No Other Place to Stand: An Anthology of Climate Change Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand, Jordan Hamel, Rebecca Hawkes, Erik Kennedy and Essa Ranapiri, Auckland University Press, 2022
Auckland University Press is to be celebrated for its stellar poetry anthologies. No Other Place to Stand: An Anthology of Climate Change Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand offers an eclectic, and indeed electrifying, selection of climate change poetry. The editors, Jordan Hamel, Rebecca Hawkes, Erik Kennedy and Essa Ranapiri, are all frontline poets themselves.
The dedication resonates and stalls your entry into the book because it is so apt: “To those fighting for our future / and those who will live it.”
A terrific foreword by Alice Te Punga Somerville establishes a perfect gateway into the collection. Alice wonders, when climate change is such a mammoth issue, “about the value of the particular, the specific, the local, the here, the now”. What difference will reading and writing make when the world demands action? Alice writes: “Every single poem in this anthology speaks to the relationship between words and worlds.” That in itself is enough of a spur to get a copy of the book, and open up trails of reading, wonder and challenge.
I am spinning on the title. I am turning the word ‘stand’ over and over in my mind like a talisman, a pun, a hook. I am thinking we stand and we speak out, I am thinking we stand because we no longer bear it, and I am thinking we stand together.
The poems selected are both previously published and unpublished. The sources underline the variety and depth of print and online journals currently publishing poetry in Aotearoa: Minarets, Starling, Spin Off, Mayhem, Pantograph Punch, Poetry NZ, Blackmail Press, Overland, Sweet Mammalian, Turbine | Kapohau, Takahē, Stasis, Landfall.
No Other Place to Stand is an essential volume. You can locate its essence, the governing theme, ‘climate change poetry’, yet the writing traverses multiple terrains, with distinctive voices, styles, focal points. I fall into wonder again and again, but there is the music, the political, the personal, the heart stoking, the message sharing. There is the overt and there is the nuanced. There is loud and there is soft. There is clarity and there is enigma. You will encounter a magnificent upsurge of younger emerging voices alongside the presence of our writing elders. This matters. This degree of bridge and connection.
Dinah Hawken has long drawn my eye and heart to the world we inhabit, to the world of sea and bush and mountain, stones, leaves, water, birds. Reading one of her collections is like standing in the heart of the bush or next to the ocean’s ebb and flow. It is message and it is transcendental balm. Her long sublime poem, ‘The uprising’, after presenting gleams and glints of our beloved natural world, responds to the wail that rises in us as we feel so helpless.
But all I can do is rise: both before and after I fall. All I can do is rally,
all I can do is write – I can try to see and mark where and how we are.
All I can do is plant, all I can do is vote for the fish, the canoe, the ocean
to survive the rise and fall. All I can do is plead, all I can do is call . . .
from ‘The uprising’
I am reading the rich-veined ancestor currents of Tayi Tibble’s ‘Tohunga’, the luminosity of Chris Tse’s ‘Photogenesis’, the impassioned, connecting cries of Selina Tusitala Marsh’s ‘Unity’ and Karlo Mila’s ‘Poem for the Commonwealth, 2018’. Daily routines alongside a child’s unsettling question catch me in Emma Neale’s ‘Wanting to believe in the butterfly effect’. I am carried in the embrace of Vaughan Rapatahana’s ‘he mōteatea: huringa āhuarangi’ with its vital, plain speaking call in both te reo Māori and English.
Take this heart-charged handbook and read a poem a day over the next ninety days. Be challenged; speak, ask, do. I thank the editors and Auckland University Press for this significant anthology, this gift.
Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based poet and performer. He was the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam champion. He uses poetry and performance to create awareness and discourse about environmental and political issues. He is the co-editor of Stasis Journal and his debut poetry collection Everyone is everyone except you was published by Dead Bird Books in 2022.
Rebecca Hawkes is a poet/painter from Canterbury, living in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her chapbook ‘Softcore coldsores’ was published in AUP New Poets 5 in 2019. Her first full-length poetry collection, Meat Lovers, was recently unleashed by Auckland University Press. Rebecca edits Sweet Mammalian and is a founding member of popstar poets’ posse Show Ponies.
Erik Kennedy is the author of Another Beautiful Day Indoors (Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2022) and There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (Victoria University Press, 2018), which was shortlisted for best book of poems at the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. He lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch.
Essa Ranapiri (Ngāti Wehi Wehi / Ngāti Takatāpui / Clan Gunn) is a poet from Kirikiriroa. They are part of puku.riri, a local writing group. Their book ransack was published by Victoria University Press in 2019. Give the land back. It’s the only way to fix this mess. They will write until they’re dead. And after that, sing.
“When viewed in deep time, things come alive that seemed inert. … Ice breathes. Rock has tides. Mountains ebb and flow. Stone pulses. We live on a restless Earth.”
—Robert Macfarlane in Underlands
tomb with a view – earthed on a volcano’s seaward slope I kneel in fresh-cut lawn – not knowing whose bones decompose below – only interested in the sheen of this headstone – a slab of flashing feldspar hewn in loving memory – my mother the geologist
surveys well-kempt lanes – reading the names on strangers’ graves – the cemetery lawnmower hums around us – clippers licking to and fro constant as the waves – eroding the basalt cliff below that threatens all our bones – even diamond gravestones aren’t forever
nor this rich labradorite – it births aurora borealis in the right light – glints of scintillating indigo blue morpho – sips of methylated lavender a happenstance of kissing crystal facings – turned brilliant in crushing heat – how we are all made
anew through strain – the only constant thing is change in this restless earth – my mother sees these shifts like a slow-motion picture – technicolour aeons on the geological map – this is her gift to her children she invented two new deaths – but gave us all of time
etched on a headstone – if we can learn to read igneous glints of a frenzied planetary history – continents stretch like cats and we are very small fleas – we do not live for long we make our homes – in the fertile shadow of the volcano – we build cities on fault lines
that fell cathedrals – we pray for everyone we love to live forever then where there are graves – the lawnmowers graze where there are cemeteries – there are rising stones and women – who want to know the names not written on those monuments but inside their very substance– ancient incantations in crystal language
tonight after the wake – we will gather on this hillside to light fireworks – with a stray roman candle the dry cut grass will blaze – brilliant as lava on this dormant caldera and through it all the cemetery lawnmower – will hum darkly among the graves tending to them – until the real volcano wakens
from a dream beyond all naming – reclaims the fallen and their stones sowed like seeds beneath the lawn – returns us all to the molten cradle – where the start of all life flows in liquid light the sound of shifting continents – sure and steady as a mother’s heartbeat
Rebecca Hawkes is a poet, painter, editor. Her first chapbook of poems Softcore coldsores appeared in the reignition of the AUP New Poets series (2019). Her debut collection Meat Lovers (AUP 2022) was awarded The Laurel Prize Best International First Collection 2022. Rachel edits the poetry journal Sweet Mammalian with Nikki-Lee Birdsey, and has co-edited an anthology of poetry on climate change, No Other Place To Stand (AUP 2022). Raised on a Mid-Canterbury sheep and beef farm, Rebecca now lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington. She is a founding member of popstar poets’ posse Show Ponies and holds a Masters degree in nonfiction creative writing with Distinction from the International Institute of Modern Letters.
although the flighty vampires suckling so obscenely are the only creatures that really belong in this scene not the dogs or the willows or the girl or the gorse with its raptures of yellow
that invasive stellation annexing the slopes to wrestle black beech at the bush boundary the smells of pollinated combat mingling by the water sultry as marzipan and honeydew casting a heady spell
over the colonised valley the weeds like her very presence here a legacy of other people’s blood and money though she has yet to understand this history is her own still finding a place in her bones let alone the land
from ‘Noonday gorsebloom’
Rebecca Hawkes caught my attention in AUP New Poets 5 (Anna Jackson’s reboot of the series). I became an instant and avid fan. Rebecca’s debut full collection Meat Lovers is now out in the world and is attracting a solar system of love. Freya Daly Sadgrove wrote this for the blurb: ‘Rebecca Hawkes is the unmatched empress of viscera. Thrillingly, perverse, utterly compelling – you eat these poems like overripe peaches, or your own tongue.’
To celebrate poetry, and the arrival of Meat Lovers, Rebecca and I have an ongoing email conversation over the past month or so.
Paula: Before we discuss your sublime debut collection, these are strange and challenging times. I am finding books help. Writing helps. I just read Rachel O’Neill’s stunning Requiem for a Fruit and it was such an uplift. Inspiring. Have you read any books lately that have stuck with you?
Rebecca: Lately I’ve been disappearing into gaming a fair amount -dystopian epic sequel Horizon Forbidden West just came out and I’ve been abandoning our world for the tragic beauty of that story. I’ve also been reading a lot, enjoying the first releases in the bounty of local poetry arriving this year. The Surgeon’s Brain by Oscar Upperton stuck in my craw, as an incisive testament to an extraordinary life. It’s a powerful reminder of the ongoing need for rediscovery of queer history, and how we continue to fight for our place in the record. It inhabits the character of James Barry, a brilliant transgender military surgeon in the 1800s. Oscar’s work is precise and immersive – it felt like being dropped right into Barry’s whirring mind at various moments throughout his storied life. Reading the book is like speedrunning a novelised biography in a way that fits my fractured attention span, while also having plenty of room to breathe with Barry through his gnarliest thoughts.
I’ve also just read Chris Tse’s much anticipated Super Model Minority. Rainbows and rage, passion and pride, it meets my pent-up energy in the pandemic. This book evolves Chris’ previous work reckoning with racist and homophobic violence, and the radical possibilities of joy in a doomscroller’s world.
I’ve also been lucky to receive a copy of I got you babe, the first publication by new publishing collective Taraheke/Bushlawyer. I’m so glad to see this in the world. I got you babe includes poems and essays by the five writers, holding their power and care and grief. Importantly, it places the forthcoming anthology No Other Place To Stand (which I’ve been co-editing with essa, Erik and Jordan for the past few years), in a richer, wider ecosystem of critical and creative work around climate, capitalism and colonisation. As we get closer to the anthology launching at last (it has gone to print!), it’s daunting how little has changed since the start of this project and the pandemic – the poems sent to us in 2020 have only become more (alarmingly) prescient. The critical urgency of I got you babe is a breath of fresh air.
2022 is, despite all the overall horribleness of Current Events, set to be a killer year for poetry. I’m eager for the new books by Anahera Gildea, Michaela Keeble, Anne-Marie Te Whiu, Erik Kennedy, Jordan Hamel, essa may ranapiri, Cadence Chung, Khadro Mohamed, Michael Steven… My bundle from Titus Books just arrived and I’m reading Chris Holdaway’s Gorse Poems tonight!
Meatlovers Rebecca Hawkes, Auckland University Press, 2022
Paula: How was it, writing your sublime Meat Lovers?
Rebecca: Well, I’ve been working towards Meat Lovers for some while. After Softcore coldsores came out in AUP New Poets 5 in 2019, I wanted to do more with some of the down-home-on-the-farm poems, and build a more cohesive full-length collection set firmly in the rural gothic. The title Meat Lovers came early on. It led to the eventual bisected structure of the book, the two halves of one cracked geode. But getting there was a meandering process…
I bloody love to write a poem, any poem, as a wry joke or full-throated cry. The puzzle and thrill of tinkering with verse ‘til it moves on its own steam and I get to watch the poem skitter off in its own chosen direction is reason enough to keep writing them. And each poem is only one weeny little fragment in the churning vortex / hot mess of whatever’s going on in my head, so a lot of them live in completely different parts of my world that would never touch outside of a word document. A lot of poems therefore ended up on the cutting-room floor for this manuscript, as I had to corral a more cohesive set of little machines that could work as a pack for a more focused sequence. I had so many ‘spare’ poems that there were more than enough for another rather different manuscript – which in a funny turn of events was a runner-up in the Kathleen Grattan Award at OUP last year. Maybe I could have published that altogether more playful and girl-gamerish book first instead, but Meat Lovers holds the work I was most compelled to delve into, mining some darker recesses of my home and heart, and way to still live in some places from my past that I can never really return to.
Once I’d gold-panned for the vibes/themes of this book (food, farming, foolish love) and gathered my first set of poems, structuring it was the challenge – I’d never tried to be so purposeful in a manuscript order before this. I’m grateful for the early eyes of friends like Rebecca K Reilly and essa ranapiri who helped me zero in on what really mattered for the shape of this work. And then of course I kept on writing fresh poems and trying to find places for the new darlings, even as the manuscript really needed to be pruned. How has writing this book been? What is it ever like to make art, to do something freeing but also serious, disarmingly ironic but nonetheless excruciatingly sincere? At turns it has been deep work and easy fun, therapy and tomfoolery, surfing the ecstasy of creation or gruelling arduous labour. Writing the book was humbling, cos making art always kicks my ass, but obviously it’s me doing the kicking as well as my buttcheek with the boot print on it.
‘Frenzy’, Rebecca Hawkes, 2021
Paula: Love the idea that incongruous things in the world co-exist in the neighbourhood of the page! And love how we can never pin the writing process down to one easy answer. Yet for me it is the best thing in this wild and challenging and complicated world. Energy boosting. Heart easing. Body uplifting. Whether reading or writing. I get a similar reaction when I look at your paintings. I have lived with an artist for over thirty years and we inhabit a shared space, but also private and utterly necessarily separate spaces each day. How is it for you both painting and writing? Reading your poems and sinking into your art it is a yin and yang experience for me – the one electrified by the other.
Rebecca: For me the painterly and poetic forms are so intertwined, you could never ask me to choose one, or to go without them. That was why it was so important to me to do my own cover art, even if digital painting isn’t my main medium… and even though what I mostly see in my own paintings is how much learning I still have to do! My necessary poetry-space is laptop-sized and portable, so it’s a more readily accessible art than the ritual of setting up paints and solvents, and then cleaning brushes when I’m bleary-eyed past my bedtime. Sometimes I go months without having – or making – time to paint. But I somehow find the hours when exhibitions are coming up, like right now …
When I’m not both writing and painting I’m not my whole self. They’re things I’ve always done. As a child I constantly drew chimeras, collaging together the most interesting limbs from my gen 1 and 2 Pokémon handbooks and the dinosaurs I was obsessed with – an Arcanine head and mane on a Houndoom’s punk pup frame, equipped with the wings of a Charizard and an Ankylosaurus club tail for bashing. What’s it called when you’re a horse girl but for dragons? I was that. For me a dragon is still the ideal animal, an impossible assemblage of apex attributes, wise and prideful and wild… While my art subjects are often less creaturely now, dragon-building is still basically how I approach both paintings and poems. I rip little shreds of potent detail out of life or dreams, and solder them together to make something that has its own new roar.
Painting is where I most keenly feel the gap between the work I aspire to make and the limits of my capability. I’m not a planner, working out decent compositions in thumbnail sketches. Instead I dive right in with colour and a couple of starting images, then see what happens. Same for poetry, but with poems nobody can see the smudged under-layers lurking beneath the surface of the finished piece… Word docs are forgivingly blank behind the text, so no-one sees my orphanage of random lines, loose chimera limbs waiting to be assembled.
Right now I’m in that horrible gulf between expectation and reality where I’m blocking in a painting, waiting for images to emerge from the mess, knowing that every mistake will be baked in forever, making slapstick attempts to shield the hideous draft with my whole body when friends visit. But when I am actually at work on a painting I let go of all that shame. I get so absorbed I might forget to breathe, eat, drink, urinate – lost in flow-focus, crouched over my canvas between the TV and the couch. As you say, artists need necessary space, to focus and to dream… but I find I get by with surprisingly little of it.
When I paint I kneel on the carpet because there is no space in my apartment for a studio (see: me having feelings about this when I went to see Hilma af Klint’s stupendous body of work), and because painting is a kind of prayer activity anyway. It’s an act of faith, isn’t it, to scratch out some small artwork in response to the shabby miracle of the world? Writing is like that too, a deeply interior creative practice that requires me to be open, curious, trusting and responsive to whatever drifts up from my subconscious. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think my processes are all that spiritually glorious, or my artwork particularly accomplished, but when the going’s good it is transporting, and as I give my energy over to a work it breathes life back into me. Am I a pompous loon, indulging in surrender to my own bad art, while the signals of my partner’s PS4 controller and sounds of gamer swordplay beam through my body as he slays monsters in Elden Ring? Sure. But I can’t not do it.
In painting and poems I’m meditative and open, but also working hard in pursuit of something that mainly eludes me – but maybe I’ll get it next time, and this is what keeps me growing (I hope) as an artist. It also keeps me hungry for others’ work. Yes to everything you said about the energising and uplifting nature of sinking into others’ art! Reading outside of myself is crucial to my writing, and looking carefully at other people’s visual art is essential to my painting. Even though making my own art is a solitary act, if I was in a vacuum without others’ work to delight in and explore, I doubt I’d make much of anything. Do you feel this with poetry?
Paula: Absolutely. The sheer joy that the poetry of others gives me is immeasurable. I thrive on it. Like an extreme vitamin boost. For me, the process of writing is intimate, secret, unfathomable, but it is in debt to writing communities past and present. Thus my continued drive to keep Poetry Shelf alive. And I know the doubt, that aching gap between reality and expectation, I don’t know if it ever goes away. I don’t know if I can ever bear to be published again, aside from children’s books. Tell me about your connections to poetry communities. I am thinking of Show Ponies for a start! I asked Chris Tse if he was a social poet, a hermit poet or something in between!
Rebecca: I totally agree on writing being a personal activity but also inextricable from communities around and before us! Even the solitary work of writing is not completely alone… I’m always reading so my writing is inevitably in conversation with other people’s work, and eventually a handful of trusted first-readers who are the unfortunate recipients of my little jokes. Often my poems are elaborate jokes for my friends. I don’t mean to diminish the poetry by saying that… But my Wellington poet-pals are the people whose response most matters to me, and whose support buoys me along, people I trust completely with my beautiful dark twisted fripperies. I also tend to be most motivated to write when there’s a deadline, which is often some event where I know (or hope) people will show up. So even though I’ve written alone for most of my life, I’d characterise myself as a social poet these days, and am so grateful to be part of a lively community.
Show Ponies is its own beast – Freya is the horsepower behind that. But it reflects the creative connections that are possible in a community like ours, where people are good sports with open hearts. There’s a lot of trust involved in doing something big and silly. It’s as vulnerable and sincere as any earnest confessional poem. But a bunch of poets who aren’t afraid of looking like fools together is a powerful thing. To manifest your popstar destiny you have to commit to the bit!
Rebecca: I’ve missed in-person events dearly through the pandemic, and it feels miraculous that Chris and I got to launch our books to people live and in the flesh. I’m interested in what you said here about bearing to be published. Stacey Teague recently asked posted on Twitter I’m trying to figure out why I should try to get my manuscript published and what motivates other people to get their books published and several people have just said “so you can have a party!” which obviously is something you can just do (well, depending on relative pandemic risk) without all the work of writing and vulnerability of publishing at all. For my sins, I was one of the people who’d said ‘party’ right away. But the launch party for a book is so important to me, bringing all someone’s solitary work into a shared public sphere – where the book now exists as its own object and something that will literally belong to other people, outside of the writer’s brain and screens. Aside from getting to celebrate the launch, the meticulously considered process of putting a manuscript together and then having the book itself exist in hard-copy for real has been so rewarding. I’ve been publishing poems around the place for ages, but this first book feels so precious. It’s been a very different process from blatting out last-minute poems and has taught me so much more about this craft. But the blessing of poems is that we can do whatever we want with them, right? There is no requirement to write books, or to publish the poems in any format.
lambs explode onto the scene like popcorn kernels such freshly detonated fluff antigravity mammals no heart leaps higher than the skipping lambs flocked in dozens barely touching the ground for the joy full fortnight in which they invent their limbs before they settle down to their true vocation grazing themselves into flesh factories babies babies babies babies the loin the chop the shank the juicy vacuum-sealed rack and great value barbecue meat pack stunned slit hung bled gutted skinned
from ‘Hardcore pastorals’
Paula: Exactly! I was out on a rare road trip across the harbour bridge this morning and it felt like the route was lined with poems! Just the sensation of travelling got miniature poems roaming in my head. Who knows what I will do with them!
I reviewedMeat Lovers for Kete Books and absolutely loved it. First up I loved its music. Like I really love it like I might love a breathtaking album. Do you play a musical instrument? What music do you have on repeat at the moment?
Rebecca: Gosh this is so lovely of you to say! Alas I can’t claim to be a musician. I hammered away on the piano as a child and can mimic several convincing barn animal noises… Maybe I could have a go at being a heavy metal singer, but realistically that’s because my friends are just staggeringly supportive at karaoke.
I’m charmed by the sounds of words, which I guess is why I like lush OTT poetry – where it’s permissible to load up the adjectives just because they’re delicious, and make subtle music in that way. I truly was trying to think of Meat Lovers as a concept album, actually, with a Side A and Side B, and poems that can be heard alone but build something bigger when they’re experienced in order.
Lately I’m revving songs about sad cowboys and/or the devil. I love a broody lyric. Orville Peck, Nadine Shah, The Veils, Warren Zevon, Julia Jacklin, that sort of thing. The song I was trying to keep up with while running today was Sinnerman (Nina Simone), and the song I’m looping now to tune out and write this is called I just wanna lie in bed and drink my wine (various artists), which is a mood, and just before that it was Head alone (Julia Jacklin)
you have one job which is to hold
this disturbingly large moth battering the woven basket of your fingers
every instinct whining to close your fingers and crush it
or open your palms set the fluttering insect loose free your hands for other tasks
but this is your job the having and the holding
from ‘Poem about my heart’
Paula: I also love the way your collection has heart. If I pick up a collection at the moment and it is devoid of heart it feels like a remote unreachable island. Yours mattered to me. What matters to you when you write? Does heart matter?
Rebecca: For these poems, certainly. This book is one big folded stained paper heart, clumsy and earnest. It’s anchored in my foundational love for the land I grew up on, gratitude for the life my parents gave me, and care for the animals we lived with – and also the felt complications in all those things. Then there’re my attempts to write about the frustrations and discoveries, failure and bliss of eros and romance – about which there’s nothing new to say under the sun but when has that ever stopped a poet? To be honest, usually when I write I try not to worry about whether a poem has heart. Something I’m doing as play might well turn into something true, but only if I don’t try too hard!
In both writing and reading, different modes call to me at different times, from the sentimental to disaffected… Recently I was bowled over by Frank: Sonnets by Dianne Seuss, which is an often devastating book – poems of desperation, poverty, motherhood, addiction – but often dryly funny. Just observing things, reporting without telling a reader what to feel. Her poems often have a sting in the tail that makes my guts churn, like this one. I’m drawn to gutting poems, just as I am doleful music.
In poems I’m interested in humour and irony and the sardonic, too – how the heartfelt can be reprocessed into more distanced ways of engaging with our feelings. In editing No Other Place to Stand, I was really interested in the poems that did this. The causes, effects, and injustices of climate change, colonialism and capitalism evoke big primary emotions – Fear, Anger, Grief, Hope, Etcetera – so sometimes the only way into these subjects without getting washed away by those feelings can be to approach through slant wit. Those poems have their place in the body of climate writing alongside the activist battle cries, mourning songs, and stirring polemics that they sit with in the book. Sidling away from pure emotion doesn’t imply a lack of care to me, necessarily – the poems are still being written! And the more I learn about the pressures facing our planet and peoples, the less inclined I am to believe there’s any one right way to respond in our heads and hearts. Plus the sentimental can be treacherous too – I was trying to be careful with this in writing my book, not glorifying my nostalgia or delivering undue condemnations, especially in how I speak about aspects of farming life.
it’s not real cottagecore unless you are up to the elbow in it blindly groping down the blood-slick canal as another contraction ripples around your knuckles the cow is lain on her side licking a mud angel
your hand clutching at the calf’s limp hoof head torch slipping over your brow as you affix the chain and brace yourself to pull and pull until an amniotic spill
when the calf’s head breaches unbreathing still you pull and bring the whole body wetly into the cold world you drag the whole darkness drenched newborn around so the mother can lick
caked salts from her motionless baby
from ‘Sparkling bucolic’
Paula: So few women have returned to the farm in their poetry. I am thinking Ruth Dallas and Marty Smith. Ruth had a nostalgic yearning for rural life so wrote farm poems from her Dunedin home to make up for not being there! Marty grew up on a farm and returns to farmland inHorse with Hat. Your return is electrified by edgy realism, razor-edged fantasy, the whole glorious mash of childhood, ‘a rural gothic’. What pulled you back?
Rebecca: Can any of us grow out of our childhoods? The longer I spend away from the farm the more strongly I feel how that land, that life, has shaped me. I have loads of long-winded thoughts about how we live and work and eat and consume and produce on these colonised islands. In my poems it was important for me to write critically and lovingly about these things – to challenge the assumptions I absorbed about the ordinary/natural state of the world as a child, while also celebrating the gifts of my upbringing, the cruelly beautiful lessons and earthing sensory experiences and many ways of relating to other animals. I carry all this with me –I am never without it. I’m glad you registered that not all the book is straight reporting on my life though – there’s plenty of fantasy and fiction in there. Let poets tell lies!
I think often about Ruth Dallas’ Milking Before Dawn. And Marty’s book made an enormous impression on me – she really encouraged me not to worry too much about being macabre! Rural gothic, as you say, is where I’m most at home. And I was so blessed to journey ‘home’ to the farm through these poems, as well as honour previous selves formed in that place – the girl encountering a mythical panther, the adolescent queen of weed-killers, the teen rapt in agonies finding reasons to fight in the rampant gorse in the riverbed… And I hope some of this work rings true for other queer rural kids, farmhands with a taste for verse, or anyone else seeking poems with bloody dirt still fresh under their fingernails.
Paula: When I first held a copy of my debut collection I burst into tears. There was an overwhelming gap between the poetry in my head and the object I held. I can’t explain it. Something to do with a physical thing and a mental thing. Your collection has just been launched into the world – in a venue with friends and family! How is the book’s arrival for you?
Rebecca: Agh, the tears! The gap between the final proof PDF being sent off to print and the arrival of the first book was hardest for me. I’m always spelunking new depths in the elaborate limestone cave system of my self-doubt (though thankfully have enough robust arrogance to keep making art regardless). Downing tools was difficult because I knew that from here on, the book wouldn’t get any better. I wanted this book to have a wholeness between the art and writing and fussed over it for aaaaages. But at some point the endless incrementally different PDFs became a blur, so it was time to end my meddling. The months away were tough because it was when the book was most abstracted from me, just some soulless files in the ether that I couldn’t ever touch again.
But then receiving that first copy of the book was magic. Tearing into the courier package with my teeth in the work elevator to find this actual book, its own thing, with its own weight and colour and scent, an actual living object in the world freed of my brain and screens… My favourite part of the physical book is the inner covers, with a meaty marbling that I learned to do on a version of Photoshop Elements so ancient that I actually own the program (rather than subscribing annually to “creative cloud”, ew). The pinkness peeps out when the book is read, and radiates onto the creamy paper of the pages. I loved the book so much from first sight, and am so grateful to everyone at AUP for helping manifest it. And the urge to tinker further has ceased. I accept it for what it is, now – a polaroid snippet of part of my work. I no longer worry that it doesn’t contain everything I could ever put on the page, or that the gap between the work preserved in the book and the work I’m presently more interested in making will only get wider.
Launching with Chris was a dream come true. I admire his work so much, and it’s inspiring to see how his poetic interests have developed from book to book. As fellow Show Ponies, we both love the energy of a real crowd, especially in a space like Meow. We were on the same buzz about wanting to share a live event with our loved ones and communities. There’s something so special about Wellington’s poetry scene – the city is big enough for stuff to happen, but small enough to hold a close-knit community. I’m shriekingly aware that we are not post-pandemic and there was still risk looming over the event (not least cos we were both meant to fly to the Brisbane Writers’ Festival a few days later), but I’m glad we were able to gather, for my dearest mum and Razz to travel there, for Chris and I to thrive on costumes and theatrics, to demand that a handful of people offered us some obligatory praise, and, most importantly, to perform our dramatic recital of Dragula by Rob Zombie.
Rebecca Hawkes grew up on a sheep and beef farm near Methven and now maintains a tenuous work/work balance in Wellington city. With poems widely published in Aotearoa journals, Rebecca’s debut chapbook ‘Softcore coldsores’ was published in AUP New Poets 5 for the reignition of the series in 2019. Meat Lovers is her first full-length collection. Rebecca is an editor for literary journal Sweet Mammalian and the climate change poetry anthology No Other Place to Stand (Auckland University Press, forthcoming). She is a founding member of popstar poets’ performance posse Show Ponies and haphazard coordinator of the Pegasus Books poetry reading series.
Breakfast is a lifelong ritual for me: the fruit, the cereal, the toast, the slowly-brewed tea, the short black. It is the reading, it is the silence, it is the companionship. It is finding the best breakfast when you are away at festivals or on tour, on holiday. This photograph was taken last year at Little Poms in Christchurch when I was at WORD. One of my favourite breakfast destinations. Breakfast is my gateway into the day ahead, it is food but it is more than food. It is the ideas simmering, the map unfolding, the poem making itself felt.
The poems I have selected are not so much about breakfast but have a breakfast presence that leads in multiple directions. Once again I am grateful to publishers and poets who are supporting my season of themes.
Unspoken, at breakfast
I dreamed last night that you were not you
but much younger, as young as our daughter
tuning out your instructions, her eyes not
looking at a thing around her, a fragrance
surrounding her probably from her
freshly washed hair, though
I like to think it is her dreams
still surrounding her
from her sleep. In my sleep last night
I dreamed you were much younger,
and I was younger too and had all the power –
I could say anything but needed to say
nothing, and you, lovely like our daughter,
worried you might be talking too much
about yourself. I stopped you
in my arms, pressed my face
up close to yours, whispered into
your ear, your curls
around my mouth, that you were
my favourite topic. That
was my dream, and that is still
my dream, that you were my favourite topic –
but in my dream you were
much younger, and you were not you.
from Pasture and Flock: New & Selected Poems, Auckland University Press, 2018
You refused the grapefruit
I carefully prepared
Serrated knife is best
less tearing, less waste
To sever the flesh from the sinew
the chambers where God grew this fruit
the home of the sun, that is
A delicate shimmer of sugar
and perfect grapefruit sized bowl
and you said, no, God, no
I deflated a little
and was surprised by that
What do we do when we serve?
Offer little things
as stand-ins for ourselves
All of us here
women standing to attention
knives and love in our hands
From The Facts, Victoria University Press, 2018
How time walks
I woke up and smelled the sun mummy
a pattern of paradise
casting shadows before breakfast
he’s fascinated by mini beasts
how black widows transport time
a red hourglass
under their bellies
how centipedes and worms
curl at prodding fingers
he’s ice fair
sometimes when he sleeps
I lock the windows
to secure him in this world
from Entangled islands, Anahera Press, 2015
Woman at Breakfast
June 5, 2015
This yellow orange egg full of goodness and instructions.
Round end of the knife against the yolk, the joy which can only be known
as a kind of relief for disappointed hopes and poached eggs go hand in hand.
Clouds puff past the window it takes a while to realise they’re home made
our house is powered by steam like the ferry that waits by the rain-soaked wharf
I think I see the young Katherine Mansfield boarding with her grandmother with her duck-handled umbrella.
I am surprised to find I am someone who cares for the bygone days of the harbour.
The very best bread is mostly holes networks, archways and chambers
as most of us is empty space around which our elements move in their microscopic orbits.
Accepting all the sacrifices of the meal the unmade feathers and the wild yeast I think of you. Happy birthday.
from The Internet of Things, Victoria University Press, 2017
How to live through this
We will make sure we get a good night’s sleep. We will eat a decent breakfast, probably involving eggs and bacon. We will make sure we drink enough water. We will go for a walk, preferably in the sunshine. We will gently inhale lungsful of air. We will try to not gulp in the lungsful of air. We will go to the sea. We will watch the waves. We will phone our mothers. We will phone our fathers. We will phone our friends. We will sit on the couch with our friends. We will hold hands with our friends while sitting on the couch. We will cry on the couch with our friends. We will watch movies without tension – comedies or concert movies – on the couch with our friends while holding hands and crying. We will think about running away and hiding. We will think about fighting, both metaphorically and actually. We will consider bricks. We will buy a sturdy padlock. We will lock the gate with the sturdy padlock, even though the gate isn’t really high enough. We will lock our doors. We will screen our calls. We will unlist our phone numbers. We will wait. We will make appointments with our doctors. We will make sure to eat our vegetables. We will read comforting books before bedtime. We will make sure our sheets are clean. We will make sure our room is aired. We will make plans. We will talk around it and talk through it and talk it out. We will try to be grateful. We will be grateful. We will make sure we get a good night’s sleep.
from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019
Your high bed held you like royalty.
I reached up and stroked your hair, you looked at me blearily,
forgetting for a moment to be angry.
By breakfast you’d remembered how we were all cruel
and the starry jacket I brought you was wrong.
Every room is painted the spectacular colour of your yelling.
I try and think of you as a puzzle
whose fat wooden pieces are every morning changed
and you must build again the irreproachable sun,
the sky, the glittering route of your day. How tired you are
and magnanimous. You tell me yes
you’d like new curtains because the old ones make you feel glim.
And those people can’t have been joking, because they seemed very solemn.
And what if I forget to sign you up for bike club.
The ways you’d break. The dizzy worlds wheeling on without you.
from The Ski Flier, Victoria University Press, 2017
14 August 2016
The day begins early, fast broken with paracetamol ibuprofen, oxycodone, a jug of iced water too heavy to lift. I want the toast and tea a friend was given, but it doesn’t come, so resort to Apricot Delights intended to sustain me during yesterday’s labour. Naked with a wad of something wet between my legs, a token gown draped across my stomach and our son on my chest, I admire him foraging for sustenance and share his brilliant hunger. Kicking strong frog legs, snuffling, maw wide and blunt, nose swiping from side to side, he senses the right place to anchor himself and drives forward with all the power a minutes-old neck can possess, as if the nipple and aureole were prey about to escape, he catches his first meal; the trap of his mouth closes, sucks and we are both sated.
just some huge rude dinner plate you left unwashed
brilliant with bioluminescent mould
how dare you rhapsodize my loneliness into orbit
to the thought of us
halfway across the planet staring up
at some self-same moon & pining for each other
but now I long for a fixed point between us
because from here
even the moon is different
a broken bowl
unlatched from its usual arc & butchered
by grievous rainbows
celestial ceramic irreparably splintered
as though thrown there
and all you have left me with is
this gift of white phosphorous
dissolving the body I knew you in
to lunar dust
in New Poets 5, Auckland University Press, 2019, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor
I never meant to want you.
the laughter and the toast
the talking and the muffins
somewhere in our Tuesday mornings
I started falling for you.
Now I can’t go back
and I’m not sure if I want to.
from woman, phenomenally
Breakfast in Shanghai
for a morning of coldest smog
A cup of black pǔ’ěr tea in my bedroom & two bāozi from the
lady at the bāozi shop who has red cheeks. I take off my gloves,
unpeel the square of thin paper from the bun’s round bottom.
I burn my fingers in the steam and breathe in.
for the morning after a downpour
Layers of silken tofu float in the shape of a lotus slowly
opening under swirls of soy sauce. Each mouthful of doufu
huā, literally tofu flower, slips down in one swallow. The
texture reminds me of last night’s rain: how it came down
fast and washed the city clean.
On the table, matching tiny blue ceramic pots of chilli oil,
vinegar and soy sauce. In front of me, the only thing that
warms: a plate of shuǐjiǎo filled with ginger, pork and cabbage.
I dip once in vinegar, twice in soy sauce and eat while the
woman rolls pieces of dough into small white moons that fit
inside her palm.
for a pink morning in late spring
I pierce skin with my knife and pull, splitting the fruit open.
I am addicted to the soft ripping sound of pink pomelo flesh
pulling away from its skin. I sit by the window and suck on the
rinds, then I cut into a fresh zongzi with scissors, opening the
lotus leaves to get at the sticky rice inside. Bright skins and leaves
sucked clean, my hands smelling tea-sweet. Something inside
me uncurling. A hunger that won’t go away.
NIna Mingya Powles
from Magnolia 木蘭, Seraph Press, 20020
Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a German-Samoan mother and a Palagi father. She was the recipient of a 2018 Pasifika Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Serie promoted her collections Tapa Talk and Entangled Islands at the 2019 International Arsenal Book Festival in Kiev. She collaborated with filmmaker Anna Marbrook to produce a short film, Te Ara Kanohi, for Going West 2021. Her latest poetry collection, Sleeping With Stones, will be launched during Matariki 2021.
Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper‘s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.
Kate Camp’s most recent book is How to Be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems published by VUP in New Zealand, and House of Anansi Press in Canada.
Tate Fountain is a writer, performer, and academic based in Tāmaki Makaurau. She has recently been published in Stuff, Starling, and the Agenda, and her short fiction was highly commended in the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition (2020).
Paula Harris lives in Palmerston North, where she writes and sleeps in a lot, because that’s what depression makes you do. She won the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize and the 2017 Lilian Ida Smith Award. Her writing has been published in various journals, including The Sun, Hobart, Passages North, New Ohio Review and Aotearotica. She is extremely fond of dark chocolate, shoes and hoarding fabric. website: http://www.paulaharris.co.nz | Twitter: @paulaoffkilter | Instagram: @paulaharris_poet | Facebook: @paulaharrispoet
Rebecca Hawkes works, writes, and walks around in Wellington. This poem features some breakfast but mostly her wife (the moon), and was inspired by Alex Garland’s film adaptation of Jeff Vandermeer’s novel Annihilation. You can find it, among others, in her chapbook-length collection Softcore coldsores in AUP New Poets 5. Rebecca is a co-editor for Sweet Mammalian and a forthcoming collection of poetry on climate change, prances about with the Show Ponies, and otherwise maintains a vanity shrine at rebeccahawkesart.com
Anna Jackson lectures at Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington, lives in Island Bay, edits AUP New Poets and has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (AUP 2018).
Therese Lloyd is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Other Animals (VUP, 2013) and The Facts (VUP, 2018). In 2017 she completed a doctorate at Victoria University focusing on ekphrasis – poetry about or inspired by visual art. In 2018 she was the University of Waikato Writer in Residence and more recently she has been working (slowly) on an anthology of ekphrastic poetry in Aotearoa New Zealand, with funding by CNZ.
Maria McMillan is a poet who lives on the Kāpit Coast, originally from Ōtautahi, with mostly Scottish and English ancestors who settled in and around Ōtepoti and Murihiku. Her books are The Rope Walk (Seraph Press), Tree Space and The Ski Flier (both VUP) ‘Morning song‘ takes its title from Plath.
Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Wellington, currently living in London. She is the author of Magnolia 木蘭, a finalist in the Ockham Book Awards, a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai, and several poetry chapbooks and zines. Her debut essay collection, Small Bodies of Water, will be published in September 2021.
Helen Rickerby lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley. She’s the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019), which won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, which mostly publishes poetry.
Poetry and music go together like candles and churches, and what’s better than poetry and music? Poetry and music in the cavernous St Peters church on a stormy night. Lōemis Festival’s recent event Epilogue, born out of the mind of Festival Artistic Director Andrew Laking, brought together some of the city’s finest ensemble musicians and a murderer’s row of local poets for an evening of original composition that was at times ecstatic, somber, thought-provoking, soothing and so much more. Local wordsmiths Nick Ascroft, Chris Tse, Rebecca Hawkes, Ruby Solly and Harry Ricketts were all given the opportunity to write and deliver original poems in this reimagined requiem mass and their words the space and scope they deserved.
The event page promised an echo of the original idea, that follows the same rise, fall and atmosphere, and it delivered, interspersing music and the spoken word. The event begun with a composition from the ensemble and they punctuated every poet’s performance, creating room for breach and reflection and time for the poems to wash over the crowd and reset the mood for the next poet. The church was dark and moody and still throughout, while this made for the perfect audience experience it made it impossible to take any notes during the show, as a result I’m just going to gush about all the wonderful performers who took the stage.
Nick Ascroft was the first poet to take to the pulpit. He delivered two new poems that were personal and inventive, hilarious and heartbreaking. While I’ve been a fan of Nick’s wit on the page for years it was great to have the opportunity to see him read in this context, not only did his poems set the tone for the evening but his opener ‘You Will Find Me Much Changed’ has been lounging about in my head ever since. Next up was everyone’s favourite poet crush Chris Tse. Dressed in dapper attire apparently inspired by a fancy can of water, Chris, much like Nick used repetition to build his sermon, like a mantra, an incantation. It reverberated off the stained-glass windows and when Chris finished with his piece, entitled ‘Persistence is futile’, I got so upset I have to wait until 2022 for his third collection.
Rebecca Hawkes was next, accidentally dressed as Kath from Kath and Kim due to a wardrobe malfunction but it didn’t matter. Rebecca is the type of poet tailor-made for an event like this, she can conjure imagery that spans the grotesque to the sublime and she has a performance style that colours those images so vividly you feel fully submerged in her world. Speaking of complex other worlds, Ruby Solly is one of the masters of weaving them together and that was on full display in her performance. Ruby also played taonga pūoro with the ensemble before her reading just to remind the audience how talented she is. The last poet of the evening was Harry Ricketts, whose Selected Poems is out in the world right now. Harry’s ‘The Song Sings the News of the World’ closed out the evening, and while it wasn’t necessarily the most complex or challenging poem of the evening, it was the perfect ending, prompting all those watching to look forward and wonder, leaving the audience with a sense of hope.
Overall it was the perfect evening, poetry and music together as they should be, in a venue built for ritual. Epilogue is the type of event that showcases what poetry can be when it’s not confined, stretching it and moulding it into something unexpected, the type of event Andrew and his VERB co-director Clare Mabey excel at producing. I sincerely hope Epilogue doesn’t live up to its namesake and we get to see it again in one form or another.
Music by Nigel Collins and Andrew Laking, in collaboration with Simon Christie and Maaike Beekman. New texts written and read by Chris Tse, Rebecca Hawkes, Harry Ricketts, Ruby Solly, and Nick Ascroft. With Dan Yeabsley (reeds), Tristan Carter (violin), and Dayle Jellyman (keys).
Jordan Hamel is a Pōneke-based writer, poet and performer. He was the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and represented NZ at the World Poetry Slam Champs in the US in 2019. He is the co-editor of Stasis Journal and co-editor of a forthcoming NZ Climate Change Poetry Anthology from Auckland University Press. He is a 2021 Michael King Writer-in-Residence and has words published in The Spinoff, Newsroom, Poetry New Zealand, Sport, Turbine, Landfall, and elsewhere.
Jordan Hamel’s poem ‘You’re not a has-been, you’re a never was!’
Epilogue is a new work that follows the form of a requiem mass, minus the death and liturgy.
Five writers accompanied by an ensemble of musicians explore a series of unrelated events, evoking ideas around transition, inevitability, rest, activity, optimism and infinity.
Music by Nigel Collins (Flight of the Conchords / Congress of Animals) and Andrew Laking, in collaboration with Simon Christie and Maaike Beekman. New texts written and read by Chris Tse, Rebecca Hawkes, Harry Ricketts, Ruby Solly, and Nick Ascroft. With Dan Yeabsley (reeds), Tristan Carter (violin), and Dayle Jellyman (keys).
What to Expect To make Epilogue, we took the structure and sense of a requiem mass, then pulled it apart it and filled it with contemporary language and music. What we’re left with is an echo of the original idea, that follows the same rise, fall and atmosphere, but speaks to more recent events, all of which are different and personal, but connected in a broader sense. Imagine a secular order of service that alternates between music and spoken word and you’re half way there!
Who’s involved? Nigel Collins is a playwright and musician who is best known for his work with Flight of the Conchords (Orchestra of One) and Congress of Animals. He combines with a fantastic ensemble of musicians, including bassist Simon Christie (Aurora IV), Dayle Jellyman and reeds maestro Dan Yeabsley (The Troubles). The texts have been put together by a standout collection of writers, featuring many of Wellington’s best – for more info, click on the artist profiles on this page.
you have one job which is to hold this disturbingly large moth battering the woven basket of your fingers
every instinct whirring to close your fist and crush it or open your palms set the gross insect loose free your hands for other tasks
but this is your job the having and the holding the moth fluttering scaly wings into moon dust that stains your skin ghastly silver as you do not ask
how did this thing even get in here just maintain your grasp on the fragile stupid alien that flew to your light and would not go until you caught it and it was yours
Rebecca Hawkes is a queer pākehā poet, painter, and PowerPoint slide ghostwriter living in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara. Her chapbook ‘Softcore coldsores’ can be found in AUP New Poets 5. She is co-editor of the journal Sweet Mammalian and an upcoming anthology of climate change poetry, and is a founding member of popstar performance posse Show Ponies. More of Rebecca’s writing and paintings can be found in journals like Starling, Sport, Scum, and Stasis, or online at her vanity mirror.
A good literary journal will offer the reader an inviting range of tones, subject matter, emotional effects and cerebral demands. Familiar writers will sit alongside new voices. Landfall 240 achieves an eclectic mix of voices, especially as it favours multiple genres: poetry, fiction, memoir, essays, artworks, reviews. Such a writing smorgasbord suits my habit of devouring issues over repeated visits and the degree to which certain pieces affect me is why I am a long-term Landfall fan.
An annual highlight is always the results of the essay competition. Editor Emma Neal received 85 entries this year and A. M. McKinnon’s winning essay, Canterbury Gothic, is a little beauty. The essay begins with a great aunt, exquisitely detailed, and moves through a city’s architectural detail to the dark and moving twists in a family history.
Rebecca Hawkes is a poet and painter. She’s from a high country farm near Methven and is now living in Wellington. Rebecca’s poems have appeared in various journals, including Starling, Sport, and Sweet Mammalian – and on her website. A collection of her writing was published in August 2019 in the revival issue of the AUP New Poets series, alongside the work of Carolyn DeCarlo and Sophie van Waardenberg.
In 2020 Poetry Shelf will host a monthly, theme-based festival of poems.
First up: trees. I chose trees because I live in a clearing in the midst of protected regenerating bush. It is a place of beauty and calm, no matter the wild West Coast weather. We look out onto the tail end of the Waitātakere Ranges knowing we work together as guardians of this land.
I chose trees because like so many other people the need to care for trees is strong – to see the fire-ravaged scenes in Australia is heartbreaking.
I love coming across trees in poems – I love the way they put down roots and anchor a poem in anecdote, life pulse, secrets, the sensual feast of bush and forests, political layers.
I could plot my life through the books I have read and loved, but I could also plot my life through my attachment to trees.
Let me Put in a Word for Trees
Let me put in a word for breathing.
Let me put in a word for trees.
Let me put in a word for breathing.
from Water, Leaves, Stones (Victoria University Press, 1995)
After a long hard decade, Miranda asks for a poem about feijoas
Small hard green breasts budding on a young tree
that doesn’t want them, can’t think how to dance
if it has to put up with these;
yet over summer the fruits swell and plump:
frog barrel bodies without the jump or croak
limes in thick velvet opera coats
love grenades to throw like flirt bombs
for your crush to catch and softly clutch
before they release their sweet seductions
and when the congregation and the choir
in the Tongan church next door exalt in hymns
while their brass band soars and sforzandos in,
a fresh feijoa crop tumbles to the grass
as if the tree’s just flung down its bugle mutes
in a mid-life, high-kick, survival hallelujah.
Once, I climbed a tree
too tall for climbing
and threw my voice out
into the world. I screamed.
I hollered. I snapped
innocent branches. I took the view
as a vivid but painful truth gifted
to me, but did not think to lay down
my own sight in recompense.
All I wanted was someone to say
they could hear me, but the tree said
that in order to be heard I must
first let silence do the heavy lifting
and clear my mind of any
questions and anxieties
such as contemplating whether
I am the favourite son. If I am not,
I am open to being a favourite uncle
or an ex-lover whose hands still cover
the former half’s eyes. I’ll probably never
have children of my own to disappoint
so I’ll settle for being famous instead
with my mouth forced open on TV like
a Venus fly-trap lip-synching for its life.
The first and the last of everything
are always connected by
the dotted line of choice.
If there is an order to such things,
then surely I should resist it.
from He’s so MASC (Auckland University Press, 2018)
Woman running across a field
with a baby in her arms . . .
She was once the last pine tree on Mars.
My mother as a tree
I like to think my mother may have been a tree
like Fred’s, the oak whose Elizabethan
damask skirts each year spring-clean
the hillside opposite, in front of the house
where Fred was born. Her royal foliage
clothes a peasant’s weathered fingers,
the same unfussed embrace.
Fred never sees her now,
he’s in a rest-home up the coast
and doesn’t get out much
and so, in lieu, she fosters me
from unconditional dawn
to dusk and through the night,
her feet in earth, her head
in air, water in the veins, and what
transpires between us is the breath
of life. In the morning birds
fly out of her hair, in the evening
they are her singing brain
that sings to me. My mother as a tree:
my house, my spouse, my dress
and nakedness, my birth, my death,
before and afterwards. I like
to think my tears may be her
watershed, not just for me.
from Beside Herself (Auckland University Press, 2016)
It’s the close of another year.
Stunned, I walk through the Gardens
feel them draw the numbness out of me.
This is another ‘I do this, I do that’ poem
I learnt in New York from O’Hara.
This is a New York poem set in a garden
styled in colonial civics on an island
that is not Manhattan.
I hurry to the hydrangea garden,
their shaded, moon-coloured faces
so much like my own. As a child I was posed
next to hydrangeas because the ones
next to an unremembered house
were particularly blue—
to match my eyes, presumably.
There are no hydrangeas in New York City.
I rush past the Australia garden but I stop
dead at the old aloes, their heavy leaves
so whale-like, gently swaying flukes
thick and fleshy, closing up the sky.
Some kids have carved their
initials and hearts in the smooth rind,
a hundred years against this forgotten afternoon.
I bend to the ground and sit as if to guard them
in the darkening sun.
The spread of rot constellates out of the kids’ marks
as if to say
look at the consequences,
look at me dying.
from Night As Day (Victoria University Press, 2019)
I Buried the Blood and Planted a Tree
Love is the thing that comes
when we suck on a teat and are fed.
Love is the food we can eat.
The food we can’t eat we give
to the ground
to the next day.
We pat the earth
like it is our own abdomen.
If I could have drunk a hot enough tea
to boil it out
I might have.
If I could have stood
on a big red button
and jumped once
to tell it to exit
like the highest note on the piano.
It was a sound I couldn’t feed.
I gave it to tomorrow.
I buried the blood and planted a tree
so she, unable to be fed, could feed.
The sepia sky is not one for forgetting. Even fragmented, looking up at it from beneath a canopy. The flash of light through leaves more twitch than twinkle. Therapists and yoga teachers say It’s important to let yourself to be held by mother earth, to let yourself be. I used to feel relief in the arms of a tree, but now I feel unease. Is it my own chest trembling or the trees? Oxygen spinning from the leaves, boughs holding birds who were once such a chorus they almost drove Cook’s crew back to sea. Invisible roots bearing the weight of me, through the deep dark, where trees talk in voices I am too brief to hear.
Place is bottled lightning in a shop,
or in a chandelier’s glass tear-drop,
or in a glow-worm’s low watt grot,
or in street neon’s glottal stop —
wow-eh? wow-eh? wow-eh?
Place is the moulded face of a hill,
or lichen like beard on a window sill,
or the bare spaces that shadows fill,
or ancestors growing old and ill,
or descendants at the reading of a will,
who frown and examine their fingernails
before plunging off down the paper trails
of diary and letter and overdue bill.
Place is the home of family trees —
family trees to wrap round plots of soil,
tree roots to shrivel into umbilical cords,
tree branches to spill bones and skulls;
but even trees are just a spidery scrawl
against the shelf-life of a mountain wall.
Place is a brood perched on power-poles:
bellbirds with shadows of gargoyles,
korimako who clutch the power of one,
like an egg, to trill their familiar song.
Place is grandsons who sprawl
in the family tree with laughter;
place is the tree windfall,
gathered up in the lap of a daughter.
from Rhyming Planet (Steele Roberts, 2001)
Te Mahuta Ngahere
the father of the forest
a livid monster among saplings.
A swollen aneurism grips his bole.
Below bearded epiphytes
a suppurating canker swarms with wasps.
the tuis in his crazy, dreadlocked crown
pretend to be bulldozers.
from ‘Letter to Peter McLeavey – after Basho’, from Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty (Auckland University Press, 2005)
Last night I sat outside and looked at the moon. Up there, like it has been since the dawn of time.
Same one the cavemen looked at.
I know, scientifically, about the forces that hold it in place.
And suddenly I felt I knew too much.
The grass had been cut, while flowering.
The flowers were still there, they’d either sunk below the blades or reflowered.
I noticed grass flowers look like kowhai post-flowering. When the stamens hang long and white after the flower has fallen away.
The night was still. Cones on the street let me know men would come the next day in matching orange tunics and I should not park there.
The moon was still there.
The stillness and the quiet was misleading.
Everything had a perfect and terrible design that didn’t need me to know it.
I know the trees above the mangroves are called macrocarpas, some bird calls sweetly from the macrocarpa as the sun sets every evening. Orange, purple and pink from the verandah of my flat.
I don’t ever want to know that bird’s name.
Song from the fallen tree which served as a twelve year old’s altar to the wild gods
i am a hundred years more girleen since before you were a seed
i fell to mouldering in this darkleaf cathedral where you come
to bury the bones of brief chittering things and burn candles
in roothollows ah you young girleen life all aflickering past short
i am all your church and ever the altar at which you girleen kneel
i all goldenarched around by sunbeam and sapling green
with my many rings i share with you rootlessness and in winter
you brush away my cloak of snow humming your warmblood
girleen beatsong to soften my ache of frost
while you ask knowing of what time is to the forest and you sing
up your low girleen voice to the horned and feathered kind which
do not walk the rustling hymn of season same as we all
then twice up here you come bringing anothergirl girleen
you open your arms to the sky saying this is your heart and
home yes this the forest that sings you by name and girleen
it is true we the trees know you but you never learned from us
the songs called shyness and slowly and the next time girleen you
bring your brighthaired friend you kiss her in the pricklebelly
shadow of the holly
where i feel you like a seed unhusked shiversway as she
branchsnap slams whipslap runs so when again you dewyoung
girleen come to me you come alone
ungrowing girleen and withering back your shoots as you
bitterbrittle freeze your sapling blood into something thinner
than lancewood leaf
which cracks you through to the heartwood solvent veinsap
dizzily diluting girleen you can barely make your mountainwalk
up to me
until for two snowmelts you do not return but even once your
starved arterial taproot has begun sucking in again greedy sunlight
and sugar to colour your suppling girleen bark back alive
you have disremembered every prayersong taught you by we the
trees and i rot in the forest you called your heart and girleen
you do not visit
Sitting on the warm steps with you
our legs and backs supported by timber
looking down to the still trunk of the gum-tree
we are neither inside ourselves
as in the dark wing of a house
nor outside ourselves, like sentries
at the iron gates – we are living
on the entire contour of our skins,
on the threshold, willing to settle
or leap into anywhere.
Here’s to this tree we are standing in.
Here’s to its blue-green shelter,
its soft bark,
the handy horizontal branch
we have our feet on
and the one supporting our shoulders.
from Water, Leaves, Stones (Victoria University Press, 1995)
Nikki-Lee Birdsey was born in Piha. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a BA from New York University. She has been published widely in the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand, and she is currently a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her first book Night as Day was published by VUP in 2019.
David Eggleton’s most recent poetry publication, Edgeland and other poems, was published by Otago University Press in 2018. He is the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2019 – 2021.
Dinah Hawken was born in Hawera in 1943 and now lives in Paekakariki. Her eighth collection of poetry, There is no harbour, was published by Victoria University Press in 2019.
Rebecca Hawkes is an erstwhile painter-poet and accidental corporate-ladder-ascender. Her chapbook Softcore coldsores was launched in AUP New Poets 5 in 2019 and she performs with the poetry troupe Show Ponies. She wrote this tree poem in her previous occupation as a teen and hopes it will survive repotting after all these years.
Maeve Hughes lives in a tall house in Wellington. She has studied Fine Arts and Creative Writing. Her first publication Horsepower won the 2018 Story Inc Prize for poetry and was launched in October last year.
Simone Kaho is a New Zealand / Tongan poet and a graduate of the International Institute of Modern Letters. She published her debut poetry collection, Lucky Punch, in 2016. Simone is noted for her poetry performance and writes for E-Tangata.co.nz.
Bill Manhire’s new book of poems will be published later this year. It might well be called Wow because he is so surprised by it.
Emma Neale is the author of 6 novels and 6 collections of poetry. She is the current editor of Landfall.
Chris Price is the author of three books of poetry and the hybrid ‘biographical dictionary’ Brief Lives. She convenes the poetry and creative nonfiction MA workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington. In May 2019 she and her guitarist partner Robbie Duncan will be among the guests at Featherston Booktown.
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.
Ian Wedde’sSelected Poems were published in 2017 – Te Mahuta Ngahere can be found there and we hope will survive in the bush. Wedde’s historical novel, The Reed Warbler, will be published by Victoria University Press in May, and a collection of essays 2014-2019 is in development.