Tag Archives: POem Friday

Poem Friday: Sue Wootton’s ‘Lingua incognita’ –



Lingua incognita


Some words dwell in the bone, as yet

unassembled. Like the word you want


for Weary Of The City, for Soul Tired; the word

you seek for Confusion Where Affection Once Existed


or the single vowel-filled syllable which would accurately render

Sensation of Freefall Generated by Receipt of Terrifying Information.


Down in the bone the word-strands glimmer and ascend

often disordered, often in dreams,


bone-knowledge beating a path through the body to the throat

labouring to enter the alphabet.


Maybe the bones ache.

Maybe the throat.


Your cells your language, occasionally articulate

in a rush of ease, the body clear as wellspring saying this is


The Moment of Illumination When One Allows that Water Yields to Rock, and Always Flows


and sometimes the only word to assemble in the throat is Yes

and sometimes the only word to assemble in the throat is No.


© Sue Wootton 2015


Author bio:  Sue Wootton’s poetry and fiction has been widely published, anthologised and translated. Her most recent publication is Out of Shape, a letterpress portfolio of poems hand set and printed by Canberra letterpress artist Caren Florance. She was recently placed second for the Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize, and longlisted for the 2015 Canberra University Vice Chancellor’s Poetry Prize. A former physiotherapist, Sue has a special interest in the practice of the creative arts in healthcare. She holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Massey University, awarded with distinction, on the subject of creative fiction and the phenomenology of illness. She lives in Dunedin and is the current selecting editor for the Otago Daily Times Monday Poem column. Her novel, Strip, is forthcoming next year from Mākaro Press.

Sue’s website

Paula’s note: I love the way this poem grapples with the elusiveness of words, building in momentum from that point in the bone to that point in the throat. Inventive. Surprising. The elusive moments/notions/images glint as they escape. The ending shifts the pitch of the poem and delivers, for me, a moment of poignancy. I love this.



Poem Friday: Anna Jackson’s ‘Scenes from the photographer’s childhood: wardrobe’ — Within that silent beat, poetry blooms


Scenes from the photographer’s childhood: wardrobe


She kneels in the red light of her wardrobe, leaning

over one tub of chemicals to pull out the dripping

sheet from the one in the far corner, the space so

small, the smell so sharp, the image not that

of her mother, poking her amused face

around the bathroom door as she heaved

it open, pushing across the floor the barricade

set up to keep her out, nor of her own fury, still

sharp days later, but the shot she had taken

seconds earlier of her body, her legs

half shaven, still half dressed in foam.

Every night, without fail, whatever

time she takes her bath, within minutes

her mother suddenly just has to wash

her hands. It is this, even more than the

ruined image, that makes her scream

when her mother opens the wardrobe now,

an extended scream that the exhausted

mother next door, in her faded blue thrift

shop dress, covered in spilt milk, thinks will

never end, and so joins in, even though

it will wake the baby, which it does: and now

they are all screaming, the girl in B, the neighbour

in G, and the baby in F, a long, tense chord

of such helpless rage, almost a panic, it seems

it must rise up, it will ruin them all, there

can never be any release, their throats, all three,

scraped raw, the scream continuing, the

exhausted mother holding, perfectly, her note

of G, as the baby drops to E, the photographer

rising to C, holding for four beats and then

stopping, just as the baby stops, and so

the mother stops too and for the long moment

before the baby starts again, stands rapt

in the most perfect silence

she has ever known and will ever know

again, milk all through her dress, blue

jug in pieces on the floor,

exactly at the midpoint of her life.

© Anna Jackson 2015



Author bio: Anna is the Programme Director in the English Department at Victoria University. She has published five poetry collections, including Thicket, which was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards in 2011. Her latest collection  I, Clodia, and Other Portraits was published by Auckland University Press in  2014 (my review here). Anna is currently organising a Ruapehu Writer’s Festival with Helen Rickerby to be held in Ohakune, March 2016 (Facebook page here).

Paula’s note: This surprising poem, holds narrative in its palm, a sharp moment that reverberates  with implication. I get to the end and I am pulled back to the beginning, again and again. The musical chord that holds the moment together (and thus the poem)  jars, unsettles — until that moment of silence and it feels like time has iced over. Within that silent beat, poetry blooms. Ha! I need to get to work but this poem keeps distracting me. I adore the power of poetry to do just that.


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Auckland University page

New Zealand Book Council page

Anna Jackson’s poem, ‘Afraid of falls?’ on Poetry Shelf.

Anna Jackson’s interview on Poetry Shelf



Poem Friday – Carolyn McCurdie’s ‘A Potato Sonnet: Jersey Bennes for Christmas’ – each word gleams in the light bright space of the page


A Potato Sonnet: Jersey Bennes for Christmas


They gleam in the black

crumbled earth;


steady, as if candles

glow through layers of silk,


underpin the season’s quick

shifts of tinselled light


and the brisk heel-tap, chatter

of crowds in the street.


This is old, wondrous

as moon-rise,



as the maternal voice


that calls, come in

to the table.


© Carolyn McCurdie Bones in the Octagon  Mākaro Press 2015



Author Bio:  Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer. She won the Lilian Ida Smith Award in 1998 for short stories and a collection of stories — Albatross was published in 2014 by e-book publisher Rosa Mira Books. A children’s novel, The Unquiet, was published in 2006 by Longacre Press. She was the winner of the 2013 NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition and her first poetry collection, Bones in the Octagon, was published in 2015 by Mākaro Press as part of their Hoopla series. Carolyn is active in Dunedin’s live poetry scene, where she is a member of the Octagon Poets Collective.

Paula’s note: The potato is comfort food, but this particular potato hooks you to the extended  family table where the sun is blazing down and family stories circulate. Christmas. Ah. Reading the poem, each word gleams in the light bright space of the page along with the deep pit of personal memory. Each word is so perfectly placed for ear and eye. This is the first poem I read in Carolyn’s debut collection (the title lured me in — especially the idea of a sonnet meeting up with potatoes). There is a quietness, an attentiveness, delicious overlaps of meaning and propulsion. I can’t wait to settle back into the book and discover more.


Mākaro Press author page


Other books in 2015 Hoopla series:

Mr Clean & the Junkie by Jennifer Compton (I reviewed this here)
Native Bird by Bryan Walpert

Poem Friday: Steven Toussaint’s ‘Plainsong’ –This poem is like a talisman




© Steven Toussaint  The Bellfounder (The Cultural Society, 2015)


Author Bio: Steven Toussaint is the author of The Bellfounder (The Cultural Society, 2015) and a chapbook Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014). He recently completed a Ph.D. at the International Institute of Modern Letters on 20th century American poetry and music. He lives in Auckland. NZ distributor is Time Out Bookstore.


Note from Paula: This poem is like a talisman. I have always loved the way heart holds ear along with heat and art, and then stretches out, ever so slightly, to become hearth. A corner stone for poetry. I photographed the poem in the book as whenever I post poems they insist on hugging the left-hand margin. This poem needs its white space in order for the melody to strike so beautifully. It is also one melody among many in a book resplendent with aural delight. This is the intriguing note on the poem: “‘Plainsong’ arpeggiates a chord by Ronald Johnson (‘Bean’ 24′).” I will talk about the book as a whole soon.




Poem Friday: Murray Edmond’s ‘The Letter from Rilke — Like a boat under the milky moon you slip and sway upon the crest of the poem


The  Letter from Rilke


Did you get the moon?

(I ask) as you come in

in your hoodie with your tripod.

You laugh. Recall another evening.

When you did ‘get the moon.’

Nice to see the sky. Okay. True.

Clock ticks. One always looks

for a total time of ecstasy

called writing. Taking a photo

it’s all there – or it’s not.

But even to trace letters

has no immediacy. It’s

like the moon rising.

There. You said. Some trace

of old enormity beckons.

The jug is heating up.

Footsteps. Water pump. Floorboards

shaking. I peel off

the outer layer of my insistence.

There is a letter from Rilke

underneath. As if it were a

landscape on the skin. He writes

about how it is impossible for

anything to escape itself. The sea

burnished with the full moon

blue of hyacinths. When you

look into them.


© Murray Edmond Shaggy Magpie Songs Auckland University Press, 2015


Author Bio: Murray Edmond was born in Hamilton in 1949. He has published thirteen books of poems. Letters and Paragraphs (1987) and Fool Moon (2005) were New Zealand Book Awards finalists. His latest volume of poems is Shaggy Magpie Songs (2015) from Auckland University Press. A collection of fiction, Strait Men and Other Tales, will be published by Steele Roberts in October 2015. His collection of critical writings, Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing was published by Atuanui Press in 2014. A study of Noh theatre and the Western avant-garde, Noh Business, was published by Atelos Press in California in 2005 and the long poem A Piece of Work was published by Tinfish Press in Hawai’i in 2002. He co-edited the anthology Big Smoke: New Zealand Poems 1960–1975 (AUP, 2000); and is the editor of the peer-reviewed, online journal of poetics Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics. Since the 1970s, Edmond has been active in experimental and innovative theatre companies and for over 25 years taught theatre and drama at The University of Auckland, retiring from his position as Associate Professor of Drama at the end of 2014. He works as the dramaturge for Indian Ink Theatre Company, whose latest play, Kiss the Fish, was awarded Best New Play of 2014 in the Chapman Tripp Awards.


Note from Paula: Reading a Murray Edmond poem is like entering a linguistic harbour – you are held by the sway and slip of words, the way that sharp sea air alerts your senses, rejuvenates skin and eye and ear. He is the master of word play but the coils and overlaps and skids never feel stuck in exercise mode. This word play is infectious. It nourishes the gap and supports the bridge. Beneath the surface there is always heart, and with that subterranean heart, these are poems that matter.

Moons are a favoured motif in this collection and others. Mysterious; a drawcard in the pitch black of night or a poem or a myth or mood. The first line startles in its punning sidetracks (‘Did you get the moon?’). The last lines startling in their pitch for beauty. In between, gossamer threads that make silvery links between things. Luminous. Eye catching. In the heart of the poem, a relationship. And then another. A letter read. Under the skin; a poet, a lover perhaps. Like a boat under the milky moon you slip and sway upon the crest of the poem. It haunts. Lines stick like glue (‘I peel off/ the outer layer of my insistence’ ‘As if it were a/ landscape on the skin’). Do you get the poem? Jammed packed as it is with light and dark, everyday detail (Floorboards/ shaking’).  The line that sends you between the lines (‘He writes/ about how it is impossible for/ anything to escape itself’). Get – arrivals. Glorious.


Auckland University Press page

NZ Book Council page

nzepc page



Poem Friday: Dinah Hawken’s ‘Stone’ – Its window catches any number of lights




Stony this, stony that. They are cold

today, these stones on the desk.

Stone cold. Stone blind. Stone deaf.

Heart, reception, stare, silence.

They remember the slingshot.


It is said he is a man to reckon with.

He hasn’t spoken to his son for years.

It is said that words will never hurt you.

‘To be hard in hard times,’ he announces,

‘we must build an expressway like an arrow


through the quiet heart

of your coastal town.’ Cold facts

say one thing, cold politics another.

We remember the ballistic missile.

The falling debris and the striking edge.


© Dinah Hawken Ocean and Stone Victoria University Press, 2015



Author bio: Dinah Hawken is one of New Zealand’s most critically acclaimed poets. Born in Hawera in 1943, she trained as a physiotherapist, psychotherapist and social worker in New Zealand and the United States. Most of the poems in her award-winning first collection It Has No Sound and Is Blue (1987) were written in New York in the mid-1980s while she was studying at Brooklyn College and working with the homeless and mentally ill. Her two most recent books, One Shapely Thing: Poems and Journals (2006) and The Leaf-Ride (2011), were both shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards. Dinah was named the 2007 winner of the biennial Lauris Edmond Award for Distinguished Contribution to Poetry in New Zealand. She lives in Paekakariki.


Note from Paula: This poem is in Dinah’s new collection just out from Victoria University Press. It is an utterly beautiful book in every detail (the feel of the pages, the choice of font, the simplicity of the cover and of course the billowing beauty of the poems themselves. I have been a Dinah-Hawken fan for a long time. I remember the pleasure of writing a long essay on Small Stories of Devotion as part of my Masters degree. There has been a sustaining chord between Dinah’s work and my writing since those far-off days. In part it is to do with the grace, the elegance, the economy, the lyricism. In part it is to do with the sumptuous view that settles as you open the window of the poem. In part it is the curious self that questions the world and the way we do things.

This poem is a thing of beauty, and it draws upon all the things I have detailed above. There is the lyricism that builds out of stress, meter and repetition (‘Stone cold. Stone blind. Stone deaf.’) There is the way a thing (stone) shakes with life and possibility. There is the way, with that small frame of the window ajar, we fall upon the beauty of an object (a stone) and then fall away to the hurt we inflict upon each other — at the level of the individual, the level of a town, the level of a nation. It really is the kind of poem that needs to speak for itself, to shimmer on the page in its own marvelous way. Its window catches any number of lights.


Victoria University Press page

NZ Book Council page

Poem Friday: Emma Neale’s ‘Origins’ … At the core, heart.




When my father made love to my mother

and their salts and foams seethed and lifted

so that a child washed up on their tides,

perhaps they held each other

in an old rotting villa with cracks and gaps

that let the rooms’ winter breath

unravel along the street

like spider silk adrift on the air.


Perhaps outside that house

an untrimmed, straggling macrocarpa

tossed in the wind like a woman in fever sheets

and the clouded sky came close and tight

as a fist screwing a lid on a jar

while nearby the city’s river cried deep in its bed,

birds circled but found they couldn’t alight;

as a chill hide of questions

grew a stubborn lichen

across the corroding, rented roof.


For there are days when the human heart

feels like spit rubbed in mud,

the mind a junk room

of broom handles and wheel-less prams,

must-stink chair nobody will sit in,

little black fly heads

sprinkled in a corner web,

ear bones of vanished mice,

single bits of faded jigsaws,

carpet littered with broken envelopes

addressees illegible,

and even when love creeps close

over the slanting floorboards,

sorrow drifts in with the smell of snow

clustered on its skin.


© Emma Neale

Originally printed in Landfall; appears also in Tender Machines (Otago University Press, 2015).

Author bio: Emma Neale works as an editor. On alternate years, she runs a one-semester poetry workshop at the University of Otago. She has published five novels and five collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Tender Machines (Dunedin: OUP, 2015).

Note from Paula: Usually in my Friday poem slot I have invited poets to write a note about their poem and I have added my own thoughts. Some poets are happy to provide sideways anecdotes or points of origin for their poems; others prefer to let the poems speak for themselves. I have no dogmatic stance on either option. Notes on poems can be utterly fascinating and provide unexpected roads into your reading. I don’t think they ever shut a poem down — as readers, when we press a poem’s start button, anything can happen. So I have decided to make the ‘note’ aspect of my  Poem-Friday feature flexible – taken up on a case by case basis.

This poem stalled me. It is the sort of poem I love to write about because it engages every part of my body — my eye, my ear, my heart and my mind. A poetry coup. Yet I wanted the poem to stand in its off-white space on the screen – shimmering, flickering on a cerebral and aural scale. Without my commentary. Intruding static. Yet I can’t help myself. Just a tad. I adore the loving craft of each line, the words and word connections that catch you by surprise, the surprise upheld like an internal beat, the way physical detail judders and then sets you off on memory tangents. At the core, heart.

This poem is the first poem in the book. Read it, and then you can’t wait to devour the poems that follow. Within the next weeks I will post a review.


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

2015-02-28 21.01.36



The thing is, Neil, you are all of us


You are the old rocker in skinny jeans

who is mumbling in the corner

you are the punk who fixes bicycles

at two o’clock in the morning.


You are the comic book girl in combat boots

whose breasts are drawn too large

you are the feminine librarian

who wants to go on a rampage.


You are the community gardener

with home-cut hair and knee holes

you are the bespectacled chicken rescuer

the guitar player and the police mole.


You are the tofu thief made to work

for the local Salvation Army.

They throw away about half of their clothes:

take as many as you can carry.


©Airini Beautrais Dear Neil Roberts  Victoria University Press 2014


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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




Screen shot 2015-02-27 at 11.44.48 AM


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


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


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


Seraph Press page here





Poem Friday: Daniel Mathers’ ‘Chain’ a sense of detachment, emptiness, time-standing-still invades its very core



Bright but distant lights shining faintly from a prison
Stars in the sky as though trapped in a prism
Not a car for days and days, nothing to be seen
Long strip of short-cut grass, splotchy brown and green
Letterboxes down the street draw a wandering eye
Trees bending in the wind, way up in the sky
Lying on the road at night, breathing in the air
Nothing else to see or hear, I am all that’s there.

Bio: Daniel Mathers is a 15 year old, Year 10 student from Lincoln High School. Originally born in Melbourne, Australia, he has been living in New Zealand for the last 10 years and currently resides in Rolleston, Christchurch. His hobbies include the likes of playing video games, spending time with friends and family and making short films for his YouTube channel.

Author’s Note: I hadn’t really written any poems before I wrote ‘Chain.’ Well, I mean not any that I had put any effort into. I did write the occasional poem in English class but those were just because I had to. My inspiration for ‘Chain’ came to me on the night of my 12th Birthday. I was bored and so my friend and I walked up my driveway to the road I lived on. It was so peaceful, there were no cars around and very little light. It was so peaceful. That memory stayed with me for a very long time until I was able to finally share it through my poem, ‘Chain.’

Paula’s note: I did a workshop with a group of students at Lincoln High and I was really struck with the mood of this poem. The way a sense of detachment, emptiness, time-standing-still invades its very core. The detail that aches with both fullness and vacancy. There are the musical chords that are slightly off key (prison/prism, bending/breathing, nothing/splotchy, stars/grass). It almost felt like a sonnet cut short. And at the heart, the poet absorbed in the moment. I like the enigma of the title. The way things are linked and continuous. The way things are linked and prison-like. That whole sense of entrapment in routine and the deeply familiar. It’s a haunting and evocative poem.