Tag Archives: Elizabeth Brooke-Carr

A Poetry Shelf audio gathering: Dunedin poets celebrate Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019)

Carolyn McCurdie introduces the reading

Carolyn McCurdie reads ‘When bright red was eclipsed by silver shoon’

Martha Morseth reads ‘On discovering your oncologist is a travel agent’

Jenny Powell reads ‘A spot on the map’

Maxine Alterio reads ‘The vein whisperer’

Claire Beynon reads ‘Poolburn’

Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019) was a Dunedin poet, essayist, short story writer, teacher, counseller. Her writing appeared in newspapers, online journals and anthologies. She was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors’ 75th Anniversary Competition and the Dunedin Public Libraries competition Changing Minds: Memories Lost and Found. She received a PhD from the University of Otago. Wanting to tell you everything was published by Caselberg Press in 2020.

Poetry Shelf review of Wanting to tell you everything

The readers

Jenny Powell, Martha Morseth, Maxine Alterio, Carolyn McCurdie, Claire Beynon

Maxine Alterio is a novelist, short story writer and academic mentor. She has published four works of fiction and co-authored a textbook about learning through reflective storytelling.

Claire Beynon lives in Broad Bay. An artist and writer, she works on a range of collaborative, interdisciplinary projects balancing group activities with the contemplative rhythms of her solo studio practice. She’s in the slow process of completing a second collection of poetry.

Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer of poetry and fiction, especially speculative fiction. Her poetry collection Bones in the Octagon was published by Makaro Press in 2015.

Martha Morseth has written articles for More Magazine and the NZ Woman’s Weekly since l982, and poems for The Listener, Landfall and other literary New Zealand magazines. She has published two collections of poetry, three collections of short stories and plays for high school English classrooms. She came to New Zealand in 1972 with her husband and two daughters.

Jenny Powell has published seven individual and two collaborative collections of poems. She is part of the touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling, and is the 2020 RAK Mason Writing Fellow.

Poetry Shelf review: Elizabeth Brooke-Carr’s Wanting to tell you everything

Wanting to tell you everything Elizabeth Brooke-Carr, Caselberg Press, 2020



Our kitchen table was perfect for a family of four with Protestant

leanings. Solid and square, legs sturdy as posts, set between window

and woodstove, it kept the faith, never moved, wore no adornments

except for a gingham cloth laid before a meal, on the diagonal,


triangles of polished wood showing bare at the corners like our

father’s elbows through the worn wool of his gardening jersey.

Afterwards the cloth was shaken out over the back lawn, and if

unspotted, folded away on the same crease lines for next time,


chairs slid in, chaste, ribs against the unyielding edge so they

scarcely dared breathe. But if you sat there alone at night with your

homework, undisciplined thoughts wandering through your verbs,

there might be a sudden creak, a sly shift in the air around the table,


a loosening of values as chair legs brushed against each other and

laughter scraped the linoleum. And if you shut your eyes you might

hear flakes of gossip peeling off the cracked cream paint, history

you thought forever sealed in grainy wood, being whispered low like


bedtime prayers destined to be heard in heaven; a pair of Edwardian

spindlebacks, gifted from a well-married aunt careful with vowels,

exchanging memories of refinement and silver service in a designated

dining room, a ladderback, in darker patois, telling tales of neglect


in the cellar of a second-hand shop, and the bentwood, rescued

from the tip, singing our father’s praises for the number eight wire

he’d twisted around its legs to keep them from growing crooked,

as sure as God’s grace and the metal brace on my teeth.


Elizabeth Brooke-Carr

Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019) was a Dunedin poet, essayist, short story writer, teacher, counseller. Her writing appeared in newspapers, online journals and anthologies. She was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors’ 75th Anniversary Cmpetition and the Dunedin Public Libraries competition Changing Minds: Memories Lost and Found. She received a PhD from the University of Otago.

Elizabeth’s posthumous debut collection has arrived in the world thanks to friends and her writing group,: Maxine Alterio, Claire Beynon, Martha Morseth, Carolyn McCurdie and Jenny Powell. The cover features Claire Beynon’s painting of Elizabeth’s favourite necklace. Mary McCallum provided editorial assistance, Paul McCallum production assistance. The book itself is published by the staunch supporter of poetry, Dunedin’s Caselberg Press. It is so heartwarming to see this group of poets and poetry fans bringing this book, and thus Elizabeth’s poetry, to our attention.

Last year, when I hosted my Wild Honey event in Dunedin, Elizabeth had just passed, and as much as the event was a celebration of women writing poetry in Aotearoa, it was the celebration of a particular woman. It felt both special and fitting. The more we shine the light on women writing, and the women who have written, the more we enrich our poetry communities, as both readers and writers.

The collection’s opening poem ‘Upright’ holds a kitchen table for our close attention. It is the place of family experience, a repository of history and anecdote, celebration and loss. The table is so present I want to reach out and stroke it. Maybe because the details are nostalgic; the gingham cloth set on the diagonal leaves wood patches reminiscent of ‘our / father’s elbows through the worn wool of his gardening jersey’. The table, like family history, is lacework in its prolific gaps. The speaker was once at the table with homework dreaming, and from that moment, I am carried across decades of secret musings that filled the writer holding the pen.

The joy in reading Elizabeth’s poetry is in part the way the poetry gifts you a joy in life: the joy you find in moments from the past, your kin, beloved places, friendship. More than anything her writing ink is fuelled with love. To read these poems, at this particular time, with such uncertainty and global loss, both global and local, is of the greatest comfort.

The poems are light-footed, with honey currents and patches of shade. I am reminded that close friends arranged the collection’s order. They have done a good job; we move from the kitchen-table hub through various scenes and connections to perhaps the last poems she wrote before she died. People and places are paramount: this is poetry that gathers together life, from the speckled past to the endangered present:

We arrived in the future, unpacked, folded the years

away into our own small histories. Now, my family

gone, I look back on the life-stained map


with the rusty pins that marked our meanderings,

my finger trails over mountaintop folds,

into valley creases, tracing the journey home


from ‘A spot on the map’

The movement that shapes the poems is so appealing; it builds mood, presence, absence, surprise. I find myself constantly moved as I read, drawn into the surprising notes that ring out in the endings. Moments are recovered and translated into poetry. I adore these. In ‘Out of the glare’, a couple go for a drive in the countryside and eat at the Wobbly Goat. The ending catches so exquisitely:

Dazzled by a low ray of sunshine on silver,

he slid the spoon sideways out of the glare,

laid it in the curve of hers.

Over the page a poem deposits me in the sensual shimmer of Bannockburn, and again it is the poem’s ending that grips:

At the base of the hill you leap from the stile

arms thrown wide like ropes tossed to my bollard.

Your mouth tastes of sunshine.

Your palms smell of bruised thyme.


from ‘Bannockburn sluicings’

Mood is such a potent ingredient – mood that is subtle and steady in growth. Poems reach towards beloved family and friends who have departed. Like a deep kernel, like an origami bud, this skillful handling of feeling is why I keep reading and why I will read this book again. The poem, ‘Gardening in the rain’, is a way of remembering, of recalling a goodbye kiss to a brow. In the opening lines the speaker is ‘digging deep / for the sound of your voice’, while in the last lines ‘My claggy spade / sticks to the soil’. So much unsaid. So much felt. The image of the claggy soil and the effort to dig so heart-breakingly sharp.

Love is equally significant in poetry that embraces both the economy and richness of everyday life, and why the personal can be so resonant. ‘Poolburn’ is written in old age (‘All the days of our youth are behind us / dust spiralling back along old roads traversed’) and again the couple is driving though beloved southern countryside. It is as though people don’t exist without place, and place is made vibrant and vital through the eyes of those in the scene. This is a love poem. A beautiful, slow pitched, breathtaking love poem. Again the layers, the scent, the texture is resonant. Like a piece of music, like a song perhaps by Nadia Reid or Reb Fountain you want on replay, this is a poem to read at intervals throughout the day. Here is the ending:

When the sun sinks and the light fades

purple shifts among the rocks, wild geese arc

in an amethyst sky, ruby veins line the face

of the lake. You come indoors, sit by the window.

Dusk has gathered you in.

The final section of poems were written from Elizabeth’s death bed. She is writing from terminal illness, nearby death, with her small revelations, her rage and her equilibrium. Perhaps writing is a way of living, of bearing treatment, a changing body, the changing future, a way of sharing what is difficult to decode. The final poem, ‘Wanting to tell you everything’, presents a phone call to a beloved, another moment, larger than life, urgent with feeling, subtle with the unsaid, using a moment of physical beauty (a rainbow stretching across the sky ’embracing everything that soars – light and sound and thistledown’) to summon so much more than the words on the page. The final lines – of the poem, of the book, of a life – unfold and refold, unfold and refold, and poetry is a way of breathing. Necessary. Exquisite. Blood boosting.

Your television in the background talks to itself.

While you turn the volume down, I wait.


Yes, I’m still here. I’m still here and wanting,

wanting to tell you everything.

Elizabeth’s poetry reminds me of the joy of reading Elizabeth Smither, Cilla McQueen, Ruth Dallas, Jenny Bornholdt, Bernadette Hall. I am drawing Elizabeth Brooke-Carr into the house of Wild Honey: she belongs there, with her honeyed currents, her uplifting translation of life into poetry, her wisdoms and her poetic finesse. Poetry can do so much. This book is a gift.

Caselberg page

A tribute to Dunedin poet: Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019)

Elizabeth B-C in the Caselberg cottage.jpg



On Friday 6th September I was in Dunedin to celebrate Wild Honey with local poets. The occasion was moving in its connections and warmth, but made even more so by the sadness many felt at the death of much loved Dunedin poet, Elizabeth Brooke-Carr that afternoon.


Elizabeth Brooke-Carr was a poet and writer. She taught English in secondary schools for twenty years and has tutored creative writing evening classes. Her work includes The Soldier and the Poet, a collaborative piece with Clair Beynon. Her poems, and her short story ‘Jimmy the Needle’, have been published in the Otago Daily Times. Her articles on social justice and environmental issues have appeared on the web, in Touchstone, the National Methodist Newspaper, as an exemplar in NZ Secondary Schools Scholarship Examination, and in Connections a collection by Philip Garside Publishing. Her 2005 essay won the open section in the Dunedin City Council’s competition about the built environment. She was awarded an NZSA mentorship in 2007, and in 2009 was winner of the NZSA 75th anniversary National Competition. Elizabeth was the inaugural writer-in-residence, Down the Bay, at the Caselberg Trust cottage in 2010.

I have invited some Dunedin poets to pay tribute to Elizabeth. Jenny Powell shares the poem of Elizabeth’s that she read at the Wild Honey event. I have also included the introduction to the new 8 Poems plus one which became a wee letter-press-printed anthology of 9 poems in order to publish Elizabeth’s this year rather than next. The anthology was released in time for her to see it and depended upon an act of kindness from Riemke Ensing. Thanks to The Pear Tree Press I have also included Elizabeth’s poem.

Elizabeth’s page at Otago Writers network


Jenny Powell:

I chose Elizabeth’s poem to read partly because it’s about a Clydesdale horse and partly because there are a series of coincidences attached to the poem.

Kay McKenzie Cooke and I, otherwise known as touring poets J & K Rolling, posed with Clydesdales for the photo we use on our posters. Elizabeth loved the photo. It reminded her of childhood days, and so she went on to write her poem.

J & K Rolling have a shared trait of getting lost. It’s not a great quality when you’re on tour. Last year, inland from Owaka, we were driving down a country road looking for the farmhouse where we were staying the night. After a while we came to an old dairy factory and Kay decided we weren’t on the right road, so we turned around and drove back. Coincidentally, directly across the road from the dairy factory was the setting for Elizabeth’s poem. It was the site of the farm where she lived as a child.

But I wasn’t prepared for the final coincidence.

Elizabeth died this afternoon.


Nobby and Joseph

He hauled the bulky leather collar from a peg
at the back of the high walled barn,
heaved it up in a crane-swing arc

to fasten around Nobby’s burnished shoulders,
a soft word or two blurted into his neck
with awkward country affection,

a rub of his jaw, a nudge, and down to the garden
they trudged, Joseph close behind
the old Clydesdale, silky leg feathers

flaring wide in a lumbering dance, through the gate
harnessed to a single-furrow plough
nosed firm into the earth.

Joseph held the reins lightly, the hand grips hard
turned the sod slice by slice,
like strips of blubber flensed from

the sides of a dark-fleshed whale, rolling them
over onto the back of the last neat row
until the whole field was an ocean

of green fringed waves. His turf is kept by another
now, who sits astride a ride-on mower,
smoke wafting, incense-blue,

from the exhaust-pipe thurible, rumbling deepthroated
down swathes of sombre lawn
flanked by granite headstones,

one, with Joseph’s name and a few shy words
of love, tethered in gold letters,
blinks in the sinking sun.

Elizabeth Brooke-Carr
Dunedin, New Zealand


Sue Wootton

I selected several of Elizabeth’s poems for the ODT when I was editing the poetry column, and also had the privilege of publishing a couple of pieces by her, recently, for Corpus. “All hitched up” is about receiving her first dose of chemotherapy and contains her poem “The Vein Whisperer”.




With kind permission from The Pear Tree Press, here is the  ‘Introduction’ and Elizabeth’s poem; from 8 Poems plus 1 by New Zealand Poets 2019,designed by Tara McLeod (Auckland: The Pear Tree Press, 2019):




‘All that remains is pressed flat’ Elizabeth Brooke-Carr, 8 Poems plus 1:





Claire Beynon shares one of Elizabeth’s poems that recently came to light after quite a search. ‘I took it to our writing meeting yesterday and read it out to the group – it’s a poem that Paddy Richardson especially loved. She said it had stayed with her long after first being published in the ODT’s Monday Poem series (several years ago, when Diane Brown was editor).’


When bright red was eclipsed by silver shoon


You see your teacher perched on a spare desk

at the front of the classroom. A dusty blackboard

behind, frames her there, skirt tucked tight around

her calves. She stares across the top of your head,

draws a long, deep breath, Silver, she says, pausing

to open the book on her lap. She begins to read.


You are captivated by her bright red lipstick,

it goes right to the corners of her mouth.

You hear your mother say scarlet is for show-offs

and only clowns take lipstick out to the corners.


Your teacher knows none of this.

She is enchanted by Silver. Her lips, full and lucent,

send tiny stars wheeling off into the round,

as she aspirates each soft, silvered sound.

You forget bright red and what your mother said.

Everything is silver.


Your teacher is swaying a little, peering this way

and that as she reads. You know she’s walking

with the moon, and soon you catch up.

You’ve never heard of shoon, or casements,

but now you see them, glistening. You reach out,

touch silver fruit on silver trees, step around

the sleeping dog, look up to doves. Startle

when a mouse darts by. You’re moveless near the

edge of a silver stream when you become aware


your teacher has stopped reading. She has

closed the book, a far-away look in her eyes.

Ah, girls, she sighs, Walter de la Mare!

She speaks his name in a spangle of stars,

clasps him close to her chest as she swoons

and steps down to the floor. You’re still thinking

of the moon, leaving the sky to come and walk

with you at bright red noon, slowly, silently

to the end of your days, in her silver shoon.


Elizabeth Brooke-Carr



From Jane Woodham:



Listen to Elizabeth read an extract from her novel Greywacke







All that remains is pressed flat,


a strip of bare earth up on the hillside

and, between the leaves of a book

she was reading that morning, four stiff stalks

bearing sunrise petals. A softly coiled feather

brats the air when she turns the page.


from ‘All that remains is pressed flat’,  8 Poems plus 1