Tag Archives: poetry shelf monday poem

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Anna Livesey’s ‘Little words’


Little words


Dear heart, a word —

which word? Shall we choose something

secret and unexpected?


Don’t say ‘moon’, everyone knows

that code of longing. Don’t say ‘talk’, the running sound

of every banal conversation.


Don’t say ‘bread’ or ‘wine’ or ‘salt’ —

those easy gestures towards

humanity and history.


Don’t say ‘love’ — that hollow ‘o’ so easy to look through.

One might say ‘bird’ or ‘house’ or ‘hand’ —

nearer sounds to the one we are looking for.


There is always ‘silence’

or ‘question’ — don’t say these words,

too large to qualify.


Let us sit quietly.


Let us shape a small word that holds us.

Let that little word

be ‘name’.


Anna Livesey



Anna Livesey is a poet, corporate strategist, stand-up comic, policy analyst, literary curator-at-large, podcaster, shouting yogi and early morning raver. Born and raised in Wellington, Anna studied at Victoria University where she completed a BA in English and an MA in Creative Writing. Anna also holds Masters degrees in Public Policy and Business Administration.

Anna has published three poetry collections to date: Good Luck (2003), The Moonmen (2010), and Ordinary Time (2017). She currently lives in Auckland with her husband and two children.








Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Liz Breslin’s ‘getting away from it all with the feminists’


getting away from it all with the feminists


she is self sufficient, thank you very much

she has packed tea bags, brandy, chocolate, honey, wine, scroggin, olives, crackers, cheese, 30 second oats, a jar of ready espresso-ed coffee, double-wrapped, a home-made mix of potato mash, French onion soup power, salt, pepper, hand-chopped spring onion and bacon flakes, toilet paper, sanitiser, matches, candles, firelighter, New Yorker, cook pot, gas canister, three-prong burner, spork, mug, a whole, firm salami and

she is carrying a sleeping bag for all seasons, a midweight puffer jacket, a water-resistant shell. she wouldn’t be conned into buying something tagged waterproof for twice the price. very few things are truly impermeable, this she knows. she has her beanie, her sunnies, her sun hat, her thermals, the nagging start of a blister and a throb in the nub of her back. a deep breath. keeping it light. they are on a ridge, just emerged from the bush, and he turns back and offers his hand and

she is distracted by a twitch in his southwest forearm and a hint of tannin sweat and the glint of the sun refracting on his teeth and that little chinlip tuft he hasn’t quite shaved and

she hasn’t even stumbled when he says if you feel yourself falling remember there’s time to decide which way you’re going to jump



Liz Breslin writes plays, poems, stories and a fortnightly column, ‘Thinking Allowed’, for the Otago Daily Times. Her poetry collection, Alzheimer’s and a spoon (OUP), was listed as one of The Listener’s Top 100 Books of 2017. At home on the page and on the stage, Liz’s recent performances include ‘Love in a time of netball’ at the sold-out Wanaka season of Tall Tales and True, and a stint as the back end of Jill the Cow for her 2018 pantomime, Jac and the Beansprouts. In 2019 she’s heading to Dunedin, Vancouver and Krakow to read, write and perform. Her website






Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor ‘Signal’




The crossing signal twitches

like it’s filled with hot


and they whisper

touch touch touch

and so you reach out

press the cold metal button

press the cold metal

just to say:

I’m here,

I’m here, please,

let me cross safely.


Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor was awarded the 2018 Charles Brasch Young Writers’ Essay Prize, and the 2017 Monash Prize for Emerging Writers. Her poem ‘Instructions’ was named by The Spinoff as the best poem of 2018. Her work has appeared in a number of literary journals, including Starling, Mayhem, Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Mimicry, Turbine, and Min-a-rets. She writes thanks to some of the best people on this great watery rock.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ashleigh Young’s ‘If So How’



If So How


Opportunity I love you

Windows and watermelons march down the street

—Robert Winner, ‘Opportunity’



Please detail any future opportunities

you secured as a direct result of the project




I have a feeling I will be stabbed

and I wanted to tell someone.


Sometimes my neighbour’s crying

sounds like music and sometimes it sounds like confession.


At eel o’clock

the air fills with ferns and gelatinous dark . . .


I get opportunities

and release them back into the water,

their colours autocorrecting to grey . . .


Sometimes my crying feels like paperwork and

sometimes it feels like an argument

bleeding through my earplugs.


The opportunity never to do this again;

the opportunity never to be this again.




Did you meet with any people

(including festival directors)

who could have an impact

on future

opportunities for you




I was walking on the street one morning

and, yes, festival directors were winking in the snow.

One of the festival directors hid under a car

when a group of school children approached,

and I crouched down to see if he would come out,

and I saw that the festival director had lifted his body

right up into the undercarriage of the car, as if possessed.




Did the event help to increase

your long-term international

market profile

If so how




You leave the room for a moment

and when you come back, not only


has the jug come to the boil

but someone has died.


The lesser greens start to fray as

a new jag of green comes out of the soil.


I’m in over my head.

I remember praying


because I dreaded school

and the future


and I prayed to be hit in the head by a cricket ball

and to spend my last days alive hurtling


back through all of the profiles of my life. How? as if pushing

into a row of warm office shirts on the line


helplessly ensnarled

and some part of me (neck?) increasing within them,


their tiny frayed parts,

and all the workplaces they might represent.




Have you identified

any further markets

or future audience development


as a result of this tour/event




I will go on a tour

of my future


I will identify

which of my selves


to plant in the cool damp soil

and which of my selves


to boil alive

and which of my audiences


to take down with me.


Ashleigh Young   (from How I get Ready, Victoria University Press, 2019)



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

Victoria University page

Ashleigh appears at Auckland Writers Festival event Literally Lorne on Friday May 17th.

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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jessie Mackay’s ‘Scotland Unfree’



Scotland Unfree


Two hundred long winters and thirty forbye

Have narrowed to nought since you first were unqueened, —

When cold, cunning usury made you the teind*

To Empery’s coffer, black treason unweened,

Undreamed of where yonder your mightiest lie,

Scotland unfree.


But they hear, but they heave, blessed mounds on the heath,

That house their true clay for you, mourner and mother,

Mounded for God and for you, not another,

Hear the moor-sloganing, brother to brother,

Hear it from Orkney to Tweed and to Leith,

Scotland unfree!


Mother of martyrs, now hear ye the living;

Mother of makers, world-marches away,

Who set your high mark, in their bold hodden gray,

On masterless wild and blue, bounteous bay, —

Palms for your honour, brave air, but, the giving,

Scotland unfree!


Hear you the living that fare never forth

From your guerdonless thrift in the halted out-flowing.

Too long your life-river, all-hoping, unknowing,

Gold-ribboned the seas from the dawn to down-going

Of sums that had set for your cradling North.

Scotland unfree.


Gold ribbons you gave to the seas of the west.

The world had your best of divine discontent.

Your parasites battened; despoiled and forspent,

‘Twas the babes of your breast, ’twas your children that went;

No steading in life, and no anchor of rest,

Scotland unfree!


What now and what more, when the world is at halt? —

When winds of all destinies clash in the blue?

The gadflies of battles are stinging anew,

Meanly to risk, or unhallowedly rue,

The redeless old nations in fear and at fault,

Scotland unfree.


Redeless they gather, no nation are you,

Mother of sages, the seal on your lips,

The gyve on your arm, by dead havens of ships,

Silent, interned, and betrayed to eclipse;

Scarce a name, not a nation! Is Caledon through,

Scotland unfree?


Lure-word of sophistry, “Britain!” quo’ she,

Weaver of phrases—high word and poor favour!

Your peers they are bidden—jejune and a-waver,—

To brag and to bicker; what salt and what savour?

“Britain?” what Britain that’s wanting of thee,

Scotland unfree!


Scotia, North Britain, draw biddably nigh,

Re-born to the day, and for ever re-born,

To the mock of moor-purple and crackle of thorn,

Your hour of re-queening: come, preen and adorn!

For your fairings you have but to dance and to die,

Scotland unfree!


Dance featly and fair, for your lords would be pleasured.

Skirl to their fancy, the caber let fly;

There’s gold for the lifting and silver forbye;

But, redeless, quiescent, to-morrow you die,

When for ever of yours shall your glens be untreasured,

Scotalnd unfree.


Be done with the talking, let scorning be done.

Bid Britain be Britain; whose vassal be ye,

Druidess, Norna, and chrissom Culdee?

One in a triad blent, one, two, and three;

God’s in His heaven, and Albyn is one,

Scotland the free!


Riddle us fairly that triad of yore;—

Sisterly queens that for ever are twain,

Sisterly queens that have done with disdain,

En-sceptred in one at the gates of the main

Live you, so live you, or none shall live more,

Scotland the free!



* Tribute

Note from Jessie: At the date of writing, May 31st, 1935, no answer has been reported to the recent joint demand of Scotland and Wales to be granted immediate Dominion status. The position has become increasingly impossible under the conditions of this century. For fifty years Scottish Home Rule Bills have been introduced, talked out or thrown out. Now national feeling demands the full and only solution of an impossible situation.


Jessie Mackay,  Vigil and Other Poems, Whitcombe & Tombs, 1935






‘Scotland Unfree’ is the final poem in Jessie Mackay’s final book, Vigil and Other Poems.


Jessie Mackay (1864 – 1938)  We have a poetry prize honouring Jessie Mackay’s legacy: the Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry in our national book awards.  Jessie was born in Rakaia, Canterbury and grew up on several remote sheep stations. She trained as a teacher, taught briefly and then devoted her life to politics and poetry. Jessie wrote countless letters to newspapers and articles on issues such as the plight of women, the vote for women, prohibition, ending the war and Scottish Home Rule. The latter affected her deeply as her Scottish parents spoke of their beloved homeland and the cruel land clearances. Perhaps this is why she revealed such a concern for Māori issues in a number of poems: the fact that land, language, stories and culture make a people. To take them away is to dispossess them. Cruelly. Unforgivably. Pākehā might write poems differently now, after decades of interrogating colonialism; perhaps less likely to borrow myth but, like Jessie, many poets are showing history in a new light  (such as Parihaka).  Jessie often drew us to the women’s point of view.

Towards the end of her life over 300 admirers presented Jessie with a testimonial letter that praised her outstanding humanitarian work and contributions to New Zealand literature. On her death the media sung her praises yet you are hard pressed to find her work in anthologies and we have no Jessie Mackay in print. When I first started reading her work it felt like a foreign country but the more time I spent in the archives, and the more time I spent with her writing, the more she moved me.

The first chapter in my forthcoming book, Wild Honey: Reading New Zealand Women’s Poetry, seeks to draw Jessie’s poetry closer. I am moved by her political stamina and by her battle to be heard as a woman writing. I have picked one of her Scottish poems to post as it feels very timely. What would she think? What would she think about Brexit and our own local tragedies? She would be weeping with her feet in the southern stream, and she would be speaking out. She would be writing poetry.

My book is out in August with Massey University Press.

This year’s poetry finalists in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards will be appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival Award event: Tuesday 14 May, 7 pm- 8.30 pm, ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre.

The finalists: Helen Heath, Therese Lloyd, Erik Kennedy, Tay Tibble


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Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Mere Taito’s ‘Reception Frame’


Reception frame


the goose waddles

down the cobbled

sidewalk that leads

to the bath with

glass wings


it washes its pigeon

English and swallows

its honk to cluck like

a creole chicken


only the goose God

understands this


the rest of us

be silent.

stop gawking.

wait patiently.


light a warm fire

when the goose

is done


Mere Taito



Mere Taito is a Rotuman Islander poet and flash fiction writer living in Hamilton with her partner Neil and nephew Lapuke. She is the author of the illustrated chapbook of poetry titled, The Light and Dark in Our Stuff.








Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Simone Kaho’s ‘Tour’



The crows will be her friends.
They are waiting on powerlines in the rain.
It’s exciting to be in another country with different birds even if they’re black and mawkish, and it’s only England, so kind of coming home.
‘Do they think dark thoughts?’
He comes back from training and through unspoken agreement she holds him at bay, at first.
Later, he says – ‘You held me off just the right amount’.
It’s the only kind thing he says all day.
She watches British bunnies run across the green British lawn in the British mist, into a British hedge.
That evening New Zealand loses.
Someone has scrawled a rude note for him on a napkin, he sees her looking and says
‘You’re laughing’.
She’s not.
She wishes she could.
I don’t wonder how he is doing she thinks ‘Now’.
It doesn’t even creak.
Her heart pulp; memories.
The overwhelming smell of little old ladies’ heads at mass at the Vatican.
Crouching down between acres of knees.
Him lifting her onto his shoulders, in fresh air above the churchgoers, with her battered face and oversized sunglasses.
Pope John Paul passing so close in his glass cartoon car, she could have reached out and left a fingerprint.
Her queen wave.
The ornate courtesy of him helping little old ladies over the barricades.
His beaming, bashful, face, which had gotten battered too.
Him walking straight into the Vatican while a two-mile line formed behind.
Both kneeling before the Michelangelo, not noticing marble Mary was the same age as Jesus.
Noticing nothing but the stillness of her chest
until he shifts beside her
and she wants to take it all back,
the gravel in her face,
the gravel in his.
The bottles she threw at the hostel, his blazed green eyes on the bottom bunk as the cops knocked.
The contrite blowjob in the church graveyard behind the homestay.
I can’t help being helpless, your contempt is not helping me.
She rolls her eyes as he slaps her.
That vein in his forehead is pulsing again and in a way, it has something to say and no one knows any better and
she wishes he hadn’t thrown stones at her window
and she hadn’t opened it
and he hadn’t climbed in
and she wishes she had knees instead of jelly and
she wishes she could put her heart out of her body and
let it live wild in the bush


Simone Kaho





Simone Kaho is a New Zealand poet of Tongan descent. She was born in Auckland and received an MA in creative writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington.