Tag Archives: James Norcliffe

Poetry Shelf review: James Norcliffe’s Letter to ‘Oumuamua

Letter to ‘Oumuamua, James Norcliffe, Otago University Press, 2023

In these uncertain times I gravitate towards quiet poetry. It may sound corny but it is like sitting on the edge of a mountain embracing silence as a form of retreat, and then savouring the way the world is alive with sound. I find myself retreating into poetry collections as a form of balm, relishing the solitude, the complications, the edges.

James Norcliffe, recently awarded the 2023 Margaret Mahy Medal, writes with a pen fuelled by the physical world, and a sense of interiority that allows both confession and piquant ideas. His writing is witty, thoughtful, fluid and rich in movement. The opening poem, ‘Letter to ‘Oumuamua’ nails it. Dedicated to “the first known interstellar object to pass through the solar system”, the letter is as much about where it is written from, as where it is written towards. The rural scene is balm – with its hint of spring and new leaves. Yet the layers prickle as I hold onto the embedded notion that the scene is both beloved and under threat.

Poetry can be the heightened awareness of a moment, of a particular place or experience. James offers many such poems and it is impossible to hold them at arm’s length. This is a form of poetry as retreat. Take ‘The Coal Range’ for example. The poem ventures back in time to pay tribute to an aunt and a location. James slowly builds the scene with acute detail, and I am breathing in the smells, tasting the baking, and back in the embrace of my grandmothers.

The burning coal and smoke smell of Auld Reekie,
of far-away home. Pinned on the Pinex walls are
calendars: Scottie dogs, pipers and Greyfriars Bobby.

Sentiment sweetens distance, as drop scones, ANZAC
biscuits and peanut brownies sweeten the sour
pervading presence of damp coal, smoke and tea-tree.

I love the way the collection offers drift and movement, resistance to fixture. Nothing is as it seems. Everything is as it seems. “Knowing What We Are” is a gloriously haunting rendition of movement, of oscillation. The birds gather on the “shining mudflats”. I’ll share a couple of stanzas with you – then you can track down the book and read the whole poem.

Any day soon, the birds will fly
far beyond the red-rimmed horizon.

Much later they will return. Neither
here nor there is home, yet both are.

Knowing what you are, I take your hand.
Neither here nor there, I try to count the days.

‘Insomnia’ navigates the knottiness of a sleepless night; a restless mind grappling with big questions and small diversions as it fixes upon turning points in life. The what-ifs and T intersections. I muse upon the way the collection offers myriad movements from loop to overlap, from twist to slide, from spiral to scatter.

That path is no more real now than the trees on the bed. The pigeon
recovered and flew away. The child was found and lost and found again.
The woman died. The man makes you laugh and makes you weep and
makes you laugh.

He makes you weep and makes you laugh and makes your weep, but
nothing can make you sleep.

Ah, so many poems I want to share with you in this slender tasting platter. There is a sequence dedicated to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. There is a return to childhood by way of Granity Museum. There is love and tenderness such as in the exquisite “Sauerkraut”:

(…) One pace at a time:
take care of the steps so that the miles take care
of themselves; conserving ourselves, preserving, avoiding
pretty prickles, but still pressing the white cabbage
that will be sauerkraut into a bright green crock.

There are multiple pathways through Letter to ‘Oumaumau. Numerous nooks and crannies for extended sojourn. Reading this was both solace and restoration. I picked up my pen and wrote a poem. I opened the book and returned to poetry that haunts and sticks. It’s James’s best book yet. Glorious.

James Norcliffe is a poet, children’s writer and editor. He has published 11 collections of poetry and 14 novels for young people. His first adult novel, The Frog Prince (RHNZ Vintage), was published in 2022 and his most recent poetry collection, Deadpan (Otago University Press), was published in 2019. He has co-edited major collections of poetry and short fiction, including Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (RHNZ Vintage, 2014), Leaving the Red Zone (Clerestory Press, 2016), Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, 2018) and Ko Aotearo Tatou: We Are New Zealand (Otago University Press, 2020). He has had a long association with the Canterbury Poets’ Collective, takahē, the ReDraft annual anthologies of writing by young New Zealanders and, more recently, Flash Frontier.

Otago University Press page

Poetry Shelf questions poets: Do poetry communities matter to you?



Part of my aim with Poetry Shelf is to build bridges between diverse poetry communities and in doing so create a hub for sharing poems, interviews, news, anecdotes, ideas, interviews, audio, podcasts, reviews, new books, old books and so on. I want to engage with and showcase a diversity of voices.

I live on the outskirts of Auckland on the west coast, with dodgy internet, mobile reception and power, and at the moment scarce water (!) and I don’t get into the city that often. So I am dependent on the books I am sent, and my communications with as many poets as possible. I feel both inside and outside communities, belonging not-belonging.

Researching and writing Wild Honey took me into all manner of communities – past and present. Utterly fascinating. Always surpising. I found goodwill, bitchiness, support and aroha in the archives. Connections between women poets seemed vital, especially when women were writing in the shadows. The 2019 Wild Honey events were something special – and got me thinking about connectedness and bridges and how belonging to one community is not enough. Listening hard counts. I agree with Louise Wallace – kindness,  generosity and diversity – are crucial. I see this in what she is doing with The Starling.

Poetry Shelf is my made-up and constantly evolving community and includes best friends, people whose poetry I have admired for a long time, people whom I have never met, new discoveries. Why do I do this crazy thing that takes up so much time and operates outside the currency of money? Because no matter how tired or challenged or doubt-smashed I feel, in its drive to celebrate, question, and connect, Poetry Shelf is a necessary form of nourishment. It is like a huge loving poetry family with a truckload of goodwill and support. It constantly surprises and delights me. Do keep in touch. Do let me know of new discoveries.


Louise Wallace:
Poetry communities matter and have mattered to me immensely. Writing is of course a solitary act, but what’s the fun in doing the rest of it alone? A common misconception seems to be that the NZ poetry community is bitchy or competitive. I have found the opposite to be true. I am grateful for the opportunities I have received, often sent my way by other writers. Poetry communities can fulfil different needs at different times. As a young writer I really valued being surrounded by my peers who were on the same journey as me, and the help and guidance offered to me by senior writers. As a new mum last year I was physically isolated, unable to attend many literary events. Online communities filled that gap as a way to stay connected and still feel myself – I listened to poetry podcasts while out walking my son in his pram, I kept up with NZ poetry news on twitter whenever I could check my phone. Community to me means creating space for others. It means making sure there is room for as many different voices as we can imagine. It means generosity and kindness: lifting each other up. If there’s a window, fill it with someone else’s name.


Jordan Hamel:

I spent a long time figuring out how to answer this. Obviously the answer is yes, but I didn’t know how to articulate what poetry communities to me, ironically it took me to until last minute to ask other people for their opinions, my friend Sara gave me a great analogy. There’s an old classroom trust-building exercise where a bunch of kids sit in a circle and two kids in the middle are blindfolded and try to beat each other with rolled-up newspaper. They have to rely on the voices of the circle to tell them where to swing and gently push them in the right direction. What an apt metaphor, almost too on the nose. Sincerity is awful and I apologise in advance but strap yourself in because here we go.

When I first started writing, like most people I felt like the blindfolded kid swinging the newspaper, never sure if I was hitting anything. In the past couple of years I’ve found a circle, well circles plural, different, intersecting, amorphous circles, some occupy physical spaces like readings, writers groups and open mics, others digital and less tangible, all are so important to me and my poetry. I think the great thing about the metaphor is, in poetry communities you aren’t always the one in the middle wildly swinging, you’re also in the circle guiding others as they go through the same thing, sometimes you’re the one who created the circle in the first place, but as wholesome as this extended metaphor is, poetry communities in NZ aren’t perfect, we could all take a look at our circles and think how we can make them bigger, more inclusive, flexible, every so often we can turn around and try to see who’s outside the circle, blindly stumbling and swinging on their own, or who’s too nervous to even ask to join in. I’ve been lucky enough to find people who will let me play even though most of the time I still feel like a blindfolded kid swatting at darkness, but I think everyone feels that way and everyone needs those voices.



Sugar Magnolia Wilson:

This is such a good question for me right now. The answer is very much yes, poetry communities do matter to me, but also, no, not as much as they used to in the way that they used to.

Before 2012 my poetry community was just myself. I wrote and wrote, for years, in creative isolation and it was awesome, but I didn’t know any different so it wasn’t really anything. It was just the way it was. Come 2012 and I got accepted into the IIML masters course. It changed my life. My views were challenged, my writing grew, and I had such an amazing time being part of the Wellington writing community. The book launches. Amazing writer friends with the same writerly bullshit struggles. The support and lots of love and wine. So much creative generosity and oh boy is Wellington good at that. Without that kind of hothouse scenario, my book wouldn’t have happened, and I wouldn’t have turned my writing into a craft. But … like all good things, it needed to have its own little death.

I started, last year some time, to feel a bit sad about the whole thing. The launch of Wild Honey really defined what a poetry community should look like for me; big, wise, loving, many-voiced, multi-generational. I can’t really explain it, other than I felt like my IIML year had gone on for eight years instead of one, and that I was really and truly ready to graduate and throw my cap off and leave it in the rain. I realised that in order for my writing to survive beyond one book, that I needed to go it alone, to figuratively and literally move away, to let go of all the stuff and the scene and sort of competitive element than can start to creep in. I’m not interested in that stuff and I don’t want to be defined by my success on the Unity Books Bestsellers list. No shade to Unity wot wot.

Anyway, now I live in the bush and it’s nice, and I’m eternally grateful for poetry communities. I am hoping that over time a new kind of one will grow. Something wild and sweet that lets me grown in new ways.


Eliana Gray

Yes!!!! Where would I be, where would any of us be without community? Community to me is the bedrock and the impetus for everything. Why do we write if not to communicate with others? Why do we communicate if not to build community? I feel that almost every – if not all – human action has community building at its base.
We would be very little without community, isolated ghosts. I don’t think that sounds very fun. Other humans are one of the key ways we define our existence. I just can’t imagine life without it. Communities make me a happier person, a better writer, more accountable, more empathetic, a smarter person, harder, better, faster, stronger, all of it. Thank you to everyone in my poetry communities. I am still alive because you make life very appealing.


Vana Manasiadis:

I tried to answer this question before I fell down a metaphor hole grabbing at definitions all the way. What do I think a [poetry] community is, does, has? I like these community values: respect, agency, meaningful participation, collaboration, integrity, inclusion. When I’ve had poetry community experiences that have included lots of these things – kōrero, voices, tautoko – they are like blood transfusions. Like actual substance, and substantiveness. Like: I don’t have to long-walk/talk-listen-disagree-agree-eat-drink-stay late with my poetry community every day and night (though that’s the dream) but I do need more than brief SM broadcasts. (And clearly I’m saying this as a judgmental SM recluse who has swallowed the hard self-inflicted pill of not being part of a/the poetry community online; and who spends way too much time wondering whether it’s even possible to be in the same community as folks who’ve super-active-online-selves). But. Anyway. In my wider-panning poetry community (see above) – which really, really matters to me (see blood) – aside from curation there’s also accident, mess, aporía, and slow time. And now I think of it, I’m in a small but ecstatic community of poets who write long and languorous emails to each other. I should say epistles obviously.



Emer Lyons:

I was working on Heather McPherson’s poem ‘stein song for the blue house’ this month and I was drawn back to a quote from Starhawk’s book Spiral Dance: The Rebirth of The Ancient Religion of The Great Goddess:

And Goddess religion is lived in community. Its primary focus is not individual salvation or enlightenment or enrichment but the growth and transformation that comes through intimate interactions and common struggles. Community includes not only people but also the animals, plants, soil, air and water and energy systems that support our lives. Community is personal­—one’s closest friends, relatives, and lovers, those to whom we are accountable. But in a time of global communications, catastrophes, and potential violence, community must also be seen as reaching out to include all the earth (1999, 22).

Poetry communities are rife with nepotism, can become insular, and elitist, and benchmarks in people’s minds for what is deemed good or bad poetry, rather than the focus being on the sharing of “intimate interactions and common struggles.” The poet Fatimah Asghar says, “I work in the medium of community,” and I feel that, but only as far as community is a place from which I can question, include, and remain accountable.



Kiri Piahana-Wong:

Yes! Poetry communities matter, and they matter to me. I love how people who write in different styles and perform in different modes can find their poetry ‘home’ in different communities of poets. For many years my poetry community was Poetry Live. Attending the event every week somehow kept me grounded in poetry, and the friends I made there were endlessly encouraging of my poetry attempts. It made me feel strongly that poetry was not a niche hobby but rather an art form to take seriously. I’m grateful for the years that Poetry Live was my second home, and I’m also not the first person to meet their husband/future husband or wife/future wife there!



Olivia Macassey:

To begin my answer at the shallow end, writing poetry can feel like a bit of a strange compulsion, so there’s camaraderie involved in being with others who are just as crazy. I vividly remember my astonishment and joy when, as a teenager, I first encountered a bunch of poets en masse (in 90s Auckland at the Shakespeare tavern), and realized how not-alone I was. There’s a solidarity involved in this, which can be supportive and nurturing, and that matters to me. In recent years I’ve been involved in projects in the Northland community, led by Piet Nieuwland, and appreciate the wider perspective of seeing how poetry communities and other communities overlap and weave together and strengthen one another. Shared experiences, interests, kaupapa are essentially about similarity, but there’s also an important dimension that is about difference, mutual discovery and renewal: the way we encounter new ways of seeing and thinking and writing, spark off one another aesthetically, conceptually, politically, or in terms of practice.

Another important type of community is the kind of imagined communities we inhabit as writers. In a narrow sense I see this in, say, different people who may be connected through a particular publisher or publication (such as brief or this blog) – poets I may have read a lot, but not necessarily met or interacted with – but in a wider sense, it’s about ‘finding your people’ outside the constraints of time and place. An imagined community can centralize marginal poetics; social class, disability, sexuality. In my youth, I think without a sense of structures of feeling beyond the mainstream paradigms, or some connection to other poetic genealogies, I would have felt lost, and these communities continue to matter to me. At the deepest level though, for me, the act of writing always already anticipates community because a poem is a priori an act of communication, of reciprocity; its very existence implies a shared world. I write because I have found you: I write in order to find you.


James Norcliffe:

Writing poetry is a solitary act and in adolescence, when poetry began for me, it had a solitary audience as well. There was often an idealised, intended audience, but I was never brave enough to show my poems to her.

Later, though, craving a larger audience, it became apparent that other people wrote poetry too, and while the practice wasn’t as arcane as clog dancing or synchronised swimming (although it was up there) it  was clearly rarefied. Still, reading and submitting to magazines and attending the odd reading, made me aware that these people had names. Moreover some of them were local and, in time, I got to know them.

I’m not entirely sure what a ‘poetry community’ is. I’m pleased the question put community in the plural as it suggests a variety of communities of different sizes, purposes and flavours.

I belong to several. Firstly there is a small core of very close friends I’ve made through poetry and whom I number among my nearest and dearest. We meet regularly, eat together, occasionally holiday together and generally have a great time. We read and support each other’s work (and often launch it), but we’ve moved beyond the shallows of writing and into the warmer, deeper sea of friendship.

Secondly, there’s a closely-knit of poets of about half a dozen poets whom I meet with monthly, a group David Gregory once laughingly called the ‘poots’ groop’ and so the name remains. The p.g. has a shifting population with a fairly stable core and we meet to share and critique each other’s poems. It has been going probably about twenty years and one or two of the first group are part of this as well. I’m off to a meeting tonight feeling a little fraught as I need to find something to take. Even, if I don’t find anything I know I’ll have a great time and that among the laughs there’ll be a lot of close reading and penetrating thought. Just lovely.

Thirdly there’s the wider group of Christchurch writers I’ve been associated with for well over thirty years: the Canterbury Poets’ Collective. This highly active group organises an annual series of readings, bringing poets from beyond the city to a relatively large Christchurch audience. There are eight readings a season – now in Spring – involving over twenty four guest readers and large numbers of b.y.o. people. The CPC also occasionally organises one off readings and events, typically National Poetry Day celebrations. I suppose it involves two communities: the organising committee who are a dedicated set who mix a common goal with fellowship, and the wider collective who come along to support the readings, a large number of whom take part.

Finally, there’s the wider national poetry community of poets I’ve got to know over the years through the magazine and book editing I’ve done. A number of these I’ve only corresponded with, but most I’ve eventually met in real life and many have become firm friends.

All of these communities are hugely important to me. Writers are assumed to have monstrous egos and are supposed to be fiercely competitive. This has not been my experience. I’ve treasured the warmth, encouragement and critical support of people within all of these groups, particularly the more intimate ones. I have never been especially confident in my person or sure of my work although I pretend otherwise. It has been so good to have been nurtured by these communities and so satisfying to have nurtured others who are part of them


Hebe Kearney:

The Titirangi Poets group meets once every month in the Titirangi library, surrounded by bush and chickens, which roam the library car park in gangs. When poetry happens, it happens in a circle. Each person reads in turn like a set of dominoes, one following the other. A ‘round robin’ format.

Just knowing that they are there, in the clean and the library quiet, taking a few hours just for the sake of words, makes me feel better about waking and walking in this world. When I had the privilege of reading there I experienced it as a circle of support, everyone had a kind word to say, a suggestion to give me about honing the sound of my voice and words.

Poetry communities like this matter because everywhere there is poetry there are words living, words breathing and growing in power. Virginia Woolf once described poetry as ‘a voice answering a voice’ – poetry is always communal in that it is always a communication, a reaching of one person towards another and back. Poetry communities not only matter, but poetry communities are themselves part of the act of poetry.

Personally, I have tended to write quietly and hold my words close to myself. It is only recently I have begun learning to let my words free, and to really acknowledge the part of poetry that is the voice listening and the voice answering back. And it is through poetry communities that this interaction of voice and voice can be facilitated.

So I am bursting with appreciation and gratitude for poetry communities. They make space in a busy world for the simple beauty of words, and remind those of us with a penchant for hiding of the reciprocity at the heart of poetry. The way that, in essence, it is all about sharing.



The contributors:


Eliana Gray is a poet from Ōtepoti. They like queer subtext in teen comedies and not much else. They have had words in: SPORT, Mimicry, Minarets, Mayhem and others. Their debut collection, Eager to Break, was published by Girls On Key Press (2019) and they are the 2020 writer in residence at Villa Sarkia, Finland. It is very very snowy and they love it.

Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based poet and performer. He was the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and competed at the World Poetry Slam Championships in 2019. He has poems published or forthcoming in Sport, takahē, Poetry NZ Yearbook 2020, Mimicry, Mayhem, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and elsewhere.

Hebe Kearney is from Christchurch but now calls Auckland her home. She currently studying to complete her Honours in Classics at the University of Auckland. Her work has appeared in Starling, The Three Lamps and Oscen.

Emer Lyons is an Irish, lesbian writer in her final year as a creative/critical PhD candidate in the English programme at the University of Otago, Dunedin.

Olivia Macassey’s poetry has appeared in Rabbit, Poetry New Zealand, Otoliths, Takahē, Landfall and other places. She is the author of two books, edits brief and co-edits Fast Fibres.

Vana Manasiadis is a Greek-New Zealand poet, translator and creative writing teacher who has been moving between Aotearoa and Greece, and is now living in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland. She is the co-editor of the Seraph Press Translation Series, and was the editor and translator of Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια: Shipwrecks/Shelters: Six Contemporary Greek Poets (2016) and co-editor, with Maraea Rakuraku, of Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation. Her second poetry collection The Grief Almanac: A Sequel appeared in 2019 (Seraph Press).

James Norcliffe is a poet, editor and children’s author. He has published ten collections of poetry, most recently Deadpan (OUP, 2019). In 2010 he took part in the XX International Poetry Festival in Medellin, Colombia and in 2011 the Trois Rivieres International Poetry Festival in Quebec. With Jo Preston he co-edited Leaving the Red Zone, a collection of poems prompted by the Canterbury earthquakes and, with Michelle Elvy and Frankie McMillan, Bonsai (CUP) New Zealand’s first major collection of flash and short fiction. A new anthology co-edited with Michelle Elvy and Paula Morris  Ko Tātou Aotearoa | We Are New Zealand celebrating Aotearoa / NZ diversity is to be published this year.

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

Louise Wallace is the author of three collections of poetry published by Victoria University Press, most recently Bad Things. She is the founder and editor of Starling. Louise lives in Dunedin with her husband and their young son, and is currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing, focussing on contemporary long-form narrative poetry by women.

Sugar Magnolia Wilson lives in Fern Flat, a valley in the far North. In 2012 she completed her MA in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. Her work has appeared in a number of journals, both in New Zealand and overseas, and she co-founded the journal, Sweet Mammalian, with Morgan Bach and Hannah Mettner, which is now run by poet, Rebecca Hawkes. Auckland University Press launched Magnolia’s debut collection, cecause a Woman’s Heart is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean in 2019; it is longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards.









Still time to submit prose poems/small fiction/flash fiction to Bonsai



Editors Michelle Elvy, Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe are seeking submissions for a comprehensive book of compressed fiction to be published in 2017. This is an ambitious project, the first of its kind in New Zealand, and we aim to include the very best small fictions from around Aotearoa.

The book will be a wide-ranging collection in three parts: one section will feature the best of previously published work; one section will feature considerations and essays by noted practitioners on the short narrative form and its development/ growth in New Zealand; one section will feature entirely new work, to showcase the fast-changing landscape of New Zealand small fictions.


Contribute to this uniquely New Zealand collection by sending your best work, up to 300 words not including title, with ‘BONSAI’ in the subject line.


  • Send new work as well as previously published pieces to: bonsaifiction@gmail.com
  • Up to three new pieces; up to three previously published pieces.
  • Please include your name and contact details.
  • Please send a .doc or .docx file with all submissions in the same document; no pdfs, unless absolutely necessary to demonstrate the layout of specific formatting.
  • Deadline for story submissions: November 30, 2016.


There is no theme for this anthology. We will include a variety of stories exploring a range of topics and themes – from humorous to wicked to sublime. We encourage experimental writing, as well as haibun, prose poetry and stories in te reo (accompanied by an English translation). We encourage new and experienced writers. We encourage very short flashes of inspiration or stories that take up the full 300 words. We want to see stories that light up the page and take readers to unexpected endings. We are looking for stories that leave us breathless, wanting more. We aim to put New Zealand flash fiction on the map even further, so give us your shiniest stuff!


Whatever approach you take, make every word count.

The editors’ decision will be final and no correspondence will be entered into. Payment will be in copies of the anthology.

Deadline for story submissions: November 30, 2016.


CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – BONSAI: The Big Book of Small Stories

Editors Michelle Elvy, Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe are seeking submissions for a comprehensive book of compressed fiction to be published in 2017. This is an ambitious project, the first of its kind in New Zealand, and we aim to include the very best small fictions from around Aotearoa.

The book will be a wide-ranging collection in three parts: one section will feature the best of previously published work; one section will feature considerations and essays by noted practitioners on the short narrative form and its development/ growth in New Zealand; one section will feature entirely new work, to showcase the fast-changing landscape of New Zealand small fictions.

Contribute to this uniquely New Zealand collection by sending via email:

  •   your best work, up to 300 words not including title, with ‘BONSAI’ in the subject line. Deadline for story submissions: November 30, 2016.
  •   a proposal for an essay or reflection concerning the compressed form – we are open to ideas and are presently considering essays on composition and technique, history of the form, prose poetry and story-telling, teaching flash in the classroom, representation of Pasifika writing in the short form, music and the rhythm of flash, compressed story-writing as a tool for all writing, experimentation and play in very short stories, literary criticism of the compressed form. Note: there are many themes to explore! Please send an email about your essay proposal by October 28 to discuss with the editors.

    Send new work and essay proposals to: bonsaifiction@gmail.com

  • Please include your name and contact details.

    There is no theme for this anthology. We will include a variety of stories exploring a range of topics and themes – from humorous to wicked to sublime. We encourage experimental writing, as well as haibun, prose poetry and stories in te reo (accompanied by an English translation). We encourage new and experienced writers. We encourage very short flashes of inspiration or stories that take up the full 300 words. We want to see stories that light up the page and take readers to unexpected endings. We are looking for stories that leave us breathless, wanting more. We aim to put New Zealand flash fiction on the map even further, so give us your shiniest stuff!

    Whatever approach you take, make every word count.

    Writers may submit up to three unpublished works for consideration. Please send a .doc or .docx file with all submissions in the same document; no pdfs, unless absolutely necessary to demonstrate the layout of specific formatting.

    The editors’ decision will be final and no correspondence will be entered into. Payment will be in copies of the anthology.

    Deadline for story submissions: November 30, 2016. Deadline for essay proposals: October 28, 2016.

Landfall Review Online: James Norcliffe reviews Rachel Bush, Kerrin P Sharpe and Lynley Edmeades



Three terrific books! Full review here but a sample from James’s section on Kerrin:


Moving from Thought Horses to Kerrin P. Sharpe’s new collection, Rabbit Rabbit, is a little like turning from Cézanne to Miro or Klee. The slow-paced meditative and long loping lines of Bush exchanged for the short, darting lines of Sharpe veering off in unexpected and at times astonishing directions.

Surrealism is difficult to pull off. You look for the mad logic of the dream to hold the piece together, otherwise the leaps seem arbitrary, gratuitous. Sharpe is a dab hand, however, having perfected her craft in two previous collections from Victoria University Press: Three Days in a Wishing Well (2012) and There’s a Medical Name for This (2014). Like Klee, she takes her line for a walk, but while it takes strange byways it is always on a (not sometimes obvious) leash. This current book gathers together another entertaining selection of rabbits pulled out of hats, although in the title poem the rabbit is put in the hat (along with the writer’s mother):

mother tamed a rabbit

fur-trimmed scented

in a hat she could hide in

Because this is a Kerrin Sharpe poem we can safely assume the rabbit is not a rabbit and the hat is not a hat, although the mother is almost certainly a particular mother.

You are invited to the launch of Leaving the Red Zone – Poems from the earthquake edited by James Norcliffe and Joanna Preston




People talked about quake
brain, but the Canterbury
earthquakes, despite or
because of this, generated
amazing bursts of
creativity: music, dance,
astonishing street art;
and poetry.

148 poems from 87 poets:
here are sorrow,
resignation, defiance,
stoicism, humour black
and wry, and everything in

~ poems from the Canterbury earthquakes, edited by
James Norcliffe and Joanna Preston.

Venue: The Laboratory, 17 West Belt, Lincoln.
Time: Monday 29 February 2016, 7.00 till 8.30pm.

Purchase book at the Special Launch Price of $30 (RRP $39.95). Pay by cash, cheque,
or pre-launch bank deposit into 03 1704 0049456 025.

Profits from sales will be donated to the Mayor’s Earthquake Relief Fund.
Food and drink will be available to buy from 6.00pm. For full menu service book
a table by phoning The Laboratory 325 3006.

For more details see Joanna’s blog

A call for earthquake poems

Call For Submissions

Proposed anthology of poems prompted by the Canterbury Earthquakes

There has already been a range of wide range responses to the earthquakes  – from moving to darkly comic, from passionate to offbeat and quirky.

All of this suggests – despite its rather bleak subject matter – a nuanced and richly varied collection of poems might be gathered together for possible publication in book form.

Local poets and editors Joanna Preston and James Norcliffe are currently gathering such material and would be interested in receiving work that might be appropriate.

The anthology is still very much at the projected stage and there is no certainty it will proceed. It is also proposed that any proceeds beyond publication costs be donated to appropriate earthquake recovery projects so that no individual payment will be offered.

We would be interested in considering either published or unpublished material.

Submissions, which should be sent to either

James Norcliffe normel@clear.net.nz  or  x-msg://2/normel@clear.net.nz

Joanna Preston  preston.joanna@gmail.com  or x-msg://2/preston.joanna@gmail.com

Deadline:  October 30.

August On the Shelf: Poetry picks from Emily Dobson, Siobhan Harvey, Harry Ricketts, Jack Ross, James Norcliffe

Siobhan Harvey: Conversations by Owl-Light, Alexandra Fraser, Steele Roberts, July 2014 Conversations by Owl-Light is the first collection by Auckland author, Alexandra Fraser who is one of the finest contemporary writers engaging with scientific themes in New Zealand. Chemistry, love, botany, family, astronomy, tarot and ancestry: this heady mix of themes is delicately and decidedly well handled by Fraser’s evocative language, pinpoint accuracy and sumptuous concern for human interaction. See here for more details.

Autobiography of a Margueritte, Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Hue & Cry, June 2014 See here. Each time I read this first collection of prose-poems by Butcher-McGunnigle I’m staggered by its depth, skill, astuteness and vibrancy. A workbook for illness; a diary of familial dysfunction; a finely tuned navigation through self-representation and identity: Autobiography of a Margueritte is all this and more. A must-read.

Siobhan Harvey‘s recent books are 2013 Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry winning Cloudboy (Otago University Press) and, as co-editor with James Norcliffe and Harry Ricketts, Essential NZ Poems – Facing the Empty Page (Penguin Random House NZ, 2014). Recently, a poem from a new work she is creating was runner up in 2014 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition.


Harry Ricketts:  I Knew the Bride, Hugo Williams, Faber & Faber, 2014  Hugo Williams is my favourite contemporary English poet. His line in mordant wit and lurching loss gets me every time. Here the suite of poems called ‘From the Dialysis Ward’ really hits the spot.

Harry Ricketts recently co-edited Essential NZ Poems – Facing the Empty Page (Penguin Random House NZ, 2014). Harry has a new collection of poems out next year with Victoria University Press.


James Norcliffe: A couple of the poetry books I have been reading recently are Siobhan Harvey’s Cloudboy and James Tate’s Return to the City of White Donkeys.

Cloudboy is a remarkable achievement: passionate, imaginative and sustained. It’s hard enough to pull off a short sequence but Siobhan negotiates a book length sequence effortlessly. It is easy to see how this book won the Kathleen Grattan Award last year.

I returned to James Tate’s book because I wanted to talk about flash fiction to a class at the Christchurch School for Young Writers just in advance of National Flash Fiction Day on (appropriately) the shortest day. I’ve been a huge admirer of James Tate ever since I came across The Lost Pilot years and years ago. Return to the City of White Donkeys is a collection of prose poems wry, often funny and often unsettling. Wonderful. I really enjoy Tate’s deadpan surrealism and I was lucky enough to hear him read in America a few years back. There was standing room only on a bleak rainy night.

James Norcliffe recently co-edited Essential NZ Poems – Facing the Empty Page (Penguin Random House NZ, 2014).


Jack Ross: First of all, there’s  the Collected Poems of Jack Gilbert (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). I picked this up secondhand and have been reading it with increasing delight and respect ever since. There’s something plain and straightforward about this guy that really appeals to me. When the book was nominated for the 2013 Pulitzer prize, the citation read: “a half century of poems reflecting a creative author’s commitment to living fully and honestly and to producing straightforward work that illuminates everyday experience with startling clarity,” which I think is quite nicely put. He’s the very opposite of a showboat poet (not that they can’t be fun too, sometimes). He died shortly after the book appeared, so it really is the last word on a lifetime devoted to the craft.

Another book I’ve been reading in this month is the final, complete version of Doc Drumheller’s 10 x (10 + ’10) = 0 (Christchurch: The Republic of Oma Rāpeti Press, 2014). I first met Doc last year, at the Hawke’s Bay Poetry Conference (though we’d been corresponding on and off for years), and found him a very interesting person to talk to. This huge, ten-part poem, compiled over the past decade, consists of a series of poems compiled according to stringent writing restrictions, rather in the mode of an Oulipo project. The tenth and twentieth poem in each volume is a palindrome, reading the same backwards and forwards. Give the popularity of such poets as Christian Bok (Eunoia), it’s nice to know that New Zealand has its own workshop of potential literature humming away down there on the Canterbury Plains (and finding periodic expression in the journal Catalyst, which Drumheller also edits).

Jack Ross teaches at Massey University Albany.  He has a poetry book coming out later in the year from HeadworX. It’s called “A Clearer Look at the Hinterland: Poems & Sequences 1981-2014.” Catch up with what he is doing on his blog here.


Emily Dobson: On my bedside table for the last little while has been Marty Smith’s Horse with Hat (VUP: 2014). Any adjective I think of for this book I quickly think of its opposite – it is loud, but also quiet, wicked but also exquisitely tender, you get this primal sense of the horses but it is utterly human – the affection the poems have for their characters is palpable. The collaboration with Brendan O’Brien is brilliant. One of my favourite poems is ‘A mile here, a mile there’, which completely floored me when I first read it on Turbine. Knowing what Marty has put into these poems from when I first met many of them 10 years ago on the MA, I can’t think of a more deserving winner of the Best First Book of Poetry in this year’s NZ Post Book Awards. I’m very proud of her.

Emily Dobson‘s new collection of poems, The Lonely Nude, was published by Victoria University Press in July. I will review this on Poetry Shelf.