There is the possible world in which, having no safety net to fall into, I killed myself.
There is the world in which acclaim came early with a book called something like Sex Owls of the Sun, and the effects of success jaded me, so I stopped pursuing the art that I loved.
And there is also the world that was a succession of cool, forgettable evenings spent among canapés and loud friends, in which we aged so slowly that we hardly noticed it, until it blurred our vision like damp creeping into a camera.
Erik Kennedy is the author of the poetry collections There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (2018) and Another Beautiful Day Indoors (2022), both with Victoria University Press, and he has co-edited No Other Place to Stand, a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific forthcoming from Auckland University Press in 2022. His poems, stories, and criticism have been published in places like FENCE, Hobart, Maudlin House, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch.
Ah. Love is my final theme. My seventeenth gathering. I chose love because love is the ink in my pen, it drives the pencil filling my notebooks. It’s the reason I keep two blogs running when, at times, it seems impossible. There is the love of reading and writing stretching back to childhood. Love poetry can embrace many subjects, moods, objects, experiences, relationships. So many poetry books in Aotearoa are steeped in love. In what is written and, just as importantly, in the infectious love poets feel for the power of words. For the possibility of the line, silence, music, physical detail. As readers, writers, publishers, reviewers, booksellers of poetry, we are connected through a shared and invigorating love of poetry. Ah.
To celebrate the end of my theme season I have ten copies of Wild Honey: Reading New Zealand Women’s Poetry to give away. I will sign one for you or for a friend. You can leave a comment on the blog, on FB or Twitter: Which theme resonated for you? What theme do you suggest if I should ever do this again? Or just email me if you have my address.
Grateful thanks and aroha to all the poets, publishers and readers who have supported my season of themes. I so loved doing this!
So far it has worked by imagining you in all the places I would like you to be
this is the one I love. he is not here but the air is still warm from where he might have been
we have spent hours circling each other with words-thinly vowelled embraces
how to translate these words into silences or the silences into words
when I cannot fix you behind my eyes I carry your absence like stars on the blue roof
from Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2016
Two sitting at a table two at a table sitting two and two a table in the grass in the grass a table and on the table empty almost with a little a little empty almost but with a little water there sits a jar for love on the table a jar for love not a fresh jar every day fresh every day nothing in the jar that lasts always fresh they are sitting sitting at the table looking they are looking at the jar at the table at each other they are sitting looking sitting at the table at the jar looking looking sitting now is nearly the day the day is nearly now now go to sleep go to love go to jar go to look look looking look sit sitting catch that catch two sitting at a table two at table sitting two and two and two a table in the grass
from Fool Moon, Auckland University Press, 2004
Because of you
in you I see the shape of the heart all poets try to explain
you, the greatest poem I could never pen
how blessed I am to mother a son to exercise hope and love when everything else is absent
Son, your are a gift to men because of you I pray for men still love men hold hope for me, for you.
from Full Broken Bloom, Ala Press, 2017
The wind has shaken everything out of the quince tree. Behold the bony gullets of fledglings as yellow as the towers of rock that arise in Wyoming. ‘Stop blocking the gangway,’ the old woman used to say, cutting away long roils of yellow clay with her spade, hell bent on re-configuring a brand new version of genetically modified melancholy. ‘Never forget how the old ones arrived from Dubh Linn, the Place of the Dark Pool, formed from the union of the River Liffey and the River Poddle. Never forget that we are arisen from a line of proud people.’ And here I am, holding onto my end of the string and I know, my love, that you are holding onto the other.
Aroha mai I was trying to get to you but the wind kept changing direction
Aroha atu she hates it when institutions use Te Reo in their signatures she hates it when my wet hair drips all over the bedsheets
Aroha mai I couldn’t see you this time I was down a rabbit hole along the coast beside the point
Aroha atu love given love received there isn’t enough room in this house to house our love the brick square flat beneath a rectangle sky
Aroha mai your baby finally came the angels found your address submerged in yesterday’s current and she’s clapping in every photo
Aroha atu my feet don’t touch the ground these days take the stairs to stay fit I keep my car full of gas it is easy to recycle the past
Aroha mai my ghost is in town and I don’t know if I should email her back
Aroha atu already the skeleton wings of this year are casting long shadows we don’t know what’s for dinner but next door’s Tui keeps singing all the buried bones to life
and you’re opening every can of beans in the cupboard to feed the tired warrior in my arms
Courtney Sina Meredith
from Burnt Kisses on the Actual Wind, Beatnik Publishing, 2021
Helping my father remember
My father is in the business of transmissions. A radio technician, the basic premise being that a message is sent out, then received. Except something’s gone wrong with the wiring, and he didn’t teach me how to fix it. I see him, standing at the kitchen bench, his hand hovering over an orange and paring knife; trying to think what he had planned.
There is evidence that sound helps restore memory: the sound of a cricket ball colliding with tin fence; lemonade meeting beer in a shandy; sticks smouldering in the air, when pulled from a camp fire. The doctor says depression, my sister says stress, my father says stop being so bloody dramatic.
They say I am the most like you, and that we are like your mother. I am following you through tall grasses, as high as my head. You’re in your angling gear. It’s summer, I can hear the cicadas. There’s a wind up, but its warm. We’re heading to the river. You find Nana, and I’ll find you. We won’t be lost if we’re together.
I haven’t read a single new book since I’ve been with you. I’ve been so busy peering into your eyes where I can see dark passages & feinting canaries & gold & mine mine mine mine
Plus I’ve been preoccupied with the joy of sex the science of living the interpretation of dreams & my undiscovered self.
So today I read a love poem.
But when I looked at it, it just said your name.
It was very repetitive. It just kept skipping over itself. Skipping to the important bits. Slipping into something more comfortable.
I looked away for a second & when I looked back the love poem had filled the whole room. It was thrusting against the ceiling & had burst through the open window pushing the vase of sunflowers right out.
I tried to call to you to come & look but the love poem was so big that it caught in my throat. There were fainting canaries everywhere like the fallen petals of sunflowers gasping yours yours yours yours
from Fully Clothed and So Forgetful, Victoria University Press, 2017
All that summer we kissed outside because we had nowhere inside to be alone. We had matching Clash t-shirts and black outlooks. After my shifts at Seafood Sam’s I would pick you up in my Dad’s ute and we’d drive to the river
so I could swim off the chip grease. I’d light a fire while you showed me the riffs you’d learned that day on your unplugged Fender. /I’ve been beat up, I’ve been thrown out,/ /But I’m not down, No I’m not down./ I requested Blondie but you said it was chick-music.
Poking the fire with a stick, the tinny twang of your dead strings. We thought we had it pretty bad. Your Dad didn’t like me because I was “the wrong flavour”. I craved city life. Packed my army bag and left home, but not before I withdrew half my chip money and bought you an amp.
from The Comforter, Seraph Press, 2011
The library is full of people looking for love. At the sound of footsteps approaching, a boy turns around with a meaningful glance, and casually slips a pencil behind his ear. Girls pause on the landings, clutching armfuls of books to their breasts. Sometimes, you feel sorry for these people. You wish this wasn’t happening. All you want is a book, and all the shelves are filled with eyes of longing.
from Secret Heart, Victoria University Press, 2006
Always on Waking
Always, on waking, I look out into treetops: I lie beside you in the shimmering room Where, whether summer morning, shell of dawn Or dazed moonlight patterns leaves on walls I wake to wide sky and the movement of treetops.
As the leaves flicker (thin scimitars of opaque Dull green the eucalyptus bundles over her bark strips) They become lucent; leaves lined with sunlight With moonlight are no longer drab But seem scimitars shining, are not now opaque.
While you are there I am nested among leaves; As sparrows come each morning for breadcrumbs So I look for your still face beside me; Without your calm in the face of what wild storm I am no longer nested, but desolate among these leaves.
from No Traveller Returns: The poems of Ruth France, Cold Hub Press, 2020
It was manuka honey, the best kind, in a big, white plastic bucket, given to you by someone with bees, because you’d been helpful, so much honey, it looked like it might last a lifetime and you being you, and maybe why I love you, you spooned it out into carefully washed jars and gave it to your uncle, your mother, your brothers, our friend with the little boy, your mother’s neighbour who had the birthday, so much honey, and after all that you gave away, there was still so much left for us.
from Meowing Part 1 (the Meow Gurrrls zine).
Is It Hard to Follow Your Heart When You Have Three?
(on the story of the giant octopus from Aelian’s De Natura Animalium)
is it hard to follow your heart when you have three?
one for circulation two for breathing
i am the stone jar of pickled fish you are the giant octopus
i wait in the dark for you you crawl up the sewer for me
we cast our votes two are for breathing
from The Starling 9
Toikupu aroha 1
I waited all night for you to come home to plant kihikihi into your cupped palms
now as you sleep I glide my fingers memorising the tracks that led me here
to this chest – arms – manawa with such vastness and proximity
I lean down taking in the entirety of your pulse and there my hā quickens
above lifelines grooved with spacious and honest certainty.
from Gaps in the Light, Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021
There are four extant poems written by the ancient Greek poet Erinna. Three of these concern the death of her childhood friend, Baukis.
you lost her, didn’t you? the one that made it worthwhile to be underneath the sun and breathing
you remembered her, didn’t you? the days you played chasing the tortoise topsy turvy, falling from all the white horses
you missed her, didn’t you? when marriage came like a thief and snatched her away the ribbon of your world
you mourned her, didn’t you? when the ribbon was torn the bright eyes empty, the breath stilled
you cried for her, didn’t you? raw, with it heaving out the wet thick language of snot and tears
you loved her, didn’t you? even more than a friend, the closest companion the only one
you wrote for her, didn’t you? wove her memory through hexameters to stave off oblivion
and, now, for her we read.
When the Person You Love Leaves You in the Night
When the person you love leaves you in the night, it is only natural to get out of bed and follow them. It is also only natural for your pyjamas to be all crumpled and your hair sticking up at the back. It is only natural to feel confused, and alone.
Nine times out of ten, a light will be on and you will walk into the living room, squinting. The person you love will probably be making human body parts out of plasticine, or playing video games. They will look up and say ‘Hello’ and smile at you like you’re some kind of lost baby animal. You will feel a little bit found.
If there is no light on in the house, it is important that you check the garden. If there is no garden, check the balcony. The person you love will be out there, staring at the moon and not crying. You are the one who cries. Except that one time… and the other. Don’t ask them if they’re okay because they will just say ‘Yeah’. Besides, you are the one who was left alone in the night.
Just look at them in the moonlight, and let them look at you. Stay very still. Then take their hand in slow motion and walk to the kitchen. The person you love will follow you, and so will the moon. Pour some milk into a pan and simmer gently. You will see a quivering white circle. The moon will be in there somewhere. Slice cheese onto bread and turn on the grill.
When you have two pieces of cheese-on-toast, put them on a plate. Pour half the milk into the mug with Peter Rabbit on it and half into the souvenir mug from Sweden. There will be sugar on the floor and it will stick to your feet. Swing yourself up onto the kitchen bench. You and the person you love will sit with your feet dangling side by side. The sugar will fall without a sound. You will drink your milk. The person you love will eat their grilled cheese, with sips of milk in-between. Peter Rabbit will eat his radishes.
Congratulate yourselves for drinking calcium. Sit at opposite ends of the couch with your legs tossed over their legs. Talk until you wake up the birds.
It is important that at some point during the night the person you love reminds you that you are the person they love. It is also important that they thank you for the grilled cheese. If they don’t, give them a pen and a piece of cardboard. Drop them on the side of the road. Tell them, ‘You can hitchhike from here.’
from Starling 4
Love Poem with Seagull
I wish I’d seen it from your side of the table when the horrid gull attacked my fish and chips, the springy baton of haddock in my hand a signal for the post-saurian psycho to swoop at my talon-less fingers as they moved toward my mouth in their classically dithering mammalian way, because if I’d had the privilege to see the stress-warped, flexuous face behind my bat-like ultrasonic shrieks of shock as I fought off the bird unsuccessfully then I’d have some idea of what it means for you to love me, the sort of person who manages to always look like this or feel like this regardless of how much easier being normal is.
from There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime, Victoria University Press, 2018
our love is a tracking device more sure than any global positioning system
just carve us into wooden tablets then imprint us on opposite corners of a mighty length of siapo and watch tusili’i spring forth
making bridges to connect us over rock-bound starfish scampering centipedes and the footprints of bemused birds
we have many stories of losing and finding each orther
of getting lost and losing others
but today all is well
I lie beneath the old mango tree smothered with coconut oil embellished with wild flowers and droplets of your sweat
your aging shoulders still fling back proud
and I still arch towards you like a young sweetheart
you have whispered in my hair
and we both know this is our final harbour
from Tapa Talk, Huia Press, 2007
This morning when I looked out my window they were the first thing I noticed. I saw them flocking outside my house. I like to look at them from my window. I get the sun there. I’ll go out and stroke them. I wonder what they think of me. Some people don’t have anything much but if you put a hen on their knee they start looking. I’m not fast on my feet. I have bother with my eyes. I’ve got friends that can’t get out. Everything goes downhill. I would go back to when I was younger. I love the first things. When you’re young you’ve only a future. I’ve made no plans for dying. I haven’t paid for anything. I’d be terrified if they made a mistake. I do love everything about living though. I love being able to see. I like to look out my windows and see the leaves like a blanket on the ground. I love the autumn. I love the hens in the autumn. They’re beautiful. I couldn’t imagine my life without them. They’re everything to me.
from How I get Ready, Victoria University Press, 2019
Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a German-Samoan mother and a Palagi father. She was the recipient of a 2018 Pasifika Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Serie promoted her collections Tapa Talk and Entangled Islands at the 2019 International Arsenal Book Festival in Kiev. She collaborated with filmmaker Anna Marbrook to produce a short film, Te Ara Kanohi, for Going West 2021. Her latest poetry collection, Sleeping With Stones, will be launched during Matariki 2021.
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.
Jenny Bornholdt is the author of many celebrated collections of poems, including The Rocky Shore (Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, 2009) and Selected Poems (2016), and editor of several notable anthologies, including Short Poems of New Zealand (2018). In 2005 she became the fifth Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate, during which time she wrote Mrs Winter’s Jump (2007). In 2010 she was the Creative New Zealand Victoria University Writer in Residence. In 2013 she was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature. In 2016 she edited the online anthology Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems. Jenny’s most recent collection is Lost and Somewhere Else (2019).
Murray Edmond, b. Kirikiriroa 1949, lives in Glen Eden. 14 books of poetry (Shaggy Magpie Songs, 2015, and Back Before You Know, 2019 most recent); book of novellas (Strait Men and Other Tales, 2015); Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing (2014); editor, Ka Mate Ka Ora (http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/); dramaturge for Indian Ink Theatre. Forthcoming: Time to Make a Song and Dance: Cultural Revolt in Auckland in the 1960s, from Atuanui Press in May, 2021.
Ruth France (1913–68) published two novels: The Race (1958), which won the New Zealand Literary Fund’s Award for Achievement, and Ice Cold River (1961); and two volumes of poetry: Unwilling Pilgrim (1955) and The Halting Place (1961), under the pseudonym Paul Henderson. Poems from a third collection, which remained in manuscript at the time of her death, are published as No Traveller Returns: The Selected poems of Ruth France (Cold Hub Press, 2020).
Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), and a novel, The Year of Falling. She lives in Wellington. website
Bernadette Hall lives in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She retired from high-school teaching in 2005 in order to embrace a writing life. Fancy Dancing is her eleventh collection of poetry (VUP, 2020). In 2015 she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for literary achievement in poetry and in 2017 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Joy Holley lives in Wellington and has recently completed her Masters in fiction at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her writing has been published in Starling, Sport,Stasis and other journals.
Claudia Jardine (she/her) is a poet and musician based in Ōtautahi/Christchurch. In 2020 she published her first chapbook, The Temple of Your Girl, with Auckland University Press in AUPNew Poets 7 alongside Rhys Feeney and Ria Masae. For the winter of 2021 Jardine will be one of the Arts Four Creative Residents in The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, where she will be working on a collection of poems.
Hebe Kearney is a queer poet who lives in Tāmaki Makaurau. Their work has appeared in The Three Lamps, Starling, Oscen, Forest and Bird, a fine line, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021.
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 later in 2021. His second book of poems is due out in 2022. His poems, stories, and criticism have been published in places like FENCE, Hobart, Maudlin House, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Helen Lehndorf’s book, The Comforter, made the New Zealand Listener’s ‘Best 100 Books of 2012′ list. Her second book, Write to the Centre, is a nonfiction book about the practice of keeping a journal. She writes poetry and non-fiction, and has been published in Sport, Landfall, JAAM, and many other publications and anthologies. Recently, she co-created an performance piece The 4410 to the 4412 for the Papaoiea Festival of the Arts with fellow Manawatū writers Maroly Krasner and Charlie Pearson. A conversation between the artists and Pip Adam can be heard on the Better Off Read podcast here
Courtney Sina Meredith is a distinguished poet, playwright, fiction writer, performer, children’s author and essayist, with her works being translated and published around the world. A leading figure in the New Zealand arts sector, Courtney is the Director of Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, an organisation committed to championing Oceanic arts and artists. Courtney’s award-winning works include her play Rushing Dolls, poetry Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick, short stories Tail of the Taniwha and children’s book The Adventures of Tupaia. Burst Kisses On The Actual Wind is Courtney’s new collection of poetry, the book was released just this month.
Hannah Mettner (she/her) is a Wellington writer who still calls Tairāwhiti home. Her first collection of poetry, Fully Clothed and So Forgetful, was published by Victoria University Press in 2017, and won the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. She is one of the founding editors of the online journal Sweet Mammalian, with Sugar Magnolia Wilson and Morgan Bach.
Grace Iwashita-Taylor, breathing bloodlines of Samoa, England and Japan. An artist of upu/words led her to the world of performing arts. Dedicated to carving, elevating and holding spaces for storytellers of Te Moana nui a Kiwa. Recipient of the CNZ Emerging Pacific Artist 2014 and the Auckland Mayoral Writers Grant 2016. Highlights include holding the visiting international writer in residence at the University of Hawaii 2018, Co-Founder of the first youth poetry slam in Aoteroa, Rising Voices (2011 – 2016) and the South Auckland Poets Collective and published collections Afakasi Speaks (2013) & Full Broken Bloom (2017) with ala press. Writer of MY OWN DARLING commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company (2015, 2017, 2019) and Curator of UPU (Auckland Arts Festival 2020 & Kia Mau Festival 2021). Currently working on next body of work WATER MEMORIES.
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.
Iona Winter (Waitaha/Kāi Tahu) lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin. Her hybrid work is widely published and anthologised in literary journals internationally. Iona creates work to be performed, relishing cross-modality collaboration, and holds a Master of Creative Writing. She has authored three collections, Gaps in the Light (2021), Te Hau Kāika (2019), and then the wind came (2018). Skilled at giving voice to difficult topics, she often draws on her deep connection to land, place and whenua.
Ashleigh Young is the author of Magnificent Moon, Can You Tolerate This?, and How I Get Ready (Victoria University Press). She works as an editor at VUP.
Min-a-rets 10, Compound Press, editor Sarah Jane Barnett
Poetry Shelf has put me in the sublime position of receiving pretty much every poetry book and journal published in Aotearoa NZ – but I never have enough time or energy to review everything. Yes I only review books I love, but I don’t get a chance to feature all of them. There is always a hopeful pile of books and journals that have enchanted me but that I have not yet shared. I guess it is even worse this year as I have cleared space for my own writing in the mornings and I don’t want to encroach upon that. I am really grateful that most poets don’t badger me and expect superhuman efforts on a blog that runs on the currency of love and my fluctuating energy levels. I have decided to make little returns to that hopeful stack and, every now and then, share something that you might want track it down.
I sometimes pick a poetry book hoping it will offer the right dose of rescue remedy – a mix of poetic inspiration along with heart and mind sustenance. My return to Min-a-rets10 did exactly that. Poet Sarah Jane Barnett has edited an issue that is supremely satisfying. In her introduction she expresses anxiety at not being ‘cool’ or young enough to edit a journal that is to date cutting edge, experimental, younger rather older. But once she had read the 100 or so submissions, her fears were allayed. I totally agree with her summation of the Min-a-ret gathering:
In the end I had nothing to worry about. The poems I’ve selected are beautiful, painful, challenging, thought-provoking, heartbreaking and funny. They reminded me that good poems shine no matter their genre or when they were written. They make life feel intense and bright. While this issue includes mid-career poets, there’s definitely a new generation stepping forward, and I have admiration for their commitment to craft, and to sharing an authentic experience—to not conforming. That’s cool.
10 poets with art by Toyah Webb. A slender hand-bound object published by Compound Press. Within a handful of pages, the poetry prompts such diverse reactions, it is like the very best reading vacation. I laughed out loud, I stalled and mused, I felt my heart crack. Above all I felt inspired to write. That exquisite moment when you read the poetry of others that is so good you feel compelled to write a poem.
essa may ranapiri has written a counting poem from tahi to iwa, with deep-rooted personal threads that underline there are myriad ways to count self and the world and experience. Memory. Then the honeyed currents of Elizabeth Welsh’s mother poem that free floats because motherhood cannot be limited. And yes Erik Kennedy made me laugh inside and then laugh out loud as the ending took me by surprise. Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor transports me from the optician leaning in to staring at strangers to probability to ‘wow’. I am so loving the little leaps that intensify the scene.
Oh the aural genius of a Louise Wallace poem, especially when she pivots upon the word ‘trying’.
Or Joan Fleming’s line ‘Some confessions stick like stove filth’. Or Travis Tate: ‘Love is the sky, pitched black, radiant dot / of white to guide young hearts to this spot’. Or Eliana Gray’s: ‘We can’t save the people we love from drowning when it / happens on sand’.
Two list poems from Jackson Nieuwland, a witty serious funny precursor to their sublime award-winning collection I am a human being (Compound Press). And finally the laugh-out loud glorious prose poem by Rachel O’Neill where reason becomes raisin: ‘If only there was one good raisin left in the world, you think.’
Read this body-jolting issue and you will surely be inspired to get a subscription.
like signing a birthday card at work or volunteering
to clean a beach. In the geography of care
the grieving city is bright, busy, sensitive
to extraordinary needs, able to flex and soothe.
It’s one of a series of temporary truths,
a glimpse of something not quite representative
that we wish could stay once it’s there.
We wish we couldn’t see it disappearing
into routine, because we were desolately happy because
we were nice to each other after the trauma.
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 later in 2021. His poems, stories, and criticism have recently been published in places like FENCE, Hobart, Maudlin House, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.
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.
Landfall 237 offers rich pickings for the poetry fans: familiar names (Peter Bland, David Eggleton, Elizabeth Smither, Ria Masae, Lynley Edmeades and Cilla McQueen) to emerging poets (Rebecca Hawkes, Claudia Jardine, essa may ranapiri) and those I am reading for the first time (Robynanne Milford, Jeremy Roberts, Catherine Trundle to name a few). The reading experience is kaleidoscopic, pulling you in different directions, towards both lightness and darkness, risk and comfort. And that is exactly what a literary journal can do. I was tempted to say should, but literary journals can do anything.
Landfall has a history of showcasing quirky artwork – and this issue is no exception. Sharon Singer’s sequence, “Everyday Calamities’ with its potent colour, surreal juxtapositions, strange and estranging narratives, and thematic bridges, is an addictive puzzle for heart and mind. I am circling humanity, the power of connection, the individual both tenacious and frail, the state of the planet. Paintings whirling and tipping you into moments that soothe, bewilder and provoke. I adore these.
I turned from these to Rachel O’Neill’s prose poem ‘The Supernatural Frame’ and get goosebumps:
You may look upon the painting through these special
foiled binoculars. We are at a safe distance. Afterwards you
may feel a chill or a fever linger for two days and a night,
accompanied by an infernal cough.
On the centennial of the birth of Ruth Dallas in Invercargill, I am also delighted to see John Geraets spotlight her poetry. Certain Dallas poems have always had a place in NZ literary anthologies (think ‘Milking Before Dawn’) but as readers we may less familiar with the wider expanse of her work. Like so many women poets of the twentieth century she is in the shadows. In his intro John suggests it is not clear how to include her ‘within more recent nexus based on gender, ethnicity, ecology, avant-gardism, faith or political affiliation’. He responds by assembling her words – culled from Landfall editor-contributor responses and her autobiography Curved Horizon – on the left-hand pages and his words on the right. He first sees in her poetry – compared with contemporary writing choices – predictability, regularity, un-excitement, regionalism; and then, by paying attention and refreshing his routes, he opens up poems to different movements. He moves in close to the poem. I love that. Much I could say on how we approach the women from the past! Expect 568 pages soon.
I absolutely love the poetry in this issue; it is both fresh and vital! I see neither formula nor dominating style but shifting stories, musicality, feeling, political bite, muted shades, bright tones.
Here are some highlights:
Joanna Preston’s poem ‘Allegrophobia’ carries you from birth to tardiness to spring in a layered on punctuality – a perfect little package.
Jasmine Gallagher’s ‘Be Still’ sent me to her bio because I want to read more by her. She is a doctoral student at the University of Otago and has previously been published in brief. Her poem is poetry as brocade – glinting for the eye and chiming for the ear.
Cold seed bed
Rot and slime
Another poet, Catherine Trundle, also sent me scavenging for more. She writes poetry, flash fiction and experimental ethnography. Her poem ‘The Caravan behind the Plum Tree’ is also an exquisite brocade.
This lush cusp of spring rides
pinkish, amoebic, wilding
the inside, every flesh ’n’ cranny
while the sunlight lunges in
through winter tidelines
of curtain rot
Tam Vosper’s ‘Ailurophilia’ was an equal hook for me. He is working on a PhD at Canterbury University that considers Allen Curnow and the poetics of place. Again this is brocade poetry: so rich in effect.
All Gallic pluck
and casual loft
you claim a suntrap,
slump sidewise down,
and unhinge your barbed yawn:
a shark to shoaling mice.
And I want to add Medb Charleton’s ‘I think I Saw You Dreaming’, Rebecca Hawkes’s ‘If I could breed your cultivar / I’d have you in my garden’ and Gail Ingram’s ‘The Kitchen’ to my list of brocade poetry. Glorious.
In contrast you have the spare deliciousness of Ariha Latham’s ‘Waitangi’. Another poet whose work I want to track down.
When I read Ria Masae’s “Jack Didn’t Build Here’ I can hear her performing its sharp mix of personal and politics – and it cuts into my skin. Six houses built. She carries us from the father’s house full of stories to David Lange’s Mangere home open to the locals: he ‘understood the pressures of fa’alavelave,/ cos he brown on the inside like that’. She bears us from the house her mum built with its’ celebration tables’ to the house Key built with its ‘security code gate’. She ends with a question (the house to be built?):
What house will Jacinda build?
Will it enable my daughters to build their own homes
of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs
in this palagified City of Sales?
You can move from political bite to the glorious wit you often find in an Erik Kennedy poem. His ‘All Holidays Are Made-Up Holidays’ is no exception. Meet Cabinet Day – ‘we went along/ from house to house hanging little doors / around each other’s necks to hide our secrets’. Or the Feast of Holy Indifference. Genius!
Claire Orchard’s poem, ‘Breakages’, swivels on a set of shelves, on the objects that they hold, and in that satisfying movement speaks of so much more; the poem resembles a shelf of family history with peaks and troughs.
I enjoyed the way it had begun to display time
in the style of tottering, elderly people
I heard Joan Fleming talk about new poetry she was writing at the Poetry & Essay conference at Victoria University in 2017. The poems came out of her experience of camp life in Nyrripi and surrounding areas in Australia’s Central Desert. I was moved by her discussions of collaboration and consent, her attentiveness to the local. Two poems here – ‘Alterations’ and ‘Papunya is Gorgeous Dirty and I Second-guess my Purposes’ – come out of this experience. I can’t wait to see this in book form.
Finally a treat from Cilla McQueen. She has written ‘Poem for my Tokotoko’; it is personal, physical and abundant with the possibilities of poetry. Pure pleasure.
Sometimes I see you as an enchanter’s staff,
scattering poems like leaves to the west wind;
at others you’re practical, a trusty pole
by means of which, through quarrelling
undercurrents, I can ford turbulent water.
By means of which I put myself across.
This is such good issue – there are reviews and fiction I haven’t read yet, and the announcement of the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition 2019 – but on the poems only, it warrants a subscription. Yep – Landfall has its finger on the pulse of NZ poetry.
At the moment it feels like pretty much every bright future I’d hoped for is at stake. On a grand scale the triple threats of economic precarity, bigoted populist political bullshit, and environmental degradation aren’t, uhhhh, great. And given human carelessness with our pollution, poisons, and climate apocalypse, basking in the glory of nature isn’t really cutting it anymore as a source of solace. Even David Attenborough is freaking out.
And still, to not be helpless, I turn to poetry. How else to process a planet-sized grief?
Ecopoetry as political activism and/or aesthetic impulse isn’t a new idea. But right now I’m interested in how others write about the effects humans have on nature, and how that affects us.
A poem that floats to the surface of my mind regularly, naming the current epoch, is ‘The Anthropocene‘ from Helen Heath’s Ockham winning (!!!!!!!!!) Are Friends Electric? The poem stars a tui and lyrebird mimicking the technological music of the species that destroys their native forests – cellphone trill, car alarm, camera shutter, chainsaw. Chainsaws in birdsong! I think of this too often.
Speaking of mimics, the new issue of Mimicry I just received contains two back-to-back poems on the drift of plastics through the furthest reaches of the ‘natural’ environment. Rhys Feeney’s ‘current mood’ and Erik Kennedy’s ‘Microplastics in Antarctica’ work to process the sheer scale of human junk, and model ways to respond to the guilt and arrogance of that phenomenon.
“you thought you
were a god / but this sushi container
will outlive you /”
“Scratch the scalp of civilisation
and bits of it go all over the place.
Concerned about those embarrassing flakes?
You should be.”
Feeney’s poem is inspired by Pip Adam’s The New Animals which is great because I’d wanted to shoehorn that novel (with its hypnotic trajectory towards a widening gyre of sea-garbage) into this discussion somehow. Having dipped a toe in prose, it’s worth noting that my own poetry on nature (and the work of local poets like Gregory Kan and essa may ranapiri) has been influenced by Jeff Vandermeer’s novels too – testing out new ways to live in a changed world.
Poems about what people do to the environment, and what that means for us, help me work out how to rage and cope as well. When I’m overwhelmed, picking up a poem can help. Poems can help us look at the impact we have on our planet – but in a container compact as a snowglobe, enough to hold in two hands. A poem asks you to sit mesmerised by something and turn it over to see how it shifts. Shake the poem and watch what happens to the tiny landscape in the swirling glitter.
Showing off the capacity of a poem to be both moving and scientifically informative is a knack shared by Heath and Kennedy – their poems often incorporate research, like the press release that kicks off ‘Microplastics in Antarctica’. And ecopoetry is not always straightforwardly scientific – take Lucie Brock-Broido’s dreamy elegy ‘For a Snow Leopard in October‘. But each poem is also a way to pick up something about what’s happening to our world and ourselves. To write like this is a way to stake out what’s real and important. What vision of the world we should hold on to, what kind of mark we want to leave – from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the snow leopard vanishing.
Rebecca Hawkes is a poet, painter, and reluctant corporate ladder ascender. She’s from a high country farm near Methven and is now making it biggish in the small-medium city of Wellington. Find Rebecca’s poems scattered through journals like Starling, Sport, and Sweet Mammalian – or on her website. A collection of her writing will be published in August 2019 in the revival issue of the AUP New Poets series, alongside the work of Carolyn DeCarlo and Sophie van Waardenberg.
This is an occasional series where I invite a group of poets to respond to the same question. First up: Why write poetry? I selected this question because a number of writers have mused upon the place of poetry when facing catastrophes that devastate our human roots. I pondered that question. I then asked myself why I have written poetry for decades regardless of whether it is published or applauded. It is what I love to do. It is my way of making music and feeling and translating and being happy no matter the life challenges. I also feel poetry is thriving in Aotearoa; at all ages, in multiple forms and in myriad places, many of us are drawn to write poems.
I write poetry because I can’t stop doing it: it demands that I do it, and it is ‘language’ that I feel most passionately about. When I’ve deliberately tried not to write poetry, I’ve ended up feeling unfinished, incomplete. When the poetry is shaping itself well in my tongue and throat, I feel healed, and healing.
I talk too much. A male Irish poet visited last year and said my poetry had none of the “jerkiness” of my personality. In writing poetry I find silence and the ability to give that silence space. After drinks with two men from the university last week, the one I had just met sent me a message on Twitter to ask me if I, like him, had Borderline Personality Disorder. Speaking in non sequiturs is not nearly as convincing as writing in them. As women, there are expectations about how we should speak, how we should take up space, how we should be more silent, more stable. Writing poetry is a minor release from social constraints, and the voluntary application of others. I can bind my breasts and write sonnets. On the page, I can be enough.
I write poetry for the same reason that architects draw up concepts for floating cities: 1) to see what a better future might look like before it is possible, 2) to make the blueprints of progress public so that others can avoid making the mistakes that I have.
Poetry remains mysterious to me. It’s such a strange beast and to be honest, sometimes I wish I had been bitten by the fiction bug instead. But I’ve been writing poetry for a long time. I think the first poem I ever wrote was when I was about 6. The poem was about fireworks and I remember the last line was “beautiful but dangerous”. Even at 6 years old I had a dark turn of mind! It may be a total cliché, but for me, poetry is a way to figure out how I feel about something. Writing poetry, especially that first thrilling draft, is an exercise in bravery. I love the feeling of having only the slightest inkling of what might appear on the page, and then to be surprised (sometimes pleasantly) by the string of lines that emerge.
Why write poetry? Because it’s confounding and liberating in turn. Because, as Anne Carson so famously says:
It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.
Why write poetry? To sound distance and make coastal profiles, to travel light and lift darkness. I go back to what I wrote about these and other calibrations: A family is a series of intersecting arcs, some boat-shaped, others vaults or canopies, still others vapour trails behind a mountain or light refracted through water. None is enclosed, all are in motion, springing away from one another or folding themselves around some spectral inverse of the shape they make against sea or sky.
essa may ranapiri
I write poetry because I love what poetry can be and can do. With poetry you can create these rather dense language objects that have the ability to confront many realities very quickly without sacrificing complexity. It is a space where I feel the English language can be at its most decolonised and queer and wonderful. And it also a space I feel most comfortable exploring the language of my tīpuna te reo Māori, a language I have only really just started learning. Poetry’s capacity for fragmentation and error, gives me permission to try out who I am and who I want to be. It also encourages in me a radical imagination about the society we live in and the societies that we could live in. A poem can be built in a day and take years to understand, it can both encapsulate and be the moment. A poem can give people who are marginalised a space to really embody their voice, make the air vibrate with their wairua, and in so doing provide an opportunity for community for those that struggle to find it wherever they are.
Why write poetry? Why not write poetry? Why should a poem choose you to be its vehicle? ‘Poetry is a terminal activity, taking place out near the end of things’ wrote John Berryman in a review article in 1959. I feel a great excitement when I read his words. An enchantment. Since childhood, I have been immersed in language that’s not my own. In fact it’s dead. Or so the old school rhymes used to say about it, about Latin. And every now and then, a kind of ‘speech’ would emerge, in my native tongue, English, well out of the range of my everyday talking, things I would write down on paper. Secrets. Janet Frame has been quoted apparently as saying that her writing wasn’t her. Which would give you a huge amount of freedom, wouldn’t it, that embracing and distancing at the same time. Berryman went on to say of poetry, ‘And it aims …at the reformation of the poet, as prayer does.’ The re-formation. No wonder I’m hooked.
It seems healthy for thoughts to have an outlet into the real world.
Thinking is in the poem and is the poem.
You attend to the material and the spiritual. You perceive humanity, see inside yourself and other people, listen to the language of insight, catch words from the deep layers of consciousness.
Writing something down in concentrated form is mental exercise. The elastic syntax inside language asks for attention and skill so that it can be used with subtlety, to contain many shades of meaning and feeling.
Writing is a pleasure. Whether it ends up as a poem or not doesn’t really matter.
Words can unblock. The complete absorption in writing, in silent concentration, can provide a psychic release. A poem both releases energy and generates it.
The act of writing can be a refuge and comfort, also a way of talking things out in order to understand. The page is always listening, a patient companion in times of solitude or loneliness.
Don’t know what I’d do without it. I’ve spent most of my writing life thinking about poetry, but am still wary of defining it (this is part of its charm).
Albert Wendt has published many novels, collections of poetry and short stories, and edited numerous anthologies. In 2018, along with four others, he was recognised as a New Zealand Icon at a medallion ceremony for his significant contribution to the Arts.
Emer Lyons is an Irish writer who has had poetry and fiction published in journals such as Turbine, London Grip, The New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology, Southword, The Spinoff and Queen Mob’s Tea House. She has appeared on shortlists for the Fish Poetry Competition, the Bridport Poetry Prize, the takahé short story competition, The Collinson’s short story prize and her chapbook Throwing Shapes was long-listed for the Munster Literature Fool For Poetry competition in 2017. Last year she was the recipient of the inaugural University of Otago City of Literature scholarship and is a creative/critical PhD candidate in contemporary queer poetry.
Erik Kennedy is the author of Twenty-Six Factitions (Cold Hub Press, 2017) and There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), and he selected the poetry for Queen Mob’s Teahouse: Teh Book (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019). Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime is shortlisted for the 2019 Ockham and New Zealand Book Awards – he will be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival in May.
Therese Lloyd is the author of the chapbook many things happened (Pania Press, 2006), Other Animals (VUP, 2013) and The Facts (VUP, 2018). The Facts has been shortlisted for the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and she will be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival in May.
Michele Leggott has published eight collections of poetry, most recently Vanishing Points (Auckland University Press) and has edited and co-edited a number of anthologies including the poetry of Robin Hyde.She was the inaugural Poet Laureate (2007-9) under National Library administration and in 2013 received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. She founded the New Zealand Electronic zPoetry Centre and is professor of English at the University of Auckland. She recently contributed the introduction to Verses, a collection of poetry by Lola Ridge (Quale Press).
essa may ranapiri is a poet from kirikiriroa, Aotearoa and are part of the local writing group Puku. rir |Liv.id. They have been published in many journals in print and online, most recently in Best New Zealand Poems 2018. Their first collection of poetry ransack is being published by Victoria University Press in July 2019.
Bernadette Hall lives in a renovated bach at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published ten collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs (VUP 2013) and Maukatere, floating mountain (Seraph Press 2016). In 2015 shereceived the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. In 2016 she was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature. In 2017 she joined with three other Christchurch writers to inaugurate He Kōrero Pukapuka, a book club which meets weekly at the Christchurch Men’s Prison.
Cilla McQueen is a poet, teacher and artist; her multiple honours and awards include a Fulbright Visiting Writer’s Fellowship 1985,three New Zealand Book Awards 1983, 1989, 1991; an Hon.LittD Otago 2008, and the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry 2010. She was the National Library New Zealand Poet Laureate 2009 -11. Recent works include The Radio Room (Otago University Press 2010), In A Slant Light (Otago University Press, 2016), and poeta: selected and new poems (Otago University Press, 2018).
The Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry Are Friends Electric? by Helen Heath (Victoria University Press) There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime by Erik Kennedy (Victoria University Press) The Facts by Therese Lloyd (Victoria University Press) Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Victoria University Press)
Great to see we have new sponsors, Mary and Peter Biggs, for the Poetry Category at the Book Awards.
I have featured all four finalists on my blog because I have found much to love about these books – this therefore is a moment of celebration. Of course there are books not here that I loved immensely. Poetry Shelf is whole-heatedly devoted to celebrating local books and the fact that I don’t have time to feature all my poetry loves is testimony to the excellent poetry we publish – through both big and small presses. Victoria University Press is becoming a flagship for NZ poetry – publishing at least 9 books a year of high quality and diverse scope. I applaud them for that. And all the other publishers issuing standout poetry (there are many) and the booksellers who put local poetry books on their shelves.
Congratulations to the four finalists! And to VUP.
Helen’s book is a complex, satisfying read with enticing layers and provocative subject matter. It is a book of seeing, strolling, collecting; as though this poet is a bricoleur and the book is a cabinet of curious things. What I love in the poems is the shifting voice, the conversational tones. The poems that link grief with the effect of technology upon our bodies get under my skin. Most importantly there is a carousel of voices that may or may not be invented or borrowed but that make you feel something.
I ask if you would like a body.
You say, ‘No I’m beyond bodies now,
I’m ready to be fluid, spilling out all over.
I’m ready to spread myself so thin that I’m
a membrane over the world.’ I’m not ready.
I take off my socks and shoes and walk
over a patch of grass very slowly.
from ‘Spilling out all over’
Erik’s first-full length collection sparks with multiple fascinations, experience, thought, wit, politics, optical delights and aural treats. It is a book of harmonics and elastic thinking, and is a pleasure to read. The collection navigates eclectic subject matter but I was initially drawn to the interplay between a virtual world and a classical world. I began to muse on how poetry fits into movement between the arrival of the internet and a legacy of classical knowledge. I also love the idea of poetry reacting to collisions, intersections, juxtapositions. Interestingly when I was jotting down notes I wrote the words ‘detail’, ‘things’ and ‘juxtaposition’ but not just for the embedded ideas. Yes, the detail in the poems is striking in itself, but I was drawn to the ‘static’ or the ‘conversation’ or ‘kinetic energy’ between things as I read.
Two feet of snow at my parents’ place, in another season.
Here, the cicadas sing like Christian women’s choirs
in a disused cotton mill. Belief is a kind of weather.
I haven’t seen proper snow for three years.
from ‘Letter from the Estuary’
Therese’s new collection resides in a captivating interplay of chords. You could say that any poetry book delivers chords whether aural, visual or thematic, and in the light of ideas and feelings. This book does it to a stunning degree. Once you start hunting for them – whether in harmony or not, between poems or within a single example – the rewards are myriad. At the core of the book the title poem, the standout-lift-you-off-your-feet poem, achieves a blinding intensity: raw, surprising, probing, accumulative, fearless. I particularly love the surprising turns of ‘Mr Anne Carson’. Therese’s collection takes you deep into personal experience that gets hooked up in the poetry of another (Anne Carson), in matted ideas and the need to write as a form of survival. It makes you feel as much as it makes you think. It is a riveting read.
For three months I tried
to make sense of something.
I applied various methods:
logic, illogic, meditation, physical exertion,
starvation, gluttony. Other things too
that are not necessarily the opposite of one another,
writing and reading for example.
from ‘The Facts’
Tayi’s debut collection, Poūkahangatus, has already and understandably attracted widespread media attention. The poetry is utterly agile on the beam of its making; and take ‘beam’ as you will. There is brightness, daring and sure-footedness. The poems move in distinctive directions: drawing whanau close, respecting a matrilineal bloodline (I adore this!), delving into the dark and reaping the light, cultural time-travelling, with baroque detail and sinewy gaps. The collection charts the engagement of a young, strong woman with her worlds and words – and the poetic interplay, the sheer joy and magnetism of the writing, is addictive. I treasure this book for its kaleidoscopic female relations and views of women; and the way women are the vital overcurrents and undercurrents of the collection. Above all I loved the kaleidoscopic effect of the book; the way it is edgy and dark and full of light. The way it catches living within popular culture and within family relations, the way it carries sharp ideas and equally sharp feelings.
in 1995 I was born and Walt Disney’s Animated Classic Pocahontas was
released. Have you ever heard a wolf cry to the blue corn moon? Mum has.
I howled when my mother told me Pocahontas was real but went with John
Smith to England and got a disease and died. Representation is important.
I am not a journalist punting on a winner – I am a poetry fan and have read all these books several times – any one of these books deserves to win. A toast from me x.