Tag Archives: Bernadette Hall

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about kindness

Kindness, the word on our tongues, in this upheaval world, in these challenging times, as we navigate conflicting points of view, when our well being is under threat, when the planet is under threat, when some of us are going hungry, cold, without work, distanced from loved ones, suffer cruelty, endure hatred because of difference. Kindness is the word and kindness is the action, and it is the leaning in to understand. I had no idea what I would discover when I checked whether poetry features kindness, and indeed, at times, whether poems are a form of kindness. I think of poetry as a form of song, as excavation, challenge, discovery, tonic, storytelling, connection, as surprise and sustenance for both reader and writer. In the past year, as I face and have faced multiple challenges, poetry has become the ultimate kindness.

The poems I have selected are not necessarily about kindness but have a kindness presence that leads in multiple directions. Warm thanks to the poets and publishers who have supported my season of themes. The season ends mid August.

The poems

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where the salt sings in the air

And the tūī rests in the tree outside our kitchen window

And the sun is occluded by cloud, so that the light

does not reach out and hurt our eyes

And we have eaten, and we have drunk

We have slept, and will sleep more

And the child is fed

And the books have been read

And the toys are strewn around the lounge

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where I sit at my desk, working for hours

until the light dims

And you are outside in the garden,

clipping back the hedge and trees

And then I am standing at the sink, washing dishes,

And chopping up vegetables for dinner

We sit down together, we eat, our child is laughing

And you play Muddy Waters on the stereo

And later we lie in bed reading until midnight

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where no one falls sick, no one is hurt

We have milk, we have bread and coffee and tea

Nothing is pressing, nothing to worry about today

The newspaper is full of entertainment news

The washing is clean, it has been folded and put away

Loss and disappointment pass us by

Outside it is busy, the street hums with sound

The children are trailing up the road to school

And busy commuters rush by talking on cellphones

Give me an ordinary day

And because I’m a dreamer, on my ordinary day

Nobody I loved ever died too young

My father is still right here, sitting in his chair,

where he always sits, looking out at the sea

I never lost anything I truly wanted

And nothing ever hurt me more than I could bear

The rain falls when we need it, the sun shines

People don’t argue, it’s easy to talk to everyone

Everyone is kind, we all put others before ourselves

The world isn’t dying, there is life thriving everywhere

Oh Lord, give me an ordinary day

Kiri Piahana-Wong

The guest house

    (for Al Noor and Linwood Mosques)

In this house

we have one rule:

                                                     bring only what you want to

                                                leave behind

we open doors

with both hands

passing batons

from death to life

come share with us

this tiny place

we built from broken tongues

and one-way boarding passes

from kauri bark

and scholarships

from kāitiaki

and kin

in this house

we are

                                               all broken

                                               all strange

                                               all guests  

we are holding

space for you

                                               stranger

                                               friend

come angry

come dazed

come hand against your frail

come open wounded

come heart between your knees

come sick and sleepless

come seeking shelter

come crawling in your lungs

come teeth inside your grief

come shattered peace

come foreign doubt

come unrequited sun

come shaken soil

come unbearable canyon

come desperately alone

come untuned blossom

come wild and hollow prayer

come celestial martyr

come singing doubt

come swimming to land

come weep

come whisper

come howl into embrace

come find

                                                a new thread

                                                a gentle light

                                                a glass jar to hold

                                                                         your dust

come closer

come in

you are welcome, brother

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020                        

Prayer

I pray to you Shoulder Blades

my twelve-year-old daughter’s shining like wings

like frigate birds that can fly out past the sea where my father lives

and back in again.

I pray to you Water,

you tell me which way to go

even though it is so often through the howling.

I pray to you Static –

no, that is the sea.

I pray to you Headache,

you are always here, like a blessing from a heavy-handed priest.

I pray to you Seizure,

you shut my eyes and open them again.

I pray to you Mirror,

I know you are the evil one.

I pray to you Aunties who are cruel.

You are better than university and therapy

you teach me to write books

how to hurt and hurt and forgive,

(eventually to forgive,

one day to forgive,

right before death to forgive).

I pray to you Aunties who are kind.

All of you live in the sky now,

you are better than letters and telephones.

I pray to you Belt,

yours are marks of Easter.

I pray to you Great Rock in my throat,

every now and then I am better than I am now.

I pray to you Easter Sunday.

Nothing is resurrecting but the water from my eyes

it will die and rise up again

the rock is rolled away and no one appears

no shining man with blonde hair and blue eyes.

I pray to you Lungs,

I will keep you clean and the dear lungs around me.

I pray to you Child

for forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.

I will probably wreck you as badly as I have been wrecked

leave the ship of your childhood, with you

handcuffed to the rigging,

me peering in at you through the portholes

both of us weeping for different reasons.

I pray to you Air

you are where all the things that look like you live

all the things I cannot see.

I pray to you Reader.

I pray to you.

Tusiata Avia

from The Savage Coloniser Book, Victoria University Press, 2020

sonnet xix

I’m thinking about it, how we’ll embrace each other

at the airport, then you’ll drive the long way home,

back down the island, sweet dear heart, sweet.

And I’m thinking about the crazy lady, how she strides

down Cuba Mall in full combat gear,

her face streaked with charcoal, how she barges

through the casual crowd, the coffee drinkers,

the eaters of sweet biscuits. ‘All clear,’ she shouts,

‘I’ve got it sorted, you may all stand down.’

What I should do, what I would do if this was a movie,

I’d go right up to her and I’d say, ‘Thank you,

I feel so much safer in this crazy world with you around.’       

Geoff would get it, waiting at the corner of Ghuznee Street.

It’s his kind of scene. In fact, he’d probably direct it.

Bernadette Hall

from Fancy Dancing: Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2020

Precious to them

You absolutely must be kind to animals

even the wild cats.

Grandad brought me a little tiny baby hare,

Don’t you tell your grandma

I’ve brought it inside and put it in the bed.

He put buttered milk arrowroot biscuits, slipped them

in my pockets to go down for early morning milking

You mustn’t tell your grandma, I’m putting all this butter

in the biscuits.

Marty Smith

from Horse with Hat, Victoria University Press, 2014, suggested by Amy Brown

kia atawhai – te huaketo 2020

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whānau

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whanaunga

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoa

kia atawhai ki ā koutou kiritata

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoamahi

kia atawhai ki ngā uakoao

kia atawhai ki ngā tangata o eru ata mātāwaka

kia atawhai ki ā koutou ano.

ka whakamatea i te huaketo

ki te atawhai.

kia atawhai.

be kind – the virus 2020

be kind to your families

be kind to your relatives

be kind to your friends

be kind to your neighbours

be kind to your workmates

be kind to strangers

be kind to people of other ethnicities

be kind to yourselves.

kill the virus

with kindness.

be kind.

Vaughan Rapatahana

The Lift

For Anna Jackson

it had been one of those days

that was part of one of those weeks, months

where people seemed angry

& I felt like the last runner in the relay race

taking the blame for not getting the baton

over the finish line fast enough

everyone scolding

I was worn down by it, diminished

& to top it off, the bus sailed past without seeing me

& I was late for the reading, another failure

so when Anna offered me a lift home

I could have cried

because it was the first nice thing

that had happened that day

so much bigger than a ride in a car

it was all about standing alone

in a big grey city

and somebody suddenly

handing you marigolds

Janis Freegard

first appeared on Janis’s blog

Honest Second

The art of advice

is balancing

what you think

is the right thing

with what you think

is the right thing to say,

keeping in mind

the psychological state

of the person whom you are advising,

your own integrity and beliefs,

as well as the repercussions

of your suggestions in the immediate

and distant futures—a complex mix,

especially in light of the fact that friendship

should always be kind first,

and honest second.

Johanna Emeney

from Felt, Massey University Press, 2021

A Radical Act in July

You are always smiling the cheese man says, my default position.

The cheese, locally made, sold in the farmers market,

but still not good enough for my newly converted vegan friend

who preaches of bobby calves, burping methane, accuses me

of not taking the problems of the world seriously enough.

Granted, there is much to be afraid of: unprecedented fires,

glaciers melting, sea lapping into expensive living rooms,

the pandemic threatening to go on the rampage again

and here still, lurking behind supermarket shelves,

or in the shadows outside our houses like a violent ex-husband.

Strongmen, stupid or calculating are in charge of too many countries,

we have the possibility of one ourselves now, a strong woman,

aiming to crush our current leader and her habit of kindness

while she holds back global warming and Covid 19

with a scowl. I can see why friends no longer watch the news,

why my sons say they will have no children,

why pulling the blankets over your head starts to seem

like a reasonable proposition but what good does that do

for my neighbour living alone, who, for the first time

in her long-life, surviving war, depression

and other trauma is afraid to go outside?

Perhaps there is reason enough for me not to smile,

one son lives in China and can’t come back for the lack

of a job. The other lives by the sea, but in a shed with no kitchen.

I hear my stretcher-bearer dad in his later years, talking

of Cassino and how they laughed when they weren’t screaming

how his mates all dreamed of coming home and finding

a girl. Some did and so we are here, and in being here

we have already won the lottery. So, I get up early

for the market, put on my red hat to spite the cold,

and greet the first crocus which has popped up overnight.

I try not to think it’s only July and is this a sign

and should I save the world by bypassing the cheese man

and the milk man who names his cows?

My dad was consumed by nightmares most of his life,

but at my age now, 69, he would leap into the lounge

in a forward roll to shock us into laughing. A gift,

though I didn’t see it at the time. Reason enough to smile,

practise kindness and optimism as a radical act

Diane Brown

Seabird

I have not forgotten that seabird

the one I saw with its wings

stretched across the hard road.

One eye open,

one closed.

I wanted to walk past

But the road is no place

for a burial –

I picked it up by the wings

took it to the

water and floated it

out to sea,

which was of no use

to the bird, it had ceased.

I like to think someone

was coaching me in the small,

never futile art,

of gentleness.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba press, 2020

Four stories about kindness

I had lunch with Y today, and she told me over gnocchi (me) and meatballs (her), about how she joined up with another dating website. She quickly filled in the online forms, all the ones about herself and her interests, until she came to one where she had to choose the five attributes she thought were the most important in a person. She looked at them for a while, and then grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out the thirty possible attributes in a list. She read the list. She put it down and went to bed. The next morning when she woke up she read the list again. She found her scissors and snipped around each word. She laid each rectangle on the table, arranged them in a possible order, shuffled them around, and then arranged them again. She went to work. When she came back in the evening they were still there, glowing slightly in the twilight. She sat down in front of them and made some minor adjustments. She discovered, somewhat to her surprise, that kindness is the most important thing to her. She went back to the web page and finished her application. Very soon she was registered and had been matched with ten men in her area. Soon after she had thirty-five messages. The next morning she had forty more. She deleted the messages and deleted her profile. Then she wrote five words on a piece of paper and pinned it to her wall.

*

I phone A, whose father is dying. Whether fast or slow, no one really knows, and no one wants to say it, but we all know this will probably be his last Christmas. She was, at this very moment, she tells me, writing in our Christmas card. She tells me that she’s been thinking a lot about kindness. About people who are kind even when it’s inconvenient, even when it hurts. I tell her she is a kind person. ‘There are times’, she says, ‘when I could have chosen to be kind, but I didn’t. Wasn’t. I’ve said things. Done things. I don’t want to do that – I don’t want to make people feel small.’ I think of my own list, my own regrets. It’s weeks later before we get our Christmas card. ‘What’s this word here?’ asks S, as he reads it. ‘Before lights.’ ‘Kind’, I say. ‘The word is kind.’

*

J is a scientific sort of person, and she wants to understand relationships, so she does what any good scientist would do and keeps a notebook in which she records her observations. She watches. And listens. And then she writes. She writes about the good ones, and about the bad ones. Her subjects are her friends, her family, her acquaintances and people she meets (or overhears) while travelling. None of them have given ethics approval. (She hasn’t asked.) She considers the characteristics of each relationship, both good and bad, and in-between. It is almost halfway through New Year’s Day and we are still eating breakfast. While her study is not yet finished, and so all results are of course provisional, she tells us one thing is clear to her already: that the characteristic shared by the best relationships is kindness.

*

I am talking to C in the back yard at the party and I tell him that the theme of the moment is kindness. He tells me that while, yes, he thinks kindness is important, he thinks he is sometimes (for which I read ‘often’) too kind. He puts up with things, he says, that he should not. He lets people have their way. He doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, but he doesn’t want to be a doormat anymore. I’m not always the quickest thinker, but I know there is something wrong here; I think I know that there is a difference between kindness and niceness, kindness and martyrdom. I am sure that being kind doesn’t mean giving in, going along with things you don’t like, denying yourself. I’m sure that being kind doesn’t mean you can’t give the hard word, when needed, doesn’t mean condoning bad behaviour. I try to explain this to C, who is kind, and also is a doormat sometimes, but I’m not sure he understands what I’m saying. I’m not sure if he heard me. Probably because we are both too busy giving each other advice.

Helen Rickerby

from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

Letter to Hone

Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko

sacred in my awkward arms,

its cool black mocking

my shallow grasp

I was

utterly blown away.

I am sitting beside you at Kaka Point

in an armchair with chrome arm-rests

very close to the stove.

You smile at me,

look back at the flames,

add a couple of logs,

take my hand in your bronze one,

doze awhile;

Open your bright dark eyes,

give precise instructions as to the location of the whisky bottle

on the kitchen shelf, and of two glasses.

I bring them like a lamb.

You pour a mighty dram.

Cilla McQueen

from The Radio Room, Otago University Press, 2010

The poets

Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Tusiata’s most recent collection The Savage Coloniser Book won The Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Poetry Book 2021.

Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist, and poet who runs Creative Writing Dunedin, teaching fiction, memoir and poetry. She has published eight books: two collections of poetry – Before the Divorce We Go To Disneyland, (Jessie Mackay Award Best First Book of Poetry, 1997) Tandem Press 1997 and Learning to Lie Together, Godwit, 2004; two novels, If The Tongue Fits, Tandem Press, 1999 and Eight Stages of Grace, Vintage, 2002—a verse novel which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards, 2003. Also, a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers, Vintage, 2004; and a prose/poetic travel memoir; Here Comes Another.

Johanna Emeney is a senior Tutor at Massey University, Auckland. Felt (Massey University Press, 2021) is her third poetry collection, following Apple & Tree (Cape Catley, 2011) and Family History (Mākaro Press, 2017). You can find her interview with Kim Hill about the new collection here and purchase a book directly from MUP or as an eBook from iTunes or Amazon/Kind.

Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), and a novel, The Year of Falling. She lives in Wellington.  http://janisfreegard.com

Bernadette Hall lives in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She retired from high-school teaching in 2005 in order to embrace a writing life. This sonnet touches on the years 2006 and 2011 when she lived in Wellington, working at the IIML. Her friendship with the Wellington poet, Geoff Cochrane, is referenced in several of her poems. Another significant friendship, begun in 1971, was instrumental in turning her towards poetry. That was with the poet/painter, Joanna Margaret Paul. A major work that she commissioned from Joanna in 1982, will travel the country for the next two years as part of a major exhibition of the artist’s work.

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer from Auckland and Cairo. 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 2020 poetry collection National Anthem was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (2021).

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.

Poet and artist Cilla McQueen has lived and worked in Murihiku for the last 25 years. Cilla’s most recent works are In a Slant Light; a poet’s memoir (2016) and
Poeta: selected and new poems (2018), both from Otago University Press.

Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. She lives in Auckland.

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines, and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish. Additionally, he has lived and worked for several years in the Republic of Nauru, PR China, Brunei Darussalam, and the Middle East.

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.

Marty Smith is writing a non-fiction book tracking the daily lives of trainers and track-work riders as they go about their work at the Hastings racecourse. She finds the same kindness and gentleness there among people who primarily work with animals. On the poem: Grandad was very kind and gentle; Grandma had a rep for being ‘a bit ropey’. He was so kind that when my uncle Edward, told not to touch the gun, cocked it and shot the family dog, Grandad never said a thing to my heartbroken little uncle, just put his arm around him and took him home.

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

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

poems about home

poems about edge

poems about breakfast

Poetry Shelf review: Bernadette Hall’s Fancy Dancing: New and Selected Poems 2004 – 2020

Bernadette Hall, Fancy Dancing: New and Selected Poems 2004 -2020, Victoria University Press, 2020

Campfires flicker in the night, ice masks the harbour.

I’ve made up my mind at last. I’m going to walk across

to see the others. We can sit down then

and talk about poetry, the way ‘water’ chimes

with ‘daughter’ and is there any news of her yet.

from ‘Wai-te-ta’

2020 was a year rich in New Zealand poetry and I am still dipping into my wee stack for treasures. I have long been a fan of Bernadette Hall’s poetry with its sumptuous sound and visual effects, its wide roving subject matter, and its agile engagement with ideas, experience and feeling, it’s humour.

Interestingly, picking up Fancy Dancing set me on a slightly different response to the poetry, because I stalled on Robyn Webster’s artwork before I read the poems. Robyn’s works are enticing. They appear like a fusion of needlework, embroidery and painting with maybe a whiff of printmaking. I haven’t seen them in real life so am only connecting with them as illustrations in a book and have no idea of the media. I am struck by the allure of threads, branches and tributaries, by a colour palette that shifts between soothing harmonies and piquant contrasts. There is both simplicity and intricacy.

Here I am stalling on the artworks and I see them as shadow maps of the poetry. To think of Bernadette’s poetry as rich in tributaries, branches and threads is rewarding. One thread takes you along Irish roads into experience and ancestors, another into ice and snow and the Antarctic. Gardens and friends, weather and the sea, the mountain and the angels are stitched exquisitely along the lines. There is the close-at-hand and there is the wider world. There is the warmth in harmonies and the edge in contrasts. It was so satisfying to read my way through samples from the collections I am familiar with (The Ponies (2007), The Lustre Jug (2009), Life & Customs (2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (2016).

The final section is devoted to new poems, including an exquisite sonnet sequence that is akin to brocade it is so rich in effect. Bernadette’s included author bio is revelatory : “And as for the wilful sonnets that explode in the final pages of this book, she wonders where on earth they came from. ‘It was such fun writing them,’ she says, ‘as if I‘d kicked down the stable doors and taken to the hills.’”

If I continue making analogies with the artwork, I see the 25 sonnets as embroidery at its most intricate and dazzling. Classical threads are stitched into a contemporary context, the personal is threaded with the fictional, the imagined with the recalled. Both Phaedra and the poet are shadowy presences, their back narratives bubbling beneath the surface. The poet speaks:

Now it’s time to expand the narrative. So come

with me into a dimly lit corridor in the Mayflower

Student Hostel beside the Mississippi River

in Iowa.  (…)

from ‘v.’

Think of brocade that glints and gleams and offers pocket narratives and pinches of the surreal. Guests make appearances: friends, family, writers, artists, goddesses. You will hear rain and footsteps, but you will also hear the sumptuous audio effects that are a trademark of Bernadette’s writing. Such an ear for the resounding line. I keep wanting to quote lines to you, whole sonnets.

In sonnet xix, the ‘crazy lady, how she strides down Cuba Mall in full combat gear’ declares the area is under control. The poem culminates in the poet/speaker imagining how she would behave kindly if it were a movie: she would approach the woman in combat gear saying, ‘Thank you, / I feel so much safer in this crazy world with you around.’

I am repeatedly drawn to sonnet xxiv, a sonnet dedicated to grandchildren, a sonnet that sways between past and present, between Italian marble and four children harbour swimming, ‘their arms / like triangle roof-lines’. The image is potent, the shiver between past and present fertile, and the ending so very moving:

(…) How long it took to see

the eating, drinking, gulping, feasting of the water

body, the spasmodic sun, the specific shade.

Beautiful children, you are forever and thereafter

swimming me to shore. I could not love you more.

The final sonnet is a form of counting blessings as it gives thanks. It becomes a rich celebratory brocade, luminous and heartfelt, a gift for ear and eye. I will pin this sonnet to my study wall as I continue to give thanks to poetry, to the things near me, to what gives me courage and furnishes each precious day.

Let us give thanks for the cranesbill geranium

and the mouse eared myositis,

for the ranunculus (little frog mouth, little friend),

for the feathered nival zone, for the bug moss

in the tarn, for all that is and all that

has been and all that is to come. It is for us

to keep our courage firm, to nurse our appointed

pain, to await ‘that which springs ablaze of itself’.

from sonnet xxv

Fancy Dancing showcases the work of one of our most treasured poets. The poems will dance in your ear and on your tongue, in your limbs and in your heart. Take a read. Pick a favourite and pin it to the wall. Take heart from this gift of poetry.

Bernadette Hall is Otago born and bred. Following a long and much enjoyed career as a high school teacher in Dunedin and Christchurch, she has for the last eighteen years lived in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury, where she has built up a beautiful garden. Fancy Dancing is her eleventh collection of poetry. ‘It’s as close as I’ll ever get to writing an autobiography,’ she says, laughing. And as for the wilful sonnets that explode in the final pages of this book, she wonders where on earth they came from. ‘It was such fun writing them,’ she says, ‘as if I‘d kicked down the stable doors and taken to the hills.’ In 2015 she collaborated with Robyn Webster on Matakaea, Shag Point, an art /text installation exhibited at the Ashburton Art Gallery. In the same year she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for literary achievement in poetry. In 2017 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf sonnet from Fancy Dancing

ANZL review by Lynley Eadmeades

Best NZ Poems, sonnet from Fancy Dancing

Poetry Shelf Lounge: A National Poetry Day gathering

Kia ora poets and poetry fans

Welcome to the Poetry Shelf gathering on National Poetry Day. One of my favourite Poetry Days was in Wellington when I jumped in a taxi and went from one event to the next: Vic Books, the National Library, Unity Books, the Book Hound, Miaow. Listening to others read, reading a snippet myself or mc-ing, it felt like the best thing in the world (well right up there with early morning beach walks, and cooking meals, writing secret things, reading books for hours on end).

These days it feels good to count blessings because there is so much toxic stuff out there. I feel utterly privileged to get sent loads of poetry books published in Aotearoa, and to celebrate some of them on the blog. So many times this year I have picked up a new book and felt goosebumps as I settled into the poem thickets and clearings. You know the feeling – when the music and the mystery and the freshness, the challenges and the sensualness and the connective currents – make you feel so darn good.

I invited a handful of poets to send me an audio or video to celebrate National Poetry Day – it was over to them what they did: read their own poems, read the poems of others, share a favourite book or poet, muse on poetry. Bernadette Hall drove 30 km to hook up with Doc Drumheller and Rangiora Library staff at the band rotunda to create her video. Amy Brown did two versions, one with interruptions and a wee poem from her son Robin. I posted both for you! Student E Wen Wong recorded a poem by Cilla McQueen.

I have been getting these files as Auckland is in level 3 – and everyone else level 2 – and what a treat to listen to them. Poetry can do so much! The past few months it has been of immense comfort, and the way so many of you say yes to my requests.

As some of you know I had a melt down yesterday as WordPress has put us onto a new system that I find hard to manage yet. My daughter helped me a bit, but I had to make a few compromises, and one poet will make a future appearance. Thank you for the boosts on social media.

Happy National Poetry Day everyone. Dip and delve into this glorious and utterly special poetry gathering.

IMG-8587.JPG

Amy Brown reads two poems of her own: ’16 August 2016′ and ‘Pacing Poem’ from Neon Daze Victoria University Press, 2019. She also reads Airini Beautrais’s ‘Flow’ from Victoria University Press, 2017. Amy sent me two versions, one with interruptions by her son Robin (he does a poem at the end) and one without Robin present. I couldn’t pick as I loved so both, so you get to choose which one to listen to. I think the Robin one is rather special.

Amy Brown reads two poems with the help of Robin

Amy Brown reads the two poems without help

David Eggleton reads ‘The Sound and the Fury’ filmed by Richard C. Wallis in Waikouaiti, North Otago, on Wednesday 19.08.20. Not his tokotoko but a walking stick. Still waiting for the tokotoko ceremony at Matahiwi marae.

Erik Kennedy reads ‘There Is a Man Dancing on the Rudder of an Enormous Cargo Ship’

Bernadette Hall reads two sonnets, one published in Aotearotica and the other in Landfall 239. Her guest Doc Drumheller reads his haiku in Landfall 239. Bernadette had travelled 30 kms to the band rotunda in Rangiora to film this reading with the help of Paula and Daniel from Rangiora Library.

You can listen to Bill read here

You can find texts of the original poem and Bill’s translation here

Emma Neale reads ‘Polemic’ from Tender Machines Otago University Press, 2015

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You can listen to Marty read here

Marty Smith reads ‘Agnus Dei’ from Horse with Hat, Victoria University Press, 2013

Ruby Solly reads two poems, a very early one and a very new one

Chris Tse reads ‘(Green-Nature)’

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Louise Wallace reads three poems on a women/mother/daughter theme: by herself, (from Bad Things Victoria University Press, 2017), and by Naomii Seah and Modi Deng (from the latest issue of Starling).

E Wen Wong reads ‘Vegetable Garden Poem iv’ by Cilla McQueen from Axis: Poems and drawings Otago University Press 2001

The Poets

Amy Brown is a New Zealand poet, novelist and teacher, living in Melbourne. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propaganda Poster Girl (VUP, 2008), which was shortlisted at the 2009 New Zealand Book Awards, The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem, and Neon Daze (VUP, 2019), a verse journal of the first four months of motherhood. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels.

Doc Drumheller was born in South Carolina and has lived in NZ for more than half his life. He has worked in award-winning groups for theatre and music and has published 10 collections of poetry. His poems have been translated into more than 20 languages. He lives in Oxford, where he edits and publishes the literary journal, Catalyst.

David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based poet and writer. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate. His Selected Poems is forthcoming.

Bernadette Hall is Otago born and bred. Following a long career as a high school teacher in Dunedin and Christchurch, she has now lived 17 years in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury where she has built up a beautiful garden. Her 12th collection of poetry, Fancy Dancing (VUP), will be launched at the WORD festival in Christchurch in November. ‘It’s as close as I’ll ever get to writing an autobiography,’ she says, laughing. And as for the wilful sonnets that explode in the final pages of this book, she wonders where on earth they came from. ‘It was such fun writing them,’ she says, ‘as if I‘d kicked down the stable doors and taken to the hills.’ In 2015 she collaborated with Robyn Webster on Matakaea, Shag Point, an art /text installation exhibited at the Ashburton ArGallery. In the same year she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for outstanding achievement in Poetry. In 2017 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to New Zealand literature.

Erik Kennedy is the author of There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), and he is co-editing a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific forthcoming from Auckland University Press in 2021. His poems and criticism have recently been published in places like FENCE, Landfall, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Bill Manhire Aside from publishing his own widely acclaimed poetry, Bill Manhire has edited a number of anthologies and written extensively on New Zealand literature. He was New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate. His most recent collections include Tell Me My Name and Things to Place in a Coffin.  Victoria University Press are publishing his new collection Wow November 2020.

Emma Neale is the author of six novels and six collections of poetry. Her most recent novel, Billy Bird (2016) was short-listed for the Acorn Prize at the Ockham NZ Book Awards and long-listed for the Dublin International Literary Award. Emma has received a number of literary fellowships, residencies and awards, the most recent of which is the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for 2020. Her first collection of short stories, Party Games, is due out late 2020/early 2021. Emma lives and works in Ōtepoti/Dunedin, and she is the current editor of Landfall, New Zealand’s longest-running literary journal.

Marty Smith’s Horse with hat won the 2014 Jesse Mackay award for Best First Book of Poetry. Some of the book looks at the cost to her father of not talking about the war. ‘Agnus Dei’ is a poem that crosses religion over into war, although it looks like farming. She grew up riding beside her father, hence the horse strand in Horse with hat, hence the book she is writing about the obsession of people who risk their lives to ride racehorses. She would risk her life right now to ride a racehorse, if she were allowed.

Ruby Solly is a Kai Tahu / Waitaha writer and musician from Aotearoa, New Zealand. She has had poetry and creative non-fiction published in Landfall, Sport, Poetry NZ, Starling, Mimicry, Minarets, E-Tangata, The Spinoff, and Pantograph Punch amongst others. Victoria University Press will be publishing her debut book of poetry ‘Tōku Pāpā’ in 2021. Ruby is also a scriptwriter and her film ‘Super Special’ which aims to share knowledge around traditional Māori views and practices around menstruation has been featured in film festivals within New Zealand and the US. As a musician, she has played with artists such as Yo-yo Ma as part of his Bach Project, Trinity Roots, Whirimako Black, Rikki Gooch, and Ariana Tikao. Ruby is a taonga puoro (traditional Māori musical instruments) player and therapist with a first-class master’s in music therapy where she conducted kaupapa Māori research into the use of taonga puoro in acute mental health. As a taonga puoro player and therapist, she is privileged to work around Aotearoa with people from all walks of life sharing the taonga of her ancestors. She will be beginning a PhD to further her research this year. Her first album, ‘Pōneke’, which also features poetry, is available from rubysolly.bandcamp.cpm

Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC, both published by Auckland University Press. He is a regular book reviewer on Radio New Zealand and contributor to Capital’s Re-Verse column. He is currently co-editing an anthology of queer writers from Aotearoa.

Louise Wallace is the author of three collections of poetry published by Victoria University Press, most recently Bad Things. She is the founder and editor of Starling, and is currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Otago on women, [domestic] paralysis and poetic form.

E Wen Wong is in her final year at Burnside High School, where she is Head Girl for 2020. Last year, her poem Boston Building Blockswon first prize in the Year 12 category of the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Competition.

Poetry Shelf connections: Bernadette Hall’s ‘the landscape of longing’

 

the landscape of longing

in memory of Gerry Melling, poet and architect 1947-2012

 

 

I shall explain herein the arrangement and symmetry

of private buildings from the position of the heavens in respect of the earth,

the inclination of the zodiac and from the sun’s course

 

just the cold left now like a smooth glove on the top of my hand

though the joint between my fingers is still warm

 

an object under the eye will appear very different  from the same object in an open space       

                                                      

think of the shell as part of the architectural setting, a shallow canopy

over the Madonna who, with her child, has been gathering raspberries

             

the injury which nature would effect is evaded by means of art

 

take, for example, the more tensile forms of tiny fish that dart,

a little more weighted with their body mass,

more straightforwardly down, slewing side to side like footballers

shaping new subtleties of line to distract the eye

 

it is the part of a skilful (wo)man  to consider the nature of the place, 

the purpose of the building and the beauty of it

                   

think of the falcon and the falconer,

of words in circular and ovoid shapes like the seventy-one

cervical vertebrae that held up the neck of the plesiosaur

think of Beethoven’s Quartet No. 15 in A minor

think of the Sky Box overlooking the West Bank in Wellington

think of Gerry and Geoff and Celeste and all the other beautiful people

 

 

Bernadette Hall

 

italicised text taken from the writings of the Roman architect, Vitruvius 80-15BC

 

 

Bernadette says:  Here is my lockdown poem. Some of the lines have been floating around for a while. I’ve long wanted to write something for Gerry. How good that this week Geoff Cochrane and Celeste should join him.  I’ve no idea who Celeste is. She appears in one of Geoff’s poems. She sounds beautiful. All I can say is, here’s to love and friendship, they are timeless. And thank you to all who are working to keep us all safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Bernadette Hall on Mister Hamilton’s Library

 

Mister Hamilton’s Library

 

The cat is curled on the poet’s lap. It’s very happy there. It licks its paw and rubs its ear with it. Scrinches up its eyes. He’s talking poetry again, the poet. He’s testing some of the lines he’s written. Tasting them, listening to the music. ‘For many years I lived in Southland. / In fact I am from Southland. / Some people say my speech is slow. / I say it’s deliberate, just.’   ( from the poem, Plainsong’. )  ‘My lawn’s a rocket, / a multinational bearded lip bound by corsets. / It wrote the Bible and Mickey mouse / but being modest always blushes green.’    ( from the poem, ‘Sixties relic surveys his lawn’.) The cat’s name is on the cover of the book. It’s the title. Mister Hamilton. Yet there’s no reference to the cat inside the book. Nor is its name mentioned again within the pages.  People ask the poet, ‘Why is your book called “Mister Hamilton?”‘ And he replies ‘It’s the name of my cat. And I love my cat.’

When the poet dies, hundreds and hundreds of books are found in his house, in bookshelves, in cupboards, under the bed, in boxes in the garage. Dante is there and Yannis Ritsos, Francis Ponge, Pablo Neruda, Frank O’Hara. Along with R.A.K. Mason, Bill Manhire, Cilla McQueen and Peter Olds. His friends miss the sound of his voice. They remember ‘the ‘slow’ reflections  – ‘the kind that imply the presence of a companion, and a habit of conversation.’ (quote: Ian Wedde) The way he made poetry ‘ visible and desirable in his very being.’ (quote: Bernadette Hall. ) The cat remembers the comfort of the poet’s lap, the sound of his voice. The playfulness of all those pages turning. Finally the poet’s books are dispersed among those who will love them. Some, water-stained and mouldy, have had to be destroyed. The bulk of them, however, are out there, doing work that’s timeless and important, refreshing the way we talk to each other.

 

Bernadette Hall

 

Mister Hamilton by John Dickson (1944 – 2017). Published by Auckland University Press, 2016. All quotations are taken from this book.

Auckland University Press page

 

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Bernadette Hall is an award-winning writer who has published ten poetry collections and edited several poetry anthologies (including for Joanna Margaret Paul and Lorna Staveley Anker). Her latest book, Maukatere, Floating mountain, with artwork by Rachel O’Neill, was published by Seraph Press in 2016. In 2015 she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry, and in 2017 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature. She lives in Hurunui, Canterbury.

 

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Poetry Shelf poses a question to poets: Why write poetry?

 

This is an occasional series where I invite a group of poets to respond to the same question. First up: Why write poetry? I selected this question because a number of writers have mused upon the place of poetry when facing catastrophes that devastate our human roots. I pondered that question. I then asked myself why I have written poetry for decades regardless of whether it is published or applauded. It is what I love to do. It is my way of making music and feeling and translating and being happy no matter the life challenges. I also feel poetry is thriving in Aotearoa; at all ages, in multiple forms and in myriad places, many of us are drawn to write poems.

 

Albert Wendt

I write poetry because I can’t stop doing it: it demands that I do it, and it is ‘language’ that I feel most passionately about. When I’ve deliberately tried not to write poetry, I’ve ended up feeling unfinished, incomplete. When the poetry is shaping itself well in my tongue and throat, I feel healed, and healing.

 

Emer Lyons

I talk too much. A male Irish poet visited last year and said my poetry had none of the “jerkiness” of my personality. In writing poetry I find silence and the ability to give that silence space. After drinks with two men from the university last week, the one I had just met sent me a message on Twitter to ask me if I, like him, had Borderline Personality Disorder. Speaking in non sequiturs is not nearly as convincing as writing in them. As women, there are expectations about how we should speak, how we should take up space, how we should be more silent, more stable. Writing poetry is a minor release from social constraints, and the voluntary application of others. I can bind my breasts and write sonnets. On the page, I can be enough.

 

Erik Kennedy

I write poetry for the same reason that architects draw up concepts for floating cities: 1) to see what a better future might look like before it is possible, 2) to make the blueprints of progress public so that others can avoid making the mistakes that I have.

 

Therese Lloyd

Poetry remains mysterious to me. It’s such a strange beast and to be honest, sometimes I wish I had been bitten by the fiction bug instead. But I’ve been writing poetry for a long time. I think the first poem I ever wrote was when I was about 6. The poem was about fireworks and I remember the last line was “beautiful but dangerous”. Even at 6 years old I had a dark turn of mind! It may be a total cliché, but for me, poetry is a way to figure out how I feel about something. Writing poetry, especially that first thrilling draft, is an exercise in bravery. I love the feeling of having only the slightest inkling of what might appear on the page, and then to be surprised (sometimes pleasantly) by the string of lines that emerge.

Why write poetry? Because it’s confounding and liberating in turn. Because, as Anne Carson so famously says:

It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.

 

Michele Leggott

Why write poetry? To sound distance and make coastal profiles, to travel light and lift darkness. I go back to what I wrote about these and other calibrations: A family is a series of intersecting arcs, some boat-shaped, others vaults or canopies, still others vapour trails behind a mountain or light refracted through water. None is enclosed, all are in motion, springing away from one another or folding themselves around some spectral inverse of the shape they make against sea or sky.

 

essa may ranapiri

I write poetry because I love what poetry can be and can do. With poetry you can create these rather dense language objects that have the ability to confront many realities very quickly without sacrificing complexity. It is a space where I feel the English language can be at its most decolonised and queer and wonderful. And it also a space I feel most comfortable exploring the language of my tīpuna te reo Māori, a language I have only really just started learning. Poetry’s capacity for fragmentation and error, gives me permission to try out who I am and who I want to be. It also encourages in me a radical imagination about the society we live in and the societies that we could live in. A poem can be built in a day and take years to understand, it can both encapsulate and be the moment. A poem can give people who are marginalised a space to really embody their voice, make the air vibrate with their wairua, and in so doing provide an opportunity for community for those that struggle to find it wherever they are.

 

Bernadette Hall:

Why write poetry? Why not write poetry? Why should a poem choose you to be its vehicle? ‘Poetry is a terminal activity, taking place out near the end of things’ wrote John Berryman in a review article in 1959. I feel a great excitement when I read his words. An enchantment.  Since childhood, I have been immersed in language that’s not my own. In fact it’s dead. Or so the old school rhymes used to say about it, about Latin. And every now and then, a kind of ‘speech’ would emerge, in my native tongue, English, well out of the range of my everyday talking, things I would write down on paper. Secrets. Janet Frame has been quoted apparently as saying that her writing wasn’t her. Which would give you a huge amount of freedom, wouldn’t it, that embracing and distancing at the same time.  Berryman went on to say of poetry, ‘And it aims …at the reformation of the poet, as prayer does.’  The re-formation. No wonder I’m hooked.

 

Cilla McQueen

It seems healthy for thoughts to have an outlet into the real world.

Thinking is in the poem and is the poem.

You attend to the material and the spiritual. You perceive humanity, see inside yourself and other people, listen to the language of insight, catch words from the deep layers of consciousness.

Writing something down in concentrated form is mental exercise. The elastic syntax inside language asks for attention and skill so that it can be used with subtlety, to contain many shades of meaning and feeling.

Writing is a pleasure. Whether it ends up as a poem or not doesn’t really matter.

Words can unblock. The complete absorption in writing, in silent concentration, can provide a psychic release. A poem both releases energy and generates it.

The act of writing can be a refuge and comfort, also a way of talking things out in order to understand. The page is always listening, a patient companion in times of solitude or loneliness.

Don’t know what I’d do without it. I’ve spent most of my writing life thinking about poetry, but am still wary of defining it (this is part of its charm).

 

 

Albert Wendt has published many novels, collections of poetry and short stories, and edited numerous anthologies. In 2018, along with four others, he was recognised as a New Zealand Icon at a medallion ceremony for his significant contribution to the Arts.

Emer Lyons is an Irish writer who has had poetry and fiction published in journals such as TurbineLondon GripThe New Zealand Poetry Society AnthologySouthwordThe Spinoff and Queen Mob’s Tea House. She has appeared on shortlists for the Fish Poetry Competition, the Bridport Poetry Prize, the takahé short story competition, The Collinson’s short story prize and her chapbook Throwing Shapes was long-listed for the Munster Literature Fool For Poetry competition in 2017. Last year she was the recipient of the inaugural University of Otago City of Literature scholarship and is a creative/critical PhD candidate in contemporary queer poetry.

Erik Kennedy is the author of Twenty-Six Factitions (Cold Hub Press, 2017) and There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), and he selected the poetry for Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019). Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime is shortlisted for the 2019 Ockham and New Zealand Book Awards – he will be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival in May.

Therese Lloyd is the author of the chapbook many things happened (Pania Press, 2006), Other Animals (VUP, 2013) and The Facts (VUP, 2018). The Facts has been shortlisted for the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and she will be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival in May.

Michele Leggott has published eight collections of poetry, most recently Vanishing Points (Auckland University Press) and has edited and co-edited a number of anthologies including the poetry of Robin Hyde.She was the inaugural Poet Laureate (2007-9) under National Library administration and in 2013 received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. She founded the New Zealand Electronic zPoetry Centre and is professor of English at the University of Auckland. She recently contributed the introduction to Verses, a collection of poetry by Lola Ridge (Quale Press).

essa may ranapiri is a poet from kirikiriroa, Aotearoa and are part of the local writing group Puku. rir |Liv.id. They have been published in many journals in print and online, most recently in Best New Zealand Poems 2018. Their first collection of poetry ransack is being published by Victoria University Press in July 2019.

Bernadette Hall lives in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published ten collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs (VUP 2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (Seraph Press 2016). In 2015 shereceived the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. In 2016 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature.  In 2017 she joined with three other Christchurch writers to inaugurate He Kōrero Pukapuka, a book club which meets weekly at the Christchurch Men’s Prison.

Cilla McQueen is a poet, teacher and artist; her multiple honours and awards include a Fulbright Visiting Writer’s Fellowship 1985,three New Zealand Book Awards 1983, 1989, 1991; an Hon.LittD Otago 2008, and the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry 2010. She was the National Library New Zealand Poet Laureate 2009 -11.  Recent works include The Radio Room (Otago University Press 2010), In A Slant Light (Otago University Press, 2016), and poeta: selected and new poems (Otago University Press, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf ANZAC poem: celebrating Lorna Staveley Anker, NZ’s first woman war poet

 

Ellen’s Vigil

 

Benjamin Isaac Tom

Passchendaele Ypres and Somme

        three ovals float

        on the cold wall

plastered whiter

         than their bones,

young, khaki’d

         their bud-tender eyes

         premonition filled.

 

Ellen,

Her three boys gone,

      transplanted seventy years

      from Lurgan’s linen

no longer counts crops

      in season

but digs diligently, delicately,

      digs down

              further down

      her spade searching

              her garden for

      three lost sons

      Thomas Isaac and Ben.

 

Lorna Staveley Anker

 

from Ellen’s Vigil Griffin Press, 1996

(The poem also appeared in The Judas Tree, 2013 and is published with kind permission from the Lorna Staveley Anker Estate)

 

 

I discovered the poetry of Lorna Staveley Anker in The Judas Tree, a selection edited by Bernadette Hall  (2013, Canterbury University Press). The collection claims Lorna as New Zealand’s first woman war poet. She was born in Ōtautahi, Christchurch in 1914 and died in 2000. Her father died of throat cancer when she was two and her mother took in boarders to survive. Three of Lorna’s uncles were killed in WWI and her mother, Elizabeth suffered terribly. From childhood Lorna endured a lifetime of crippling nightmares, night terrors. She married Ralph Price Anker, a student she met at teachers’ college; they had four children and adopted a fifth. Lorna began writing and publishing in the 1960s, but her first collection, My Streetlamp Dances, did not appear until 1986. Two further collections appeared in her lifetime: From a Particular Stave (1993) and Ellen’s Vigil (1996). I so loved the posthumous volume, The Judas Tree, I reviewed the book on my blog. 

Shortly after the review appeared, Lorna’s daughter, Denny, sent me a copy of Ellen’s Vigil and again the poetry resonated. Much later I found myself in the Turnbull Library doing research for Wild Honey and listening to various audio tapes. I was completely captivated by an interview between Lorna and Susan Fowke (from the Gaylene Preston Productions Women in World War Two oral history archive managed by Judith Fyfe).

There were many occasions when I was profoundly moved in the Turnbull and this was one of them. I was writing a book that engaged with the work of almost 200 poets and that required a very different focus to a book that considered a single poet or perhaps even ten. However sometimes a particular poet held my attention; I got lost in the maze and astonishments of unpublished writing, letters, interviews, diaries, scrapbooks. In Lorna’s case, to hear the poet speak was a special thing indeed. Gaylene has kindly given me permission to share some gems from Lorna on being a poet but I do encourage you to explore the oral history archive Gaylene has helped assemble.

 

 

Lorna’s father sometimes wrote poetry, ‘particularly couplets’ for her mother and her mother ‘s meals ‘were a poem’: ‘she’d pickle nasturtiums and we’d have caper sauce with our mutton’. I can just picture the kitchen: ‘The shelves in the pantry would be shiny with rows and rows of goods.’

The poem ‘Ellen’s Vigil’ stems from the time Lorna’s grandmother went digging for her war-dead sons in her garden. Lorna said in the interview that her grandmother was ‘grandmother to all mothers and wives who had lost their beloved men – she was a symbol for me.’ Knowing this amplifies the ‘buried’ grief. Lorna had lived with her grandmother and grandfather for a period from 1921; her grandmother, we hear, had favoured imagination rather than ‘strict discipline techniques’.

Lorna suffered from an eye defect which hindered her reading but at the age of 52 she began writing: she said it was strange to have a slim reading history when then, at the age of 52, ‘out burst all this language and poetry’. In her introduction to The Judas Tree Bernadette muses on events that perhaps prompted Lorna’s poetry writing in the 1960s (the death of her son Staveley aged 21 and the fact his daughter was adopted out by the birth mother) and the way she began publishing after the death of her beloved husband (1983).

She recounts an incident where her poetry was rejected as middle-class rubbish: ‘I came home and I wrote out of indignation and rejection, passion, fury, disbelief, and it was the mildest poem the most restrained tender poignant poem about the death of affection’. Writing was often a physical thing for Lorna: ‘a fusing in my head’, ‘a rush of blood’.

Lorna shared a number of things on being a poet that stuck with me. She didn’t call herself poetic ‘but being poetic means you have a different print out’, and when you write poetry ‘your mind is going sideways’.

Lorna’s family helped publish her collections while Pat White, David Howard and james Norcliffe offered help and assistance with her debut collection. Two of her poems were published in Kiwi & Emu (1989) while Lauris Edmond selected her essay, ‘Has the Kaiser Won?’ for Women in Wartime (1986).

I recommend taking timeout in the archives and listening to the interview, tracking down Lorna’s individual collections and perusing the book that Bernadette assembled with such love and care. To return to the poetry with her autobiography, to remember the impact of war upon her well being and later her writing, to consider the way words flooded out when she was older rather than younger, is to enrich reading pathways through her work.

 

From my review of The Judas Tree

Lorna’s poems reflect a mind that engaged with the world acutely, wittily, compassionately. There is a plainness to the language in that similes and metaphors are sidestepped for nouns and verbs. These are poems of observation, attention, reaction, opinion, experience. The starting point might be the most slender of moments — and the poetry opens out from there, surprisingly, wonderfully.

In the first section (and indeed the largest section), war makes its presence felt; from the pain of departures, to the pain of the wounded, to the ache of loss. At times Lorna filters a poem through the eyes of her young self (for example, trying to make sense of Armistice Day). At times a concrete detail makes the poem more poignant (‘her spade searching/ her garden for/ her three lost sons’). In ‘Arie’s Tale’ the detail that renders the pain sharper is the ‘tyreless rims.’ In this poem the dead are carried away on a bicycle that makes such a clatter it is the hardest thing to bear (‘He felt it wasn’t respectful/ to his customers’). Lorna’s war poems stretch in all directions — they never forget the life that goes on and they never forget the heartbreak and loss that are etched indelibly. One of my favourite poems, ‘V.E.Day … and Neenish Tarts,’ moves beautifully between these two opposing but entwined forces. From the darkness of battle (now over), the poem moves to the grandmother dancing on the bed (as warm flesh weaves/ pink circles/ under a nightgown’; and from there to ‘Let’s have Neenish tarts for tea’ (this is cause for celebration). This first section of the book is a terrific addition to New Zealand war poetry because it casts a light on women at war (even when they remain in the kitchen).

 

‘Vision of Escape’, a poem by Lorna

Canterbury University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Poem by Bernadette Hall

 

 

from a sonnet sequence called  Fancy Dancing

 

vii.

Drowning is painless, or so they say, when we die

we’ll look as though we’re sleeping. How many thousands

and thousands are sleeping now in the swollen waters

of the Mediterranean? It’s enough to break your heart.

Maggie dropped in for a drink after work

the other day. Tears in the street. I’ve given her

our mother’s lovely little blue Limoges plate.

We talked about the grandfather we’d never met,

Alexander, thrown out of the family for some reason

we are left to imagine. I found him earlier this year,

lying all on his own in an unmarked grave  in Ashburton.

You can drown in loneliness, it seems, just like in water.

We’ll put up a stone with his name on it, such a small gesture.

 

 

©Bernadette Hall

 

Bernadette Hall lives in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published ten collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs (VUP 2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (Seraph Press 2016). In 2015 shereceived the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. In 2016 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature.  In 2017 she joined with three other Christchurch writers to inaugurate He Kōrero Pukapuka, a book club which meets weekly at the Christchurch Men’s Prison.

 

 

Poetry Shelf The Summer Season: Poets pick poems – Bernadette Hall picks Anne Kennedy

 

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©Anne Kennedy, The Darling North, Anne Kennedy, Auckland University Press, 2012.

 

 

 

Bernadette Hall comments on the poem:

 

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I first read these lines in 2012. Anne Kennedy’s book had just come out. I read the lines and I fell in love with them. I held onto the poem that held onto them as if it was a life-raft. Every time I read that poem, Hello Kitty, Goodbye Piccadilly, (and I read it often) I have the same feeling of home-coming. The thinking is within the same territory I’m fixated on: the tension between the dream places, the places of beginning, of origin, the places that arise from myth. And the materiality of here and now, the stuff that arises from star dust just as our world does and everything including us within it.

On the one hand there’s the ancient dreaming, the naming and the renaming of myth and ritual. Of religion and philosophy. The stuff of the mind, the soul and the imagination. The stuff of desire. And then there’s the solid ground beneath our feet. There’s a collision here surely. How are we to shape a language that it is capacious and mobile and courageous  enough to handle collision and complexity?

It’s an ancient curiosity, this, to ask the existential questions : unde? whence? quo? whither? cur? why? Philosophers and theologians are the professionals. But so often their thinking has been disembodied. Maybe it was up to poets to explore the connective tissue between concrete and abstract, to make new alliances between thought and matter. The body, the mind, the heart, the soul. How serviceable the old language was. But how are we to reveal ourselves to ourselves today?

The framework of Hello KittyGoodbye Picadilly  is the shift from New Zealand with its theatre of memories to Hawai’i. It’s a move north, away from the cold wind – ‘you wish you had gathered it up / and kept it in a suitcase’ – to a Pacific ‘Paradise’. The kind of place the French sailors with Marion du Fresne thought they’d found in Tahiti. But then they went on and found a Pacific ‘Hell’ when they landed in the Bay of Islands in 1772. (I’m fresh from reading Joanna Orwin’s marvellous novel ‘Collision’ that explores these things with spectacular success.)

What I love about the poem is that it arises out of uncertainty, out of questioning. Out of a sense of what’s missing.

There are those repeated lines, the repeated negatives : ‘I don’t have Hawai’iki’    ‘I don’t have Heaven’. Isn’t this the Socratic method, using negatives to slash away the debris and then see what’s left standing? ‘In Paradise you will sit for a long time / looking at everything as if for the first time / and you will understand.’ So we’re back to the very beginning, in need of language, in need of thinking. But then ‘You wonder in passing / about your body, its whereabouts’. And there’s the female body, the human body, the body, not as something corruptible but as an equal.

Maybe memory is the cache where everything holds together, where everything lasts:

 

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Almost at the very end of the poem there’s a recounting of losses:

 

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And my heart turns over. I guess these lines just get richer as I age. As the whole question of getting up and leaving the room becomes more present. How is this to be done?

There’s a scene in J. M Coetzee’s novel ‘ Elizabeth Costello’ where the aged academic finds herself at the gates of what we might call heaven.  She has to face judges there, she has to answer difficult questions. Her life as a writer, a life spent of making up things, is under scrutiny.

‘Is childhood on the Dulgannon another of your stories, Mrs Costello? Along with the frogs and the rain from heaven?’

‘The river exists. The frogs exist. I exist. What more do you want?’

Indeed, what?

The final move in the poem is from loss to uplift.  Once again it’s repetition that’s the key turning in the lock, multiplying the ways to enter the text:

 

 

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I love this kind of thing. The depth and the nourishment I find here. The way Anne Kennedy’s writing, like that of Coetzee, opens up new rooms in my head and in my heart.

Bernadette Hall

 

 

Bernadette Hall lives at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published 10 collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs VUP 2013 and Maukatere, floating mountain, Seraph Press, 2016. The latter includes drawings by the Wellington artist, Rachel O’Neill. In 2015, Bernadette received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. And in 2017, she was invested as a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her Services to Literature.

Two Poet Members of the NZ Order of Merit, with thanks

 

 

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a snippet of my veggie garden going wild

 

It was a bit of shock getting a letter inviting me to accept a New Year’s Honour (Member of NZ Order of Merit). Like Eileen Duggan I felt a bit flabbergasted, embarrassed and touched by the invitation. I was busy reading my way through Eileen’s archives when I got the letter – which seemed slightly uncanny as I was reading her thoughts on her Queen’s Honour along with poetry, books and New Zealand.

I do want to thank everyone in New Zealand who supports poetry: all the poets, publishers, readers, booksellers, festival organisers, media, reviewers and children poetry fans.

It is a special honour and I am grateful.

 

And I am so delighted to see the very wonderful Bernadette Hall also honoured.

Helen Rickerby’s Seraph Press published poetry books by both Bernadette and I in 2016, coincidentally.

 

Best wishes for a fabulous year of poetry in 2017.

 

 

 

 

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