Tag Archives: NZ poem

Poem Friday: Leilani Tamu’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ — I love the mesh of surprise and political bite




Photo credit: Janet Lilo



Mouths Wide Shut

it was while I was boarding

the early morning bus

with my mouth taped shut

that I came to understand




her pale eyes watching me

she didn’t know what to do

or how to react


to the challenge

of my impertinent act

not golden but ashen

she seemed to be shaken


not wanting to deal

with my rage or passion

her mind was made up


who cared about the reason

why my mouth was taped

shut? her role was not

to question or get involved


let alone make a fuss

coz it’s not her problem

if someone wants to make

a statement on board

the public bus


© Leilani Tamu, The Art of Excavation Anahera Press, 2014



Leilani’s note about the poem:

In 2012, I wrote an article for Metro magazine called ‘Mouths Wide Shut’ which tackled the issue of racism in New Zealand. The article focused on the implications, both personal and public, of choosing to remain silent, or do nothing, when confronted with racism. After writing the piece, I collaborated with artist Janet Lilo to stage a social / artistic intervention whereby Janet took photographs of me boarding a public bus in Auckland with my mouth covered with black duct tape. We rode the early morning bus from Avondale to Point Chevalier and during the trip not one person asked us what we were doing. People seemed to feel more comfortable ignoring us and most people looked uncomfortable. It was this experience and the subsequent photographs that inspired the poem.

The original article can be read online here

Author bio:

Leilani Tamu is a poet, social commentator, Pacific historian and former New Zealand diplomat. In 2013 she was the Fulbright / Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence at the University of Hawai’i in Mānoa. Leilani’s work has appeared in a diverse range of anthologies and her debut book of poetry The Art of Excavation was published in August 2014.


Paula’s note about the poem:

I had no idea about the genesis of the poem when I first read it but it really struck me. Stuck with me. I love the mesh of surprise and political bite. The title and the phrase, ‘mouth taped shut,’ were the initial hooks. It first brought to mind Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in 1955. Leilani’s title is an oxymoron yet it makes sense as the closed mouth of the title speaks volumes. It is a little cipher to carry through the poem. By being ‘sentenced’ to silence, willfully or otherwise, the taped mouth is both potent and resonant. It cuts into your state of ease. For me, it caught hold of centuries of thought, loose conversations, anecdotes and theory on women speaking and women silent, that reach back as far as Aristotle’s ‘A woman’s crown is her silence.’ The poem suggested to me that subject isn’t yet dead and there is still much to be said on the matter. Who is silence? Why is she silence? How is she silenced? Does it matter that she is a woman?

Yet this poem isn’t just issue based. It is vital, vibrant and rich with possibilities.

When I hit the word ‘silence’ in its own pillow of white space, I was tugged in a completely different direction. Now I was lead to the notion that you can observe and absorb and thus understand the world so much better if you are quiet (like the chatterer in the bush doesn’t get to experience the bush beyond the filter or screen of talk).

Then you reach the poem’s passenger and her distance. This returns you to the title and the poignant phrase. The passenger’s stance ignites thoughts on how we navigate difference and how difference is so often held at arm’s length because it is threatening, unfathomable, confusing. The notion that you can observe and absorb and thus understand the world so much better if you are quiet is tilted, flipped on its head. You get to observe, absorb and understand the world more through interrogation, through conversation. The poem is both the public bus and the public performance and it is over to us to draw close and raise questions. I love the way this poem is both understated and packs a punch. I have barely begun to pick at its threads.

Maybe you get to observe, absorb and understand the world  by both silence (observation) and engagement (questioning).



Anahera author page here

My review of The Art of Excavation here

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Friday Poem: Kerrin P Sharpe’s ‘she gets these letters’ — Nouns swell with options

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she gets these letters


one moment there

is vodka at

a forest wedding

the next the last

breath of a gun


she watches defiance

secret army draws

a map of Poland

the sweep of ice

fills her throat


this is the plantation

her father was taken to

perhaps this is the pine

he walked towards


as if he spent

his mornings collecting

alpine specimens

and the snow he fell into

pages of white birds



©Kerrin P. Sharpe There’s a Medical Name for This  Victoria University Press, 2014

Author bio: Kerrin P. Sharpe’s first book three days in a wishing well was published by Victoria University Press in 2012. Her work appeared in Oxford Poets 13 (Carcanet). Another book, there’s a medical name for this was published August 2014 (VUP). A third collection rabbit rabbit is in progress with a grant from Creative New Zealand.

Author note: This poem began life after I had watched the movies Defiance and Secret Army. I began thinking about the huge significance of locations and how they are changed forever when terrible crimes have been committed there. This poem was published in the NZ Listener in 2014.

Note by Paula: What draws me to this poem is the enigma and the gap. Without the back story the possibilities are myriad whether as reader you step into shoes that are autobiographical, another persona or a mix of both. There is a jostling of meaning and effect between elements; from title to poem, night to day, life to death, vodka to the last breath of the gun. Nouns swell with options: vodka, forest, the map and the plantation are nouns of elsewhere. The understatement is striking. There is the ominous ring of ‘was taken’ that is amplified by the ‘chill of ice.’ The implications of ‘as if specimens’ seems to mask from what really took place. The final image in the last two lines is utterly potent. The white snow might stand in for the clean white page, the insistence of hope, the threat of war and violence and atrocity, and the magnetic pull of the prospect of peace. For me, the word ‘sweep’ leaps out not just for the ear but semantic rewards (a clean sweep, the expanse of the scene, clearing history, fresh beginnings). This is a haunting poem. Yes, it makes a difference when you know the back story but the gaps are still profound.

Victoria University Press page

Poem Friday: Airini Beautrais’s ‘The thing is, Neil, you are all of us’ –It is a poem that haunts me, and in that haunting, I keep returning to the lines to reflect upon ‘why.’

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The thing is, Neil, you are all of us


You are the old rocker in skinny jeans

who is mumbling in the corner

you are the punk who fixes bicycles

at two o’clock in the morning.


You are the comic book girl in combat boots

whose breasts are drawn too large

you are the feminine librarian

who wants to go on a rampage.


You are the community gardener

with home-cut hair and knee holes

you are the bespectacled chicken rescuer

the guitar player and the police mole.


You are the tofu thief made to work

for the local Salvation Army.

They throw away about half of their clothes:

take as many as you can carry.


©Airini Beautrais Dear Neil Roberts  Victoria University Press 2014


Author Bio: Airini Beautrais lives in Whanganui with her partner and two sons. She is currently working on a PhD in creative writing through the IIML at Victoria University, on the subject of narrativity and verse form in contemporary long poems. Dear Neil Roberts is her third book.

Author note: ‘The thing is, Neil, you are all of us’ is one of the first parts of the book I wrote, back in 2011. I had known Neil Roberts’s story for some time and it had occurred to me it would be interesting to write a long poem about the incident. One of the things that struck me early on in my research, from reading various anarchist/ libertarian communist web entries, was the sense of ownership amongst these radical left communities for the story. It was as though each person who had re-told the story, while not endorsing Neil’s act, could identify with the way he must have felt. In this poem I drew on my own experience within the Wellington anarchist scene – although not every detail is ‘true’, the characters in this poem do approximate real people, myself included.

Within this poem the ghost of an accentual meter can be heard, and the metrical scheme, while loose, is something near the traditional 4, 3, 4, 3 ballad stanza. And it is off-rhymed, xaxa. Perhaps the ballad was lurking behind the scenes all along. It has been mentioned that Dear Neil Roberts is rhythmically close to prose. I think this is true (as it is for a wide range of contemporary free verse), but I also think that writing to a regular stanzaic shape can lead to some interesting effects. For instance, rhymes frequently occur at line-ends. And there are lines in the book that are straight iambic pentameter. It has to be remembered that poetry is a genre, and can be written in verse, prose, or any combination of the two. Writing Dear Neil Roberts as a poem allowed me to present, juxtapose and interpret information in a different manner, than if I had set out to write an extended essay or a work of New Zealand history.


Paula’s note: Not having read Airini’s note before I wrote this, I didn’t have the back history (which is fascinating!). The poem is placed near the end of her collection, Dear Neil Roberts, and traverses Neil’s story with a foot planted in the realm of invention and another within the scope of research. Forming some kind of arc across—or conversely a simmering stream below—these two choices, is the personal. Airini allows herself, her own history and predelictions, to enter the poems.

What struck me about this particular poem is its ability to move, to raise issues and to offer delight at the level of technique. The parade of chalk-and-cheese characters turns the narrative impulse over and positions you as reader squarely within the frame. The poem now addresses ‘you.’ Yes, you might be any one of these characters that, like Neil, might test boundaries or go to extremes, but there are other issues at work here too. We are all destined, in the main, to occupy the shadows of history (as did Neil) as opposed to being a key player. If there is a potential Neil at work in this parade, there is also the way in which the parade is at work in Neil. We occupy many roles, play many parts, with varying degrees of visibility and attachment. These possibilities move me, as they return me to the complicated, contradictory, and at times unfathomable make-up of what it means to be human.

If the poem flips your placement as reader, the final two lines flip your placement within the poem. Again the resonances are multiple.The cheap clothes. The bag to be filled. The societal waste. Yes we have roles but we always have needs. We are linked by common needs whatever complications are steering our lives: warmth, shelter, food.

You can read this poem as prose-like in its poetic intentions yet, as is so often the case with Airini’s poems, there is more at work here. For me, I was hooked by the aural chords that make different semantic connections. For example, I loved pursuing the ripple of ‘m’s’ (mumbling, morning, feminine, community, home, mole, army, many) and the way they are honey for the ear yet forge a buried story. This poem, as does the book, relishes the white space, the gaps, the ambiguity alongside the more prosaic intent of telling a story, bringing someone closer, circulating ideas. It is a poem that haunts me, and in that haunting, I keep returning to the lines to reflect upon ‘why.’ Marvelous.


Poem Friday: Nina Powles’ ‘Josephine’ — This is a poem of curvature and overlap




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Author bio:  Nina Powles studied English literature and Chinese at Victoria University, where she is now studying towards her MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her poetry and non-fiction has appeared in Salient, Turbine and Sweet Mammalian. Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press 2014) is her debut poetry collection. She will spend the upcoming year working on a new collection of biographical poems.


Author note: ‘Josephine’ is one of a pair of poems that I wrote in response to my favourite short story by Katherine Mansfield, ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’. The two sisters, Josephine and Constantia, have only ever known a life of duty and obedience to their father, until he dies, and then the world begins to open itself up to them in a series of small moments of colour and brightness. In my reading and writing, I always find myself thinking about people and places stuck in the in-between, caught in phases of transition. So I think I wanted this poem to sit on the verge of brightness. I wanted to crawl into the dark bedroom where Josephine feels trapped—and maybe start to show her the way out.


Note by Paula: I read this poem out of context, without linking it to Katherine Mansfield’s story, and I was struck by the luminous detail that sets the poem in marvellous shifting lights. The adjectives pulsate (‘the dark shell’).  I love the jarring counterpoint of expectation and discovery in the opening lines. I love the way the beginning and end take hold of each other in that sticky, candied link. This is a poem of curvature and overlap. Time folds in on itself as it does like rock striking rock to produce a spark of elsewhere. So the marmalade leads you to the core of the poem and core of memory with its emotional kick. And the image of the hand (‘thin like spindly bones in a/ small purse’) with its little potent bite,  again leads to small child and old father. Poems can reach you in small, perfectly formed packages such as this, and the joy is in the alluring rustle of tissue paper. This detail shining through here, that discovery shining through there. I use the word, ‘rustle,’ as this is a poem of sweetly composed music; there is the rustle of vowels and consonants that lifts beyond meaning, beyond feeling and then adds to each. I read Nina’s note after I wrote this and smiled at the notion of ‘small moments of brightness.’


Seraph Press page here





Friday Poem: Sarah Jane Barnett’s ‘Blue Heart’: The poem enacts the mystery of writing a poem


Photo Credit: Matt Bialostocki


Blue Heart

Full size model of a Blue Whale heart, Te Papa Museum

The boy enters the whale heart. He finds his way.

His hands slide down the peachy aorta, his body

swallowed into the central chamber. My face pushes

after him because it’s just fibre and glass, and he’s

my first child, on his knees, his back to me. His hands

perform their work of play along a smooth ridge of cartilage

like a cardiac surgeon. Interpretations of the ‘whale’ fall

into three categories: The whale is real and my son

lives in her heart. Or the whale is the dream

I have for my son. Or the whale is an allegory

that should not be taken to heart. Some things take time

to understand. Last time we visited my grandmother

I knew she would die before I saw her again.

She’d been having regular blood transfusions—

pulsing circles of bright red tubing—which helped

for a few weeks before another fall, after which she’d rest

one cheek on the carpet. My son sat on her lap and she played

at biting his fingers, her grey dentures clacking together,

and he squealed and pointed, and then pointed to the fireplace,

and then pointed to the window where a dried floral arrangement had sat

for twenty years. Everything was there for him.

She took his pointing finger between the soft pads of her lips.

How do you enter the biggest heart? Do you say

that it weighs up to fifteen hundred pounds? The largest heart

is like a compacted Volvo! Maybe you must imagine it beating

inside you? Maybe you find it one quiet morning,

your son asleep, his cheeks flaring the colour of summer plums.


Author’s bio: Sarah Jane Barnett is a writer, tutor, and book reviewer who lives in Wellington. Her first collection of poems, A Man Runs into a Woman, was published by Hue & Cry Press in 2012, and was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her work has appeared in various publications including Sport, Landfall, Best New Zealand Poems, and Southerly. Sarah has a PhD in creative writing from Massey University in the field of ecopoetics. She blogs at: theredroom.org.

Author’s note: ‘I wrote this poem as part of my PhD thesis which, in part, looked at the different ways poets write about the nonhuman world. While writing my thesis I had my son and my grandmother died. Both of these events felt huge and brittle and surreal. Both were difficult to write about. One afternoon I took my son, Sam, to Te Papa and he played for ages in their scale model of a blue whale heart. It made me think about the way poets often resort to using the natural world as a metaphor when trying to describe love, grief, or the sublime. That’s when I wrote this poem.’

Paula’s note: The opening line of Sarah’s poem, so exquisitely simple stalled me with myriad, potential directions: fable, fairytale, the slippery slopes of surrealism, metaphor and real-life anecdote (as the epigraph in fact signals). This heavenly poem celebrates the child — the mother-son relationship is clasped in its tender embrace. Poignantly, the life of the son is countered by the death of the grandmother, not as a set of scales but as a largeness of love and loss that finds its potency in the smallest of detail. The poem enacts the mystery of writing a poem — the way stream-of-consciousness or random thoughts that accumulate like stepping stones can drive the poet’s pen and make magic out of metonymy and juxtaposition. The son points out the luminous detail so that place becomes vibrant and beloved. The life blood of this poem is heart: the whale’s heart, the son’s heart, the grandmother’s heart. But more than than anything, it is the internal love heart that renders the grace,  economy,  attentiveness,  poetic craft, the words that shine out, the story that unfolds and the images that startle (‘cheeks flaring the colour of summer plums’) in maternal ink. This is why I love poetry.

Sweet Mammalian is a new literary journal edited by 3 Wellington poets. The journal was created out of a wish to see more good, new writing out in the world. The editors of Sweet Mammalian aim to provide a fresh space for poetry that comes out of the complex, the absurd, the warm-blooded. They aim to provide a space for all kinds of writing. The inaugural issue of Sweet Mammalian is launched today, Friday 10 October, with a launch party and reading in Wellington.

The link to Sarah’s poem in the inaugural issue is here.

Friday Poem: Rebecca Palmer’s ‘Dear Grandma’ — now I have read the author’s note the poem shifts slightly on its axis


Dear Grandma

Albino, prune like
demoralizing the years
of hard work past,

B flat serenades
chitter chatter through
the teeth of an elephant.

African plains, vast, moonlit,
red eyes glinting –
is it Chopin’s waltz,

or your other love,

Poised, silent
“Shhh”, you whisper,
“Can you hear the musk deer?”


Author note: I wrote this poem from an exercise about describing a person’s hands in a workshop run by Joanna Preston. It was the beginning of summer, when the sun lingers on your shoulders in the evenings and instills in you a kind of thirst for adventure. The exercise got me thinking about how the world looks to a child and how, through the eyes of the young, the achievements of the elderly are merely fleeting impressions of an untouchable Savannah.

Author bio: Currently studying towards an undergraduate degree in English and Russian at Canterbury University. I have been published in The Fib Review.

Paula’s note: This poem hooked me. I love the surprising juxtaposition of detail and sound effects. Try, for example, writing a poem with a prune, B Flat, a grandmother, the African Plains, elephant’s teeth, the moon. This is an subtle portrait of a moment, a grandmother and a relationship. It reaches out from the intimacy of listening and sharing to the African plains — it is a poem of the wider world and the world at hand. I love the way a phrase (‘years/ of hard work past’) embeds a secret narrative that instils a sense of the buried lives of the elderly. I have used this analogy before, but this poem is like lacework: ethereal, delicate, intricate, as dependent upon holes as it is web. Interesting too how now that I have read the author’s note the poem shifts slightly on its axis. I like the idea of fleeting impressions through the eyes of a child.

Poem Friday: Vivienne Plumb’s ‘As much gold as an ass could carry’ deliciously fablesque

Viv Final

This week an unpublished poem from Vivienne Plumb.


As much gold as an ass could carry.

One endless summer when I was fourteen

I began to speak with a great arrogance

as wide as a river mouth, imagining I was

witty and charming and full of my own cream.


I refused to continue laying the fire

or to cook supper in the tiny croft-house.

Instead, I was dreaming of ten-foot palaces, a crop of corn,

my own chambermaid, and as much gold as an ass

could carry.


I was sent to learn how to cut willows

and weave, but I allowed the meats

in my basket

to become cold and infested with worms.


I breast-stroked far away

in my twenty-league boots, under the delusion

I was moving fast, when in truth

I had remained stock still.


© Vivienne Plumb.doc


Vivienne Plumb presently holds the 2014 Ursula Bethall writing residency at University of Canterbury. She is a poet, a fiction writer, and a playwright, and has recently completed a Doctor of Creative Arts. New published work includes Twenty New Zealand Playwrights (with Michelanne Forster) published by, and available through Playmarket (N.Z.), and a collection of short fiction, The Glove Box, (Spineless Wonders, Sydney).


Author’s note: The language of this poem was influenced by the language and content of stories such as those the Grimm Brothers collected. The poem attempts to give some instruction in a similar way to those kind of stories, where the advice was hidden in the text, such as Little Red Riding Hood (i.e: watch out for lone wolves). Apart from that, the piece is also about youth: the narrator wants to ‘breast-stroke far away’ but will later discover that for all her wild swimming she ‘remained stock still’; as how can we truly get away from what we actually carry inside us? The title, As much gold as an ass can carry, reflects our youthful dreams, so full of ‘cream’ and conjecture.

Note from Paula: When I first read this poem it struck me as deliciously fablesque—a poem that would fit perfectly in Italo Calvino’s mammoth and brilliant collection of Italian folk tales. Vivienne’s poem has the momentum and structure of a folk tale where the morals and messages lurk in the seams. You have, for example, to keep your eye on the world, on the small details in order to nourish the bigger picture (otherwise your meat will rot in its basket). And then, the old proverb: less haste, more speed. Yet what elevates this poem into something exquisitely more, is the layered movement— not just in the semantic and visual reverberations but also in the aural kicks and echoes. Take the phrase, ‘full of my own cream.’ It’s semantically and visually surprising (gives flesh to the girl on the cusp of womanhood) and aurally active (the ‘eam’ and ’em’ sounds leapfrog through the poem like aural glue or a vital backbone: summer, imagining, charming, dreaming, chambermaid, much, become, moving, remained). That phrase just bounces and bounds at the end of the line. The poem also stands as a rite of passage—the young girl exhibits the youthful need to flounder and laze, to break away from constraint into the magical, dangerous unknown. I loved, too, the way Vivienne is unafraid of tropes (‘a great arrogance as wide as a river mouth’). I loved the confounding somersaults that verge on oxymora; the breaststroker in her twenty-league boots, the girlhood activity that leads to stasis. Glorious!



Poem Friday: Morgan Bach’s ‘In Pictures’ There is an electric current that strikes you as you read

Morgan Bach

This Friday a previously unpublished poem from Morgan Bach.


In Pictures

The first time my father died, I was four.

A group of them emerged from their getaway train

into a grand room, in my head the walls are papered ornately

and the lights are chandeliers, and somebody shoots him.

Money flies around the room and he falls to his knees.

We see his face register the situation

before he falls flat on it.


The next time I am eight

and my father is in the tropics.

It’s World War Two, and his face is wet and dirty.

They have been walking through the jungle, when a Japanese soldier

shoots him just like the last guy did — right in the chest

and he falls to his knees, and then down.


When I am ten he dies peacefully in his sleep,

an old man who has had a long and busy life, inventing.


I can’t recall what got him when I was twelve,

but I do remember that he put a meat-hook through a man’s throat

before he was taken out.

It could have been a shot in the back.


When I am twenty-two he is set upon by flying beasts,

and takes refuge in a ruin.

But when the creatures come, tall, with skin

like freshly healed burns, their old cat teeth,

the pinkish one that leads them spears my father

through the gut. In this lingering death scene

I look around at the faces in the cinema

and am tempted to spoil the illusion.


When I am twenty-five he is consumed

by possessed ink.


When I am twenty-six he plays a game of politics,

watches the blood sports of the ancients

and on his fifth appearance has his throat cut.


When I am twenty–seven a friend tells me

my father was buried alive last night. This death I missed.

She says he begged, near the end.


When I am twenty-eight I get back from lunch

and my workmates say did you feel that?

I call my sister, and luck connects us.

Her voice shakes, she’s driving to get her boys.

She tries to sound calm when she says no,

we haven’t heard from him, I can’t get through

and asks me to try. Dad’s phone rings

through to voicemail. Which means it’s ringing.

I send a message – we’re not to overload the lines.

There is nothing, and nothing to do.


I sit at my desk and I hit refresh

on the photos of crumbling buildings coming through.

I’m looking for the Arts Centre, the theatre

in the bottom of the old stone building.

Why aren’t they showing it?

Is it good they aren’t showing it?

I check my email, and see the little green light

next to his name – online.

It’s green,






Three and a half hours pass.

I do not think of all the times I’ve seen him die,

of his entrances and exits.

I count the minutes,

having no one to beg,

hitting refresh.


And then my sister sends a message

that simply says

he just walked in the door.

©Morgan Bach.doc


Morgan lives on Wellington’s south coast, and in 2013 she undertook the MA in Creative Writing at the IIML. She was the recipient of the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry, co-editor of Turbine 2013, and has work published or forthcoming in Sport, Landfall, and Hue & Cry.

Author’s note: This poem is about as factual and autobiographical a poem as it gets (my father, John Bach, is an actor). It was born out of a conversation I had in which I found myself saying ‘Oh I’ve seen my father die tons of times…’ and my realisation that this was an uncommon experience. Recounting this uncommon and strange element of my growing up led me to a point where real life interjected with an experience far too many of us have had in recent years. But, like it so often does in the movies (although, not for my father’s characters – as I’ve illustrated) this story turned out to have a happy, lucky ending.

Note from Paula: When I first read this glorious poem I had no idea of its genesis (as is the case when you read most poems), but what struck me as I read, was the way we carry numerous deaths with us (our own, our loved ones). Little pocket narratives that catch us by surprise and haunt or unsettle us. Morgan writes an assured line, where the narrating voice, with its steady rhythm, builds a mysterious momentum. Surprising. It becomes a list poem in its structure— each paternal death linked to a particular age, and death becomes a way of framing the narrator’s arc from child to young woman. What I loved, beyond the tantalising enigma, is the way at twenty-eight, the poem shifts gear. There is an electric current that strikes you as you read, as you realise the threat of death has moved from cinematic frame or theatrical stage to the threat of death in real life. The earthquake moment that now resonates so profoundly for so many. The simple lines (particularly ‘There is nothing, nothing to do’) catch you—and the way ‘his exits and entrances’ lead you back to the start. Morgan’s poem demonstrates so beautifully the way narrative drive becomes increasingly potent when matched with poetic economy and perfect line breaks. The end result, a poem that rewards at the level of language and then hooks at the level of emotional engagement—you enter the prolonged panic as if there, and then welcome the relief.

Poem Friday: Ashleigh Young’s ‘The bats’ resonates with such clarity

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Photo credit: Matt Bluett

Poetry Shelf now has a new feature. I always wanted to post poems on the site but I wanted to give everything else a chance to settle in first. I was on the judging panel recently for the Sarah Broom Poetry Award and assembled a list of suggestions for Sam Hunt. It seems fitting for an  award that honours such a fine poet as Sarah that I was so invigorated by the range and vitality of local writing from established writers to writers new to me. Moved in fact. I had around 65 names in my notebook under the heading : ‘want to read the book!’ Glorious. But in this tough environment for poetry publishing, I wondered how many would end up getting into print and getting the wider audience they deserve.

Poem Friday (like a sister to Tuesday Poem) is where I get to pick a poem that l have loved in my reading travels and with permission post it (so no submissions please). I am also taking a cue from Best New Zealand Poems and inviting the poet to write a sentence or two about their poem.

I have invited Ashleigh Young to launch the new feature (which seems apt in the light of her recent good news).


The bats

There is a kind of person who locks your shoes

inside of their house, and that is a person who is distracted


and who you see now through the window talking to his wife,

his face a protective shell grown fast around the phone.


The rush of not knowing someone at all lifts you

into the trees with the cicadas, your body too a bright clapping.


These are the situations through which you’ll get older

when you would like to walk home but your shoes are locked


in someone’s house, when you imagine sprinting down a driveway

as your back is pelted with rocks. These are unnecessary situations


because maybe you would have grown older anyhow, and likely

you do not need to cut your heart into two soft slippers to wear;


should need only to blot it with a paper towel as if it were

a bloody nose, all that blood turning to cold breath soon. Notice how


this person’s dog shows its affection by exploding into dangerous

shards in your arms. How much time do we have? None, very little


only some. But let yourself be lifted into the applause of the trees.

Let the applause be in anticipation of the slow motion


of him coming out of the house, quietly as a road cone

placed on a statue’s head at night.


Let his body be held, and graffitied, and prised apart.

Let the applause continue, even when it’s getting dark


even when it is dark

even when the bats come out.


© Ashleigh Young


Ashleigh works as an editor in Wellington and is currently working on a new collection of poetry and also a first collection of essays. Her debut collection was entitled Magnificent Moon. She has just been appointed Editor at Victoria University Press.

Author’s note: I have a fixation with cicadas, specifically with the way cicadas sound at the height of summer. It’s an urgent, panicky, overwhelming sound, always on the edge of total chaos. I was interested in how that sound might translate into a human feeling, and set out to write a scene about one possibility, when a kind of strange personal situation becomes amplified out of all proportion. And the bats? Well, I got to thinking about what the opposite of cicadas might be. I arrived at bats.

Note from Paula: Every now and then you fall upon a poem that fills you with such heart-stopping awe you just have to sit awhile and wait. That’s how I felt after reading this poem. Ashleigh’s poem leads you into the trees with the cicadas—into that glistening moment when the pitch of the cicada hits its summer zenith and all manner of subterranean feelings get to work on you. Yes, it leads you there, but then it leads you, surprisingly, lithely, into the jaw of difficulty. Where things go awry. And this is where the poem is glorious and light—in its movement into the enigmatic shade (an oxymoron I know). Its layers radiate out from the veiled situation, a bad situation you suspect. I love the gaps, the strangeness, the idea of someone locking someone’s shoes in their house. There were lines in this poem I wanted to hold in my mouth until they dissolved because they resonated with such clarity, beauty and deft phrasing (‘your body too a bright clapping’ ‘situations through which you’ll get older’). I also loved the lullaby-like repetition at the end that provided a point of solace along with a point of surprise (the bats).