A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand
eds. Paula Morris and Alison Wong, Auckland University Press, 2021
To celebrate the arrival of A Clear Dawn, I invited nine poets to read one of their poems in the collection as audio or video. This fabulous anthology of poetry and fiction, so astutely and loving assembled by Paula Morris and Alison Wong, is sheer reading joy. I am delighted you get to have a taste of nine of the poets’ voices here. Auckland University Press have created an exquisite book. I love holding it, I love finding my way through the beautifully designed pages. I just love this book.
If you live in Auckland you might like to go to the launch at the Auckland Writer’s Festival:
Saturday May 15th, 5:00pm – 6:00pm Balcony Bar, Level Five, Aotea Centre
Enjoy a complimentary glass of wine with selected readings as this ground-breaking contribution to our literature is launched.
You can listen to Alison Wong discuss the book with Kathryn Ryan here.
Rushi Vyas reads ‘I saw you and I learned this, beloved‘
Vanessa Mei Crofskey reads ‘What’s the pH balance of yin + yang?’
Vanessa Mei Crofskey is an artist and writer based in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara, who features in A Clear Dawn, the first-ever anthology of Asian New Zealand creative writing. She is the current director of Enjoy Contemporary Art Space.
Modi Deng is a postgraduate candidate in piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music on scholarship. Currently based in London, Modi received a MMus (First Class Hons, Marsden research scholarship) and a BA from Auckland University. Her first chapbook-length collection of poetry will be part of AUP New Poets 8. She cares deeply about literature (especially poetry, diaspora), music, psychology, and her family.
Maryana Goco Garcia is a poet, and a journalist who dabbles in photography. All of Maryana’s work, visual or written, attempts to find the miracle in the moment, to encourage pausing, to look hard at what lies before us until we notice something new. You can find her poetry on Instagram where she keeps a visual and word archive as @ripagepoet.
Isabelle Johns likes to write when she has the inspiration, and is (grudgingly) practising doing so without the inspiration part, too. She studies Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Auckland, where she can be found most of the time, either catching up on missed lectures or frantically debugging code before a deadline. Her poems have been published in The Three Lamps, University of Auckland’s literary journal, as well as the upcoming anthology for Asian New Zealand writers, A Clear Dawn.
Jiaqiao (Jay) Liu is a Chinese nonbinary poet currently doing a creative writing MA in Pōneke. They write about family, queerness, longing, myth and tech, among other obsessions. Some of their work can be found in brief, Blackmail Press, takahē and Queer the Pitch.
Neema Singh is a poet from Christchurch of Gujarati Indian descent. Her work appears in Ko Aotearoa Tātou: We Are New Zealand(2020) and A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (2021) and she is currently working on her first collection of poetry, a series of poems unfolding the layers of culture, identity and history contained within ordinary moments. Neema is an experienced secondary school English teacher and holds a Master of Creative Writing from The University of Auckland.
Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC. He and Emma Barnes are co-editors of Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers From Aotearoa, due to be published in October 2021. He is The Spinoff‘s Poetry Editor.
Rushi Vyas is a writer, educator, and PhD candidate at Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou / University of Otago. He is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection When I Reach For Your Pulse (Four Way Books, 2023) which was a two-time finalist for the National Poetry Series in the US, and the co-author of the chapbook Between Us, Not Half a Saint, with Rajiv Mohabir. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Colorado-Boulder. He currently serves as Reviews/Interviews Editor for GASHER Journal. Recent poetry is forthcoming or published in The Georgia Review, Indiana Review, Pigeon Pages, Landfall (NZ), Redivider, The Offing, Adroit, Waxwing, and elsewhere.
E Wen Wong is a first-year Law and Science student at the University of Canterbury. She was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award.
A while ago the world seemed unbearably bleak and dark, and whenever the world seems bleak and dark, an idea unexpectedly falls into my head like rescue remedy. I had bought a bundle of UK poem booklets that came with an envelopes from the wonderful McLeods Bookshop in Palmerston North on my Wild Honey tour. Each featured ten poems on a theme and I loved the idea of sending one to someone just when they needed a poem boost (The Women’s Bookshop in Auckland stocks them I see). My rescue remedy was to host a season of themes over autumn and winter – with me picking poems but also inviting some poets to send poems and suggestions. The response has been overwhelming. Rescue remedy de luxe!
I wanted the presence of the theme to range from subtle to loud so I struggled over the preposition in the title. It might be a poem after or towards or with or from or by or under or hinting at a theme. Not necessarily about! It might simply be a single word resonating. A cameo appearance. I had 15 themes, but Alison Wong suggested ‘Light’, and Hinemoana Baker suggested ‘Land’, so 17 poetry themes will be appearing over the coming months.
If this had been for a print anthology, I would have spent several years reading and selecting, going to libraries, bookshops, agonising, agonising, agonising. But my rescue-remedy plan meant staying at home and returning to my vast New Zealand poetry collection which as you can imagine after Wild Honey is rich in women’s books. I felt like I wanted to do a whole book on each theme so many poems sung out.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my rescue remedy. It means a lot. You cannot imagine what a delight it has been to return to books I have loved over the past decades and to savour new poems sent me. To feel poetry work its magic.
Ten poems about clouds
The sky thinks it is a flock of birds.
Then it thinks it is a cloud.
It also thinks it is widespread words.
Sometimes it looks up at the stars,
imagining other skies,
and sometimes down at the water
where it thinks it sees more stars.
At such times it believes itself to be a god.
But no such luck, poor sky! Soon enough
it is saying hello sir and madam
what a nice day it’s turning out to be
and can you perhaps spare a dollar,
thank you, thank you kindly. The sky
can still hold a small cloud in its hands.
Today it does so, and it rains.
It held our old home that way, too,
awkward and vertical and cold –
the snow caught fire as each day died.
But yes, it is safer here on the flat.
A man comes by with coal in a wheelbarrow,
muttering, muttering. He wants
to sell us warmth, his feet don’t leave the ground.
We think that we will always miss the sky.
It says look up whenever we look down.
from Wow, Victoria University Press, 2020
The Sky as a Metaphor for Everything
We can’t tell if the sky is clinging
to night or happy to welcome this new morning—
everything in this existence wrapped up and encapsulated
in the changing colours and how we constantly remark on clouds’
silly, ever-shifting shapes, how fast they travel, and so on.
Truthfully, we hate how light always wins
in the sky, in rooms, in movies where it’s a stand-in
for goodness— but never in our real lives.
Though our eyes do adjust eventually, and we get by—
like the sun rising in the morning in the sky.
from Craven Victoria University Press
south of the volcanoes.
You cut mushroom gills
soft as moth wings
that fluttering in the belly.
Bread rising on the water tank,
look out to patchy light
on the hills — moving.
Try to forget the names
of everything and call
them out new like rain
dropping on lava.
Steam born and gone
in the same instant.
A thought of one
you still look up to see
in JAAM 33, 2015
Long White Clouds
all anyone ever does around here is / grow weed and stare / into burnt-
out houses / into the rabbit hole / into the cards / into the skin /
and roll their cars / their eyes / their r’s / their cigarettes / and kick
snow / kick rugby balls / kick each other / kick bad habits / only to
find another / like an eel / in the creek / in the backyard / in the
dark / in winter / and try to kill it on the rocks / chase the girls /
in a shed / a bathtub / a bed / with wet fingers / eyes / tongues /
and T-shirts / from spilled beer / spilled cum / spilled blood / spilled
secrets / bad boys / with bad skin / bad tattoos / and bad reputations /
because here / all anyone ever does is / swear / across their hearts /
at referees / at other drivers / taking to the road / cos all anyone
ever wants around here is / out / of home / of the closet / of the
relationship / of the sixth-storey window / open it / to the cold / to
the clouds / to the sky / cos all anyone ever does around here is / dive /
from Poūkahangatus, Victoria University Press, 2018, picked by Amy Brown
Spelling Out Goodbye
“This doesn’t seem to be working,” he said quietly, “Perhaps we should try it another way. “Like this!” He split his shoes, laughed all the way to the top of the roof. “The plane will be coming soon,” he said, “Before that, would you help me out and make me a cheese sandwich?”
“Cheese,” said she, “Of course.” She clattered off like a train carriage. When she returned he was snuggled up on the nearest cloud with his breath spelling out hello goodbye. He left his pocketknife in his pocket, stuffed stars by hand into black-eyed plastic bags. He said catch as he floated them down to her.
in Miss Dust, Seraph Press, 2015
The couple with clouds in their heads
are just outlines cut into a wall
so what you’re seeing is what’s behind
on cloudy days it’s clouds
on rainy days water.
in Wild Dogs under My Skirt, Victoria University Press, 2004
I had never seen you so open
Crumpled on the couch saying
seventh of the seventh
you seemed to be between
trying to get up and sinking further.
A soft redness about you
and a kind of shift somewhere,
to dreams, or clouds,
not things we usually have been
to each other.
Later, you folded the card sent from the office
inside his cap that served
on the deck of a warship in Korea.
Kept it beside you for weeks
until one day it was gone.
appeared in The New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology 2020
Winter rain beats on the windows;
there is cloud-hidden snow
on the hills.
In our space, built for the elderly,
warm air encloses thoughts
of long ago:
the coal range, pots of soup
from A Habit of Writing, The Cuba Press, 2020
dawn the sky is splattered
by my juicy mandarin,
the sea a mirror
of tears soon to fall.
we capture the skyline,
grey lines folding like pursed lips.
wrapped in thick ash and two woven wings,
the sun sets a foot on our city
one eye blending
across an open sea.
E Wen Wong
Lyall Bay is often the scene
of tempests, everything pelted
with salt water, rust spreading
like ill humour. The police
are often patrolling in Lyall Bay.
When the cumulonimbus sit like fat
white cauldrons steaming with cirrus,
look our for brush strokes-
someone’s been sweeping the sky
clean as linoleum after an accident.
from The Propaganda Poster Girl, Victoria University Press, 2008
Johanna Aitchison has published three collections of poems, Miss Dust (2015), a long girl ago (2007), and Oh My God I’m Flying (199). She was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference (Tennessee) in 2019; and her poetry has been published in New Zealand, the U.S., and Japan. Her poem “Miss Dust in a Motel Room” is forthcoming in Landfall 241.
Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.
Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.
Morgan Bach is a poet recently returned to her home town of Wellington, where she also works as a bookseller.
Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper’s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.
Helen Jacobs, aged 92, was born in Pātea and wrote her first poem nearly fifty years ago in response to a TV programme on nuclear war, publishing her first collection of poetry in 1984 and becoming actively involved with the poetry community in Christchurch for many years. She adopted the name Helen Jacobs to keep her writing separate from her life as local body politician, environmental activist and art advocate Elaine Jakobsson. Helen lives in a retirement village with the art she has collected over the years and a balcony of pot plants, delighted the world continues to offer her things to write about.
Wes Lee lives in Paekakariki. Her latest poetry collection, By the Lapels, was launched in Wellington (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2019). Her work has appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Poetry London, Turbine, Poetry New Zealand, Westerly, The Stinging Fly, Landfall, The New Zealand Listener, Australian Poetry Journal, among others. She has won a number of awards for her writing, including, The BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award. Most recently she was awarded the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019 by Massey University Press, and shortlisted for The Inaugural NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize 2021.
Bill Manhire founded the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington, which a little over 20 years ago became the International Institute of Modern Letters. His new book Wow is published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and Carcanet in the UK.
Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou) was born in 1995 and lives in Wellington. Her first book Poūkahangatus won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in 2019. Her new collection Rangikura will be published in June by Victoria University Press.
E Wen Wong is a first-year Law and Science student at the University of Canterbury. She was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award.
I am so delighted to see that E Wen Wong from Burnside High School in Christchurch has won the National Schools Poetry Award. I have had poetry communications with E Wen since she first began writing poetry as a child, so this is a very good news indeed. Warm congratulations E Wen – may your days continue to shine with poems and poetry.
You can read E Wen’s poem Catalyst in the Monday poem spot.
Aotearoa’s poets of the future feature in National Schools Poetry Awards
E Wen Wong, a Year 13 student from Burnside High School in Christchurch, has won the 2020 International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) National Schools Poetry Award.
Her poem titled ‘The house that Saturn built,’ was described by judge Airini Beautrais, as “powerful and beautiful”, “full of surprising language and with a strong sense of place and the interaction between the human built environment and the natural environment”.
E Wen Wong receives a prize of $500 and her school library receives a book grant of $500. She also receives a package of literary prizes provided by Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, Victoria University Press, Sport, Landfall and the New Zealand Society of Authors. As part of the prize, Wong will attend an online poetry masterclass with Airini Beautrais, along with nine other poets shortlisted for their entries.
Director of the IIML at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Professor Damien Wilkins, says, “Over the years this competition has featured many writers who have gone on to publish widely and have careers in the arts. We view it as one way of encouraging young writers and their teachers to see imaginative writing as legitimate, valued, and important.”
E Wen Wong says, “Receiving this award was unexpected, yet exciting and uplifting. ‘The house that Saturn built’ gave me a platform to channel my passion for the environment in a way that was distinctly positioned in Aotearoa. It allowed me to comment on climate change from a new perspective—to communicate what science cannot.”
There were more than 250 entries this year from senior high school students, with a wide range of styles and subjects represented, including personal events, politics, history, humour, and current events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms Beautrais notes, “I’m impressed at anyone being able to write a poem (or anything at all) during the months of lockdown and accompanying stress. There are poems that give vent to big and terrifying feelings, and poems that take a comical slant.”
Nine students were finalists: Campbell Wilson, Abraham Hix, and Marijke Hinton (all from St Andrew’s College, Christchurch); Arwyn Cranston (Wakatipu High School, Queenstown), Isabella Lane (Rangitoto College, Auckland), Xavier Hayward (Marist College, Auckland), Allegra Wilson (Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland), Robin Kunwar (Burnside High, Christchurch), and Victoria Sun (Epsom Girls’ Grammar, Auckland). Each will receive prizes from Read NZ Te Pou Muramura and Sport, as well as $100 cash.
This was also the first year the Award was able to receive entries in te reo Māori. While there were fewer such entries than the IIML had hoped, Māori language judge Anahera Gildea (Ngāti Tokorehe) was excited about the potential of te reo Māori poetry.
The 2020 National Schools Poetry Award is organised by the IIML with the support of Creative New Zealand and advertising agency Ogilvy (formerly Ogilvy & Mather), with sponsorship and promotional support from Wonderlab.
The winning poem, the complete judges’ report and all the shortlisted poems are available on the National Schools Poetry Award website.
Welcome to the Poetry Shelf gathering on National Poetry Day. One of my favourite Poetry Days was in Wellington when I jumped in a taxi and went from one event to the next: Vic Books, the National Library, Unity Books, the Book Hound, Miaow. Listening to others read, reading a snippet myself or mc-ing, it felt like the best thing in the world (well right up there with early morning beach walks, and cooking meals, writing secret things, reading books for hours on end).
These days it feels good to count blessings because there is so much toxic stuff out there. I feel utterly privileged to get sent loads of poetry books published in Aotearoa, and to celebrate some of them on the blog. So many times this year I have picked up a new book and felt goosebumps as I settled into the poem thickets and clearings. You know the feeling – when the music and the mystery and the freshness, the challenges and the sensualness and the connective currents – make you feel so darn good.
I invited a handful of poets to send me an audio or video to celebrate National Poetry Day – it was over to them what they did: read their own poems, read the poems of others, share a favourite book or poet, muse on poetry. Bernadette Hall drove 30 km to hook up with Doc Drumheller and Rangiora Library staff at the band rotunda to create her video. Amy Brown did two versions, one with interruptions and a wee poem from her son Robin. I posted both for you! Student E Wen Wong recorded a poem by Cilla McQueen.
I have been getting these files as Auckland is in level 3 – and everyone else level 2 – and what a treat to listen to them. Poetry can do so much! The past few months it has been of immense comfort, and the way so many of you say yes to my requests.
As some of you know I had a melt down yesterday as WordPress has put us onto a new system that I find hard to manage yet. My daughter helped me a bit, but I had to make a few compromises, and one poet will make a future appearance. Thank you for the boosts on social media.
Happy National Poetry Day everyone. Dip and delve into this glorious and utterly special poetry gathering.
Amy Brown reads two poems of her own: ’16 August 2016′ and ‘Pacing Poem’ from Neon Daze Victoria University Press, 2019. She also reads Airini Beautrais’s ‘Flow’ from Victoria University Press, 2017. Amy sent me two versions, one with interruptions by her son Robin (he does a poem at the end) and one without Robin present. I couldn’t pick as I loved so both, so you get to choose which one to listen to. I think the Robin one is rather special.
Amy Brown reads two poems with the help of Robin
Amy Brown reads the two poems without help
David Eggleton reads ‘The Sound and the Fury’ filmed by Richard C. Wallis in Waikouaiti, North Otago, on Wednesday 19.08.20. Not his tokotoko but a walking stick. Still waiting for the tokotoko ceremony at Matahiwi marae.
Erik Kennedy reads ‘There Is a Man Dancing on the Rudder of an Enormous Cargo Ship’
Bernadette Hall reads two sonnets, one published in Aotearotica and the other in Landfall 239. Her guest Doc Drumheller reads his haiku in Landfall 239. Bernadette had travelled 30 kms to the band rotunda in Rangiora to film this reading with the help of Paula and Daniel from Rangiora Library.
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 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
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 New Zealand Yearbook 2020 edited by Johanna Emeney (MUP)
Johanna Emeney works at Massey University as a teacher of creative writing and has published several poetry collections.
Many many years ago my first poetry collectionCookhouse (AUP) appeared in the world and it was a big thing for me. I was at the stove with my baby in my arms, when the phone rang, and I dropped something all over the floor. It was Alistair Paterson, then editor of Poetry NZ, wanting to know if I would be the feature poet. The tap was running, the mess was growing, the pot was bubbling, my baby was crying, but somehow I spoke about poetry and agreed to my face on the cover and poems inside. It felt important.
I have only sent poems to journals a couple of times since then as I find it a distraction, but I love reading NZ literary journals. We have so many good ones from the enduring magnificence of Sport and Landfall to the zesty appeal of Mimicry and Min-a-rets.
Poetry NZ has had a number of editors, and is New Zealand’s longest running literary magazine. Poet Louis Johnson founded it in 1951 and edited it until 1964 (as the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook). Various others have taken turns at the helm – most notably Alistair Paterson from 1993 to 2014. In 2014 Jack Ross took it back to its roots and renamed it Poetry New Zealand Yearbook. This year Johanna Emeney stepped in as guest editor while Tracey Slaughter takes over the role from 2021.
Each issue includes essays, reviews, critical commentary, poetry and a featured poet.
For me Poetry New Zealand 2020is a breath of fresh air. It opens its arms wide and every page resonates so beautifully. It showcases the idea that poetry is an open home. The poems behave on the page in a galaxy of ways, sparking and connecting multiple communities. I feel so satisfyingly refreshed having read this, warmed though, restored.
I am at the point in lockdown where I drift about the house from one thing to next in an unsettled state. I alight on this and land on that. So Poetry NZ 2020 is the perfect resting spot. I want to sing its praises to the moon and back, but I am tired, have barely slept and words are like elusive butterflies.
Johanna Emeney’s introduction is genius: ‘It is wonderful to be chosen by poems, and the very opposite of trying to chose poems.’ And later: ‘A poem choose you the minute it takes you by surprise. To be clear this cannot be any old surprise.’ And later: ‘poems that choose you are like mille-feuilles— thoughtfully assembled and subtly layered.’
I love the way Johanna has treated the issue like we often shape our own collections – in little clusters of poems that talk to each other: ‘Into the water’, ‘Encounter’, ‘Other side up’, ‘Remember to understand love’. It is an issue lovingly shaped – I am in love with individual poems but I am also mesmerised by the ensuing conversation, the diverse and distinctive voices.
The essay section is equally strong. You get an essay by Mike Hanne on six NZ doctor poets, Maria Yeonhee Ji’s ‘The hard and the holy: Poetry for times of trauma and crisis’. You also get Sarah Laing’s genius comic strip ‘Jealous of Youth’ written after going to the extraordinary Show Ponies poetry event in Wellington last year. And Roger Steele’s musings on publishing poetry. To finish Helen Rickerby’s thoughts on boundaries between essays and poetry. Restorative, inspiring.
77 pages of reviews cover a wide range of publishers (Cold Hub Press, VUP, Mākaro Press, Otago University Press, Cuba Press, Compound Press, Titus Books, Waikato Press, Hicksville Press and a diverse cohort of reviewers. With our review pages more and more under threat – this review section is to be celebrated.
The opening highlight is the featured poet (a tradition I am pleased to see upheld). Like Johanna I first heard essa may ranapiri read at a Starling event at the Wellington Writers Festival, and they blew my socks off (as did many of the other Starlings). essa is a poet writing on their toes, in their heart, stretching out here, gathering there, scoring the line in shifting tones and keys. So good to have this group of new poems to savour after the pleasures of their debut collection ransack. I particularly enjoyed the conversation between essa and Johanna – I felt like I was sitting in a cafe (wistful thinking slipping though?) sipping a short black and eavesdropping on poetry and writing and life. Tip: ‘That a lot of poems are trying to figure something out. If you already know it, then you don’t need to write the poem.’
I have invited a handful of the poets to read a poem they have in the issue so you can get a taste while in lockdown and then hunt down your own copy of this vital literary journal. Perhaps this time to support our excellent literary journals and take out a few subscriptions. Start here!
a n a u d i o g a t h e r i n g
First up the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Prize and the Poetry New Zealand Student Poetry Competition.
Lynn Davidson (First Prize)
Lynn reads ‘For my parents’
Lynn Davidson is a New Zealand writer living in Edinburgh. Her latest poetry collection Islander is published by Shearsman Books in the UK and Victoria University Press in New Zealand. She had a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 and a Bothy Project Residency at Inshriach Bothy in the Cairngorms in 2016. Lynn has a doctorate in creative writing, teaches creative writing, and is a member of 12, an Edinburgh-based feminist poetry collective. Her website
E Wen Wong (First Prize Y12)
E Wen reads ‘Boston Building Blocks’
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 Blocks’ won first prize in the Year 12 category of the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Competition.
Chris reads ‘Brightest first’
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.
Fardowsa reads ‘Tuesday’
Fardowsa Mohamed is a poet and medical doctor from Auckland, New Zealand. Her work has appeared in Poetry New Zealand, Sport Magazine, Landfall and others. She is currently working on her first collection of poetry.
Photo credit: Jane Dove Juneau
Elizabeth reads ‘Cilla, writing’
Elizabeth Smither, an award-winning poet and fiction writer, has published eighteen collections of poetry, six novels and five short-story collections, as well as journals, essays, criticism. She was the Te Mata Poet Laureate (2001–03), was awarded an Hon D Litt from the University of Auckland and made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004, and was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2008. She was also awarded the 2014 Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature and the 2016 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection of poems, Night Horse (Auckland University Press, 2017), won the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 2018.
Anuja reads ‘Waiting Room’
Anuja Mitra lives in Auckland and is co-founder of the online arts magazine Oscen. Her writing can be found in Starling, Sweet Mammalian, Mayhem, Poetry NZ and other journals, though possibly her finest work remains unfinished in the notes app of her phone.
Semira reads ‘Punkrock_lord & the maps to i_am_105mm’
Semira Davis is a writer whose poetry also appears in Landfall, Takahe, Ika, Blackmail Press, Ramona, Catalyst and Mayhem. In 2019 they were a recipient of the NZSA Mentorship and runner-up in the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award.
Photo credit: Miriam Berkley
Johanna reads ‘The girl with the coke can’
Johanna Aitchison was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee, and her work has appeared, most recently, in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020, NZ Poetry Shelf, and Best Small Fictions 2019.
Vaughan Rapatahana reads ‘mō ō tautahi’
Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin and Cantonese.
Emma Harris lives in Dunedin with her husband and two children. She teaches English and is an assistant principal at Columba College. Her poetry has previously been published in Southern Ocean Review, Blackmail Press, English in Aotearoa and Poetry New Zealand.
Dani reads ‘I don’t know how to talk to you so I wrote it for me’
Dani is a Wellington poet, and one of the Plague Writers (a Masters student) at Victoria’s IIML this year. They’ve been published in Mayhem, Aotearotica, Takahe, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020 and others. They’re currently working on their first collection of poetry.
hydrogenation of oils makes the margarine sitting in our fridge
white dyed yellow like the lace dress you wore in 1973
snagged beneath the catalytic converters you stole for platinum.
a lot has changed since then.
if you were here you would see our city made of roads
shadows posing as guilty silhouettes
distorted paperclips of the bus stop where I wait.
in its file you would see reams of trees cloaked with marmalade leaves
it is autumn in August, and I see catalysts in my eyes.
alkylation makes the petroleum veneer beneath my feet
grey-on-grey the word “hydraulic fracking” conceals the black with blue.
the world spins too fast for our reaction to wait
salt masks the centreline
the activation energy dips beneath the level we call normal.
and I breathe powdery white clouds into this world of roads
watching as they lose themselves in the thick body of smog
as my bruised heart moves through midnight traffic
riding on the million catalysts that pepper our city of roads.
my heart rate monitor dips beneath the normal
a laconic glissando as the Bus 29 takes me to the road to the sky.
my heart falters just slightly
lingers at the long line of reactionary procession
the stagnant exhale of our earthly products.
E Wen Wong
E Wen Wong is in her final year at Burnside High School, where she is Head Girl for 2020. E Wen has been writing poetry since she was ten years old and was one of the very first fans of NZ Poetry Box. Last year, she was a finalist in the National Schools Poetry Award and Winner of the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Competition.
E Wen Wong is a Year 11 Student at Burnside High School in Christchurch. E Wen began writing poetry when she was ten years old and was one of the very first fans of Poetry Box. Now, six years later, her poems have made their way into Rattle, Starling and Meniscus journals, among others.
E Wen was an early fan of my blog when I was feeling my way as a blogger. I got to watch her poems develop over the years as she tried my challenges and we exchanged letters. I recognised a passionate writer who was willing to try new things. I met her when she performed in my Hot Spot Poetry Tour in Christchurch and I felt a little sad when she moved on to secondary school (Poetry Box is for Y1 – Y8)! How delighted I was when I discovered her recent poem at Starling, an online literary magazine dedicated to writers under 25. Last week E Wen sent me a gorgeous card and this ‘Whakatū Wāhine’ to celebrate Suffragette 125. I felt so moved that in this celebratory year we have reached out, in the media and personally, to acknowledge the women, young and old, who have inspired us, backed us, engaged with and challenged us. Thank you E Wen.