Tag Archives: Johanna Aitchison

Poetry Shelf connections: celebrating Poetry NZ Yearbook 2020 with a review and an audio gathering

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Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020 edited by Johanna Emeney (MUP)

Johanna Emeney works at Massey University as a teacher of creative writing and has published several poetry collections.

 

 

Many many years ago my first poetry collection Cookhouse (AUP) appeared in the world and it was a big thing for me. I was at the stove with my baby in my arms, when the phone rang, and I dropped something all over the floor. It was Alistair Paterson, then editor of Poetry NZ, wanting to know if I would be the feature poet. The tap was running, the mess was growing, the pot was bubbling, my baby was crying, but somehow I spoke about poetry and agreed to my face on the cover and poems inside. It felt important.

I have only sent poems to journals a couple of times since then as I find it a distraction, but I love reading NZ literary journals. We have so many good ones from the enduring magnificence of Sport and Landfall to the zesty appeal of Mimicry and Min-a-rets.

 

Poetry NZ has had a number of editors, and is New Zealand’s longest running literary magazine. Poet Louis Johnson founded it in 1951 and edited it until 1964 (as the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook). Various others have taken turns at the helm – most notably Alistair Paterson from 1993 to 2014. In 2014 Jack Ross took it back to its roots and renamed it Poetry New Zealand Yearbook. This year Johanna Emeney stepped in as guest editor while Tracey Slaughter takes over the role from 2021.

Each issue includes essays, reviews, critical commentary, poetry and a featured poet.

 

For me Poetry New Zealand 2020 is a breath of fresh air. It opens its arms wide and every page resonates so beautifully. It showcases the idea that poetry is an open home. The poems behave on the page in a galaxy of ways, sparking and connecting multiple communities. I feel so satisfyingly refreshed having read this, warmed though, restored.

I am at the point in lockdown where I drift about the house from one thing to next in an unsettled state. I alight on this and land on that. So Poetry NZ 2020 is the perfect resting spot. I want to sing its praises to the moon and back, but I am tired, have barely slept and words are like elusive butterflies.

 

Johanna Emeney’s introduction is genius: ‘It is wonderful to be chosen by poems, and the very opposite of trying to chose poems.’ And later: ‘A poem choose you the minute it takes you by surprise. To be clear this cannot be any old surprise.’ And later: ‘poems that choose you are like mille-feuilles— thoughtfully assembled and subtly layered.’

I love the way Johanna has treated the issue like we often shape our own collections – in little clusters of poems that talk to each other: ‘Into the water’, ‘Encounter’, ‘Other side up’, ‘Remember to understand love’. It is an issue lovingly shaped – I am in love with individual poems but I am also mesmerised by the ensuing conversation, the diverse and distinctive voices.

The essay section is equally strong. You get an essay by Mike Hanne on six NZ doctor poets, Maria Yeonhee Ji’s ‘The hard and the holy: Poetry for times of trauma and crisis’. You also get Sarah Laing’s genius comic strip ‘Jealous of Youth’ written after going to the extraordinary Show Ponies poetry event in Wellington last year. And Roger Steele’s musings on publishing poetry. To finish Helen Rickerby’s thoughts on boundaries between essays and poetry. Restorative, inspiring.

77 pages of reviews cover a wide range of publishers (Cold Hub Press, VUP, Mākaro Press, Otago University Press, Cuba Press, Compound Press, Titus Books, Waikato Press, Hicksville Press and a diverse cohort of reviewers. With our review pages more and more under threat – this review section is to be celebrated.

The opening highlight is the featured poet (a tradition I am pleased to see upheld). Like Johanna I first heard essa may ranapiri read at a Starling event at the Wellington Writers Festival, and they blew my socks off (as did many of the other Starlings). essa is a poet writing on their toes, in their heart, stretching out here, gathering there, scoring the line in shifting tones and keys. So good to have this group of new poems to savour after the pleasures of their debut collection ransack. I particularly enjoyed the conversation between essa and Johanna – I felt like I was sitting in a cafe (wistful thinking slipping though?) sipping a short black and eavesdropping on poetry and writing and life. Tip: ‘That a lot of poems are trying to figure something out. If you already know it, then you don’t need to write the poem.’

 

I have invited a handful of the poets to read a poem they have in the issue so you can get a taste while in lockdown and then hunt down your own copy of this vital literary journal. Perhaps this time to support our excellent literary journals and take out a few subscriptions. Start here!

 

a n       a u d i o     g a t h e r i n g

 

First up the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Prize and the Poetry New Zealand Student Poetry Competition.

 

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Lynn Davidson (First Prize)

 

 

 

Lynn reads ‘For my parents’

 

Lynn Davidson is a New Zealand writer living in Edinburgh. Her latest poetry collection Islander is published by Shearsman Books in the UK and Victoria University Press in New Zealand. She had a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 and a Bothy Project Residency at Inshriach Bothy in the Cairngorms in 2016. Lynn has a doctorate in creative writing, teaches creative writing, and is a member of 12, an Edinburgh-based feminist poetry collective. Her website

 

 

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E Wen Wong (First Prize Y12)

 

 

E Wen reads ‘Boston Building Blocks’

 

E Wen Wong is in her final year at Burnside High School, where she is Head Girl for 2020. Last year, her poem ‘Boston Building Blocks’ won first prize in the Year 12 category of the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Competition.

 

 

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Chris Tse

 

 

Chris reads ‘Brightest first’

 

Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC. He is a regular contributor to Capital Magazine’s Re-Verse column and a book reviewer on Radio New Zealand. Chris is currently co-editing an anthology of LGBTQIA+ Aotearoa New Zealand writers.

 

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Fardowsa Mohamed

 

Fardowsa  reads ‘Tuesday’

 

 

Fardowsa Mohamed is a poet and medical doctor from Auckland, New Zealand. Her work has appeared in Poetry New Zealand, Sport Magazine, Landfall and others. She is currently working on her first collection of poetry.

 

 

 

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Photo credit: Jane Dove Juneau

Elizabeth Smither

 

 

Elizabeth reads ‘Cilla, writing’

 

Elizabeth Smither, an award-winning poet and fiction writer, has published eighteen collections of poetry, six novels and five short-story collections, as well as journals, essays, criticism. She was the Te Mata Poet Laureate (2001–03), was awarded an Hon D Litt from the University of Auckland and made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004, and was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2008. She was also awarded the 2014 Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature and the 2016 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection of poems, Night Horse (Auckland University Press, 2017), won the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 2018.

 

 

 

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Anuja Mitra

 

 

Anuja reads ‘Waiting Room’

 

Anuja Mitra lives in Auckland and is co-founder of the online arts magazine Oscen. Her writing can be found in Starling, Sweet Mammalian, Mayhem, Poetry NZ and other journals, though possibly her finest work remains unfinished in the notes app of her phone.

 

 

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Semira Davis

 

 

Semira reads ‘Punkrock_lord & the maps to i_am_105mm’

 

Semira Davis is a writer whose poetry also appears in Landfall, Takahe, Ika, Blackmail Press, Ramona, Catalyst and Mayhem. In 2019 they were a recipient of the NZSA Mentorship and runner-up in the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award.

 

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Photo credit: Miriam Berkley

Johanna Aitchison

 

 

Johanna reads ‘The girl with the coke can’

 

Johanna Aitchison was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee, and her work has appeared, most recently, in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020, NZ Poetry Shelf, and Best Small Fictions 2019.

 

 

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Vaughan Rapatahana

 

 

Vaughan Rapatahana reads ‘mō ō tautahi’

 

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Five books published during 2019 – in Aotearoa New Zealand, India, United Kingdom. Includes his latest poetry collection ngā whakamatuatanga/interludes published by Cyberwit, Allahabad, India. Participated in World Poetry Recital Night, Kuala Lumpur, September 2019. Participated in Poetry International, the Southbank Centre, London, U.K. in October 2019 – in the launch of Poems from the Edge of Extinction and in Incendiary Art: the power of disruptive poetry. Interviewed by The Guardian newspaper whilst in London.

His poem tahi kupu anake included in the presentation by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas to the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva in November 2019. Interviewed on Radio NZ by Kim Hill in November 2019.

 

 

 

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Emma Harris

 

 

Emma Harris reads ‘Ward’

 

Emma Harris lives in Dunedin with her husband and two children. She teaches English and is an assistant principal at Columba College. Her poetry has previously been published in Southern Ocean Review, Blackmail Press, English in Aotearoa and Poetry New Zealand.

 

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Dani Yourukova

 

 

Dani reads ‘I don’t know how to talk to you so I wrote it for me’

 

Dani is a Wellington poet, and one of the Plague Writers (a Masters student) at Victoria’s IIML this year. They’ve been published in Mayhem, Aotearotica, Takahe, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020 and others. They’re currently working on their first collection of poetry.

 

 

 

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook site

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Johanna Aitchison’s ‘ANNA IS DRIVING HER WHITE CAR & HER CAR IS CRYING’

 

ANNA IS DRIVING HER WHITE CAR & HER CAR IS CRYING

 

Home

 

Anna’s white car refuses to leave the driveway without shouting goodbye

to all of the titoki,

the camellias,

the silverbeet,

the letterbox,

the veranda,

the trampoline.

 

Desert

 

“Those flowers remind me of the blues,” says the white car,

“the sky is bruise bruise bruise,

the tussock is hair follicles of a blond boy.”

 

“What’s that couch doing on the roadside?” says Anna.

A battered brown leather three-seater.

Anna would wave out if there were people on the couch,

she would shout out “hey!” as she was driving past,

but there are no people on the couch,

no people with legs spaghettied,

no people with light-washed faces,

no people laughing at the television

or crunching Snax & kicking crumbs behind the cushions.

 

Motel

 

At the reception Anna pays two hundred & sixty dollars for the unit for two nights.

The motel room says, “Do you like my picture?”

“I like it that you’re clean,” says Anna, “I like it that the bed looks new,

there’s Sky TV, a bath, a toaster,

& the owner has given me a little bottle of milk.”

 

Anna sits down on the bed & looks at the acrylic painting:

“I like it that your picture is a beach scene,

but you’re beside a lake.

A beach scene is more impersonal than a lake scene,

because it’s not connected to the place we’re in;

it’s neither beautiful nor repulsive,

which is the perfect way for a motel picture to be.”

 

“But do you like me?” says the motel room.

“I like it that you represent an idea,” says Anna,

“you’re more an idea of a motel than an actual motel.

You’re sufficiently general not to make

any claims on me; I like that.

I like you for what you don’t remind me of,

rather than what you do remind me of,

but I don’t want to get too personal with you.”

 

The motel room does not tell Anna to “turn the fucking TV on”,

because it wants to delay the moment.

 

Pool

 

When Anna was a child she thought a monster lived in the lake

& when she & her sister splashed in the motel pool at night,

she imagined the monster rising & seizing her from the back

dark corner. These were the kinds of things that terrified her.

The motel, however, wouldn’t talk about bland things

to distract her like it does when she’s an adult,

instead it told her to look up from her Weetbix

at snakes corkscrewing around the curtain rails

& that the carpet would display its incisors,

chomp down on her toes & hold her there.

 

Lake

 

After Anna finishes talking to the motel room, she walks to the lake & along the path by the lakefront.

 

There are DANGER stones & stickmen falling off signs at the cliff lip.

Anna notices someone has scraped off some letters:

DANG,           ANGE             —                    DANCE!

 

The red bicycles chained to the fence beside the lake make Anna so sad.

She doesn’t know if it’s the paint

or the child’s bike lying on its chain

or the horror of discovering, when she steps closer,

the missing pedals, seats, handlebars,

which look samesame from far away, but become uncomfortably individual

as she zooms in.

 

Anna finds a spot by the lake edge to eat her kebab.

She concludes she will never find the perfect spot,

but the spot she finds is good enough,

against the trunk of a pohutukawa,

she sits & bites through her food.

As Anna eats the chicken, the beef, the hummus, the yoghurt, the lettuce, the chili sauce,

she watches a couple drop their clothes, watches the man run-hop that run-hop you do when the water’s cool. The woman’s wearing a black bikini, & after she stops shrieking, the man pulls her in close for warmth.

Anna takes a photo & posts it to Instagram. If you look carefully, you can spot the entwined couple carved into the cold water. Anna calls her husband. “Did you hear about Christchurch?” he asks.

 

Johanna Aitchison

 

 

Johanna Aitchison is a PhD candidate at Massey University, examining how contemporary innovative poets create cohesion in experimental verse. She was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee, and her poetry has appeared, most recently, in Best Small Fictions 2019 and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Honey in Palmerston North

 

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Thank you so much Palmerston North poets and poetry fans for a special night celebrating women. Before the event started I discovered the poetry section in Bruce McKenzie Bookshop next door and spotted so many treasures. What a gorgeous book haven this place is. I could have spent hours there and bought a truckload of books – but was limited by what I could fit in my carry-on bag. Really one of the best gatherings of NZ poetry books I have seen in ages. Now I wish I had taken notes of all the books I had wanted to get – including some of mine that are out of print.

 

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Bruce McKenzie Bookshop, Palmerston North

 

What I have found special about the Wild Honey readings is the way other women are brought into the room through the poems read. This time among others Tusiata Avia, Alice Te Punga Somerville, Vivienne Plumb, Nina Mingya Powles, Elizabeth Smither, Ruth Dallas, Maria McMillan, Joan Fleming and Lauris Edmond. It was particularly moving that the event was held on the fourth anniversary of Joy Green’s passing, and that her friend Hannah Pratt read one of her poems (‘The Cardboard Box’). It was also great to have two fiction writers (Tina Makereti and Thom Conroy) read poems they love by NZ women. And I was especially moved that Jo Thorpe had driven down from Gisborne and Marty Smith from Hawke’s Bay to be there.

Marty and I had a lively conversation – and it reminded me why poetry matters. I forget there is an audience when I get to talk poetry with someone (on the radio, on stage, in an interview) and feel utterly enthusiastic about what poetry can do. Poetry is always a cause for celebration. Even when it is laying down challenges, speaking of tough things, getting complex and difficult, opening up self. It is sound and it is heart and it is interlaced.

I loved this event so much but I am also the kind of writer who likes two tablespoons of public light and acreages of privacy. It feels like it’s time to move back into secret terrain and times having had such support in bringing my new books into the world. Particularly Wild Honey.

Thank you Palmerston North: Bruce McKenzie Bookshop, Genny Vella and Palmerston North Library and the writers: Johanna Aitchison, Paula Harris, Thom Conroy, Paula King, Helen Llehndorf, Marty Smith, Hannah A Pratt, Jo Thorpe, Janet Newman and Tina Makereti.

Thanks to everyone who has bought the book, shared the book and supported my other equally special events in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. I will be doing more next year!

Thanks especially to my publicist Sarah Thornton and to Nicola Legat, my publisher at Massey University Press.

This is my book of love and connections.

Thank you!

 

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The three Paulas!

 

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Conversing with the delightful Marty!

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Johanna Aitchison on anagram poems

 

Anagram Poems

 

Like many obsessions, my preoccupation with anagrams began by accident. I am writing my doctoral thesis at the moment, and had been struggling with my topic: alter egos in elliptical poetry. To put it bluntly: all of the alter ego poetry that I was writing for the creative section of my thesis was terrible; not so terrible that it was not even recognisable as poetry, but that uglier low level kind of terrible you get when you’re mining an area that has been all mined out and the work that results is simply boring. So I was on the lookout for inspiration, trawling for ideas that were more interesting than my thesis “starter idea”, when U.S. poet Dora Malech’s latest collection of poetry, Stet (2018), landed on our veranda in an Amazon package. My first thought on reading the poems was, “Huh?”; second thought, “What even is this?”; and then a series of thoughts that tumbled out on top of each other such as, “How does she do this?” “This is amazing!”, and “Wow, I’m so jealous, I wanna write anagram poems, too.”

Stet is a book of poetry which is composed primarily of anagrams, with a side of erasures. Malech states that she is influenced by the German artist and poet, Urnica Zurn, who wrote a series of vivid and disquieting anagram poems in the 1950s , as well as the French school of poetry Oulipo, which uses various restrictive forms to enable creativity, of which the anagram is one.

Thus began my obsession with this form–and the way that you can mine a single sentence or word or, in the case of the third section of Malech’s book, an entire poem (she writes a series of poems which are anagrams of the Sylvia Plath poem “Metaphors”)–and resulting questions (some of which Malech explores in Stet), such as:  How can lyric subjectivity survive within such a tight machine? Is this kind of poetry too sterile and fragmented to really connect with a reader? I am at the beginnings of my explorations in this area, so don’t have any firm answers yet. But writing anagram poems (in which, for example, an entire poem may be made out of a single line, re-arranged) is kind of like build-your-own-nightmare. You get to choose the particular brand of nightmare, and that ambit of it, but within very tight parameters. To put it more another way, it’s like performing back flips in a very tight space; but if you pull it off, the thrill is real.

 

Johanna Aitchison

 

 

 

Johanna Aitchison is a doctoral student at Massey University, Palmerston North, examining anagrams and erasures in hybrid poetry. Her most recent volume of poems, Miss Dust (2015), was described by reviewer Sarah Quigley as “Emily Dickinson for the 21st century”. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Best New Zealand Poems 2008 and 2009, and Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011). She was a 2015 resident at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and the 2012 Visiting Artist at Massey University.

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Friday talk: Johanna Aitchison on anagram poems

 

Anagram Poems

 

Like many obsessions, my preoccupation with anagrams began by accident. I am writing my doctoral thesis at the moment, and had been struggling with my topic: alter egos in elliptical poetry. To put it bluntly: all of the alter ego poetry that I was writing for the creative section of my thesis was terrible; not so terrible that it was not even recognisable as poetry, but that uglier low level kind of terrible you get when you’re mining an area that has been all mined out and the work that results is simply boring. So I was on the lookout for inspiration, trawling for ideas that were more interesting than my thesis “starter idea”, when U.S. poet Dora Malech’s latest collection of poetry, Stet (2018), landed on our veranda in an Amazon package. My first thought on reading the poems was, “Huh?”; second thought, “What even is this?”; and then a series of thoughts that tumbled out on top of each other such as, “How does she do this?” “This is amazing!”, and “Wow, I’m so jealous, I wanna write anagram poems, too.”

Stet is a book of poetry which is composed primarily of anagrams, with a side of erasures. Malech states that she is influenced by the German artist and poet, Urnica Zurn, who wrote a series of vivid and disquieting anagram poems in the 1950s, as well as the French school of poetry Oulipo, which uses various restrictive forms to enable creativity, of which the anagram is one.

Thus began my obsession with this form–and the way that you can mine a single sentence or word or, in the case of the third section of Malech’s book, an entire poem (she writes a series of poems which are anagrams of the Sylvia Plath poem “Metaphors”)–and resulting questions (some of which Malech explores in Stet), such as:  How can lyric subjectivity survive within such a tight machine? Is this kind of poetry too sterile and fragmented to really connect with a reader? I am at the beginnings of my explorations in this area, so don’t have any firm answers yet. But writing anagram poems (in which, for example, an entire poem may be made out of a single line, re-arranged) is kind of like build-your-own-nightmare. You get to choose the particular brand of nightmare, and that ambit of it, but within very tight parameters. To put it more another way, it’s like performing back flips in a very tight space; but if you pull it off, the thrill is real.

 

Johanna Aitchsion

 

 

Johanna Aitchison is a doctoral student at Massey University, Palmerston North, examining anagrams and erasures in hybrid poetry. Her most recent volume of poems, Miss Dust (Seraph Press, 2015), was described by reviewer Sarah Quigley as “Emily Dickinson for the 21st century”. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Best New Zealand Poems 2008 and 2009, and Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011). She was a 2015 resident at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and the 2012 Visiting Artist at Massey University.

 

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A taste of friendship: an audio sampling – four poets reading in Palmerston North

 

 

I am heading to Palmerston North next week to do a a few things at the RealM Manawatu conference so thought I would organise a poetry reading with friends.

Johanna Aitchison, Helen Lehndorf and Tim Upperton don’t live in the same city as me, I’ve hardly ever met them, but I have had enduring friendships with their writing. When I was trawling through the poetry archives for a year or so, for Wild Honey, I was captivated by friendships among the early women poets. These involved exchanging letters, drinking tea and sharing secrets but also included sustained engagements with each other’s writing. I liked that.

I got to thinking about the diverse communities we write in and how we also have support crews whether people or poetry: poetry friendships. I most certainly do.

So on Wednesday 13th June, at 6.30 pm,  I will be in conversation with Helen, Johanna and Tim at the Palmerston North Central Library. In the meantime you can hear a poem from each of us  – an online miniature poetry reading.

 

An audio tasting platter

 

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Photo credit: Barira Nazir

 

Johanna Aitchison reading ‘Cockroach’

 

Johanna Aitchison is a doctoral candidate at Massey University examining alter egos in contemporary lyric poetry. Her hobbies are running, op-shopping, and she’s always keen for a good karaoke session.

 

 

 

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Helen Lehndorf reading ‘the things you are not ready for’

 

Helen Lehndorf is a writer and writing teacher. Her book ‘The Comforter’ made the New Zealand Listener’s ‘Best 100 Books of 2012 and her poem ‘Wabi-sabi’ was selected for Best New Zealand Poems in 2011. Her second book, about the practice of journaling, ‘Write to the Centre’ was published by Haunui Press in 2016. Her essay ‘The Sensory Seeker’ appeared in Massey University’s 2017 anthology ‘Home’. She loves permaculture, community activism and helping people access their innate creativity.

 

 

 

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You can hear Tim Upperton read ‘My Lazy Eye’ at The Pantograph Punch here

and he reads ‘The truth about Palmerston North’ with a discussion by the editors at Poetry Foundation here

 

 

Tim Upperton’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby (Haunui Press), was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published widely in magazines and journals including Sport, Landfall, NZ Listener, and North and South in New Zealand, and Poetry, Shenandoah, and Agni in America.  His work is also anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (Victoria University Press), Essential New Zealand Poems (Random House), Villanelles (Everyman), and Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (Dartmouth University Press). He reviews books occasionally for the NZ Listener, Metro, The Pantograph Punch, Landfall, and The Spinoff, and is completing a Creative Writing PhD researching the poetry of Frederick Seidel.

 

 

 

And here is me reading ‘School House Bay’:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poets on Tour: Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan take to the road, July 2017

Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan have written up their poetry road trip. I am so hoping this becomes a thing – two poet friends on tour with new books.    

 

 

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both Victoria University Press, 2017

We’ve known each other since the early 2000s, and both of us have been writing poetry for even longer than that. Some common threads in our work include feminism, social justice, environmentalism, and an interest in the possibilities of form. Over a cup of tea one afternoon in Maria’s lounge we agreed that as we both had books coming out this year, we should go on tour. Maria had been working hard in non-poetry related paid gigs, Airini was battling some difficult personal circumstances, and some time on the road reading with other women poets seemed like just what the doctor (of creative writing) ordered.

Somehow the tour got planned amidst the mad mess of everyday life. Sarah Laing kindly agreed to let us use her drawings for promotional purposes. Airini made a DIY poster with the help of scissors, glue, wallpaper and blu-tack. The word went out. The car got packed.

 

On Friday 14 July Airini held a book launch for Flow: Whanganui River Poems, at the Whanganui regional museum. Maria was the main support act on the night, reading from her recently-released The Ski Flier (Airini had also read at Maria’s launch a month earlier). Jenny Bornholdt read a poem by Joanna Margaret Paul. Other local booklovers read some favourite Whanganui-linked poems. VUP publicist and talented novelist Kirsten McDougall gave a fantastic launch speech.

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Accidental ankh, Dannevirke

In the morning it was coffee, porridge and a quick trip to Whanganui’s famous SaveMart ‘The Mill’. Then onto the back roads of the Manawatu with a battered road atlas and smartphones which were largely ignored. We made it over the Pohangina Saddle, and lunched on launch leftovers in Dannevirke, where we discovered a church with a possibly accidental (we think maybe not) ankh – a perfect opportunity for posing with our books. On to Napier where it appeared we had entered a time warp. Airini’s dirty old Honda suddenly looked new alongside the vintage cars sweeping around the waterfront, driven by flappers and dapper gentlemen. The thought occurred to us that it was Deco weekend.

 

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Beattie and Forbes Booksellers with Marty and Emily

Beattie and Forbes Booksellers is a must-visit independent bookstore near the sea in Napier. They opened up on a Saturday evening so we could read, with Marty Smith and Emily Dobson. Old friends and new turned up, along with members of local poetry groups. It seems that anywhere you go in New Zealand, there’ll be a poetry group of some sort, and a reading will draw at least some of them out of the woodwork. A highlight of the evening was Emily reading a poem owing a debt to her young daughter, called ‘Thea’s ‘gina song,’ which ended ‘It’s a ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-BAGINA!’ Both Marty and Emily are accomplished poets and readers and it was a privilege to read alongside them.

 

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Maria at Waiomu Cafe

 

Sunday 16th we set off from Marty’s picturesque country house, on our big drive through to Thames. The roads had opened, but were still lined with snow.  We made it to our reading at Waiomu Beach Café with five minutes to spare. The café is in a beautiful spot and draws in regulars driving around the Coromandel coastal road. It’s run by Maria’s cousin Julie, who was an amazing host. Airini also met some extended family members at the reading. More FM were there, and interviewed us. We read in the outdoor courtyard, adjusting our volume according to the passing traffic. Over the road, a cop issued speeding tickets. A kereru landed in a tree alongside. We posed for more book photos under the pohutukawa, took Julie’s dog for a walk, and enjoyed the scenery.

 

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The Big House, Parnell with Tulia and Emma

Thames seems like the kind of place one could stay in forever, but on Monday morning we carried on to Auckland.  We parked the car and went to hear a reading at the Auckland Art Gallery with Steve Toussaint, Simone Kaho, Elizabeth Morton, Johanna Emeney and Michael Morrissey. Everyone read well, but a disgruntled audience member booed, hissed and heckled during question time at the end. Chair Siobhan Harvey did an excellent job of shouting him down. We looked at each other and wondered if this was how poetry readings always went in Auckland. But our reading that evening at the Big House in Parnell, with Simone Kaho and Tulia Thompson, was a very warm and homely affair. Many of the house’s 25 occupants joined us by the fire to listen and talk, and housemate Emma also read some of her poems with us.

 

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Airini at Poetry Live, Auckland

 

Tuesday night’s gig was Poetry Live, at the Thirsty Dog on K Road. Like the Big House, Poetry Live is an institution that’s been going for decades. We were lucky to be there for the farewell to regular MC Kiri Piahana-Wong. There was a great turnout and the venue and audience were friendly and welcoming. We read by turns in our guest poet slot, feeling like proper rockstars against the backdrop of a drum kit and stage lighting.

By Wednesday we were tired, and ready to head home. We stopped for tea and toasted sandwiches in the Pink Cadillac diner in Turangi. We parted ways at the Desert Road, after which Maria had some variable hitchhiking experiences, and Airini zig-zagged back and forth around the mountains navigating road closures. We’d had a great time and were looking forward to the second leg.

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Vic Books in Wellington with Pip and Freya

 

The next leg kicked off on Friday 28 July with a lunchtime reading at Vic Books. We were joined by superstars Pip Adam, reading from her brand spanking new The New Animals, and Freya Daly Sadgrove, whose poetry is performative and highly entertaining. Maria read her poem, inspired by Pip, ‘In which I attain unimaginable greatness,’ in which the narrator attains superhero powers, achieves amazing feats, and at the end declares ‘This is how I begin. This is my first day.’

 

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Palmerston North with Helen and Jo

Palmerston North City Library on Saturday evening was possibly the highlight of the tour. The library is a great place to read, hosting numerous literary events throughout the year. The big windows feature poems by local Leonel Alvarado, and pedestrians have a way of peering in through the letters, wondering what’s going on in there. We’d decided on a dress up theme of ‘80s trash with our fabulous co-readers Helen Lehndorf and Jo Aitchison, which got us some funny looks in New World, but definitely improved our performances. Helen’s hair was particularly spectacular. We had a small crowd but a great vibe. A kebab and whisky party kept us awake until the wee small hours.

 

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Maria at Hightide Cafe

Helen’s chickens laid us our breakfast, and we revived ourselves with bottomless pots of tea. Maria’s superpowers became evident when she managed to drive us safely to our last gig, Poets to the People at Hightide Café in Paraparaumu. The sun was setting over Kāpiti as we drank coffee and listened to the open mike. Again, this is an event that’s been running for years, and there’s a sense the regulars know and love one another. We went home to a beautiful roast cooked by Maria’s partner Joe. The tour was over, but the fight continues! We had some great conversations in the car over those two weeks, and some good catch-ups with family and friends along the way. There was a lot of fighting talk, a lot of laughter and also a few tears. A big part of the tour was affirming ourselves as poets, mothers and radical women, and by the end of it, our unimaginable greatness was hard to deny.

 

Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan, September 2017

 

 

my conversation with Airini

my review of The Ski Flier

VUP page for Airini

VUP page for Maria