Tag Archives: Ockham NZ book Awards

Poems from the Ockham NZ Book Award poetry shortlist: Tony Beyer’s ‘The Characters’

 

The Characters

  

a comfort to think

that in Nagano where

 

typewriters used to be made

they still remember

 

Bashō’s visit and the long-

expired snow he came to view

 

each snow flake

then as now unique each

 

fluent stroke of the brush

comprehensible but singular

 

© Tony Beyer from Anchor Stone

 

 

 

Tony Beyer was born and grew up in Auckland, and now lives in Taranaki after a career as a secondary school teacher in several parts of the North Island. His seventeen poetry titles include Jesus Hobo (Caveman Press, 1971), The Singing Ground (The Caxton Press, 1986), The Century (HeadworX, 1998), Electric Yachts (Puriri Press, 2003), Dream Boat: selected poems (HeadworX, 2007) and Anchor Stone (Cold Hub Press, 2017). His work has been widely published, anthologised and reviewed in New Zealand and elsewhere.

Poems from the Ockham NZ Book Award poetry shortlist: Elizabeth Smither’s ‘Tenderness’

 

 

 

Tenderness

 

                           I

 

A tree in the centre of a corn field

the corn rising in its ranks like braided hair

to meet the lowest branches

 

a tree that has replaced at least twenty

corn stalks with their divided leaves

twenty golden cobs sweetly surrendered

 

for this lovely grace: leaf sweep touching

leaf sweep, the whole field given by

this rising trunk, a focus

 

the pattern drawn from the edge of the field

to the centre where the tree

delivers a blessing.

 

II

 

The forest planation blankets hills.

Neat-ankled, swift-running

the dark pines descend

 

except on one little hilltop a ride

of grass begins and runs

with the trees which seem to bend

 

tenderly towards it: a bed from which

a child has risen and begun walking

the solicitousness of pine branches over grass.

 

©Elizabeth Smither from Night Horse

 

Elizabeth Smither’s most recent poetry collection, Night Horse, was published by Auckland University Press in 2017. She also writes novels and short stories.

Poems from Ockham NZ Book Award poetry finalists: Briar Wood’s ‘Kuramārōtini’

 

 

Kuramārōtini

 

So the story goes

that trickster Kupe

cheated his friend

into diving overboard

to free the lines

then paddled rapidly away.

 

Some hoa.

Best to know that

legendary navigators take huge risks

and do not make the safest companions.

 

Ākuanei—

she asked herself—

what do I want—

home in Hawaiki

or the travelling years?

 

What does he want—

the waka my father gifted—

Matahourua and me?

 

Or maybe unhappiness

with the man she’d married

drove her to the coast.

It’s possible—

she was curious and Hoturapa wasn’t

the kind of man who liked a journey

so she chose Kupe.

 

Yet even an inveterate traveller

might become weary in a waka

on the open sea,

looking out for landfall.

 

Travelling direct to her destination—

as the future loomed towards her

she named that radiant land

on the horizon

Aotearoa.

 

 

Briar Wood from Rāwāhi (Anahera Press, 2017)

 

Briar Wood grew up in South Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. Until 2012, she lived and worked as a lecturer in Britain. Welcome Beltane (Palores Press, 2012) made poetic links between family histories and contemporary places. The most recent collection Rāwāhi (Anahera Press, 2017) is focused through a return to Northland places where her Te Hikutū ki Hokianga, Ngāpuhi Nui whakapapa resonates with ecological concerns.

12 Questions for the Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry finalists: Elizabeth Smither

 

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Congratulations on your short-list placing Elizabeth!

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

Everything by Wislawa Szymborska and the Penguin Modern Poets series (3 poets in each clutch purse-sized collection): Emily Berry/Anne Carson/Sophie Collins; Malika Booker/Sharon Olds/Warsan Shire etc.

 

What other reading attracts you?

Almost anything. At the moment I am re-reading Rex Stout and the yellow pyjama-wearing detective Nero Wolfe.

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection.

I never discover a theme until a collection is put together. The connections between individual poems can be as subtle and perverse as the most delicate rhyme or rhythm.

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems come into being?

Perhaps the secret life of animals?

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

‘The heart heals itself between beats’ because it was a commission with an extra scoop of fear attached.

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

Depth and uncertainty.

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

Nothing. It’s important not to loathe anything.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

Propped up on a bank of pillows in bed, with the concert programme on the radio and perhaps a glass of wine.

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

The chutzpah of our independent publishers; a tendency for too much adulation.

 

Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

Margaret Atwood and Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the Aldeburgh festival. I read first and sat down between them, shivering.

 

If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

I think I’d do a Dead Poets session. Keats and Shelley, Robert Lowell, William Empson, John Crowe Ransom, Tomas Tranströmer, Szymborska, of course… the possibilities are endless. It might have something of the bitchy tone of ‘The Real Housewives of Melbourne’.  To chair it one of the Paulas: Green or Morris.

 

Night Horse AUP author page

 

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The Ockham NZ Book Award Poetry Finalists: an interview with Tony Beyer

 

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Congratulations on your short-list placing!

Thank you!

 

What poetry books have you read in the past year?

My favourite NZ books in 2017 were Stu Bagby’s Pockets of Warmth (Antediluvian Press) and John Gibb’s Waking by a River of Light (Cold Hub Press). Recent publication of their respective collected poems has sent me back volume by volume through Galway Kinnell and A. R. Ammons, admired late US poets. Also a delight to have Alistair Te Ariki Campbell’s Collected Poems – VUP’s finest ever publication!

 

What other reading attracts you?

Very interested lately in female North American long-form poets, specifically Rachel Blau du Plessis, Beverly Dahlen, Daphne Marlatt and Eleni Sikelianos. I read a lot of European and Asian fiction in translation. Non-fiction usually includes Victorian and ancient history.

 

Name some key starting points (or themes) for your collection.

Finding myself unexpectedly between teaching engagements and having to re-think my assumed identity. The New Pacific Studio fellowship in late 2011, when I was encouraged to be creatively selfish. Since then I seem to have established a modus operandi that keeps me writing whatever else is going on.

 

Did anything surprise you as the poems came into being?

There was a strong awareness that these were some of the poems I had waited a long time to be able to write.

 

Find up to 5 individual words that pitch your book to a reader.

Right here now and always.

 

Which poem particularly falls into place for you?

‘Li Bai’ focuses many of the concerns in the book about environment, identity, time, culture and memory, etc. ‘The characters’ probably does the same in a more succinct, oblique manner. I suppose my basic allegiance is to poetry.

 

What matters most when you write a poem?

I want to tell the truth and communicate with others. The work is more important than I am.

 

What do you loathe in poetry?

Reductive expectations.

 

Where do you like to write poems?

Everywhere.

 

What are strengths and lacks in our poetry scenes?

Strengths: the new work appearing from younger poets, inventing the future and guaranteeing there will be one; growing bilingual and multilingual awareness has enriched our Pacific possibilities and commands response. Both factors indicate our unique position and opportunities in the Anglosphere.

 

Have you seen a festival poetry session (anywhere) that has blown you off your seat (or had some other significant impact)?

Have not attended festivals.

 

If you could curate a dream poetry session at The Auckland Writers Festival which poets would be there and who would mc or chair it?

NZ now: Airini Beautrais, Sarah Jane Barnett, David Howard and Erik Kennedy, MC’d by Stu Bagby.

For all time: Tomas Tranströmer, Charles Olson, Lauris Edmond and C. P. Cavafy, chaired by William Carlos Williams.

 

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The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Poetry shortlist

 

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All shortlists here

Book awards draw attention to books that hook judges for any number of reasons. Hopefully the awards attract new readers and generate new conversations. Check out reactions at The Spin Off to all four lists. In 2017, and I seem to say this every year, New Zealand published an astonishing array of poetry from a diverse range of presses. I loved so much of it, I would have turned down an invitation to judge an award. Yes there were books I utterly loved that didn’t make the long list. Yes there were books from the long list that I utterly loved that didn’t make the short list.

I am really familiar with three of the books on the short list, while the fourth is a pleasing discovery. Each of these books contain poems that gave me goosebumps. So in the spirit of generosity I celebrate the judges’ choices.

What do these poets have in common? Attentiveness!

 

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Elizabeth Smither’s Night Horse   (Auckland University Press)

Last year I read through the captivating stretch of Elizabeth Smither’s poetry: from Here Come the Clouds published in 1975, to the new collection, Night Horse. I was drawn into melodious lines, pocket anecdotes, bright images and enviable movement. Harry Ricketts talked about the transformative quality of Elizabeth’s poems in an interview with Kathryn Ryan, and I agree. As you follow reading paths from the opening line of the first poem — ‘Once, near nightfall, I drove past my mother’s house’—there is always  some form of transformation. The poetry, from debut until now, is meditative, andante, beautiful.

I see a continued poetic attentiveness and an ability to assemble detail that both stalls and surprises the reader. I was thinking the poems are like little jackets that can be worn inside out, and outside in, because Elizabeth offers stillness in movement, and in movement stillness. She generates musicality in plainness, and in plainness there is music. In the strange, there is the ordinary, and in the ordinary, there is strangeness.

Elizabeth so often slows down the pace of her poems so we may linger upon an image, a word, an anecdote, a side-thought to see what surfaces.

I especially love the ongoing friendship and granddaughter poems, but I particularly love the first poem, ‘My mother’s house.’ Kate Camp and I heard Elizabeth read this at the National Library’s Circle of Laureates last year and were so moved and uplifted that we asked for copies! In the poem, unseen, Elizabeth observes her mother move through the house from the street (she told us this autobiographical fact) and sees her in shifting lights. The moment is breathtaking; are we are at our truest self when we are not observed? There is characteristic Smither movement through the poem, slow and attentive, to the point of tilt and surprise. The final lines reverberate and alter the pitch of looking: ‘but she who made it/who would soon walk into the last room/of her life and go to sleep in it.’

 

It was all those unseen moments we do not see

the best of a friend, the best of a mother

competent and gracious in her solitude

 

from ‘My mother’s house’

 

 

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Sue Wootton’s The Yield  (Otago University Press)

Sue Wootton’s shortlisted collection is a sumptuous read, a read that sparks in new directions, while clearly in debt to everything she has written to date. You enter a sumptuous feast of sound and image amongst other glorious things. Several poems feature knitting, and knitting is a perfect analogy for the way Sue’s poems interlace the aural and the visual to produce sensual patterns. The poems have enviable texture and that texture engages both mind and heart.

As I read, the poetry of David Eggleton and Michele Leggott comes to mind.  They both write out of their own skin in ways that are quite unlike the local trend to write conversational poetry. I can see a similar idiosyncratic pulse driving Yield poems as though Sue is pushing boundaries, resisting models, playing and challenging what she can do as a poet.

I am also struck by the heightened musical effects. Sue has always had an attentive ear, but this collection almost feels baroque in the leapfrogging alliteration, assonance and sweet chords. There are traces of the personal in the poems—deaths, a family picnic, illness, a declaration to live life to the utmost, friendship—but I would suggest Sue hides in the crevices. Some of the poems (‘The needlework, the polishing,’ ‘Pray,’ ‘Priest in a coffee shop,’ ‘Graveyard poem,’ ‘Poem to my nearest galaxy’) engage with some kind of spirituality, either through a church building or prayer.

So many poems in the collection stand out for me (and indeed there are a number of award-winning poems here). I especially love ‘Calling,’ ‘Wild,’ ‘Lunch poem for Larry,’ ‘Admission,’ ‘Picnic,’ ‘Unspooling,’ ‘Strange monster,’ ‘A treatise on the benefits of moonbathing,’ ‘The crop,’ ‘Daffodils.’ Ha! Quite a list of poems that matter.

The alluring cover befits the allure of the poems within.

 

Measure my wild. Down to my last leaf,

my furled, my desicated. This deciduousness,

this bloom. Calculate my xylem levels,

my spore count, fungal, scarlet

in a bluebell glade. Whoosh,

where the foliage closes on a great cat.

 

from ‘Wild’

 

 

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Briar Wood Rāwāhi   (Anahera Press)

Briar Wood’s poetry collection gathers, with a wide embrace, details of travel and living, and as the lived-in world grows on the page, the poems set up all manner of conversations. This book draws upon whakapapa, love, relations, ecology, the past and the present. Its warmth and its empathy are infectious.

Briar offers poetry that is both spare in delivery and rich in connection because people and places matter. The book cover glitters white on blue – and for me that is a treat of reading within. Words shine out like little gold nuggets on the line, layering and overlapping, and never losing sight of what matters deeply to the poet.

Poetry can be a way of laying down roots and setting up home in the poem, and on these occasions, it is as though Briar sings home in to being.

 

The sea at night is blacklit,

kikorangi, kōura, topazerine, pango,

a haul of images pouring from nets,

darker than oil underground

 

from ‘Paewai o Te Moana’

 

 

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Tony Beyer’s Anchor Stone (Cold Hub Press)

Tony Beyer was such a discovery for me, I now need to track down his back list. Anchor Stone offers a distinctive voice with each poem judiciously layering detail that animates people, places and events. I am drawn to the measured pace, the slow and steady revelations that beguile and compound. The mix of economy, surprise, wit and physicality is glorious. You get linguistic agility, askew slides and a touch of daring.

No subject is redundant when it comes to poetry – think the land, friendship, trees and stones –  as Tony underlines. ‘Paths’ demonstrates such poetic fluidity, in a sequence of 100 small poems that furnish the outbreath and the inbreath of writing. It is as though each little poem walks its way into thought. Contemplation. The title suggest that these poems are miniature anchors but they are also kite-like in their imaginings and renditions and our need to attend to the physical world we inhabit.

Poetry can embrace beauty, flawed or otherwise, along with ways of belonging.

 

there is someone

everywhere in this house

living or

having lived here

their presence preserved

by a window fastening

the way a door

closes or partly closes

 

from  ‘Paths’

 

 

Each of these collections generates distinctive and diverse poetry pleasures. A big hug to the poets and big hug to all those who missed out on either list. Poetry awards can be tough times when you write, especially when exceptional books don’t make lists, long or short. But for these deserving four poets, it is time to crack open the bubbles and celebrate.

 

 

Congratulations to the Ockham Book Award Poetry Longlisters

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Congratulations poets – this is a strong showing.

 

Here is my conversation with NZ Poet Laureate, Selina Tusitala Marsh.

My conversation with Airini Beautrais.

My conversation with Hannah Mettner.

My conversation with Elizabeth Smither.

My conversation with Sue Wootton.

Two poems and my response to Kate Camp’s collection

Two poems and my response to Briar Wood’s collection.

 

I haven’t yet read the other  collections – but I loved these enough to have showcased them on the blog. I would sing the praises of them anywhere.

 

The Poetry Award will be judged by poet, novelist and creative non-fiction writer Alison Wong; poet and deputy chief executive, Māori, at Manukau Institute of Technology Robert Sullivan; and Otago poet, publisher, editor and librettist Michael Harlow.

My commiserations to those who missed the list. This year has produced an extraordinary array of poetry books from main and boutique presses. And yes, very good books are missing (it’s like trying to squeeze your books in your holiday bag and the bag just won’t shut) so I am going to flag just a few.

The glorious books of Bill Manhire (there are two!), Michele Leggott and Nina Powles.  I would add Louise Wallace, Maria McMillan, James Brown, Caron Smeaton, Reuben Todd. .

 

Congratulations to those on the longlist.  A toast to you, to your publishers and booksellers and to those who spread its joy far and wide.

 

Rest of award results and details of poetry books here