Tag Archives: spring season

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Peter Ireland picks Bill Manhire




I don’t know where the dead go, Kevin.

The one far place I know

is inside the heavy radio. If I listen late at night,

there’s that dark, celestial glow,

heaviness of the cave, the hive.


Music. Someone warms his hands at the fire,

breaking off the arms of chairs,

breaking the brute bodies of beds, burning his comfort

surely to keep alive. Soon he can hardly see,

and so, quietly, he listens: then someone lifts him

and it’s some terrible breakfast show.


There are mothers and fathers, Kevin, whom we barely know.

They lift us. Eventually we all shall go

into the dark furniture of the radio.


©Bill Manhire from Lifted (Wellington: Victoria University Press, )



Note from Peter:

Between the earth and sky of my 1960s Ashburton was the radio; a New Zealand-made Ultimate complete with earth and aerial wires. I remain in the dark about what you were to do with the earth, but the aerial provided passable reception when attached to the wire wove base of my bed.

The Ultimate was a budget model, suffering in comparison with those radios with a short-wave function that I coveted, but I should have known better than to paint it white in a moment of teenage idleness.

In a house without books and lacking the wit to utilise the local library the radio was my source of stories, together with those told by my father and relations.   I went to bed early most nights to listen to the serialisation of books like Nevil Shute’s A Town like Alice, or Alistair Mclean’s Ice Station Zebra and South by Java Head and was transported.

How could one not feel addressed by Kevin?

In this wondrous poem, Bill makes some stabbing observations in that last ravishing verse, about mothers and fathers we barely know, lifting us, and dark furniture of the radio as ultimate destination. Whether the mothers and fathers are truly those we don’t know, or those we did and couldn’t know, I am more saddened than heartened at the thought. As destination I wouldn’t book to go there, but I do keep returning to Bill’s poem and the transcendent possibilities of its ‘celestial glow.’


Peter Ireland works at the National Library in Wellington where, among other things, he looks after the Poet Laureate. And still listens to the radio.

Bill Manhire, inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate, has published award-winning poetry, edited anthologies, written short story collections and founded IIML. Lifted won the Poetry Category in the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book awards.  This year he released a new collection of poems, Some Things to Place in  a Coffin, and in collaboration with musician Norman Meehan, published Tell Me My Name, a book of poem riddles (or riddle poems) set to music.


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Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Ros Ali picks Elizabeth Smither


Spring bulbs

Plant them carelessly. The earth straightens them.
Already they have divided and multiply.
They stand straight up like pencils

among last year’s survivors, also thicker
for a year’s disregard, a feeble weeding
an intention to reform as a gardener

knowing nothing will change: the philosophy
is too broad, too many variants
the huge tree, the little viola

one shivering, the other sending shivering down
on a white head near the ground, sheltering
its tremulousness a little, in its shadow.

©Elizabeth Smither, Night Horse (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2017).




Note from Ros: Delving into Elizabeth Smither’s special new collection, Night Horse, when it was released in June, the poem ‘Spring bulbs’ was an arresting reminder of the fresh green shoots of random bulbs surprising my winter garden, and the all too familiar failure to reform. Significantly, the poem deftly and tenderly shifts its focus, into a deeper contemplation of the vulnerability, beauty and power of the natural world.

Rosalind Ali is a teacher of English and Writing, and Director of Libraries at St Cuthbert’s College in Epsom. She is a member of the Michael King Writers’ Centre Trust and co-facilitates the Michael King Young Writers’ Programme with poet and teacher, Johanna Emeney.


Elizabeth Smither has written five novels, five collections of short stories and seventeen poetry collections, the most recent of which was The Blue Coat (2013).  She has twice won the major award for New Zealand poetry and was the 2001–2003 Te Mata Poet Laureate. In 2004 she was awarded an honorary DLitt from the University of Auckland for her contribution to literature and was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. She was given the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2008. In 2016 she won the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize, New Zealand’s most valuable poetry award, judged by Paul Muldoon, and those poems are included in Night Horse.








Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fan: Marion Castree picks Louise Wrightson


(for Dave Russell)


I have lived on this quarter-acre

of clay longer than the trees.


The tī kōuka are the exception

and they are crumbling inside

their long reptilian trunks.


The elderly kowhai still

conjure up their gold nuggets

but the wood is moody; it sulks

and smolders in the fireplace.


It’s the wood from the big gum

that warms and entertains us;

every night is Guy Fawkes,

all flare, crackle and spicy scent.


Twelve cubic metres of Mac

keep us warm in winter;

there are stashes under the trees

among the pop-up seedlings.


The red eye of the fire

transforms us; we soften

under its gaze, swap news,

try to make sense of things.


Our house started as a cottage

that was sawn in half.


The four rooms were trundled

across paddocks, two at a time,

and dumped here on a slope.


The floors were tawa boards,

the walls were lined with scrim

and newspapers from 1886.


I won’t get started on the renos

but one of our many builders

came from Bucharest.


Dave thought he was a con

because his apron was so new

it creaked and his tools

were sharp and oiled (like him).


He muttered pisses of vood,

bluddy selly pisses of vood

because the houses in Romania

are made of brick or concrete.


He didn’t show for work

one day: he just rang and said

vood is too much feedle.


It can be—but when we ripped

up the cork tiles in the kitchen

and found the floor was matai

a friend said wistfully;

I’ve always wanted

to be that sort of person.


I’ve lived here forty years—

Forty years and not yet found 

a cure for being human—

James Keir Baxter wrote that;

he lived next door for a while.


This table I write on is rimu;

it hosts a kauri salad bowl,

steak knives with olive handles

and ironwood salad servers.


At a very posh party I saw

a woman help herself to some

decorative, coloured wood

shavings in a bowl and scatter

them over her chicken salad.


I watched, mesmerized,

while she chewed them up.


I should have told her the truth

but she had eaten them

by the time I remembered—

Better a cruel truth than a

comfortable delusion—

Edward Abbey said that;

I wish he’d lived next door.


Anyway, here is the thing;

when I am fed into the flames

(inside a plain plywood box)

please think of trees and vood;

they mean the world to me—


Breathe out and in.

Keep warm.


©Louise Wrightson Otari Poems & Prose Otari Press, 2014





Note from Marion: This poem is for Dave Russell and also a love poem to wood and all that it can mean to us in our world, particularly in our home patch. The wood in all it’s manifestations is a pleasure to behold.

I have allowed this poem to idealise home for me. Home of course requires give and take from its people but the presence of wood offers so much unconditionally. This is a magnificent poem, perfect in form and also in parts, very funny.

Marion Castree is a Wellington bookseller, NZ book buyer and staff manger at Unity Books.

Louise Wrightson has an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from the IIML (The International Institute of Modern Letters) Victoria University, Wellington. She lives and writes near Otari-Wilton’s Bush, a 100-hectare reserve of regenerating forest. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals.



















Louise Wrightson has an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from the IIML (The International Institute of Modern Letters) Victoria University, Wellington. She lives and writes near Otari-Wilton’s Bush, a 100-hectare reserve of regenerating forest. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals.

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Elizabeth Caffin picks Allen Curnow


A Busy Port


My turn to embark. A steep gangplank
expects me. An obedient child,
I follow my father down.

It happens that the sun will have topped
a black hill beside the time-ball tower,
and found the spot of a fresh

tear on Bob Hempstalk’s cheekbone, whose wet
red eyes blink back seaward where he leans
for’ard at the wheel-house glass;

one hand wipes an eye, the other shakes
a half-hitch loose, unlashing the wheel.
A man’s tears, obscene to me

caught looking. Too late now. The time-ball
drops. Quayside voices (not for my ears)
discuss the dead, bells repeat

ding-ding across the wharf. Brightwork traps
the sun in brass when I next look up,
following my father down,

who made the trip himself many years
past. The old rust-bucket gets up steam.
Frequent sailings from where we live.


Winched aboard still warm over the for’ard
hatch the morning’s bread hangs by a breath
of its own. It smells of bed.

An enriched air. The urinal under
the wharf drip-feeds, the main steam below
sweats. Darky Adams, deckhand

engineer stoker bangs his firebox
open, slings in a shovelful, slams
the insulted flame back home,

thick acrid riddance topples the way
smoke rolls by its own weight, in an air
that barely lifts, off the stack.

One jump clear of the deck the plank dips
with a short uneasy motion, deep-
sea talk to the paddler’s foot

out of my depth, deeper yet, off the Heads,
our Pillars. Pitching like a beer-can.
I’m hanging on tight, can’t hear

clashes from the stokehole for the wind
yelling, crossed on the wheel he’s yelling
back, ‘Ay, bit of a stiff breeze’.

Eyes that last I saw in tears can read
abstruse characters of waves, on course
between them, our plunging bows.


©Allen Curnow Early Days Yet (Auckland University Press, 1997) published with kind permission from the Curnow Estate.




Note from Elizabeth: This is one of the wonderful poems recalling moments of his childhood that Allen Curnow wrote in the last years of his life. They move me especially because I too had a Canterbury childhood and can also remember sailing out from Lyttelton through the Heads, ‘our Pillars’. Curnow captures the excited anticipation of this birthday treat with his father but at the same time the child’s perplexed and disturbed glimpses of grief and death. (It seems the skipper’s wife has just died.) The voyage becomes the voyage we all make from birth to death; he ‘follows [his] father down’ not only into the bowels of  ‘the old rust bucket’ but also towards death, ‘who made the trip himself many years/ past’.  The famous time ball drops as it always did at 1pm but also to signal the passing of time, the course of his life and of his father’s. The two perspectives of small boy and elderly poet merge; precise details of sight, smell, sound blend with an almost mythic vision in this great poem.

Terry Sturm’s biography of Allen Curnow, Simply by Sailing in a New Direction, and Curnow’s Collected Poems were published at the end of September.


Elizabeth Caffin was formerly director of Auckland University Press, which
published Allen Curnow’s poetry over many years. She is also the co-editor,
with Terry Sturm, of the recently published Collected Poems of Allen Curnow (Auckland University Press, 2017).

Allen Curnow (1911 – 2001) published numerous poetry collections – from his debut with Valley of Decision (1933) to The Bells of St Babel (2001). He also produced criticism, plays and anthologies that contributed at both national and international levels. Among numerous awards, he received the Commonwealth Prize for Poetry and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

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Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Dionne Christian picks Bernard Gadd



for the fortieth season
three silver birches
one after the other
suddenly turn
sun’s light green

all evening
between silver birch leaves
firework trails
and in the quiet house
a smell of smoke

luckily birch
bark or leaves
are useless
for writing on
and later regret

ah comrade
Odysseus, you and I
forever stare
through birch branches
at Sirens and seas

will we fell the brich
taking sun
from the house,
the huge tree
old as us?

we keep a big yard:
lawns where infants run,
“forests” of shrubs,
birch trees for cats
and children to climb

each pulse
is a triumph
just when encouragement’s
needed the silver birch
shows green hearts

catching my breath
watch layers of clouds
behind the tree
rush this way or that
or drift in icy calm​

©Bernard Gadd, Ash Moon Anthology, Eds. Alexis Rotella and Denis M Garrison (Baltimore, Maryland: Modern English Tanka Press, 2008.




Note from Dionne: This is a poem which might not, at first, speak of spring. It talks of being old and melancholy, watching the world pass by through windows, and yet each spring the birch trees come to life and renew your own spirit. these birch trees were outside the study where my father-in-law worked and kept his extensive collection of poetry books. When the house was sold, the first thing the new owners did was to chop them down.


Dionne Christian is the arts and books editor at the New Zealand Herald newspaper. She has worked for 30 years as a journalist on staff and as a contributor for magazines and newspapers; she has a keen interest in literature, history and the arts.

Bernard Gadd wrote poetry, fiction, plays, and was a reviewer. He was also a teacher, editor, anthologist, and publisher known for his pioneering work in the classroom, championing the use of local stories to inspire students.

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Laurence Fearnley picks Rhian Gallagher


Smartest Buttercup in the World

Mt Cook Lily


You cup rain in your leaves

(sometimes a tramper will drink from you)

when the rocks heat up

you close each underside shutter

so as not to lose a drop

– there’s a whole brain inside your leaves –

opening below, closing above.


Tall as a small tree and what a flower you make:

pearl set off by your intelligent leaves

more brilliant than snow –

you do not melt in the day but hold sway

in the lethal alpine terrain

born of rock dust and the furnace summers

and the deep-minus winters.


They called you a lily but you are

buttercup; they put your portrait on postcards

and stamps and the side of planes –

fame has not gone to your head,

you are an altitude above it all

– the largest buttercup in the world

the smartest buttercup in the world.


©Rhian Gallagher, Freda du Faur: Southern Alps 1909 -1913 (Otakou Press, 2016)



Note from Laurence: Dunedin-based poet Rhian Gallagher was selected for the 2016 Printer in Residence programme run by the University of Otago’s Otakou Press. Rhian produced a suite of poems based on Australian mountaineer Freda du Faur, the first woman to reach the summit of Aoraki/Mount Cook, in December 1910. She was not the first female mountaineer in New Zealand but she was young and single and this created problems because she lacked a husband or chaperone – and therefore spent days and nights alone in the company of her male guides. Freda may have been a ‘lady’ climber but she was also the greatest amateur mountaineer in this country during the summer seasons she spent at Cook, and she became famous.

‘The Smartest Buttercup’ – the opening poem in Rhian’s collection – has also faced problems with identity, representation and fame. Called the Mt Cook Lily by most, this buttercup grows in the alpine regions and has adapted a unique way of surviving the freezing cold and summer heat. Anyone walking up the Hooker Valley in early summer will know the Mount Cook Buttercup: it’s a beautiful flower that stands its ground.

Laurence Fearnley lives in Dunedin. In 2016 she was the recipient of the Janet Frame Memorial Award and the NZSA Auckland Museum Grant and she is currently researching and writing a book of essays and stories based on landscape and scent, divided into top notes, heart notes and base notes. For the past year she has also been co-editing an anthology of New Zealand mountaineering writing with Paul Hersey. This work has been generously funded by the Friends of the Hocken Collections and will include non-fiction, archival material, fiction and poetry and will be published by Otago University Press in 2018.

Rhian Gallagher first collection, Salt Water Creek (Enitharmon Press, 2003), was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for First Collection. Her second collection, Shift, (Auckland University Press 2011; Enitharmon Press, UK, 2012) won the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. Gallagher’s most recent work Freda: Freda Du Faur, Southern Alps, 1909-1913 was produced in collaboration with printer Sarah M. Smith and printmaker Lynn Taylor (Otakou Press 2016).

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Nicola Strawbridge picks Dinah Hawken


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©Dinah Hawken Small Stories of Devotion Victoria University Press, 1991




Note from Nicola:

Dinah Hawkin’s Small Stories of Devotion was the first collection of contemporary NZ poems that had a big impact on me as a young woman. The collection was published the year I went flatting for the first time.  My flatmate had a copy, and I was attracted to this beautiful small blue book and it’s pocket-sized format. I hadn’t been exposed to much contemporary poetry, and it was a revelation to find work that spoke to me so directly. ‘Her Body’ is all tangled up with that time in my life where I was emerging and coming into myself as an adult. A time when I was encountering lots of new ideas about how to live, how to be in myself and in my body. This poem in particular spoke to those themes, as well as being a gateway into the world of NZ poetry. Now I read it and appreciate a layer of memory folded into its mix including a fondness for that younger woman and her questioning self. I love the poem’s rhythm, the place of the poem playing itself out, that long beach, those sandhills, the island and its two clouds. It surges and retreats, echoing the waves and the words lapping up the beach and across the page.

I enjoyed its anger (“accumulating & accumulating”), its passion and release.  I was spending a lot of time myself walking on beaches while having big existential conversations with my new friends about the world we wanted to live in, and about our sexuality and gender politics in particular. ‘Her Body’ encapsulated that exploration and the feminism that was so often at the heart of our conversations. I was she, the powerful sensual voice of the poem, the woman abandoning herself into her body. And alongside all that, entwined, the natural world, informing everything, settling on everything. A potent combination and one I’ve continued to enjoy in Dinah’s work.


Nicola Strawbridge is Programme Director of the Going West Books & Writers Festival.

Dinah Hawken is a poet who lives in Paekakariki on the Kapiti Coast. Her seventh collection of poems, Ocean and Stone, was published by Victoria University Press in 2015.


Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Paul Diamond picks Gregory O’Brien


Ode to the Sarjeant Gallery


Likened, on occasion, to a boom-box on a grassy shelf,

Sarjeant Gallery, I think of you mostly


as a tin

in which the finest bread

is baked, with your airy dome


and ample intelligence, your south-facing wall

on which the paintings of Joanna Paul


and Edith Collier sing to the river birds,

and are sung back to.


A steadying influence,

above which clouds like

thought balloons moor a while


and around which gather

the moonlit streets of Whanganui.

On your lawn this morning I watched


a film crew being washed down-river, an empty shoebox

blowing towards Moutoa Gardens – but all I could hear


was a distant burbling of the mayor

and his accountants

marooned in the small towns


of their suits, nose-deep in their yellowing pages,

in whose minds


the Whanganui River would be diverted

so it comes out

at Patea, and by whose good judgement


Pak ‘N Save would be enlarged

to enclose the whole town,


and the marble wrestlers in the Sarjeant foyer, this goes

without saying, would be replaced with


jelly. In the council chambers, a hundred years

of Whanganui River fog would seem


to have obscured the mayoral judgement,

the mist outside

clearing to reveal, on the forecourt,


a bullroarer and baby’s rattle – emblems of the town’s

leadership – and towering above it all,


our observatory

of earthbound constellations,

your patient dome, looking down on


the dust-gatherers and nay-sayers, the elected

and the naturally selected. It all comes down,


like the Whanganui River,

to this. And every city

has its limits.



©Gregory O’Brien  NZ Listener April 2-8 2005 Vol 198 No 3386


Note from Paul:

I’m writing a book about Charles Mackay, a former mayor of Whanganui, who was a driving force behind the building of the glorious Sarjeant Art Gallery in Whanganui. In 1920, Mackay shot D’Arcy Cresswell, who threatened to expose the mayor’s homosexuality unless he resigned. Subsequently, the mayor’s name and title were erased from the Sarjeant Gallery foundation stone (but restored in 1985). Spending time at the Sarjeant Gallery and getting to know its staff and collections has been one of the highlights of my research visits to Whanganui. Greg O’Brien’s poem came out of an unhappier, divisive time in the life of the city and the gallery. More than a decade on, fundraising for the gallery redevelopment plan is well underway, and there’s greater awareness of the significance of the Sarjeant building and its collections for the nation, as well as Whanganui. I like to think Charles Mackay would be proud.


Paul Diamond (Ngäti Hauä, Te Rarawa and Ngäpuhi) was appointed as the inaugural Curator, Mäori at the Alexander Turnbull Library in 2011. He worked as an accountant for seven years, before switching to journalism in 1997. He is the author of two books (A Fire in Your Belly, and Makereti: taking Mäori to the World) and has also worked as an oral historian and broadcaster. In 2017 he was awarded the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency, to work on his book about former Whanganui mayor Charles Mackay, who was shot in Berlin in 1929.


Gregory O’Brien is a poet, essayist and writer, currently finishing a non-fiction book, Always song in the water–New Zealand art, letters and the environment. ‘Ode to the Sarjeant Gallery’ was written at a time when the Sarjeant was getting a very bad rap from the local council under mayor Michael Laws. It appeared in the Listener and hasn’t surfaced again until now.

Poetry Shelf – Spring Season’s poetry fans: Steve Braunias picks Vincent O ‘Sullivan

To Miss the Point Entirely

It isn’t good for a writer to live in a country
where a cut-price banker with his next-door smile
is all we have to throw stones at. How one
envies a Chilean say who could dream of knifing
a home-grown monster, the English even
who might smash a TV any day of the year
when a government of schoolboys quiver as if Matron
threatened to punish arse.
‘A country without snakes!’
as tourists at times are amazed to hear. ‘Then what
do people here die of?’, another traveller once
asked me. ‘Of being ourselves,’ I told him,
‘the big tourist pictures falling off the wall with mould.’

©Vincent O’Sullivan


Note from Steve: This is such a fun poem, a genuine LOL. There are some great examples of comic verse – CK Stead’s collection “Dog” is full of them, and I’ve always loved one by Kevin Ireland about a friend who made a bust of his head; it ends with the jokeshop word, quite properly in capital letters, “BOING”. Vince’s poem also works as political verse. I don’t think there are that many good examples of that. They’re often too emphatic, too one-dimensional, just a rant. Vince applies a nice, gentle touch on the poem from beginning to end. I really love the space on line 9, when he introduces a new slant on the poem. It’s like a paragraph break and it allows the poem to take a kind of breath. I love everything about the poem, really, right down to the final line, which is a deeply mordant, black-comedy punchline. This poem can do no wrong.

SB works as a staff writer at the New Zealand Herald, and as the books editor at the Spinoff, where he chooses a new poem every week as the Friday Poem. Publishing verse each week was something he introduced right from the very start of creating a books section at the Spinoff.


Vincent O’Sullivan, poet, novelist, playwright and short story writer, was the New Zealand Poet Laureate from 2013 – 2015. His latest collection of poems, And so it is was published by Victoria University Press in March.

Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Morrin Rout picks Fiona Farrell


No words to start. No
names. Trees learned
the land by touching
it with dumb fingers.

The names flew in
and hovered, light
as mayflies, skimming
the river of the white
calf, the hill of gorse,
the crag of the cat.

They shifted shape,
became other things.
The river is black
now and deep, the
hill is the hill of
hanging, and the
cats have been
butted from the
crags by shaggy

As my house
stands on the lip
of the bailer of a
black canoe.

And on a heap
of broken timber.

And on a green shoot.

And on the rocky
point of a man.

Or named Long Bay,
plain words,
printed out
in daffodils.

But already, look:
they’ve multiplied.

Gone wild.

Danced over the lines.
Invaded the field.

They are popping up
in odd places, as if they
have forgotten completely

how to spell.


©Fiona Farrell, The Pop-up Book of Invasions (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2007).


Note from Morrin: Fiona’s poem continues to delight me and reward each reading. I too live on Banks Peninsula and feel at times precarious. Words and names mutate and the landscape continually reminds us that we are newcomers and much has gone before. I love the image of the daffodils being bidden to spell out the name of the bay but over time breaking free and defying human intent.

Morrin Rout has co-produced and presented ‘Bookenz’ on PlainsFM 96,9 for over 20 years and is the director of the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

Multiple award -winner, Fiona Farrell writes across a variety of genres; she has been a finalist in all three categories at the NZ Book Awards, for fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The critically acclaimed, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire, the factual half of a two-volume work, examines the rebuilding of a city through the twinned lenses of non-fiction and fiction. The accompanying novel, ‘Decline and Fall on Savage Street’ has just been published.