Ah. Love is my final theme. My seventeenth gathering. I chose love because love is the ink in my pen, it drives the pencil filling my notebooks. It’s the reason I keep two blogs running when, at times, it seems impossible. There is the love of reading and writing stretching back to childhood. Love poetry can embrace many subjects, moods, objects, experiences, relationships. So many poetry books in Aotearoa are steeped in love. In what is written and, just as importantly, in the infectious love poets feel for the power of words. For the possibility of the line, silence, music, physical detail. As readers, writers, publishers, reviewers, booksellers of poetry, we are connected through a shared and invigorating love of poetry. Ah.
To celebrate the end of my theme season I have ten copies of Wild Honey: Reading New Zealand Women’s Poetry to give away. I will sign one for you or for a friend. You can leave a comment on the blog, on FB or Twitter: Which theme resonated for you? What theme do you suggest if I should ever do this again? Or just email me if you have my address.
Grateful thanks and aroha to all the poets, publishers and readers who have supported my season of themes. I so loved doing this!
it has worked
by imagining you
in all the places I would
like you to be
this is the one I love.
he is not here
but the air is still warm
from where he
might have been
we have spent hours
circling each other
how to translate these
words into silences
or the silences
when I cannot fix you
behind my eyes
I carry your absence
on the blue roof
from Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2016
Two sitting at a table
two at a table sitting
two and two
a table in the grass
in the grass a table
and on the table
empty almost with a little
a little empty almost but
with a little water
there sits a jar for love
on the table a jar for love
not a fresh jar every day
fresh every day
nothing in the jar that lasts
always fresh they are sitting
sitting at the table
looking they are looking
at the jar at the table
at each other they are
sitting looking sitting
at the table at the jar
looking looking sitting
now is nearly the day
the day is nearly now now
go to sleep go to love
go to jar go to look
look looking look
sit sitting catch that catch
two sitting at a table
two at table sitting
two and two and two
a table in the grass
from Fool Moon, Auckland University Press, 2004
Because of you
in you I see the shape of the heart
all poets try to explain
you, the greatest poem
I could never pen
how blessed I am
to mother a son
to exercise hope and love
when everything else is absent
your are a gift to men
because of you
I pray for men
still love men
hold hope for me,
from Full Broken Bloom, Ala Press, 2017
The wind has shaken everything out of the quince tree.
Behold the bony gullets of fledglings
as yellow as the towers of rock that arise in Wyoming.
‘Stop blocking the gangway,’ the old woman
used to say, cutting away long roils
of yellow clay with her spade, hell bent on re-configuring
a brand new version of genetically modified
melancholy. ‘Never forget how the old ones
arrived from Dubh Linn, the Place of the Dark Pool,
formed from the union of the River Liffey
and the River Poddle. Never forget
that we are arisen from a line of proud people.’
And here I am, holding onto my end of the string
and I know, my love, that you are holding onto the other.
I was trying to get to you
but the wind kept changing direction
she hates it when institutions use Te Reo in their signatures
she hates it when my wet hair drips all over the bedsheets
I couldn’t see you this time
I was down a rabbit hole
along the coast beside the point
love given love received
there isn’t enough room in this house to house our love
the brick square flat beneath a rectangle sky
your baby finally came
the angels found your address submerged in yesterday’s current
and she’s clapping in every photo
my feet don’t touch the ground these days
take the stairs to stay fit
I keep my car full of gas
it is easy to recycle the past
my ghost is in town
and I don’t know if I should email her back
already the skeleton wings of this year are casting long shadows
we don’t know what’s for dinner but next door’s
Tui keeps singing all the buried bones to life
and you’re opening every can of beans in the cupboard
to feed the tired warrior in my arms
Courtney Sina Meredith
from Burnt Kisses on the Actual Wind, Beatnik Publishing, 2021
Helping my father remember
is in the business
A radio technician,
the basic premise being
that a message is sent out,
then received. Except something’s
gone wrong with the wiring,
and he didn’t teach me
how to fix it. I see him, standing
at the kitchen bench,
his hand hovering
over an orange and paring knife;
trying to think
what he had planned.
There is evidence that sound
helps restore memory:
of a cricket ball colliding
with tin fence; lemonade
in a shandy;
in the air, when pulled
from a camp fire.
The doctor says
depression, my sister says
stress, my father says
so bloody dramatic.
I am the most like you,
and that we
are like your mother.
I am following you through
tall grasses, as high
as my head. You’re in
your angling gear.
It’s summer, I can hear
There’s a wind up,
but its warm.
to the river.
You find Nana,
and I’ll find you.
We won’t be lost
if we’re together.
from Bad Things, Victoria University Press, 2017
I haven’t read a single
new book since I’ve been
with you. I’ve been so busy
peering into your eyes
where I can see dark
passages & feinting
canaries & gold &
Plus I’ve been preoccupied
with the joy of sex
the science of living
the interpretation of dreams
& my undiscovered self.
So today I read
a love poem.
But when I looked
at it, it just said
It was very repetitive.
It just kept skipping
over itself. Skipping
to the important bits.
Slipping into something
I looked away for a second
& when I looked back the
love poem had filled the
whole room. It was thrusting
against the ceiling & had
burst through the open window
pushing the vase of sunflowers
I tried to call to you to come
& look but the love poem
was so big that it caught
in my throat. There were fainting
canaries everywhere like the
fallen petals of sunflowers
from Fully Clothed and So Forgetful, Victoria University Press, 2017
All that summer we kissed outside
because we had nowhere inside
to be alone. We had matching Clash t-shirts
and black outlooks. After my shifts
at Seafood Sam’s I would pick you up
in my Dad’s ute and we’d drive to the river
so I could swim off the chip grease. I’d
light a fire while you showed me the riffs
you’d learned that day on your unplugged
Fender. /I’ve been beat up, I’ve been thrown out,/
/But I’m not down, No I’m not down./ I requested
Blondie but you said it was chick-music.
Poking the fire with a stick, the tinny twang
of your dead strings. We thought we had it
pretty bad. Your Dad didn’t like me because
I was “the wrong flavour”. I craved city life.
Packed my army bag and left home, but not before
I withdrew half my chip money and bought you an amp.
from The Comforter, Seraph Press, 2011
The library is full of people looking for love. At the
sound of footsteps approaching, a boy turns around with
a meaningful glance, and casually slips a pencil behind his
ear. Girls pause on the landings, clutching armfuls of books
to their breasts. Sometimes, you feel sorry for these people.
You wish this wasn’t happening. All you want is a book,
and all the shelves are filled with eyes of longing.
from Secret Heart, Victoria University Press, 2006
Always on Waking
Always, on waking, I look out into treetops:
I lie beside you in the shimmering room
Where, whether summer morning, shell of dawn
Or dazed moonlight patterns leaves on walls
I wake to wide sky and the movement of treetops.
As the leaves flicker (thin scimitars of opaque
Dull green the eucalyptus bundles over her bark strips)
They become lucent; leaves lined with sunlight
With moonlight are no longer drab
But seem scimitars shining, are not now opaque.
While you are there I am nested among leaves;
As sparrows come each morning for breadcrumbs
So I look for your still face beside me;
Without your calm in the face of what wild storm
I am no longer nested, but desolate among these leaves.
from No Traveller Returns: The poems of Ruth France, Cold Hub Press, 2020
It was manuka honey, the best kind,
in a big, white plastic bucket, given to you
by someone with bees, because you’d been helpful,
so much honey, it looked like it might last a lifetime
and you being you, and maybe why I love you,
you spooned it out into carefully washed jars
and gave it to your uncle, your mother, your brothers,
our friend with the little boy, your mother’s neighbour
who had the birthday, so much honey, and after
all that you gave away, there was still so much left for us.
from Meowing Part 1 (the Meow Gurrrls zine).
Is It Hard to Follow Your Heart When You Have Three?
(on the story of the giant octopus from Aelian’s De Natura Animalium)
is it hard to follow your heart when you have three?
one for circulation
two for breathing
i am the stone jar of pickled fish
you are the giant octopus
i wait in the dark for you
you crawl up the sewer for me
we cast our votes
two are for breathing
from The Starling 9
Toikupu aroha 1
I waited all night for you to come home
to plant kihikihi into your cupped palms
now as you sleep I glide my fingers
memorising the tracks that led me here
to this chest – arms – manawa
with such vastness and proximity
I lean down taking in the entirety
of your pulse and there my hā quickens
above lifelines grooved
with spacious and honest certainty.
from Gaps in the Light, Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021
There are four extant poems written by the ancient Greek poet Erinna. Three of these concern the death of her childhood friend, Baukis.
you lost her, didn’t you?
the one that made it worthwhile
to be underneath the sun and breathing
you remembered her, didn’t you?
the days you played
chasing the tortoise topsy turvy,
falling from all the white horses
you missed her, didn’t you?
when marriage came like a thief
and snatched her away
the ribbon of your world
you mourned her, didn’t you?
when the ribbon was torn
the bright eyes empty,
the breath stilled
you cried for her, didn’t you?
raw, with it heaving out
the wet thick language
of snot and tears
you loved her, didn’t you?
even more than a friend,
the closest companion
the only one
you wrote for her, didn’t you?
wove her memory through hexameters
to stave off oblivion
When the Person You Love Leaves You in the Night
When the person you love leaves you in the night, it is only natural to get out of bed and follow them. It is also only natural for your pyjamas to be all crumpled and your hair sticking up at the back. It is only natural to feel confused, and alone.
Nine times out of ten, a light will be on and you will walk into the living room, squinting. The person you love will probably be making human body parts out of plasticine, or playing video games. They will look up and say ‘Hello’ and smile at you like you’re some kind of lost baby animal. You will feel a little bit found.
If there is no light on in the house, it is important that you check the garden. If there is no garden, check the balcony. The person you love will be out there, staring at the moon and not crying. You are the one who cries. Except that one time… and the other. Don’t ask them if they’re okay because they will just say ‘Yeah’. Besides, you are the one who was left alone in the night.
Just look at them in the moonlight, and let them look at you. Stay very still. Then take their hand in slow motion and walk to the kitchen. The person you love will follow you, and so will the moon. Pour some milk into a pan and simmer gently. You will see a quivering white circle. The moon will be in there somewhere. Slice cheese onto bread and turn on the grill.
When you have two pieces of cheese-on-toast, put them on a plate. Pour half the milk into the mug with Peter Rabbit on it and half into the souvenir mug from Sweden. There will be sugar on the floor and it will stick to your feet. Swing yourself up onto the kitchen bench. You and the person you love will sit with your feet dangling side by side. The sugar will fall without a sound. You will drink your milk. The person you love will eat their grilled cheese, with sips of milk in-between. Peter Rabbit will eat his radishes.
Congratulate yourselves for drinking calcium. Sit at opposite ends of the couch with your legs tossed over their legs. Talk until you wake up the birds.
It is important that at some point during the night the person you love reminds you that you are the person they love. It is also important that they thank you for the grilled cheese. If they don’t, give them a pen and a piece of cardboard. Drop them on the side of the road. Tell them, ‘You can hitchhike from here.’
from Starling 4
Love Poem with Seagull
I wish I’d seen it from your side of the table
when the horrid gull attacked my fish and chips,
the springy baton of haddock in my hand
a signal for the post-saurian psycho
to swoop at my talon-less fingers as they moved toward my mouth
in their classically dithering mammalian way,
because if I’d had the privilege to see
the stress-warped, flexuous face behind
my bat-like ultrasonic shrieks of shock
as I fought off the bird unsuccessfully
then I’d have some idea of what it means
for you to love me, the sort of person who manages
to always look like this or feel like this
regardless of how much easier being normal is.
from There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime, Victoria University Press, 2018
our love is a tracking device
more sure than any global
just carve us into wooden tablets
then imprint us on opposite corners
of a mighty length of siapo
and watch tusili’i spring forth
making bridges to connect us
over rock-bound starfish
scampering centipedes and
the footprints of bemused birds
we have many stories of
losing and finding each orther
of getting lost
and losing others
but today all is well
I lie beneath the old mango tree
smothered with coconut oil
embellished with wild flowers
and droplets of your sweat
your aging shoulders
still fling back proud
and I still arch towards you
like a young sweetheart
you have whispered in my hair
and we both know
this is our final harbour
from Tapa Talk, Huia Press, 2007
This morning when I looked out my window
they were the first thing I noticed.
I saw them flocking outside my house.
I like to look at them from my window.
I get the sun there. I’ll go out and stroke them.
I wonder what they think of me.
Some people don’t have anything much
but if you put a hen on their knee they start looking.
I’m not fast on my feet. I have bother with my eyes.
I’ve got friends that can’t get out.
Everything goes downhill.
I would go back to when I was younger.
I love the first things.
When you’re young you’ve only a future.
I’ve made no plans for dying. I haven’t paid for anything.
I’d be terrified if they made a mistake.
I do love everything about living though.
I love being able to see.
I like to look out my windows and see the leaves
like a blanket on the ground. I love the autumn.
I love the hens in the autumn.
I couldn’t imagine my life without them.
They’re everything to me.
from How I get Ready, Victoria University Press, 2019
Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a German-Samoan mother and a Palagi father. She was the recipient of a 2018 Pasifika Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Serie promoted her collections Tapa Talk and Entangled Islands at the 2019 International Arsenal Book Festival in Kiev. She collaborated with filmmaker Anna Marbrook to produce a short film, Te Ara Kanohi, for Going West 2021. Her latest poetry collection, Sleeping With Stones, will be launched during Matariki 2021.
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.
Jenny Bornholdt is the author of many celebrated collections of poems, including The Rocky Shore (Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, 2009) and Selected Poems (2016), and editor of several notable anthologies, including Short Poems of New Zealand (2018). In 2005 she became the fifth Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate, during which time she wrote Mrs Winter’s Jump (2007). In 2010 she was the Creative New Zealand Victoria University Writer in Residence. In 2013 she was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature. In 2016 she edited the online anthology Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems. Jenny’s most recent collection is Lost and Somewhere Else (2019).
Murray Edmond, b. Kirikiriroa 1949, lives in Glen Eden. 14 books of poetry (Shaggy Magpie Songs, 2015, and Back Before You Know, 2019 most recent); book of novellas (Strait Men and Other Tales, 2015); Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing (2014); editor, Ka Mate Ka Ora (http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/); dramaturge for Indian Ink Theatre. Forthcoming: Time to Make a Song and Dance: Cultural Revolt in Auckland in the 1960s, from Atuanui Press in May, 2021.
Ruth France (1913–68) published two novels: The Race (1958), which won the New Zealand Literary Fund’s Award for Achievement, and Ice Cold River (1961); and two volumes of poetry: Unwilling Pilgrim (1955) and The Halting Place (1961), under the pseudonym Paul Henderson. Poems from a third collection, which remained in manuscript at the time of her death, are published as No Traveller Returns: The Selected poems of Ruth France (Cold Hub Press, 2020).
Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), and a novel, The Year of Falling. She lives in Wellington. website
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.
Joy Holley lives in Wellington and has recently completed her Masters in fiction at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her writing has been published in Starling, Sport, Stasis and other journals.
Claudia Jardine (she/her) is a poet and musician based in Ōtautahi/Christchurch. In 2020 she published her first chapbook, The Temple of Your Girl, with Auckland University Press in AUP New Poets 7 alongside Rhys Feeney and Ria Masae. For the winter of 2021 Jardine will be one of the Arts Four Creative Residents in The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, where she will be working on a collection of poems.
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.
Erik Kennedy is the author of There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), and he is co-editing a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific forthcoming from Auckland University Press later in 2021. His second book of poems is due out in 2022. His poems, stories, and criticism have been published in places like FENCE, Hobart, Maudlin House, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Helen Lehndorf’s book, The Comforter, made the New Zealand Listener’s ‘Best 100 Books of 2012′ list. Her second book, Write to the Centre, is a nonfiction book about the practice of keeping a journal. She writes poetry and non-fiction, and has been published in Sport, Landfall, JAAM, and many other publications and anthologies. Recently, she co-created an performance piece The 4410 to the 4412 for the Papaoiea Festival of the Arts with fellow Manawatū writers Maroly Krasner and Charlie Pearson. A conversation between the artists and Pip Adam can be heard on the Better Off Read podcast here
Courtney Sina Meredith is a distinguished poet, playwright, fiction writer, performer, children’s author and essayist, with her works being translated and published around the world. A leading figure in the New Zealand arts sector, Courtney is the Director of Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, an organisation committed to championing Oceanic arts and artists. Courtney’s award-winning works include her play Rushing Dolls, poetry Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick, short stories Tail of the Taniwha and children’s book The Adventures of Tupaia. Burst Kisses On The Actual Wind is Courtney’s new collection of poetry, the book was released just this month.
Hannah Mettner (she/her) is a Wellington writer who still calls Tairāwhiti home. Her first collection of poetry, Fully Clothed and So Forgetful, was published by Victoria University Press in 2017, and won the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. She is one of the founding editors of the online journal Sweet Mammalian, with Sugar Magnolia Wilson and Morgan Bach.
Grace Iwashita-Taylor, breathing bloodlines of Samoa, England and Japan. An artist of upu/words led her to the world of performing arts. Dedicated to carving, elevating and holding spaces for storytellers of Te Moana nui a Kiwa. Recipient of the CNZ Emerging Pacific Artist 2014 and the Auckland Mayoral Writers Grant 2016. Highlights include holding the visiting international writer in residence at the University of Hawaii 2018, Co-Founder of the first youth poetry slam in Aoteroa, Rising Voices (2011 – 2016) and the South Auckland Poets Collective and published collections Afakasi Speaks (2013) & Full Broken Bloom (2017) with ala press. Writer of MY OWN DARLING commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company (2015, 2017, 2019) and Curator of UPU (Auckland Arts Festival 2020 & Kia Mau Festival 2021). Currently working on next body of work WATER MEMORIES.
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, and is currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of 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.
Ashleigh Young is the author of Magnificent Moon, Can You Tolerate This?, and How I Get Ready (Victoria University Press). She works as an editor at VUP.
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
Sixteen poems of the land