Tag Archives: NZ Poet Laureate

NZ Poet Laureate Award event last night – The baton is passed, as Ian Wedde, says





Last night CK Stead was awarded the 2015 NZ Poet Laureateship at the National Library in Parnell with the support of friends and family.

Chris Szekel, Head Librarian at The Alexander Turnball Library, and responsible for the award, steered the speeches.

Ian Wedde, as a former Laureate said a few words, The RT Hon Maggie Barry, as Minister of the Arts, said a few words and then it was over to Karl.

Karl underlined how poetry had been a significant part of his life from an early age: ‘Poetry found me in Mt Albert Grammar School library’ and ‘Poetry has always been somewhere near the centre of my consciousness.’ He added: ‘Poetry is still close to the centre of my life, otherwise I would not have accepted this award.’

He acknowledged presences (atua) in the room with him (Allen Curnow, Kendrick Smithyman, Bill Pearson, Maurice Shadbolt, Maurice Duggan, Keith Sinclair). His fellow writers. I found this  very moving.

He acknowledged writers in the room and his family.

Karl read two poems, ‘Look Who’s Talking’ and ‘Crossing Cook Strait,’ suggesting the writers behind these poems, James K Baxter and Curnow, would have been Laureates if the award had existed then.

It was very clear that this writer, writes out of mesh of poetic relationships. Vitally so.

I drove back west from a lovely occasion – full of the warmth generated by a shared love of poetry and admiration of one of our most esteemed poets. It touched me.

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Poetry Shelf congratulates our new Poet Laureate


Photo credit: Marti Friedlander

CK Stead is our new Poet Laureate.


I was in the thick of stand-still, rush-hour traffic on the way to a South Auckland School this morning when I heard the news and it gave me a much needed boost. Poetry has always been a primary love in the broad spectrum of Karl’s work. His poetry catches your attention on so many levels because his poems become a meeting ground for intellect, heart, experience, musicality, craft, acumen, a history of reading and thought, engagement with the world in all its physical, human and temporal manifestations.

I am delighted to celebrate this result.


Here is a snippet from an interview I did with Karl for Poetry Shelf last year:

Your poems are delightfully complex packages that offer countless rewards for the reader—musicality, wit, acute intelligence, lucidity, warmth, intimacy, playfulness, an enviable history of reading, irony, sensual detail, humour, lyricism. What are key things for you when you write a poem?

It has to be a meeting of words and feeling, in which the words are at the very least equal in importance, and the feeling can be of any kind, not just one kind. I like wit, think laughter can be tonic, but of course it doesn’t fit all occasions.

There were a number of significant poets in NZ from the 1940s onwards and you have interacted with many of them (Curnow, Mason, Glover, Baxter and so on). Were there any in particular whose poetry struck a profound chord with you?

Curnow was always the most important for me. But when I was young Fairburn’s lyricism seemed very attractive; Glover at his rare best (the Sing’s Harry poems); Mason likewise (‘Be Swift O sun’); Baxter – especially in his later poems: they have all been important to me.

Do you think your writing has changed over time? I see an increased tenderness, a contemplative backward gaze, moments where you poke fun at and/or revisit the younger ‘Karls,’ a moving and poetic engagement with age, writerly ghosts and death. Yet still there is that love and that keen intelligence that penetrates every line you write.

You are very kind! I certainly feel ‘older and wiser’ in the sense that things don’t matter so much, one accepts the fact of human folly and one’s own share in it. Indignation doesn’t stop, but there is a kind of weary acceptance, and laughter. I still feel embarrassment – especially when looking back – but I recognize that as not only a safeguard against social mistakes, but also as another manifestation of ego, as if one feels one should be exempt from folly.

There have been shifting attitudes to the ‘New Zealand’ label since Curnow started calling for a national identity (he was laying the foundation stones that we then had the privilege to use as we might). Does it make a difference that you are writing in New Zealand? Does a sense of home matter to you?

When I was young I was a literary nationalist. Now I regard nationalism as a form of tribalism and the result of genetic programming no longer suitable or safe in the modern world. So I have changed a lot. But I still recognize regional elements as important, even essential, in the poetic process. I think Curnow himself became more a regional poet and less a nationalist one; but the arguments that had swirled around all that had had the effect of committing him to positions which he didn’t want to resile from, so he remained the committed nationalist, perhaps after the need had passed.

What irks you in poetry? What delights you?

I suppose any kind of excess, of language or of feeling; and solemnity – especially the sense that poetry is taking itself too seriously and asking for special respect.

There are many kinds of delight in poetry, but almost all of them involve economy. If an idea or an experience or a scene or a personality or whatever can be conveyed as well in 10 words as in 20, those 10 words will be full of an energy which the more relaxed and expansive version lacks. They will be radio-active.

Name three NZ poetry books that you have loved.

Singling out living poets might be invidious, but here are three by poets now dead: You will know when you get there (Curnow); Jerusalem Sonnets (Baxter); Pipe Dreams in Ponsonby (David Mitchel).

The full interview here.


Call for nominations for NZ Poet Laureate

The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa is seeking nominations for the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award

Poetry is a quintessential part of New Zealand art and culture, and through the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award the government acknowledges the value that New Zealanders place on poetry as a part of our national identity.The Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library will appoint the New Zealand Poet Laureate after reviewing nominations and seeking advice from the New Zealand Poet Laureate Advisory Group.Nominees must have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand poetry, and be an accomplished and highly regarded poet. They must also be a strong advocate for poetry, and be able to fulfil the public role required of a Poet Laureate, which includes engaging with a wide range of people and inspiring New Zealanders to read and write poetry.

Nominations close on Monday, 6 July.
Candidates must currently reside in New Zealand.

The term of appointment for the next Poet Laureate will run until 30 June 2017.

Please send your nomination to Eva.Weber@dia.govt.nz.
Email is preferred, but you can also mail your nomination to:
Alexander Turnbull Library
Attention New Zealand Poet Laureate Award
PO Box 12349
Enquiries about the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award can be
sent to Peter.Ireland@dia.govt.nz.

Vincent O’Sullivan posts some new poems by Emma Neale on the Laureate website. They are simply breathtaking.


Current NZ Poet Laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan, has selected some new poems by Emma Neale to mark the shift between one year and the next. They are stunning poems, not only in the aural delights, the archival detail and each poem’s building momentum, but in the way the poet lays anchors in both a real world of sons and husband and an exhilarating world of ideas. These poems have shifted gear.

Emma was shortlisted for the Sarah Broom  Award this year and read with fellow shortlisted poet, Kirsti Whalen, at the Auckland Writers Festival. To hear Emma read was to hear the poetic detail and music come into even richer life. A highlight for me this year.

Vincent O’Sullivan on Emma Neale:

‘There is something so celebratory about Emma Neale’s poetry, about its eager, informed, needle-eyed engagement with the contemporary world, that it seems the very thing for this final Poet Laureate blog of the year, for what we still, with our perverse and saving optimism, call ‘the festive season’. Thanks to Emma for these unpublished poems, for their kitchen-familiar and cosmic-wide attentions, for running the hot thread of such linguistic flare and precision through whatever occasion she takes up. These seem to me the kind of poems that begin with readers but end with partners, in their take on how things are, and how we talk of them. This is poetry in that ancient tradition of ‘speaking for us all’, of making scenes and events that we find are about ourselves all the time, even when they may at first move so confidently in that Rilkean dimension of ‘beauty and terror’. Good poems to end one year, and to begin another.’

For the selected poems see here.

The website of New Zealand’s Poet Laureate has moved.

Website can be found here.

Here is a taste of Poet Laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan’s latest post:

Until a few months ago, all I knew of Mexican poetry was from a few international names like Octavio Paz, a selection of translations by Samuel Beckett, and a number of fine poets from anthologies. Then my discovery that in fact Spanish American poetry was being written a few kilometres from where I live. Rogelio Guedea has been in Dunedin for almost a decade. He teaches at the university, an intellectual who contributes regular political columns to papers in Mexico, a former legal prosecutor, a writer of crime novels, and a prolific poet. El crimen de los Tepames, the final volume of a fiction trilogy, last year was a best seller in Mexico, and his poetry has won Spain’s Premio Adonais. The enterprising Roger Hickin, whose Cold Hub Press is the only New Zealand imprint that brings out collections in foreign languages, is about to publish Si no te hubieras ido/If only you hadn’t gone, with his own finely pitched translations. The set of thirty four poems was written while the writer’s wife and family was temporarily back in Mexico. As I’ve noted in an Introduction to the volume,

‘Ordinary,’ I expect, is the first word that may come to you, should you ask, what kind of world is this, that these poems are part of? For that is the ultimate grace, you might say, that the poet’s wife bestows on a house and a suburb while she is there, and that seems so distant, so unlikely, when she is not. (…)

Visit site to read the rest of the piece.


Elizabeth Smither’s Ruby Duby Du deserves to be under the pillow of every new mother and father


Elizabeth Smither, Ruby Duby Du, Cold Hub Press, 2013

Elizabeth Smither is an award-wining poet and novelist. She was named New Zealand Poet Laureate in 2002 and was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2008. On the back of her new book, Ruby Duby Du, Elizabeth says, ‘None of these compares to being a grandmother.’

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This delightful book signals the burgeoning output of small presses –- handcrafted books with smallish print runs, scope for new poets to emerge, and established poets to publish miniature gems or take sidestepping risks. Elizabeth’s book, published by Dunedin’s Cold Hub Press, is a gold nugget of a book and deserves to be under the pillow of every new mother and father, and in the gift box of every newborn child. It is an utter delight from curling fingertip to wriggling toe.

The new collection, with delicate illustrations by artist Kathryn Madill, is a book of poems dedicated to Ruby (born 2011) from her grandmother, Elizabeth. It begins with the announcement of a pregnancy, and ends with Ruby in her father’s arms and the counting of stars. Love is both the movement and the anchor that holds Elizabeth’s poetry in warm embrace. These poems are intimate, personal and captivatingly real.

I was taken back, convincingly, mesmerisingly to the birth of my daughters — to a time when the world moves into acute and breathtaking focus (as though you have a new pair of glasses). To a time when certain things matter so much less and fade into pale.

Each poem resonates with a particular moment — measuring Ruby in the womb (‘the height of a tall vase/ a blue iris’); cleaning windows for Ruby’s visit (‘Your grandmother/ had clean windows for her first granddaughter/ and everything glowed from then’).

There is tenderness and charm, but there is also wit running through the veins of these poems — the cheekiness of the grandmother along with the deep love. In ‘The grandparents intervene’ (a terrific poem!) the grandparents await news of the birth in their separate houses (‘In two separate houses broken sleep/ and then you broke into the world, Ruby’). The poem ends on the two clocks (his ‘from a ship’ and hers ‘from a shop that sold antiques’). The clock is resonant of time to come and time past but is also enriched by these divergent origins.

Elizabeth’s wit is sparkling in ‘Ruby and the mock-rivalry.’ The baby (that can’t yet speak) tells the grandfather she wants to captain an ocean liner. The grandmother knows the only reason Ruby might want to go to sea is ‘to write a book in which case/ the breath of the sea might come in handy.’

More than anything, these poems are songs to Ruby. Elizabeth has drawn upon her craft as a poet, found the music in a line, the detail that you want to hold onto and share (let’s take a photograph and preserve this moment), the way the movement in a new life can generate delicious movement in a poem (what poem can survive without this). There is thought (the way some occurrences can be slipped through a philosophical filter) and there is heart (the way some things are steered by gut and intuition, along with love).

In ‘Ruby and the vegetable rockery,’ Elizabeth aligns silver beet and Ruby (‘Though they are unacquainted at present/ each is pulling itself up by the roots’). I have never read a poem where a baby and silver beet are poetic companions, but Elizabeth’s collection is full of surprises. The poem, like the book as a whole, is layered like the vegetable rockery – the poet has planted herself and Ruby in every nook and cranny, and you will brush against the sheer joy of new life. Elizabeth shows that poetry can put the world (in this case, Ruby) in loving focus. It is a gift to read. It is a gift to share!


New Zealand Book Council author page

University of Auckland author file

Auckland University Press author page

Hamesh Wyatt review of The Blue Coat

Caitlin Sinclair review of The Blue Coat

NZ Poet Laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan’s blog is worth following

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As the current NZ Poet Laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan is following in the footsteps of his predecessors (Michele Leggott, Ian Wedde and Cilla McQueen) and contributing a regular blog to the Laureate site.

Each poet has used this opportunity in quite different ways. Vincent states his aim at the outset: ‘The obvious point of this site is to celebrate and present the breadth of experience and formal variety that poetry embraces. I shall be inviting a guest poet to contribute work of their own, and to select a poem by a living writer they value, as well as a poem from an earlier era that continues to matter to them.’

He also plans to showcase poets who have been persecuted as a writer. The first is Ghanaian Kofi Awoonor, killed by terrorists on the day he was to appear at a literary festival.

The first invited poet is Jennifer Compton.

This is a wonderful initiative on the part of Vincent — an invitation that will be of real benefit to New Zealand poetry communities, and to all those who love poetry.

See here for The Laureate site.