Tag Archives: Liz Breslin

Poetry Shelf poem archives: Liz Breslin celebrates Anne Kennedy’s ‘I was a feminist in the eighties’


I was a feminist in the eighties


To be a feminist you need to have
a good night’s sleep.

To be a feminist you need to
have your consciousness raised
and have a good night’s sleep.

To be a feminist you need to
have regard for your personal well-being
have your consciousness raised
and have a good night’s sleep.

To be a feminist you need to
have a crack at financial independence
have regard for your personal well-being
have your consciousness raised
and have a good night’s sleep.

To be a feminist you need to
champion women, have a crack at
financial independence, have regard
for your personal well-being
have your consciousness raised and
have a good night’s sleep.

To be a feminist you need to do the
childminding, washing, shopping, cooking and cleaning
while your mind is on higher matters
and champion women, have a crack
at financial independence, have regard
for your personal well-being
have your consciousness raised
and have a good
night’s sleep.

To be a feminist you need to button
your coat thoughtfully, do the childminding
washing, shopping, cooking and cleaning
while your mind is on higher matters
and champion women, have a crack at
financial independence, have regard for
your personal well-being, have your
consciousness raised and have
a good night’s

To be a feminist you need to
engage in mature dialogue with
your spouse on matters of domestic
equality, button your coat thoughtfully
do the childminding, washing, shopping, cooking and cleaning
while your mind is on higher matters
and champion women, have a crack at
financial independence, have regard
for your personal well-being, have
your consciousness raised and
have a good

Then a lion came prowling out of the jungle
and ate the feminist all up.


Anne Kennedy

from Sing-Song (Auckland University Press, 2003)



This poem comes from Anne Kennedy’s 2003 book Sing-Song, though I found it browsing Best New Zealand Poems when I was a feminist in the early 2000s and it totally called me on my shit-heaping of perfection on expectation on repeat. It made me laugh and then it got me thinking. All those aspirations. I love how the list builds seemingly statically, and then the subtle rejigging of the line breaks: how the washing, shopping, cooking and cleaning stick out uncomfortably, the unsettled promise of the good night’s sleep. I love the truth in it, and the futility. Serious grappling in a sing-song frame. And what a killer ending. Fucking lion. Also, fucking buttons. Just saying.

Liz Breslin



Liz Breslin is a feminist in the 2020s as well as other things including a writer and editor. She’s working on poems, a play and lyrics for The Vegan Karate Club Band.

Anne Kennedy is a poet, fiction writer, screenplay editor and teacher. Her latest book is Moth Hour (AUP), long-listed in the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. The Ice Shelf (VUP), a novel, appeared in 2018. Awards and residencies include the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry, the Montana Book Award for Poetry, the University of Iowa International Writers’ Program (2017), and the IIML Writers’ Residency (2016).

Auckland University Press page






Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Liz Breslin’s ‘getting away from it all with the feminists’


getting away from it all with the feminists


she is self sufficient, thank you very much

she has packed tea bags, brandy, chocolate, honey, wine, scroggin, olives, crackers, cheese, 30 second oats, a jar of ready espresso-ed coffee, double-wrapped, a home-made mix of potato mash, French onion soup power, salt, pepper, hand-chopped spring onion and bacon flakes, toilet paper, sanitiser, matches, candles, firelighter, New Yorker, cook pot, gas canister, three-prong burner, spork, mug, a whole, firm salami and

she is carrying a sleeping bag for all seasons, a midweight puffer jacket, a water-resistant shell. she wouldn’t be conned into buying something tagged waterproof for twice the price. very few things are truly impermeable, this she knows. she has her beanie, her sunnies, her sun hat, her thermals, the nagging start of a blister and a throb in the nub of her back. a deep breath. keeping it light. they are on a ridge, just emerged from the bush, and he turns back and offers his hand and

she is distracted by a twitch in his southwest forearm and a hint of tannin sweat and the glint of the sun refracting on his teeth and that little chinlip tuft he hasn’t quite shaved and

she hasn’t even stumbled when he says if you feel yourself falling remember there’s time to decide which way you’re going to jump



Liz Breslin writes plays, poems, stories and a fortnightly column, ‘Thinking Allowed’, for the Otago Daily Times. Her poetry collection, Alzheimer’s and a spoon (OUP), was listed as one of The Listener’s Top 100 Books of 2017. At home on the page and on the stage, Liz’s recent performances include ‘Love in a time of netball’ at the sold-out Wanaka season of Tall Tales and True, and a stint as the back end of Jill the Cow for her 2018 pantomime, Jac and the Beansprouts. In 2019 she’s heading to Dunedin, Vancouver and Krakow to read, write and perform. Her website






Writers on Mondays at Te Papa: 4 poetry highlights



Mon 16 Jul – Mon 1 Oct 2018, 12.15pm–1.15pm

Poetry is at Te Marae, Level 4, Te Papa


Cost Free event, every Monday lunchtime



Full programme here

Winter Eyes: Harry Ricketts

July 30, 12.15–1.15pm

Harry Ricketts – a poet, editor, biographer, critic, and academic, is joined by editor and Victoria University Professor of English Jane Stafford to discuss his latest work.

Harry has published over thirty books, including the internationally acclaimed The Unforgiving Minute: A Life of Rudyard Kipling (1999), How to Catch a Cricket Match (2006), and Strange Meetings: The Lives of the Poets of the Great War (2010).

His eleventh and most recent collection of poetry is Winter Eyes (2018). Winter Eyes has been described as ‘Poetry as comfort, poetry as confrontation’.

These are elegiac and bittersweet poems of friendship, of love’s stranglehold, of the streets and buildings where history played out.




Poetry Quartet: Therese Lloyd, Tayi Tibble, Chris Tse and Sam Duckor-Jones

August 6, 12.15–1.15pm

Come and hear the new wave of New Zealand poets in a reading and discussion chaired by poet and essayist Chris Price.

These poets write works of boldness with an acute eye on relationships in the modern world. Therese Lloyd’s The Facts, Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou), He’s So MASC by Chris Tse, and People from the Pit Stand Up by Sam Duckor-Jones are diverse and exciting books of poetry.

Each writer engages with language in innovative ways to explore and reimagine love, trust, intimacy, and the politics of being.




Pasture and Flock: Anna Jackson

August 13, 12.15–1.15pm

Pastoral yet gritty, intellectual and witty, sweet but with stings in their tails, the poems and sequences collected in the career-spanning new book Pasture and Flock are essential reading for both long-term and new admirers of Anna Jackson’s slanted approach to lyric poetry.

Jackson made her debut in AUP New Poets 1 before publishing six collections with Auckland University Press, most recently I, Clodia, and Other Portraits (2014). Her collection Thicket (2011) was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards in 2012. As an academic, Jackson has had an equally extensive career authoring and editing works of literary criticism. She is joined by poet and publisher Helen Rickerby for an exploration of her career as poet, essayist and critic.




Best New Zealand Poems 2017

August 20, 12.15–1.15pm

Best New Zealand Poems is published annually by Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters.

Get ready for Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day on 24 August by coming along to hear seven of the best read work selected for Best New Zealand Poems.

Poets Airini Beautrais, Chris Tse, Marty Smith, Liz Breslin, Greg Kan, Makyla Curtis, and Hannah Mettner are introduced by Best New Zealand Poems 2017 editor Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Visit the Best New Zealand Poems website (link is external) to view the full selection.





12 questions for Ockham NZ Book Award poetry finalists: Sue Wootton




Congratulations on your short-list placing!

Thank you Paula!


What poetry books have you read in the past year?

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.









Poetry Shelf reviews Liz Breslin’s Alzheimer’s and a Spoon – this collection cuts into your skin as reader

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Alzheimer’s and a Spoon, Liz Breslin, Otago University Press, 2017


‘You have measured out your life in online quizzes. You are

a meerkat, Hufflepuff, Janet Frame.’


from ‘Click HERE to start’


Reading Liz Breslin’s debut collection, Alzheimer’s and a Spoon, is a timely reminder that poetry is a scoop for missing things. I am thinking spoon-scoop not breaking news. Even the cup on the table as I write is as hollow as it is present. I cannot remember the details of each morning at breakfast when I sip green tea. I cannot remember the thoughts I had, the articles I read, or the things I said. The cup is my breakfast hollow that contains any number of fading secrets. When I write poetry I might be scooping physical details of the present in order to chart a drifting mind and feeling heart but life is a mis-en-abyme of hard-to-decipher hollows.

For Liz the hollow is so much more resonant and sharp when the hollow is her grandmother, her babcia. A devout Catholic and a soldier in Warsaw’s uprising, the grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease in the last years of her life. It meant for Liz, the past was missing in a missing present.


the glass with the frame in

with holes in for looking

the white thing that holds

the white liquid for tea


from ‘riddle me these’


The collection draws you into the hollow of remembering and borrowing and excavating a woman, a beloved grandmother, and in that gathering all manner of things assemble: spam mail, passport rules, spoons, more spoons:


(..) I spoon feed stories

of my own uprisings, lost


in the hurry to move on, away.

Surprised at how little I

remember of me.


from ‘Spoon theory’


The words twitch on the line and I want to hear them in the air to soak up the aural agility.


Hold it for hours

in the sink of the kitchen

in a day drowned

dark without wondering.


from ‘How to make a cup of tea’


Visually the book is also on the move with cut-out words on some pages reforming to make poetry on the page. The movement underlines the memory fracture, akin to radio static, so we won’t forget that this life is a life hard to pin down. In a poem that calls upon a physical thing, a set of amber beads, the hunger to make chains is striking.


I am threading amber beads

from your old unbroken chain.

Some I will string for Lauren Marie.

She has of you her gymlegs,

fat plaits, doilies, feist.


from ‘Eulogy at the Oxford Oratory’


The final stanza cuts through to why this collection cuts into your skin as reader:


Warm with memory, some will

spill. Some I’ll keep in corners,

hidden glimmers. Much has been lost.


Liz’s debut offers a poetry thicket that snares and scratches your skin. I have read it at least five times because I am still finding my way through the dark and the light patches. Wonderful!


I hear the whispers of your stalwart war

but never from your tongue, never for real

it’s just stories, right? black and grey, blurry


from ‘dichotomy’


Otago University Press page

Liz Breslin website

ODT feature

Listen to Liz read



Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Liz Breslin off-piste


The way things are


When they’re going to give you medals they send you a letter.

When you go to get them you’ll be treading on old ground, though you won’t know it by your feet.

When you stand and salute you must keep your fingers straight, you must remember the promises you made. When they give you the medals it is symbolic, the freedom, the keys.

When I Skyped my Ma she said there are different things that the medal boxes say. Your babcia was in the Home Army and then there was a national medal, now, I’ve forgotten what it was and then that little booklet with the President’s stamp but they were different and the national armed military action medal and the cross of the Warsaw Uprising and krzyzem is cross but the grammar is different, it means with the cross, they’ve got different endings and we found two separate cross pins in a little plastic bag so we put them in the empty box and I showed them to people

when they came after she died because that’s what you do and I forgot to say, with the photos, match the booklet to the medals, because that’s how you do it, that’s the only way, I wouldn’t know otherwise, she never told me either. I wonder if it’s the key that’s missing, I don’t have an actual memory of seeing it. It clearly isn’t an actual key that opens an actual door because there’s clearly no such thing in an actual city. She could’ve had a lot of free bus rides with that card.

When my babcia did that interview, that once, she said and now that people are celebrating this Uprising, I think to myself was it really worth it, to pay such a price? And what for? What for? For we didn’t gain anything substantial, anything real.


©Liz Breslin


Author note: This poem was a departure for me because I usually obsess over line endings and over having less words doing more, whereas here I’ve tried to capture language as faithfully and actually and unravelled-ly as I could. It’s also new for me to allow myself prosey line endings. It used to bother me that I wasn’t quite sure what was flash fiction and what was prose and what a poem and now I’ve decided it’s whatever. It’s the way the words settle true.

Liz Breslin doesn’t know the difference between rhyme and reason but she can write her way out of a paper bag. Her first poem collection, Alzheimer’s and a spoon, is out now, thanks to Otago University Press. She also writes plays, short stories and a fortnightly column – Thinking Allowed – for the Otago Daily Times. Liz is comfy on the page and the stage, came third in the 2016 Charles Causley International Poetry Competition and was second runner up in the 2014 NZ Poetry Slam. Her website is here.


From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!







Liz Breslin on poetry in ODT: Alzheimer’s and a Spoon out next week

“They’re not really a way of making sense of the world as such, more of poking at it and mining it … My family tells me that my writing is not therapeutic or meditative because I am not very peaceful in the doing of it or the aftermath, but it is a total necessity for me.”

Breslin is in a celebratory mood, keenly awaiting the publication of her first collection of poetry, Alzheimer’s and a Spoon, which will be launched in Dunedin and Wanaka next week.

The collection’s title, and various works within it, directly references the dementia she witnessed in her Polish grandmother (or “babcia”), as well as delving more widely into the notion of memory, relationships and how events take on different meanings depending on a person’s viewpoint.


Full piece here

Double launch details plus listen to Liz Breslin read ‘Dichotomy’ from her debut collection

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single page invitation.jpg






Wanaka poet, Liz Breslin, reads her poem ‘Dichotomy,’ from her first published collection of poems, Alzheimer’s and a Spoon, published by Otago University Press, and to be launched in Wanaka on July 13th.


From Liz:

What’s better than a book launch? A double book launch. A double book launch with beer. A double book launch in Wanaka with beer brewed in Wanaka. Words by Liz Breslin and Dominic ‘Tourettes’ Hoey. Books – a novel and some poems. Beer.

Come and listen to Dom and Liz launch their new books. Dom’s novel has been called ‘an unflinching début’ and Liz’s poems have got ‘sheer brio and linguistic flair.’ Since Liz has got the rhymes covered, is Dom bringing reason? Maybe. Probably. Possibly.

He describes his novel, Iceland, as “a tragic love story set in the neighbourhood. It’s about what happens when people are forced to live in a memory of their home. There’s also lots of funny stuff too.”

You’d think funny stuff would be short on the ground in a book about Alzheimer’s, but there’s also humour in Liz’s book. Her back cover blurb says –

“Alzheimer’s and a Spoon takes its readers on a tangled trip. Public stories – a conversation at the Castle of the Insane, online quizzes to determine if you’re mostly meercat or Hufflepuff. #stainlessteelkudos. Personal tales, of Liz’s babcia, a devout Catholic and a soldier in the Warsaw Uprising, who spent her last years with Alzheimer’s disease. There is much to remember that she so badly wanted to forget.”

Dom’s coming to the launch thanks to the Outspoken Festival – and he’s definitely an outspoken entertainer himself. Luc Bohyn, Outspoken’s originator, is excited to bring Dom down as it creates the synergies he enjoyed about Outspoken. Different voices in the same space always make for an interesting evening.


Liz and Dom’s books are as diverse and entertaining as their creative careers are to date. Dom has two poem collections and four studio albums to his name – this is his first novel. He also performs spoken word, is working on a one-man play  and spends his time teaching rangatahi excluded from mainstream education.

Liz is known to some people locally for her fortnightly column in the Otago Daily Times, or for her plays, and though she’s had individual poems published, this is her first collection.

“I’m totally completely massively delighted to be published by Otago University Press,’ says Liz. “They’ve been brilliant to work with, and I love having the professional standards and support.”

Liz and Dom are both “pretty good performers” and looking forward to entertaining people when sharing their words at Rhyme and Reason.


And what a great place for a celebration! Apart from the name being an obvious fit, Rhyme and Reason have got their own beers on tap, a selection of other local brews, a tonne of enthusiasm and their own font. And what word nerd doesn’t want to have a ook launch in a brewery that has its own font?
Launch details:

Thursday July 13th, Rhyme and Reason brewery bar, 17 Gordon Road, 6pm.

No entry charge. You can pay cash or EFTPOS for books and drinks.

Paper Plus will be selling books and donating 20% of all launch sales of Liz’s book to Alzheimer’s Otago.


rsvp: booklaunchwanaka@gmail.com






The Charles Causley International Poetry Competition: Liz Breslin’s winning poem

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extract from ‘Walk A Mile/ Stepping Out’


‘Liz Breslin is the 3rd prize winner for this year’s Charles Causley International Poetry Competition. Her winning poem is ‘Walk A Mile/ Stepping Out’ and was selected by our head judge Sir Andrew Motion.

As a child in the UK, Liz Breslin memorised Charles Causley’s poems, sitting in the bath. She now lives in Hawea Flat, New Zealand and writes poems, plays, stories, articles, and a fortnightly column for the Otago Daily Times. She also edits, parents, partners, skis badly, gardens sporadically, coordinates a school student volunteer programme, drinks too much coffee and loves getting her feet wet.’


For the full comments and complete poem see here. I loved the way the poem moves – and especially love the ending!