Tag Archives: Jill Chan

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


RIP: Poet Jill Chan


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I was very sad to discover this news last week – and could not quite believe it. But I want to raise a toast to a wonderful poet and much loved woman.

When I first discovered Jill’s debut collection, The Smell of Oranges’, I was drawn to her freshness of voice, the vital human core, the open windows of the poems. Her writing continued to move in distinctive directions but she never lost her poetic freshness or her finger on the pulse of the world. That combination produced poetry that mattered.

My thoughts go out to friends, family and poetry fans at this sad time.

One poem, in particular, I have kept in a room in my head for those poems that never leave.


The Smell of Oranges

My mother would ask

if I wanted them cut or peeled.

I’d answer that I wanted them peeled

if only to see her fingers hold them

like clay to be molded.

After peeling their husk,

she would put her thumbs in the centre

and break each into halves;

later separate the slices, one by one.

I marvel at the flexible skins

pulling away,

not ever breaking at the pressure.

Jill Chan


A letter from Jill’s family


Dear All,

The family of Jill Chan would like to offer our heartfelt gratitude for your kind expressions of sympathy during our time of grief. We find comfort in knowing that Jill is now with God in Heaven.

Jill very much appreciated your firm support of her poetry and fiction writings. We hope you’ll continue to enjoy reading and revisiting Jill’s work, long into the future.

Jill Chan was a poet, fiction writer and editor. Her work has been published in various New Zealand and international literary magazines both in print and online. She was one of the poets featured in the New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive.

Jill authored four books of prose: Alone and Other Flash Fiction (2017); What We Give: a novella (2017); Phone Call and Other Prose Writings (2017); The Art of It: Three Novellas (2011); and six books of poetry: What To Believe (2017); On Love: a poem sequence (2011); Early Work: Poems 2000-2007 (2011); These Hands Are Not Ours (ESAW, 2009), winner of the Earl of Seacliff Poetry Prize; Becoming Someone Who Isn’t (ESAW, 2007); and The Smell of Oranges (ESAW, 2003).

Jill was the editor of Subtle Fiction at the time of her passing.

Jill Chan passed away on February 28, 2018 after a 9-month illness. She was 45 years old.

Official website

Aotearoa NZ sound archive

Thank you very much.


You can read a recent poem, ‘Poetry’, published in latest Poetry NZ here