Tag Archives: Auckland University Press

Poetry Shelf noticebaord: Paula Green reviews AUP New Poets 8 at Kete Books

AUP New Poets 8: Lily Holloway, Tru Paraha, Modi Deng, Auckland University Press, 2021

Review extract:

Editor Anna Jackson has selected three distinctive poets for AUP New Poets 8 and has placed them in the perfect tonal order.

The title of Lily Holloway’s suite, a child in the alcove, reminds me of poetry’s alcove-like features. Poems can be miniature shelters, places of refuge, an interplay of dark and light, secret, mysterious, challenging, bulging with nooks and crannies. Reading the work is to read across myriad directions, to peer into captivating cubbyholes and, as Jackson writes in her terrific foreword, to read distance and depth.

Holloway is an award-winning writer and postgraduate student who has been published in numerous journals. I have long admired her poetry: her aural and linguistic deftness, the sweet measure of surprise, the variegated forms, the connecting undercurrents, the honey, the bitterness. Her poems run on the rewarding premise that poems don’t need the full explanation, that tactile detail and deft juxtapositions can unmask love, desire, razor edges, self-exposure. Pocket narratives are equally sublime.

Full review here

Listen to the three poets read

Auckland University Press page

Lily Holloway (born in 1998, she / they) is a queer writer and postgraduate English student. While she mostly writes poetry, she has also tried her hand at non-fiction, fiction and playwriting. You can find her work in places like Starling, Midway Journal, Scum, The Pantograph Punch and The Spinoff amongst various other literary nooks and crannies. In 2020 she was honoured to receive the Shimon Weinroth Prize in Poetry, the Kendrick Smithyman Scholarship in Poetry and second place in the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition. In her spare time she enjoys op-shopping, letter writing, visiting small towns and collecting vintage Teletubbies paraphernalia. She is passionate about survivor advocacy and taking up space. You can find a list of her writing at lilyholloway.co.nz.

Tru Paraha resides in Tāmaki Makaurau in the suburb of Tukituki Muka (aka Herne Bay). She works as a choreographer and director, having enjoyed an extensive career in experimental dance, theatre and audio-visual arts. She is currently in the final year of a postdoctoral research fellowship in the English and Drama department at the University of Auckland. Moving between choreography, philosophy and creative writing, Tru produces live performances, artists’ pages and poems drawing on materials from deep space. She is a member of the International Dark-Sky Association and advocate for the preservation of the night sky as a world cultural heritage.

Modi Deng is a pianist based in London, currently pursuing postgraduate performance studies on a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. Her Chinese name 默笛 means ‘silent flute’, which her father drew from a poem by Tagore. Performances with her ensemble, the Korimako Trio, have taken her throughout the UK and her concerts have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and RNZ Concert. After growing up in Dunedin, she went on to complete a Master of Music with First Class Honours on a Marsden research scholarship, while completing a Bachelor of English at the University of Auckland. Modi cares deeply about literature (diaspora and poetry), music, psychology and her family.

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: AUP New Poets 8

AUP New Poets 8: Lily Holloway, Tru Paraha, Modi Deng, Auckland University Press, 2021

I am loving the AUP New Poets series under the astute editorship of Anna Jackson. Each volume draws new voices into compelling view, each volume sparks essential poetry conversations. How we write. Why we write. What we write. How we write ourselves and how we write the imagined.

This on AUP New Poets 8, from my Kete Books review appearing shortly: ‘Editor Anna Jackson has selected three distinctive poets for AUP New Poets 8 and has placed them in the perfect tonal order. The title of Lily Holloway’s suite, ‘a child in that alcove’, reminds me of poetry’s alcove-like features. Poems can be miniature shelters, places of refuge, an interplay of dark and light, secret, mysterious, challenging, bulging with nooks and crannies. Reading the work is to read across myriad directions, to peer into captivating cubbyholes and, as Anna writes in her terrific foreword, to read distance and depth.’

This is an arrival to celebrate – and how better than with a suite of readings – not as good as book launch for sure – but online readings offer a lounge of returns. Make a coffee, a cup of tea, pour a glass of wine, you choose, find a sweet spot and have a listen. I raise my glass to Anna, Lily, Tru, Modi and AUP. This is essential listening (and reading!).

The readings

Lily Holloway

Photo credit: Angela Zhang

Lily Holloway reads ‘Reverb or Aftermath’

Lily Holloway reads ‘return again’

Tru Paraha

Tru Paraha reads ‘Paradox’

Tru Paraha reads ‘Postcard from Israel’

Modi Deng

Photo credit: Mikayla Bollen

Modi Deng reads ‘field notes on Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’’

Modi Deng reads ‘unrest • an wei’

Modi Deng reads ‘now and then things come in tandem’

The poets

Lily Holloway (born in 1998, she / they) is a queer writer and postgraduate English student. While she mostly writes poetry, she has also tried her hand at non-fiction, fiction and playwriting. You can find her work in places like Starling, Midway Journal, Scum, The Pantograph Punch and The Spinoff amongst various other literary nooks and crannies. In 2020 she was honoured to receive the Shimon Weinroth Prize in Poetry, the Kendrick Smithyman Scholarship in Poetry and second place in the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition. In her spare time she enjoys op-shopping, letter writing, visiting small towns and collecting vintage Teletubbies paraphernalia. She is passionate about survivor advocacy and taking up space. You can find a list of her writing at lilyholloway.co.nz.

Tru Paraha resides in Tāmaki Makaurau in the suburb of Tukituki Muka (aka Herne Bay). She works as a choreographer and director, having enjoyed an extensive career in experimental dance, theatre and audio-visual arts. She is currently in the final year of a postdoctoral research fellowship in the English and Drama department at the University of Auckland. Moving between choreography, philosophy and creative writing, Tru produces live performances, artists’ pages and poems drawing on materials from deep space. She is a member of the International Dark-Sky Association and advocate for the preservation of the night sky as a world cultural heritage.

Modi Deng is a pianist based in London, currently pursuing postgraduate performance studies on a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. Her Chinese name 默笛 means ‘silent flute’, which her father drew from a poem by Tagore. Performances with her ensemble, the Korimako Trio, have taken her throughout the UK and her concerts have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and RNZ Concert. After growing up in Dunedin, she went on to complete a Master of Music with First Class Honours on a Marsden research scholarship, while completing a Bachelor of English at the University of Auckland. Modi cares deeply about literature (diaspora and poetry), music, psychology and her family.

Auckland University Press page

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 review: Emma Barnes’s I Am in Bed with You

I Am in Bed with You, Emma Barnes, Auckland University Press, 2021

I am in bed with you. The room varies. But I’m always on the

left. I am pulling the pieces of myself into myself. In the winter

I left myself behind in the 90s. I’m coming back now. You

can see the light touching me. I can see layers of tissue finally

making a body. And once I have a body I have a head. And in

my head are these thoughts. I can’t tell you what it is like with

words. You can hold my hand and feel my pulse, but I was in

1994. I didn’t like

it there. When I am getting through days I don’t even know I

am making it. I am the legume in that story about royalty. And

then on the other side I open up like a lake into a river. I can

survey the lean fields of my insides as if I am owner of all

those glistening blades. In 1994 I was fourteen. I buried some-

thing back there. I buried it alive in a biscuit tin. This winter

makes choices I’d have made differently. Your mother cooked

a roast chicken every

Saturday unless a larger animal had died. (…)

from ‘I am in bed with you’

Emma Barnes’s debut collection I Am in Bed with You is a sublime read. Their poems hit such pitch-perfect notes any attempt to share my reading engagements will fall short. It’s like when someone asks why you like this painting or this song or this poem and all you can say I love it. Get the book. Find your own engagements.

And yet.

And yet this book haunts me to the degree I want to talk about it with you. There are three sections: ‘This is a creation myth’, ‘Sigourney Weaver in your dreams’ and ‘The Run-Around’.

There is a moving acknowledgements page. I love this page. In fact I am loving this choice in a number of recent publications – tributes paid to the communities and individuals that a book is in debt to. Emma begins by saying: ‘The most important thank you for any Pākehā writer is to mihi the mana whenua of Aotearoa for their generosity in the face of continued acts non-consent and disrespect by us, their Treaty partners. I am truly privileged to be a treaty partner, to have this place to stand and to receive repeated gifts and offerings of manaakitanga.’

Emma thanks a high-school teacher and her publisher Sam Elworthy (Auckland University Press) who prompted her ‘to transform reluctance into curiosity’. I love this too. A publisher who is nurturing all manner of vital poetry collections and connections into the world (think A Clear Dawn, AUP New Poets 8). And of course friends and family. Taking time to offer such a heartfelt mihi matters.

Emma’s collection refreshes a joy in sentences. This is a book where sentences are the exquisite building blocks of poetry. Crafted with an ear attuned to sound, rhythm and chords, and an eye for movement that may startle, dazzle, draw you in closer.

The opening poem in the opening section is akin to a creation myth; an original origin story: inventive funny fabulous. The poems that follow resemble creation episodes; the speaker is vulnerable and bold in their self exposures, in the creating and making of self, dismissed body, gendered self, self expectation. The mother is missing, longed for or discounted. Being woman being man being another is faced. The sentences are off-real surreal cloaked hyper-real skating and free-sliding from feeling to nothing to question to admission to nothing to strange detail to wounding edge to invisibility to laugh out loud. To being unbearably moved.

Sigourney Weaver tells me that desire has a hard edge. The end. The

limit it enforces by virtue of its own inevitability. She’s been reading

the internet again. Sigourney Weaver says that our bodies are wishes

made from DNA and that time and time again we defeat ourselves with

our limited thinking. Always imagining edges. The edge of desire

is only there because we out it there. And we put it there because we

can’t make sense of a world where we could desire and act in equal

measure. Trust Sigourney Weaver to get me tied up in knots without any

rope. Not even the tiniest string around my finger. I like a boundary,

Sigourney Weaver. I like clear statements. I like small words. (…)

from ‘Sigourney Weaver confronts the limits of desire’

The middle section of poems stars Sigourney Weaver. If you want to hang out with a famous film star you can do it in a sequence of poems and then you get to choose how things will pan out. The speaker is hanging out with Sigourney in Aro Valley. They rent movies, kiss, take ecstasy, kiss, have an android baby. It is wickedly funny, so so funny, with a twist of weird and strange and creepy. Sigourney buys a place, a van, becomes a citizen, and in all the curious surreal twists – exhilarating, hilarious, uplifting – your heart is consistently tugged. Look to the weird and you find the ordinary: house-moving cartons, dresses and pigtails, ballgowns, mint-flavoured life savers. This sweetly crafted sequence also finds sustenance in the joy of the sentence.

The final section’s refrain is love. Love poems that are like prismatic love songs with shifting chords and rhythms, the ‘you’ elusive and on the move. In the other sections poems are given breathing-space as they break apart into stanzas. Here the poems appear as dense paragraphs – framed by the white space of breath yes – but catching love’s intensity, love as unfathomable, physical, intimate, complicated, hard to say. Again there is a glorious sway between the weird and the surreal and a familiar heart-grasp of relationships, aloneness, closeness. You can’t breathe as you read, as you feel.

Emma has produced a collection unlike any other I know with its unifying addiction to the sentence, and motifs that go deeper than surface beacons: think age, body expectations, gender, the making of self, the lasting effects of childhood, experiences that bite, disappearing acts, love, desire, more love, more desire. You will meet dreams and demons and epiphanies. Writing is musing, reflecting back, side-drifting, inventing, confessing. You will revel in the joy (and pain) of writing, and yes writing becomes, and yes writing is a form of becoming. Extraordinary.

Emma Barnes studied at the University of Canterbury and lives in Aro Valley, Wellington. Their poetry has been widely published for more than a decade in journals including Landfall, Turbine | Kapohau, Cordite and Best New Zealand Poems. They are currently co-editing with Chris Tse an anthology of LGBTQIA+ and takatāpui writing from Aotearoa New Zealand for Auckland University Press.

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf: Emma reads four poems from I Am in Bed with You

An unpublished poem ‘The lake’ in Poetry Shelf water theme

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Emma Barnes reads from I Am in Bed with You

Emma Barnes reads four poems from I Am in Bed with You, Auckland University Press, 2021

‘Maiden Mother Crone’

‘Ohio’

‘Low boughs’

‘Completely dry riverbed’

Emma Barnes lives and writes in Pōneke / Wellington. They have just released their first book I Am In Bed With You. For the last two years they’ve been working with Chris Tse on an anthology of LGBTQIA+ and Takatāpui writing to be released this year by Auckland University Press. They work in Tech and spend a lot of time picking heavy things up and putting them back down again. 

Auckland University Press page

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 celebrates Ockham NZ Book Award poetry long list: Rhian Gallagher reads from Far-Flung

Rhian Gallagher reads from Far-Flung (Auckland University Press, 2020)

Rhian Gallagher‘s first poetry book Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press, 2003) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for First Collection. In 2007 Gallagher won a Canterbury History Foundation Award, which led to the publication of her book Feeling for Daylight: The Photographs of Jack Adamson (South Canterbury Museum, 2010). She also received the 2008 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award. Gallagher’s Shift (AUP, 2011) won the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. In 2018, she held the University of Otago Robert Burns Fellowship.

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf review of Far-Flung

Poetry Shelf: 8 Poets pick favourite 2020 poetry reads

For end-of-year Poetry Shelf wraps, I have usually invited a swag of writers to pick books they have loved. It has always turned into a mammoth reading celebration, mostly of poetry, but with a little of everything else. This year I decided to invite a handful of poets, whose new books I have loved in 2020, to make a few poetry picks.

My review and interview output has been compromised this year. I still have perhaps 20 poetry books published in Aotearoa I have not yet reviewed, and I do hope to write about some of these over summer.

The 8 Poets

Among a number of other terrific poetry reads (Oscar Upperton’s New Transgender Blockbusters for example), here are eight books that struck me deep this year (with my review links). Tusiata Avia’s The Savager Coloniser (VUP) is the kind of book that tears you apart and you feel so utterly glad to have read it. Tusiata has put herself, her rage, experience, memories, loves, prayers, dreads into poems that face racism, terrorism, Covid, inequity, colonialism, being a mother and a daughter, being human. An extraordinary book. Rhian Gallagher’s Far-Flung (AUP) is a sumptuous arrival, a book of exquisite returns that slowly unfold across months. Her poetic craft includes the lyrical, the political, the personal and the contemplative in poems that reflect upon the land, experiences, relationships.

Rata Gordon‘s Second Person (VUP) is fresh, layered and utterly captivating. This is a book of birth, babies, death, the universe, love, motherhood, water, sky, wildlife. It is a book that celebrates the present tense, the way we can inhabit the now of being. Reading Mohamed Hassan’s new collection, National Anthem (Dead Bird Books), opens up what poetry can do. It widens your heart. It makes you feel. It makes you think. It gets you listening. It makes you think about things that matter. Humanity. Family. Soil. Ahh!

Bill Manhire‘s Wow (VUP) will haunt you – so many of these poems have joined my list of memorable poetry encounters. The baby in the title poem says ‘wow’ while the big brother says ‘also’. This new collection sparks both the ‘wow’ moments and the ‘also’ moments. Get lost in its glorious thickets and then find your way out to take stock of the ordinary (and out-of-the-ordinary) world about you. Like Rhian’s collection this is a book of poetry astonishments. Natalie Morrison‘s (VUP) debut collection Pins is exquisite, both melodious and tactile, economical and rich. There is both a quirkiness and a crafted musicality, resonant white space, yet perhaps a key link is that of narrative. I filled with joy as I read this book.

Jackson Nieuwland‘s I am a Human Being (Compound Press), so long in the making, lovingly crafted with the loving support of friends, with both doubt and with grace (think poise, fluency, adroitness), this book, in its lists and its expansions, moves beyond the need for a single self-defining word. I knew within a page or two, this book was a slow-speed read to savour with joy. Nina Powles‘s Magnolia (Seraph Press) is the book I am currently reading. I have long been a fan, from Girls of the Drift to the glorious Luminscent). Nina’s new book is so immensely satisfying as it navigates home and not-home, identity, history, myth, the lives of women – with characteristic nimbleness, heavenly phrasing, open-heart revelations, the senses on alert, the presence of food, multiple languages. Reading bliss!

The poets and their picks

Tusiata Avia

I’m a terrible book buyer. I tend to read books given to me (because I’m cheap like that) and the shopping-bag full of books my cousin, playwright, Victor Rodger, lends to me on the regular. He has the best taste! I should probably be a better reader of New Zealand poetry in particular, but I reckon I’ve got enough things to feel guilty about.

The top three on my list of books I have read this year and love:

 

Funkhaus by Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)

I love the way Hinemoana uses language to make the ethereal and the mysterious. I’m happy to not immediately be able to pin down meaning; her language allows me to be suspended between what it does to me and what it means. Poems like the incantatory Aunties and Mother – which I think of as more ‘rooted’ – make me want to sit down immediately and write a poem. In fact that is exactly what I did do when I read this book. I love a book that makes me write.

An American Sunrise Joy Harjo (WW Norton & Co)

An American Sunrise is Joy Harjo’s most recent book of poetry. Joy is Poet Laureate of the United States. I love everything Joy Harjo has written. And I mean everything. She Had Some Horses (from an early book of the same name) is one of favourite poems of all time. Elise Paschen says of her, “ Joy Harjo is visionary and a truth sayer, and her expansive imagination sweeps time, interpolating history into the present.”. I would add to that she is taulaaitu, mouth-piece for the ancestors, gods and spirits. While you’re reading Joy Harjo’s poetry, read Crazy Brave, her wonderful autobiography. It will stay with you forever.

National Anthem by Mohamed Hassan (Dead Bird Books)

When I was looking for favourite lines in this book, I couldn’t decide, sooo many – like small poems in themselves. Mohamed speaks with an iron fist in a velvet glove. His poetry is elegant and beautiful and it tells the damn truth. Someone needs to tell the damn truth – about March 15, about being Muslim in New Zealand (and in the entire western world), about the things that happen so close to us – and inside us – that are easy (and more comfy) to avert our eyes from.

Some favourite lines from White Supremacy is a song we all know the words to but never sing out loud: ‘Please come and talk on our show tomorrow/ no don’t bring that up/…

‘This isn’t about race/ this is a time for mourning/ this is about us/ isn’t she amazing/ aren’t we all’…

‘Let us hold you and cry/ our grief into your hijabs’…

Who can tell these stories in this way but a good poet with fire in his fingers, love and pain in equal measure in his heart and feet on the battleground?

There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce Morgan Parker (Tin House)

I have to add, There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker to every list I write forever. In my opinion, no reader of poetry should miss this. If it doesn’t grab you by the shoulders, the heart, the brain, the belly – you might be dead. From the epigraph: ‘The president is black/ she black’ (Kendrick Lamar). Morgan Parker is PRESIDENT.

Rhian Gallagher

The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (HarperCollins) edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris features translations of 20th century poets from around the world and is packed with surprises.

Amidst all the books I have enjoyed during 2020, this is the one that I have read and re-read and continue to come back to. It was first published in 2010. I have been slow in coming to the book. 

When a poem in another language is re-cast into English, through the empathy and skill of a translator, it seems to unsettle notions of line, rhythmn, word choice and form. Translation pushes and tugs at the boundaries of the ‘rules’ and introduces a kind of strangeness. This strangeness I experience as an opening; a feeling of potential, slippery as a an eel to articulate. It recalibrates predetermined notions and generates excitement about what a poem can do or be.

There are well-known names here: Cavafy, Lorca, Akhmatova, Ritsos, Milosz, Symborska among others. There are also many poets previously unknown to me, and many whose work is either out of print or difficult to source. It’s a diverse, inspiring array of poetic voices and, as Kaminsky says in the introduction, puts us ‘in conversation with a global poetic tradition’.

Making discoveries is one of the great pleasures of anthologies. I now have a brand new ‘to read’ list.

Rata Gordon

When I’m reading something that inspires me, I have the urge to inhabit it somehow. I find that entering into a creative process by writing with, and around, another’s words helps me to absorb them into my internal landscape. This poem was created with snippets of some of the poetry I have met recently.

Soon, we are night sailing (Hunter, p. 71)

This is the closest you can get to it:

the void, the nothing,

the black lapping mouth of the sea

and the black arching back of the sky. (Hunter, p. 71)

One still maintains a little glimmer of hope

Deep down inside

A tiny light

About the size of a speck

Like a distant star

Is spotted on the horizon this dark night (Boochani, p. 26)

Swish swish swish

as quiet as a fish. (Ranger, p. 13)

… holy women

await you

on the shore –

long having practiced the art

of replacing hearts

with God

and song (Walker, p. 7)

Today you are tumbling towards her like the ocean.

… you are becoming nearer and nearer to someone other

than yourself. (Hawken, p. 49)

I have … imagined my life ending,

or simply evaporating,

by being subsumed into a tribe of blue people. (Nelson, p. 54)

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter (2017, Picador). (Not strictly poetry, but the book feels so much like a long poem to me). Line breaks added by me.

No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani (2020, Picador).

‘Autumn Leaves’ by Laura Ranger. In A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children edited by Paula Green (2014, Random House).

Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker (1975, The Women’s Press).

Small Stories of Devotion by Dinah Hawken (1991, Victoria University Press).

Bluets by Maggie Nelson (2009, Jonathan Cape). Line breaks added by me.

Mohamed Hassan

Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book (Victoria University Press)

A few weeks ago, I sat in the audience at a WORD Christchurch event and watched our former poet laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh read a poem from Tusiata Avia’s new collection. It began as such:

Hey James,

yeah, you

in the white wig

in that big Endeavour

sailing the blue, blue water

like a big arsehole

FUCK YOU, BITCH.

The hall fell pin silent and a heavy fog of discomfort descended from the ceiling, and I sat in the corner brimming with mischievous glee. It was a perfect moment, watching two of the country’s most celebrated poets jointly trash the country’s so-called ‘founder’ in the most spiteful way imaginable. The audience squirmed and squirmed and I grinned and grinned.

This is how Avia’s book begins, and it never lets up. As the title subtly implies with a hammer, Avia has things she wants to say, and doesn’t care how people feel about them. She delights in the spiteful, burrows down into the uncomfortable and the impolite and pulls out nuggets of painful truths with her bare hands. They are all truths that must be said bluntly and Avia drills them home.

In Massacre, Avia reflects on her youth fighting the demons of Christchurch, and asks us if our ‘this is not us’ mantra is divorced from the history carried in the land, haunted instead by the white spirits that rose to claim lives on March 15.

The book crescendos with How to be in a room full of white people, a dizzying poem that traps us in a single moment in time and forces us to witness and squirm and eventually, hopefully, understand what it is like to be the only brown body in a foreign space, in all its literal and metaphorical significance.

This has been my most cherished book this year, bringing together Tusiata Avia’s firecracker wit and her uncanny gift of conjuring worlds that feel vivid in their weight and poignancy. Abandoning all diplomacies, this is a blazing manifesto for honest and confrontational poetry that speaks with an urgency that puts me as a writer to shame, and demands more of me at once.

Bill Manhire

Jenny Lewis, Gilgamesh Retold, (Carcanet)

I love the way poetry re-visions the past, especially the deep past. I’m thinking of books like Matthew Francis’s reworking of the Welsh epic The Mabinogi and Alice Oswald’s Memorial, a book that abandons the main storyline of Homer’s Iliad in favour of narrating the death scenes of minor characters, accompanied by extra helpings of extended simile. I’d always known about the Epic of Gilgamesh, which I have owned for about 40 years in a yellow 1960 Penguin paperback. I’ve hardly opened it, but it’s one of some nine translations of the poem that Jenny Lewis has consulted for Gilgamesh Retold, published by Carcanet some four thousand years after the stories first circulated in oral form. (Her publisher at Carcanet, Michael Schmidt, has himself written a much admired book about the poem’s origins and afterlife)

Locally Dinah Hawken has worked with this ancient material, particularly writing about Inanna, the goddess of beauty and fertility and, sometimes, war, who is one of the major figures in the Gilgamesh cycle. Dinah’s feminist sense of the ancient stories accords with Jenny Lewis’s decision, as the blurb says, to relocate the poem “to its earlier oral roots in a Sumerian society where men and women were more equal, … [where] only women were allowed to brew beer and keep taverns, and women had their own language – emesal.”

It’s as well Inanna has such a significant role in Gilgamesh, for otherwise it would be a tale about male adventuring and bonding (Gilgamesh and Enkidu) and the discovery that even the greatest heroes can never overcome death. The world of Gilgamesh also gives us a Flood, which matches and in some ways outdoes the Old Testament. I love the way Jenny Lewis has retold these stories. She doesn’t try to pad them out to produce the sorts of coherence and pacing that contemporary readers and movie-goers find comfortable, while her phrasings have an unreductive clarity and a genuinely lyrical grace. The most audacious thing she has done, and has carried off brilliantly, is to use different metrical forms to reflect the ways in which a range of different custodians/retellers have voiced and revoiced the story. You admire the 21st-century poet’s craft even as she inducts you into a baffling and unfamiliar world. All stories, Gilgamesh Retold tells us, are made by many voices, and the best of them will journey on through many more.

And now I must try and summon up the courage to give the latest version of  Beowulf a go!

Natalie Morrison

Gregory Kan, Under Glass (Auckland University Press)

My esteemed colleague, with one hand around his Friday swill-bottle: ‘I hate poetry – no one cares, no one reads it anymore.’

Gregory Kan, with two suns infiltrating the long ride on the train
to Paekākāriki, illustrates otherwise: Under Glass lulls like a really disquieting guided meditation.

After lockdown, it is the first book I read outside our ‘bubble’.
Threading through an internal landscape, somehow a place I recognise.
‘Here, there are two suns. The ordinary sun is in the sky overhead. The other sun
is eating its way out from inside me.’

Certain lines, with their mystical insistence, snag on me and come back again from time to time:
‘Everything that surrounds the second sun is not part of it but nonetheless makes it what it is.’
It’s as if some lines have been dreaming of themselves. The book invites a gentle inspection. A glass bead held right up against the eye. A shutter flipped open over a stark interior.

‘When you move
a look moves inside me
and eats there what I eat.’

Once, a kind individual in Paekākāriki, their hands busy with a teapot, told me: ‘Those who know what it is,
fall on it like starving people.’

When Litcrawl comes, we make our way to some of the events. The room has sucked a crowd in.
Spells for 2020, with Rebecca Hawkes, Rata Gordon, Stacey Teague, Arihia Latham, Rachel McAlpine and Miriama Gemmell (thank you for your entrancing words), reminds me of how poetry is still something people might come in search of. Visitations of bees, airline heights and morphing walls. There is a sense of relief.

A crowd still feels like a dream, and a dream still feels like the sea. Gregory writes that ‘the sea is a house made of anything. The sea is a story about anything, told by someone unfit for storytelling. More than what I can know, and much more than I can understand.’

Under Glass, which wasn’t exactly written for this year (no ordinary year), seems to slot into it.

My steamed colleague, with one hand steadying the banister: ‘I guess Bob Dylan is okay, though.’

Note: I asked my colleague’s permission for quoting him. He said he was fine with it, as long as a mob of angry poets didn’t come knocking.

Jackson Nieuwland

2020 was the year we finally got a book from Hana Pera Aoake (A bathful of kawakawa and hot water Compound Press). I had been waiting for this for so so long. It’s a taonga that I am incredibly grateful for. Ever since I first read Hana’s work they have been one of my favourite writers. Their writing is both clever and wise, of the moment and timeless, pop culture and fine art, Aotearoa and international.

This is a book I will be returning to over and over again for inspiration, electrification, nourishment, and comfort. I would recommend it to anyone.

Other poetry books I read and loved this year: Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, The Book of Frank by CA Conrad, hoki mai by Stacey Teague, Hello by Crispin Best, and Head Girl by Freya Daly Sadgrove.

Nina Mingya Powles

For most of this year I could only read things in fragments. I could only hold on to small parts of poems, essays, short stories in my head before they floated away. This year I sought out poetry by Indigenous writers. Of these two books, the first I read slowly, dipping in and out like testing the surface of cool water. The other I read hungrily all at once.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Graywold Press) reminded me why I write poetry, at a time when writing anything at all felt impossible. Diaz’s heavy, melodic love poems circled around my head for days: “My lover comes to me like darkfall – long, / and through my open window.” But it is her writing about water and the body that changed me. In this book, water is always in motion, a current that passes through time, memory and history. Her long poem “The First Water of the Body” is a history of the Colorado River, a sacred river: “I mean river as a verb. A happening. It is moving with me right now.”

A bathful of kawakawa and hot water by Hana Pera Aoake (Compound Press) came to me when I needed it most, nourishing me and warming me. I haven’t yet held a copy of the book, but I read it on my laptop over two days and have carried parts of it around in my body ever since: “I speak broken French and Português into the broken yellow gloaming.” A bathful of kawakawa and hot water is a searing, lyrical work of poetry, memoir, and political and cultural commentary. Like the title suggests, it was a balm for me, but also a reminder of the ongoing fight for our collective dream of a better world, and most importantly, that “racism is not just a product of psychological malice, but a product of capitalism.”

Poetry Shelf review: Rhian Gallagher’s Far-Flung

Rhian Gallagher,Far-Flung Auckland University Press, 2020

Into the Blue Light

for Kate Vercoe

 

I’m walking above myself in the blue light

indecently blue above the bay with its walk-on-water skin

here is the Kilmog slumping seaward

and the men in their high-vis vests

pouring tar and metal on gaping wounds

the last repair broke free; the highway

doesn’t want to lie still, none of us

want to be where we are

 

exactly but somewhere else

the track a tree’s ascent, kaikawaka! hold on

to the growing power, sun igniting little shouts

against my eyeballs

and clouds came from Australia

hunkering over the Tasman with their strange accent

 

I’m high as a wing tip

where the ache meets the bliss

summit rocks exploding with lichen and moss –

little soft fellas suckered to a groove

bloom and bloom – the track isn’t content

with an end, flax rattling their sabres, tussocks

drying their hair in the stiff south-easterly;

the track wants to go on

forever because it comes to nothing

but the blue light. I’m going out, out

out into the blue light, walking above myself.

 

 

Rhian Gallagher, from Far-Flung

 

 

Rhian Gallagher’s debut poetry book, Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize First Collection, while her second book Shift was awarded the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. She has received a Canterbury History Foundation Award, The Janet Frame Literary Trust Award and in 2018 she held the University of Otago Burns Fellowship. This year I welcomed the arrival of Far-Flung (Auckland University Press). It is a glorious book, a book to slowly savour.

Far-Flung is in two sections. The first section, with deep and roving attachments, navigates place. Think of the shimmering land, the peopled land, the lived-upon and recollected land, with relationships, experiences, epiphanies and upheavals. Think of the past and think of the present. Think of school classrooms, macrocarpa and our smallest birds. Think of a nor-west wind and Donegal women. These poems exude a delicious quietness, a stalled pace, because this is poetry of contemplation, musings upon a stretching home along with ideas that have shaped, and are shaping, how the world is.

The other day I turned up in an Auckland café to meet poet Anna Jackson for lunch, and we both brought along Far-Flung to read (if we got to wait for the other). I read the opening lines aloud to Anna when she arrived, and then she started reading the book. We were lost in the book. I am now imagining how perfect it would be to have a weekly poetry meeting with a friend, where you sit and read the exact same book over lunch. Perhaps I am returning to the afternoon-tea poems from my debut book Cookhouse, where I thought I would take afternoon with poets I loved (in the shape of a poem) for the rest of my life. That didn’t exactly happen (in the shape of a poem), but I guess I have been engaging with poetry in Aotearoa ever since.

Rhian’s opening poem ‘Into the Blue Light’ is a form of poetry astonishment. Let’s say awe, wonder, uplift. The spiritual meets the incandescent meets the hot sticky tar of the road repairs, and the ever-moving scene, with its biblical overtones (‘the bay with its walk-on-water skin’), references a fidgety self as it much as it scores physical locations. I keep coming back to the word ‘miracle’, and the way we become immune to the little and large miracles about us. Miracle can be a way of transcending the burdensome body, daily stasis, the anchor of here and there, the shadow of death, and embrace light  and engage in light-footed movement. This is definitely a poem to get lost in. You don’t need to know what it is about or the personal implications for both poet and speaker. Perhaps this is what astonishment poems can do: they draw us into the blue light so that we may walk or drift above ourselves.

The second poem, ‘The Speed of God’, underlines the range of a nimble poet whose poetic craft includes the lyrical, the political, the personal and the reflective. Here Rhian wittingly but bitingly muses on the idea that God made the world too fast to get men right.


Or maybe if he’d made man and said, ‘You learn how to
live with yourself and do housework and then I might think
about woman.’

The second section of the book focuses upon voices from Dunedin’s Seacliff Lunatic Asylum and is in debt to research along with imaginings. The Lunatic Act of 1882 defines a lunatic within legal parameters rather a medical diagnosis. The institution was more akin to a prison than a place of healing, with those incarcerated granted no legal rights.  As a national inspector of lunatic asylums, hospitals and charitable institutions, Dr Duncan MacGregor ‘feared New Zealand was being overrun by a flood of immigrants from lowly backgrounds’.

Rhian’s ‘The Seacliffe Epistles’ sequence is unbearably haunting. The endnotes acknowledge the sources, many poems in debt to inmate’s letters. Reading the poignant poetry, I am reminded of the way we still haven’t got everything right yet. We still have the dispossessed, the muted, the disenfranchised, the underprivileged. And that is another haunting seeping into the crevices of the book.

Far-Flung showcases multiple bearings of self, place, and across time. There is the child smelling the ‘gum trees in the gully’, rhyming her way across a wheat field, as letters and words start to produce sound and sense. From those tentative beginnings, words now offer sumptuous music for the ear, groundings for the heart, little portholes into our own contemplative meanderings. As Vincent O’Sullivan says on the back of the book: ‘I can think of no more than a handful of poets, whose work I admire to anything like a similar degree.’ This is a glorious arrival, a book of exquisite returns that slowly unfold across months.

Rhian Gallagher’s first poetry book Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press, 2003) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for First Collection. In 2007 Gallagher won a Canterbury History Foundation Award, which led to the publication of her book Feeling for Daylight: The Photographs of Jack Adamson (South Canterbury Museum, 2010). She also received the 2008 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award. Gallagher’s Shift (AUP, 2011) won the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. In 2018, she held the University of Otago Robert Burns Fellowship.

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf review: Jess Fiebig’s My Honest Poem

Jess Fiebig My Honest Poem Auckland University Press 2020

When I was a scrap of blonde hair, pink cheeks

and jam-smeared hands, my grandma would say

‘that girl always needs a pen in her hand’

and at twenty-eight, I think she called it,

right from the start.

from ‘My Honest Poem’

I first picked up Jess Fiegbig’s book when we were in lockdown and I held the book at arm’s length as I was navigating my own dark thoughts. It wasn’t the time to cross poetry bridges into difficult subject matter. Yes this is a book of darkness, of anxiety, family violence, sex, drug addiction but it is also a book of hope, grit, grace. Jess’s poems navigate a woman coming into being along a rocky road, but the book is also a revelation of poems coming to life.

The title suggests the writing is an opening up, the poems frank, holding out for truth. And truth is a hot coal to handle. Prismatic. Shining this light here and that light there. For Jess it is also the heat (and ice) of writing from the searing embers of personal experience. Yet when she writes though tough subjects, her love of writing pulsates, and the words are agile on the line:

I slide two fingers

down my throat

to ease out the knots

I have folded myself into

starting gently at the bottom

and working my way up

just like

when I sat on his knee

at six years old

and he carefully combed

my tangled blonde curls

from ‘Knots’

The middle section of the book, ‘I get lost in lovers’, is both an emptying out and a replenishing. There is the physical vomiting that brings up both bile and the internal weights. ‘Kitchen Sink’ ends with the image of the grandmother and her handbag (‘the kitchen sink’) that carries ‘so much that is heavy, unnecessary’. The poet’s kitchen sink is internal, we infer: ‘I lug my own kitchen sink with me’. This swing between shedding and reclaiming finds the sharp-edged things as well as love, friendship, desire.

You need to add the crafting of poems, the hints at how poems arrive, the way certain words shimmer or blaze on the line. Yes these poems are linguistic treat. Lithe, fluent, musical, economical, image rich. Poetic choices are amplifying the subject matter. Take a stanza from ‘Hypnic Jerk’ for example. You get a murmur of ‘mms’, the tantalising hit of ‘dream souvenirs’. The image of the apple in the throat conjures voice, growth, presence, absence, the memory scaffolding maintained by a go-to image. The very fickle and hard-to-articulate business of memory:

     I have kept

           dream souvenirs

     for a time when remembering you

     wouldn’t grow an apple

                                in my throat

 

     from ‘Hypnic Jerk’

I find this stanza in ‘Party After Riccarton Races’ equally gripping:

     Sunday, without sleep,

     I seek out the beach, hope

     that sand on skin might release

     the brine in my head.

The poem describes a party in a multi-storied swimming-pooled home, where white powder is offered in lines on platters rather than canapes – but it is the ‘brine’ in her head that catches me, the salty agent of preservation that is holding things the speaker wants to discharge and dissolve.

People feature. Lovers, yes. Friends. In the beginning an achingly honest depiction of a mother with various addiction and distances, the abusive boyfriend of her mother. It is particularly moving to read in the acknowledgements Jess’s mention of her mother: ‘whose support of me telling these story shows real grace’. The grandmother is a recurring figure and she is a magnet of warmth and wisdom.

When we say grace,

she declares that I have cold hands, and

a warm heart; don’t go giving it all away.

My grandmother has perfect fingernails

her lined palms are soft, fleshy,

as they rest tenderly

on my arm; her touch

feels like home.

from ‘Palmistry’

The land also becomes a grounding. A way of locating a scene, a relationship, an outing, a mood shifter, an epiphany. Again the poet’s craft, the exquisite movement of word on the line, both aurally and visually, assists the story being told, the personal story being laid down:

     the yolk yellow leaves,

     brash and unashamedly golden

     in this lilac light,

     are shocking in their defiance

     of the gentle pastel landscape

 

     they stir something inside me

     that has lain still

                                    for so long.

 

     from ‘Dead Man’s Point’

My Honest Poem is a move towards new beginnings. The poetry is fresh, succulent and lyrical. Perhaps the most moving collection I have read this year; it might be difficult for some readers, but this is a poetry arrival to celebrate. It took courage to write this book, and it took a finely-tuned ear and eye to achieve such a poetry gleam.

Auckland University Press page.

Jess Fiebig is a Christchurch-based poet whose work has featured in Best New Zealand Poems 2018, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018 and 2019, Landfall, Turbine | Kapohau and takahē. She was runner-up in the 2019 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize.

Jess is reading in my Wild Honey session at Word in Christchurch.