Tag Archives: Elizabeth Smither

Reading The Friday Poems in a book

 

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Luncheon Sausage Books, 2018

 

A new poem. Wow just wow

A new poem that no one will forget any time soon.

A new poem. I think it’s important.

I wrote a new poem. You’ll be amazed at what happened next.

 

Bill Manhire from ‘Thread’

 

Steve Braunias kickstarted his Friday poem at the Spinoff four years ago – which prompted me to shift my Friday poems to Mondays! Decided to begin the week  with a poem in the ear and have since started an ongoing season of Thursday readings (I really like hearing other poets read, especially those I have never met). More importantly I also like the fact we have more than one online space dedicated to local poems. Steve tends to pick from new books which is great publicity for the poet. I tend to pick poems that have not yet been published in book form and find other ways to feature the new arrivals (interviews, reviews, popup poems on other days).

Steve’s anthology of picks from the Friday-Poem posts underlines our current passion for poetry. I don’t see him belonging to any one club (like a hub around a particular press or city) – unless he is inventing his own: Steve’s poetry club. And there is a big welcome mat out. You will find mainstream presses and boutique presses, established poets and hot-off-the-press brand new poets, a strong showing of Pasifika voices, outsiders, insiders. He is fired up by the charismatic lines of Hera Lindsay Bird and Tayi Tibble but he is equally swayed by the tones of Brian Turner, CK Stead, Elizabeth Smither, Fiona Kidman.

 

She cried wolf but she was the wolf

so she slit sad’s bellyskin

and stones of want rolled out.

 

Emma Neale from ‘Big Bad’

 

Who would he feature at a festival reading? At Unity Books on November 12th in Wellington he has picked: Dame Fiona Kidman, Bill Manhire, James Brown, Joy Holley, Tayi Tibble.

The anthology is worth buying for the introduction alone – expect someone writing over hot coals with an astute eye for what is happening now but also what has happened in the past (especially to women poets). And by hot coals I mean a mix of passionate and polemical. This person loves poetry and that is hot.

 

Where there’s a gate there’s a gatekeeper, I suppose, but I think of the past few years as an exercise in welcoming rather than turning away. Publishing works of art every week these past four years has been one of the most intoxicating pastimes of my writing life. But I came to a decision while I was writing the Introduction, and commenting on the work of women writers, and adding up the number of women writers: it’s time to step aside. An ageing white male just doesn’t seem the ideal person right now to act as the bouncer at this particular doorway to New Zealand poetry. Women are where the action is: the poetry editor at the Spinoff in 2019 will be Ashleigh Young.

Steve Braunias, from ‘Introduction’

 

I felt kind of sad reading that. I will miss Steve as our idiosyncratic poetry gate keeper.  Of course this book and the posts are unashamedly Steve’s taste, and there are a truckload of other excellent poets out there with new books, but his taste keeps you reading in multiple directions.

That said it’s a warm welcome to the exciting prospect of Ashleigh Young!

 

On most drives I like quiet because my mother

had a habit of appraising every passing scene, calling ordinary

things, especially any animal standing in a field, lovely

 

and this instilled in me a strong dislike for the world lovely

and for associated words of praise like wonderful and superb

but on our drive home tonight the sky is categorically lovely

 

Ashleigh Young from ‘Words of praise’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Elizabeth Smither’s ‘The joke of the Sapeurs-Pompiers’

 

 

The joke of the Sapeurs-Pompiers

 

A lady hoping to hire a van for her family

phoned the wrong  number and got the fire station

but so intent on speaking French and impressing

her daughters who were hovering…’Monsieur

I need a vehicle that can seat six

with room for quantities of luggage’

 

The voice that answered was deep and masculine

and full of concern and savoir-faire.

‘We could send one of our smaller fire engines

but perhaps the ladder truck would be more suitable.

Now if you’ll give me your street and arrondissement…’

 

The phone fell shaking into the cradle. A fire engine

might be coming at any moment. Sirens blazing

handsome pompiers and even a fire dog

roaring past, laughing and barking.

‘Run,’ she said to her daughters and they fled

around the corner and into a café.

Next day she went to a car hire company.

 

©Elizabeth Smither

 

 

Elizabeth Smither’s latest collection, Night Horse, won the poetry award at the Ockham Book Awards 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Elizabeth Smither’s Best Book of Poetry Award

 

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Elizabeth Smither, Night Horse – winner of the Best Poetry Book Award at the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2018

 

Paula: Your new collection is a delight to read and offers so many poetic treats. I was thinking as I read that your poems are like little jackets that can be worn inside out and outside in. In stillness there is movement and in movement there is stillness; in musicality there is plainness and in plainness there is musicality. In the strange there is the ordinary and in the ordinary there is the strange. What do you like your poems to do?

Elizabeth: I want them to do everything. Everything at once. I want them to feel and think (and feel the thinking in them as you read). I want them to be quick, in the old sense of the word: the opposite of dead. I want them to not know something and try to find it out – I would never write a poem with prior knowledge – I think ignorance can be bliss or at least start the motor. And as I write more I find out more and more about musicality. Isn’t one of the loveliest moments in music when harmony breaks through discord as though it is earned and you know that discord, instead of being a thicket or a dark wood, is part of it?

 

Paula: I especially love the ongoing friendship and granddaughter poems, but I particularly love the first poem, ‘My mother’s house.’ Kate Camp and I heard you read this at the National Library’s Circle of Laureates and were so moved and uplifted that we asked for copies! Unseen, you are observing your mother move through the house from the street (you gave us this introduction) and see her in shifting lights. The moment is extraordinary; are we are at our truest self when we are not observed? There is the characteristic Smither movement through the poem, slow and attentive, to the point of tilt or surprise. The final lines reverberate and alter the pitch of looking: ‘but she who made it/who would soon walk into the last room/of her life and go to sleep in it.’  Do you have a poem or two in the collection that particularly resonate with you?

Elizabeth: I’m fond of ‘The tablecloth’ after I observed my friend, Clay, scrubbing at a corner of a white damask tablecloth in the laundry after a dinner party. It reminded me of the old-fashioned way of washing linen in a river. It’s both a doll-sized tablecloth and something almost as large as the tablecloth for a royal banquet around which staff walk, measuring the placement of cutlery and the distance between each chair. ‘Ukulele for a dying child’ tumbles all over itself in an incoherent manner because the subject is so serious and no poet can do it justice. The grandmother poems will probably be ongoing because it is such an intense experience: something between a hovering angel and a lioness. Going back to your remark about ‘My mother’s house’ I agree with the truth that is available in our unobserved moments. Perhaps there is a balance between our social and our private moments which might comprise something Keats called ‘soul-making’.

from our interview

 

 

Tenderness

 

                           I

 

A tree in the centre of a corn field

the corn rising in its ranks like braided hair

to meet the lowest branches

 

a tree that has replaced at least twenty

corn stalks with their divided leaves

twenty golden cobs sweetly surrendered

 

for this lovely grace: leaf sweep touching

leaf sweep, the whole field given by

this rising trunk, a focus

 

the pattern drawn from the edge of the field

to the centre where the tree

delivers a blessing.

 

II

 

The forest planation blankets hills.

Neat-ankled, swift-running

the dark pines descend

 

except on one little hilltop a ride

of grass begins and runs

with the trees which seem to bend

 

tenderly towards it: a bed from which

a child has risen and begun walking

the solicitousness of pine branches over grass.

 

©Elizabeth Smither from Night Horse

 

 

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Paula: Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

Elizabeth: Margaret Atwood and Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the Aldeburgh festival. I read first and sat down between them, shivering.

Paula: If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

Elizabeth: I  think I’d do a Dead Poets session. Keats and Shelley, Robert Lowell, William Empson, John Crowe Ransom, Tomas Tranströmer, Szymborska, of course… the possibilities are endless. It might have something of the bitchy tone of ‘The Real Housewives of Melbourne’.  To chair it one of the Paulas: Green or Morris.

 

from Poetry Shelf  ’12 Questions for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award Poetry finalists’

 

Elizabeth will appear at the Auckland Writers Festival 

Sunday May 20  1.30 – 2.20 Disappearances  (4 readings) Limelight Room, Aotea Centre

 

Auckland University Press Night Horse page and author page

Booksellers review by Emma Shi

Radio NZ National review by Harry Ricketts with Kathryn Ryan

 

Award night

 

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Poems from the Ockham NZ Book Award poetry shortlist: Elizabeth Smither’s ‘Tenderness’

 

 

 

Tenderness

 

                           I

 

A tree in the centre of a corn field

the corn rising in its ranks like braided hair

to meet the lowest branches

 

a tree that has replaced at least twenty

corn stalks with their divided leaves

twenty golden cobs sweetly surrendered

 

for this lovely grace: leaf sweep touching

leaf sweep, the whole field given by

this rising trunk, a focus

 

the pattern drawn from the edge of the field

to the centre where the tree

delivers a blessing.

 

II

 

The forest planation blankets hills.

Neat-ankled, swift-running

the dark pines descend

 

except on one little hilltop a ride

of grass begins and runs

with the trees which seem to bend

 

tenderly towards it: a bed from which

a child has risen and begun walking

the solicitousness of pine branches over grass.

 

©Elizabeth Smither from Night Horse

 

Elizabeth Smither’s most recent poetry collection, Night Horse, was published by Auckland University Press in 2017. She also writes novels and short stories.

12 Questions for the Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry finalists: Elizabeth Smither

 

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Congratulations on your short-list placing Elizabeth!

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

Everything by Wislawa Szymborska and the Penguin Modern Poets series (3 poets in each clutch purse-sized collection): Emily Berry/Anne Carson/Sophie Collins; Malika Booker/Sharon Olds/Warsan Shire etc.

 

What other reading attracts you?

Almost anything. At the moment I am re-reading Rex Stout and the yellow pyjama-wearing detective Nero Wolfe.

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection.

I never discover a theme until a collection is put together. The connections between individual poems can be as subtle and perverse as the most delicate rhyme or rhythm.

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being?

Perhaps the secret life of animals?

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

‘The heart heals itself between beats’ because it was a commission with an extra scoop of fear attached.

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

Depth and uncertainty.

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

Nothing. It’s important not to loathe anything.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

Propped up on a bank of pillows in bed, with the concert programme on the radio and perhaps a glass of wine.

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

The chutzpah of our independent publishers; a tendency for too much adulation.

 

Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

Margaret Atwood and Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the Aldeburgh festival. I read first and sat down between them, shivering.

 

If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

I think I’d do a Dead Poets session. Keats and Shelley, Robert Lowell, William Empson, John Crowe Ransom, Tomas Tranströmer, Szymborska, of course… the possibilities are endless. It might have something of the bitchy tone of ‘The Real Housewives of Melbourne’.  To chair it one of the Paulas: Green or Morris.

 

Night Horse AUP author page

 

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The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Poetry shortlist

 

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All shortlists here

Book awards draw attention to books that hook judges for any number of reasons. Hopefully the awards attract new readers and generate new conversations. Check out reactions at The Spin Off to all four lists. In 2017, and I seem to say this every year, New Zealand published an astonishing array of poetry from a diverse range of presses. I loved so much of it, I would have turned down an invitation to judge an award. Yes there were books I utterly loved that didn’t make the long list. Yes there were books from the long list that I utterly loved that didn’t make the short list.

I am really familiar with three of the books on the short list, while the fourth is a pleasing discovery. Each of these books contain poems that gave me goosebumps. So in the spirit of generosity I celebrate the judges’ choices.

What do these poets have in common? Attentiveness!

 

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Elizabeth Smither’s Night Horse   (Auckland University Press)

Last year I read through the captivating stretch of Elizabeth Smither’s poetry: from Here Come the Clouds published in 1975, to the new collection, Night Horse. I was drawn into melodious lines, pocket anecdotes, bright images and enviable movement. Harry Ricketts talked about the transformative quality of Elizabeth’s poems in an interview with Kathryn Ryan, and I agree. As you follow reading paths from the opening line of the first poem — ‘Once, near nightfall, I drove past my mother’s house’—there is always  some form of transformation. The poetry, from debut until now, is meditative, andante, beautiful.

I see a continued poetic attentiveness and an ability to assemble detail that both stalls and surprises the reader. I was thinking the poems are like little jackets that can be worn inside out, and outside in, because Elizabeth offers stillness in movement, and in movement stillness. She generates musicality in plainness, and in plainness there is music. In the strange, there is the ordinary, and in the ordinary, there is strangeness.

Elizabeth so often slows down the pace of her poems so we may linger upon an image, a word, an anecdote, a side-thought to see what surfaces.

I especially love the ongoing friendship and granddaughter poems, but I particularly love the first poem, ‘My mother’s house.’ Kate Camp and I heard Elizabeth read this at the National Library’s Circle of Laureates last year and were so moved and uplifted that we asked for copies! In the poem, unseen, Elizabeth observes her mother move through the house from the street (she told us this autobiographical fact) and sees her in shifting lights. The moment is breathtaking; are we are at our truest self when we are not observed? There is characteristic Smither movement through the poem, slow and attentive, to the point of tilt and surprise. The final lines reverberate and alter the pitch of looking: ‘but she who made it/who would soon walk into the last room/of her life and go to sleep in it.’

 

It was all those unseen moments we do not see

the best of a friend, the best of a mother

competent and gracious in her solitude

 

from ‘My mother’s house’

 

 

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Sue Wootton’s The Yield  (Otago University Press)

Sue Wootton’s shortlisted collection is a sumptuous read, a read that sparks in new directions, while clearly in debt to everything she has written to date. You enter a sumptuous feast of sound and image amongst other glorious things. Several poems feature knitting, and knitting is a perfect analogy for the way Sue’s poems interlace the aural and the visual to produce sensual patterns. The poems have enviable texture and that texture engages both mind and heart.

As I read, the poetry of David Eggleton and Michele Leggott comes to mind.  They both write out of their own skin in ways that are quite unlike the local trend to write conversational poetry. I can see a similar idiosyncratic pulse driving Yield poems as though Sue is pushing boundaries, resisting models, playing and challenging what she can do as a poet.

I am also struck by the heightened musical effects. Sue has always had an attentive ear, but this collection almost feels baroque in the leapfrogging alliteration, assonance and sweet chords. There are traces of the personal in the poems—deaths, a family picnic, illness, a declaration to live life to the utmost, friendship—but I would suggest Sue hides in the crevices. Some of the poems (‘The needlework, the polishing,’ ‘Pray,’ ‘Priest in a coffee shop,’ ‘Graveyard poem,’ ‘Poem to my nearest galaxy’) engage with some kind of spirituality, either through a church building or prayer.

So many poems in the collection stand out for me (and indeed there are a number of award-winning poems here). I especially love ‘Calling,’ ‘Wild,’ ‘Lunch poem for Larry,’ ‘Admission,’ ‘Picnic,’ ‘Unspooling,’ ‘Strange monster,’ ‘A treatise on the benefits of moonbathing,’ ‘The crop,’ ‘Daffodils.’ Ha! Quite a list of poems that matter.

The alluring cover befits the allure of the poems within.

 

Measure my wild. Down to my last leaf,

my furled, my desicated. This deciduousness,

this bloom. Calculate my xylem levels,

my spore count, fungal, scarlet

in a bluebell glade. Whoosh,

where the foliage closes on a great cat.

 

from ‘Wild’

 

 

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Briar Wood Rāwāhi   (Anahera Press)

Briar Wood’s poetry collection gathers, with a wide embrace, details of travel and living, and as the lived-in world grows on the page, the poems set up all manner of conversations. This book draws upon whakapapa, love, relations, ecology, the past and the present. Its warmth and its empathy are infectious.

Briar offers poetry that is both spare in delivery and rich in connection because people and places matter. The book cover glitters white on blue – and for me that is a treat of reading within. Words shine out like little gold nuggets on the line, layering and overlapping, and never losing sight of what matters deeply to the poet.

Poetry can be a way of laying down roots and setting up home in the poem, and on these occasions, it is as though Briar sings home in to being.

 

The sea at night is blacklit,

kikorangi, kōura, topazerine, pango,

a haul of images pouring from nets,

darker than oil underground

 

from ‘Paewai o Te Moana’

 

 

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Tony Beyer’s Anchor Stone (Cold Hub Press)

Tony Beyer was such a discovery for me, I now need to track down his back list. Anchor Stone offers a distinctive voice with each poem judiciously layering detail that animates people, places and events. I am drawn to the measured pace, the slow and steady revelations that beguile and compound. The mix of economy, surprise, wit and physicality is glorious. You get linguistic agility, askew slides and a touch of daring.

No subject is redundant when it comes to poetry – think the land, friendship, trees and stones –  as Tony underlines. ‘Paths’ demonstrates such poetic fluidity, in a sequence of 100 small poems that furnish the outbreath and the inbreath of writing. It is as though each little poem walks its way into thought. Contemplation. The title suggest that these poems are miniature anchors but they are also kite-like in their imaginings and renditions and our need to attend to the physical world we inhabit.

Poetry can embrace beauty, flawed or otherwise, along with ways of belonging.

 

there is someone

everywhere in this house

living or

having lived here

their presence preserved

by a window fastening

the way a door

closes or partly closes

 

from  ‘Paths’

 

 

Each of these collections generates distinctive and diverse poetry pleasures. A big hug to the poets and big hug to all those who missed out on either list. Poetry awards can be tough times when you write, especially when exceptional books don’t make lists, long or short. But for these deserving four poets, it is time to crack open the bubbles and celebrate.

 

 

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Ros Ali picks Elizabeth Smither

 

Spring bulbs

Plant them carelessly. The earth straightens them.
Already they have divided and multiply.
They stand straight up like pencils

among last year’s survivors, also thicker
for a year’s disregard, a feeble weeding
an intention to reform as a gardener

knowing nothing will change: the philosophy
is too broad, too many variants
the huge tree, the little viola

one shivering, the other sending shivering down
on a white head near the ground, sheltering
its tremulousness a little, in its shadow.

©Elizabeth Smither, Night Horse (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2017).

 

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Note from Ros: Delving into Elizabeth Smither’s special new collection, Night Horse, when it was released in June, the poem ‘Spring bulbs’ was an arresting reminder of the fresh green shoots of random bulbs surprising my winter garden, and the all too familiar failure to reform. Significantly, the poem deftly and tenderly shifts its focus, into a deeper contemplation of the vulnerability, beauty and power of the natural world.

Rosalind Ali is a teacher of English and Writing, and Director of Libraries at St Cuthbert’s College in Epsom. She is a member of the Michael King Writers’ Centre Trust and co-facilitates the Michael King Young Writers’ Programme with poet and teacher, Johanna Emeney.

 

Elizabeth Smither has written five novels, five collections of short stories and seventeen poetry collections, the most recent of which was The Blue Coat (2013).  She has twice won the major award for New Zealand poetry and was the 2001–2003 Te Mata Poet Laureate. In 2004 she was awarded an honorary DLitt from the University of Auckland for her contribution to literature and was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. She was given the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2008. In 2016 she won the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize, New Zealand’s most valuable poetry award, judged by Paul Muldoon, and those poems are included in Night Horse.