Tag Archives: Poet’s Choice

Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Steven Toussaint picks a favourite read


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What does it mean to be a religious poet in an irreligious age? John Dennison’s debut collection Otherwise (AUP) offers us a generous glimpse. The fixtures of contemporary lyric—domestic eros, urban existentialism, memories of childhood, communion with nature—are renewed under Dennison’s theological gaze. In the astonishing poem, ‘The Immanent Frame’, he recasts the boundary-lines between the secular and the sacred. In contrast to the popular ‘subtraction story’ that frames religion as an ever-diminishing component within the vast horizons of modernity, Dennison intimates a still-vaster transcendent force driving all things, ‘while all the while is carried / through, unsensing each / extra mile which goes / itself.’ Dennison’s poems are enriched by their subtle recourse to the Christian mythos (for C.S. Lewis ‘a true myth’), and are never more impactful than when turned toward social commentary. ‘On Climate Change’ traverses the sham of boundless growth with an elegant parable (When was the last time Balaam’s Ass appeared in a poem this side of David Jones?!). In addition, Dennison is a sure and studied composer, as vigorous in ‘free verse’ as in his peerless pantoums. I detect continuity with distinctively Brittonic voices like Dylan Thomas, W.S. Graham, and R.S. Thomas, even Geoffrey Hill’s playful opprobrium in a poem like ‘After Geering.’ I look forward to reading what comes next from this talented poet.

Steven Toussaint

Poetry Shelf, poet’s choice; Murray Edmond makes some picks

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Mais pourquoi entre parenthèses? Four Highly Mentionable Items from the Poetry Year

A long poem, a magazine, a collected poems and a set of translations.


I had the pleasure of giving the champagne-cracking speech to launch Roger HorrocksSong of the Ghost in the Machine (Victoria UP, 2015) in the first half of 2015. This is a single poem of nearly 70 pages. Lovely to read a long philosophical, meditative poem, which pays homage to Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura (first century BC).

The third issue of Ika from the Manukau Institute of Technology Faculty of Creative Arts is edited by Anne Kennedy. It includes prose and fine arts design and photography, but poetry is the mainstay of the magazine. MIT writing students are featured, but you will also find work by Tusiata Avia, Courtney Sina Meredith, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Chris Tse, Anna Jackson, Emma Neale, Kent McCarter, and Michael Steven among a host of others. Attractive production.

Collected poems tend to go on-line these days (eg. Kendrick Smithyman’s), but David Howard’s editing of the poetry of Iain Lonie (1932-1988) has produced a well-ordered, hard-cover volume from Otago University Press: A Place to Go On From: The Collected Poems of Iain Lonie (2015). There’s a Preface, a Chronology, A Memoir and an Essay to bind the collection together, with Sources and Notes and Indexes of Titles and of First Lines. The layout is generous. Lonie’s output at just under 300 pages was not large and it is here contextualized and clarified by excellent editing.

Pam Brown’s selection of poems Alibis (Societe Jamais-Jamais: Sydney), translated into French by her partner Jane Zemiro, actually appeared in 2014, but I wanted to mention it for Kiwi readers. The poems are selected from four earlier volumes by Brown and include the poem ‘One Day in Auckland/Un jour à Auckland with its lines:


I’ve woken up early

In Auckland,

New Zealand (Aotearoa)

(why bracket that?)


“Mais pourquoi entre parenthèses’ indeed. Nice to read an Australian poet waking us up. There is a Preface from Brown and Zemiro about translation. An earlier version of this Preface appeared in Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics, No. 11 (2013) www.nzepc.auckland.ac/kmko/index11.asp

For the poet, the translated poem gives the poet an alibi, ‘slightly displaced,’ having been somewhere else at the time of the translation.

Murray Edmond


Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Fiona Kidman makes some picks

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There have been  many wonderful new books about this year. But isn’t it always the way? You come to the point of saying, this is my pick, and they all come flooding along saying pick me. So, as it’s been a sensational year for South Island poets, perhaps I will make them my point of reference.

I had the privilege of launching Vincent O’Sullivan‘s Being here:Selected Poems (Victoria University Press). The beautiful hardback satisfies at every level, both from the aesthetic point of view of book production to the selection of poems which is never random, but designed to carry the reader from one place to another, as if all the poems are brand new, and speaking to each other. It includes one of my all time favourite O’Sullivan poems, ”Waikato-Taniwha-Rau” (originally from ‘The Rose Ballroom’ 1982). It begins:

We have a fiction that we live by; it is the river

that steps down, always down, from the pale lake

to the open jaws of land where the sea receives it


I had equal pleasure from Sweeping the Courtyard, the selected poems of Michael Harlow (Cold Hub Press) (and yes, yes, I grant that I am responsible for some cover comments, but they come from the heart). The music of language has long been a preoccupation of Michael Harlow, and his poems invite the reader to share nocturnes, harmonies and song. Thus,
“Song for two players” commences with the lines:

Are you by any chance a piano key?

she asked, reminding me

in our heart to hand affair, that not

all is black and white –


Fracking and Hawk by Pat White (Frontiers Press) is an elegant little book with a powerful voice. White is not afraid to address political issues without losing the tone of a poetic voice. The beauty of the hawk is reflected in the title poem, but also reminds us that time is running out for the earth.

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Emma Neale‘s new collection has already attracted so much comment  that there is little left to say, except that I, too, love Tender Machines, (Otago University Press). Her eloquent plangent voice just gets stronger with time.

And, just to move outside this, admittedly, rather artificial boundary for a moment, there is  a poet whose work has carried me through six decades of reading poetry. She is the late American writer, Louise Bogan. The Blue Estuary Poems 1923 -1968 collects her finest work. Her poems are about yearning,the lives of women, survival. I read her every year, her work never far from the bedside table.


Fiona Kidman


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Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Maria McMillan makes her picks

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I loved Australian writer Mireille Juchau‘s barely speculative novel The World Without Us. It’s an insightful portrayal of disturbance on many levels, and the workings of survival. It is wonderfully grounded, if that makes sense, full of palpable place and people, and so lush it highlights how sparse much contemporary writing (the stuff I come across anyway) is.

I decided to try and read all the writers coming to Writers Week as part of the NZ Festival next year. My hands down favourite pick so far is Nnedi Okorafor. I read both Who Fears Death and its prequel The Book of Phoenix. Both are vivid, splendid affairs melding existing and imagined dystopias.

At the Paekākāriki annual book fair I  found two treasures from my childhood. You talk to practically any New Zealander my age and we were all petrified by a TV series whose name none of us can remember which had a girl trapped in a house surrounded by giant watching stones that were getting closer. The series was based on Marianne’s Dreams by Catherine Storr, which was my first find. Marianne is in bed sick and draws frightening pictures which come true. The second was Ruth Park‘s marvellous Playing Beatie Bow. A time slip novel set in Sydney. I don’t remember many friends knowing about it here but apparently when it was released in Australia in 1980 it was huge. I read this book multiple times as a child, and can now resume the practice.

Maria McMillan

Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Choice: Airini Beautrais makes some picks


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Once again it’s been a thesis-related year of reading. I’m looking forward to catching up on all the great local poetry which has been coming out over the past year. Books I have enjoyed which came out towards the end of last year or early this year include Anna Jackson‘s I, Clodia, Fleur Adcock‘s The Land Ballot, Kerry Hines‘s Young Country and Chris Tse‘s How to be dead in a year of snakes. One of the books I’m most looking forward to reading is Joan Fleming‘s Failed Love Poems. What a fantastic title. I really loved her first collection too.

The giant of my reading list this year has been four translations of the Divine Comedy. The one I liked best so far was Allen Mandelbaum‘s California Dante, partly because it was a beautiful production with amazing, simple ink drawings. Of course there are a whole heap more one ought to read. I think I will have to learn Italian next. I am turning 33 on New Year’s Eve and am conceptualising how I might make a Divine Comedy cake – or maybe a Purgatorio cake with 9 layers.

This obsession was generated by a chapter I was writing on John Kinsella‘s Divine Comedy: Journeys through a Regional Geography (University of Queensland Press, 2008). Kinsella imagines heaven, hell and purgatory as co-existing in modern-day Australia, and politicians are skewered Dante-style. It’s a bold, perhaps over-bold project, but if not compared too heavily to its model, an interesting work in its own right. Kinsella’s anarchist, environmentalist, pacifist politics are evident throughout, as is a sense of wonder at nature but also unease at living in a colonised, modified landscape. I spent a lot of time making tables and mapping Kinsella’s work against Dante – I doubt if anyone else will ever do this, but it was a fascinating exercise.

Airini Beautrais