Tag Archives: poetry shelf monday poem

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Diana Bridge’s ‘The critic at sunset’



The critic at sunset


They cling like snow to the line of the hill,

their proportion that of wave top

to its wave. Perched on a point,

the houses are an outpost. Just a strip

of habitation holding fast above

the massive plates on which they balance,

like one brave mind engaging

with the savage present.


The critic in him sweeps through shelves,

pouncing on those words that come unbidden;

these (after Dryden) he pronounces ‘hits’.

Brimming with connections, he looks to praise,

where he can find it, craft. He is vital

before time and illness and, when he thinks

a line, and we ourselves, will bear it, offers

his take on the last great human theme.


On its promontory, the strip of houses

flames at sunset. It makes a cultivated stand

against raw statement. Will it ebb, will it increase?

Are his lines over? We, who are sure of nothing,

see this present lapped in burnished distance:

cliffs brittle as bone, the hard-to-read

stance of the land, the role played in all

of this by an ever-ambiguous sea.


Diana Bridge



Diana Bridge has published seven collections of poems, including a new & selected. Her most recent book, two or more islands, came out in 2019 and was one of The Listener’s Top 10 poetry picks for the year. Although much of her adult life has been spent overseas, she was once dubbed a ‘quintessential Wellingtonian’. Her work combines home-grown and Asian, particularly Chinese and Indian, perspectives. She has a Ph.D. in classical Chinese poetry, and has taught in the Chinese Department at Hong Kong University. Her writing includes essays on the China-based poems of Robin Hyde and William Empson; she recently completed a collaborative translation of a selection of favourite Chinese classical poems.

Like many, the poem above foreshadows events. Although it was written before our Whakaari / White Island tragedy, it reflects a general feeling of precariousness stretching from physical catastrophe to the recent deaths of Clive James and Jonathan Miller. It was triggered by one of Clive James’s ‘Late Reading’ columns. I was thinking here of the poetry critic, and especially the author of Poetry Notebook, 2014.

Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Johanna Aitchison’s ‘ANNA IS DRIVING HER WHITE CAR & HER CAR IS CRYING’






Anna’s white car refuses to leave the driveway without shouting goodbye

to all of the titoki,

the camellias,

the silverbeet,

the letterbox,

the veranda,

the trampoline.




“Those flowers remind me of the blues,” says the white car,

“the sky is bruise bruise bruise,

the tussock is hair follicles of a blond boy.”


“What’s that couch doing on the roadside?” says Anna.

A battered brown leather three-seater.

Anna would wave out if there were people on the couch,

she would shout out “hey!” as she was driving past,

but there are no people on the couch,

no people with legs spaghettied,

no people with light-washed faces,

no people laughing at the television

or crunching Snax & kicking crumbs behind the cushions.




At the reception Anna pays two hundred & sixty dollars for the unit for two nights.

The motel room says, “Do you like my picture?”

“I like it that you’re clean,” says Anna, “I like it that the bed looks new,

there’s Sky TV, a bath, a toaster,

& the owner has given me a little bottle of milk.”


Anna sits down on the bed & looks at the acrylic painting:

“I like it that your picture is a beach scene,

but you’re beside a lake.

A beach scene is more impersonal than a lake scene,

because it’s not connected to the place we’re in;

it’s neither beautiful nor repulsive,

which is the perfect way for a motel picture to be.”


“But do you like me?” says the motel room.

“I like it that you represent an idea,” says Anna,

“you’re more an idea of a motel than an actual motel.

You’re sufficiently general not to make

any claims on me; I like that.

I like you for what you don’t remind me of,

rather than what you do remind me of,

but I don’t want to get too personal with you.”


The motel room does not tell Anna to “turn the fucking TV on”,

because it wants to delay the moment.




When Anna was a child she thought a monster lived in the lake

& when she & her sister splashed in the motel pool at night,

she imagined the monster rising & seizing her from the back

dark corner. These were the kinds of things that terrified her.

The motel, however, wouldn’t talk about bland things

to distract her like it does when she’s an adult,

instead it told her to look up from her Weetbix

at snakes corkscrewing around the curtain rails

& that the carpet would display its incisors,

chomp down on her toes & hold her there.




After Anna finishes talking to the motel room, she walks to the lake & along the path by the lakefront.


There are DANGER stones & stickmen falling off signs at the cliff lip.

Anna notices someone has scraped off some letters:

DANG,           ANGE             —                    DANCE!


The red bicycles chained to the fence beside the lake make Anna so sad.

She doesn’t know if it’s the paint

or the child’s bike lying on its chain

or the horror of discovering, when she steps closer,

the missing pedals, seats, handlebars,

which look samesame from far away, but become uncomfortably individual

as she zooms in.


Anna finds a spot by the lake edge to eat her kebab.

She concludes she will never find the perfect spot,

but the spot she finds is good enough,

against the trunk of a pohutukawa,

she sits & bites through her food.

As Anna eats the chicken, the beef, the hummus, the yoghurt, the lettuce, the chili sauce,

she watches a couple drop their clothes, watches the man run-hop that run-hop you do when the water’s cool. The woman’s wearing a black bikini, & after she stops shrieking, the man pulls her in close for warmth.

Anna takes a photo & posts it to Instagram. If you look carefully, you can spot the entwined couple carved into the cold water. Anna calls her husband. “Did you hear about Christchurch?” he asks.


Johanna Aitchison



Johanna Aitchison is a PhD candidate at Massey University, examining how contemporary innovative poets create cohesion in experimental verse. She was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee, and her poetry has appeared, most recently, in Best Small Fictions 2019 and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020.






Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Murray Edmond’s ‘The Chocolate for the Ants’





It was the ants who taught you pathos.

Your oldest aunt the only one not living

in Australia stern Methodist that she was

loved you best of all her many nephews

so when you had eaten all your dinner up

gave you a piece of chocolate which you

with your grasp of the Methodist ethic of

delayed gratification placed on the bedside

table when you had been tucked up in

your narrow bed so that the pleasure

to be taken on awaking in the morning

would be all the greater than had that

chocolate been eaten when it was received

except those ants had their own wayward

thoughts and there they were exercising

their own ideas when you woke. So thickly

did they coat that chocolate piece the pathos

was you could not see the chocolate for the ants.


Murray Edmond




Murray Edmond’s recent books include Back Before You Know (2019, Longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards) and Shaggy Magpie Songs (2015), two poetry volumes; Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing (2014); and Strait Men and Other Tales (2015), fictions. He is the editor of Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics; and works as a dramaturge – Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis’s Mrs Krishnan’s Party (2017) and Welcome to the Murder House (2018) and Naomi Bartley’s Te Waka Huia (2017/ 2018). Also directed Len Lye: the Opera (2012).








Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Airini Beautrais’s ‘Soldier’s buttons’



Soldier’s buttons


Saw a man             supine on a bench

thought maybe needs help             recognised your shoes

thought maybe acute grief             or just resting


best left alone. Walked in the other direction.

How have I been so long out of sunlight,

how have I not known down here


there are these round yellow flowers

pushed up out of the river mud.

Or maybe I knew them and forgot.


Picked some, and daises, buttercups,

willow twigs, grass flowers, a madwoman’s posy.

So many ways to be out of one’s tree.


Walked back through the park. All year we’ve sat adjacent

in private losses                   individual lack of sleep

which has manifested as a shared engagement


in mutual insults                and off colour jokes

Oi what are these flowers               That’s no way to greet me

Like a common prostitute              (Me? Or you?)


You tell me soldier’s buttons. Makes sense,

dropped at the water’s edge. I look them up.

Cotula: little cup. Bachelor’s buttons, yellow buttons,


water buttons, brass buttons, buttonweed.

Gondwanan flower that’s scattered the world.

Makes sense, strewn                           like indiscriminate histories


coins shining on shut eyelids, minutes, millennia.

Anyway, we should treat sex workers with respect.

But don’t lift bullshit when under it’s


more shit and under that more painful

than can be looked at. Little cup, can’t fill it.

Goes on flowering like a useless need.


Airini Beautrais



Airini Beautrais is a writer and teacher based in Whanganui. She writes poetry, short fiction, essays and criticism. Her work has appeared in a range of journals and anthologies in NZ and elsewhere. Her first book Secret Heart was named Best First Book of Poetry in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2007; it was followed by Western Line (2001), Dear Neil Roberts (2013) and Flow: Whanganui River Poems (2017).









Poetry Shelf Monday poem: E Wen Wong’s ‘Catalysis’



I’m sitting and pondering catalysis

musing on fumes from our molten exhaust

hydrogenation of oils makes the margarine sitting in our fridge

white dyed yellow like the lace dress you wore in 1973

snagged beneath the catalytic converters you stole for platinum.

a lot has changed since then.

if you were here you would see our city made of roads

shadows posing as guilty silhouettes

distorted paperclips of the bus stop where I wait.

in its file you would see reams of trees cloaked with marmalade leaves

it is autumn in August, and I see catalysts in my eyes.

alkylation makes the petroleum veneer beneath my feet

grey-on-grey the word “hydraulic fracking” conceals the black with blue.

the world spins too fast for our reaction to wait

salt masks the centreline

the activation energy dips beneath the level we call normal.

and I breathe powdery white clouds into this world of roads

watching as they lose themselves in the thick body of smog

as my bruised heart moves through midnight traffic

riding on the million catalysts that pepper our city of roads.

my heart rate monitor dips beneath the normal

a laconic glissando as the Bus 29 takes me to the road to the sky.

my heart falters just slightly

lingers at the long line of reactionary procession

the stagnant exhale of our earthly products.


E Wen Wong




E Wen Wong is in her final year at Burnside High School, where she is Head Girl for 2020. E Wen has been writing poetry since she was ten years old and was one of the very first fans of NZ Poetry Box. Last year, she was a finalist in the National Schools Poetry Award and Winner of the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Competition.

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Janet Charman’s ‘daughters depart’


daughters depart


they are in the waves

beating for shore

as the little fish of their absence

swims in the fissures of my long grown bones


currents take hold


from sentiment

i fall to sediment

where the fumerole heat


in deep




a fontanelle

tells the stalker of memory

the necessity of tenderness



Janet Charman






Janet Charman’s monograph ‘SMOKING! The Homoerotic Subtext of Man Alone’ is available as a free download at Genrebooks. Her essay ‘Mary Mary Quite Contrary’ on Allen Curnow’s suppression of the poetics of Mary Stanley, appears in the current issue on-line of Pae Akoranga Wāhine, the journal of the Women’s Studies Association of NZ.






Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Lynley Edmeade’s ‘The Day’



The Day

Cambrian Valley



The dog lies down in the shade of the table.

Knives lie down with pieces of lunch on them.

The mountains lie down across the valley

and the sunlight lies down across everything.


When we drive Neil says I love this:

the car and the music and the dog

and the sun and the spring and the lambs

and the light and the mountains and the sky.


The sky is so blue you can almost hear it skying.



Lynley Edmeades from Listening In, Otago University Press, 2019



Lynley Edmeades is a poet, essayist and scholar. Her debut collection As the Verb Tenses (2016) was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist in the UNESCO Bridges of Struga Best First Book of Poetry. She has a PhD in avant-garde poetics, and lives in Dunedin with her partner.

Otago University Press author page

Poetry Shelf review of Listening In


Screen Shot 2020-01-08 at 11.59.12 AM