Tag Archives: peter olds

Poetry Shelf Spring Season: Peter Ireland picks poems

‘Otherwhere’

To choose a small selection of New Zealand poems you like? This sounds straightforward, but I didn’t find it so. There is no shortage of poems in that category, plenty of poetry books to take from my shelves, and abundant resources to refer to, but I found no easy way in. It felt as though poems attach to particular moments, have a context which resist relocation. Where to begin then?

Sarah Broom’s collections Tigers at Awhitu and Gleam came to mind, as they often do, and so that’s where I started from. I chose ‘tender’ from Gleam; a spare, delicate filament of feeling and pain to represent both books. Broom heads the poem, ‘Cohen,’ in Gleam with the L.C. line – ‘there is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in.’ To this light I would add a description of the value of poetry by Anna Jackson, ‘to hold open a space for feeling.’ Sarah Broom’s poetry certainly revealed both.

The heading for my selection, however, comes from the title poem of Michele Leggott’s Mirabile Dictu. A book of fifty-six poems written during the time she was the first New Zealand Poet Laureate and, in a period, when her world became progressively dark; became an ‘otherwhere.’ But that is neither a remote nor dark place, rather, full of light and glowing with a love for life.

The otherwhere of Hilaire Kirkland’s ‘Observations ii’ is a starker landscape, an unflinching confession of feeling and desire. Poetry still hot to the touch. Childhood is the otherwhere of Iain Lonie in his poem and as I read it, it’s the poet on the beach returning to his childhood home; while the poet remains watching him go. Sad.

Otherwhere is the point and place of Michael Jackson’s poetry. A traveller at home where he finds himself – and to quote the poet, there writing poems that ‘are like windows that give us a glimpse of a world we travel through all too quickly.’

Peter Olds is not facing blindness or death, nor coming to terms with place, rather he is looking for something in the otherwhere of a second-hand shop. He is not sure of what but returns home with a wetsuit to hang up in the cupboard behind the vacuum cleaner.  


the poems

tender

when I look around me
the world is very bright

it is so light and shiny
that my long bones shiver

I am not quite sure
I have what it takes
to stay alive in the world

I need to stay very still
and let the air move past
and through me

I am tired and tender

when my limbs meet each other
crossing on my lap
I want to cry
with the pleasure
of resting them

when tears come
my bones turn to water

and I sleep

Sarah Broom

from Gleam, Auckland University Press, 2013. Published with kind permission from the Sarah Broom estate.

Mirabile dictu

imagine    the world goes dark
a bowl of granite or a stone bird
incised by tools the nature of which
is unknown  just that they are metal
and therefore from otherwhere
just that the weight of the bowl
precludes light and lightness
of thought    my feet take a path
I can no longer see  my eyes
won’t bring me the bird  only now
has my hand found the stones
I could add to the smooth interior
of my despair  the world goes dark
I look into the eyes of my stone bird
hammers before memory
silence and the world is not

that is no country
for the unassigned  smell of sunlight
on skin in a darkened room   cabbage tree
shadows dancing in the hologram
on the ceiling     not here
and not there   an in-box the size
of a house    I bury my face
in his neck  breathe in
butter taste of summer corn
sweet plums an apricot almost
perfect in its remembrance
I took the road to anhedonia
forgetting the child on my hip
burying his face in my shoulder
I am that child only that child
looking into the eyes of stone

she flinches
because my hands surprise her
feeling for the soft coat the place to clip
lead to collar     she doesn’t see too well
an old dog going deaf but selectively
the nose now only nine thousand times
more acute than mine    the back legs
beginning to fold but still good
for a tip toe raid on the cat’s plate
look at her  black pearl an old lady
out for a walk in the sunshine   slow
and we go into the shadows   stumbling
sometimes on a stone step   the footing
problematic but the maps still delivering
coordinates and forecasts    little dog
black weight on the bed at midnight
love uncloses your eyes   the stone bird
is blind and something I must face
sits behind it making a noise like water

descant on the other madrigal
power tools shaping wood and stone
machining a filigree that falls like moonlight
on the workshop floor    did I dream this
or did I walk out of the house
asking forgiveness and unable to see
anything but my feet entering the shadow
hearing small waves fall over themselves
at the water’s edge    now my hand
finds the bird and my fingers trace
the incisions in fantastica replica
not here and not there     an otherwhere
pouring itself through the gap    

Michele Leggott

from Mirabile Dictu, Auckland University Press, 2009

Observations ii

daily the neighbour’s dog is withdrawn to the park
ignores his mistress and courts her
the mongrel in a canine pas-de-deux
I have a dog most like to this which bites the heels of men

I must subdue it then.

my old dog blindly whimpers in the dark
hunts for its bounding hare in dreams
through my thorned channels and deep streams
and twitches bloodwet at my feet till I am rudely woken

so I shall whip it then.

I have a hound too weak and too afraid to bark
which cringes for the flesh that I withhold
and aching nuzzles me when nights are cold
till I allow my animal to feed and thrive again

it will devour me then.

Hilaire Kirkland

from Blood Clear & Apple Red, Wai-te-ata Press, 1981, also in An Anthology Of New Zealand Poetry in English, eds Jenny Bornholdt, Gregory O’Brien, Mark Willliams, Oxford University Press, 1997

The house of childhood

I watched you walk along that mile of beach
to the house at the end of the beach

the home I’d pointed out, the house of childhood.
How well I remembered the garden, its grey stone wall
the stone rest in the garden, overlooking the sea.

And so you set off bravely, to walk that mile
staggering now and then in the sand that ran to you until
the sun blazed overhead, to the right the sea shimmered
I watched you walking that mile, your figure grew smaller and smaller.

Out of the sea’s shimmer came the faint crying
of voices subdued by the sea and the view.
I remembered the stone rest, the thyme scent of the garden
and beyond the stone wall, the sea splashing in the evening.

I pointed all this out to you, this house of my childhood
and watched you set off towards it, staggering slightly
not looking back, growing smaller and smaller
until you passed into the sand, into the stone wall

and under the garden, the earth of the garden, under the sea.

Iain Lonie

from A Place to Go on from: The Collected Poems of Iain Lonie, ed. David Howard, Otago University Press, 2015. Published with kind permission from the Iain Lonie estate.

Three Key West Poems

Between the satisfaction of frivolity
and the austerity of exile, I had to choose
and it has cost me my life’s happiness

– José Martí

1: Hemingway House

He had everything, or so it seemed,
the biggest house, the largest
swimming pool, one best seller
after another, money no object,
a writing room above the Carriage House
in which a lesser writer
might aspire to genius,
heads of trophy animals,
shelves of books,
backpack and barometer,
a table for his portable Remington,
and ever the lighthouse in his line of sight.

But the photos of the old man reeling in
500-pound sailfish or marlin from Pilar,
his custom-built fishing-boat, belie
the hazardous currents
and heavy seas he could not quell,
the one opponent he could not KO
in his backyard boxing ring
or drown in his blue pool,
something impervious to drink
and fame, that it would take a shotgun
in Idaho to kill.

What demonic ripples cross
our minds as we drift through his house,
now a national monument,
peering at photographs of his four wives
and his aging face,
the carved bedstead he bought from Spain,
the six-toed cats whose lineage
thrives beneath the Christmas and Traveler’s palms,
the banyan and flamboyants
on Whitehead Street, where after the tour
we walk to where a bollard
marks the southernmost point in the United States
and across the water, embargoed
and invisible, the island that Cuban exiles
once waited to reclaim.

2: The Idea of Wallace Stevens at Key West

I am walking beside the sea that fluttered its
empty sleeves and whose dark voice spoke
to one who made it an image of inconstancy.

On a coral key you cannot dig a grave,
therefore these whitewashed, stacked
sarcophagi.  A tour bus passes as I try to read

the names through black iron railings, urns
with artificial flowers, decaying foliage;
a breath of wind in the bedraggled palms

like incessant rumor-mongering.  Most
are Cuban names, names of those who
never made it back, but sat on wooden porches

in Olivia Street as roosters crowed,
chickens scratched, and the click and clack of dominoes
presaged their sepulchers,

bookending birth and death with a woman’s name –
Mary Louise Baez (“the sunshine of our home”)
or Angelina P. Oropeza (“No greater mother ever lived”),

sentiments echoing in my head when I stop
at the Dollar Store on Truman Street for water,
glimpse the strip club opposite

called Bare Assets, and push on
to Reynolds Street where Wallace Stevens
wintered.

Only the sea remains the same,
its answering yet unavailing constancy
at the end of a nondescript suburban street,

no hint of money as “a kind of poetry,”
and the Casa Marina across from the tennis courts
like a prison for white collar criminals.

The same black wrought iron railing
that surrounds the cemetery encloses a white sand
private beach, but there’s no Pale Ramon,

accompanying a businessman in a Panama,
finding order in the ocean’s ambiguity,
only a freshening wind

and a shrimp boat on the Gulf
as full throttle, jet skis buck the broken waves
and thunderclouds like anvils

build toward evening when they may
or may not break, and the man in espadrilles
and his ghostly companion pad back to their hotel

with an image in mind that will
in another generation overwhelm
a poet in the antipodes

inhaling the smell of kelp
and facing the same reality
of which direct knowledge is impossible.

3: The Waterfront Playhouse

There remained
the question of how you were to find your way between
the house with Italian chandeliers and the grand hotel
with its hymns and prayers.
Was it our task to reconcile
the view across the Gulf
with that weed-choked, plastic-littered sea within a sea
or integrate the two, discovering ourselves
reborn in palm-laced shadows and splintered light,
between what did not eventuate and what befell
when the sea’s cross currents were too dangerous –
the fringing reef and its lagoon,
the raked sand, the decomposing wrack,
the drunken bar,
the garden by the pool
the rainy night the poet and the novelist
came to blows, one breaking his hand
on the other’s jaw, their lame apologies?

Will we say on leaving Florida
that this was where we were happiest,
preparing our packed lunch of salad greens,
French bread, and pitted olives from Kalamata
whose groves I knew by heart?
that we discerned the difference
between desire and what we simply need,
slaking our thirst with water,
making love in an air-conditioned room
Bolero playing on the radio
and no question of life or death,
not even when we had to leave
the place they advertised as Paradise?

Michael Jackson

from Walking to Pencarrow: Selected Poems, Cold Hub Press, 2016

The wetsuit

I go into a second-hand shop:
there’s something I want to buy
I don’t know what.
CDs, surfboards, stuffed guitars,
something that talks?
not a phone
not a TV,
a radio, perhaps? —
something small & shiny
you can tuck in your pocket
hide in your hand,
something that has a tongue in it
something that talks?
not a couch,
not a sandwich-maker that’s been through
a Castle Street fire.

I wade through the usual crap:
stuffed cameras, mouth organs,
music posters, ski boots, dark glasses
I don’t want —
a 12-bar heater, a wedding dress,
a mountain bike I don’t want …
Is it sex?
Is it sex I want? —
I’m in the wrong shop.

A man in a bright blue shirt approaches,
“Can I help?” he asks politely.
“I’m looking for something — I don’t know what.”
He shows me a PC, a DVD, a TV LCD, a car stereo,
a cellphone you can photograph yourself on
& send the picture to your friends, hands free —
I reject them all …
“You’re out of date,” the man says
after I tell him I still use a typewriter.
“What you need is a computer: email,
on-line, text, photo i.d.,
Trade Me.” (Woe is me!)

I buy a wetsuit & head home.
“And what do you think you’re going to
do with that?” my partner asks sarcastically
as I hang it in the cupboard behind the
vacuum cleaner — “You can’t even swim!”
“Oh, I thought it would come in handy
in the garden when it’s raining,” I reply —
“& I’ll be ready if Maori Hill ever gets
hit by a tsunami.”

Peter Olds

from Under the Dundas Street Bridge, Steele Roberts, 2012 and in You Fit The Description: The Selected Poems of Peter Olds, Cold Hub Press, 2014

Peter Ireland works for the National Library. He has worked on exhibitions for forty years or more, and has also had the good fortune of helping to look after our Poets Laureate since 2007.

Sarah Broom (1972 – 2013) was born in Dunedin and grew up in Christchurch before completing an MA at the University of Leeds and a doctorate in modern poetry at Oxford University. She subsequently published Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Sarah lectured at Somerville College, Oxford, at the University of Otago and held a postdoctoral fellowship at Massey University (2000). When she was pregnant with her third child she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She published her debut collection Tigers at Awhitu in 2009 and Gleam, a posthumous collection, was published in 2013 (both AUP). Her husband Michael Gleissner established the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize in her honour in 2014.

Michael Jackson is internationally renowned for his work in the field of existential anthropology and has been widely praised for his innovations in ethnographic writing. Jackson has done extensive fieldwork in Sierra Leone since 1969, and also carried out anthropological research in Aboriginal Australia, Europe, and New Zealand. He has taught in universities in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and is currently Distinguished Professor of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. His most recent books include The Varieties of Temporal Experience (2018), Selected Poems (2017), and The Paper Nautilus: A Trilogy (2019). Cold Hub Press author page.

Hilaire Kirkland (1941 – 1975) attended the University of Otago in the 1960s and travelled through Europe in the early 1970s, teaching English in Portugal. She published a poetry chapbook and poems in journals, and frequently performed her work. Her poems appeared in several anthologies posthumously, and a collection of poems, Blood Clear & Apple Red, was published by Wai-te-ata Press in 1981. She was awarded an aegrotat BA at National Women’s Hospital shortly before her death.

Michele Leggott was the inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007–09 under the administration of the National Library. She received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. Her collections include Mirabile Dictu (2009), Heartland (2014), and Vanishing Points (2017), all from Auckland University Press. In 2020 Mezzaluna: Selected Poems was published (also by AUP). She coordinates the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) with Brian Flaherty at the University of Auckland.

Peter Olds was born in Christchurch in 1944, he left school at sixteen and after meeting James K. Baxter in Dunedin in the 1960s, began writing poetry. He was a Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in 1978. In 2005 he was an inaugural recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award for Poetry. He lives in Dunedin. His previously published collections include Lady Moss Revived (1972), Freeway (1974), Beethoven’s Guitar (1980), It Was a Tuesday Morning: Selected Poems 1972-2001 (2004), Poetry Reading at Kaka Point (2006), Under the Dundas Street Bridge (2012), and You fit the description: The Selected Poems of Peter Olds, with an introduction by Ian Wedde (2014, Cold Hub Press). His most recent collection is Taking My Jacket for a Walk (2017, Cold Hub Press).

Poetry Shelf Spring Season

Tara Black picks poems

Victor Rodger picks poems

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about knitting

I have always knitted but never very often and never very well. I have a winter cardigan that has been on the go for years and I need help to get it working again. When I was young I knitted a very complicated black jersey. I completed it and it felt like a work of art with its intricate and sublime stitching and hard-to-see-as-you-knit colour. But before I ever put it on, my dog Woody ripped it to shreds. I have never managed to finish anything since. Perhaps this winter I will see if I can find the bag with the grey wool and hope the moths haven’t shredded the cardigan.

I love knitting because it is soothing, because crafting things is a joy, and we can produce things that are of the greatest comfort. (Although at AWF 2021, Brian Turner talked about his grandmother knitting him childhood jerseys he never really liked!) I love the way you can lose yourself in the clicketty clack rhythm, or if you are skilled, you can read and look elsewhere as you knit. But knitting is a metaphor for so much more. Writing a poem is a form of knitting. Relationships and family life are forms of knitting. Telling a story. Living. Loving. Existing.

I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who continue to support my season of themes. These poems are not so about knitting, but have a knitting presence in varying degrees. Ha! I think reading is a form of knitting too! Happy knitting!

Twelve poems about knitting

Lockdown knitting

I hit on knitting for something to do

in the gloom, I get restless,

this end of the room is dim

and outside the window, the sun

burns down on browned-out plants

holding onto the dry clay bank,

relentless blue behind.

What Paul watches all day long.

Smoking for something to do.

He raises his eyebrows ridiculously

as I pull the thread of last year loose,

wants to know what I’m doing.

I say it stops me from chatter.

We say little bits from time to time

it’s peaceful, his coffin

on the dining room table

…32, 34, 36… I’m casting on the front

a dark ship riding into the room

light falling in behind

through the potted palms

in the little courtyard.

I’m halfway up the rib

on announcement day; it’s grim.

Paul says if no one can come

and no one can go,

just chuck him in his car

and straight in the ground.

We take the back seat out.

I knit and wait and watch

at the foot of the bed

and I’m not sure of the pattern:

a black square in the middle

that no one knows how to do.    

Marty Smith

Berthe

Reflection on Berthe Morisot’s ‘Young Woman Knitting’

There you sit

where you’re put,

painted feverishly

into place.

Did you mark

the woman who

made you

in a thousand

strokes of pastel

oils? Do you notice

the way your hands,

held up to their task

seem to merge, blend

with the pale-pinkness

of your gown,

how your edges,

ill-defined,

threaten to dissolve

into the background,

so that you would

disappear in a haze

of smoke

and the smell of

burning wool?

Know all that as you sit

fixed at your task,

but also note that she –

your creator –

set your head, your shoulders

against the green-grey

of the water. So that we

might see you,

defined, so that you might

tip back,

fall,

feel your head caught by the water

and your hair trail in the waves.

Rose Peoples

knitting a poem

I’m knitting this poem

                               for you. knit 1 purl 2.

found the pattern

in an old drawer

fraying at the seams. knit 1 purl 2.

I’m tatting together

a crochet

to keep us warm. p2sso.

cabling

a colourful coverall

to contain love. p2sso.

no slip-stitched

tangle here, k2tog.

only this

inter/twined/applique

taut to the touch. k2tog.

I’m knitting this poem

                             for you. knit 1 purl 2.

ribbing together

a cardigan of care

we can don

anytime our world

unravels. knit 1 purl 2.

I’ve sewn up

this poem

for you. bind off.

Vaughan Rapatahana

Skein                                                                                                             

having three sons

to see through winter

in a house

with one fireplace

our mother was an

expert knitter

turning out identical

triplets of jerseys

almost continuously

or like Penelope

seated at her loom

she unravelled then

reconstructed frayed elbows

ragged seams and cuffs

hands moving

one over the other

in the firelight

with love

Tony Beyer

Calling

We let the string sleep slack between our houses

hours, days, years, until one of us tugs.

Then, lifted and pulled taut, we speak. Buzz

words coming down the line. A baked bean can

for trumpet and for conch. Our voices echo sound,

plumbing the marks. On my lips, your name, a manner

of holding you and what you spell. Something like

kin and kinship, something like kind; something like

affection being the grounding stitch of love, which,

purl to plain and slip-one-pass-one-over, knits

our kith. Peculiar patterns we make

with our yarn, shaped to what blows through and what’s

prevailing. Rambunctious winds, or fretful. These times

you are bent beneath a howling. I am picking up

the string to make a steady tether for your heart.

For thy heart. Dear friend, I’m thinking of thee.

Sue Wootton

from The Yield, Otago University Press, 2017

My Mother Spinning

Sit too close

& the spinning bob cools you.

Leave the room

& the foot pedal beats

on a raw nerve.

Leave the house

& a thread of wool follows.

Peter Olds

(picked by Richard Langston)

For my parents

You were meant to die at home

suddenly, one of you stepping in from a walk

to find the other on the floor inside.

Then one of you in the garden

splayed on the earth and

the other in the earth already so

it’s like you fell to them.

That’s not how you went.

Things were more difficult than that.

We still talk, or –

to use the language of crossing over –

communicate.

Newly chaste.

Awfully polite.

Shy ministers of the invisible continent.

To cover the quiet moments

I start to knit a hat, and

in deep times,

like a Victorian daughter,

I rest my knitting on my lap.

We have about a hundred stitches to let go

of Alzheimer’s and stroke

and pick up the daily walks down the goat track

to the beach, you two

ahead of me,

towels slung around your shoulders,

your bare feet finding their own way down

the steep clay path. 

Lynn Davidson

from Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020, Lynn reads ‘For My Parents’ here

Purl 

Side by side

we purl the fine, cream wool.

The baby pushes and glides

beneath your elbows, your fingers

tense with ribbing.

I pick up your slipped stitches,

pass the needles back and forth.

Our tiny singlets grow.

Outside it is afternoon,

the sky paling and snow

clumped on Ben Lomond.

Jillian Sullivan

from Parallel, Steele Roberts. 2014

The Pattern of Memoir

In the days before synthetics from China,

women knitted. My Brownie teacher taught me

at seven, words or wool, anyone can master it.

First, the unravelling of elusive, possibly false

strands of memory.

 

Next, you settle into long days, row after row,

hoping for a garment approximating truth,

knowing anything re-knitted is always a little

uneven, a compromise at best. I make no mention

of the casting off.

 

The way your hands finding nothing

to do now, start searching for trouble again,

unearthing that old thing in the back

of the wardrobe just itching for a make-over,

a whole new life.

In the days before synthetics from China,

women knitted. My Brownie teacher taught me

at seven, words or wool, anyone can master it.

First, the unravelling of elusive, possibly false

strands of memory.

Diane Brown

From Every Now and Then I Have Another Child, Otago University Press, 2020

KNITTING

P l e x i s P e r i p l e x i s


Stooped sore with the shells and soaps of gift-giving, the midnight-baked koulouria
and sesame, the red eggs of the resurrection, a map, a compass
shoulder-sloped with the southerly through the crack in the dining stained-glass,
the dawn frosts on the lawn and the knitting mum prudently started:


so you’ll be able to trace your way back, my mikroula, my thesaurus, so you won’t get lost,
fall, be eaten whole, wander for days in bad company, catch cold, worry; so you’ll have
something to fly from Yiayia’s yard with the pots, the tiles dusted-clean, the shed with my
clothes by the tree


I squeeze on and through; down the rows, losing rows; reach down from
the overhead locker, pull out needles and threads and start looping.

Vana Manasiadis

from Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima, Seraph Press, 2009

coming undone

lists of names unspooling, not dead

but extinct, never-coming-again

owl, quail, snipe, wren

and I’m on my knees, weeding the lettuces

a blackbird hops, watches, drawn by the freshly turned earth

he’s wary he knows what species I am –

the one whose jersey’s unravelling

leopard, rhino, wolf, ibex

and strands of blue wool

unstitch behind me,

snag on blackberry barbs

and break

penguin, dolphin, sea-lion

and above me, gulls on lifting wind

bring salt-tanged keening

shearwater, petrel, albatross

and a cuff of my jersey flops down, hobbles

my hand on the trowel; I re-roll the sleeve

and my dangling hem has gathered dried sepals dropped

by camellias, that rustle, click like a small-clawed cortege

piopio, huia, bat

and I stare at my trowel as if I don’t know

what to do with it.

Carolyn McCurdie

very fine lace knitting

this is a picture of my house

wallpaper silvery with birch trees

covering the workbook

the stories and the pictures

red and yellow blue and blue-green

the smiling suns

jack in the box on the window sill

see Sweetie run

the high shelf in the toyshop

I want to be a ship

the umbrella poem

the oak tree and its acorns

the blue eyes that wouldn’t

the bar of chocolate and our mother at a high window

angelic openings in the calendar

circus elephants on the road at Waitara

hot black sand and the donkey rides at Ngāmotu

but we came ashore after the others

Mama still pale and no baby sister

though we begged her to tell us

when we might see her again

hush darlings she said

look at the tents and the lovely black sand

we will camp out until there is a house for us

but that house burned down right away

and Papa had no watch

or any instruments to make drawings with

and all of us felt sad

because the ship had gone

perhaps with our baby sister hidden somewhere inside

crying to us but we couldn’t hear

now Papa must cut the Sugar Loaf line

now Mama must tell us a new story

and when the earth shakes and the rats run across our blankets

we will not think of her

our sister outside in the dark

beside the rivers and wells

that wait to drown children less wary than us

when my mother was a girl

she thought all grown men had to go to jail

and feared to find her father one day

among the figures working in the prison gardens across the river

under the watchful eye of Marsland Hill

how did she know

afternoon sun slanting through eucalypts

stream curving or carving the valley that divides

here from there, us from them

now from then

or not at all

how did she know

that her grandfather was locked up

for three months pending trial

for the attempted murder of his wife and child

on the farm at the top of Maude Road

and that she, our great grandmother

would drop the charges, needing him

at home and claiming he would often shoot at her

going down the road, for target practice

he was cautioned against excessive drinking and released

to lose the farm and start over

as a teacher in country schools

how did my mother know

that her father, a young man in a country town

was put in the lock-up for two weeks in the year before the war

for sending indecent literature to the girl who jilted him

two postcards and a photograph

he is named but she is not

in the police report that went to the local paper

he was in the second draft

leaving for Palmerston North

dark hair brown eyes five foot seven

oblique scar on left forearm

August 1914

We were too small to remember

the trouble that took Papa to prison

for losing all his money

were we there too we ask Mama

did you take us did we all live in prison for a while

she will tell us only

that it wasn’t so bad

that everyone helped out and soon

he was home again I cannot now recall

how long we were away

but I was glad enough to leave that place

though I was not in favour of the long voyage

to the other side of the world

and dreaded confinement at sea

Well that is another story

now your father ties off his lines

for the company and remembers Cornish hills

Somerset hills and Devon hills under his pencil

he sees the nature path in the valley of the Huatoki

and knows it will take him to slopes covered in red and white pine

rimu and kahikatea

where a house may be built or brought

on land bought with remittances from England

the small child in the big photo

dark hair dark eyes pixie face

is my mother’s sister

they share a middle name

the child in the photo could be a year old

she is holding onto a stool with baby fingers

her feet are bare and she wears a dress

of soft white wool knitted by my grandmother

in whose bedroom the photo hangs

above the treadle sewing machine we are pumping hard

for the noise it makes up and down up and down

up and down and we are never told to stop or be quiet

we know the child in the photo died long ago

before she had time to become my mother’s sister

but we never ask our grandmother

about the very fine lace knitting

of the photo that hangs in her room

when at last we go looking for

the child who would have been our aunt

the trail is cold the dates stones or tears

Date of death: 20 September 1923

Place of death: Stewart Karitane Home Wanganui

Cause or causes of death: Gastroenteritis 2 1/2 Months, Exhaustion

Age and date of birth: 19 Months, Not Recorded

Place of birth: Stratford

Date of burial or cremation: 21 September 1923

Place of burial or cremation: Kopuatama Cemetery

we see our grandfather thrashing the Dodge

between Stratford and Whanganui

and the journey home with the little daughter

he will bury next day at Kopuatama

was our grandmother there

in the car at the Karitane Home at the graveside

the two and a half months of sickness

the birth of a second child

our Uncle Jack

8 July 1923

up and down up and down up and down

noise to cover a heartbeat under soft white wool

I look upon these letters and do not like to destroy them

they are a house of memory and when I read

I am my mother on deck at last

searching for a ripple on the flat Pacific Ocean

I am my father making delicate waves

around each of the Sugar Loaves on the map going to London

I am my brother in a choir of breakers

that bring his body to the landing place

I am my sister in the boat

outside the orbit of the moon and the orbit of the sun

I am my sister a bell-shaped skirt

between ship and shore

I am my sister painting a rock arch

that became fill for the breakwater

I am my sister exhausted

by travelling and the house to clear

I am my sister writing poems

that lie between the thin pages of letters

I am my sister singing

ship to shore choir of breakers alpine meadow

I am myself on the other side of nowhere

waiting for a knock on the door

my mother is taking a photo

of herself and our baby sister

in the mirror on the wall of silvery grey birches

it’s summer and she has propped the baby

between pillows in the armchair

holds the Box Brownie still

leans over the back of the chair smiling

into the mirror

she and her baby by themselves

reflected in silvery light

not for a moment aware of the child

whose passing long ago

mirrors to the day

the arrival of our sister

whose middle name my mother took

from the light of Clair de Lune

and so the daughter library

remakes itself and is not lost

though great libraries burn and cities fall

always there is someone

making copies or packing boxes

writing on the back of a painting or a photo

always there is someone

awake in the frosty dark

hearing the trains roll through and imagining

lying under the stars at Whakaahurangi

face to the sky on the shoulder of the mountain

between worlds and mirror light

***

Michele Leggott

Tony Beyer lives and writes in Taranaki. Recent poems have appeared online in Hamilton Stone ReviewMolly Bloom and Otoliths.

Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist, and poet who runs Creative Writing Dunedin, teaching fiction, memoir and poetry. She has published eight books: two collections of poetry – Before the Divorce We Go To Disneyland, (Jessie Mackay Award Best First Book of Poetry, 1997) Tandem Press 1997 and Learning to Lie Together, Godwit, 2004; two novels, If The Tongue Fits, Tandem Press, 1999 and Eight Stages of Grace, Vintage, 2002—a verse novel which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards, 2003. Also, a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers, Vintage, 2004; and a prose/poetic travel memoir; Here Comes Another.

Lynn Davidson’s latest poetry collection Islander is published by Shearsman Books and Victoria University Press. She had a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 and a Bothy Project Residency at Inshriach Bothy in the Cairngorms in 2016.  In 2011 she was Visiting Artist at Massey University. She won the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Award, 2020 and is the 2021 Randell Cottage Writer in Residence. Lynn has a doctorate in creative writing and teaches creative writing. She recently returned to New Zealand after four years living and writing in Edinburgh. 

Michele Leggott was the first New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007–09 under the administration of the National Library. She received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. Her collections include Mirabile Dictu (2009), Heartland (2014), and Vanishing Points (2017), all from Auckland University Press. She cofounded the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (NZEPC) with Brian Flaherty at the University of Auckland where she is Professor of English. Michele’s latest collection Mezzaluna: Selected Poems appeared in 2020 (Auckland University Press).

Vana Manasiadis is Greek-New Zealand poet and translator born in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and based in Tāmaki Makaurau after many years living in Kirihi Greece.  She is 2021 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at Te Whare Wanaga o Waitaha Canterbury University. Her most recent book is The Grief Almanac: A Sequel. 

Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer, mainly of poetry and fiction. Her collection, Bones in the Octagon was published by Makaro Press in 2015.

Peter Olds was born in Christchurch, 1944. His mother was a born knitter. All her life she spun and knitted. His Selected Poems was published in 2014 by Cold Hub Press.

Rose Peoples is from Te Awakairangi/Lower Hutt. She is a student at Victoria University and, having finished her law degree last year, decided that the logical next step was to embark upon a Masters in Literature. She is a bookseller at Good Books. Her work has previously appeared in Cordite, Mimicry and Starling.

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines, and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish. Additionally, he has lived and worked for several years in the Republic of Nauru, PR China, Brunei Darussalam, and the Middle East.

Marty Smith spent 2020 writing poems and an essay for her friend Paul, who died in lockdown in April. Now she’s working on her racing project, following riders, trainers and ground staff through the seasons at the Hastings racecourse as they work with their horses.Marty spent lockdown as one of a small team given dispensation from Cranford Hospice to give end-of-life care to their friend, Paul. He does not make it to the end of the extra five days. Nearly. So close. Poem and audio, ‘My Lights for Paul’. VERB Essay: ‘I hope to make six good friends before I die’ (for Paul).

Jillian Sullivan lives in the Ida Valley, Central Otago. Her thirteen published books include creative non-fiction, novels and short stories.  Once the drummer in a women’s indie pop band, she’s now grandmother, natural builder and environmentalist. Her awards include the Juncture Memoir Award in America, and the Kathleen Grattan prize for poetry.  Her latest book is the collection of essays, Map for the Heart- Ida Valley Essays (Otago University Press 2020). 

Sue Wootton lives in Ōtepoti-Dunedin, and works as the publisher at Otago University Press. ‘Calling’ won the 2015 takahē international poetry competition.

 

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Poet Laureate David Eggleton picks two Peter Olds poems

The sky turned black as night,
sirens wailed, streetlights blinked
at stalled streets, the air streaked
like some New York modern painting:
Surreal, unreal, leaving high tide
marks of ice in the doorways of
mid-town shops

from ‘Hail & Water ‘ by Peter Olds

Two terrific poems by Peter Olds on The Poet Laureate site

Just fabulous! Gregory O’Brien on Peter Olds and Geoff Cochrane with Kim Hill

Poetry with Gregory O’Brien: Peter Olds and Geoff Cochrane

Originally aired on Saturday Morning, Saturday 7 March 2015

Painter, poet, curator and writer Gregory O’Brien discusses You Fit the Description: the Poetry of Peter Olds and a new collection by Geoff Cochrane, Wonky Optics.

Listen here

Updated From Poets and Fans of Poetry: Favourite poetry reads of 2014

I am not sure if two lists make this an annual event (so I resisted temptation to put ‘annual’ in the title!), but here are the books that have stuck with local poets and fans of poetry in the past year. Unlike most ‘best of 2014 book lists’, the invitation is to select favourite reads no matter where or when those reads were published. The only limitation—this is a poetry list.

Over summer, I will muse over the future of my two blogs. If I do decide to keep them running, I will make a few changes changes to clear space for my own writing time. One thing is certain, I can never review all NZ poetry books on this blog. I have a huge stack of books I want to review, but know I can only do a handful over the next few weeks.  I guess with the scarcity of poetry reviews in New Zealand, I feel pressure to share all the wonderful writing that I discover.  I would certainly be keen to post reviews and musing by other poets.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this list at a time when we all have such busy schedules, and thanks to everyone who contributed to the blog over the past year. It wouldn’t work with out you. Thanks, too, to everyone who shared my posts on social media and who followed both this and NZ Poetry Box.

John Adams:

The Life-guard, Ian Wedde, AUP.

Stark metaphors, sustained muscular writing that disturbs. A strong surface with an underbelly that provokes contemplation and rewards reflection. The final group “Shadow stands up” successfully blends quotidian observation with humour. Stuff to savour.

Autobiography of a Marguerite, Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Hue & Cry Press.

The disquieting disclosures of these poems builds a unique experience of family; patterns of mother and daughter; trials of close binding. How can we be, with such context? A journey to a foreign part.

Fearing the Kynge, Bernard Brown, Foundation Press (c/o 14 Birdwood Crescent, Parnell.

A short collection around Henry VIII and those who passed through his life, sometimes more quickly than they’d wished. Beautifully illustrated, the text ranges from the hearty pun to closely worked items that reward revisiting.

Sailing Alone around the Room, Billy Collins, Random House.

This masterly collection includes unforgettable, accessible gems. I love his riff on Blues; and any poet will weep with laughter at the enacted difficulty of Paradelle.

Rosetta Allen:

Cloudboy Siobhan Harvey Otago University Press

‘When the eye was overcast,
there could be no poetry.’

If the face was made to mirror the stars, then the entire body responds to the cloudscape that is this beautiful collection of poetry called Cloudboy. Harvey herself says ‘The body is a nest alive with new song’, and I feel it as I read her perfected lines, full of ever changing details of the atmosphere between a very special son, and an obviously devoted mother. No longer a passive pass time, cloud watching has become an active search for understanding, beauty, love and courage. And I too find myself looking up, with appreciation.
One Human in Height Rachel O’Neill Hue & Cry

‘I love that Father finds the faint trace of cyanide on his ring finger just in time and chops it off.’

I found the words of O’Neill’s poetry happily settled on the page. The humility trumpets itself without fanfare. Each poem, each line containing a neatly package surprise – I a kid in the back seat of a her car, unravelling lollies, and remembering, feeling part of the scene, included and instantly befriended. I adore the rhymes in the midst of lines, the lists that are not lists, the epiphanies that pile up until you have to let some go, the meaning where there is no meaning, and I believed every bit of it – almost.

Sarah Jane Barnett:

The Lonely Nude by Emily Dobson (VUP) An extremely beautiful collection about dislocation, identity, expectation, and the body. It traces Dobson’s own experiences of leaving New Zealand, living in the US, and her return. Dobson’s poems are spare and exquisitely crafted. She’s definitely my #1 poetry crush of 2014.

Etymology by Bryan Walpert (Cinnamon Press) Even though Etymology came out in 2009, I only managed to read it this year. As the title suggests, the poems are about the way we create meaning, not only in terms of words, but in our relationships and lives. It’s so sharp and clever that it made me want to give up writing.

Curriculum Vitae by Harold Jones (Xlibris/self published) Jones’ debut collection was my surprise of the year. Generally speaking, self published collections aren’t very good. I should have known that this would be the exception when I found out Jones has been published as part of AUP New Poets 4. Curriculum Vitae is a wonderful exploration of aging, regret, and memory. It was the only collection this year that made me cry.

Airini Beautrais:

2014 has been such a fruitful year for poetry. I haven’t quite finished reading all the wonderful local books that have come out, some as recently as last week. I have loved Hinemoana Baker’s waha/mouth (VUP 2014). And Maria McMillan’s Tree Space is an amazingly assured first full-length collection (also VUP 2014).

Diana Bridge:

For me this year has been weighted towards prose. I began it with the biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, which I interleaved with a re-reading of all her novels. Her last, The Blue Flower, was recently described with insight by Alan Hollinghurst as having ” something of the overall effect of a poem, a constellation of images and ideas.”

While I am waiting for the next collection of wonderful Australian poet, Judith Beveridge, I have been reading through her last two: Wolf Notes and Storm and Honey (Giramondo, 2003 and 2009), relishing her naturalist’s eye coupled to extraordinary and sustained imaginative powers. All her poems are filled with grace and intelligence.

Now a single poem, one I had been searching for since I first read it in the New York Review (October 7, 2004): Seamus Heaney‘s ‘ What Passed at Colonus’, written in memory of Czeslaw Milosz. I would want this to be one of the last poems I ever read.

Amy Brown:
Horse with Hat, by Marty Smith (VUP, 2014): This collection is a poignant and wry family biography. It juxtaposes earthy and transcendent subjects (the racetrack, the farm, Catholicism, war) as naturally as its stunning accompanying collages (by Brendan O’Brien) do. I especially loved Smith’s horses; I can picture the ‘dawn horses’ ‘who flatten, who scatter’ perfectly.

Final Theory, by Bonny Cassidy (Giramondo, 2014): This verse novel develops an eerie, quietly filmic atmosphere of post-apocalypse. Cassidy is an Australian poet, who wrote part of this poem while travelling in New Zealand – the landscape she describes is simultaneously recognisable and alien – a place where ‘three stilled turbines balance the space like stupas’ and ‘the ocean’s a mouthed thought’. Exquisitely clear and unsettling, it is the sort of book I’d love to write one day.

Mondrian’s Flowers, By Alan Loney and Max Gimblett (Granary Books, 2002): I stumbled upon this poetic biography of Piet Mondrian while reviewing Loney and Gimblett’s recent eMailing Flowers to Mondrian. Only 41 books were made, each with rough-cut watercolour pages and an exposed primary-coloured spine. Three long poems by Loney in tribute to Mondrian are punctuated by Gimblett’s watercolours. Reading it is a meditative act; if you’re in Wellington, I recommend looking at the copy in the National Library. Her

Rachel Bush:

Marty Smith, Horse with Hat Victoria University Press Marty Smith’s work is new to me. Rural New Zealand, family stories, and the stories of a generation are combined in her excellent first volume of poetry. It’s poignant stuff that doesn’t balk at the sorts of tough, sad realities that exist in all families.

Lindsay Pope Headwinds Makaro Press Lindsay Pope’s engaging first book of poems is very timely. Family events, like the birth of a grandchild and low key domestic things like making muesli feature in it, but he’s also drawn to write about solitary lives like that of the caretaker on Stephens Island or the man in ‘Outpost’ whose closest contact with the outside world comes through the radio he operates.

Vincent O’Sullivan Us, then Victoria University Press I enjoy the ease with which Vincent O’Sullivan can refer as easily to a Dunedin Beach as he does to lines from Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens or to the poetry of McGonagall. He investigates difficult questions, but doesn’t come up with facile, tidy answers to them.. This is a collection thoughtful, witty, sure-footed poems.

Michael Harlow Sweeping the Courtyard: The selected poems of Michael Harlow Cold Hub Press
Poems chosen from seven books of poetry by Michael Harlow make  for a lively and varied collection. He is interested in and  sensitive to how each poem looks on the page. I enjoy his distinct and often quirky voice.

Kay Cooke:
Essential NZ Poems Facing The Empty Page selected by Siobhan Harvey, James Norcliffe and Harry Ricketts. Published by Godwit. A real  treasury indeed of NZ poets. (Although I missed Tim Jones and Helen Lehendorf not being there).

Si no te hubieras ido / If only you hadn’t gone by Rogelio Gueda with translations from the Spanish by Roger Hickin and an introduction by Vincent O’Sullivan. A gem of a book with poems about distance, love and Dunedin. Published by Cold Hub Press.

You Fit The Description: The Selected Poems of Peter Olds published by Cold Hub Press. The long-awaited collection of Olds’ poetry; a prolific New Zealand poet whose background in poetry in Aotearoa stretches back to the James K. Baxter era. I’m thoroughly enjoying this book which is sure to become a classic. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but so far – It’s a cracker.

A chapbook that has both inspired and thrilled me with its re-imagined worlds within worlds, delicately traced with a steely eye, is Jenny Powell’s Trouble published by Cold Hub Press.

Ruth Arnison’s PoARTry @ Olveston (self-published) with its clever mix of paintings and words, is also a favourite from my 2014 pile of poetry.

Karen Craig:

I’m looking at the three books I’ve laid out on my table and what I notice is that they all have lots to do with the sea, seabirds, islands. And I have a wonderful feeling that if I were to pry up their covers I’d hear sounds of imaginary oceans, like when you hold a seashell up to your ear. Because, like seashells, these poets have taken the sounds of our world and clarified and amplified them, made them resonate, turned them into a deep, quiet, prolonged roar. Each with a different pitch, of course.

1. Richard Blanco Looking for The Gulf Motel, University of Pittsburgh Press 2012 (You can get it at Auckland Libraries!). Richard Blanco’s seasides are Cuba, where he was born; Florida, where as a boy he emigrated with his family; and now Maine, where he ended up for love. He sings the enigma of memory, the yearn of sorrow, the terror of romantic love. “The sea is never the same twice. Today / the waves open their lions’ mouths hungry / for the shore, and I feel the earth helpless.”

2. Michele Leggott Heartland Auckland University Press 2014. These poems burn like the hot blue stars which recur in one of them. You dive in to their mesmerising, punctuationless (as always) whirl and find at the heart a distillation of spirit that is so honest as to be unforgettable. The long poem about the introduction into her life of her guide-dog ends with the simplest of phrases, “her name is Olive”, and it’s as if a choir broke out.

3. Bob Orr Odysseus in Woolloomooloo Steele Roberts 2014. Bob Orr embraces the sacred and the profane better than anyone. From the ancient mysteries to modern gazes, from Penrose to Valparaiso, his imagery amazes me and his turns-of-phrase make me want to get down on my knees and say Hallelujah! “As the Southern Cross / salts these hours / I shiver beneath signs and wonders.”

David Eggleton:

There were a number of outstanding poetry books I read this year, but these in particular offered things which have stayed with me.

  1. Kay Mackenzie Cooke’s book-length sequence Born to a Red-Headed Woman (Otago University Press) offers a remarkable evocation of growing up in rural Southland: ‘The teacher draws close, / her own fingers cool, // narrow streamlined/ dragonflies that touch down/ briefly where my fingertips/ have begun to make mist, / What lovely moons you have, she says.’
  2. In Sweeping the Courtyard: the Selected Poems of Michael Harlow, Michael Harlow’s poems are like miniature echo-chambers, their lines teasing and entrancing with repetitions of words and phrases which resonate with subtle implications: ‘We were walking out of the park, your/ hair on fire under a full fall of moon, / the flowering almond its bridal white/ fading earlier than was remembered// I could hear, a leaf-fall of thought . . .’
  3. I was impressed by the restless inquisitive searching tone, the careful observation, in Jenny Powell’s small collection Trouble (Cold Hub), as in her poem describing the scene in a photograph ‘Guided Walking Party on the Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand c. 1908’: ‘five women/ standing on/ frozen contortions of time/ frock hems damp/ from trailing overground undulations . . .’
  4. I was also pleasurably arrested by the precise and telling imagistic phrases that made up Hinemoana Baker’s collection waha:mouth (Victoria University Press), as for example in ‘what the whale said’: ‘ I break/ the brine, my flukes a black book// a mast in your mind/ cross of the drowned. . .’
  5. I was amused by the rhythms and rhymes forming sweet and sour stanza combinations in Tim Upperton’s poetry collection The Night We Ate the Baby (Haunui Press), as in ‘All the Things I Never Knew’: ‘Bobbie watches headlights move/ across the wall. / A little rain begins to fall — / a little rain to end the day. // It falls differently in L.A./ Choctaw Ridge is far away.’
  6. Likewise, I enjoyed the almost whispered whimsy and well-turned verses in Peter Bland’s short book Hunting Elephants (Steele Roberts), as in his dream-poem about James K. Baxter: ‘Not/ a pretty sight/ with his soup-stained beard/ but there’s a lovely/ holy glow / to his skin . . .’
  7. Tom Weston’s collection Only One Question (Steele Roberts) contains a number of extraordinary poems, especially about crime and punishment. He shows us characters who have the fatalism, or else the tragic destiny of Joseph Conrad’s characters, as in the title poem: ‘When he sends children to prison the parents go too, / trailing along like wind-ripped flags.’
  8. And, finally, I was taken with the rapping urgency of Leilani Tamu’s street-wise voice in The Art of Excavation (Anahera Press), as in ‘You’, a poem about her father: ‘. . . driving around Auckland in your crusty-as car/ a hole in your sock, an empty pocket, a heart full/ of dreams but never a cent . . .’

Laurence Fearnley:

Dylan Thomas SELECTED POEMS (Penguin Classics)

I watched a couple of science fiction/space movies recently and, in general, I found them pretty dull and really long. But, a couple of them  included poems by Dylan Thomas. The film Solaris had ‘And Death Shall have No Dominion’ and Interstellar included ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.’ So I found my copy of Dylan Thomas’s poems and I noticed in its introduction that Thomas is described as ‘dense and often difficult’. I don’t know about that.  I liked the imagery in some of the poems – ‘Where birds ride like leaves…’ (When I Woke)  or ‘…the shabby curtains of the skin…’ (A Process in the Weather of the Heart), for example . After reading Thomas I got out my James K Baxter and Janet Frame books and spent a while flicking back and forth between the three writers.

Joan Fleming:
I have never read anything like George Dyungayan’s Bulu Line: A West Kimberley Song Cycle (Puncher & Wattman, 2014), edited and translated by Stuart Cooke. Cooke braids a dimensional translation of an Aboriginal song-poem from many strands: the words of the song in language, traditional owners’ verbatim explanations, an ethnomusicologist’s commentary, and his own circling, cycling rendering in english. Such important work; this book is a bit of a game-changer.

Siobhan Harvey:

Alexandra Fraser, Conversations by Owl Light (Steele Roberts) is a first collection which engages with concepts of chemistry, love, botany, family, astronomy, tarot and ancestry. The author’s evocative language, pinpoint accuracy and sumptuous concern for human interaction make is a 2014 standout.

Ancestry also underpins another exciting first book, Leilani Tamu’s The Art of Excavation (Anahera Press). Excavating her family and Pacific history, the book is an entwining of legend and cultural realism.

Miriam Barr, Bullet Hole Riddle (Steele Roberts) packs a powerful punch. A triptych charting the narrator’s cruel, abusive history, it’s a book of unflinching honesty and potent impact.

Dinah Hawken:

The Great Enigma, New Collected Poems, Tomas Transtromer, New Directions Books, 2006.

This has been my favourite book for a couple of years. I’d love to be able to write like him and it would take too long to tell why.

Body English, Text and Images by Len Lye, edited by Roger Horrocks, Holloway Press, 2009.

I splashed out and bought this book a few months ago, not long after reading Roger Horrocks’ biography of Len Lye.
I knew I would love it because Lye was so extraordinary; particularly in his understanding of how the body gives rise to all creative ventures including poetry. ‘ I hold/words in the bone.’

Otari, Poems and Prose, Louise Wrightson, Otari Press, 2014.

This very new, first book by Louise Wrightson has been written slowly, close to home. Louise lives on the edge of Otari/Wilton’s Bush in Wellington and has written a book about place that is dedicated, funny and beautifully produced.

David Hill: 

I’d like to mention:  1. Ruby Duby Du, by Elizabeth Smither (Cold Hub Press, PO Box 156, Lyttleton). Smither’s enchanting poems for her new grand-daughter, which manage to combine tenderness with her distinctive cool, meticulous observation.

2. A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children, ed by Paula Green, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Random House). Yes, I know I’m not supposed to include Paula Green’s poems, but she’s just (“just”!!) the editor of this terrific anthology which ranges from Baxter to school-kids. Exuberant, engaging, educational, and made more so by Jenny Cooper’s magic illustrations.

Bill Manhire:

Do song lyrics count as poetry? If so, I’ve been enjoying The Lines Are Open from The Close Readers (aka Damien Wilkins). It includes tracks about departed writing friends like Barbara Anderson and Nigel Cox. One of them – “The Ballad of Tarzan Presley” http://theclosereaders.com/track/the-ballad-of-tarzan-presley – makes my heart hurt yet somehow leaves me happy.

It’s been a strong year for New Zealand poetry.  So many accomplished first collections! I was pleased to see Frances Samuel’s Sleeping on Horseback (VUP) in print – I’ve been waiting for some version of this book for about ten years. Another impressive first book is Kerry Hines’s Young Country, in which the poet’s words keep company with the images of 19th-century photographer William Williams. It’s a mix that can seem easy and obvious, but is surprisingly hard to do well. Between them, Hines and Auckland University Press make the task seem effortless.

A couple of other great reading pleasures this year have been A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind: The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton (edited by Ben Estes and Alan Felsenthal, and published by The Song Cave) and Maurice Riordan’s new collection from Faber, The Water Stealer.  Alfred Starr Hamilton is the poetry equivalent of the apparently naïve artist, of a Chagall or an Alfred Wallis. He has an appealing clumsiness, and specialises in astonishing small moments, as in his one-line poem “Carrot”: “I wanted to find a little yellow candlelight in the garden.” Maurice Riordan manages to be lyrical and thoughtful all at once, and is also the editor of The Finest Music: Early Irish Lyrics, a handsome anthology which includes translations from Tennyson to Riordan himself, as well as a number specially commissioned for the book.

Alice Miller:

Sam Sampson, Halcyon Ghosts (AUP, 2014)
‘shadow this, take and come up/  shadow, come to the present … the sur-/ face… the Lion —– the Light  —– the Luminous’

Lee Posna, Arboretum (Compound Press, 2014)

Steven Toussaint, Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014)

Emma Neale:

Poetry books this year I enjoyed…. I still have many books on my bedside table that I’m still only part way through – e.g. Stefanie Lash’s Bird Murder and Hinemoana Baker’s Waha-Mouth and more and more… but of those I have finished, the memorable ones are:

Siobhan Harvey, Cloudboy – I hope it’s all right to nominate a book I edited – it’s the only one I’ll let myself name out of some other wonderful books I worked on this year – but this one stood out for the ’tensile delicacy’ with which it maintains the extended metaphor of boy and mother as shifting cloudscape; for its subtle use of line and page as physical space as well as rhythmic unit; for its music and invigorating intelligence. It is an important milestone in local publishing, I reckon, for the poise in that sustained motif; for the fact that the metaphor never feels strained or gimmicky; and for the richness of the psychology in the relationships portrayed across the developing sequence.

Alice Miller, The Limits – for its dreamy eeriness, its evocation of beauty even as it catches the jittery sense of a civilisation crumbling; for its creation of the atmosphere of dread and yet a sense of old-new mythology as well.

Michael Harlow, Sweeping the Courtyard – a selected from Harlow seems long overdue, and it’s a joy to have this now that older volumes are out of print. His sense of the surreal, the power of the subconscious, and his ear attuned to the lilt and rise of a sometimes slightly eccentric syntax shows a musical ear for how to upend where the emphasis normally falls in a line. It keeps us listening closely to the swerve and duck of words: how meaning can shimmer from one sense to another, depending on how you hold light to the line. His sense of the power of the subconscious and seems to perhaps have filtered through to a poet like Alice Miller.

Peter Olds, Selected Poems – I am a latecomer to Peter’s work, and the stretch of experience here, as well as the energetic vernacular, was both refreshing and sometimes devastating to read. Many of the poems record pushing himself right to the edge of risk, and the cost is shown to be very bleak at times – which means that the mischievous, finger-flipping humour that survives in some poems is all the more welcome.

Tim Upperton, The Night We Ate the Baby –  I kept waiting for my kids to ask why I was reading this book. They never did. I enjoyed it for its technical control and its grim, self-loathing, Beckettian humour. It reminds me a little of Simon Armitage’s work: Simon Armitage meets Wendy Cope in a horror film with dialogue done by Dylan Moran? Something like that: it leaves me a happy kind of uncomfortable.

Zarah Butcher McGonnigle Autobiography of a Margeurite – I loved the concept – sometimes I loved the concept more than individual poems, but this was a bold, adventurous debut.

Cilla McQueen Edwin’s Egg and Other Poetic Novellas –  witty, surprising, gracefully succinct, playful – the implied dialogue between archival image and the text was gorgeously unseating and sideways, sometimes; others, poignant, piquant, peppery, plangent.

Vivienne Plumb:

My favourite poetry read of this year was a copy of Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire, purchased at the wonderful Scorpio books independent bookstore, 113 Riccarton Rd, Christchurch.  Originally published in 1869, this new reprint is from Alma Classics Ltd, U.K. (2010). These pieces by Baudelaire are considered to be very early prose poems.
Baudelaire wrote that ‘Parisian life is rich in poetic, marvellous subjects’, and described in a letter of 1862 his ambition to make the pieces that were eventually dubbed ‘prose poems’.
Excellent!

Lindsay Pope:

Leaf-Huts and Snow-Houses by Olav H. Hauge. Pat White introduced me to this Norwegian poet. He lived nearly all his life in his native Ulvik where he worked as a gardener. His writing is simple and precise yet laced with a lot of wisdom.

Lindsay Rabbitt:

Odysseus in Woolloomooloo, by Bob Orr (Steele Roberts, 2014), 60 pp., $19.99

‘If James Joyce could reanimate Ulysses [Odysseus] on the banks of the Liffey, why not bring the wily old wanderer to the South Pacific?’ Iain Sharp posits in his review of Odysseus in Woolloomooloo (a harbour-side Sydney suburb) in the July edition of Landfall Review Online, which I tout as my favourite review of a NZ poetry book, coincidentally on my favourite NZ poetry book (that I’ve read) published 2014. I have five of Bob Orr’s eight books of verse in my bookcase, including his first, the scarce-as-hen’s-teeth Blue Footpaths, published by The Amphedesma Press out of London in 1971, and this beautifully-produced latest offering sees Orr, a boatman on the Waitemata Harbour, and one of our finest lyric poets, at the top of his game, whether retracing his boyhood homeland in rural Waikato, or recalling his Wellington days, or visiting a terminally-ill friend in Sydney, or wandering the streets of Auckland, or out night fishing: ‘As the Southern Cross / salts these hours / I shiver beneath signs and wonders.’

Jack Ross:
Char, René. Furor and Mystery & Other Writings. Trans. Mary Ann Caws & Nancy Kline. 1992. Introduction by Sandra Bermann. Foreword by Marie-Claude Char. Black Widow Press Translation Series. Black Widow Press. Boston. MA: Commonwealth Books, Inc., 2010.

This is a big, generous dual-text selection of a lot of work form the whole span of René Char’s career, from early surrealist days, though the darkness of the Vichy years in France, and into postwar existentialism and disillusionment. Char was one of Paul Celan’s favourite poets, and a close personal friend, and the affinities between the two poets are quite striking — though probably more in the mood and underlying seriousness than the surface texture of their work.

I’ve also been reading a lot of NZ poetry books this year for Poetry NZ. I tried to say something about each of them at the back of the latest issue, but you can link to the detail of my remarks.

Lisa Samuels:

A few poetry books I found in 2014, with room for more

Iain Britton, Photosynthesis (Kilmog Press 2014). A beautifully hand-made art book in 40 copies, with 20 poems that attend to the medial line between the conscious report of observed and felt phenomena and the image moment that swerves the mind.

Jill Magi, Labor (Nightboat 2014). An essay in poetry, framed as a workography, that lays bare the devastated internal landscape of university labor. The university lecturer must strain the bad faith of corporate academia through her body in order to try and make a good faith realm for students and ideas.

Alan Halsey, Rampant Inertia (Shearsman 2014). From asemic (and glossed) clinamen to translingualism to talking places, this book has a world-attending and word-spelunking energy I crave in poetry.

Stephanie Anderson, In the key of those who can no longer organize their environments (Horseless Press 2013). Call it cento, source work, or reassembled appropriation, this book knows how to balance its languages in a vibrant sonic think-space for social thought and bodies in peril and houses and history.

Doc Drumheller, 10 x (10 + -10) = 0 (The Republic of Oma Rapeti Press 2014). A complex and delightful document of lingual devotion and social mixing. Drumheller has assembled his 10 pamphlets produced over 10 years to make helixes of anagrams and energetic rhymes. The poet as seer and Shakespearean “fool” for cultural attention.

Sam Sampson:

This year I’ve been revisiting Keith Waldrop’s Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press, 2009). When first opening the book I was drawn to his use of collaged lines and the effortless sway between the personal and metaphysical. The topology, or bricolage of purloined texts adds to the rich texture and music of his poems. He suggested in a recent interview, that poetry is ‘having nothing to say, and saying it,’ explaining, he was more interested in a sense of music, than the drive towards a philosophic, or information based poetics.

I’ve also had the pleasure of reading two recent volumes from the American publisher Black Ocean: Zach Savich’s Century Swept Brutal, and Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable.

At the local level, I really enjoyed Alice Miller’s collection The Limits (Auckland University Press, 2014), with its elliptical and economical syntax. The imagery is deceptively refractive, and (as Barbara Guest suggests), at its best, a circling, or delimitation of the frame extends the line beyond the page.

The second discovery was an event I was involved in for the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) LOUNGE #41, where the NZ based American poet Steven Toussaint read. His rhythms contain a remarkable subtlety, an unmistakable momentum of word and thing (word-ling). There are a number of his poems online, or you could search out his chapbook Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014).

Iain Sharp:

I was pleased to see Alan Brunton’s Beyond the Ohlala Mountains topping The Listener’s belated list of 2014 poetry books. With its breadth of vision, wit and musicality it tops my list too, but I’d also like to draw attention to a couple of Auckland University publications that The Listener did not mention.

Sam Sampson’s second book Halcyon Days is the brainiest local poetry, I reckon, since the untimely demise of Leigh Davis. Yes, it’s challenging work, but the reward is in peeling back the layers and discovering the care with which Sampson has chosen each phrase.

Kerry Hines’s debut, Young Country, not only pays tribute to (and reproduces some of the fascinating images of) the great underrated New Zealand photographer William Williams but also opens up new approaches to writing about our colonial past.
Marty Smith:

waha/mouth Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)

is breathtakingly, cracklingly alive. It should be read with a de-fibrillator. I get breath loss and my heart-beat jumps when the poems go leading into unexploded places, then all over again with wrenching images, like Tinkerbell

‘       I turn from black to white inside

my own limbs. Who makes this howl, whose

hindquarters drag like a bag of coal?’

Raw relationships are opened up, as in the itching madness of ‘Malady,’ and ‘running’ pulls me breathless

and still you caught me grabbed

my arm my clothes my woollen jersey unravelled as you

pulled until there was a thin gray thread

getting longer between us and the faster I ran

the colder I got

and the travelling sadness of this:

I miss you, It’s like a cave in this mouth.

It’s a terrible saxophone solo.

Read the back cover. I’d like to think that I read this book with a candle guttering in my mouth the whole way.

 Bird murder Stefanie Lash

I’m completely besotted. The first place I love it is the sound echo in the title, but really the first place I love it is the little embedded crime sticker. You can’t peel it off, can’t get away from it, because this is a post-colonial protest at the fate of the Huia. I have to admit to a nostalgia for the world of my great-aunt and my grandmother, who were full Victorian Gothic, so I might be a suspect judge. But my fascination really comes from the twisty linguistic inventiveness. I love how the protest is laid out in the conventions of a traditional murder mystery, but full of flavour in an amped up version of this genre. And yet, not. It’s laid out in lush and hallucinatory images, in gorgeous language. Look at this murder scene –

‘the man is grey, and a shining black concave meniscus

of blood has formed, like oil on water,

where he has dropped his whiskey glass

and the characters are absolutely skewered:

Mrs Cockatrice is rosy, lucent:

her guests, enchanted.

Mrs Teck’s lips peel off her teeth

in a real storm of delight.

Mr Cockatrice, always sheepish,

always just on the brink of a toast.

Not saying anything about the huia, that pleasure shall be left untouched for the reader. I will say, what a feat, to keep to the form so that the narrative feeds its own texture into the whole drama. I just love it.

 Tree Space Maria McMillan

I love how these poems are experiments with hushes and stops and gaps, so when I read it I get a sense of space, of joy in the richly observed world, in its breathing biology, as it were, in the stops of sadness which are a powerful reminder of what we must do to keep it.

‘The ocean is never

the same twice. You don’t know if you’ll open the door

on yellow fish flicking past, or a swarm of jellyfish little

fisted stomachs pulsing

I love how the poems sharply enact the sensations of their worlds, so the smell of the bush floor rises up in Tree Space

In the dark birds are heavier and we can hear the small valleys of

their footfalls.

It’s true that death and life smell the same here

so it gives me a slight creeping dread, but then it moves straight to ‘leap like a sugar glider’.

I love how the intricacies of scientific wonder carry such a pure joy

Joe tells me the flagella

in these new colonies

is trapped inside

so each daughter

makes a tiny hole in herself

and pushes her whole self through,

turns herself right side out

the opposite of the observations of our collective humanity –

‘ The kingdoms of life are often revised.

Humans are closer than turtles to dinosaurs.

Truth had two legs before it had four.

And I love how deceptively simple the cover is, itself anchored but floating. I happen to know Maria has knitted gloves of this cover.

Elizabeth Smither:

‘I am a poet who is a woman, not a woman poet’ Ruth Fainlight has said. I dip into her New and Collected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2010) every year for a voice that is warm and wise and tough. Last Christmas she sent me a card designed by her photographer son: stone angels in flight over a cemetery. I love to think of her wild dead brother, Harry, threatening to burn down the offices of Faber & Faber if they didn’t return the poems of his they were going to publish.

Chris Tse:

I’d like to name two books and one poetic curios that have reminded me this year of the possibilities and joy that poetry can bring. Reading them was like surveying a city from the top of a skyscraper – there’s a sense of wonderment mixed with danger as you grapple with a dizzying and unfamiliar view of the familiar. All three are daring, inventive bodies of work that reveal and give so much more with subsequent readings – the hallmark of all great poetry:

Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash (Mākaro Press, 2014)
Autobiography of a Marguerite by Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle (Hue & Cry Press, 2014)
Pen Pal by Sugar Magnolia Wilson (Cats & Spaghetti Press, 2014)

 

Reina Whaitiri:

A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children published by Random House New Zealand.
This is a beautifully produced book. Everything works really well. The illustrations are absolutely delightful and will bring pleasure to any child, young or old. The poems themselves cover such a wide range of topics and they too will delight.

Dark Sparring by Selina Tusitala Marsh and published by AUP.
There is such a wealth of wisdom and profound insight in the poems presented here.
The CD included is an extra bonus and reminds us that poetry should be heard and not
only read quietly to one’s self.

Puna Wai Korero published by AUP.
The poems in this anthology reveal some deep-seated resentments and longings as well
as heart-felt love and desire. They offer insights into the hearts and minds of Maori, some living today and some who have passed on.

Kirsti Whalen:

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood Penguin, New York
A strange, beautiful navigation of a feminist dreamscape. Hilarious and moving in equal measure.

Bullet Hole Riddle by Miriam Barr Steele Roberts
The most arresting modern poetry collection I may have ever read, tackling abuse and consent with lyrical command.

Castaly by Ian Wedde  AUP
This collection predates me but I loved the challenge of it: the longer poems casting out in exploration and the shorter acutely observed.

A History of Silence Carrie Rudzinski  Self published
Rudzinski generally performs her work, but her words sing equally vibrantly from the page. This book is much like going on a road trip with someone you love, while questioning everything.

Sue Wootton:

Here my poetry picks for 2014. Comments for these first two are taken from my fuller reviews which appear in Takahe 82 and 83.

Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle Autobiography of a Marguerite Auckland: Hue & Cry Press (2014).
This book-length poetic narrative speaks powerfully to the claustrophobic effect of chronic illness: the endless burrowing for meaning, the constant search for a sense of order, the fleeting glimpses of certainty which dissolve as soon as they’re probed. The usual orientation measures no longer apply: “Outside there is no weather…my watch has stopped.” Butcher-McGunnigle’s writing goes to the aching heart of disconnection and of longing for repair.

Janis Freegard The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider by. USA: Anomalous Press (2013).  Alice is frank and tart (actually “she’s a trollopy little tart”). She sets traps with words and makes you wriggle like heck when you get caught. Alice Works ought to be pinned above every writer’s desk. It tells what happens when Alice gets a real job. After a while Alice concludes: “Work is the sale of strength, of thought, of dexterity. Alice takes up writing. She sells her soul.”

Also: I have really enjoyed these 3 collections: Si no te hubieras ido/If only you hadn’t gone by Rogelio Guedea (with superb translations by Roger Hickin), Cold Hub Press 2014. A poetic sequence about absence, yearning, solitude and love: “I know you’re asleep while I’m writing this,/ there on the other side of the world, / that’s why I do it, just to see if we might bump into each other / in some corner of your dreams: otra vez.”

Parallel by Jillian Sullivan, Steele Roberts 2014. A collection which examines the warp, weft and weave of family, developed from the manuscript which won Sullivan the 2011 Kathleen Grattan award for a sequence of poetry: “how every kind of death we don’t desire / hangs like a mask above our stories, above our vows.”

Edwin’s Egg &other poetic novellas by Cilla McQueen, Otago University Press, 2014. What’s not to love here? This wee box, opened, spills pure delight: “The more the imagination grasps at the idea the greater the void created.”  Also: “The scones are satisfying.”