Tag Archives: Friday Poem

Poem Friday: Ashleigh Young’s ‘Become road’ clung to me like a poetry limpet as I left the room

Become road

When the car stops we are beginning already to become road.
A little taken apart and buried, the way birds, leaves
become road. Become road beneath
the burying of cars. All become driven over,
all become under. Even weather is taken
a little apart and buried. That we have been hit tonight
is relief; we no longer need to wonder when. Pain becomes
a story we will tell you years from now.
Sound becomes the dream you’ll nurse us from.
For now we are a passenger belted in
to the happening, looking back
at our tame furred moon. On our way home
the night had been too pleasant: rows and rows
of blue glass jars like the BFG’s jars
of dreams: the night was too pleasant
for what we had done. As we cycled uphill
the person we once were was cycling downhill
and each exhalation pushed us further apart.
Before we got hit we saw the shadows of trees
become road. Then the trees. A woman walking
a dachshund through the trees become road.
We saw the dog’s eyes glinting in the road.
The shine of his leash, caught in the road.
We heard voices in the trees become road, and the sound
of someone’s phone ringing in the trees become road.
As traffic clears, the road softens and takes us
deep in its arms, which though hard, accommodate
everyone. Early morning, as the road begins
its upward surge we hear footsteps nearing
from somewhere inside the road, as if
we have been recognised.

© Ashleigh Young


Note from Paula: This was one of the poems that Ashleigh read out at the Auckland Writers Festival in the session for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award. Ashleigh was a finalist in the award along with  Alice Miller (I was her stand in)  and Diana Bridge (winner). This poem really struck a chord with me, clung to me like a poetry limpet as I left the room. Curiously, as I listened, it was a little hallucinogenic — time slowed down, the world stretched out to a state of dissolve and all that mattered was the elongated moment of the poem. Everything inside the poem seemed bright, shining, crystal clear yet simultaneously unreal, mysterious, out of reach. Disconcerting. Strange and estranging. The words so perfectly catching the momentum of anecdote yet lilting sideways, looping back like a Zen master as everything becomes road and time laps back upon itself (‘As we cycled uphill/ the person we once were were was cycling downhill’). Really, that state I had to snap out of as I sat on stage in front of the packed audience is the state embedded in the poem — when catastrophe strikes. The world stretches like chewing gum to become so real it is unreal. This is what poetry can do; it can take those unfathomable, unspeakable moments and cast them within a poetic frame that recasts you. You get to see and feel and shift a bit. Thank you Asheigh Young, thank you.


Sarah Broom Poetry Award judge’s comments (Vona Groarke) on Ashleigh here.

Poem Friday: Erin Scudder’s ‘To Do in Malibu’ — that ultimate moment of pause, attentiveness, pleasure




To Do in Malibu


Brush hair, brush teeth,

climb down the mind’s

soft-carpeted staircase

from sleep.


Iron the pink robe and put it on.


There are no wailing birds here –

only the sun hums

a mute, radiating

suggestion of song.


Open the vertical blinds by twirling

their thin ivory rotating wands.

Pay gentle attention

to their exhumation

of bladelike,


slightest sound.


Polish the windows,

polish the floors,

open the patio’s sliding doors.


Polish toes with clear paint.


Stand still by the blue stone statue

in the southwest sandstone yard.


Stay still, allowing your mind

to follow the lead of the patio shadows.


Smile amenably into the weight

of the broad clean pool of hot.


Let everything be still.

Let everything be new.


© Erin Scudder


Author’s bio: Erin is the co-author of AUP New Poets 4 and the author (under numerous pseudonyms) of Psychedomus (Fitts & Holderness, 2011). Her poetry recently appeared in Truth or Beauty (Seraph Press, 2014), and has also appeared in various Asia Pacific journals. In 2015 she hopes to publish her first solo book of poems. She holds joint Canadian / New Zealand citizenship and currently lives in Melbourne.

Author’s note: My starting point for this poem was David Hockney’s Californian painting ‘American Collectors’ (Fred and Marcia Weisman). In the painting, a woman in a pink robe or mumu stands looking out at you, half-smiling, in the sun-washed yard of a modernist bungalow. The pink cloth, brushing slightly to the side, is wonderful. I love how just looking at the plain, minimal lines of this picture is relaxing. There are a few statues,  plants, and a man, also in the picture – placed here and there in an orderly but effortless kind of feng shui way. The woman’s look is very serene, very open and calm, but at the same time she has one arm crossing her body and lightly gripping the other arm – suggesting a shyness or self-consciousness. It’s as if she has an instinct towards neurosis but this is at play, is in a sort of dance, with a capacity for deep peace. I imagined her talking herself through the steps of her morning as though soothing herself, soothing her nerves, as you might soothe a child … as though she has had a trauma and needs to only do or notice one element at a time. I imagined a really nice, warm silence infusing this scene. She treats each small action and observation with reverence … I love the idea of ordinary household moments being realised as slow, sacred rituals. Her instructions to herself start out as a sort of coping mechanism but move her into meditative stillness.


Paula’s Note: This poem is as much about movement as it is about stillness. Stillness resides in the palm of its movement and movement resides in the palm of its stillness. An oxymoron, yes. It is as though you climb (ascend, scale)  your way through the poem which is, in turn, climbing through a moment, with steady rhythm, an immensely satisfying measure of beat. It is like reading a mantra (how to be, to be here now), because what this poem evokes more than anything is an occupation of time and place. The finely judged detail renders the moment luminous. It reminds me of a terrific scene in The Tavianni Brothers’ movie, Padre Padrone, when the father tells the son to bend his ear to the stream in order to absorb the world about him. I love the way this poem stalls in the everyday, as if to remind us of the way our eyes become immune to the familiar. I love too the pile up of strong, single-syllable words in the final line that reenact that ultimate moment of pause, attentiveness, pleasure, both in the poem and an external place of your own making.


Friday Poem: Anna Jackson’s ‘Afraid of falls?’ — a pinhole in the dark expanse of memory to let the light of childhood through


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Afraid of falls?

We spent our childhoods upright.  We rose asleep.
We rose silent, when our breaths were taken.
We sat on the mat, and were told to sit up.
There was so much to learn.
In the weekends, though, my brother
went into the bush behind the house
and he came back talking of the waterfalls.
Oh take me, take me to the waterfalls,
I promise not to fall.
Fruit fell.  Whole lawns were carpeted!
Fell, and rotted where it fell.
In the end, we rose apart.
But I remember the waterfalls,
and I remember how the world was so much with us.

© Anna Jackson I, Clodia, and Other Portraits Auckland University Press, 2014


Author’s bio:

Anna is the Programme Director in the English Department at Victoria University. She has published five poetry collections, including Thicket, which was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards in 2011.

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Author’s note:

When I was little I found it strange that you could “sit up” or “sit down” and the sitting would still be the same either way. I’ve also always loved Chris Price’s poem “Rose and Fell” and how its title makes such a strangeness of the phrase “rise and fall” by placing it in the past tense. So this is a meditation on rising and falling, and on childhood as a time before a fall, when instead of falling asleep you might rise asleep, and keep on rising.

We lived in Titirangi until I was seven, and my brother did go into the bush, and he did come back talking about the waterfalls.


Paula’s note:

This poem is like a little sonata pivoting upon the word, ‘fell.’ Then again, it is as though a word, ‘fall,’ is elbowing a pinhole in the dark expanse of memory to let the light of childhood through. Playfully. Childhood becomes a riff on falling (and rising), and there is a delicate, addictive humour in the overlaying words (‘oh take me, take me to the waterfalls,/ I promise not to fall’). The image of the childhood wonder is made more pungent by the carpet of rotting fruit, the stench of abundance and plenty (time, dreams, play).

The book that contains the poem, Anna’s latest, lifts from the previous collections. It is a book of portraits, and here, in this example, the portrait of a child(hood) might be invented, misremembered, once lived, fleetingly real, achingly so. It was no easy task picking a poem that stood out for me in this book (I am waiting to get a copy of Catallus so I can follow Anna’s reading map as I reread the poems to review). The lift and play of each line is glorious, the image equally so. I have donned the cotton dress of my younger self and the lift and fall moves beyond the gold nugget for ear and eye to that of elusive self. A little sonata that haunts and plays again.



Auckland University page

New Zealand Book Council page

Poetry Shelf interview




Poem Friday: Leilani Tamu’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ — I love the mesh of surprise and political bite




Photo credit: Janet Lilo



Mouths Wide Shut

it was while I was boarding

the early morning bus

with my mouth taped shut

that I came to understand




her pale eyes watching me

she didn’t know what to do

or how to react


to the challenge

of my impertinent act

not golden but ashen

she seemed to be shaken


not wanting to deal

with my rage or passion

her mind was made up


who cared about the reason

why my mouth was taped

shut? her role was not

to question or get involved


let alone make a fuss

coz it’s not her problem

if someone wants to make

a statement on board

the public bus


© Leilani Tamu, The Art of Excavation Anahera Press, 2014



Leilani’s note about the poem:

In 2012, I wrote an article for Metro magazine called ‘Mouths Wide Shut’ which tackled the issue of racism in New Zealand. The article focused on the implications, both personal and public, of choosing to remain silent, or do nothing, when confronted with racism. After writing the piece, I collaborated with artist Janet Lilo to stage a social / artistic intervention whereby Janet took photographs of me boarding a public bus in Auckland with my mouth covered with black duct tape. We rode the early morning bus from Avondale to Point Chevalier and during the trip not one person asked us what we were doing. People seemed to feel more comfortable ignoring us and most people looked uncomfortable. It was this experience and the subsequent photographs that inspired the poem.

The original article can be read online here

Author bio:

Leilani Tamu is a poet, social commentator, Pacific historian and former New Zealand diplomat. In 2013 she was the Fulbright / Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence at the University of Hawai’i in Mānoa. Leilani’s work has appeared in a diverse range of anthologies and her debut book of poetry The Art of Excavation was published in August 2014.


Paula’s note about the poem:

I had no idea about the genesis of the poem when I first read it but it really struck me. Stuck with me. I love the mesh of surprise and political bite. The title and the phrase, ‘mouth taped shut,’ were the initial hooks. It first brought to mind Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in 1955. Leilani’s title is an oxymoron yet it makes sense as the closed mouth of the title speaks volumes. It is a little cipher to carry through the poem. By being ‘sentenced’ to silence, willfully or otherwise, the taped mouth is both potent and resonant. It cuts into your state of ease. For me, it caught hold of centuries of thought, loose conversations, anecdotes and theory on women speaking and women silent, that reach back as far as Aristotle’s ‘A woman’s crown is her silence.’ The poem suggested to me that subject isn’t yet dead and there is still much to be said on the matter. Who is silence? Why is she silence? How is she silenced? Does it matter that she is a woman?

Yet this poem isn’t just issue based. It is vital, vibrant and rich with possibilities.

When I hit the word ‘silence’ in its own pillow of white space, I was tugged in a completely different direction. Now I was lead to the notion that you can observe and absorb and thus understand the world so much better if you are quiet (like the chatterer in the bush doesn’t get to experience the bush beyond the filter or screen of talk).

Then you reach the poem’s passenger and her distance. This returns you to the title and the poignant phrase. The passenger’s stance ignites thoughts on how we navigate difference and how difference is so often held at arm’s length because it is threatening, unfathomable, confusing. The notion that you can observe and absorb and thus understand the world so much better if you are quiet is tilted, flipped on its head. You get to observe, absorb and understand the world more through interrogation, through conversation. The poem is both the public bus and the public performance and it is over to us to draw close and raise questions. I love the way this poem is both understated and packs a punch. I have barely begun to pick at its threads.

Maybe you get to observe, absorb and understand the world  by both silence (observation) and engagement (questioning).



Anahera author page here

My review of The Art of Excavation here

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Friday Poem: Kerrin P Sharpe’s ‘she gets these letters’ — Nouns swell with options

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she gets these letters


one moment there

is vodka at

a forest wedding

the next the last

breath of a gun


she watches defiance

secret army draws

a map of Poland

the sweep of ice

fills her throat


this is the plantation

her father was taken to

perhaps this is the pine

he walked towards


as if he spent

his mornings collecting

alpine specimens

and the snow he fell into

pages of white birds



©Kerrin P. Sharpe There’s a Medical Name for This  Victoria University Press, 2014

Author bio: Kerrin P. Sharpe’s first book three days in a wishing well was published by Victoria University Press in 2012. Her work appeared in Oxford Poets 13 (Carcanet). Another book, there’s a medical name for this was published August 2014 (VUP). A third collection rabbit rabbit is in progress with a grant from Creative New Zealand.

Author note: This poem began life after I had watched the movies Defiance and Secret Army. I began thinking about the huge significance of locations and how they are changed forever when terrible crimes have been committed there. This poem was published in the NZ Listener in 2014.

Note by Paula: What draws me to this poem is the enigma and the gap. Without the back story the possibilities are myriad whether as reader you step into shoes that are autobiographical, another persona or a mix of both. There is a jostling of meaning and effect between elements; from title to poem, night to day, life to death, vodka to the last breath of the gun. Nouns swell with options: vodka, forest, the map and the plantation are nouns of elsewhere. The understatement is striking. There is the ominous ring of ‘was taken’ that is amplified by the ‘chill of ice.’ The implications of ‘as if specimens’ seems to mask from what really took place. The final image in the last two lines is utterly potent. The white snow might stand in for the clean white page, the insistence of hope, the threat of war and violence and atrocity, and the magnetic pull of the prospect of peace. For me, the word ‘sweep’ leaps out not just for the ear but semantic rewards (a clean sweep, the expanse of the scene, clearing history, fresh beginnings). This is a haunting poem. Yes, it makes a difference when you know the back story but the gaps are still profound.

Victoria University Press page

Friday Poem: Sarah Jane Barnett’s ‘Blue Heart’: The poem enacts the mystery of writing a poem


Photo Credit: Matt Bialostocki


Blue Heart

Full size model of a Blue Whale heart, Te Papa Museum

The boy enters the whale heart. He finds his way.

His hands slide down the peachy aorta, his body

swallowed into the central chamber. My face pushes

after him because it’s just fibre and glass, and he’s

my first child, on his knees, his back to me. His hands

perform their work of play along a smooth ridge of cartilage

like a cardiac surgeon. Interpretations of the ‘whale’ fall

into three categories: The whale is real and my son

lives in her heart. Or the whale is the dream

I have for my son. Or the whale is an allegory

that should not be taken to heart. Some things take time

to understand. Last time we visited my grandmother

I knew she would die before I saw her again.

She’d been having regular blood transfusions—

pulsing circles of bright red tubing—which helped

for a few weeks before another fall, after which she’d rest

one cheek on the carpet. My son sat on her lap and she played

at biting his fingers, her grey dentures clacking together,

and he squealed and pointed, and then pointed to the fireplace,

and then pointed to the window where a dried floral arrangement had sat

for twenty years. Everything was there for him.

She took his pointing finger between the soft pads of her lips.

How do you enter the biggest heart? Do you say

that it weighs up to fifteen hundred pounds? The largest heart

is like a compacted Volvo! Maybe you must imagine it beating

inside you? Maybe you find it one quiet morning,

your son asleep, his cheeks flaring the colour of summer plums.


Author’s bio: Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer, tutor, and book reviewer who lives in Wellington. Her first collection of poems, A Man Runs into a Woman, was published by Hue & Cry Press in 2012, and was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her work has appeared in various publications including Sport, Landfall, Best New Zealand Poems, and Southerly. Sarah has a PhD in creative writing from Massey University in the field of ecopoetics. She blogs at: theredroom.org.

Author’s note: ‘I wrote this poem as part of my PhD thesis which, in part, looked at the different ways poets write about the nonhuman world. While writing my thesis I had my son and my grandmother died. Both of these events felt huge and brittle and surreal. Both were difficult to write about. One afternoon I took my son, Sam, to Te Papa and he played for ages in their scale model of a blue whale heart. It made me think about the way poets often resort to using the natural world as a metaphor when trying to describe love, grief, or the sublime. That’s when I wrote this poem.’

Paula’s note: The opening line of Sarah’s poem, so exquisitely simple stalled me with myriad, potential directions: fable, fairytale, the slippery slopes of surrealism, metaphor and real-life anecdote (as the epigraph in fact signals). This heavenly poem celebrates the child — the mother-son relationship is clasped in its tender embrace. Poignantly, the life of the son is countered by the death of the grandmother, not as a set of scales but as a largeness of love and loss that finds its potency in the smallest of detail. The poem enacts the mystery of writing a poem — the way stream-of-consciousness or random thoughts that accumulate like stepping stones can drive the poet’s pen and make magic out of metonymy and juxtaposition. The son points out the luminous detail so that place becomes vibrant and beloved. The life blood of this poem is heart: the whale’s heart, the son’s heart, the grandmother’s heart. But more than than anything, it is the internal love heart that renders the grace,  economy,  attentiveness,  poetic craft, the words that shine out, the story that unfolds and the images that startle (‘cheeks flaring the colour of summer plums’) in maternal ink. This is why I love poetry.

Sweet Mammalian is a new literary journal edited by 3 Wellington poets. The journal was created out of a wish to see more good, new writing out in the world. The editors of Sweet Mammalian aim to provide a fresh space for poetry that comes out of the complex, the absurd, the warm-blooded. They aim to provide a space for all kinds of writing. The inaugural issue of Sweet Mammalian is launched today, Friday 10 October, with a launch party and reading in Wellington.

The link to Sarah’s poem in the inaugural issue is here.

First Friday Poem by a Secondary School student: I am not a graceful person

Poetry Shelf aims to feature a poem by a secondary-school student on the last Friday of every month. I have received a bundle of poems from which to pick one to post. Many of the poems were full of emotion and were circling dark and difficult subject matter. The trick of writing a poem that will hook and then keep the attention of the reader is to explore how emotion can serve the poem rather than control the poem (a bit like rhyme really). Real detail, attention to the sound of the line, not giving everything away, laying down clues can help, playing with the form of a poem — this can help create a poem that moves rather than overwhelms.

‘I am not a graceful person’ by Emily Savage, aged 17, Year 12, Raglan Area School

The poem I picked does circle difficult subject matter, but it is surprising, mysterious, thoughtful, daring, fresh (remember this is not a formula for what makes it a good poem, but just happens to be what this poem does). I like the way the poet doesn’t spell everything out. I like the overlapping circles in the poem; the way graceless is transformed into gracefulness, the way night becomes day, the way difficulty becomes ease. The rhythm of the lines add to the mood; they puncture the dark of the night with their varying lengths. This is a poem I wanted to read again, and of all the poems I got sent it is the one that stuck in my head.

I am not a graceful person

I am not a graceful person
I am the Tuesday that never came. I am the 11:45pm siren from falling  out of dreams. I am the awkwardly disguised leap years and the numbing of your limbs.


You are beautiful as you speak, in fragment thoughts at
you lift up all things that hit the ground one by one
but mostly you are transparent, solid, rock, feelings (big, bold) although nothing to hold them together. You have all things needed to become something more, but you are everything less
I am over the moon, but under the sun
and you are somewhere near the stars.
Which is okay because most things we see are dead or
will be sometime in the future. So having a grasp on something isn’t all that bad when you know everything/everyone
is dead.
so as it hit
6am (15 seconds)
I knew that your dead words- my gracefulness would= 7am. And by the sun is up,
so I knew we would be okay.