Tag Archives: HauNui Press

To journal or not to journal: Helen Lehndorf’s Write to the Centre


Write to the Centre, Helen Lehndorf, HauNui Press, 2016

Poet and teacher, Helen Lehndorf has kept journals for several decades. Journal keeping is essentially and at the outset an intimate and secret undertaking but then, at some point, some journals enter the public arena, raising all manner of questions about the ethics of what we share. Many writers publish journals within their lifetime; others appear posthumously. A journal is the place where you can remove the filters that work in varying degrees when you write poetry, fiction, memoir and so on.

Is a journal then writing with your greatest freedom?

What changes when you publish it?

I haven’t kept a journal since my twenties and can scarcely bear to encounter that feisty vulnerable young woman trying to live her way into the world. Altogether a writing basket that is too hard and fraught with curved balls and slippery slopes along with bursts of sweet-smelling roses.

The journals of Virginia Woolf have had a pivotal effect at different points in my life. I have always carried her mantra as a writer beholden to neither rule nor regulation: not for the sake of breaking but for the sake of creating.

Helen, however, with caution and daring, has returned to her journals to cut and paste a new version that shines bright. It is like a patchwork sample that functions as a patchwork memoir with its lift of colour and brave admissions. She is cutting open herself and we benefit. Cutting is a sharp word but a book like this represents self exposure – wounds, sutures and all. Reading it, it got me cutting into my own memories as points of recognition flashed.

Helen’s book, though, is also like a guide to journal writing because she stitches challenges for the budding writer into her patchwork. You meet the sticky questions and the practical suggestions that will set you on a writing path or help you refine and rattle the one you are already on.

There is a delicious vitality at work here – a sumptuous engagement with words and images and scraps of living that boost the writing craft. A journal, with its gorgeous hungry white space pulling you in, allows you to take risks not only in what you write but how you write. This is the private space, like a surrogate secret head that nobody gets to see, where you can make sense of things and then make nonsense of things. It might be therapy – the way every time you pick up a pen and start linking words you get a boost to  hemoglobin carrying oxygen to both brain and heart. It might be practice – like jamming with chords and scales, off-key and in harmony – in order to test what writing can do.

I love the way Write to the Centre takes you to the sensual pleasure of paper and pen held in hand. Strangely I was thinking about Poetry Box today and what I could do for children next year. I had the brain wave of gifting cool notebooks and pens to budding poets and doing a series of Notebook Challenges.

HauNui Press have excelled in their production values as this is a book clamouring to be picked up and read.

Haunui Press page

Sarah Laing blogs on Write to the Centre


Tim Upperton’s The Night We Ate the Baby — You need to read the whole collection to get a sense of the tonal subtleties, the echoey anecdotes, the spade that digs open and the spade that buries.

Tim-FB 9780473288396-TU

Tim Upperton, The Night We Ate The Baby HauNui Press, 2014

Tim Upperton’s debut poetry collection, A House on Fire, was published by Steele Roberts in 2009. Since then, his poetry has been published in numerous journals and he has won awards for a number of them. The poems for this new collection were written with the assistance of a Doctoral Scholarship from Massey University of New Zealand, so perhaps they form/formed part of his doctoral submission. Tim will be reading as part of the Haunui Press ‘Deep Friend Poetry Reading’ series at Vic Books on 26th March. Details here.

This latest book is unlike any other collection I have seen in New Zealand; chiefly in terms of the measure of discomfort. The forms are various, scooping an edgy wit into prose blocks, villanelle, triplets, couplets and freer patterns. Yet there is connective glue at work here, and that is what makes this collection stand out. I think it comes down to voice (whether or not it is the personal voice of the poet doesn’t really matter) because the voice steering the poems is sharp, forthright, witty, edgy, grumpy. It unsettles. It keeps you on your toes. On the back of the book, Ashleigh Young suggests that ‘[t]hese willfully, calmly disagreeable poems have tenderness and courage at their heart.’ I would agree. Therein lies the pleasure of reading these poems; there is more to the brittle edginess than meets the initial eye.

The first poem, ‘Avoid,’ very clearly announces that this is a poet who loves language, that is unafraid of rhyme and rhythm working arm in arm. The poem is a miniature explosion of sound effects — with sliding assonance, bounding consonants, near rhyme and sumptuous aural connections. It brought to mind the refrain in Don McGlashan’s song,  ‘Marvellous Year,’ and Bill Manhire’s glorious ‘1950s’ in the use of rhythm and rhyme, and aural trapeze work that is ear defying. Whereas Don’s song represents a potted portrait of the world in all its warts and glory (in a marvellous year), and Bill’s poem is a nostalgic recuperation of things, Tim sets up the collection’s  negative disposition and itemises things to avoid!


New Age mystics. Wave-particle physics.

Federico Garcia Lorca, that all-night talker.

The law. The rot inside the apple core.

All dawdlers. Power walkers. Tattoo

parlours. Death metal concerts.

Poetry readings that go on for hours.


The second poem, ‘Valediction,’ is a list poem steered by straightforward rhyme, and coupled with the incantatory joy of repetition you fall upon the humour. This is a lonesome poem, yet it is unbearably funny.


Goodbye, bagel, table for one.

Coffee, cigarette. Warmth of the sun.

Goodbye, sparrow. Goodbye, speckled hen.

Goodbye, tomorrow. Goodbye, remember when.


The third poem, Spring,’ (it would be so easy to work my way through the book, poem by poem but this trend is about to stop!) is not your usual homage to the season of daffodils and lambs. It is both refreshing and refreshed as the negative bite overturns such empathetic images. You board the slippery slope of the poem and run into the self-deprecating turn of the poet as he surveys the ruins of his touch (‘I ruin the jonquils, the daffodils. I ruin the I love you.’). Beneath this surface of ruination there is a white-hot core of intimacy and loss of intimacy. Unbearably moving. The final stanza holds its most potent kick until the oxymoron in the final line. Spring becomes the vehicle to hint at so much more:


Which is to say, I am terrified.

Meanwhile the grassy goodness, the lengthening day.

It’s not as if you died.

You come closer and closer away.


I  was really drawn to ‘The trouble with poetry’ (originally published in Sport). It felt like this  poem was a sleuth on the trail of another poem that would in turn become this poem; the Private Eye Poem collected all the necessary pieces (to tell the story in the manner of ‘a poet, not a novelist’). Like many of the poems in the book, it is as much about story as it is about language effects. There are characters and problems and turning points. The poems begins like this:


In the poem

which is like a house

the poet is looking

out a window.


The poem-houses in the book do look out into the world and what they gather in through their wide open and half-open windows are little anecdotes sometimes layered the one upon the other. They house jarring relations, spiky revelations. They are not-love poems as much as they are love poems. They house broken worlds, interior and external. ‘Late Valentine’ is like an ode to what is not:


I don’t sleep with you anymore,

and this makes the rain come

in the open window


The honeyed repetition of a villanelle renders the ‘hook’ in ‘The bare hook’ more damaging. Again there is discomfort, ache, and the oxymoronic kick of a last line (‘The way in is the way out.’) Here’s a sample:


The bare hook where you hung your coat

is a question mark. The answers never.

Don’t ask what this is all about.


You need to read the whole collection to get a sense of the tonal subtleties, the echoey anecdotes, the spade that digs open and the spade that buries — the language that takes to  limitless skies, and the forms that contain. This is a risky collection. It’s like a series of negative imprints that if you tilt to the left you get exquisite glimpses of fracture and repair.


from ‘Take care’

You are precious,

so carry yourself carefully

through this day,

don’t drop yourself because

you will smash

and fly apart in every direction,

and then,

and when that happens–

who will gather you,

who will pick you all up

I’d like to know?


Tim’s Blog

HauNui Press page