Meeting Rita is poetry as sumptuous brocade, rich in detail and shifting views. The writing is measured, finely-crafted, lyrical. Individual words, phrases and the building lines surprise and delight. Endnotes offer background contexts for each poem, fascinating detail acquired from the poet’s research.
Poetry is a way of bridging the faraway and the close at hand. A poem can make the achingly distant comfortingly close. Poetry can be a satisfying form of travel, whether to the other side of the world, to the past or to imagined realms. Reading poems that offer the faraway as some kind of presence, I feel such a range of emotions. Moved, yes. Goose bumps on the skin, yes. Boosted, yes. This is such a fertile theme, I keep picturing a whole book moving in marvellous directions.
I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who continue to support my season of themes.
if you can you can try to recall
the sun across the roof and you
knee-deep in childhood playing
near the fence with the storm
of daisies still impressionable
in the way of dreams still
believing leaves had voices
and you might then remember
curtains drowned in burnished light
how at night the sky emptied
into a field of stars leaching out
the guilt you’d soon forget unlike
the woman you called Nana who kept
knitting you hats while you kept not
writing back and maybe then you’d know
the injustices you had no part in
the lady who bought your house how
she ravaged your kingdom while
you were away oh these memories
spiralling into memories into
nothing this helter skelter art of
remembering this bending
over backwards running out of light
from Mayhem Literary Journal, Issue 6 (2018)
Acknowledgement to David Eggleton
She said we discussed post
structuralism in a post modern
context. She said in order
to remember such crucial
poetic phrases she had bought
a small exercise book in which
to record them.
It was, she said, a book
of semantic importance.
She said we considered
the deception of disjointed
parody and the fragmentation
of shallow consumer culture.
I can only remember
in her pale blue cardigan
in a zither of light.
from Four French Horns, HeadworX, 2004
I want to paint my nails apricot as an homage to call me by your name and the fake italian summer I had last year —
fake because I didn’t cycle beside slow streams or in slow towns
Instead I lay on a 70 euro pinstripe lounger and couldn’t see the water only other tourists
And the apricots I ate came from peach spritzes at sea salt restaurants and clouded supermarket jars
But all the shops are shut and the closest nail colour I have is dark red
I want to be somewhere in northern italy with light green water and deep green conversations
I want to pick fresh apricots from drooping branches and kiss a boy I shouldn’t on cobblestone paths against cobblestone walls
I want to lick a love heart on to his shoulder so that when he gets on a train my hands shake like a thunderstorm
and I can’t cycle home past the fields we held each other in and mum has to pick me up from the station
I want to walk down a staircase with winter at the bottom waiting to sweep me into snow
I want the phone to ring when the sky is white and hear an apricot voice ripe and ready to be plucked from the tree
he’ll say how are you and I’ll slowly leak
from Stasis 5 May 2020, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor
Wearing Katherine Mansfield’s Shawl
Seventy years on, shut
in a cardboard box in the basement
of City Hall, you might think
the shawl would have lost
its force to charm, the airy fragrance
of its wearer departed, threads
stripped bare as bones,
yet here it is, another short story:
it felt like love at the Hôtel
d’Adhémar the moment you placed
the silk skein around my shoulders,
the dim red and rusty green fabric
and a fringe gliding like fingertips
over my arm, a draught of bitter
scent – Katherine’s illness,
Virginia’s sarcasm – and
yes, a trace of wild gorse
flowers and New Zealand, not
to mention the drift of her skin
and yours during the photograph,
the stately walk through the town.
from Where Your Left Hand Rests, Godwit, Random House, 2010
On the occasion of the Sew Hoy 150th Year Family Reunion, September 2019
Here in this earth you once made a start
home treasure watered with sweat, new seeds
a fire you can light and which gives off sparks
the gleam of gold glowing in darkness
an open door, warm tea, friendships in need
here on this earth you once made a start
sometimes you imagined you left your heart
elsewhere, a woman’s voice and paddies of green
a fire which was lit, remembering its sparks
but even halfway round the world, shoots start
old songs grow distant, sink into bones unseen
here in this earth you can make a new start
with stone and wood you made your mark
built houses of diplomacy and meaning
a new fire was lit, with many sparks
flame to flame, hand to hand, heart to heart
150 years, sixteen harvests of seed
here, in this earth, you once made a start
A fire was once lit. We all are its sparks.
Once, I climbed a tree
too tall for climbing
and threw my voice out
into the world. I screamed.
I hollered. I snapped
innocent branches. i took the view
as a vivid but painful truth gifted
to me, but did not think to lay down
my own sight in recompense.
All I wanted was someone to say
they could hear me, but the tree said
that in order to be heard I must
first let silence do the heavy lifting
and clear my mind of any
questions and anxieties
such as contemplating whether
I am the favourite son. If I am not,
I am open to being a favourite uncle
or an ex-lover whose hands still cover
the former half’s eyes. I’ll probably never
have children of my own to disappoint
so I’ll settle for being famous instead
with my mouth forced open on TV like
a Venus fly-trap lip-synching for its life.
The first and last of everything
are always connected by
the dotted line of choice.
If there is an order to such things,
then surely I should resist it.
from he’s so MASC, Auckland University Press, 2018
drawing blank amber cartridges in windows
from which we see children hanging, high fires
of warehouse colours, a reimagining, my city fluttering
far and further away with flags netted
and ziplining west to east, knotted
and raining sunshine,
paving cinder-block-lit-tinder music in alleys
where we visit for the first time, signal murals
to leapfrog smoke, a wandering, my city gathering
close and closer together a wilderness
of voices shifting over each other
and the orchestra,
constructing silver half-heresies in storefronts
to catch seconds of ourselves, herald nighttimes
from singing corners, a remembering, my city resounding
in and out the shout of light on water
and people on water, the work of day
and each other,
my city in the near distance fooling me
into letting my words down, my city visible
a hundred years from tomorrow,
coming out of my ears and
until i am disappeared someways and no longer
finding me to you
I call it my looming
dread, like the mornings I wake
crying quietly at the grey
in my room, like whispering to my sleeping
mother – do I have to
like the short cuts I can’t take
like the standing outside not breathing
like my hand on the doorknob
counting to twenty and twenty
from Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Victoria University Press, 2004
I am coming home to myself
my mother going away from herself.
Every move you make
so much slower now, mother
like your body is trying to keep pace
with your mind
everything about you reads as
but sometimes I read as
FUCK THIS! silently salts my tongue
a tight fist slamming the steering wheel
gas under my foot
tears choking my ears
smoke swallowing my chest.
I am a mother:
Mothering her son,
a motherless daughter mothering her mother.
It’s hard somedays not to be swallowed.
from full broken bloom, ala press, 2017
Preparing for death is a wicker basket.
Elderly women know the road.
One grandmother worked in munitions, brown
bonnet, red stripe rampant. the other, a washerwoman:
letters from the Front would surface, tattered.
You must take the journey, ready or not.
The old, old stream of refugees: prams
of books and carts with parrots.
Meanwhile the speeches, speeches: interminable.
When the blood in your ears has time to dry: silence.
The angel will tie a golden ribbon to the basket’s rim.
You will disappear, then reappear, quite weightless.
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
from Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963- 2016, Canterbury University Press, 2017
moving away from the orchard plots,
laundry lines that sag under the macrocarpa.
moving away from the crystalline skies,
the salt-struck grasses, the train carts
and the underpasses. i astral travel
with a flannel on my head, drink litres
of holy water, chicken broth. i vomit
words into the plastic bucket, brush
the acid from my teeth. i move away,
over tussock country, along the desert
road. i chew the pillowcase. i cling
my body to the bunk. the streets
unfurl. slick with gum and cigarettes.
somebody is yelling my name. i quiver
like a sparrow. hello hello, says the
paramedic. but i am moving away from
the city lights, the steel towers.
and i shed my skin on a motorway
and i float up into the sky.
from This Is Your Real Name, Otago University Press, 2019
Black Stump Story
After a number of numberless days
we took the wrong turning
and so began a slow descent
past churches and farmhouses
past mortgages and maraes
only our dust followed us
the thin cabbage trees were standing
in the swamp like illustrations
brown cows and black and white and red
the concrete pub the carved virgin
road like a beach and beach like a road
two toothless tokers in a windowless Toyota
nice of you to come no one comes
down here bro – so near and
yet so far – it takes hours
not worth your while –
turned the car and headed back
shaggy dogs with shaggy tales
from Fool Moon, Auckland University Press, 2004
Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Tusiata’s most recent collection The Savage ColoniserBook won The Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Poetry Book 2021.
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; 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.
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a Christchurch poet and non-fiction writer. A poetry collection, Blood Ties: selected poems, 1963-2016 was published by Canterbury University Press in 2017. A memoir, Now When It Rains came out from Steele Roberts in 2018. He makes his living as a stay-at-home puppy wrangler for Hari, a Jack Russell-Fox Terrier cross. Hari ensures that little writing takes place, while psychogeography and excavating parks happen daily. Recent work has appeared in Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, an essay on prison reform, and poetry; also, an inclusion in The Cuba Press anthology, More Favourable Waters – Aotearoa Poets respond to Dante’s Purgatory.
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).
Pippi Jean is eighteen and just moved to Wellington for her first year at Victoria University. Her most recent works can be found in Landfall, Starling, Takahe, Mayhem, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook among others.
Fiona Kidman has written more than 30 books and won a number of prizes, including the Jann Medlicott Acorn Fiction Prize for This Mortal Boy. Her most recent book is All the way to summer:stories of love and longing. She has published six books of poems.In 2006, she was the Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton. The poem ‘Wearing Katherine Mansfield’s shawl ‘is based on an event during that time. Her home is in Wellington, overlooking Cook Strait.
Renee Liang is a second-generation Chinese New Zealander whose parents immigrated in the 1970s from Hong Kong. Renee explores the migrant experience; she wrote, produced and nationally toured eight plays; made operas, musicals and community arts programmes; her poems, essays and short stories are studied from primary to tertiary level. In recent years she has been reclaiming her proud Cantonese heritage in her work. Renee was made MNZM in 2018 for Services to the Arts.
Anuja Mitra lives in Auckland. Her writing has appeared in Takahe, Mayhem, Cordite Poetry Review, Starling, Sweet Mammalian, Poetry Shelf and The Three Lamps, and will appear in the AUP anthology A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand. She has also written theatre and poetry reviews for Tearaway, Theatre Scenes, Minarets and the New Zealand Poetry Society. She is co-founder of the online arts magazine Oscen.
Elizabeth Morton is a teller of poems and tall tales. She has two collections of poetry – Wolf (Mākaro Press, 2017) and This is your real name (Otago University Press, 2020). She has an MLitt in creative writing from the University of Glasgow, and is completing an MSc in applied neuroscience at King’s College London. She likes to write about broken things, and things with teeth.
Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet and performer. Her work has been part of various journals and collaborations. She has a deep interest in music and used to be a french horn player.
Chris Tse is the author of two poetry collections published by Auckland University Press – How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards) and HE’S SO MASC – and is co-editor of the forthcoming Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers From Aotearoa.
Rhegan Tu‘akoi is a Tongan/Pākehā living in Pōneke. She is a Master’s student at Victoria and her words have appeared in Turbine | Kapohau, Mayhem and Sweet Mammalian. She has also been published in the first issue of Tupuranga Journal
Some poetry books catch you on the first page and you get goosebumps and your breathing changes and you know this is a book for you. I felt like that when I first read Alison Glenny’s sublime The Farewell Tourist with its luminous connections to Antarctica. There is something about poetry that takes risks, that never loses touch with heart, is unafraid of ideas, and is able to sing on the line. You just want to camp up in the book for days, with a thermos of tea, and all your devices unplugged.
I felt the same way about Bill Manhire’s extraordinary poem ‘Erebus Voices’ (Lifted, Victoria University Press, 2005). You can read the poem at The Spin Off here and listen to Bill read the poem here. Thinking of Alison’s book and Bill’s poem, I knew ice had to be one of my themes.
Ice in poems: it might be a hint, a hurt, an underlying coldness, an icy image, a heart freeze, a trip to the snow-capped mountain, a melting ice-cream, an avalanche.
I am so grateful to all the poets who have supported my extended thematic poetry gatherings. Thank you.
The Poetry Shelf Theme Season runs every Friday until mid August.
In the morning the mountains beckon
Blue and clear like bells; glaciers feed upon
Light pouring from heaven brighter than ice-stone.
Ruth France (1913-1968), from No Traveller Returns: the selected poems of Ruth France, Cold Hub Press, 2020
Twelve poems about ice
Some afternoons a fog rolled down the hallway. On others, the staircase groaned with moisture. A finger laid carelessly on a bannister dislodged a ledge of rime. She lifted the hem of her dress to avoid the damp in the passageway, wore knitted gloves in the kitchen. She was lying in the bath when the glacier pushed through the wall. She sank deeper into the water to escape the chill that settled on her shoulders. Trying to ignore the white haze, to lose herself between the pages of her book.
from The Farewell Tourist, Otago University Press, 2018
He Manawa Maunga
We are dwarfed by a snow bank
that reaches beyond our eyes,
a single hole punctuating its white sheet.
Your hand covers my small eyes
and I feel you shielding me in the warmth of your jacket
as we move though.
I open them to a palace of ice and snow
meticulously carved by strangers
long gone down the mountain.
We sit together in silence,
deep in the mountain’s quiet heart.
Watching our breath melt away
the walls around us.
from Tōku Pāpa, Victoria University Press, 2021
Mrs Mary Jane Bennet saw frost on the ground
circling the lighthouse where her children sleep.
At the cliff edge where wildflowers were,
gulls wash seafoam up the shore.
You, gulls, over hoofprints on the track,
over the dunes, over pearl beams ghosting
out from the lighthouse,
in your thousands over clean seashells.
The wind spins dead things in circles.
Collect up the wintertime, won’t you,
crack it on a rock,
drop it from a height.
But, you bird whose wing cuts the tops off waves,
shut your wings for the children
of Mrs Mary Jane Bennett.
Let loose a grey feather.
She will tuck it into the knot
of the blue satin ribbon
ion her eldest daughters hair, the one
who dreams of white things circling.
Nina Mingya Powles
from Girls of the Drift, Seraph Press, 2014
I was thirty-three before I learned people stuck in snow can die from dehydration. I would melt icicles on my tongue for you, resist the drinking down, drip it into you. Then repeat, repeat until my lips were raw.
Deep snow squeaks. We stop on the Desert Road because of the snow. You throw snowballs at the ‘Warning: Army Training Area’ sign. I take macro-photographs of icicles on tussock.
When we drive up the Desert Road we lost National Radio, we lose cellphone reception, we lose all hope. I was thirty-seven before I considered not trying to always fix things. I read an article in the New Yorker about wabi-sabi – the beauty in the broken and the worn. The integrity of the much-used utilitarian object.
But then there was another article about a woman flying to Mexico to be put into a coma so she can wake up mended. It is like rebooting a computer, said the doctor.
Despite wabi-sabi, I want that. To live in snow and not be thirsty. I want good reception all the way up the country. I want a shiny, clean version of myself. Closedown, hibernate, restart.
from The Comforter, Seraph Press, 2011
She overhears the sound of things in hiding.
She bites an apple and imagines orchard starlight.
Each time she licks her thumb, its tip,
she tastes the icy branches,
she hears a sigh migrate from page to page.
from Zoetropes, Victoria University Press, 1981
They would ice-skate:
he worked the canals
between villages, on ice
above the level of the land.
Amsterdam in the fifties:
a row of white stone houses
on a paved street.
New Zealand’s blue sea
lapped at sloping shores,
knew its place
at the flank of land.
Wide stars, small shells,
the open span of sand.
A wooden villa
Those years of good
pudding and bread,
and climbing out of bed.
hang on the wall.
Blond varnished wood.
Those blades, sweeping,
never shook off the ice.
from Echolocation, Victoria University Press, 2007
Island girl Tokoroa
ice-cream puddle licks bare feet
a sky so bright and blue
the sun rimming its yellow stain
make-believe it is summer
yet winter bites frozen fingers
gloves and scarves for some other child
in her hands she holds the key
a coin for lunch one Sally Lunn, miss
creamy pink-smothered bun
there is no word for luxury beyond
this daily walk in winter sun
she can almost taste it
morning flicks by chafing
head down she holds out her hand
winter may snow for all she cares
the skies can turn black
one Sally Lunn, miss
is heaven and blue
from Her Limitless Her, Mākaero Press (Hoopla series), 2018
Three people in the snow
two linked by marriage
memorising fault line
by fault line
and every now and again the head of the summit
and out of sight
three people with backpacks and knees in the snow
threading the mountains with a silence
that once broken
would make you cry
and every now and again the head of the summit
and out of sight
like the early love of a June morning
first an accent and then the hearing
and the sky is a blanket wishing it gone
late on the summit a sparrow
from A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand, eds Paula Morris & Alison Wong, Auckland University Press, 2021
There was the war on TV,
the snow, the people lying on plastic
in the snow, death arriving
with his suitcase full of tools,
the delivery out of this world
offers such a dazzling
variety, and the snow, forever this
white tableau becomes forged
with the recollections of your last
and the people lying on the plastic
in the snow.
At the doctor’s I sat with
my tiny hands held in my lap the way
I’d been taught, twolovebirds,
but the flesh was as cold as sheet ice
I was up to my elbows
in frostbite and snow.
There were stories in the news
each day and in the morning paper,
death can happen overnight, may
be in your house if you don’t move
fast enough, in a trench, or
the dreadful football-stadium one,
under the trees in a dark
wood, against a hedge, or even lying
on plastic in the wan snow.
Such soft subdued footfalls,
but a goodly advance
over a long stretch of time.
Others shift their seats away from me
leaving a pencil
-thin cavity, a subtle margin,
but you and I are crouched
together in the snow reading the
they are torn and dirty, tacked to
the cobwebbed wall of some
wild and woody alpine mountain hut:
Construct earthen fortifications
Behind your village. In the case
of serious exposure it is
best to wait for rescue dogs.
We must read the instructions
we must read the instructions
but there are no instructions
I believe there are no instructions.
from Avalanche, Pemmican Press, 2000
Every morning I congratulate
the icicles on their severity.
I think they have courage, backbone,
their hard hearts will never give way.
Then around ten or half past,
hearing the steady falling drops of water
I look up at the eaves. I see
the enactment of the same old winter story
– the icicles weeping away their inborn tears,
and if only they knew it, their identity.
from The Goose Bath: Poems, eds. Pamela Gordon, Denis Harold, Bill Manhire, Vintage, Random House, 2006, picked Hebe Kearney
In this place, silence has a voice wide-ranging as the continent. Some say it’s on the cusp of madness, the way it hums and stutters, mutters to itself in quietest tones.
In this place, the universe brims. Inside absence, presence. Inside distance, dust and our sleeping earth dreaming beneath her thin blue mask of ice.
In this place, the necessity of memory, recollections of a loved one’s face, shape of laughter, weight of breath.
In this place, nostalgia roams patient as slow hands on skin transparent as melt-water. Nights are light and long. Shadows settle on the shoulders of air.
Time steps out of line here stops to thaw the frozen hearts of icebergs. Sleep isn’t always easy in this place where the sun stays up all night and silence has a voice.
from Open Book – Poetry & Images (Steele Roberts, 2007).
Suggested by Jenny Powell. The poem has also been a prompt for various musical compositions, including a piece Antarctikos by US composer, Jabez Co (2010) and The Journey Home (2012) for soprano, tenor, baritone, choir and orchestra by NZ composer John Drummond.
Visiting Rita at Sydney Street West
Wellington rains in a cross-hatch tantrum.
Wind blasts batter everyone backwards.
Lost in a volley of ‘after the hill second street right
follow your nose’ I have taken the wrong hill,
veering left with an eye on the clock.
Landmarks stream down my spectacles,
couplets of directions waterfall out of my head.
Lost in a valley of paper map ink-splash,
folds between us disintegrate. In the if-only world
my fingers wrap a hot cup of tea, my coat dries by your heater.
Sticks torn from moorings shoot down white-water gutters.
Wind race of paper packets eddies in high-speed gusts.
I am lost in solitary panic.
An onslaught of sleet freezes my face.
from Meeting Rita (forthcoming June, Cold Hub Press)
Angela Andrews lives in Auckland with her family. Her PhD in Creative Writing at Victoria University examined the relationship between medicine and poetry. She has previously worked as a doctor.
Claire Beynonis a Dunedin-based artist, writer and independent researcher. She works collaboratively on a diverse range of on- and off-line projects with fellow artists, writers, scientists and musicians in NZ and abroad. These group activities are buoyed and balanced by the contemplative rhythms of her solo practice. Websites here and here.
Modi Deng is a postgraduate candidate in piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music on scholarship. Currently based in London, Modi received a MMus (First Class Honours, Marsden research scholarship) and a BA from Auckland University. Her first chapbook-length collection of poetry will be part of AUP New Poets 8. Her poems have also appeared in A Clear Dawn (AUP), Starling, the Stay Home Zine (Bitter Melon Press), and on NZ Poetry Shelf for National Poetry Day. She cares deeply about literature (especially poetry, diaspora), music, psychology, and her family.
Janet Frame (1924 – 2004), born in Dunedin, was the author of thirteen novels, five story collections, two volumes of poetry, a children’s book and a three-volume autobiography. She won numerous awards including the New Zealand Book Award for poetry, fiction and non-fiction titles, and the New Zealand Scholarship in Letters. She received New Zealand’s highest civil honour in 1990 when she became a Member of the Order of New Zealand. She was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2003 and was named an Arts Foundation Icon Artist in 2004.
Alison Glenny’scollection of prose poems The Farewell Tourist, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. A chapbook, Bird Collector, is being published by Compound Press in 2021. She lives on the Kāpiti Coast.
Helen Lehndorf’sbook, 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
Bill Manhire founded the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington, which a little over 20 years ago became the International Institute of Modern Letters. His new book Wow is published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and Carcanet in the UK.
Vivienne Plumb writes poetry, short and long fiction, drama, and creative non-fiction. She held the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writing Residency in 2018, and has held several other writing residencies (both in N.Z. and overseas), and has been awarded the Hubert Church Prose Award and the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award, amongst others. Her work has been widely anthologised. A new chapbook of her poems will be released in July, 2021.
Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet and performer. Her work has been part of various journals and collaborations. Her next collection, Meeting Rita, is inspired by the artist Rita Angus, and is due from Cold Hub Press in June 2021.
Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Wellington, currently living in London. She is the author of Magnolia 木蘭, (a finalist in the Ockham Book Awards and the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2021), a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai, and several poetry chapbooks and zines. Her debut essay collection, Small Bodies of Water, will be published in September 2021.
Reihana Robinsonis a writer, artist and farmer living in the wilderness of the Coromandel. She has written two collections, Aue Rona and Her Limitless Her, has had work published in Aotearoa, Australia, France and USA. She is a contributor to the Dante-themed anthology More Favourable Waters and the just published Ora Nui Māori Literary Journal New Zealand and Taiwan Special Edition.
Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) is a writer, musician and taonga pūoro practitioner living in Pōneke. She has been published in journals such as Landfall, Starling and Sport, among others. In 2020 she released her debut album, Pōneke, which looks at the soundscapes of Wellington’s past, present and future through the use of taonga pūoro, cello, and environmental sounds. She is currently completing a PhD in public health, focusing on the use of taonga pūoro in hauora Māori. Tōku Pāpā, published in February 2021, is her first book.
David Eggleton at Matahiwi Marae (photo Lynette Shum)
Last weekend David Eggleton celebrated his New Zealand Poet Laureateship at Matahiwi marae accompanied by Charles Ropitini, whanau, friends, National Library staff (including the Library’s empathetic Laureate champion Peter Ireland) and poets (Jenny Powell, Kay McKenzie Cooke and Michael O’Leary). David was presented his tokotoko carved by Haumoana carver Jacob Scott. On the Saturday evening Marty Smith hosted Poets Night Out at the Hasting Events and Arts Centre, Toitoi.
The National Library also announced that due to the restrictions Covid has placed upon David’s Poet Laureate plans his term would be extended for another year. David has gifted Aotearoa a richness of poetry in printed form, but his appearances as a performance poet are legendary, inspirational, charismatic. He is appearing at the Christchurch Word Festival late October and will now be able to bring his poetry to the people over the next two years, as was his aim. Wonderful!
Two of David’s guest poets – Kay McKenzie Cooke and Jenny Powell – share their experience of this special weekend.
Jenny Powell and Kay McKenzie Cooke
David’s tokotoko is called Te Kore, meaning ‘the void’. The dark maire has a natural hole near the upper end. When he received it his body straightened, as if a spiritual and physical source of creativity became one.
Like the tangata whenua of Matahiwi marae, the tokotoko radiates what is needed. I held it on the way to the evening poetry reading in Hastings and again on the way home. Did it matter? Yes.
The void. The beginning, the creation, the end. Here it was, playing out in a bend of time and words. In the before of my ton weight suitcase, organisational order, waiata to practise, transport logistics, food and food. In the then. Matahiwi marae in its glory of green bounty, Māui hooking us into his welcome, kuia hooking us into love. River flow of oratory, Poems of the south, of love, of colour, of rapid fire Eggleton resonance and the moon beaming in story and song.
In the leaving, small children bound on fields, frail elders offer blessings, words spiral, tears flower. In the meeting house, enduring peace of the deep void.
Matahiwi marae (photo Katrina Hatherly)
After Being Introduced
Naturally, there are many other memories but maybe I particularly remember David’s grin, Fieke’s calmness, Jenny’s silver boots, Peter’s careful attention, the humour and innate sense of arrangement from the National library trio (Joan, Lynette and Katrina) and Michael’s Fleetwood Mac black hat and white t-shirt emblazoned with the words: A Hard Day’s Night.
Michael, Jenny and I practice our waiata for David. E Tu Kahikatea. We sing it out in a patch of sun cut to the shape of a motel’s open door. We are kind of happy with how it sounds. Jenny’s top notes, my more middling muddle, Michael’s lower notes verging on bass, all blending to invoke a tree standing braced for whatever will come at it, bolstered by those who stand close to protect and the togetherness of all this conjured up in the final lines.
Our first chance to meet the National Library trio: Lynette, Joan and Katrina, is at tonight’s dinner. They exude friendliness, kindness, humour, order and care – and that’s just on the first take. There’s room for even more to surface as the weekend unfolds. (Such as the Joni incident – but I am jumping ahead of myself and anyway, it’s probably one of those you-had-to-be-there episodes.)
Jenny and I are on the hunt for breakfast early and surprisingly enough for us, we manage not to get lost. Go us! As we look out from our outside table onto Havelock North’s shiny newness, including a fountain and locals setting up stalls for a market on clean concrete, a brittle breeze reminiscent of Ōtepoti’s nor’easterly, licks at our ankles.
Outside the Matahiwi marae gates, that same cold breeze niggles at our backs and shoulders. Charles our te reo-speaking representative, tells us the moon is in a benevolent phase – all augurs well – and points out the maunga, the mountains, in the distance. He names them and tells us the meaning of the name – which, sadly, I promptly forget. However, I do notice that after being introduced, the mountains appear to draw a little nearer.
More people arrive to join the waiting group. David’s no-fuss whanau flock quietly together. And then the pōwhiri begins, a karanga calling us to proceed in safety. Wings of grief beat in my chest like something fighting waves of memory.
We are welcomed with kōrero, karakia, by tīpuna, voice, mountain, awa, spirit, wairua, with love, aroha. Charles responds with an operatic kōrero sung on our behalf in te reo, laced with waiata that soars and rolls in an awa of pride. We line up to elbow-hongi, covid-style. A kuia at the end of the line grabs each of us into a hug.
The unwrapping of the tokotoko begins with a blessing by Jacob, then revealed and handed to David by the carver. Made of maire, it is tall and straight, yet shapely. It is black with a small sweep, or wave, of brown. Pango and parauri. Somewhere, silver glints. The carver tells us it speaks of Māui and his brothers, of boldness and spirit. Of stirring, mischief-making, mixing things up and pitting against. It has weight. Mana. David tests its strength by thumping the ground with it. He appears satisfied. He smiles.
It is time for Michael, Jenny and me to sing our waiata. Unfortunately, all of the previous day’s blend and timing takes flight leaving only the unpolished, rough side of the päua, shy of colour and magic. It’s a pretty rough delivery. No matter. It’s done. The tree still stands. It takes more than that to fell a kahikatea.
David’s son does a far better job, calmly, confidently singing a self-composed song that soothes, charms and rocks like a waka launched on to slowly moving water.
Saturday night, David, Michael, Jenny and I make poetry the winner at Poets Night Out at the Hastings Events and Arts Centre, Toitoi, in all its glory and glamour; sumptuous flower displays, laser beams creating a dancing landscape on ceiling and walls. The event is bookended by two beautiful young singers and linking it all, Marty in shimmering gold jacket delivering her diamante introductions.
Mōrena. Back at the Matahiwi marae, we are hugged. Fed. Allowed into more stories. Humour sparks. We are told a little more of the coming into being of David’s Poet Laureate tokotoko; its name, Te Kore; its character, its insistence not to be firewood, but instead a walking, talking stick with fire to fill any void in its belly.
As we make our reluctant farewells, a kuia gifts Jenny and myself quiet words of encouragement to take back home to Ōtepoti with us. She loves our poetry. She may write some herself now. She particularly loves the way Jenny speaks her poems. I feel there is more she wants to say. Deeper things. But there is no time left.
More farewells outside the marae as we get into cars. Some of the good-byes are to people we will see again. Others, maybe not. As the car I am in moves away, I notice the maunga, the mountains, have moved. I watch as they fade back into the distance.
Jenny Powell has published seven individual and two collaborative collections of poems. She is part of the touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling. Jenny is currently in the Wairarapa as the RAK Mason Writing Fellow.
Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection, titled Upturned, was published by The Cuba Press, mid-2020. At present she is far too busy to write. A predicament she hopes will not be permanent.
David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based writer, critic and poet. His first collection of poems, ‘South Pacific Sunrise’, was co-winner of the PEN Best First Book of Poetry Award in 1987. His seventh collection of poems, ‘The Conch Trumpet’, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. He received the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Poetry in 2016. His most recent collection of poetry is Edgeland and Other Poems, with artwork by James Robinson, published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate.
Carolyn McCurdie reads ‘When bright red was eclipsed by silver shoon’
Martha Morseth reads ‘On discovering your oncologist is a travel agent’
Jenny Powell reads ‘A spot on the map’
Maxine Alterio reads ‘The vein whisperer’
Claire Beynon reads ‘Poolburn’
Elizabeth Brooke-Carr (1940 – 2019) was a Dunedin poet, essayist, short story writer, teacher, counseller. Her writing appeared in newspapers, online journals and anthologies. She was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors’ 75th Anniversary Competition and the Dunedin Public Libraries competition Changing Minds: Memories Lost and Found. She received a PhD from the University of Otago. Wanting to tell you everything was published by Caselberg Press in 2020.
Poetry Shelf review of Wanting to tell you everything
Maxine Alterio is a novelist, short story writer and academic mentor. She has published four works of fiction and co-authored a textbook about learning through reflective storytelling.
Claire Beynon lives in Broad Bay. An artist and writer, she works on a range of collaborative, interdisciplinary projects balancing group activities with the contemplative rhythms of her solo studio practice. She’s in the slow process of completing a second collection of poetry.
Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer of poetry and fiction, especially speculative fiction. Her poetry collection Bones in the Octagon was published by Makaro Press in 2015.
Martha Morseth has written articles for More Magazine and the NZ Woman’s Weekly since l982, and poems for The Listener, Landfall and other literary New Zealand magazines. She has published two collections of poetry, three collections of short stories and plays for high school English classrooms. She came to New Zealand in 1972 with her husband and two daughters.
Jenny Powell has published seven individual and two collaborative collections of poems. She is part of the touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling, and is the 2020 RAK Mason Writing Fellow.
Landfall 238 edited by Emma Neale (Otago University Press)
I am finding literary journals very satisfying at the moment. They suit my need to read in short bursts throughout the day. Landfall 238 came out last year but the gold nuggets keep me returning. Is our reading behaviour changing during lockdown? I read incredibly slowly. I read the same poem more than once over the course of a week.
Helen Llendorf’s magnificent ‘Johanna Tells Me to Make a Wish’ is a case in point. It is slow and contemplative, conversational and luminous with physical detail. She starts with chickens, she stays with chickens, she intrudes upon herself with long parentheses. It feels like a poem of now in that way slows right down to absorb what is close to home.
Landfall 238 also includes results from the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry 2019, with judge’s report by Jenny Bornholdt; results and winning essays from the Landfall Essay Competition 2019, with judge’s report by Emma Neale; results from the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2019, with judge’s report by Dinah Hawken.
Tobias Buck and Nina Mingya Powles’s winning essays are terrific. Two essays that in different ways, both moving and exquisitely written, show distinctive ways of feeling at home in one’s skin and navigating prejudice. Both have strong personal themes at the core but both stretch wider into other fascinations. Would love to read all the placed essays!
I also want to applaud Landfall on its ongoing commitment to reviewing local books, both in the physical book and in Landfall Review Online. Review pages whether in print or on our screens seem like an increasingly endangered species. Landfall continues to invite an eclectic group of reviewers to review a diverse range of books.
To celebrate this gold-nugget issue – I have invited a handful of poets to read one of their poems in the issue.
Make a cup of tea or a short black this morning, or pour a glass of wine this evening, and nestle into this sublime poetry gathering. I just love the contoured effects on me as I listen. I have got to hear poets I have loved for ages but also new voices that I am eager to hear and read more from.
Welcome to the Landfall 238 audio gathering!
Louise Wallace reads ‘Tired Mothers’
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 looking forward to resuming a PhD in Creative Writing. Her days in lockdown are filled with visits to the park, bubbles, playdough, drawing, and reading the same handful of books over and over with her young son who she loves very much.
Cerys reads ‘Bus Lament’
Cerys Fletcher (she/her) is in her first year at Te Herenga Waka, splitting her time between Te Whanganui-a-Tara and her home city, Ōtautahi. When possible, she frequents open mics and handmakes poetry zines. She was a finalist in the 2018 National Schools Poetry Awards and the winner of the Environment Canterbury Poems on Buses competition in 2019. She has been published in Landfall and A Fine Line. She does NOT like men who hit on you while you’re making their coffee. She is online & probably wants to talk to you (instagram: @cerys_is_tired. email: email@example.com).
Rachel reads ‘The place of the travelling face’
Rachel O’Neill is a writer, filmmaker and artist based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa. Their debut book One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press) was published in 2013. They were awarded a 2018 SEED Grant (NZWG/NZFC) to develop a feature film and held a 2019 Emerging Writers Residency at the Michael King Writers Centre. Recent poems appear in Sport 49, Haunts by Salty and Food Court, and Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2019.
Peter Le Baige
Peter reads ‘what she knows’
Peter Le Baige has been writing and performing poetry since the first session of the legendary ‘Poetry Live’ weekly poetry readings in Auckland in 1981. He has published two collections of his very early work, ‘Breakers’ 1979, and ‘Street hung with daylit moon’, 1983, and whilst living abroad for 23 years, mostly in Asia and China in particular, has continued to write. He has been previously published in Landfall and was one of the cast for the ‘Pyschopomp’ poetry theatre piece at Auckland’s Fringe Festival in 2019.
Jenny reads ‘Not All Colours Are Beautiful’
Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet. Her latest collection of poems is South D Poet Lorikeet (Cold Hub Press, 2017). She is currently working on a new collection based on New Zealand artist, Rita Angus.
Annie Villiers reads ‘Bloody Awful’
Annie Villiers is a writer and poet who works in Dunedin and lives in Central Otago. She has published three books; two in collaboration with artist John Z Robinson and a novel. She is currently working on a travel memoir and a poetry collection.
Iona reads ‘Portal to the stars’
Iona Winter writes in hybrid forms exploring the landscapes between oral and written words. Her work is created to be performed, and has been widely published and anthologised. She is the author of two collections then the wind came (2018) and Te Hau Kāika (2019). Iona is of Waitaha, Kāi Tahu and Pākehā descent, and lives on the East Otago Coast.
Stacey reads ‘Kurangaituku’
Stacey Teague, Ngāti Maniapoto/Ngāpuhi, is a writer from Tamaki Makaurau currently living in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She is the poetry editor for Scum Mag, has her Masters in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, and has three chapbooks: Takahē (Scrambler Books, 2015), not a casual solitude (Ghost City Press, 2017) and hoki mai (If A Leaf Falls Press, 2020). Tweets @staceteague
Mark Broatch reads ‘Already’
Mark Broatch is a writer, reviewer and the author of four books.
He is a former deputy editor at the NZ Listener and is a fiction judge
for this year’s Ockham NZ Book Awards. His poetry has been published
in Landfall and the Poetry NZ Yearbook.
Susanna reads ‘Spring’
Susanna Gendall’s poetry and short fiction have appeared in JAAM, Takahē, Sport, Geometry, Landfall, Ambit and The Spinoff. Her debut collection, The Disinvent Movement, will be published next year (VUP).
Jenny Powell reads ‘Kaleidoscope’ from her collection Trouble (Cold Hub Press, 2014).
Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet who has written seven individual and two collaborative volumes of poetry as well as a cross-genre book about human movement, The Case of the Missing Body (University of Otago University Press, 2016). She has worked with artists and musicians in a variety of formats. Jenny enjoys performing her work, and is part of the southern touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling.
And this is why you should always keep a reading diary … I’ll have to cobble this together from flawed memory and my messy bookcase. Here goes: most recently, a ‘slim volume’ in the Penguin Modern Poets Three series with work by Malika Booker, Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire. In contrast, also Sentenced to Life and Injury Time by Clive James. Before these: Undying by Michel Faber, the poetry collections on the Ockham longlist, Bill Manhire’s Some Things to Place in a Coffin and Tell Me My Name, Walking by a River of Light by John Gibb, South D Poet Lorikeet by Jenny Powell, Getting it Right by Alan Roddick, Alzheimer’s and a Spoon by Liz Breslin, Taking my Mother to the Opera by Diane Brown, Fracking & Hawk by Pat White, The Trials of Minnie Dean by Karen Zelas, Taking My Jacket for a Walk by Peter Olds, Wolf by Elizabeth Morton, Where the Fish Grow by Ish Doney, Family History by Johanna Emeney, Possibility of Flight by Heidi North-Bailey, Withstanding by Helen Jacobs, Conscious and Verbal and Learning Human by Les Murray, Poems New and Collected by Wistawa Szymborska, Poems 1962-2012 by Louise Glűck, and X by Vona Groarke.
I like keeping an anthology handy too, and in the past year have been dipping in and out of two: Andrew Motion’s Poetry by Heart (on the bedside table) and Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke’s The Map and the Clock (next to the sofa).
What other reading attracts you?
Oh boy, you should see the pile of books by my bed – too many to list here. I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction (especially essays, biographies or memoir). Fiction-wise, I’ve recently finished Fiona Farrell’s wonderful Decline and Fall on Savage Street and am now reading Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks, and some short stories by William Trevor. I’ve recently reread Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (I love all of Strout’s work!). Vincent O’Sullivan’s All This By Chance is standing by for Easter.
Nonfiction-wise, I’m itching to start neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s The Strange Order of Things and Marilynne Robinson’s new essay collection What Are We Doing Here? (I love all of Robinson’s work!).
Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection.
This is quite a hard question for me to answer because The Yield wasn’t pre-planned as The Yield – it grew very slowly into The Yield, and I only recognised that I had a coherent collection very late in the process. In hindsight I can see quite clearly that the poems are bound together by themes of give and take, love and loss, flexibility and rigidity, toil and harvest. This finally clicked into place for me after I wrote the poem called ‘The Yield’. It was only after that that I felt I had a potential collection in my hands. But most of the poems in the collection were written in the couple of years preceding that moment, and during those years I had no idea whether a book would eventuate. I had hope, but not much evidence!
Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being?
Every poem I write is a surprise to me. I can never get over that fact – it amazes me, always.
Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.
These words are from The Yield: haul, reach, lift, roam, home.
Which poem particularly falls into place for you?
Not sure if I can select one – they all have their place.
What matters most when you write a poem?
I like a tight synthesis of sound and sense.
What do you loathe in poetry?
Sometimes in an art gallery I stand in front of a painting I find ugly or too obvious or (conversely) too obscure – challenging, anyway, a canvas that maybe bores me or offends my personal sense of aesthetics, perhaps even my values. But still, alongside my ‘this is not one for my living room wall’ reaction, I can still respect the graft and the craft that went into making it – so long as it’s well made. Ditto, poetry. What I appreciate, above all else in poetry, is knowing that the poet has really leaned in. That’s a fundamentally appealing quality for me, even if I can’t adore the finished product. But if a poem is attentively made, and it somehow moves me – then I’m all in.
Where do you like to write poems?
In my study or on the kitchen table (though I scribble scraps in my notebook anywhere, any time).
What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?
We seem to have a lively open mic scene all over the country, with a new fizz of high energy youthful involvement alongside the different – no less intense – energy of more experienced voices. I love the diversity of this, the way it opens our ears and hearts and minds to each other. It’s good, too, to see extroverted poets out there connecting with audiences, attracting media comment and generally flying the flag for poetry. But don’t forget the page! I’m a big believer that poetry is a craft learned by practice. Getting better at it is done through serving a kind of apprenticeship, learning the tools of your trade, and being supported, mentored and informed by more experienced practitioners, so for me it’s really great to see newer literary journals like Mimicry and Starling rising up (though I’m sad to see the end of JAAM).
Nothing matches the developmental push that comes from submitting work to a well-read editor to be scrutinised word by word. It’s healthy, too, to have enough possible publication places to be able to avoid only submitting work to your friends or classmates. So, I think we can do with still more editor-curated poetry publications to nourish the development of poetry in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Another lack: we need more platforms for the kind of stimulating and informative longform poetry review that critics like Lynley Edmeades, for example (in a recent Landfall Review Online), are so good at writing. But also, no one should be expected to write a seriously-considered review for nothing. Work is work, even if at the end of the day it’s not mud, but ink, on your hands. Funding, funding, funding: there’s a permanent problematic lack!
Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?
I was at the 2010 Granada Poetry Festival in Nicaragua – truly a festival, a celebration of la poesia. The readings were held in parks and plazas. The Nicaraguan people have a passionate regard for poets and poetry – they turned out in their thousands to hear readings from their own and international poets. One particular event stands out for me. It was an evening reading, outside, warm and dark in the main town plaza, with about 2000 people in the audience – all ages, children, teenagers, parents, grandparents. Their listening was so attentive (most poems were voiced twice, once in the poet’s language and again in Spanish translation) – I watched face after face absolutely blossom in response to some lines. There was a feeling of us all being tapped into a high-voltage current – such power. Sheer zappery! And all from words.
If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?
Sharon Olds, Louise Glück and Rita Dove in conversation with Carol Ann Duffy.
The Case of the Missing Body, while also on the subject of living with pain/disability, is an entirely different book to The Walking Stick Tree. It contains scientific writing, poetry and, predominantly, prose, to tell the story of a woman regaining the capacity to connect with herself physically.
Powell uses the pseudonymous Lily in the prologue of the book to introduce us to the central character (who will be ‘I’ throughout the book). From childhood, Lily has had a proprioceptive deficit and joint hypermobility syndrome, which, combined, and not properly identified or treated in her youth, have caused her considerable pain and distress. Now in mid-life she is anxious, lacking in confidence and, admirably, desirous of change: she joins a gym and employs a personal trainer.