Tag Archives: Janet Charman

Poetry Shelf connections: a suite of poems from lockdown

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my kitchen activities

 

Over the past weeks I have received so many poems in my inbox – poems from friends, from poets, both known to me and not known. It seems some of us took up reading and writing, while others found words an impossible currency.

Each week I have invited different groups of New Zealanders (writers, publishers, booksellers and across the arts) to pick a book or two that has offered solace or comfort. Some people kindly said no as they haven’t been reading, while others have found books to be the greatest comfort. I plan to keep these lists going for a wee while yet as a way of supporting our booksellers and publishing communities.

Some people have written nonstop, while others either haven’t time with so many other pressures or haven’t found inclinations.

This is the year we go easy on ourselves. We do what we can when we can. We might write, we might not, and that is ok.

I have never had so many emails (and poems arrive) especially as Poetry Shelf is an invitation-only blog. BUT I decided to devote April and May to NZ poetry and do as many things as I could. Some days it has taken me 6 hours to read all the emails, so apologies if I have missed some and apologies I cannot post all the poems I have received.

I have taken such delight in reading what you have sent. It feels like – when such an unprecedented crisis slams us in the gut / heart / lungs – poetry can be a good thing, whether we are reading or writing it.

Along with the sough dough, the microgreens, the homemade almond milk and yoghurt (my coup!), and the walks down the road, poems have been fermenting across Aotearoa.

I have barely slept in the past months. I wake at some ungodly hour and find poems tiptoeing through my mind. I have been writing them down. Barely polishing them. Night arrivals. The Herald have published some – the last one will appear in Saturday’s Canvas.

Today I am posting some of the poems that arrived and will sprinkle a few more over the next week or so. I am also getting back to posting interviews, reviews, and various Poetry Shelf features. I will still host book launches, and other audio and video things. In fact, while I am going to reserve time for my own new projects and writing, I plan to keep Poetry Shelf highly active in these uncertain times.

Poetry Shelf is a way of making connections.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me and my requests during Level 4 and Level 3. You have made such a difference. Your kind emails have been essential reading. Kindness, here I am musing on this, is never a redundant word. Even more so. That and patience. And I am trying to learn more about empathy.

 

thank you poetry fans

may poetry sing and dance in our lives

kia kaha

go well

 

 

The poems

 

 

 

 

Where we sleep

 

when my marriage went west

I rebubbled in my childhood home

 

with two matriarchs

the dowager and incumbent

 

my father and sons

 

four-generations

it was never going to be easy

 

bought a red chaise longue

 

too wide for 1950’s doorframes

it sat on blocks in the garage

displaced my parents’ car

 

these days I have my own home

French doors and a faded chaise longue

 

elderly parents bubbling on a peninsula

 

sons ensconced with flatmates

on the other side of town

 

one cooks and plays guitar

the other lauds Japanese joinery

 

has discovered carpentry

the wondrous feel of wood

the throb and thrust of tools

 

there is nowhere to store his creations

he texts me a photo

 

My next lockdown project, Mum

I’m making you a table

 

Serie Barford

 

 

maple moon

 

you text us photos garden to plate

baby beetroot out of isolation

tides of beetroot where the moon fed

turned them red clusters of beetroot

in scarlet jackets like foxy

waiting waiting at our window

we text you photos

of the maple planted at your birth

text haiku autumn breeze/flames of leaves/

warm an empty sky/ and misty morning/

her leaves light/the whole house/ and pray

when the world repairs its lungs

with the business of breathing

the rising sea between us

becomes a red bridge

 

Kerrin P Sharpe

 

 

 

Rubbish day

 

putting out rubbish is the new black

 

neighbours listen for rumbling concrete

synchronise wheelie bins

 

join the procession

push

pull

 

Council approved receptacles

brimming with homemade scraps

 

to letterboxes

 

stand on berms

lean on lampposts

sit on green transformers

 

greet friends and strangers

chin wag

 

dogs at their feet

alert for moving cars

 

moving anything

yawn

 

Serie Barford

 

 

 

bubbles

in a room where you can’t get to him
he breathes despite his lungs

overnight the bones in your face
shift into the mask of grief

you speak to me over the fence
from a safe 3 metres

from a black tunnel that goes forever
at the far end with a lighter

that burns your thumb as you try
to see how to feel

your husband takes the kids inside
to watch peppa pig

they say every line by heart

 

Stephanie Christie

 

 

They Should’ve Sent an Influencer

 

‘Today, in the whole history of the world, it’s my birthday.’

London Kills Me Hanif Kureishi

 

Everyone has their time – goes the jingle –

to clonk out into the limelight,

to let that burning lime’s candoluminescence throw

 

your features into relief,

hyperreal, sunlike, and arrayed

with tendril shadows snaking black into the velvet

of the backcloth. Everyone a time,

and for every time a person. This is yours.

 

Reach. Snatch at it with your elaborations of peace and

kindness, bread and candour.

Bottle it like memory.

 

Sell it for free to the sick, the half-blind and sand-blind.

Give it a lemon spotlight. Bejazzle it with spaffed glitter

handwriting. As it twists, bepectacle it, add bunny lugs,

balloons, a flash of thunder from forehead to chin like

Jacinda Bowie. No: minimise. Let the brand tell

 

its story. The morning light the window’s hills sing.

Shadows burbling. A child shimmering, who takes

a sashayed step, takes it back, repeats.

 

It’s how one talks business, the talking and not the business.

 

It’s why heads lift, fingers tap, scroll, pinch.

This is their story you are telling of yourself.

 

At balance teeter anxiety, joy, vanity, yelping, relativism,

 

tigers, platters, psycho splatters.

 

All for the drawing in, the seating at your outdoor table,

are these flourishes and motifs, and affirmations

 

for their loyalty of looking. Preparing them for the real sell.

 

It is again your birthday. One must be all the ages.

And all the ages you have been are past, and the new

ones are hungry waiting.

 

This is your moment, your audience landlocked

to their living rooms, or hiding on a bath chair flicking

through your plays on light and motherhood.

This isn’t the worst day of your life,

though the restaurants are bolted closed

 

and I have bought you a present no husband should

ever buy his wife, even if she had asked for it,

but asked for it if he passed a supermarket, not wrapped

 

to double its unintended but now italic insult,

mouthwash. The streets are barricaded in a war

on the pandemic and it was all I … could …

But this is your limelit opportunity.

If you don’t seize it like a bear salmon,

 

the first one slopping out of its grip, but then

munch, right in the kisser, you are a debutante,

a wonder of the glare.

 

Nick Ascroft

 

 

Camphor Laurel

Avondale Police Station

 

 

our relationship grew

significant to you

the way an old friend

merits heritage protection

 

you find my green

refreshing

but leaves drop

on your cars

you feel displeased

 

here now

you are the pest species

your greenery

exhausts me

 

at my base

leaf–fall chemicals

collect

to deter your seedlings

 

whatever axing you plan

in my maturity

branches spreading old friend

look around

i saw you off

 

Janet Charman

 

 

Cover of daylight

 

with this suspension

of scruffy habitual delights

 

op shop used thrillers

coffee stands where you stand too

 

leaning against a shelf

sipping a cardboard Americano

 

while sorting out your change

writing up your notebook

 

it’s possible we’ll learn something

about ourselves and others

 

like how to share with decency

the space allotted to us all

 

and the time it takes for lives

collective and individual

 

to pause and rekindle

to accept and endure loss

 

or how saving someone

we love by our absence

 

by no means a passive commitment

may clarify things in the end

 

Tony Beyer

 

 

Cannibal ants

 

for the sake of the nest there is

neither ceremony nor commemoration

 

a dark column carries the debris

of existence away into the dark

 

thinking numerically

absorbs the individual

 

and any small hopes and regrets

until all pronouns are plural

 

yet we need not devour each other

in order to survive and succeed

 

lesson one of a thousand or million

to be preserved from this ordeal

 

being conscious of living through history

has never in the past been an advantage

 

(remember the old curse

May you live in interesting times)

 

the pace from here on will need

to be more humane if less profitable

 

except in the sense

that all should be well

 

Tony Beyer

 

 

Lockdown

 

From our three bubbles, I quiz

my mother and my sister

on the finer points

of bottling fruit

 

overnight, the supermarket

has bloomed into

a biohazard zone

 

invisible viruses

malevolent cans of peaches

and apple sauce

 

we would rather

holiday in Chernobyl

 

opinions differ on the internet

on the necessity of sugar

its preservative powers

 

my sister recalls

her mother-in-law

kitchen ninja

 

always added sugar –

not too much

 

my mother is equivocal

thinks it might be ok without

if using the water bath method

 

I don’t have a big enough pot

 

my stepfather chimes in

he has heard that sugar

makes the fruit last longer

 

how long does he think

that we’ll be here

 

best be on the safe side

 

we recall my grandmother’s

penchant for pickling

 

the jars of preserves

she would line up in her pantry

 

I remember picking strawberries

in vanished fields in Karaka

 

the time a knife fell on my foot

while chopping rhubarb

 

the small white scar

a never-ending memory of Christmas

 

Mum finally persuaded Grandma

to switch to Watties cans

 

she gave it up reluctantly

like driving at 87

taking the old people to church

 

unappetising bottled pears

the grittiness of quinces

 

air bubbles are safe in jars

as long as they’re sealed in

 

I wonder when we’ll next

be together in the kitchen

 

the memories

still hold us there.

 

Amanda Hunt

 

 

 

a ramble down a road                 

 

zig zag in and out

keep the two metre distance

pass walkers and dogs on leads

people smile but seldom speak

is it fear or are they trapped in their headphones?

i crave the sound of friends’ voices

ring Rosemary chat for 10 min by the side of the road

yesterday Janet rang, picked up my pieces

decide to ring a friend a day

texting useful but lacks warmth

happy now i ramble on

see Sam Sampson just after a swim

walking home with his wife and two kids

Sam wonders what i’m doing so far from home

we stop to chat at a safe distance

happy about low emissions

friendliness of people

peace and quiet

worried about families in crowded conditions

after solving the crisis we part

i walk on down to the tempting wild water

maybe tomorrow, maybe not

walking back i pull out my notebook

sit on a step and start to write

four steps down a sign says

Playground Closed

shove notebook in my pack

a glowing woman in a golden poncho passes

smiles, further up I see the family I saw yesterday

today the young boy walks with his mum

i slip to the road then step back to the sidewalk

the older boy and his dad follow behind

passing a rugby ball on the road

yesterday i follow this family

the two play catch back and forth

the young boy wants to join in

fumbles the ball, passes it end over end

frustration kicks in, he kicks the ball down a steep bank

both boys scramble after it

we laugh as i pass their parents

today we smile at each other as we zig zag in different directions

 

Ila Selwyn

 

 

THE SPIDER AND THE SITTING DUCK

 

a spider crawls across the wall

while I’m sitting on my meditation cushion

the wall is there to avoid distraction

a deliberately nothing kind of wall

until the spider crawled across it

although the Sensei says ignore the spider

indeed ignore the wall

if it comes to that

that spider’s very hard to ignore

outside

I hear the sound of tires on asphalt

making like a rain has begun to fall

but that I can ignore

whereas

if I quickly reached out

even while maintaining this Burmese half-lotus pose

I reckon I could grab the spider

squash it flat

I know Buddha says don’t do that

but the spider is a sitting duck

it’s almost as if it’s asking for it

squashed spiders presage rain

or so they say

but that’s plain hocus-pocus

take your mind off hocus-pocus things

how can you meditate

in this shall-I-shan’t-I kind of state

whereas if the spider wasn’t there

I’d be back in the groove

meantime (mean time indeed!) how long can I last

vacillating like a pendulum

neither here nor there

neither this nor that

Arthur nor Martha

though neither is my name

absorption in this kind of dithering

can make you lose all sense of the passing moment

which is after all the thing you’re meant to be noticing

as it passes

and it’s right about now

that I look up

having lost my focus on the wall for a lower one

that stain upon the carpet

and bugger me

the spider’s gone

the sitting duck has slipped away

and left in her stead

another sitting duck

sitting here

upon his meditation cushion

 

Murray Edmond

 

 

Myriad

the washing machine throbs

and convulses,

coughs and spits dark gunk.

the walls shake.

our hands shake,

 

but we don’t

shake

hands anymore.

 

black moths

litter our living room floor,

their fragile corpses like

small velvet off-cuts. the

mourning garb of old Italian women

 

is strewn over unrehearsed ground;

a myriad broken rosaries,

bodies of a generation piled like landfill.

 

feverishly we beat against the membranes of our bubbles,

drill frenetically into floorboards, slap white paint over

chips and scars, block the entry points

of mice and contagion,

 

but outside

the air is vibrant, the sky vivid, the land verdant

 

and in the

clear ear of the world,

there is resonance

and birdsong.

 

 

Sophia Wilson

 

 

 

 

Nick Ascroft was born in Oamaru. His latest collection is Moral Sloth (VUP, 2019). His previous poetry collections are From the Author Of (2000), Nonsense (2003), and Back with the Human Condition (2016); in 2018 Boatwhistle published his Dandy Bogan: Selected Poems. He has edited Landfall, Glottis and Takahē and was all-too briefly the Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. He is also a non-fiction author, writing on music and football. Nick is an editor by trade, a linguist by training and a competitive Scrabble player by choice. Victoria University Press author page

Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a migrant German-Samoan mother and a Palagi father. Her latest collection, Entangled Islands (Anahera Press 2015), is a mixture of poetry and prose. Serie’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She was awarded the Seresin Landfall Residency in 2011 and is a recipient of the Michael King Writers’ Centre 2018 Pasifika residency. Some of Serie’s stories for children and adults have aired on RNZ National. She has recently completed a new collection, Sleeping with Stones.

Tony Beyer writes in Taranaki. His recent work can be found online in Hamilton Stone Review, Mudlark and Otoliths; and is forthcoming in print in Kokako and Landfall.

Janet Charman’s monograph SMOKING! The Homoerotic Subtext of Man Alone is available as a free download at Genrebooks. Her essay ‘Mary Mary Quite Contrary’ on Allen Curnow’s suppression of the poetics of Mary Stanley, appears in the current issue on-line of Pae Akoranga Wāhine, the journal of the Women’s Studies Association of NZ.

Stephanie Christie is a poet who also works on multimedia collaborations and produces zines. She is the featured poet in Poetry NZ 2019. Her latest collection is Carbon Shapes and Dark Matters (Titus Books, 2015). Stephanie’s author page.

Murray Edmond lives in Glen Eden, West Auckland. His latest book, Back Before You Know, includes two narrative poems, ‘The Ballad of Jonas Bones’ and ‘ The Fancier Pigeon’ (Compound Press, 2019).

Amanda Hunt is a poet and environmental scientist from Rotorua, currently locked down at Pukorokoro Miranda on the Firth of Thames. Her work has been published in Landfall, Takahē, Mimicry, Poetry NZ, Ngā Kupu Waikato, Sweet Mammalian and more. She has been highly commended in NZ Poetry Society competitions and published in numerous anthologies. In 2016, she was shortlisted for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize.

Ila Selwyn gained First Class Honours in MCW at the University of Auckland in 2014, with a multi-media approach of drama, poetry and art. She wants to write a one-woman play, with poetry. She launched her latest poetry book, dancing with dragons, in 2018.

Kerrin P Sharpe has published four collections of poetry (all with Victoria University Press). She has also appeared in Best New Zealand Poems and in Oxford Poets 13 (Carcanet Press UK) and POETRY (USA) 2018. She is currently working on a collection of poems around the theme of snow, ice and the environment.

Sophia Wilson resides with her rural GP husband and their three daughters in Otago. She has a background in arts, medicine and psychiatry. Her recent poetry/short fiction can be found in StylusLit, Not Very Quiet, Ars Medica, Hektoen International, Poems in the Waiting Room, Corpus and elsewhere. In 2019 the manuscript for her first children’s novel, ‘The Guardian of Whale Mountain’, was selected in the top ten for the Green Stories Competition (UK). She was shortlisted for the 2019 Takahē Monica Taylor Prize and the 24 Hour National Poetry Competition, and was a finalist in the Robert Burns Poetry Competition. She won the 2020 International Writers Workshop Flash Fiction Competition and is the recipient of a 2020 NZSI mentorship grant.

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Janet Charman’s ‘daughters depart’

 

daughters depart

 

they are in the waves

beating for shore

as the little fish of their absence

swims in the fissures of my long grown bones

 

currents take hold

until

from sentiment

i fall to sediment

where the fumerole heat

escapes

in deep

dark

down

hair

a fontanelle

tells the stalker of memory

the necessity of tenderness

 

 

Janet Charman

 

 

 

 

 

Janet Charman’s monograph ‘SMOKING! The Homoerotic Subtext of Man Alone’ is available as a free download at Genrebooks. Her essay ‘Mary Mary Quite Contrary’ on Allen Curnow’s suppression of the poetics of Mary Stanley, appears in the current issue on-line of Pae Akoranga Wāhine, the journal of the Women’s Studies Association of NZ.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Janet Charman writes about Mary Stanley

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Janet Charman has written ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?’, a scintillating essay on Mary Stanley for Women Studies Journal. She raises questions about Mary’s exclusion, particularly from Allen Curnow’s anthologies, and equally importantly opens the scope and complexity of Mary’s poetry. I am reminded of how much Mary’s poetry offers and how good it is have her placed within our sightlines.

This is must-read critical thinking – just as Mary Stanley’s Starveling Year is must read poetry. Interestingly I could not access the book cover easily on line as it is now out-of-print ( it was re-issued by AUP in 1994, the first edition appeared in 1953).

You can read the full essay here. This year marks a hundred years since Mary’s birth.

 

Two tasters from Janet’s essay:

Extract 1:

‘In August 1946, aged 27, Stanley married again. Her second husband was a fellow poet, Kendrick Smithyman. In ‘Put off Constricting Day’, another poem from Starveling Year, she celebrates sexual desire, but also reveals the ambivalence with which the husband of this piece responds to his passionate wife. It is transgressive material for a woman artist of any period – work every bit as ‘adult’ as Allen Curnow, writing of his high expectations of New Zealand artists, could have wished (Curnow 1945, p. 26; 1951, p. 25). On these grounds alone, Stanley should have been a shoo-in for inclusion in Curnow’s 1960 Penguin anthology. A number of Stanley’s poems had appeared in various local and overseas journals, and in 1946, three of her poems won the Jessie Mackay Memorial Poetry Award. This meant her publishing record and critical notice were equal at that time to fellow newcomers C. K. (‘Karl’) Stead and James K. Baxter, both of whom Curnow’s anthologies go out of their way to include and praise. She was also part of a thriving writerly milieu in Auckland, where she and her husband knew Curnow personally. Not surprisingly, a four-page sequence of Smithyman’s poetry was included in the second edition of Curnow’s Caxton anthology (1951), a representation Curnow then tripled to 12 pages in his 1960 Penguin volume. But Mary Stanley is conspicuous by her absence from all three of Curnow’s collections. What is more, Curnow snubs the publication of Starveling Year in his Penguin introduction with his concluding note that, ‘Nowhere in the last decade have there been any poetic departures worth mentioning’ (1960, p. 64).3 That can only have been salt in Mary Stanley’s wounds.

 

Extract 2:

Family is likewise at the heart of Stanley’s ‘The Wife Speaks’, a poem I read out at my own mother’s funeral. In this piece, clocks whose faces have ‘asking eyes’ mutely question how ‘The Wife’ who winds their hands now spends the time they tell (1994, p. 23). But despite her unfulfilled ambitions, she accepts that she must close her books, because hers is a setting in which even ‘Night puts/ an ear on silence where/ a child may cry’ (p. 23). To meet her children’s needs, the poet must be hyper-vigilant; her underlying desire for a change in her domestic circumstances is stifled by the horrors that she anticipates any such change could produce. Her longing to express her audacious creativity is self-rebuked by the image of Icarus fallen, ‘feathered/ for a bloody death’ (p. 23). The brutal eloquence of the poem thus subverts its ostensible theme of wifely self-abnegation.

I read another of Stanley’s poems at the funeral of my mother’s closest friend. ‘Householder’ (in Starveling Year) embraces the covert hedonism of a Kiwi summer and expresses delight in nature’s exuberant will to misrule. The pines planted around the house usually afflict it with an inveterate chilliness, but once immersed in lazy seasonal heat, the poet glories in a chill made subversively sensual. Stanley’s ability to capture a timeless cultural mood is evoked in other poems too. ‘Sonnet for Riri’ (also in Starveling Year) is an expression of full empathy for a stranger – an emigrant, a refugee. So painfully relevant to the post-war period, this poem could not be more current today.

The dangers that patriarchy and its unacknowledged phallocentric discourses continue to represent for woman-identified artists are epitomised by the critical marginalisation of Mary Stanley’s life and work. However, the acuity of her poems also suggests that it is now time to consider her not as a solo, sacrificial, and silenced victim, but as somebody whose (pro)creative sensibilities can be a touchstone for any artist determined to treat feminine-generativity as both inspirational and unhidden. What is more, to encounter and share Mary Stanley’s poetics on these alternative Matrixial terms employs a model that collegially recognises the writer herself as a she-Hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Review: Heather McPherson’s This Joyous, Chaotic Place

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This Joyous, Chaotic Place, Heather McPherson, Spiral, 2018

(cover image by Joanna Margaret Paul with a portrait of Heather on the back by Allie Eagle)

 

 

Heather McPherson (1942 – 2017) published 4 poetry collections in her lifetime, with her first, A Figurehead: A Face, paving the way for future poets. It was the first poetry book by an out lesbian in Aotearoa/ New Zealand.  In 1974 she founded both the Christchurch Women Artists group and Spiral, a women’s literary and arts journal.

Before her death, Heather asked poet Janet Charman to edit her garden poems while Lynne Ciochetto and Marian Evans formed a Spiral collective to publish the volume.

When I think of garden poems, I think of Ursula Bethell and the decade she devoted to writing and gardening when she lived with her beloved companion, Effie Pollen. I have thought about these intensities a lot, and write about them in my forthcoming book.

To enter the glades of Heather’s final collection, lovingly tended by Janet, is to enter a garden rich in aroma, with diverse plantings and seasonal changes. As with Ursula, to view Heather’s writing through a garden lens is extremely productive.

 

This graveyard’s a bit like the one

where we buried my mum and dad. Oldish,

a small town Anglian acreage

 

from ‘At Rangiora’s Ashley Street Cemetery’

 

We begin at Ursula’s grave, and while the poem draws us in close, it also generates little waves that connect admired poet – mentor almost – to Heather’s parents: one grave seeking pilgrimage as much as the next. And herein lies the delight of the poetry, the way the visual piquancy (‘the bird droppings// and twigs’) interweaves with the many selves: daughter, poet, companion, political attendee.

Attendance is vital because this is a poet who paid attention to things, small and large, the one nestled in the other, crafted within the reflective surface of poems. At times it is the joy of the thing itself that matters:

 

but this shape-shifter tree blossoms

tight thick-skinned buds like thrusting rose-hips

 

from ‘fragment’

 

On other occasions the poem is a vehicle for story or anecdote, and a way of tending vital bonds, personal experience, inner movement. Age is a preoccupation as is the necessity of companionship.

 

No. No. See, it’s like old age, he says, eyeing my face.

Goes slack and perishes. Soon as I touched it, it gave way.

Dangerous. Gone holey. I’ll get you a tow.

 

from ‘Waiting for the breakdown truck’

 

I spend time in Heather’s poetic glades, because the senses are on alert, the description compounding, and it imbues my own contemplative state. I like that. I like the way my mind wanders through my open window to the kereru plundering the cabbage tree, and then I am back within an intensity of poppies:

 

Poppies poppies poppies … red-headed

black-bellied upright masses on light green

sea-milk stalks – surely such riotously

frilly leaves can’t be edible – can’t be

blanched – baked – boiled – toast …

 

from ‘Poppies’

 

In a poem for Fran, Heather responds to her friend’s paintings, and it seems to me, the astute observation might also be applied to the poems.

 

But I don’t have lots of things in

my work – like Anna does, you said;

ah, I said, but your painting traps

amazing movement in it – it moves,

it moves – whether or not your

subject does  – it moves internally

& moving, spills (…)

 

from ‘Things shift’

 

As much as stillness gifts Heather’s poetry a translucent layering, the internal movement – the links and arcs, the revelations, the richnesses and the reserve – offer an uplift along with countless movements. By paying attention to the garden in which she lived, and the people close to her, her poetry establishes contrasting intensities – from the joyful to the chaotic. It is a pleasure to read.

 

 

Until April 14th

‘This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tangi-ā-Tahu’ is a multi-media project to celebrate poet and lesbian activist Heather McPherson (1942-2017) and her peers in the Aotearoa New Zealand’s women’s art and literature movement of the 1970s and 1980s. It is a #suffrage125 project, funded by Creative New Zealand and includes an exhibition, a collection of Heather’s ‘garden poems’ and a shopfront cinema showing 70s and 80s short films and raw footage.

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The NZ edition of Poetry

 

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I know I find it hard to listen.

I read too much. I often need a drink.

It isn’t the world that makes us think,

it’s words that we can’t come up with.

Sure, I can work up fresh examples

and send them off to the committee.

But the poetry is in the bird. And in the pretty.

 

Bill Manhire, from ‘Polly’

 

International poetry traffic is so often dependent upon fortuitous connections. The degree of familiarity with poetry from elsewhere is utterly paltry compared with the degree of familiarity I have with local writing. Yes I have studied American and British poetry but I am more aware of the luminous stars in these poetry constellations than the grassroot outings.

On the other hand, we are no longer dependent upon ocean voyages and the constraints of distance, but to what degree does our poetry travel (compared say with fiction)? Or our poetry conversations extend beyond our lapping tidelines.

I am acutely aware of my impoverished relations with contemporary Australian poetry. Perhaps Joan Fleming and Amy Brown could guest edit a local journal with an Australian focus? But then again our journals are often annual and offer vital but scant opportunities for local poets.

This is not the first time an overseas journal has showcased New Zealand poetry, but it is perhaps the example I am most excited by. The editors – Stephanie Burt (USA), Paul Millar (NZ) and Chris Price (NZ) – have worked hard to present a distinctive and diverse overview of our current poetry. The selected poets cross all manner of borders: age, geographical location, style, university affiliation, gender, ethnicity. This matters if we want to move beyond the legacy of white male predomination, urban bias and privileged poetry models. I cannot name a NZ journal that has achieved such movement.

Yes the five books Daisy Fried reviewed – from the fifteen 2017 publications she was sent – were all Victoria University Press. Her selection certainly does not reflect the contours of that year, and we can all stand on the sidelines and shout (or sing) about the books we loved, but I have no issue with reviews reflecting individual taste. However I do take issue that a short intro and five VUP books can respond to her opening question: ‘How to characterise a national poetry?’ Why would you even try! It is a personal take on five excellent books.

The rest of the journal is an altogether different joy. The effect of reading is symphonic in the different hues and chords. Every single poem lifts off the page and catches both ear and eye. Such freshness, such lightness, darkness, musicality, room to breathe, surprising arcs and links and undercurrents. I keep swaying between Anna Jackson’s glorious bee poem and the flickering titles that coalesce in Nina Powles’s offering or the infectious wit of James Brown, Ashleigh Young and Tim Upperton.  I am pulled into the bite of Anahera Gildea, Chris Tse and then Tayi Tibble and stop in the tracks of reading. Travelling with Janet Charman and the revelatory suite makes me weep. Switching to Anne Kennedy and the momentum coils and overlaps and poetry transforms a starting point into elasticity on the line. Bill Manhire flips me over into the second stanza, and the lacework of reading – intricate yet full of holes – offers mystery, surprise, wit, curious things.

 

The time of breathing into clasped hands

hovering over a lighter to make a flame

 

not knowing

that an angry man threw his eyes into the night

 

the belly of his shattered father

weeping rain for separation of earth and sky

 

Jessie Puru from ‘Matariki’

 

 

The editors did not feel beholden to poetry that targets versions of New Zealand/ Aotearoa; our poetry might do this and then again it might not. The poems have the freedom to do and be anything whether they spring from spoken-word rhythms or  talkiness or thinginess or anecdotal revelations or sumptuous Baroque-detail or story or slanted humour or cutting political edges.

The poets: Anna Jackson, Kate Camp, Michele Leggott, Therese Lloyd, Jessie Puru, Essa Ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, Robert Sullivan, Kerrin P. Sharpe, Hera Lindsay Bird, Dylan Horrocks, James Brown, Murray Edmond, Jenny Bornholdt, Anne Kennedy, Bill Manhire, Nina Powles, Janet Charman, Anahera Gildea, Bernadette Hall, Vincent O’Sullivan, Courtney Sina Meredith, C.K. Stead, Chris Tse, Tim Upperton, Gregory O’Brien and John Pule, Faith Wilson, Ashleigh Young, Albert Wendt, Steven Toussaint, Erik Kennedy

This issue is a cause for celebration – I absolutely love it – and my celebration will take  the form of a subscription. New Zealand poetry has been well served – congratulations!

 

Poetry here

 

everything I never asked my grandmother

I can understand but I can’t speak

no one has played that piano since

New Zealand is so far away from here

let me translate for you the poem on the wall

 

Nina Powles from ‘Some titles for my childhood memoir’

Poetry Shelf Autumn Season: Poets pick a word – Janet Charman picks open

 

door tender

 

a trek through bush

arriving at the party breathless

 

climb onto the verandah

two chairs

one each side of the open door

sit there

with the music

pumping from the lit living room

down the empty hall

 

then who should step up?

out of the dark

a sparkler

a hum

as if with this starry fingering

the sinews of the self

are vibrating

all

at once

 

 

©Janet Charman  2017 (March 19th)

 

‘door tender’ is one of the etymological origins of clitoris.

That said this poem is set at a borderspace of self-fragilization, so the door is open.

 

Janet Charman’s essay ‘A piece of why’ appears in the current issue of The Poetry New Zealand Yearbook (Jack Ross Ed., 2017, PNZ, Massey University Press). In it some of the patriarchal implications of Allen Curnow’s three post-war Caxton and Penguin poetry anthologies are discussed.  Drawing in this, on the Matrixial theories of Bracha Ettinger, in terms of the affects and effects of transmissive trauma.

 

 

My SST review of the refreshed Poetry NZ Yearbook

Book review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross

Dr Jack Ross.

Supplied

Dr Jack Ross.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017

edited by Dr Jack Ross

Massey University Press, $35

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 
edited by  Dr Jack Ross

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross

Wellington poet Louis Johnson established the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook in 1951. It has just received a well-deserved makeover by Massey University Press. The new design is eye-catching, the writing has room to breathe and the content is eclectic. With Victoria and Otago University Presses publishing Sport and Landfall, it is good to see a literary magazine finding a home in Auckland. It is the only magazine that devotes sole attention to poetry and poetics, with an abundant measure of poems, reviews and essays.

Editor Dr Jack Ross aims to spotlight emerging and established poets and include “sound, well-considered reviews”. There are just under 100 poets in the issue, including Nick Ascroft, Riemke Ensing, Elizabeth Smither, Anna Jackson, Michele Leggott and Kiri Piahana-Wong. When I pick up a poetry journal, I am after the surprise of a fresh voice, the taste of new work by a well-loved poet, the revelatory contours of poetry that both behaves and misbehaves when it comes to questionable rule books. The annual delivers such treats.

A welcome find for me is the featured poet: Elizabeth Morton. Morton’s debut collection will be out this year with Makaro Press, so this sampler is perfect with its lush detail, lilting lines and surreal edges. My favourite poem, Celestial Bodies is by Rata Gordon (‘When you put Saturn in the bath/ it floats./ It’s true.’). Fingers-crossed we get to see a debut collection soon.

Mohamed Hassan’s breath-catching poem, the cyst, is another favourite: “In the small of my back/ at the edge of where my fingertips reach/ when I stretch them over my shoulder/ it is a dream of one day going home for good.”

You also get the sweet economy of Alice Hooton and Richard Jordan; the shifted hues of Jackson and Leggott (‘She is my rebel soul, my other self, the one who draws me out and folds me away’); the humour of Smither.

To have three essays – provocative and fascinating in equal degrees – by Janet Charman, Lisa Samuels and Bryan Walpert is a bonus.

Ross makes great claims for the generous review section suggesting “shouting from the rooftops doesn’t really work in the long-term”. A good poetry review opens a book for the reader as opposed to snapping it shut through the critic’s prejudices. However on several occasions I felt irritated by the male reviewers filtering poetry by women through conservative and reductive notions of what the poems are doing.

Ross’ review of Cilla McQueen’s memoir In a Slant Light highlighted a book that puzzled him to the point he did not not know exactly what she wanted “to share”. In contrast I found a poignant book, ripe with possibility and the portrait of a woman poet emerging from the shadows of men.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, in its revitalised form, and as a hub for poetry conversations, is now an essential destination for poetry fans. Not all the poems held my attention, but the delights are myriad.

 – Stuff

nzepc launches its fourth Six Pack Sound

Poets Jenny Bornholdt, Janet Charman, Owen Connors, Andrew Johnston, Bill Manhire and Chris Price contribute dazzling audio recordings of recent work and comment on their Six Pack selections. They join a gallery of recorded performances by poets working in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific region. Click, listen and browse Six Pack Sound’s growing sampler of remarkable poetic voices.

See here.

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