Tag Archives: mohamed Hassan

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about kindness

Kindness, the word on our tongues, in this upheaval world, in these challenging times, as we navigate conflicting points of view, when our well being is under threat, when the planet is under threat, when some of us are going hungry, cold, without work, distanced from loved ones, suffer cruelty, endure hatred because of difference. Kindness is the word and kindness is the action, and it is the leaning in to understand. I had no idea what I would discover when I checked whether poetry features kindness, and indeed, at times, whether poems are a form of kindness. I think of poetry as a form of song, as excavation, challenge, discovery, tonic, storytelling, connection, as surprise and sustenance for both reader and writer. In the past year, as I face and have faced multiple challenges, poetry has become the ultimate kindness.

The poems I have selected are not necessarily about kindness but have a kindness presence that leads in multiple directions. Warm thanks to the poets and publishers who have supported my season of themes. The season ends mid August.

The poems

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where the salt sings in the air

And the tūī rests in the tree outside our kitchen window

And the sun is occluded by cloud, so that the light

does not reach out and hurt our eyes

And we have eaten, and we have drunk

We have slept, and will sleep more

And the child is fed

And the books have been read

And the toys are strewn around the lounge

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where I sit at my desk, working for hours

until the light dims

And you are outside in the garden,

clipping back the hedge and trees

And then I am standing at the sink, washing dishes,

And chopping up vegetables for dinner

We sit down together, we eat, our child is laughing

And you play Muddy Waters on the stereo

And later we lie in bed reading until midnight

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where no one falls sick, no one is hurt

We have milk, we have bread and coffee and tea

Nothing is pressing, nothing to worry about today

The newspaper is full of entertainment news

The washing is clean, it has been folded and put away

Loss and disappointment pass us by

Outside it is busy, the street hums with sound

The children are trailing up the road to school

And busy commuters rush by talking on cellphones

Give me an ordinary day

And because I’m a dreamer, on my ordinary day

Nobody I loved ever died too young

My father is still right here, sitting in his chair,

where he always sits, looking out at the sea

I never lost anything I truly wanted

And nothing ever hurt me more than I could bear

The rain falls when we need it, the sun shines

People don’t argue, it’s easy to talk to everyone

Everyone is kind, we all put others before ourselves

The world isn’t dying, there is life thriving everywhere

Oh Lord, give me an ordinary day

Kiri Piahana-Wong

The guest house

    (for Al Noor and Linwood Mosques)

In this house

we have one rule:

                                                     bring only what you want to

                                                leave behind

we open doors

with both hands

passing batons

from death to life

come share with us

this tiny place

we built from broken tongues

and one-way boarding passes

from kauri bark

and scholarships

from kāitiaki

and kin

in this house

we are

                                               all broken

                                               all strange

                                               all guests  

we are holding

space for you

                                               stranger

                                               friend

come angry

come dazed

come hand against your frail

come open wounded

come heart between your knees

come sick and sleepless

come seeking shelter

come crawling in your lungs

come teeth inside your grief

come shattered peace

come foreign doubt

come unrequited sun

come shaken soil

come unbearable canyon

come desperately alone

come untuned blossom

come wild and hollow prayer

come celestial martyr

come singing doubt

come swimming to land

come weep

come whisper

come howl into embrace

come find

                                                a new thread

                                                a gentle light

                                                a glass jar to hold

                                                                         your dust

come closer

come in

you are welcome, brother

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020                        

Prayer

I pray to you Shoulder Blades

my twelve-year-old daughter’s shining like wings

like frigate birds that can fly out past the sea where my father lives

and back in again.

I pray to you Water,

you tell me which way to go

even though it is so often through the howling.

I pray to you Static –

no, that is the sea.

I pray to you Headache,

you are always here, like a blessing from a heavy-handed priest.

I pray to you Seizure,

you shut my eyes and open them again.

I pray to you Mirror,

I know you are the evil one.

I pray to you Aunties who are cruel.

You are better than university and therapy

you teach me to write books

how to hurt and hurt and forgive,

(eventually to forgive,

one day to forgive,

right before death to forgive).

I pray to you Aunties who are kind.

All of you live in the sky now,

you are better than letters and telephones.

I pray to you Belt,

yours are marks of Easter.

I pray to you Great Rock in my throat,

every now and then I am better than I am now.

I pray to you Easter Sunday.

Nothing is resurrecting but the water from my eyes

it will die and rise up again

the rock is rolled away and no one appears

no shining man with blonde hair and blue eyes.

I pray to you Lungs,

I will keep you clean and the dear lungs around me.

I pray to you Child

for forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.

I will probably wreck you as badly as I have been wrecked

leave the ship of your childhood, with you

handcuffed to the rigging,

me peering in at you through the portholes

both of us weeping for different reasons.

I pray to you Air

you are where all the things that look like you live

all the things I cannot see.

I pray to you Reader.

I pray to you.

Tusiata Avia

from The Savage Coloniser Book, Victoria University Press, 2020

sonnet xix

I’m thinking about it, how we’ll embrace each other

at the airport, then you’ll drive the long way home,

back down the island, sweet dear heart, sweet.

And I’m thinking about the crazy lady, how she strides

down Cuba Mall in full combat gear,

her face streaked with charcoal, how she barges

through the casual crowd, the coffee drinkers,

the eaters of sweet biscuits. ‘All clear,’ she shouts,

‘I’ve got it sorted, you may all stand down.’

What I should do, what I would do if this was a movie,

I’d go right up to her and I’d say, ‘Thank you,

I feel so much safer in this crazy world with you around.’       

Geoff would get it, waiting at the corner of Ghuznee Street.

It’s his kind of scene. In fact, he’d probably direct it.

Bernadette Hall

from Fancy Dancing: Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2020

Precious to them

You absolutely must be kind to animals

even the wild cats.

Grandad brought me a little tiny baby hare,

Don’t you tell your grandma

I’ve brought it inside and put it in the bed.

He put buttered milk arrowroot biscuits, slipped them

in my pockets to go down for early morning milking

You mustn’t tell your grandma, I’m putting all this butter

in the biscuits.

Marty Smith

from Horse with Hat, Victoria University Press, 2014, suggested by Amy Brown

kia atawhai – te huaketo 2020

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whānau

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whanaunga

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoa

kia atawhai ki ā koutou kiritata

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoamahi

kia atawhai ki ngā uakoao

kia atawhai ki ngā tangata o eru ata mātāwaka

kia atawhai ki ā koutou ano.

ka whakamatea i te huaketo

ki te atawhai.

kia atawhai.

be kind – the virus 2020

be kind to your families

be kind to your relatives

be kind to your friends

be kind to your neighbours

be kind to your workmates

be kind to strangers

be kind to people of other ethnicities

be kind to yourselves.

kill the virus

with kindness.

be kind.

Vaughan Rapatahana

The Lift

For Anna Jackson

it had been one of those days

that was part of one of those weeks, months

where people seemed angry

& I felt like the last runner in the relay race

taking the blame for not getting the baton

over the finish line fast enough

everyone scolding

I was worn down by it, diminished

& to top it off, the bus sailed past without seeing me

& I was late for the reading, another failure

so when Anna offered me a lift home

I could have cried

because it was the first nice thing

that had happened that day

so much bigger than a ride in a car

it was all about standing alone

in a big grey city

and somebody suddenly

handing you marigolds

Janis Freegard

first appeared on Janis’s blog

Honest Second

The art of advice

is balancing

what you think

is the right thing

with what you think

is the right thing to say,

keeping in mind

the psychological state

of the person whom you are advising,

your own integrity and beliefs,

as well as the repercussions

of your suggestions in the immediate

and distant futures—a complex mix,

especially in light of the fact that friendship

should always be kind first,

and honest second.

Johanna Emeney

from Felt, Massey University Press, 2021

A Radical Act in July

You are always smiling the cheese man says, my default position.

The cheese, locally made, sold in the farmers market,

but still not good enough for my newly converted vegan friend

who preaches of bobby calves, burping methane, accuses me

of not taking the problems of the world seriously enough.

Granted, there is much to be afraid of: unprecedented fires,

glaciers melting, sea lapping into expensive living rooms,

the pandemic threatening to go on the rampage again

and here still, lurking behind supermarket shelves,

or in the shadows outside our houses like a violent ex-husband.

Strongmen, stupid or calculating are in charge of too many countries,

we have the possibility of one ourselves now, a strong woman,

aiming to crush our current leader and her habit of kindness

while she holds back global warming and Covid 19

with a scowl. I can see why friends no longer watch the news,

why my sons say they will have no children,

why pulling the blankets over your head starts to seem

like a reasonable proposition but what good does that do

for my neighbour living alone, who, for the first time

in her long-life, surviving war, depression

and other trauma is afraid to go outside?

Perhaps there is reason enough for me not to smile,

one son lives in China and can’t come back for the lack

of a job. The other lives by the sea, but in a shed with no kitchen.

I hear my stretcher-bearer dad in his later years, talking

of Cassino and how they laughed when they weren’t screaming

how his mates all dreamed of coming home and finding

a girl. Some did and so we are here, and in being here

we have already won the lottery. So, I get up early

for the market, put on my red hat to spite the cold,

and greet the first crocus which has popped up overnight.

I try not to think it’s only July and is this a sign

and should I save the world by bypassing the cheese man

and the milk man who names his cows?

My dad was consumed by nightmares most of his life,

but at my age now, 69, he would leap into the lounge

in a forward roll to shock us into laughing. A gift,

though I didn’t see it at the time. Reason enough to smile,

practise kindness and optimism as a radical act

Diane Brown

Seabird

I have not forgotten that seabird

the one I saw with its wings

stretched across the hard road.

One eye open,

one closed.

I wanted to walk past

But the road is no place

for a burial –

I picked it up by the wings

took it to the

water and floated it

out to sea,

which was of no use

to the bird, it had ceased.

I like to think someone

was coaching me in the small,

never futile art,

of gentleness.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba press, 2020

Four stories about kindness

I had lunch with Y today, and she told me over gnocchi (me) and meatballs (her), about how she joined up with another dating website. She quickly filled in the online forms, all the ones about herself and her interests, until she came to one where she had to choose the five attributes she thought were the most important in a person. She looked at them for a while, and then grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out the thirty possible attributes in a list. She read the list. She put it down and went to bed. The next morning when she woke up she read the list again. She found her scissors and snipped around each word. She laid each rectangle on the table, arranged them in a possible order, shuffled them around, and then arranged them again. She went to work. When she came back in the evening they were still there, glowing slightly in the twilight. She sat down in front of them and made some minor adjustments. She discovered, somewhat to her surprise, that kindness is the most important thing to her. She went back to the web page and finished her application. Very soon she was registered and had been matched with ten men in her area. Soon after she had thirty-five messages. The next morning she had forty more. She deleted the messages and deleted her profile. Then she wrote five words on a piece of paper and pinned it to her wall.

*

I phone A, whose father is dying. Whether fast or slow, no one really knows, and no one wants to say it, but we all know this will probably be his last Christmas. She was, at this very moment, she tells me, writing in our Christmas card. She tells me that she’s been thinking a lot about kindness. About people who are kind even when it’s inconvenient, even when it hurts. I tell her she is a kind person. ‘There are times’, she says, ‘when I could have chosen to be kind, but I didn’t. Wasn’t. I’ve said things. Done things. I don’t want to do that – I don’t want to make people feel small.’ I think of my own list, my own regrets. It’s weeks later before we get our Christmas card. ‘What’s this word here?’ asks S, as he reads it. ‘Before lights.’ ‘Kind’, I say. ‘The word is kind.’

*

J is a scientific sort of person, and she wants to understand relationships, so she does what any good scientist would do and keeps a notebook in which she records her observations. She watches. And listens. And then she writes. She writes about the good ones, and about the bad ones. Her subjects are her friends, her family, her acquaintances and people she meets (or overhears) while travelling. None of them have given ethics approval. (She hasn’t asked.) She considers the characteristics of each relationship, both good and bad, and in-between. It is almost halfway through New Year’s Day and we are still eating breakfast. While her study is not yet finished, and so all results are of course provisional, she tells us one thing is clear to her already: that the characteristic shared by the best relationships is kindness.

*

I am talking to C in the back yard at the party and I tell him that the theme of the moment is kindness. He tells me that while, yes, he thinks kindness is important, he thinks he is sometimes (for which I read ‘often’) too kind. He puts up with things, he says, that he should not. He lets people have their way. He doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, but he doesn’t want to be a doormat anymore. I’m not always the quickest thinker, but I know there is something wrong here; I think I know that there is a difference between kindness and niceness, kindness and martyrdom. I am sure that being kind doesn’t mean giving in, going along with things you don’t like, denying yourself. I’m sure that being kind doesn’t mean you can’t give the hard word, when needed, doesn’t mean condoning bad behaviour. I try to explain this to C, who is kind, and also is a doormat sometimes, but I’m not sure he understands what I’m saying. I’m not sure if he heard me. Probably because we are both too busy giving each other advice.

Helen Rickerby

from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

Letter to Hone

Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko

sacred in my awkward arms,

its cool black mocking

my shallow grasp

I was

utterly blown away.

I am sitting beside you at Kaka Point

in an armchair with chrome arm-rests

very close to the stove.

You smile at me,

look back at the flames,

add a couple of logs,

take my hand in your bronze one,

doze awhile;

Open your bright dark eyes,

give precise instructions as to the location of the whisky bottle

on the kitchen shelf, and of two glasses.

I bring them like a lamb.

You pour a mighty dram.

Cilla McQueen

from The Radio Room, Otago University Press, 2010

The poets

Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Tusiata’s most recent collection The Savage Coloniser Book won The Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Poetry Book 2021.

Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist, and poet who runs Creative Writing Dunedin, teaching fiction, memoir and poetry. She has published eight books: two collections of poetry – Before the Divorce We Go To Disneyland, (Jessie Mackay Award Best First Book of Poetry, 1997) Tandem Press 1997 and Learning to Lie Together, Godwit, 2004; two novels, If The Tongue Fits, Tandem Press, 1999 and Eight Stages of Grace, Vintage, 2002—a verse novel which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards, 2003. Also, a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers, Vintage, 2004; and a prose/poetic travel memoir; Here Comes Another.

Johanna Emeney is a senior Tutor at Massey University, Auckland. Felt (Massey University Press, 2021) is her third poetry collection, following Apple & Tree (Cape Catley, 2011) and Family History (Mākaro Press, 2017). You can find her interview with Kim Hill about the new collection here and purchase a book directly from MUP or as an eBook from iTunes or Amazon/Kind.

Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), and a novel, The Year of Falling. She lives in Wellington.  http://janisfreegard.com

Bernadette Hall lives in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She retired from high-school teaching in 2005 in order to embrace a writing life. This sonnet touches on the years 2006 and 2011 when she lived in Wellington, working at the IIML. Her friendship with the Wellington poet, Geoff Cochrane, is referenced in several of her poems. Another significant friendship, begun in 1971, was instrumental in turning her towards poetry. That was with the poet/painter, Joanna Margaret Paul. A major work that she commissioned from Joanna in 1982, will travel the country for the next two years as part of a major exhibition of the artist’s work.

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer from Auckland and Cairo. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His 2020 poetry collection National Anthem was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (2021).

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. ‘Five O’Clock Shadows’ is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

Poet and artist Cilla McQueen has lived and worked in Murihiku for the last 25 years. Cilla’s most recent works are In a Slant Light; a poet’s memoir (2016) and
Poeta: selected and new poems (2018), both from Otago University Press.

Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. She lives in Auckland.

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, Romanian, Spanish. Additionally, he has lived and worked for several years in the Republic of Nauru, PR China, Brunei Darussalam, and the Middle East.

Helen Rickerby lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley. She’s the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019), which won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, which mostly publishes poetry.

Marty Smith is writing a non-fiction book tracking the daily lives of trainers and track-work riders as they go about their work at the Hastings racecourse. She finds the same kindness and gentleness there among people who primarily work with animals. On the poem: Grandad was very kind and gentle; Grandma had a rep for being ‘a bit ropey’. He was so kind that when my uncle Edward, told not to touch the gun, cocked it and shot the family dog, Grandad never said a thing to my heartbroken little uncle, just put his arm around him and took him home.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

poems about home

poems about edge

poems about breakfast

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Fourteen poems about walking

So many poets have written walking poems. So many poets have commented on the relationship between walking and a poem gathering momentum in the pedestrian’s head. Just for a start, I am thinking of Jenny Bornholdt’s magnificent poem ‘Confessional’, Michele Leggott’s walking blind, a vital thread, with different insight and senses on alert in her poems, and of course Blanche Baughan’s love of hill walking. A poem itself is a form of walking with its various rhythms and absorptions. The poet becomes walker, bricoleur, observer, mind-drifter.

My most recent collection The Track (Seraph Press) was written as I walked the third day of the Queen Charlotte Track with a broken foot in a wild storm. To keep walking I used the alphabet to compose poems and returned home with a book-length sequence. Whenever I have read from it, I am right back in the storm diverting pain with words. A strange feeling indeed. But I also have the early mornings at Te Henga Bethells. Walking on the near empty beach in the early morning light is an opening for poetry. Glorious.

I am currently reading Foxtrot and Other Collisons, Shari Kocher’s sublime second collection. In her endnote she says the poems were written over a five-year period. She wrote:

No poem in this collection was written before it was walked: arbitrary or otherwise, the rule I applied to the book’s organic growth was that each poem was to be ‘discovered’ on foot, and many continued to be composed peripatetically across many drafts while out walking in ways dedicated to that terrain.

The poems I have selected are not so much about walking but have a walking presence that leads in multiple directions. Many of the poems are longer rather shorter and take you on glorious excursions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.

The Poems

Travelling light

She is walking at the edge of the sea

on the wet shining sand.

The bright sky is behind her.

She is travelling

on a sheet of grey light.

We pass, and I wave.

She laughs. Of course.

A woman who walks at the edge,

on light, would laugh.

Adrienne Jansen

Madeline McGovern’s ‘Enchanted forest’, source of Rose People’s poem

A path of stars

There are many things

I would like to tell you,

my darling

My darling,

I would like to tell you

in this life

everything will be okay

I would like to tell you

that you will walk upon a path of stars

that you will travel through the forest

and never lose your way

I would like to tell you

to look only at the stars

and not the gaps between them

to look at the sun

and not the clouds.

My darling, I would like to tell you all these things

for the same reason we read fairy stories to children

and weave their years with mythologies

because there is comfort is such lies

because I want the world you live in

to carry more magic

and less sharp edges.

But, on this dark night

I have run out of comforting lies.

My darling,

I cannot promise you a path of stars.

some days you will walk upon

unforgiving concrete or sharp-edged gravel

some days you will wade through quicksand.

Tonight, I cannot conjure stars

without the black between them.

My darling, I can only wish

when you walk through the dark and tangled forest

and lose your way a thousand times

that one day

you come across a clearing

where you can sit

and where the sun will find you

and warm your face

and where you can rest.

My darling

you can rest.

Rose Peoples

My Maunga

we’re monitoring pests at the Maungatautari reserve

gluing bait to ink slick cardboard with peanut butter

extracted from a single hole in the finger of a latex

glove bulging with the breakfast spread

our hands were all sticky fingers and dirt

made it to the first true slope

gorse brushing our knees the angle necessitating

a fuck-this what-are we doing crawl upwards

the trees move back and forth

poles caught in a tide

swinging long ways

between sickly white clouds

and glare-blue sky

a miromiro sitting plump on a ponga

squeaking like a mouse

then fluttering caught blurry on a camera

there are no edgerleyi in sight

Māhinaarangi’s perfume a ghost in the clouds

replaced by sweat-stink

the trip back down is a chorus of snaps

and low groans from wood and soil

giving way under our weight grown careless

with exhaustion

then we’re back through the mechanical gate

one shuts and locks for the other to unlock and open

pull it back on its squealing hinge

to leave the reserve behind

it’s a short trek down the hill back to the car

the air made pungent by cowpats

essa may ranapiri

from Ngā Kupu Waikato: an anthology of Waikato poetry, ed Vaughan Rapatahana, Waikato Press, 2019, selected by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

A Walk with Your Father

Before you do anything else, check your lungs.

Are they the right size for you, are you the right size for them?

Are they nice and snug against your ribs and spine?

Don’t worry if they’re a bit big for you, you’ll grow into them.

They must be full, however; you don’t want them empty.

You have a long way to go.

Put your hand inside your mouth and make sure

everything’s in it’s place, check that all the pipes and hoses

leading from your lungs into your mouth are in position and in good nick.

You don’t want any leaks or sudden explosions

this is your air we’re talking about.

Close your mouth securely around this apparatus.

Next check your weight. If you are too heavy

or too light you won’t get anywhere. By the way

there’s no need to take a whole lot of extras with you.

Some people strap expensive knives to their legs and wear protective gloves.

There’s no real need for any of this – an ordinary old sharp knife

from the kitchen drawer will do. And just your bare hands.

You may need to signal to each other.

Now pay some attention to your skin.

It should feel secure and warm

but also allow plenty of room to move freely.

There are any number of colours available nowadays –

they all do pretty much the same job.

Your feet, are they the right size?

If they’re too large you will tire quickly,

too small and you’ll be left behind.

You’re probably looking at feet

about the same size as his.

Your eyes – spit in them.

It keeps everything clear.

That step you’re about to take

will have to be wider than you’re used to.

Don’t forget to move forwards, not backwards.

Keep your hand on your mouth so everything stays in place

when you break the surface.

Mihi to Tangaroa. Mihi to Hinemoana.

Now get yourself in under there,

immerse yourself.

Do it now, go.

He’ll be right behind you.

Hinemoana Baker

from mātuhi / needle, Victoria University Press, 2004

When I Head Home I Like To Be On The Left Side Of The Road So As To Be Closer To Where I Am Heading

I walk home with a bouquet of flowers held up

like an explorer holding up a torch,

in the early days of these days.

The flowers do not emanate

light, but they do catch the eyes of the people

I might like. The flowers will sit by my bed

waiting for when I open my nose from sleep.

Maeve Hughes

from horse power, printed by Fernbank Studio, 2019

The verb ‘to be’

It is foggy.

There is a mountain.

I am climbing the mountain.

She is climbing the mountain.

The path is slippery.

She says, ‘It is all right.

It will all be all right.’

She is right.

There are people behind us.

They are climbing the mountain.

They are in the fog.

Their voices are broken.

There is a shout.

There is laughter.

We are all climbing the mountain.

She is climbing ahead of me.

There is fog in her hair.

Her hair is glittering.

The wind is cold.

There is a man with a walking stick.

There are names scratched on the stick.

He carries the names as if they were eggs.

They could fall and smash.

We are carrying names too.

They are carved on bone.

They are scratched on skin.

We are all carrying names up the mountain.

There is a chapel at the top.

It is locked.

Its walls are damp.

There is broken timber.

There are fallen stones.

It is cold here.

Now we are turning.

We are going down.

She is running.

She is sliding down the mountain.

I am following her.

She is running ahead in the fog.

That is how it is now.

That is how it will be.

That is how it will be

till she is and I am not.   

She will be.

I will not be.

The verbs slip under our boots,

like small changeable stones.

Fiona Farrell

from The Pop-Up Book of Invasions, Auckland University Press, 2007

A note about ‘The verb ‘to be’’

This poem was written when I had a writing fellowship in Ireland. My younger daughter took leave from her job working with kakapo recovery on Codfish Island and came to stay for a month. We climbed the high hills.

We climbed Croagh Patrick, up the slippery path from the enormous carpark and visitor centre to the crest where the fog was thick and the chapel was closed and a chill wind tore at the flimsy remnants of shelters built to give some protection to the thousands who come here each year. Toward the top we met a man who was climbing using a camán (the stick used in hurling or the women’s version of the game, camogie) as a support on the stony ground. He showed us some names written on the flat head of the camán. ‘You’ll recognise these’ he said. We didn’t, and felt awkward for not knowing. It was an All-Irish champion camogie team he had coached, his daughter’s name among them. Some time after their victory she had become ill and was now in hospital, and he had made a vow to climb Croagh Patrick 30 times, if only she could be made well. He carried the camán each time. This was his 29th pilgrimage.

We climbed Errigal, a steep-sided hill in Donegal. Irish is still spoken around here and the man who ran the hostel was passionate for the language. It is subtle, he said. There are, for instance, two verbs meaning ‘to be’: one suggests permanence (‘this is the floor’). The other suggests transience and is used, for example, when speaking of the weather (‘it is sunny’).

I walked up the tracks behind my daughter with her strong legs, her dreadlocked hair. Not that long ago, I led her. I can still feel the weight of her in my arms, carrying her when she didn’t want to walk any more between banks of tussocks and flowering hebes on the track at Tongariro, or through the bearded bush at Dawson Falls, or on some sunny Sunday walk near Pohangina. The feel of her little duffel coat and her red tights and her feathery hair, usually chopped into a jagged fringe by herself using the toenail scissors. Now she takes the lead and I’m following, and behind us, there’s that long queue of people, living and dead, stretching back down into the fog.

Fiona Farrell

Pacing Poem

Past the green flowers

past the red stool

past the drying towels

past the letter from school

past the newspapers

past the glass fruit bowl

past the decanter

past the ‘Hoptimist’ doll

and into the kitchen.

Past the oven

past the breadbin

past the broken dishwasher

past the empty tomato tin

and towards the table.

Around the red chair

over the floorboards

past the stairs

and onto the rug.

Past the lamp

past the outside world

past the radio

past the Argentinian print

and around the bassinet.

Past the novels

past the poetry

past the proteas

past the pottery

and into the sun.

Past the breeze

past the ottoman

past the unwrapped cheese

past the pestle

past the wine rack

and nestled

under my armpit:

two deep eyes

still shining wide,

so we keep circling

until sleep arrives.

Amy Brown

from neon daze, Victoria University Press, 2019

Travelling


How normal it feels
to get around new places—
how basely, physically normal it is
for our feet to touch the ground
and propel us forward, step after step
exactly as they do anywhere.


And if these roads home
one day become
the rivers they once were—
though we might have to pedal the currents
or steady our soles on pebbles—
we’ll soon get used to it.


A flavour’s only new at first taste;
and common sights become invisible;
and love dulls into something necessary;
and in grief we think this new lack
is impossible to live with but we do.

Jane Arthur

from Craven, Victoria University Press, 2019

By the Bosphorous Strait I sat down and wept

Breathe in

when Istanbulites woke to find the water a bright turquois they thought

the worst, a curse had taken over the city or toxins seeped from textile

factories but scientists agreed it was just an explosion of plankton migrating

from the Black Sea, a milky blessing heralding the summer calm, I am told

it’s serene.

breathe out

I did not find out I was colour blind until they tested our class at the library

in Form 2, it explained so much, why I always coloured grass in brown and

tree bark green, why I’d clash my outfits and no one is impolite enough

to tell me, my parents must have thought I was stupid or acting out, the

scientists agreed it was neither

breathe in

my manager told me that things can be difficult here, but when you walk

along the Bosphorous it makes it all worth it, sometimes I think this

city is magical, other times I’m sure it is cursed, a dark pact signed in its

catacombs centuries ago threatening to explode, most of the time it is sad,

mourning a lover lost or a friend it couldn’t save

breathe out

everyday at 12.30pm I walk out of the office and stand at its mouth waiting

for a sign, for the air to return, the explosions in my lungs to subside, the

panic attacks are a daily occurrence, a striking in the middle of a meeting, a

hungry mall, a dolmus packed with strangers and I tense my abdomen and

squeeze my shirt with my hands and try not to remember

for the life of me all I can see is blue, even the scientists are at a loss on this

one, they tell me to relax my shoulders and focus on my breathing, not

worry about time I can’t unwind

it’s amazing how something can be right in front of you and you just can’t see it

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020, selected by Alison Wong

Locus

as you walk you become the vanishing

as you walk you lose the point

as you walk you              snow

though autumn

the ranges hold the storm

the ranges bite the neck

and night and day unfix

and night and day turn stone

snow     monkeys sit with ice on lashes

coast     monkeys pick snails from pools

shop     monkeys flip fish in milk and flour

as you walk through autumn, the ranges

unfix snow, and pool                 you lose

ice-pick, milk-lash, snail-bite—

turn your neck to the day—

Nicola Easthope

from Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018). 

Duet

I became an old woman

age eleven

Doctor and physio

circling my fingers

around a stick

bone on wood

Swinging my legs

to a new rhythm

wood on bone

bone on wood

Instructing me

in the art

of walking a duet

heel toe

bone wood

stick stick

Trish Harris

published NZ Listener, 1999

Crunch

(i)

She collected broken things: fragments of a delicate speckled eggshell she found on the gravel driveway, a starfish arm from the beach.  She kept them in a leadlight box, along with her imaginings.

(ii)

He was the one who knew the way back: just to the left of the forked piece of driftwood standing upright on the shore.  Over the bed of African daisies and ice plants.  Past the clump of marram and close to the flat patch of sand where they’d lain together that time.  That time he hardly thought about any more.

(iii)

She walked briskly, in a way that made you think the act of walking was the purpose of the walk.  Not the view of the island, nor the chirrup of pipits camouflaged in the dunes.  Not the way a shoe sinks into the sand, nor the sight of a collie hurtling after a stick.  No, her walk was for the sake of walking and she’d dressed accordingly: the sneakers, the sun visor, the sensible orange windbreaker.

(iv)

The sheets were so bright against the dull sky, he almost couldn’t bear it.  He wanted to take a pot of red paint and throw it against them.  He wanted to tell her, you bring out the red in me.

(v)

She lay on top of the duvet being a starfish, each of her hands touching an edge of the bed.  She thought how nice it would be, not to have to share.

(vi)

He found himself walking up and down the gravel driveway, just to hear it crunch underfoot as the stones scraped against each other.  When he noticed her watching him from the bedroom window, he just kept crunching.

(vii)

She lifted the speckled egg from its cotton wool cradle in the leadlight box and fitted the pieces together to make it whole again.  There was one piece missing.  She turned the shell so she couldn’t see the gap.

(viii)

Pounding the driveway.  Grinding the stones.  He supposed he could do it all day.  His heavy tread.  His trample.  He didn’t see her leave the house.

(ix)

The beach was a beacon, making her way clear.  She could feel the island’s solid presence, even when she couldn’t quite see it.

(x)

He recognised her footsteps, getting louder.  There she was at his shoulder, joining her crunching pace to his.  His foot, her foot.  Stamping together on a firm earth.  Her foot, his foot.  Two in step.  A two-step.  She smelt like biscuits.  He reached for her hand.

Janis Freegard

from Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus Auckland University Press, 2011

Hill walk

We often wonder
what moves us in a day –
was it words in a sequence
that surprised us

or notes played by someone
who kept their mouth closed
& let the sound leave 
their broken body 

or maybe after years 
it was the sight of your brother
nursing his leg down the hill
catching up with you

so you could walk
on together to discuss
what bird that was in
the bush making the sound

neither of you were certain of.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows The Cuba Press, 2020

walking with Dorothy

a dog bothers the scraps

of food around the compost bin

                        it howls at the murmur of the village stream

ignoring the voice calling from the hill

the trees gleam with overnight rain

                        each tree, taken singly, was beautiful

the bees emerging

from their wooden house

mistake me for

a flower and for

a moment I am one

hopelessly lacking in pollen

swaying in the breeze

and taking up space

standing still in the mud

unmaking myself amid

leaves I’ve seen a thousand times

and never wondered the names of

                        some trees putting out red shoots

                        query: what trees are they?

a fantail flits from branch to branch

something bigger than language

in its movements

which lose

their sheen when captured

and later the sky between

apartments and streetlamps

empties but for the full moon

and Venus striving to be seen

as brightly

                        all the heavens seemed in one perpetual motion

grit on the footpath like glitter

                        the roads very dirty

a morepork somewhere in the dark

oblivious to me and better for it

Ash Davida Jane

from How to Live with Mammals, Victoria University Press, 2021

The Poets

Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.

Hinemoana Baker is a poet, musician and creative writing teacher. She traces her ancestry from Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Āti Awa and Ngāi Tahu, as well as from England and Germany (Oberammergau in Bayern). Hinemoana’s latest poetry collection Funkhaus (VUP, 2020), was shortlisted for The Ockham NZ Book Awards 2021. She has edited several online and print anthologies and released several albums of original music and more experimental sound art. She works in English, Māori and more recently German, the latter in collaboration with German poet and sound performer Ulrike Almut Sandig. She is currently living in Berlin, where she was 2016 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer in Residence, and is completing a PhD at Potsdam University. Hinemoana’s website

Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper‘s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.

Nicola Easthope (Pākehā, with roots in Orkney, Scotland, England and Wales) is a high school English and psychology teacher, and mentor of young activists and writers. Her two books of poetry are: leaving my arms free to fly around you (Steele Roberts, 2011) and Working the tang (The Cuba Press, 2018). She has appeared at the Queensland, Tasmanian and Manawatū poetry festivals, as well as LitCrawl in Pōneke. Nicola’s very occasional blog is gannet ink.

Fiona Farrell publishes poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction. In 2007 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, and in 2012 she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Literature. Her most recent publication, Nouns, verbs, etc. Selected Poems (OUP 2020) has been warmly reviewed as ‘a Poetry Treasure House…a glorious book’ (Paula Green, Poetry Shelf), and ‘an excellent retrospective… remarkable for drawing small personal realities together with the broad sweep of history.” (Nicholas Reid, The Listener).  After many years in remote Otanerito bay on Banks Peninsula, she now lives in Dunedin.

Wellington-based Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), as well a novel, The Year of Falling (Mākaro Press). She was the inaugural Ema Saikō Poetry Fellow at New Zealand Pacific Studio and has previously won the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Prize and the Geometry/Open Book Poetry Prize. She grew up in the UK, South Africa and Australia before her family settled in Aotearoa when she was twelve. ‘Crunch’ was placed third in the Manawatu Festival of New Arts Poetry for Performance competition and performed in Palmerston North. 

Trish Harris has written two books – a poetry collection (My wide white bed) and a memoir (The Walking Stick Tree). She teaches non-fiction on the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, is co-founder of Crip the Lit and edited their 2019 pocketbook, ‘Here we are, read us: Women, disability and writing’. She says she’s a part-time crane operator…but maybe she’s dreaming?

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer who has lived in Egypt, Aotearoa and Turkey. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His collection, National Anthem, was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, poetry category.

Maeve Hughes is a recent graduate of English literature with a minor in creative writing. She lives in Wellington where she loves to walk home.

Ash Davida Jane’s poetry has appeared in MimicrySweet MammalianStarlingThe Spinoff and elsewhere. Her second book, How to Live with Mammals, was published by Victoria University Press in April 2021. She lives and works in Wellington.

Adrienne Jansen writes fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children, but for her, poetry is where the magic is. Her fourth collection of poetry, All of Us, published in 2018, is a series of poems, with carina gallegos, around the themes of migration and refugees. She is the co-founder of Landing Press, a small Wellington poetry publisher. She lives at Titahi Bay, north of Wellington. Website

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. Five O’Clock Shadows is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.

essa may ranapiri (Na Guinnich, Ngaati Wehi Wehi, Highgate, Ngaati Raukawa) is a Tainui poet from Kirikiriroa living on Ngaati Wairere land / they want everyone to know that the Echidna they write about isn’t a spikey mammal but a lady with two long snake tails instead of legs / go figure / tino takatāpuitanga 4eva

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Poetry Shelf’s love letter to AWF 2021

‘You better marvel while you can – marvel and embrace the present.’ Brian Turner, AWF 2021

Dear Anne O’Brien and the AWF team

When the Auckland Writers Festival was cancelled in 2020 we felt such sadness at the loss after all the hard work and planning on your part, at the evaporation of those sessions we planned to attend or to participate in. (Although let’s remember we enjoyed a season of fabulous Paula Morris zoom sessions with various local and international authors.) It felt like a miracle that Auckland Writers Festival Waituhi O Tāmaki 2021 could go ahead with a strong and wide-reaching focus upon Aotearoa writers. To me 2021 was a festival of aroha and connection and, in this upheaval and damaged world, it makes it just that little bit easier to cope.

More than anything I welcomed the embrace of Māori, Pasifika and Asian voices, especially through the work of guest curators, Ruby Solly and Gina Cole.

How good to see sold-out session after sold-out session, foyers thronged with readers and writers, ideas sparking, feelings connecting, books selling. The festival theme Look, Listen & Learn is so very apt. AWF 2021 gave us an extraordinary opportunity to listen to a rich diversity of voices. I loved this so very much. I loved taking time to stop and observe. I loved reflecting upon my own behaviour and biases, my joys and grief. But yes I was grief stricken at the Pākehā woman who vented her ignorance/ racism upon a guest. Do this in my company and I will challenge you. I want our eyes and ears and arms to open wide to make room for communities of wisdom and experience and grievances. It is utterly essential.

Thank you for AWF for caring for your writers and readers, for putting hearts on sleeves and creating space and time for us to listen and look and learn. I adored this festival. I drove home on Saturday night into the pitch black of the West Coast and I felt like I had breathed in love. I saw so many poets and chairs who filled me with a shared joy in the power and reach of words and stories, and quite frankly, the preciousness of each day. Inspirational, heart restoring, mind challenging. Anne O’Brien you are an Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau treasure.

Thank you to every one who made this festival happen and run so smoothly (and yes for the divine food and green tea that kept the writers going). Sorry about the mixed quality of photos off my low-grade phone.

There has never been a festival quite like this one. Every session a gem. Extraordinary.

Paula Green

Some Poetry Highlights

I got to do a Magnetic Poetry workshop with children earlier in the week and once again felt that joy of working with young writers. To see the intense concentration and joy on their faces as their pens went scratching, as they shared poems, as they tried whatever challenge I lay down. I don’t say yes to many children’s workshops at the moment so this was special.

Doing my workshop meant I got a lanyard and so I got to go to loads of fabulous poetry events, to reboot in the Patron’s Lounge, and to catch up with much loved writing friends. So thank you for inviting me. I adored this festival.

First up The Ockham NZ Book Awards – I live streamed it on FB so got to hear the readings and speeches. I talked about the poetry shortlist in a session at Featherston, and what awards are like when you are an author, and how when Wild Honey missed out last year I could say ‘fuck’ at home (in lockdown), and get drunk on bubbles and be really really sad for an hour and then just move on! Because all the new projects bubbled back to the surface and the fact that what matters more than anything is the writing itself. That said the 2021 poetry shortlist was sublime – four astonishing books (although I did mourn the equally astonishing Wow by Bill Manhire and Goddess Muscle by Karlo Mila, but I jumped for joy (yes Featherston I did!!) at Tusiata Avia’s win (The Savage Coloniser) and Jackson Nieuewland’s winning best first book. Check out my celebrations here and here.

I also leapt in delight that Airini Beautrais’s magnificent short story collection Bug Week won (even though I had adored Pip Adam’s and Catherine Chidgey’s novels). I haven’t read Sprigs by Brannavan Gnanalingam yet, but Marion Castree’s words at the Featherston award event has spurred me to get past the disclaimer at the start of the book and read beyond the violence.

Usually I go to as many events as possible on as many days as possible but this year I decided to circle poetry on the Friday and Saturday. I kept hearing people say ‘I was so gutted I missed …’ and I know the feeling. I was gutted to miss Patricia Grace – but I will make up for it by buying her memoir. I was gutted to miss Anne Kennedy and pianist Sarah Watkins on the Friday night. And not to hear Kyle Mewburn and Charlotte Grimshaw, Catherine Chidgey and Carrie Tiffany. Kazuo Ishiguro. Sue Kedgley. Alice Te Punga Somerville. The Purgatory Reimagined session. I had seen some writers at Featherston and at last year’s WORD so that wasn’t quite such a loss (Helen Rickerby, Pip Adam). Oh and Siobhan Havrvey’s launch for Ghosts. In fact when I look at programme I wish I could keep popping back – take a magical month so I could go to every single event.

Autumn salon series: Allende, Hassan, Li

First morning session in the Kiri Te Kanawa room is packed with punters keen to hear Isabel Allende, Mohamed Hassan and Yiyun Li in a zoom conversation with Paula Morris. I had come to hear Mohamed because hearing him read and talk poetry is a rare treat for me. I hadn’t factored in Isabel Allende talking about power and feminism, and how articulate and feisty she is, and how every word that leaves her mouth is perfect, and how I just want to go back and read all her novels, and most definitely her new meditation The Soul of a Woman. I love the fact she rebels against how we see aging. I love the fact she recoils at the label ‘magic realism’ that gets dumped on South American writers whereas with European writers it is philosophy or religion. I love her for saying this:

Like the ocean feminism

never stays quiet.

If you get chance listen to Mohamad Hassan read his poems online. Buy his book National Anthem. Mohamed openly talked about what it is like to write having grown up in both Egypt and Aotearoa, and having lived in other places. About the ghosts that emerged after the Ōtautahi Christchurch mosque attacks, and the ghosts that remain after the settlement of New Zealand, about the increased visibility of Muslim communities after September 11, and monstrous and skewed Muslim identities that continue to be broadcast. Mohamed: ‘Do I apologise or do I try to make a difference and speak on behalf of those without a voice?’ Paula raised the thorny issue of home. Mohamed: ‘In many ways I am not really Egyptian, not really a New Zealander, but 100% both. You create familiarity for yourself in all these places: your work, relationships, writing, and that is what constitutes home.’

As a call out to the current unspeakable, heartbreaking and ongoing violence on the Gaza strip, Mohamed read from his poem ‘There are bombs again over Gaza, are you watching?’. Here’s an extract:

(…) but the bombs are still dropping on

on a Palestine that isn’t, I am a reporter but feel

silent, making news about house prices and a us

president that isn’t, talking about a Muslim ban

that isn’t, I am a Muslim on a bus leaving Auckland

and I’m trying not to read the news, talk to friends

in Denver who pray in terminals not made for our

skin and I tweet about Kayne and check my follows

check my shoes in the glass waiting for the

wrong bus, I wear Palestinian colours by accident

and no one notices, wear a beard by accident

and hope I don’t have to travel soon, watch the

skyline shrink and thank god for a hot meal

Mohamed Hassan, ‘There are bombs again over Gaza, are you watching?’ from National Anthem

Honoured Writer: Brian Turner

Keep It Up

A farmer asked me

if I was working

and added

he didn’t mean

writing.

I said

I was sawing

and stacking wood,

tidying the shed,

pruning the hedge.

‘Is that work?’

‘Yes,’ he said,

‘keep it up.’

Brian Turner, Selected Poems, VUP, 2019

John Campbell – along with Bill Manhire, Grace Iwashita-Taylor, Paula Morris, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Emma Espiner – is one of my favourite chairs. He puts such diligent thought into both his introduction and questions. He reads the author’s work deeply, and clearly only accepts invitations where he feels the greatest empathy and engagement with the author and their writing. His conversation with poet Brian Turner was very special. With permission from Brian and his partner Jillian Sullivan, John shared the heartbreaking news that Brian has Alzheimer’s. We were privileged to listen to a conversation that paid tribute to a lifetime of poetry and wonder, a history of writing in multiple genres. The conversation struck so many deep chords with me.

I saw tussock, heard it

speaking in tongues

and chanting with the westerly:

What’s productive here

is what’s in your heart,

sworn through your eyes,

ears, the flitter of the

wind in your hair

Brian Turner, from ‘Van Morrison in Central Otago’, from Elemental: Central Otago Poems, VUP, 2012

John offered richly detailed thoughts on the writing and the living, the landscape and the lyrical line, and Brian was able to respond with sentences that shone out, and the reading of poems. It worked beautifully. In glorious tandem, they made the poetry so alive for us. On childhood: ‘Looking back we were hell of a lucky.’ On Alzheimer’s: ‘30% of my brain’s not working but I’m going to keep the rest of it going now!’ On what matters as a writer: ‘I like to listen to what other people have to say. Looking and listening always.’

John declares he will keep the poems centre stage and he does. Brian says roaming outdoors ‘suppress despair’: ‘I feel this is a wondrous place in all sorts of ways. I couldn’t live in a heavily populated city. I like to hear the cicadas. I like to hear fast clear cool largely clean water rattling on the stones. I like to roll over the stones and see if vertebrates are there, to see if fish might be there.’

We walk upon the earth, feast our eyes,

wonder at what we see in the skies;

listen to rivers and streams, stand

humbled by mountains and stare

in awe of oceans and their might.

Brian Turner, from ‘As We Have Long been Doing’, Selected Poems, VUP, 2019

On grandmothers and knitting: ‘Sometimes they knitted me the sorts of jerseys I didn’t want to wear.’ On self pity: ‘I always use the word luck.’ On learning: ‘I l always learn something from other people – but don’t fancy people a bit up themselves and ignorant!’ On what it’s like to write: ‘Will it hold up? Is it as good as I can make it? When writing a poem you never know what you are going to say next. I have drawers and drawers of poems. I am happy to write what I write and I don’t have to have it published.’

I totally agree about writing poetry for the sheer love of writing because all else is secondary. I also agree wholeheartedly with Brian on this:

‘You better marvel

while you you can – marvel and

embrace the present.’

Just Possibly

 

If home is where and with whom you long to be

you’re still looking for it. In the meantime

you’re in a room where the fire’s crackling

and you’re listening to a CD of a cellist, pianist

and violinist whose urgency’s insistent, persistent

and melodic; you’re somewhere where there’s

just you and the music and the flames

and your cat under a chair near the fire,

 

and you’re thinking of home and where it may

be as rain begins to drum on the roof

and a wind’s rummaging like a vagabond

and you wonder if perhaps the cat feels this is

his sanctuary and therefore sanctity’s present

too, and that, just possibly, all of that’s true.

 

Brian Turner from Selected Poems

Pasifika Marama QAQA: Avia, Marsh, Mila

Tusiata Avia, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Karlo Mila read poems and conversed with poet Grace Iwashita-Taylor in a session that was part of the Talanoa series curated by Gina Cole. The room was packed to the gills and all those present witnessed something special. Getting Tusiata, Selina and Karlo to each read a poem that spoke to themselves was a genius idea. And then when Grace asked how they navigated their outsider status as Pasifika wahine, the most glorious conversation unfolded. This was a connective circle. This was ‘permission to be ourselves’. As Tusiata quoted from a poem by Karlo: it’s ‘the tapa of connected talk’. Tusiata talked about body shame at the book awards, Karlo about loneliness, everyone talked about the need to be seen and heard, about women’s wisdom, and women holding and shaping their spaces.

Karlo talked about poetry and a healing process: ‘Poetry is a way of allowing me to be me.’ And that comes through so clearly in Selina’s Mophead books that have touched people of all ages, in the extract she reads. She talked about making it niu, about bringing herself to Pasifika ways of being and doing and knowing, and how each touches upon and matters to the other. And then Karlo talked about remembering and forgetting, and ‘how we’ve all travelled through the bodies of so many to be here’. And Tusiata added: ‘My ancestors are trailing in a long line behind me like a wedding dress.’

Ah, and Selina talked about how Alice Walker and other women of colour influenced her, until the words of her grandfather shone through: ‘When you are ready you will see.’ And Karlo said: ‘The more I become myself the more I find myself – it’s a lifetime journey of shedding.’

When we write for deep clarity and to express our greatest truth to ourselves – everything else doesn’t matter’

Karlo Mila

Karlo: ‘Writing poetry is about clarity so I can hold it in my hands, so I can hold nana in my hands.’

An audience member thanked Grace and acknowledged she was also a great poet, and to date only Hawaii has published her work. Not Aotearoa. She made the important point: ‘Some of us can’t be numb to not being published. And we can’t go to university writing programmes.’

Grace acknowledged the three poets ‘as living breathing taonga, us together as a village’. It was a sublime session.

Holding the Tokotoko: Marsh & Eggleton

Curated by Gina Gole, David Eggleton joined Selina Tusitala Marsh – our current Poet Laureate and our previous Poet Laureate – to talk poetry and power, along with his new collection The Wilder Years (OUP). Selina began the session with a poem she had written for David:

Mr Eggleton’s Poetry Edges

Fledgling images wing

across space, time, paging

piles of concatenated anxiety

ridden, smidgen pictures rage on highways

then pile up against red traffic stop signs.

You go go go into rhythmic flow, the bump

and grind of razor edged objects rhyming

in bumper to bumper timing

street-signing their lines on roads,

byways, tracks, lanes and skyways

of Aotearoa.

You are a ton of eagle,

Mr Eggleton,

a feather in Aotearoa’s crown.

You are an egg

in all respects

and we love you

(yep, that’ll do).

Faiakesea’ea

thank you.

Selina Tusitala Marsh

The poem was like a mihi and you could tell David was chuffed at the way Selina riffed on his style. As she later said, David’s poetry ‘is bumper to bumper image and language – and I could listen to you all day’. David suggested he ‘uses the craft of English to find my way into myself’. His first poems might be seen as anti-poems, rants and raps. Now he is getting awards and recognition, he is seeing both his Palangi and Pasifika heritages, that can be in conflict, that can be a source of strength, that can render his poetry multi-faceted, that continue to draw upon ‘rap and chant and traditional rhythms’. You can hear it in ‘The Great Wave’, a poem he wrote after his mother passed in 2016, and he went to Suva to meet up with relatives.

I listen to the ocean chant words from Rotuma.

The Mariposa is a butterfly between islands.

A heatwave, fathoms green, whose light spreads

its coconut oil or ghee or thick candlenut soot,

twinkles like fireflies over plantation gloom,

and heart’s surge is the world’s deep breath.

I learn to love every move the great wave makes;

it coils you into each silken twist of foam,

blown far, all the way to salt-touched Tonga,

with mango pits, wooden baler, shells awash.

My uncle, swimming from New Zealand, wades

out of the sea and wades on shore at Levuka,

where my grandmother is staring out

from her hillside grove of trees waiting for him.

David Eggleton, from ‘The Great Wave’, The Wilder Years: Selected Poems, OUP, 2021

David underlined how important it is to advocate on behalf of other poets to be heard. When he first submitted to poems to Landfall he was rejected so he published his own broadsheets. Selina only got poems accepted when David became editor of Landfall. As Poet Laureate, David hopes to bring poetry to the people (as Selina did), to write poems about New Zealand events, to speak out against injustice (such as Myanmar), to try and maintain a balanced point of view, and to let his poems speak for themselves. To produce critical writing that resists the sneer and the put down. ‘You can use poetry as pure self expression,’ he says, ‘like doodles, to use words and diaphragm to express through mouths’. The power of poetry cannot be underestimated – he wants to be part of a tradition that reaches back to and moves forward from Hone Tuwhare.

This was a riveting session full of laughter and warmth and challenge. Each poet paid tribute to the gifts of the other, listening and applauding in the spirit of the festival. New Zealand is all the better to have the generosity, poetic dexterity and willingness to lay down crucial challenges from these two stellar Poet Laureates.

Humans Being Happy: Kate Camp

Before moving into a discussion with poet Kate Camp, chair Bill Manhire paid a sweetly rhyming tribute to two of our greatest and most beloved poetry patrons, Mary and Peter Biggs (sponsors of this session): ‘Mary and Peter do a huge amount for New Zealand poetry. They not only support it financially, they actually read it. They walk the talk. They’ve never been a failure at onomatopoeia. They step outside their mansion and they really do the scansion. They’re Mary and they’re Peter, and they dig poetic metre!’

The title of the session makes reference to Kate’s How to Be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems (VUP, 2020). It is an excellent collection and deserving of spotlight attention at the festival. Yet, as Bill rightly pointed out, other books that came out in 2020 also missed on launches and/or widespread visibility (such as the terrific selected poems from James Brown and from Bernadette Hall). Kate’s book was joint NZ/ Canadian publication so she missed out on launching it in Canada.

I loved Bill’s introduction to Kate’s poetry: He claimed she had been viewed as ‘the Mae West of New Zealand poetry – deadpan, offhand, laconic, out the side-of-the-mouth aphorisms – but over time more reductive, as she got deepening enlarging, enriching.’ The session included scintillating poetry talk, poems, an extract from the memoir she is writing and the hilarious diary Kate penned at the age of fourteen.

I also loved the anecdote about sending her IIML submission portfolio to Damien Wilkins and discovering he read a couple of them to Bill: ‘Holy shit, I have peaked!’ Yet here we are in a packed room listening to Kate read poems all these years later, and it is an absolute treat. To celebrate Tusiata Avia’s win, she reads ‘Panic Button’, a terrific poem in which Tusiata makes an appearance with her facts on the Bedouin (they scarcely drink water and they bury onions in the desert sand). The middle stanza signals things can go wrong in any human life, and if you thought about everyone breathing in and out at night in the house, ‘you’d just throw up in terror’. Here is the final stanza:

Instead I have this button in my pocket

not like a panic button, just a button

that’s come loose, and it fits

into the curve of my thumb and finger

as I turn it over and over.

I keep it in my pocket

like you keep a pebble in your mouth

in the desert, to make the saliva flow.

Kate Camp, from ‘Panic Button, from How to Be happy Though Human

Kate grew up learning poems off by heart, with that memorisation allowing a completely different appreciation of a poem (I find this when I type out poems for the blog! PG). And when she reads poems out loud she will find the nerve, the trigger point. In writing poetry she wants to remain calm and to be funny, to navigate tension and despair, to keep in control. I love the idea of finding the ‘nerve’ of a poem. Wow!

The memoir sample hooked me: it’s a series of essays that are most definitely not an autobiography. She doesn’t want to hurt people, and if the territory is too tough, she will avoid it – then again, compromising the writing is out, sugarcoating is out!

This was another standout session.

A Clear Dawn

A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand, Auckland University Press, 2021

The first-ever anthology of Asian New Zealand creative writing was launched by editors Paula Morris and Alison Wong, with a selection of readings of poetry and fiction, to a packed room, including a sizable number of the contributors. The specialness of the occasion, in the arrival of this ground-breaking book, was contagious. Auckland University Press have produced a beautiful book to hold in the hand, exquisite interior design, with the writing itself stretching out in multiple directions and styles. As Alison said in her speech, the subject matter might have an overt Asian focus at times but, equally and so importantly, it can traverse and go deep into anything. And I would underline, you can’t pin ‘Asian’ down to single definitions, experiences, opinions, locations as the anthology so brilliantly shows.

You can hear nine of the contributing poets read here – in a feature I posted on Poetry Shelf.

Ngā Oro Hou: The New Vibrations

The programme announced this event: ‘An exceptional evening performance that brings together celebrated writers and taonga puroro practitioners in a lyrical weaving of language and song. Writers Arihia Latham, Anahera Gildea, Becky Manawatu, essa may ranapiri and Tusiata Avia joined poet/musicians Ruby Solly and Ariana Tikao. The session was curated by Ruby as part of her Ora series.

This was the final session I went to at the festival – sadly missing all the events I had circled on the Sunday. But what a sublime way to finish a festival of supreme love and connection, of listening, looking and learning. I didn’t write notes. I did take some photos. I wish I could have recorded the whole event so you too could breathe in the glorious flight of musical notes in harmony with musical word. The words were heart penned. I sat in the front row and breathed in and out, slowly slowly, breathing in edge and curve and pain and aroha and sweet sounds. It was like being in the forest. It was like being in the ocean. It was like being wrapped in soft goosebump blankets of words and music that warmed you, nourished you, challenged you. This is the joy of literary festivals that matter. This warmth, this love, this challenge.

And this was the joy of AWF 2021. I am so grateful to Anne O’Brien and her team for creating a festival that has affected so many writers and readers in the best ways possible. Really rather extraordinary. Thank you.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Warm congratulations to the Ockham NZ Book Awards shortlisted poets

The finalists in the 2021 Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry are:

Funkhaus by Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)

Magnolia 木蘭by Nina Mingya Powles (Seraph Press)

National Anthem by Mohamed Hassan (Dead Bird Books)

The Savage Coloniser Book by Tusiata Avia (Victoria University Press)

Full shortlist and judges’ comments here.

“Poetry collections published in Aotearoa in 2020 show a wealth of exceptional and original work.  It’s an exciting situation for New Zealand poetry. The four shortlisted collections are striking, all exhibiting an acute global consciousness in difficult times,” says Poetry category convenor of judges Dr Briar Wood.

I was so excited about the poetry longlist, I spent the last few months celebrating each poet on the blog. What sublime books – I knew I would have a flood of sad glad feelings this morning (more than on other occasions) because books that I have adored were always going to miss out. I simply adored the longlist. So I am sending a big poetry toast to the six that didn’t make it – your books will have life beyond awards.

I am also sending a big poetry toast to the four finalists: your books have touched me deeply. Each collection comes from the heart, from your personal experience, from your imaginings and your reckonings, from your musical fluencies. The Poetry Shelf reviews are testimony to my profound engagement with your poems and how they have stuck with me.

Over the next weeks I am posting features on the poets: first up, later this morning, Tusiata Avia.

Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM are long-time arts advocates and patrons – particularly of literature, theatre and music. They have funded the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry at Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters since 2006, along with the Alex Scobie Research Prize in Classical Studies, Latin and Greek. They have been consistent supporters of the International Festival of the Arts, the Auckland Writers Festival, Wellington’s Circa Theatre, the New Zealand Arts Foundation, Featherston Booktown, Read NZ Te Pou Muramura (formerly the New Zealand Book Council), the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Featherston Sculpture Trust and the Kokomai Arts Festival in the Wairarapa. Peter was Chair of Creative New Zealand from 1999 to 2006. He led the Cultural Philanthropy Taskforce in 2010 and the New Zealand Professional Orchestra Sector Review in 2012. Peter was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for arts governance and philanthropy in 2013.

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Brilliant longlist of Ockam New Zealand Book Awards just announced

Poetry Shelf has reviewed

The Savage Coloniser Book Tuisata Avia, Victoria University Press

Far Flung Rhian Gallagher Auckland University Press

National Anthem National Anthem, Dead Bird Books

Wow Bill Manhire, Victoria University Press

Pins Natalie Morrison, Victoria University Press (an interview)

This is Your Real Name, Elizabeth Morton, Otago University Press

I Am a Human Being Jackson Nieuwland, Compound Press

Magnolia, NIna Mingya Powles, Seraph Press

CONGRATULATIONS to all the poets. This is the best longlist I have seen in years. I have loved all these books to a sublime degree. I am also delighted to see a mix of university presses and smaller publishers, and those inbetween. I plan to review Hinemoana and Karlo’s books over the coming weeks (Goddess Muscle, Karlo Mila, Huia Press and Funkhaus, Hinemoana Baker, Victoria University Press).

Ockham New Zealand Book Award page

Poetry Shelf: 8 Poets pick favourite 2020 poetry reads

For end-of-year Poetry Shelf wraps, I have usually invited a swag of writers to pick books they have loved. It has always turned into a mammoth reading celebration, mostly of poetry, but with a little of everything else. This year I decided to invite a handful of poets, whose new books I have loved in 2020, to make a few poetry picks.

My review and interview output has been compromised this year. I still have perhaps 20 poetry books published in Aotearoa I have not yet reviewed, and I do hope to write about some of these over summer.

The 8 Poets

Among a number of other terrific poetry reads (Oscar Upperton’s New Transgender Blockbusters for example), here are eight books that struck me deep this year (with my review links). Tusiata Avia’s The Savager Coloniser (VUP) is the kind of book that tears you apart and you feel so utterly glad to have read it. Tusiata has put herself, her rage, experience, memories, loves, prayers, dreads into poems that face racism, terrorism, Covid, inequity, colonialism, being a mother and a daughter, being human. An extraordinary book. Rhian Gallagher’s Far-Flung (AUP) is a sumptuous arrival, a book of exquisite returns that slowly unfold across months. Her poetic craft includes the lyrical, the political, the personal and the contemplative in poems that reflect upon the land, experiences, relationships.

Rata Gordon‘s Second Person (VUP) is fresh, layered and utterly captivating. This is a book of birth, babies, death, the universe, love, motherhood, water, sky, wildlife. It is a book that celebrates the present tense, the way we can inhabit the now of being. Reading Mohamed Hassan’s new collection, National Anthem (Dead Bird Books), opens up what poetry can do. It widens your heart. It makes you feel. It makes you think. It gets you listening. It makes you think about things that matter. Humanity. Family. Soil. Ahh!

Bill Manhire‘s Wow (VUP) will haunt you – so many of these poems have joined my list of memorable poetry encounters. The baby in the title poem says ‘wow’ while the big brother says ‘also’. This new collection sparks both the ‘wow’ moments and the ‘also’ moments. Get lost in its glorious thickets and then find your way out to take stock of the ordinary (and out-of-the-ordinary) world about you. Like Rhian’s collection this is a book of poetry astonishments. Natalie Morrison‘s (VUP) debut collection Pins is exquisite, both melodious and tactile, economical and rich. There is both a quirkiness and a crafted musicality, resonant white space, yet perhaps a key link is that of narrative. I filled with joy as I read this book.

Jackson Nieuwland‘s I am a Human Being (Compound Press), so long in the making, lovingly crafted with the loving support of friends, with both doubt and with grace (think poise, fluency, adroitness), this book, in its lists and its expansions, moves beyond the need for a single self-defining word. I knew within a page or two, this book was a slow-speed read to savour with joy. Nina Powles‘s Magnolia (Seraph Press) is the book I am currently reading. I have long been a fan, from Girls of the Drift to the glorious Luminscent). Nina’s new book is so immensely satisfying as it navigates home and not-home, identity, history, myth, the lives of women – with characteristic nimbleness, heavenly phrasing, open-heart revelations, the senses on alert, the presence of food, multiple languages. Reading bliss!

The poets and their picks

Tusiata Avia

I’m a terrible book buyer. I tend to read books given to me (because I’m cheap like that) and the shopping-bag full of books my cousin, playwright, Victor Rodger, lends to me on the regular. He has the best taste! I should probably be a better reader of New Zealand poetry in particular, but I reckon I’ve got enough things to feel guilty about.

The top three on my list of books I have read this year and love:

 

Funkhaus by Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)

I love the way Hinemoana uses language to make the ethereal and the mysterious. I’m happy to not immediately be able to pin down meaning; her language allows me to be suspended between what it does to me and what it means. Poems like the incantatory Aunties and Mother – which I think of as more ‘rooted’ – make me want to sit down immediately and write a poem. In fact that is exactly what I did do when I read this book. I love a book that makes me write.

An American Sunrise Joy Harjo (WW Norton & Co)

An American Sunrise is Joy Harjo’s most recent book of poetry. Joy is Poet Laureate of the United States. I love everything Joy Harjo has written. And I mean everything. She Had Some Horses (from an early book of the same name) is one of favourite poems of all time. Elise Paschen says of her, “ Joy Harjo is visionary and a truth sayer, and her expansive imagination sweeps time, interpolating history into the present.”. I would add to that she is taulaaitu, mouth-piece for the ancestors, gods and spirits. While you’re reading Joy Harjo’s poetry, read Crazy Brave, her wonderful autobiography. It will stay with you forever.

National Anthem by Mohamed Hassan (Dead Bird Books)

When I was looking for favourite lines in this book, I couldn’t decide, sooo many – like small poems in themselves. Mohamed speaks with an iron fist in a velvet glove. His poetry is elegant and beautiful and it tells the damn truth. Someone needs to tell the damn truth – about March 15, about being Muslim in New Zealand (and in the entire western world), about the things that happen so close to us – and inside us – that are easy (and more comfy) to avert our eyes from.

Some favourite lines from White Supremacy is a song we all know the words to but never sing out loud: ‘Please come and talk on our show tomorrow/ no don’t bring that up/…

‘This isn’t about race/ this is a time for mourning/ this is about us/ isn’t she amazing/ aren’t we all’…

‘Let us hold you and cry/ our grief into your hijabs’…

Who can tell these stories in this way but a good poet with fire in his fingers, love and pain in equal measure in his heart and feet on the battleground?

There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce Morgan Parker (Tin House)

I have to add, There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker to every list I write forever. In my opinion, no reader of poetry should miss this. If it doesn’t grab you by the shoulders, the heart, the brain, the belly – you might be dead. From the epigraph: ‘The president is black/ she black’ (Kendrick Lamar). Morgan Parker is PRESIDENT.

Rhian Gallagher

The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (HarperCollins) edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris features translations of 20th century poets from around the world and is packed with surprises.

Amidst all the books I have enjoyed during 2020, this is the one that I have read and re-read and continue to come back to. It was first published in 2010. I have been slow in coming to the book. 

When a poem in another language is re-cast into English, through the empathy and skill of a translator, it seems to unsettle notions of line, rhythmn, word choice and form. Translation pushes and tugs at the boundaries of the ‘rules’ and introduces a kind of strangeness. This strangeness I experience as an opening; a feeling of potential, slippery as a an eel to articulate. It recalibrates predetermined notions and generates excitement about what a poem can do or be.

There are well-known names here: Cavafy, Lorca, Akhmatova, Ritsos, Milosz, Symborska among others. There are also many poets previously unknown to me, and many whose work is either out of print or difficult to source. It’s a diverse, inspiring array of poetic voices and, as Kaminsky says in the introduction, puts us ‘in conversation with a global poetic tradition’.

Making discoveries is one of the great pleasures of anthologies. I now have a brand new ‘to read’ list.

Rata Gordon

When I’m reading something that inspires me, I have the urge to inhabit it somehow. I find that entering into a creative process by writing with, and around, another’s words helps me to absorb them into my internal landscape. This poem was created with snippets of some of the poetry I have met recently.

Soon, we are night sailing (Hunter, p. 71)

This is the closest you can get to it:

the void, the nothing,

the black lapping mouth of the sea

and the black arching back of the sky. (Hunter, p. 71)

One still maintains a little glimmer of hope

Deep down inside

A tiny light

About the size of a speck

Like a distant star

Is spotted on the horizon this dark night (Boochani, p. 26)

Swish swish swish

as quiet as a fish. (Ranger, p. 13)

… holy women

await you

on the shore –

long having practiced the art

of replacing hearts

with God

and song (Walker, p. 7)

Today you are tumbling towards her like the ocean.

… you are becoming nearer and nearer to someone other

than yourself. (Hawken, p. 49)

I have … imagined my life ending,

or simply evaporating,

by being subsumed into a tribe of blue people. (Nelson, p. 54)

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter (2017, Picador). (Not strictly poetry, but the book feels so much like a long poem to me). Line breaks added by me.

No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani (2020, Picador).

‘Autumn Leaves’ by Laura Ranger. In A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children edited by Paula Green (2014, Random House).

Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker (1975, The Women’s Press).

Small Stories of Devotion by Dinah Hawken (1991, Victoria University Press).

Bluets by Maggie Nelson (2009, Jonathan Cape). Line breaks added by me.

Mohamed Hassan

Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book (Victoria University Press)

A few weeks ago, I sat in the audience at a WORD Christchurch event and watched our former poet laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh read a poem from Tusiata Avia’s new collection. It began as such:

Hey James,

yeah, you

in the white wig

in that big Endeavour

sailing the blue, blue water

like a big arsehole

FUCK YOU, BITCH.

The hall fell pin silent and a heavy fog of discomfort descended from the ceiling, and I sat in the corner brimming with mischievous glee. It was a perfect moment, watching two of the country’s most celebrated poets jointly trash the country’s so-called ‘founder’ in the most spiteful way imaginable. The audience squirmed and squirmed and I grinned and grinned.

This is how Avia’s book begins, and it never lets up. As the title subtly implies with a hammer, Avia has things she wants to say, and doesn’t care how people feel about them. She delights in the spiteful, burrows down into the uncomfortable and the impolite and pulls out nuggets of painful truths with her bare hands. They are all truths that must be said bluntly and Avia drills them home.

In Massacre, Avia reflects on her youth fighting the demons of Christchurch, and asks us if our ‘this is not us’ mantra is divorced from the history carried in the land, haunted instead by the white spirits that rose to claim lives on March 15.

The book crescendos with How to be in a room full of white people, a dizzying poem that traps us in a single moment in time and forces us to witness and squirm and eventually, hopefully, understand what it is like to be the only brown body in a foreign space, in all its literal and metaphorical significance.

This has been my most cherished book this year, bringing together Tusiata Avia’s firecracker wit and her uncanny gift of conjuring worlds that feel vivid in their weight and poignancy. Abandoning all diplomacies, this is a blazing manifesto for honest and confrontational poetry that speaks with an urgency that puts me as a writer to shame, and demands more of me at once.

Bill Manhire

Jenny Lewis, Gilgamesh Retold, (Carcanet)

I love the way poetry re-visions the past, especially the deep past. I’m thinking of books like Matthew Francis’s reworking of the Welsh epic The Mabinogi and Alice Oswald’s Memorial, a book that abandons the main storyline of Homer’s Iliad in favour of narrating the death scenes of minor characters, accompanied by extra helpings of extended simile. I’d always known about the Epic of Gilgamesh, which I have owned for about 40 years in a yellow 1960 Penguin paperback. I’ve hardly opened it, but it’s one of some nine translations of the poem that Jenny Lewis has consulted for Gilgamesh Retold, published by Carcanet some four thousand years after the stories first circulated in oral form. (Her publisher at Carcanet, Michael Schmidt, has himself written a much admired book about the poem’s origins and afterlife)

Locally Dinah Hawken has worked with this ancient material, particularly writing about Inanna, the goddess of beauty and fertility and, sometimes, war, who is one of the major figures in the Gilgamesh cycle. Dinah’s feminist sense of the ancient stories accords with Jenny Lewis’s decision, as the blurb says, to relocate the poem “to its earlier oral roots in a Sumerian society where men and women were more equal, … [where] only women were allowed to brew beer and keep taverns, and women had their own language – emesal.”

It’s as well Inanna has such a significant role in Gilgamesh, for otherwise it would be a tale about male adventuring and bonding (Gilgamesh and Enkidu) and the discovery that even the greatest heroes can never overcome death. The world of Gilgamesh also gives us a Flood, which matches and in some ways outdoes the Old Testament. I love the way Jenny Lewis has retold these stories. She doesn’t try to pad them out to produce the sorts of coherence and pacing that contemporary readers and movie-goers find comfortable, while her phrasings have an unreductive clarity and a genuinely lyrical grace. The most audacious thing she has done, and has carried off brilliantly, is to use different metrical forms to reflect the ways in which a range of different custodians/retellers have voiced and revoiced the story. You admire the 21st-century poet’s craft even as she inducts you into a baffling and unfamiliar world. All stories, Gilgamesh Retold tells us, are made by many voices, and the best of them will journey on through many more.

And now I must try and summon up the courage to give the latest version of  Beowulf a go!

Natalie Morrison

Gregory Kan, Under Glass (Auckland University Press)

My esteemed colleague, with one hand around his Friday swill-bottle: ‘I hate poetry – no one cares, no one reads it anymore.’

Gregory Kan, with two suns infiltrating the long ride on the train
to Paekākāriki, illustrates otherwise: Under Glass lulls like a really disquieting guided meditation.

After lockdown, it is the first book I read outside our ‘bubble’.
Threading through an internal landscape, somehow a place I recognise.
‘Here, there are two suns. The ordinary sun is in the sky overhead. The other sun
is eating its way out from inside me.’

Certain lines, with their mystical insistence, snag on me and come back again from time to time:
‘Everything that surrounds the second sun is not part of it but nonetheless makes it what it is.’
It’s as if some lines have been dreaming of themselves. The book invites a gentle inspection. A glass bead held right up against the eye. A shutter flipped open over a stark interior.

‘When you move
a look moves inside me
and eats there what I eat.’

Once, a kind individual in Paekākāriki, their hands busy with a teapot, told me: ‘Those who know what it is,
fall on it like starving people.’

When Litcrawl comes, we make our way to some of the events. The room has sucked a crowd in.
Spells for 2020, with Rebecca Hawkes, Rata Gordon, Stacey Teague, Arihia Latham, Rachel McAlpine and Miriama Gemmell (thank you for your entrancing words), reminds me of how poetry is still something people might come in search of. Visitations of bees, airline heights and morphing walls. There is a sense of relief.

A crowd still feels like a dream, and a dream still feels like the sea. Gregory writes that ‘the sea is a house made of anything. The sea is a story about anything, told by someone unfit for storytelling. More than what I can know, and much more than I can understand.’

Under Glass, which wasn’t exactly written for this year (no ordinary year), seems to slot into it.

My steamed colleague, with one hand steadying the banister: ‘I guess Bob Dylan is okay, though.’

Note: I asked my colleague’s permission for quoting him. He said he was fine with it, as long as a mob of angry poets didn’t come knocking.

Jackson Nieuwland

2020 was the year we finally got a book from Hana Pera Aoake (A bathful of kawakawa and hot water Compound Press). I had been waiting for this for so so long. It’s a taonga that I am incredibly grateful for. Ever since I first read Hana’s work they have been one of my favourite writers. Their writing is both clever and wise, of the moment and timeless, pop culture and fine art, Aotearoa and international.

This is a book I will be returning to over and over again for inspiration, electrification, nourishment, and comfort. I would recommend it to anyone.

Other poetry books I read and loved this year: Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, The Book of Frank by CA Conrad, hoki mai by Stacey Teague, Hello by Crispin Best, and Head Girl by Freya Daly Sadgrove.

Nina Mingya Powles

For most of this year I could only read things in fragments. I could only hold on to small parts of poems, essays, short stories in my head before they floated away. This year I sought out poetry by Indigenous writers. Of these two books, the first I read slowly, dipping in and out like testing the surface of cool water. The other I read hungrily all at once.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Graywold Press) reminded me why I write poetry, at a time when writing anything at all felt impossible. Diaz’s heavy, melodic love poems circled around my head for days: “My lover comes to me like darkfall – long, / and through my open window.” But it is her writing about water and the body that changed me. In this book, water is always in motion, a current that passes through time, memory and history. Her long poem “The First Water of the Body” is a history of the Colorado River, a sacred river: “I mean river as a verb. A happening. It is moving with me right now.”

A bathful of kawakawa and hot water by Hana Pera Aoake (Compound Press) came to me when I needed it most, nourishing me and warming me. I haven’t yet held a copy of the book, but I read it on my laptop over two days and have carried parts of it around in my body ever since: “I speak broken French and Português into the broken yellow gloaming.” A bathful of kawakawa and hot water is a searing, lyrical work of poetry, memoir, and political and cultural commentary. Like the title suggests, it was a balm for me, but also a reminder of the ongoing fight for our collective dream of a better world, and most importantly, that “racism is not just a product of psychological malice, but a product of capitalism.”

Poetry Shelf review: Mohamed Hassan’s National anthem

Mohamed Hassan, National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020

the songs I breathe to

make my bones ache

smell like mama’s deep

fried cauliflower after

a long day of diaspora

 

from ‘John Lennon’

Reading Mohamed Hassan’s new collection, National Anthem, opens up what poetry can do. It widens your heart. It makes you feel. It makes you think. It gets you listening. It makes you think about things that matter. Humanity. Family. Soil.

It makes me yearn for a world where divisions and privileges – based on where you come from, the colour of your skin and the language you speak – are no longer active.

The poetry I have loved this year keeps returning to the word listen. For all kinds of reasons. The way poetry is music, the way poems active with sound feed your ear. The way you listen to other voices that are distinctive and are vital chimes on human experience. I need to read these poems. I need to read these poems and listen to how tough it is when people insist on sideswiping those who do not match their own reflection and choices.

Mohamed’s poetry, amongst other things, is written in soil, with all its significance – this living breathing life-essential earth that nourishes us, hearts, minds, bodies, connections. Soil, as a living entity is so contested and so unbearably damaged by greed and ignorance. It defines where we stand and where we have stood. Mohamed writes from the soil he has left behind in Egypt and the soil of his second home Aotearoa, the soil of his travels. The ink soil in his pen carries the earth of dreams, experiences, kinship, wounds, connections. Islamophobia. Revelations. Griefs. Hopes.  

Such acutely personal poetry is sometimes filtered through other characters, whether speaking of racism, isolation, separation, love:

I am a poet who writes about my feelings but can’t open up without being in character

without the stage lights and the orange diffusers softening my face for the audience 

from ‘Grief is an expensive habit’

 

 

Family is important. The poems never lose sight or contact with family. The grandfather looms large in particular dreams and memories. He is in a humiliating childhood scene, but he is also loss:

you can’t discard a loss the way you can

a birthday gift or a broken laptop

 

it lives with you, sleeps in the spare room

by the laundry and occasionally eats your food

 

I want to never lose my parents

but find a loss like that in someone

 

a love that sears into your lungs and lingers

if you draw the short straw and not die first

 

 

from ‘Bury me’

The grandmother is equally important. She is there in ‘When they ask you / why you speak so well for an immigrant’, a poem that reacts to the title’s misguided and recurring compliment:

Tell them

about your grandmother’s laugh

how you never quite knew whether she was story or myth

the upper lip in your conviction

or a song ringing in your bones

drifting through the kitchen window

with the fried shrimp and newspaper voodoo dolls

National anthem layers experience, and that layered experience opens up what immigrants deal with. This cannot be underestimated. This daily erosion. The intricate and extraordinary poem, ‘Life at a distance’, recounts the family’s move to Aotearoa, the mother yearning for home, bearing the racial slurs, crying bathroom tears. Twenty years later, the educated, assimilated and beloved son moves to Istanbul with his ‘kiwiness’.

migration is its own form

of social isolation

 

an ocean that sits between you

and everyone else

This is the kind of poem that burrows in deep with its complications and toughness, its epiphanies and its wisdoms. I want to hear it read aloud. To hear it sung in the air. This is a son’s story and a mother’s story, a braid of realisations: ‘and you realise she is wading through / her own migration, that like her / you are a dandelion flung in the wind’. One verse depicts the mother still watching Egyptian soap operas and skyping the grandmother, but doing things and being in a country she no longer wants to leave. ‘Home’ has doubled back on itself.

she tells me she is praying

I come home

 

and home

by any other name

 

is a quarantine

you have chosen

 

is a field of dandelions

flung together

 

learning to grow

In fact this is the kind of book that burrows in deep with its deft and moving exposures. The poetry is the hand on the heart, the hand never leaving the heart, especially after the individual, societal and cultural wounds of the mosque attacks, and the cumulative stories of grief, disharmony, anxiety, uncertainty, ignorance. The personal stories. The politics. Mohamed names the terrorist because he wants the repeated name to fade to oblivion. Jacinda refuses to name the terrorist because she too wants to demolish any shard of power or presence. Mohamed is using words, shaping poems, intensely personal, searingly political, to dissipate a name and move towards healing a community.

we will say your name

until you you are no more real

until your oblivion fades

 

and we will have sprouted

daffodils from our pain

a forest from our eyes

a mountain

a most beautiful way to heal

 

and who will worship you then?

 

from ‘The Prime Minister will not say his name but I will’

The poems hold out hope, time and time again, in an image or a phrase, in a word such as daffodils, in the idea that arms opening wide will embrace the whole person not just what they choose, in the dissatisfaction of arm’s length, in ‘the five stages of peace’. I keep wanting to share a poem with you, to sit down with you in café and say read this, feel this, ponder this, be changed, open your arms wide and greet the whole person, the poem. I am a privileged white woman with a warm home and food in the fridge, a loving family, a long history of publication, a tertiary education, a history of travel, a place to call home. But I need to listen harder. When will these global hierarchies and inequities end?

Mohamed brings us back to a person holding a pen fuelled with ink and soil and memory and challenge. He puts himself on show (albeit in character at times) no matter the pain. Here he is at the airport, at customs where some people sail through invisibly, while some people are interrogated because of name or colour. It is the poem’s ending that gets me, that keeps reminding me – in this catastrophic year of pandemic, overstretched frontline staff, hate crimes, wars, conspiracy theories, poverty, insufferable greed, and sexual and domestic abuse – every name and statistic is a real person. A real person with story.

This ending. This poem. Buy the book and read the poem:

listen

let’s take things slow

I want this, I do

but let’s build a relationship

on more than just racial profiling

 

I want you to know the real me

 

can’t you that I

well …

 

I’m just a boy

standing in front of a boy

asking him

 

 

to let me in

 

 

from ‘Customs: a love story’

The title poem, ‘National anthem’ is also a beauty, a poem of pledges that include good coffee, voices in unison, the grandmother’s laugh, zero flags and borders. The final stanza, the final lines in the collection are the kind of lines that will keep you going over corrugated roads and spiky living, that will keep you going whatever your story, whatever your challenges, and pain and love and prospects of death or hope. I am so hoping that Mohamed gets to read at Aotearoa festivals next year, not just five minutes in a poetry line up, but in a whole session where we can hear his words sing and shine and cut and hold out arms and offer such exquisite and necessary hope.

to those who would plot to sow me love

to bake me warmth and never break my art

to rob my eyes for safe keeping

to drown me in unconditional trust

 

to build with me

a new sun

 

I pledge myself

 

to you

 

from ‘National anthem’

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer who has lived in Egypt, Aotearoa and Turkey. Hewas the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally.

Dead Bird Books page

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Mohamed Hassan’s ‘Heaven is a window you can climb through’

Heaven is a window you can climb through

From the top of the sky-

tower we watch lovers

uncouple against

the sunset, red and screaming

light across faces of buildings

unbent by time, everyone belts

romance and the band plays over-

produced pop songs, a girl weeps

in disbelief, a boyfriend begs her

to calm down, two strangers long

for each other’s bones, a boy made

of scruff dances for every lost

night of wild, his heart unnerved, a hurt

like a heaven on his chest, we eat burgers

by the wharf, I make conversation

with people I’d rather not, practice my best

fake smile, the train smells like the morning

after, the earth is a flat plane, an endless reel

spinning on a loop, what if I never leave?

Mohamed Hassan

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and poet from Auckland and Cairo. He was the 2015 National Poetry Slam Champion, a TEDx fellow, and represented NZ at the Individual World Poetry Slam in 2016. In 2017 he was awarded the Gold Trophy at the New York Radio Awards for his RNZ podcast series ‘Public Enemy’. His new collection of poems ‘National Anthem’ will be released in October by Dead Bird Books, and is available for pre-order.

My SST review of the refreshed Poetry NZ Yearbook

Book review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross

Dr Jack Ross.

Supplied

Dr Jack Ross.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017

edited by Dr Jack Ross

Massey University Press, $35

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 
edited by  Dr Jack Ross

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross

Wellington poet Louis Johnson established the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook in 1951. It has just received a well-deserved makeover by Massey University Press. The new design is eye-catching, the writing has room to breathe and the content is eclectic. With Victoria and Otago University Presses publishing Sport and Landfall, it is good to see a literary magazine finding a home in Auckland. It is the only magazine that devotes sole attention to poetry and poetics, with an abundant measure of poems, reviews and essays.

Editor Dr Jack Ross aims to spotlight emerging and established poets and include “sound, well-considered reviews”. There are just under 100 poets in the issue, including Nick Ascroft, Riemke Ensing, Elizabeth Smither, Anna Jackson, Michele Leggott and Kiri Piahana-Wong. When I pick up a poetry journal, I am after the surprise of a fresh voice, the taste of new work by a well-loved poet, the revelatory contours of poetry that both behaves and misbehaves when it comes to questionable rule books. The annual delivers such treats.

A welcome find for me is the featured poet: Elizabeth Morton. Morton’s debut collection will be out this year with Makaro Press, so this sampler is perfect with its lush detail, lilting lines and surreal edges. My favourite poem, Celestial Bodies is by Rata Gordon (‘When you put Saturn in the bath/ it floats./ It’s true.’). Fingers-crossed we get to see a debut collection soon.

Mohamed Hassan’s breath-catching poem, the cyst, is another favourite: “In the small of my back/ at the edge of where my fingertips reach/ when I stretch them over my shoulder/ it is a dream of one day going home for good.”

You also get the sweet economy of Alice Hooton and Richard Jordan; the shifted hues of Jackson and Leggott (‘She is my rebel soul, my other self, the one who draws me out and folds me away’); the humour of Smither.

To have three essays – provocative and fascinating in equal degrees – by Janet Charman, Lisa Samuels and Bryan Walpert is a bonus.

Ross makes great claims for the generous review section suggesting “shouting from the rooftops doesn’t really work in the long-term”. A good poetry review opens a book for the reader as opposed to snapping it shut through the critic’s prejudices. However on several occasions I felt irritated by the male reviewers filtering poetry by women through conservative and reductive notions of what the poems are doing.

Ross’ review of Cilla McQueen’s memoir In a Slant Light highlighted a book that puzzled him to the point he did not not know exactly what she wanted “to share”. In contrast I found a poignant book, ripe with possibility and the portrait of a woman poet emerging from the shadows of men.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, in its revitalised form, and as a hub for poetry conversations, is now an essential destination for poetry fans. Not all the poems held my attention, but the delights are myriad.

 – Stuff