Tag Archives: Bryan Walpert

Poetry Shelf review: Bryan Walpert’s Entanglement

Entanglement, Bryan Walpert, Mākaro Press, 2021

The reading process is such a curious thing. I often liken it to bridges. Some days I cross the bridge easily into a poem or a novel while on other days it is impassable. When it happens with poetry books, I often return to the bridge and find an open and rewarding route.

Bryan Walpert’s novel is shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2022. It has received a number of glowing reviews, and has really affected readers. Madison Hamill: ‘Trust me, this story will unfold like a set of dominoes arranged in the shape of your heart.’ David Hill in Kete Books: ‘In Entanglement, you feel that Walpert is frequently intrigued and surprised by his own material. The result is a story that jumps with energy, both emotional and intellectual.’

When I first started reading Bryan Walpert’s novel I loved it, and then I stalled and put it to one side. I stalled because my reading life is so fickle this year. Sometimes there are no bridges, sometimes there are myriad bridges that lead to balm, gold nuggets, simplicity, complexity, electrifying connections.

I have picked up Entanglement again, the love I first felt is stronger than ever, and yes, I am entangled in the premise, the characters, and the writing itself. What first beguiled me was the writing. The exquisite accumulation of phrases into long sentences, a slow accretion that adds to character and tension. Think of the tension on a loom or a set of knitting needles. This is a book to read and savour slowly, without skimming, to amass the threads and the stitches, andante. To appreciate the knots.

And yes, this is a book of knots – think the knottiness of time, the gnarliness of situation. The book you are holding is a book of time travel, a book of love and misstep, of ideas and apprehension. The structure enables you to step into time-travelling shoes as you move among three strands. Past present future entanglements. A novelist is undertaking research at Sydney’s Centre for Time. He falls in love with a New Zealand philosopher. A writer is doing writing exercises at a writing retreat at a New Zealand lake. They accrue like autobiography. Someone is travelling back in time, pulled by tragedies in the past that haunt but are not clearly understood. There is marriage, there is a beloved daughter, there is a severely injured brother. There is a compulsion to write and a curiosity about time.

Pretty much any book we write depends upon pleats and folds as our lives overlap, crease into living or a poem or a novel. In Entanglement strands overlap, pleat together, and that becomes a fascination as you read. The writing exercises raid a life and an imagination. The past present future rub against each other as time becomes unstable, uncertain. How do we define the present, how do we experience the now that is already past, the moment you blink it? Everything is suspect. Is it one person? Is it one conventional time thread?

I find the slowness of my reading shifts in the final third. The lure to know what happens to the time traveller takes precedence, and it jars to be pulled back into a reflection on free will and time arguments. I am hungry to keep reading. It feels like I am mimicking the traveller’s dislocation, grappling at the entangled lives and times and ideas, pulled breathlessly to a particular location – for me the last page – to make sense of whatever can be made sense of.

This is a writer taking a risk (you choose: Bryan Walpert, the narrator novelist, the narrator at the retreat, all three, all one). Am I reading the narrator as entanglement, shaped by tragedy, driven by curiosity at the level of physics and philosophy, smashing against the familiar and the unbeknown?

Reading becomes an exhilarating excursion, with risky climbs and turning bays for meditation. Yet at the heart, at the warm core of the novel, I find all things human. This is what makes Entanglement a haunting, moving read. It is the choices we make, domestic detail, daily routines, self doubt, self compulsion, the way we nourish those we love, the way we nourish and make sense of ourselves. It is the way we are human; intellectually and emotionally engaged. Entangled. The way we become entangled as we read. I toast this glorious book.

Bryan Walpert is the author of Late Sonata, winner of the 2020 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize, as well as a short story collection, four books of poetry and two of literary criticism. He is a professor in creative writing at Massey University, Auckland.

Mākaro Press page

Shortlisted for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction 2022

The Guardian on the Ockham NZ Book Award shortlists

Bryan Walpert in conversation about Entanglement with Neil Johnstone, Wellington Libraries

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Paula Green reviews Bryan Walpert’s Brass Band to Follow at Kete Books

Brass Band to Follow, Bryan Walpert, Otago University Press, 2021

Bryan Walpert, professor of creative writing at Massey University, has published three previous poetry collections. His fourth, Brass Band to Follow, is a rewarding read with distinctive tones and exquisite layers. The book’s opening quotes suggest we are entering poetic engagements with middle age. Yes, age is a visible concern but the poems are alive with movement that includes but stretches beyond time passing.

The book is thoughtfully structured: you move in and out of dense single-verse poems along with airy multi-versed examples. A rocky outcrop on one page, thistle kisses on the next. It is like listening to music that favours both solo violin and the greater orchestra.

Full review here

Bryan reads poems on Poetry Shelf

Otago University Press page

Bryan Walpert website

Bryan in conversation with Lynn Freeman Radio NZ National

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Bryan Walpert reads from Brass Band to Follow

Brass Band to Follow, Bryan Walpert, Otago University Press, 2021

Bryan reads ‘In the lull’

Bryan reads ‘Brass Band to Follow’

Bryan Walpert is the author of four collections of poetry—Etymology, A History of Glass, Native Bird and most recently Brass Band to Follow (Otago UP). He is also the author of a novella, Late Sonata, winner of the Viva La Novella prize (Australia); a collection of short fiction, Ephraim’s Eyes; and two scholarly books: Poetry and Mindfulness: Interruption to a Journey and Resistance to Science in Contemporary American Poetry. A novel, Entanglement, is forthcoming with Mākaro Press in October. His work has appeared in New Zealand, Australia, UK, U.S., and Canada and has been recognized by, among others, the Montreal International Poetry Award, the New Zealand International Poetry Competition, the Royal Society of NZ Manhire Award Creative Science Writing Award (fiction), The Rattle Poetry Prize (US), and the James Wright Poetry Award (U.S). He is a Professor in Creative Writing at Massey University, Auckland. More on Bryan can be found at bryanwalpert.com.

Otago University Press page

Bryan Walpert website

Bryan in conversation with Lynn Freeman Radio NZ National

My SST review of the refreshed Poetry NZ Yearbook

Book review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross

Dr Jack Ross.


Dr Jack Ross.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017

edited by Dr Jack Ross

Massey University Press, $35

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 
edited by  Dr Jack Ross

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross

Wellington poet Louis Johnson established the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook in 1951. It has just received a well-deserved makeover by Massey University Press. The new design is eye-catching, the writing has room to breathe and the content is eclectic. With Victoria and Otago University Presses publishing Sport and Landfall, it is good to see a literary magazine finding a home in Auckland. It is the only magazine that devotes sole attention to poetry and poetics, with an abundant measure of poems, reviews and essays.

Editor Dr Jack Ross aims to spotlight emerging and established poets and include “sound, well-considered reviews”. There are just under 100 poets in the issue, including Nick Ascroft, Riemke Ensing, Elizabeth Smither, Anna Jackson, Michele Leggott and Kiri Piahana-Wong. When I pick up a poetry journal, I am after the surprise of a fresh voice, the taste of new work by a well-loved poet, the revelatory contours of poetry that both behaves and misbehaves when it comes to questionable rule books. The annual delivers such treats.

A welcome find for me is the featured poet: Elizabeth Morton. Morton’s debut collection will be out this year with Makaro Press, so this sampler is perfect with its lush detail, lilting lines and surreal edges. My favourite poem, Celestial Bodies is by Rata Gordon (‘When you put Saturn in the bath/ it floats./ It’s true.’). Fingers-crossed we get to see a debut collection soon.

Mohamed Hassan’s breath-catching poem, the cyst, is another favourite: “In the small of my back/ at the edge of where my fingertips reach/ when I stretch them over my shoulder/ it is a dream of one day going home for good.”

You also get the sweet economy of Alice Hooton and Richard Jordan; the shifted hues of Jackson and Leggott (‘She is my rebel soul, my other self, the one who draws me out and folds me away’); the humour of Smither.

To have three essays – provocative and fascinating in equal degrees – by Janet Charman, Lisa Samuels and Bryan Walpert is a bonus.

Ross makes great claims for the generous review section suggesting “shouting from the rooftops doesn’t really work in the long-term”. A good poetry review opens a book for the reader as opposed to snapping it shut through the critic’s prejudices. However on several occasions I felt irritated by the male reviewers filtering poetry by women through conservative and reductive notions of what the poems are doing.

Ross’ review of Cilla McQueen’s memoir In a Slant Light highlighted a book that puzzled him to the point he did not not know exactly what she wanted “to share”. In contrast I found a poignant book, ripe with possibility and the portrait of a woman poet emerging from the shadows of men.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, in its revitalised form, and as a hub for poetry conversations, is now an essential destination for poetry fans. Not all the poems held my attention, but the delights are myriad.

 – Stuff

Poetry Shelf, a little poetry thought: I am currently loving Bryan Walpert’s Native Bird

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‘You see the day as a kind of wind’

I am currently loving Bryan Walpert‘s Native Bird (Mākaro Press, 2015). Reading this book is like entering a restorative glade. Or a slow paced European movie where the camera takes one long slow delicious pan that sweeps and lingers and stalls and accumulates the faintest detail, the hint of movements, the tremor of action. And out of the long gorgeous sweep of reading, you get place, character, story. Or think of this rhythm as a sticky ribbon to which detail adheres. The detail catches you. Phrases, whole lines, stanzas. The sound of each line strikes your ear – beautifully, honey-like. The world slows because this is one of those books where the poems reach out and hold you in the grip of attention. I adore it.


from ‘Wayward ode’

I’ve rewritten this three times. How many

transformations must it take before you hear me

call through this drafty window of ink?





Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Siobhan Harvey makes some picks

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Like a lot of contributors here I have adored reading Emma Neale‘s Tender Machines (Otago University Press). These are heartfelt, accomplished poems, buoyed by small details and big concerns.

Two other books which journeyed with me through 2015 were from the amazing HOOPLA series published by Makaro Press. Bryan Walpert manages to make the poems in his collection, Native Bird at once intimately familial and deeply contemplative encounters. I’m particularly in awe of how Walpert connects the personal to the universal, thematically linking migration to national ornithology.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jen Compton for the first time a few years ago when we were guests at the Queensland Poetry Festival. Her warm personality enshrines a magnificent poetic mindset as her latest Mr Clean and the Junkie proves. Like Neale’s Tender Machines, this book is presently long-listed for the Occam New Zealand Book Award. It’s easy to see why for it’s an astonishing mix of poetic dexterity, film scripting, examination of gender roles and a big story about everyday people connected to a seamy Sydney casino scam.

Siobhan Harvey


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Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Pick: Carolyn McCurdie makes her picks


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There has been so much poetry I’ve loved this year, but of course there are always some poems that anchor me, enlarge and challenge me, more than others. I have read no collection that did not give in this way. But some stand out.

Two NZ collections:

Native Bird by Bryan Walpert, Makaro Press 2015

Using metaphors of birds, the poet explores various tricky territories: being an immigrant, a father, a husband. Placed throughout the book are five poems with the title: ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Birding.’ The tone is quiet, meditative, often self-deprecating and full of clever word play, a joking that invites the reader in. These are warm, engaging poems. And beautiful. From the title poem, its context, a tramp through forest:

Gravity sings its sweet siren song –

sit, sit, sit –


Tender Machines by Emma Neale, Otago University Press 2015

Some of the tenderness here is that of all protective layers being stripped back. These poems are brave. They reach out and talk with the ‘subsonic heart’ (Alchemy, p21) as it grapples with the frazzle of life with a toddler, a teenager, with technology, with adult love and estrangement, and with poverty and privilege, a hurting planet. Yet the voice is alight with irrepressible dance and laughter. The poems plant their two feet, wave their cardboard sword, and swashbuckle.

From ‘Ross Creek’ p59:

for despair and anger

to burn again and again

right back to love –

it takes courage.


Two collections from elsewhere:

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve by Adrienne Rich, W.W. Norton 2011

It was the title of this book that hit me between the eyes and made me buy it. But for just those nights, poems like these are what you might reach for. From ‘Turbulence’ p24:

In the event put on

the child’s mask first. Breathe normally.


Cumulus by Robert Gray, John Leonard Press, 2012

The poet has collected these from his eight volumes as all that he wants to retain. I find their power overwhelming and can read them only slowly, a few at a time. Here is the Australian landscape as if from its core, the this-ness, here-ness, now-ness of sky, river, tree and surf, of street and rain against the window. From ‘Cyclone’ p253:

like the vast doom

drums of Japan,

on this tin-roofed




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Carolyn McCurdie




Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Johanna Emeney makes her picks

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My favourite book of 2015 is Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Richly allusive, elegiac, lyrical, this short work is the one I have recommended most to friends. It is in no way a literary snob of a book, but it has many layers and is extremely clever. You will want to read it two or three times. Especially if you are a Dickinson or Hughes fan—although the style is nothing like that of either poet.

Bryan Walpert’s Native Bird is a beautiful collection. Poignant and tender, the poems have a narrative thread that follows the story of new New Zealanders learning how things work. Bryan is adept at making words work overtime. He turns ambiguity against itself, avoiding the easy double-meaning, and surprising the readers with another they hadn’t thought of. Most impressive are the meta-poems, in which it is as if the poem is being written and read at once. Poems like “Objective Correlative” and “Manawatu Aubade” are examples.

Lastly, two journals I would recommend are Poetry London www.poetrylondon.co.uk edited by Ahren Warner and Poetry New Zealand edited by Jack Ross. Both feature a nice balance of new poetry, essays and reviews, and are committed to featuring new as well as renowned poets. Ruth Arnison’s poem “Not Talking” in Poetry NZ Yearbook 2, November 2015 is one of the best, most heart-breaking, poems I have read all year.

Johanna Emeney



Some poetry fans pick a recent favourite NZ poetry read – and my giveaway bundle

Thanks for sharing these. I put all the names in a hat and drew out Nicola Easthope. I will send you a wee bundle of poetry books. Can you email me your postal address please?


Sarah Jane Barnett: Congratulations on your 500th post! What an achievement and also such a contribution to New Zealand poetry readers. The book I’m enjoying at the moment is Joan Fleming’s Failed Love Poems. It’s an intense read and I feel immersed in the characters, especially in the second section. The poem ‘The invention of enough’ blew my mind!


Harvey Molloy: One book that comes to mind is Native Bird by Bryan Walpert.  It’s such a well-crafted, polished book. There’s a diversity of poetic forms and tones so the work’s quite dynamic.  There’s also a certain reticence in places, a skirting around painful issues which I find quite refreshing  – – at times emotions are understated and there’s a control and restraint which I find quite moving; the poetry is at times actively self-conscious but never cold or impersonal (for example the poem, ‘Ōakura’).  I’ll be coming back to this book.


Sian Robyns: Airini Beautrais’ Dear Neil Roberts had me enthralled enraged and weeping. To paraphrase ‘History Books’ (p 43), she admitted Neil Roberts into our histories and gave us a harrowing reminder of the particular awfulness of Muldoon’s New Zealand. Sadly, we still maintain a silence closely resembling stupidity.

Can I have two? I also loved Jennifer Compton’s Mr Clean and the Junkie. I loved the story, the sense of place, and that swooping, interfering, conversational, self-aware authorial voice.


Crissi Blair: I loved Caoilinn Hughes’ Gathering Evidence which I had from the library after hearing Gregory O’Brien talking to Kim Hill about her marvellous first lines. Congratulations on your 500th post Paula. You are doing a great job at spreading the poetry word!


Nicola Easthope: One Aotearoa poetry book I have enjoyed this year (there are so many) is Janet Frame’s The Goose Bath, winner of the 2007 Montana NZ Book Awards. I have come late to Janet’s poetry (having gobbled up her prose at university in the late 80s) and love meeting her flaring imagination and dance of language through poems with apparently innocent beginnings that usually turn, back and forth, between the light and the dark of her life.The entire collection leaves me fizzing and aching with appreciation.


Lara Anderson:

The body is a nest alive with new song
The brain is fluent in ghost
The tongue is rich with poetry ~ Siobhan Harvey from ‘Cumulus’ in Cloudboy Otago University Press, 2014

These are just a few of my favourite lines in a book of NZ poetry that I have read and re-read this year. Using the metaphor of clouds to express her feelings and to give poetic form to her son. Harvey is at times both confronted and confronting. You would think that over an extended piece you would get tired of the cloud metaphor but it provides a cohesion that allows the reader to trace the ever changing cloudscapes – like watching the weather dance across the city in time-lapse fashion. Every time I re-read her work I garner something new from it.

Anyway, thank you for your 500 wonderful posts!


Susan Wardell: I stole away from evening toddler-ing duties for a full hour to attend the launch of Emma Neale’s Tender Machines. For the first three days I kept the book lovingly tucked in it’s friendly brown-paper bag, carrying it around in my over-sized, multipurpose parenting handbag, and stealing it out just a few times a day, in the gaps between work-work and home-work, to savour the poems one, or maybe (greedily) two, at a time – along with the salted crackers keeping my ‘morning’ sickness at bay – then carefully replacing it. Parked by the road or outside the house, while my daughter squirmed/sang/ate raisins in the back seat, I cried more than a bit, and more than once, as I read Emma’s poignant, humourous, gentle, and sometimes brutally-true poems about, well… about life. To find something that could capture, without reifying, the beauty and fragility of the mundane and domestic, reading the micro everyday of mealtimes and bedtimes into the macro of our uncertain global times…. it is special. I don’t believe I had ever read what I could call a ‘true’ poem about parenting before I read Emma’s (earlier) work. This collection, too, became a lifeline, another level at which to process my own experience, emotion, as a mother and a woman and a citizen of a broken world. I breathed. It was ok to be human after all. I forgave myself as the book came out of it’s paper sheath permanently and, in the space of only a week, gained nutella fingerprints, sand in the page creases, water bottle stains, and dog ears. I finished it and cried a bit more into the spaghetti, not sure whether to blame hormones or metaphors. This collection is personal in a tender and unapologetic way, political in a raw and thoughtful way, beautiful in a subtle, tangible, heart-lifting way. It is both grounded and soaring; it is both the heartbeat and the wind. It came at just the right moment for me personally, in the way poetry often does. But I am also pleased to think of it’s permanence now, in print; it will remain as a beautiful little signpost in the history, the story, of NZ poetry… should the archaeologists of the future unearth my well-loved copy, they will know us better for it.


Kathryn Crookenden: Congratulations on your 500th post for NZ Poetry Shelf and thank you for all your efforts to promote poetry in New Zealand. I enjoy reading the blog, especially the reviews and the interviews with poets.

I have enjoyed reading Frances Samuel’s Sleeping on Horseback this year. I got it out of the library twice and then bought my own copy because there were so many poems that I enjoyed and wanted to keep going back to. Through her poems I have travelled with Chinese poets and Russian writers, visited Japan and Latvia in summer, and considered how to draw spires and towers. I like her wry humour and sharp observations. My favourite poem in the collection is ‘Just twinkling in the moonlight’ with its baby ‘all shiny with the moon.’ I’d also like to mention the gardening anthology, The Earth’s Deep Breathing, which has been a good companion for the last few weeks as I’ve been getting my own garden into shape, and Glenn Colquhoun’s The Art of Walking Upright which I read earlier this year – there are some beautiful kuia honoured in his poems.


Maureen Sudlow: I am currently reading the collected poems of Ruth Dallas, published by the University of Otago Press, and I am struck again with the breadth and depth of her writing.  Some of her work is influenced by the early Chinese poets, and some returns to the strong heritage of her own environment and upbringing. Ruth also includes haiku, which are one of my favourite poetic forms, and which are not often included in general poetry collections.

Her poems are gathered into five groups that show changes to Ruth’s writing over time.  I particularly love ‘Felled Trees’:

Nobody has come to burn them,
Long green grass grows up between them.
Up between white boughs that lie
Dead and empty, dry,
That once were full of leaves and sky.

and ‘Night Rain’

Needles of the rain
Restitch the linen of the flesh

The rich variety of her writing brings me back to read again and again.  If you have no other New Zealand Poet on your shelves, you must at least have Ruth Dallas.  Ruth has gone but she has left a treasure trove of words behind for us to enjoy.


Helen Anderson: I am very pleased to have the opportunity to write about C.K Stead’s Collected Poems 1951 – 2006. This was a very welcome gift that has sat beside my bed all year for dipping into. It was published in 2008 and came to me via Hard to Find book store having never been opened!  I had the privilege of being in Professor Stead’s  classes far too many years ago and reading his text The New Poetic published back in 1964 accounted for my first experience of some understanding of the poetic enterprise. Collected Poems is full of surprises, the range is extraordinary and the collection includes previously unpublished work. It is an ongoing lesson about the power of language to invoke memory, to rebuild perception and to take us beyond our boundaries when crafted by a poet who is serious, playful, cynical and optimistic and an artist.