Listen here to Tracey Slaughter’s invigorating conversation with Jesse Mulligan (music, books, writing, solitariness, collaboration, a new short-story collection). And thanks for the Poetry Shelf nod! Meant a lot. Especially love hearing the books that make us (Marguerite Duras’s ‘quicksilver’ sentences!). Excellent music choices to hunt down too.
Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020 edited by Johanna Emeney (MUP)
Johanna Emeney works at Massey University as a teacher of creative writing and has published several poetry collections.
Many many years ago my first poetry collectionCookhouse (AUP) appeared in the world and it was a big thing for me. I was at the stove with my baby in my arms, when the phone rang, and I dropped something all over the floor. It was Alistair Paterson, then editor of Poetry NZ, wanting to know if I would be the feature poet. The tap was running, the mess was growing, the pot was bubbling, my baby was crying, but somehow I spoke about poetry and agreed to my face on the cover and poems inside. It felt important.
I have only sent poems to journals a couple of times since then as I find it a distraction, but I love reading NZ literary journals. We have so many good ones from the enduring magnificence of Sport and Landfall to the zesty appeal of Mimicry and Min-a-rets.
Poetry NZ has had a number of editors, and is New Zealand’s longest running literary magazine. Poet Louis Johnson founded it in 1951 and edited it until 1964 (as the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook). Various others have taken turns at the helm – most notably Alistair Paterson from 1993 to 2014. In 2014 Jack Ross took it back to its roots and renamed it Poetry New Zealand Yearbook. This year Johanna Emeney stepped in as guest editor while Tracey Slaughter takes over the role from 2021.
Each issue includes essays, reviews, critical commentary, poetry and a featured poet.
For me Poetry New Zealand 2020is a breath of fresh air. It opens its arms wide and every page resonates so beautifully. It showcases the idea that poetry is an open home. The poems behave on the page in a galaxy of ways, sparking and connecting multiple communities. I feel so satisfyingly refreshed having read this, warmed though, restored.
I am at the point in lockdown where I drift about the house from one thing to next in an unsettled state. I alight on this and land on that. So Poetry NZ 2020 is the perfect resting spot. I want to sing its praises to the moon and back, but I am tired, have barely slept and words are like elusive butterflies.
Johanna Emeney’s introduction is genius: ‘It is wonderful to be chosen by poems, and the very opposite of trying to chose poems.’ And later: ‘A poem choose you the minute it takes you by surprise. To be clear this cannot be any old surprise.’ And later: ‘poems that choose you are like mille-feuilles— thoughtfully assembled and subtly layered.’
I love the way Johanna has treated the issue like we often shape our own collections – in little clusters of poems that talk to each other: ‘Into the water’, ‘Encounter’, ‘Other side up’, ‘Remember to understand love’. It is an issue lovingly shaped – I am in love with individual poems but I am also mesmerised by the ensuing conversation, the diverse and distinctive voices.
The essay section is equally strong. You get an essay by Mike Hanne on six NZ doctor poets, Maria Yeonhee Ji’s ‘The hard and the holy: Poetry for times of trauma and crisis’. You also get Sarah Laing’s genius comic strip ‘Jealous of Youth’ written after going to the extraordinary Show Ponies poetry event in Wellington last year. And Roger Steele’s musings on publishing poetry. To finish Helen Rickerby’s thoughts on boundaries between essays and poetry. Restorative, inspiring.
77 pages of reviews cover a wide range of publishers (Cold Hub Press, VUP, Mākaro Press, Otago University Press, Cuba Press, Compound Press, Titus Books, Waikato Press, Hicksville Press and a diverse cohort of reviewers. With our review pages more and more under threat – this review section is to be celebrated.
The opening highlight is the featured poet (a tradition I am pleased to see upheld). Like Johanna I first heard essa may ranapiri read at a Starling event at the Wellington Writers Festival, and they blew my socks off (as did many of the other Starlings). essa is a poet writing on their toes, in their heart, stretching out here, gathering there, scoring the line in shifting tones and keys. So good to have this group of new poems to savour after the pleasures of their debut collection ransack. I particularly enjoyed the conversation between essa and Johanna – I felt like I was sitting in a cafe (wistful thinking slipping though?) sipping a short black and eavesdropping on poetry and writing and life. Tip: ‘That a lot of poems are trying to figure something out. If you already know it, then you don’t need to write the poem.’
I have invited a handful of the poets to read a poem they have in the issue so you can get a taste while in lockdown and then hunt down your own copy of this vital literary journal. Perhaps this time to support our excellent literary journals and take out a few subscriptions. Start here!
a n a u d i o g a t h e r i n g
First up the Poetry New Zealand Poetry Prize and the Poetry New Zealand Student Poetry Competition.
Lynn Davidson (First Prize)
Lynn reads ‘For my parents’
Lynn Davidson is a New Zealand writer living in Edinburgh. Her latest poetry collection Islander is published by Shearsman Books in the UK and Victoria University Press in New Zealand. She had a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 and a Bothy Project Residency at Inshriach Bothy in the Cairngorms in 2016. Lynn has a doctorate in creative writing, teaches creative writing, and is a member of 12, an Edinburgh-based feminist poetry collective. Her website
E Wen Wong (First Prize Y12)
E Wen reads ‘Boston Building Blocks’
E Wen Wong is in her final year at Burnside High School, where she is Head Girl for 2020. Last year, her poem ‘Boston Building Blocks’ won first prize in the Year 12 category of the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Competition.
Chris reads ‘Brightest first’
Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes and HE’S SO MASC. He is a regular contributor to Capital Magazine’s Re-Verse column and a book reviewer on Radio New Zealand. Chris is currently co-editing an anthology of LGBTQIA+ Aotearoa New Zealand writers.
Fardowsa reads ‘Tuesday’
Fardowsa Mohamed is a poet and medical doctor from Auckland, New Zealand. Her work has appeared in Poetry New Zealand, Sport Magazine, Landfall and others. She is currently working on her first collection of poetry.
Photo credit: Jane Dove Juneau
Elizabeth reads ‘Cilla, writing’
Elizabeth Smither, an award-winning poet and fiction writer, has published eighteen collections of poetry, six novels and five short-story collections, as well as journals, essays, criticism. She was the Te Mata Poet Laureate (2001–03), was awarded an Hon D Litt from the University of Auckland and made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004, and was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2008. She was also awarded the 2014 Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature and the 2016 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection of poems, Night Horse (Auckland University Press, 2017), won the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 2018.
Anuja reads ‘Waiting Room’
Anuja Mitra lives in Auckland and is co-founder of the online arts magazine Oscen. Her writing can be found in Starling, Sweet Mammalian, Mayhem, Poetry NZ and other journals, though possibly her finest work remains unfinished in the notes app of her phone.
Semira reads ‘Punkrock_lord & the maps to i_am_105mm’
Semira Davis is a writer whose poetry also appears in Landfall, Takahe, Ika, Blackmail Press, Ramona, Catalyst and Mayhem. In 2019 they were a recipient of the NZSA Mentorship and runner-up in the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award.
Photo credit: Miriam Berkley
Johanna reads ‘The girl with the coke can’
Johanna Aitchison was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee, and her work has appeared, most recently, in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020, NZ Poetry Shelf, and Best Small Fictions 2019.
Vaughan Rapatahana reads ‘mō ō tautahi’
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 and Cantonese.
Emma Harris lives in Dunedin with her husband and two children. She teaches English and is an assistant principal at Columba College. Her poetry has previously been published in Southern Ocean Review, Blackmail Press, English in Aotearoa and Poetry New Zealand.
Dani reads ‘I don’t know how to talk to you so I wrote it for me’
Dani is a Wellington poet, and one of the Plague Writers (a Masters student) at Victoria’s IIML this year. They’ve been published in Mayhem, Aotearotica, Takahe, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020 and others. They’re currently working on their first collection of poetry.
More and more I witness clusters of poetry communities in New Zealand – families almost – that might be linked by geography, personal connections, associations with specific institutions or publishers. How often do we read reviews of, or poems by, people with whom we don’t share these links? Poetry families aren’t a bad thing, just the opposite, but I wonder whether the conversations that circulate across borders might grow less and less.
I want a poetry journal to offer diversity, whichever way you look, and we have been guilty of all manner of biases. This is slowly changing.
When I pick up a journal I am on alert for the poet that makes me hungry for more, that I want a whole book from.
I am also happy by a surprising little diversion, a poem that holds me for that extra reading. Ah, this is what a poem can do!
Editor Jack Ross has achieved degrees of diversity within the 2018 issue and I also see a poetry family evolving. How many of these poets have appeared in Landfall or Sport, for example? A number of the poets have a history of publication but few with the university presses.
This feels like a good thing. We need organic communities that are embracing different voices and resisting poetry hierarchies.
Poetry NZ Yearbook Annual offers a generous serving of poems (poets in alphabetical order so you get random juxtapositions), reviews and a featured poet (this time Alistair Paterson). It has stuck to this formula for decades and it works.
What I enjoyed about the latest issue is the list of poets I began to assemble that I want a book from. Some I have never heard of and some are old favourites.
Some poets I am keen to see a book from:
Our rented flat in Parnell
Those rooms of high ceilings and sash windows
Our second city
Robert Creeley trying to chat you up
at a Russell Haley party
when our marriage
from Bob Orr’s ‘A Woman in Red Slacks’
Bob Orr’s heartbreak poem, with flair and economy, reminds me that we need a new book please.
There is ‘Distant Ophir’, a standout poem from David Eggleton that evokes time and place with characteristic detail. Yet the sumptuous rendering is slightly uncanny, ghostly almost, as past and present coincide in the imagined and the seen. Gosh I love this poem.
The hard-edged portrait Johanna Emeney paints in ‘Favoured Exception’ demands a spot in book of its own.
I haven’t read anything by Fardowsa Mohamed but I want more. She is studying medicine at Otago and has written poetry since she was a child. Her poem’ Us’, dedicated to her sisters, catches the dislocation of moving to where trees are strange, : ‘This ground does not taste/ of the iron you once knew.’
Mark Young’s exquisite short poem, ‘Wittgenstein to Heidegger’, is a surprising loop between difficulty and easy. Again I hungered for another poem.
Alastair Clarke, another poet unfamiliar to me, shows the way poetry can catch the brightness of place (and travel) in ‘Wairarapa, Distance’. Landscape is never redundant in poetry – like so many things that flit in and out of poem fashion. I would read a whole book of this.
Another unknown: Harold Coutt’s ‘there isn’t a manual on when you’re writing someone a love poem and they break up with you’ is as much about writing as it is breaking up and I love it. Yes, I want more!
Two poets that caught my attention at The Starling reading at the Wellington Writers Festival are here: Emma Shi and Essa Ranapiri. Their poems are as good on the page as they are in the ear. I have posted a poem from Essa on the blog.
I loved the audacity of Paula Harris filling in the gaps after seeing a photo of Michael Harlow in ‘The poet is bearded and wearing his watch around the wrong way’. Light footed, witty writing with sharp detail. More please!
I am a big fan of Jennifer Compton’s poetry and her ‘a rose, and then another’ is inventive, sound-exuberant play. I can’t wait for the next book.
I am also a fan of the linguistic agility of Lisa Samuels; ‘Let me be clear’ takes sheer delight in electric connections between words.
Finally, and on a sad note, there is Jill Chan’s poem, ‘Poetry’. I wrote about her on this blog to mark her untimely death. It is the perfect way to conclude this review. Poetry is everywhere – it is in all our poetry families.
Book review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross
Dr Jack Ross.
Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017
edited by Dr Jack Ross
Massey University Press, $35
Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 edited by Dr Jack Ross
Wellington poet Louis Johnson established the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook in 1951. It has just received a well-deserved makeover by Massey University Press. The new design is eye-catching, the writing has room to breathe and the content is eclectic. With Victoria and Otago University Presses publishing Sport and Landfall, it is good to see a literary magazine finding a home in Auckland. It is the only magazine that devotes sole attention to poetry and poetics, with an abundant measure of poems, reviews and essays.
Editor Dr Jack Ross aims to spotlight emerging and established poets and include “sound, well-considered reviews”. There are just under 100 poets in the issue, including Nick Ascroft, Riemke Ensing, Elizabeth Smither, Anna Jackson, Michele Leggott and Kiri Piahana-Wong. When I pick up a poetry journal, I am after the surprise of a fresh voice, the taste of new work by a well-loved poet, the revelatory contours of poetry that both behaves and misbehaves when it comes to questionable rule books. The annual delivers such treats.
A welcome find for me is the featured poet: Elizabeth Morton. Morton’s debut collection will be out this year with Makaro Press, so this sampler is perfect with its lush detail, lilting lines and surreal edges. My favourite poem, Celestial Bodies is by Rata Gordon (‘When you put Saturn in the bath/ it floats./ It’s true.’). Fingers-crossed we get to see a debut collection soon.
Mohamed Hassan’s breath-catching poem, the cyst, is another favourite: “In the small of my back/ at the edge of where my fingertips reach/ when I stretch them over my shoulder/ it is a dream of one day going home for good.”
You also get the sweet economy of Alice Hooton and Richard Jordan; the shifted hues of Jackson and Leggott (‘She is my rebel soul, my other self, the one who draws me out and folds me away’); the humour of Smither.
To have three essays – provocative and fascinating in equal degrees – by Janet Charman, Lisa Samuels and Bryan Walpert is a bonus.
Ross makes great claims for the generous review section suggesting “shouting from the rooftops doesn’t really work in the long-term”. A good poetry review opens a book for the reader as opposed to snapping it shut through the critic’s prejudices. However on several occasions I felt irritated by the male reviewers filtering poetry by women through conservative and reductive notions of what the poems are doing.
Ross’ review of Cilla McQueen’s memoir In a Slant Light highlighted a book that puzzled him to the point he did not not know exactly what she wanted “to share”. In contrast I found a poignant book, ripe with possibility and the portrait of a woman poet emerging from the shadows of men.
Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, in its revitalised form, and as a hub for poetry conversations, is now an essential destination for poetry fans. Not all the poems held my attention, but the delights are myriad.