Throw Net | Upena Ho’olei, David Eggleton, artwork by Tonu Shane Eggleton, National Library / Fernbank Studios, 2021
I’m mesmerised by the sunshine’s sheen, and every minute particular feels mine.
The sea disgorges its catalogue of shells on the white page of sand for no-one.
On my hotel bed, I dream and sail.
from ‘Tourist Island’
Our current Poet Laureate, David Eggleton, has published a handset, hand-bound collection of poetry with artwork (woodblock prints) by his brother Tonu Shane Eggleton. Brendan O’Brien, beautiful-book craftsman extraordinaire, has produced an edition of 100 at his Fernbank Studios. The book is exquisite. I run my hand over the rough edged paper (Kerkall, plus Stonehenge for the covers). It is book joy. Holding this book. Holding this beauty. The artwork is an evocative sheen on the page.
The National Library, which has administered the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award since 2007, published the book. The award was established by Bill Manhire and winemaker John Buck as the Te Mata Poet Laureate Award n 1996. Throw Net | Upena Ho’olei is fittingly dedicated to John.
In 2018 David spent three months at the University of Hawai’i’s Moana Campus, as the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer Resident. The poems began in notebooks while he was there, and were completed upon his return.
Throw Net | Upena Ho’olei, with nine poems and a scattering of artworks, is the perfect place to sojourn.
This is poetry that celebrates the moment. It feels like the poet is inhabiting a particular place, at a particular time, and slowly breathes in the experience. The poem establishes a heightened relationship with place, a translation of experience within measure poetic form. The treasured details offer sound and visual explosions to the point I am imbibing a poetry feast, a delectable banquet. I am unashamedly drawn to food metaphors because poetry is a form of nourishment on the tongue, in the heart, in the lungs. This is poetry that is so very nourishing.
There is quietness, there is melody, there are shifting keys and multiple forms. I am breathing in salt and ocean, and undulating voyage. I am lingering over vignette and anecdote. In this time of limited travel and strict local borders, poetry is a travel plan, an itinerary of respite and joy. You might swim with turtles and hear the church bells ring out. There is ‘the chop of waves’ and ‘ukelele strums’. Expect mountains and lava and sun, much much sun. I am feeling skin glazed as I spend a whole Saturday drifting in and out of these poems. Pleasure crafts. Such honeyed vessels.
I love this lovingly crafted chapbook. Such economy, such fluidity, such reach. I dream and I set sail.
The snores of a sleeper on a beach towel recite genealogy under volcano’s glow. A sunken raft of manta rays stirs after dark.
Hands hula-hula, shaping sandwiches into islands; mechanically, a shark takes a bite out of the moonlight.
Someone slings a hammock between trees. Each wave is a line; each line is breaking; and even the mountains are setting sail.
David Eggleton at Matahiwi Marae (photo Lynette Shum)
Last weekend David Eggleton celebrated his New Zealand Poet Laureateship at Matahiwi marae accompanied by Charles Ropitini, whanau, friends, National Library staff (including the Library’s empathetic Laureate champion Peter Ireland) and poets (Jenny Powell, Kay McKenzie Cooke and Michael O’Leary). David was presented his tokotoko carved by Haumoana carver Jacob Scott. On the Saturday evening Marty Smith hosted Poets Night Out at the Hasting Events and Arts Centre, Toitoi.
The National Library also announced that due to the restrictions Covid has placed upon David’s Poet Laureate plans his term would be extended for another year. David has gifted Aotearoa a richness of poetry in printed form, but his appearances as a performance poet are legendary, inspirational, charismatic. He is appearing at the Christchurch Word Festival late October and will now be able to bring his poetry to the people over the next two years, as was his aim. Wonderful!
Two of David’s guest poets – Kay McKenzie Cooke and Jenny Powell – share their experience of this special weekend.
Jenny Powell and Kay McKenzie Cooke
David’s tokotoko is called Te Kore, meaning ‘the void’. The dark maire has a natural hole near the upper end. When he received it his body straightened, as if a spiritual and physical source of creativity became one.
Like the tangata whenua of Matahiwi marae, the tokotoko radiates what is needed. I held it on the way to the evening poetry reading in Hastings and again on the way home. Did it matter? Yes.
The void. The beginning, the creation, the end. Here it was, playing out in a bend of time and words. In the before of my ton weight suitcase, organisational order, waiata to practise, transport logistics, food and food. In the then. Matahiwi marae in its glory of green bounty, Māui hooking us into his welcome, kuia hooking us into love. River flow of oratory, Poems of the south, of love, of colour, of rapid fire Eggleton resonance and the moon beaming in story and song.
In the leaving, small children bound on fields, frail elders offer blessings, words spiral, tears flower. In the meeting house, enduring peace of the deep void.
Matahiwi marae (photo Katrina Hatherly)
After Being Introduced
Naturally, there are many other memories but maybe I particularly remember David’s grin, Fieke’s calmness, Jenny’s silver boots, Peter’s careful attention, the humour and innate sense of arrangement from the National library trio (Joan, Lynette and Katrina) and Michael’s Fleetwood Mac black hat and white t-shirt emblazoned with the words: A Hard Day’s Night.
Michael, Jenny and I practice our waiata for David. E Tu Kahikatea. We sing it out in a patch of sun cut to the shape of a motel’s open door. We are kind of happy with how it sounds. Jenny’s top notes, my more middling muddle, Michael’s lower notes verging on bass, all blending to invoke a tree standing braced for whatever will come at it, bolstered by those who stand close to protect and the togetherness of all this conjured up in the final lines.
Our first chance to meet the National Library trio: Lynette, Joan and Katrina, is at tonight’s dinner. They exude friendliness, kindness, humour, order and care – and that’s just on the first take. There’s room for even more to surface as the weekend unfolds. (Such as the Joni incident – but I am jumping ahead of myself and anyway, it’s probably one of those you-had-to-be-there episodes.)
Jenny and I are on the hunt for breakfast early and surprisingly enough for us, we manage not to get lost. Go us! As we look out from our outside table onto Havelock North’s shiny newness, including a fountain and locals setting up stalls for a market on clean concrete, a brittle breeze reminiscent of Ōtepoti’s nor’easterly, licks at our ankles.
Outside the Matahiwi marae gates, that same cold breeze niggles at our backs and shoulders. Charles our te reo-speaking representative, tells us the moon is in a benevolent phase – all augurs well – and points out the maunga, the mountains, in the distance. He names them and tells us the meaning of the name – which, sadly, I promptly forget. However, I do notice that after being introduced, the mountains appear to draw a little nearer.
More people arrive to join the waiting group. David’s no-fuss whanau flock quietly together. And then the pōwhiri begins, a karanga calling us to proceed in safety. Wings of grief beat in my chest like something fighting waves of memory.
We are welcomed with kōrero, karakia, by tīpuna, voice, mountain, awa, spirit, wairua, with love, aroha. Charles responds with an operatic kōrero sung on our behalf in te reo, laced with waiata that soars and rolls in an awa of pride. We line up to elbow-hongi, covid-style. A kuia at the end of the line grabs each of us into a hug.
The unwrapping of the tokotoko begins with a blessing by Jacob, then revealed and handed to David by the carver. Made of maire, it is tall and straight, yet shapely. It is black with a small sweep, or wave, of brown. Pango and parauri. Somewhere, silver glints. The carver tells us it speaks of Māui and his brothers, of boldness and spirit. Of stirring, mischief-making, mixing things up and pitting against. It has weight. Mana. David tests its strength by thumping the ground with it. He appears satisfied. He smiles.
It is time for Michael, Jenny and me to sing our waiata. Unfortunately, all of the previous day’s blend and timing takes flight leaving only the unpolished, rough side of the päua, shy of colour and magic. It’s a pretty rough delivery. No matter. It’s done. The tree still stands. It takes more than that to fell a kahikatea.
David’s son does a far better job, calmly, confidently singing a self-composed song that soothes, charms and rocks like a waka launched on to slowly moving water.
Saturday night, David, Michael, Jenny and I make poetry the winner at Poets Night Out at the Hastings Events and Arts Centre, Toitoi, in all its glory and glamour; sumptuous flower displays, laser beams creating a dancing landscape on ceiling and walls. The event is bookended by two beautiful young singers and linking it all, Marty in shimmering gold jacket delivering her diamante introductions.
Mōrena. Back at the Matahiwi marae, we are hugged. Fed. Allowed into more stories. Humour sparks. We are told a little more of the coming into being of David’s Poet Laureate tokotoko; its name, Te Kore; its character, its insistence not to be firewood, but instead a walking, talking stick with fire to fill any void in its belly.
As we make our reluctant farewells, a kuia gifts Jenny and myself quiet words of encouragement to take back home to Ōtepoti with us. She loves our poetry. She may write some herself now. She particularly loves the way Jenny speaks her poems. I feel there is more she wants to say. Deeper things. But there is no time left.
More farewells outside the marae as we get into cars. Some of the good-byes are to people we will see again. Others, maybe not. As the car I am in moves away, I notice the maunga, the mountains, have moved. I watch as they fade back into the distance.
Jenny Powell has published seven individual and two collaborative collections of poems. She is part of the touring poetry duo, J & K Rolling. Jenny is currently in the Wairarapa as the RAK Mason Writing Fellow.
Kay McKenzie Cooke’s fourth poetry collection, titled Upturned, was published by The Cuba Press, mid-2020. At present she is far too busy to write. A predicament she hopes will not be permanent.
David Eggleton is a Dunedin-based writer, critic and poet. His first collection of poems, ‘South Pacific Sunrise’, was co-winner of the PEN Best First Book of Poetry Award in 1987. His seventh collection of poems, ‘The Conch Trumpet’, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. He received the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Poetry in 2016. His most recent collection of poetry is Edgeland and Other Poems, with artwork by James Robinson, published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the current Aotearoa New Zealand Poet Laureate.
I am about to post my big but fragmented New Zealand Festival Writers and Readers Week diary but first two photo galleries. First up: Call Me Royal.
These photos were taken by Mark Beatty, one of the The National Library photographers, and they catch the spirit, warmth and generosity of the event so beautifully. It was an utter privilege to mc, to read poems with Jenny Bornholdt, Serie Barford, Tusiata Avia and our Poet Laureate extraordinaire, Selina Tusitala Marsh. I have put my intros at the end.
Grateful thanks to Peter Ireland, Chris Szekely and the National Library team. This was special.
All photographs courtesy of Mark Beatty, The Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library
The Poet Laureateship began under the administration and vision of Te Mata Estate with Bill Manhire the inaugural Laureate and has moved through to the six poets appointed by The National Library. Each Laureate is gifted a tokotoko, a walking stick, a personal fit, carved by Haumoana artist Jacob Scott. This to me is like the Laureate role – each recipient shapes the role to fit their own predilections and circumstances, from the Laureate blog, to poetry written, to a book published, to engagements and visibility within our reading and writing communities.
I jumped for joy on Poetry Day when I discovered Selina was our new Laureate; she is invigorating how the tokotoko is held, how the role is shaped. Of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English and French descent, she was the first Pacific Islander to graduate with a PhD in English at the University of Auckland – where she is now Associate Professor.
In her debut collection, Fast Talkin PI, Selina lays a circle of stones to acknowledge the embrace of women from which she writes, from which she throws the calabash for us to catch the seeds. I want to lay a circle of 6 stones for Selina.
The first stone is the gift of her poetry from her effervescent, award-winning debut with the title poem already a classic, and far ranging poetry that establishes movement on the page and charismatic movement in performance. To the second collection, Dark Sparring, written out of strength and lightness, out of her adoption of Muay Thai kickboxing and the death of her mother from cancer. The kickboxing is like a trope for poems that are graceful, startling, strong. This book lifts you out of your senses as she lifts grief out of her body and translates it into word music carrying us to the sun and moon and clouds. Selina’s latest book, Tightrope, longlisted for the book awards, travels in myriad directions, in ways that soothe, challenge and delight, that move us along fecund highways between sky and earth.
The second stone is the poetry mana Selina carries to young writers (I have witnessed this as I follow in her slipstream at Auckland schools) and to emerging writers – because she liberates the word. She stands, speaks and sings poetry, from self and wider communities and lineages, with such passion and drive the audience is compelled to read and write.
The third stone is Selina’s drive to bring Pasifika women poets to our attention – with a groundbreaking book in the making.
The fourth stone is the way she has carried poetry from our shores, in multiple translations, at myriad festivals, representing Tuvālu at the London Olympics Parnassus event, and as the 2016 Commonwealth Poet performing her commissioned poem UNITY for the Queen.
The fifth stone is the life of the poem in performance that Selina has made utterly her own. I am thinking of two mesmerising performances of Dark Sparring. At her launch, Selina was accompanied by Tim Page’s musical layerings, and she interrupted a kickboxing poem with a round or two of sparring in the room. It was breathtaking. On the second occasion, Selina read at the Ladies Litera-Tea without musical accompaniment and without a round or two of sparring. What struck me about this performance was the way silence was a significant part of the poetry palette. Again breathtaking. And of course there was the performance for the Queen that so many of us adored on the internet.
The sixth stone is the circle itself, the poetry connections and friendships, the poetry whanau that links us readers and writers that Selina tends with aroha and prodigious energy. Let us offer a warm to welcome dear friend and poet, Poet Laureate, Selina Tusitala Marsh.
The second half
Jenny, Serie, Tusiata, me, Selina
Jenny Bornholdt, a much honoured poet, anthologist and children’s author, is a former Te Mata Estate NZ Poet Laureate. VUP has paid luminous tribute to her poetry in her recent Collected Poems. The book showcases Jenny’s intricate movements in the world – close at hand and roaming wider, and on the page itself, with large themes such as love, loss, illness and family, and smaller attentions such as a cotton shirt, a tea towel or a blanket, the large animating the small, and vice versa. You might get a conversational tone, with images unfolding like origami, surprising turns, linguistic agility and ample room for pause. You will always get a necessary heart beat, because Jenny’s poetry refreshes our relations with a living world, both complicated and vital. When I had to pick my ten favourite NZ Poetry books for a newspaper once, I picked Jen’s The Rocky Shore, but I could have added Summer or Mrs Winter’s Jump or These Days.
Tusiata Avia, of Samoan lineage, a poet, performer and children’s author, currently living in Christchurch, is a significant presence, a poetry beacon say, for emerging Pasifika poets. She has carried that beacon on her overseas travels. Tusiata originally staged her debut collection, Wild Dogs under My Skirt, as a one-woman show – but we can now see this must-read book performed at the festival by a cast of six. I went to the goosebump launch of her latest collection, Fale Aitu / Spirit House, and like slow release food resides in your blood, this became my favourite book of 2016. The book releases skeletons, darkness and pain, yet in doing so, the roots of being daughter, mother, poet are tended with such animation, such love, such a willingness to be open, self reflective, world reflective, these poems, this book, matters so very very much.
Serie Barford is a West Auckland performance poet of Samoan and European descent with four published collections. Her poetry, both political and deeply personal, is rich in evocation. You can absorb her poems through senses as you bite into flavour, catch the lull and lift of melody, smell the poem’s very essence. You get to travel with heart and with challenges laid down. Her most recent book, Entangled Islands, with both prose and poetry, emerges from a tangle of family, motherhood, partnership, colonisation, history, communities, migration, childhood memories, culture and love, most importantly love. Connections are nourished: between words, things, people, places, events. Disconnections are acknowledged. As with Jenny’s poetry, the essential undercurrent, the fuel in the pen, is love.
A bevy of poets mark 50 years since the end of six o’clock closing
Iain Sharp presents Gregory O’Brien, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Bill Manhire, Jenny Bornholdt, Lindsay Rabbitt, and more.
The end of the ‘6 o’clock swill’ was a defining moment in New Zealand’s social history, one which changed the way we drank and socialised. New Zealanders’ unique and often fraught relationship with drink has been both a stimulus and an inspiration for some of the country’s great poets from Denis Glover to Apirana Taylor.
To mark 50 years since the end of ‘the swill’ the National Library is bringing together some of the country’s best poets, and poetry, both new and old, featuring ‘the drink’.
The event will comprise some special related Alexander Turnbull Library collection items, music from the collection of the National Library and films from Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision.
Refreshments available with tastings and craft beer and cider.
This is a golden opportunity to nominate a poet for this. I have a poet in mind and plan to write a letter saying why he or she is the perfect man or woman for the job! I love the way the Poet Laureate adds value to our poetry communities during their tenure – with appearances, publications and contributions to the Poet Laureate website.
The National Library is calling for nominations for the next New Zealand Poet Laureate.
The Award of Poet Laureate recognises an outstanding New Zealand poet, who receives $80,000 and is supported by the National Library to concentrate on their own work, take part in literary events, and utilise the Poet Laureate blog.
The Laureate also receives a tokotoko created by Jacob Scott and a stipend of wine from Te Mata Estate Winery (who began the Laureate Award in 1996 and supported it until 2007 when the National Library assumed responsibility for it).
Nominations close on 11 August, and the new Laureate will be announced on National Poetry Day, Friday 25 August 2017.
I got to see the Wellington Writers and Readers Festival version of A Circle of Laureates – and it was a rare and special occasion. I just loved it to bits, as did everyone in the packed-out room. I can’t recommend it highly enough. My post on the event.
Invitation to the 2016 Book Council Lecture, Fri 11 Nov, 6pm, National Library
The New Zealand Book Council invites you to join us for the 2016 NZ Book Council Lecture:
Tala Tusi: The Teller is the Tale
Delivered by Selina Tusitala Marsh
Where: National Library of New Zealand, 70 Molesworth St, Thorndon, Wellington
When: Friday 11 November, 6pm
RSVP: This is a free event, but spaces are limited. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to secure your seat
This event is brought to you in partnership with the National Library of New Zealand.
The Samoan word ‘Tusitala’ means ‘storyteller’ – but what about its inverse, ‘tala tusi’, where the ‘teller is the tale?’
Poet and academic Selina Tusitala Marsh powerfully explores the relationship between our stories, ourselves, and the fate of our literature if we ignore the wisdom offered by ‘tala tusi’ in her remarkable 2016 New Zealand Book Council lecture.
The New Zealand Book Council Lecture has become a prominent part of the literary landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand. It provides an opportunity for one of our country’s leading writers to discuss an aspect of literature close to their heart.
I am up to my elbows in poetry research and am very grateful for access to the poetry taonga at the Alexander Turnbull Library.
To celebrate National Poetry Day, Fiona Oliver (Curator, NZ & Pacific Published Collections) posted this terrific piece:
‘If you were to take all the poetry books in the Turnbull Library and lay them end to end, they’d circle the earth at one-and-a-half times.
Ok, that was a fabrication; no one has any idea how far they’d stretch, except that, given the sheer number (more than several thousand), they’d go a very long way.
Maybe I was getting confused and had been thinking of intestines, which apparently are extraordinarily long. But then, aren’t poetry and intestines not that dissimilar – poetry being, metaphorically speaking (and poetry is nothing if not metaphorical), a spilling of guts, a venting of spleen, a digesting of experience, a laying-out of ideas and feelings and insights end to end in order to make sense of what it means to think or feel or see?’
I especially liked reading this:
‘The Library has avidly gathered and looked after this nation’s poetry (and that of Pacific nations) since it opened almost 100 years ago, in 1920. It’s all here as our documentary heritage.
We’re not censorious, but try to be comprehensive. You’ll find the old and forgotten, the newly minted, the famous, fine or rare, the transcendent and the truly awful. We care for the poetry of this country so all the people of New Zealand can read it, enjoy and use it.’