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.
You know, even if I hadn’t come on the plane, on a bus, in a taxi,
I’d get here at some point – cos that clever tektonos, that shifty carpenter,
poet, boat-builder in the sky, he’s been scheming all the while; been doing
a bit of backyard DIY, a bit of God-honest labouring and jack-hammering
on the boundary – right under that picket fence between the plates,
between the kanuka and manuka.
There’s a paratekstosyni afoot, a volcanic and magnanimous change,
a winching and an earthmoving: those alpine ridges, those glaciers,
plains and Hutt Valleys, they’re slap-hugging the rest of the North Island
goodbye – Ya old mudpool, ya long drawn out beach, ya tall and flashy
neighbour, I’m off to the Arctic Ocean – I hear you’re off to the Pontos –
never heard of it.
And all this in broad daylight, Yiayia – can you believe it?
This is what I know: Oceanus gave birth to Styx, the Arcadian spring into which Achilles
was dipped; from which Alexander got sick; whose water Iris drew and took to the Gods
so that it might witness oaths. Or, Styx was the river mortals crossed.
Or, the ocean is what I’m standing in – one tiptoe on the Pacific rim
and one not.
Vana Manasiadis from Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima, Seraph Press, 2009
From Helen Heath:
One of the things that draws me to Vana’s work is our shared Greek heritage. I feel a deep affinity to this part of my genetic make-up; my ancestors’ homeland, the island of Ithaca in Greece, plays a big role in my debut collection, Graft.
However, I feel awkward claiming Greek heritage because I am only 1/8th Greek and my family wasn’t close to the Wellington Greek community when I was young. I barely know any Greek language and the Greek alphabet does my head in. I suffer from imposter syndrome, although I’m frequently told I look very Greek.
Vana, on the other hand, has more Greek heritage, she speaks Greek and has lived in Greece. In my mind, she far more authentically Greek than me. However, because she is pale skinned and strawberry blonde, she experienced prejudice from members of the Wellington Greek community. As Vana says. “The criteria of inclusion were missing: we didn’t look stereotypically Greek.”
Vana’s collection: Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima (Seraph Press, SSS), which this poem appears in, weaves her Greek heritage with her New Zealand experience. In it, I feel her working towards a different understanding – moving between worlds and time frames, inclusion and exclusion, reinvention and fragmentation. There is uncertainty and otherness, but also, she gives me hope for a new kind of belonging.
Vana’s new collection, The Grief Almanac A Sequel, was launched in May. by Seraph Press.
μπράβο – Bravo Vana!
Helen Heath is a poet and essayist from the Kapiti Coast, Wellington. Her debut collection of poetry Graft (VUP) won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry award in 2013 and was the first book of fiction or poetry to ever be shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ Science Book Prize. Her latest collection of poems – Are Friends Electric? (VUP) – is about people, animals and technology, and won Best Poetry Book at the 2019 Ockham Book Awards.
Vana Manasiadis is a New Zealand Greek writer, editor and translator who spent many years in Greece and Europe, and is now based back in Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau. She is the author of acclaimed collection and her writing has appeared in a many outlets including 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry (Vintage, 2010) and Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (Random NZ, 2014). As co-editor of the Seraph Press Translation Series, she has co-edited Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation (2018) and edited and translated from the Greek for Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια: Shipwrecks/Shelters: Six Contemporary Greek Poets (2016). The Grief Almanac: A Sequel was published May, 2019 (Seraph Press).
Full book award results here
So delighted to see two excellent poetry books receive awards.
Helen Heath reads two poems from Are Friends Electric
Poetry Shelf in conversation with Helen Heath
Poetry Shelf interviews Tayi Tibble
Best Poetry book:
Helen Heath won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for her collection Are Friends Electric? (Victoria University Press).
“By turns thoughtful and moving, Are Friends Electric? asks how the material world might mediate—or replace—human relationships.
“Helen Heath’s collection impressed the judging panel with its broad thematic reach, its willingness to tackle complex issues, and its poetic risk-taking,” said the judges.
Best First Poetry book:
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.
Listen to Helen read two poems here
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.
m y h i g h l i g h t s
I have had endless opportunities to transform the days and nights of 2018 with poetry musings. What good is poetry? Why write it? Why read it? Because it energises. Because it connects with the world on the other side of these hills and bush views. Because it gives me goose bumps and it makes me feel and think things.
I am fascinated by the things that stick – the readings I replay in my head – the books I finish and then read again within a week – the breathtaking poem I can’t let go. So much more than I write of here!
I have also invited some of the poets I mention to share their highlights.
2018: my year of poetry highlights
I kicked started an audio spot on my blog with Chris Tse reading a poem and it meant fans all round the country could hear how good he is. Like wow! Will keep this feature going in 2019.
Wellington Readers and Writers week was a definite highlight – and, amidst all the local and international stars, my standout session featured a bunch of Starling poets. The breathtaking performances of Tayi Tibble and essa may ranapiri made me jump off my seat like a fan girl. I got to post esssa’s poem on the blog.
To get to do an email conversation with Tayi after reading Poūkahangatus (VUP) – her stunning debut collection – was an absolute treat. I recently reread our interview and was again invigorated by her poetry engagements, the way she brings her whanau close, her poetry confidence, her fragilities, her song. I love love love her poetry.
My second standout event was the launch of tātai whetū edited by Maraea Rakuraku and Vana Manasiadis and published by Seraph Press. Lots of the women read with their translators. The room overflowed with warmth, aroha and poetry.
At the same festival I got to MC Selina Tusitala Marsh and friends at the National Library and witness her poetry charisma. Our Poet Laureate electrifies a room with poems (and countless other venues!), and I am in awe of the way she sparks poetry in so many people in so many places.
I also went to my double poetry launch of the year. Chris Tse’s He’s So MASC (AUP) – the book moved and delighted me to bits and I was inspired to do an email conversation with him for Poetry Shelf. He was so genius in his response. Anna Jackson’s Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP) delivers the quirkiest, unexpected, physical, cerebral poetry around. The book inspired another email conversation for the blog.
Tusiata Avia exploded my heart at her event with her cousin Victor Rodger; she read her challenging Unity and astonishing epileptic poems. Such contagious strength amidst such fragility my nerve endings were hot-wired (can that be done?). In a session I chaired on capital cities and poets, Bill Manhire read and spoke with such grace and wit the subject lit up. Capital city connections were made.
When Sam Duckor-Jones’s debut collection People from the Pit Stand Up (VUP) arrived, both the title and cover took me to the couch to start reading until I finished. All else was put on hold. I adore this book with its mystery and revelations, its lyricism and sinew; and doing a snail-paced email conversation was an utter pleasure.
I have long been a fan of Sue Wootton’s poetry with its sumptuous treats for the ear. So I was delighted to see The Yield (OUP) shortlisted for the 2018 NZ Book Awards. This is a book that sticks. I was equally delighted to see Elizabeth Smither win with her Night Horses (AUP) because her collection features poems I just can’t get out of my head. I carry her voice with me, having heard her read the poems at a Circle of Laureates event. I also loved Hannah Mettner’s Fully Clothed and So Forgetful (VUP), a debut that won best first Book. How this books sings with freshness and daring and originality.
I did a ‘Jane Arthur has won the Sarah Broom Poetry Award and Eileen Meyers picked her’ dance in my kitchen and then did an anxious flop when I found Eileen couldn’t make the festival. But listening to Jane read before I announced the winner I felt she had lifted me off the ground her poems were so good. I was on stage and people were watching.
Alison Glenny won the Kathleen Grattan Award and Otago University Press published The Farewell Tourist, her winning collection. We had a terrific email conversation. This book has taken up permanent residence in my head because I can’t stop thinking about the silent patches, the mystery, the musicality, the luminous lines, the Antarctica, the people, the losses, the love. And the way writing poetry can still be both fresh and vital. How can poetry be so good?!
I went to the HoopLA book launch at the Women’s Bookshop and got to hear three tastes from three fabulous new collections: Jo Thorpe’s This Thin Now, Elizabeth Welsh’s Over There a Mountain and Reihana Robinson’s Her limitless Her. Before they began, I started reading Reihana’s book and the mother poems at the start fizzed in my heart. I guess it’s a combination of how a good a poem is and what you are feeling on the day and what you experienced at some point in the past. Utter magic. Have now read all three and I adore them.
At Going West I got to chair Helen Heath, Chris Tse and Anna Jackson (oh like a dream team) for the Wellington and poetry session. I had the anxiety flowing (on linking city and poet again) but forgot all that as I became entranced by their poems and responses. Such generosity in sharing themselves in public – it not only opened up poetry writing but also the complicated knottiness of being human. Might sound corny but there you go. Felt special.
Helen Heath’s new collection Are Friends Eectric? (VUP) was another book that blew me apart with its angles and smoothness and provocations. We conversed earlier this year by email.
A new poetry book by former Poet Laureate Cilla McQueen is always an occasion to celebrate. Otago University Press have released Poeta: Selected and new poems this year. It is a beautiful edition curated with love and shows off the joys of Cilla’s poetry perfectly.
Two anthologies to treasure: because I love short poems Jenny Bornholdt’s gorgeous anthology Short Poems of New Zealand. And Steve Braunias’s The Friday Poem because he showcases an eclectic range of local of poets like no other anthology I know. I will miss him making his picks on Fridays (good news though Ashleigh Young is taking over that role).
Highlights from some poets
I spent six weeks reading & writing poems with the students of Eketahuna School. They were divided on the merits of James Brown’s Come On Lance. It sparked a number of discussions & became a sort of touchstone. Students shared the poems they’d written & gave feedback: it’s better than Come On Lance, or, it’s not as good as Come On Lance, or, shades of Come On Lance. Then someone would ask to hear Come On Lance again & half the room would cheer & half the room would groan. Thanks James Brown for Come On Lance.
My fave poetry thing all year has been the beautiful Heartache Festival that Hana Pera Aoake and Ali Burns put on at the start of the year! Spread over an afternoon and evening, across two Wellington homes, with readings and music and so much care and aroha. I wish all ‘literary festivals’ had such an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability!
Poetry-related things made up a lot of my highlights this year. I mean, obviously, winning the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was … pretty up there. I’m still, like, “Me?! Whaaaat!” about it. I discovered two things after the win. First, that it’s possible to oscillate between happy confidence and painful imposter syndrome from one minute to the next. And second, that the constant state of sleep deprivation brought on by having a baby is actually strangely good for writing poetry. It puts me into that semi-dream-brain state that helps me see the extra-weirdness in everything. I wrote almost a whole collection’s worth of poems (VUP, 2020) in the second half of the year, thanks broken sleep!
A recent highlight for me was an event at Wellington’s LitCrawl: a conversation between US-based poet Kaveh Akbar and Kim Hill. I’m still processing all its gems – hopefully a recording will show up soon. Another was commissioning Courtney Sina Meredith to write something (“anything,” I said) for NZ Poetry Day for The Sapling, and getting back a moving reminder of the importance of everyone’s stories
This year I read more poetry than I have in ages, and whenever I enjoyed a book I declared it my favourite (I always do this). However, three local books have especially stayed with me and I will re-read them over summer: the debuts by Tayi Tibble and Sam Duckor-Jones, and the new Alice Miller. Looking ahead, I can’t wait for a couple of 2019 releases: the debut collections by essa may ranapiri and Sugar Magnolia Wilson.
Having Cilla McQueen roll and light me a cigarette outside the Blyth
Performing Arts Centre in Havelock North after the poets laureate
Poemlines: Coming Home reading (20.10.2018) and then smoking together,
cigarettes in one hand and tokotoko in the other. Then, with the relief that
comes after a reading, throwing the cigarette down into a bed of pebbles, hoping
the building doesn’t catch on fire.
Selina Tusitala Marsh
To perform my ‘Guys Like Gauguin’ sequence (from Fast Talking PI) in Tahiti at the Salon du Livre, between an ancient Banyan Tree and a fruiting Mango tree, while a French translator performs alongside me and Tahitians laugh their guts out!
For desiring ‘em young
So guys like Gauguin
Could dream and dream
Then take his syphilitic body
This year I’ve been lucky enough to read my work in some incredible settings, from the stately dining room at Featherston’s Royal Hotel, to a church-turned-designer-clothing-store in Melbourne’s CBD. But the most memorable reading I’ve done this year was with fellow Kiwis Holly Hunter, Morgan Bach and Nina Powles in a nondescript room at The Poetry Cafe in London, which the three of them currently call home. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday that day, but we still managed to coax people into a dark windowless room to listen to some New Zealand poetry for a couple of hours. This is a poetry moment I will treasure for many years to come.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and reading plenty of poems by plenty of poets this year. But far and away the most rejuvenating poetry experience for me during 2018 was working with the children at Karitane School, a small primary school on the East Otago coast. I’m always blown away by what happens when kids embark on the poetry journey. Not only is the exploration itself loads of fun, but once they discover for themselves the enormous potentiality in language – it’s just go! As they themselves wrote: “Plant the seeds and grow ideas / an idea tree! Sprouting questions … / Bloom the inventions / Fireworks of words …” So I tip my cap to these young poets, in awe of what they’ve already made and intrigued to find out what they’ll make next.
Found on the beach – is it a fossil?
jawbone? hunk of coral? No – it’s a wrecked,
fire-blackened fragment of Janola bottle,
its contorted plastic colonised by weeds
and sandy encrustations, printed instructions
still visible here and there, pale blue.
Growing inside the intact neck, poking out
like a pearly beak, a baby oyster.
Living in Bluff for twenty-two years now, I’ve sometimes felt out on a limb, in the tree of New Zealand poetry. I appreciate the journey my visitors undertake to reach me. A reluctant traveller myself, a special poetry moment for me was spent with Elizabeth Smither and Bill and Marion Manhire at Malo restaurant, in Havelock North. Old friends from way back – I haven’t seen them often but poetry and art have always connected us
In September, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend The Rosario International Poetry Festival in Argentina. It was poetic and romantic; late night dinners in high rise restaurants, bottles of dark wine served up like water, extremely flowery and elaborate cat-calling (Madam, you are a candy!) and of course sexy spanish poetry and sexy poets.
On our last night, Marcela, Eileen and I broke off and went to have dinner at probably what is the only Queer vegan hipster restaurant/boutique lingerie store/experimental dj venue in the whole of Argentina, if not the world. Literally. We couldn’t find a vegetable anywhere else. We went there, because Eileen had beef with the chef at the last place and also we had too much actual beef generally, but I digress.
So anyway there we are eating a vegan pizza and platter food, chatting. I accidentally say the C word like the dumbass crass kiwi that I am forgetting that it’s like, properly offensive to Americans. Eileen says they need to take a photo of this place because it’s camp af. I suggest that Marcela and I kiss for the photo to gay it up because I’m a Libra and I’m lowkey flirting for my life because it’s very hot and I’ve basically been on a red-wine buzz for five days. Eileen gets a text from Diana, one of the festival organisers telling them they are due to read in 10 minutes. We are shocked because the male latin poets tend to read for up to 2584656 times their allocated time slots, so we thought we had plenty of time to like, chill and eat vegan. Nonetheless poetry calls, so we have to dip real quick, but when we step outside, despite it being like 1546845 degrees the sky opens up and it’s pouring down. Thunder. Lightening. A full on tropical South American storm!
It’s too perfect it’s surreal. Running through the rain in South America. Marcella and I following Eileen like two hot wet groupies. Telling each other, “no you look pretty.” Feeling kind of primal. Throwing our wet dark curls around. The three of us agree that this is lowkey highkey very sexy. Cinematic and climatic. Eventually we hail a taxi because time is pressing. Though later that night, and by night I mean at like 4am, Marcella and I, very drunk and eating the rest of our Vegan pizza, confessed our shared disappointment that we couldn’t stay in the rain in Argentina… just for a little while longer….
We get to the venue and make a scene; just in time and looking like we’ve just been swimming. Eileen, soaking wet and therefore looking cooler than ever, reads her poem An American Poem while Marcella and I admire like fangirls with foggy glasses and starry eyes.
“And I am your president.” Eileen reads.
“You are! You are!” We both agree.
A poetry moment/reading. ‘The Body Electric’ session at this year’s Litcrawl was a celebration of queer and/or non-binary poets (Emma Barnes, Harold Coutts, Sam Duckor-Jones, essa may ranapiri, Ray Shipley ). Curated and introduced by poet Chris Tse (looking incredibly dapper in a sparkly jacket) it was an inspiring antidote to bullying, shame, and the pressure to conform.
A book. Not a book of poetry as such, but a book by a poet (and perhaps it’s time to be non-binary about genre as well as gender?). Reading Anne Kennedy’s The Ice Shelf I was struck by how unerringly it highlights the salient characteristics of this strange era we call the anthropocene: crisis and denial, waste and disappearance, exploitation, and the destruction caused by broken relationships and an absence of care.
A publishing event. Seraph Press published the lovely tātai whetū: seven Māori women poets in translation, with English and Te Reo versions of each poem on facing pages (and a sprinkling of additional stars on some pages). An invitation, as Karyn Parangatai writes in her similarly bilingual review of the book in Landfall Review online (another publishing first?) ‘to allow your tongue to tease the Māori words into life’.
Best writing advice received in 2018. ‘Follow the signifier’.
essa may ranapiri
There are so many poetry highlights for me this year, so many good books that have left me buzzing for the verse! First book I want to mention is Cody-Rose Clevidence’s second poetry collection flung Throne. It has pulled me back into a world of geological time and fractured identity.
Other books that have resonated are Sam Ducker-Jone’s People from the Pit Stand Up and Tayi Tibble’s Poūkahangatus, work from two amazingly talented writers and friends who I went through the IIML Masters course with. After pouring over their writing all year in the workshop environment seeing their writing in book form brought me to tears. So proud of them both!
Written out on a type-writer, A Bell Made of Stones by queer Chamorro poet, Lehua M. Taitano, explores space, in the world and on the page. They engage with narratives both indigenous and colonial critiquing the racist rhetoric and systems of the colonial nation state. It’s an incredible achievement, challenging in form and focus.
I’ve been (and continue to be) a part of some great collaborative poetry projects, a poetry collection; How It Colours Your Tongue with Loren Thomas and Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, a poetry chapbook; Eater Be Eaten with Rebecca Hawkes, and a longform poetry zine; what r u w/ a broken heart? with Hana Pera Aoake. Working with these people has and continues to be a such a blessing!
I put together a zine of queer NZ poetry called Queer the Pitch. Next year I’m going to work to release a booklet of trans and gender diverse poets, I’m looking forward to working with more talented queer voices!
The most important NZ poetry book to be released this year, it would have to be tātai whetū. It was published as part of Seraph Press’s Translation Series. It features work from seven amazing wāhine poets; Anahera Gildea, Michelle Ngamoki, Tru Paraha, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Maraea Rakuraku, Dayle Takitimu and Alice Te Punga Somerville. These poems are all accompanied by te reo Māori translations of the work. I can only imagine that it would be a super humbling experience to have your work taken from English and returned to the language of the manu. By happenstance I was able to attend the launch of tātai whetū; to hear these pieces read in both languages was a truly special experience. It’s so important that we continue to strive to uplift Māori voices, new words brought forth from the whenua should be prized in our literary community, thanks to Seraph for providing such a special place for these poems. Ka rawe!
This has been a year of particularly memorable poetry moments for me, from the launch of Seraph Press’s bilingual anthology Tātai Whetū in March and dazzling readings by Mary Rainsford and Tim Overton at a Poetry Fringe Open Mike in April, to Litcrawl’s inspiring installation in November of essa may ranapiri and Rebecca Hawkes hard at work on their collaborative poetry collection in a little glass cage/alcove at the City Art Gallery. They hid behind a table but their creative energy was palpable even through the glass. I would also like to mention a poetry salon hosted by Christine Brooks, at which a dog-and-cheese incident of startling grace brilliantly put into play her theory about the relevance of improv theatre theory to poetry practice. Perhaps my happiest poetry moment of the year took place one evening when I was alone in the house and, having cooked an excellent dinner and drunken rather a few small glasses of shiraz, started leafing through an old anthology of English verse reading poems out loud to myself, the more the metre the better. But the poems I will always return to are poems I have loved on the page, and this year I have been returning especially to Sam Duckor-Jones’s People from the Pit Stand Up, while I look forward to seeing published Helen Rickerby’s breath-taking new collection, How to Live, that has already dazzled me in draft form.
happy summer days
and thank you for visiting my bog
See reviews here