Tag Archives: Robyn Maree Pickens

Poetry Shelf Lounge: Robyn Maree Pickens’ Finland Residency – a poem, an interview, photographs

Flaunted temporality

It is a rare winter      the blood of the earth runs unfrozen

The coldest thing is this peach & passionfruit juice in a glass bottle

I open it & take a sounding dive into you  through

pinked granite, epipelagic ocean rifts & twenty-eight lost seasons

I’m back on that dusty strip between the disused train station

& the eroding coastline where we practiced chi gong

& the ocean gulped & purged our broken teeth & awkward outs

One summer’s day we cupped a warm peach in our hands &

meditated on the distillation of sun as dust peeled the pyramids

In divinity pleats the sun magnetised the seed’s first stretch

into light & between the movement of thought & the movement

of growth there was no paralysis until we held all the sun

that had ever shone & uncupped into an orchard in a disorder

of tongues & disrobing & grasping & pressing & scent & stick

the consistency of sun-hot bruised fruit    pinnately veined 

Robyn Maree Pickens    

my accommodation on the day I left (28 February)

The interview

What three words come to mind when you think of your Finland experiences:

nourishment / squirrels / ice

Did you know anything about Finland before you went?

Initially nothing more than generalised projections of Nordic countries: wintry yet cosy inside, great jerseys, fish, forests of evergreens, sleek design, sauna…

Can you introduce us to the residency please?

You get off a local bus on the side of the highway in the midst of bare, flat farmland in southwest Finland, and are greeted by Iiris who takes you a short distance in a minivan to Saari Residence, which used to be a manor. It now supports two-month individual artist residencies for eight practitioners at a time, while collective residencies are held over the summer months. The invited artist is there for eight months. During the time I was at Saari, the practitioners included dancers/choreographers, filmmakers, a composer, an artist, and a PhD student.

Were you located in one place or did you travel around?

Just in one place.

What struck you most when you arrived and settled into the residency?

So many things! The level of care we were given, the seriousness with which we, and our projects, were treated, the incredible warmth inside, amazing welcome dinner and weekly lunches made by a local chef, and the smoothness of understated wealth.

Did you travel with predetermined writing plans?

Yes, I submitted a proposal centred on an eco-phenomenological response to place and climate as a source for a collection of poems nine or ten months before the actual residency. I selected the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months of January and February as my first option because I was aware that snowfall has been reducing over the past decades, and it was starting to feel like an increasingly rare experience. But to fly to the other side of the world… It was becoming harder and harder to justify flying, and it seems even more absurd now with Covid. Yet the pull of difference is still strong.

Did the place change what you had planned?

It did, but in the almost year long interval between proposal and residency, I had become seduced by Hannah Arendt’s concept of amor mundi (love of the world) and her definition of the Latin phrase Amo: Volo ut sis which is translated either as ‘I love you: I will you to be,’ or ‘I love you: I want you to be.’ Arendt writes, ‘[i]t is the affirmation of the other who is loved for his [sic] own sake and not as an object of desire… not “I want to have you” or “I want to rule you,”[1] and I wondered if this could shape an ecopoetic and ethical relationship with the rest of nature. So I read quite a bit of Arendt.

Ironically, it was also one of the warmest winters, which in the warmer southern region of Finland still means approximately (or at least) thirty centimetres of snow over those first two months of the year. While there was some snow and plenty of frosts and ice, it didn’t last that long. So if I had been fixed on my original proposal, I would’ve had to have dealt with absence, or partial absence, which could’ve been interesting as well.

Where was your favourite place to write?

There was a desk and table in the living room of my apartment (which was originally the farmhands’ building), but I always worked at the table because it looked out onto a stand of trees, and there were squirrels leaping from branches and racing up tree trunks.

What did you love most about the experience?

The quality of T I M E and the feeling of being cared for. The people I met. And being continuously warm inside when it was cold out.

Did you have any epiphanies? Life or writing?

I experienced a deep, platonic connection with the invited artist Essi Kausalainen that was more than shared interests, values, aesthetic sensibilities, and ethics. We continued the conversations we had at Saari via email, some of which you can read here

Was there something you missed about Aotearoa when you were there?

The diversity of plants and the sound of native birds. And kombucha.

What books did you take?

CA Conrad’s three most recent collections (A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon 2012, Eco Deviance: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness 2014, While Standing in Line for Death 2017), Mal: a journal of sexuality and erotics: Plant Sex, Anne Carson Decreation, Sappho Come Close, Ocean Vuong Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Kaveh Akbar Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Max Ritvo Four Reincarnations, Lucie Brock-Broido Stay, Illusion.

I am incredibly grateful to the Kone Foundation who fund Saari, the staff at Saari, the other residents (their personalities and creativity), and all the other sentient beings: birch and pine trees (and their mycorrhizal synergies), pack ice, migratory birds, and squirrels. Thank you!

[1] Tatjana Noemi Tömmel, ‘Vita Passiva: Love in Arendt’s Denktagebuch’, in Artifacts of Thinking: Reading Hannah Arendt’s Denktagebuch, ed. by Roger Berkowitz and Ian Storey (New York: Fordham University, 2017), pp. 116, 117.

Robyn Maree Pickens is an art writer, poet, and a critical/creative PhD candidate in ecological aesthetics at the University of Otago. Her poetry is forthcoming in Southword, and has appeared in Empty Mirror, Into the Void, this gender is a million things that we are more than, Peach Mag, SAND Berlin, amberflora, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Matador Review, Jacket 2 (US), at ARTSPACE, Auckland, in the Brotherton Poetry Prize Anthology published by Carcanet Press and in Fractured Ecologies. Website Twitter: @RobynPickens

my accommodation (four individual apartments in what was originally the farmhands’ building)

my accommodation

the barn, communal area, and studios

pack ice at the nearby inlet

pack ice at the nearby inlet

Poetry Shelf classic poem: Robyn Maree Pickens picks Joanna Margaret Paul’s ‘For Felix’


for Felix (1981)


a black shawl over a chair

& the corner

composed itself.

the light came from outside

& delayed/on the


& behind the oak trees

1 2 3

a grey stripe

is a tennis court

& men have

white shirts only

& sometimes


while the ball


thru trees

keeps the moon

in motion.


Joanna Margaret Paul


from like love poems: selected poems (Victoria University Press, 2006)

Posted with kind permission from JM Paul estate



Robyn Maree Pickens:

Recently I had the opportunity to write a review of Louise Menzies’ exhibition In an orange my mother was eating at Hocken Collections, Dunedin for The Pantograph Punch. Menzies, the 2018 Frances Hodgkins Fellow, produced an exhibition that foregrounded overlooked works by three artists, Frances Hodgkins, M.C Richards, and Joanna Margaret Paul. Of the three artists Paul seems to have been the most influential. This is evident in the enigmatic exhibition title In an orange my mother was eating, which is itself the title of a poem by artist and poet Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003). Published in 1981 on the occasion of the exhibition Mothers at the Women’s Gallery in Wellington, the poem records a dialogue between Paul’s daughter Maggie, and her friend Charles when they were five years old. In this poem Maggie and Charles spark off each other all the possible places they could have been born, including: “in a mirror / in a hot fire / in my gym / in my brain / in your hat.”[i] As engaging as this poem is—showing Paul’s attunement to and valorisation of her children’s world—I want to discuss another poem by Paul, one that invokes her interdisciplinary practice that included poetry, drawing, painting, photography, and film. The poem I have chosen is called for Felix and is published in like love poems edited by Bernadette Hall (Wellington: VUP. 2006, 99).

I chose for Felix because this poem has an extraordinary poetic breadth. While it is decidedly and primarily a poem, for Felix could also be a cinematic vignette, a black and white photograph, a series of graphite drawings, and a loosely gestural painting.

The corner is agentive; it has composed itself with a black shawl over a chair. In contrast to the black shawl, daylight is introduced and delayed on the slender stems of blue flowers and oak trees. From inside, the poem looks out to a tennis court in the distance (a grey stripe). The sport evokes male tennis players who again are viewed from a distance (& sometimes / arms). This distance, and the object and arc of the tennis ball lend their likeness to the moon, which Paul figures as batted between spheres, or tennis players. Paul charts this course from corner to cosmos with incredible lightness, a few sure brushstrokes, a gently panning shot. This lightness is accented formally with the short lines, lower caps throughout, ampersand symbol, forward slash, numbers, and a casually abbreviated word, “thru.”

I chose this poem partly in sympathetic response to a comment by arts writer Eleanor Woodhouse, who in a recent article primarily on Paul’s experimental film wrote, “yet the effect of dispersed critical attention—a little within the field of literature, a little within art, a little within film—isn’t additive; perversely, the effect is even subtractive.”[ii] Woodhouse’s observation—that writing done in silos on an interdisciplinary artist can be diminishing—has stayed with me. And I am conscious that writing about Paul’s poetry in a poetry forum could also be problematic. That is why I chose for Felix for its potentially “interdisciplinary” qualities, and gestured towards other possible resonances of this poem in other mediums. But it is only a gesture.

Paul was an interdisciplinary artist from the early 1970s to her premature death in 2003. In the early decades of her career she was “interdisciplinary,” or postmodern, before such a position was recognised and understood in New Zealand. This is partly why her presence is under-recognised in all the disciplines she worked in and across. Also she was a woman. In her introduction to Paul’s poems (to return to this particular discipline), editor Bernadette Hall writes:


The academic and literary worlds of the 70s were dominated by brilliant young men for

whom women might well be the Other, the Lover, the Muse. But not the Poet. Attempts

to express real womanly experience or the domestic were most likely to be sidelined as

trivial, hysterical or hormonal.[iii]


Paul was triply marginalised, as a woman, a boundary-crosser, and for her predominately everyday subject matter. This short piece introduces one of her poems and makes an attempt to validate a multi-disciplinary artist who has been neglected from several canons because she didn’t fit the circumscribed model. Call it another (small) effort towards feminist retrieval and recirculation.



[i] From In an orange my mother was eating, a digital video work by Louise Menzies in an exhibition of the same name. Hocken Collections, 16 February – 30 March 2019.

[ii] Eleanor Woodhouse. “The Transcendent and Domestic in Joanna Margaret Paul’s Films.” Contemporary Hum 19.04.18. https://www.contemporaryhum.com/joanna-margaret-paul-film-programme

[iii] Bernadette Hall. like love poems. Wellington: VUP (2006): 10.



Robyn Maree Pickens is a PhD candidate in ecological aesthetics at the University of Otago. Her poetry is forthcoming in Peach Magazine and has appeared in SAND, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Matador Review, Jacket 2, and at ARTSPACE. Her poetry criticism is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal and has appeared in Rain Taxi and Jacket 2. She was a finalist of the 2018 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize judged by Eileen Myles, and winner of the takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize 2018.

Joanna Margaret Paul (1945-2003), poet, painter and experimental filmmaker, was born in Hamilton. She graduated from the University of Auckland with a BA in Philosophy and English, and Elam School of Fine Arts. She was awarded the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship (1983) and the Rita Angus Residency (1993). During her lifetime she published several poetry collections while a range of her poems were showcased in the posthumous like love poems, edited by Bernadette Hall. Her debut collection Imogen was awarded the PEN Best First Book Award for Poetry. (1978). After her death the Wellington City Gallery exhibited her artwork in Beauty, even 1945-2003 with an accompanying book of poems.


Victoria University Press author page












A conversation and poem from the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize Finalists: Robyn Maree Pickens



Robyn Maree Pickens.jpg




Urban planning


Before we came to this country

there would’ve been another name

for the Spectacled Flying Fox

(an endangered bat).


I never understood how she could

disparage the indigenous people

yet work long nights giving out free food & bibles

(to the Aboriginal homeless & street children).


Some groups, she says, have taken

the rainbow as their symbol

without knowing its true meaning.

Instantly I want to cover myself with Pride tat

loll in the refracted light where the rainbow meets the mangroves

& hold my girlfriend

(the speed of coloured light).


After a day with her

hordes of yellow crested white cockatoos

descend cawing to roost in the crowns of brittle ribbonwoods

(their guano is killing the trees).


Aboriginal people were sleeping amongst the tropical vegetation

outside her hotel, she tells me. The council raked between the dense weave

collecting bedding & feces which were left to dry before removal

(the maintenance of urban planning).


The plaque in the hotel acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land

pays respect to the elders throughout the ages

but does not name the people, the mob, the community

(a sea-swimming turtle angles towards the milky way).


It is 5:30pm at the bus stop, a drunk man attempts to attack

two women. No one bats an eyelid. Outside my hotel

it is a person I discover, not a machine, breaking down, rupturing

(I remember that under blue light veins are not visible).


The tiny ants come into my hotel room

appearing first on the white bathroom tiles

to run over my bathroom toe & later my bedroom ear lobe

(you and I were kissing but some countries cut that out).


©Robyn Maree Pickens



A conversation


If you were to map your poetry reading history, what books would act as key co-ordinates?

Three books in particular come to mind: The Limits by Alice Miller (2014), Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (2016), Big Energy Poets: Ecopoetry Thinks Climate Change edited by Heidi Lynn Staples and Amy King (2017).


What do you want your poems to do?

I want them to do whatever they want to do, so I try not to impose on them too much.


Which poem in your selection particularly falls into place. Why?

Each poem responded to a specific moment or set of circumstances, but I am not sure that there is one that particularly falls into place.


There is no blueprint for writing poems. What might act as a poem trigger for you? 

Probably like most people it comes down to time. Either I am almost inadvertently quiet for long enough so that I can listen for a word, phrase, response, or I actively make time to write. Sometimes of course there is an event or experience that eclipses whatever else I am meant to be doing. A residency with a generous stipend would also work wonders.


If you were reviewing your entry poems, what three words would characterise their allure?

Ecological, political, caring.


You are going to read together at the Auckland Writers Festival. If you could pick a dream team of poets to read – who would we see?

Ocean Vuong, Kaveh Akbar, Alice Miller, Talia Marshall (Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne ō Wairau, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Takihiku), CAConrad, Lucas de Lima, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Adam Zagajewski, Emer Lyons, Hana Pera Aoake (Ngāti Raukawa, Tainui), and if I could raise the dead, Janet Frame.



Robyn Maree Pickens is an art writer, poet, and curator. Her critical and creative work is centred on the relationship between aesthetic practices and ecological reparation. Robyn’s poetry has appeared in the Australian eco-poetic journal Plumwood Mountain (2018), and U.S. journals Matador Review (2017), water soup (2017), and Jacket 2 (2017). Her most recent work was exhibited at ARTSPACE, Auckland in March 2018. Robyn’s poetry criticism has appeared in Rain Taxi (2018) and Jacket 2 (2018). Currently Robyn is a PhD candidate in ecological aesthetics in the English Department at the University of Otago, and an art reviewer for the Otago Daily Times, The Pantograph Punch, and Art News.


The four finalists will read from their work at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 20 May, 3.15-4.15pm in Aotea Centre’s Herald Theatre. Free event, all welcome.

Sarah Broom Poetry Prize page.

Congratulations! Sarah Broom Poetry Prize finalists 2018


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Sarah Broom Poetry Prize Finalists 2018

We are delighted to announce four finalists for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize in 2018.


Stuart Airey is a poet with a day job as an optometrist, which involves using the logical, scientific part of his mind. He describes poetry as “letting me explore all the other bits”.  Stuart began writing poetry a few years ago; these poems are as yet unpublished, but they have been performed in his local church. Though he has been living in Hamilton for many years now, Stuart feels an increasingly strong call from his Christchurch roots and his resonance with loss. Poems allow a part of him to look up at the Port Hills, walk along leafy Saint Albans, and gaze longlingly out at the Sumner surf.


Jane Arthur was born in New Plymouth and lives in Wellington with her partner, baby and dogs. She has worked in the book industry for over 15 years as a bookseller and editor, and is a founder of the New Zealand children’s literature website The Sapling. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University, where her supervisor was Cliff Fell, a 2017 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize finalist. She also has a Diploma in Publishing from Whitireia Polytech and a Master’s in English Literature from Auckland University. Her poems have appeared in journals including Sport, Turbine, Ika, and Sweet Mammalian.


Wes Lee is the author of Body, Remember (Eyewear Publishing, 2017), Shooting Gallery (Steele Roberts, 2016), and Cowboy Genes (Grist Books, University of Huddersfield Press, 2014). Her work has appeared in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2018, New Writing Scotland, The London Magazine, Landfall, Poetry LondonIrises: The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize Anthology 2017, and many other journals and anthologies. She has won a number of awards for her writing including the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award; the Short Fiction Writing Prize (University of Plymouth Press) and the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award in Galway. Wes is currently working on her third poetry collection, By the Lapels.


Robyn Maree Pickens is an art writer, poet, and curator. Her critical and creative work is centred on the relationship between aesthetic practices and ecological reparation. Robyn’s poetry has appeared in the Australian eco-poetic journal Plumwood Mountain (2018), and US journals Matador Review (2017), water soup (2017), and Jacket 2 (2017). Her most recent work was exhibited at ARTSPACE, Auckland in March 2018. Robyn’s poetry criticism has appeared in Rain Taxi (2018) and Jacket 2 (2018). Currently Robyn is a PhD candidate in ecological aesthetics in the English Department at the University of Otago, and an art reviewer for the Otago Daily Times, The Pantograph Punch, and Art News.

The four finalists will read from their work at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 20 May, 3.15-4.15pm.  Guest judge Eileen Myles will introduce the finalists and announce the winner.


The judge:

Eileen Myles is an American poet and writer who has produced more than twenty volumes of poetry, fiction and other works. Their poetry collections includes I Must Be Living Twice (selected poems) and Not Me, and they are the author of Inferno, a novel detailing the hell of the life of the female poet. Myles has been awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction, four Lambda Book Awards, and numerous other awards and fellowships. Fellow novelist Dennis Cooper has described Myles as “one of the savviest and most restless intellects in contemporary literature”.

A southern poetry reading and poem sampler: Carolyn McCurdie on Rhian and Robyn





Rhian and Robyn

You know that something is going on when the café is not just packed, but has a crowd three-deep along the back wall. The Dog with Two Tails Café and Bar in Dunedin is usually full for the Octagon Poetry Collective’s monthly readings. But for the March readings, I was the host, and I knew that the word had gone out. I knew that people were juggling dates in their diaries to be there. They’d told me. And the reason was the same for all – Rhian Gallagher.

I was as aware as anyone that Rhian hadn’t read in public for a while, and so was feeling chuffed that she’d accepted my invitation to be one of my two featured poets in March. My second guest was Robyn Maree Pickens, a young poet, less well-known, but with a growing history of publication and a growing local following. Some of the crowd had come to hear Robyn as well.

From a host’s point of view, one of the many advantages of featuring much loved poets, is that other poets turn up in numbers, and the quality of the open mic readings is pretty impressive. This Wednesday night, it was great. We encourage new readers. Established poets also take their turn at the mic and set a standard that lifts everyone’s game. Over time, you can hear wobbly beginners develop confidence and an individual, deft use of words.

I divided the evening in two. After the first half of open mic readings I introduced Robyn. When I’d invited her to read, she’d expressed doubts that her work was ‘good enough’. I had no such doubts. She’d also said how nervous she was. Well, on the night, it didn’t show. Her poise was flawless, or looked that way to an outside observer. The standard of her poetry, and the way she presented it earned well-deserved hearty applause from a poetically discriminating crowd. Robyn Maree Pickens. Watch out for that name.

Then more open mic readers, a break, and time to introduce Rhian. People settled. People hushed. Rhian has a kind of reserve about her. She will undoubtedly think this report is over-blown. It ain’t. Her voice is quiet, measured, and the reserve means that she almost removes herself, and the words take over. And suyes. Rhian Gallagher is an exceptional poet. She finished reading. No one wanted to leave.


Carolyn McCurdie 2017


Into the Blue Light

for Kate Vercoe


I’m walking above myself in the blue light

indecently blue above the bay with its walk-on-water skin

here is the Kilmog slumping seaward

and the men in their high-vis vests

pouring tar and metal on gaping wounds

the last repair broke free; the highway doesn’t want

to lie still, none of us want to be

where we are exactly but somewhere else

bending and arrowing

the track a tree’s ascent, kaikawaka! hold on

to the growing power, sun igniting little shouts against my eyeballs

and clouds come from Australia

hunkering over the Tasman with their strange accent

‘get out the sky mate!’ I’m high as a wing tip

where the aches meet the bliss

summit rocks exploding with lichen and moss –

little soft fellas suckered to a groove

bloom and bloom – the track isn’t content


©Rhian Gallager 2017


All the way


To whet a structure like this:

a temple; a palace; a tomb;

I bring my roosting being down

from an adjacent planetary system,

and feel the dew lining each blade

of grass.


I offer fresh pineapple chunks

and pointy rose quartz crystals,

twelve distinct species of lichen,

and a harvest of fine salmon bones.


I bend unpruned effusion; quiver

like a minnow free; become human sap

that slips out the side of the mountain.


I smell what bees taste; feel my forehead

crease into the occasional sun; greet

the raindrop that finds my eyelid; trace

the soft down dune of your neck; drift

into immense fields of information:

microbial, arboreal, mycorrhizal. Palpating

organs that bring salt to the pore; lift

heat from the asphalt; hold the glisten

in an ear of corn.


Till we are limbed-loose and I live all

the way through to you; tendered

to the meat-earth; to the black peat;

the mantling mica, oracular bracken, ur-apple.

Craving, lifting into this flowering temple.

with an end, flax rattling their sabres,

tussock like miles of heads

drying their hair in the stiff southeasterly; the track wants to go on

forever because it comes to nothing

but the blue light. I’m going out, out

out into the blue light, walking above myself.


©Robyn Maree Pickens