Tag Archives: Jack Ross

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Thirteen poems about home

Home is a state of mind, it’s where you lay your roots down, where you trace your roots, feed yourself, friends and family, bake your bread and make kombucha, where you stand and sleep and dream, it’s a physical place, a small house with wooden floors and comfortable couches, a garden with kūmara almost ready to harvest, shelves overflowing with books, my family tree, my family treasures, my thoughts of life and my thoughts of death, a series of relationships, myself as mother, partner, writer, home is my reluctance to drive beyond the rural letterbox, it’s contentment as I write the next blog, the next poem, sort the kitchen cupboards, light the fire, conserve the water, feel the preciousness of each day.

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

The poems

all of us

once upon a time

all of us here

were one of them there.

maybe

in another skin

in a life before.

maybe

only a few weeks ago.

land of the long white cloud,

land of no borders,

floating

adrift

near the end of the world,

near the end of the sea.

we came

and stayed

and with our accents

call

this place

home.

carina gallegos

from All of Us, Landing Press, 2018

there’s always things to come back to the kitchen for

a bowl of plain steamed rice

a piece of bitter dark chocolate

a slice of crisp peeled pear

a mother or father who understands

the kitchen is the centre of the universe

children who sail out on long elliptical orbits

and always come back, sometimes like comets, sometimes like moons

Alison Wong

from Cup, Steele Roberts, 2005, picked by Frankie McMillan

What’s the pH balance of yin + yang?

lake / river / liquid / beverage / additional charges or income / (of clothes) classifier for number of washes / hai bian / shang hai /  shui guo / zhong guo / Sway by Bic Runga / three drop radicals on my guitar / liquid cement /  tai chi at Buckland’s Beach / put your facemask on and listen to the rain on a UE speaker /

It’s not outlandish to say I was raised by the water.  Aotearoa is a land mapped in blue pen, each land mass a riverbed. Originally swampland, the water gurgles from kitchen taps and runs silent cartographies underneath cities of concrete.

I was raised by my mama, raised with the treasures of every good cross-pollinated pantry. We have rice porridge for breakfast and mee hoon kueh when I plead. My siblings and I vie for iced jewel biscuits kept out of our reach, packed tightly into red-lidded jars on the highest shelf of our pantry. We stretch torso to tiptoe to reach them, knocking the jars off their perch with our fingertips. The dried goods we ignore on the levels below are the real jewels in the cabinet. From behind the creaky door comes the festivities of Lunar Celebrations: dried mushrooms, dried shrimp, vermicelli noodles, black fungus, herbal remedies, that good luck moss you eat on New Year’s.

Chinese cooking is a testament to soaking. Benches overflow with an array of colanders, damp towels cover small white bowls of noodles, rehydrating. We wash rice in liquid choreography: Pour. Swirl. Measure by the pinky. Drain.

My mum is from Ma Lai Xi Ya, her mum’s mum from Fujian, China. I google map the curve of a bordering coast, trace a line through the wet season pavements of Kuala Lumpur and end up with fingerprints all the way to Oceania. From my house you can see the windmills of Makara, jutting out like acupuncture needles. The sea rushes the wind like nature’s boxing lessons.

We fly back to Malaysia every couple years, past the sea-lapsed boundaries of other countries. In Singapore I am offered moist towelettes on the plane. In KL, where two rivers meet by the oil of Petronas, I shower in buckets of cold water and reunite with faulty flushing.

The first ethnic Chinese came to New Zealand during the 1850’s, following flakes of fortune. They came for the gold rush, fishing for luck on the unturned beds of rivers. Wisps of fortune lay in thousand year old rocks worn down to alluvial alchemy.  Chinese last names carried through the cold water creeks. They died in sea-burials.

Tones and tombs. You made your river, now lie in it. Yǐn shuǐ sī yuán. To think of water and remember its source; to remember where one’s happiness comes from; to not forget one’s roots or heritage.

Oriental Bay is the closest beach to us in Wellington City. On weekends, we drive out for picnics, happy to migrate our schedules. The beach was named by George Dupper in the late 1840’s after the boat he arrived on. Fresh off the Bay. Oriental Parade is famous for 22,000 tonnes of imported sand. In my house we are displaced soil in torrential rain. I search ancestry on Wikipedia, then look for my own last name.

Think of water and remember its source. Where do our pipelines go? When do our bodies enter the main frame? Oriental, noun. Characteristic of Asia, particularly the East. Rugs, countries, bamboo leaves. A person of East Asian descent (offensive).  A beach with fake grains. Imported goods and exported gooseberries. The fruits of our labour, measured and drained.

I think tourists find the green unsettling. It never stops pouring.

Year of the money. Year of the pig. Year of the scapegoat, the migrants, the rats on the ship. Labour. Lei. Qi Guai. Guai Lo. I google the wind howls around a shipwreck. I google microtraumas until my eyes bleed transparent. I google:

  • why do chinese people love hot water
  • can chinese people swim
  • why are there so many chinese in auckland
  • chinese people population
  • chinese people opinion

Ink blue motions stencil sight lines into the harbour of my eyes. I rub at ink sticks until the ocean turns to soot. The rising shadows of New World Power loom from water’s depths. We float currency back to motherlands in a trickle down economy.  What’s the pH balance of yin + yang?

I was raised with the dawn promise of an unpolluted skyline, pools in cyan-printed eyes, long white dreams of the colony. My body the cycle of a washing machine, bleached into safety. I was raised in a world full of oysters, one lofty pearl held between the whiskered snout of a dragon. But you can’t feng shui the comments on Stuff articles.

Feng shui just means wind water. It’s not scary. Duān wǔ jié is the annual dragon boat festival. I throw zongzi in the river to protect Qu Yuan’s body. Remember how you moved across the world to know you had been here already? My mum says she caught sight of the harbour and it’s why she will never leave. I watch her from the doorway, her frame hunched across the sink. She belongs here. The soft light of morning streams through the window, catching glints on small rice bowls. I can hear a pot of water boiling. She soaks bones for breakfast, then asks if I’m hungry. 

Vanessa Mei Crofskey

from A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand, eds Paula Morris and Alison Wong, Auckland University Press, 2021

blue beat

Every morning he milked the cow.

It was the chime that woke me and my sister,

metal against metal,

the fall of the empty milk-bucket’s handle

as he put it down to open the gate

right beside our sleep-out.

At the end of the day, in socks,

the cold, clear smell of fresh air

still on him, was his way

of arriving back;

the glass of water he gulped,

the hanky dragged from his pocket,

how he leaned back with a grunt

against the nearest doorpost

to rub and scratch the itch,

or ache, between his shoulders. Once,

seeing me poring over a map of the world

trying to find Luxemburg,

he teased, saying something

about how I couldn’t wait to leave.

None of us knowing then

that he would be the first to go,

leaving us

long before we could ever leave him.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

from Born to a Red-Headed Woman, published by Otago University Press, 2014

We used some

concrete blocks

the hollow kind

that let the grass

grow through

to make a carport

then took a few

out back to

plant a herb garden

parsley    thyme

used to step out

mid-dish to snip off

fronds till

it all went to seed

now my mother’s not

been out the

back door in

more than a year

they’ve grown into

massive aberrant

plants to match

the trampolines

around the flats

on either side

Jack Ross

Bliss

If I were to describe this moment

I may write

bliss

If bliss meant quiet, companionship

you in the garden, me hanging washing

the fresh scent of rain on the air

the murmur of voices inside

You and me

not far away

bliss

Rose Peoples

Reasons you should retire to the

small town the poet grew up in

Because you have a Grahame Sydney book on your coffee table.
Because you are public figure
        reinventing yourself as a public figure –
        in Central Otago.
Because you can buy advertising space cheap
        and write a column about
        local issues.
Because you know how moorpark apricots
        ripen from the inside
        and look deceptively green.
Because it’s a gold rush
        a boomer boom town.
Because you are a big fan of Muldoon
        flooding the gorge
        for the generation of electricity –
        when the river rose
        it formed little islands
        possums, skinks and insects
        clung to power poles
        to escape drowning.
Because you fell in love when you were sixteen
        with the dusty curtains
        in the high school hall –
        immense as the horizon
        holding the town in.

Ella Borrie

from Stasis 2020, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connnor

In my mother’s house

Everything is always evening:

curios in candlelight, blowpipes,

riding crops, cabinets of Caligari.

Children used to giggle in the rhododendrons;

dragons wander up to the door.

There were nightingales.

The ghosts hunch, passing the port,

rehash old scandals, broken trysts,

all those garden parties long ago.

Harry Ricketts

from Just Then, Victoria University Press, 2012

Hunting my father’s voice, County Down

It begins with the medieval

throat clearing of crows

high over Scrabo tower. You

were the boy your mother

forgot to drown and still

you holler for help

So here’s a bloody conundrum

shot to blazes and back

and your brother Jimmy

in a slow swim to save you

Dad, the land is full of boulders

an apron of stones

to feed a nanny goat

chalk a plenty to soften your voice

All those stories, enough

to hang a man, come Easter

All that dreaming

the time it took

to dig breath for the fire

the knot and bog

of the back parlour where Jimmy

washed roosters

and sister Maureen, her hair

lovely enough to stop your throat

Frankie McMillan

appeared on a Phantom Poetry Billsticker 2015

SH5

From Bluff Hill we can see the ships come in. Past the buoys stitched crooked like Orion’s belt. My school is art deco seashell and lavender climb. Girls press their hands to the frames and breathe on the glass. There’s this one boy who got peach fuzz before the rest of them. His voice cracks seismic and we all swarm. I practice my California accent down the landline and my mother laughs behind the door. We pass him around like chapstick. Hickies like blossoms on his neck, like rose-purple flags planted behind pine trees and beach grass. There are socials. Socials with glow sticks and apple juice in cardboard cartons. We all look at him. We look at him, through him, to see each other. A postcard is no place to be a teenager. The sea air is too thick. Rusts my bicycle in the garage. Rusts the door hinges. Stings in the back of my eyes.

Our town’s like honey. You get knee deep. Arataki. Manuka. Clover. Sweet. Council flat, Sky TV, pyramid scheme, boxed wine, sun-freckled early twenties. Ultra-scan, veganism, Mum’s club with the girls who went to your kindy. His sisters, their perfume vanilla and daisies, their babies fat and milky. We could have built a vege garden. I could have kept a shotgun under the mattress.

Most of us. Most of us leave. We carve the initials of our high school sweethearts into lumps of driftwood and throw them out to sea. To big cities where no one knows us, where the cops drive with their windows up and their sleeves rolled down. We learn to sleep through the traffic. We keep on leaving till we find a way to go. We leave so one day we can maybe come back.

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

from Starling 6

The Shed

It was a shed before it was home to Tongan relatives. The inside smelled like Dad’s work gloves, musk and dirt. Dust caught in cobwebs draped over muddy tools. Overgrown insects nested between the spades and hoes. Wonky stacks of building stuff lay against the walls,window frames, doors, planks with flaking paint and nails poking out. Dad would be busy in the humming dark behind the shed, shovelling smelly things in the compost.

He’d reach the bottom of the pit in one spadeful, burying green- oaty food waste and feathering rich crumbly compost over the top with delicate shakes. I liked the slicing sound of the spade when he dug deep. The mouldy compost frame kept everything together for so many years. To Dad’s left there was the chicken coop, with a motley crew of chickens and a duck. He’d built a pirate-rigging treehouse in the trees above. To his right the long brown garden where everything he planted thrived, giant broccoli and gleaming silverbeet. Runner beans grew up a chicken-wire frame separating the veggie plot from the pet cemetery at the back where flowers grew amongst wooden crosses with cats’ names scrawled on them.

There was a flurry of bush between us and neighbours. One bush grew glowing green seed-capsules we wore as earrings, there was a sticky bamboo hedge and the rotten log sat solidly in a gap. The bush was thick enough for birds to nest in, dark patches in the twigs that cried in spring. Sometimes we’d hear strangled shrieks and sprint to retrieve dying bodies from cats’ mouths; saving lives for a few moments. Dad said we’re allowed to pick flowers to put on graves but otherwise it’s a waste.

Simone Kaho

from Lucky Punch, Anahera Press, 2016

Home is on the tip of your tongue when

you lose your tongue

watch your tongue         

  wag your tongue

hold your γλώσσα

  cat got your tongue

sharpen your tongue      

  bite your γλώσσα

bend your tongue                      

  keep a civil tongue                   

slip some tongue

  speak in γλώσσες

  roll your tongue                        

give great γλώσσα

  loosen your tongue

find your tongue                        

   find your γλώσσα

Βρες your γλώσσα

 Βρες τη γλώσσα

Βρες τη γλώσσα σου

Vana Manasiadis

And Are You Still Writing?

All day in the spaces in between

soothing, feeding, changing the baby,

fielding work, balancing accounts, juggling memos,

tidying away the wandering objects

left in tidemarks in every room –

spill cloths, rattles, stretch ’n’ grows,

a stray spool of purple cotton,

coffee cups, litters of shoes – 

a poem waited,

small, tight-skinned, self-contained:

a package left on the doorstep of an empty house.

It was to be a poem

about the spaces in between.

From it would grow

menageries and oases:

wilds and silence.

But, as so often, dusk came.

The pen cast its image on the page.

The shadow lengthened, deepened

and thickened, like sleep.

Emma Neale

from Spark, Steele Roberts, 2008

The poets

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition, and the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers.  Her work has appeared in Starling, Mayhem, Brief, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Turbine, Flash Frontier, Mimicry, Min-a-rets, Sweet Mammalian, Sport and Verge. She is Poetry New Zealand‘s 2021 Featured Poet. She writes thanks to the support of some of the best people on this great watery rock.

Ella Borrie is a Te Whanganui-a-Tara based poet from Otago. She co-edited Antics 2015 and her work appears in Mimicry, Starling and Turbine | Kapohau. The title of this poem is inspired by Louise Wallace’s poem ‘How to leave the small town you were born in’.

Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection was published by The Cuba Press in June 2020 and is titled Upturned. She lives and writes in Ootepoti / Dunedin.

Vanessa Crofskey is an artist and writer currently based in Pōneke Wellington. She was a staff writer for online arts and culture journal The Pantograph Punch and has a collection of poems out in AUP New Poets Volume 6. 

carina gallegos, originally from Costa Rica, has worked in journalism and development studies, and with refugee communities since 2011. She published poems in All of Us (Landing Press, 2018) with Adrienne Jansen. She lives in Wellington with her family and refers to New Zealand as ‘home’.

Simone Kaho is a digital strategist, author, performance poet and director. Her debut poetry collection Lucky Punch was published in 2016. She has a master’s degree in poetry from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML). She’s the Director of the E-Tangata web series ‘Conversations’ and a journalist for Tagata Pasifika. In 2021 Simone was awarded the Emerging Pasifika Writer residency at the IIML.

Vana Manasiadis is Greek-New Zealand poet and translator born in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and based in Tāmaki Makaurau after many years living in Kirihi Greece.  She is 2021 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at Te Whare Wanaga o Waitaha Canterbury University. Her most recent book was The Grief Almanac: A Sequel.

Frankie McMillan is a poet and short story writer who spends her time between Ōtautahi/ Christchurch and Golden Bay. Her poetry collection, There are no horses in heaven  was published by Canterbury University Press.  Recent work appears in Best Microfictions 2021 (Pelekinesis) Best Small Fictions 2021 ( Sonder Press), the New Zealand Year Book of Poetry ( Massey University) New World Writing and Atticus Review.

Emma Neale is a writer and editor. Her most recent collection is To the Occupant. In 2020 she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for a Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.

Harry Ricketts teaches English Literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. His latest collection Selected Poems was published by Victoria University Press, 2021.

Jack Ross‘s most recent poetry collection, The Oceanic Feeling, was published by Salt & Greyboy Press in early 2021. He blogs on  the imaginary museum, here[http://mairangibay.blogspot.com/].

Alison Wong is the coeditor of A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (AUP, 2021), the first anthology of creative writing by Asian New Zealanders. Alison’s novel, As the Earth Turns Silver (Penguin/Picador, 2009) won the NZ Post Book Award for fiction and her poetry collection Cup (Steele Roberts, 2006) was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry. She was a poetry judge at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

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

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Jack Ross reads from The Oceanic Feeling

Jack Ross reads four poems from The Oceanic Feeling, Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021

Jack Ross works as a senior lecturer in creative writing at Massey University. He is the author of five poetry collections and eight works of fiction, most recently Ghost Stories (Lasavia Publishing, 2019) and The Oceanic Feeling (Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021). He blogs here

Notes to The Oceanic Feeling

Jack reads and comments on ‘1942’

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books with readings: Ten poets read from Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, ed Tracey Slaughter, Massey University Press

Poetry New Zealand is our longest running poetry magazine – it features essays and reviews, along with substantial room for poems. Tracey Slaughter has taken over the editorial role with the 2021 issue, a wide-ranging treat. A poet and fiction writer, she teaches creative writing at the University of Waikato. Her new collection of short stories, Devil’s Trumpet, has just been released by Victoria University Press.

Winners of the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Prize and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook Student Poetry Competition are included. Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor is the featured poet. To celebrate the arrival of the new issue – with 182 poems by 129 poets – I invited a few to read.

Cadence Chung reads ‘Hey Girls’ (First Prize, Year 12, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook Student Poetry Competition)

Brecon Dobbie reads ‘Diaspora Overboard’

Nida Fiazi reads ‘the other side of the chain-link fence’

Lily Holloway reads ‘The road to the hill is closed’

Michele Leggott reads ‘Dark Emily’

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connnor reads ‘Cat’ and ‘If the heart is meat made electric’

Kiri Piahana-Wong reads ‘Before’

essa may ranapiri reads ‘Hineraukatauri & Her Lover’ (for Ruby Solly)

Jack Ross reads ‘Terrorist or Theorist’. Listen here

Michael Steven reads ‘The Gold Plains’

Cadence Chung is a student at Wellington High School. She first started writing poetry during a particularly boring maths lesson when she was nine. Outside of poetry, she enjoys singing, reading old books, and perusing antique stores.

Brecon Dobbie recently graduated from the University of Auckland with a BA in English and Psychology. She is currently writing as much as possible and trying to navigate her place in the world. Some of her work has appeared in Minarets JournalHowling Press and Love in the time of COVID Chronicle

Nida Fiazi is a poet and an editor at The Sapling NZ. She is an Afghan Muslim, a former refugee, and an advocate for better representation in literature, particularly for children. Her work has appeared in Issue 6 ofMayhem Literary Journal and in the anthology Ko Aotearoa Tātou | We Are New Zealand.”

Lily Holloway (born in 1998, she/they) is a forever-queer English postgraduate student. Her creative writing has been published in StarlingScumThe Pantograph Punch, Landfall and other various nooks and crannies (see a full list at lilyholloway.co.nz/cv).  She is an executive editor of Interesting Journal and has a chapbook forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8. Lily is based in Tāmaki Makaurau, is a hopeless romantic and probably wants to be your penpal!

Michele Leggott was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007-09 and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. Recent collections include  Vanishing Points (2017) and Mezzaluna: Selected Poems (2020). Michele coordinates the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) with colleagues at the University of Auckland. In 2017 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor writes thanks to the support of some of the best people on this big watery rock.

Kiri Piahana-Wong (Ngāti Ranginui) is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. Her poems have appeared in over forty journals and anthologies, most recently in tātai whetū: seven Māori women poets in translation,Solid Air: Australian and New Zealand Spoken Word and Set Me on Fire(Doubleday, UK). Her first poetry collection, Night Swimming, was released in 2013; a second book, Give Me An Ordinary Day (formerly Tidelines), is due out soon. Kiri lives in Auckland with her family. 

essa may ranapiri / tainui / tararua / ootaki / maungatautari / waikato / guinnich / cuan a tuath / highgate / thames / takataapui / dirt / dust / whenua / there is water moving through bones / there are birds nesting in the cavities

Jack Ross works as a senior lecturer in creative writing at Massey University. To date he’s published three novels, three novellas, three short story collections, and six poetry collections, most recently The Oceanic Feeling (Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021). He was the managing editor of Poetry New Zealand Yearbook from 2014-2019, and has edited numerous other books, anthologies, and literary journals. He blogs here

Michael Steven was born in 1977. He is an Auckland poet.

Poetry Shelf poets on their own poems: Jack Ross reads and comments on ‘1942’

 

 

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You can watch Jack’s video here

 

 

 

1942:  Some Notes on the Poem

 

A few years ago I was invited to attend a poetry festival at the University of Canberra. While I was there, one of the organisers asked me to contribute to a project where poets wrote new pieces about the local landscape for a textile artist to interpret.

I have to say that I felt a bit of a fraud in agreeing to participate. What do I know about the Canberra landscape? I’m from New Zealand, not Australia, and this was my very first visit to Australian Capital Territory.

However, my mother was born in Sydney, and I have made a lot of trips across the Tasman at one time or another, so I said I would see if anything came to mind before their deadline. Sometimes I think my wife is right to label me a ‘publication whore’ – any new project that comes up I tend to agree to. I love exhibition catalogues, and poetry posters, and chapbooks, and all that species of arty ephemera.

What I ended up writing was a four-part poem about various family associations with Canberra and Australia in general. My uncle graduated from Duntroon, the Military College there, back in the late 1940s. I have a number of friends who studied at Australian National University. The first poem in the sequence, though, and the only one I really feel fond of now, is this one based on a photograph of my mother as a schoolgirl, pictured feeding a wallaby.

I put into it a lot of what I’d heard from her about her childhood during the Second World War – the sense of imminent doom caused by austerity, the Japanese mini-subs in Sydney Habour, the bombing of Darwin. It’s for this reason that I called it ‘1942’, even though it’s difficult to say precisely what year it was taken: more likely a couple of years before that.

My mother suffers from dementia, and every piece of memory salvaged from her rich life experience seems particularly important to us as a result. This photo, in particular, we only found after my father’s death, as he’d replaced all the pictures in her album with shots of his own collection of militaria. It’s one of the very few images we have of her as a child.

But the picture itself! It was so odd, so obviously staged – as she described it to us, her father was barking orders at her all the time she was holding out her hand to fake the ‘feeding’ episode.  It speaks to me of lost time, a depth of emotion one can seldom attain in the everyday.

The textile artist I mentioned above, Dianne Firth, did a wonderful job of interpreting all four of the parts of my poem in her exhibition, Poetry and Place (Canberra: Belconnen Art Centre, 25 August – 17 September 2017), but this is the only part of it that I still feel a genuine affection for.

My wife, Bronwyn Lloyd, must have thought so, too, since she made it into a hinged poster work – the poem reproduced opposite the picture –for Christmas 2016. We used this one-off poster again for the celebration of my mother’s 90th birthday a couple of months ago.

“You really did me proud,” she said. She’s a hard-bitten Aussie still at heart. I’ve seldom seen her so moved.

 

– Jack Ross, Mairangi Bay, 2 August 2020

 

Jack Ross works as a senior lecturer in creative writing at Massey University. He is the author of five poetry collections and eight works of fiction, most recently Ghost Stories (Lasavia Publishing, 2019). He blogs here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Jack Ross launches Tracey Slaughter’s poetry collection

 

 

 

57343548_2313894715553840_463463456985579520_n.jpg

Tracey Slaughter, Conventional Weapons, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

You can read Jack’s launch speech with bonus images here, but here’s a taste:

 

‘So while it is technically true that this is Tracey’s first stand-alone poetry collection, it’s very misleading to see her as any kind of newcomer to the game. She’s been publishing poetry for more than two decades now, and it’s high time that we started to see her, like Raymond Carver, as someone equally adept at poetry and the short story.

But what kind of a poet is she? Words like ‘bodily,’ ‘visceral’, ‘grimy and dirty’ have frequently been used to characterise her work, and particularly these poems. There is a lot of sex in them. There’s also lot of desperation, pain, and sheer horror of the void. As Hera Lindsay Bird remarked on the dust jacket of another recent VUP book, Therese Lloyd’s The Facts, ‘it won’t make you feel better.’

But all that implies a kind of shock value: a quest for extremity for its own sake. But you have to read deeper and better than that if you want to begin to understand some of the many things Tracey is trying to do in these poems.

As always, she’s extremely, wonderfully literary. Mike Mathers’ Stuff article about this book states that: “If the collection had an overarching theme, it would be one of giving voice to a group of strong female characters of different ages.”’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jack Ross’s ‘What do you want?’

 

 

What do you want?

 

 

said the librarian

in Friendly Feilding

to come in from the cold

was my reply

 

we’re closing an hour early

for a function

the function I’d driven down for

I walked away

 

he’s crying

but he doesn’t know

why he’s crying

said my sister

 

to the primer one teacher

who wanted to know why

I guess I do too

I guess I do

 

I was small and afraid

of a brand-new place

so many people

but what remains

 

is kindness

my sister

trying to help

unavailingly

 

Jack Ross

 

 

Jack Ross’s novel The Annotated Tree Worship was highly commended in the 2018 NZ Heritage Book Awards. He has written five poetry collections and six other volumes of fiction. He works at Massey University, and is the managing editor of Poetry New Zealand. His blogs here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Poem: Jack Ross’s ‘My Uncle Tommy’

 

 

My Uncle Tommy

 

 

‘In the end they had to put him

in a home 

 

Tommy had grown too heavy

for Dad to carry 

 

Dad worried about it

till he went to visit

 

tried to hug him

Tommy didn’t know him

 

was not aware

of where they were

 

it was my mother

I was sorry for

 

she thought she was to blame

for having him

 

my brother shared a room

with him

 

all night he’d rock

inside his cot

 

one winter he got sick

and never spoke

 

again

no-one

 

could visit us

because

 

of Tommy’

 

©Jack Ross 2018

 

 

Jack Ross is the managing editor of Poetry New Zealand, and works as a senior lecturer in creative writing at Massey University. His latest book, The Annotated Tree Worship, was published by Paper Table Novellas in 2017. He blogs here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018

 

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What I want from a poetry journal

More and more I witness clusters of poetry communities in New Zealand – families almost – that might be linked by geography, personal connections, associations with specific institutions or publishers. How often do we read reviews of, or poems by, people with whom we don’t share these links? Poetry families aren’t a bad thing, just the opposite, but I wonder whether the conversations that circulate across borders might grow less and less.

I want a poetry journal to offer diversity, whichever way you look, and we have been guilty of all manner of biases. This is slowly changing.

When I pick up a journal I am on alert for the poet that makes me hungry for more, that I want a whole book from.

I am also happy by a surprising little diversion, a poem that holds me for that extra reading. Ah, this is what a poem can do!

 

Editor Jack Ross has achieved degrees of diversity within the 2018 issue and I also see a poetry family evolving. How many of these poets have appeared in Landfall or Sport, for example? A number of the poets have a history of publication but few with the university presses.

This feels like a good thing. We need organic communities that are embracing different voices and resisting poetry hierarchies.

Poetry NZ Yearbook Annual offers a generous serving of poems (poets in alphabetical order so you get random juxtapositions), reviews and a featured poet (this time Alistair Paterson). It has stuck to this formula for decades and it works.

What I enjoyed about the latest issue is the list of poets I began to assemble that I want a book from. Some I have never heard of and some are old favourites.

 

Some poets I am keen to see a book from:

 

Our rented flat in Parnell

Those rooms of high ceilings and sash windows

Our second city

after Sydney

Robert Creeley trying to chat you up

at a Russell Haley party

when our marriage

was sweet

 

from Bob Orr’s ‘A Woman in Red Slacks’

 

Bob Orr’s heartbreak poem, with flair and economy, reminds me that we need a new book please.

There is ‘Distant Ophir’, a standout poem from David Eggleton that evokes time and place with characteristic detail. Yet the sumptuous rendering is slightly uncanny, ghostly almost, as past and present coincide in the imagined and the seen.  Gosh I love this poem.

The hard-edged portrait Johanna Emeney paints in ‘Favoured Exception’ demands a spot in book of its own.

I haven’t read anything by Fardowsa Mohamed but I want more. She is studying medicine at Otago and has written poetry since she was a child. Her poem’ Us’, dedicated to her sisters, catches the dislocation of moving to where trees are strange, : ‘This ground does not taste/ of the iron you once knew.’

Mark Young’s exquisite short poem, ‘Wittgenstein to Heidegger’, is a surprising loop between difficulty and easy. Again I hungered for another poem.

Alastair Clarke, another poet unfamiliar to me, shows the way poetry can catch the brightness of place (and travel) in ‘Wairarapa, Distance’. Landscape is never redundant in poetry –  like so many things that flit in and out of poem fashion. I would read a whole book of this.

Another unknown: Harold Coutt’s ‘there isn’t a manual on when you’re writing someone a love poem and they break up with you’ is as much about writing as it is breaking up and I love it. Yes, I want more!

Two poets that caught my attention at The Starling reading at the Wellington Writers Festival are here: Emma Shi and Essa Ranapiri. Their poems are as good on the page as they are in the ear. I have posted a poem from Essa on the blog.

I loved the audacity of Paula Harris filling in the gaps after seeing a photo of Michael Harlow in ‘The poet is bearded and wearing his watch around the wrong way’. Light footed, witty writing with sharp detail. More please!

I am a big fan of Jennifer Compton’s poetry and her ‘a rose, and then another’ is inventive, sound-exuberant play. I can’t wait for the next book.

I am also a fan of the linguistic agility of Lisa Samuels; ‘Let me be clear’ takes sheer delight in electric connections between words.

Finally, and on a sad note, there is Jill Chan’s poem, ‘Poetry’. I wrote about her on this blog to mark her untimely death. It is the perfect way to conclude this review. Poetry is everywhere – it is in all our poetry families.

 

Most poetry is unwritten,

denied and supposed.

Don’t go to write it.

Go where you’ve never been.

Go.

And it may come.

Behind you,

love rests.

And where is poetry?

What is it you seek?

 

Jill Chan, from ‘Poetry’

 

 

Poetry NZ Yearbook page

 

Michele Leggott’s glorious new poetry collection: a launch speech and some poems

 

 

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2017 seems to be the year of enviable launch speeches. Gregory O’Brien did a cracking job launching James Brown’s new book; Greg had taken the poems up to Palmerston North to read before writing his speech.

Jack Ross has launched Michele Leggott’s Vanishing Points (Auckland University Press) with similar incandescent word flare. I have read the book twice so far and he is right on point: this is one special poetry collection.

 

The Speech

Well, needless to say, I felt very flattered when Michele Leggott asked me to launch her latest book of poems, Vanishing Points. Flattered and somewhat terrified. It’s true that I’ve been reading and collecting her work for well over 20 years, and I’ve been teaching it at Massey University for almost a decade now, but I still felt quite a weight of responsibility pressing down on my shoulders!

One thing that Michele’s poetry is not, is simple. It’s hard to take anything in it precisely at face value: what seems like (and is) a beautiful lyrical phrase may be a borrowing from an unsung local poet – a tangle of Latin names can be a reference to an obsolete star-chart with pinpricks for the various constellations.

The first time I reviewed one of her books, as far as I can see, in 1999, I ended by saying “the reading has only begun.” At the time, I suspect I was just looking for a good line to finish on, but there was a truth there I didn’t yet suspect. Certainly, I’ve been reading in that book, and all her others, ever since.

But how should we read this particular book? “Read! Just keep reading. Understanding comes of itself,” was the answer German poet Paul Celan gave to critics who called his work obscure or difficult. With that in mind, I’ve chosen two touchstones from the volume I’m sure you’re all holding in your hands, or (if not) are planning to purchase presently.

The first is a phrase from the American poet Emily Dickinson, referred to in the notes at the back of the book: “If ever you need to say something … tell it slant.” [123] The second is a quote from the great, blind Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges: “I made a decision. I said to myself: since I have lost the beloved world of appearances, I must create something else.” [35]

With these two phrases in mind, I’d like you to look at the cover of Michele’s book. It’s a painting of the just-landed Imperial troops, camped near New Plymouth in August 1860. The wonderful thing about it is the way the light of the campfires shines through the painting: little holes cut in the canvas designed to give the illusion of life and movement.

“War feels to me an oblique place,” wrote the reclusive New England poet Emily Dickinson to Thomas Wentworth Higginson in February 1863, at one of the darkest points of the American Civil War. Higginson, a militant Abolitionist, was the Colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first officially authorized black regiment in American history. He was, in short, a very important and admirable man in his own right. Perhaps it’s unfair of posterity to have largely forgotten him except as the recipient of these letters from one of America’s greatest poets.

New Zealand’s Land Wars of the 1860s may have been on a much smaller scale, but they were just as terrifying and devastating for the people of Taranaki – both Māori and Pakeha – in the early 1860s. In her sequence “The Fascicles,” Michele transforms a real distant relative into a poet in the Dickinson tradition. Just as Emily Dickinson left nearly 1800 poems behind her when she died in 1886, many collected in tidy sewn-up booklets or fascicles, so Dorcas (or Dorrie) Carrell “in Lyttelton, daughter of a soldier, wife of a gardener” [75] provides a pretext for “imagining a nineteenth-century woman writing on the outskirts of empire as bitter racial conflict erupts around her.” [123]

There’s an amazing corollary to this attempt to “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” (in Dickinson’s words). Having repurposed one of her family as a war poet, Michele was fortunate enough to discover the traces of a real poet, Emily Harris, the daughter of the Edwin Harris who painted the picture of Taranaki at war on the wall over there, whose collected works so far consist of copious letters and diaries, but also two very interesting poems. “Emily and her Sisters,” the seventh of the sequences collected here, tells certain aspects of that story.

It’s nothing but the strictest truth to say, then (as Michele does at the back of the book), that one should:

walk away from the painting when it is lit up and see how light falls into the world on this side of the picture surface. Is this what the artist meant by his cut-outs? Is this the meaning of every magic lantern slide? [124]

I despair of doing justice to the richness of this new collection of Michele’s – to my mind, her most daring and ambitious work since the NZ Book Award-winning DIA in 1994. There are eight sequences here, with a strong collective focus on the life and love-giving activities which go on alongside what Shakespeare calls in Othello “the big wars”: children, family, eating, painting, swimming. One of my favourites among them is the final sequence, “Figures in the Distance,” which offers a series of insights into the world of Michele’s guide-dog Olive – take a bow, Olive – amongst other family members, many of whom, I’m glad to see, have been able to come along here tonight.

This is a radiant, complex, yet very approachable book. It is, in its own way, I’m quite convinced, a masterpiece. We have a great poet among us. You’d be quite crazy to leave here tonight without a copy of Vanishing Points.

Jack Ross

 

[Jack and Michele then had a discussion on how the book came into being. I am going to do an interview with Michele so Poetry Shelf readers can also get different entry points into the collection.]

 

 

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The poems:

 

from ‘Figures in the Distance’

 

18

In he comes, bouncing and sweaty, to borrow a towel and go swimming at Duders. Voice out front, key in the lock, just passing through. A voice on the phone from an airport far away, saying early morning is the time to go and see the ruins outside the city when there’s no one else around. One heading for the beach each morning with a thermos of coffee and that same ragged towel. Breakfast. The other drinking something from a coconut on a beach in Mexico. One in this city, one in that city, two brothers crossing the sea. Camper vans gather down at the bay. Two people sit with their feet in the waves, looking out to sea and drinking wine from glasses they fill from the bottle hung off the side of their aluminium deckchairs. The house at the corner has been flying a tricolore since the Paris attacks. The house next to it is flying a flag that says Happy New Year. Here’s a man walking up the street dripping wet and asking if he can stick his nose into the buzzing magnolia flowers at the gate.

 

29

I saw the Maori Jesus walking on Wellington Harbour but his pool in the shadow of the museum was drained for repairs and the words were no longer lapped in fishscale light. I saw John Baxter in the pool ecstatic in arcs of water he was splashing over his father’s words on the day the writers’ walk opened. I heard the mihi that was sending Wellington Harbour over the father’s words. I heard the camera catch water light and send it to the eyes of beholders who were a great crowd on the waterfront that day. We took the train as far as Woburn, crossed the platform and came back along the side of the harbour. We took the ferry to Day’s Bay and back riding on the top deck and talking about other excursions. We had a dance at the mardi gras and kept walking along the waterfront to Roseneath. When we turned back there was the young woman walking towards us with bags full of produce from the market. Look, holes, she said.

 

30

We know what the dog of tears will do next, he who has been trailing the woman standing on the balcony looking up at the sky. She is the woman who wept, he is the dog who licked away her tears. They have gone on like this for some time, the only woman who can see and the dog who is now more human than he wants to be. His nails scratch the wooden floor. His belly is as empty as everyone else’s but he does not mind. He is walking towards the woman on the balcony. When he reaches her she will bring her eyes down to look at the ruined city and become blind. Everyone else will have their eyes back. She will have the dog of tears. The dog will bark holes in the last page of the book and lead her through one of them. There they are, the dog of tears and the woman who wept. His nails click on the rough stones. She who can no longer see begins to tell a story. They pass the street of crocodiles, the pool of tears, the hill of forty days and the hill of forty nights. They pass the little seahorse in its salty pool. They pass a white rose, a black swan, a blue biddy. The dog kills another hen and they roast it over a small fire. They can hear the sea, its fronding on smooth sand, its talking against rocks, its clapotis bouncing off stone walls. What might we not do with the hot bones dripping fat, she says. Two birds rise into the air on wings the colour of ash. Did you hear that she asks the dog licking away the salt on her cheeks.

 

32

The boy in his green turban the girl in her purple tunic dancing around each other under the old clock on the waterfront. Voices float in the morning air. One says, I had always imagined Paradise as a kind of library. The other replies, It is a bowl that one fills and fills.

 

©Michele Leggott, Vanishing Points Auckland University Press 2017

 

Auckland University Press page

Jack Ross’s blog The Imaginary Museum – his extended launch coverage