the land. the contested land, the stolen land, the cherished land. the land with its regenerating bush. with a view out to the tail end of the Waitākere ranges. the feel the look the idea. the beauty. the unwavering beauty that holds you as you totter. as you stand. the kūmura to be harvested. the lettuces and herbs. the land as essential pulse in your veins. the sublime land. the broken land. the wounded land. the beloved land. we cycle the length and walk the breadth. we climb the heights and we join hands to protect. we will never stop singing the land. in poetry
Our tūpuna remain
Nothing like a lone-standing nīkau
in the middle of some paddock
owned by some Pākehā
to make you feel mamae
Surrounded by maunga
who serve to remind you
once that whole paddock
had that same sense of tapu
It’s a bit like that urupā
in the middle of that reserve
which used to be a papakāinga
till some Pākehā had it burned
consider yourselves warned:
It’ll take more than
a change of name
a chopping down of trees
a burning down of whare
to make us forget
our tūpuna remain
from Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English, Auckland University Press, 2014
the only land I am
is that between my toes
but anne read
that hone said
the only land I have
is that between my toes
then michele said
hone had said
which is why
chris had written
it’s the difference between
then ken said
ron mason said
Selina Tusitala Marsh
from Fast Talkin PI, Auckland University Press, 2009
we never knew
it was never
around the fires
itself at night
of the soldiers
to haul us up
by the roots
from our land
though the prophets
called peace peace
it was never
taught at school
it was all hushed up
how we listened
to the prophets
Tohu, Te Whiti
who called peace ‘Rire rire
but the only
peace the soldiers
of their guns
our women children
it was never
taught or spoken
led away to the caves
for ploughing our land
from A Canoe in Midstream: Poems new and old, Canterbury University Press, 2009 (2019)
The road climbs up abruptly, here
beneath the cliff the water dark blue glass.
A peacock dives into the grass –
oh where oh where oh where oh where oh where?
Wet tang of sheep shit, mass of trees
releasing plant-scents in the angled sun,
those smells of summers been and gone,
bruised sap, ripe humus, rising to the nose.
The road bends with the deep-cut stream,
leaves fuzz the chasm to its brim,
and the stream slinks down towards the river
like a lover you’ll never get over.
All over, loose exotic scrub:
gum, willow, wattle, elder, poplar, broom
stitching the hillside like a seam
across the rends of
slip-soil dull and drab.
A man in white bends to his hives
below a face of mānuka sprayed dead.
Sheep crawl amongst the sticks to feed
on threads of green, wherever greenness lives.
Across the road, like greying bones
lie slash-piles of cut-over pines.
And the naked peaks
roll on forever
like a lover you’ll never get over.
A falcon calls above the rise:
Kek kek kek kek kek kek kek kek kek kek.
Far over farmland lies a break
of ocean, and the pale of western skies.
The white volcano points out north,
seeming steadfast, despite its restless sleep.
The road skirts, in a gravel loop
a drop so steep it catches in the breath.
The roadside bluffs divulge their shells,
reveal the ocean held these hills.
And water is as much a mover
as soil in softness is a giver.
And what can the land do but take cover?
Like a lover you’ll never get over.
from Flow: Whanganui River Poems, Victoria University Press, 2017
Measure my wild. Down to my last leaf,
my furled, my desiccated. This deciduousness,
this bloom. Calculate my xylem levels.
My spore count, fungal, scarlet
in a bluebell glade. Whoosh,
where the foliage closes on a great cat.
Test me: how many tigers in my jungle,
how many lions at roam? Map my rivers,
deltas, estuaries. Mollusc, whelk, worm.
Monitor my silt. Do I have spoonbills,
high-stepping and watchful over the darting fish?
Rainfall on pines. Dappled sunlight
in my dells. Under moss, the fallen log, under
the log the hibernating hedgehog. Late my dates,
or soon? Return of the albatross, godwits
gathering. What clouds me, shifts,
but: indigo thunder-stack, pink wisp. Count the mice.
What will survive me, O my cockroaches, O my lice?
Scaffold me with metal, cage me in glass, tube me,
needle me, fill me, flush me. Saline solution:
the ocean. Oxygen therapy: the sky.
Mineral deficiency: socks off. Soil. Dark
rot, eye-less wriggle, while the roots seek, seek.
Un-diagnosable, that ticklish insect.
Mountain peak speak only snow, and thus
I am diminished; thus I rest in my pulse. Sweet
heart. Monitor my yearn, and treat it with trees.
Un-pane me. Wilden my outlook.
Membrane animal, skin mammal under the osmosis moon.
Allow my tides. All this to say, in love we nest, and on Earth.
from The Yield, University of Otago Press, 2017
The sun rising behind me
The sea roaring at my feet
On the lip of the precipice
Everyone hunched in quiet
boxes, houses scattered to
the hills, precariously leaning
towards the sea, here we are
surrounded, ready to surrender
the day to the surf, dissolving
other imperatives into the
dust, into the black iron-laced
sand, tracing the time
against the rising breeze,
the tide ticking in, the river
in flood, swollen by rain
And still time passes
it washes away my footprints
Every day I make new marks
imprints on the beach
lines on the page
I walk and I string words in long lines in my head
I write and I skip words across the page like stones
I let them sink
I watch them slowly spiral down
through my mind
Down and down, until they reach the ocean
Deeper, into the abyss of collective dreaming
Until they are no longer my words
Just a passing thought you were having
Early one morning,
in your bed,
in your house,
waiting for the tide to come in.
from Night Swimming, Anahera Press, 2013
My Carbon Gaze
Because there were hills to the east and hills to the west, there was a good chance that when you looked at something it would be a hill. Perhaps it would be a hill with a family member or a friend in the foreground. A family member or a friend might be called a loved one for short.
With the hills and the loved ones far apart, your eyes would end up making so many trips back and forth that their orbit solidified into a sort of object. It was a wire model of an atom like they had in the museum. Or perhaps a model of the solar system. In any case, a round thing involving energy and with the potential to explode, but that would be in exceptional circumstances, probably never.
I still have it in my natural history section, although sometimes I wish I didn’t. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a natural history section. I wish I hadn’t looked up at those hills so often – willy-nilly – between 1960 and 1985, and looked back down at the loved ones, because now I am left with this wire model and it will never go away. In fact it will, because it is organic, but only after a very long time. Perhaps even after I am dead.
Most summers there was a fire on one of the hills, the east or the west, the sun-coming-up hill or the sun-going-down hill. It would seem like the hill was burning, but it was only the gorse. Not so serious. But serious enough to prompt a teacher to set a Poem for homework.
On the way home you could hear the black crackling and it seemed to have a personality, and not a very nice one.
My mother wrote the poem quickly as she peeled the potatoes – in fact she only said it. I wrote it in my McCahon handwriting but much more neatly. Of English descent it crowds the hills, / Originally meant for hedges and sills. / A prickly maze, a funeral pyre, / a golden haze, a monstrous fire.
There was only ever one hill on fire at a time. The problem would be if both hills caught fire at the same time, and the fires might burn down into the valley, and the trees would burn, and the lawns, and all our houses and their contents. And our Prefaces and Introductions. Not to mention the people. But we would run down to the beach. That’s what we would do.
There was an article in the paper about the possibility of a tidal wave sweeping up the bay and taking everything with it, and if you hadn’t gone in the earthquake that preceded the tidal wave, you would now be finished off altogether. This was the opposite of the fire. You would be washed the other way, all the way into town. How extreme the world was. Why not something in the middle?
(Why not fear something in the middle? Earth, wind, a few other things.)
And the hills were mostly benign anyway. They were just there, like your name. You might even get sick of them, of looking up at them and back again. Why don’t people get sick of their name? Maybe they do. Maybe they say, If I hear that name one more time I’ll scream.
Sometimes you might look up at the hills and think, I am looking at the hills, and you might have some sort of reaction, e.g., They are dark against the white sky and are very beautiful. Or, They have a sun like a solitaire nestled into them, but no for long. See look – gone! Divorced. I told you so. These kinds of reactions were the first attempts to connect the hills and the people in the foreground. But it is probably impossible. Well nigh impossible.
In spring they were brassy yellow with gorse flowers. In summer they were ‘tinder dry’ (a cliché) and ‘brown’ (not a cliché because the word brown doesn’t have much to it and people haven’t got sick of it yet). Okay, brown.
When both sides of the hills were brown, to the east and to the west, in the ‘height of summer’, a fire might be lit by a boy letting off fire-crackers saved from Guy Fawkes, or by a girl letting off fire-crackers (svd fr. GF), or by a man going for a walk on the town belt and smoking a cigarette, or by a woman (gng fr wlk on TB w. cig.), and the fire brigade would be called out.
But because there were two fires – one lit by the boy or the man, the other lit by the girl or the women – the fire brigade would have no chance of taking control, and the fire would burn down into the valley. And everyone, family members and friends (loved ones for short as there would not be much time), would run down the Parade to the beach and go and stand in the sea because there would be nowhere else to go. I am still out there. I am standing in the cold sea at Island Bay, and it is 2011, and it is freezing, and I am waiting for the fires on the hills to go out.
from The Darling North, Auckland University Press, 2012
Look back, and forks
and crossroads soon appear.
Now you see, or think you do,
how that U-bend, that country
lane, which at the time seemed
less a turning than the leaning
of the moment, led on to this
and later this, as though there really is
a road-map of the heart
whose one-way system you have to follow
down Ego Street to Guilt Mews,
and the various alleys off Vanity Row.
from Your Secret Life, HeadworX, 2005
More ancient than any of us
Birds swoop over the whenua. Reminders of you alight upon puku and manawa, and night-time channels thoughts unspoken in daylight. Lit fires smoulder upon open ground more ancient than any of us.
Desire grew in the air between us. Braided awa beneath rākau limbs came crashing earthward, into landscapes of enlivened senses. The gifts inside their ringed stumps spoke of ages and shadow tones, and graced our faces with crossed lattices.
Streams of consciousness — like gaps in the light.
Promises leaked from your eyes. They landed upon my soul etching deep chasms of aroha, before that mamae of yours disrupted the course and an undertow began to tear at the fabric of us, casting me out.
My ringaringa spread wide to expose secrets. And you owned none of the lies that spilled over to lap at my feet, where pūrerehua wings stroked my winnowed heart beating fast to the rhythm of our mother.
Streams of consciousness — like gaps in the light.
Birdsong emerged between pō and rā, to illuminate all the unnoticed seasons. But who can say whether we shifted and morphed with it, or remained stagnant puzzles of links scattered from root to tip, our enacted patterns alive.
Wind blows the tussocks in this unfamiliar place. Yet the longing for you dissipates with each luminous marama cycle, and recounts tidal surges in existence long before you left. And the kakahu always enfolds me, certain I will awake unbroken.
from gaps in the light, Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021
A galaxy of stars on dark water,
the breaking of the pack.
Or more like fat congealing on boiled mutton.
When there is only white,
when everything is coloured white,
the land, the sky the ice and the horizon,
the heroes, as they walk away,
you’d say were climbing a white wall to heaven.
from The Ponies, Victoria University Press, 2007
Poem note: This poem arises from the optical illusion in a white-out or almost white-out. As figures move away from you, they appear to be moving upwards. In December 2004 the Dunedin artist, Kathryn Madill and I shared an Artist in Antarctica award. We were stationed at Scott Base. The Antarctic experience was a life-changer for both of us. Lines from this poem have been set in the stone pavement at the foot of Robert Falcon Scott’s statue at the intersection of Oxford Terrace and Worcester St, Christchurch, on the Ōtākaro pathway. The text was carved by Neil Pardington. My grandsons, Leo and Darcy, are having a find old time, deciphering their grandmother’s word-painting.
The first whitebait, see-through, rivery
lightly-flamed into a wriggle of sweet eyes.
Oysters, pink-creamy, frilly, a glug of ocean
neck-felt, lemon-spattered, a sea cry.
The first potatoes, knuckle-white, waxy
spilling from the earth’s dark hold.
Corn, buttoned to the cob, yellow, fleshy,
spitting to the bite.
Sunflowers standing on hopeless stems.
The first-born, mother-coated,
unfolding in the first tears,
swimming into the miraculous light.
from Henry, Come See the Blue, Fitzbeck Publishing, 2005
Nga Motu beach, New Plymouth 1845
When my great-grandmother Jane
was a small girl
she played with her cousins
on the backs of harpooned whales.
From the summit
of the biggest creatures on earth
they pointed out to sea:
Look! Look at the islands!
A single mountain
stood behind their backs
felt but not seen,
inward and silent.
in There Is No Harbour, Victoria University Press, 2019
4.9.10 / HOMECOMING
the earth just / empty of it
take the shape of a shake / between your teeth.
in the cold morning many things falling.
touch the wall as it heaves while
translucent alarms vomit
into still air / air is still /
underneath it the writhing thing
turns its dirty head / side to side.
in this movie now / we all should have known better
forget to close the door behind you
run barefoot onto the silty street
see the neighbours in their underpants
/ this is not a dream /
just a mirror of the noise
a tiny pearl lying in your palm sleeping
itch it away at your peril.
later you will urinate / in a dark hole next to the rose bushes
whose thorns in the dawn spiked your mother
in her dressing gown fleeing the house
three wide circles / in her face
eye eye mouth.
fear lives here
in the business part of the throat
nestled / between the toes with
the simple earth fissured
waiting and just
/ not quite
what it used to be.
I am in the city,
and it has been long enough.
It’s a decade on, almost,
and the streets’ breathless pant has slowed to a sighing;
smooth tufts puffed into icy air.
Rupture has softened,
cracked stone padded in limpid moss,
splintered beams braced by scaffolding,
broken brick tucked up in landfills.
frozen in its decay, somehow,
contractions have distilled
entire city blocks to essences:
flat ground, empty horizons,
a big loud nothing
where a city should be.
Its winter sky is unchanged:
unshaken, unscarred, tectonically oblivious
the low-hung grey cloud a steely blanket
locked tight in violent closure.
A blackened scab
is being pulled off the knee of Christchurch,
and she bleeds brick dust out over the plains,
while the Port Hills loom like aristocracy
cloaked in a fine-knit sprinkle of snow,
sentenced to beheading for the crime of
And the Avon River, unfazed,
just goes about its watery business the same;
an arterial swirl the colour of new-born eyes, unsettled,
drawling like a dream past roadwork realms, cone castles,
up-and-coming urban developments,
and the melancholy ghosts
of everything we lost along its banks.
from Starling 10
A child dances alone
in the street. A rainbow
arcs the sky. A hawk
circles, descends. A helicopter
appears. Dark suited, new ghosts
of developers materialise from
the clouds. Here visions –
wild places to shelter –
are set upon empty land
by the writer’s eye.
Once the all-seeing water carried
dreams to this safe shore: liquid
stars to navigate the ancients;
shallows to nurse great-whites;
coastline to settle waders’ Arctic flight;
sea-views for soldiers arriving home.
Now this land is gifted to the gods
of helicopters, SUVs, M6s, sharknosed
disruptors who conjure the mantra of
mixed model, urban renewal, WOW factor,
solar gain, waterfront living. There’s money
to summon – ta-da! – from soil. Everything
seen or imagined belongs to them. The past –
its evicted, protestors and peacemakers –
is a trick, an adjunct made to disappear.
As if the scattering of birds
into late morning, the shriek of
banshees escapes; the helicopter too.
The displaced need this land to live.
They want their future to grow here,
like trees. They want their children
to dance upon it alone, to feel sap
pulse through the branch. Rainbow
and hawk to rise from it. This close
to regeneration, the evicted lament
that which they cannot settle,
cannot own. Their wailing is –
the rustle of money, whisperings
of the past – almost quelled;
almost, but not quite.
from Ghosts, Otago University Press, 2021
The tight-rooted morning coils up
but I imagine the buds unfurling
in the mess of garden down there;
the sharp agapanthus blooms white,
the jasmine vine, the flame weeds,
the drooping, beaded kowhai.
I do not see it happen but I see it
happen. That waxy flexibility
of plants, I used to call them
my guests. There were tea parties
I want you to whisper to me
about everglades and prairies,
sylvan historians and Dan Bejar,
but I’m afraid that you don’t love me
anymore. The dark morphing
into the unimaginable.
Look, I’ll show you around
this condensed symbol of a place.
It’s true, it’s everything
and nothing specific,
and everything to me
and always specific.
It’s impossible to understand
how we got from there to here.
One place after another.
You come close
to a home.
Look, Pip says
the days are getting shorter,
but I can’t help it anymore
I think life is just starting.
from Night As Day, Victoria University Press, 2019
Once in a while
you may come across a place
is as close to perfection
as you will ever need.
And striving to be faultless
the air on its knees
holds the trees apart,
yet nothing is categorically
this, or that, and before the dusk
mellows and fails
the light is like honey
on the stems of tussock grass,
and the shadows
are mauve birthmarks
on the hills.
from Elemental: Central Otago Poems, Random House, 2012
Airini Beautrais lives in Whanganui and is the author of four poetry collections and a collection of short fiction. Her most recent poetry collection is Flow: Whanganui River Poems (VUP 2017). Bug Week and Other Stories recently won the Ockham NZ Book Fiction Award 2021.
Nikki-Lee Birdsey was born in Piha. She has a PhD in poetry from the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML), an MFA from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a BA from New York University. Her first book Night As Day was published by VUP in 2019. She taught poetry at the IIML last summer.
Jacqueline Carter (also Jacq, Jacqs or Jackie), of Ngāti Awa, Waitaha, Ngāi Te Rangi, English, Irish and Scottish descent, is a poet and teacher living in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. She has recently become a member of Te Hā o Ngā Kaituhi Māori (formerly Te Hā) – Contemporary Maori Writers. Her poetry has appeared in several anthologies including Whetū Moana, Mauri Ola, and Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English (Auckland University Press).
Bernadette Hall lives in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She retired from high-school teaching in 2005 in order to embrace a writing life. Fancy Dancing is her eleventh collection of poetry (VUP, 2020). In 2015 she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for literary achievement in poetry and in 2017 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Siobhan Harvey’s new book, Ghosts (Otago University Press, 2021) is a collection of poetry and creative nonfiction. She was awarded 2020 New Zealand Society of Authors Peter & Dianne Beatson Fellowship, 2020 Robert Burns Poetry Prize and 2019 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems.
Dinah Hawken lives and writes in Paekakariki. Her ninth collection of poetry, Sea-light, is published by Victoria University Press, August, 2021.
Hebe Kearney is a queer poet who lives in Tāmaki Makaurau. Their work has appeared in The Three Lamps, Starling, Oscen, Forest and Bird, a fine line, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021.
Anne Kennedy is a poet, fiction writer, screenplay editor and teacher. Recent books are Moth Hour (AUP) and The Ice Shelf (VUP). Awards and fellowships include the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry and the IIML Writers’ Residency. The Sea Walks into a Wall is forthcoming from Auckland University Press in October 2021.
Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. Five O’Clock Shadows is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.
Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FRSNZ) is the former New Zealand Poet Laureate and has performed poetry for primary schoolers and presidents (Obama), queers and Queens (HRH Elizabeth II). She has published three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Fast Talking PI (2009), Dark Sparring (2013), Tightrope (2017) and an award-winning graphic memoir, Mophead (Auckland University Press, 2019) followed by Mophead TU (2020), dubbed as ‘colonialism 101 for kids’.
Harry Ricketts teaches English literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka. His Selected Poems appeared in June, Victoria University Press.
Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. She lives in Auckland.
Apirana Taylor, Ngati Porou, Te Whanau a Apanui, Ngati Ruanui, Te Ati Awa, is a nationally and internationally published poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, actor, painter and musician. He has been Writer in Residence at Canterbury and Massey Universities. He frequently tours nationally and internationally visiting schools, tertiary institutions and prisons reading his poetry, storytelling and taking creative writing workshops. He has written six collections of poetry, a book of plays, three collections of short stories, and two novels. His work has been included in many national and international anthologies.
Brian Turner was born in Dunedin in 1944. His debut collection Ladders of Rain (1978) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. His writing includes biography, poetry, sports writing and journalism and has won many awards. Just This won the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry (2010). He was the Te Mata Poet Laureate (2003-2005) and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry in 2009. He lives in Central Otago.
Iona Winter (Waitaha/Kāi Tahu) lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin. Her hybrid work is widely published and anthologised in literary journals internationally. Iona creates work to be performed, relishing cross-modality collaboration, and holds a Master of Creative Writing. She has authored three collections, Gaps in the Light (2021), Te Hau Kāika (2019), and then the wind came (2018). Skilled at giving voice to difficult topics, she often draws on her deep connection to land, place and whenua.
Sue Wootton lives in Ōtepoti-Dunedin, and works as the publisher at Otago University Press. ‘Wild’ was awarded second place in the 2013 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, and appears in Sue’s Ockham short-listed poetry collection The Yield (Otago University Press, 2017).
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
Thirteen poems about home
Ten poems about edge
Eleven poems about breakfast
Twelve poems about kindness
Thirteen poems about light
Thirteen poems about song