Tag Archives: Saradha Koirala

Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Saradha Koirala on Teaching Poetry


In Praise of Teaching Poetry


English teachers are often condemned for ruining poetry for everyone. For making poetry seem harder than it needs to be, flogging a dead verse and generally turning people off it. We’re told we teach too much haiku, too many “dead white guys” or that we look too closely for meaning that’s probably not actually there. If teachers are destroying your love and enjoyment of poetry, then I’m deeply sorry. On behalf of all teachers everywhere, I apologise because I can assure you, the last thing we’re trying to do is ruin something we hold in such high regard.

Most English teachers I know are secret poets anyway, many with our own published work. We have our favourite poems that we like to wheel out on special occasions, we recite lines to each other over mugs of instant coffee in the staffroom, we gasp involuntarily when we see Keats or Plath or Eliot on the latest book list. If anything, we’re trying not to appear too excited, too beguiled by the magic of language and metaphor and that we get to read, pore over, discuss it in our working days.


When I started my current job two years ago, I was sent the outline for the coming term. Every year level in English was studying poetry in some form. We had lovely NZ/Australian writer Lia Hills as our poet in residence doing workshops with the Year 7s and 8s, culminating in a poetry evening for parents. The Year 10s were writing a poetry portfolio based on close studies of the work of Darwish, Neruda, Transtromer, Akhmatova, Yeats, Heaney, Hughes, Bobbi Sykes, Eliot and Dylan Thomas. I added a few more women to the list – Grace Taylor, Grace Nichols, Dorothy Porter, Kate Tempest, Sarah Holland-Batt – and couldn’t believe my luck.

But what of the students? I’ll admit some struggled to write their own poetry. Lia Hills talked a lot about gathering “raw material”, having something to say and crafting words purposefully. Students learnt about the power of line breaks and moving a poem away from a narrative retelling to something more suggestive. Many of them created things you probably wouldn’t have expected from 13 year olds.

The Year 10s completed their portfolios and while some relished the opportunity – compiled their work into titled anthologies and ordered them carefully beneath beautifully designed covers – others squeezed out the bare minimum. But isn’t that just teaching for you? My main concern was, having studied poetry for a term, did they now hate it?

Poetry, like Maths, is often one of those things that young people have a fixed mindset about. They might have encountered something tricky early on and decided it wasn’t for them, but the teacher’s job is to open their minds and to help them find a way back in. It’s therefore almost surprising when I hear students say they love poetry and enjoy reading, studying and writing it. It seems I too have been conditioned into thinking teaching poetry is an up-hill battle.

I’m very lucky to teach at a school that values poetry. We have staff members with PhDs in poetry and translation, we are writers, we are daily readers of poetry. In previous schools, I’ll admit I’ve had to go down the haiku route a bit, but for some young minds having a formula, a rule and something to count out on fingers while writing makes the whole process more manageable, while not detracting from the magic of language.

I started this year again with poetry all round. The Year 7s wrote their own version of Carl Sandburg’s ‘Wilderness’, the Year 8s studied a range of poetry about ‘outsiders’ and created amazing digipoems with stop motion animation and cleverly edited soundtracks using software I had never seen before. My Year 11 Literature class enthusiastically read the work of Gwen Harwood. I didn’t once hear anyone groan at the idea of poetry and can only hope that when they encounter it in another form next year and the year after that their eyes will light up like a newly recruited English teacher looking over her poetry-filled syllabus.



Saradha Koirala’s latest collection of poetry is Photos of the Sky (The Cuba Press, 2018). She teaches English and Literature in Melbourne.


Screen Shot 2019-06-21 at 8.55.36 AM.png





Poetry Shelf audio spot: Saradha Koirala reads ‘Snapshot’

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 3.56.08 PM





Saradha Koirala reads ‘Snapshot’  from Photos from the Sky (Cuba Press, 2018)



Saradha Koirala is a writer and teacher living in Melbourne. Her book Lonesome When You Go won a Storylines Notable Book Award. She has published two previous poetry collections.







A book launch, a reading and a new poem: Saradha Koirala’s ‘Confession, confessed’


Confession, confessed


I’ve been the secret and the secret-keeper

the one from whom the secret is kept.


I’ve been a curiosity of connections that don’t concern me

the cause and effect of all that is curious.


I’ve been right and I’ve been wronged

I’ve been righteously wrong.


I’ve been a cut-out shape where I used to be seen

and I too have cut fleshy shapes from my life.


I’ve been the problem and the solution

the floating object of insomnia, rage


a presence off limits

that has in turn been there for me.


I’ve been the reason and I’ve been the excuse.

I’ve been falsely accused, rightly refused.


I’ve been the obsession

the obsessed.


I had an alibi.

I am the reason you needed an alibi.


©Saradha Koirala, from Photos from the Sky (Cuba Press, 2018)


November 5th Saradha is launching this new collection tonight at The Thistle Inn in Wellington at 5.30 pm (3 Mulgrave St, Thorndon, Wellington). Launched by the wonderful Tim Jones. Come early to the marquee area at Thistle Inn for a glass of bubbly and some vegetarian snacks, stay for the poetry.

Then on Wednesday 7th Nicola Easthope will join Saradha at Unity Books in Wellington at noon until 12.45 to celebrate their two new books with Cuba Press, Photos of the Sky and Working the Tang.

Saradha Koirala is a writer and teacher living in Melbourne. Her book Lonesome When You Go won a Storylines Notable Book Award. She has Published two previous pietry collections.


Cuba Press page


Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 3.56.08 PM.png




Saradha Koirala’s Tear Water Tea arrives wrapped in blue tissue

978-1-927242-04-9 978-1-877448-42-3

Saradha Koirala  Tear Water Tea  (Steele Roberts, 2013)

Saradha Koirala’s second collection, Tear Water Tea, arrived in my post-box in style this week. It was wrapped in blue tissue, with a tracing-paper tag embossed with with a bee. Imagine if all poetry books were delivered to us like this. The book, itself, is beautiful to both hold and behold.   Delicate black & white drawings of flowers scroll about the powder blue — and then you shift from skull to lego block to bee to teapot (or whatever route your eye might take). David Randall Peters, the artist, also did the faint, vein-like, pool-like drawings scattered inside.

Saradha’s new book flutters between the physical world (a land-locked bird, an escaping dog, a sheetless bed) and a more ephemeral world (blown kisses, things in the air, melting photographs, smoke, ink tears, vapour). What emerges in this poetic movement between what is observed physically, intuitively and at times unfathomably are the strong and lyrical threads of love, home, and place that glue the collection together. It is as though the poet is inviting us into her family album, a poetry diary of sorts, and each poetic entry is lovingly crafted.

While much of the collection adopts a quiet, almost conversational tone (back to Andrew Johnston’s notion that much of New Zealand poetry is talky), the collection as a whole offers the variations of a musical piece. Certain phrases ring deliciously in your ear (‘colourless in corners and stiff’ ‘I pull my temper’). Analogies surprise (‘and yet months pass like clouds’). In some poems, the words accumulate in lush patches of alliteration and assonance (‘Arat’). Then there is the way everything comes together in the one shimmering line (‘no need to read the residue/ of forests strewn like tea-leaves on the lawn’).

The opening (and title) poem is a delight (‘Tear Water Tea’). It lays down three slender strands within its slender form, and you cannot help but swim through the gaps. Poetry so often comes alive out of juxtaposition. Here, storytelling is placed next to grief which is placed next to daily routine. There is accruing mystery about the boy and his imagined wolf, a story that gets repeated in order perhaps to dislodge grief. There is the rip that is also sorrow,  that a cup of tea might wash away (there, there). There is the kettle put on — oh, the salty tears that masquerade for water — as you speak and as you listen. There is this strand collapsing into that strand, and so on and so forth. Poetry can take many forms and employ language in a thousand ways, but there is something immeasurably satisfying about small poems that are economical, graceful, mysterious (Bill Manhire is a whizz at this!). Thanks to the publisher and the poet I have reproduced the poem below.

Saradha’s second collection is a larger version of the small poem that introduces it: pleasurable, contoured, refined. A little gift, indeed.

Tear Water Tea

Over and over they told me the story:

a boy, an imagined wolf.


As if sorrow can be likened to mischief.


I hold the teapot in both hands

another satisfying, salty brew.

©Saradha Koirala Tear Water Tea (Steele Roberts, 2013)


Saradha resides in Wellington and has taught English in secondary schools since 2005. She is of Pakeha and Nepali descent, and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. Her new book was recently launched at the fabulous Quilters Bookshop in Wellington. Her debut collection was entitled Wit of the Staircase. See below for further links.


Saradha Koirala website

Steele Roberts

Winged Ink Tuesday Poem

An interview with Tim Jones

New Zealand Poetry Society on Wit of the Staircase