Tag Archives: Michele Leggott

My two poetry readings to launch my new book feature some of my favourite poets

Like so many poets, I loathe people making speeches about me or my work. Much better to stage a poetry reading and celebrate the pull of cities.

My new poetry collection comes out of ten exceptional days I spent in New York with my family awhile ago. So I have invited a bunch of poets I love to read city poems by themselves and others. Big line-ups but it will free flow and leave time for wine and nibbles.

Once I got to fifteen I realised what poetry wealth we have in these places. I could have hosted another 15  in each place easily. That was so reassuring.

If I had time and money, I would have staged similar events in Christchurch and Dunedin where there bundles of poets I love too.

Please share if you have the inclination.

And you are ALL warmly invited!

Auckland:

 

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Wellington:

 

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A Circle of Laureates, a galaxy of poetry

This event prompted me to hunt for cheap fares to Wellington because it seemed like a rare and special poetry occasion. And it was! A sold-out event!

The National Library, as current administrator of the NZ Poet Laureate awards, hosted the evening as part of Wellington Writers Week.  John Buck from Te Mata Wines instigated the Laureateship in 1997, with Bill Manhire taking the debut spot. John was there with wine to share. He still retains an involvement.

Fergus Barrowman from VUP was the MC. He made the important point that the award is ‘an activist portfolio not just an honour.’ The earliest debut publication by a Laureate was in 1964 while the most recent debut was 1988.  Three generations of poets! Cilla McQueen and Michele Leggott calculated over 700 years of life/poetry experience across the ten laureates to date.

Bill Manhire (1997) spoke about what the Laureateship meant to him and the two ways it expanded his sense of what he might do as a poet, as a public figure. Firstly he began to write poems with some kind of public dimension. Secondly he explored the way the role centred on the promotion of poetry. He wanted to ‘talk it up.’ Both are options we can be thankful for. Bill’s poems that stand on a public stage are poems that embrace the knots and crests of humanity. I talked about the way ‘Hotel Emergencies’ does this on Summer Noelle in January.

Bill read ‘Erebus Voices’ and I sat there thinking this is a poem that belongs in the world and can be heard again. And again. And then again. Because it both moves and matters. Bill shows so adeptly the way poems can shift us to laughter, to wry grins at the surprise of it all, but also lead to far more unfathomable movements of the heart.

‘I am here beside my brother, terror./ I am the place of human error.’

I especially loved the way he started with the poem of a fellow poet. He ‘talked her poem up,’ and I fell in love with it all over again: Rachel Bush’s ‘The Strong Mothers.’

 

Hone Tuwhare was represented by his son Rob. We listened to Hone read ‘No Ordinary Sun,’ we listened to Rob read Hone and then Rob picked up his guitar and sang a Graham Brazier version of one of the poems. A version of friendship. Quiet, haunting, utterly melodic. This was love. Hairs standing on your arm on end from start to finish in the Tuwhare bracket.

‘Oh tree/ in the shadowless mountains/ the white plains and/ the drab sea floor/ your end is at last written.’

 

Elizabeth Smither read a cross section of poems that delighted the audience. But one as-yet-unpublished poem in particular stuck to me. Kate Camp, her mum and I – all went ‘wow.’ I adored the story of Elizabeth seeing her mother move through her house, the windows bright, unaware of the daughter driving by. By the time I got to congratulate her, dear Elizabeth had already signed her copy for Kate. How lovely! Like a bouquet of flowers. Elizabeth emailed the poem so I can read and write about it for my book.

‘It was all those unseen moments we do not see/ the best of a mother/ competent and gracious in her solitude’

 

Brian Turner with his delicious wit said: ‘I’ve been called a political animal many times and it’s not always a compliment!’ And that is what makes his poems so enduring. The way he hits the right pitch of land and sky but with a deep love that is unafraid to match beauty with issues. He read a cluster of short poems where every word sang. Gee whizz this was good. Here are few lines I loved without the line breaks (sorry):

‘and the shadows are mauve birthmarks on the hills’

‘If the sky knew half of what we were doing down here it would be inconsolable and we would have nothing but rain’

‘where a river sings, a river always sang’

See what I mean!

 

Jenny Bornholdt

Jenny rued the way Wellington Writers Week has dropped ‘readers’ from the title. She said she would reclaim readers, in the perfect setting (the library), with a longish poem: ‘A long way from home.’ This was a highlight for me. The poem is all about illness and reading; the ability to read and a time when it flees. Here are some sample lines:

‘How as a child, books were the lens// through which I eyed the muddy track to adulthood’

‘For six weeks now I’ve been outside weather/ and of reading. Outside of myself.’

‘I have tried to read but nothing/ sticks. That anchor of my life has been raised and// I’m all at sea.’

 

Michele Leggott, like Bill, brings poetry to a a public arena through her tireless promotion and expansive love. Michele read an extract from a long work (‘The Fasciclies’) that bridges Taranaki and Lyttelton, the 1860s and the 1970s, and the connections between two women.

My notebook is full of Persian-like doodles of birds and shapes interspersed with notes but, as I listened to Michele, my pen stalled. I felt like I could hear Robin Hyde with her luminous detail and observations in the seams. For this was luminous writing. There is a bridge between reader and poem. Sometimes you cross it. Sometimes it seems impassable. I just wanted to cross the bridge and read the whole poem.

You can find the whole piece here.

 

Cilla McQueen read ‘Ripples’ a long poem that showcases her strengths as a writer. It is in her latest collection, The Radio Room (2010). Another highlight. Other poets make an appearance, Joanna and Hone. Moving. Uplifting in a way.

‘After the funeral service you leaned down towards me out of a cloud;/  “Kia mau!” you shouted into my mind.’

Cilla McQueen’s memoir is due next week from Otago University Press.

 

Ian Wedde also has a childhood memoir out, The Grass Catcher, which is on my must-read list. Ian’s poetry produces my ideal poetry trifecta of relations: music, ideas, heart. Oh! And singing its way through, a sense of story. He read from ‘The Life Guard.’ Ha! It’s all here. Listen to the start:

‘You have to start somewhere/ in those morose times,/ / a clearing in the forest say,/ filled with golden shafts of sunlight// and skirmishes’

 

Vincent O’Sullivan has a new book out from VUP, which I am about to review for a newspaper, so perfect to hear him read his poetic contours. He has the ability to refresh anything. To tilt tropes, to enhance the music of a line, to poke you with an idea, to make you feel. Once again I got caught up in the moment of listening and didn’t catch lines in my notebook.

 

Ck Stead is the current Poet Laureate. He began with a poem about Allen Curnow, who he felt would have been Laureate if he had lived within the Laureate time span. Karl had struggled over whether to read a top-hit kind of poem or read new things. I know that feeling and first thought I would only ever read a poem once in public when first published. That soon fell by the wayside.

It was a moment of audience empathy as Karl confessed he thought he would read it, then wouldn’t, then finally after hearing Bill, decided he would. And we were glad, indeed, as he read an elegy for his mother. Utterly moving.

Poetry is such a love for Karl. He made this clear when I was filming his ‘thank you’ speech for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award. And hearing him read on this occasion, lifted the poems off the pages where I have loved them, to a new life in the air/ear.

from ‘Elegy’ but without that scattered layout that makes much of white space (sorry):

‘She’s there somewhere/ the ferryman/ assures me.// He tells me/ she was reluctant to go/ but silent – // stood in the prow/ no tears/ and never looked back.’

Karl filled the room with the warmth of poetry. Music. Heart. Ideas. A perfect end.

 

The tokotoko table, with all the talking sticks carved especially for each poet, was like a quilt with stories. I wished someone had held up the mother tokotoko for all to see and told that story. And indeed held up each tokotoko, for each tokotoko has its own.

Karl will get his at the Matahiwi ceremony in April. I am honoured to be part of this occasion along with Gregory O’Brien and Chris Price.

 

A Circle of Laureates was a magnificent occasion. I bumped into Elizabeth Knox the next day and we were both enthusing about how good it was. Peter Ireland from the National Library had put in all the hard work! Kindly acknowledged on the night by Ian. Every poet held my attention. There is a big age range here, but to me, it is a way of honouring our poetry elders.

As a poet, I write with one foot in the past and one foot in the future.I want to know who I’m writing out of. This is my tradition. This is my innovation. This circle.

It reminded me of Selina Tusitala Marsh’s’s poem ‘A Circle of Stones in her debut collection where she honours the women she writes from, towards and beside.

Thank you to everyone who made this event possible. It was worth my spur-of-the-moment cheap flight, my accidental data blow out, my misbooking home that meant a new booking, the chance to hear the Lauris-Edmond finalists, and losing myself in Jessie Mackay in The Alexander Turnbull Library.  Thirty-six hours of poetry. Heaven.

Thanks! Ten Poets Laureate to celebrate!

 

 

Poetry Highlights at Wellington’s Writer’s Week in March

For the full programme see here but this is the poetry on offer.

 

I would love to go to the Laureate Circle but can’t make it at this stage (might just fly down on a whim!). I would really like to post pieces on any of the poetry events at the festival. Any takers?

 

Friday March 11th 7pm  A Circle of Laureates

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Friday March 11th 5pm   Anis Mojgani and Marty Smith

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Thursday March 10th 1.45pm Anis Mojgani

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Sunday 13th March 2.30 pm  Anis Mojgani with Mark Amery

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Saturday 12th March 3.30 pm Five Poets and a Prize

 

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Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Sam Sampson gets choosing

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An online publication that I’m still engaged with, and keeps giving, was the collection: A Festschrift for Tony Frazer, which celebrated the 64th birthday of Tony Frazer, the editor of Shearsman. As one of many writers with a poetry book published through Shearsman Books, and poems published within Shearsman Magazine, I follow, revisit, and greatly admire Tony and his Shearsman imprint. As outlined on the publication homepage, Tony is one of the great poetry editors of our time, publishing more than 300 writers; but more importantly, encouraging and validating the writing process through championing new writers, writers in translation, a Classics series, and working tirelessly to promote poetry. Here is an insightful quote that sums Tony up perfectly:

‘Tony Frazer must be held to account for he is a publisher who resolutely fails to be everything a publisher should be: he is enthusiastic, literate and does not concern himself with projected sales figures. What can be done to stop him? Very little, I fear’ Marius Kociejowski

 

Over the years I’ve purchased volumes from Shearsman, such as Gael Turnbull’s There are words…Collected Poems, discovered Gustaf Sobin, Theodore Enslin, Anthony Hawley, Frances Presley, Anne-Marie Albiach, Pablo de Rokha…and at this moment, are reading poems by one my favourite poets, the late Lee Harwood Collected Poems.

 

On the local front, this year I had the privilege of being part of a poetry reading with Roger Horrocks Song of the Ghost in the Machine (Victoria UP, 2015) – and hear first hand the meditative ghost ambling to-and-fro, from word-to-world. From what I understand, it was Roger’s first poetry reading in 30 years. A great occasion and a great book!

Another highlight this year was being invited by Michele Leggott to be part of the Six Pack Sound #2 series at the nzepc. The second series included recordings by Stephanie Christie, Makyla Curtis & Hannah Owen-Wright, Doc Drumheller, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Jack Ross. Thanks to Michele Leggott, Brian Flaherty and Tim Page for making this happen.

 

Sam Sampson

Poetry Shelf Book Review: Steven Toussaint’s The Bellfounder – It is an exquisite read

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Steven Toussaint The bellfounder  The Cultural Study Society, 201B

 

 

Steven Toussaint was born in Chicago in 1986. He is the author of the chapbook Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014). He lives on the side of a volcano in Auckland, New Zealand.

Steven’s new poetry collection, The Bellfounder, is an exquisite read. The epigraph stands as a dedication to Eleanor Catton: ‘For you I have emptied the meaning/ leaving the song’. The ‘you’ widens to gift song to the reader as music is both first and last reading effect. A lexicon of musical terms amass: melody, pitch, chord, counterpoint, harmony, rhythm. I wanted to shut my eyes and absorb the musicality through the pores of my skin.

Each word chimes like a musical note, but the reward is in the aural connections – surprising, comforting, hair shivery – that produce the lift and skip of melody (‘brine seamed, milked at alpine view’). Your ear flutters to and fro along the track of the line catching sounds that twitch and oscillate and gel (‘alive as white aster, as stars’). There is both musical playfulness and musical craft. The little shift from ‘aster’ to ‘as stars’ sends gossamer threads to Gertrude Stein, Michele Leggott, Susan Howe. Melody is made more endearing by syntax that sidesteps, elides, eludes (‘hoove the ground/ each order othering’). Words hum on the ends of lines like a secret sidebone poem (whole formative cloud downgrowth longing parades embankments view is left stars ground othering bellow). (quotations are from ‘The Ground’)

At times, the language is demanding (I love this), when the words are obscure, not in everyday use, deliciously coined, twisted and shifting. At times, there is a sweet economy that counterbalances a governing richness. Always, at every crest and turn, phrases that cling to the ear (‘ore poured/ through ode// and hissed forth/ dread’ from ‘Analogion’).

 

What of meaning abandoned? After the initial joy of melody (song), I savoured the visual tussock; the way image is both ephemeral and grounded. Again I was reminded of Gertrude, Michele and Susan – and the playful energy of an image held in the mind. A point of contemplation. Transcendental, almost. At first, there is the allure of the image (‘quiet tangle/ of birchbark’ ‘Down along/ the frost encased// river little/ stinging reeds’). The images are little anchors in the overall mist of the poems. Yet that grounding enables the folds and creases of connection, personal associations and drifting thought (how to build that ice-cold river in mind’s eye?). Motifs, like the musical wordnotes, echo. The images tilt you. They act as little keys to drifting notions. Now and then, I felt like I was walking into sumptuous strata of Dante’s Inferno or the wet, kaleidoscopic thrill of a Tarkovsky film. I could almost hear Dante’s voice.

For me, the reading drift is the drift of a hiker locked into the rhythm of walking, where the natural world becomes music, music tethers image and image untethers thinking. Then thinking becomes still and still becomes raucous. Glorious. I love the way implanted image builds train of thought. The reading drift becomes a musing on poetry. On the possibilities of poetry. Take the poem, ‘Measure’: beautiful, enigmatic, poised, entrancing. The birchbark and river detail are the physical measure of melody, of viewing the world. Yet there is more, always more. Poetry becomes more than meaning, yet you are never left groundless. It is the mysterious movement that is travel and location and the laying of here and the layering of there.

 

Enormous funnels

of pitch a people

 

press on, tamp

the thicket’s

 

thickset quiet out

as if a current

 

of flame rouses

deep under boats

 

pitch-sealed

to carry them over.

 

(from ‘Measure’)

 

 

This collection is one of my favourite reads of the year. It transports you to the milky mists of nowhere and then feeds you the sublime ‘pitch’ and ‘drip’ of a somewhere that matters to you on a level both conscious and subconscious. Breathtakingly good.

 

Available in NZ from Timeout Book Store, or elsewhere via Small Press Distribution

Steven’s blog

Plainsong‘ on Poem Friday on Poetry Shelf

An excerpt from ‘Aevum Measures‘ on The Spinoff

 

 

Poetry Shelf interviews Gregory O’Brien — The poem has to dive down into and surface from some essential state of being

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Gregory O’Brien at Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Noumea, March 2015

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Thomson

 

Gregory O’Brien is the  2015 Stout Memorial Fellow at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University, where he is currently working on a book about poetry, painting and the environment. His new collection of poems is Whale Years (Auckland University Press). He has published numerous books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Since 2011 he has contributed to the ongoing Kermadec art project, works from which are on show at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia, until July.

 

 

 

The interview

 

‘Ocean sound, what is it

you listen for?’

 

Did your childhood shape you as a poet? What did you like to read? Did you write as a child?

As far as I can recall, I drew more than I painted. And I always gravitated towards illustrated books—Tove Jansson’s ‘Moomin’ books stand out, and I remember The Lord of the Rings, as much for its illuminated maps as for the words. I went through a phase of reading comics—Whizzer & Chips rather than Batman. I date my interest in the interplay of words and visual images to those early encounters.

I doodled at every available opportunity and I remember being hauled out of class and punished for drawing, rather well, a crouching deer on the inside cover of my maths book. I usually captioned my drawings—so maybe those captions could be thought of as my first writings. Occasionally I filled in speech- or thought-balloons above various life-forms.

 

When you started writing poems as a young adult, were there any poets in particular that you were drawn to (poems/poets as surrogate mentors)?

I can trace this pretty exactly, I think. Aged 14: Bob Dylan’s ‘Writings & Drawings’. Aged 15: Dylan Thomas. Aged 16: James K. Baxter and Flann O’Brien (I liked to pretend Flann was an actual relative. I even screen-printed his book-title AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS on a singlet—an item I still have in my wee box of treasures.) Aged 17: John Cage (Silence, and A Year from Monday). By the age of 18, I was living in Dargaville, and it was as if everybody suddenly jumped on board the NZ Road Services bus or bandwagon—I was reading Kenneth Patchen, William Blake, Edith Sitwell, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, e e cummings; also Allen Curnow, Janet Frame, Sam Hunt… I had known about Eileen Duggan for some years, because she was a relative, on my mother’s side. More than anything else, however, it was discovering Robin Dudding’s journal ISLANDS that turned my world around, that brought the whole business home…. Therein I discovered Ian Wedde, Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Smither, CK Stead…

 

Did university life transform your poetry writing? Theoretical impulses, research discoveries, peers?

I was six years out of school by the time I finished my BA, so my university life was mixed in, very much, with everything else that was going on: with 15 months in Dargaville, a year or so in Sydney… At university, I certainly wasn’t drawn to theory except in so far as I thought it was a grand imaginative game that might, periodically, yield unpredictable and outlandish results. I enjoyed the pottiness of Ezra Pound’s literary (rather than his political) theorising… An ABC of Reading is a great book. Probably the Zen-inclined John Cage and the Trappist Thomas Merton were the two non-fiction writers I held closest to me.

 

Reading your poetry makes me want to write. I love the way your poems delve deep into the world, surprisingly, thoughtfully yet never let go of the music of the line. Words overlap and loop and echo. There is an infectious joy of language at work. What are key things for you when you write a poem?

I listen to a lot of music. I want the poems to have something of the music that I love. I spend a lot of my time looking at art. And I want my poems to have something of the art that I love. There are aspects of composition, tone, rhythm and character which span all these different creative modes. Those are the key factors for me when I write… At a certain point, an appropriate form makes itself known…. The poem has to dive down into and surface from some essential state of being… There is certainly a joy in doing the things that you love; so there’s joy in the making and, preceding that, in the state of being that leads to the making….

 

Do you see yourself as a philosophical poet? Almost Zen-like at times?

My concept of philosophy is broad and shambolic enough to accommodate what I do as a writer. I’ve never read extensively in the field of Zen (apart from the books of John Cage and the writing of my friend Richard von Sturmer). I’ve read a little, and somewhat randomly, in the field of non-conformist Catholic thought: Simone Weill, Meister Eckhart, Merton, Baxter… These peregrinations may have affected me more than I realise or am prepared to say.

 

Do you think your writing has changed over time?

I guess writing has to evolve – otherwise it will become predictable and a total drag. I’m as entranced as I ever was with the process, the business, the labour of it. At the same time, I remain devoted to the finished form of it: The printed book, with its covers and half-title and title-page; and the shapes of words on the page and maybe illustrations. Poetry is an art that, if it’s working, is constantly reinventing itself.

I look back at my early poems and find fault. I find myself blaming an over-voracious intake of French Surrealism; too much Kenneth Patchen one year, too much Stevie Smith the next… Too much John Berryman! And, next year, not enough John Berryman! But the ship sails on, and finds new oceans to ply.

 

You write in a variety of genres (poetry, non-fiction, critical writing). Do they seep into each other? Your critical writing offers the reader a freshness of vision and appraisal – not just at the level of ideas but the way you present those ideas, lucidly, almost poetically. Does one genre have a particular grip on you as a writer?

I’m only starting to realise the inter-relatedness of these different genres. A few years back I started to explore poetry’s potential to carry information, also to elaborate upon a thought in a more detailed kind of way, ie. to have an almost essayistic function. So quite a few of my longer poems (some of the odes and, particularly, ‘Memory of a fish’ in my new book) are laden with facts, figures and reasonably clearly articulated information.

Needless to say poetry infuses the writing I produce in relation to the visual arts. I find looking at art exciting; it appeals to my poetic self. I don’t really have a critical self. I hope my non-fiction writing has a cadence, a music and a subconscious (rather than a conscious) purposefulness. Pondering my recent writings on artists such as Pat Hanly, Barry Brickell and Michael Hight, I remember in each case hearing a note—a song, almost—in my ear, and I was beholden to it.

 

Do you think we have a history of thinking and writing about the process of poetry? Any examples that sparked you?

James K. Baxter wrote wonderfully about writing poetry. Bill Manhire’s Doubtful Sounds is an immensely useful and energising book. 99 Ways Into New Zealand Poetry is terrific too. I refer back to my set of the journal ISLANDS and, yes, it seems to me we New Zealanders have been writing about the process as well as the product. Janet Frame’s oeuvre might be our greatest, most enduring instance of writing about writing, thinking about writing, writing about thinking, and thinking about thinking.

 

Your poetry discussions with Kim Hill are terrific. The entries points into a book are paramount; the way you delight in what a poem can do. What is important for you when you review a book?

I think a book has to become part of your life to really make an impression. It’s the same with music or visual arts. It can’t be a purely intellectual thing, it has to take you over, to some degree. It has to be disarming. Accordingly I tend not to discuss books that don’t ‘do it’ for me. Life’s too short. Fortunately, I have catholic tastes. There are things I enjoy very much in Kevin Ireland, as there are things I enjoy in Michele Leggott. I guess this makes me a lucky guy.

 

I agree wholeheartedly. I am not interesting in reviewing books on Poetry Shelf unless they have caught me, stalled me (for good reasons!).

What poets have mattered to you over the past year? Some may have mattered as a reader and others may have been crucial in your development as a writer?

Two years ago I went to Paris and met up with one of my all-time heroes, the French poet and art-writer Yves Bonnefoy. He turned 90 last year (Joyeux anniversaire, Yves!) During my recent travels around the Pacific (from New Caledonia to Chile), I’ve taken bilingual editions of Yves with me everywhere. I am interested in the way he has turned the creative conundrum of being an Art Writer and a Poet into something unified and compelling (channelling earlier French poet-art-writers from Baudelaire to Apollinaire, with a nod to Yves’s near-contemporaries, that wondrous group of wanna-be French-art-poets, John Ashbery and the New Yorkers). I also took the poems of Neruda and Borges with me everywhere I went.

 

What New Zealand poets are you drawn to now?

New Zealand poetry is interesting at the moment. It’s all over the place. As it should be. There are plenty of people I read voraciously. As well as the poets mentioned already: Anna Jackson, Vince O’Sullivan, you Paula, Lynn Davidson, Kate Camp, Geoff Cochrane… Last year I edited a weekly column for the Best American Poets website—that was a good chance to ‘play favourites’, as Kim Hill would say. (All those posts are archived here: http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/new-zealand/) There are some great first books appearing at the moment: Leilani Tamu’s The Art of Excavation; John Dennison’s Otherwise. This bodes very well indeed.

 

Name three NZ poetry books that you have loved recently.

I was rereading Riemke Ensing’s Topographies (with Nigel Brown’s illustrations) the other day; I found that book very inspiring when it appeared way back in 1984. Lately I’ve also been reading Bob Orr’s crystalline Odysseus in Woolloomooloo and Peter Bland’s Collected Poems… I could go on.

 

Your new collection, Whale Years, satisfies on so many levels. These new poems offer a glorious tribute to the sea; to the South Pacific routes you have travelled. What discoveries did you make about poetry as you wrote? The world? Interior or external?

The Kermadec voyage, and subsequent travels—most recently to New Caledonia—opened up a huge areas of subjective experience as well as of human and natural history. How do you write about that kind of space, that energy, that life-force? Wherever you travel, the air is different; the ‘night’ has a different character; the smells and textures of the vast Pacific vary from place to place. And people move differently wherever you go – they claim a different kind of space within the environment. My recent travels have been like a door opened on a new world. The last three years of my poetry-writing have been the most intense since I was in my early twenties.

 

That shows in this book Greg. I am looking forward to reviewing it because it touched a chord in so many ways. I love the idea that poems become little acts of homage. What difficulties did you have as traveller transforming ‘elsewhere’ into poetry? To what degree do you navigate poetry/other place as trespasser, tourist, interloper?

The artist Robin White likes to point out that there is only one ocean on earth. All our oceans are joined together—it’s the same body of water. So, if you take the sea to be your home (which, as Oceanians, believe it or not, we should do), then as long as you’re at sea you’re still, to some degree, in your home environment.

As a poet entering a new environment, I bring with me my responses, my eye, my mind and various kinds of baggage. I’m a curious person by nature so I always want to find new things—things I don’t know anything about. I like it when my preconceptions fall apart. I love being wrong about things; I enjoy the subsidence of the known world. I quote the great post-colonialist writer Wilson Harris in Whale Years: ‘If you can tilt the field then you will dislodge certain objects in the field and your own prepossessions may be dislodged as well.’

I feel that, as a poet, I am most in my element when I am sitting on the ground and learning new things. When the field of the known has been tilted. And filling my notebooks with various tracings of that new knowledge or sensation.

 

This is a good way to look poetry that takes hold of you; it ‘tilts’ you. I also loved the elasticity of your language – the way a single word ripples throughout a poem gleaning new connections and possibilities. Or the way words backtrack and loop. At times I felt a whiff of Bill Manhire, at others Gertrude Stein. Yet a poem by Gregory O’Brien is idiosyncratic. Are there poets you feel in debt to in terms of the use of language?

Strangely, I can’t read Gertrude Stein anymore. She is one of a very few writers I have been in love with and then the relationship has waned. Maybe, early on, she loosened up my use of language, the extent to which the rational mind is left to run things. There was a music I found in Stein, for sure. But this was something—increasingly—I found in more conventional writers like Wallace Stevens, Robert Creeley and, most recently, in Herman Melville. Moby Dick is a piece of great, symphonic, oceanic music. The novel (for want of a better term) is an incredible noise, a racket of spoken and sung sounds. Melville’s style reminds me of all the depth-finders, radars, monitors and gauges on the bridge of HMNZ Otago as we sailed north to Raoul Island in May 2011. All that information pinging and popping…

 

Is there a single poem or two in the collection that particularly resonates with you?

The long poem, ‘Memory of a fish’, is the piece that connects various experiences from the three year period in which the book was written, and brings them together—in an essayistic fashion, almost. I enjoy the ebb and flow of the triplets, and the world’s details tripping along them, like things washing ashore on Oneraki Beach… When I was writing that poem I felt I was living inside it, totally. And I haven’t quite climbed out of it yet, to be honest.

 

The book also demonstrates that eclectic field you plunge into as a reader with its preface quotes. What areas are you drawn into at the moment? Any astonishing finds?

The quotations at the beginning of the three sections of the book are constellations in the night sky above the poetry-ground. They mark points of reference, further co-ordinates, which have guided the writing: W. S. Graham’s ‘The stones roll out to shelter in the sea.’ The Flemish proverb: ‘Don’t let the herring swim over your head.’ Those are verbal artefacts I have carried around with me, much as you would pick up a shell or a colourful leaf. They were/are talismans. So I have stored them inside the book as well. Cherished things.

 

‘Constellation’ is perfect. I was thinking underground roots that nourish. Or one of any number of maps you can lay over the poems (the map of domestic intrusion, the map of childhood, the map of objects, the map of reading). But yes the process of writing has its constellation-guides as you venture into and from both dark and light.

Poetry finds its way into a number of your paintings (as it does with John Pule). There are a number of drawings included in the book that add a delicious visual layer. How do you negotiate the relationship between painting and poetry? Does one matter more? Do they feed off each other?

My notebooks contain a thick broth of visual and verbal ingredients. These materials arrive in my journal simultaneously. When writing or painting, I separate the words from the visual images and work on them more-or-less separately. When it comes to putting together a book, like Whale Years, these two disparate activities are reunited again. I’ve always loved illustrated books. (I think immediately of Bill Manhire’s The Elaboration, with pictures by Ralph Hotere; Blaise Cendrars’ long Trans-Siberian poem, illustrated by Sonia Delaunay; William Blake illustrating himself, and so on)

 

notes-on-the-raising-of-the-bones-of-pablo-neruda-at-isla-negra-gregory-obrien-and-john-reynolds-etching-2014

NOTES ON THE RAISING OF THE BONES OF PABLO NERUDA AT ISLA NEGRA by John Reynolds & Gregory O’Brien, etching, 2014

You have collaborated with a number of other artists and writers. What have been the joys and pitfalls of collaboration?

There are no pitfalls, as far as I can see. Somehow, I’ve found my way into a few collaborative circumstances and very much enjoyed the results. In the past year I’ve made etchings with my two painter-friends John Reynolds and John Pule. Like Charles Baudelaire and Frank O’Hara before me, I seem to have been lucky enough to fall in with a good crowd of painters (and also photographers—but that’s another story).

 

sailing-to-raoul-gregory-o_brien-and-john-pule-etching-aquatint-with-colour-roll-2011

SAILING TO RAOUL by John Pule & Gregory O’Brien, etching, 2012 (John titled this work, riffing off Yeats’s ‘Sailing to Byzantium’)

 

The constant mantra to be a better writer is to write, write, write and read read read. You also need to live! What activities enrich your writing life?

Certainly my recent travels around the Pacific have been hugely enriching. I’m not a proper swimmer, but since I was a child I have had a great passion for floating in, or being upon salt water. (My book News of the Swimmer Reaches Shore grew out of that propensity.) The everydayness of existence is the most enriching thing—as the poems of Horace and Neruda and Wedde keep reminding me. What a great and pleasant swarm of information and sensation we find ourselves amidst, every day of our lives.

 

Finally if you were to be trapped for hours (in a waiting room, on a mountain, inside on a rainy day) what poetry book would you read?

I keep coming back to the Collected Poems of James K. Baxter. Not because it’s the best book ever written but because of the simple fact that it occupies a huge and resonant place in my life.

 

Auckland University Press page

New Zealand Book  Council page

Arts Foundation page

The Kermadecs page

National Radio page (discussing poetry highlights of 2014 with Kim Hill)

 

 

 

 

 

Lounge 42 at Old Government House: Line up includes Paula Morris and Selina Tusitala Marsh

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Free entry. Food and drinks for sale in the Buttery.

The LOUNGE readings are a continuing project of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc), Auckland University Press and Auckland University English, Drama and Writing Studies,  in association with the Staff Common Room Club at Old Government House.

LOUNGE READINGS #42-44: 25 March, 29 April, 27 May 2014

Landfall 228 highlights

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The latest issue of Landfall contains the essays by the winner (Diana Bridge) and runners-up (Sarah Bainbridge, Simon Thomas, Scott Hamilton) of the 2014 Landfall Essay Competition. Judge, David Eggleton, selected 11 finalists (all listed) from 39 entries before selecting the winners. He is also publishing the essay by another finalist, Tina Makareti in Landfall 229. Having read the judge’s comments, I am now interested to read the essays themselves.

What I have done though is read all the poetry. Four poems particularly stood out for me.

Carolyn McCurdie’s ‘Hut’ The opening lines are tremendous: ‘If I come back as a building/ it will be as a tramping hut.’ The poem deposits you in in its heart which is the heart of the hut. Right there in a place where words so frequently stop, yet Carolyn’s lines are memorable.

Reihana Robinson’s ‘And Blessed Be’ The lively word play of this poem is utterly infectious.

Semira Davis’s ‘White Girl: Māori World’  The poem has a razor-sharp edge that stops you in your tracks. Is it okay for a skinny white girl to speak Te Reo?

Rhian Ghallager’s ‘The Speed of God’ is a stunning example of poetry that is original (yes!), breathtaking, spare and refreshes repetition. Some poems rise above all the pother poems we write, and for me, this is one of them. Here is the opening stanza:

‘What if God had slowed down after making the grass and the stars and the

whales and let things settle for a bit so the day could practise leaving into the

arms of the night and the tides tinker their rhythms and the stars

find their most dramatic positions.’

I was capitivated by Michele Leggott’s essay, ‘Self-Portrait: Still Life, A Family Portrait.’ It is both inventive and moving. I don’t want to say anything more but let it unfold for you as you read it.

Oh and I also loved the portraits by Lorene Taurerewa. One features on the cover.

And as for the fiction, that is part of my summer reading.

Great issue, David Eggleton.

Updated From Poets and Fans of Poetry: Favourite poetry reads of 2014

I am not sure if two lists make this an annual event (so I resisted temptation to put ‘annual’ in the title!), but here are the books that have stuck with local poets and fans of poetry in the past year. Unlike most ‘best of 2014 book lists’, the invitation is to select favourite reads no matter where or when those reads were published. The only limitation—this is a poetry list.

Over summer, I will muse over the future of my two blogs. If I do decide to keep them running, I will make a few changes changes to clear space for my own writing time. One thing is certain, I can never review all NZ poetry books on this blog. I have a huge stack of books I want to review, but know I can only do a handful over the next few weeks.  I guess with the scarcity of poetry reviews in New Zealand, I feel pressure to share all the wonderful writing that I discover.  I would certainly be keen to post reviews and musing by other poets.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this list at a time when we all have such busy schedules, and thanks to everyone who contributed to the blog over the past year. It wouldn’t work with out you. Thanks, too, to everyone who shared my posts on social media and who followed both this and NZ Poetry Box.

John Adams:

The Life-guard, Ian Wedde, AUP.

Stark metaphors, sustained muscular writing that disturbs. A strong surface with an underbelly that provokes contemplation and rewards reflection. The final group “Shadow stands up” successfully blends quotidian observation with humour. Stuff to savour.

Autobiography of a Marguerite, Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Hue & Cry Press.

The disquieting disclosures of these poems builds a unique experience of family; patterns of mother and daughter; trials of close binding. How can we be, with such context? A journey to a foreign part.

Fearing the Kynge, Bernard Brown, Foundation Press (c/o 14 Birdwood Crescent, Parnell.

A short collection around Henry VIII and those who passed through his life, sometimes more quickly than they’d wished. Beautifully illustrated, the text ranges from the hearty pun to closely worked items that reward revisiting.

Sailing Alone around the Room, Billy Collins, Random House.

This masterly collection includes unforgettable, accessible gems. I love his riff on Blues; and any poet will weep with laughter at the enacted difficulty of Paradelle.

Rosetta Allen:

Cloudboy Siobhan Harvey Otago University Press

‘When the eye was overcast,
there could be no poetry.’

If the face was made to mirror the stars, then the entire body responds to the cloudscape that is this beautiful collection of poetry called Cloudboy. Harvey herself says ‘The body is a nest alive with new song’, and I feel it as I read her perfected lines, full of ever changing details of the atmosphere between a very special son, and an obviously devoted mother. No longer a passive pass time, cloud watching has become an active search for understanding, beauty, love and courage. And I too find myself looking up, with appreciation.
One Human in Height Rachel O’Neill Hue & Cry

‘I love that Father finds the faint trace of cyanide on his ring finger just in time and chops it off.’

I found the words of O’Neill’s poetry happily settled on the page. The humility trumpets itself without fanfare. Each poem, each line containing a neatly package surprise – I a kid in the back seat of a her car, unravelling lollies, and remembering, feeling part of the scene, included and instantly befriended. I adore the rhymes in the midst of lines, the lists that are not lists, the epiphanies that pile up until you have to let some go, the meaning where there is no meaning, and I believed every bit of it – almost.

Sarah Jane Barnett:

The Lonely Nude by Emily Dobson (VUP) An extremely beautiful collection about dislocation, identity, expectation, and the body. It traces Dobson’s own experiences of leaving New Zealand, living in the US, and her return. Dobson’s poems are spare and exquisitely crafted. She’s definitely my #1 poetry crush of 2014.

Etymology by Bryan Walpert (Cinnamon Press) Even though Etymology came out in 2009, I only managed to read it this year. As the title suggests, the poems are about the way we create meaning, not only in terms of words, but in our relationships and lives. It’s so sharp and clever that it made me want to give up writing.

Curriculum Vitae by Harold Jones (Xlibris/self published) Jones’ debut collection was my surprise of the year. Generally speaking, self published collections aren’t very good. I should have known that this would be the exception when I found out Jones has been published as part of AUP New Poets 4. Curriculum Vitae is a wonderful exploration of aging, regret, and memory. It was the only collection this year that made me cry.

Airini Beautrais:

2014 has been such a fruitful year for poetry. I haven’t quite finished reading all the wonderful local books that have come out, some as recently as last week. I have loved Hinemoana Baker’s waha/mouth (VUP 2014). And Maria McMillan’s Tree Space is an amazingly assured first full-length collection (also VUP 2014).

Diana Bridge:

For me this year has been weighted towards prose. I began it with the biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, which I interleaved with a re-reading of all her novels. Her last, The Blue Flower, was recently described with insight by Alan Hollinghurst as having ” something of the overall effect of a poem, a constellation of images and ideas.”

While I am waiting for the next collection of wonderful Australian poet, Judith Beveridge, I have been reading through her last two: Wolf Notes and Storm and Honey (Giramondo, 2003 and 2009), relishing her naturalist’s eye coupled to extraordinary and sustained imaginative powers. All her poems are filled with grace and intelligence.

Now a single poem, one I had been searching for since I first read it in the New York Review (October 7, 2004): Seamus Heaney‘s ‘ What Passed at Colonus’, written in memory of Czeslaw Milosz. I would want this to be one of the last poems I ever read.

Amy Brown:
Horse with Hat, by Marty Smith (VUP, 2014): This collection is a poignant and wry family biography. It juxtaposes earthy and transcendent subjects (the racetrack, the farm, Catholicism, war) as naturally as its stunning accompanying collages (by Brendan O’Brien) do. I especially loved Smith’s horses; I can picture the ‘dawn horses’ ‘who flatten, who scatter’ perfectly.

Final Theory, by Bonny Cassidy (Giramondo, 2014): This verse novel develops an eerie, quietly filmic atmosphere of post-apocalypse. Cassidy is an Australian poet, who wrote part of this poem while travelling in New Zealand – the landscape she describes is simultaneously recognisable and alien – a place where ‘three stilled turbines balance the space like stupas’ and ‘the ocean’s a mouthed thought’. Exquisitely clear and unsettling, it is the sort of book I’d love to write one day.

Mondrian’s Flowers, By Alan Loney and Max Gimblett (Granary Books, 2002): I stumbled upon this poetic biography of Piet Mondrian while reviewing Loney and Gimblett’s recent eMailing Flowers to Mondrian. Only 41 books were made, each with rough-cut watercolour pages and an exposed primary-coloured spine. Three long poems by Loney in tribute to Mondrian are punctuated by Gimblett’s watercolours. Reading it is a meditative act; if you’re in Wellington, I recommend looking at the copy in the National Library. Her

Rachel Bush:

Marty Smith, Horse with Hat Victoria University Press Marty Smith’s work is new to me. Rural New Zealand, family stories, and the stories of a generation are combined in her excellent first volume of poetry. It’s poignant stuff that doesn’t balk at the sorts of tough, sad realities that exist in all families.

Lindsay Pope Headwinds Makaro Press Lindsay Pope’s engaging first book of poems is very timely. Family events, like the birth of a grandchild and low key domestic things like making muesli feature in it, but he’s also drawn to write about solitary lives like that of the caretaker on Stephens Island or the man in ‘Outpost’ whose closest contact with the outside world comes through the radio he operates.

Vincent O’Sullivan Us, then Victoria University Press I enjoy the ease with which Vincent O’Sullivan can refer as easily to a Dunedin Beach as he does to lines from Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens or to the poetry of McGonagall. He investigates difficult questions, but doesn’t come up with facile, tidy answers to them.. This is a collection thoughtful, witty, sure-footed poems.

Michael Harlow Sweeping the Courtyard: The selected poems of Michael Harlow Cold Hub Press
Poems chosen from seven books of poetry by Michael Harlow make  for a lively and varied collection. He is interested in and  sensitive to how each poem looks on the page. I enjoy his distinct and often quirky voice.

Kay Cooke:
Essential NZ Poems Facing The Empty Page selected by Siobhan Harvey, James Norcliffe and Harry Ricketts. Published by Godwit. A real  treasury indeed of NZ poets. (Although I missed Tim Jones and Helen Lehendorf not being there).

Si no te hubieras ido / If only you hadn’t gone by Rogelio Gueda with translations from the Spanish by Roger Hickin and an introduction by Vincent O’Sullivan. A gem of a book with poems about distance, love and Dunedin. Published by Cold Hub Press.

You Fit The Description: The Selected Poems of Peter Olds published by Cold Hub Press. The long-awaited collection of Olds’ poetry; a prolific New Zealand poet whose background in poetry in Aotearoa stretches back to the James K. Baxter era. I’m thoroughly enjoying this book which is sure to become a classic. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but so far – It’s a cracker.

A chapbook that has both inspired and thrilled me with its re-imagined worlds within worlds, delicately traced with a steely eye, is Jenny Powell’s Trouble published by Cold Hub Press.

Ruth Arnison’s PoARTry @ Olveston (self-published) with its clever mix of paintings and words, is also a favourite from my 2014 pile of poetry.

Karen Craig:

I’m looking at the three books I’ve laid out on my table and what I notice is that they all have lots to do with the sea, seabirds, islands. And I have a wonderful feeling that if I were to pry up their covers I’d hear sounds of imaginary oceans, like when you hold a seashell up to your ear. Because, like seashells, these poets have taken the sounds of our world and clarified and amplified them, made them resonate, turned them into a deep, quiet, prolonged roar. Each with a different pitch, of course.

1. Richard Blanco Looking for The Gulf Motel, University of Pittsburgh Press 2012 (You can get it at Auckland Libraries!). Richard Blanco’s seasides are Cuba, where he was born; Florida, where as a boy he emigrated with his family; and now Maine, where he ended up for love. He sings the enigma of memory, the yearn of sorrow, the terror of romantic love. “The sea is never the same twice. Today / the waves open their lions’ mouths hungry / for the shore, and I feel the earth helpless.”

2. Michele Leggott Heartland Auckland University Press 2014. These poems burn like the hot blue stars which recur in one of them. You dive in to their mesmerising, punctuationless (as always) whirl and find at the heart a distillation of spirit that is so honest as to be unforgettable. The long poem about the introduction into her life of her guide-dog ends with the simplest of phrases, “her name is Olive”, and it’s as if a choir broke out.

3. Bob Orr Odysseus in Woolloomooloo Steele Roberts 2014. Bob Orr embraces the sacred and the profane better than anyone. From the ancient mysteries to modern gazes, from Penrose to Valparaiso, his imagery amazes me and his turns-of-phrase make me want to get down on my knees and say Hallelujah! “As the Southern Cross / salts these hours / I shiver beneath signs and wonders.”

David Eggleton:

There were a number of outstanding poetry books I read this year, but these in particular offered things which have stayed with me.

  1. Kay Mackenzie Cooke’s book-length sequence Born to a Red-Headed Woman (Otago University Press) offers a remarkable evocation of growing up in rural Southland: ‘The teacher draws close, / her own fingers cool, // narrow streamlined/ dragonflies that touch down/ briefly where my fingertips/ have begun to make mist, / What lovely moons you have, she says.’
  2. In Sweeping the Courtyard: the Selected Poems of Michael Harlow, Michael Harlow’s poems are like miniature echo-chambers, their lines teasing and entrancing with repetitions of words and phrases which resonate with subtle implications: ‘We were walking out of the park, your/ hair on fire under a full fall of moon, / the flowering almond its bridal white/ fading earlier than was remembered// I could hear, a leaf-fall of thought . . .’
  3. I was impressed by the restless inquisitive searching tone, the careful observation, in Jenny Powell’s small collection Trouble (Cold Hub), as in her poem describing the scene in a photograph ‘Guided Walking Party on the Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand c. 1908’: ‘five women/ standing on/ frozen contortions of time/ frock hems damp/ from trailing overground undulations . . .’
  4. I was also pleasurably arrested by the precise and telling imagistic phrases that made up Hinemoana Baker’s collection waha:mouth (Victoria University Press), as for example in ‘what the whale said’: ‘ I break/ the brine, my flukes a black book// a mast in your mind/ cross of the drowned. . .’
  5. I was amused by the rhythms and rhymes forming sweet and sour stanza combinations in Tim Upperton’s poetry collection The Night We Ate the Baby (Haunui Press), as in ‘All the Things I Never Knew’: ‘Bobbie watches headlights move/ across the wall. / A little rain begins to fall — / a little rain to end the day. // It falls differently in L.A./ Choctaw Ridge is far away.’
  6. Likewise, I enjoyed the almost whispered whimsy and well-turned verses in Peter Bland’s short book Hunting Elephants (Steele Roberts), as in his dream-poem about James K. Baxter: ‘Not/ a pretty sight/ with his soup-stained beard/ but there’s a lovely/ holy glow / to his skin . . .’
  7. Tom Weston’s collection Only One Question (Steele Roberts) contains a number of extraordinary poems, especially about crime and punishment. He shows us characters who have the fatalism, or else the tragic destiny of Joseph Conrad’s characters, as in the title poem: ‘When he sends children to prison the parents go too, / trailing along like wind-ripped flags.’
  8. And, finally, I was taken with the rapping urgency of Leilani Tamu’s street-wise voice in The Art of Excavation (Anahera Press), as in ‘You’, a poem about her father: ‘. . . driving around Auckland in your crusty-as car/ a hole in your sock, an empty pocket, a heart full/ of dreams but never a cent . . .’

Laurence Fearnley:

Dylan Thomas SELECTED POEMS (Penguin Classics)

I watched a couple of science fiction/space movies recently and, in general, I found them pretty dull and really long. But, a couple of them  included poems by Dylan Thomas. The film Solaris had ‘And Death Shall have No Dominion’ and Interstellar included ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.’ So I found my copy of Dylan Thomas’s poems and I noticed in its introduction that Thomas is described as ‘dense and often difficult’. I don’t know about that.  I liked the imagery in some of the poems – ‘Where birds ride like leaves…’ (When I Woke)  or ‘…the shabby curtains of the skin…’ (A Process in the Weather of the Heart), for example . After reading Thomas I got out my James K Baxter and Janet Frame books and spent a while flicking back and forth between the three writers.

Joan Fleming:
I have never read anything like George Dyungayan’s Bulu Line: A West Kimberley Song Cycle (Puncher & Wattman, 2014), edited and translated by Stuart Cooke. Cooke braids a dimensional translation of an Aboriginal song-poem from many strands: the words of the song in language, traditional owners’ verbatim explanations, an ethnomusicologist’s commentary, and his own circling, cycling rendering in english. Such important work; this book is a bit of a game-changer.

Siobhan Harvey:

Alexandra Fraser, Conversations by Owl Light (Steele Roberts) is a first collection which engages with concepts of chemistry, love, botany, family, astronomy, tarot and ancestry. The author’s evocative language, pinpoint accuracy and sumptuous concern for human interaction make is a 2014 standout.

Ancestry also underpins another exciting first book, Leilani Tamu’s The Art of Excavation (Anahera Press). Excavating her family and Pacific history, the book is an entwining of legend and cultural realism.

Miriam Barr, Bullet Hole Riddle (Steele Roberts) packs a powerful punch. A triptych charting the narrator’s cruel, abusive history, it’s a book of unflinching honesty and potent impact.

Dinah Hawken:

The Great Enigma, New Collected Poems, Tomas Transtromer, New Directions Books, 2006.

This has been my favourite book for a couple of years. I’d love to be able to write like him and it would take too long to tell why.

Body English, Text and Images by Len Lye, edited by Roger Horrocks, Holloway Press, 2009.

I splashed out and bought this book a few months ago, not long after reading Roger Horrocks’ biography of Len Lye.
I knew I would love it because Lye was so extraordinary; particularly in his understanding of how the body gives rise to all creative ventures including poetry. ‘ I hold/words in the bone.’

Otari, Poems and Prose, Louise Wrightson, Otari Press, 2014.

This very new, first book by Louise Wrightson has been written slowly, close to home. Louise lives on the edge of Otari/Wilton’s Bush in Wellington and has written a book about place that is dedicated, funny and beautifully produced.

David Hill: 

I’d like to mention:  1. Ruby Duby Du, by Elizabeth Smither (Cold Hub Press, PO Box 156, Lyttleton). Smither’s enchanting poems for her new grand-daughter, which manage to combine tenderness with her distinctive cool, meticulous observation.

2. A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children, ed by Paula Green, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Random House). Yes, I know I’m not supposed to include Paula Green’s poems, but she’s just (“just”!!) the editor of this terrific anthology which ranges from Baxter to school-kids. Exuberant, engaging, educational, and made more so by Jenny Cooper’s magic illustrations.

Bill Manhire:

Do song lyrics count as poetry? If so, I’ve been enjoying The Lines Are Open from The Close Readers (aka Damien Wilkins). It includes tracks about departed writing friends like Barbara Anderson and Nigel Cox. One of them – “The Ballad of Tarzan Presley” http://theclosereaders.com/track/the-ballad-of-tarzan-presley – makes my heart hurt yet somehow leaves me happy.

It’s been a strong year for New Zealand poetry.  So many accomplished first collections! I was pleased to see Frances Samuel’s Sleeping on Horseback (VUP) in print – I’ve been waiting for some version of this book for about ten years. Another impressive first book is Kerry Hines’s Young Country, in which the poet’s words keep company with the images of 19th-century photographer William Williams. It’s a mix that can seem easy and obvious, but is surprisingly hard to do well. Between them, Hines and Auckland University Press make the task seem effortless.

A couple of other great reading pleasures this year have been A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind: The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton (edited by Ben Estes and Alan Felsenthal, and published by The Song Cave) and Maurice Riordan’s new collection from Faber, The Water Stealer.  Alfred Starr Hamilton is the poetry equivalent of the apparently naïve artist, of a Chagall or an Alfred Wallis. He has an appealing clumsiness, and specialises in astonishing small moments, as in his one-line poem “Carrot”: “I wanted to find a little yellow candlelight in the garden.” Maurice Riordan manages to be lyrical and thoughtful all at once, and is also the editor of The Finest Music: Early Irish Lyrics, a handsome anthology which includes translations from Tennyson to Riordan himself, as well as a number specially commissioned for the book.

Alice Miller:

Sam Sampson, Halcyon Ghosts (AUP, 2014)
‘shadow this, take and come up/  shadow, come to the present … the sur-/ face… the Lion —– the Light  —– the Luminous’

Lee Posna, Arboretum (Compound Press, 2014)

Steven Toussaint, Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014)

Emma Neale:

Poetry books this year I enjoyed…. I still have many books on my bedside table that I’m still only part way through – e.g. Stefanie Lash’s Bird Murder and Hinemoana Baker’s Waha-Mouth and more and more… but of those I have finished, the memorable ones are:

Siobhan Harvey, Cloudboy – I hope it’s all right to nominate a book I edited – it’s the only one I’ll let myself name out of some other wonderful books I worked on this year – but this one stood out for the ’tensile delicacy’ with which it maintains the extended metaphor of boy and mother as shifting cloudscape; for its subtle use of line and page as physical space as well as rhythmic unit; for its music and invigorating intelligence. It is an important milestone in local publishing, I reckon, for the poise in that sustained motif; for the fact that the metaphor never feels strained or gimmicky; and for the richness of the psychology in the relationships portrayed across the developing sequence.

Alice Miller, The Limits – for its dreamy eeriness, its evocation of beauty even as it catches the jittery sense of a civilisation crumbling; for its creation of the atmosphere of dread and yet a sense of old-new mythology as well.

Michael Harlow, Sweeping the Courtyard – a selected from Harlow seems long overdue, and it’s a joy to have this now that older volumes are out of print. His sense of the surreal, the power of the subconscious, and his ear attuned to the lilt and rise of a sometimes slightly eccentric syntax shows a musical ear for how to upend where the emphasis normally falls in a line. It keeps us listening closely to the swerve and duck of words: how meaning can shimmer from one sense to another, depending on how you hold light to the line. His sense of the power of the subconscious and seems to perhaps have filtered through to a poet like Alice Miller.

Peter Olds, Selected Poems – I am a latecomer to Peter’s work, and the stretch of experience here, as well as the energetic vernacular, was both refreshing and sometimes devastating to read. Many of the poems record pushing himself right to the edge of risk, and the cost is shown to be very bleak at times – which means that the mischievous, finger-flipping humour that survives in some poems is all the more welcome.

Tim Upperton, The Night We Ate the Baby –  I kept waiting for my kids to ask why I was reading this book. They never did. I enjoyed it for its technical control and its grim, self-loathing, Beckettian humour. It reminds me a little of Simon Armitage’s work: Simon Armitage meets Wendy Cope in a horror film with dialogue done by Dylan Moran? Something like that: it leaves me a happy kind of uncomfortable.

Zarah Butcher McGonnigle Autobiography of a Margeurite – I loved the concept – sometimes I loved the concept more than individual poems, but this was a bold, adventurous debut.

Cilla McQueen Edwin’s Egg and Other Poetic Novellas –  witty, surprising, gracefully succinct, playful – the implied dialogue between archival image and the text was gorgeously unseating and sideways, sometimes; others, poignant, piquant, peppery, plangent.

Vivienne Plumb:

My favourite poetry read of this year was a copy of Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire, purchased at the wonderful Scorpio books independent bookstore, 113 Riccarton Rd, Christchurch.  Originally published in 1869, this new reprint is from Alma Classics Ltd, U.K. (2010). These pieces by Baudelaire are considered to be very early prose poems.
Baudelaire wrote that ‘Parisian life is rich in poetic, marvellous subjects’, and described in a letter of 1862 his ambition to make the pieces that were eventually dubbed ‘prose poems’.
Excellent!

Lindsay Pope:

Leaf-Huts and Snow-Houses by Olav H. Hauge. Pat White introduced me to this Norwegian poet. He lived nearly all his life in his native Ulvik where he worked as a gardener. His writing is simple and precise yet laced with a lot of wisdom.

Lindsay Rabbitt:

Odysseus in Woolloomooloo, by Bob Orr (Steele Roberts, 2014), 60 pp., $19.99

‘If James Joyce could reanimate Ulysses [Odysseus] on the banks of the Liffey, why not bring the wily old wanderer to the South Pacific?’ Iain Sharp posits in his review of Odysseus in Woolloomooloo (a harbour-side Sydney suburb) in the July edition of Landfall Review Online, which I tout as my favourite review of a NZ poetry book, coincidentally on my favourite NZ poetry book (that I’ve read) published 2014. I have five of Bob Orr’s eight books of verse in my bookcase, including his first, the scarce-as-hen’s-teeth Blue Footpaths, published by The Amphedesma Press out of London in 1971, and this beautifully-produced latest offering sees Orr, a boatman on the Waitemata Harbour, and one of our finest lyric poets, at the top of his game, whether retracing his boyhood homeland in rural Waikato, or recalling his Wellington days, or visiting a terminally-ill friend in Sydney, or wandering the streets of Auckland, or out night fishing: ‘As the Southern Cross / salts these hours / I shiver beneath signs and wonders.’

Jack Ross:
Char, René. Furor and Mystery & Other Writings. Trans. Mary Ann Caws & Nancy Kline. 1992. Introduction by Sandra Bermann. Foreword by Marie-Claude Char. Black Widow Press Translation Series. Black Widow Press. Boston. MA: Commonwealth Books, Inc., 2010.

This is a big, generous dual-text selection of a lot of work form the whole span of René Char’s career, from early surrealist days, though the darkness of the Vichy years in France, and into postwar existentialism and disillusionment. Char was one of Paul Celan’s favourite poets, and a close personal friend, and the affinities between the two poets are quite striking — though probably more in the mood and underlying seriousness than the surface texture of their work.

I’ve also been reading a lot of NZ poetry books this year for Poetry NZ. I tried to say something about each of them at the back of the latest issue, but you can link to the detail of my remarks.

Lisa Samuels:

A few poetry books I found in 2014, with room for more

Iain Britton, Photosynthesis (Kilmog Press 2014). A beautifully hand-made art book in 40 copies, with 20 poems that attend to the medial line between the conscious report of observed and felt phenomena and the image moment that swerves the mind.

Jill Magi, Labor (Nightboat 2014). An essay in poetry, framed as a workography, that lays bare the devastated internal landscape of university labor. The university lecturer must strain the bad faith of corporate academia through her body in order to try and make a good faith realm for students and ideas.

Alan Halsey, Rampant Inertia (Shearsman 2014). From asemic (and glossed) clinamen to translingualism to talking places, this book has a world-attending and word-spelunking energy I crave in poetry.

Stephanie Anderson, In the key of those who can no longer organize their environments (Horseless Press 2013). Call it cento, source work, or reassembled appropriation, this book knows how to balance its languages in a vibrant sonic think-space for social thought and bodies in peril and houses and history.

Doc Drumheller, 10 x (10 + -10) = 0 (The Republic of Oma Rapeti Press 2014). A complex and delightful document of lingual devotion and social mixing. Drumheller has assembled his 10 pamphlets produced over 10 years to make helixes of anagrams and energetic rhymes. The poet as seer and Shakespearean “fool” for cultural attention.

Sam Sampson:

This year I’ve been revisiting Keith Waldrop’s Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press, 2009). When first opening the book I was drawn to his use of collaged lines and the effortless sway between the personal and metaphysical. The topology, or bricolage of purloined texts adds to the rich texture and music of his poems. He suggested in a recent interview, that poetry is ‘having nothing to say, and saying it,’ explaining, he was more interested in a sense of music, than the drive towards a philosophic, or information based poetics.

I’ve also had the pleasure of reading two recent volumes from the American publisher Black Ocean: Zach Savich’s Century Swept Brutal, and Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable.

At the local level, I really enjoyed Alice Miller’s collection The Limits (Auckland University Press, 2014), with its elliptical and economical syntax. The imagery is deceptively refractive, and (as Barbara Guest suggests), at its best, a circling, or delimitation of the frame extends the line beyond the page.

The second discovery was an event I was involved in for the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) LOUNGE #41, where the NZ based American poet Steven Toussaint read. His rhythms contain a remarkable subtlety, an unmistakable momentum of word and thing (word-ling). There are a number of his poems online, or you could search out his chapbook Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014).

Iain Sharp:

I was pleased to see Alan Brunton’s Beyond the Ohlala Mountains topping The Listener’s belated list of 2014 poetry books. With its breadth of vision, wit and musicality it tops my list too, but I’d also like to draw attention to a couple of Auckland University publications that The Listener did not mention.

Sam Sampson’s second book Halcyon Days is the brainiest local poetry, I reckon, since the untimely demise of Leigh Davis. Yes, it’s challenging work, but the reward is in peeling back the layers and discovering the care with which Sampson has chosen each phrase.

Kerry Hines’s debut, Young Country, not only pays tribute to (and reproduces some of the fascinating images of) the great underrated New Zealand photographer William Williams but also opens up new approaches to writing about our colonial past.
Marty Smith:

waha/mouth Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)

is breathtakingly, cracklingly alive. It should be read with a de-fibrillator. I get breath loss and my heart-beat jumps when the poems go leading into unexploded places, then all over again with wrenching images, like Tinkerbell

‘       I turn from black to white inside

my own limbs. Who makes this howl, whose

hindquarters drag like a bag of coal?’

Raw relationships are opened up, as in the itching madness of ‘Malady,’ and ‘running’ pulls me breathless

and still you caught me grabbed

my arm my clothes my woollen jersey unravelled as you

pulled until there was a thin gray thread

getting longer between us and the faster I ran

the colder I got

and the travelling sadness of this:

I miss you, It’s like a cave in this mouth.

It’s a terrible saxophone solo.

Read the back cover. I’d like to think that I read this book with a candle guttering in my mouth the whole way.

 Bird murder Stefanie Lash

I’m completely besotted. The first place I love it is the sound echo in the title, but really the first place I love it is the little embedded crime sticker. You can’t peel it off, can’t get away from it, because this is a post-colonial protest at the fate of the Huia. I have to admit to a nostalgia for the world of my great-aunt and my grandmother, who were full Victorian Gothic, so I might be a suspect judge. But my fascination really comes from the twisty linguistic inventiveness. I love how the protest is laid out in the conventions of a traditional murder mystery, but full of flavour in an amped up version of this genre. And yet, not. It’s laid out in lush and hallucinatory images, in gorgeous language. Look at this murder scene –

‘the man is grey, and a shining black concave meniscus

of blood has formed, like oil on water,

where he has dropped his whiskey glass

and the characters are absolutely skewered:

Mrs Cockatrice is rosy, lucent:

her guests, enchanted.

Mrs Teck’s lips peel off her teeth

in a real storm of delight.

Mr Cockatrice, always sheepish,

always just on the brink of a toast.

Not saying anything about the huia, that pleasure shall be left untouched for the reader. I will say, what a feat, to keep to the form so that the narrative feeds its own texture into the whole drama. I just love it.

 Tree Space Maria McMillan

I love how these poems are experiments with hushes and stops and gaps, so when I read it I get a sense of space, of joy in the richly observed world, in its breathing biology, as it were, in the stops of sadness which are a powerful reminder of what we must do to keep it.

‘The ocean is never

the same twice. You don’t know if you’ll open the door

on yellow fish flicking past, or a swarm of jellyfish little

fisted stomachs pulsing

I love how the poems sharply enact the sensations of their worlds, so the smell of the bush floor rises up in Tree Space

In the dark birds are heavier and we can hear the small valleys of

their footfalls.

It’s true that death and life smell the same here

so it gives me a slight creeping dread, but then it moves straight to ‘leap like a sugar glider’.

I love how the intricacies of scientific wonder carry such a pure joy

Joe tells me the flagella

in these new colonies

is trapped inside

so each daughter

makes a tiny hole in herself

and pushes her whole self through,

turns herself right side out

the opposite of the observations of our collective humanity –

‘ The kingdoms of life are often revised.

Humans are closer than turtles to dinosaurs.

Truth had two legs before it had four.

And I love how deceptively simple the cover is, itself anchored but floating. I happen to know Maria has knitted gloves of this cover.

Elizabeth Smither:

‘I am a poet who is a woman, not a woman poet’ Ruth Fainlight has said. I dip into her New and Collected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2010) every year for a voice that is warm and wise and tough. Last Christmas she sent me a card designed by her photographer son: stone angels in flight over a cemetery. I love to think of her wild dead brother, Harry, threatening to burn down the offices of Faber & Faber if they didn’t return the poems of his they were going to publish.

Chris Tse:

I’d like to name two books and one poetic curios that have reminded me this year of the possibilities and joy that poetry can bring. Reading them was like surveying a city from the top of a skyscraper – there’s a sense of wonderment mixed with danger as you grapple with a dizzying and unfamiliar view of the familiar. All three are daring, inventive bodies of work that reveal and give so much more with subsequent readings – the hallmark of all great poetry:

Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash (Mākaro Press, 2014)
Autobiography of a Marguerite by Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle (Hue & Cry Press, 2014)
Pen Pal by Sugar Magnolia Wilson (Cats & Spaghetti Press, 2014)

 

Reina Whaitiri:

A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children published by Random House New Zealand.
This is a beautifully produced book. Everything works really well. The illustrations are absolutely delightful and will bring pleasure to any child, young or old. The poems themselves cover such a wide range of topics and they too will delight.

Dark Sparring by Selina Tusitala Marsh and published by AUP.
There is such a wealth of wisdom and profound insight in the poems presented here.
The CD included is an extra bonus and reminds us that poetry should be heard and not
only read quietly to one’s self.

Puna Wai Korero published by AUP.
The poems in this anthology reveal some deep-seated resentments and longings as well
as heart-felt love and desire. They offer insights into the hearts and minds of Maori, some living today and some who have passed on.

Kirsti Whalen:

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood Penguin, New York
A strange, beautiful navigation of a feminist dreamscape. Hilarious and moving in equal measure.

Bullet Hole Riddle by Miriam Barr Steele Roberts
The most arresting modern poetry collection I may have ever read, tackling abuse and consent with lyrical command.

Castaly by Ian Wedde  AUP
This collection predates me but I loved the challenge of it: the longer poems casting out in exploration and the shorter acutely observed.

A History of Silence Carrie Rudzinski  Self published
Rudzinski generally performs her work, but her words sing equally vibrantly from the page. This book is much like going on a road trip with someone you love, while questioning everything.

Sue Wootton:

Here my poetry picks for 2014. Comments for these first two are taken from my fuller reviews which appear in Takahe 82 and 83.

Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle Autobiography of a Marguerite Auckland: Hue & Cry Press (2014).
This book-length poetic narrative speaks powerfully to the claustrophobic effect of chronic illness: the endless burrowing for meaning, the constant search for a sense of order, the fleeting glimpses of certainty which dissolve as soon as they’re probed. The usual orientation measures no longer apply: “Outside there is no weather…my watch has stopped.” Butcher-McGunnigle’s writing goes to the aching heart of disconnection and of longing for repair.

Janis Freegard The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider by. USA: Anomalous Press (2013).  Alice is frank and tart (actually “she’s a trollopy little tart”). She sets traps with words and makes you wriggle like heck when you get caught. Alice Works ought to be pinned above every writer’s desk. It tells what happens when Alice gets a real job. After a while Alice concludes: “Work is the sale of strength, of thought, of dexterity. Alice takes up writing. She sells her soul.”

Also: I have really enjoyed these 3 collections: Si no te hubieras ido/If only you hadn’t gone by Rogelio Guedea (with superb translations by Roger Hickin), Cold Hub Press 2014. A poetic sequence about absence, yearning, solitude and love: “I know you’re asleep while I’m writing this,/ there on the other side of the world, / that’s why I do it, just to see if we might bump into each other / in some corner of your dreams: otra vez.”

Parallel by Jillian Sullivan, Steele Roberts 2014. A collection which examines the warp, weft and weave of family, developed from the manuscript which won Sullivan the 2011 Kathleen Grattan award for a sequence of poetry: “how every kind of death we don’t desire / hangs like a mask above our stories, above our vows.”

Edwin’s Egg &other poetic novellas by Cilla McQueen, Otago University Press, 2014. What’s not to love here? This wee box, opened, spills pure delight: “The more the imagination grasps at the idea the greater the void created.”  Also: “The scones are satisfying.”