The perpetuation of that idea is incredibly dangerous, as it allows us to believe that, in the years to come, as the earth warms, we’ll be fine. It’s become clear that sympathy for the planet’s other inhabitants is not enough to inspire change within our (colonial, capitalist) human systems. For us to implement other, less damaging ways to live, we have to recognise that within our lifetimes, our lives will be worsened—some far more than others, but everyone’s in some way. So, what’s the point of an ecopoetics that focuses only on human action and non-human consequences? It is too late for that.

It also shows a blatant and dangerous disregard for the indigenous peoples who live with the land rather than just on the land. It’s important to recognise the necessity of work like Stacey Teague’s poem “toitū te whenua”, which is a decolonisation poem and a climate justice poem, because the two things are inseparable:

 

sacred soil                               settler guilt

the past speaks grief                             the water speaks pollution

the public sings                       in the colonial landscape

the womb of the earth is full of protest

 

As essa may ranapiri writes in their poem from the same collection (Te Rito o te Harakeke, edited by Rangatahi o te Pene, Hana Pera Aoake, Sinead Overbye, Michelle Rahurahu Scott and essa may ranapiri), “where we stand is where we will always / stand / on the whenua that we are / and are one with.” Tangata whenua are part of the land, and so there can be no ecopoetics without tangata whenua.

With the current trend towards environmental poetry, it seems important to ask what we want from this kind of work. One of my favourite poems about the environment is Vanessa Crofskey’s “There’s Real Manuka Honey in Heaven” from issue 7 of Starling, which includes this brilliant image:

 

a global conference of bees will be livestreamed strapping on

army helmets khaki stripes and matching jet packs

then flying off into the stratosphere in tiny astronautical booties

 

 

The poem ends with “the tuatara [singing] a eulogy to the end of the anthropocene” and the cockroaches, who we all know can live through anything, “[waiting] for spring.” It’s the perfect mix of humour and very real devastation, without just saying the same things that everybody else has already said. The world in Crofskey’s poem is the complete opposite from the idyllic landscape of the Romantic or pastoral poets, and humans are very much present. Otherwise how could we take any kind of responsibility for the damage?

Another approach is that of Joy Harjo, whom I doubt James Shoptaw would call an ‘ecopoet’, though hers is some of the most moving writing about the natural world I’ve ever come across. In “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet”, Harjo tells us to “Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people / who accompany you. / Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought / down upon them.” In “Talking with the Sun”, she writes, “Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the / earth and the sun; we exist together in a sacred field of meaning.” Harjo isn’t only writing about non-human interests, because in her poems human and non-human interests are one and the same.

I’m interested in a school of poetry that doesn’t restrict or close off possibilities for writing about the environment, while also acknowledging that every piece of writing being written or read now exists in a world in crisis. Like humans, poems do not exist in a vacuum. Everything we read is informed in some way by our lived experiences, and the writer’s lived experiences, and since everybody shares the very big experience of living on Earth, it seems vital to recognise that in the poems we read and write. Moving forward, as we continue to make sense of the natural world through poetry, we must keep asking the question—what do we want from this work?

 

Ash Davida Jane

 

Ash Davida Jane is a poet and bookseller from Pōneke. Some of her recent work can be found in Starling, Peach Mag, Scum, The Spinoff, and Stasis. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, is due to be published by VUP in 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ash Davida Jane’s ‘undergrowth’

 

 

undergrowth

 

at dusk the birds by the road

are loud as a fire                      so much noise

from such small lungs

we say

it seems impossible but what’s worse is

we should be able to hear this anywhere

the branches

always ripe with nests

in spring

 

birdsong so big

we could almost dance to it

but the next day

we’re overheating in the park

& everyone’s too busy worrying

to notice our spot under the trees

I’m imagining a giant ballroom with

this leafy canopy for a roof

the floor a pool of cool green light

 

nobody’s been here for centuries &

most of the birds are gone too

but an ant crawls

across the cracked marble

& somewhere in the silence our buried

forms turning

back into earth             are still

in love

& the flowers pick themselves

up & carry on

 

 

Ash Davida Jane

 

 

Ash Davida Jane is a poet and bookseller from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She has a Master of Arts from the International Institute of Modern Letters. Some of her recent work can be found in Peach Mag, Turbine | Kapohau, Best New Zealand Poems, and Scum. How to Live with Mammals is due to be published by Victoria University Press in 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf connections: Ash Davida Jane on Space Struck by Paige Lewis

Lewis_SpaceStruck.jpg

 

Space Struck by Paige Lewis

Sarabande Books 2019

 

I learn the universe is an arrow

without end and it asks only one question:

 

How dare you? I recite it in bed, How dare

you? How dare you?

 

It seems strange to be writing about poetry right now, while everybody struggles with huge changes to their daily lives. And don’t @ me, I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in writing poetry—I know art is important, but it matters in a completely different way to things like food and housing and medical care. The thing is, this book of poems feels essential. It gives us a whole new perspective on the world—revealing even the most ordinary things as something precious and strange. “Every experience seems both urgent and / unnatural,” Lewis writes, which reads almost as a premonition, printed months ago and truer now than ever.

The first of Paige Lewis’ poems I ever read was “You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm,” and I was completely charmed from the offset. As the playful tone disassembles into something more fractured and frantic, the poem outgrows itself and starts to take up too much space on the page, breaking out of its couplets. I love the beautiful oddity of the poem’s narrative—“two men / floating in a rocket ship are ignoring their delicate experiments,” they are turning their ship around and coming back to Earth for you. You will take one as a winter husband and one as a summer husband.

This poem does something I’d never read in a poem before—it turns against the authority of its own narrator’s voice. It asks why you should do what it says, even when it can offer you everything:

do you want to know Latin

okay                now everyone

here knows Latin                     want inflatable             deer

deer!

 

You can stand and walk away even as it speaks. You can ignore the men, the deer, the rocket ship. You can leave your sweater behind, even though it might be cold.

 

The collection’s opening poem, “Normal Everyday Creatures,” is just as brilliant, and points to how the voice of the poem controls its perspective, playing a game with us—“I’m going to show you some photos— / extreme close-ups of normal, everyday / creatures.” This voice is a generous guide, offering hints, promising to revise the game. I find it oddly comforting to have—at the very beginning of the book—such a clear acknowledgement of the power the speaker has, to direct our attention to or away from certain things. There’s an honesty in it that makes it easier to trust the speaker, as they ask us to follow them into the dark (and the rest of the book):

And when the path grows too dark to see even

the bright parts of me, have faith in the sound

of my voice. I’m here. I’m still the one leading.

 

Throughout Space Struck, small pockets of the divine appear in ordinary places. St. Francis takes off layer-upon-layer of robes in the corner of a studio apartment. The poet’s bed turns into the “Chapel of the Green Lord,” sacred in all its dishevelment. God’s secretary leaves an exasperated message telling you to “Get real, darling. If He answered all prayers / you’d be dead five times over.” She’s busy but sympathetic, taking a moment out of her day to warn you. These men will take every inch you give them: “if you offer a sorry mouth, they’ll break it.”

And just as the transcendent becomes commonplace, very specific everyday things suddenly seem holy. What an extraordinary thing to be on a train, “approaching the station where my beloved / is waiting to take me to the orchard, so we can // pay for the memory of having once, at dusk, / plucked real apples from real trees.” How strange, to pick fruit with your own bare hands. Stranger still to have to pay money for the experience.

In one of my favourite poems, “The Moment I Saw a Pelican Devour,” the poet asks what makes something a miracle. Is it “anything that God forgot / to forbid”? When women in factories were paid to paint watch dials with radium, they were told “to lick their brushes into sharp points.” This poem reads as a kind of elegy to these women, whose bodies became something unearthly. The miracle, Lewis writes, “is not that these women swallowed light,” but that the Radium Corporation claimed syphilis as their cause of death. They are resurrected here before us, more vibrant than saints, commemorated with dignity and grief.

 

Space Struck is generous with its attention—it focuses in on normal everyday creatures and women lost in time; it pans up to show us the intricacies of admin work in heaven; and it turns outwards to the Voyager space probes. The list goes on, and whatever these poems turn their gaze on they do so with compassion, grace and a hint of playfulness, shining a light on the humanity in everything. The book becomes a showcase of extraordinary things, which seemed, up till now, completely ordinary.

 

Ash Davida Jane

 

Ash Davida Jane is a poet from Wellington. Some of her recent work can be found in Peach Mag, Starling, Scum, The Spinoff, and Best NZ Poems 2019. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, is forthcoming from Victoria University Press.

Paige Lewis is the author of Space Struck (Sarabande Books, 2019). Their poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Best New Poets 2017, Gulf Coast, The Massachusetts Review, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. Paige currently lives and teaches in Indiana.

Paige Lewis website