Tag Archives: Chris Price

Wellington’s LitCrawl -‘LitCrawl was a whole fireworks display’ ‘a clarion call’


We are swept by currents of air that swoop
and tease like unseen birds.
The wind is not often a warning here, in this city.
©Diana Bridge



The literary grassroots keep on doing stunning things through out New Zealand; there is boutique publishing, on and off the edge publicity, along with vibrant events.

It feels necessary and vital that we keep doing so. I was tempted to fly down to Wellington for their recent LitCrawl weekend (12 -13th November) but I am up to my elbows writing my new book and not ready for another research trip quite yet.

So I invited locals to send photos and pieces of writing- LitCrawl postcards. Then the earthquake and the incessant aftershocks swiped hard at Wellington residents (sleepless nights, anxious children, floods, uncertainty) along with so many elsewhere.

Understandably not everyone has been able to write anything but I ‘ve decided to post what I have because it seems like this was a joyous occasion for writers and readers.

Diana Bridge sent me some poems which I thought was so lovely – like my own private LitCrawl. The fragment above seems prescient. I have posted two more below.

The way the pieces have pulled this hard hard week – tufts of an election off shore and the earthquake – and managed to produce such gorgeous writing – heck it moved me to tears posting this. I can’t thank you enough Bee Trudgeon, Sarah Forster, Helen Rickerby, Sugar Magnolia Wilson, Catriona Ferguson.



The programme:

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What is LitCrawl?

LitCrawl =  a fast-talking, street-loving celebration of writers, publishers, performers, editors, musicians, journalists, lyricists, artists, comedians… and the people who want to hear them speak. For 2016, the programme stretched over three nights and two days with the main event, the crawl itself, on Saturday night. Over 100 writers appeared before over 2500 audience members in 19 venues. All ticketed events sold out.

Claire Mabey (organiser, along with Andrew Laking) You can hear Claire in conversation with Jim Mora this afternoon at 3pmish on RadioNZ




True Stories Told Live –Featuring Paula Morris, Emily Perkins, Khalid Warsame and Anahera Gildea. In partnership with the New Zealand Book Council. Wellington Central Library

‘True Stories Told Live has become a regular part of the LitCrawl programme. Despite the howling gales we had a fabulous turn out for our storytellers, Mayor Justin Lester, Emily Perkins, Khalid Warsame, Paula Morris and Anahera Gildea on Saturday night. Our theme for the evening was Metamorphosis with the subtext being how reading and books can change us. The storytellers responded to the theme with brio, generously sharing some intimate and life-changing moments. It was a wonderful start to the audience’s LitCrawl journey.’

Catriona Ferguson  CEO NZ Book Council    



Playing Poetry


And in the world outside these Gardens
canals of silver-beet arrive to part our city streets.

©Diana Bridge





Bee Trudgeon from Porirua Libraries sent in these LitCrawl postcards:

(‘It’s been a great weekend here in Wellington, in spite of the wild weather Friday night through Saturday night. Lit lovers proved themselves a resilient bunch, and great times were in abundance. I walked past more packed venues than those I’ve reviewed for you at the Lit Crawl. Here’s hoping you’ll get some more accounts to do this brilliant event justice.’)

Crip the Lit, CQ Hotels, 223 Cuba Street, 7.15PM

Proud feminism met disability fellowship when writers Robyn Hunt, Sally Champion, Trish Harris and Mary O’Hagan reclaimed the word crippled and put inspiration porn in its place at their packed panel session. This was a clarion call to bust open the closets disabilities of all kinds (visible and invisible, self- and externally-imposed) can erect around those living with them.

Robyn read a blog post regarding the hurdles sight impairment threw up for a budding reader with limited access to appropriate resources. Sally remembered early days far from parents in hospital, where her soul craved the attention her body was getting. Trish read from her newly published memoir The Walking Stick Tree (Escalator Press), which mixes memoir and essay to explore a life lived both in and far beyond the presumed cage hampered physicality suggests to those with a limited grasp on the transcendent power of the human spirit. Mary read from her memoir Madness Made Me (Open Box, 2014), honouring the highs of mental illness as human experiences more rich than those untouched might recognise.

Mary summed up the prevalent mood by poo-pooing any suggestion of bravery, pointing out the need to simply get on with what must be done.


Essays, Meow, 9 Edward Street, 8.30PM

Simon Sweetman (Off the Tracks) proved the perfect emcee for this heaving session of superior essayists, in a venue renowned for treating the literary like rock stars. Ashleigh Young (Can You Tolerate This?) may have been uncomfortable behind the mic’, but killed nonetheless, with tales of bizarre childhood Mastermind sessions under the spotlighted scrutiny of her father the quizmaster. Rarely is a child’s inner life so intimately given voice. International guest Khalid Warsame (reluctant and rare poster boy for Australian African masculinity) read two sentences spanning 15 years and a well-founded distrust of the police. It was a masterful and extreme test of the form.  Aimee Cronin nostalgically evoked an idyllic, salt-sprayed, ice-cream sticky childhood summer, hard-won from the ashes of broken marriage. The effect was a sigh just the safe side of a scream. Naomi Arnold took us to the places family and lovers would rather we couldn’t go. She provided a fine reminder that, if not for voyeurism, the essay would be too polite to be as compulsively palatable as this crew proved it can be. A brilliant set gobbled up by a crash keen crowd.


Selina Tusitala Marsh: Tala Tusi: The Teller is the Tale (A New Zealand Book Council Lecture) National Library, November 11, 2016 Reviewed by Bee Trudgeon for NZ Poetry Shelf

For many, it had been a raw few days of uphill battling. Not 48 hours since hearing He Who Shall Not Be Named had won the White House, and just three hours since hearing Leonard Cohen had died, people were sorely in need of some serious attention to the issues of diversity and what was threating it, and the comfort that poetry was alive and well. With the Wellington weather closing in, and turning to bed or drink (or both) a panacea being broadly touted by my distraught American friends, I had a strong feeling Selina Tusitala Marsh’s New Zealand Book Council Lecture could be as close to a cure as I could count on.

Her lecture in five parts and an epilogue, Tala Tusi: The Teller is the Tale, was a lyrical series of ruminations and recollections on the importance of culturally diverse voices, reading as fuel for writing, the holy nature of second-hand bookshops, and a significant encounter with the Queen.

Aptly dubbed the Smiling Assassin by her Muay Thai kickboxing trainer, her regal presence sets a fine example of how we all might face the differences of opinion so hard to understand, during a week when the Ku Klux Clan had been photographed on a bridge crossing a highway during workday commute hours.

In the same vein, consider the time earlier in the year when, as the Commonwealth Poet and guest reader at Westminster Abbey, Selina extended a hand to a certain Baron What’s-his-face, only to have her hand left hanging. Selina refused to let him reduce her to the level of his apparent opinion.

As she says, it is part of her name – the proto-Polynesian ‘ala’ – to be a path, not a wall. In a year when far too much has been said in the name of a certain proposed wall, such words are balm to all humanity.

In addition to an ironically instructional excerpt from Paula Morris’s ‘Bad Story (so you don’t have to write it’, four poems were performed: Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Requiem’ (as we were transported to Samoa in the late 1800s), ‘Tusitala’ (Selina’s 1996 manifesto piece), ‘Pussy Cat’ (penned for the potential racist, and the Duke who dared question the ‘post’ in ‘postcolonial literature’), and (thrillingly) the royally commissioned ‘Unity’

‘There’s a U and an I in unity / costs the earth and yet it’s free…’

Never have the lines been more necessary.

Near closing, Selina acknowledged, “People will walk over me and if they do so ungraciously, that’s their karma; but people will walk over, and that’s about connection.”  If the world had not exactly been put to rights, the battle cry for continued attempts to affect so had certainly been sounded. Round One to diverse poetry.

Fa’afetai, Selina. ‘What you do affects me.’

Complete lecture available here.




Poetry = Medicine at the Apothecary (more photos from here below)

‘Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of
Humanity’ – Hippocrates
They say writing is therapy – so’s listening to it. Come along for
readings from those who fuse medicine with poetry.
Featuring John Dennison, Chris Price, Sue Wootton, Rae Varcoe
and Paul Stanley-Ward.


A LitCrawl letter from Helen Rickerby:

LitCrawl 2016

LitCrawl was more than a bright spark in the middle of a crazy and hard week – a week filled with the alarming US election, torrential rain and slips, earthquakes, tsunami and then more torrential rain, flooding, wind and more slips – LitCrawl was a whole fireworks display. It seems quite a long time ago now, being before the 7.5 earthquake that woke so many of us up after Sunday night had just tipped over into Monday morning. But it’s important to celebrate such a wonderful event, especially in the midst of everything else.

When LitCrawl started two years ago I was a bit worried that having multiple events on at the same time would split the audience – I thought I knew by sight, if not by name, everyone who was likely to come to a literary event in Wellington. But that first year I realised this was something special: every event was well attended – if not full – and there were people there who I had never even seen before. Where did they come from? we wondered. And then the next year, they came out again – even more people to even more events. And this year, even more events, and more people – despite more rain!

I think one of the strengths of LitCrawl – by which I really mean a strength of event organisers, the wonderful Claire Mabey and Andy Laking – is that they have drawn together people from many different parts of the Wellington literary community and beyond to perform and curate sessions. So it feels like something that everyone owns and has helped to make, rather than a top-down thing organised for us.

The heart of LitCrawl is the Saturday night, where multiple events are held around the city in three different time slots, but since the beginning there have been some satellite events on different days. This year the first one was Friday night’s My First Time, where three short theatre pieces by first-time theatre writers were performed, for the first time. The pieces were very different from each other: Sarah Jane Barnett’s relationship drama set in the not-too distant future; Pip Adam’s wonderful nuts post-modern take on contemporary life that might have just been snippets from the internet; Faith Wilson’s slam-poetryish musings on race, economics and what she’d like to do with and to her dentist. The audience was invited to be part of the process by emailing in their feedback about the pieces, which are still in development.

On the night of LitCrawl proper it is always really hard to choose what to attend, and your heart gets a bit broken about the things you have to miss. Because I was running a session in the middle block, that took care of two of my choices – the time I needed to be there to set up made it too difficult to get to the first session. My session, Polylingual SpreePoetry in and out of Translation, was at Ferret Bookshop, and there was a good turnout to hear poetry from and in Māori, Greek, Mandarin and Italian from Kahu Kutia, Vana Manasiadis, Ya-Wen Ho and Marco Sonzogni (with me reading a couple of English translations). I had wanted to curate that session to celebrate the fact that English isn’t the only language spoken in New Zealand, and it seemed especially timely to be celebrating diversity. Afterwards, people were really enthusiastic about the session and hope to see it return, so we’ll see.

Next I was planning to go to the Essays session (see above PG!), which I’m told was fantastic and full, but it was also much further away than several wonderful poetry sessions in the Cuba Street area. I ended up at Pegasus Books, or, rather, outside Pegasus Books, which was just as well because there was quite a crowd there and we would never have fitted in the shop. Thanks to a good sound system we could mostly hear the readers: Steven Toussaint, Hera Lindsay Bird, Greg Kan and Lee Posna, over the diners behind us at Oriental Kingdom and other revellers in Left Bank. After that, most people headed to the after party at Paramount, generally via some kind of eatery, to mingle and catch up with other LitCrawlers and possibly have their fortunes read by the resident tarot card reader.

The next day I was really delighted to be part of a panel discussion with Sarah Laing and Anna Jackson about why we have found the life and work of Katherine Mansfield so compelling. The event was especially special because it was at the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, in an upstairs room amid an exhibition of Sarah’s drawings for her graphic bio-memoir (I think I have just made up that term) Mansfield and Me. The sun came out in time for us all to have our afternoon tea on the lawn, which was very pleasant. It was a bit alarming to hear a few hours later, in the early hours of the morning, that there was damage to house after a neighbouring brick wall fell on it during the quake. Fortunately, it now sounds like there is no serious damage, so we can all go back and have a proper look at Sarah’s exhibition and sketchbooks when it reopens.

A friend visiting from Auckland was told on Saturday night ‘You should move back to Wellington, it’s having a literary renaissance’, and I thought – you know, I think she might be right. And I think it’s because there are quite a few ordinary people who are just organising things and doing things here at the moment, and I think that if LitCrawl wasn’t the start of this little renaissance, it certainly is one of its shining stars. Thanks Claire and Andy, we really appreciate it!

photos from Helen:



Polylingual – some of the audience at Polylingual Spree at Ferret Bookshop

‘The more languages you know, the more you are human’
– Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk Come and hear lively readings of poetry in languages from around the world, read by poet translators Marco Sonzogni (Italian), Vana Manasiadis (Greek), Ya-Wen Ho (Mandarin) and more. Hosted by Helen Rickerby (mostly English).



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Mansfield 1 – Some of the Mansfield event-goers having afternoon tea on the lawn, including Sarah Laing


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Mansfield 2 – Another view of the afternoon tea-ing, including Anna Jackson talking to Vana Manasiadis. The offending brick wall (which fell down in the quake) can be seen beside the house, on the left.

Yes, after a splendid event at the Katherine Mansfield House with the sun shining and afternoon tea and poems, the place suffered damage in the quake.



A letter from Sarah Forster from NZ Booksellers:

Hi Paula

I didn’t go to any poetry last night, mores the pity, but the three events I did go to – True Stories Told Live, Toby & Toby and Essays were all brilliant. I have attended every year since it began. Here are a few bits and pieces for you to weave in.

At the end of LitCrawl 2016, Juliet Blyth noted to me that the most special thing about LitCrawl is that everybody sees it as being for them. There is no demographic that didn’t turn out, despite the terrible Wellington weather.

At True Stories Told Live at the Wellington Central Library, I sat in front of a family of five, the three girls aged roughly 5-11, and though they were bickering beforehand and saying ‘This is going to be boring,’ as soon as the stories began I didn’t hear a peep. As Wellington’s Mayor Justin Lester told of his upbringing with his father searching for white gold, as well as a new mistress in every port they lived in; as Paula Morris wove the spell of the Little House on the Prairie; Emily Perkins told of the changes wrought by self-help books, and an enduring, changing, friendship; Khalid Warsame told of his panic attacks and how the pain of an anonymous other – and a book – somehow eased his own pain; and as Anahera Gildea pulled us through the most painful experience of her life – but the one that led to her finally publishing her writing, and selling her art – these kids sat spellbound. True Stories Told Live at its best is utterly brutal – the laughs are always there, but the truth-telling takes your breath away. I am not sure how we didn’t float out of there on a sea of tears after Gildea’s story, and I want to thank her if she is reading this, for sharing it.

At Toby & Toby at Caroline Bar, it was standing room only, as Toby Manhire interviewed first Susie Ferguson, then Ashleigh Young. This was a louder crowd, but engaged nonetheless. There were probably about 300 of us all crammed in the back of the bar, standing – I had a handy barstool to kneel up on, which made me only 3 inches taller than my friend Harriet Elworthy was standing. How do we deserve Susie Ferguson on our airwaves,  Shannonn Te Ao  in our art galleries, Ashleigh Young as one of our best editors and writers?

It was a one-two for me with Ashleigh, as she was one of the speakers at the final event I attended, at Meow Bar. Again there was a huge range of ages, though starting from 18 this time, as well as those in the more traditional festival-going age group (the boomers). Essays featured three female essayists – Ashleigh plus Aimie Cronin and Naomi Arnold – and again I was privileged to see Khalid Warsame in performance.
As well as reading from their work, each of them talked a little about essay-writing, and the difficulty of deciding how much of your family and friends’ experiences you are allowed to use. Khalid was fascinating – he is the director of the Young Writer’s Festival in Newcastle, and as an African Australian, he has realised his point of view is incredibly unique. He talked about being pigeonholed as other, and read aloud half of a four-sentence essay, on this theme.

Everything I saw at LitCrawl opened my eyes and my mind in one way or another. Pirate and Queen (aka. Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking) are geniuses: the only complaint I have was that I had to choose from at least 2 options per session that I desperately wanted to attend: an excellent problem to have. While most of the events I attended were very packed, most didn’t need to send people away. The volunteers were better deployed than previously as well. What could have been just another soggy Saturday night in Wellington was touched with magic, thanks to this generous, informative, inspirational event.

cheers, Sarah


Some photos from Mary McCallum:


Sue Wootton reads at The Apothecary, with Jayne Mulligan VicBooks



Chris Price reads at The Apothecary


Happy litcrawlers at The Apothecary in Cuba Street, listening to readings around medicine and poetry.


Launch of the 4th Floor Journal at Matchbox in Cuba Street


From Sugar Magnolia Wilson:

My take on it was – once again litcrawl was a really fun, loving and positive event where people got a chance to meet new folk and bond over writing and literature. I especially love having new contributors in Sweet Mammalian, one of whom came to Wellington especially for litcrawl and to read at our launch. So great to meet new people and always great community vibes at litcrawl.

issue four is now live

Photos from the Litcrawl Sweet Mammalian launch:





What a glorious, sumptuous, heart-boosting occasion. Thank you so much everyone who sent me things. In the light of what you are enduring, to have sent these treasures in is quite special. The last words goes to a poem Diana sent me. The early NZ women poets I am currently reading found much solace in the sky, the bush and the sea. This is a poem of solace. Thank you everyone!


Footing it with the magnolias

As the track winds steeply down
trees thin and gaps appear in leafy walls.
Broadening view-shafts open

on the Garden’s settled old world heart.
Here is the showcase that changes
with the seasons. Colours co-ordinate

an artist’s take. Spotlight on ceremony
when stately tulips bright as guardsmen bloom.
Though things are not so cut and dried

even in classical spring. Sunlit tussocks
fountain beside paths. Artful inclusion
of the indigenous, the vegetable patch.

Beds hemmed with parsley. Cineraria or
phlox held in evergreen embrace. No plant
undercutting any other – a gorgeous

composite is what they aim for here.
And in the world outside these Gardens?
Canals of silver-beet arrive to part our city streets.

©Diana Bridge

My two poetry readings to launch my new book feature some of my favourite poets

Like so many poets, I loathe people making speeches about me or my work. Much better to stage a poetry reading and celebrate the pull of cities.

My new poetry collection comes out of ten exceptional days I spent in New York with my family awhile ago. So I have invited a bunch of poets I love to read city poems by themselves and others. Big line-ups but it will free flow and leave time for wine and nibbles.

Once I got to fifteen I realised what poetry wealth we have in these places. I could have hosted another 15  in each place easily. That was so reassuring.

If I had time and money, I would have staged similar events in Christchurch and Dunedin where there bundles of poets I love too.

Please share if you have the inclination.

And you are ALL warmly invited!








Poetry Shelf interviews Chris Price – ‘a little dash of crazy, a pinch of furious, and a dash of self-loathing on the one hand, and a bit of song and dance and delight on the other’

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Photo credit: Robert Cross



How the song will wait

no matter how long,

how high the moon

or tower, however dry

the seed or flower —

the song will raise you.


from ‘Spell for a child to remember’



Chris Price is the author of two previous poetry collections (Husk, The Blind Singer) and a generically playful collection of biographical anecdotes ( Brief Lives). Her debut collection won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry (2002). She now teaches Creative Writing at the IIML at Victoria University. Previously, she had stints editing  Landfall and coordinating The International Arts Festival’s Writers and Reader’s Week in Wellington. Her poetry pleasingly follows its own course, as though this poet is not beholden to passing trends. This originality cements her place as a unique and important voice in New Zealand poetry. I got to hear Chris read from her new collection, Beside Herself, at CK Stead’s recent Laureate events in Napier and I came away feeling these edgy poems that hit both shadows and light were her best yet. I could hear the audience appreciating the utterly satisfying pitch of the poems with their oohs and aahs.


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Beside Herself  Chris Price  Auckland University Press  2016


To coincide with the release of the new collection, Chris agreed to an interview with Poetry Shelf.


Did your childhood shape you as a poet? What did you like to read? Did you write as a child? What else did you like to do?

My family were great readers, and bedtime stories were big for me – eventually some of the stories were on LPs, which my parents would put on when I went to bed, to be summoned back with an imperious call of ‘Other side!’ when the LP needed to be turned over.  The Count of Monte Cristo is one I remember.  Because my brother and sisters were quite a bit older than me, I spent a lot of time as a kind of only child.  When I had to go out with my parents on shopping trips or to visit their friends, I was always happy as long as I had a book. I wasn’t one of those who started writing early, though.


When you started writing poems as a young adult, were there any poets in particular that you were drawn to (poems/poets as surrogate mentors)?

I said my family were great readers, but that didn’t generally include poetry.  I can remember two main strands that had a hold of me in my teenage years – one was Japanese and Chinese poetry, which I found in the public library, and the other was the poetry I was taught in school – Keats and Shakespeare, mainly.  If we ever read New Zealand poems in the classroom, I don’t remember it – perhaps a bit of Denis Glover, which I didn’t really connect with at that age. But I did have a teacher in the fifth form who later published a book of poems himself – perhaps his enthusiasm was influential, although we also mocked his beard-stroking in the classroom.  My sixth form teacher (Sandra Coney’s sister) encouraged me to enter a school poetry award judged by Lauris Edmond, in which I received a ‘highly commended’.  Later, I read Lauris’s poem ‘The Pear Tree’ in the Listener, and wrote to her asking where I might find a copy of the book (that’s how clueless I was).  She sent me a copy, which I still find quite extraordinary.  Those small moments of encouragement or being taken seriously can be quite disproportionately important early on.


That is so lovely. My intermediate teacher was a poet who ended up in The Big Smoke anthology. They couldn’t trace him so I read his poem. It felt very spooky. He was like a little epiphany. Did university life transform your poetry writing? Discoveries, sidetracks, peers?

Oh, utterly.  I hadn’t really encountered much contemporary poetry before university, so everything came as a revelation, and lectures on poems by Blake, Rilke, Stevens or Curnow or Rich must have taught me something about the intense pressure the best poets bring to bear on language.  I do think everything you take in at that age becomes a kind of compost for your later writing life, so it’s important to take courses that involve direct encounters with great writing. I’m not a great believer in doing an undergraduate degree that consists of nothing but creative writing workshops.  That said, having the peers and encouragement of a writing workshop (I was in the first writing workshop taught by Karl Stead) cemented the idea that poetry was something a person could do.  It took quite some time, nonetheless, before I rediscovered the courage to give it a go after university. Somehow I hadn’t acquired enough belief in my capacity to do it well to keep going at the time, but the idea of writing hung around until it seemed necessary to put up or shut up.

The massive sidetrack of university life was music, but that’s another story.


Are there any theoretical or critical books on poetry that have sustained or shifted your approach to writing a poem?

On the whole, I am challenged, educated and sustained by great poems first, and criticism second. Theory and criticism can help move poetry along when it seems to be getting stuck or stale, but it can also generate flat writing. But I do find it exhilarating to watch a great reader unpack how a particular poem works.  Poems thrive on a mix of conscious and unconscious knowledge and craft, I think.


What poets have mattered to you over the past year? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have affected you as a writer.

Last year was prosaic.  I forbade myself the pleasures of poetry in order to finish researching a book about a poet.  So obedient was I to the ban that I didn’t write a single poem last year, and didn’t read a great deal of poetry either.  It’s a pleasure to be return to reading it in 2016: it’s a great pleasure, for example, to have a new book from Andrew Johnston, and it’s looking like it will be a big year for NZ poetry.


What New Zealand poets have you been drawn to over time? What international poets?

I tend to admire poets and poems that have qualities I lack and envy: humour (James Tate, James Brown), surrealism and strangeness (Charles Simic, Greg O’Brien), or that sense of fundamental human decency that can’t be faked, and that emanates from poets such as Jenny Bornholdt and Rachel Bush.  At various points in the past, Robert Hass, Anne Carson and Alice Oswald have been important to me.  At the moment I am a little more interested in what I can learn from the poets in the generations after mine than those who come before, but Bill Manhire’s ability to leave room in his poems for the reader to roam around in offers a model I continually fall short of. I never quite get to the bottom of what they are doing.


Your poems always make delicious demands on the reader – the ideas borne along finely crafted lines, the well tended gaps, the dazzling sound. What are key things for you when you write a poem?

Listening for and being led by the music of the poem has always been central – to the extent that I now feel as if I may need to break the hold of that aspect of poetry to some degree, because it has begun to feel like my default setting. I started (affectionately) calling some of the poems in this book my ditties and jingles — meaning that they have had unabashed fun with quite strong rhyme or assonance. I don’t necessarily want to acquire the habit, though.  I never went looking for rhymes, but it seems they came looking for me.


You spent 2011 in Menton as the Katherine Mansfield Fellow. Your new collection, Beside Myself, does not re-present physical traces of France to the degree I have spotted in some Mansfield Fellows. However, it does open out to the world, to the way the world is carried in one’s head. What difference did Menton make to your poetry, and to this book in particular?

Well, there is a whole journal of the time in Menton, written in poetry and short bursts of prose, that registers the physical traces experience in quite minute detail, as well as thinking about what I was reading there.  It was my guilty pleasure to begin each day at the writing room – where I was working on the prose book I mentioned earlier – by warming up with some writing in this journal, which threatened to become a kind of pleasurable avoidance strategy, albeit one sanctioned by the terms of the Fellowship, or so I thought.  But really I began it because I wanted to register the specialness of the experience on a granular level, and I knew that it would flee from me in future years if all I did was take photographs of where I was, while writing about elsewhere.  In a way it’s the written equivalent of a photo album.

A number of the poems in Beside Herself are lifted from that journal.  I spent a lot of time in the galleries up and down that coast that are the legacies of the Modernists who lived and painted there: Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Bonnard, Cocteau.  And in some of the galleries in Paris and Rome and Oxford, which I also visited on that trip.  The sequence ‘Museum Pieces’ is a record of encounters with some of the artworks I saw that year.  And the little poem ‘Appreciation’ emerged at the end of my morning walk to the writing room in the Villa Isola Bella, on which I would often listen to podcasts. In this case it was a Poetry Foundation podcast that gave me the opening line of the poem.


In a short review of your book (forthcoming for Fairfax), I suggested reading your new book was like entering a poetry thicket and that I wasn’t quite sure what would emerge from the light and dark. It felt like all manner of characters inhabited these woods. I loved this playfulness. What did character and shifting personae mean to you in these poems?

Persona here has often meant a chance to unleash aspects of personality that don’t see daylight otherwise – a little dash of crazy, a pinch of furious, and a dash of self-loathing on the one hand, and a bit of song and dance and delight on the other.  And then there are a few figures I think of as marionettes, or Punch and Judy figures, larger than life rather than realistic.  I wanted to write poems that avoid the pretence of wisdom.


I love the way you can refresh a well-worn subject, such as you do in ‘Abandoned Hamlet.’ Again character seems crucial. This is such a kaleidoscopic book of people. What kind of characters are you drawn to?

I suppose I have always been interested in monsters.  Also the ‘damaged goods’ of humankind: very early in my writing life I began writing people who could be described as outsiders with redeeming characteristics, or magnificent failures. I don’t know where that comes from. Some of the characters in this new book seem to be irredeemable, though, which may have something to do with a pessimism about human nature that has increased as I’ve got older. Others are more vulnerable beneath the surface.


Language choices are vital, but as I read your characters, empathy is close at hand. What matters in the how of writing them?

My interest is in trying to inhabit and understand rather than judge. The first person is perhaps a more troubling but vivid way of doing this.

For a time when I was in my teens I thought I would like to be an actor, and it’s true that, like many actors, I like to hide in other people’s clothing. I just do my acting on the page. There’s a recent poem by Will Kemp  that expresses this impulse quite neatly.


I especially loved the sequence that features Churl. The detail is sumptuous. He gets under your skin.


Churl remembers every

curse and kick that sent him

on his way to this outskirts hut

where even his damp fire

wants to smoke him out.


from ‘The Book of Churl’


Where did the starting point for this poem come from?

I wanted to write a sequence featuring a single character, like Hughes’s Crow or Berryman’s Henry.  I covet the fierce energy of language and attitude in those sequences, but of course I am no Hughes (and a good thing too), so the character who arrived was a much gentler, if still flawed, anti-hero. The poem’s language world is influenced by the Anglo-Saxon alliterative tradition, which probably goes back to hearing Seamus Heaney reading his translation of Beowulf on the radio in the late 90s and being entranced.  To me the Anglo-Saxon part of the English language is a bit like raw protein – it does the most basic work of being human. (Although readers will find that the poem is not absolutely rigorous about excluding Latinate language, I decided not to fight it if the poem seemed to need it.)

The experience of writing Churl was a bit like what certain fiction writers talk about when they refer to hearing a voice and simply writing it down. I wrote most of it over a period of ten days or so when found I could sit down each morning and simply re-enter the voice world of the poem as if it was there waiting for me to step into it each day. About two-thirds of it flowed out quite easily this way – the final third was harder. I am fond of Churl, who despite his poor manners and outsider status has a rough kind of virtue that I find attractive.  One of my redeemable outsiders.


Indeed. I am fond of this character too. There are so many poems that elevate this collection into something special. I particularly liked the poem that tweaks the title of the book. Here the pronouns are particularly slippery, but the magnetic core is a simmering fusion of revelation and invention.


Step sideways.

Now look back

at whatever’s

left standing

in your shoes.


What looks

is reduced to the size

of a bird’s-eye

chilli, hot and salty


staring back at that bonesack

that functions as yourself.


from ‘Beside Yourself’


Are you cautious about self-exposure as a poet?

If poems emerge, as the American poet Peter Gizzi suggests, from a combination of one’s autobiography and one’s bibliography, then my writing has probably leaned more heavily on the bibliographical. It has been said of my previous work that I am, to a considerable degree, not present in it.

I began writing with a conviction that my life doesn’t make for interesting reading, a position that has both disabling and enabling aspects for a writer, as I have gradually come to realise. I am still a believer in following the demands the poem makes, and I don’t often sit down with a desire to write about something that has happened to me. Writing and revising a poem is an act of listening for the possibilities the language offers, rather than a transcription of pre-existing experience, so fictions arrive fairly quickly.

That being said, ‘Beside Yourself’ (not strictly speaking the title poem, as the pronoun takes a sideways step between one and the other) deliberately entertains the confessional, and sets out to lose some composure, both formally and personally. I also had in mind Jenny Bornholdt’s infinitely calmer and more measured poem ‘Confessional’ and its remark, about the world not having had much time for personal poetry lately, along with my own sense that the first person had become profoundly unfashionable, even embarrassing, in certain quarters of American poetry.

On one hand all writing is, in a sense, autobiographical.  On the other, if a poem does deploy autobiographical information, it had better be in the service of something larger than oneself.  I have a t-shirt from American musical duo The Books with the slogan ‘Freedom from expression’, which is a slogan I march under in life and in the workshop.


Which poem really worked for you?

Aside from Churl, whose creation seems a little bit magical, I am still pleased with ‘Tango with Mute Button’, at least half of which was written in my head while the scene at the gym it describes was actually happening, so that  I had to keep repeating it to myself then run off to write it down asap! It might be the most autobiographical poem in the book. And ‘Spell for a Child to Remember’, which is a kind of verbal antidote to the darker currents of the book.


Leo Bensemann’s drawings fit the book perfectly. What sort of connections do you see between them and your poems?

I was initially drawn to the fierceness of the mask on the cover, which seemed to catch the tone of some of the book.  But when I went back to Peter Simpson’s book about Bensemann, to make a copy of the mask to send to AUP, I realised that some of the other images in the Fantastica series also caught different aspects of the book – the rather combative relationships, the impotent fist-shaking of Churl at the powerful, the broken gallows and hangman’s noose that register the destructive or self-destructive aspects of ego, and the contrasting freshness, self-possession and charm (in the magical sense) of the Little Witch.


I also love the way little (or bigger) lists make their way into your writing. What is the allure of a list?


A list is elaboration

and incantation.

It calls up devils or angels,

constructs clockwork mice or pavlovas.

It can be funny, or furious,

insouciant or obsessive,

and sometimes both

at once. It can underline

or undermine itself.

List lives on


and variation.

The road of excess leads

to the palace of wisdom

except when it leads to A&E.


Tell me about the title. There are so many meanings. It suits the way you step into the poems and then step out of them to tilt everything. There is you, and then there is so much more. There is internal confusion, almost like a little fit, and then there is the holding at bay (alongside) of self.

The title points two ways.  ‘Beside’ in the sense of ‘as well as’ or ‘in addition to’ celebrates the chance to be someone else on the page.  But ‘beside herself’ in the more obvious sense of being out of control, and also conscious of that fact, which can be an almost out-of-body experience.


What irks you in poetry?

Lack of urgency. One question I have heard Fergus Barrowman ask of a poem sums it up: ‘Is your journey really necessary?’ Humourless experimentalism (as opposed to the playful kind, which I often love).


What delights you?

A poem that is like Dr Who’s Tardis – bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside, and likely to take me somewhere both strange and mysteriously familiar.


Some poets argue that there are no rules in poetry and all rules are to be broken. Do you agree? Do you have cardinal rules? Do you have rules you particularly like to break?

I am reminded of something the poet Frederick Seidel said in his Paris Review interview: ‘I like to hear the sound of form, and I like to hear the sound of it breaking.’ For any given rule there’s probably a successful piece of writing that breaks it. But that’s different from saying anything goes and sanctioning lack of control.  It’s handy to try playing by a fair number of the rules at first, to figure out why the ‘rules’ have become the ‘rules’ before you experiment with breaking them. As time goes by, a cardinal rule your poems have lived by might just stop being useful to you for a time.  Compression might come to seem cramped and narrow, expansiveness may become saggy and lacking in energy.  Music might become cage rather than liberation.


Do you find social media an entertaining and useful tool or white noise?



The constant mantra to be a better writer is to write, write, write and read read read. You also need to live! What activities enrich your writing life?

Listening to music and making it, looking at paintings, photographs, modern dance: wordless art forms are the most enviable and the most soothing, but I also get poems out of the Film Festival. Conversations with people who are more psychologically acute, more generous and funnier than I am. Getting out into the natural world as a counterbalance to all that reading.


Finally if you were to be trapped for hours (in a waiting room, on a mountain, inside on a rainy day) what poetry book would you read?

That might be a good moment to fill in a gap in the classics. The list of things I ought to have read will always be too long, but Dante (who I’ve only read in part) would be near the top, despite the fact that I am a bit allergic to traditional religion.  Or the epic of Gilgamesh, or the Icelandic sagas… So much to read, so little time.


Thank you Chris.


Auckland University Press page

My Fairfax review

A Little Poetry Shelf Diary: A weekend at Matahiwi Marae to launch our new Poet Laureate, CK Stead





This weekend friends, family and poets gathered to join CK Stead celebrate his Poet Laureateship and the presentation of the tokotoko. It was a marvelous occasion that will stand in my memory for a long time. The weekend featured two key events. The formal and informal proceedings at Matahiwi Marae on the Saturday morning and a Poets’ Night Out in the evening.

With exemplary dedication to New Zealand poetry, Te Mata Estate’s Peter Buck and poet Bill Manhire established the award twenty years ago. In 2007, The National Library took over the administration, although the Buck family still remain involved, and donates a stipend of wine to the Laureates. Unlike most of the visitors, I got called onto the marae on the Friday evening with Chris Szekely and Peter Ireland from the National Library, and a number of their colleagues, including Oliver Stead and his son Isaac. Peter was the driving force behind detail of the weekend, and Ian Wedde’s moving tribute to him at The Circle of Laureates hit the mark. Thoughtful, attentive, committed to making a celebration fit for a Laureate. His back-up team are pretty special too (Joan, Cellia Joe, Lynette, Jason and Oliver).

Kaumatua Tom Mulligan and other members of the marae welcomed us with much aroha.

Joan, Cellia, Jason and I practiced some waiata back in the whare nui. CJ on ukulele.We crack up when CJ says all her family knows she can’t sing and she just fakes it. We are all fooled and I wonder what I can’t do but could fake and get away with.

On Friday night we hived off to Havelock North (one poet, five librarians) for dinner at Maine where the food was divine. We fell greedily into the comfort of the best hot chips ever and with that salty comfort digging deep into our bones were ready for whatever the weekend delivered. One plate of salmon with the best Niçoise salad and I was ready for a weekend of poetry and celebration.




Saturday morning

I got up early to walk in the near rain and saw a black cat stock still on a fence post eyeballing my lack of sleep. Not budging an inch until a car came down the gravel road and sent the cat sliding down like a snake into the golden corn. I had no idea what it meant. But it glowed with options.


CK Stead was called onto the marae with his whanau (around 20), poets Gregory O’Brien and Chris Price, her partner Robbie Duncan, and other guests. To have such family support felt very special. He is poetry but he is most definitely family. His daughter had travelled from London with her children.

After the formal speeches and the waiata exchanges, the tokotoko was presented to Karl by a kuia. She had such presence. Jacob Scott, who carves the tokotoko for each Poet Laureate said he had wanted to make a tokotoko for a gentleman and a scholar that could be used on a daily basis if needed. He had gained inspiration from Karl’s poem, ‘Scoria.’

Karl responded with a speech that mixed graciousness, humbleness, love. He said he was not only honoured by the role but honoured by the marae: ‘by being here, by your presence, by your aroha.’

Before he read a few poems, Karl talked about place, about the importance of one’s childhood occupation of place, and the way that place becomes one of return. He grew up with three maunga facing him whichever way he turned. He also underlined the primacy of poetry for him since his teenage days and the way he has ‘always come back to poems.’ With much humbleness, he added,’that’s why it is extraordinary at this late stage in my career as a writer to be honoured as Poet Laureate.’

Karl paused in his korero and then said; ‘I am getting advice from the tokotoko. We have to get used to one another.’

At that we all paused.

I am delighted that the Poet-Laureate role honours our elders, our writing taonga. It felt good to be part of the protocol. The talking. The listening. The exchange.


MC-ed by Marty Smith, the informal part of the morning was like a miniature poetry reading. As his invited poets, Chris, Gregory and I read a couple of poems and Chris sang a Bill Manhire song with her partner Robbie. What made this section special were the performances from local secondary students. One student used the analogy of a bird to explore the Poet Laureate’s original function to write poems on dictated subjects. She was keen to let a Laureate fly free! A student played a solo violin piece, one sang a Māori version of ‘Hallelujah,’ while another wrapped up the morning with Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance.’ Wonderful! I pictured us all dancing slow motion with the wind in our hair. Instead the wind whipped the music sheet up and away.

It was a morning of korero, waiata, music and poetry and it felt good to inhale both words and song. Nourishing. We moved to the whare kai where a tremendous lunch of fresh local produce matched the hubbub of conversation. You don’t get to experience many days like this in your lifetime. Such warmth, and connections.


Saturday night

Marty Smith was the MC extraordinaire in a poetry reading of two halves. It’s ages since I have heard Chris and Greg read, but to hear them read in this context was something special with poems handpicked for the Laureate occasion. Greg read a terrific poem now showcased in the selection of Best NZ Poems from 2015, while Chris confirmed that her new book is her best to date (we have an interview in the pipeline!). Three young opera singers from Project Prima Volta wowed us with two arias. The room befitted the occasion: white cloths on tables, astonishing flower/plant arrangements, platters of food, Te Mata wine. Karl started and ended the night and showed very clearly why he is Laureate. He read across his range and his last set gave me goosebumps. The clarity of voice, the poetic strata, the acute detail that makes you want to pick up your pen and write.


Sunday morning

Breakfast and poroporoaki for everyone on the marae. The goodbyes. At breakfast Karl and I talked about the weekend and how we both spent chunks of the night wide awake as though we had to rehearse the next day and analyse the day before. I probably had about two or three hours sleep a night and it seemed like a state of wakefulness that kept me on high alert. What had happened, what was about to happen. I had brought seven books to match most moods (everyone laughed at my big bag of duvet and books) but I only got to read snatches of The Lie Tree. The gap between YA fantasy and the marae was unbridgeable. I got up early and walked my way into wakefulness before Emma Scott, Jacob’s sister, took me out to the river mouth and then coffee at her brother’s house. To see the meeting waters, where river meets ocean, to soak up the gleam of sun on waves and estuary, felt like a poem on the surface of the world. We talked and we looked. Emma is a stone mason. We talked about poetry and we talked about stone. We talked about what holds things together. It matters that we hold up our treasured poets. Give them a place to stand and speak.

There was much korero after breakfast, and song. Chris and Robbie sang a mesmerising Bob Dylan number, almost lullabying me into necessary slumber.

Peter Ireland, running on empty after little sleep, spoke with characteristic thought and thanked everyone personally. It felt like a garland of words to wear out into the world of planes and trains and motorways. Or for me, a place of solitude and bush.

Jacob said it beautifully. He said that the Poet Laureate was significant for the marae. That it spread the hapu’s power and influence. That this is now Karl’s place as well. The undercurrent is that poetry matters. Jacob said it is significant ‘that the Poet Laureate can articulate the thoughts and expressions of who we are. Of what we can do. Of what we have got. And what we could do.’ Like a bird.

We all felt in debt to Tom Mulligan and his drawing together of this poetry clan. With much aroha and generosity of place, stories and a willing ear.

Our heads are full of days we cannot remember, but for many of us, this weekend will not be one of them.

Thank you. Especially Karl, The National Library and Matahiwi Marae.




The performances.


A quick trip into Havelock North to drink the best coffee and eat the best lemon tart in a cafe on the brink of closing for the day. Peter was a very good guide.


The writers, friends and family ate at Pipi Cafe, a cafe renowned for its love of poetry and its excellent pizzas in Havelock North.

Poets’ Night Out





The last morning.

Poetry and the Transit of Venus: a NZ – German collaboration

Transit_of_Venus_cover__39487.1449547472.220.220   Transit_of_Venus_cover__39487.1449547472.220.220

‘Come on, let’s push the inflatable out

on the night’s wide waters, see

how far it goes.’

Chris Price from ‘Venera’


Three German poets came to view the transit of Venus with three New Zealand poets at Uawa/ Tolaga Bay on June 6th 2012.

They observed the black dot. They wrote poems.

In the same year they met in Germany and translated a selection of each other’s poems  before performing together at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Victoria University Press has just published a beautiful edition of the poems, in both English and German, with images, notes and interviews.

The poets:

Hinemoana Baker, Glenn Colquhoun, Chris Price

Uwe Kolbe, Brigitte Oleschinski, Ulrike Almut Sandig


It is as though poetry is the inflatable that six poets pushed out into the ‘night’s wide waters’ of writing; into the passage of the black dot, the thought of Cook’s eye trained all those centuries back, into the little repetitions of stone or buttercup or light.

As you might expect no poem cluster is the same.

Each lift and slip of the inflatable is as much a lift and slip for the reader as it is the writer. A voyage of discovery, in a way.

I especially loved the way the poems took me back to that once-in-a-lifetime experience. How to make poetry of such things?

I was also drawn to the pairings of poets and the way they translated each other’s work.

As the ever enthusiastic Rick Stein says: There should be more of this. What other projects can we invent that bring poets together in such fertile ways?


The poems are simply and intricately addictive. Congratulations and thank you VUP! The book is a little gem.


VUP page


Hinemoana Baker is a Wellington poet, musician and teacher. She is the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence in 2015–16.

Urike Almut Sandig is a Berlin poet who works with various composers and musicians. She has received numerous awards and scholarships, most recently a scholarship from the Berlin Senate.

Glenn Colquhoun is a poet, children’s writer, and GP. In 2014 he represented New Zealand on the Commonwealth Poets United poetry project which celebrated the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Uwe Kolbe is a poet, translator and lecturer who lives in Hamburg. He has received many prizes and awards, most recently the Heinrich Mann Prize from the Academy of the Arts in Berlin, and the Meran Poetry Award.

Brigitte Oleschinski is a Berlin poet, essayist and performer. She received the prestigious Peter-Huchel-Preis in 1998. She is best known for her poetry collections Mental Heat Control (1990), Your Passport is Not Guilty (1997) and Geisterströmung (2004).

Chris Price is a Wellington poet, nonfiction writer, musician and teacher. Her most recent poetry collection is Beside Herself (2016).





On reading Sport 43

Sometimes a literary journal is just the ticket for rainy-day blues, diversion, or the need to put a finger on a literary pulse. Ha! The notion of a literary pulse is where debate ensues. Each finger will be sensitive to different nuances, different implications.  I strongly believe that national anthologies that claim to represent a wide group ( New Zealand, for example) must be challenged if gender, ethnicity, age or geographic-location biases fuel significant blind spots. For decades, women were the blind spot in anthologies and journals, and now, at times it seems there is token representation of  work by Māori, Pasifika and Asian authors. Literary journals, however, are often the bloodline of a place, a niche, a literary disposition, and nearly always reveal the predilections of the editor. Sport comes out of Wellington, and it is to a great degree of Wellington (not in subject matter, but in terms of authors selected). It is a celebration of the writing by both established and emerging writers that have some connection with the city, often through Victoria University or its Press.  I have no problem with this.  I most definitely have no problem with this when the work included catches my attention and sends me in directions both familiar and unfamiliar.

The latest issue worked a treat for my rainy-day blues.

Seven essays are sprinkled through the selection of poetry and fiction, and if this is a new feature, it is a feature I applaud in this climate of idea-sharing in creative and stimulating forms. Long may it continue.

When I first picked up the book, I went straight to Chris Price (out of longing for a new collection perhaps) and immediately did a tweet review. Tucked away at the back of the book, it felt like the best had been saved for last with the playful, audacious flick and flash of words that catch your ear and send you flying to a nursery rhyme or Murphy’s Law or cheeky wit or the subtle twist and let’s-be-serious of the last word, ‘unspoken.’

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 10.14.03 AM

This time I went to an unfamiliar name first, ‘Ruth Upperton,’ and what a discovery. Think I must have yearning for the comfort and absolute pleasure of poetic musicality (why I like the poems of Michele Leggott and Bill Manhire so much). Ruth has appeared in other journals, has just finished a law degree and lives in Palmerston North. Her five poems are different, the one from the other, but are linked by gorgeous rhyming (off, aslant, sliding), infectious repetitions, aural chords, sumptuous words. There is poetry out of sentences and there is poetry out of curiosity. You shift between comfort and strangeness.


from ‘The lonely crow’

Nothing sadder than a lonely river.

Nothing darker than a single crow.

Shiver at the strong’s surrender.

Play a tune on your June piano.


James Brown’s terrific poem, ‘Mercy,’ made me hungry for a new James Brown collection.

Anna Jackson’s three cooking-show poems suggest she is just getting better and better ( I am working my way through Catallus so I can review her new collection soon). I love the way the ingredients (excuse the pun) in these poems shift and flicker from one poem to the next, and in their new baking dishes taste a little different. The sort of poems that evoke a steady engagement at the level of sound and narrative.

Sarah Jane Barnett’s sequence of poems, Addis Ababa,’ caught me by surprise. They take me to an elsewhere, the elsewhere of  displacement, of otherness, of immigrants. The poems step up from everything Sarah has previously written, and then take another step into risk, empathy, inquiry, experience. What a combination.


Rachel Bush’s ‘Long and short,’ is a poem that moved me with its exquisite detail and revelation, a family story (true or false) that catches in the throat. The poetic glue: the baked bread.


So many things accumulate. They weigh us

off balance. We struggle to stay upright,

we lurch and are precarious. Our feet are flat

and sudden. It was easier when we had

a mum and dad. Easily we could blame them

when we were less than we desired.



Still most essays and fiction to read, but started here: Damien Wilkinson’s lecture/essay navigates a subset of the ‘ought’ and ‘ought not’ of narrative: the way it ought/ ought not represent some kind of personal change (character based). Fascinating following the thread of argument. Is this a requisite ingredient in poetry? That poems ought to navigate some kind of change? I raise this because, and I am shifting tack a little here, I am fond of poems that exhibit some kind of movement (and movement may be zen-like and hold change within its sameness and vice-versa). Poetic movement need not be on a grand, spectacular scale. It might be miniature shivers in the poem, sweet little movements that you catch out of the corner of your eye, or a flicker in your ear, or a faint tremble of your heart, or the tug of an idea that is itching to confound, challenge and pull you elsewhere. That is what I felt when I read, ‘She cannot work,’ Ashleigh Young’s foray into fiction. It is what I felt reading this issue of Sport, a catalogue of movements that displaced my state of fatigue.


Sport: miniature shivers in the writing, sweet little movements that you catch out of the corner of your eye, or a flicker in your ear, or a faint tremble of your heart, or the tug of an idea that is itching to confound, challenge and pull you elsewhere.