1. Anna Smaill’s long interview with Bill Manhire. The advantages of slow-paced email interviews are evident as Anna and Bill explore the personal, ventriloquism, creative writing programmes, reading poetry, writing poetry, weirdness, holding back, trauma, God, mystery, parents, memory, drinking jugs of beer with Hone Tuwhare through the night. Life and poetry still maintain the requisite cloudy patches, private life and inner life are signposted but not made specific. This is a cracking interview – it refreshes my engagements with Bill’s poems, and writing and reading poetry in general.
2. Oscar Upperton’s poem ‘Yellow House’ because it has bright detail in the present tense and I am in the scene reading on a glorious loop.
The stream crosses the bridge. Pūkeko flicker
from blue to white, bikes rust into each other.
We rust at table.
(and the fact this poem is followed by ‘Explaining yellow house’ where Pip Adam gets a mention)
3. Sarah Barnett’s long poem essay ‘One last thing before I go’. Wow. This piece of writing is one of my treasures of the year because it goes deep into tough dark experience. It is measured and probing and hits you in the gut. Yet the fact of it on the page in front of me, so crafted and exposed, is uplifting.
4. Jane Arthur’s poem ‘I’m home a lot’ because it’s strange and real and unsettling.
This one sounds loudest against the front windows
and this one across the roof, nearly lifting it,
in an angry violent way. not like a bird taking off.
And even the birds here are massive and prehistoric.
Silence is rare. It’s eerie when it happens. Our dreams are mute.
5. Morgan Bach’s poem ‘carousel’ because when you read this your breathing changes and you enter a glorious mysterious complicated experience in the present tense.
but now having swallowed full moons,
coupled with mirrors of reticence, I find
life is not an experiment like that
and soon the body gives up its hunt
how soon the body becomes a cliff
how soon the body becomes a full stop
6. Discovering new-to-me poet Nikki-Lee Birdsey – she has a collection out with VUP next year and is currently an IIML PhD candidate. Her first-person storytelling in the form of a poem gripped me from the first lines.
7. essa may ranapiri’s selections because I find myself picturing them performing the poems and then I take supreme delight in the detail on the page.
8. Lynley Edmeades’s “We’ve All Got to Be Somewhere’ because it left a wry grin on my face. Poetry can do that.
9. Emma Neale’s ‘Unlove’ because this poem sings so beautifully.
My friend whose mind has frozen
sends me small gifts she says to keep her sane —
a cornflower-blue watch;
a box carved of light with a green latch;
a pink soapstone egg she says will one day hatch
a small, exquisite monster, its teeth sharp as love.
10. Rata Gordon’s poem ‘Mango’ because the writing is spare but it makes you feel so many different things.
This is all you have
to look forward to
your heartbeat and a
everything else has dissolved:
Holly Hunter has edited the latest issue of Mimicry. She has drawn together an eclectic package of art and writing that will place your finger on the pulse of emerging (well mostly!) voices. The magazine is devoted to poetry, fiction, nonfiction, comedy, music, art, photography and design. It is slim but is abundant in reading currents.
You even get a mix tape at bandcamp to listen to as you read.
Often when I pick up a poetry journal I gravitate to the familiar poets whose work I already love – like a music hook. I will share my initial hooks with the rain thundering down outside. In this case Morgan Bach because I haven’t read anything from her for awhile and I just loved her debut book, Some of Us Eat the Seeds. Her two poems here are honed out of cloud and snow and blood because they are light and airy and serious.
Looking for balance to the red interiors
in a calm sea of grasses, the dull love
of dust on a hillside, the caress of each
muscle as it contracts and expands
to pull me to a summit. That place
I would reuse to leave if I could,
but the hours have me by the ankles.
After hearing Emer Lyons read in Wellington last year, I jump to her poems in an instant. She is nimble on the page and in the ear, and tacks in fresh directions that retune me as poetry reader.
i talk too much at parties
every bee i see is dead or dying
people set fire to the sky
set the dogs howling
record themselves singing the same thing
(and The Fish goes
A A X B B X
1 3 8 1 6 8)
Chris Tse’s latest book, HE’S SO MASC, is a sublime read. I love this book because it risks and it opens. The poem here is ultra witty but dead serious.
20. It’s the way we step out of a burning theatre as if nothing’s wrong.
21. As if the smoke in our eyes is a lover’s smile caught in sunlight.
22. An uncontrollable fire is perfectly fine, given the state of the world.
23. Then why do I feel so angry?
24. Are you angry?
25. I’m angry.
from ‘Why Hollywood won’t cast poets in films anymore’
Essa Ranapiri was a highlight for me at Wellington Readers and Writers week this year. Their poem, ‘her*’, catches the way they make words ache and arc and slip between your ribs. You need to read the whole thing. To quote a glimpse is barely fair (two lines out of thirteen).
i left him wrapped in curtains
to stall the acid action of my stomach
I have only just discovered Rebecca Hawkes on The Starling. She is so good. The poem here is a linguistic explosion on the page: like an intricate and lush brocade that amasses shuddering detail and smatters expectation. You want to spend the weekend with this poem. (I want to hear her read so will be posting an audio clip of a Starling poem soon)
I ask their name and they make an unpronounceable sound / like the
curdling clink of cooling obsidian / so I call them the ultimate war machine
/ they hurl rocks into my enemies and when they beat the earth with their
fists / I feel the world quake under me / this is how I know I have fallen in
love / but also onto the ground
We are served well with fresh young literary journals at the moment (literary doesn’t seem to catch what they do). They keep you in touch with poets that continue growing on you but also take you into new zones of reading, with unfamiliar voices making themselves felt. Indelibly! I have just read Sophie van Waardenberg’s three poems and they touch me, make me want to write with their viscosity and tang.
my girl becomes a calendar and I curl up inside her
my girl becomes a tongue twister and I curl up inside her
my girl lets the spring in through her hands
she puts her hands over my ears and I remember how it feels
Cheers to a well-stocked journal to keep you going through wet wintry days. I am saving the rest of the journal for the next wild weekend. First up Louise Wallace (author of much loved Bad Things), Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor (the winner of the Landfall Young Writers Competition 2018) and Rachel O’Neill (who was recently awarded a NZ Writers Guild Puni Taatuhi o Aotearoa Seed grant to develop her screenplay).
The pleasure of good writing journals is that keep you in touch with what you know and catapult you into the unfamiliar where you accumulate new must-reads. Mimicry does exactly that.
See Mimicry on Facebook
‘Teach me how to forget the colours of the city as we saw them, just as we left them, bright and full of drowning.’
Nina Powles, from ‘What it tastes like’
Sweet Mammalian Issue 4 is out now and it is a terrific read (almost finished!).
The magazine is edited by Hannah Mettner, Magnolia Wilson and Morgan Bach – three poets whose work I admire. Here is their goal:
‘We are all sweet mammalians.
This publication comes out of a wish to see more good, new writing out in the world. Our aim is to provide a fresh space for poetry that comes out of the complex, the absurd, the warm-blooded. Our aim is to provide a space for all kinds of writing.’
I got goosebumps reading these poems and I kept reading when I should have been doing other stuff. It felt like I entered a magical music palace where, whichever way I turned my ear, I would hear a different melody- heavenly or sharp. Plus there’s lots of colour!
Clare Jones muses beneath the surface of exquisite detail.
Manon Revuelta, lyrically adroit, employs colour hinges and fertile juxtapositions.
Elizabeth Welsh delivers a lyrical echo chamber, again vibrant with colour, with intense realism giving way to strangeness.
Rata Gordon delivers a surprising narrative coil. I want to read her first collection!
There is the acidic bite of Freya Daly Sadgrove that moves you by surprise.
Tayi Tibble catches a nostalgic light to the point her poem glows.
Nina Powles‘ evocation of memory, in its tilts and slips, is infectious.
There is sheer beauty when you read Chris Stewart.
Louise Wallace dedicates her poem to Rachel Bush, and I am hooked on the way expectation tricks, the way you can hear a hydrangea voice and the way a duet might stumble at the bridge.
Anna Jackson produces sunlight and dark, the easily viewed and the hard to see, yet there is a melodic lift.
You can read the latest issue here.
Book Award lists should promote debate. Ideas and issues should be raised. As long as judges and authors don’t come under personal attack. It is a time of celebration, let’s not forget that, but it is also a time when diverse opinions may draw attention to our healthy landscape of books.
I have just started writing a big book on poetry by New Zealand women. I have carried this project with me for a long time, and it something I care about very much indeed. It is a book I am writing with a great sense of liberation and an equal dose of love.
I bring many questions to my writing.
The shortlist for poetry and fiction in the Ockham NZ Book Awards includes 0ne woman (Patricia Grace) and seven men. There are no women poets.
This is simply a matter of choice on the part of the judges and I do not wish to undermine the quality of the books they have selected. However, in my view, it casts a disconcerting light upon what women have been producing in the past year or so.
Women produced astonishing books in 2015. I reviewed their poetry books on this blog and praised the diligent craft, the exquisite music, the sumptuous detail, the complexities that challenge and the simplicity that soothes. I have lauded books by women that have moved me like no other, and that have contributed much to the possibilities of what a poem might do.
I am gobsmacked that not a single one made it to the shortlist.
Men have written extraordinary poetry in the past year, but so too have women.
Today is International Women’s Day. In celebration of this, here is a selection of poetry and fiction I have loved in the past year and would have been happy to award.
This list is partial. Please add to it. Some of these women are my friends, so yes there is unconscious bias. Some of these women I would recognise in the street, some I would not.
Eleven Poetry Books by women to adore
(I have reviewed all these to some degree on Poetry Shelf or interviewed the poets)
Emma Neale Tender Machines This is a domestic book that is utterly complex. Yet it moves beyond home to become a book of the world. The music is divine. I am utterly moved. The Poetry Shelf trophy is yours Emma.
Joan Fleming Failed Love Stories Poetry that dazzles and shifts me. This book is on replay!
Holly Painter Excerpts from a Natural History Startling debut that blew me out the window and made me want to write
Sarah Jane Barnett Work Poetry that takes risks and is unafraid of ideas. Adored this.
Johanna Aitchison Miss Dust Spare, strange, surprising, wonderful to read.
Anna Jackson I, Clodia and Other Portraits The voice gets under my skin no matter how many times I read it. So much to say about it.
Jennifer Compton My Clean & The Junkie This narrative satisfies on so many levels.
Airini Beautrais Dear Neil Roberts Risk taking at the level of politics and the personal.
Morgan Bach Some of Us Eat the Seeds Beauty of the cover matches the surprise and beauty of the poetry within.
Hinemoana Baker waha/ mouth This poetry lit a fire in my head not sure which year it fits though. But wow!
Diane Brown Taking My Mother to the Opera This is poetry making pin pricks as it moves and gets you chewing back through your own circumstances.
…. and this is just a start. Ha! Serie Barford with her gorgeous mix of poetry and prose.
Yep I am going over board here just to show you that women have footed it with the best of the men. Whichever year you look at, a different set of judges would come up with a different mix of books. Yes let’s celebrate that worthy shortlist but let’s also remember that canon shaping only revels in and reveals part of the story.
Fiction (I haven’t read so widely here and have a wee stack to get too – Laurence Fearnley and Charlotte Grimshaw here I come!)
Anna Smaill The Chimes This book – plot character, setting, premise, events – still sticks to me. The sentences are exquisite. Some books you lose in brain mist. Not this one.
Sue Orr The Party Line I see this book becoming a NZ classic – a novel of the back blocks. The characters are what move you so profoundly. So perfectly crafted.
Some of my most intense local poetry reading experiences this year have been as a literary editor, working my way through hundreds of poems and finding something wonderful in many of them, and then cherry-picking from these for Landfall 229 and Landfall 230; but beyond that the stack of new slim volumes looms, and I’ve elected to mention four poetry collections I enjoyed musing over.
‘No, not Bali or Samarkand. Take/ me down to the Dominion Road . . .’ Peter Bland commands in his collection Expecting Miracles (Steele Roberts), drawing you in immediately with his canon-echoing rhythms and decluttered simplicity. His poems have a casual, conversational tone that belies their craft, bolstered by an oldster’s genial humour and air of wry bemusement at the oddity of the quotidian: he’s a metropolitan in a provincial culture.
Gregory O’Brien‘s Whale Years (Auckland University Press) navigates its way around the South Pacific as if following the drift of ocean currents. In this collection, he’s a beachcomber pointing to curious flotsam and jetsam. His poems are mantras, notations, journal jottings, gatherings-together of cadenced imagery, and compelling in the way they combine astrological zodiacs, weather balloons, shipwrecks, islands. Collectively, the sense is of a star-trek odyssey, recapitulating ecological markers of the anthropocene era, Notably, too, the exoticism of travel helps generate a semi-arcane vocabulary, serving to align his verses with the baroque wing of New Zealand poetry: there where Kendrick Smithyman sculls in the sunset.
I was also very taken by the skewed reminiscences in Morgan Bach‘s first collection Some of us eat the seeds (Victoria University Press). Spiky, terse, yet also lyrical and tonally subtle, they recount a sense of adolescent awkwardness and estrangement, almost as if at times she’s ogling the outside world and its emotional coldness from her own private igloo, growing up in small town provincial New Zealand and longing to be elsewhere. But if she offers a return to childhood as a rejection of the sugar puff Disneyland of a commodified Nineties environment, she does this by crafting a version of Banksy’s subversive Dismaland: ironic, comic, sharply observant about the advertised ‘great expectations’ we have been led to expect from the product called ‘Life’.
Her poetic intuitions result in a cleverly-written-up sequence of what might be termed out-of-body experiences: the feeling of towering over shuffling Japanese passers-by in Tokyo; watching her screen-actor father die successively in movie after movie; and then ultimately a kind of ecstatic insight that turns her collection full circle: ‘the way you felt swimming/ in the rain that hammered/ when you put your head above water to see/ lightning flash in the pitch of the sky’ (‘The swimming pool’).
Frankie McMillan‘s There are no horses in heaven (Canterbury University Press) contains a multitude of poems rife with the storyteller’s art, proving her a kind of fabulist, distilling states of enchantment and sometimes states of disenchantment into a few lines ever so lightly and delicately, so that her shortish poems seem to musically chime with one another. And it’s as if you can carry them with you wherever you go. As she puts it: ‘What I want to say is something small/ enough to hold within the crook of my arm/ and that is not the half of it’.
And then there’s her poem ‘Observing the ankles of a stranger’, about a tourist being startled out of her wits when Ruaumoko’s seismic fists of fury pummeled central Christchurch almost into the ground on February 22nd, 2011. Here enchantment— or metamorphosis — takes the form of feeling lost in a familiar habitat as the dust settles. We need more such terrific poems.
WRITERS ON MONDAYS
Beach, Bach and Beyond: Three Poets
Come and hear the latest in poetry, in a reading and discussion chaired by poet Cliff Fell. David Beach’s fourth collection, Jerusalem Sonnets, Love, Wellington Zoo, tackles, amongst other things, the inescapable presence of James K. Baxter for nay sonnet writer. Morgan Bach’s debut, Some of Us Eat the Seeds, welcomes a refreshing new voice that is in turns witty and sharp-edged. The international publication of Otherwise, John Dennison’s first collection, heralds a new, vivid and sensual voice in the New Zealand (and UK) poetry scene.
DATE: Monday 20 July
VENUE: Te Papa Marae, Level 4, Te Papa
(please note that no food may be taken onto the Te Papa Marae)
Writers on Mondays is presented with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, National Poetry Day and Circa Theatre.