Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, ed Tracey Slaughter, Massey University Press
Poetry New Zealandis our longest running poetry magazine – it features essays and reviews, along with substantial room for poems. Tracey Slaughter has taken over the editorial role with the 2021 issue, a wide-ranging treat. A poet and fiction writer, she teaches creative writing at the University of Waikato. Her new collection of short stories, Devil’s Trumpet, has just been released by Victoria University Press.
Winners of the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Prize and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook Student Poetry Competition are included. Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor is the featured poet. To celebrate the arrival of the new issue – with 182 poems by 129 poets – I invited a few to read.
Cadence Chung reads ‘Hey Girls’ (First Prize, Year 12, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook Student Poetry Competition)
Brecon Dobbie reads ‘Diaspora Overboard’
Nida Fiazi reads ‘the other side of the chain-link fence’
Lily Holloway reads ‘The road to the hill is closed’
Michele Leggott reads ‘Dark Emily’
Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connnor reads ‘Cat’ and ‘If the heart is meat made electric’
Kiri Piahana-Wong reads ‘Before’
essa may ranapiri reads ‘Hineraukatauri & Her Lover’ (for Ruby Solly)
Cadence Chung is a student at Wellington High School. She first started writing poetry during a particularly boring maths lesson when she was nine. Outside of poetry, she enjoys singing, reading old books, and perusing antique stores.
Brecon Dobbie recently graduated from the University of Auckland with a BA in English and Psychology. She is currently writing as much as possible and trying to navigate her place in the world. Some of her work has appeared in Minarets Journal, Howling Press and Love in the time of COVID Chronicle.
Nida Fiazi is a poet and an editor at The Sapling NZ. She is an Afghan Muslim, a former refugee, and an advocate for better representation in literature, particularly for children. Her work has appeared in Issue 6 ofMayhem Literary Journal and in the anthology Ko Aotearoa Tātou | We Are New Zealand.”
Lily Holloway (born in 1998, she/they) is a forever-queer English postgraduate student. Her creative writing has been published in Starling, Scum, The Pantograph Punch, Landfall and other various nooks and crannies (see a full list at lilyholloway.co.nz/cv). She is an executive editor of Interesting Journal and has a chapbook forthcoming in AUP New Poets 8. Lily is based in Tāmaki Makaurau, is a hopeless romantic and probably wants to be your penpal!
Michele Leggott was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007-09 and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. Recent collections include Vanishing Points (2017) and Mezzaluna: Selected Poems (2020). Michele coordinates the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) with colleagues at the University of Auckland. In 2017 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor writes thanks to the support of some of the best people on this big watery rock.
Kiri Piahana-Wong (Ngāti Ranginui) is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. Her poems have appeared in over forty journals and anthologies, most recently in tātai whetū: seven Māori women poets in translation,Solid Air: Australian and New Zealand Spoken Word and Set Me on Fire(Doubleday, UK). Her first poetry collection, Night Swimming, was released in 2013; a second book, Give Me An Ordinary Day (formerly Tidelines), is due out soon. Kiri lives in Auckland with her family.
essa may ranapiri / tainui / tararua / ootaki / maungatautari / waikato / guinnich / cuan a tuath / highgate / thames / takataapui / dirt / dust / whenua / there is water moving through bones / there are birds nesting in the cavities
Jack Ross works as a senior lecturer in creative writing at Massey University. To date he’s published three novels, three novellas, three short story collections, and six poetry collections, most recently The Oceanic Feeling (Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021). He was the managing editor of Poetry New Zealand Yearbook from 2014-2019, and has edited numerous other books, anthologies, and literary journals. He blogs here.
Michael Steven was born in 1977. He is an Auckland poet.
on we go, Catherine Bagnall and L. Jane Sayles, Massey University Press, 2021
On we go
Empty suitcase made of leaves
and a stomach light as air
just to walk up in the sky
talking with you
Artist Catherine Bagnall grew up between the bush and Wellington harbour’s eastern shore. She lectures at the College of Creative Arts Toi Rauwhārangi, Massey University. L. Jane Sayle was raised on Wellington’s south coast. She has lectured in art and design history, and collected and sold curios and ephemera. This is her debut poetry collection.
Jane was living in Munich and Catherine was in Wellington when they began on we go. It is an exquisite collaboration that matches watercolours with poetry. I had no idea about their working process when I first read the book. I read the images, then read the poetry and finally I read the conjunctions that simmered away between art and text. A magical and unique reading experience. In fact Catherine and Jane exchanged emails but produced the work independently with neither art nor poetry coming first.
Enter the collection and you enter a magical place that resembles a series of open windows and doors, thresholds that lead you to a world that is rendered ethereal, fable-inducing, childlike, dreamy, mysterious. The translucent layers in both the poetry and the images transport you to shadow and light, the familiar and the achingly strange.
I read the watercolours first, finding my way through a forested world peopled with costumed figures that seem part-child part-adult part-animal (rabbits, cats, butterflies). The trees adopt other-worldly shapes, there is a strong sense of playfulness, of acting out, of visual narratives that open wide for you to go meandering. Dream reading. Sometimes the characters are caught mid-movement while at other times they are transfixed in the scene, caught in the middle of reverie. I love the image of the two cats, one larger and one small, one black and one blue, on the doorstep staring out into the ambiguous colour-washed world. I am there on the threshold as reader and am part of the world-gazing. There is a tiny teapot next to the two cats, a miniature marker of the domestic, of curios and collectibles, of rituals that shape a day. On the other side of the page, two figures awkwardly climb into their cat costumes, one tall and one small, one black and one blue, with arms bent and askew, and one reaching out fingertips to touch the threshold, the tree branch, the great big magical wide open world.
The art work is mesmerising, a watery narrative that can never be pinned down to single meanings, dead-end stories. I didn’t discover the mode of working until the endnote. Catherine makes clothes resembling ‘other-ly creatures’ with tails, ears and fur, and wears them into the forest where she archives her experience / performances. These then are translated into the watercolours. I liked reading the images before discovering this, so I hope I haven’t spoiled the pathways for you.
What bird is that?
strands of lemon lichen
across a satin-grey rock bank
and the smell of blackberry
living for the moment
inside the quiet air
on the nameless day
Armed with this fascinating biographical snippet, I then read Jane’s poems wondering if a poet can also make her her own ‘other-ly’ dress-up clothes that she wears into the forest before archiving her performances (so to speak). The elegant poetry achieves the same layering of mystery, etherealness, economy. Enter the layered poems and you draw upon the metaphysical, the ambiguous, the translucent, the metaphorical. The poems are potent, allowing tiny narratives of your own making, with everything delighting in the present tense. We are directed to the small and we are sidetracked to the large. There is vital economy and there is vital plenitude. There are ideas and there are moods. The detail is lush, the sound effects are intricate.
When the poem, ‘On we go’, offers an empty suitcase that is made of leaves, the suitcase itself becomes the point of fascination rather than the contents. And then the whole notion of emptiness pulls you back, and the collection pivots on whatever is there and whatever is not. I see this collaboration as part fable, part fairytale, part response to the knotty world but, more than anything, it is a precious contemplation prompt. A gorgeously-produced handbook to keep in your pocket for times you need that moment of dream and drift and replenishment.
Shining Land: Looking for Robin Hyde, Paula Morris and Haru Sameshima,
Massey University Press, 2020
In 2020 Massey University Press initiated the kōrero project, a collaboration between ‘two different kinds of artistic intelligence to work at a shared topic’. As I underlined in my review, the first book – High Wire, by Lloyd Jones and Euan Macleod – was stunning. The kōrero project seems necessarily open with no prescriptive views on how each collaboration ought to proceed. I like that. The second book, Shining Land: Looking for Robin Hyde by writer Paula Morris and photographer Haru Sameshima, offers a different approach and is equally satisfying. Both hardbacks are gorgeously produced by Massey University Press.
Perhaps I am drawn to Shining Land because it returned me to my own search for women poets in the archives and their poetry as I wrote Wild Honey. Paula and Haru went looking for Robin Hyde in her books and in the archives, but equally significantly in the physical places where she had lived in Aotearoa. Individual ‘storm chasers’ who met and planned and then took to their own roads of creating. The photographs and the text offer separate narrative threads, but also establish electric connections between image and word, between what is imagined and what is read, the elusive past and a personal present. I see this ground-breaking book as an invigoration of genre. It is memoir, biography, artwork, road trip, narrative, collaboration. It does not contextualise a subject in academic theory or adhere to biography paradigms or offer sustained close readings. If the authors are in search of their subject so too are the readers. I like that. In fact I love peering between the lines and the shadows, so to speak.
Consider this book as you might consider a poem where the poet offers stepping stones without filling in the whole river scene. It is over to us to choose how we navigate the electric currents, cross the bridges, absorb the biographical details, the self exposures of author and photographer. We can track Robin’s difficult life: her incessant pain after a knee injury, numerous lovers but no long term attachments, the death of a lover overseas, a stillborn baby, a secret baby placed in foster care, the scorn of men including local literary power brokers, the censure of family, the mental fragility, breakdowns even, the prolonged time in ‘mental hospitals’. The incessant need to earn money to pay for the care of her son, Derek Challis. The departure from New Zealand, with her fraught stopover in war-torn China and Japan. Her premature and tragic death in London. The books published in her lifetime; the articles, the fiction, the poetry written. Such layers of challenge when unendurable pain (eased by morphine) was spiked by the pain of losing her babies, her lover, her family’s respect, a place to call home, to be home.
In the Alexander Turnbull Library I held a sticker scrapbook that Robin had made for Derek, little stickers pasted alongside little stories she wrote for him. The stories petered out, and then the stickers petered out, and I felt the pain of the loss deeply. I carried a phantom presence as a throbbing ache back to my hotel room.
As I try to write about Shining Land my words keep breaking its incandescent magic (shining), its accumulating moods. The photographs are uncanny, eerie, both empty and full, empty of human presence because Robin is missing and missed. The storm chasers outside the frame. I keep imagining Robin entering the scene. I like that. When I look at the shot of Rangitoto ki te Tonga D’Urville Island and Te Aumiti French Pass from French Pass Road with gloomy skies and greys I become grey state. I like this so much. How can I speak? This is where pregnant Robin posed as a married woman, before moving to Picton and then back to Wellington with her secret baby and and her secret heartache. I am on the pass looking down at the grey isolation. I will never know Robin, I will never be in Robin’s shoes, but I feel. And that is what Paula and Haru do. They feel Robin in the depths of their looking and their making. It is contagious.
For Paula, it has much to do with feeling home and unhome and being on the move. Nomadic. Paula has lived in many cities, both in Aotearoa and overseas. Robin too was always on the move, from this house to that, to psychiatric institutions, from her city of birth to a city in the provinces to a city offshore, far removed from loved ones. Haru’s photographs offer footbridges to states of minds and to author phantoms. Transcendental. Movement rich. Still. So too does Paula’s writing. Together Paula and Haru visited the Grey Lodge that is now part of Unitec Institute of Technology, but was part of Avondale Mental Hospital. Robin admitted herself after a nervous breakdown. Unlike other guests she had a private room in the lodge and patch of garden, a table and a typewriter, and took up her doctor’s suggestion to write a memoir. The photographs are eerie, thick with mood and absence that translates into an uncanny and heart-beating-faster presence. Paula’s paragraph sets my hairs on end. Place becomes heartbeat.
The door to the attic is green, tattooed with graffiti, and Haru warns me about the steps: they’re alarmingly narrow and tall, and must have been difficult for Hyde to negotiate with her limp. The attic view now is of tree tops and the city, with glimpses of the harbour. The room is dusty and bare, humming with a central air unit. Something about the attic excites us both: it seems alive with Hyde, or perhaps we feel close to her in this plain space; the shape would have been familiar to her, the quiet.
After I edge back down, my feet too big for the steps, I leave Haru alone in the house – apart from the ghosts – waiting for the light to turn.
Shining Land makes me feel closer to Robin, perhaps more than any other book has done, apart from her poetry. Paula and Haru have built a space for her, a plain space, with pathways and rooms and gaps between the lines. And so more than before, I am feeling the pain of losing babies, of needing to write, of translating experience into prose and poetry, of persisting on through crippling pain. Of not saying everything out loud, so the rooms of a life fill, so we may eavesdrop all this time later.
Paula offers felicitous quotations, along with nuanced comments. Empathetic. Insightful. Spare. For example: The building where Robin roomed in Whanganui – after she had fostered Derek out – now houses a children’s clothing shop: ‘I’m glad she never had to look at those tiny rompers and bonnets.’
On one page, one sentence only: ‘Gwen Metcalfe, her closest friend: “It is a lot to happen to a girl before she is twenty.”’
When I was writing Wild Honey, I mourned the way some writers of the past and the present have rendered our early women poets missing, lost in the service of academic theory, in the privileged views and yardsticks of men. I wanted to hold these fierce and insistent women close, and feel their poetry, feel their circumstances and their ideas, their refusal to vanish. Shining Land is a form of embrace. It offers significant facts, personal connections, an astute selection of Robin’s words, and from friends and enemies. The book is restrained and vulnerable and probing. On this occasion and in this way, it holds Robin. In the gaps, the empty rooms, the medicine bottles, the window views. It makes me want to pick up my favourite Hyde collection Houses by the Sea and catch glimpses of an elsewhere time and place, a woman finding life so heartbreakingly difficult. I feel Shining Land to my core.
Paula Morris MNZM, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Manuhiri, Ngāti Whātua, is an award-winning novelist, short-story writer and essayist. A frequent book reviewer, interviewer and festival chair, she is an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, where she convenes the Master in Creative Writing programme, and is the founder of the Academy of New Zealand Literature.
Haru Sameshima was born in Shizuoka City, Japan, and immigrated to New Zealand in 1973. He completed an MFA (1995) at Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland. Sameshima has exhibited and published widely in New Zealand, and his images illustrate some of New Zealand’s most significant art and craft publications. He has his own publishing imprint, Rim Books, and runs his Auckland studio, Studio La Gonda, in partnership with Mark Adams.
Vaughan Rapatahana has just a posted a terrific feature on Wild Honey on Jacket2. I am usually doing the reviewing and posting so felt nervous being on the other end of the critique. Especially when I am in a cycle of terrible doubt about what I do and write, the state of the planet, the covid issues, the political game playing at home and abroad, about whether people read things any more. I wake in the night and worry about this.
I felt incredibly moved and restored by Vaughan’s engagement with the book – by his acknowledgement that this was an important arrival in view of a history of women poets in the shadows, by his considered attention. I send a bouquet of thankfulness.
I am reminded that books are an important part of who we are – and that we must do everything in our power to create them, publish and circulate them, review them, celebrate them, even challenge them if needed. Read and talk about them. Gift them!
This paragraph in particular moved me so much – there are people in the world building houses of knowledge, peace, forging multiple connective links:
I am immediately reminded of the work of Hirini Melbourne and his concept of whare whakairo, or a carved meeting house, whereby everything in and about this construction fits into and lends support, stability and splendour to every other component. The parallels are manifest. Granted that I am transposing women poets into his words, however Melbourne’s description of te whare whakairo rings out as so similar to Green’s own kaupapa in Wild Honey, namely, “The whare whakairo is … a place of shelter and peace. It is a place where knowledge is stored and transmitted and where the links with one’s past are made tangible … [it] is a complex image of the essential continuity between the past and present …” (Melbourne, 1991).
I also answered a few questions for the feature, after a run of wakeful nights with world and local worry, so my self-filter wasn’t on – I was answering from that secret-self-core that is private and wakes in the dark to dream, worry, invent and somehow find the truth.
Last year I did Wild Honey events throughout Aotearoa where women came and read, and I have never experienced anything like it. Such a strong feeling as younger and older writers made connections, different kinds of voices were heard together. I felt like I was holding something enormous that I created but that it got bigger than me as so many women told me what the book meant to them. It was overwhelming and it was wonderful.
I am due to do a Wild Honey event at the Word festival in Christchurch with a stunning group of women poets and I can’t wait. Come and say hello!
High Wire Lloyd Jones and Euan Macleod Massey University Press 2020
Massey University has launched the kōrero series of picture books for adults – a series of collaborations where ‘two different kinds of artistic intelligence’ work on a shared topic.
The first collaboration links author Lloyd Jones and artist Euan Macleod.
After Lloyd invited Euan to the bridge project, Euan drew and sketched profusely. Lloyd mused upon the crisscrossing bridges that constitute a life, and the way such structures lift you above the mundane. But then his musings changed:
But soon the heady ideas I had about bridges began to collapse. Where I had been, others had. The commonality of experience breathed its deflating air. As exhilarating as it had been to walk across Golden Gate Bridge or to soar above Sydney Harbour or to flit across the modest rainbow from child hood, my footsteps fitted neatly into others’: my beating heart fell in with theirs.
Bridges became high wire.
With High Wire you enter a collaboration that is glorious at every level: the words, the images, the ideas, the feelings. It is a book that saturates you in wonder and, as reader, I contemplate, observe, sidetrack. I had thought about interviewing both Lloyd and Euan, but the book is so powerful, so haunting, I want to celebrate that. Keep room for the unsaid, the enigma, the openings.
To begin with I am mindful of the beauty, the vistas and heights that bridges might deliver but then, as Lloyd abandons his first musings and settles on the high wire, I am lodged in the terrain of vertigo, fear, death, exhilaration, memory, wobbliness.
Euan’s initial drawings resemble subconscious scrawls steered by predetermined subject matter (an oxymoron?). I can’t stop looking at them. I can’t stop turning the pages as the opening light and airiness hit the dark. The thicker wedges of ink and line draw me in and then switch back to an enigmatic wash of light, a sudden and surprising flash of colour. Euan’s kinetic sketches are as much about the maker as they are the subject. I read them as a piece of music. Again an oxymoron, as all senses are lit. More than anything, I relish the musical flow. Art as music as feeling as idea in a tempo-ed move between light and dark, thin and thick, space and density. The high-wire figures – scrawled and ink washed – are a catalogue of human emotion. Think intimacy, think vulnerability, think daring. Think astonishing!
This is gut wrenching stuff. It is a book you feel before you move on and speculate. I find myself thinking about art, heights, tightrope walkers, childhood, people leaping from the flaming Twin Towers, struts and balancing acts. I get to the drawing ‘hold your nerve’ and it seems prescient.
Adjacent to each image is the writing – tightrope writing – where the author opens himself up, testing where he places the next foot so to speak. At one point he writes:
In the subconscious everything is up for grabs – there is no enforced geographical isolation. There are no trespass notices.
Again I am pondering the degree to which the subconscious steers the predetermined subject matter – to the way a sense of risk and challenge is heightened in the state of writing. I could have asked Lloyd this if I had interviewed him, but I remember he once told me his novels are guided by the unknown and discovery.
I don’t need to know how this book came into being – I want to navigate its existence in as many ways as possible. That makes it a book of returns.
On a pragmatic level you could stick with the simple premise that this is a book about a narrator walking to Australia on a high wire! Or the story of Philippe Petit who walked a high wire between the Twin Towers in 1974. Ah but this is a book of so many crossings, crisscrossings and possibilities, both physical and ethereal. At one point we meet the saddest bridge in the world. It is a bridge that is as much about disconnection as it is connection.
Lloyd muses on the bridges between random things as Bill Gates had imagined. So now, having stalled on this opening on the page, the bridges between me reading and my own random things are spiked into view by the book. How do I dare? How do I dare? How do I dare? How do I cross the vertigo-inducing gap between here and there? As reader? As writer? As human being?
What would the world be like without bridges? Lloyd asks. I carry that question as I follow the drawings again.
Lloyd weaves together the mysterious and the physical: to the point a sentence becomes luminous. Haunting.
A dark wriggle in the lunar surface of the sea turns yellow as the cloud passes and the moon reappears. To the west, the steady light of an aeroplane on its direct and patient course.
I love this book for so many reasons: because of its fertility for both heart and mind, because images and words speak to each other without taking a privileged position, because human experience is made complex and absorbing.
I don’t see this as a graphic novel – I see it as a book of connections born out of collaboration. An adult picture book. Massey University Press has created an exquisite book – the paper a perfect hue and texture. A gorgeous object to hold. High Wire is bookmaking at its very best. I recommend it highly and I can’t wait to read the next one.
High Wire brings together Booker finalist writer Lloyd Jones and artist Euan Macleod. It is the first in the new kōrero series of a series of ‘picture books written and made for grown-ups’ and designed to showcase leading New Zealand writers and artists working together in a collaborative and dynamic way.
In High Wire the narrators playfully set out across the Tasman, literally on a high wire. Macleod’s striking drawings explore notions of home, and depict homeward thoughts and dreams. High Wire also enters a metaphysical place where art is made, a place where any ambitious art-making enterprise requires its participants to hold their nerve and not look down.
It’s a beautifully considered small book which richly rewards the reader and stretches the notion of what the book can do.
It’s a hardback and $45.
Unity Books Wellington are currently taking pre-orders for the book, simply fill out the inquiry form here
Alternatively, the book is available for purchase from the Massey University Press website here
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 collectionCookhouse (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 2020is 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Photo credit: Jane Dove Juneau
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.
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.
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.
Photo credit: Miriam Berkley
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is the first in my new series. I phone a NZ bookshop, they suggest a NZ book, I add my NZ pick, and they pop the books in the mail for me. I am using my Wellington Writers Festival fee to spend on books.
Carol Beu, from The Women’s Bookshop in Auckland, recommended Becky Manawatu’s Auē (Makāro Press, 2019), shortlisted in the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards Fiction Category. She enthused about this gripping narrative – and I had already been tempted by reviews. I picked Damien Wilkins’s YA novel – Aspiring (Massey University Press, 2020). The book was unable to launched in the traditional sense so newsroom posted Damien Wilkins’s launch speech. To help promote the book I am including a Q & A.
As you can see I never leave a bookshop empty handed and always add a few extras. Two authors I am big fan of got popped in the parcel – so can’t wait to get stuck into new books as I am imposing semi self isolation.
First sentence from Aspiring: ‘Pete’s was where I had an after-school job.’
First sentence from Auē: ‘Taukiri and I drove here in Tom Aiken’s truck.’
Damien Wilkins Q & A
Q1: A YA novel! What’s the story here?
I have no idea! At no point did I think ‘I must write a YA novel’. I’d always wanted to write about the Gateway Arch in St Louis, this beautiful and quite strange public monument. I lived in St Louis for two years. The arch always seemed to me to be unconnected to the world. It’s spectacular but also plonked there, as if by aliens. A long time ago, I wrote twenty pages of an adult novel featuring the architect Eero Saarinen, who designed the arch. But I abandoned it. I knew nothing about architecture. Then I wrote a song about him and recorded it on my first record. That was that, I thought. But then somehow the arch came back and got caught up in the story of this New Zealand boy. Nothing is planned!
Q2: Liberating to write, or tough to work within the confines of the genre?
There are confines? I didn’t really think about the genre. This is a book about a young person from a young person’s point of view. Once I’d decided I would never leave Ricky’s mind, the idea of an audience was settled – Ricky is speaking to himself and his peers. I didn’t want this novel to feel like ‘adult fiction writer Damien Wilkins on holiday’. I was always trying to write the best sentences, the best scenes, the most alive story I could write.
Q3: Aspiring … it’s Wanaka, right?
It’s Wanaka put through a filter, sometimes put through the ringer. You touch something with language and it changes. I needed the freedom to say things that are incorrect and even unfair about the real place. I didn’t want the reader to say ‘Oh, he got that wrong’.
Q4: How much time have you spent there and what struck you about the place?
I’ve been visiting and staying there for thirty years. We have family connections. The obvious and true thing to say is that it’s a beautiful place to put a town. The mountains! The lake! And over the decades that beauty becomes a magnet – more people want to be there. Retirees, escapees, people of means, tourists – we’re all drawn there. How to manage that growth? It’s a place of privilege of course, and not very diverse. And I became interested in what happens behind the scenes in a place like that. And what it would be like to grow up there, especially if you don’t really share the values of the place … It’s all probably a thinly disguised version of me growing up in Lower Hutt in the 1970s, except we just had boring hills to look at!
Q5: Ricky is so likeable. To what extent is he an amalgam of all the terrific sixteen-year-olds you’ve come across?
Boys of this age get a bad press. I wanted to write a little hymn to their internal lives. Those lives now seem more compressed, more stressed. There’s a lot of anxiety around. I think it’s disastrous for everyone the way that young males are still educated away from the life of feeling.
Q6: At one stage Ricky thinks, ‘Put away childish things’. That seems all that needs to be said about the fraught process of adolescence, doesn’t it?
If only! I think the novel catches Ricky at this weird moment where his body is outstripping his brain and his emotional resources – his sudden tallness and bigness gives him access to an adult world he’s not ready for. He grieves for his old life as a child but is also excited by and drawn to the possibilities of the future. He knows, however, that the planet’s future is dire. But there’s something else too. I mean, it’s not as if Ricky’s dad is a model of emotional maturity. I hope the novel gives a picture of people of all ages in the process of becoming, of trying to work out things, of trying to shift. I don’t believe in these clear-cut categories of human development – ‘and now you have emerged from the chrysalis!’ A lot of us still have bits of chrysalis stuck in our hair.
Q7: It’s such a painful time but do you also envy your characters their youth?
Of course! I’m old. I have two daughters in their twenties. But then it’s impossible for me to know what it’s really like to be sixteen now. There are lots of signs that it’s not so much fun. I put some of this in the novel. I also wanted to show the resourcefulness of young people, and the endless search for pleasure.
Q8: And they gave you a great opportunity for jokes and whipsmart dialogue.
Kids are quick. I envy the speed of their minds. The dialogue between Ricky and his friends, and Ricky and Keri were the most enjoyable parts to write. If you don’t have power, you still have talk.
Q9: Adults will no doubt end the book feeling protective, even anxious, about Ricky. But what do you think young readers will feel?
I hope they feel that they’ve read about someone who has gone through something and come out the other side not just intact but with a renewed sense of his potential and his power. I’ve always liked that thing that Maurice Sendak said about children protecting adults from the truth. You really don’t want to upset your parents by letting on how much you know.
Q10: Will he be ok?
Hope is important. He hasn’t solved anything but he’s in a relationship, he’s having fun, and his family is in a better place. Ricky has successfully protected his parents from the truth about his life! Good on him.
Just back from a wonderful visit to Dunedin. We got to celebrate Wild Honey last night thanks to Massey University Press, Kay Mercer and Dunedin Libraries, and Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb and the University Book Shop. There was a great turn out of poetry fans, and a set of readings that prompted both laughter and tears. We even got to hear Fiona Farrell sing! The occasion felt even more precious because that afternoon local poet, Elizabeth Brooke-Carr, had passed away, and so many local poets were together. Jenny Powell read one of Elizabeth’s poems as a tribute.
Heartfelt thanks to the readers: Sue Wootton, Carolyn McCurdie, Fiona Farrell, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Diane Brown, Jenny Powell, Eliana Gray, Emer, Lyons and Emma Neale.
Wild Honey continues to place women’s poetry under a warm and receptive light. I was humbled by the joy, the warmth and the generosity in the room. I am humbled by the way it continues to be an open home.
Emma Neale’s introduction was so good I want to share it with you – plus a few photos taken by Kay.
Wild Honey introduction
Tena kotou katoa
Ko Emma Neale toku ingoa ….
What a fabulous, upbeat reason for us all to be together tonight. It is very happily my role to introduce Paula Green to you all and talk a little about Wild Honey.
I noticed at around page 200 of Wild Honey that in my reading habits, I was inadvertently reflecting the structuring principle of the book. For those of you who haven’t looked into it yet — the book gathers small communities of women poets in separate rooms of a capacious imaginary house: so we move from the Foundation Stones of 19th-century authors Jesse Mackay and Blanche Baughan and of early 20th century writer Eileen Duggan, through to spaces such as the study, the music room, the hearth, the hammock and the garden, where Paula reflects on the thematic concerns, the psychological spaces, the poetic techniques, and also the lives of the writers she gathers there.
I realised last week that I’ve been carrying the book with me into every nook and cranny of my own house – brushing my teeth while reading it – burning dinner while cooking from it, or rather, by miming cooking while actually travelling deep into the passageways and chambers of the book itself. I didn’t twig to all this until I found myself nearly braining the family rabbit with it, as I tried to dish out pellets and straw to him in his outside hutch while Wild Honey was still tucked under one arm. Clearly this potentially book- and rabbit-wrecking approach is a mark of how compelling the prose is – capable of supplanting a cell-phone as the glued-to object to stare at. I suspect this won’t just be true of fellow poetry obsessives: the prose is pellucid, generous, and welcoming.
The book embraces myriad voices; it’s receptive to multiple styles, and it actively celebrates the writers it discusses. It doesn’t pit one writer against another, try to champion one above another, or upbraid writers for perceived political derelictions, but it listens attentively to what each writer has to say, and aims to capture and characterise the tone of their preoccupations. It’s a history of women’s poetry here in Aotearoa, yet one that is also a memoir of reading, as Paula laces the analysis with vivid personal responses and descriptions of how reading other women’s work has bolstered and boosted her — not only as a professional writer, herself interested in aesthetic questions, but as a person moving through time, dealing with love and loss, memory and projection, physical injury and philosophical problems, seized by the beauty of the natural world, shocked by social toxicity … it’s a vast and varied coastline of human experience.
I think it’s important to say that even as we encounter generations of writers here, learn of their preoccupations and savour the sensuous aspects of their expression, one of the delights of reading this book is finding Paula’s own poetic signature throughout. It travels with you like a piwakawaka flitting along at shoulder height on a hiking trail – so you can start to feel kind of blessed and graced yourself with the ability to communicate in the same free, light and spirited way … until you actually try to express all the things this book achieves.
Wild Honey is so embracing, so capacious, that what I would really like to do before starting the readings and our conversation, is to ask everyone here —but particularly the poets — to both congratulate and thank Paula for her diligence, her energy, her curiosity, her own creative gifts and above all tonight for her generosity. You can whoop, clap, dance, sing, stomp your feet – pull out a clarinet or a trombone if you have one — just make a bloody great non-library- like racket.