Tag Archives: Autumn Season

Poetry Shelf Autumn Season: Poets pick a word – Michael Harlow picks light (and dark)


A glancing smile


On a run-down street, its sagging buildings, cracked footpaths

and stunted trees, shadows everywhere and on the move.

And passing by, here’s that someone you will never know,

with a glancing smile in her eyes that’s meant to touch yours,

for no other reason than it must—for the shortest, longest time.

That wakes someone in yourself who wants to say, despite

all the running darkness in the world, that just now, there is

out of the dark the light, inside a glancing smile.


©Michael Harlow 2017


Michael Harlow’s Nothing For It But To Sing, won the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry and is published by Otago University Press.  He has been awarded the Beatson Prize for poetry, and in 2014 the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Distinguished Contribution to Poetry in NZ.  He has published tens books of poetry, two of which have been shortlisted for the National Book Awards.  In collaboration with NZ-Suisse composer Kit Powell, as a librettist he has composed some thirteen Performance Works, many of which have been performed in Switzerland, Germany, France and New Zealand.  He lives in Central Otago (NZ) and works as a writer, editor, and Jungian therapist.









Poetry Shelf Autumn Season: Poets pick a word – James Brown unpicks



Not Writing

The longer the week drags on, the more I realise I’m not going to be able to write anything creative for Paula. I feel flat and dull. I’d finally handed a poetry manuscript to VUP the previous week and am in a post-hand-in slump.

Paula had provided a long list of words as sparks, but now I couldn’t face the decision I would have to make if I returned to them. The tyranny of choice. I recall there were a lot of poetic words – ‘lilt’ was one – and of course ‘cycling’ had caught my eye. But I don’t want to write about cycling. I’m also not even sure what I’m supposed to produce. Should I be writing a poem?

It’s like I’m struggling with one of the creative writing exercises I set my students at the IIML, and I begin to think about creative sparks – when something takes off and when it doesn’t. And, let’s be honest, mostly things don’t. If I could sit down and write a book of poems like I’m typing this, it would take about a week. My last poetry book took seven years. Not full-time, of course, but I suddenly realise how much of my writing takes place off the page. Gazing around, thinking, reading, listening to music, people, nothing … actually writing is only part of it. I recently read (some of) The Writer’s Room by Charlotte Wood – a book of interviews with writers. I didn’t recognise any poets; certainly the interviewees I read were prose writers and they presented themselves as impressively diligent, rising early to pound out word counts, often leaving off mid-flight or sentence so they could jump straight back into the action the next morning without wasteful floundering.

I wonder how different the process is for poets. The poetry writer’s room, if there’s a room at all, would, I imagine, witness much less keyboard action. For me, poetry writing is beset with guilty spaces. But like the prose writers, I too have to leave off poems and return to them – they’re rarely completed in one sitting – though it may be several days before I can get back to them. Time and space are good for those poems I kid myself are finished, but not for a poem still trying to ignite. The initial spark may go out. Poetry is a bit like lighting a fire: you often have to wander away to gather fuel, but you need to return and keep blowing on it for it to really take hold and raze everything in your suburb – or however far it’s going to travel.

Okay, most poems are more candle than bushfire, but what makes some reach ignition temperature and some not? I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no special formula for mine (though I can think of things that don’t help), but they generally begin with an idea, phrase or word that interests me. I got a couple of poems out of the word ‘hibiscus’. And this very week, flat and dull as I feel, I tried to get a poem going using a particular kind of word. The result so far has been amusing, but pointless. I also created a small found poem using a couple of sentences from a friend’s email. I wonder if my interest in found poetry stems from being averse to poetry’s emotive and moralistic excesses.

At this point I remember Paula saying something about ‘a couple of paragraphs’. Eek. I was just getting going. Maybe there is something in triggers and deadlines.


©James Brown 2017

James Brown’s new poetry collection, probably called /Floods Another Chamber/, will be published by VUP later in 2017.

Poetry Shelf Autumn Season: Poets pick a word – Nina Powles picks salt

On Salt & Kitchen Poems

I got back into writing poetry by writing about food. I hadn’t written anything in months so I decided to start keeping a food diary of everything I love to eat in Shanghai, where I currently live. Eventually the diary became a blog. I don’t do it for any of the reasons people usually keep track of what they eat. I do it in order to remember, to record and recreate the things that bring me comfort and joy.

Silken tofu cut into the shape of a flower floating in soup, tiny dried shrimps and pickled vegetables sprinkled on top, caramelised spring onions tossed with noodles in a sweet and salty black bean sauce.

When I started writing bits and pieces that resembled poems again, I couldn’t get away from salt and sugar and teeth and skin. I keep coming back to the many food memories that map out my childhood spent partly in New Zealand, in the United States, in Malaysia and in China.

Maybe writing a poem is like preserving something in salt. Like putting a memory or a sensation in a sealed jar and letting a chemical change take place.

A few weeks ago I attended a haiku writing workshop in Shanghai run by the Japanese-American poet Miho Kinnas. I’d never written a haiku before and didn’t know much about them. Miho explained that the form was especially popular with women poets in ancient Japan. The tradition of women writing haiku has continued into contemporary Japan but some of these poems have been scornfully labelled “kitchen haiku”, devalued by literary critics because of their domestic subject matter.

So I decided to try and write some kitchen haiku.



I unwrap lotus leaves

with my teeth

a steamed heart inside



spread salt into

the cracks and crush until

our skins break



girl sits alone

peeling dragonfruit

with pink fingers

As part of my mission to read more poetry by women of colour from all over the world, I recently discovered the work of Safia Elhillo, a young Sudanese-American poet whose first book The January Children was published this year by the University of Nebraska Press. Her poems often take us deep into the minute details that make up the landscape of her origins, both real and imaginary.

Her work makes me think a lot about tracing my own history—both the things I remember and the things I’m told I should remember—through kitchens, childhood haunts, living rooms, & conversations between grandmothers, mothers, aunts, meals made by hand, spices and seasonings, words I hear passed between them at the kitchen table. Below is an excerpt from Safia Elhillo’s poem “Old Wives’ Tales”:

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 9.33.47 pm.png

© Nina Powles 2017

Nina Powles is a poet and writer from Wellington, currently living in China. She is the author of the chapbook Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press, 2014) and several poetry zines. Her poems and essays have recently appeared in The Sapling, Mimicry, Shabby Doll House and Sport. Check out her blog for more.

Listen to Nina in conversation with Lynda Chanwai-Earle on National Radio as she makes dumplings. It is terrific.

Autumn Season Poets pick a word: Bill Nelson picks hybrid




My partner’s bicycle has been rusting away under the house ever since we moved to a hill in Wellington. For a while I’ve been thinking about converting it to a hybrid – a frankenmachine of electric and pedal power. This involves, I think, strapping a battery on the down tube, putting an electric motor inside the wheel and connecting it all to a little trigger on the handlebar. After that she’ll be able to pedal when she wants to and then pull the trigger when going up the hill or when she wants a burst of speed. I haven’t done this yet but I have worked out the new paint job it will need, blue and white, and the new name we will paint on the side, ‘The Dream Camel.’


Hybrids are all the rage at the moment; cars, animals, bicycles, vegetables, language and, yes, even poetry. New Zealand poets like Rachel O’Neill, Hera Lindsay Bird and Hinemoana Baker combine traditional poetics with something unexpected, arguably not quite poetry but not quite the other thing either. This is, well, a hybrid.


Rachel O’Neill is almost exclusively a prose poet. ‘It was worth something to somebody’ is the story of someone who visits a supermarket that was formerly their family home. There are leaps in logic and setting and then a classic rhyme pulls the story to a close – not really a story with a beginning, middle and end; and not a traditional poem either.

‘It was worth something to somebody, my childhood, and I was offered a lot of money for it. They let me keep certain things on the surface. The dogs, the funny shed with spare doors in it and the disco ball. They eventually built a supermarket on the site. I went inside once and walked the aisles. ‘

from  ‘It was worth something to somebody’  full poem at Cordite


Hera Lindsay Bird combines the extravagance of a romantic poet with the rant of an internet blogger. ‘Children are the orgasm of the world’ critiques an insipid metaphor seen on a bus and then proceeds to throw in some outlandish metaphors of her own.

‘This morning on the bus there was this woman carrying a bag with inspirational sayings and positive affirmations all over it which I was reading because I’m a fan of inspirational sayings and positive affirmations. I also like clothing that gives you advice. What’s kinder than the glittered baseball cap of a stranger telling you what to strive for? It’s like living in a world of endless mothers.’

from ‘Children are the orgasm of the world’  full poem at Compound Press



Hinemoana Baker’s poem ‘Home Birth’ combines the technical language of a sound engineer with the experience of supporting a friend through childbirth. This is also a bit of a railing against romanticism and achieves this not by revelling in it, but by looking beyond traditional poetic language to describe something that would usually be dripping in cliche.

A wide band of granular streaming sound
which contains no sudden onset
but emerges and is continuous.
It is dense and continuous
with occasional movement
but appears predominantly
to push.

from‘Home Birth’  full poem at Turbine


There are many others in New Zealand who dabble in hybrid poems. The distrust of tradition and the willingness to risk new forms and language seems to be a feature of New Zealand poetry and is what keeps it exciting and fresh I think. I look forward to seeing the next wave in hybrid poetry.

I fear my own hybrid project may never eventuate. I’ve got too many other things to do, like writing poems for example, and my partner will probably never ride it anyway [she’s read this since and is adamant that she will ride it!]. But mainly, we had our first child six months ago.

Since then we’ve found that grandparents and friends love to spot similarities – when he’s concentrating he looks like me, when he erupts into laughter he sounds like his mother, etcetera, etcetera. I’m not sure about any of this but I do know he’s turned out to be the real Dream Camel; at least half me and at least half her, and a little bit something completely new.

©Bill Nelson 2017


Bill Nelson lives in Wellington. He studied at the IIML where he was awarded the Biggs Family Prize in poetry. His first book of poetry, Memorandum of Understanding, was published in 2016.

Poetry Shelf Autumn Season: Poets pick a word – Elizabeth Smither picks shoes



shoes:  my friend, Viva, had a large number of shoes, upwards of 40 pairs. Myself 12 max.

But in the end it came down to a pair of velvet slippers. Are slippers the soul of shoes?



Slippers  for Viva


 At the last your feet swelled and their shape

changed to a caricature of a foot. How

strangely arched, it seemed, the foot

you lifted from your only fit, the slipper.


All you could wear: slippers befitting a Mandarin

in maroon velvet with embroidered uppers

the widest size for your stiff high arch

to slide into, without a chance of straightening.


Racks and racks of shoes you possessed

boots and stilettos, sandals light as air

buckles, straps, suede, satin. Surely they

could have assembled into one hybrid pair


fit for your poor stiff foot that seemed

like a dinosaur trying to enter a building

the ceiling too low for the neck, the tail knocking

over the walls, the head like your pointing big toe?



© Elizabeth Smither 2017


Elizabeth Smither’s newest collection, Night Horse, will be published by AUP in June.