Tag Archives: David Eggleton

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Ten poems about dreaming

Not many younger poets sent me poems about ice but there were loads of dreaming poems. I have always loved poems that dream because poetry is a close relation with its slants, mists, hallucinations, and deep personal cores. I sometimes think that to dream is to write. To enter the opaque, to reclaim the obvious, to have no idea where you will end up or how you will get there. To astonish yourself.

I am so very grateful to the poets and publishers who have backed my themed poetry season with such loving support.

Ten poems about dreaming

the dream is real

the moon is an open eye

high in the sky or winking

at the world below

the wind is the sea’s breath

rustling the leaves in the trees

night is a dark river

flowing through the day

a bird is a song

the dream is real

clouds are ghosts

flight is a wing

Apirana Taylor

from a canoe in midstream, Canterbury University Press, 2009

Insomnia

it is a black night

I lie perfectly still

mine is the long

awake adult body

two small boys

flickering at either side

night sweats

bad dreams

fluttering in and

out of sheets

I lie black

in between

head

thorax, abdomen

trembling children

my wings

Karlo Mila

from A Well Written Body, Huia Press, 2008

My Father Dreams of His Father

My father dreams of his father

walking in the garden of the old family homestead

on Kawaha Point.

I have not been back since he passed away.

As decrepit dogs wander off under trees

to sniff out their final resting places,

elderly men wait in the wings

rehearsing exit lines.

I’m sure my grandfather never envied his dog more

than during those last days.

I’m sure, given the choice, he would have preferred

to slip away under the magnolias.

The garden is tended by different hands now.

My grandmother still walks by the lake,

her little dog in tow. The current man of the house

is more interested in the chasing of swans

than the cultivating of camellias.

My father dreams of his father

walking in the garden of the old family homestead

on Kawaha Point.

I have not been back since he passed away.

Claudia Jardine

from AUP New Poets 7, ed. Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press, 2020

Sentries

I’m frantically chasing my mother who weaves in and out of the aisles throwing down craft supplies. I trip over scissors and quick unpicks

not seeing her face, only clean ponytail and collar poking out over plum cardigan. We run between shelves of antique vases but lose contact with the linoleum

and float out. In this world we drive couches like cars. I’m picking one up from the junkyard with a blue shag cushion for reference. Bumper stickers are glinting

while the couches lie gridlike. We scramble through the drivers’ seats running fingers through the upholstery. In the winter gardens there are fish tanks

nestled between succulents. One has a tangle of thin eels within it. Boys tap on the home of a solitary neon tetra until it shatters. I hold the fragments together

and try to keep the fish swimming in a handful of glass and water. They put me in the newspaper. I run out to catch you in the ocean, my mother

but you keep dipping under. As I look around I notice, embedded in rock formations are those white plastic fans, not rotating anymore just facing the horizon.

Lily Holloway

originally published at The Spin Off, October, 2020

interventionalist god

in my dream nick cave had a long, thick black mane.

it swung around his hips, kissed

with a bright white streak

snaking its length.

he served noodle soup at the concert

full of moving mushrooms, blooming

into elegant dancing technicolour spores;

tasted like purple.

the show was very red, like the blood

of his falling son. my mother

was falling too,

drunkenly, over crimson seats,

hurting her back and lying down with the room spinning.

pissing off the man in the toupee, and toupee’s wife.

nick drawled, don’t worry,

sung a song sad and it broke us,

spun around inside a steel cage,

spray-painted KINGS on our leather jackets

so we could get into his next stadium show free.

afterwards, we matched up our snails in the foyer.

nick was smoking through tears out back,

about to catch a flight, saying,

i think i’ve met someone with your name,

and it was you already.

Hebe Kearney

Lake Wakatipu

A jade lizard bends in a circle,

chasing its tail;

straightens, and darts for a crevice.

Mist swathes in grey silk the lake:

flat-stomached, calm, slow-pulsed,

a seamless bulk.

Vapours spiral,

pushing up to a cloud-piercer,

where snow has been sprinkled

like powder from a talc can at height.

Grandeur stands muffled.

The Earnslaw headbutts shorewards.

After lying prone for years,

rocks shift downwards

at speed, eager to wheel

through air, crash in a gully,

and not move.

The lake buttons up to dive deep,

leaving a perfectly blank black space,

through which you might fall forever.

David Eggleton

from Edgeland and other poems, Otago University Press, 2018

Daisy

This town is just one great big farm. The main road runs alongside these power poles tilted over green green paddocks, the lines all sagging, the poles on the piss. You hit it at forty k and slug down the main street, past the Strand, the Top Pub, the Nott. Past blue election billboards and wooden fences painted red with Water Gouging and Inheritance Tax. The arterial line is just panel beaters, tractors, pots of pink flowers dripping from shop windows. She says they look like icing. And these cows. There are forty-two of them, all painted up to look cultural. Blue like an old tea cup, pearls and roses dribbling over the rim. One unzipped at the side, with muscle and guts peeking out like baked beans and salmon. One flower power cow, real LSD yellow and orange, like it sorta wandered over from Woodstock and got lost for years and years. Little kids run across the road just to touch them. Name their favourites after their pet cats. Rusty, Mittens, Boots. They’re bolted to the pavement so at night they just haunt the main street, all washed out and hollow. But the worst is that giant one right at the start of town. Two stories high, with black splotches like flames of tar. I have these dreams that the paddocks are on fire and the ground is opening up and all you can hear is mooing. The Mega Cow watching over his herd like some great milky God. The trains rattle past at dawn and wake me up. The cows hardly blink.

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

from Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato Poetry, ed. Vaughan Rapatahana, Self Published, 2019

Tilting

The woman on the bus said

I’ve never been on a bus before

as she lifted her bag

a miniature suitcase

black and shiny as a beetle.

Next time you’ll know what to do

said the driver as he stood on the brakes

pointed to the building on the left and said

The lift’ll take you to The Terrace.

There were no ledges on The Terrace

just buildings tilting and leaning

and the wind to push against.

That night, unpacked and tired

the woman climbed on her black beetle bag

and flew across the harbour

soaring above its flat cool face

staring deep into its mouth

and wondering about earthquakes.

The next morning the bus driver couldn’t shake

the woman from his mind.

As he left the depot

his bus pshishing and grinding through peak hour flow

he checked his mirror

but she wasn’t there

instead he saw the edges of his bus converting

row by row, slice by slice

into a huge loaf of bread.

The aroma filled the aisles

stirring the appetites of even

his sleepiest passengers

and when he neared the end of Lambton Quay

all that was left of the bus, was the crust.

Some like the crust, some don’t, he thought

as he chewed and chomped

until the last crumb fell

into the gutter, into the drain

into the harbour, and out to sea.

What now? he said

peering skywards, catching a glint.

Trish Harris

published under the title ‘Openings’ in New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology 2015/2016

bone / tired

I am tired to my bones

this exhaustion

has wrapped around my ribs

sunk into my jaw

slunk

down

each vertebrae

I take deep slow breaths

each exhale

rattles the cage of ribs

I don’t sleep anymore

I just rattle around the house

the rooms empty of the wakeful

I touch each wall

like a talisman

like an averter of the evil eye

to avert whichever evil

might choose us tonight

I keep vigil

I don’t sleep anymore

rattle the bones

of the sleeping

I am rattled

to my bones

I don’t sleep anymore

the bones of my shoulders

have permanently rolled inward

they hunch

waiting for a fight

for a blow

I have never been in a fight

just in anticipation

of the fight, the flight

there are 27 bones in the human hand

I count them all

in lieu of sleeping

I am tired to my bones

I don’t sleep anymore

Rose Peoples

Pasture and flock

Staring up into the sky my feet

anchor me to the ground so hard

I’m almost drowning, drowning,

in air, my hair falling upwards

around my shoulders, I think I’ll hug

my coat closer. I’m standing

on hundreds of blades of grass, and

still there are so many more

untrodden on. Last night, in bed,

you said, ‘you are the sheet

of linen and I am the threads,’ and

I wanted to know what you meant

but you wouldn’t wake up to tell me

and in the morning you didn’t

remember, and I had forgotten

till now when I think, who is

the blades of grass, who is the pasture?

It is awfully cold, and my coat

smells of something unusual.

It almost seems as if it is the stars

smelling, as if there were

an electrical fault in the sky,

and though it is almost too dark

to see I can see the sheep

moving closer, and the stars

falling. I feel like we are all

going to plunge into the sky

at once, the sheep and I,

and I am the sheep and I am

the flock, and you are the pasture

I fall from, the stars and the sky.

Anna Jackson

from Pasture and Flock: New & Selected Poems, Auckland University Press, 2018

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition, and the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers. Her work has appeared in Starling, Mayhem, Brief, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Turbine, Flash Frontier, Mimicry, Min-a-rets, Sweet Mammalian, Sport and Verge. She is Poetry New Zealand‘s 2021 Featured Poet. She writes thanks to the support of some of the best people on this great watery rock.

David Eggleton is the Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019 – 2022. His most recent book is The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, published by Otago University Press. 

Trish Harris has written two books – a poetry collection My wide white bed and a memoir The Walking Stick Tree. She teaches non-fiction on the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, is co-founder of Crip the Lit and edited their 2019 pocketbook, ‘Here we are, read us: Women, disability and writing’. She says she’s a part-time crane operator…but maybe she’s dreaming?

Lily Holloway has a Teletubby tattoo and is forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8. You can find more of her work here

Anna Jackson lectures at Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington, lives in Island Bay, edits AUP New Poets and has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP 2018). Thoughts on dreaming and on being dreamed about can be found here and here.

Claudia Jardine (she/her) is a poet and musician based in Ōtautahi/Christchurch. In 2020 she published her first chapbook, The Temple of Your Girl, with Auckland University Press in AUP New Poets 7 alongside Rhys Feeney and Ria Masae. Her work has also been published in Starling, Sport, Landfall and Stasis. For the winter of 2021, Jardine will be one of the Arts Four Creative Residents in The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, where she will be working on a collection of poems.

Hebe Kearney is a poet from Christchurch who now calls Auckland her home. Her work has appeared in The Three Lamps, Oscen, Starling, Forest and Bird, a fine line, and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021.

Dr Karlo Mila (MNZM) is a mother, writer, award-winning poet and leadership programme director. Of Tongan and Pākehā descent, her creative and professional career has focused upon Pasifika peoples in Aotearoa. Her book Dream Fish Floating won the best first book of poetry in the NZ literary awards in 2005. Karlo lives in Tāmaki Makaurau with her three sons. Her third poetry book Goddess Muscle was published by Huia in 2020.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.


Apirana Taylor, Ngati Porou, Te Whanau a Apanui, Ngati Ruanui, Te Ati Awa, is a nationally and internationally published poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, actor, painter and musician. He has been Writer in Residence at Canterbury and Massey Universities. He frequently tours nationally and internationally visiting schools, tertiary institutions and prisons reading his poetry, storytelling and taking creative writing workshops. He has written six collections of poetry, a book of plays, three collections of short stories, and two novels. His work has been included in many national and international anthologies.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Best NZ Poems 2020 goes live

Poet Laureate David Eggleton has edited the latest edition of Best NZ Poems 2020. He concludes his introduction with these words:

I hope you will enjoy reading these poems as much I have on my year-long odyssey for which I didn’t have to leave home. I’m glad to have had the privilege of the journey and its discoveries. Discoveries rather than judgements because poems are essentially playful and deeply wilful and a law unto themselves and won’t be judged. As the American poet Archibald MacLeish put it in his brilliant formulation about the art of poetry: ‘A poem should not mean/ But be.’

I had already read most of the poems – but I loved revisiting them. Poems are like albums; you can put them on replay and they just get better.

Go here for poems, introduction and audios.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Poet Laureate David Eggleton picks two Peter Olds poems

The sky turned black as night,
sirens wailed, streetlights blinked
at stalled streets, the air streaked
like some New York modern painting:
Surreal, unreal, leaving high tide
marks of ice in the doorways of
mid-town shops

from ‘Hail & Water ‘ by Peter Olds

Two terrific poems by Peter Olds on The Poet Laureate site

Poetry Shelf Lounge: Kay McKenzie Cooke and Jenny Powell celebrate David Eggleton’s Poet Laureate Weekend at Matahiwi marae

David Eggleton at Matahiwi Marae (photo Lynette Shum)

Last weekend David Eggleton celebrated his New Zealand Poet Laureateship at Matahiwi marae accompanied by Charles Ropitini, whanau, friends, National Library staff (including the Library’s empathetic Laureate champion Peter Ireland) and poets (Jenny Powell, Kay McKenzie Cooke and Michael O’Leary). David was presented his tokotoko carved by Haumoana carver Jacob Scott. On the Saturday evening Marty Smith hosted Poets Night Out at the Hasting Events and Arts Centre, Toitoi.

The National Library also announced that due to the restrictions Covid has placed upon David’s Poet Laureate plans his term would be extended for another year. David has gifted Aotearoa a richness of poetry in printed form, but his appearances as a performance poet are legendary, inspirational, charismatic. He is appearing at the Christchurch Word Festival late October and will now be able to bring his poetry to the people over the next two years, as was his aim. Wonderful!

Two of David’s guest poets – Kay McKenzie Cooke and Jenny Powell – share their experience of this special weekend.

Jenny Powell and Kay McKenzie Cooke

David’s tokotoko is called Te Kore, meaning ‘the void’. The dark maire has a natural hole near the upper end. When he received it his body straightened, as if a spiritual and physical source of creativity became one.


Like the tangata whenua of Matahiwi marae, the tokotoko radiates what is needed. I held it on the way to the evening poetry reading in Hastings and again on the way home. Did it matter? Yes.


The void. The beginning, the creation, the end. Here it was, playing out in a bend of time and words. In the before of my ton weight suitcase, organisational order, waiata to practise, transport logistics, food and food. In the then. Matahiwi marae in its glory of green bounty, Māui hooking us into his welcome, kuia hooking us into love. River flow of oratory, Poems of the south, of love, of colour, of rapid fire Eggleton resonance and the moon beaming in story and song.


In the leaving, small children bound on fields, frail elders offer blessings, words spiral, tears flower. In the meeting house, enduring peace of the deep void.

Jenny Powell

Matahiwi marae (photo Katrina Hatherly)

After Being Introduced

Naturally, there are many other memories but maybe I particularly remember David’s grin, Fieke’s calmness, Jenny’s silver boots, Peter’s careful attention, the humour and innate sense of arrangement from the National library trio (Joan, Lynette and Katrina) and Michael’s Fleetwood Mac black hat and white t-shirt emblazoned with the words: A Hard Day’s Night.

~*~

Friday:

Michael, Jenny and I practice our waiata for David. E Tu Kahikatea. We sing it out in a patch of sun cut to the shape of a motel’s open door. We are kind of happy with how it sounds. Jenny’s top notes, my more middling muddle, Michael’s lower notes verging on bass, all blending to invoke a tree standing braced for whatever will come at it, bolstered by those who stand close to protect and the togetherness of all this conjured up in the final lines.

~*~

Our first chance to meet the National Library trio: Lynette, Joan and Katrina, is at tonight’s dinner. They exude friendliness, kindness, humour, order and care – and that’s just on the first take. There’s room for even more to surface as the weekend unfolds. (Such as the Joni incident – but I am jumping ahead of myself and anyway, it’s probably one of those you-had-to-be-there episodes.)

~*~

Saturday:

Jenny and I are on the hunt for breakfast early and surprisingly enough for us, we manage not to get lost. Go us! As we look out from our outside table onto Havelock North’s shiny newness, including a fountain and locals setting up stalls for a market on clean concrete, a brittle breeze reminiscent of Ōtepoti’s nor’easterly, licks at our ankles.

~*~

Outside the Matahiwi marae gates, that same cold breeze niggles at our backs and shoulders. Charles our te reo-speaking representative, tells us the moon is in a benevolent phase – all augurs well – and points out the maunga, the mountains, in the distance. He names them and tells us the meaning of the name – which, sadly, I promptly forget. However, I do notice that after being introduced, the mountains appear to draw a little nearer.

~*~

More people arrive to join the waiting group. David’s no-fuss whanau flock quietly together. And then the pōwhiri begins, a karanga calling us to proceed in safety. Wings of grief beat in my chest like something fighting waves of memory.

~*~

We are welcomed with kōrero, karakia, by tīpuna, voice, mountain, awa, spirit, wairua, with love, aroha. Charles responds with an operatic kōrero sung on our behalf in te reo, laced with waiata that soars and rolls in an awa of pride. We line up to elbow-hongi, covid-style. A kuia at the end of the line grabs each of us into a hug.

~*~

The unwrapping of the tokotoko begins with a blessing by Jacob, then revealed and handed to David by the carver. Made of maire, it is tall and straight, yet shapely. It is black with a small sweep, or wave, of brown. Pango and parauri. Somewhere, silver glints. The carver tells us it speaks of Māui and his brothers, of boldness and spirit. Of stirring, mischief-making, mixing things up and pitting against. It has weight. Mana. David tests its strength by thumping the ground with it. He appears satisfied. He smiles.

It is time for Michael, Jenny and me to sing our waiata. Unfortunately, all of the previous day’s blend and timing takes flight leaving only the unpolished, rough side of the päua, shy of colour and magic. It’s a pretty rough delivery. No matter. It’s done. The tree still stands. It takes more than that to fell a kahikatea.

David’s son does a far better job, calmly, confidently singing a self-composed song that soothes, charms and rocks like a waka launched on to slowly moving water.

~*~

Saturday night, David, Michael, Jenny and I make poetry the winner at Poets Night Out at the Hastings Events and Arts Centre, Toitoi, in all its glory and glamour; sumptuous flower displays, laser beams creating a dancing landscape on ceiling and walls. The event is bookended by two beautiful young singers and linking it all, Marty in shimmering gold jacket delivering her diamante introductions.

~*~

Sunday:

Mōrena. Back at the Matahiwi marae, we are hugged. Fed. Allowed into more stories. Humour sparks. We are told a little more of the coming into being of David’s Poet Laureate tokotoko; its name, Te Kore; its character, its insistence not to be firewood, but instead a walking, talking stick with fire to fill any void in its belly.

~*~

As we make our reluctant farewells, a kuia gifts Jenny and myself quiet words of encouragement to take back home to Ōtepoti with us. She loves our poetry. She may write some herself now. She particularly loves the way Jenny speaks her poems. I feel there is more she wants to say. Deeper things. But there is no time left.

~*~

More farewells outside the marae as we get into cars. Some of the good-byes are to people we will see again. Others, maybe not. As the car I am in moves away, I notice the maunga, the mountains, have moved. I watch as they fade back into the distance.

~*~

Jenny Powell has published seven individual and two collaborative collections of poems. She is part of the touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling. Jenny is currently in the Wairarapa as the RAK Mason Writing Fellow.

Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection, titled Upturned, was published by The Cuba Press, mid-2020. At present she is far too busy to write. A predicament she hopes will not be permanent.

David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based writer, critic and poet. His first collection of poems, ‘South Pacific Sunrise’, was co-winner of the PEN Best First Book of Poetry Award in 1987. His seventh collection of poems, ‘The Conch Trumpet’, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. He received the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Poetry in 2016. His most recent collection of poetry is Edgeland and Other Poems, with artwork by James Robinson, published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate.

The New Zealand Poet Laureate Blog

Piece by Peter Ireland on NZ Poet Laureate site

Photos by Joan McCracken, Katrina Hatherly and Lynette Shum from the National Library and Jenny Powell and Kay McKenzie Cooke

Poetry Shelf Lounge: A National Poetry Day gathering

Kia ora poets and poetry fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG-8587.JPG

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

Amy Brown reads two poems with the help of Robin

Amy Brown reads the two poems without help

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

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

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

You can listen to Bill read here

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

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

Cart+&+Horse.JPG

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 poets on their own poems: David Eggleton reads and responds to ‘Heraldry’

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Eggleton reads ‘Heraldry’ from Time of the Icebergs (Otago University Press 2011). This poetry performance video was recorded live by musician and film-maker Richard C. Wallis on July 10, 2020 in Waikouaiti, Otago.

 

 

A Note on ‘Heraldry’

In the 1940s, while living in New Zealand, the novelist wrote of yesterday’s newspapers flapping like hooked flounder in the gutters — as if alive, but grotesque and surreal. That’s one starting point  for this poem, the days when the heraldry of the printed newspaper brought messages and proclamations to the towns and farms. My poem “Heraldry’ is a kind of bricolage, assembling assorted emblems and badges of contemporary nationhood into patterns that might be hyperbolic headlines or vatic pronouncements.

In the 1960s, the North Shore poet Kendrick Smithyman characterised poetry as ‘ a way of saying’, meaning that poetry is stylised utterance, a tranced vocalising first and foremost. And so the herald, like a town crier, or street corner preacher, or any stand and deliver  blowhard really, has an aspect of the orating poet.

As the poet in this video, I take my authority from its chanted measure, its off-beat rhymes, its curious images. Voicing this poem, I am the hoarse whisperer of poetic observations caught in bright sunlight, an almost transparent medium, and fluttering like a drab moth in pursuit of some elusive scent. Like a no-budget imitation version of an urbane David Attenborough or a gesticulating David Bellamy, David Eggleton delivers his dramatic monologue to camera while advancing through a mock-wilderness of vegetation and trying not to slip down any conjured-up rabbit hole: ‘Not I, but some child born in a marvellous year will learn the trick of standing upright here.’

I am deep in the cactus and prowling down the side of a house in rural North Otago, all the while orating as if I have indeed found rich pickings in the discarded totems and tokens of Kiwiana, while distant bird song burbles its native wood-notes wild and a chainsaw revs up.

This poem appeared in my collection Time of the Icebergs (Otago University Press 2011), and has also featured as a Phantom Billstickers Poster Poem.

 

David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based writer, critic and poet. His most recent collection of poetry is Edgeland and Other Poems, with artwork by James Robinson, published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf poem festival: Trees

 

 

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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.

 

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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

 

 

Trees

 

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)

 

 

13

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 archives: an interview with our new Poet Laureate David Eggleton

To celebrate the announcement of our new Poet Laureate, David Eggleton, I have scoured the Poetry Shelf archives and rediscovered this interview. I welcome David as Poet Laureate: he is a charismatic poet and performer, and a longtime ambassador for poetry in Aotearoa. It is good to have a Dunedin-based Laureate.

I posted this interview in 2015 on the publication of The Conch Shell (OUP). Since then The Conch Trumpet won the Poetry Award at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. He has held the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer’s Residency at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry (2016) and published edgeland and other poems (OUP, 2018).

 

An interview with David Egggleton

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 8.50.28 AM.pngPhoto credit: F. J. Neuman

 

David Eggleton is a poet, reviewer and non fiction writer. His books include: Here on Earth: the Landscape in New Zealand Literature, (Craig Potton Publishing, 1999); Seasons: Four Essays on the New Zealand Year, (Craig Potton Publishing, 2001); Ready to Fly: the Story of New Zealand Rock Music, (Craig Potton Publishing, 2003); Into the Light: a History of New Zealand Photography, (Craig Potton Publishing, 2006); and Towards Aotearoa: A Short History of Twentieth Century New Zealand Art (Reed/Raupo, 2008). His poetry collections include: Rhyming Planet, (Steele Roberts, 2001); Fast Talker, (Auckland University Press, 2006); Time of the Icebergs, (Otago University Press, 2010); and The Conch Trumpet (Otago University Press, 2015). He is the current Editor of Landfall  and of Landfall Review Online (now Emma Neale). He lives in Dunedin.

To celebrate the arrival of his new poetry collection, The Conch Shell, David kindly agreed to answer some questions for Poetry Shelf.

 

‘Stone clacks on stone

so creek lizards slither,

runnels slip through claws,

each cloud’s a silver feather.’

from ‘Raukura’ in The Conch Trumpet

 

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?

I had very little to do with books as a child, apart from prolonged weekly exposure to the King James Bible. However, it was a rich, sensual and even privileged environment, with wide exposure to a variety of cultures and a strong sense of the carnivalesque about everyday life. My father at that time was a soldier ant, when the last Pacific colonies were gaining independence, and then there were my mother’s ancestral voices and her extended family. This idyll was abruptly terminated when our family relocated permanently from Fiji to New Zealand. It was a bit like the post-Edenic Fall, though gradually I became aware of a different kind of richness, including eventually the world of the library.

In early adolescence my options veered between seminary school and reform school, though neither eventuated. I began to understand that truth, social truth at least, is not absolute but institutional and class-bound, and you need a ticket to get in — but if you are a poet you can construct your own truth. ‘I am the shadows my words cast’, as Octavio Paz wrote.

My early literary influences, besides the Bible, included Phantom comics, church music, gospel choirs and listening to pop music on the radio: an auditory riot. The Bible contained fascinating and troubling verses: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe…’

Meantime, living in South Auckland there were not the quiescent, somnolent afternoons of lawn tennis such as you might have found in the leafy avenues of the inner suburbs, but rather the lingering smell of tanneries and abattoirs — offal being boiled down at the freezing works, corned beef being cooked for shipment to the Islands. This became partly associated in my mind with the lives of saints and martyrs I had already spent time reading about: believers being boiled in oil by non-believers, and so forth. There was also much bellowing in the streets and the roar of motorcycles.

 

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 got interested in writing at high school, my first published efforts appearing in the Aorere College literary magazine. Around the same time, I was discovering Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, Gunter Grass — some of these were on the school curriculum.

Then I got immersed in the American Beats and their ‘action writing’: Go! Howl! On the Road! I heeded the call; I dropped out of school and tried to get a job on a cargo ship. I wasn’t taken on, so I got a job in a South Auckland carpet warehouse instead. Kerouac’s road novels were a word-spattered canvas wide as America and seemed related to the Ab-Ex canvases of the artist Jackson Pollock, whose paintings I also got interested in.

Energised, I sought to emulate the yackety-yak spoken word rhythms of Jack Kerouac, the biting wisecracks of William Burroughs and the vatic yawp of Allen Ginsberg in my own screeds of verse. And then there was the one-man typographical liberation front of e.e. cummings: ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town and down they forgot as up they grew…’

I was pretty much unaware of New Zealand writing, apart from the plummy-voiced Bruce Mason, who had visited our school out in the sticks with his one-man theatrical show.

 

I remember when you were awarded London Time Out’s Street Entertainer of the Year in 1985. From that time you have gained a solid reputation as a performance poet. Do you still see yourself as a performance poet? Did the award alter the path of poet for you at all?

Well, 1985 was New Zealand’s special moment in the sun, with David Lange roaming the globe as a kind of No Nukes! ambassador, and Keri Hulme winning the Booker Prize. There was a big travelling Maori art exhibition, plus the Rainbow Warrior bombing, the Flying Nun catalogue. All that kind of created a climate where things New Zild were of interest in the UK, and I was able to get on and stay on the cabaret circuit at the time.

Performance for me became a poetry vehicle and there was a national consciousness locally it tapped into: grass roots, flax roots, ground up, underground, public assemblies to hear, watch, attend to, what poets and other performers were saying — and maybe have all this on at a variety night down at the community hall.

Things have changed, become more sophisticated, more ironic, more knowing. Perhaps there is less of a communal thing now and more of a tightly-organised, clearly-defined niche market, maybe even a gentrification of poetry scenes — where the confessional genre and the misery memoir have top billing, everyone competing to prove that they have the tiniest violin in the world and they know how to play it. I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the Dadaist nature of the wilder poetry performance. The novelist Henry James said about a poetry reading by Robert Browning that, if the audience didn’t understand his poems he seemed to understand them even less: ‘He reads them as if he hated them and would like to bite them to pieces.’ That sounds like my kind of event.

 

I love the way your poems absorb and replay the world in a dazzling eruption of detail, hallucinogenic at times. It is like standing in the street or bush just after it has rained. Luminous. Invigorating. Yet as much as each poem is an aural feast, there is an engagement with the world on multiple levels. What are key things for you when you write a poem?

Incantation, cadence, rhythm, pacing, matter more to me than formal metre stress and scansion. I like overgrown gardens and rainforest: that which is lush. I like absurdity and contradiction as closer to real experience rendered more accurately. In poetry, arguably, lexical meaning is less important than rhythm and emotionally-charged sound, which have their own echo-chamber allusiveness.

All that said, I also like psychedelic dream-fever imagery, and teasing evocations of mythical ancestors and invented traditions: invented traditions which engage with canonical poems, the poems which begin, as Yeats put it, in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart, but then become marble, monumental.

Poems are generated in many different ways, of course. Sometimes a poem might begin as a psychotherapeutic notion, as automatic writing, where as long as you keep writing you eventually find the solution to whatever it is that ails you, psychosomatically or existentially. Other poems may be less fluent; instead they are painstakingly assembled, built up like a movie in an editing suite from many separate images in order to create a mood, an atmosphere, a climate.

What one does not want is what Yeats (again!) described as ‘the stale odour of spilt poetry’: we want the fresh bouquet of wild flowers — or of hothouse blooms transfigured. Poetry remains in the service of the subversive. That’s its power. The magical thinking of the ancient gods has been replaced by a future of junk science, which explains that emotions are only neuropeptides attaching to receptors and stimulating an electrical charge on neurons. Easy-peasy. How might a poet extract a poem from this revised reality? That’s the challenge.

 

Do you see yourself as a political poet? Overtly so or in more subtle ways?

Poetry is politics by other means; anthologies prove this. But I think what you are getting at is the idea of poets on the barricades leading the revolution. OK, the revolution may not be televised, as Gil Scott-Heron prophesied in his debut album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox back in the 1970s, but these days it’s corporatised and monetised. As Arundhati Roy has pointed out, in the era of the free market, ‘free speech’ has become a valuable commodity, too valuable to be wasted on the underclass. Poetry must find ways to remain anarchic, not for sale. As the Zen poem has it: ‘Sitting quietly doing nothing/ Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.’

My favourite poets include the Nightingale and the Skylark: Keats and Shelley — not yet Pixar characters — and Shelley undoubtedly was a revolutionary bard who believed that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Likewise, William Blake was a revolutionary, but he wasn’t arrested and beheaded because they considered him mad. Nowadays we consider him a visionary.

I am inspired by the poetry of witness: that of Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetaeva, Georg Trakl, John Clare, Pablo Neruda. These poets spoke truth to power and sometimes paid with their lives.

New Zealand is a relatively lucky country, but it also means, I think, that we have an obligation to speak out against injustice, though not necessarily through simple polemics. Poetry, said Auden, makes nothing happen — well, many poets would disagree. Poetry can help generate social earthquakes — or be part of them in subtle ways. Globalisation is all subtle interconnections.

One poem in my new book was inspired by the sight of a superyacht belonging to a Russian oligarch in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin, an impressive white vessel designed by Philippe Starck. I stayed on the wharf for a while, and revisited, watching the comings and goings on this superyacht, and then researched the background — or rather added to what I already knew. That’s the starting point for a poem, which is not so much about Putin’s Russia as about the approved neo-liberal narratives of today and the warped truths which seem to accompany unbridled power. Yet nothing is spelt out — the reader must surmise, or suspect.

Pablo Neruda said that a poem is a net, and in a net it’s not just the strings that count but also the air, or the ocean, that escapes through them. To which I might add about my poem that while ‘knowledge’ is steady and cumulative and a satisfying form of story-telling, ‘information’ is random and miscellaneous and frustrating. My poetry sometime plays around with these twinned perceptions. For, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: ‘the poet knows he speaks adequately only when he speaks somewhat wildly, not with the intellect alone, but with the intellect inebriated by nectar.’

The fact is that the black rain of tragic images is unending. The poet must put out his bucket and collect enough, and then endeavour to make sense of them; find a way to transform the surplus into poetry. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry said Auden of Yeats, rather contradicting his other statement that poetry makes nothing happen. The ambitious poet is a voyant, a seer still, despite the scoffers, disdainful of rolling up their sleeves, spitting on their hands and going to work. Delmore Schwarz was right: in dreams begin responsibilities.

From the frantic antics of the nuclear meltdown to the shirtfronting of the financial meltdown, there’s plenty happening politically that cries out for poems. Then, too, as New Zealanders we need to constantly catechise our past in poetry so as to attest to our grasp of identity. Because this collective past, the stuff of song, ballad and pontificating political speech, is only approximately remembered, or else only partly told. Different people will tell, for example, the story of the Treaty of Waitangi in skewed fashion, laying emphasis on different details, and carry this away as poetic myth. The poet of conscience searches out social stigmas, personal stigmas, linguistic stigmas — the difficult subjects — and finds new ways to address them.

 

Do you think we have a history of thinking and writing about the process of poetry? Any examples that sparked you? Have you done this?

Yes, of course we have a tradition of thinking about what poetry is. Manifestos, prefaces, books and essays by Allen Curnow, A.R.D. Fairburn, Alan Brunton, Riemke Ensing, Kendrick Smithyman, Ian Wedde, Bill Manhire, Murray Edmond, C.K. Stead and Robert Sullivan are amongst those I value most. A writer is a descendent of other writers. I’ve written a lot in response to reading other poets; that is, to specific instances, but not manifestos or generalising, barrow-pushing commentaries.

New Zealand has its own quirky bicultural literary history. There’s also a strong puritanical tradition, nowhere so pronounced, I think, as in the repressed verses of Charles Brasch. He reminds me of what Anthony Burgess once said about himself: that he was so much of a puritan that he couldn’t describe a kiss without blushing. That said, there’s a value in circumspection, in euphemism, in artful disguise: telling by other means.

Actually, I think that all the theorising stacks up to mere post-rationalisation, to temperaments attempting to influence posterity, whereas, as John Steinbeck put it: ‘Time is the only critic without ambition’. Instead, I would argue that we learn most by example — the example of careful noticers, and for me one of the influential is Katherine Mansfield, still one of our best, perhaps our best, echo-locators: ‘All that day the heat was terrible. The wind blew close to the ground, it rooted among the tussock grass, slithered along the road, so that the white pumice dust swirled in our faces.’ So much menace, so close to home.

 

What poets have mattered to you over the past year? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have been crucial in your development as a writer.

It would take a book to answer this question adequately. I’ve read the work of around 1000 poets over the past year, and all of them mattered at the time of reading. To read a poem properly is to engage with it, alertly. Listing names and poems that grabbed me would be counter-productive, because each would require an explanation of the encounter: what the sense and what the sensibility? Deconstruction at warp speed cannot happen in this format.

 

What New Zealand poets are you drawn to now?

Currently my favourite New Zealand poet, in the terms of the poet I am thinking most about, is Robin Hyde, followed by Ursula Bethell and A.R.D. Fairburn. So many clues, or soundings, to where we are now lie in the inter-war years. Other than that, I pretty much read everybody.

 

Do you think your writing has changed over time?

My own feelings about this are, necessarily, extremely subjective, but I would advance a cautious perhaps. According to Heraclitus, everything flows and all movement is history. William Blake said that without contraries there is no progression. In short: change is the only constant in life; one writes not as one was, but as one is.

Certainly the cultural climate has changed, and my corporeal self has changed. The typical New Zealand afternoon of the recent past had all the excitement of a damp tea towel and all the urgency of a dripping tea urn, with somewhere the smell of scones burning. Somehow this no longer seems applicable. Along with Denis Glover though, I do not dream of Sussex downs or quaint old English towns — I think of what may yet be seen in Johnsonville and Geraldine.

 

You write in a variety of genres (poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, critical writing). Do they seep into each other? Does one have a particular grip on you as a writer?

All of my writing is really just personal essays by other means — that is, if you consider the personal essay a form of self-correction, a form of self-contestation, an interior monologue conducted in solitude in preparation for being presented in public. Otherwise, the prescriptions of each genre apply, distinctly.

However, in my view, literature is or should be a site of struggle, no matter what the genre. Each mode is always inherently in a state of primal conflict about purpose and meaning. Otherwise it is moribund, mere cliché-recycling.

There are elements of hybridity, the mongrel, in my writing. The mixed bag, the medley, the odd job lot, the tall order; that’s what I’ve ended up doing. To pluck out just one continuity: I have an overarching interest in the iconoclastic — how might we tear all these false idols down. And aren’t they all false anyway? So there you go; we’re always casting about for the new, the next, supreme fiction.

 

 

The detail you collect makes place so vital — and that place emerging is particular, local, recognisable. For me, the poems transcend poetic exercise or form as they establish contact with what it might or might not mean to be human. These poems tick with humanity. Is a sense of home an important factor as you write? Or connections with humanity?

The Rumanian philosopher E.M. Cioran wrote that you don’t inhabit a country, you inhabit a language, and as Caribbean poet Derek Walcott pointed out, when you inhabit a language you enter into a relationship with its imperial width. A language is not a place of contemplative retreat or escape; it’s a site of struggle. Struggle for control, or, to use Kendrick Smithyman’s formulation, ‘a way of saying’. So, it starts with the language, which works on homegrown imagery. As Ian Wedde once neatly put it, my poetry is preoccupied with ‘growth into location’. Not just that, but this regionalism reflects the society’s obsession with where it is: Anne French’s one big waka, Robert Sullivan’s hundred small waka.

This, in a way, is ‘small country syndrome’ and Dylan Thomas wrote something eloquently pertinent to this sense of us against the world in a letter to his wife: ‘the world is unbalanced unless, in the very centre of it, we little mutts stand together all the time in a hairy, golden, more-or-less unintelligible haze of daftness.’

By not living in exile, by living here, the whole past stays in the pulsating present. Wherever I turn, I see reminders of things past, of ghost trails, phantoms. As I write this, autumn rains are bashing at the windows in silver-grey lights as the furthermost fringe of Cyclone Pam brushes past. That’s what being here means to me. That and folk memories: cow cockies used to tighten Number 8 wire with a strainer until it literally sang when it was flicked. Now whole rugby stadiums hum that same tune.

This is a land of miraculous icons, a poet’s task is to discover and celebrate them before the local version of the Taliban, often in the form of a property developer, moves in and breaks them up.

 

What irks you in poetry?

I’m not sure that any poem irks me. Rather, the challenge is: what is the poet doing? Has it been achieved? Sometimes poems feel hollow, or are expressed in sentiments that have a breathy earnestness, yet you know that they know that you know they haven’t got there and earned it. Kate Clanchy wrote recently in the UK Poetry Review about a new collection of poems by Ruth Padel that some poems took your assent, your acquiescence, for granted because these were poems about ‘the Holocaust’. In fact, poems should take nothing for granted but must make their case through genuinely felt details, line by scrupulous line, even when about a supposedly sacrosanct subject. Even when a poem’s a failure, it remains interesting, through falling short.

 

What delights you?

The achievement, the mastery of the thing. Or else it falls away sharply to hit the ground with a thump. That said, value judgements are complex things, governed by notions of taste, knowledge of context, histories of contestation. A poem that appears to fly high to you — an ode to the west wind, a hymn at heaven’s gate — may not seem that way to another reader or listener.

 

Name three NZ poetry books that you have loved.

Just quickly. Runes (1977), by James K. Baxter. He was, at one time, both my spice paladin and my herb goblin. No Ordinary Sun (1977), by Hone Tuwhare. He could use his diaphragm like a sounding board, a sea chest. Inside Us the Dead (1976), by Albert Wendt. I was delighted by his witty reportage in the immediate post-colonial moment in the newly emergent Pasifika.

 

I love the title of your new collection (The Conch Shell). The blurb suggests that this collection ‘calls to the scattered tribes of contemporary New Zealand.’ What tribes do you belong to? What literary tribes? How does the word ‘contemporary’ modify things?

Yes, I’m blowing my own (conch) trumpet at sunrise. That title refers to tide-lines of life, to surf-like sounds, to gathering good vibrations, to gods of the sea who, clarion-like, lull the waves, and to the summer of shakes, the year of quakes. And so on, to the final burnout of the run-ragged consumer. The rest is the tribal outcast, and everything you cannot pin down, or ascribe a bar code to.

In fact, the word ‘tribe’ is fraught. I think James K. Baxter brought it into the literary realm. My own tribal background is distinctly heterogeneous rather than Fonterra-homogenous, but if I look around at my contemporaries, poets and otherwise, I see most of them making it up as they go along. A poem tests a proposition; it doesn’t always prove it.

 

These new poems offer shifting tones, preoccupations, rhythms. What discoveries did you make about poetry as you wrote? The world? Interior or external?

My poems like to dwell on the silver wake of a container ship, or the wet sand beneath the upturned hull of a dinghy, or the half-seen, the overheard. Poets re-arrange, but they have duties of care. X.J. Kennedy has pointed out that: ‘The world is full of poets with languid wrenches who don’t bother to take the last six turns on their bolts.’

It’s been five years since my last poetry collection Time of the Icebergs appeared, and one reason my collections have been regularly spaced that far apart is the need for more elbow-grease and line-tightening to get the burnish just so.

The poet’s mind, like anyone else’s is made up of reptilian substrate, limbic empathy and neo-cortical rationality. These shape your reveries and hopefully together lift them out of banality. Our ideas are dreams, styles, superstitions. We rationalise our temperaments, draw curtains over our windows, but poems carry an anarchic charge that reveals the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.

A poet is in the business of the unsayable being said, showing you fear in a handful of dust. A poet is amanuensis to the subconscious ceaselessly murmuring, and indeed to the planetary hum, the gravitational pull of the earth, the wobble of placental jellyfish in the womb — anything alive, mindless and gooey.

 

Is there a single poem or two in the collection that particularly resonates with you?

Every poem resonates on its own wavelength, but I found constructing an immediate elegiac response to my father’s death one of the most turbulent. A bit like getting to grips with a storm, with a howling wind that has shape and substance.

 

Returning to the notion of detail, I see the accumulation of things in your poems as an overlay of highways to elsewhere whether heart, issues, ideas, fancy, memory. Yet the things also pulsate as things in their own right. What draws you to ‘the thisness of things’ (the blurb)?

Things accumulate in my poems in almost haptic fashion, wrestled there like sculptural ingredients. They accumulate, as in the random haphazard assemblages of the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, built out of found objects in the streets. Yes, I want to acknowledge the ‘thisness’ of things, but not in the sense of ‘property’. Rather, in the sense of: he who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise.

 

Is doubt a key part of the writing process along with an elusive horizon of where you are satisfied with a poem?

I can’t get no satisfaction. Actually, poets need to be their own sophisticated antagonists. After all, why write? There’s always a struggle going on between self-revelation and self-concealment. Poetry is a kind of verbal tic; it runs in parallel with consciousness. To be conscious and verbal are vital signs, as Les Murray has pointed out. Then comes the self-questioning: are these fifty poems, fifty varieties of same-same? Is this what the thunder truly said? Is this poem really language dancing, and is it top of the poppermost — that is, is it the best you can do? All this nervous self-doubt surrounds the birth of a successful poem, I think.

 

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?

Much time is taken up by arts-related stuff: gallery-going, movie-going, theatre-going, concert-going, poetry recitals, beer-sampling, weekend dabbling in arty-crafty matters. And then also I like to get out and about in the landscape: tramping through national parks, exploring West Coast walkways, cycling around Waiheke Island, or across the Mackenzie Country, climbing the lower slopes of the Southern Alps, and on and on. Typical Kiwi pastimes that keep one modestly prepared for the long sedentary hours ahead.

 

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?

Poets are actually not their own creatures. They imitate their forebears. In her diaries, Susan Sontag wrote: ‘Poetry must be exact, intense, concrete, significant, honed, complex.’ She wrote this sentence as a high Modernist priestess when that kind of poetic faith was at its apogee, nevertheless I’d go along with that as an aspirational motto. Yeats again: ‘How but in custom and ceremony are beauty and innocence born?’

There are always rules. A poem — even one generated by a computer — follows rules. But these rules vary poem to poem, and the end result is not about the rules but about organic coherence and meaningfulness.

Here’s another Katherine Mansfield sentence (she’s endlessly quotable), and one William Burroughs would surely have applauded. The reasons why she wrote this don’t matter. What matters is the imagery and the pacing, the rhythm: ‘I took the revolver into the garden today and practised with it, how to load and unload and fire.’ A great New Zealand sentence.

 

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

Hyperreal, hyperventilating, hyper-opinionated, it’s the new centre of gravity — or else a black hole that will swallow the sun, and take all the time you have. I try to minimise my involvement. As for poetry, the internet works well as an events noticeboard, but actual poems feel anaemic on it, drained and destabilised, apt to float away into cyberspace, never to be seen again.

 

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?

Well, today, a big compendium that includes Auden’s ‘ 1 September 1939’, Owen’s ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ and ‘The Road to Mandalay’, ‘The Waste Land’, Christina Rossetti, and bits of Don Juan, the Sonnets of Shakespeare… ‘But I think my head is burning and in a way I’m yearning to be done with all this measuring of proof…’

 

 

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