Tag Archives: Hinemoana Baker

Eleven NZ women’s poetry books to adore and some fiction – Happy International Women’s Day!

Some_of_Us_Eat_the_Seeds_lo_res_web_RGB__56166.1434594528.220.220     7485719 front-cover   8507862 418MHC3lAEL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_ 1415925155755

Book Award lists should promote debate. Ideas and issues should be raised. As long as judges and authors don’t come under personal attack. It is a time of celebration, let’s not forget that, but it is also a time when diverse opinions may draw attention to our healthy landscape of books.

I have just started writing a big book on poetry by New Zealand women. I have carried this project with me for a long time, and it something I care about very much indeed. It is a book I am writing with a great sense of liberation and an equal dose of love.

I bring many questions to my writing.

The shortlist for poetry and fiction in the Ockham NZ Book Awards includes 0ne woman (Patricia Grace) and seven men. There are no women poets.

This is simply a matter of choice on the part of the judges and I do not wish to undermine the quality of the books they have selected. However, in my view, it casts a disconcerting light upon what women have been producing in the past year or so.

Women  produced astonishing books in 2015. I reviewed their poetry books on this blog and praised the diligent craft, the exquisite music, the sumptuous detail, the complexities that challenge and the simplicity that soothes. I have lauded books by women that have moved me like no other, and that have contributed much to the possibilities of what a poem might do.

I am gobsmacked that not a single one made it to the shortlist.

Men have written extraordinary poetry in the past year, but so too have women.

Today is International Women’s Day. In celebration of this, here is a selection of poetry and fiction I have loved in the past year and would have been happy to award.

This list is partial. Please add to it.  Some of these women are my friends, so yes there is unconscious bias. Some of these women I would recognise in the street, some I would not.

 

Eleven Poetry Books by women to adore

(I have reviewed all these to some degree on Poetry Shelf or interviewed the poets)

Emma Neale  Tender Machines This is a domestic book that is utterly complex. Yet it moves beyond home to become a book of the world. The music is divine. I am utterly moved. The Poetry Shelf trophy is yours Emma.

Joan Fleming Failed Love Stories Poetry that dazzles and shifts me. This book is on replay!

Holly Painter Excerpts from a Natural History Startling debut that blew me out the window and made me want to write

Sarah Jane Barnett Work Poetry that takes risks and is unafraid of ideas. Adored this.

Johanna Aitchison Miss Dust Spare, strange, surprising, wonderful to read.

Anna Jackson I, Clodia and Other Portraits The voice gets under my skin no matter how many times I read it. So much to say about it.

Jennifer Compton My Clean & The Junkie This narrative satisfies on so many levels.

Airini Beautrais Dear Neil Roberts Risk taking at the level of politics and the personal.

Morgan Bach Some of Us Eat the Seeds Beauty of the cover matches the surprise and beauty of the poetry within.

Hinemoana Baker waha/ mouth This poetry lit a fire in my head not sure which year it fits though. But wow!

Diane Brown Taking My Mother to the Opera This is poetry making pin pricks as it moves and gets you chewing back through your own circumstances.

 

…. and this is just a start. Ha! Serie Barford with her gorgeous mix of poetry and prose.

Yep I am going over board here just to show you that women have footed it with the best of the men. Whichever year you look at, a different set of judges would come up with a different mix of books. Yes let’s celebrate that worthy shortlist but let’s also remember that canon shaping only revels in and reveals part of the story.

 

Fiction (I haven’t read so widely here and have a wee stack to get too – Laurence Fearnley and Charlotte Grimshaw here I come!)

Anna Smaill The Chimes This book – plot character, setting, premise, events – still sticks to me. The sentences are exquisite. Some books you lose in brain mist. Not this one.

Sue Orr The Party Line I see this book becoming a NZ classic – a novel of the back blocks. The characters are what move you so profoundly. So perfectly crafted.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry and the Transit of Venus: a NZ – German collaboration

Transit_of_Venus_cover__39487.1449547472.220.220   Transit_of_Venus_cover__39487.1449547472.220.220

‘Come on, let’s push the inflatable out

on the night’s wide waters, see

how far it goes.’

Chris Price from ‘Venera’

 

Three German poets came to view the transit of Venus with three New Zealand poets at Uawa/ Tolaga Bay on June 6th 2012.

They observed the black dot. They wrote poems.

In the same year they met in Germany and translated a selection of each other’s poems  before performing together at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Victoria University Press has just published a beautiful edition of the poems, in both English and German, with images, notes and interviews.

The poets:

Hinemoana Baker, Glenn Colquhoun, Chris Price

Uwe Kolbe, Brigitte Oleschinski, Ulrike Almut Sandig

 

It is as though poetry is the inflatable that six poets pushed out into the ‘night’s wide waters’ of writing; into the passage of the black dot, the thought of Cook’s eye trained all those centuries back, into the little repetitions of stone or buttercup or light.

As you might expect no poem cluster is the same.

Each lift and slip of the inflatable is as much a lift and slip for the reader as it is the writer. A voyage of discovery, in a way.

I especially loved the way the poems took me back to that once-in-a-lifetime experience. How to make poetry of such things?

I was also drawn to the pairings of poets and the way they translated each other’s work.

As the ever enthusiastic Rick Stein says: There should be more of this. What other projects can we invent that bring poets together in such fertile ways?

 

The poems are simply and intricately addictive. Congratulations and thank you VUP! The book is a little gem.

 

VUP page

 

Hinemoana Baker is a Wellington poet, musician and teacher. She is the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence in 2015–16.

Urike Almut Sandig is a Berlin poet who works with various composers and musicians. She has received numerous awards and scholarships, most recently a scholarship from the Berlin Senate.

Glenn Colquhoun is a poet, children’s writer, and GP. In 2014 he represented New Zealand on the Commonwealth Poets United poetry project which celebrated the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Uwe Kolbe is a poet, translator and lecturer who lives in Hamburg. He has received many prizes and awards, most recently the Heinrich Mann Prize from the Academy of the Arts in Berlin, and the Meran Poetry Award.

Brigitte Oleschinski is a Berlin poet, essayist and performer. She received the prestigious Peter-Huchel-Preis in 1998. She is best known for her poetry collections Mental Heat Control (1990), Your Passport is Not Guilty (1997) and Geisterströmung (2004).

Chris Price is a Wellington poet, nonfiction writer, musician and teacher. Her most recent poetry collection is Beside Herself (2016).

 

 

 

 

The Berlin Writer’s Residency: Poetry Shelf Interviews Hinemoana Baker – I need to feel surprised by the language but not distracted by it.

 

Hinemoana Baker  Album cover finished  waha_front__71664.1407673414.1280.1280

Photo credit: Robert Cross

Hinemoana Baker is an acclaimed Wellington-based poet who was recently awarded the Berlin Writer’s Residency. She descends from the South Island’s Ngāi Tahu and from the North Island’s Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa. She also has English and Bavarian lineage. Victoria University Press has published her three poetry collections: mātuhi | needle (2004), kōiwi | kōiwi (2010) and  waha | mouth (2014). She has produced five CDs of poetry and music. Hinemoana was the Queensland Poet in Residence, has participated in the Iowa International Creative Writing Programme and was Victoria University’s Writer in Residence in 2014. She is currently convening a Poetry Workshop and with Tina Makereti co-convenes  a Māori and Pasifika Writing Workshop at IIML in Wellington.

 

Congratulations on receiving the 2015 Berlin residency Hinemoana. This seems like a golden opportunity to talk about poetry and writing, but first, what projects do you plan to work on while you are there?

Thank you very much Paula, I really appreciate the congratulations. It still doesn’t quite seem real yet, but I’m booking my tickets this afternoon, so it must be, right?? In Berlin I hope to finish a new collection of poetry. As is the way of writing projects, I will also be continuing work on a family memoir called ‘Dear Mother Basillise’, which is proving to be an even more gigantic undertaking than I had thought at first.

 

Poets often suggest writing a poem is an act of discovery as opposed to the rendition of a predetermined plan. Being in a foreign city is also an act or discovery but it may involve a bit of planning. What sorts of places and experiences attract you?

Several things. I spent a week or so there in 2012, and I was compelled by the history of the city, and fell in love with its present-day self, too. The markets, the many dogs on the streets, the public transport, the way people seem to walk so much slower than they do here.

Also, my mother’s ancestors are from Oberammergau in Bavaria, so travelling there will be much easier from Berlin. I visited once in my 20s, but I want to go again. It’s near the Black Forest, and it’s where the residents have staged the Passion Play every ten years since 1634, in return for god having spared them from the plague. The play brings many tourists to the village. The script has a history of anti-semitism, though some changes have been made to that over the years. I feel a million miles away from a place like Oberammergau, in almost every way, and yet my close ancestors sailed here from there (via Hamburg).

I am keen to experience the arts culture of Berlin, music and poetry and sonic art and burlesque and everything else. I want to join the Berlin Pop Choir and do tango. I want to eat grilled fish sandwiches at the market every weekend and drink Weiss Bier. I want to bike everywhere. Walk around in snow. Visit friends (and hopefully woo publishers) in Italy, London, Manchester. Drift through the Christmas Markets and museums and art galleries. Be anonymous.

 

What effect does travel have upon your writing? Can you write on the move? Or do you absorb and store and write later when it comes to poetry?

I write best when I’m on the move. Trains work best for me. I think it’s something to do with there being boundaries around the length and nature of the experience. And someone else is driving.

 

When you started writing poems as a young adult, were there any poets in particular that you were drawn to (poems/poets as surrogate mentors)?

I wrote poems and stories and even a few chapters of a novel as a young child. I don’t remember being really transformed by poetry until I was a teenager, though. Alistair Campbell and Fleur Adcock and Hone Tuwhare and Leonard Cohen, I memorised poems and said them aloud to myself until I cried. I had a wonderful English teacher at Waimea College who really encouraged my own writing.

I read a lot of Enid Blyton and Doctor Seuss as a kid, and I turned out ok. I was pretty much an only child, so I played a lot on my own or with my next-door-neighbour skater-boy friends. I liked skateboarding. I liked music. I became addicted to Louis Armstrong at a young age, and then Kate Bush when I turned 12.

 

What New Zealand poets are you drawn to now?

So many! I’m going to choose three here (refer to comment about time and boundaries above). Lynn Jenner – her latest book, Lost and Gone Away, is sustaining me at the moment. A person on Facebook whose user name isn’t, I don’t think, her real name: Hangi Pants. Heh heh. She posts poems in her feed once a month or so and I hang out for those days. It’s such good stuff. And Bill Manhire. If I had written ‘Hotel Emergencies’ I would probably just put my pen down and spend the rest of my life feeling smug. Thank god Bill hasn’t done that.

 

I agree on ‘Hotel Emergencies!’ Name three NZ poetry books that you have loved.

OK three different poets this time. The Bengal Engine’s Mango Afterglow by Geoff Cochrane. Star Waka by Robert Sullivan. Wild Dogs Under My Skirt by Tusiata Avia.

 

What about poets from elsewhere?

Sharon Olds, Joyelle McSweeney and Joy Harjo.

 

What poets have mattered to you over the past year? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have sparked you as a writer.

My friend and art mentor Siân Torrington has begun writing more alongside her visual art. Her courage and determination towards freedom are things I’d like to emulate. Also her work ethic. I have been very moved by Rilke and Pablo Neruda, whose work I’ve only really started to investigate in the last couple of years.

 

I love the way your poetry is anchored in the real world in a way that makes physical detail luminous yet does so much more. This is what I wrote in my review of your most recent collection (waha | mouth): ‘your poetic melodies remind us that there are other layers of reality embedded here, layers that sing and tremble in the candle light — joy, pain, recognition, trust, narratives that we inherit and carry with us.’ What are some key things for you when you write a poem?

I have to feel like the poem is being co-written in a way – by me and by the poem itself. I need to feel surprised by the language but not distracted by it. I want to feel after I’ve written it that it has taught me something about the nature of life, or love, or the heart, or politics, or power, or just language.

 

Do you see yourself as a political poet? Overtly so or in more subtle ways?

No, not really. But I see myself as a person who is acutely aware of the dynamics of power. I am not as well-versed in local or global history and politics as I would like to be, but I’m constantly learning and reading. When that learning moves me and/or transforms me, it will no doubt make its way into my poems in some way.

 

In 99 Ways into NZ Poetry, I talked about the way the opening poem of your debut collection mātuhi | needle acts as a mihi. It invites us as readers across the threshold into the meeting ground that is poetry but that is also a surrogate marae. Now I see your poetry (as a whole) laying down invitations. Labels are tricky things but do you see yourself as a Māori poet? What differences does your Māori inheritance make to your writing?

I think the one thing my Māori self contributes to my writing, whether I like it or not, is a keen sense that there are feelings everywhere. People and places are alive and sensate and usually in some state of pain or longing. There’s a saying I heard once, I can’t remember where, but it was someone indigenous speaking about someone else ‘acting as if she has no relatives’. My relatives are everywhere, and not just because I have a big extended family.

 

The titles of your collections juxtapose English and Māori underlining these two personal lineages. Do you see this relationship as a rope (entwined, frayed, strong)? A bridge with different rhythms of traffic?

I’m not going to do it any more, this bi-lingual title thing. I’ve done what I wanted to do with it. Which is to, somehow, lock the different voices together for a moment.

 

You are a terrific musician and performer of your work. It shows, too, with the writing on the page. There is an exquisite cadence that draws upon silence as much as it does the shifting melodies. Do you write poetry as musician as much as you do as wordsmith?

I think in the end the thing I’m most interested in is sound. Adding meaning to the mix is a bonus, but it’s hard to keep meaning contained, and it can get a bit out of hand. I hope to make good and interesting sounds in people’s heads and in the air with what I write on the page.

 

Do you think your writing has changed over time?

Yes, but only in that I’ve gotten more confident.

 

I love the way you are unafraid of heart. Your poetry has a beating pulse that is both warm and inviting and utterly human. As a reader there are electric connections between my heart and the heart of the poem. How does heart matter to you as you write?

I try and make poems that matter, in the sense that people might care about them, because they might get that heart feeling from them. What you’ve said here is very honouring, Paula.

 

Is there a single poem or two in your collections that particularly resonates with you?

‘Rope’, because I didn’t even hear the ‘rape’ rhyme until a few hours after I’d written it. And ‘Magnet Bay’, because it was the last holiday I had with my ex-partner Christine, and I remember walking that beautiful land with her and playing taonga pūoro in the sun.

 

Your two books are beautiful to behold. How important is it to you that a poetry book is an object of beauty in view of its ‘look.’

I like a good cover image! And I like the book’s arrangement and font to be reader-friendly and readily available.

 

As my review attests, I loved your last collection. Did you make any discoveries as you wrote it?

You’re very kind. I discovered as I wrote it that it is very hard for me to write about things as they are happening. Sometimes I can do it – I wrote the Terrorism poem in kōiwi while that appalling crap was still going on. But mostly I have to wait. The experiences I had in the years writing waha will probably turn up in my next collection.

 

In the blurb for this book you wrote: ‘I’d like to think that opening this book to read is like standing at the mouth of a cave, or a river, or a grave, with a candle in your hand.’ I adore the comparison of the act of reading to holding the light of candle to a poem where something will always remain in the dim shadows, barely sighted, inaudible. How do the light and dark of poetry matter to you?

Like all the binaries – tension/release, light/dark, sad/happy – it’s the dance they do that makes art, for me. If you believe in binaries, that is.

 

What irks you in poetry?

Cliché.

 

What delights you?

Courage.

 

Is doubt a key part of the writing process along with an elusive horizon of where you are satisfied with a poem?

I don’t know if it’s a key part, but it seems to be an unavoidable part of my process. There’s some kind of off-balance precarious posture I manage to achieve between giving up altogether and re-working obsessively. It never feels comfortable or certain, and it never feels reproducible. After finishing a poem, I’m often certain, I’ll never be able to write another one.

 

The constant mantra to be a better writer is to write, write, write and read read read. You also need to live! What activities enrich your writing life?

Walking the wild coastline of Wellington, and her streets and waterfront, her Town Belt. Visiting with other artists’ work whenever I can. I teach creative writing sometimes, and that always makes me fall in love with language all over again.

 

Some poets argue that there are no rules in poetry and all rules are to be broken. Do you agree? Do you have cardinal rules?

Cardinal rules, no. Guidelines, yes. They’re really the same as for other kinds of writing. Show don’t tell. Concrete images. Verbs and nouns are often more powerful than adjectives. Etc. But there are some that pertain to poetry in particular I suppose – especially around line breaks and stanzas etc. That said, if I did have a cardinal rule, it would probably be ‘Don’t publish a poem your writing group hasn’t seen.’ One day I might break this rule but it’s served me well so far.

 

Do you find social media an entertaining and useful tool or white noise?

Yes.

 

Finally if you were to be trapped for hours (in a waiting room, on a mountain, inside on a rainy day) what poetry book would you read?

Something by Robert Hass – I’d have lots of time for re-reading, and Robert Hass very much rewards re-reading…

 

 

Hinemoana’s web site

Victoria University Press page

Victoria University page

NZ Book Council Author page

 

 

Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English — I flipped a question that I carried with me through my doctoral thesis

1411441130757

Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English editors Robert Sullivan and Reina Whaitiri (Auckland University Press, 2014)

I am curious as to how many Māori poets we can name beyond a handful, beyond the much loved Hone Tuwhare. Open a New Zealand literary journal and do we still fall upon a Pākehā bias? The arrival of Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English (2014) presents us with a selection of writing that celebrates a wide and vibrant field. The editors, Robert Sullivan and Reina Whaitiri have brought a glorious range of voices into the spotlight.

Robert, of Ngāpuhi/Irish descent, is a poet and anthologist, and is currently Head of the Creative Writing Programme at Manukau Institute of Technology. Reina, of Māori/ Pākehā descent, is also a poet and an anthologist, and has taught English at the Universities of Auckland and Hawai’i. Along with Albert Wendt, Robert and Reina edited Whetu Moana (AUP, 2003) and Mauri Ola (AUP, 2010).

Puna Wai Korero is a moving feast. The poets selected come from a variety of locations, circumstances, backgrounds, writing preferences. The choices of style, tone, subject matter and poetic techniques are eclectic. There is humour, inward reflection, love and loss. There are poems of the marae and poems of elsewhere. There are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. There is politics on the quiet and politics loud and clear. There is grief. There is home. There are familiar voices, there are those that are not. There are writers known for their fiction.

Through all this, I flipped a question that I carried with me through my doctoral thesis (does it make a difference if the pen is held by a woman?) to ask: Does it make a difference if the pen is held by a Māori. Do some writers deliberately and gloriously foster a Māori voice (perhaps, where the poet stands and writes from, how the poet stands and writes from, how the oratory traditions of the marae inflect the poetry, how genealogy inflects the poem and so on). I spent seven years hauling my question through politics, law, history, psychology, familial relations, art, literature, history, patriarchy within an Italian context and the Italian language. Over the past months, I have held a book that drew me in close to all of these things within the miniature frame of a poem and within the context of Aotearoa. You can view the poems within whatever cultural luggage you bring to them (a Western paradigm of how to write a poem and how to break a poem, both cemented by tradition and innovation). Or you can step out of that luggage and approach these poems afresh, and in doing so open out the ways in which we can make and read and hear poetry.

This was the first joy of reading this anthology — navigating the burgeoning questions for which I felt inept at answering.

The second joy, the equally sustaining joy, was the discovery of new writers along with a return to those well loved (whenever I visit secondary schools I share my James K Baxter/Hone Tuwhare anecdotes that kickstarted me on the path of poetry in 1972). A wee taste of what I have loved: a tingle in reading Hilary Baxter’s ‘Reminiscence,’ the heart and gap in all of Hinemoana Baker’s poems, the sharp kick of Arapera Hineira Blank’s ‘After watching father re-uniting with sons in prison,’ the utter joy of Bub Bridger’s ‘Wild daisies,’ the force of Ben Brown’s ‘I am the Māori Jesus,’ the insistent catch of Marewa Glover’s ‘Pounamu,’ the evocative laying of roots in Katerina Mataira’s ‘Restoring the ancestral home,’ the pocket narrative in Trixie Te Arama Menzies’s ‘Watercress,’ the piquant detail of Paula Morris’s ‘English grandmother,’ the subtle shifts in Kiri Piahana-Wng’s ‘Four paintings,’ the verve and aural steps of Vaughan Rapatahana’s ‘Aotearoa blues, baby’ (I want to hear him read this!), the sumptuous detail in Reihana Robinson’s “God of ugly things,’ the poetic and political and personal stretch of Alice Te Punga Somerville’s ‘mad ave,’ all of JC Sturm (especially ‘At times I grieve for you’), Robert Sullivan (especially ‘Voice carried my family, their names and stories’), Apirana Taylor (especially ‘Te ihi’ and ‘Haka’) and Hone Tuwhare (especially, most utterly especially ‘Rain’).

This is a book of returns, to be kept on every shelf. Bravissimo!

Hinemoana Baker is three quarters of the way there. Can you help?

A letter from Hinemoana Baker on current support for her funding campaign via Boosted:

‘Three quarters.

I still can’t find the proper words to say thank you for this.

I am over 3/4 of the way towards my fundraising goal to allow me to keep writing my family memoir ‘Dear Mother Basillise’.

I am still blown away by the number of people who say ‘sorry it couldn’t be more’ when they write their messages alongside their donations.

I am beyond stoked that there are 133 of you who feel strongly enough about me and this project to give so much towards it already.

There are 15 days to go to reach our target of $15,000.

As you may or may not know, unless I reach the full total, all the donations are bounced back to the generous folks who gave them.

So – please give something if you can, and/or feel free to share this link with anyone who might be interested in supporting ‘Dear Mother Basillise’:

http://www.boosted.org.nz/projects/dear-mother-basillise

Turbine 14: New writing from emerging and established writers and the latest graduates of Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML

Turbine 14 highlights new and established literary talent

New writing from emerging and established writers and the latest graduates of Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) is featured in the 2014 edition of literary journal, Turbine.

9 December 2014
The annual online journal offers a sampler of work by 2014 Master’s students, alongside poetry and fiction extracts from internationally regarded writers such as Maike Wetzel from Germany, Lesley Wheeler from the United States, and award-winning Kiwi poets Lynn Jenner and Marty Smith.
Victoria University chaplain John Dennison contributes poems from a collection to be co-published in 2015 by Auckland University Press and Carcanet in the United Kingdom.
The 2014 Victoria University/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence Hinemoana Baker talks to Fulbright scholar and poet Max Chapnick about her current project, whether her writing has an implicit or explicit political awareness, the joys of late-night writing, and the similarities between writing and looking after a dog.
Recordings by five poets bring their poems off the page, including work by the 2013 Biggs Family Prize in Poetry winner, Morgan Bach, whose first collection will be published by Victoria University Press in 2015.
Re-imaginings of Greek myth sit alongside geological analyses of Kapiti-coast soil types; a family recipe book provides a basis for an exploration into the Portuguese psyche; toilet humour, shipwrecks and Robert Redford mix with work on Fiji, Samoa and Pacific waves.
For more on Turbine go here.
Turbine 14 here.
Poets on offer include Emma Neale, Anna Jackson, Johanna Emeney, Lynn Davidson, Marisa Cappetta, Lee Posna, Helen Heath, Cliff Fell, Kerrin P Sharpe, Louise Wallace, Marty Smith and Chris Tse. Then as many again that are new discoveries for me. Looks like a great issue.

Updated From Poets and Fans of Poetry: Favourite poetry reads of 2014

I am not sure if two lists make this an annual event (so I resisted temptation to put ‘annual’ in the title!), but here are the books that have stuck with local poets and fans of poetry in the past year. Unlike most ‘best of 2014 book lists’, the invitation is to select favourite reads no matter where or when those reads were published. The only limitation—this is a poetry list.

Over summer, I will muse over the future of my two blogs. If I do decide to keep them running, I will make a few changes changes to clear space for my own writing time. One thing is certain, I can never review all NZ poetry books on this blog. I have a huge stack of books I want to review, but know I can only do a handful over the next few weeks.  I guess with the scarcity of poetry reviews in New Zealand, I feel pressure to share all the wonderful writing that I discover.  I would certainly be keen to post reviews and musing by other poets.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this list at a time when we all have such busy schedules, and thanks to everyone who contributed to the blog over the past year. It wouldn’t work with out you. Thanks, too, to everyone who shared my posts on social media and who followed both this and NZ Poetry Box.

John Adams:

The Life-guard, Ian Wedde, AUP.

Stark metaphors, sustained muscular writing that disturbs. A strong surface with an underbelly that provokes contemplation and rewards reflection. The final group “Shadow stands up” successfully blends quotidian observation with humour. Stuff to savour.

Autobiography of a Marguerite, Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Hue & Cry Press.

The disquieting disclosures of these poems builds a unique experience of family; patterns of mother and daughter; trials of close binding. How can we be, with such context? A journey to a foreign part.

Fearing the Kynge, Bernard Brown, Foundation Press (c/o 14 Birdwood Crescent, Parnell.

A short collection around Henry VIII and those who passed through his life, sometimes more quickly than they’d wished. Beautifully illustrated, the text ranges from the hearty pun to closely worked items that reward revisiting.

Sailing Alone around the Room, Billy Collins, Random House.

This masterly collection includes unforgettable, accessible gems. I love his riff on Blues; and any poet will weep with laughter at the enacted difficulty of Paradelle.

Rosetta Allen:

Cloudboy Siobhan Harvey Otago University Press

‘When the eye was overcast,
there could be no poetry.’

If the face was made to mirror the stars, then the entire body responds to the cloudscape that is this beautiful collection of poetry called Cloudboy. Harvey herself says ‘The body is a nest alive with new song’, and I feel it as I read her perfected lines, full of ever changing details of the atmosphere between a very special son, and an obviously devoted mother. No longer a passive pass time, cloud watching has become an active search for understanding, beauty, love and courage. And I too find myself looking up, with appreciation.
One Human in Height Rachel O’Neill Hue & Cry

‘I love that Father finds the faint trace of cyanide on his ring finger just in time and chops it off.’

I found the words of O’Neill’s poetry happily settled on the page. The humility trumpets itself without fanfare. Each poem, each line containing a neatly package surprise – I a kid in the back seat of a her car, unravelling lollies, and remembering, feeling part of the scene, included and instantly befriended. I adore the rhymes in the midst of lines, the lists that are not lists, the epiphanies that pile up until you have to let some go, the meaning where there is no meaning, and I believed every bit of it – almost.

Sarah Jane Barnett:

The Lonely Nude by Emily Dobson (VUP) An extremely beautiful collection about dislocation, identity, expectation, and the body. It traces Dobson’s own experiences of leaving New Zealand, living in the US, and her return. Dobson’s poems are spare and exquisitely crafted. She’s definitely my #1 poetry crush of 2014.

Etymology by Bryan Walpert (Cinnamon Press) Even though Etymology came out in 2009, I only managed to read it this year. As the title suggests, the poems are about the way we create meaning, not only in terms of words, but in our relationships and lives. It’s so sharp and clever that it made me want to give up writing.

Curriculum Vitae by Harold Jones (Xlibris/self published) Jones’ debut collection was my surprise of the year. Generally speaking, self published collections aren’t very good. I should have known that this would be the exception when I found out Jones has been published as part of AUP New Poets 4. Curriculum Vitae is a wonderful exploration of aging, regret, and memory. It was the only collection this year that made me cry.

Airini Beautrais:

2014 has been such a fruitful year for poetry. I haven’t quite finished reading all the wonderful local books that have come out, some as recently as last week. I have loved Hinemoana Baker’s waha/mouth (VUP 2014). And Maria McMillan’s Tree Space is an amazingly assured first full-length collection (also VUP 2014).

Diana Bridge:

For me this year has been weighted towards prose. I began it with the biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, which I interleaved with a re-reading of all her novels. Her last, The Blue Flower, was recently described with insight by Alan Hollinghurst as having ” something of the overall effect of a poem, a constellation of images and ideas.”

While I am waiting for the next collection of wonderful Australian poet, Judith Beveridge, I have been reading through her last two: Wolf Notes and Storm and Honey (Giramondo, 2003 and 2009), relishing her naturalist’s eye coupled to extraordinary and sustained imaginative powers. All her poems are filled with grace and intelligence.

Now a single poem, one I had been searching for since I first read it in the New York Review (October 7, 2004): Seamus Heaney‘s ‘ What Passed at Colonus’, written in memory of Czeslaw Milosz. I would want this to be one of the last poems I ever read.

Amy Brown:
Horse with Hat, by Marty Smith (VUP, 2014): This collection is a poignant and wry family biography. It juxtaposes earthy and transcendent subjects (the racetrack, the farm, Catholicism, war) as naturally as its stunning accompanying collages (by Brendan O’Brien) do. I especially loved Smith’s horses; I can picture the ‘dawn horses’ ‘who flatten, who scatter’ perfectly.

Final Theory, by Bonny Cassidy (Giramondo, 2014): This verse novel develops an eerie, quietly filmic atmosphere of post-apocalypse. Cassidy is an Australian poet, who wrote part of this poem while travelling in New Zealand – the landscape she describes is simultaneously recognisable and alien – a place where ‘three stilled turbines balance the space like stupas’ and ‘the ocean’s a mouthed thought’. Exquisitely clear and unsettling, it is the sort of book I’d love to write one day.

Mondrian’s Flowers, By Alan Loney and Max Gimblett (Granary Books, 2002): I stumbled upon this poetic biography of Piet Mondrian while reviewing Loney and Gimblett’s recent eMailing Flowers to Mondrian. Only 41 books were made, each with rough-cut watercolour pages and an exposed primary-coloured spine. Three long poems by Loney in tribute to Mondrian are punctuated by Gimblett’s watercolours. Reading it is a meditative act; if you’re in Wellington, I recommend looking at the copy in the National Library. Her

Rachel Bush:

Marty Smith, Horse with Hat Victoria University Press Marty Smith’s work is new to me. Rural New Zealand, family stories, and the stories of a generation are combined in her excellent first volume of poetry. It’s poignant stuff that doesn’t balk at the sorts of tough, sad realities that exist in all families.

Lindsay Pope Headwinds Makaro Press Lindsay Pope’s engaging first book of poems is very timely. Family events, like the birth of a grandchild and low key domestic things like making muesli feature in it, but he’s also drawn to write about solitary lives like that of the caretaker on Stephens Island or the man in ‘Outpost’ whose closest contact with the outside world comes through the radio he operates.

Vincent O’Sullivan Us, then Victoria University Press I enjoy the ease with which Vincent O’Sullivan can refer as easily to a Dunedin Beach as he does to lines from Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens or to the poetry of McGonagall. He investigates difficult questions, but doesn’t come up with facile, tidy answers to them.. This is a collection thoughtful, witty, sure-footed poems.

Michael Harlow Sweeping the Courtyard: The selected poems of Michael Harlow Cold Hub Press
Poems chosen from seven books of poetry by Michael Harlow make  for a lively and varied collection. He is interested in and  sensitive to how each poem looks on the page. I enjoy his distinct and often quirky voice.

Kay Cooke:
Essential NZ Poems Facing The Empty Page selected by Siobhan Harvey, James Norcliffe and Harry Ricketts. Published by Godwit. A real  treasury indeed of NZ poets. (Although I missed Tim Jones and Helen Lehendorf not being there).

Si no te hubieras ido / If only you hadn’t gone by Rogelio Gueda with translations from the Spanish by Roger Hickin and an introduction by Vincent O’Sullivan. A gem of a book with poems about distance, love and Dunedin. Published by Cold Hub Press.

You Fit The Description: The Selected Poems of Peter Olds published by Cold Hub Press. The long-awaited collection of Olds’ poetry; a prolific New Zealand poet whose background in poetry in Aotearoa stretches back to the James K. Baxter era. I’m thoroughly enjoying this book which is sure to become a classic. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but so far – It’s a cracker.

A chapbook that has both inspired and thrilled me with its re-imagined worlds within worlds, delicately traced with a steely eye, is Jenny Powell’s Trouble published by Cold Hub Press.

Ruth Arnison’s PoARTry @ Olveston (self-published) with its clever mix of paintings and words, is also a favourite from my 2014 pile of poetry.

Karen Craig:

I’m looking at the three books I’ve laid out on my table and what I notice is that they all have lots to do with the sea, seabirds, islands. And I have a wonderful feeling that if I were to pry up their covers I’d hear sounds of imaginary oceans, like when you hold a seashell up to your ear. Because, like seashells, these poets have taken the sounds of our world and clarified and amplified them, made them resonate, turned them into a deep, quiet, prolonged roar. Each with a different pitch, of course.

1. Richard Blanco Looking for The Gulf Motel, University of Pittsburgh Press 2012 (You can get it at Auckland Libraries!). Richard Blanco’s seasides are Cuba, where he was born; Florida, where as a boy he emigrated with his family; and now Maine, where he ended up for love. He sings the enigma of memory, the yearn of sorrow, the terror of romantic love. “The sea is never the same twice. Today / the waves open their lions’ mouths hungry / for the shore, and I feel the earth helpless.”

2. Michele Leggott Heartland Auckland University Press 2014. These poems burn like the hot blue stars which recur in one of them. You dive in to their mesmerising, punctuationless (as always) whirl and find at the heart a distillation of spirit that is so honest as to be unforgettable. The long poem about the introduction into her life of her guide-dog ends with the simplest of phrases, “her name is Olive”, and it’s as if a choir broke out.

3. Bob Orr Odysseus in Woolloomooloo Steele Roberts 2014. Bob Orr embraces the sacred and the profane better than anyone. From the ancient mysteries to modern gazes, from Penrose to Valparaiso, his imagery amazes me and his turns-of-phrase make me want to get down on my knees and say Hallelujah! “As the Southern Cross / salts these hours / I shiver beneath signs and wonders.”

David Eggleton:

There were a number of outstanding poetry books I read this year, but these in particular offered things which have stayed with me.

  1. Kay Mackenzie Cooke’s book-length sequence Born to a Red-Headed Woman (Otago University Press) offers a remarkable evocation of growing up in rural Southland: ‘The teacher draws close, / her own fingers cool, // narrow streamlined/ dragonflies that touch down/ briefly where my fingertips/ have begun to make mist, / What lovely moons you have, she says.’
  2. In Sweeping the Courtyard: the Selected Poems of Michael Harlow, Michael Harlow’s poems are like miniature echo-chambers, their lines teasing and entrancing with repetitions of words and phrases which resonate with subtle implications: ‘We were walking out of the park, your/ hair on fire under a full fall of moon, / the flowering almond its bridal white/ fading earlier than was remembered// I could hear, a leaf-fall of thought . . .’
  3. I was impressed by the restless inquisitive searching tone, the careful observation, in Jenny Powell’s small collection Trouble (Cold Hub), as in her poem describing the scene in a photograph ‘Guided Walking Party on the Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand c. 1908’: ‘five women/ standing on/ frozen contortions of time/ frock hems damp/ from trailing overground undulations . . .’
  4. I was also pleasurably arrested by the precise and telling imagistic phrases that made up Hinemoana Baker’s collection waha:mouth (Victoria University Press), as for example in ‘what the whale said’: ‘ I break/ the brine, my flukes a black book// a mast in your mind/ cross of the drowned. . .’
  5. I was amused by the rhythms and rhymes forming sweet and sour stanza combinations in Tim Upperton’s poetry collection The Night We Ate the Baby (Haunui Press), as in ‘All the Things I Never Knew’: ‘Bobbie watches headlights move/ across the wall. / A little rain begins to fall — / a little rain to end the day. // It falls differently in L.A./ Choctaw Ridge is far away.’
  6. Likewise, I enjoyed the almost whispered whimsy and well-turned verses in Peter Bland’s short book Hunting Elephants (Steele Roberts), as in his dream-poem about James K. Baxter: ‘Not/ a pretty sight/ with his soup-stained beard/ but there’s a lovely/ holy glow / to his skin . . .’
  7. Tom Weston’s collection Only One Question (Steele Roberts) contains a number of extraordinary poems, especially about crime and punishment. He shows us characters who have the fatalism, or else the tragic destiny of Joseph Conrad’s characters, as in the title poem: ‘When he sends children to prison the parents go too, / trailing along like wind-ripped flags.’
  8. And, finally, I was taken with the rapping urgency of Leilani Tamu’s street-wise voice in The Art of Excavation (Anahera Press), as in ‘You’, a poem about her father: ‘. . . driving around Auckland in your crusty-as car/ a hole in your sock, an empty pocket, a heart full/ of dreams but never a cent . . .’

Laurence Fearnley:

Dylan Thomas SELECTED POEMS (Penguin Classics)

I watched a couple of science fiction/space movies recently and, in general, I found them pretty dull and really long. But, a couple of them  included poems by Dylan Thomas. The film Solaris had ‘And Death Shall have No Dominion’ and Interstellar included ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.’ So I found my copy of Dylan Thomas’s poems and I noticed in its introduction that Thomas is described as ‘dense and often difficult’. I don’t know about that.  I liked the imagery in some of the poems – ‘Where birds ride like leaves…’ (When I Woke)  or ‘…the shabby curtains of the skin…’ (A Process in the Weather of the Heart), for example . After reading Thomas I got out my James K Baxter and Janet Frame books and spent a while flicking back and forth between the three writers.

Joan Fleming:
I have never read anything like George Dyungayan’s Bulu Line: A West Kimberley Song Cycle (Puncher & Wattman, 2014), edited and translated by Stuart Cooke. Cooke braids a dimensional translation of an Aboriginal song-poem from many strands: the words of the song in language, traditional owners’ verbatim explanations, an ethnomusicologist’s commentary, and his own circling, cycling rendering in english. Such important work; this book is a bit of a game-changer.

Siobhan Harvey:

Alexandra Fraser, Conversations by Owl Light (Steele Roberts) is a first collection which engages with concepts of chemistry, love, botany, family, astronomy, tarot and ancestry. The author’s evocative language, pinpoint accuracy and sumptuous concern for human interaction make is a 2014 standout.

Ancestry also underpins another exciting first book, Leilani Tamu’s The Art of Excavation (Anahera Press). Excavating her family and Pacific history, the book is an entwining of legend and cultural realism.

Miriam Barr, Bullet Hole Riddle (Steele Roberts) packs a powerful punch. A triptych charting the narrator’s cruel, abusive history, it’s a book of unflinching honesty and potent impact.

Dinah Hawken:

The Great Enigma, New Collected Poems, Tomas Transtromer, New Directions Books, 2006.

This has been my favourite book for a couple of years. I’d love to be able to write like him and it would take too long to tell why.

Body English, Text and Images by Len Lye, edited by Roger Horrocks, Holloway Press, 2009.

I splashed out and bought this book a few months ago, not long after reading Roger Horrocks’ biography of Len Lye.
I knew I would love it because Lye was so extraordinary; particularly in his understanding of how the body gives rise to all creative ventures including poetry. ‘ I hold/words in the bone.’

Otari, Poems and Prose, Louise Wrightson, Otari Press, 2014.

This very new, first book by Louise Wrightson has been written slowly, close to home. Louise lives on the edge of Otari/Wilton’s Bush in Wellington and has written a book about place that is dedicated, funny and beautifully produced.

David Hill: 

I’d like to mention:  1. Ruby Duby Du, by Elizabeth Smither (Cold Hub Press, PO Box 156, Lyttleton). Smither’s enchanting poems for her new grand-daughter, which manage to combine tenderness with her distinctive cool, meticulous observation.

2. A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children, ed by Paula Green, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Random House). Yes, I know I’m not supposed to include Paula Green’s poems, but she’s just (“just”!!) the editor of this terrific anthology which ranges from Baxter to school-kids. Exuberant, engaging, educational, and made more so by Jenny Cooper’s magic illustrations.

Bill Manhire:

Do song lyrics count as poetry? If so, I’ve been enjoying The Lines Are Open from The Close Readers (aka Damien Wilkins). It includes tracks about departed writing friends like Barbara Anderson and Nigel Cox. One of them – “The Ballad of Tarzan Presley” http://theclosereaders.com/track/the-ballad-of-tarzan-presley – makes my heart hurt yet somehow leaves me happy.

It’s been a strong year for New Zealand poetry.  So many accomplished first collections! I was pleased to see Frances Samuel’s Sleeping on Horseback (VUP) in print – I’ve been waiting for some version of this book for about ten years. Another impressive first book is Kerry Hines’s Young Country, in which the poet’s words keep company with the images of 19th-century photographer William Williams. It’s a mix that can seem easy and obvious, but is surprisingly hard to do well. Between them, Hines and Auckland University Press make the task seem effortless.

A couple of other great reading pleasures this year have been A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind: The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton (edited by Ben Estes and Alan Felsenthal, and published by The Song Cave) and Maurice Riordan’s new collection from Faber, The Water Stealer.  Alfred Starr Hamilton is the poetry equivalent of the apparently naïve artist, of a Chagall or an Alfred Wallis. He has an appealing clumsiness, and specialises in astonishing small moments, as in his one-line poem “Carrot”: “I wanted to find a little yellow candlelight in the garden.” Maurice Riordan manages to be lyrical and thoughtful all at once, and is also the editor of The Finest Music: Early Irish Lyrics, a handsome anthology which includes translations from Tennyson to Riordan himself, as well as a number specially commissioned for the book.

Alice Miller:

Sam Sampson, Halcyon Ghosts (AUP, 2014)
‘shadow this, take and come up/  shadow, come to the present … the sur-/ face… the Lion —– the Light  —– the Luminous’

Lee Posna, Arboretum (Compound Press, 2014)

Steven Toussaint, Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014)

Emma Neale:

Poetry books this year I enjoyed…. I still have many books on my bedside table that I’m still only part way through – e.g. Stefanie Lash’s Bird Murder and Hinemoana Baker’s Waha-Mouth and more and more… but of those I have finished, the memorable ones are:

Siobhan Harvey, Cloudboy – I hope it’s all right to nominate a book I edited – it’s the only one I’ll let myself name out of some other wonderful books I worked on this year – but this one stood out for the ’tensile delicacy’ with which it maintains the extended metaphor of boy and mother as shifting cloudscape; for its subtle use of line and page as physical space as well as rhythmic unit; for its music and invigorating intelligence. It is an important milestone in local publishing, I reckon, for the poise in that sustained motif; for the fact that the metaphor never feels strained or gimmicky; and for the richness of the psychology in the relationships portrayed across the developing sequence.

Alice Miller, The Limits – for its dreamy eeriness, its evocation of beauty even as it catches the jittery sense of a civilisation crumbling; for its creation of the atmosphere of dread and yet a sense of old-new mythology as well.

Michael Harlow, Sweeping the Courtyard – a selected from Harlow seems long overdue, and it’s a joy to have this now that older volumes are out of print. His sense of the surreal, the power of the subconscious, and his ear attuned to the lilt and rise of a sometimes slightly eccentric syntax shows a musical ear for how to upend where the emphasis normally falls in a line. It keeps us listening closely to the swerve and duck of words: how meaning can shimmer from one sense to another, depending on how you hold light to the line. His sense of the power of the subconscious and seems to perhaps have filtered through to a poet like Alice Miller.

Peter Olds, Selected Poems – I am a latecomer to Peter’s work, and the stretch of experience here, as well as the energetic vernacular, was both refreshing and sometimes devastating to read. Many of the poems record pushing himself right to the edge of risk, and the cost is shown to be very bleak at times – which means that the mischievous, finger-flipping humour that survives in some poems is all the more welcome.

Tim Upperton, The Night We Ate the Baby –  I kept waiting for my kids to ask why I was reading this book. They never did. I enjoyed it for its technical control and its grim, self-loathing, Beckettian humour. It reminds me a little of Simon Armitage’s work: Simon Armitage meets Wendy Cope in a horror film with dialogue done by Dylan Moran? Something like that: it leaves me a happy kind of uncomfortable.

Zarah Butcher McGonnigle Autobiography of a Margeurite – I loved the concept – sometimes I loved the concept more than individual poems, but this was a bold, adventurous debut.

Cilla McQueen Edwin’s Egg and Other Poetic Novellas –  witty, surprising, gracefully succinct, playful – the implied dialogue between archival image and the text was gorgeously unseating and sideways, sometimes; others, poignant, piquant, peppery, plangent.

Vivienne Plumb:

My favourite poetry read of this year was a copy of Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire, purchased at the wonderful Scorpio books independent bookstore, 113 Riccarton Rd, Christchurch.  Originally published in 1869, this new reprint is from Alma Classics Ltd, U.K. (2010). These pieces by Baudelaire are considered to be very early prose poems.
Baudelaire wrote that ‘Parisian life is rich in poetic, marvellous subjects’, and described in a letter of 1862 his ambition to make the pieces that were eventually dubbed ‘prose poems’.
Excellent!

Lindsay Pope:

Leaf-Huts and Snow-Houses by Olav H. Hauge. Pat White introduced me to this Norwegian poet. He lived nearly all his life in his native Ulvik where he worked as a gardener. His writing is simple and precise yet laced with a lot of wisdom.

Lindsay Rabbitt:

Odysseus in Woolloomooloo, by Bob Orr (Steele Roberts, 2014), 60 pp., $19.99

‘If James Joyce could reanimate Ulysses [Odysseus] on the banks of the Liffey, why not bring the wily old wanderer to the South Pacific?’ Iain Sharp posits in his review of Odysseus in Woolloomooloo (a harbour-side Sydney suburb) in the July edition of Landfall Review Online, which I tout as my favourite review of a NZ poetry book, coincidentally on my favourite NZ poetry book (that I’ve read) published 2014. I have five of Bob Orr’s eight books of verse in my bookcase, including his first, the scarce-as-hen’s-teeth Blue Footpaths, published by The Amphedesma Press out of London in 1971, and this beautifully-produced latest offering sees Orr, a boatman on the Waitemata Harbour, and one of our finest lyric poets, at the top of his game, whether retracing his boyhood homeland in rural Waikato, or recalling his Wellington days, or visiting a terminally-ill friend in Sydney, or wandering the streets of Auckland, or out night fishing: ‘As the Southern Cross / salts these hours / I shiver beneath signs and wonders.’

Jack Ross:
Char, René. Furor and Mystery & Other Writings. Trans. Mary Ann Caws & Nancy Kline. 1992. Introduction by Sandra Bermann. Foreword by Marie-Claude Char. Black Widow Press Translation Series. Black Widow Press. Boston. MA: Commonwealth Books, Inc., 2010.

This is a big, generous dual-text selection of a lot of work form the whole span of René Char’s career, from early surrealist days, though the darkness of the Vichy years in France, and into postwar existentialism and disillusionment. Char was one of Paul Celan’s favourite poets, and a close personal friend, and the affinities between the two poets are quite striking — though probably more in the mood and underlying seriousness than the surface texture of their work.

I’ve also been reading a lot of NZ poetry books this year for Poetry NZ. I tried to say something about each of them at the back of the latest issue, but you can link to the detail of my remarks.

Lisa Samuels:

A few poetry books I found in 2014, with room for more

Iain Britton, Photosynthesis (Kilmog Press 2014). A beautifully hand-made art book in 40 copies, with 20 poems that attend to the medial line between the conscious report of observed and felt phenomena and the image moment that swerves the mind.

Jill Magi, Labor (Nightboat 2014). An essay in poetry, framed as a workography, that lays bare the devastated internal landscape of university labor. The university lecturer must strain the bad faith of corporate academia through her body in order to try and make a good faith realm for students and ideas.

Alan Halsey, Rampant Inertia (Shearsman 2014). From asemic (and glossed) clinamen to translingualism to talking places, this book has a world-attending and word-spelunking energy I crave in poetry.

Stephanie Anderson, In the key of those who can no longer organize their environments (Horseless Press 2013). Call it cento, source work, or reassembled appropriation, this book knows how to balance its languages in a vibrant sonic think-space for social thought and bodies in peril and houses and history.

Doc Drumheller, 10 x (10 + -10) = 0 (The Republic of Oma Rapeti Press 2014). A complex and delightful document of lingual devotion and social mixing. Drumheller has assembled his 10 pamphlets produced over 10 years to make helixes of anagrams and energetic rhymes. The poet as seer and Shakespearean “fool” for cultural attention.

Sam Sampson:

This year I’ve been revisiting Keith Waldrop’s Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press, 2009). When first opening the book I was drawn to his use of collaged lines and the effortless sway between the personal and metaphysical. The topology, or bricolage of purloined texts adds to the rich texture and music of his poems. He suggested in a recent interview, that poetry is ‘having nothing to say, and saying it,’ explaining, he was more interested in a sense of music, than the drive towards a philosophic, or information based poetics.

I’ve also had the pleasure of reading two recent volumes from the American publisher Black Ocean: Zach Savich’s Century Swept Brutal, and Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable.

At the local level, I really enjoyed Alice Miller’s collection The Limits (Auckland University Press, 2014), with its elliptical and economical syntax. The imagery is deceptively refractive, and (as Barbara Guest suggests), at its best, a circling, or delimitation of the frame extends the line beyond the page.

The second discovery was an event I was involved in for the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) LOUNGE #41, where the NZ based American poet Steven Toussaint read. His rhythms contain a remarkable subtlety, an unmistakable momentum of word and thing (word-ling). There are a number of his poems online, or you could search out his chapbook Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014).

Iain Sharp:

I was pleased to see Alan Brunton’s Beyond the Ohlala Mountains topping The Listener’s belated list of 2014 poetry books. With its breadth of vision, wit and musicality it tops my list too, but I’d also like to draw attention to a couple of Auckland University publications that The Listener did not mention.

Sam Sampson’s second book Halcyon Days is the brainiest local poetry, I reckon, since the untimely demise of Leigh Davis. Yes, it’s challenging work, but the reward is in peeling back the layers and discovering the care with which Sampson has chosen each phrase.

Kerry Hines’s debut, Young Country, not only pays tribute to (and reproduces some of the fascinating images of) the great underrated New Zealand photographer William Williams but also opens up new approaches to writing about our colonial past.
Marty Smith:

waha/mouth Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)

is breathtakingly, cracklingly alive. It should be read with a de-fibrillator. I get breath loss and my heart-beat jumps when the poems go leading into unexploded places, then all over again with wrenching images, like Tinkerbell

‘       I turn from black to white inside

my own limbs. Who makes this howl, whose

hindquarters drag like a bag of coal?’

Raw relationships are opened up, as in the itching madness of ‘Malady,’ and ‘running’ pulls me breathless

and still you caught me grabbed

my arm my clothes my woollen jersey unravelled as you

pulled until there was a thin gray thread

getting longer between us and the faster I ran

the colder I got

and the travelling sadness of this:

I miss you, It’s like a cave in this mouth.

It’s a terrible saxophone solo.

Read the back cover. I’d like to think that I read this book with a candle guttering in my mouth the whole way.

 Bird murder Stefanie Lash

I’m completely besotted. The first place I love it is the sound echo in the title, but really the first place I love it is the little embedded crime sticker. You can’t peel it off, can’t get away from it, because this is a post-colonial protest at the fate of the Huia. I have to admit to a nostalgia for the world of my great-aunt and my grandmother, who were full Victorian Gothic, so I might be a suspect judge. But my fascination really comes from the twisty linguistic inventiveness. I love how the protest is laid out in the conventions of a traditional murder mystery, but full of flavour in an amped up version of this genre. And yet, not. It’s laid out in lush and hallucinatory images, in gorgeous language. Look at this murder scene –

‘the man is grey, and a shining black concave meniscus

of blood has formed, like oil on water,

where he has dropped his whiskey glass

and the characters are absolutely skewered:

Mrs Cockatrice is rosy, lucent:

her guests, enchanted.

Mrs Teck’s lips peel off her teeth

in a real storm of delight.

Mr Cockatrice, always sheepish,

always just on the brink of a toast.

Not saying anything about the huia, that pleasure shall be left untouched for the reader. I will say, what a feat, to keep to the form so that the narrative feeds its own texture into the whole drama. I just love it.

 Tree Space Maria McMillan

I love how these poems are experiments with hushes and stops and gaps, so when I read it I get a sense of space, of joy in the richly observed world, in its breathing biology, as it were, in the stops of sadness which are a powerful reminder of what we must do to keep it.

‘The ocean is never

the same twice. You don’t know if you’ll open the door

on yellow fish flicking past, or a swarm of jellyfish little

fisted stomachs pulsing

I love how the poems sharply enact the sensations of their worlds, so the smell of the bush floor rises up in Tree Space

In the dark birds are heavier and we can hear the small valleys of

their footfalls.

It’s true that death and life smell the same here

so it gives me a slight creeping dread, but then it moves straight to ‘leap like a sugar glider’.

I love how the intricacies of scientific wonder carry such a pure joy

Joe tells me the flagella

in these new colonies

is trapped inside

so each daughter

makes a tiny hole in herself

and pushes her whole self through,

turns herself right side out

the opposite of the observations of our collective humanity –

‘ The kingdoms of life are often revised.

Humans are closer than turtles to dinosaurs.

Truth had two legs before it had four.

And I love how deceptively simple the cover is, itself anchored but floating. I happen to know Maria has knitted gloves of this cover.

Elizabeth Smither:

‘I am a poet who is a woman, not a woman poet’ Ruth Fainlight has said. I dip into her New and Collected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2010) every year for a voice that is warm and wise and tough. Last Christmas she sent me a card designed by her photographer son: stone angels in flight over a cemetery. I love to think of her wild dead brother, Harry, threatening to burn down the offices of Faber & Faber if they didn’t return the poems of his they were going to publish.

Chris Tse:

I’d like to name two books and one poetic curios that have reminded me this year of the possibilities and joy that poetry can bring. Reading them was like surveying a city from the top of a skyscraper – there’s a sense of wonderment mixed with danger as you grapple with a dizzying and unfamiliar view of the familiar. All three are daring, inventive bodies of work that reveal and give so much more with subsequent readings – the hallmark of all great poetry:

Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash (Mākaro Press, 2014)
Autobiography of a Marguerite by Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle (Hue & Cry Press, 2014)
Pen Pal by Sugar Magnolia Wilson (Cats & Spaghetti Press, 2014)

 

Reina Whaitiri:

A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children published by Random House New Zealand.
This is a beautifully produced book. Everything works really well. The illustrations are absolutely delightful and will bring pleasure to any child, young or old. The poems themselves cover such a wide range of topics and they too will delight.

Dark Sparring by Selina Tusitala Marsh and published by AUP.
There is such a wealth of wisdom and profound insight in the poems presented here.
The CD included is an extra bonus and reminds us that poetry should be heard and not
only read quietly to one’s self.

Puna Wai Korero published by AUP.
The poems in this anthology reveal some deep-seated resentments and longings as well
as heart-felt love and desire. They offer insights into the hearts and minds of Maori, some living today and some who have passed on.

Kirsti Whalen:

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood Penguin, New York
A strange, beautiful navigation of a feminist dreamscape. Hilarious and moving in equal measure.

Bullet Hole Riddle by Miriam Barr Steele Roberts
The most arresting modern poetry collection I may have ever read, tackling abuse and consent with lyrical command.

Castaly by Ian Wedde  AUP
This collection predates me but I loved the challenge of it: the longer poems casting out in exploration and the shorter acutely observed.

A History of Silence Carrie Rudzinski  Self published
Rudzinski generally performs her work, but her words sing equally vibrantly from the page. This book is much like going on a road trip with someone you love, while questioning everything.

Sue Wootton:

Here my poetry picks for 2014. Comments for these first two are taken from my fuller reviews which appear in Takahe 82 and 83.

Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle Autobiography of a Marguerite Auckland: Hue & Cry Press (2014).
This book-length poetic narrative speaks powerfully to the claustrophobic effect of chronic illness: the endless burrowing for meaning, the constant search for a sense of order, the fleeting glimpses of certainty which dissolve as soon as they’re probed. The usual orientation measures no longer apply: “Outside there is no weather…my watch has stopped.” Butcher-McGunnigle’s writing goes to the aching heart of disconnection and of longing for repair.

Janis Freegard The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider by. USA: Anomalous Press (2013).  Alice is frank and tart (actually “she’s a trollopy little tart”). She sets traps with words and makes you wriggle like heck when you get caught. Alice Works ought to be pinned above every writer’s desk. It tells what happens when Alice gets a real job. After a while Alice concludes: “Work is the sale of strength, of thought, of dexterity. Alice takes up writing. She sells her soul.”

Also: I have really enjoyed these 3 collections: Si no te hubieras ido/If only you hadn’t gone by Rogelio Guedea (with superb translations by Roger Hickin), Cold Hub Press 2014. A poetic sequence about absence, yearning, solitude and love: “I know you’re asleep while I’m writing this,/ there on the other side of the world, / that’s why I do it, just to see if we might bump into each other / in some corner of your dreams: otra vez.”

Parallel by Jillian Sullivan, Steele Roberts 2014. A collection which examines the warp, weft and weave of family, developed from the manuscript which won Sullivan the 2011 Kathleen Grattan award for a sequence of poetry: “how every kind of death we don’t desire / hangs like a mask above our stories, above our vows.”

Edwin’s Egg &other poetic novellas by Cilla McQueen, Otago University Press, 2014. What’s not to love here? This wee box, opened, spills pure delight: “The more the imagination grasps at the idea the greater the void created.”  Also: “The scones are satisfying.”