Tag Archives: Bill Manhire

Poetry Shelf review: Bill Manhire’s Wow

Bill Manhire, Wow, Victoria University Press, 2020

Excuse me if I laugh.

The roads are dark and large books block our path.

The air we breathe is made of evening air.

The world is longer than the road that brings us here.

from ‘The Armchair Traveller’

Over my decades of reading New Zealand poetry, some poets stand out. To my discovery of Hone Tuwhare in my secondary-school library in the early 1970s, I add the joy of reading Jenny Bornholdt, Bernadette Hall, JC Sturm, Michele Leggott, Emma Neale, Tusiata Avia, Cilla McQueen, Anna jackson, Bill Manhire. So many other poets have given me goosebumps across the decades, poets who have made me pick up a pen and write, who have hooked my attention and then kept me listening. What is it that makes a particular poet, such as Bill Manhire, our first national poet laureate, a favoured return over years? For me it starts with music, moves through heart, silence, mystery, ideas, wit. I seem to favour bridges into poetry thickets, and these thickets might appear within a handful of words or a book-long sequence.

At WORD Christchurch a few weeks ago, I went to some excellent sessions. I have already written about the miracle of being there in the time of Covid, along with my festival highlights – but how fitting one favourite was the Bill Manhire / John Campbell conversation celebrating Bill’s new collection, Wow. John discussed the lasting effect of being in a Bill Manhire class at university and reading his poetry. I carried away such warmth and enthusiasm for poems and what poetry can do. John launched the conversation by explaining Bill’s impact on him: ‘A light went on in my head and heart which has never gone out’. This line has stuck with me. Poetry turns on internal lights. Gifts us an internal galaxy system. Coincidentally the house lights are always up in WORD sessions so it felt like a living-room or café conversation without the usual audience / speaker barrier at work. I kept wanting to join in! Afterwards fans lined up with the book to get signed and I pictured the queue of people racing home to find their own Wow enthusiasms. I will barely scrape the surface of how many paths through the collection.

Wow, co-published by Carcanet in the UK and Victoria University Press here, is one of four winter recommendations by the Poetry Book Society, an organisation TS Eliot and friends founded in 1953.

I begin with Wow’s preface: ‘they’ve cleared away / the clearings’.

The mystery is potent. The image haunting. I was sitting in my Ōtautahi hotel room, looking out at the parking-lot clearings, with Wow in hand, and I couldn’t stop leapfrogging from city clearings to bush clearings to mental clearings to poem clearings. And I couldn’t stop wondering what replaces the clearing, and the word bounced about in my head so much it lost sense. And then it became vital: we need clearings. We need clearings in the city, and the bush, and in our heads. Maybe we need clearings in poems, where the the light and dark intermingle, and the glints sit next to the ominous.

Thickets and clearings. The first poem is a song of the extinct huia, a fitting call onto the book’s musical terrain, and to uncertain and unsettling presents and futures. Such a poignant note to enter a collection with:

I lived among you once

and now I can’t be found

I’m made of things that vanish

a feather on the ground

from ‘Huia’

Turn the page and ‘Untitled’, a short poem, is an altogether different form of song. The dark edges are prominent, the silence (the unspoken, the withheld) a hook. This poem is the complete Manhire package: you get music, silence, mystery, dark edges, light turns.


This book about extinct birds is heavier than any bird:

heavier than the dark bird eating my heart,

page after page of abandoned wings.

I lift it up and sit it on my lap

and listen to it purring.

Bill Manhire

John invited Bill to read the four-lined ‘A Really Nice Trip’, where the speaker visits several ‘Pleasant’ places: ‘Then we went all the way out to Pleasant Point.’ The audience laughed and loved it, and I pictured everyone picturing a mindstream of pleasant places. The poem is a wee joke. The poem turns up in reviews and on festival stages. The poem is also like a clearing for our own pleasant places, in my case, reeking of summer and green tea in a flask. Ah such a tongue-in-cheek, underrated word that scoots over how a Valley or a Flat or a Point can be satisfying, pleasing, a downright pleasure.

Yes! Bill is the maestro of ordinariness (a bit like Jenny Bornholdt is too) where an economy of words releases any number of treats. There is comfort in the ordinary – that pleasant place – that is sometimes so ordinary it becomes unreal, super-real. This kind of poetic ordinariness makes pinpricks on your eyelids, and you settle back in your chair or hammock as the armchair traveller, the poetry traveller, and it is altogether wonderful. I quoted the first stanza from ‘The Armchair Traveller’ at the start of this review, because it is this one of those classic Manhire poems that is going to haunt like ‘Kevin’ haunts you, or ‘The Ladder’ or ‘Erebus Voices’ or ‘Hotel Emergencies’ or ‘The Victims of Lightning’. Here is the last verse:

Time now to let the story take its course,

just settle back and let the driver drive.

Bliss is it late at night to be alive,

learning to yield, and not to strive.

from ‘The Armchair Traveller’

‘The Armchair Traveller’ is a poetry thicket at its very best – you get the light and dark, the mystery, the silence and the exquisite music. There is comfort but there is also discomfort. Perhaps the comfort –for me even in the darkest threats – is expanded by Bill’s fondness for rhyme and repetition. At times the rhyme resembles an incantation, a list, or repeating sounds, an insistent beat, but at other times, rhyme feeds the mysterious business of being human. ‘Warm Ocean’ is full of repetition and rhyme, assonance and alliteration, a sweet concatenation of musical effects and human connections, both within hearing and at a whisper.

Don’t play the music don’t play the music

says the man

who walks around town saying

over and over don’t play the music

all songs being made

as we know from things that hurt

ice that melts flames that fall from the sky

yes all of that and more

and the father goes on singing

long after his daughter leaves the church

from ‘Warm Ocean’

Yes! Wow offers multiple impacts as you read. Three poems in a row are heart catchers: ‘Knots’, ‘Our Teacher’, ‘The Sky’. Things are missed and missing. So poignant. Such treasures. How to tear yourself apart from the magical movement of ‘The Sky’? Impossible:

A man comes by with coal in a wheelbarrow,

muttering, muttering. He wants

to sell us warmth, his feet don’t leave the ground.

We think that we will always miss the sky.

It says look up whenever we look down.

from ‘The Sky’

Read Wow and you get story and song, light and dark, the surreal, constant surprise, but there is also always wit and humour. I laughed out loud at the indignant woman who thought she had phoned the cattery to get her vegetarian cat named Coleslaw back, and the bemused listener couldn’t get a word in edgeways. ‘The Lazy Poet’ is hilarious as it overlays cricket and poetry (‘He wonders about the word “thicket” …/ then turns on the cricket’) until ‘rain stops play’. I also laughed out loud at ‘The Deerculler’s Wife’, as it signals a poem that might be drowning, or yelling to get attention, or even blowing a yellow whistle.

Like many poets, Bill uses a roving speaker, who may or may not be autobiographical, invented, borrowed, an amalgamation of voices, experiences, imaginings. In a blog he wrote for Carcanet, he talks about the action between the speaker in the poem and the person who writes, and the way characters, one in particular, who keep turning up in his poetry. This nimble voice keeps us on our reading toes. Bill’s vagabond ‘I’ is best friends with an inquisitive and acquisitive eye and ear as it gathers in the world, real or imagined.

Wow will haunt you – so many of these poems have joined my list of memorable poetry encounters (see my list above to add to). 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.

Bill closed his WORD session by reading ‘Little Prayers’, written in response to the Christchurch terrorist attack, 15 March 2019. This is a poem to hold in your heart. I will leave you with the opening verse, in the hope you will open the book, in your armchair or hammock, and begin reading:

Let the closing line be the opening line

Let us open ourselves to grief and shame

Let pain be felt and be felt again

May our eyes see when they cease crying

Let the closing line be the opening line

from ‘Little Prayers’

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

Victoria University Press page

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

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

Across Brooklyn

This is the street where they still make coffins:

the little workshops, side by side.

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

Are we seeking the bridge itself,

Or the famous, much-reported view?

A few planks and nails lie around,

And each of the entrances seems to darken.

Far back, out of sight, someone is whistling.

Yes, I suppose we do walk a little faster.

There is a faint noise of hammering, too.

Bill Manhire 

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

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

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

Anna Jackson

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

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

Poetry Shelf 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.


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


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)’

Louise Wallace 1.JPG

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 poem festival: Trees




our place, January 2020



In 2020 Poetry Shelf will host a monthly, theme-based festival of poems.

First up: trees. I chose trees because I live in a clearing in the midst of protected regenerating bush. It is a place of beauty and calm, no matter the wild West Coast weather. We look out onto the tail end of the Waitātakere Ranges knowing we work together as guardians of this land.

I chose trees because like so many other people the need to care for trees is strong – to see the fire-ravaged scenes in Australia is heartbreaking.

I love coming across trees in poems – I love the way they put down roots and anchor a poem in anecdote, life pulse, secrets, the sensual feast of bush and forests, political layers.

I could plot my life through the books I have read and loved, but I could also plot my life through my attachment to trees.







Let me Put in a Word for Trees


Let me put in a word for breathing.

Let me put in a word for trees.

Let me put in a word for breathing.


Dinah Hawken

from Water, Leaves, Stones (Victoria University Press, 1995)




After a long hard decade, Miranda asks for a poem about feijoas


Small hard green breasts budding on a young tree

that doesn’t want them, can’t think how to dance

if it has to put up with these;


yet over summer the fruits swell and plump:

frog barrel bodies without the jump or croak

limes in thick velvet opera coats


love grenades to throw like flirt bombs

for your crush to catch and softly clutch

before they release their sweet seductions


and when the congregation and the choir

in the Tongan church next door exalt in hymns

while their brass band soars and sforzandos in,


a fresh feijoa crop tumbles to the grass

as if the tree’s just flung down its bugle mutes

in a mid-life, high-kick, survival hallelujah.


Emma Neale




Heavy lifting

Once, I climbed a tree
too tall for climbing
and threw my voice out
into the world. I screamed.
I hollered. I snapped
innocent branches. I took the view
as a vivid but painful truth gifted
to me, but did not think to lay down
my own sight in recompense.
All I wanted was someone to say
they could hear me, but the tree said
that in order to be heard I must
first let silence do the heavy lifting
and clear my mind of any
questions and anxieties
such as contemplating whether
I am the favourite son. If I am not,
I am open to being a favourite uncle
or an ex-lover whose hands still cover
the former half’s eyes. I’ll probably never
have children of my own to disappoint
so I’ll settle for being famous instead
with my mouth forced open on TV like
a Venus fly-trap lip-synching for its life.
The first and the last of everything
are always connected by
the dotted line of choice.
If there is an order to such things,
then surely I should resist it.

Chris Tse

from He’s so MASC (Auckland University Press, 2018)




Reverse Ovid

Woman running across a field
with a baby in her arms . . .
She was once the last pine tree on Mars.

Bill Manhire



My mother as a tree

I like to think my mother may have been a tree
like Fred’s, the oak whose Elizabethan
damask skirts each year spring-clean
the hillside opposite, in front of the house
where Fred was born. Her royal foliage
clothes a peasant’s weathered fingers,
the same unfussed embrace.
Fred never sees her now,
he’s in a rest-home up the coast
and doesn’t get out much
and so, in lieu, she fosters me
from unconditional dawn
to dusk and through the night,
her feet in earth, her head
in air, water in the veins, and what
transpires between us is the breath
of life. In the morning birds
fly out of her hair, in the evening
they are her singing brain
that sings to me. My mother as a tree:
my house, my spouse, my dress
and nakedness, my birth, my death,
before and afterwards. I like
to think my tears may be her
watershed, not just for me.


Chris Price

from Beside Herself  (Auckland University Press, 2016)




Objects 4


It’s the close of another year.

Stunned, I walk through the Gardens

feel them draw the numbness out of me.

This is another ‘I do this, I do that’ poem

I learnt in New York from O’Hara.

This is a New York poem set in a garden

styled in colonial civics on an island

that is not Manhattan.

I hurry to the hydrangea garden,

their shaded, moon-coloured faces

so much like my own. As a child I was posed

next to hydrangeas because the ones

next to an unremembered house

were particularly blue—

to match my eyes, presumably.

There are no hydrangeas in New York City.

I rush past the Australia garden but I stop

dead at the old aloes, their heavy leaves

so whale-like, gently swaying flukes

thick and fleshy, closing up the sky.

Some kids have carved their

initials and hearts in the smooth rind,

a hundred years against this forgotten afternoon.

I bend to the ground and sit as if to guard them

in the darkening sun.

The spread of rot constellates out of the kids’ marks

as if to say

look at the consequences,

look at me dying.


Nikki-Lee Birdsey

from Night As Day (Victoria University Press, 2019)




I Buried the Blood and Planted a Tree


Love is the thing that comes

when we suck on a teat and are fed.

Love is the food we can eat.


The food we can’t eat we give

to the ground

to the next day.

We pat the earth

like it is our own abdomen.


If I could have drunk a hot enough tea

to boil it out

I might have.

If I could have stood

on a big red button

and jumped once

to tell it to exit


like the highest note on the piano.

It was a sound I couldn’t feed.

I gave it to tomorrow.

I buried the blood and planted a tree

so she, unable to be fed, could feed.


Maeve Hughes



The sepia sky is not one for forgetting. Even fragmented, looking up at it from beneath a canopy. The flash of light through leaves more twitch than twinkle. Therapists and yoga teachers say It’s important to let yourself to be held by mother earth, to let yourself be. I used to feel relief in the arms of a tree, but now I feel unease. Is it my own chest trembling or the trees? Oxygen spinning from the leaves, boughs holding birds who were once such a chorus they almost drove Cook’s crew back to sea. Invisible roots bearing the weight of me, through the deep dark, where trees talk in voices I am too brief to hear.

Simone Kaho





Place is bottled lightning in a shop,

or in a chandelier’s glass tear-drop,

or in a glow-worm’s low watt grot,

or in street neon’s glottal stop —

wow-eh? wow-eh? wow-eh?


Place is the moulded face of a hill,

or lichen like beard on a window sill,

or the bare spaces that shadows fill,

or ancestors growing old and ill,

or descendants at the reading of a will,

who frown and examine their fingernails

before plunging off down the paper trails

of diary and letter and overdue bill.


Place is the home of family trees —

family trees to wrap round plots of soil,

tree roots to shrivel into umbilical cords,

tree branches to spill bones and skulls;

but even trees are just a spidery scrawl

against the shelf-life of a mountain wall.


Place is a brood perched on power-poles:

bellbirds with shadows of gargoyles,

korimako who clutch the power of one,

like an egg, to trill their familiar song.

Place is grandsons who sprawl

in the family tree with laughter;

place is the tree windfall,

gathered up in the lap of a daughter.


David Eggleton

from Rhyming Planet (Steele Roberts, 2001)




Te Mahuta Ngahere
the father of the forest
a livid monster among saplings.

A swollen aneurism grips his bole.
Below bearded epiphytes
a suppurating canker swarms with wasps.

Derisively lyrical
the tuis in his crazy, dreadlocked crown
pretend to be bulldozers.


Ian Wedde

from ‘Letter to Peter McLeavey – after Basho’, from Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty (Auckland University Press, 2005)




Last night I sat outside and looked at the moon. Up there, like it has been since the dawn of time.
Same one the cavemen looked at.
Sickle phase.
I know, scientifically, about the forces that hold it in place.
And suddenly I felt I knew too much.
The grass had been cut, while flowering.
The flowers were still there, they’d either sunk below the blades or reflowered.
I noticed grass flowers look like kowhai post-flowering. When the stamens hang long and white after the flower has fallen away.
The night was still. Cones on the street let me know men would come the next day in matching orange tunics and I should not park there.
The moon was still there.
The stillness and the quiet was misleading.
Everything had a perfect and terrible design that didn’t need me to know it.
I know the trees above the mangroves are called macrocarpas, some bird calls sweetly from the macrocarpa as the sun sets every evening. Orange, purple and pink from the verandah of my flat.
I don’t ever want to know that bird’s name.


Simone Kaho



Song from the fallen tree which served as a twelve year old’s altar to the wild gods

i am a hundred years more girleen since before you were a seed
i fell to mouldering in this darkleaf cathedral where you come

to bury the bones of brief chittering things and burn candles
in roothollows ah you young girleen life all aflickering past short
roots unplanted

i am all your church and ever the altar at which you girleen kneel
i all goldenarched around by sunbeam and sapling green

with my many rings i share with you rootlessness and in winter
you brush away my cloak of snow humming your warmblood
girleen beatsong to soften my ache of frost

while you ask knowing of what time is to the forest and you sing
up your low girleen voice to the horned and feathered kind which
do not walk the rustling hymn of season same as we all

then twice up here you come bringing anothergirl girleen
you open your arms to the sky saying this is your heart and

home yes this the forest that sings you by name and girleen
it is true we the trees know you but you never learned from us

the songs called shyness and slowly and the next time girleen you
bring your brighthaired friend you kiss her in the pricklebelly
shadow of the holly

where i feel you like a seed unhusked shiversway as she
branchsnap slams whipslap runs so when again you dewyoung
girleen come to me you come alone

ungrowing girleen and withering back your shoots as you
bitterbrittle freeze your sapling blood into something thinner
than lancewood leaf

which cracks you through to the heartwood solvent veinsap
dizzily diluting girleen you can barely make your mountainwalk
up to me

until for two snowmelts you do not return but even once your
starved arterial taproot has begun sucking in again greedy sunlight
and sugar to colour your suppling girleen bark back alive

you have disremembered every prayersong taught you by we the
trees and i rot in the forest you called your heart and girleen
you do not visit


Rebecca Hawkes



The Gum-Tree


Sitting on the warm steps with you

our legs and backs supported by timber

looking down to the still trunk of the gum-tree

we are neither inside ourselves

as in the dark wing of a house

nor outside ourselves, like sentries

at the iron gates – we are living

on the entire contour of our skins,

on the threshold, willing to settle

or leap into anywhere.


Here’s to this tree we are standing in.

Here’s to its blue-green shelter,

its soft bark,

the handy horizontal branch

we have our feet on

and the one supporting our shoulders.


Dinah Hawken

from Water, Leaves, Stones (Victoria University Press, 1995)





Nikki-Lee Birdsey was born in Piha. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a BA from New York University. She has been published widely in the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand, and she is currently a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her first book Night as Day was published by VUP in 2019.

David Eggleton’s most recent poetry publication, Edgeland and other poems, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019 – 2021.

Dinah Hawken was born in Hawera in 1943 and now lives in Paekakariki. Her eighth collection of poetry, There is no harbour, was published by Victoria University Press in 2019.

Rebecca Hawkes is an erstwhile painter-poet and accidental corporate-ladder-ascender. Her chapbook Softcore coldsores was launched in AUP New Poets 5 in 2019 and she performs with the poetry troupe Show Ponies. She wrote this tree poem in her previous occupation as a teen and hopes it will survive repotting after all these years.

Maeve Hughes lives in a tall house in Wellington. She has studied Fine Arts and Creative Writing. Her first publication Horsepower won the 2018 Story Inc Prize for poetry and was launched in October last year.

Simone Kaho is a New Zealand / Tongan poet and a graduate of the International Institute of Modern Letters. She published her debut poetry collection, Lucky Punch, in 2016. Simone is noted for her poetry performance and writes for E-Tangata.co.nz.

Bill Manhire’s new book of poems will be published later this year. It might well be called Wow because he is so surprised by it.

Emma Neale is the author of 6 novels and 6 collections of poetry. She is the current editor of Landfall.

Chris Price is the author of three books of poetry and the hybrid ‘biographical dictionary’ Brief Lives. She convenes the poetry and creative nonfiction MA workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington. In May 2019 she and her guitarist partner Robbie Duncan will be among the guests at Featherston Booktown.

Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC. He is a regular contributor to Capital Magazine’s Re-Verse column and a book reviewer on Radio New Zealand. Chris is currently co-editing an anthology of LGBTQIA+ Aotearoa New Zealand writers.

Ian Wedde’s Selected Poems were published in 2017 – Te Mahuta Ngahere can be found there and we hope will survive in the bush. Wedde’s historical novel, The Reed Warbler, will be published by Victoria University Press in May, and a collection of essays 2014-2019 is in development.









Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Bill Manhire’s ‘He Loved Her Lemonade Scones’



He Loved Her Lemonade Scones


They fell in love between the end of the footie season
and the start of shearing. Sheep gazed, bewildered.
The paddocks stretched up into the hills,
mostly scrub and a few old stands of bush.
‘Now listen here,’ he said, and that was it really.







©Bill Manhire

Bill Manhire’s most recent poetry collection is Some Things to Place in a Coffin. His new project with Norman Meehan, Bifröst, is now in the studio.







43 poets celebrate National Poetry Day: A memory suite


Amy Leigh Wick’s weekly writing group






1996 Dunedin poets.jpg


Nick’s 100 words of NZ poetry snapshot

I have many namedropped stories of poet encounters. They are all slimy and desperate. But here’s an image of a time in Dunedin writing that feels, at least to me, important. On St Kilda beach in 1996 are some of the main poets of the Robbie Burns pub readings and soon to be the progenitors of Glottis magazine. Left to right it’s:

Blair Reeve (his TedX performance!)
Richard Reeve (no relation and still to me NZ’s best poet)
Bernadette Hall (1996’s Burns Fellow)
Kapka Kassabova (see all the awards her Border won)
Stuart Dymond
and Jocelind Dunford

Nick Ascroft


Mr Bird

“I remember telling my seventh-form English teacher (who told us his favourite film was Easy Rider; who had an amiable weary expression whenever I submitted a practice essay; whom I liked) that I thought I might write on poetry in the Bursary exam. ‘Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that,’ he said, as if I’d confessed to considering spending lunchtime smoking weed on the roof of the horticulture prefab. ‘Too risky.’”

Amy Brown



AA picture.jpg


In 2012 I visited the apartment of Anna Akhmatova in St Petersburg. I love house museums anyway, but this one was just astonishing. She spent decades under house arrest, banned from writing, awaiting the knock at the door that would take her husband or her to the gulag or death. Assuming that the apartment was under constant surveillance, her only way of writing poetry was to memorise lines, and then write them on scraps of paper when a friend came to visit. While they pretended to discuss banalities, the friend would memorise a line or two, then Akhmatova would burn the scrap of paper in this ashtray.

In this way her poems were smuggled out in the minds of her friends, reassembled, and published out of the country. Also shown in the house were small “books” made of birch bark on which gulag prisoners had written out her poems from memory with the blackened end of a twig.

“When I hear what is coming toward me / I would be afraid / even if I were dead.”

That might be a misquote, but it’s how I remember the line of hers. What a woman.

Kate Camp


POETS Day today

Haha … what has stuck with me is my adult nephew, who was a builder’s apprentice at the time, telling me that every Friday his builder mates would tell him, ‘All good, bro, it POETS day today!’ When he asked them what they were talking about they replied, ‘It’s time to Piss Off Early … Tomorrow’s Saturday!’ Every poetry day I remember that.

Glenn Colquhoun


Josiah and the wind

Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 11.12.01 AM.png

(drawing by Emily Cater, teacher/artist)Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 11.13.03 AM.png

Sam Duckor-Jones


Reading at Alba

(a memory for Paula Green)


the audience

stretched away

the length of the bar

to the windows

and beyond

the street

gave glimpses of

proverbial women

and men

passing to and fro

one’s words were going

out over the heads

of this audience

and one caught oneself thinking


this poem seems to

go across quite

well tonight

and at that moment


there came

the rubbish truck

its cataclysmic arm

hydraulic lifting up

the public bins

one by one by one

and so that poem

(the one that was going along okay)

grew quiet

poet and audience


until the rubbish truck

was gone

and the poem

went all the way back

to the beginning

to start again


Murray Edmond


First there were rhymes, the same words repeated in the same sequence, the chime of rhyme, the skip of rhythm, belying their terror. The mice with bleeding stumps where their tails should have been, the sudden vertiginous drop between someone’s knees as the horsie stumbled, the black bird that pecked off my nose. When I was four or so I tried out rhyme for myself. My uncle always said, ‘Fiona Farrell, the rickety barrel!’ whenever he saw me. And this time I said back, ‘Uncle Bill, the rotten pill!’ It made everyone laugh. They remembered it, still remember it. My first poem, my first audience. The dizzy power of words.

Fiona Farrell


I remember the first time I ever read at a writers festival. It was with Fiona Farrell at a vineyard near Nelson, and the only way I could get there was to borrow my uncle’s swish white BMW – which I felt really odd, really uncomfortable driving – and drive it over the Takaka hill. On the way – I was with my sister – we started to imagine that, upon arriving at the reading, I would step out of the BMW and be dressed all in flowing white chiffon robes, and a flock of white doves would be dramatically released from inside the BMW and into the air around me. Now, whenever I feel nervous before a reading, I put that image in my head and it makes me feel silly and much better.

Joan Fleming


In 1972 my Y12 English teacher told me I would never get anywhere in the world writing as I wrote. That year James K Baxter stood on the stage in bare feet, with scraggly beard and tatty suit, and read poems like a tuī. I went home and wrote dreadful Baxter poems. Seven days later he died. I painting his portrait in watercolour blue and pinned it to my bedroom wall. I wrote more dreadful Baxter poems. I walked into the school library with my buttoned-up melancholy and discovered Hone Tuwhare’s poetry and the thrill that words can do anything in poetry.

Paula Green


When I was about nineteen, I started going to poetry readings. Probably the biggest of these was by Paul Muldoon, after Hay but before he won the Pulitzer with Moy Sand and Gravel. There were maybe two hundred people there.

After about fifteen minutes, he stopped, looked straight at me, clearly annoyed, and said, ‘Would you like to continue doing that somewhere else?’ Everyone stared. ‘I’m dead,’ I thought. ‘So this is what the end of a poetry career looks like: getting kicked out of a Paul Muldoon reading.’

It turned out that there were two people sitting directly behind me who’d been talking loudly and I hadn’t even noticed. I’d been so caught up in the reading.

Erik Kennedy




After reading Lucia Perillo’s ‘Logotherapy: After Betrayal’ I texted my friend, ‘i feel like i have to physically take a break.’ Every line in this piece has the power to undo me, it leaks with a quiet violence, a ‘grief of too much water having fallen in too few days’. ‘He gave me some new words: Faith, Reconciliation, Continuance…but they began to fill me up with grief /so I tossed them out the window’. When I read that line, I felt this watery, wet grasp of something that threatened to spill. This is what Perillo’s poetry does to me; it grows with urgency and breaks with force.

Wen-Juenn Lee


I am thinking of the moment in July 2001 when the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) went live. There’s only the briefest of mentions in our What’s New section: ‘We are pleased to announce the establishment of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) at the University of Auckland on Montana New Zealand Poetry Day. This marks the culmination of a trial collaboration between several parts of the university and the poetic community. We welcome your comments and hope you will return often to check on progress.’ When poet librarian webmaster and co-founder Brian Flaherty pushed that button, six months of intense work with poets and publishers went out into the world in a single blissful instant. We’ve celebrated our birthday every year since, and it is with great pleasure that we announce the release of Six-Pack Sound #7 on Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day 2018. The latest Six-Pack features audio by Owen Bullock, Chloe Honum, Courtney Sina Meredith, Jacob Shores-Argüello, Penny Somervaille and, yes, the redoubtable Brian Flaherty. Salutations to all six and to the touch of a button that brings their voices to our listening ears.

Michele Leggott


I’ll admit that the floral dress over hairy legs with big black boots caught my eye, but what really got me was the book. Was that really someone reading a poetry book, brazenly, in the middle of the day outside for everyone to see!? I knew it was only a matter of time before we met. And sure enough, one day later, in the New Zealand collection of the Waikato University Library, I met essa ranapiri. I introduced myself and we talked poetry for a while. Essa gave me Vaughan Rapatahana to read and I gave them Amy Brown. It was a good day.

Therese LLoyd


Wildlife with Michael Ondaatje

I remember some years ago taking Michael Ondaatje for a drive over to the Wairarapa when he was out here promoting The English Patient. It was whitebaiting season, so we went out to Lake Ferry: fish and chips, and an ancient man who shamefacedly displayed a couple of whitebait at the bottom of a yellow plastic bucket. Later, somewhere between Martinborough and Gladstone, Michael suddenly shouted, “Stop the car!” We pulled over, and he leapt out and picked up a hedgehog that was curled up in storybook manner in the middle of the road. He clucked and cooed over it, then placed it reverently on the grass verge. I think he had never seen a hedgehog before. Anyway, not a bad tally: two whitebait and a hedgehog. And after that he went on to win the Booker Prize.

Bill Manhire


Henry Reed’s `Naming of Parts’

In the early 1960’s I experienced compulsory military training at Waiouru, and subsequently became a territorial force officer. I came across Henry Reed’s `Naming of Parts’ and found the 1942 poem wonderfully apt in capturing the sense of wry disjunction often experienced in army training. It remains a favourite of mine. The first stanza:

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. and tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

Owen Marshall


The Sun

It’s as vivid as if I’d just done it today – lain on the concrete with closed eyes, the sun through my eyelids. Pink, gold, a burst of blue. Karori West Normal. A teacher – was it Mrs Mackerel with her back-combed blonde hair and orange shift dresses? – said write a poem. She said lie there in the sun and write what you think of. I wrote about the flaring colours and then addressed the sun itself.

I think in my mind was the story my dad used to read me about the fish who wanted the hat he saw in the sky, but the hat was really the sun. Being with my dad was all about love and warmth and looking for the sun in things. I was eight.

The poem I wrote for Mrs Mackerel was two or three lines long, written in pencil, with a grinning and colourful sun presiding over it. My mother kept the page – it’s in my papers somewhere.

From memory I wrote something like this … ‘the blue was a part and the gold was it all / and I said to the sun you’re the love of it all’. My first proper poem. I was so happy with it.

Mary McCallum


When the coast is clear

Fitz was one of my mother’s many boyfriends. He owned a book store in Wellington and when ‘ the coast was clear’ he’d visit carrying books in brown paper bags. The first book he gave me was a small illustrated book of Christina Rossetti’s poetry. Reading the book made me feel both glamorous and wise to the heartache of the world. I wanted to have learned conversations with him about poetry; somehow candles were involved and marshmallows toasted over a fire. Of course my mother was never present. She had her ankles deep in salty water, eyes scanning the coast line for any hint of trouble. There’s always somebody who’ll rock the boat, she’d say.


Frankie McMillan


We called it the sitting room. We would wash our hair on Sunday nights and lie in front of the fire to dry it. I received an anthology of poetry for my birthday and one night my mother asked me to choose a poem from it to read out loud. I read From a Railway Carriage by Robert Louis Stevenson. I heard the tripping rhythm, and the sound of the train, and the sudden clambering child and I felt quite still and strange. When my mother told me to choose another one, I asked, suddenly urgent, if I could read that one again.

Maria McMillan



A Lesson from Rosalie Carey


Silver birch, white gravel path, Globe Theatre garden.

Stand there and speak it to me over here,

said Rosalie, project the poem to me without effort.

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being

But you are shouting in your throat! Say it again,

go deeper, find that lower register, breathe with the diaphragm,

project the voice control the breath from deep inside

the ribs with intercostal muscles while the mouth

articulates the sound with clarity       her voice to my ear

and mine to hers        from far away       Again, she says,

do it again, and give it some expression –

Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

inside voice intercostal muscle flickering sunlight

Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing –

carried on my breath those very words

that Shelley must have heard inside his mind

assembling into fluent lines, until he took his pen

to write them down – taught me the physicality of poetry.


Cilla McQueen


Snapshot 01

I remember a poem my mother wrote about seeing her life side on

at the time I was a small child and she had included me

(I forget which stanza

but the impact was mighty)


It was the first time I saw myself on the page

I went to school the next day (Primary)

and all the colours I saw and all the children I played with

and all the turns I took down the slide were immortalised


Courtney Sina Meredith


When I was eleven I was obsessed with The Cure’s album Wish, and I remember reading in the liner notes, a line that read: “you were bigger and brighter and wider than snow.”

Of course, listening to the song, it had always sounded like “whiter” but the fact that the notes read “wider” was such a promising gesture into strangeness, beyond error, like glimpsing something that hadn’t quite happened yet.

Alice Miller


I came across Hone Tuwhare’s ‘Rain’ in an anthology textbook during a high school English class. I was meant to be reading something else; or perhaps someone was reading aloud in that painstaking drone of group reading, where teachers make everyone ‘perform’ a paragraph at a time, and you can sense even a brilliant story convulsing slowly like a fish on a dry ship deck… Tuwhare’s words trickled down the page with the purity and clarity of water. The classroom fell away. The poem brought a totally new feeling – something almost captured in Virginia Woolf’s phrase: “a basking, with every faculty alert, in the sun of pleasure” – some strange hybrid of revelation and arrival; ecstasy and calm.

Emma Neale


When I was little my parents took me to the beach. As we drove out of the hills toward the ocean, mum pointed out the window at the blue expanse and said ‘there’s the sea, Rachel’. I replied, ‘what can you see, Mum?’ I think poetry is a bit like this. Someone looks at the sea, another person sees a question. The reader brings a whole other reckoning, perspective, curiosity to the poem, and kind of sets eternal fire to all that carefully worded certainty.

Rachel O’Neill


Steven Toussaint during his time as Writer in Residence at the University of Waikato lent me a copy of Cody-Rose Clevidence’s book BEAST FEAST after I bemoaned the lack of poetry by gender-queer people. I often hunt for books that provoke the question: who is this person and how did they get away with this? And BEAST FEAST is exactly that, messy poems that try to inject some wild(er)ness into the English language. I remember standing in the faculty department looking down at the pages my mind boggled by what was on display. Ever since, I’ve tried my best to get at that animal feeling in my own work.

Essa Ranapiri


When I was a young man searching for something to address my own angst, my own existential abyss, I first read Daddy by Sylvia Plath. I learned the sheer power of great poetry.

This was not some distanced prance about clouds and trees.

This was blood and guts and massive pain and it sat me right up. Poetry such as this is vital. Cathartic. Raw, well away from clever-dick wordplay. Such is the angry agony, the poem convulses itself into a series of rhymes and assonance – and awful allusions to the domestic demons plaguing Plath.

It made me write a poem starting I am the brother of Sylvia Plath

Link to Plath reading Daddy

Vaughan Rapatahana





I had been meaning to read Anne Carson ever since the book recommendation website told me that if I like The Passion by Jeanette Winterson then I should try The Autobiography of Red; but that was out, so I borrowed Glass and God instead. I started reading it straight away, sitting at the high bench in the café that overlooks the ground floor of the library, eye-level with the grey insulation that is meant to dampen sound, and which looks like clouds. It felt as if held my breath the whole time I was reading ‘The Glass Essay’, held spellbound by it: So that’s what you can do with poetry? The universe expanded. I closed the book and wrote a poem of my own.

Helen Rickerby


His name was Warner. We didn’t use first names. We’d been set a poem to write for prep. Mine was about our dog, Shot. It rhymed. I didn’t know the term ‘doggerel’, but that’s what my poem was: literally. I did realise it was awful, though. Poems sounded like ‘Cargoes’, which we’d learnt by heart and recited in class. When our prep came back, mine had squiggles under many lines. Warner was asked to read his poem aloud. It didn’t rhyme; it contained the phrase ‘curly kale’. Ever since, part of me has always thought of poems as ‘curly kale’.

Harry Ricketts


Being the youngest in a family of four tends to make you extra sensitive to snubs. My eldest brother was the brainy one, the next brother was the writer, and my sister was the arty one. So what was I?

One day my father came home with a little book of poems he’d picked up for my number-two brother (not present) in a second-hand bookshop.

“Why is everything always for him!” I screamed (was I ten, twelve at the time?). Off I ran to my room.

Later my father knocked on the door and, silently, put down the book beside my bed. It was the collected poems of A. E. Housman.

Its cover eventually came off from over-use. Housman’s poetry still moves me. It’s so simple, so right. It reminds me of my Dad.

Jack Ross


slam-rule ignorant
wild black wig, mesh-net tights
barely-covered-bum red dress
tail-coat, silver platforms
chain and whip slung over shoulder

didn’t win / couldn’t win
with costumes, props and a song
but did get to run
seven national Lopdell House poetry events

had to enter all going west slams after that
(except for the year my kidney was cut out)
then you, Paula, turn up with Glenn and Harry

and I win
that slam leads me down a path
to a new book

 Ila Selwyn


I met Anis Mojgani in 2015 when he came to speak as part of Wellington Writers and Readers. I bought a copy of his newest book of poetry at the time, The Pocketknife Bible. He wrote a lovely dedication inside: “Emma – keep your words close and far”. Along with the lovely poetry in the book itself, this little dedication has been a reminder to keep aspiring to spread my voice as well as a reminder to stay close to the personal inspirations that surround my words.

Emma Shi


A writing group special

Last night! giving new poems a hit-out online with Tusiata Avia, Kate Camp and Stefanie Lash. Absent: Hinemoana Baker and Maria McMillan.

Tusiata’s dream poem was worrisome things in real life flicking up in odd settings, darkly funny in the theatre of the absurd: ’I’m a criminal lawyer” – that part is hilarious’. The second to last stanza is the more brilliant ending … against that, everyone wanted to keep the last line.

Kate’s poem was staggeringly tight, ‘it has that spooky other-worldly feeling even though it’s ordinary details’, perfectly paced, and ‘nostalgic without being twee, poignant without being mawkish’ and, the Russian dolls!

Stef’s poem was a fantastical push for anarchy in archaeology… (dinosaur… dynamite). Exquisitely subversive, the poem ‘wanders round with a strange kind of logic. (Is that even an actual dinosaur name?)

I wrote for the teachers on strike, and Kate said, I love this. It goes so far out in the relationship with the student beyond the report language,’ and though there was a sticking bit, it got cleared for flying.

Marty Smith


Aerogramme from Cal

When I was young and studious I used to read the complete poems of a major poet each year and this was Robert Lowell’s year. I was waiting in a bus stop, reading for the  nth time ‘The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket’ when suddenly the poem cracked open in all its glory. Impulsively I wrote to Robert Lowell, sending him a copy of my first book, and one day a blue aerogramme from R. Lowell, Bearsted, Maidstone, Kent arrived. ‘New Zealand is so far away I feel this may never reach you,’ he wrote.  The excitement is still fresh.

Elizabeth Smither


In a Zagreb bookshop

‘When your armies are defeated,
your leaders dead or in exile,
your enemy in the Chancellery
and his militia on your streets,
it is then, my friend, your language
becomes a power.

‘It is the impregnable gate
and the house of your pride.

‘That is why if I should say
“He is a writer”
you will receive respect.
But if I should tell them
“He is a poet”
respect becomes honour.

‘Poets are the guardians of the language.
Pray you have them.
Pray you never need them.’

C. K. Stead


My poetry memory is of my 85 year old grandmother sitting in her bed, in her nightgown, with her eyes closed, listening intently as I read to her from my first book The Art of Excavation. Having lost her sight to glaucoma a few years prior, my beautiful nana loved hearing about the sights and sounds I was experiencing first-hand in the world ‘outside’ of her home, and enjoyed listening to my interpretations of that world through the poems that I wrote. Nana passed away in winter of 2018 and since then I’ve found it very hard to read my poems aloud. I miss her everyday.

Leilani Tamu


Before I even had my first book published I was invited to read and speak to a group of primary school students who were visiting the National Library for an exhibition about New Zealand poetry. It was the first time I had to field questions from an audience and they were all fantastic questions – to this day they have yet to be surpassed. My favourite was, “Are you good at rapping?”

Chris Tse


I got interested in poetry during my final two years (1960-61) at Otago Boys’ High School. I recall that the sonority and imagery of Matthew Arnold’s ‘The Forsaken Merman’ appealed to me. After leaving school I found I much liked work by some New Zealand poets, especially Alistair Campbell and James K Baxter. Then, in the early 1970s, when I was working for the NZ branch of Oxford University Press in Wellington, we represented several overseas publishers including Faber & Faber, so I had access to very many volumes by established and up and coming British and American poets in particular. By that time I was writing poems myself. I’ve never stopped. It’s a condition that I’ve not been able shrug off.

Brian Turner


Love Without Hope

In 1990, when I lived in London, I commuted to work on the Tube. Everyone read The Sun or The Times or the banner advertisements above the heads of the passengers opposite. Someone had the bright idea of filling vacant advertising spaces with poems – these were later anthologized as Poems on the Underground. And so it was that I first read Robert Graves’ poem, “Love Without Hope.” At only four lines long, it’s an easy poem to memorize:


Love Without Hope

Love without hope, as when the young birdcatcher

Swept off his tall hat to the Squire’s own daughter,

So let the imprisoned larks escape and fly

Singing about her head, as she rode by.


Even now, I can type it without checking for accuracy. It’s basically an extended simile, an abstraction made miraculously concrete. It’s the greatest love poem I know.

Tim Upperton


As a teenager, I did a weekend poetry workshop run by Kate Camp at Tairāwhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne. She brought in a box of postcards she had collected from second hand shops, many with messages written by strangers on the back, and we were to use the postcards as inspiration for a poem. Kate would have only been in her late twenties herself, and it felt so amazing to hear from a writer who was not so different from myself and to discover you could find poetry in everyday places.

Louise Wallace


In 1969-70 I was working in Amman, Jordan, and in the mornings would walk past some coffee shops to catch my bus. I saw men listening intently to radios. I thought they were listening to the news but learned it was broadcasts of poems by the likes of Mahmoud Darwish, Fadwa Tuqan and Samir al Quasim. This image of poetry as significant public discourse has stayed with me for fifty years, not as something I can pretend to emulate but as a reminder that there are places and situations where poetry matters like this.

Ian Wedde


Book Speak

For my twelfth birthday Aunt Sharon gives me a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. I carry it with me everywhere, careful to hide the nude sketches from Mom and Dad. I whisper the poetry aloud, as if it is a divine book that comes, not from the writer at all, but through the writer, from some divine source. Gibran describes desires I cannot yet express myself. He makes me want to write. He makes me want to learn the secrets of my own heart, “and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart” (Gibran).

Amy Leigh Wicks





In the early afternoon of 15 February 2014 I was lying facedown on the grass at Tapapakanga Regional Park. I remember hearing small insects droning in my ears and the way the grass smelt fresh and stuck to my face. Then Sam Hunt started reading. He was standing under a beautiful old gnarled tree that looked like something out of Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood. His voice rose and fell on the breeze. A moderate-sized crowd of enthralled children sat mesmerised by his words. I don’t remember now what he said, or what he read, just the inimitable intonation of his voice. It washed over me as I continued to lie semi-passed out on the grass with my friend beside me. It was wonderful, and magical, to lie on a hot summer’s day in the park with my face squished into the grass with poetry passing through and over me. (Splore Festival 2014)

Kiri Piahana Wong


Onslow College, Wellington. I was 16. The teacher handed out some pages, and I began to read. “You should have been told:/ only in you was the gold. / Mountain and river paid you no fee / mountain melting to the river / river to the sea.” The walls dissolved. And then I read the words, “country crumpled like an unmade bed” and was undone. It was the first time that a poem had spoken into me like that, giving me a recognisable image of our land, our place, the crumpled country where my own feet actually walked. I carried that little phrase within me from then on.

Years later, I crossed the crumpled country to live in Dunedin, fetching up in an old house in Sligo Terrace – a house, I discovered, where Denis Glover had lived as a small boy. The moment I learned that fact, well, there it was again … the walls dissolving – “mountain melting to the river / river to the sea”.

Sue Wootton







Bill Manhire and Albert Wendt recognised as Icons



bill-manchester-pic.jpg    1396039023448-1.jpg


Last night The Arts Foundation recognised Bill Manhire and Albert Wendt as Icons. Both  Bill and Albert have produced writing that is a significant part of our literary landscape, yet both have done so much more. Their mentorship of and generosity towards other writers is noteworthy. Their writing stands as uniquely theirs, offering nimble and wide ranging voices, an ability to tap into the humane, the surprising, the musicality of the world. I find their poetry utterly nourishing.

Congratulations from Poetry Shelf on this well deserved honour.

See here for more details. The other Icons were: artist Billy Apple, composer Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead and sculptor Fred Graham.


Albert’s poem ‘New Coat’

Bill Manhire talks to Poetry Shelf

NZ poetry to set to music in Featherston

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 3.05.46 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 3.06.09 PM.png



This year, the programme will offer a selection of Bill Manhire’s poems set as songs that speak to ice and the frozen north/south.

The themes and inspirations will be drawn from the albums Antarctica (‘These Rough Notes’) and a new album in progress that centres on themes from Nordic mythology and the frozen north (to be released as Bifrost (after the rainbow bridge that link the earth and the homeland of the gods, and that is celebrated in the Ragnarok)).

Composer and pianist, Norman Meehan, and vocalist, Hannah Griffin, have been collaborating for more than ten years, performing poetry as song. That collaboration has seen them work extensively with New Zealand’s inaugural Poet Laureate, Bill Manhire. This year they will be joined by violinist, Martin Riseley.

Entry: Koha

This is an event involved in the Featherston Booktown Festival on Friday 11th, Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th May celebrating everything to do with books, writers and reading.

The three-day programme includes writing workshops; poetry readings; talks by leading authors and illustrators; and a book fair including stalls with rare and second hand books. There are also events specifically for children while this year’s festival has a special emphasis on poetry and young adult fiction.

details here