Tag Archives: medb charleton

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Medb Charleton’s ‘THIS NIGHT WILL PASS’




Down the hall, waves slosh at your door.

You’re in there sleeping until nautical dawn,

sugary lips like meadowsweet in its young pink,

cheeks like pear blossoms where summer lingers

and hums with arithmetic bees –

perhaps you are dreaming umbrellas

embellished with yellow bananas,

or pairing bird and flame, lace curtains with river falls

but baby, this night will pass

with its nocturnes, dark leaves and tiny lights,

like everything in entropic flight

you’ll wake to find it has gone away.


Medb Charleton



Medb Charleton grew up in Sligo, Ireland. She did an MA in Creative writing at the IIML in Wellington and since has published poems in Landfall, Sport, JAAM and online.



Poetry Shelf audio spot – Medb Charleton reads ‘I Prefer Mornings’







‘I Prefer Mornings’ was published in Landfall 224: Home and Building,
November 2012 (Otago University Press).



Medb Charleton grew up in Sligo, Ireland. She did an MA in Creative writing at the IIML in Wellington and since has published poems in Landfall, Sport, JAAM and online.







Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Medb Charleton on The Element of Surprise

The Element of Surprise


I have a weakness for abstract metaphor and modernist imagery that probably dates back to my youthful reading where I saw the transformative power of language and was captivated by its beauty. The mysterious relationships between words and their infinite meanings and pairings seemed to me then, and still now, the most amazing thing. It taught me that all things contain shared elements in different combinations. I do try now, when I find myself working on a poem in blindfolded trepidation, to add the lightness of my own speech and thought processes, voice, to the lines and keep grand sweeping metaphors like ‘the eternal snow of stars’ (Stéphane Mallarmé) somewhat at bay.  I’m interested in ideas in poems, in poems as transportation for philosophical inquiry but also as meditation on life’s experience. It’s difficult to say what makes a poem triumph for me, but I do return (like Robert Duncan in ‘Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’) to the element of surprise.  Whether it’s an unworldly tone or a perfect, new comparison or the use of unusual diction, the more outlandish, the farther out the poet has been on their journey creating. But there is also, of course, surprise in simplicity. The delivery of emotion in a weightless world. Just as in space where a feather and a hammer fall at the same pace. Perhaps poetry is the search for sacredness in places, or a pursuit of meaning, but it’s the element of surprise that catches off-guard and accesses immediately the reader’s dream.


Medb Charleton


Medb Charleton grew up in Sligo, Ireland. She did an MA in Creative writing at the IIML in Wellington and since has published poems in Landfall, Sport, JAAM and online.



Poetry Shelf classic poem: Medb Charleton picks Janet Frame’s ‘I Take into My Arms More Than I Can Bear To Hold’


I Take Into My Arms More Than I Can Bear To Hold


I take into my arms more than I can bear to hold

I am toppled by the world

a creation of ladders, pianos, stairs cut into the rock

a devouring world of teeth where even the common snail

eats the heart out of a forest

as you and I do, who are human, at night


yet still I take into my arms more than I can bear to hold


 Janet Frame

from The Goose Bath, Vintage, 2006

(posted with kind permission from the Janet Frame Literary Trust)




Note from Medb Charleton:

The first time I read this poem it gave me that feeling only poetry can give, my nervous system was instantly held captive by the emotions generated and then freed as those emotions connected with my own lived experiences and ability to dream of life inside this mysterious art form.

Each line, in its weighted simplicity, its juxtaposed images, deciphers that moving and syntactically wonderful title. When I read it in more and more detail, I can see Frame’s musicality of diction with the effortless onomatopoeia, assonance, the line breaks, the repetition with which she somehow manages to weave the philosophical and moral themes that interested her.

A softness and beauty prevails even though adversity and disillusionment are present. The poet is willing to risk all, must in fact if she is to live, and with that very burden, one that she can barely carry, there is something of a pleasure and wonder in everyday things and the destructive capacity of the beautiful. Even she herself is accountable as you and I are. The world threatens to become too much. Not just the suffering, endurance and hardship in the world and in nature, but also its incredible creations, its mysteries – she feels it all intensely and it’s this unbearable weight that she holds.

The repetition of the title in the closing line, its gentle insistence, is both a plea and an acceptance of unattainable goodness with the hope that through this art of making, the poem itself, that she may find truth enough to absolve life’s cruelties, the weight of responsibility and bewildering unknowns and perhaps even be able to bear the pain or emotional intensity of beauty when found.




Medb Charleton grew up in Sligo, Ireland. She did an MA in Creative writing at the IIML in Wellington and since has published poems in Landfall, Sport, JAAM and online.

Janet Frame (1924-2004) published eleven novels, five story collections, a previous volume of poetry (The PocketMirror, 1967), a children’s book and a three-volume autobiography. She won numerous awards and honours, including New Zealand’s highest civil honour when she was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 1990. In 2003 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement and was named an Arts Foundation Icon Artist. Pamela Gordon, Denis Harold and Bill Manhire edited The Goose Bath, Janet’s posthumous collection of poems in 2006.






Poetry Shelf review: Landfall 237


Landfall 237 edited by Emma Neale


Landfall 237 offers rich pickings for the poetry fans: familiar names (Peter Bland, David Eggleton, Elizabeth Smither, Ria Masae, Lynley Edmeades and Cilla McQueen) to emerging poets (Rebecca Hawkes, Claudia Jardine, essa may ranapiri) and those I am reading for the first time (Robynanne Milford, Jeremy Roberts, Catherine Trundle to name a few). The reading experience is kaleidoscopic, pulling you in different directions, towards both lightness and darkness, risk and comfort. And that is exactly what a literary journal can do. I was tempted to say should, but literary journals can do anything.

Landfall has a history of showcasing quirky artwork – and this issue is no exception. Sharon Singer’s sequence, “Everyday Calamities’ with its potent colour, surreal juxtapositions, strange and estranging narratives, and thematic bridges, is an addictive puzzle for heart and mind. I am circling humanity, the power of connection, the individual both tenacious and frail, the state of the planet. Paintings whirling and tipping you into moments that soothe, bewilder and provoke. I adore these.

I turned from these to Rachel O’Neill’s prose poem ‘The Supernatural Frame’ and get goosebumps:

You may look upon the painting through these special

foiled binoculars. We are at a safe distance. Afterwards you

may feel a chill or a fever linger for two days and a night,

accompanied by an infernal cough.



On the centennial of the birth of Ruth Dallas in Invercargill, I am also delighted to see John Geraets spotlight her poetry. Certain Dallas poems have always had a place in NZ literary anthologies (think ‘Milking Before Dawn’) but as readers we may less familiar with the wider expanse of her work. Like so many women poets of the twentieth century she is in the shadows. In his intro John suggests it is not clear how to include her ‘within more recent nexus based on gender, ethnicity, ecology, avant-gardism, faith or political affiliation’. He responds by assembling her words – culled from Landfall editor-contributor responses and her autobiography Curved Horizon – on the left-hand pages and his words on the right. He first sees in her poetry – compared with contemporary writing choices – predictability, regularity, un-excitement, regionalism; and then, by paying attention and refreshing his routes, he opens up poems to different movements. He moves in close to the poem. I love that. Much I could say on how we approach the women from the past! Expect 568 pages soon.


I absolutely love the poetry in this issue; it is both fresh and vital! I see neither formula nor dominating style but shifting stories, musicality, feeling, political bite, muted shades, bright tones.


Here are some highlights:


Joanna Preston’s poem ‘Allegrophobia’ carries you from birth to tardiness to spring in a layered on punctuality – a perfect little package.

Jasmine Gallagher’s ‘Be Still’ sent me to her bio because I want to read more by her. She is a doctoral student at the University of Otago and has previously been published in brief. Her poem is poetry as brocade – glinting for the eye and chiming for the ear.


Slattern: a

hoar frost:

a rime

Cold seed bed

Rot and slime


Another poet, Catherine Trundle, also sent me scavenging for more. She writes poetry, flash fiction and experimental ethnography. Her poem ‘The Caravan behind the Plum Tree’ is also an exquisite brocade.


This lush cusp of spring rides

pinkish, amoebic, wilding

the inside, every flesh ’n’ cranny

while the sunlight lunges in

through winter tidelines

of curtain rot


Tam Vosper’s ‘Ailurophilia’ was an equal hook for me. He is working on a PhD at Canterbury University that considers Allen Curnow and the poetics of place. Again this is brocade poetry: so rich in effect.


All Gallic pluck

and casual loft

you claim a suntrap,

slump sidewise down,

and unhinge your barbed yawn:

           a shark to shoaling mice.


And I want to add Medb Charleton’s ‘I think I Saw You Dreaming’, Rebecca Hawkes’s ‘If I could breed your cultivar / I’d have you in my garden’ and Gail Ingram’s ‘The Kitchen’ to my list of brocade poetry. Glorious.

In contrast you have the spare deliciousness of Ariha Latham’s ‘Waitangi’. Another poet whose work I want to track down.


When I read Ria Masae’s “Jack Didn’t Build Here’ I can hear her performing its sharp mix of personal and politics  – and it cuts into my skin. Six houses built. She carries us from the father’s house full of stories to David Lange’s Mangere home open to the locals: he ‘understood the pressures of fa’alavelave,/ cos he brown on the inside like that’. She bears us from the house her mum built with its’ celebration tables’ to the house Key built with its ‘security code gate’. She ends with a question (the house to be built?):


What house will Jacinda build?

Will it enable my daughters to build their own homes

of tangata whenua foundations and fa’a Samoa roofs

in this palagified City of Sales?


You can move from political bite to the glorious wit you often find in an Erik Kennedy poem. His ‘All Holidays Are Made-Up Holidays’ is no exception. Meet Cabinet Day – ‘we went along/ from house to house hanging little doors / around each other’s necks to hide our secrets’. Or the Feast of Holy Indifference. Genius!

Claire Orchard’s poem, ‘Breakages’, swivels on a set of shelves, on the objects that they hold, and in that satisfying movement speaks of so much more; the poem resembles a shelf of family history with peaks and troughs.


I enjoyed the way it had begun to display time

in the style of tottering, elderly people


I heard Joan Fleming talk about new poetry she was writing at the Poetry & Essay conference at Victoria University in 2017. The poems came out of her experience of camp life in Nyrripi and surrounding areas in Australia’s Central Desert. I was moved by her discussions of collaboration and consent, her attentiveness to the local. Two poems here – ‘Alterations’ and ‘Papunya is Gorgeous Dirty and I Second-guess my Purposes’ – come out of this experience. I can’t wait to see this in book form.


Finally a treat from Cilla McQueen. She has written ‘Poem for my Tokotoko’; it is personal, physical and abundant with the possibilities of poetry. Pure pleasure.


Sometimes I see you as an enchanter’s staff,

scattering poems like leaves to the west wind;

at others you’re practical, a trusty pole

by means of which, through quarrelling

undercurrents, I can ford turbulent water.

By means of which I put myself across.


This is such good issue – there are reviews and fiction I haven’t read yet, and the announcement of the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Competition 2019 – but on the poems only, it warrants a subscription. Yep – Landfall has its finger on the pulse of NZ poetry.


Landfall 237 page