Tag Archives: Helen Rickerby

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about kindness

Kindness, the word on our tongues, in this upheaval world, in these challenging times, as we navigate conflicting points of view, when our well being is under threat, when the planet is under threat, when some of us are going hungry, cold, without work, distanced from loved ones, suffer cruelty, endure hatred because of difference. Kindness is the word and kindness is the action, and it is the leaning in to understand. I had no idea what I would discover when I checked whether poetry features kindness, and indeed, at times, whether poems are a form of kindness. I think of poetry as a form of song, as excavation, challenge, discovery, tonic, storytelling, connection, as surprise and sustenance for both reader and writer. In the past year, as I face and have faced multiple challenges, poetry has become the ultimate kindness.

The poems I have selected are not necessarily about kindness but have a kindness presence that leads in multiple directions. Warm thanks to the poets and publishers who have supported my season of themes. The season ends mid August.

The poems

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where the salt sings in the air

And the tūī rests in the tree outside our kitchen window

And the sun is occluded by cloud, so that the light

does not reach out and hurt our eyes

And we have eaten, and we have drunk

We have slept, and will sleep more

And the child is fed

And the books have been read

And the toys are strewn around the lounge

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where I sit at my desk, working for hours

until the light dims

And you are outside in the garden,

clipping back the hedge and trees

And then I am standing at the sink, washing dishes,

And chopping up vegetables for dinner

We sit down together, we eat, our child is laughing

And you play Muddy Waters on the stereo

And later we lie in bed reading until midnight

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where no one falls sick, no one is hurt

We have milk, we have bread and coffee and tea

Nothing is pressing, nothing to worry about today

The newspaper is full of entertainment news

The washing is clean, it has been folded and put away

Loss and disappointment pass us by

Outside it is busy, the street hums with sound

The children are trailing up the road to school

And busy commuters rush by talking on cellphones

Give me an ordinary day

And because I’m a dreamer, on my ordinary day

Nobody I loved ever died too young

My father is still right here, sitting in his chair,

where he always sits, looking out at the sea

I never lost anything I truly wanted

And nothing ever hurt me more than I could bear

The rain falls when we need it, the sun shines

People don’t argue, it’s easy to talk to everyone

Everyone is kind, we all put others before ourselves

The world isn’t dying, there is life thriving everywhere

Oh Lord, give me an ordinary day

Kiri Piahana-Wong

The guest house

    (for Al Noor and Linwood Mosques)

In this house

we have one rule:

                                                     bring only what you want to

                                                leave behind

we open doors

with both hands

passing batons

from death to life

come share with us

this tiny place

we built from broken tongues

and one-way boarding passes

from kauri bark

and scholarships

from kāitiaki

and kin

in this house

we are

                                               all broken

                                               all strange

                                               all guests  

we are holding

space for you

                                               stranger

                                               friend

come angry

come dazed

come hand against your frail

come open wounded

come heart between your knees

come sick and sleepless

come seeking shelter

come crawling in your lungs

come teeth inside your grief

come shattered peace

come foreign doubt

come unrequited sun

come shaken soil

come unbearable canyon

come desperately alone

come untuned blossom

come wild and hollow prayer

come celestial martyr

come singing doubt

come swimming to land

come weep

come whisper

come howl into embrace

come find

                                                a new thread

                                                a gentle light

                                                a glass jar to hold

                                                                         your dust

come closer

come in

you are welcome, brother

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020                        

Prayer

I pray to you Shoulder Blades

my twelve-year-old daughter’s shining like wings

like frigate birds that can fly out past the sea where my father lives

and back in again.

I pray to you Water,

you tell me which way to go

even though it is so often through the howling.

I pray to you Static –

no, that is the sea.

I pray to you Headache,

you are always here, like a blessing from a heavy-handed priest.

I pray to you Seizure,

you shut my eyes and open them again.

I pray to you Mirror,

I know you are the evil one.

I pray to you Aunties who are cruel.

You are better than university and therapy

you teach me to write books

how to hurt and hurt and forgive,

(eventually to forgive,

one day to forgive,

right before death to forgive).

I pray to you Aunties who are kind.

All of you live in the sky now,

you are better than letters and telephones.

I pray to you Belt,

yours are marks of Easter.

I pray to you Great Rock in my throat,

every now and then I am better than I am now.

I pray to you Easter Sunday.

Nothing is resurrecting but the water from my eyes

it will die and rise up again

the rock is rolled away and no one appears

no shining man with blonde hair and blue eyes.

I pray to you Lungs,

I will keep you clean and the dear lungs around me.

I pray to you Child

for forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.

I will probably wreck you as badly as I have been wrecked

leave the ship of your childhood, with you

handcuffed to the rigging,

me peering in at you through the portholes

both of us weeping for different reasons.

I pray to you Air

you are where all the things that look like you live

all the things I cannot see.

I pray to you Reader.

I pray to you.

Tusiata Avia

from The Savage Coloniser Book, Victoria University Press, 2020

sonnet xix

I’m thinking about it, how we’ll embrace each other

at the airport, then you’ll drive the long way home,

back down the island, sweet dear heart, sweet.

And I’m thinking about the crazy lady, how she strides

down Cuba Mall in full combat gear,

her face streaked with charcoal, how she barges

through the casual crowd, the coffee drinkers,

the eaters of sweet biscuits. ‘All clear,’ she shouts,

‘I’ve got it sorted, you may all stand down.’

What I should do, what I would do if this was a movie,

I’d go right up to her and I’d say, ‘Thank you,

I feel so much safer in this crazy world with you around.’       

Geoff would get it, waiting at the corner of Ghuznee Street.

It’s his kind of scene. In fact, he’d probably direct it.

Bernadette Hall

from Fancy Dancing: Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2020

Precious to them

You absolutely must be kind to animals

even the wild cats.

Grandad brought me a little tiny baby hare,

Don’t you tell your grandma

I’ve brought it inside and put it in the bed.

He put buttered milk arrowroot biscuits, slipped them

in my pockets to go down for early morning milking

You mustn’t tell your grandma, I’m putting all this butter

in the biscuits.

Marty Smith

from Horse with Hat, Victoria University Press, 2014, suggested by Amy Brown

kia atawhai – te huaketo 2020

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whānau

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whanaunga

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoa

kia atawhai ki ā koutou kiritata

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoamahi

kia atawhai ki ngā uakoao

kia atawhai ki ngā tangata o eru ata mātāwaka

kia atawhai ki ā koutou ano.

ka whakamatea i te huaketo

ki te atawhai.

kia atawhai.

be kind – the virus 2020

be kind to your families

be kind to your relatives

be kind to your friends

be kind to your neighbours

be kind to your workmates

be kind to strangers

be kind to people of other ethnicities

be kind to yourselves.

kill the virus

with kindness.

be kind.

Vaughan Rapatahana

The Lift

For Anna Jackson

it had been one of those days

that was part of one of those weeks, months

where people seemed angry

& I felt like the last runner in the relay race

taking the blame for not getting the baton

over the finish line fast enough

everyone scolding

I was worn down by it, diminished

& to top it off, the bus sailed past without seeing me

& I was late for the reading, another failure

so when Anna offered me a lift home

I could have cried

because it was the first nice thing

that had happened that day

so much bigger than a ride in a car

it was all about standing alone

in a big grey city

and somebody suddenly

handing you marigolds

Janis Freegard

first appeared on Janis’s blog

Honest Second

The art of advice

is balancing

what you think

is the right thing

with what you think

is the right thing to say,

keeping in mind

the psychological state

of the person whom you are advising,

your own integrity and beliefs,

as well as the repercussions

of your suggestions in the immediate

and distant futures—a complex mix,

especially in light of the fact that friendship

should always be kind first,

and honest second.

Johanna Emeney

from Felt, Massey University Press, 2021

A Radical Act in July

You are always smiling the cheese man says, my default position.

The cheese, locally made, sold in the farmers market,

but still not good enough for my newly converted vegan friend

who preaches of bobby calves, burping methane, accuses me

of not taking the problems of the world seriously enough.

Granted, there is much to be afraid of: unprecedented fires,

glaciers melting, sea lapping into expensive living rooms,

the pandemic threatening to go on the rampage again

and here still, lurking behind supermarket shelves,

or in the shadows outside our houses like a violent ex-husband.

Strongmen, stupid or calculating are in charge of too many countries,

we have the possibility of one ourselves now, a strong woman,

aiming to crush our current leader and her habit of kindness

while she holds back global warming and Covid 19

with a scowl. I can see why friends no longer watch the news,

why my sons say they will have no children,

why pulling the blankets over your head starts to seem

like a reasonable proposition but what good does that do

for my neighbour living alone, who, for the first time

in her long-life, surviving war, depression

and other trauma is afraid to go outside?

Perhaps there is reason enough for me not to smile,

one son lives in China and can’t come back for the lack

of a job. The other lives by the sea, but in a shed with no kitchen.

I hear my stretcher-bearer dad in his later years, talking

of Cassino and how they laughed when they weren’t screaming

how his mates all dreamed of coming home and finding

a girl. Some did and so we are here, and in being here

we have already won the lottery. So, I get up early

for the market, put on my red hat to spite the cold,

and greet the first crocus which has popped up overnight.

I try not to think it’s only July and is this a sign

and should I save the world by bypassing the cheese man

and the milk man who names his cows?

My dad was consumed by nightmares most of his life,

but at my age now, 69, he would leap into the lounge

in a forward roll to shock us into laughing. A gift,

though I didn’t see it at the time. Reason enough to smile,

practise kindness and optimism as a radical act

Diane Brown

Seabird

I have not forgotten that seabird

the one I saw with its wings

stretched across the hard road.

One eye open,

one closed.

I wanted to walk past

But the road is no place

for a burial –

I picked it up by the wings

took it to the

water and floated it

out to sea,

which was of no use

to the bird, it had ceased.

I like to think someone

was coaching me in the small,

never futile art,

of gentleness.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba press, 2020

Four stories about kindness

I had lunch with Y today, and she told me over gnocchi (me) and meatballs (her), about how she joined up with another dating website. She quickly filled in the online forms, all the ones about herself and her interests, until she came to one where she had to choose the five attributes she thought were the most important in a person. She looked at them for a while, and then grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out the thirty possible attributes in a list. She read the list. She put it down and went to bed. The next morning when she woke up she read the list again. She found her scissors and snipped around each word. She laid each rectangle on the table, arranged them in a possible order, shuffled them around, and then arranged them again. She went to work. When she came back in the evening they were still there, glowing slightly in the twilight. She sat down in front of them and made some minor adjustments. She discovered, somewhat to her surprise, that kindness is the most important thing to her. She went back to the web page and finished her application. Very soon she was registered and had been matched with ten men in her area. Soon after she had thirty-five messages. The next morning she had forty more. She deleted the messages and deleted her profile. Then she wrote five words on a piece of paper and pinned it to her wall.

*

I phone A, whose father is dying. Whether fast or slow, no one really knows, and no one wants to say it, but we all know this will probably be his last Christmas. She was, at this very moment, she tells me, writing in our Christmas card. She tells me that she’s been thinking a lot about kindness. About people who are kind even when it’s inconvenient, even when it hurts. I tell her she is a kind person. ‘There are times’, she says, ‘when I could have chosen to be kind, but I didn’t. Wasn’t. I’ve said things. Done things. I don’t want to do that – I don’t want to make people feel small.’ I think of my own list, my own regrets. It’s weeks later before we get our Christmas card. ‘What’s this word here?’ asks S, as he reads it. ‘Before lights.’ ‘Kind’, I say. ‘The word is kind.’

*

J is a scientific sort of person, and she wants to understand relationships, so she does what any good scientist would do and keeps a notebook in which she records her observations. She watches. And listens. And then she writes. She writes about the good ones, and about the bad ones. Her subjects are her friends, her family, her acquaintances and people she meets (or overhears) while travelling. None of them have given ethics approval. (She hasn’t asked.) She considers the characteristics of each relationship, both good and bad, and in-between. It is almost halfway through New Year’s Day and we are still eating breakfast. While her study is not yet finished, and so all results are of course provisional, she tells us one thing is clear to her already: that the characteristic shared by the best relationships is kindness.

*

I am talking to C in the back yard at the party and I tell him that the theme of the moment is kindness. He tells me that while, yes, he thinks kindness is important, he thinks he is sometimes (for which I read ‘often’) too kind. He puts up with things, he says, that he should not. He lets people have their way. He doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, but he doesn’t want to be a doormat anymore. I’m not always the quickest thinker, but I know there is something wrong here; I think I know that there is a difference between kindness and niceness, kindness and martyrdom. I am sure that being kind doesn’t mean giving in, going along with things you don’t like, denying yourself. I’m sure that being kind doesn’t mean you can’t give the hard word, when needed, doesn’t mean condoning bad behaviour. I try to explain this to C, who is kind, and also is a doormat sometimes, but I’m not sure he understands what I’m saying. I’m not sure if he heard me. Probably because we are both too busy giving each other advice.

Helen Rickerby

from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

Letter to Hone

Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko

sacred in my awkward arms,

its cool black mocking

my shallow grasp

I was

utterly blown away.

I am sitting beside you at Kaka Point

in an armchair with chrome arm-rests

very close to the stove.

You smile at me,

look back at the flames,

add a couple of logs,

take my hand in your bronze one,

doze awhile;

Open your bright dark eyes,

give precise instructions as to the location of the whisky bottle

on the kitchen shelf, and of two glasses.

I bring them like a lamb.

You pour a mighty dram.

Cilla McQueen

from The Radio Room, Otago University Press, 2010

The poets

Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Tusiata’s most recent collection The Savage Coloniser Book won The Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Poetry Book 2021.

Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist, and poet who runs Creative Writing Dunedin, teaching fiction, memoir and poetry. She has published eight books: two collections of poetry – Before the Divorce We Go To Disneyland, (Jessie Mackay Award Best First Book of Poetry, 1997) Tandem Press 1997 and Learning to Lie Together, Godwit, 2004; two novels, If The Tongue Fits, Tandem Press, 1999 and Eight Stages of Grace, Vintage, 2002—a verse novel which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards, 2003. Also, a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers, Vintage, 2004; and a prose/poetic travel memoir; Here Comes Another.

Johanna Emeney is a senior Tutor at Massey University, Auckland. Felt (Massey University Press, 2021) is her third poetry collection, following Apple & Tree (Cape Catley, 2011) and Family History (Mākaro Press, 2017). You can find her interview with Kim Hill about the new collection here and purchase a book directly from MUP or as an eBook from iTunes or Amazon/Kind.

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.  http://janisfreegard.com

Bernadette Hall lives in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She retired from high-school teaching in 2005 in order to embrace a writing life. This sonnet touches on the years 2006 and 2011 when she lived in Wellington, working at the IIML. Her friendship with the Wellington poet, Geoff Cochrane, is referenced in several of her poems. Another significant friendship, begun in 1971, was instrumental in turning her towards poetry. That was with the poet/painter, Joanna Margaret Paul. A major work that she commissioned from Joanna in 1982, will travel the country for the next two years as part of a major exhibition of the artist’s work.

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer from Auckland and Cairo. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His 2020 poetry collection National Anthem was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (2021).

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. ‘Five O’Clock Shadows’ is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

Poet and artist Cilla McQueen has lived and worked in Murihiku for the last 25 years. Cilla’s most recent works are In a Slant Light; a poet’s memoir (2016) and
Poeta: selected and new poems (2018), both from Otago University Press.

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

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines, and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish. Additionally, he has lived and worked for several years in the Republic of Nauru, PR China, Brunei Darussalam, and the Middle East.

Helen Rickerby lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley. She’s the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019), which won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, which mostly publishes poetry.

Marty Smith is writing a non-fiction book tracking the daily lives of trainers and track-work riders as they go about their work at the Hastings racecourse. She finds the same kindness and gentleness there among people who primarily work with animals. On the poem: Grandad was very kind and gentle; Grandma had a rep for being ‘a bit ropey’. He was so kind that when my uncle Edward, told not to touch the gun, cocked it and shot the family dog, Grandad never said a thing to my heartbroken little uncle, just put his arm around him and took him home.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

poems about home

poems about edge

poems about breakfast

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Eleven poems about breakfast

Breakfast is a lifelong ritual for me: the fruit, the cereal, the toast, the slowly-brewed tea, the short black. It is the reading, it is the silence, it is the companionship. It is finding the best breakfast when you are away at festivals or on tour, on holiday. This photograph was taken last year at Little Poms in Christchurch when I was at WORD. One of my favourite breakfast destinations. Breakfast is my gateway into the day ahead, it is food but it is more than food. It is the ideas simmering, the map unfolding, the poem making itself felt.

The poems I have selected are not so much about breakfast but have a breakfast presence that leads in multiple directions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.

Unspoken, at breakfast

I dreamed last night that you were not you

but much younger, as young as our daughter

tuning out your instructions, her eyes not

looking at a thing around her, a fragrance

surrounding her probably from her

freshly washed hair, though

I like to think it is her dreams

still surrounding her

from her sleep. In my sleep last night

I dreamed you were much younger,

and I was younger too and had all the power –

I could say anything but needed to say

nothing, and you, lovely like our daughter,

worried you might be talking too much

about yourself. I stopped you

in my arms, pressed my face

up close to yours, whispered into

your ear, your curls

around my mouth, that you were

my favourite topic. That

was my dream, and that is still

my dream, that you were my favourite topic –

but in my dream you were

much younger, and you were not you.

Anna Jackson

from Pasture and Flock: New & Selected Poems, Auckland University Press, 2018

By Sunday

You refused the grapefruit

I carefully prepared

Serrated knife is best

less tearing, less waste

To sever the flesh from the sinew

the chambers where God grew this fruit

the home of the sun, that is

A delicate shimmer of sugar

and perfect grapefruit sized bowl

and you said, no, God, no

I deflated a little

and was surprised by that

What do we do when we serve?

Offer little things 

as stand-ins for ourselves

All of us here

women standing to attention

knives and love in our hands

Therese Lloyd

From The Facts, Victoria University Press, 2018

How time walks

I woke up and smelled the sun mummy

my son

a pattern of paradise

casting shadows before breakfast

he’s fascinated by mini beasts

how black widows transport time

a red hourglass

under their bellies

how centipedes and worms

curl at prodding fingers

he’s ice fair

almost translucent

sometimes when he sleeps

I lock the windows

to secure him in this world

Serie Barford

from Entangled islands, Anahera Press, 2015

Woman at Breakfast

June 5, 2015

This yellow orange egg
full of goodness and
instructions.

Round end of the knife
against the yolk, the joy
which can only be known

as a kind of relief
for disappointed hopes and poached eggs
go hand in hand.

Clouds puff past the window
it takes a while to realise
they’re home made

our house is powered by steam
like the ferry that waits
by the rain-soaked wharf

I think I see the young Katherine Mansfield
boarding with her grandmother
with her duck-handled umbrella.

I am surprised to find
I am someone who cares
for the bygone days of the harbour.

The very best bread
is mostly holes
networks, archways and chambers

as most of us is empty space
around which our elements move
in their microscopic orbits.

Accepting all the sacrifices of the meal
the unmade feathers and the wild yeast
I think of you. Happy birthday.

Kate Camp

from The Internet of Things, Victoria University Press, 2017

How to live through this

We will make sure we get a good night’s sleep. We will eat a decent breakfast, probably involving eggs and bacon. We will make sure we drink enough water. We will go for a walk, preferably in the sunshine. We will gently inhale lungsful of air. We will try to not gulp in the lungsful of air. We will go to the sea. We will watch the waves. We will phone our mothers. We will phone our fathers. We will phone our friends. We will sit on the couch with our friends. We will hold hands with our friends while sitting on the couch. We will cry on the couch with our friends. We will watch movies without tension – comedies or concert movies – on the couch with our friends while holding hands and crying. We will think about running away and hiding. We will think about fighting, both metaphorically and actually. We will consider bricks. We will buy a sturdy padlock. We will lock the gate with the sturdy padlock, even though the gate isn’t really high enough. We will lock our doors. We will screen our calls. We will unlist our phone numbers. We will wait. We will make appointments with our doctors. We will make sure to eat our vegetables. We will read comforting books before bedtime. We will make sure our sheets are clean. We will make sure our room is aired. We will make plans. We will talk around it and talk through it and talk it out. We will try to be grateful. We will be grateful. We will make sure we get a good night’s sleep.

Helen Rickerby

from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

Morning song

Your high bed held you like royalty.

I reached up and stroked your hair, you looked at me blearily,

forgetting for a moment to be angry.

By breakfast you’d remembered how we were all cruel

and the starry jacket I brought you was wrong.

Every room is painted the spectacular colour of your yelling.

I try and think of you as a puzzle

whose fat wooden pieces are every morning changed

and you must build again the irreproachable sun,

the sky, the glittering route of your day. How tired you are

and magnanimous. You tell me yes

you’d like new curtains because the old ones make you feel glim.

And those people can’t have been joking, because they seemed very solemn.

And what if I forget to sign you up for bike club.

The ways you’d break. The dizzy worlds wheeling on without you.

Maria McMillan

from The Ski Flier, Victoria University Press, 2017

14 August 2016

The day begins
early, fast broken
with paracetamol
ibuprofen, oxycodone,
a jug of iced water
too heavy to lift.
I want the toast and tea
a friend was given, but
it doesn’t come, so resort
to Apricot Delights
intended to sustain me
during yesterday’s labour.
Naked with a wad of something
wet between my legs, a token
gown draped across my stomach
and our son on my chest,
I admire him foraging
for sustenance and share
his brilliant hunger.
Kicking strong frog legs,
snuffling, maw wide and blunt,
nose swiping from side
to side, he senses the right
place to anchor himself and drives
forward with all the power
a minutes-old neck can possess,
as if the nipple and aureole were prey
about to escape, he catches his first
meal; the trap of his mouth closes,
sucks and we are both sated.

Amy Brown  

from Neon Daze, Victoria University Press, 2019

break/fast and mend/slowly

                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                               

Tate Fountain

from Starling 11


Biologist abandoned

I lay in our bed all morning             

next to the half-glass of juice you brought me 

to sweeten your leaving

ochre sediments settled in the liquid

a thin dusty film formed on the meniscus

but eventually I drank it                 

siphoning pulp through my teeth 

like a baleen whale sifting krill from brine

for months after your departure I refused to look 

at the moon

where it loomed in the sky outside              

just some huge rude dinner plate you left unwashed

now ascendant                   

brilliant with bioluminescent mould

how dare you rhapsodize my loneliness into orbit

I laughed                 

enraged                       

to the thought of us   

halfway across the planet staring up

at some self-same moon & pining for each other

but now I long for a fixed point between us

because from here       

even the moon is different     

a broken bowl     

unlatched from its usual arc & butchered                

by grievous rainbows        

celestial ceramic irreparably splintered              

as though thrown there

and all you have left me with is          

this gift of white phosphorous

dissolving the body I knew you in    

beyond apology

to lunar dust     

Rebecca Hawkes

in New Poets 5, Auckland University Press, 2019, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

everything changing

I never meant to want you.

But somewhere

between

the laughter and the toast

the talking and the muffins

somewhere in our Tuesday mornings

together

I started falling for you.

Now I can’t go back

and I’m not sure if I want to.

Paula Harris

from woman, phenomenally

Breakfast in Shanghai

for a morning of coldest smog

A cup of black pǔ’ěr tea in my bedroom & two bāozi from the

lady at the bāozi shop who has red cheeks. I take off my gloves,

unpeel the square of thin paper from the bun’s round bottom.

I burn my fingers in the steam and breathe in.

 

for the morning after a downpour

Layers of silken tofu float in the shape of a lotus slowly

opening under swirls of soy sauce. Each mouthful of doufu

huā, literally tofu flower, slips down in one swallow. The

texture reminds me of last night’s rain: how it came down

fast and washed the city clean.

 

for homesickness

On the table, matching tiny blue ceramic pots of chilli oil,

vinegar and soy sauce. In front of me, the only thing that

warms: a plate of shuǐjiǎo filled with ginger, pork and cabbage.

I dip once in vinegar, twice in soy sauce and eat while the

woman rolls pieces of dough into small white moons that fit

inside her palm.

 

for a pink morning in late spring

I pierce skin with my knife and pull, splitting the fruit open.

I am addicted to the soft ripping sound of pink pomelo flesh

pulling away from its skin. I sit by the window and suck on the

rinds, then I cut into a fresh zongzi with scissors, opening the

lotus leaves to get at the sticky rice inside. Bright skins and leaves

sucked clean, my hands smelling tea-sweet. Something inside

me uncurling. A hunger that won’t go away.

NIna Mingya Powles

from Magnolia 木蘭, Seraph Press, 20020

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.

Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper‘s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.

Kate Camp’s most recent book is How to Be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems published by VUP in New Zealand, and House of Anansi Press in Canada.

Tate Fountain is a writer, performer, and academic based in Tāmaki Makaurau. She has recently been published in StuffStarling, and the Agenda, and her short fiction was highly commended in the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition (2020).

Paula Harris lives in Palmerston North, where she writes and sleeps in a lot, because that’s what depression makes you do. She won the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize and the 2017 Lilian Ida Smith Award. Her writing has been published in various journals, including The Sun, Hobart, Passages North, New Ohio Review and Aotearotica. She is extremely fond of dark chocolate, shoes and hoarding fabric. website: http://www.paulaharris.co.nz | Twitter: @paulaoffkilter | Instagram: @paulaharris_poet | Facebook: @paulaharrispoet

Rebecca Hawkes works, writes, and walks around in Wellington. This poem features some breakfast but mostly her wife (the moon), and was inspired by Alex Garland’s film adaptation of Jeff Vandermeer’s novel Annihilation.  You can find it, among others, in her chapbook-length collection Softcore coldsores in AUP New Poets 5. Rebecca is a co-editor for Sweet Mammalian  and a forthcoming collection of poetry on climate change, prances about with the Show Ponies, and otherwise maintains a vanity shrine at rebeccahawkesart.com

Anna Jackson lectures at Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington, lives in Island Bay, edits AUP New Poets and has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP 2018).

Therese Lloyd is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Other Animals (VUP, 2013) and The Facts (VUP, 2018). In 2017 she completed a doctorate at Victoria University focusing on ekphrasis – poetry about or inspired by visual art. In 2018 she was the University of Waikato Writer in Residence and more recently she has been working (slowly) on an anthology of ekphrastic poetry in Aotearoa New Zealand, with funding by CNZ.

Maria McMillan is a poet who lives on the Kāpit Coast, originally from Ōtautahi, with mostly Scottish and English ancestors who settled in and around Ōtepoti and Murihiku. Her books are The Rope Walk (Seraph Press), Tree Space and The Ski Flier (both VUP) ‘Morning songtakes its title from Plath.

Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Wellington, currently living in London. She is the author of Magnolia 木蘭, a finalist in the Ockham Book Awards, a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai, and several poetry chapbooks and zines. Her debut essay collection, Small Bodies of Water, will be published in September 2021.  

Helen Rickerby lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley. She’s the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019), which won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, which mostly publishes poetry.

Poetry Shelf congratulates the Ockham NZ Book Award winners – and showcases the poetry

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Warm congratulations to all winners! This is a year where well-deserving and much-loved books have taken the winning spots – each book is worthy of a place on our book shelves.

I look at this list (and indeed the shortlists) and it reminds me that NZ literature is in good heart. These are heart books. These are books born from love and labour, by both inspired and inspiring authors and publishers.

The Award’s poetry section  was a drawcard for me. I loved each shortlisted finalist so much, but I leapt for joy at the kitchen table to see Jane Arthur win Best First Book and Helen Rickerby win Best Book.

Yes, some extraordinary books did not make the longlists let alone the shortlists – but this is time to celebrate our winners.

I toast you all with bubbles and bouquets and can’t wait to see what you write next.

Right now we need to support our NZ book communities, so I strongly advocate putting an Ockham winner in our pile, the next time we visit our local booksellers.

In these strange Covid times my email box has has never been so full of poems – we’re making sour dough and we’re writing poetry, and it has been such a connecting comfort.

Long may we cherish poetry in Aotearoa.

 

My toast to the Poetry Winners:

 

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Craven, Jane Arthur, Victoria University Press, 2019 Best First Poetry Book

 

 

I have a broth at a simmer on the stove.

Salty water like I’ve scooped up some ocean

and am cooking it in my home. Here,

gulp it back like a whale sieving plankton.

Anything can be a weapon if you

swallow hard enough:

nail scissors, a butter knife, dental floss,

a kindergarten guillotine, hot soup,

waves, whales.

from ‘Circles of Lassitude’

 

 

Jane Arthur’s debut collection Craven inhabits moments until they shine – brilliantly, surprisingly, refractingly, bitingly. Present-tense poetry is somewhat addictive. With her free floating pronouns (I, you, we) poetry becomes a way of being, of inhabiting the moment, as you either reader or poet, from shifting points of view.

It is not surprising it has won Best First Book at 2020 the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

The collection title references lack of courage, but it is as though Jane’s debut collection steps across a line into poetic forms of grit. This is a book of unabashed feeling; of showing the underseam, the awkward stitching, the rips and tears. Of daring to expose. The poems are always travelling and I delight in every surprising step. You move from taxidermy to piano lessons to heart checks and heart beats, but there is always a core of exposed self. And that moves me. You shift from a thing such as a plastic rose to Brad Pitt to parental quarrels. One poem speaks from the point of view of a ship’s figurehead, another from that of Constance. There is anxiety – there are dilemmas and epiphanies. The poetic movement is honeyed, fluid, divinely crafted – no matter where the subject travels, no matter the anxious veins, the tough knots.

An early poem, ‘Idiots’, is like an ode to life, to ways of being. I keep crossing between the title and the poem, the spare arrival of words punctuated by ample white space, elongated silent beats that fill with the links between brokenness, strength and pressing on.

 

Idiots

I’ve known people who decided

to carry their brokenness like strength

idiots

I’m a tree

I mean I’m tall, I sway

I don’t say, treat me gently

No¾I say, cool cool cool cool

I say, that really sucks but I guess I’ll survive it

or, that wind’s really strong

but so are my roots, so are my thighs

my branches my lungs my leaves my capacity to wait things out

I can get up in the morning

I do things

 

 

I heard Jane read for the first time at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize session at the Auckland Writers Festival in 2018. Her reading blew my socks off, just as her poems had delighted American judge, Eileen Myles, and it was with great pleasure I announced her as the winner. Eileen described Jane’s poetry: ‘poetry’s a connection to everything which I felt in all these [shortlisted] poets but in this final winning one the most. There’s an unperturbed confident “real” here.’ In her report, Eileen wrote:

The poet shocked me. I was thrust into their work right away and it evoked the very situation of the poem and the cold suddenness of the clinical encounter, the matter of fact weirdness of being female though so many in the world are us. And still we are a ‘peculiarity’ here and this poet manages to instantly say that in poetry. They more than caught me. I like exactly how they do this – shifting from body to macro, celestial, clinical, and maybe even speaking a little out of an official history. She seems to me a poet of scale and embodiment. Her moves are clean and well-choreographed & delivers each poem’s end & abruptly and deeply I think. There’s a from the hip authority that inhabits each and all of these poems.

I am revisiting these words in view of Craven’s multiple poetry thrills. So often we talk about the way a poem steps off from the ordinary and blasts your heart and senses, if not your mind, with such a gust of freshness everything becomes out of the ordinary. This is what happens with Craven. A sense of verve and outspokenness is both intoxicating and necessary:

 

I’m entertaining the idea of never being silent again,

of walking into a room and shouting, You Fuckers Better Toe the Line

like a prophylactic.

from ‘Sit Down’

 

 

A sense of brittleness, vulnerability and self-testing is equally present:

I’ve been preoccupied with what others think again.

I’ve been trying not to let people down.

Nights are not long enough.

Lately there’s been more sun than I would’ve expected.

I keep the weather report open in its own tab and check it often.

 

From ‘Situation’

The movement between edge and smooth sailing, between light and dark, puzzle and resolution, and all shades within any dichotomy you might spot – enhances the reading experience. This is a book to treasure – its complexities and its economies, its confession and its reserve. It never fails to surprise. I am delighted Jane read as part of my Poetry Shelf Live session at Wellington’s Writers Festival in March. It was a divine reading.

 

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: ‘Situation’ by Jane Arthur

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Jane Arthur reads ‘Snowglobe’

Poetry Shelf: Conversation with Sarah Broom Prize finalist, Jane Arthur

 

 

 

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How to Live, Helen Rickerby, Auckland University Press, 2019 Best Poetry Book

 

Helen reads ‘How to live through this’

 

 

When that philosopher said life must be lived forwards

but can only be understood backwards

he was not thinking of me

I have lived all kinds of lives

from ‘A pillow book’

Helen Rickerby’s latest poetry collection How to Live is a joy to read. She brings her title question to the lives of women, in shifting forms and across diverse lengths, with both wit and acumen. Like many contemporary poets she is cracking open poetic forms – widening what a poem can do – as though taking a cue from art and its ability both to make art from anything and in any way imaginable.

Reading this book invigorates me. Two longer poems are particularly magnetic: ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ and ‘George Eliot: a life’. Both function as fascination assemblages. They allow the reader to absorb lyrical phrases, humour, biography, autobiography, insistent questions. Biography is enlivened by such an approach, as is poetry.

 

6.   It seems to me that poetry usually begins with the self

and works its way outwards; and the essay, perhaps, starts

outwards and works its way in towards the self.

from ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’

 

Thinking of the silent woman I am reminded of Aristotle’s crown of silence that he placed upon she. I then move across centuries to Leilani Tamu’s poem ‘Mouths Wide Shut’ where she sits on a bus with her mouth taped shut silent. The skin-spiking poem (and the protest) considers silence in the face of racism. Even now, even after the women’s movements of the 1970s and the explosion of feminism and feminisms over ensuing decades, men still talk over women, still dismiss the women speaking (take women in power for example, or a young woman at the UN challenging climate-change inertia).

What Helen does is remind us is that silence is like snow – it is multi-hued and deserves multiple names and nuances: ‘Silence isn’t always not speaking. Silence is sometimes / an erasure.’

Ah the stab in my skin when I read these lines. In ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ Helen draws me in close, closer and then even closer to Hipparchia of Maroneia (c 350 – c 280 BC).

5.    But I do have something to say. I want to say that she

lived. I want to say that she lived, and she spoke and she

was not silent.

 

Helen gathers 58 distinctive points in this poem to shatter the silence. Sometimes we arrive at a list of women who have been both audible and visible in history, but who may have equally  been misheard, misread and dampened down. At other times the poet steps into view so we are aware of her writing presence as she records and edits and makes audible. In one breath the poet is philosopher: ‘Silence might not be speaking. It might be / listening. It can be hard to tell the difference.’ In another breath she apologies for taking so long to bring Hipparchia into the picture.

Elsewhere there is an ancient warning: ‘”If a woman speaks out of turn her teeth will be / smashed with a burnt brick.” Sumerian law, c. 2400 BC.’

A single line resonates with possibilities and the ‘we’ is a fertile gape/gap/breathing space: a collective of women, the poet and her friends, the women from the past, the poet and I: ‘There are things we didn’t think we could tell.’ Yes there are things we didn’t think we could tell but then, but then, we changed the pattern and the how was as important as the what.

Another single line again resonates with possibilities for me; it could be personal, it could equally be found poetry: ‘I would like to be able to say that  it was patriarchy that stopped me talking on social media, but it wasn’t, not / directly.’

I read ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ as a poem. I read this as an essay. I am tempted to carry on with my own set of bullet points as though Helen has issued an open invitation for the ‘we’ to speak. Me. You. They. She quotes Susan Sontag: ‘The most potent elements in a work of art are, often, its silences.’

 

The other poem I dearly love, ‘George Eliot: a life’, is also long form. Like the previous poem this appears as a sequence of numbered sections that are in turn numbered in smaller pieces. It is like I am reading a poem and then an essay and then a set of footnotes. An assemblage of fascinations. Biography as fascination allows room for anything to arrive, in which gaps are curious hooks, reflective breathing spaces and in which the personal is as compelling as the archives. Helen names her poem ‘A deconstructed biography’ and I am reminded of  fine-dining plates that offer deconstructed classics. You get a platter of tastes that your tongue then collates on the tongue.

To taste ‘George Eliot: a life’ in pieces is to allow room for reading taste buds to pop and salivate and move. This is the kind of poem you linger over because the morsels are as piquant as the breathing spaces. It delivers a prismatic portrait of George Eliot but it also refreshes how we assemble a biography and how we shape a poem. Helen brings her acerbic wit into play.

 

10.7.1.  But the fact is, and I don’t want to give you spoilers, that for such an

extraordinary woman she sure did create some disappointing female

characters. Even the heroines don’t strike out – they give up, they stop,

they enclose themselves in family, they stand behind, they cease, they  die.

They found nothing.

10.7.2.   Did she think she was too exceptional to be used as a model for her

characters? Did she think that while she was good enough to be involved

in intellectual life, and she could probably even be trusted to vote, the same

could not be said for her inferior sisters?

 

A number of smaller poems sit alongside the two longer ones including the moving ‘How to live though this’, a poem that reacts to an unstated ‘this’. ‘This’ could be anything but for me the poem reads like a morning mantra that you might whisper in the thick of tough times or alongside illness or the possibility of death.

‘How to live’ is a question equally open to interpretation as it ripples through the poems; and it makes poetry a significant part of the myriad answers. I haven’t read a book quite like this and I love that. The writing is lucid, uplifting, provocative, revealing, acidic, groundbreaking. The subject matter offers breadth and depth, illuminations, little anchors, liberations, shadows. I am all the better for having read this book. I just love it.

 

I slept my way into silence

through the afternoon, after days

of too many words and not enough words

to make the map she needs

to find her way from here

I wake, too late, with a headache

and she, in the garden wakes up shivering

from ‘Navigating by the stars’

 

 

 

Auckland University Press author page

Helen‘s ‘Mr Anderson, you heartbreaker you’

Helen on Standing Room Only

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Poem Festival: Furniture

 

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Each month I gather and invite poems on a particular theme. End of February I was musing on the idea of furniture. On Tuesday night (March 24th) I woke at 12.30 am and was awake until dawn. At one point I was thinking about how most of us are now living in domestic bubbles and how some of us might be developing new relationships with the furniture. We might sit at the table longer and talk after dinner. We might choose a chair on the deck to read a novel until we get to the last page. We might heap all the furniture in the lounge like a miraculous Quentin Blake hut for our children to play in. But then I began thinking about the beauty,  the craft and the comfort a chair might offer. The way our minds might sometimes be full of chairs and tables.

Thank you for all those who contributed.

 

for Felix

a black shawl over a chair

& the corner

composed itself.

the light came from outside

& delayed/on the

delphinium

& behind the oak trees

1 2 3

a grey stripe

is a tennis court

& men have

white shirts only

& sometimes

arms

while the ball

flying/occasionally

thru trees

keeps the moon

in motion.

 

Joanna Margaret Paul  Like Love Poems (Victoria University Press, 2006)

 

 

 

Summer

 

New white sheets

on the line.

Even the pegs

are warm.

 

Our youngest son

leaks sand.

 

Iris the dog snores

on the green sofa.

 

Cat!

 

Out!                we cry.

My husband glows

in the dark.

 

Jenny Bornholdt  Selected Poems (Victoria University Press, 2016)

 

 

The Camphorwood Chest  

 

my husband dreams of a Japanese garden

 

a room with nothing but a chair

a vase of white lilies

a view of water

 

but my home is like a camphorwood chest

that Chinese mothers give to their daughters

it is carved with the detail of living

a phoenix with wings raised for flight

a pine tree leaning forever in the wind

lotus flowers and chrysanthemums

clouds that could be leaves that could be clouds

 

from here I look out over water

 

Alison Wong from Cup (Steele Roberts, 2005)

 

 

tastes like wine (dawn sonnet)

after Catullus 48

 

tastes like wine, this boy sitting across from me, his

honey eyes looking like yours as he implores

me to join him on the floor

the table a low ceiling swirling

like a chandelier

in the earthquake of these kisses

table legs circling

like the blades of a combine harvester

every kiss is a near miss

my heart escaping like a mouse

into the corn

the summer’s sun all rolled into one

ripeness I can

never get enough of

 

Anna Jackson

 

 

Late bloomers

 

It is still warm enough to sit outside. Einstein sits at the end of the table

to light the citronella candle. He is not sure how effective it will be, but

mosquitoes tend to gravitate towards him. He is full of enthusiasm about

taking the opposite direction.

 

Paula Green  The Baker’s Thumbprint (Seraph Press, 2013)

 

 

Reading room

 

Up in the great reading-room in the sky,

the writers twitch, deep in leather armchairs,

dreaming about all those they are read by

or what rival’s work is ignored for theirs.

Ping. Someone’s begun Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger grins: still ringing down the years.

Austen rolls her eyes; Fowles lets out a sigh.

Ping. Ping. Ping. No ping-a-ling like Shakespeare’s.

 

Li Bo leans over, taps Plath on the arm.

Woolf and Dante quiz Byron on sin.

Eliot smiles his Giaconda smile.

Pung. Nichols starts up. Just a false alarm.

Montaigne gives Wilde some tips on style.

The Brontës share a joint with Larkin.

 

Harry Ricketts

 

 

 

the first time i told, i was drunk

 

the  second  time  i  told,  i  was

euphoric and

 

the third time too

 

it  was  like  i  was  speaking  myself

into being

by  saying  the  words  i

was

weaving     my     Abstract     Internal

Furniture      into      a      gown      of

shimmering fabric

 

or at least that’s how i

IMAGINE it, and

thewordsbecamefleshanddwelt amongusandisaidlettherebe …

 

Helen Rickerby    Abstract Internal Furniture (HeadworX, 2001)

 

 

Kia kaha

Keep well

Keep imagining

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf audio: Helen Rickerby reads ‘How to live through this’

 

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Helen Rickerby ‘How to live through this’ from How to Live (Auckland University Press,  2019). Shortlisted for Ockham NZ Book Awards 2020.

 

 

 

 

Helen Rickerby has published four books of poetry, most recently Cinema (Mākaro 2014), and her next one, How to Live, will be published by Auckland University Press in August. She’s interested the elastic boundaries of what poetry can encompass, and has become especially obsessed with what happens when poetry and the essay meet and merge. She lives in Wellington, runs boutique publishing company Seraph Press, and works a day job as an editor.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The Ockham NZ Book Award for Poetry 2020 shortlist

 

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Ah, I have loved so many poetry books published in 2019, so many of which could easily have made this shortlist ( I have no interest in hammering on about who is not here), but I felt a warm poetry glow that these four were picked. I spent a long time with each of these collections because they do what poetry does so well. They make you feel things, ponder the world, walk new tracks, make your body sway, refresh versions of the world, little and large.

I raise my poetry glass to Anne Kennedy, Helen Rickerby, Steven Toussaint and Ashleigh Young. Yep, this is a very fine shortlist.

 

Anne Kennedy

 

The thing in the jar

always dies!

The rice cooker steams

so the sun goes down

Deep in the house

sepia gathers

The pencil has eaten

the fragile book

 

from ‘Thirty-Three Transformations on a Theme of Philip’

 

I first read Anne Kennedy’s new collection Moth Hour (Auckland University Press) as a piece of music that traces the contours of grief. Words form little melodies, solo instruments sound out, there is echo, overlap, loop and patterning. Above all there is a syncopated beat that leaves room for breath, an intake of pain, an out-sigh of grief, an intake of observation, an out-breath of recognition. There is the fragile word-dance to the light.

Moth Hour responds to a family tragedy; in 1973, at the age of twenty-two, Anne’s brother, Philip, accidentally fell to his death. Anne, her seven siblings (she was the youngest and aged fourteen) and parents now lived with unbearable grief and loss, separately, diversely, as a family.

Like a mesmerising, lung-like piece of music, Moth Hour is a book of return-listening. Every time you place the poetry on the turntable of your reading you will hear something different. It blisters your skin. It touches you. But above all Moth Hour fills you with the variation and joy of what a lithe poet can do.

My full piece here

Auckland University Press author page

Anne Kennedy is a writer of fiction, film scripts and poetry. Her debut poetry collection Sing-song was named Poetry Book of the Year at the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. The Time of the Giants was shortlisted for the same award in 2006, and The Darling North won the 2013 NZ Post Book Award for Poetry. Her novels include The Last Days of the National Costume, shortlisted for the NZ Post Book Award for Fiction in 2014, and The Ice Shelf longlisted in the 2019 Ockham NZ Book Awards. She lives in Auckland.

 

 

Helen Rickerby

 

I slept my way into silence

through the afternoon, after days

of too many words and not enough words

to make the map she needs

to find her way from here

I wake, too late, with a headache

and she, in the garden wakes up shivering

 

from ‘Navigating by the stars’

 

Helen Rickerby’s latest poetry collection How to Live (Auckland University Press) is a joy to read. She brings her title question to the lives of women, in shifting forms and across diverse lengths, with both wit and acumen. Like many contemporary poets she is cracking open poetic forms – widening what a poem can do – as though taking a cue from art and its ability both to make art from anything and in any way imaginable.

Reading this book invigorates me. Two longer poems are particularly magnetic: ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ and ‘George Eliot: a life’. Both function as fascination assemblages. They allow the reader to absorb lyrical phrases, humour, biography, autobiography, insistent questions. Biography is enlivened by such an approach, as is poetry.

‘How to live’ is a question equally open to interpretation as it ripples through the poems; and it makes poetry a significant part of the myriad answers. I haven’t read a book quite like this and I love that. The writing is lucid, uplifting, provocative, revealing, acidic, groundbreaking. The subject matter offers breadth and depth, illuminations, little anchors, liberations, shadows. I am all the better for having read this book. I just love it.

My full piece here

 

Poetry Shelf Audio Spot: Helen reads ‘How to live through this’

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Helen’s “Mr Anderson, you heartbreaker you’

Anna Jackson’s launch speech for How to Live

 

Helen Rickerby is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019). She likes questions even more than answers. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, an increasingly important publisher of New Zealand literature, focusing on poetry. Helen lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley, and works as an editor.

 

Steven Toussaint

 

abide more tritone idle mode

the dominant’s a leaky still

for quiet divination

for every thought

a finger on

the fret-

board’s shifting centre

where nothing dearer

than the pure heart’s

purring minor

requires demonstration

from ‘Aevum Measures’

 

 

Steven’s Lay Studies (Victoria University Press) entrances on multiple levels; initially through the exquisite musical pitch and counterpoints, and then in the way heart and mind are both engaged. His sumptuous poetic terrain is physical, elusive, stretching, kinetic, mysterious, difficult, beautiful. Hearing the poetry read aloud is utterly transporting. An extract from our interview:

Paula: When I listen to the ‘regular pulse’ of ‘Aevum Measures’, I am not dissecting its craft, I am feeling its craft like I feel music before I react to other features. The reading experience might be viewed as transcendental – an uplift from the physical world and from routine. I am suggesting I let myself go in the poem. Does this make sense? And is it, on another level, a way of being spiritual in a ransacked world?

Steven: It makes a lot of sense, and I am gratified to hear that you could lose yourself in the music of the poem. What you describe sounds somewhat like Keats’ notion of ‘negative capability.’ That is to say, if the sonic architecture of the poem is doing its job, then the reader is ‘capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’ at the semantic level. Not that the semantic level – what the poem is literally ‘about’ – is insignificant. The music would be thin and feeble without varied syntax, rich diction, logical continuity and metaphor. And yet, the poem’s semantic sense is ‘heightened,’ elevated out of the ‘horizontal’ realm of mere communication, information, or transaction by its participation in ‘vertical’ patterns of sound whose ‘meaning’ is intuitively felt, as a kind of felicity, but cannot be rationally reduced or summarised away.

And you hit the nail on the head when you point to the spiritual implications of this phenomenon. Walter Pater said that all art ‘aspires to the condition of music.’ Over the past several years, I’ve come around to a different a view. While writing Lay Studies, I fell under the influence of a number of Christian theologians of an Augustinian-Thomistic persuasion, especially Catherine Pickstock, to whom one of the poems in the book is dedicated. She suggests that liturgical doxology is the art toward which all others strive, a gesamtkunstwerk performing the narrative of salvation history. As such, the worshipper willingly submits herself to a mode of expression, praise, that is both recollective and anticipatory. The rhythm of liturgy – interpreted as a gratuitous gift, contoured by procession, repetition, and return – offers an implicit critique of the violence, entropy, and fatal self-enclosedness of historical time. I believe poetry can approach liturgy by analogy. A training in prosody might help us to see the world, ourselves, and our speech-acts sacramentally, as vertically conditioned by grace.

Steven in conversation with Karyn Hay RNZ National

Poetry Shelf Audio Spot: Steven reads ‘Aevum Measures’

Victoria University author page

 

Steven Toussaint, born in Chicago, immigrated to New Zealand in 2011. He has studied poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the International Institute of Modern Letters and philosophical theology at the University of Cambridge. He has published a chapbook of poems, Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014), and a debut collection, The Bellfounder (The Cultural Study Society, 2015). His writing has also recently appeared in Poetry, Commonweal, The Spinoff, Sport, and The Winter Anthology. He has been recognised in the past few years by residencies at The University of Waikato, the Michael King Writers’ Centre and with a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship. He is currently pursuing graduate study in philosophical theology at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Victoria University Press recently published his second full poetry collection, Lay Studies.

 

 

Ashleigh Young

 

If a waterfall no longer has water, it is a groove

that suggests a falling motion, just as this trail

suggests a walking motion

but if a person keeps walking until there is no more walk to take

they will no longer look forward to it, so will turn back.

 

from ‘Guide’

 

 

I have written about How I Get Ready (Victoria University Press) in Wild Honey so have tried not to repeat myself (in my review) or even refer to the poems I picked to talk about in the book! But Ashleigh became one of my sky poets for all kinds of reasons.

I like the shape of this book – this matters with poetry – because when a poetry book is good to hold it makes you want to linger even more, to stall upon a page. The book looks good, the paper feels good, and the cover drawing by Sam Duckor-Jones is a perfect fit. His idiosyncratic artwork moves in and out of reality, a person tilted by anxiety, the wind, both exposed and screened. A little like the poems inside the book. This is a collection of waiting, breathing, of curious things, anxieties, anecdotes, lists, found things, recycled words; little starts in your head as you read.

Every poem catches me! Some books you pick up, scan a few pages and then put down because you just can’t traverse the bridge into the poems. Not this one. It is as exhilarating as riding a bicycle into terrain that is both intensely familiar and breathtaking not. The speaker is both screened and exposed. The writing feels like it comes out of slow gestation and astutely measured craft. I say this because I have read this andante, at a snail’s pace. Glorious!

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ashleigh’s ‘If so how’

Victoria University page

Ashleigh Young lives in Wellington and works as an editor at Victoria University Press. She is the author of Magnificent Moon (poems), Can You Tolerate This? (essays), and How I Get Ready (poems). She writes a fortnightly column in Canvas magazine and is the poetry editor at The Spinoff.

 

Full Ockham NZ Book Awards shortlists.

 

I am so chuffed (another warm word!) Wild Honey: Reading NZ Women’s Poetry has been shortlisted in the general nonfiction category. Never have any expectations when it comes to awards – just see it as a time to celebrate some of the great books we publish each year.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Helen Rickerby’s ‘Mr Anderson, you heartbreaker you’

 

Mr Anderson, you heartbreaker you

 

Oh Hans Christian Andersen, you tormentor

of children, creator of nightmares

The Little Mermaid always did me in

with her big love and her

enormous silence and giving up

her fishy tail for two legs

maybe to part them for

her sweet prince, but

relegated to the friend-zone

each shard of glass she stepped on

pricked a tiny hole into my

squishy little heart

And, really, if she’d just held on to her tongue

she could have sung him to her

reeled him in, drunk him down

One prince, on the rocks, coming up

 

*

 

And at the same time as the prince married the princess and the Little Mermaid turned into not even sea foam, but air, Andersen wrote to his friend Edvard Collin, who was also about to marry: ‘I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench … my sentiments for you are those of a woman.’ Collin later wrote in his memoir, ‘I found myself unable to respond to this love, and this caused the author much suffering.’ Gosh, I can barely move for the shards of broken hearts beneath my feet.

 

Helen Rickerby, How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

 

Helen Rickerby is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019). She likes questions even more than answers. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, an increasingly important publisher of New Zealand literature, focusing on poetry. Helen lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley, and works as an editor.

 

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Poetry Shelf fascinations: Helen Rickerby’s How to Live

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How to Live, Helen Rickerby, Auckland University Press, 2019

 

When that philosopher said life must be lived forwards

but can only be understood backwards

he was not thinking of me

I have lived all kinds of lives

 

from ‘A pillow book’

 

Helen Rickerby’s latest poetry collection How to Live is a joy to read. She brings her title question to the lives of women, in shifting forms and across diverse lengths, with both wit and acumen. Like many contemporary poets she is cracking open poetic forms – widening what a poem can do – as though taking a cue from art and its ability both to make art from anything and in any way imaginable.

Reading this book invigorates me. Two longer poems are particularly magnetic: ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ and ‘George Eliot: a life’. Both function as fascination assemblages. They allow the reader to absorb lyrical phrases, humour, biography, autobiography, insistent questions. Biography is enlivened by such an approach, as is poetry.

 

6.   It seems to me that poetry usually begins with the self

and works its way outwards; and the essay, perhaps, starts

outwards and works its way in towards the self.

 

from ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’

 

Thinking of the silent woman I am reminded of Aristotle’s crown of silence that he placed upon she. I then move across centuries to Leilani Tamu’s poem ‘Mouths Wide Shut’ where she sits on a bus with her mouth taped shut silent. The skin-spiking poem (and the protest) considers silence in the face of racism. Even now, even after the women’s movements of the 1970s and the explosion of feminism and feminisms over ensuing decades, men still talk over women, still dismiss the women speaking (take women in power for example, or a young woman at the UN challenging climate-change inertia).

What Helen does is remind us is that silence is like snow – it is multi-hued and deserves multiple names and nuances: ‘Silence isn’t always not speaking. Silence is sometimes / an erasure.’

Ah the stab in my skin when I read these lines. In ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ Helen draws me in close, closer and then even closer to Hipparchia of Maroneia (c 350 – c 280 BC).

 

5.    But I do have something to say. I want to say that she

lived. I want to say that she lived, and she spoke and she

was not silent.

 

Helen gathers 58 distinctive points in this poem to shatter the silence. Sometimes we arrive at a list of women who have been both audible and visible in history, but who may have equally  been misheard, misread and dampened down. At other times the poet steps into view so we are aware of her writing presence as she records and edits and makes audible. In one breath the poet is philosopher: ‘Silence might not be speaking. It might be / listening. It can be hard to tell the difference.’ In another breath she apologies for taking so long to bring Hipparchia into the picture.

Elsewhere there is an ancient warning: ‘”If a woman speaks out of turn her teeth will be / smashed with a burnt brick.” Sumerian law, c. 2400 BC.’

A single line resonates with possibilities and the ‘we’ is a fertile gape/gap/breathing space: a collective of women, the poet and her friends, the women from the past, the poet and I: ‘There are things we didn’t think we could tell.’ Yes there are things we didn’t think we could tell but then, but then, we changed the pattern and the how was as important as the what.

Another single line again resonates with possibilities for me; it could be personal, it could equally be found poetry: ‘I would like to be able to say that  it was patriarchy that stopped me talking on social media, but it wasn’t, not / directly.’

I read ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ as a poem. I read this as an essay. I am tempted to carry on with my own set of bullet points as though Helen has issued an open invitation for the ‘we’ to speak. Me. You. They. She quotes Susan Sontag: ‘The most potent elements in a work of art are, often, its silences.’

 

The other poem I dearly love, ‘George Eliot: a life’, is also long form. Like the previous poem this appears as a sequence of numbered sections that are in turn numbered in smaller pieces. It is like I am reading a poem and then an essay and then a set of footnotes. An assemblage of fascinations. Biography as fascination allows room for anything to arrive, in which gaps are curious hooks, reflective breathing spaces and in which the personal is as compelling as the archives. Helen names her poem ‘A deconstructed biography’ and I am reminded of  fine-dining plates that offer deconstructed classics. You get a platter of tastes that your tongue then collates on the tongue.

To taste ‘George Eliot: a life’ in pieces is to allow room for reading taste buds to pop and salivate and move. This is the kind of poem you linger over because the morsels are as piquant as the breathing spaces. It delivers a prismatic portrait of George Eliot but it also refreshes how we assemble a biography and how we shape a poem. Helen brings her acerbic wit into play.

 

10.7.1.  But the fact is, and I don’t want to give you spoilers, that for such an

extraordinary woman she sure did create some disappointing female

characters. Even the heroines don’t strike out – they give up, they stop,

they enclose themselves in family, they stand behind, they cease, they  die.

They found nothing.

 

10.7.2.   Did she think she was too exceptional to be used as a model for her

characters? Did she think that while she was good enough to be involved

in intellectual life, and she could probably even be trusted to vote, the same

could not be said for her inferior sisters?

 

A number of smaller poems sit alongside the two longer ones including the moving ‘How to live though this’, a poem that reacts to an unstated ‘this’. ‘This’ could be anything but for me the poem reads like a morning mantra that you might whisper in the thick of tough times or alongside illness or the possibility of death.

‘How to live’ is a question equally open to interpretation as it ripples through the poems; and it makes poetry a significant part of the myriad answers. I haven’t read a book quite like this and I love that. The writing is lucid, uplifting, provocative, revealing, acidic, groundbreaking. The subject matter offers breadth and depth, illuminations, little anchors, liberations, shadows. I am all the better for having read this book. I just love it.

 

I slept my way into silence

through the afternoon, after days

of too many words and not enough words

to make the map she needs

to find her way from here

I wake, too late, with a headache

and she, in the garden wakes up shivering

 

from ‘Navigating by the stars’

 

 

Auckland University Press author page

Helen reads ‘How to live through this’

Helen on Standing Room Only

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Anna Jackson’s launch speech for Helen Rickerby’s How to Live

 

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Helen Rickerby, How to Live

 Helen Rickerby’s ‘Notes on the Unsilent Woman, Note 2’: ‘Perhaps the first thing you need to know is that women in ancient Athens didn’t get out much. No dinner parties, no debate, no public life. Unless you were already ruined. Or unless you were Hipparchia.’

Times have changed – and here we all are – to launch Helen Rickerby’s How to Live alongside AUP New Poets 5.

Before I talk about How to Live, I want to thank Sam Elworthy for supporting my wish to see the AUP New Poets series relaunched, for sharing my enthusiasm for poetry and projects generally, and for all he does for New Zealand poetry. I’d also like to acknowledge Elizabeth Caffin’s role in launching the series of AUP New Poets in 1999, and Anna Hodge’s support of the series under her editorship, and I’d like to thank the whole AUP team for everything they have done to support this beautiful collection of poems I love so much from Rebecca Hawkes, Sophie van Waardenberg and Carolyn DeCarlo. Most of all I want to thank the poets themselves for the extraordinary poetry which is setting this series back in motion.

I first knew Helen Rickerby when we were both fairly new poets ourselves, and I knew her poetry before I met her. I was very taken by her Theodora character in her first collection Abstract Internal Furniture, and the way the whole collection glitters with dark comedy, rapid shifts of scene, and exuberant detail. ‘I think I’ll edit out those long   silences’, she writes in one poem from that book, though even back then she was deciding to ‘leave in some of the shorter ones for effect.’

Now – several books of poetry and many years later – we have the book-length considered take on silence – and outspokenness – of How to Live: book-length because the ‘Notes on the Unsilent Woman’ which opens the book sets up questions and ideas that resonate all through the collection.

Notes on the Unsilent Woman, Note 53:

Hipparchia wrote treatises such as Philosophical Hypotheses, Epicheremas and Questions to Theodorus. Letters, jokes, philosophical refutations. All are lost. (Crates wrote Knapsack and Praise of the Lentil.)

A small note can say a lot, and it is a characteristic Rickerby move to pair the loss of intellectual history represented by Hipparchia’s lost treatises with the pointed addition of the titles of the work of Hipparchia’s more famous philosopher husband, to whose life she typically appears as a footnote, at best. His place in this note, in parentheses, after the main point is made, is just one of the many lightly undertaken total overhauls of intellectual history this book of poetry offers.

Its own title – How to Live – indicates its philosophical reach: this is a book that asks the biggest questions. The title poem references Susan Sontag, Helen Keller, Empedocles, Adorno and other philosophers and writers, alongside friends discussing the big questions in person and on facebook – ‘I am forever putting my friends in’, Helen confesses, and her friends are forever finding themselves caught up in extended conversations that take in the details, big and small, of their own lives.

The collection as a whole takes in questions such as how to choose a good fork or how to choose a house; how to read and how to listen; when we choose to suffer – ‘It all depends on / what the other choice is’ – and the question of what poetry is for, what is poetry? It is an urgent question for a poet constantly questioning her own practice, constantly experimenting with form: about the prose-like appearance of some of these poems on the page, she says, ‘I have long struggled against the tyranny of the line break. Am I afraid that if I let the words leak out, they’ll mix with oxygen and become prose?’

What happens in fact is a collection which rewrites the boundaries of poetry and prose to dazzling effect, as, for instance, the interest in portraiture that goes right back to the Theodora character of her first book now gives rise to entirely new forms of biography – the sharply comic, occasionally personal, often poignant and brilliantly illuminating verse essay on George Eliot, in thirteen numbered sections (with sub-sections); the ‘poem for three voices’ moving between the perspectives of Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein and the monster himself; the meditation on the life of Ban Zhao as palimpsest, pillow book and personal essay.

If Helen Rickerby is New Zealand’s most intellectually exciting writer (and I think she is), it is not although but because she writes always as a poet, with a poet’s interest always in form.  And it works just as well to turn the equation around to say she is one of the most formally innovative poets in New Zealand, because her interest in formal innovation is always driven by the intellectual ideas she grapples with.

And she’s funny. For all its formal interest and intellectual brilliance, what I really most love about the book is the voice – but for that, I can do no better than to hand over to Helen herself.

 

– Anna Jackson, 7 August 2019

 

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Poetry Shelf audio spot: Helen Rickerby reads ‘How to live through this’

 

 

 

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Helen Rickerby ‘How to live through this’ from How to Live (Auckland University Press, due August 2019)

 

 

 

Helen Rickerby has published four books of poetry, most recently Cinema (Mākaro 2014), and her next one, How to Live, will be published by Auckland University Press in August. She’s interested the elastic boundaries of what poetry can encompass, and has become especially obsessed with what happens when poetry and the essay meet and merge. She lives in Wellington, runs boutique publishing company Seraph Press, and works a day job as an editor.