Tag Archives: Nick Ascroft

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Nick Ascroft’s ‘The Plotz’


The Plotz


Phlegmatic, I’m not one to plotz or wax

nostalgic for a life that could’ve been.

I bumble forward, shuffling in my tracks

to work and back again. The kitchen’s clean.

I use Excel to calculate Kate’s tax.

I had once dreamt I’d be a libertine,

admired for simile and malaprop.

The 90s raised me up then let me drop.


Back then, each anecdote would cost you corkage,

my poems swigged on flasks, were furious

and hot with psychedelic flash and squawkage.

I blazed, affectedly bi-curious.

These days I just complain about the mortgage,

all other matters somehow spurious

and flat. I spend the evening sudsing plates

and pots, in fear of rising interest rates.


Not one to plotz, I’m private, careful, flaccid.

How did I change? One moment I wear blouses,

vinyl shoes, I’m pulverised on acid,

the next I’m at the bank discussing houses

or circling with a whiteboard marker ‘hazard

class’, a tucked-in shirt with belted trousers.

I want to understand, to tweeze this tuft.

Did I grow up? Or was my brightness snuffed?


Before I went under a nom de plume,

before the bank had made a covenant

with me to slavishly add commas to

abhorrent documents for subsequent

emolument, I lived in Oamaru.

(I still took money from the government,

the dole.) And from that opposite of Eden,

I drag the band with me down to Dunedin.


I trip the halls like velvet under

my beret, a lip-stuck elf with pointed toes.

I study language, thought, but wonder

why, in chief, so few enjoy my gigs, or prose.

A typically blind-spotted blunder:

I’m unchanged it seems. Less fresh of gill, less rosy

eyed, perhaps, but so alike in fact

of taste and dreams. My foibles are intact


at least. The years gallumph like this. I shake

songwriting off and go for verse. They’re kinder,

literary types. I’d tried to break

our demo to a label not inclined to

it. Pete from Snapper said we’re a mistake.

I graduate, am single (dumped), and find a

bookshop gig. It’s 1998.

I chase a girl, and demonstrate I’m straight


by kissing boys just to ensure we will

avoid the sin of overegging hetero.

My gender freedom is sartorial.

Free too from time, I dress embracing retro.

London is more dictatorial.

It frowns. And though years pass before I let go,

it schools me how to look more apropos,

to come across more man than man-mango.


The movie I’d self-finance of my life

(the casting option either Aquaman

or Jesse Eisenberg – and here my wife

can roll her eyeballs) would compact a span

of years into a weekend on a knife-

edge. Sleeping at a bus stop backward, fanned

around my bag, cold in PVC,

I doze, am homeless, terrified, but free.


Above, the stars are smothered by the smog.

I’m outside Heathrow, stuck until the Tubes

resume. They treat a person like a dog.

To bed, they say, till six. Go to your rooms,

you Londoners. The pubs lock up the grog.

But airports, they’re all hours, one presumes?

Two coppers sweeping shake their heads, say no.

I make it through the night outside, then go.


I stay with Andy’s friends near Glastonbury.

I have no job and live on money sponged

from Kim, back home, who’d said if drastically

required I could use her card – I lunged –

and cash from Mum as well, left spastically

behind in Wimbledon. Their flat’s implunged

in odour, but they offer me a niche

to kip in, and tobacco with hashish.


The two are always smoked together, all

day long and every day by him in whom

I see a British doppelgänger, tall

and slim, long hair. It’s not the constant fume

emitted from his lips that splits us, or will

once I partake. It’s that he bears a gloom.

That’s Britain, and its thrashing underclass.

He takes a kicking in an underpass.


The nights unfold with dramas of the poor.

A day’s work picking peas from yellow turf.

We mark the solstice drumming on the Tor.

At Argos, blag a tent, intending to return

it after camping in the mud before

the policy – ‘no questions’ – comes to term.

The festival itself is glad, we’re gladder

still we stole in with a home-made ladder.


Returning back to Wimbledon, I claw

my horde of traveller’s cheques in glee

then crash out in the sticks, a room, well, floor

some kid – the dealer of whose ecstasy

I’d met – extends an open offer for.

This stranger’s kind. I rest my neck rent-free.

One sleeps more, if turns less, when in a bed,

but cushions brace my hip and ease my head.


The weeks rotate. I get a ten-hour job,

but till I’m paid, possessing no per diem,

I can’t examine ethics like a snob.

I think, ‘They’re not as hungry’, when I see them.

‘These tourists shouldn’t miss a couple bob,’

and fleece them as they ramble the museum.

That is, the cashier does, when she miscounts

their change. I simply balance the amounts.


Asleep, the kid I stay with moans and keens.

Still dossing every evening in the sticks,

the tube and bus is just within my means

but only once perfecting certain tricks

to keep the Travelcard inside my jeans.

I search under his bed, there’s porn, the pix

are strange to me: in each the women flick

their eyes to where above there hangs a dick.


Two times I sleep at Jon’s. His place is bleaker:

Paddington, guests not allowed, and stinking.

My presence irks his girlfriend, one Tameka.

I was naive to leave New Zealand thinking

that I’d just stay with Jon, the pleasure seeker.

The cops raid our speakeasy. But a winking

dealer passing sells us . . . oregano!?

‘Race traitor!’ chirrups T like a soprano.


The lowest point before I get a proper

bedsit of my own in Saint John’s Wood,

is when I beg Tameka for a Whopper,

and she assents, annoyed to feel she should.

This is the seed. I never want to cop the

look again. And so ends childhood.

The film returns. I’m at the bus stop, cold,

inhaling in short draughts. The credits roll.


I grow I think from this. I learn the scaled

threat of non-conformance. It’s no shame

and easier to navigate regaled

as others, smart, domesticated, tame.

Another view is that in fact I’ve failed

to change a jot. That I remain the same

pretentious fool and cautious pragmatist,

and always was a dry protagonist.



Nick Ascroft, from Moral Sloth, Victoria University Press, 2019



Nick Ascroft has released four collections of poetry through Victoria University Press. The latest, Moral Sloth, appeared in November. Kapka Kassabova once said of his face that ‘it shines through the obscurity of life like / fake gold’. Burn.


Victoria University Press author page


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Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Nick Ascroft’s launching Moral Sloth



You are warmly invited to the launch of

Moral Sloth
a new collection of poetry by Nick Ascroft
to be launched by Ashleigh Young

Tuesday 12 November, 5.30pm–7pm
Hudson Bar, Chews Lane, Wellington.

All welcome!





Poetry Shelf audio spot: Nick Ascroft’s ‘Slung Across the Cat’



Photo credit: Grant Maiden







Nick Ascroft’s selected poems for the UK, Dandy Bogan (Boatwhistle, 2018), comes out this July. Unfortunately he neglected to thank his wife Kate in the acknowledgements, which was a daft oversight. It is much too late, but I hereby thank my fellow cat-slung sofa friend for being the constant support and discerning eye without whom none of the poems would be written. Kate, thank heavens for you.








In the hammock: Reading Landfall 235



Landfall 235 launches Emma Neale as the new editor. The cover aptly features ‘The House Party’; Kathryn Madill’s monoprint is strange and seductive with sunken black space and textured skin. It is like a poem that tempts and then holds you in an intricate grip. There is a Madill sequence inside that is equally sumptuous, surprising, lyrical.

This is an addictive issue – think of it as a musical composition that carries you through diverse and distinctive reading effects across an arc from first poem to final story. I do hope more Pasifika, Māori and Asian poets send in submissions for the next issue to increase the diversity of voice.

The two visual sequences (by Madill and photogapher Russ Flatt) are stunning. Flatt’s photographs reconstruct memories from the ‘subconscious grief’ and experience of growing up gay in Auckland in 1970s and 1980s. Wow. This is the power of art to take you some place that transcends ideas and feeling but that is ideas and feeling.

Landfall 235 also includes the winner of the Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Competition,  Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, fiction (including a keenly observed piece by Airini Beautrais) and reviews. It welcomes established elders such as Elizabeth Smither and Bernadette Hall and barely published authors such as Sarah Scott and James Tremlett.



Here are a few poetry highlights:

Tracey Slaughter has turned from her dark, edgy must-read fiction to poetry. She was recently shortlisted for the 2018 Peter Porter Poetry Prize and I can see why. Her poem, ‘the mine wife’, with short-line fluidity, fictional momentum building, spiky detail, gritty feeling, is all about voice. A vulnerable, risking, space clearing, ‘self’ admitting voice:


the hand is a useless

surface for showing

the love it takes

to clear a path. Under

layers you wait for me to sift

your face from its mask.


from ‘the mine wife’


Lynley Edmeades‘ list poem, ‘The Age of Reason’, kicks off from Jean Paul Sartre’s title to move from ‘longing’ to ‘baby’, scooping up Simone de Beauvoir on the way, and all the staccato thoughts that propel a micro portrait: because why because how because who. I adore this!


Because fear of death

Because a dog might do

Because antidepressants

Because déjà vu

Because the trees

Because the population

Because plastic


from ‘The Age of Reason’


‘A Love Letter to My Mother: A work in progress’ by Wen-Juenn Lee is layered and probing and direct. I am wanting to read the whole work:


She takes astronomy classes at night.

I do not ask her why she stargazes

what she looks for              in the oily darkness

we go to a poetry reading on migrant women

I do not tell her

I remember her crying on the plane


from ‘A Love Letter to My Mother: A work in progress’


Nick Ascroft’s playful word shenanigans in ‘A Writer Wrongs’ are a delicious shift in key as rhyme binds  writer, hater and waiter:


So my fish is pallid.

So there’s a little pebble in my freekeh salad.

Is it necessary a balladeer batters

out a ballad?


from ‘A Writer Wrongs’


I haven’t encountered Rachel Connor‘s poetry before. She is a medievalist and a  postgraduate student in Otago University’s Department of English. I want to read more of her poetry! Her poem, ‘Home’, captivates with its quirky tropes and agile pivots upon ‘swan’:


A swan like a carved radish kickstarts its way across the water.

It should be easier

to temper my words and make iron gates of them,

to remember the names picked out in gold

that echo a memorial garden.


from ‘Home’


Tim Vosper offers my favourite ending in ‘The False Way to the Real’


When it comes time to kill the lamp

the leaf will turn into a shade.


from ‘The False Way to the Real’


I am fan of Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s poetry and have fingers crossed she gets a book out soon. ‘Betty as a Boy’ is lush with detail and movement:


And you, outside the upmarket  grocer’s, camouflaged top, khaki pants

slashed with a silk of red, a backpack strung with things that clink,

disappearing into your androgyny— the inverse of a newly minted drag queen,

appearing like a flaming comet, burning to be noticed.


from ‘Betty as a Boy’


Here is another unfamiliar poet I want to see a collection from. Susan Wardell’s poem pulsates with glorious surprising life. I will quote a piece but I urge you to read the whole thing: place rich, lithely troped, visually sparking, enigmatic, humane.  I am drawn to the voice, to the word hunger, to the portrait built.


They say

when meaning is gone, all that is left

is the grain

of the voice.


Well, hers sweeps the room like salt-flecked taffeta.


from ‘Grain of her Voice’


Writing journals, literary journals open up new avenues of reading and engagement. Landfall 235 is no exception. I have not finished, I have not yet read the reviews and all the fiction, but congratulations Emma Neale, you have taken the literary torch from David Eggleton, and the boost he gave, and turned your astute editorial eye to our advantage. I have new poets I am keen to track  down. I have seen familiar poets with fresh eyes. Kind of like a poetry house party in my head.


Landfall page

You can also go to the Landfall Exhibition if you live in Dunedin. Opening is Thursday May 25 at 5.30 pm.

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Chocolate & Poetry: an invitation



17 College Street, Te Aro, Wellington

6PM | 19 JUNE | TICKETS $30

details here

The taste of poetry, the sound of chocolate and the sense of books. We’ve matched medieval humours with contemporary New Zealand poets and some of the best chocolate you’ll find, ever.

Join us at Ekor Bookshop for a multi-sensual, medieval-medicine-inspired poetry reading and chocolate tasting.

Featuring: Nick Ascroft, Hannah Mettner, Louise Wallace, and Freya Daly Sadgrove.

Chocolate curated and introduced by Luke Owen Smith (The Chocolate Bar).

Chocolate (and poetry) included in ticket price.

Some highlights in the 70th anniversary edition of Landfall

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Landfall 233 edited by David Eggleton


Last Sunday I was feeling travel worn, flat, depleted, sick and I could not settle on anything. The kind of day where you pick this up and put it down. You pick that and then this and then that and then this. And then find yourself back at the start again. It was only when I opened the new Landfall I found my self settling back and reading.

The 70th Birthday issue is terrific. It includes testimonies from Chris Price and Iain Sharp (both candid on the difficulties of editing a key literary journal), Philip Temple (on the controversial dismissal of Robin Dudding and efforts to revive the flagging enterprise) and Peter Simpson on Charles Brasch and Landfall. Simpson quotes Brasch musing on when to quit editing. He decided he must stop at 15 years – although it stretched to 20. He concluded:

‘I shall have nothing to live for, nothing I badly want to do, nothing I am forced to do in order to live …’


Sometimes I like to read a journal from first page to last page in order to follow the contours and harmonies of editing. This time it was pick n’ mix poetry. As I read I jotted down:

vibrant fresh vital diverse essential reading unfamiliar voices much-loved voices direct indirect


Adore the Art Portfolios by Chris Corson-Scott and Heather Straka.


Two prose pieces caught me eye first. Both surprising and stick like biddibids.

‘Last-ditch Daisies’ Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

‘It’s All I Had’ Joanna Cho


Then the poetry:


‘Four Transformations on a theme of Philip’ by Anne Kennedy is like a return to her brother (1951 – 1973). Every time I pick the book up it falls open here and I read it again. The short lines shift patterns on the pages like little twitches of contemplation, memory, bright retrieved detail with indents, parentheses, fluency.


Catch me in the garden

and put me in a jar


the air where I was

in the palm of your hand



‘Morning Song’ by Emma Neale builds a loving grandfather portrait that weds sharp detail with war undertones spiky within a family’s daily life. It is sumptuous writing with things hiding off the edges.


Gramps stole eggs, green seeds of song, from their nests

to show us wonder; hairline cracks ran

our sooks’ hearts as we watched the robbed mothers fly home.



‘Mr Anderson, You Heartbreaker’ by Helen Rickerby teases and bites into Hans Christian Anderson and his depiction or wooing of women and harnesses Helen’s adult eyes on the Little Mermaid.


And really, if she’d just held onto her tongue

she could have sung him to her

reeled him in, drunk him down

one prince, on the rocks, coming up



‘Storm’ by Amanda Hunt is a glorious lyrical snapshot that slows down the pace of contemplation to the point each detail is under an enviable spotlight. ( I am reminded of how Janet Frame wanted to slow down the pace of her poems)


a butterfly flutter

of moth-soft feathers

glancing across my shoulder


‘Fear of Feathers’ by Michael Gould delivers a surprising passage through the lines to the final enticement ‘life is good.’


Some sounds of birds (unseen but heard)

may confound those with no sense of the absurd


‘Personal Space’ by Johanna Emeney refreshes the domestic poem beautifully and needs to be read in its completeness to catch the humour, the pathos, the politics, the poetry, the feeling. I am including the last stanza.


She should clear a space

beneath the sudden worry of crowded floors,

the scatter of feet; the shock of doors,

run downstairs and shut herself in

the last room at the bottom,

then spin, arms open,

to see just how wide

she has forgotten.



‘Inflammable’ by Anna Jackson is a poem that catches the dark and light of life and living beneath the flicker of candle light. It reminds me of the way a particular moment, against all the millions lost and faded, that is luminous on return.


The world was flammable we knew it was.


‘Art Is Weak’ by Nick Ascroft is smart and sharp and hooks you from the first line.


Conceptual art is not so empty sleeved

and brained.


‘The Bee Elle’ by Lynley Edmeades curls and coils deliciously around a physical view and subterranean ideas.


Everyone is hooked up

to various elsewheres

as if our bodies don’t matter.


‘How a New Zealand Sunrise is Different from Other Sunrises’ by Erik Kennedy is like a landscape poem standing on its head and is thus invigorating to read (I am a landscape poem fan for all kinds of reasons).


Pinks and yellows collude to orange the hillside,

but they trick you into thinking the hills are proper orange

on their own, like an oyster catcher’s lurid bill