Tag Archives: Ockham NZ book Awards

Poetry Shelf congratulates the Ockham NZ Book Award winners – and showcases the poetry

d590ea43-fe25-4bb4-a1b5-a785e5cb0b66.jpg

 

Warm congratulations to all winners! This is a year where well-deserving and much-loved books have taken the winning spots – each book is worthy of a place on our book shelves.

I look at this list (and indeed the shortlists) and it reminds me that NZ literature is in good heart. These are heart books. These are books born from love and labour, by both inspired and inspiring authors and publishers.

The Award’s poetry section  was a drawcard for me. I loved each shortlisted finalist so much, but I leapt for joy at the kitchen table to see Jane Arthur win Best First Book and Helen Rickerby win Best Book.

Yes, some extraordinary books did not make the longlists let alone the shortlists – but this is time to celebrate our winners.

I toast you all with bubbles and bouquets and can’t wait to see what you write next.

Right now we need to support our NZ book communities, so I strongly advocate putting an Ockham winner in our pile, the next time we visit our local booksellers.

In these strange Covid times my email box has has never been so full of poems – we’re making sour dough and we’re writing poetry, and it has been such a connecting comfort.

Long may we cherish poetry in Aotearoa.

 

My toast to the Poetry Winners:

 

screen-shot-2020-02-11-at-8.45.03-am.png

 

Craven, Jane Arthur, Victoria University Press, 2019 Best First Poetry Book

 

 

I have a broth at a simmer on the stove.

Salty water like I’ve scooped up some ocean

and am cooking it in my home. Here,

gulp it back like a whale sieving plankton.

Anything can be a weapon if you

swallow hard enough:

nail scissors, a butter knife, dental floss,

a kindergarten guillotine, hot soup,

waves, whales.

from ‘Circles of Lassitude’

 

 

Jane Arthur’s debut collection Craven inhabits moments until they shine – brilliantly, surprisingly, refractingly, bitingly. Present-tense poetry is somewhat addictive. With her free floating pronouns (I, you, we) poetry becomes a way of being, of inhabiting the moment, as you either reader or poet, from shifting points of view.

It is not surprising it has won Best First Book at 2020 the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

The collection title references lack of courage, but it is as though Jane’s debut collection steps across a line into poetic forms of grit. This is a book of unabashed feeling; of showing the underseam, the awkward stitching, the rips and tears. Of daring to expose. The poems are always travelling and I delight in every surprising step. You move from taxidermy to piano lessons to heart checks and heart beats, but there is always a core of exposed self. And that moves me. You shift from a thing such as a plastic rose to Brad Pitt to parental quarrels. One poem speaks from the point of view of a ship’s figurehead, another from that of Constance. There is anxiety – there are dilemmas and epiphanies. The poetic movement is honeyed, fluid, divinely crafted – no matter where the subject travels, no matter the anxious veins, the tough knots.

An early poem, ‘Idiots’, is like an ode to life, to ways of being. I keep crossing between the title and the poem, the spare arrival of words punctuated by ample white space, elongated silent beats that fill with the links between brokenness, strength and pressing on.

 

Idiots

I’ve known people who decided

to carry their brokenness like strength

idiots

I’m a tree

I mean I’m tall, I sway

I don’t say, treat me gently

No¾I say, cool cool cool cool

I say, that really sucks but I guess I’ll survive it

or, that wind’s really strong

but so are my roots, so are my thighs

my branches my lungs my leaves my capacity to wait things out

I can get up in the morning

I do things

 

 

I heard Jane read for the first time at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize session at the Auckland Writers Festival in 2018. Her reading blew my socks off, just as her poems had delighted American judge, Eileen Myles, and it was with great pleasure I announced her as the winner. Eileen described Jane’s poetry: ‘poetry’s a connection to everything which I felt in all these [shortlisted] poets but in this final winning one the most. There’s an unperturbed confident “real” here.’ In her report, Eileen wrote:

The poet shocked me. I was thrust into their work right away and it evoked the very situation of the poem and the cold suddenness of the clinical encounter, the matter of fact weirdness of being female though so many in the world are us. And still we are a ‘peculiarity’ here and this poet manages to instantly say that in poetry. They more than caught me. I like exactly how they do this – shifting from body to macro, celestial, clinical, and maybe even speaking a little out of an official history. She seems to me a poet of scale and embodiment. Her moves are clean and well-choreographed & delivers each poem’s end & abruptly and deeply I think. There’s a from the hip authority that inhabits each and all of these poems.

I am revisiting these words in view of Craven’s multiple poetry thrills. So often we talk about the way a poem steps off from the ordinary and blasts your heart and senses, if not your mind, with such a gust of freshness everything becomes out of the ordinary. This is what happens with Craven. A sense of verve and outspokenness is both intoxicating and necessary:

 

I’m entertaining the idea of never being silent again,

of walking into a room and shouting, You Fuckers Better Toe the Line

like a prophylactic.

from ‘Sit Down’

 

 

A sense of brittleness, vulnerability and self-testing is equally present:

I’ve been preoccupied with what others think again.

I’ve been trying not to let people down.

Nights are not long enough.

Lately there’s been more sun than I would’ve expected.

I keep the weather report open in its own tab and check it often.

 

From ‘Situation’

The movement between edge and smooth sailing, between light and dark, puzzle and resolution, and all shades within any dichotomy you might spot – enhances the reading experience. This is a book to treasure – its complexities and its economies, its confession and its reserve. It never fails to surprise. I am delighted Jane read as part of my Poetry Shelf Live session at Wellington’s Writers Festival in March. It was a divine reading.

 

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: ‘Situation’ by Jane Arthur

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Jane Arthur reads ‘Snowglobe’

Poetry Shelf: Conversation with Sarah Broom Prize finalist, Jane Arthur

 

 

 

Rickerby_How_to_Live__14837.1564361874.jpg

 

How to Live, Helen Rickerby, Auckland University Press, 2019 Best Poetry Book

 

Helen reads ‘How to live through this’

 

 

When that philosopher said life must be lived forwards

but can only be understood backwards

he was not thinking of me

I have lived all kinds of lives

from ‘A pillow book’

Helen Rickerby’s latest poetry collection How to Live is a joy to read. She brings her title question to the lives of women, in shifting forms and across diverse lengths, with both wit and acumen. Like many contemporary poets she is cracking open poetic forms – widening what a poem can do – as though taking a cue from art and its ability both to make art from anything and in any way imaginable.

Reading this book invigorates me. Two longer poems are particularly magnetic: ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ and ‘George Eliot: a life’. Both function as fascination assemblages. They allow the reader to absorb lyrical phrases, humour, biography, autobiography, insistent questions. Biography is enlivened by such an approach, as is poetry.

 

6.   It seems to me that poetry usually begins with the self

and works its way outwards; and the essay, perhaps, starts

outwards and works its way in towards the self.

from ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’

 

Thinking of the silent woman I am reminded of Aristotle’s crown of silence that he placed upon she. I then move across centuries to Leilani Tamu’s poem ‘Mouths Wide Shut’ where she sits on a bus with her mouth taped shut silent. The skin-spiking poem (and the protest) considers silence in the face of racism. Even now, even after the women’s movements of the 1970s and the explosion of feminism and feminisms over ensuing decades, men still talk over women, still dismiss the women speaking (take women in power for example, or a young woman at the UN challenging climate-change inertia).

What Helen does is remind us is that silence is like snow – it is multi-hued and deserves multiple names and nuances: ‘Silence isn’t always not speaking. Silence is sometimes / an erasure.’

Ah the stab in my skin when I read these lines. In ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ Helen draws me in close, closer and then even closer to Hipparchia of Maroneia (c 350 – c 280 BC).

5.    But I do have something to say. I want to say that she

lived. I want to say that she lived, and she spoke and she

was not silent.

 

Helen gathers 58 distinctive points in this poem to shatter the silence. Sometimes we arrive at a list of women who have been both audible and visible in history, but who may have equally  been misheard, misread and dampened down. At other times the poet steps into view so we are aware of her writing presence as she records and edits and makes audible. In one breath the poet is philosopher: ‘Silence might not be speaking. It might be / listening. It can be hard to tell the difference.’ In another breath she apologies for taking so long to bring Hipparchia into the picture.

Elsewhere there is an ancient warning: ‘”If a woman speaks out of turn her teeth will be / smashed with a burnt brick.” Sumerian law, c. 2400 BC.’

A single line resonates with possibilities and the ‘we’ is a fertile gape/gap/breathing space: a collective of women, the poet and her friends, the women from the past, the poet and I: ‘There are things we didn’t think we could tell.’ Yes there are things we didn’t think we could tell but then, but then, we changed the pattern and the how was as important as the what.

Another single line again resonates with possibilities for me; it could be personal, it could equally be found poetry: ‘I would like to be able to say that  it was patriarchy that stopped me talking on social media, but it wasn’t, not / directly.’

I read ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ as a poem. I read this as an essay. I am tempted to carry on with my own set of bullet points as though Helen has issued an open invitation for the ‘we’ to speak. Me. You. They. She quotes Susan Sontag: ‘The most potent elements in a work of art are, often, its silences.’

 

The other poem I dearly love, ‘George Eliot: a life’, is also long form. Like the previous poem this appears as a sequence of numbered sections that are in turn numbered in smaller pieces. It is like I am reading a poem and then an essay and then a set of footnotes. An assemblage of fascinations. Biography as fascination allows room for anything to arrive, in which gaps are curious hooks, reflective breathing spaces and in which the personal is as compelling as the archives. Helen names her poem ‘A deconstructed biography’ and I am reminded of  fine-dining plates that offer deconstructed classics. You get a platter of tastes that your tongue then collates on the tongue.

To taste ‘George Eliot: a life’ in pieces is to allow room for reading taste buds to pop and salivate and move. This is the kind of poem you linger over because the morsels are as piquant as the breathing spaces. It delivers a prismatic portrait of George Eliot but it also refreshes how we assemble a biography and how we shape a poem. Helen brings her acerbic wit into play.

 

10.7.1.  But the fact is, and I don’t want to give you spoilers, that for such an

extraordinary woman she sure did create some disappointing female

characters. Even the heroines don’t strike out – they give up, they stop,

they enclose themselves in family, they stand behind, they cease, they  die.

They found nothing.

10.7.2.   Did she think she was too exceptional to be used as a model for her

characters? Did she think that while she was good enough to be involved

in intellectual life, and she could probably even be trusted to vote, the same

could not be said for her inferior sisters?

 

A number of smaller poems sit alongside the two longer ones including the moving ‘How to live though this’, a poem that reacts to an unstated ‘this’. ‘This’ could be anything but for me the poem reads like a morning mantra that you might whisper in the thick of tough times or alongside illness or the possibility of death.

‘How to live’ is a question equally open to interpretation as it ripples through the poems; and it makes poetry a significant part of the myriad answers. I haven’t read a book quite like this and I love that. The writing is lucid, uplifting, provocative, revealing, acidic, groundbreaking. The subject matter offers breadth and depth, illuminations, little anchors, liberations, shadows. I am all the better for having read this book. I just love it.

 

I slept my way into silence

through the afternoon, after days

of too many words and not enough words

to make the map she needs

to find her way from here

I wake, too late, with a headache

and she, in the garden wakes up shivering

from ‘Navigating by the stars’

 

 

 

Auckland University Press author page

Helen‘s ‘Mr Anderson, you heartbreaker you’

Helen on Standing Room Only

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: The Ockham NZ Book Award for Poetry 2020 shortlist

 

2020 Ockhams Shortlist_Poetry_web.jpg

 

Ah, I have loved so many poetry books published in 2019, so many of which could easily have made this shortlist ( I have no interest in hammering on about who is not here), but I felt a warm poetry glow that these four were picked. I spent a long time with each of these collections because they do what poetry does so well. They make you feel things, ponder the world, walk new tracks, make your body sway, refresh versions of the world, little and large.

I raise my poetry glass to Anne Kennedy, Helen Rickerby, Steven Toussaint and Ashleigh Young. Yep, this is a very fine shortlist.

 

Anne Kennedy

 

The thing in the jar

always dies!

The rice cooker steams

so the sun goes down

Deep in the house

sepia gathers

The pencil has eaten

the fragile book

 

from ‘Thirty-Three Transformations on a Theme of Philip’

 

I first read Anne Kennedy’s new collection Moth Hour (Auckland University Press) as a piece of music that traces the contours of grief. Words form little melodies, solo instruments sound out, there is echo, overlap, loop and patterning. Above all there is a syncopated beat that leaves room for breath, an intake of pain, an out-sigh of grief, an intake of observation, an out-breath of recognition. There is the fragile word-dance to the light.

Moth Hour responds to a family tragedy; in 1973, at the age of twenty-two, Anne’s brother, Philip, accidentally fell to his death. Anne, her seven siblings (she was the youngest and aged fourteen) and parents now lived with unbearable grief and loss, separately, diversely, as a family.

Like a mesmerising, lung-like piece of music, Moth Hour is a book of return-listening. Every time you place the poetry on the turntable of your reading you will hear something different. It blisters your skin. It touches you. But above all Moth Hour fills you with the variation and joy of what a lithe poet can do.

My full piece here

Auckland University Press author page

Anne Kennedy is a writer of fiction, film scripts and poetry. Her debut poetry collection Sing-song was named Poetry Book of the Year at the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. The Time of the Giants was shortlisted for the same award in 2006, and The Darling North won the 2013 NZ Post Book Award for Poetry. Her novels include The Last Days of the National Costume, shortlisted for the NZ Post Book Award for Fiction in 2014, and The Ice Shelf longlisted in the 2019 Ockham NZ Book Awards. She lives in Auckland.

 

 

Helen Rickerby

 

I slept my way into silence

through the afternoon, after days

of too many words and not enough words

to make the map she needs

to find her way from here

I wake, too late, with a headache

and she, in the garden wakes up shivering

 

from ‘Navigating by the stars’

 

Helen Rickerby’s latest poetry collection How to Live (Auckland University Press) is a joy to read. She brings her title question to the lives of women, in shifting forms and across diverse lengths, with both wit and acumen. Like many contemporary poets she is cracking open poetic forms – widening what a poem can do – as though taking a cue from art and its ability both to make art from anything and in any way imaginable.

Reading this book invigorates me. Two longer poems are particularly magnetic: ‘Notes on the unsilent woman’ and ‘George Eliot: a life’. Both function as fascination assemblages. They allow the reader to absorb lyrical phrases, humour, biography, autobiography, insistent questions. Biography is enlivened by such an approach, as is poetry.

‘How to live’ is a question equally open to interpretation as it ripples through the poems; and it makes poetry a significant part of the myriad answers. I haven’t read a book quite like this and I love that. The writing is lucid, uplifting, provocative, revealing, acidic, groundbreaking. The subject matter offers breadth and depth, illuminations, little anchors, liberations, shadows. I am all the better for having read this book. I just love it.

My full piece here

 

Poetry Shelf Audio Spot: Helen reads ‘How to live through this’

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Helen’s “Mr Anderson, you heartbreaker you’

Anna Jackson’s launch speech for How to Live

 

Helen Rickerby is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019). She likes questions even more than answers. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, an increasingly important publisher of New Zealand literature, focusing on poetry. Helen lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley, and works as an editor.

 

Steven Toussaint

 

abide more tritone idle mode

the dominant’s a leaky still

for quiet divination

for every thought

a finger on

the fret-

board’s shifting centre

where nothing dearer

than the pure heart’s

purring minor

requires demonstration

from ‘Aevum Measures’

 

 

Steven’s Lay Studies (Victoria University Press) entrances on multiple levels; initially through the exquisite musical pitch and counterpoints, and then in the way heart and mind are both engaged. His sumptuous poetic terrain is physical, elusive, stretching, kinetic, mysterious, difficult, beautiful. Hearing the poetry read aloud is utterly transporting. An extract from our interview:

Paula: When I listen to the ‘regular pulse’ of ‘Aevum Measures’, I am not dissecting its craft, I am feeling its craft like I feel music before I react to other features. The reading experience might be viewed as transcendental – an uplift from the physical world and from routine. I am suggesting I let myself go in the poem. Does this make sense? And is it, on another level, a way of being spiritual in a ransacked world?

Steven: It makes a lot of sense, and I am gratified to hear that you could lose yourself in the music of the poem. What you describe sounds somewhat like Keats’ notion of ‘negative capability.’ That is to say, if the sonic architecture of the poem is doing its job, then the reader is ‘capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’ at the semantic level. Not that the semantic level – what the poem is literally ‘about’ – is insignificant. The music would be thin and feeble without varied syntax, rich diction, logical continuity and metaphor. And yet, the poem’s semantic sense is ‘heightened,’ elevated out of the ‘horizontal’ realm of mere communication, information, or transaction by its participation in ‘vertical’ patterns of sound whose ‘meaning’ is intuitively felt, as a kind of felicity, but cannot be rationally reduced or summarised away.

And you hit the nail on the head when you point to the spiritual implications of this phenomenon. Walter Pater said that all art ‘aspires to the condition of music.’ Over the past several years, I’ve come around to a different a view. While writing Lay Studies, I fell under the influence of a number of Christian theologians of an Augustinian-Thomistic persuasion, especially Catherine Pickstock, to whom one of the poems in the book is dedicated. She suggests that liturgical doxology is the art toward which all others strive, a gesamtkunstwerk performing the narrative of salvation history. As such, the worshipper willingly submits herself to a mode of expression, praise, that is both recollective and anticipatory. The rhythm of liturgy – interpreted as a gratuitous gift, contoured by procession, repetition, and return – offers an implicit critique of the violence, entropy, and fatal self-enclosedness of historical time. I believe poetry can approach liturgy by analogy. A training in prosody might help us to see the world, ourselves, and our speech-acts sacramentally, as vertically conditioned by grace.

Steven in conversation with Karyn Hay RNZ National

Poetry Shelf Audio Spot: Steven reads ‘Aevum Measures’

Victoria University author page

 

Steven Toussaint, born in Chicago, immigrated to New Zealand in 2011. He has studied poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the International Institute of Modern Letters and philosophical theology at the University of Cambridge. He has published a chapbook of poems, Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014), and a debut collection, The Bellfounder (The Cultural Study Society, 2015). His writing has also recently appeared in Poetry, Commonweal, The Spinoff, Sport, and The Winter Anthology. He has been recognised in the past few years by residencies at The University of Waikato, the Michael King Writers’ Centre and with a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship. He is currently pursuing graduate study in philosophical theology at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Victoria University Press recently published his second full poetry collection, Lay Studies.

 

 

Ashleigh Young

 

If a waterfall no longer has water, it is a groove

that suggests a falling motion, just as this trail

suggests a walking motion

but if a person keeps walking until there is no more walk to take

they will no longer look forward to it, so will turn back.

 

from ‘Guide’

 

 

I have written about How I Get Ready (Victoria University Press) in Wild Honey so have tried not to repeat myself (in my review) or even refer to the poems I picked to talk about in the book! But Ashleigh became one of my sky poets for all kinds of reasons.

I like the shape of this book – this matters with poetry – because when a poetry book is good to hold it makes you want to linger even more, to stall upon a page. The book looks good, the paper feels good, and the cover drawing by Sam Duckor-Jones is a perfect fit. His idiosyncratic artwork moves in and out of reality, a person tilted by anxiety, the wind, both exposed and screened. A little like the poems inside the book. This is a collection of waiting, breathing, of curious things, anxieties, anecdotes, lists, found things, recycled words; little starts in your head as you read.

Every poem catches me! Some books you pick up, scan a few pages and then put down because you just can’t traverse the bridge into the poems. Not this one. It is as exhilarating as riding a bicycle into terrain that is both intensely familiar and breathtaking not. The speaker is both screened and exposed. The writing feels like it comes out of slow gestation and astutely measured craft. I say this because I have read this andante, at a snail’s pace. Glorious!

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ashleigh’s ‘If so how’

Victoria University page

Ashleigh Young lives in Wellington and works as an editor at Victoria University Press. She is the author of Magnificent Moon (poems), Can You Tolerate This? (essays), and How I Get Ready (poems). She writes a fortnightly column in Canvas magazine and is the poetry editor at The Spinoff.

 

Full Ockham NZ Book Awards shortlists.

 

I am so chuffed (another warm word!) Wild Honey: Reading NZ Women’s Poetry has been shortlisted in the general nonfiction category. Never have any expectations when it comes to awards – just see it as a time to celebrate some of the great books we publish each year.

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Ockham NZ Book Award poetry finalists

The Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry
Are Friends Electric? by Helen Heath (Victoria University Press)
There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime by Erik Kennedy (Victoria University Press)
The Facts by Therese Lloyd (Victoria University Press)
Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Victoria University Press)

 

Great to see we have new sponsors, Mary and Peter Biggs, for the Poetry Category at the Book Awards.

I have featured all four finalists on my blog because I have found much to love about these books – this therefore is a moment of celebration. Of course there are books not here that I loved immensely. Poetry Shelf is whole-heatedly devoted to celebrating local books and the fact that I don’t have time to feature all my poetry loves is testimony to the excellent poetry we publish – through both big and small presses. Victoria University Press is becoming a flagship for NZ poetry – publishing at least 9 books a year of high quality and diverse scope. I applaud them for that. And all the other publishers issuing standout poetry (there are many) and the booksellers who put local poetry books on their shelves.

Thank you!

Congratulations to the four finalists! And to VUP.

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 3.36.34 PM.png

 

Listen to Helen read two poems here

Helen’s book is a complex, satisfying read with enticing layers and provocative subject matter. It is a book of seeing, strolling, collecting; as though this poet is a bricoleur and   the book is a cabinet of curious things. What I love in the poems is the shifting voice, the conversational tones. The poems that link grief with the effect of technology upon our bodies get under my skin. Most importantly there is a carousel of voices that may or may not be invented or borrowed but that make you feel something.

 

I ask if you would like a body.

You say, ‘No I’m beyond bodies now,

I’m ready to be fluid, spilling out all over.

I’m ready to spread myself so thin that I’m

a membrane over the world.’ I’m not ready.

I take off my socks and shoes and walk

over a patch of grass very slowly.

 

from ‘Spilling out all over’

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 3.46.59 PM.png

 

Erik’s first-full length collection sparks with multiple fascinations, experience, thought, wit, politics, optical delights and aural treats. It is a book of harmonics and elastic thinking, and is a pleasure to read. The collection navigates eclectic subject matter but I was initially drawn to the interplay between a virtual world and a classical world. I began to muse on how poetry fits into movement between the arrival of the internet and a legacy of classical knowledge. I also love the idea of poetry reacting to collisions, intersections, juxtapositions. Interestingly when I was jotting down notes I wrote the words ‘detail’, ‘things’ and ‘juxtaposition’ but not just for the embedded ideas. Yes, the detail in the poems is striking in itself, but I was drawn to the ‘static’ or the ‘conversation’ or ‘kinetic energy’ between things as I read.

 

Two feet of snow at my parents’ place, in another season.

Here, the cicadas sing like Christian women’s choirs

in a disused cotton mill. Belief is a kind of weather.

I haven’t seen proper snow for three years.

 

from ‘Letter from the Estuary’

 

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 3.56.29 PM.png

 

Therese’s new collection resides in a captivating interplay of chords. You could say that any poetry book delivers chords whether aural, visual or thematic, and in the light of ideas and feelings. This book does it to a stunning degree. Once you start hunting for them – whether in harmony or not, between poems or within a single example – the rewards are myriad. At the core of the book the title poem, the standout-lift-you-off-your-feet poem, achieves a blinding intensity: raw, surprising, probing, accumulative, fearless. I particularly love the surprising turns of ‘Mr Anne Carson’. Therese’s collection takes you deep into personal experience that gets hooked up in the poetry of another (Anne Carson), in matted ideas and the need to write as a form of survival. It makes you feel as much as it makes you think. It is a riveting read.

 

For three months I tried

to make sense of something.

I applied various methods:

logic, illogic, meditation, physical exertion,

starvation, gluttony. Other things too

that are not necessarily the opposite of one another,

writing and reading for example.

 

from ‘The Facts’

 

 

screen-shot-2018-07-18-at-10-05-26-am.png

 

Tayi’s debut collection, Poūkahangatus, has already and understandably attracted widespread media attention. The poetry is utterly agile on the beam of its making; and take ‘beam’ as you will. There is brightness, daring and sure-footedness. The poems move in distinctive directions: drawing whanau close, respecting a matrilineal bloodline (I adore this!), delving into the dark and reaping the light, cultural time-travelling, with baroque detail and sinewy gaps. The collection charts the engagement of a young, strong woman with her worlds and words  – and the poetic interplay, the sheer joy and magnetism of the writing, is addictive. I treasure this book for its kaleidoscopic female relations and views of women; and the way women are the vital overcurrents and undercurrents of the collection. Above all I loved the kaleidoscopic effect of the book; the way it is edgy and dark and full of light. The way it catches living within popular culture and within family relations, the way it carries sharp ideas and equally sharp feelings.

 

Poūkahangatus

in 1995 I was born and Walt Disney’s Animated Classic Pocahontas was

released. Have you ever heard a wolf cry to the blue corn moon? Mum has.

I howled when my mother told me Pocahontas was real but went with John

Smith to England and got a disease and died. Representation is important.

 

from ‘Poūkahangatus’

 

I am not a journalist punting on a winner – I am a poetry fan and have read all these books several times – any one of these books deserves to win. A toast from me x.

Celebrating Elizabeth Smither’s Best Book of Poetry Award

 

dsc_0067.jpg

 

Elizabeth Smither, Night Horse – winner of the Best Poetry Book Award at the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2018

 

Paula: Your new collection is a delight to read and offers so many poetic treats. I was thinking as I read that your poems are like little jackets that can be worn inside out and outside in. In stillness there is movement and in movement there is stillness; in musicality there is plainness and in plainness there is musicality. In the strange there is the ordinary and in the ordinary there is the strange. What do you like your poems to do?

Elizabeth: I want them to do everything. Everything at once. I want them to feel and think (and feel the thinking in them as you read). I want them to be quick, in the old sense of the word: the opposite of dead. I want them to not know something and try to find it out – I would never write a poem with prior knowledge – I think ignorance can be bliss or at least start the motor. And as I write more I find out more and more about musicality. Isn’t one of the loveliest moments in music when harmony breaks through discord as though it is earned and you know that discord, instead of being a thicket or a dark wood, is part of it?

 

Paula: 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 you read this at the National Library’s Circle of Laureates and were so moved and uplifted that we asked for copies! Unseen, you are observing your mother move through the house from the street (you gave us this introduction) and see her in shifting lights. The moment is extraordinary; are we are at our truest self when we are not observed? There is the characteristic Smither movement through the poem, slow and attentive, to the point of tilt or 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.’  Do you have a poem or two in the collection that particularly resonate with you?

Elizabeth: I’m fond of ‘The tablecloth’ after I observed my friend, Clay, scrubbing at a corner of a white damask tablecloth in the laundry after a dinner party. It reminded me of the old-fashioned way of washing linen in a river. It’s both a doll-sized tablecloth and something almost as large as the tablecloth for a royal banquet around which staff walk, measuring the placement of cutlery and the distance between each chair. ‘Ukulele for a dying child’ tumbles all over itself in an incoherent manner because the subject is so serious and no poet can do it justice. The grandmother poems will probably be ongoing because it is such an intense experience: something between a hovering angel and a lioness. Going back to your remark about ‘My mother’s house’ I agree with the truth that is available in our unobserved moments. Perhaps there is a balance between our social and our private moments which might comprise something Keats called ‘soul-making’.

from our interview

 

 

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

 

 

1497223465774-1.jpg    1497223465774-1.jpg

 

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

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

Paula: 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?

Elizabeth: 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.

 

from Poetry Shelf  ’12 Questions for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award Poetry finalists’

 

Elizabeth will appear at the Auckland Writers Festival 

Sunday May 20  1.30 – 2.20 Disappearances  (4 readings) Limelight Room, Aotea Centre

 

Auckland University Press Night Horse page and author page

Booksellers review by Emma Shi

Radio NZ National review by Harry Ricketts with Kathryn Ryan

 

Award night

 

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 8.35.48 AM.png

Celebrating Hannah Mettner’s Best First Book of Poetry Award

fullsizerender.jpg

Hannah Mettner, Fully Clothed and So Forgetful – winner of the Best First Book Award at the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2018

 

We believe in the steps.

We tell our children and then our

grandchildren about the cool

pond at the top where sun-

carp clean our feet and where

we can sleep. The steps are one of

the beautiful mysteries of

life, like how did we get here,

fully clothed and so forgetful?

 

from ‘Higher ground’

 

Paula: ‘Fully Clothed and So Forgetful gave me goose bumps as I read and took me beyond words to that state where you stand somewhere wild and beautiful and just stall beyond language to absorb the world. My initial reaction is simply to tell the reader to read the book. But then I start accumulating a list of what I think the poetry is doing: the poems are inventive, unpredictable, melodic, on the move, strange, love-soaked.’

Hannah: The key thing that matters to me in a poem (whether one I’m writing or reading) is that it gets me in the gut. I get very frustrated by poetry that feels empty, or emotionally disengaged or distant, or is teasing the reader or holding them at arm’s length. I just find it boring, I mean, I know that different poems and poets have all sorts of intellectual fare to offer, but I want to be emotionally moved by a poem, and nothing less.

from our interview

 

My children are abducted by 17th-century French courtesans

In the rose garden near the big house
where somebody famous was either
born, or not, all the ladies spread their
pinks out in the sun. Pretty young ladies
with expensive, dewy faces who want
my children for their photogenic walls.
They look as though they’re picnicking
with their floral bubbles and their green
men but their stiletto fingers give them
away. And my children were just feeding
ducks, but where have they gone?! Quick
say the birds Find them Find them, gobbling
their trails of bread. The ladies strengthen
in the light and their prickles rise and my
nose is so full of their French scent that
I start to sneeze. The ladies wilt a little in
revulsion. Their corals and blushes and rouges
are falling brown, then grey; old ladies with
shallow bones and prickles blunted with
age. And where are your children they
want to know and I want to know too.
I’ve looked everywhere. There’s a low
graze of desperation in my throat, which
stings as I call their names. I uproot one
of the ladies and use her to beat back a
path through the others, until they look
almost young again in the freshness
of their bruises. When I get back to the
pond most of the spinsters have frosted
in the ground. The children are there
wearing new fur coats. One is putting logs
on a fire, while the other pulls dinner
from the snow.

©Hannah Mettner, from Fully clothed and so forgetful (Victoria University Press, 2017)

 

Author note: This is the poem that helped me realise that there was a way to integrate the emotional authenticity that I want my poems to convey (in this case the fear of ‘losing my children’) with something less literal. For me, this meant that rather than merely ‘stating facts’ in a pleasant or interesting way with line breaks, I was able to tease out multiple concepts and feelings simultaneously in an environment less concretely related to the real world. So, this poem deals with my fear of losing my children after the breakup of my relationship with their father, but holds with that the fear of a potential ‘stepmother’, and the fear of them doing fine without me, but because none of this takes place in a recognisable world (rosebushes don’t usually turn into young women), I felt freer to say all that.

 

Fully_Clothed_and_So_Forgetful__32303.1486956777.jpg

 

Victoria University Press page

Radio NZ  National: Harry Ricketts reviews the book with Kathryn Ryan

 

Award night:

 

IMG_2312.JPG

Some poems from the Ockham NZ poetry finalists: Sue Wootton’s ‘Wild’

 

Wild

 

Measure my wild. Down to my last leaf,

my furled, my desiccated. 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.

Test me: how many tigers in my jungle,

how many lions at roam? Map my rivers,

deltas, estuaries. Mollusc, whelk, worm.

Monitor my silt. Do I have spoonbills, 

high-stepping and watchful over the darting fish?

Rainfall on pines. Dappled sunlight

in my dells. Under moss, the fallen log, under

the log the hibernating hedgehog. Late my dates,

or soon? Return of the albatross, godwits

gathering. What clouds me, shifts,

but: indigo thunder-stack, pink wisp. Count the mice.

What will survive me, O my cockroaches, O my lice?

Scaffold me with metal, cage me in glass, tube me,

needle me, fill me, flush me. Saline solution:

the ocean. Oxygen therapy: the sky.

Mineral deficiency: socks off. Soil. Dark

rot, eye-less wriggle, while the roots seek, seek.

Un-diagnosable, that ticklish insect.

Mountain peak speak only snow, and thus

I am diminished; thus I rest in my pulse. Sweet

heart. Monitor my yearn, and treat it with trees.

Un-pane me. Wilden my outlook.

Membrane animal, skin mammal under the osmosis moon.

Allow my tides. All this to say, in love we nest, and on Earth.

 

©Sue Wootton from The Yield

 

Sue Wootton lives in Dunedin where she writes fiction and poetry and, as a PhD candidate at the University of Otago, is researching the importance of literature to health and wellbeing. Her debut novel, Strip (Mākaro Press), was longlisted for the fiction prize in the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and her most recent publication, The Yield (Otago University Press) is shortlisted in the 2018 poetry category of the awards. She is the selecting editor for the Otago Daily Times Weekend Poem column and edits the weekly Health Humanities blog Corpus: Conversations about Medicine and Life, found at corpus.nz

The poem “Wild” was awarded 2nd place in the International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine in 2013. Sue’s website is suewootton.com

Some poems from the Ockham NZ 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

 

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.