Tag Archives: rebecca hawkes

Poetry Shelf conversation: Rebecca Hawkes

Photo credit: Ebony Lamb

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 reviewed Meat 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 in Horse 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.

Rebecca Hawkes website

Auckland University Press page

Ash Davida Jane reviews Meat Lovers on Nine to Noon

Paula Green review at Kete Books

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Eleven poems about breakfast

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.

Anna Jackson

from Pasture and Flock: New & Selected Poems, Auckland University Press, 2018

By Sunday

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

Therese Lloyd

From The Facts, Victoria University Press, 2018

How time walks

I woke up and smelled the sun mummy

my son

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

almost translucent

sometimes when he sleeps

I lock the windows

to secure him in this world

Serie Barford

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.

Kate Camp

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.

Helen Rickerby

from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

Morning song

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.

Maria McMillan

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.

Amy Brown  

from Neon Daze, Victoria University Press, 2019

break/fast and mend/slowly

                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                               

Tate Fountain

from Starling 11


Biologist abandoned

I lay in our bed all morning             

next to the half-glass of juice you brought me 

to sweeten your leaving

ochre sediments settled in the liquid

a thin dusty film formed on the meniscus

but eventually I drank it                 

siphoning pulp through my teeth 

like a baleen whale sifting krill from brine

for months after your departure I refused to look 

at the moon

where it loomed in the sky outside              

just some huge rude dinner plate you left unwashed

now ascendant                   

brilliant with bioluminescent mould

how dare you rhapsodize my loneliness into orbit

I laughed                 

enraged                       

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    

beyond apology

to lunar dust     

Rebecca Hawkes

in New Poets 5, Auckland University Press, 2019, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

everything changing

I never meant to want you.

But somewhere

between

the laughter and the toast

the talking and the muffins

somewhere in our Tuesday mornings

together

I started falling for you.

Now I can’t go back

and I’m not sure if I want to.

Paula Harris

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.

 

for homesickness

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 StuffStarling, 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 songtakes 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 Shelf write-ups: Jordan Hamel on Lōemis Epilogue

Lōemis Epilogue

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.

Epilogue

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.

Jordan Hamel

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!’

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Epilogue new work featuring poets and musicians

Epilogue

St. Peter’s on Willis
Sat 19th June, 8pm

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.

Tickets: From $25

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Rebecca Hawkes’s ‘Poem about my heart’

Poem about my heart

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

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.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Paula Green reviews Landfall 240 at Kete Books

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.

full review here

Poetry Shelf video spot: Rebecca Hawkes’s ‘Perendale Princess’

 

 

 

Rebecca Hawke’s ‘Perendale Princess’

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf poem festival: Trees

 

 

DSCN9848.jpg

our place, January 2020

 

 

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.

 

DSCN9841.jpg

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Dinah Hawken

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.

 

Emma Neale

 

 

 

Heavy lifting

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.

Chris Tse

from He’s so MASC (Auckland University Press, 2018)

 

 

 

Reverse Ovid

Woman running across a field
with a baby in her arms . . .
She was once the last pine tree on Mars.

Bill Manhire

 

 

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.

 

Chris Price

from Beside Herself  (Auckland University Press, 2016)

 

 

 

Objects 4

 

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.

 

Nikki-Lee Birdsey

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.

 

Maeve Hughes

 

 

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.

Simone Kaho

 

 

Trees

 

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.

 

David Eggleton

from Rhyming Planet (Steele Roberts, 2001)

 

 

13

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.

Derisively lyrical
the tuis in his crazy, dreadlocked crown
pretend to be bulldozers.

 

Ian Wedde

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.
Sickle phase.
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.

 

Simone Kaho

 

 

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
roots unplanted

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

 

Rebecca Hawkes

 

 

The Gum-Tree

 

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.

 

Dinah Hawken

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’s Selected 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf fascinations: AUP New Poets 5

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AUP New Poets 5: Carolyn DeCarlo, Sophie van Waardenberg, Rebecca Hawkes, edited by Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press

 

Auckland University Press’s New Poets collections began in 1999 and, after an eight-year hiatus, has relaunched the series. Anna Jackson, who appeared in the debut issue, has  edited volume 5 and written the foreword. The series serves as welcome launchpad for emerging poets and has, for example, included the work of Chris Tse, Sarah Quigley, Sonja Yelich, Erin Scudder and Reihana Robinson in previous volumes.

The recent launch at Unity Books (Wellington) was packed with an attentive audience – the reading highlighted three distinctive voices linked by poetic charisma: Carolyn DeCarlo, Sophie van Waardenberg and Rebecca Hawkes.

 

Carolyn DeCarlo, originally from USA, has read at various literary events including Welington’s LitCrawl, and runs the literary reading series Food Court. Her writing delivers mesmerising physicality, detail that illuminates the present tense, a moment that might be hyperreal in ways that startle or soothe or move you.

The opening poem ‘Spy Valley’ is a sumptuous rendition of a scene to the point it glows with heat and crackling light: it’s sensual, surprising, moreish. Every word is pitch perfect and every word adds to a building physicality that clings to you as you read.

 

(…) Their calls cleave the

valley like lightning, crackling in the air,

striking the dirt beneath your toes,

and when the drops of rain hit your face

thick as bread you’re unafraid,

you open wide, you spread your arms

and soak your skin in sanguine heat,

its spongy hug lulling you to sleep.

 

Carolyn offers textured poetry – almost as though you can brush your fingers over the surface of a poem and feel grains of feeling, its physicality, its movement. The poems often bridge the hyperreal and an everyday real, relishing the slow occupation of a moment, a place, a state of being. In ‘Fields of Glass’ the speaker stands musing on a glass hill – there is a building (sometimes sad and green, sometimes uncomfortable) driving the movement of the poem, the thoughts of the muser. Everything is slightly mysterious, anchorless, as though each stanza is a shortcut to censored feeling, reserved circumstances. Again the reading effect is addictive.

 

Another time, we danced

on the floor. Do you remember that?

Our socks bunched up

around our ankles

then our ankles around our knees

and so on.

 

I am eating tomatoes and crying,

if you sit beside me

I will let you carry the juice,

I am carrying the rain.

 

Much thought has been given to the order of the poems – water and rain ripple through, along with birds, trees, piquant colour. In the middle the speaker is anchored in the land, their body made visible, and anxiety appears like little body fractures, the physicality of the writing potent. This from ‘The Year I Let My Heart Go Asunder’:

 

I am crouched down on the bank of Wellington Harbour

and I am huge as the hills.

I am squatting with my bottom on Khandallah,

my feet in the harbour and the water barely splashing my ankles.

 

I love Carolyn’s selection of poems (Winter Swimmers) so much: it’s beautifully crafted, aurally satisfying, surprising in turn and revelation. There are a number of poems named ‘Winter Swimmers’; like a swelling and shifting contemplation that keeps changing hue and effect, yet never losing sight of the water, the swim stroke, the breath necessary for living, for writing, for reading. This selection is like a pair of lungs inside me, expanding and dilating, expanding and dilating. Glorious.

 

At the time of publication Sophie van Waardenberg was working at the Open Book in Ponsonby. She has completed a BA at the University of Auckland and is now undertaking an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University, New York State. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals.

Sophie’s selection of poems – does a potato have a heart? – navigates learning the world in all its brittleness and wonder, especially through the glints and sharp edges of love.

In ‘Unhatched egg/two girls at easter’, a precious bird’s egg is discovered, wrapped and held close to the girl’s belly. The egg’s potential life is in razor contrast to the felled trees, the scarred landscape, but then life delivers the little blow with the cracked egg, the cracked future.

 

in the morning we two bury the fresh-cut shell by the river

where her parents had their honeymoon

and at hot noon with downy arms we swim there

under trees our failure has grown for us so quickly.

 

Love is a constant infusion, whether of a particular person close or at a distant. In ‘schön’ a woman (a beloved one) appears in a lyrical list poem like a chant; the love portrait builds sweetness and good feeling, along with topple and enigma:

 

my girl becomes a calendar and I curl up inside her

my girl becomes a tongue twister and I curl up inside her

 

my girl lets the spring in through her hands

she puts her hands over my ears and I remember how it feels

 

it is nice and nice and nice

 

One poem – ‘all the friendship bracelet makers have retreated’ – hooked me with its evocation of yearning and ache: of missing someone, missing home, of negotiating elsewhere and of being apart. The writing is confessional, yet prismatic in its different slants. Dislocation tempers location, location tempers mascara-smudged cheeks. The middle stanza is the exquisite heart of confession, the simile potent in meaning:

 

I want to be far away but I want to be home.

breath by breath I want these things.

let me show you how little I want to know:

make a fist and let no air in.

I want to make the world as tight around me

as I make my single duvet cover in winter.

 

On the adjacent page, ‘to keep all the bees out’ signals love’s potential pain and potential joy. The poem, with intricate and surprising detail, layers what ‘we’ do. Sophie is refreshing the scope and dimensions of confessional poetry; not everything is visible, not everything is stable, not everything is knowable. The hills they climb together ‘are eaten by their own edges’. Such a striking image of mist and uncertainty heightens the final stanza:

 

and the right ventricle of the human heart

does not have doors heavy enough

to keep all the bees out, and their stings

 

Sophie’s selection of poetry haunts me; it is an atlas of love, experience and feeling, with pronouns shifting to accommodate you and you and we and I, and poems that keep drawing you back. It feels fresh and original, and I love it.

 

Rebecca Hawkes grew up on a high-country farm near Methven. She graduated in media studies and then completed an MA in creative non-fiction at Victoria  University.

As the title suggests Softcore coldsores is an audible kaleidoscopic rendition of life: startling, a sonic explosion in your ear, acutely visual, utterly satisfying. The poems move from milking cows to trying to go vegetarian, sexual fumblings, all manner of hungers and yearnings. ‘Gremlin in sundress’ is an intense and captivating blast of sound that catches an intensity of living and craving for life. I have heard Rebecca read live several times and it is an addictive experience – the sonic rewards find new traction in the air / ear. Here is the middle bit of the free-flowing, page-long ‘Gremlin in sundress’:

 

gimme something pretty but with brains

I can crack open gimme salt’n’pepper

tentacle dredged from the abyss and deep

fried gimme hot cephalopod gimme yer cold

shoulder gimme drunkenness gimme the vomitorium

next door to the buffet gimme mortal clay

with tingle and baby fat to live in

gimme glory gimme eternity gimme your likings

 

There are many paths through Rebecca’s poetry but every reading path is an intricate interplay of the visual and the aural. I keep rereading a poem to savour the music and  and the visual impact. Maybe it makes a difference that Rebecca is a painter with a richly-hued palette and eye for massed and sensual detail. She takes me to the edge of vertigo at times, even squeamishness, in both her art and her poetry. Reading her poetry becomes a whole body experience (as it so often is) and I find myself unable to move onto the next thing, the next book, the next chore, the next outing. Perhaps at the core is the notion want: I am thinking of its varied meanings as Rebecca’s poetry pivots upon desire and upon lack.

With her high-country childhood it is not surprising the back blocks feature in some poems. The magnificent and utterly surprising ‘Dairy queen’ begins in the milking shed with an image of a shedhand:

 

you’re the other shedhand on the early morning shift

and you work shirtless

under your heavy rubber apron

which I appreciate from behind –

muscles moving under your tan

perspiring          glossy as a cold can of golden pash

unfortunately the overall effect is ruined

by your bleach-blonde dreadlocks             Grinch fingers

dyed greenish by weeks of cowpat splashback

 

Lust makes way for private musings on love and sadness, on loving people for their sadness and equally resenting a desire to be loved despite internal sadness. I am out of the cowshed into the secret moment, the little confession on the power of trust and tenderness: ‘all summer / I’ve been skittish    and gentle    like a puppy / saying hello by resting my whole mouth around your hand but not biting’. This sweet piquant moment is like a eyecatching flash before we return to the cowshed, the sexual pulls, and an image of the speaker in a water trough, bathed in barley seed and molasses.

I am also entranced (held in the grip of) by ‘Add penetrant to preferred broadleaf herbicide & devastate the wildflowers’. The poem brings the rabbit-infested, lupin-covered Mackenzie Country into sight by interweaving opposing views, both opinion and what you frame in your camera lens. Driving through the beauty in this poem is to drive through the Mackenzie basin with reactivated eyes:

 

as the lupins bloom out the summer in their splendid blushing colonies

both the planters of lupins & their weedkiller neighbours insists

that nature should take its course

but they can’t agree on what nature means:

conserving shrivelled unpalatable tussock or letting slip

the lupine war on the landscape

 

Rebecca’s poetry has such potency the poems stick to your skin and you carry them all day, reflecting back on the twisty turns, the compounding rhythms that act as both torrent and ripple, the bits that make little bites which get you thinking and feeling. For a small cluster of poems to do this is astonishing.

 

A welcome return, AUP New Poets 5 delivers three poets who fit together beautifully. Their writing is complex, unafraid of feeling, physical, invigorated and invigorating. Yet each poet offers a distinctive voice that is highly addictive; it is like getting to swim in three very different locations with three very different impacts on your body as you move. I can’t wait for the next volume (it’s in the pipeline) and I can’t wait for debut collections from these three fresh voices.

 

 

 

 

Poetry Shelf review: Starling 8 Winter 2019

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Read the journal here

I have poetry interviews on the go, poetry reviews on the go, a leaning tower of poetry books to read (this morning it toppled), questions for me to answer for my new books, a study that needs sorting after four years of intense work ( it needs to be like the clean sheet before I begin again), a house that needs spring cleaning, a veggie garden that needs weeding, fruit trees that need planting, novels that call to be read, doodles that need doodling ….. and after being awake for hours with the marine forecast and Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s pilot memoir on RNZ National all I feel like doing is making a lemon honey and ginger drink and reading the brand new Starling.

Starling is edited by Starling founder Louise Wallace and Francis Cooke and publishes the work of writers under 25 which is a very good thing. Starling always exposes me to new voices that I am dead keen to read more from.

This issues includes the work of 20 writers, an eye-opening interview with Brannavan Gnanalingam and the extra cool cover art of Jessica Thompson Carr. It is women rich, there is fire and cut and lyricism. I loved every piece of writing – no dull grey spots. Just an inspired and inspiring celebration of what young writers are doing

 

Here are a few tastes to get you linking.

Tate Fountain is a writer, actor and student in Auckland. Her tour-de -force poem ‘Dolores’ busts up form, ‘you’,  expectation and what good is poetry. It gently kicks you in the gut with ‘ashes in the back of a car’ and shakes your heart with ‘maybe craft is love and love is attention’. The pronouns are adrift as the lines stutter and break;  F Scott Fitzgerald makes an appearance, and Kandinsky. Sheez this poem electrifies. I am now on the hunt for Tate’s Letters; she describes it ‘perhaps [..] blasphemously as an extended chapbook’.

Nithya Narayanan is currently doing a conjoint degree (BA / LLB) at the University of Auckland. Her poem ‘Hiroshima’ held me in one long gasp as the mother / daughter relationship links the title to the final ‘bomb’ stanza. This is confession at its most radioactive (excuse the pun) with a rhythm that pulls and detail that hooks.

Rose Peoples is a student at Victoria University. Her poetry has appeared in Mimicry and Cordite. Her extraordinary poem ‘The Politics of Body Heat’ begins with a woman pegging washing on a line, then moves through cold and sexism, female syndromes and disappearances. You just must read it.

Think –
Have they forgotten the fear
of a cold hand on the back of the neck?
The dread of an icy whisper?
Remember this –
It is easy to disappear in the cold.

 

Morgan McLaughlin is an English lit graduate and describes herself as a fierce feminist. It shows in her poem ‘1-4’, four prose-poem pieces that subvert numerical order as clearly as they lay down a challenge to patriarchy. The writing is lucid, sharp as a blade and deliciously rhythmic.  I would love to hear this read aloud. I want to read more.

Meg Doughty recently completed an Honours degree in English at Victoria University of Wellington. She says she is a reactionary writer who is fascinated by the everyday mystic. Her poem is like two heavenly long inhalations that pick up all manner of things, herbs, birds, cats, fire, and I am caught up in the idea of poetry as breath (again, see today’s Herald!!). Then I reach the end of the poem and here is the poet breathing:

I stir
hover over the steam
and breathe in
I know how to live in this world

 

Mel Ansell is a Wellington poet whose brocade-like poem ‘Cook, Little Pot, Cook’ (I have used this term before) shimmers and sparks with surprise arrivals as I read. Ah poetry bliss where food and love and place and home rub close together.
Rebecca Hawkes is in the recently published AUP New Poets 5 with Sophie van Waardenberg and Carolyn DeCarlo. She has a cluster of poems here that show her dazzling word play, the way images and detail build so you are swimming through the poetic layers with a sense of exhilaration (it was like that when I heard her read at the launch). Her poetry is so on my radar at the moment.

I want to read more from Danica Soich.

Joy Tong is a Year 13 student at St Cuthbert’s College. ‘Tiny Love Poem‘ is pitch perfect.

Hebe Kearney is from Christchurch but is currently studying to complete her Honours in Classics at the University of Auckland. Her poem ‘Bukit Ibam, 1968’ is so divinely spare but opens up inside me, like an origami flower that unfolds family:

a story in a cage. dad,
you recount my grandmother
through the mosquito netting baking
tiny raised cakes.

 

Thanks Louise and Francis. This is a terrific issue. Now I need to head back to my long list of jobs to do before I head back down to Wellington for National Poetry Day.