Tag Archives: Kerrin P Sharpe

Kerrin P Sharpe’s There’s a Medical Name for This — It is an astonishing book that lurked in the undergrowth of my thoughts for months

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Kerrin P Sharpe There’s No Medical Name for This Victoria University Press, 2014


Last year I posted a poem from Kerrin P Sharpe’s new poetry collection, There’s a Medical Name for This. Finally, after all this time, I have picked up the book to reread and review. It is an astonishing book that lurked in the undergrowth of my thoughts for months with its sachets of strangeness, enigma, acute realness. Just casting your eye down the poem titles is poetry pleasure. Some collections house a poem or two that stand out, where the poet has transcended that which is good to become that which astonishes. In this book, I found countless examples that did that for me. Not in a flaming extravagant way but in ways that are at more of an alluring whisper. These poems are imbued with little droplets of incident, image, tension.

Near the start of the book, a miniature earthquake poem, whose perfect line breaks punctuate the modicum of detail, the deft phrasing (‘the basilica is a waltz of stone’) and the way the final stanza sings you back to the title (‘when gerry thinks of angels he hears their wings’).

Sometimes, oftentimes, the poems step into strangeness surrealness the point of becoming fable. There are no endnotes to provide author-led guy ropes into a poem so it is over to you where you step. ‘[T]here were stars behind him,’ a portrait of an elephant, shifts from an elephant in a photograph with Hemingway to ‘that year the elephant/ became a living lighthouse/ he wore a lamp/ and built a curved staircase.’ Magical. Or, in an even more captivating example (‘in the cart’), a mother, a pie cart, two hats and pastry come together in what might be a bedtime story, an heirloom anecdote, a housewifery lesson.

Rather than talk about what the poems are doing, I keep discovering snippets to share with you. The way the beginnings of the poems catch you by surprise: ‘every poem has a mother/ to feed his house/ the small bones of snow.’ Where to after such a glorious start? An equally glorious ending (I am withholding the middle!): ‘not even his mother// sews such small birds.’

Things aren’t stable in this collection. This becomes that and that becomes this as tropes shift and settle and then shift again. And so ‘a pine that is/ really the breeze/ a fish that is/ really a stone.’ Similes startle and invigorate the lines: ‘her thoughts in the thermal pools/ like fern wrapped sushi.’

These poems draw upon illness, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, twins, snow, much snow, ponies, many ponies, birds and feathers. Whatever the subject matter, there is movement, and out of that movement vibrant, life.

Characters (pilgrims, farmers, surgeons, whistlers, gondoliers) stroll though the poems and it seems to me they wear whiffs of the poet, autobiographical traces, and yet they are more than that. Anyone can occupy these shoes that are like little shoe-stories that get handed down and then tried on for size. They are also, and so often, like fairy tales that take you out of the tedium of daily grind and familiarity and transport you to the magic and mystery of otherness and magical possibility. The poems might have a local genesis but they reach out beyond to the faraway, to Russia, rice plantations, Antarctica. Here or there, everything is in debt to place and that attachment to ‘where’ is one that makes the poems matter (‘the small farmer remains place faithful/ to the dell’). Characters become a way of circulating stories, those traces of anecdote, a forward tang to elsewhere (a turbine// turns my father’). The procession of pilgrims throughout is the poetic glue that tenders physical bearings to an uplift of wonderment. We get to be the pilgrims of the poems. We get to feel the gap, the connections, the arrival at arm’s length.

Some poems surprise in their shifting forms. ‘[S]on’ juxtaposes two definitions — the first stanza prosaic and dictionary-like, the second stanza exemplifying personal portrait as definition. The ‘half the story’ (I adore this poem!) is indeed half a story; it builds a list that builds narrative out of what you might call stream-of-conscious jump cuts.

You need a treasure box to store the adorable phrases and lines: ‘She carries him through the loom/ of fields’ ‘in the long legged darkness’ ‘the beachcomber/ keeps a button box/ a cross section/ of folded years’ ‘my father’s kitchen/ was older than eggs.’

This is a collection of exquisite variety, yet these poems are a snug fit as though for all their differences, they are meant to be together. As I read, my favourite poem was replaced by the one I was currently reading, and then again, and then again. To read these poems is to be a pilgrim – tasting the sweet and sour bite of the land, feeling the lure of travel and elsewhere, entering the space between here and there that is utterly mysterious, facing a terrific moment of epiphany.


VUP page


Friday Poem: Kerrin P Sharpe’s ‘she gets these letters’ — Nouns swell with options

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she gets these letters


one moment there

is vodka at

a forest wedding

the next the last

breath of a gun


she watches defiance

secret army draws

a map of Poland

the sweep of ice

fills her throat


this is the plantation

her father was taken to

perhaps this is the pine

he walked towards


as if he spent

his mornings collecting

alpine specimens

and the snow he fell into

pages of white birds



©Kerrin P. Sharpe There’s a Medical Name for This  Victoria University Press, 2014

Author bio: Kerrin P. Sharpe’s first book three days in a wishing well was published by Victoria University Press in 2012. Her work appeared in Oxford Poets 13 (Carcanet). Another book, there’s a medical name for this was published August 2014 (VUP). A third collection rabbit rabbit is in progress with a grant from Creative New Zealand.

Author note: This poem began life after I had watched the movies Defiance and Secret Army. I began thinking about the huge significance of locations and how they are changed forever when terrible crimes have been committed there. This poem was published in the NZ Listener in 2014.

Note by Paula: What draws me to this poem is the enigma and the gap. Without the back story the possibilities are myriad whether as reader you step into shoes that are autobiographical, another persona or a mix of both. There is a jostling of meaning and effect between elements; from title to poem, night to day, life to death, vodka to the last breath of the gun. Nouns swell with options: vodka, forest, the map and the plantation are nouns of elsewhere. The understatement is striking. There is the ominous ring of ‘was taken’ that is amplified by the ‘chill of ice.’ The implications of ‘as if specimens’ seems to mask from what really took place. The final image in the last two lines is utterly potent. The white snow might stand in for the clean white page, the insistence of hope, the threat of war and violence and atrocity, and the magnetic pull of the prospect of peace. For me, the word ‘sweep’ leaps out not just for the ear but semantic rewards (a clean sweep, the expanse of the scene, clearing history, fresh beginnings). This is a haunting poem. Yes, it makes a difference when you know the back story but the gaps are still profound.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry books I have enjoyed in the past year 1/2


As promised, I am launching this blog with a taste of some of the books I have enjoyed in the past year (it is coming in three parts). Part three I am linking to two books I reviewed in The  Herald.

Janet Charman At the White Coast Auckland University Press 2012

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An award winning poet, Janet Charman’s new collection is dedicated to her grandmothers and this book does seem like a gift for women. At The White Coast is a collection of travel poems – here, abroad and through the past, whether invented or true. Charman’s continual flair with words translates into enviable lines, sweet rhythms, elastic syntax, experience rendered into economical delights. She moves from bedsits to ferry stops, from trains to social work, from picket lines to boyfriends, from girlfriends to spaghetti-authentico (‘always in besidedness/ more than a couple’). Or ‘i think/ before sailing into orchard and paddock/ she had the breathless crush of metropolis’. This is my favourite Charman book to date – the poems are both moving and marvellous.

Albert Wendt From Mãnoa to a Ponsonby Garden Auckland University Press 2012

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Albert Wendt’s latest collection, From Mãnoa to a Ponsonby Garden, is a joy to read. The poems reach out into the stretch of the Pacific with their heart very much in the present. They navigate birthdays, love, death and growth. The terrific sequence of garden poems is like a memoir or diary in the form of a garden narrative; the flowers, the vegetables, the family, the generations, the life cycles are hued with tenderness, vulnerability, strength, humour, wisdom. The love that the poet feels for his partner, Reina, is a poetic drumbeat –essential, moving, steady. These poems come out of quietness, contemplation, experience. Our poetic elder has delivered a masterpiece.

Emma Neale The Truth Garden Otago University Press 2012

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Emma Neale’s collection, The Truth Garden, deservedly won the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry in 2011. The book features an exquisite cover image by Kathryn Madill, but I found the small, tight font didn’t do justice to the poems. If Neale’s poetry were a tapestry it would be cast in rich threads – luminous phrases catch your eye repeatedly and make you linger. Poems carry you through family, rivers, cycling, time, night, dreams and musings with tenderness, attentiveness and imagination (‘Night, and the study window burns/ not like a beacon, but as if to warn/ late travellers from some hidden reef/ of thought’). Or ‘how to stockpile time, how hoard its shine/ when time is the very stuff that seeps inside us.’ There is a magnificent sestina on fidelity that, with its repeating rhymes, echoes the tidal flux of trust and love.

Kerrin P Sharpe Three Days in a Wishing Well Victoria University Press 2012

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Kerrin P Sharpe was awarded the New Zealand Post Creative Writing Teacher’s Award in 2008, and now this Christchurch-based writer has released her first poetry collection, Three Days in a Wishing Well. It was one of my top debuts for 2012. Sharpe brings a raft of poetic tools into marvellous play: economy, rhyme, omission, mystery. Reality corkscrews in a fairytale like manner; subjects range wide from hats to monks, from mother to father, from lighthouse keeper to sewing needles. Each poem is utterly flavoursome as it combines music, anecdote and emotional lift: ‘to hug my father was/ to know the sky: the/ voices of soldiers the/ families that squeezed/ him inside.’ Stunning.

Ashleigh Young Magnificent Moon Victoria University Press 2012

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Ashleigh Young, winner of the Landfall Essay Competition, also has a debut collection out (Magnificent Moon). Her poems bring together anecdote, an everyday that is off beat, stretching metaphors, gorgeous rhyme, swooping anecdote and the best found poem I have read in awhile (Buttons). For me it is a vibrant collection, and enough poems stand out to make it stick and flag this writer as one to watch.

James Brown Warm Auditorium Victoria University Press 2012

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James Brown lets you into his workspace in his new collection (Warm Auditorium). It’s a great title that stands in for poetry if not life — his auditorium is packed with people, ideas, talk, wit, confession, story, aphorisms, provocations, warmth, sidetracks, playfulness. Brown likes to make things up, break rules, move you, challenge you, divert you. His poetry is so good you want to linger in the dark reading space and lean in towards the light and lift of his lines. As he says: ‘poetry/was running round my head like marbles over linoleum.’

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman Shaken Down 6.3 Canterbury University Press 2012

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Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, like Fiona Farrell, has responded to Christchurch’s earthquakes in writing. His thoughtful endnote considers whether poems have any worth in the aftermath of catastrophe. He suggests that ‘a poem can send us back out into this troubled and marvellous world prepared to live more fully.’ A big claim, but his new collection, Shaken Down 6.3, does just that. These fine, troubling, beautiful poems are a window for us all. The photographs are a bonus.