Tag Archives: Emma Barnes

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Thirteen poems about song

Music is the first poetry attraction for me. I am drawn to poems that sing. Poems sing in multiple keys with affecting and shifting chords, rhythms, harmonies, counterpoints, pitch, cadence, codas, crescendo. Tune your ear into the poetry of Karlo Mila, Emma Neale, Sue Wootton, Bill Manhire, Hinemoana Baker, Michele Leggott, Nina Mingya Powles, Lily Holloway, Alison Wong, Chris Tse, Mohamed Hassan, Gregory Kan, Anna Jackson, David Eggleton and you will hear music before you enter heart, mystery, experience, startle. Take a listen to Bernadette Hall or Dinah Hawken or Anne Kennedy. Anuja Mitra. Louise Wallace. How about Grace Iwashita Taylor? Ian Wedde. Tusiata Avia. Tayi Tibble. Rebecca Hawkes. Helen Rickerby. Selina Tusitala Marsh. Murray Edmond. Apirana Taylor. Iona Winter. Rose Peoples. Sam Duckor Jones. Vincent O’Sullivan. Kiri Pianhana-Wong. Jackson Nieuwland. Serie Barford. Listening in is of the greatest body comfort and you won’t be able to stop leaning your ear in closer. I think of one poet and then another, to the point I could curate an anthology of musical poets. I can name 100 without moving from the kitchen chair. Ah. Bliss.

But for this theme I went in search of poems that speak of song. The poems I have selected are not so much about song but have a song presence that leads in multiple directions. And yes they sing. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes. Two more themes to go.

The poems

poem to Hone Tuwhare 08

the master

adroit composer of

‘No Ordinary Sun’

has gone

and still

the music grows flows
grumbles and laughs

from his pen

only the old house has fallen
to the wind and storm

death shakes the tree
but the bird lives on

Apirana Taylor

from A Canoe in Midstream: Poems new and old, Canterbury University Press, 2009 (2019)

Between Speech and Song

I’m sorry, you said.

What for, I said. And then

you said it again.

The house was cooling.

The pillowcases had blown

across the lawn.

We felt the usual shortcomings

of abstractions. I hope,

you said. Me too, I said.

The distance between our minds

is like the space

between speech and song.

Lynley Edmeades

from As the Verb Tenses, Otago University Press, 2016

Dust House

my sister is humming

through wallpaper

the front door is shutting

and opening like lungs

to kauri trees

leaping upwards through air

my lungs are pressed

between walls

grey warblers sing like

dust moving through air

the sunflower is opening

and shutting like lungs

my lungs are shifting

the air

Rata Gordon

from Second Person, Victoria University Press, 2020

Lullaby

The woman next door sings so slowly someone must have died. She practices her sorry aria through the walls. When we bump on the steps she is neighbourly, maybe, with her purpled eyes. She tries for lightness. The radio tells me it is snowing somewhere south. Drifts fall down for days. The presenter uses the word ghastly far too often. In the ghastly snow, he says, animals dig for their calves. When we meet on the path my own voice is chestnut and dumb. ‘It’s a ghastly thing,’ I say. ‘It was a ghastly mistake.’ In the dark the woman’s voice touches a sweet, high place. It’s a small cupboard where her children once hid when she’d tried to explain ­­– which you never really can – why the animals must paw in the cold, brown slush. Where are the young? Who hears their low, fallow voices?

Sarah Jane  Barnett 

from Bonsai – Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Michelle Elvy, Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe, Canterbury University Press, 2018

Song

i

The song feels like singing,

looks out the window:

clouds glued to the sky,

harbour slate-grey,

hills like collapsed elephants.

There’s food stuck to the highchair,

a plastic spoon on the floor.

The cat stares up in awe at the fridge.

The song opens its mouth,

but seems to have forgotten the words.

ii

The song wakes up.

It’s dark.

Someone is crying.

The morepork in the ngaio

shakes out its slow spondee:

more pork more pork more pork.

Back in the dream a line

of faces passes the window.

Each face smiles, lifts

its lips to show large teeth.

iii

The song sits at the window, humming

ever so softly, tapping

a rhythm on the table-edge, watching

the harbour slowly losing

colour. At the very far end

of the harbour slightly up to the right,

a zip of lights marks the hill

over to Wainuiomata. If that zip

could be unzipped, thinks the song,

the whole world might change.

iv

The song strokes the past

like a boa, like some fur muff

or woollen shawl,

but the past is not soft at all;

it’s rough to the touch,

sharp as broken glass.

v

The song longs to sing in tune.

The song longs to be in tune.

The black dog comes whenever

the song whistles, wagging its tail.

The black dog waits for the song’s whistle.

The black dog wants a long walk.

vi

The song croons “Here Comes the Night”

very quietly. Meanwhile the baby

spoons its porridge into a moon.

The black dog leads the song

down long, unlovely streets.

The night is slowly eating the moon.

Harry Ricketts

from Winter Eyes, Victoria University Press, 2018

The Crowd

The crowd is seaweed and there’s always one man too tall at least or one man dancing too much or one woman touching too much. We form short bonds with each other. The man next to me we briefly worry is a fascist. But him and I set a rhythm of touches with each other as we’re together and apart from the music and the bodies. When the bassline and the drums are inside my entire body they always shake up grief like sediment in water so that I am the sediment and my tears become water. And I am the water and the seaweed at the same time and I hover in the thick of the sound experiencing myself experiencing sound and feeling and my body as one piece of a larger thing. I want to be part of a larger thing as often as I can. So many days there isn’t enough music to pull us together. We shred each other, other days. A little rip. A tiny tear. A deep cut. We curl backwards into ourselves to do the damage. I follow the line. I rise into it because it is the sea and the only thing to do is to rise. I am bread and I am fire. I am the line of the horizon as it is reflected back to you. We make our own beds and lie in them. You will have said something. To me. Later, as I think it through I remember us neck to neck, clutching.

Emma Barnes

from Sweet Mammalian 7

singing in the wire

The song is a clutch of mailboxes

at the end of an undulating road,

an unsteady stack of bee-hives

beside poplars.

The song is the whine from a transformer,

crickets, waist-high roadside grass,

a summer that just will not let up.

The song is a power pole’s pale-brown

ceramic cup receiving a direct hit

from a clod flung by my brother.

It is looped bars laid

against the white paper of a gravel road.

Released the year and month my father died,

‘Wichita Lineman’ can still bring me the valley

where we lived,

still bring me grief, the sound

of wind through wire, the loneliness

of country verges; but does not bring

my father back. You can ask

too much of a song.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

from Born To A Red-Headed Woman, Otago University Press 2014

thursday quartet 9:15

The stairwell grew and rolled

with slackened half-night. Quite clearly

she saw how her words had become her.

When she sang she remembered; her breath was deep

letters unnudged. The stairwell hummed. Everything

smelt of other people’s hands.

One, two, three. Another life had trained her ready.

She knew these breaths. It had been a day

of near misses, daredevil secret creatures

who followed her home, a line of sight

and the road, misadventured art deco.

Had she been good enough?  

At night her window smithied day.

She could see the boats as they came.

The stairwell rose and then uprising

the first notes.

Pippi Jean

Trigger



When Johnny Cash
was sad he’d call
Willie Nelson and
ask for a joke.

Willie knew a
dirty joke – good
or bad – was the
secret to happiness.

Some people haven’t
yet realised that Willie
Nelson is one of the
greatest singers, guitarists

and songwriters. But
there’s time. There’s always
time. Despite it being
funny how it always seems

to just slip away. Still,
to add to the legends of
Willie smoking pot
on the roof of the White House

and blowing out interviewers
so that they couldn’t remember
where they parked their car or
where they lived or worked,

we can now thank Willie not
only for his 70 albums and for
writing the greatest jukebox
weepie of all time…

But, also, on some level, he
helped keep Johnny Cash alive
for as long as he lasted. Johnny
battled his depression

with a dirty joke from Willie
Nelson. I’m not saying it works
for everyone but it served
The Man in Black.

Simon Sweetman

from off the tracks website

Sunday’s Song

A tin kettle whistles to the ranges;

dry stalks rustle in quiet field prayer;

bracken spores seed dusk’s brown study;

the river pinwheels over its boulders;

stove twigs crackle and race to blaze;

the flame of leaves curls up trembling.

Church bells clang, and sea foam frays;

there’s distant stammers of revving engines,

a procession of cars throaty in a cutting,

melody soughing in the windbreak trees,

sheep wandering tracks, bleating alone.

Sunday sings for the soft summer tar;

sings for camellias, fullness of grapes;

sings for geometries of farming fence lines;

sings for the dead in monumental stone;

sings for cloud kites reddened by dusk —

and evening’s a hymn, sweet as, sweet as,

carrying its song to streets and to suburbs,

carrying its song to pebbles and hay bales,

carrying its song to crushed metal, smashed glass,

and fading in echoes of the old folks’ choir.

David Eggleton

from The Conch Trumpet, Otago University Press, 2015

Ephemera

My brother says that he doesn’t

understand poetry. He hears the words

but they all intersperse into a polyphonic

whirl of voices; no meaning to them

beyond the formation and execution

of sounds upon lips, pressing together

and coming apart. I cannot touch or feel

words, but I see them ‒ the word ‘simile’

is a grimacing man, poised on the edge

of polite discomfort and anguish. ‘Dazzled’ is

a 1920s flapper with broad, black eyes

and lank black hair around the edges of

her face. A boy in my music class hears

colours ‒ well, not hearing as such, he says,

but images in his mind’s eye. People play

tunes and ask him what colour it is, but

they play all at once, and he says that it is

the indistinguishable brown of all colours

combined. I think of a boy I used to know

called Orlando, and how this word conjures

the sight of a weathered advert for a tropical holiday

in my mind ‒ a forgotten promise, just ephemera

and not to be mentioned. The History room at school smells

like strange, zesty lemons, like the smell when you

peel a mandarin and its pores disperse their

sebum into the air, or when you squeeze the juice

from a lemon into your hands, and feel it dissolve

the soapy first layer of skin. I always think of

a certain someone when I smell this, even though

they wear a different perfume, and when I listen

to soft guitar ballads I think of them too, even though

I know they wouldn’t have heard them. All

of the sounds and smells and thoughts blend

into ephemera, scorched postcards of violets and

swallows, etched with the perfect handwriting of

old, consigned to antique stores that smell of

smoke. Things of the past with no value, no

substance, just air filled with citrus mist. I collect

each word and strain of what was once fresh in

my mind, in a forgotten jacket pocket, to be discovered

on some rainy day, years later. I’ll pull out the

postcard and think of the way I always look twice

when I see someone with curly hair; the word ‘longing’

is a blue wisp that creeps between the cracks

in my fingers. That wisp hides in these things,

tucked away, like the 1930s train tickets I found

in an old book. I wonder if their owner ever made it

to their destination. I wonder who they were.

Cadence Chung

first appeared in Milly’s Magazine

Love songs we haven’t written

Within the warm wreckage of me,

I’d never dare to ask you, but

in that moment when pain finds it plowing rhythm,

would you want me dead?

It’s a startling thought.

So round and whole and ordinary.

But you can’t know these things until

you’re sunk deep in the geometry of them. Of course,

the bed I lie on would be lily white and threatening levitation.

I would imagine the emptiness I leave and

you would think of all the ways to fill it.

That is the grotesque version.

It should of course be the other way around.

I don’t need misery to write poetry.

For me words come only after precarity passes

and there is safety in sitting still for long stretches.

Words, eventually, have the thickness of matter

left out too long in the sun. My love,

If we had a daughter, I’d be more dangerous.

She’d lick words whole     out of the air.

I would recognize her tiny anthem.

Like you, she’d need two anchors, and only one mast.

Like me, she’d be immovable, a miniature old woman

by seven years old.

Catherine Trundle

thursday’s choir

my singing teacher says yawning during lessons is good

it means the soft palate is raised and air circulates the bulb of your skull

to be pulled out between front teeth like a strand of taut hair 

gum skin or yesterday’s nectarine fibre

in empty classrooms my body is a pear, grounded but reaching

the piano is out of tune, its chords now elevator doors

a shrieking melody that says: relish the peeling off

floss til you bleed and watch through the bannisters

voices merge like a zip ripped over fingers

reeling backwards and thrown to the wall

are all the arcades, rubber children

midnight sirens and birds sounding off one by one

the sopranos cry out offering forged banknotes

while the altos bring the alleyways

you crash through the windscreen, thumbs deep in pie

laundromat coins with that rhythm

Lily Holloway

Emma Barnes lives and writes in Te Whanganui-ā-Tara. She’s working on an anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writing with co-conspirator Chris Tse. It’s to be published by AUP in 2021. In her spare time she lifts heavy things up and puts them back down again.

Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer and editor from Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published widely in Aotearoa. Her debut poetry collection A Man Runs into a Woman (Hue + Cry Press) was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her secondcollection Work (Hue + Cry Press) was published in 2015. Sarah is currently writing a book on womanhood and midlife.

Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020 and is titled Upturned. She lives and writes in Ootepoti / Dunedin.

Cadence Chung is a student from Wellington High School. She started writing poetry during a particularly boring maths lesson when she was nine. Outside of poetry, she enjoys singing, reading old books, and perusing antique stores.

Lynley Edmeades is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Listening In (Otago Uni Press, 2019). She lives in Dunedin and teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of Otago.

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.

Rata Gordon is a poet, embodiment teacher and arts therapist. Her first book of poetry Second Person was published in 2020 by Victoria University Press. Through her kitchen window, she sees Mount Karioi. www.ratagordon.com 

Lily Holloway is a queer nacho-enthusiast. She is forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8 and you can find her work on lilyholloway.co.nz.

Pippi Jean is eighteen and just moved to Wellington for her first year at Victoria University. Her most recent works can be found in Landfall, Starling, Takahe, Mayhem, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook among others.

Harry Ricketts teaches English literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. His Selected Poems appeared in June, Victoria University Press.

Simon Sweetman is a writer and broadcaster. His debut book of poems, “The Death of Music Journalism” was published last year via The Cuba Press. He is the host of the weekly Sweetman Podcast and he writes about movies, books and music for a Substack newsletter called “Sounds Good!” (simonsweetman.substack.com to sign up). He blogs at Off The Tracks and sometimes has a wee chat about music on RNZ. He lives in Wellington with Katy and Oscar, the loves of his life. They share their house with Sylvie the cat and Bowie the dog. 


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.

Catherine Trundle is a poet and anthropologist, with recent works published in Landfall, Takahē, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, Not Very Quiet, and Plumwood Mountain.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

Thirteen poems about home

Ten poems about edge

Eleven poems about breakfast

Twelve poems about kindness

Thirteen poems about light

Poetry Shelf review: Emma Barnes’s I Am in Bed with You

I Am in Bed with You, Emma Barnes, Auckland University Press, 2021

I am in bed with you. The room varies. But I’m always on the

left. I am pulling the pieces of myself into myself. In the winter

I left myself behind in the 90s. I’m coming back now. You

can see the light touching me. I can see layers of tissue finally

making a body. And once I have a body I have a head. And in

my head are these thoughts. I can’t tell you what it is like with

words. You can hold my hand and feel my pulse, but I was in

1994. I didn’t like

it there. When I am getting through days I don’t even know I

am making it. I am the legume in that story about royalty. And

then on the other side I open up like a lake into a river. I can

survey the lean fields of my insides as if I am owner of all

those glistening blades. In 1994 I was fourteen. I buried some-

thing back there. I buried it alive in a biscuit tin. This winter

makes choices I’d have made differently. Your mother cooked

a roast chicken every

Saturday unless a larger animal had died. (…)

from ‘I am in bed with you’

Emma Barnes’s debut collection I Am in Bed with You is a sublime read. Their poems hit such pitch-perfect notes any attempt to share my reading engagements will fall short. It’s like when someone asks why you like this painting or this song or this poem and all you can say I love it. Get the book. Find your own engagements.

And yet.

And yet this book haunts me to the degree I want to talk about it with you. There are three sections: ‘This is a creation myth’, ‘Sigourney Weaver in your dreams’ and ‘The Run-Around’.

There is a moving acknowledgements page. I love this page. In fact I am loving this choice in a number of recent publications – tributes paid to the communities and individuals that a book is in debt to. Emma begins by saying: ‘The most important thank you for any Pākehā writer is to mihi the mana whenua of Aotearoa for their generosity in the face of continued acts non-consent and disrespect by us, their Treaty partners. I am truly privileged to be a treaty partner, to have this place to stand and to receive repeated gifts and offerings of manaakitanga.’

Emma thanks a high-school teacher and her publisher Sam Elworthy (Auckland University Press) who prompted her ‘to transform reluctance into curiosity’. I love this too. A publisher who is nurturing all manner of vital poetry collections and connections into the world (think A Clear Dawn, AUP New Poets 8). And of course friends and family. Taking time to offer such a heartfelt mihi matters.

Emma’s collection refreshes a joy in sentences. This is a book where sentences are the exquisite building blocks of poetry. Crafted with an ear attuned to sound, rhythm and chords, and an eye for movement that may startle, dazzle, draw you in closer.

The opening poem in the opening section is akin to a creation myth; an original origin story: inventive funny fabulous. The poems that follow resemble creation episodes; the speaker is vulnerable and bold in their self exposures, in the creating and making of self, dismissed body, gendered self, self expectation. The mother is missing, longed for or discounted. Being woman being man being another is faced. The sentences are off-real surreal cloaked hyper-real skating and free-sliding from feeling to nothing to question to admission to nothing to strange detail to wounding edge to invisibility to laugh out loud. To being unbearably moved.

Sigourney Weaver tells me that desire has a hard edge. The end. The

limit it enforces by virtue of its own inevitability. She’s been reading

the internet again. Sigourney Weaver says that our bodies are wishes

made from DNA and that time and time again we defeat ourselves with

our limited thinking. Always imagining edges. The edge of desire

is only there because we out it there. And we put it there because we

can’t make sense of a world where we could desire and act in equal

measure. Trust Sigourney Weaver to get me tied up in knots without any

rope. Not even the tiniest string around my finger. I like a boundary,

Sigourney Weaver. I like clear statements. I like small words. (…)

from ‘Sigourney Weaver confronts the limits of desire’

The middle section of poems stars Sigourney Weaver. If you want to hang out with a famous film star you can do it in a sequence of poems and then you get to choose how things will pan out. The speaker is hanging out with Sigourney in Aro Valley. They rent movies, kiss, take ecstasy, kiss, have an android baby. It is wickedly funny, so so funny, with a twist of weird and strange and creepy. Sigourney buys a place, a van, becomes a citizen, and in all the curious surreal twists – exhilarating, hilarious, uplifting – your heart is consistently tugged. Look to the weird and you find the ordinary: house-moving cartons, dresses and pigtails, ballgowns, mint-flavoured life savers. This sweetly crafted sequence also finds sustenance in the joy of the sentence.

The final section’s refrain is love. Love poems that are like prismatic love songs with shifting chords and rhythms, the ‘you’ elusive and on the move. In the other sections poems are given breathing-space as they break apart into stanzas. Here the poems appear as dense paragraphs – framed by the white space of breath yes – but catching love’s intensity, love as unfathomable, physical, intimate, complicated, hard to say. Again there is a glorious sway between the weird and the surreal and a familiar heart-grasp of relationships, aloneness, closeness. You can’t breathe as you read, as you feel.

Emma has produced a collection unlike any other I know with its unifying addiction to the sentence, and motifs that go deeper than surface beacons: think age, body expectations, gender, the making of self, the lasting effects of childhood, experiences that bite, disappearing acts, love, desire, more love, more desire. You will meet dreams and demons and epiphanies. Writing is musing, reflecting back, side-drifting, inventing, confessing. You will revel in the joy (and pain) of writing, and yes writing becomes, and yes writing is a form of becoming. Extraordinary.

Emma Barnes studied at the University of Canterbury and lives in Aro Valley, Wellington. Their poetry has been widely published for more than a decade in journals including Landfall, Turbine | Kapohau, Cordite and Best New Zealand Poems. They are currently co-editing with Chris Tse an anthology of LGBTQIA+ and takatāpui writing from Aotearoa New Zealand for Auckland University Press.

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf: Emma reads four poems from I Am in Bed with You

An unpublished poem ‘The lake’ in Poetry Shelf water theme

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Thirteen poems about water

‘A poem is / a ripple of words / on water wind-huffed’

Hone Tuwhare

from ‘Wind, Song and Rain’ in Sap-wood & Milk, Caveman Press, 1972

The ocean is my go-to salve. Before we went into level-four lockdown last year, I went to Te Henga Bethells Beach near where I live. I stood by the water’s edge as the sun was coming up. The air was clear and salty. Not a soul in sight. I breathed in and I breathed out, and I saved that sublime moment for later. Like a screen shot. Over the ensuing weeks in lockdown, I was able to return to that spot, my eyes on the water, my senses feeding on wildness and beauty. Look through my poetry collections and you will see I can’t keep the ocean out. It is always there somewhere.

Unsurprisingly there is a profusion of water poems in Aotearoa – think the ocean yes, but lakes and rivers and floods and dripping taps. This was an impossible challenge: whittling all the poems I loved down to a handful. I hadn’t factored in leaving poems out when I came up with my theme-season plan. Some poets are particularly drawn to water. Kiri Piahana-Wong’s sublime collection Night Swimming is like an ode to water. The same can be said of Lynn Davidson’s glorious collections How to Live by the Sea and The Islander. Or read your way through Apirana Taylor’s poems and you will find they are water rich – and his poetry flows like water currents. As does the poetry of Hone Tuwhare. Again water rich. And of course the poetry of Dinah Hawken, with her lyrical eye bringing the natural world closer, water a constant companion.

I have so loved this water sojourn. The poems are not so much about water but have a water presence. I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who continue to support my season of themes.

The poems

Girl from Tuvalu

girl sits on porch

back of house

feet kicking

salt water skimming

like her nation

running fast

nowhere to go

held up by

Kyoto Protocol

An Inconvenient Truth

this week her name is Siligia

next week her name will be

Girl from Tuvalu: Environmental Refugee

her face is 10,000

her land is 10 square miles

she is a dot

below someone’s accidental finger

pointing westwards

the bare-chested boys

bravado in sea spray

running on tar-seal

they are cars

they are bikes

they are fish out of water

moana waves a hand

swallows

a yellow median strip

moana laps at pole houses

in spring tide

gulping lost piglets

and flapping washing

girl sits on porch

kicking

Selina Tusitala Marsh

from Dark Sparring, Auckland University Press, 2013, picked by Amy Brown

The body began to balance itself

It started to rain

and it was not clear

if this would last a short time

or a long time

so I got my husband

and colleagues

and the librarian

and the owner of the local chip shop

and the humourless lady who failed me

on eyesight at the driver licence testing station

into a boat

though it was extremely cramped

and they rowed

out to the open ocean

and sat quiet

and waited.

Louise Wallace

from Bad Things, Victoria University Press, 2017

The Lid Slides Back

Let me open

my pencil-case made of native woods.

It is light and dark in bits and pieces.

The lid slides back.

The seven pencils are there, called Lakeland.

I could draw a sunset.

I could draw the stars.

I could draw this quiet tree beside the water.

Bill Manhire

from The Victims of Lightning, Victoria University Press, 2010

Train of thought

I thought of vitality,

I thought of course of a spring.

I thought of the give inherent

in the abiding nature of things.

I thought of the curve of a hammock

between amenable trees.

I thought of the lake beyond it

calm and inwardly fluent

and then I was thinking of you.

You appeared out of the water

like a saint appearing from nowhere

as bright as a shining cuckoo

then dripping you stood in the doorway

as delighted by friendship as water

and beaming welcomed us in.

Dinah Hawken

The lake

The ripples are small enough. The lake surface is the lake surface is the lake surface. All lakes exist in the same space of memory. Deep dark water. The scent of stones. I think of a swift angle to depth. I think of the sound when you’re underwater and the gravel shifts beneath your feet. I think of all the colours of water that look black, that look wine dark, that look like youth looking back at me. I can barely take it. I can see the lake breathing. I am the lake breathing. The lake breathes and I breathe and the depth of both of us is able to be felt by finger, by phone, by feeling. Don’t ask what you don’t want to know. I ask everything. I want to know nothing, everything, just tell it all to me. The gravel shifts again with the long-range round echo of stones underwater. I am separate parts breathing together. You say that I am a little secret. You say, as your brain seizes, that you have lost the way. Your eyes flicker and flutter under your eyelids as you try to find what’s lost, what’s gone forever. Nothing can really be found. I am never located when I want to be located the most. I am instead still that teenager on the side of the road with a cello hard case for company. I forget I exist. You forget I exist. I’ve forgotten I’ve believed I’ve not existed before. I’ve not forgotten you. Never forgotten your face. Could never. Would never. I don’t know how to communicate this with you in a way that you’ll understand. My mouth waters. I am back in the lake again. Except I’m the lake and I’m water myself.

Emma Barnes

Flow

To the stone, to the hill, to the heap, to the seep,

to the drip, to the weep, to the rock, to the rill,

to the fell, to the wash, to the splash, to the rush,

to the bush, to the creep, to the hush;

to the down, to the plain, to the green, to the drift,

to the rift, to the graft, to the shift, to the break,

to the shake, to the lift, to the fall, to the wall,

to the heft, to the cleft, to the call;

to the bend, to the wend, to the wind, to the run,

to the roam, to the rend, to the seam, to the foam,

to the scum, to the moss, to the mist, to the grist,

to the grind, to the grain, to the dust;

to the core, to the gorge, to the grove, to the cave,

to the dive, to the shore, to the grave, to the give,

to the leave, to the oar, to the spring, to the tongue,

to the ring, to the roar, to the song;

to the surge, to the flood, to the blood, to the urge

to the rage, to the rod, to the rood, to the vein,

to the chain, to the town, to the side, to the slide,

to the breadth, to the depth, to the tide;

to the neap, to the deep, to the drag, to the fog,

to the stick, to the slick, to the sweep, to the twig,

to the roll, to the tug, to the roil, to the shell,

to the swell, to the ebb, to the well, to the sea.

Airini Beautrais

from Flow, Victoria University Press, 2017, picked by Amy Brown

as the tide

i am walking the path

around hobson bay point

nasturtiums grow up the cliff face

and the pitted mud has a scattering

of thick jagged pottery, bricks

faded edam cheese packaging

and a rusty dish rack

all of the green algae

is swept in one direction

i am only aware of the blanketed crabs

when a cloud passes overhead

and they escape in unison

into their corresponding homes

claws nestling under aprons

my dad talks about my depression

as if it were the tide

he says, ‘well, you know,

the water is bound to go in and out’

and to ‘hunker down’

he’s trying to make sense of it

in a way he understands

so he can show me his working

i look out to that expanse,

bare now to the beaks of grey herons, which i realise is me

in this metaphor

Lily Holloway

Ode to the water molecule

 

‘Our body is a moulded river.’ Novalis

 

Promiscuous, by some accounts,

or simply playing the field—

     indecisive, yet so decidedly

yourself, you are

 

all these things: ice flow,

cloud cover,

     bend of a river,

crystalline structure

 

on an aeroplane window, fire-

bucket or drop

in the ocean, dissolver of a morning’s

     tablets or

 

mountain range. We envy you

your irresolution,

          the way you get along

with yourself, as glacier

     or humidity of

 

an overheated afternoon. A glass

of pitch-black water

               drunk at night.

Catchment and run-off. Water,

         we allow you

 

your flat roof and rocky bed

but there are also

          tricks we have taught you:

papal fountain, water

feature, liquid chandelier and

     boiling jug. It is, however,

                 your own mind

 

you make up, adept as you are

          —‘the universal solvent’—

at both piecing together

and tearing apart. With or

 

without us, you find your own

structure, an O and two H’s

                    in the infinity

 

of your three-sidedness, your

     triangulation, at once trinity

and tricycle. Two oars

and a dinghy, rowed.

 

Colourless, but for

‘an inherent hint of blue’,

     molecule in which

we are made soluble, the sum

of our water-based parts—

 

resourceful, exemplary friend

      kindred spirit – not one to jump to

conclusions

as you would traverse a stream, but rather

 

as you would leap in. Fluid,

by nature—given to swimming more than

being swum—

    with rain as your spokesperson,

 

tattooed surface of a river’s

undiluted wonder,

          snowfall and drift,

you enter the flow

 

of each of us, turn us around

     as you turn yourself around

as tears,

     sustenance,

          more tears.

 

Gregory O’Brien

first appeared (in a typeset and ‘drawn’ version) in PN Review 252, in the UK, March-April 2020.

First dusk of autumn here and i swim

through fish flicker through

little erasing tails

 

that rub the seafloor’s light-net out

that ink in night

 

down south winter warms to her task and 

will arrive smelling of wet shale in 

a veil of rain     

 

bats flicker into leaves 

to rub the tree-cast light-net from the grass

to ink in night 

Lynn Davidson

Waiheke

You yearn so much
you could be a yacht.
Your mind has already
set sail. It takes a few days
to arrive

at island pace,
but soon you are barefoot
on the sand,
the slim waves testing
your feet

like health professionals.
You toe shells, sea glass, and odd things
that have drifted for years
and finally
washed up here.

You drop your towel
and step out of
your togs, ungainly,
first
your right foot, then

the other
stepping down
the sand
to stand
in the water.

There is no discernible
difference
in temperature.
You breaststroke in
the lazy blue.

A guy passing in a rowboat
says, ‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’
And it is. Your body
afloat in salt
as if cured.

James Brown

from Poetry, 2018, picked by Frankie McMillan

Mere Taito

Isthmus

Write the sea in your heart, write the rain.

Only that. Words are a poor habit. Let

the wind slide under your ribs let the rain,

for no one will love you the way

you write to be loved,

and your name only a name – but the green

edge of a wave made knifish by light

or some hurtful winter clarity in the water:

a bright sheet of sky against the horizon as if

breathing, as if the air itself

is your own self, waiting. Only there.

And know how your heart is the green deep sea,

dark and clear and untame,

and its chambers are salt and the beating

of waves, and the waves breaking,

and the waves.

Olivia Macassey

from Takahē, issue 90

Deep water talk

In honour of Hone Tuwhare

& no-one knows

if your eyes are

blurred red from

the wind, too

much sun, or the 

tears streaking your

face that could be

tears or just lines of

dried salt, who 

can tell

& you never can tell

if you are seasick,

drunk, or just

hungover—the 

symptoms are the

same

& sea and sky merge

until the horizon is

nothing but an

endless blue line

in every direction, 

so that you are sailing,

not on the sea, as you

thought, but in a

perfectly blue, circular 

bowl, never leaving

the centre

& you wonder who 

is moving, you or

the clouds racing

by the mast-head

& you wonder if

those dark shapes

in the water are 

sharks, shadows, or

nothing but old fears

chasing along behind

you

& the great mass of

land recedes, you 

forget you were

a land-dweller, 

feeling the pull 

of ancient genes

—in every tide, your

blood sings against

the moon

& food never tasted

so good, or water

so sweet—you’ve 

never conserved water

by drinking wine

before—and rum;

and coke; and rum 

and coke; and can

after can of cold

beer

& your sleep is

accompanied, not

by the roar of traffic 

on the highway,

but by the creaks

and twangs of your

ship as she pitches

and moans through

the dark ocean,

all alone

& you wonder—

where did that bird,

that great gull perching

on the bowsprit,

come from?

Kiri Piahana-Wong

from Night Swimming, Anahera Press, 2013

The Poets

Emma Barnes lives and writes in Pōneke / Wellington. They have just released their first book I Am In Bed With You. For the last two years they’ve been working with Chris Tse on an anthology of LGBTQIA+ and Takatāpui writing to be released this year by Auckland University Press. They work in Tech and spend a lot of time picking heavy things up and putting them back down again. 

Airini Beautrais lives in Whanganui and is the author of four poetry collections and a collection of short fiction. Her most recent poetry collection is Flow: Whanganui River Poems (VUP 2017). Bug Week and Other Stories recently won the Ockham NZ Book Fiction Award 2021.

James Brown’s Selected Poems was published by VUP in 2020. He is working on a new book.

Lynn Davidson’s latest poetry collection Islander is published by Shearsman Books and Victoria University Press. She had a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 and a Bothy Project Residency at Inshriach Bothy in the Cairngorms in 2016.  In 2011 she was Visiting Artist at Massey University. She won the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Award, 2020 and is the 2021 Randell Cottage Writer in Residence. Lynn has a doctorate in creative writing and teaches creative writing. She recently returned to New Zealand after four years living and writing in Edinburgh.  

Dinah Hawken lives and writes in Paekakariki. Her ninth collection of poetry, Sea-light, will be published by Victoria University Press in August, 2021.

Lily Holloway is a queer nacho-enthusiast. She is forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8 and you can find her work here.

Olivia Macassey’s poems have appeared in Poetry New ZealandTakahēLandfallBriefOtolithsRabbit and other places. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and The Burnt Hotel (Titus). Her website

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.

Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FRSNZ) is the former New Zealand Poet Laureate and  has performed poetry for primary schoolers and presidents (Obama), queers and Queens (HRH Elizabeth II). She has published three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Fast Talking PI (2009), Dark Sparring (2013), Tightrope (2017) and an award-winning graphic memoir, Mophead (Auckland University Press, 2019) followed by Mophead TU (2020), dubbed as ‘colonialism 101 for kids’.

Gregory O’Brien recently completed a new collection of poems Streets and Mountains and is presently working on a monograph about artist Don Binney for AUP.

Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. She lives in Auckland.

Mere Taito is a poet living and working in Kirikiriroa. She is interested in the way poetry can be used to revitalise minority Indigenous languages like Fäeag Rotuạm ta.

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.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Emma Barnes reads from I Am in Bed with You

Emma Barnes reads four poems from I Am in Bed with You, Auckland University Press, 2021

‘Maiden Mother Crone’

‘Ohio’

‘Low boughs’

‘Completely dry riverbed’

Emma Barnes lives and writes in Pōneke / Wellington. They have just released their first book I Am In Bed With You. For the last two years they’ve been working with Chris Tse on an anthology of LGBTQIA+ and Takatāpui writing to be released this year by Auckland University Press. They work in Tech and spend a lot of time picking heavy things up and putting them back down again. 

Auckland University Press page

Poetry Shelf classic poem: Tate Fountain picks Emma Barnes’s ‘White Tuxedo’

 

White Tuxedo

 

I dream of you in a white tuxedo. It is a wedding. It is not our wedding.

But the face that you affix to yourself when you look into me is the face

of the man viewing the woman. Hello this is love. Your square jaw. Your

soft, capable, all knowing mouth. Hello even your bluest and greenest

eyes. Everyone is wearing white. I look down at myself and I am lace over

pearlescent white water wings and I am shaking with adrenaline. We walk

holding hands and you’re a helium balloon I tug to earth with my

unexpected weight. Your hands slip over me. You in a white fitted shirt

with your head thrown back. We lie in bed together wrapped tightly in disbelief.

Some of our best moments were sleeping. Some of our best

moments were only in our eyes. You tilt your head to turn to me and the

whole world follows behind you.

 

Emma Barnes

 

The poem was originally published in the journal, Sweet Mammalian 3

 

 

Note from Tate Fountain:

I rarely pass specific poems on to friends, despite the amount I read and my general penchant for sharing. ‘White Tuxedo’, however, was immediately dispatched to the other side of the globe: this is a very good poem, I told my best friend, the link attached in a Twitter DM. And it is, of course, precisely that. A very good poem. A bittersweet one, which accomplishes so much in something so seemingly simple.

‘White Tuxedo’ balances the delightful with the devastating, and both elements are augmented for the presence of the other. There is an ease to Barnes’ language, unadorned yet undoubtedly calculated, which lends both to fine poignancy—‘Your/ soft, capable, all knowing mouth’—and to forward propulsion—‘lace over/ pearlescent white water wings […]’. The fourth ‘sentence’, if you will—‘But the face that you affix to yourself when you look at me is the face/ of the man viewing the woman’—pierces. It verbalises a distinct discomfort, and the inescapable air of objectification, that I’ve so often found in ‘heterosexual’ experiences. (This is perhaps furthered by the wedding in the poem, and how pointedly it is not that of the narrator and the subject.) Of course, this line might just as well signal romance to someone else (‘Hello this is love’): perhaps an ode to the archetypes of affection by which they have seen themselves represented. This may be the loving look of literature, of cinema, of song—which is a valid interpretation, and a testament to the multitudes Barnes’ phrasing can contain (though it may also be the kind of feminine subjecthood that Barnes, in penning this particular poem, has explicitly reversed).

What I love most about ‘White Tuxedo’, though, is entrenched in each and every phrase: say it with me, gang—the intimacy of it all. This intimacy is a condition that I’m always looking for in poetry; in art, in life. The knowing of somebody, and an existence shared with them, that cannot be erased by the conclusion of it. The enormity of that understanding; making macro of the minute. Really, I have always had to share this poem just for its final statement, in which Barnes handles the depth of these ideas with sparing, rapturous clarity: ‘You tilt your head to turn to me and the/ whole world follows behind you.’ It’s delicious. It’s immediate, and it’s immense. It says everything it needs to. It’s very, very good.

 

Tate Fountain is an Auckland-based writer, actor, and academic, whose recent work can be found in Starling, Perception, Gold Hand and MIM. In 2018, she self-published the chapbook Letters, which found readers around the world, and she has just begun a literary newsletter, which she hopes might be read by five people.

 

Emma Barnes lives and writes Te Whanganui-ā-Tara. She’s working on an anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writing with co-conspirator Chris Tse. It’s to be published by AUP in 2021. In her spare time she lifts heavy things up and puts them back down again.