Tag Archives: Jennifer Compton

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Jennifer Compton’s ‘A Farm in the King Country’


A Farm in the King Country



On the shelf beside the brick chimney piece

in the farmhouse lounge room (off the hall)


a room that was out of the usual run of things

(a lofty box, a sash window, a retreating echo)


I came across a copy of Faces In The Water

(with a dangerous cover) written by a certain


Janet Frame. A woman by her name, and why

would they lie? And from the words written


on the back, she was one of us. Had I never

laid my hands/eyes upon a book by a NZer


before? (No, never.) I read, sitting on the rump

of a dusty sofa, as the other people were doing


something useful outside. Finding chook eggs

in the orchard, milking the house cow, hoeing


cabbages, rendering horse fat to clean harness.

And the stink of her menstrual blood shook me


out of my orbit. (Forever.) Outside this wooden

box a mountain and her sisters claimed ground.



Jennifer Compton was born in Wellington and now lives in Melbourne. Recent work has been published in Antipodes, Cicerone, Not Very Quiet, Poetry New Zealand, Rabbit, Styluslit, The Frogmore Papers, The Moth, and Verity La. Her next book of poetry, ‘the moment, taken’, nears completion.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jennifer Comptom’s ‘i smashed my head’


i smashed my head



in a circle before ballet class

hand in hand

with girls in candyfloss slippers

and little wraparound skirts


someone gave my hand a good pull

down i went


an odd thwack

it hurt but

i jumped up



i had given my head

a fantastic crack

let something out

let something in


later that night i sat shivering by our fire

odd thoughts were ranging through me

our mother noticed i was


she put me to bed



i woke up

to the morning

leaping through the window



©Jennifer Compton


‘i smashed my head’ was published in Rabbit.


Jennifer Comptom is a poet and playwright who also writes prose. Her most recent poetry collection, Mr Clean & The Junkie, was published by Mākaro Press in 2015 and was longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards. She lives in Melbourne.


Poetry Shelf Review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018




What I want from a poetry journal

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Some poets I am keen to see a book from:


Our rented flat in Parnell

Those rooms of high ceilings and sash windows

Our second city

after Sydney

Robert Creeley trying to chat you up

at a Russell Haley party

when our marriage

was sweet


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Most poetry is unwritten,

denied and supposed.

Don’t go to write it.

Go where you’ve never been.


And it may come.

Behind you,

love rests.

And where is poetry?

What is it you seek?


Jill Chan, from ‘Poetry’



Poetry NZ Yearbook page


These Rough Notes: Ashleigh Young




Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays by Ashleigh Young.

Release date: 11 August. Paperback, $30.


With her new collection of essays to be launched by VUP on August 11th, Ashleigh Young answered a few questions for These Rough Notes.

Five questions and answers here

Here’s a sample:

This book has been a long time in the making – from when you won the Adam Prize in 2009 with a portfolio of essays, to now, 2016. How does it feel to finally be publishing your essays in a book form? How much has the work evolved in the time between your MA portfolio and the published book?

That’s a long time! I feel glad and a bit nervous, but mostly tired because I’ve been so busy avoiding this book for seven years. I know all the avoidance tricks now. I could probably organise a special conference on avoidance, or a festival. My favourite trick for avoiding this book – because it was full of problems that I didn’t want to think about yet – was to write things that weren’t this book. So I finished writing a book of poetry and started writing a blog. The blog allowed me to write my way into things I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise – cycling, odd encounters, mental health, phrases and gestures, friendships, members of my family, inner voice … Sometimes the posts were intensely personal and sometimes detached.


The launch:

Victoria University Press warmly invites you to the launch of

Selected Poems
by Jenny Bornholdt


Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays
by Ashleigh Young

6.00pm–7.30pm, Thursday 11 August
at Unity Books
57 Willis St, Wellington.
All welcome.

Buy both books on the night for only $60 (normally $70).
This offer applies at the Unity Books launch only.

Eleven NZ women’s poetry books to adore and some fiction – Happy International Women’s Day!

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Book Award lists should promote debate. Ideas and issues should be raised. As long as judges and authors don’t come under personal attack. It is a time of celebration, let’s not forget that, but it is also a time when diverse opinions may draw attention to our healthy landscape of books.

I have just started writing a big book on poetry by New Zealand women. I have carried this project with me for a long time, and it something I care about very much indeed. It is a book I am writing with a great sense of liberation and an equal dose of love.

I bring many questions to my writing.

The shortlist for poetry and fiction in the Ockham NZ Book Awards includes 0ne woman (Patricia Grace) and seven men. There are no women poets.

This is simply a matter of choice on the part of the judges and I do not wish to undermine the quality of the books they have selected. However, in my view, it casts a disconcerting light upon what women have been producing in the past year or so.

Women  produced astonishing books in 2015. I reviewed their poetry books on this blog and praised the diligent craft, the exquisite music, the sumptuous detail, the complexities that challenge and the simplicity that soothes. I have lauded books by women that have moved me like no other, and that have contributed much to the possibilities of what a poem might do.

I am gobsmacked that not a single one made it to the shortlist.

Men have written extraordinary poetry in the past year, but so too have women.

Today is International Women’s Day. In celebration of this, here is a selection of poetry and fiction I have loved in the past year and would have been happy to award.

This list is partial. Please add to it.  Some of these women are my friends, so yes there is unconscious bias. Some of these women I would recognise in the street, some I would not.


Eleven Poetry Books by women to adore

(I have reviewed all these to some degree on Poetry Shelf or interviewed the poets)

Emma Neale  Tender Machines This is a domestic book that is utterly complex. Yet it moves beyond home to become a book of the world. The music is divine. I am utterly moved. The Poetry Shelf trophy is yours Emma.

Joan Fleming Failed Love Stories Poetry that dazzles and shifts me. This book is on replay!

Holly Painter Excerpts from a Natural History Startling debut that blew me out the window and made me want to write

Sarah Jane Barnett Work Poetry that takes risks and is unafraid of ideas. Adored this.

Johanna Aitchison Miss Dust Spare, strange, surprising, wonderful to read.

Anna Jackson I, Clodia and Other Portraits The voice gets under my skin no matter how many times I read it. So much to say about it.

Jennifer Compton My Clean & The Junkie This narrative satisfies on so many levels.

Airini Beautrais Dear Neil Roberts Risk taking at the level of politics and the personal.

Morgan Bach Some of Us Eat the Seeds Beauty of the cover matches the surprise and beauty of the poetry within.

Hinemoana Baker waha/ mouth This poetry lit a fire in my head not sure which year it fits though. But wow!

Diane Brown Taking My Mother to the Opera This is poetry making pin pricks as it moves and gets you chewing back through your own circumstances.


…. and this is just a start. Ha! Serie Barford with her gorgeous mix of poetry and prose.

Yep I am going over board here just to show you that women have footed it with the best of the men. Whichever year you look at, a different set of judges would come up with a different mix of books. Yes let’s celebrate that worthy shortlist but let’s also remember that canon shaping only revels in and reveals part of the story.


Fiction (I haven’t read so widely here and have a wee stack to get too – Laurence Fearnley and Charlotte Grimshaw here I come!)

Anna Smaill The Chimes This book – plot character, setting, premise, events – still sticks to me. The sentences are exquisite. Some books you lose in brain mist. Not this one.

Sue Orr The Party Line I see this book becoming a NZ classic – a novel of the back blocks. The characters are what move you so profoundly. So perfectly crafted.






Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Marty Smith makes some picks


A poem can come into the room quietly but I hope for the ones that sneak up to grab me by the neck and rattle my brains. That’s Anis Mojgani – I love it when you get someone new who is rich, rich, rich. His power keeps on springing out; no matter how many times I read and reread his poems, they refuse to dull and they keep startling up silvery:

‘the sickle makes its own rules


how it glints in the moonlight

how it shines like a one worded whisper’


I love also the stinging beauty of Jennifer Compton’s Now You Shall Know (Five islands Press) and her wryly observant voice: now tough, now tender, now distant, now close. She has space and silence and a side-swiping humour and she doesn’t back off from anything, not even her mother-in-law’s dying: from ‘My Mother-In-Law Comes to Poetry Late in Life’

then as the walls of her brain cells broke

scrambled but yes dazzling intimacies

spilt out


Since I’m currently at work on presenting the people of the racing world through the vernacular, I’m reading non-fiction. Gerald Murnane’s memoir of the turf, Something for the Pain is the last and quietest of my picks. I love his courtly phrasing and his acerbic humour, and his deep love and fascination with the racing world, which for him offers more than religion or philosophy. It doesn’t hurt that when he’s drunk at dinner parties he likes to argue that horseracing has as much to teach us as Shakespeare.


On my waiting list is Voices from Chernobyl, the oral history by Svetlana Alexievich, presented through layers and layers of spoken witness. I was less than a 1000km from Chernobyl when the reactor blew, out in the air eating leafy greens and touching dust in the three days panicked authorities were hard on denial (the radiation levels are normal) and the nuclear cloud passed over, and rained on us. Therefore I have a lightly radiated interest of my own in the particulars, trivial as it is in the face of the terrible and compelling experiences of people who were less than 1km from the reactor and who were also allowed to stay outside.


Anis Mojgani is coming to NZ for the Wellington festival. YouTube clip. Festival details. Full progamme out in January.


Marty Smith

Some poetry fans pick a recent favourite NZ poetry read – and my giveaway bundle

Thanks for sharing these. I put all the names in a hat and drew out Nicola Easthope. I will send you a wee bundle of poetry books. Can you email me your postal address please?


Sarah Jane Barnett: Congratulations on your 500th post! What an achievement and also such a contribution to New Zealand poetry readers. The book I’m enjoying at the moment is Joan Fleming’s Failed Love Poems. It’s an intense read and I feel immersed in the characters, especially in the second section. The poem ‘The invention of enough’ blew my mind!


Harvey Molloy: One book that comes to mind is Native Bird by Bryan Walpert.  It’s such a well-crafted, polished book. There’s a diversity of poetic forms and tones so the work’s quite dynamic.  There’s also a certain reticence in places, a skirting around painful issues which I find quite refreshing  – – at times emotions are understated and there’s a control and restraint which I find quite moving; the poetry is at times actively self-conscious but never cold or impersonal (for example the poem, ‘Ōakura’).  I’ll be coming back to this book.


Sian Robyns: Airini Beautrais’ Dear Neil Roberts had me enthralled enraged and weeping. To paraphrase ‘History Books’ (p 43), she admitted Neil Roberts into our histories and gave us a harrowing reminder of the particular awfulness of Muldoon’s New Zealand. Sadly, we still maintain a silence closely resembling stupidity.

Can I have two? I also loved Jennifer Compton’s Mr Clean and the Junkie. I loved the story, the sense of place, and that swooping, interfering, conversational, self-aware authorial voice.


Crissi Blair: I loved Caoilinn Hughes’ Gathering Evidence which I had from the library after hearing Gregory O’Brien talking to Kim Hill about her marvellous first lines. Congratulations on your 500th post Paula. You are doing a great job at spreading the poetry word!


Nicola Easthope: One Aotearoa poetry book I have enjoyed this year (there are so many) is Janet Frame’s The Goose Bath, winner of the 2007 Montana NZ Book Awards. I have come late to Janet’s poetry (having gobbled up her prose at university in the late 80s) and love meeting her flaring imagination and dance of language through poems with apparently innocent beginnings that usually turn, back and forth, between the light and the dark of her life.The entire collection leaves me fizzing and aching with appreciation.


Lara Anderson:

The body is a nest alive with new song
The brain is fluent in ghost
The tongue is rich with poetry ~ Siobhan Harvey from ‘Cumulus’ in Cloudboy Otago University Press, 2014

These are just a few of my favourite lines in a book of NZ poetry that I have read and re-read this year. Using the metaphor of clouds to express her feelings and to give poetic form to her son. Harvey is at times both confronted and confronting. You would think that over an extended piece you would get tired of the cloud metaphor but it provides a cohesion that allows the reader to trace the ever changing cloudscapes – like watching the weather dance across the city in time-lapse fashion. Every time I re-read her work I garner something new from it.

Anyway, thank you for your 500 wonderful posts!


Susan Wardell: I stole away from evening toddler-ing duties for a full hour to attend the launch of Emma Neale’s Tender Machines. For the first three days I kept the book lovingly tucked in it’s friendly brown-paper bag, carrying it around in my over-sized, multipurpose parenting handbag, and stealing it out just a few times a day, in the gaps between work-work and home-work, to savour the poems one, or maybe (greedily) two, at a time – along with the salted crackers keeping my ‘morning’ sickness at bay – then carefully replacing it. Parked by the road or outside the house, while my daughter squirmed/sang/ate raisins in the back seat, I cried more than a bit, and more than once, as I read Emma’s poignant, humourous, gentle, and sometimes brutally-true poems about, well… about life. To find something that could capture, without reifying, the beauty and fragility of the mundane and domestic, reading the micro everyday of mealtimes and bedtimes into the macro of our uncertain global times…. it is special. I don’t believe I had ever read what I could call a ‘true’ poem about parenting before I read Emma’s (earlier) work. This collection, too, became a lifeline, another level at which to process my own experience, emotion, as a mother and a woman and a citizen of a broken world. I breathed. It was ok to be human after all. I forgave myself as the book came out of it’s paper sheath permanently and, in the space of only a week, gained nutella fingerprints, sand in the page creases, water bottle stains, and dog ears. I finished it and cried a bit more into the spaghetti, not sure whether to blame hormones or metaphors. This collection is personal in a tender and unapologetic way, political in a raw and thoughtful way, beautiful in a subtle, tangible, heart-lifting way. It is both grounded and soaring; it is both the heartbeat and the wind. It came at just the right moment for me personally, in the way poetry often does. But I am also pleased to think of it’s permanence now, in print; it will remain as a beautiful little signpost in the history, the story, of NZ poetry… should the archaeologists of the future unearth my well-loved copy, they will know us better for it.


Kathryn Crookenden: Congratulations on your 500th post for NZ Poetry Shelf and thank you for all your efforts to promote poetry in New Zealand. I enjoy reading the blog, especially the reviews and the interviews with poets.

I have enjoyed reading Frances Samuel’s Sleeping on Horseback this year. I got it out of the library twice and then bought my own copy because there were so many poems that I enjoyed and wanted to keep going back to. Through her poems I have travelled with Chinese poets and Russian writers, visited Japan and Latvia in summer, and considered how to draw spires and towers. I like her wry humour and sharp observations. My favourite poem in the collection is ‘Just twinkling in the moonlight’ with its baby ‘all shiny with the moon.’ I’d also like to mention the gardening anthology, The Earth’s Deep Breathing, which has been a good companion for the last few weeks as I’ve been getting my own garden into shape, and Glenn Colquhoun’s The Art of Walking Upright which I read earlier this year – there are some beautiful kuia honoured in his poems.


Maureen Sudlow: I am currently reading the collected poems of Ruth Dallas, published by the University of Otago Press, and I am struck again with the breadth and depth of her writing.  Some of her work is influenced by the early Chinese poets, and some returns to the strong heritage of her own environment and upbringing. Ruth also includes haiku, which are one of my favourite poetic forms, and which are not often included in general poetry collections.

Her poems are gathered into five groups that show changes to Ruth’s writing over time.  I particularly love ‘Felled Trees’:

Nobody has come to burn them,
Long green grass grows up between them.
Up between white boughs that lie
Dead and empty, dry,
That once were full of leaves and sky.

and ‘Night Rain’

Needles of the rain
Restitch the linen of the flesh

The rich variety of her writing brings me back to read again and again.  If you have no other New Zealand Poet on your shelves, you must at least have Ruth Dallas.  Ruth has gone but she has left a treasure trove of words behind for us to enjoy.


Helen Anderson: I am very pleased to have the opportunity to write about C.K Stead’s Collected Poems 1951 – 2006. This was a very welcome gift that has sat beside my bed all year for dipping into. It was published in 2008 and came to me via Hard to Find book store having never been opened!  I had the privilege of being in Professor Stead’s  classes far too many years ago and reading his text The New Poetic published back in 1964 accounted for my first experience of some understanding of the poetic enterprise. Collected Poems is full of surprises, the range is extraordinary and the collection includes previously unpublished work. It is an ongoing lesson about the power of language to invoke memory, to rebuild perception and to take us beyond our boundaries when crafted by a poet who is serious, playful, cynical and optimistic and an artist.

Poetry Shelf review: Jennifer Compton’s Mr Clean and The Junkie – a fabulous read – the kind of book you devour in one gulp


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Jennifer Compton, Mr Clean & The Junkie Mākaro Press, 2015


Jennifer Compton’s new poetry collection, Mr Clean & The Junkie, is a fabulous read – the kind of book you devour in one gulp. It is a long narrative poem in four parts with a coda. Each section is written in couplets – shortish lines that deliver the perfect rhythm for the occasion. This is a 1970s love story set in Sydney (and briefly NZ), yet it is a love story with a difference. It reminded me a bit of Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author, in that the stitching is on show — how you tell/show the story, along with the choices you make, is as much a part of the narrative as plot, characters and so. The difference here, though, it is like a poem in search of a character in search of a film director in search of character in search of a poem. Self-reflexive behaviour on the part of authors has been done to death in recent decades, so it has the potential to appear lack lustre. Not in this case. I loved the way the poetry is a series of smudges. A bit like the way life imitates cinema as much as cinema imitates life.

I spent ages on the first page. It got thoughts rolling. I loved the voice. I loved the intrusion of the director (we figure that out as we read) and I loved the way I kept putting the poem in the role of the camera (long shots to gain wider perspective or distance, tracking shots, surprising angles, refreshing views) or the editing suites with jump cuts and smooth transitions. Or sitting back and admiring the composition within the frame. Or tropes. The slow reveal.

The two main characters (My Clean and The Junkie) are definitely in search of flesh and blood, yet you can also see this as genre writing – a narrative poem that is part thriller, part whodunit, part crime writing. Then again it is part feminist critique and part postmodern explosion.


Here is a sample from the first page:


Our hero is discovered sleeping.

We find him as the camera finds him.


Our hero is dreaming of the white mouse

cleaning his whiskers in extreme close-up.


As he dreams we snoop about his habitat.

Everything is there for a reason and we will


see it from another angle before we reach The End.

I imagine ambient sound during the credit sequence.


The mouse begins to run the wheel because

the wheel is there under his paws.


The slow zoom out reveals the wheel is in a cage,

of course.


And fade to the floor-to-ceiling, slatted blinds,

chocked ajar,


looming over our man asleep on his futon.

What do they look like? Bars.



The writing is tight. The plot pulls you along at break-neck pace and then stops you in your tracks as the director’s voice pulls you out of plot and character with wry stumbling blocks.  Little flurries of sidetracks. Or how to proceed? The central idea’s beguiling (poem version of a film version of a love story), the dry humour infectious (after a curtain is pulled back to reveal a spectacular view of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and Opera House: ‘If you’ve got it/ flaunt it.’). But there is poetry at work here. It is there in the cadence of each line, the end word and the rhythm. It is there in the use of tropes that arch across the length of the book in little delicious echoes. The caged mouse on the wheel stands in for the symbolic cage of the hero (his father’s expectations and life choices). Most of all, however, the poetry sparks and flicks in the white space; the bits that are left on the editor’s floor or the angles that the director chooses not to show. Things are hinted at. Significant events that give flesh to character are caught within a line or two. That white space, that economy, is what gives this long poem its magnetic pull.

The collection is released as part of Mākaro Press’s 2015 Hoopla series. The beautifully designed books share design features and size, and include a new poet, mid-career poet and late-career poet. The other poets this year are: Carolyn McCurdie (Bones in the Octagon) and Bryan Walpert (Native bird). Jennifer is an award-winning poet and playwright who has lived in Australia since the 1970s. She has won both The Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry (This City, Otago University Press, 2011) and The Katherine Mansfield Award.

Reading Mr Clean and The Junkie is entertaining, diverting, challenging, laughter inducing. How wonderful that a poetry collection can do all of this. I loved it!