Tag Archives: Steven Toussaint

Poetry Shelf interviews Steven Toussaint



The same differently

and always already:


after writing laïcité

new laity like birdsong.


from ‘Pickstock Improvisations’





Steven Toussaint, born in Chicago, immigrated to New Zealand in 2011. He has studied poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the International Institute of Modern Letters and philosophical theology at the University of Cambridge. He has published a chapbook of poems, Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014), and a debut collection, The Bellfounder (The Cultural Study Society, 2015). His writing has also recently appeared in Poetry, Commonweal, The Spinoff, Sport, and The Winter Anthology. He has been recognised in the past few years by residencies at The University of Waikato, the Michael King Writers’ Centre and with a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship. He is currently pursuing graduate study in philosophical theology at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Victoria University Press recently published his second full poetry collection, Lay Studies.

Steven’s poetry entrances me on multiple levels; initially through the exquisite musical pitch and counterpoints, and then in the way heart and mind are both engaged. His sumptuous poetic terrain is physical, elusive, stretching, kinetic, mysterious, difficult, beautiful. Hearing the poetry read aloud is utterly transporting (listen to Steven read ‘Aevum Measures’).


The conversation


Paula:  When did you first start writing poetry? Did you read poems as a child?

Steven:  Poetry wasn’t a big part of my childhood. It didn’t feature in my family’s reading life, and it seemed to be a genre that teachers avoided whenever possible. But Bob Dylan sang about Verlaine and Rimbaud and made a music video with Allen Ginsberg. So when I was sixteen I sought these poets out at the Borders Books in Orland Park, Illinois. As a consequence, my first writings were Beat pastiche. I didn’t show them to anyone. Many of my friends were in punk rock bands and wrote lyrics, which seemed like a more socially defensible practice somehow. I didn’t know any other poets until I went to university.


Are you still listening


to poets

who listened


to Coltrane


laughed and framed

vocations around that


brazen ascesis?


from ‘Yes or No’ 



Paula: Can you pick a few key moments in your life as a poet? What poets have affected you both as a reader and a writer?

Steven:  There are far too many to list exhaustively, especially as your word ‘affected’ includes, alongside my favourite writers, a number of poets who have inspired me negatively or ambivalently – just as important a list in terms of shaping my sense of poetic possibility. But certain writers and moments stand out.

Early on, Ginsberg loomed large. In my first teenaged fumbles, I tried to imitate his long, anaphoric lines without truly appreciating their provenance in Whitman and Blake. As an undergraduate at Loyola University in Chicago, I was introduced to literary modernism and came to admire the economy of expression in Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. I learned that Ginsberg knew them personally and considered them as father-figures. This was my first intimation that poetry had its own version of apostolic succession.

In my years at Loyola, I was impressionable and soaked up as much knowledge as I could from teachers, visiting writers, and friends about the cottage industry of independent poetry publishing in the US: hundreds of small presses and little magazines, each with its own house style and canon of influences. I tried on a lot of hats. This continued and intensified at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I wrote under the sign of Frank O’Hara for a time. David Berman, Frank Stanford, and Alice Notley came and went as models. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’d encounter new poets and find myself unconsciously emulating them. My familiarity with the landscape of contemporary poetry was growing but I didn’t have a strong enough foundation in the sources.

It wasn’t until near the end of my MFA that I began to read the ‘Objectivist’ and Black Mountain poets seriously and began to discern a set of basic, shared assumptions about what a poem should be. Despite wide variations in style, each of these poets committed him- or herself to a rigorous interpretation of Pound’s concept of melopoeia: The poem, aside from everything else it may be, is first and foremost a sonic event in language. These writers self-consciously traced a common lineage back to Pound and Williams, and further back to Elizabethan, Medieval, Roman and Greek lyricists. I wanted in!

Pound, H.D., Louis Zukofsky, Lorine Niedecker, George Oppen, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan became especially important to me, and I began to seek out contemporary poets who shared this pantheon. Ronald Johnson, Gustaf Sobin, Karin Lessing, and Frank Samperi are probably the most conspicuous tutelaries of my first book, The Bellfounder. And to this day, many of my favourite living American poets descend from this tradition, among them John Taggart, Nathaniel Mackey, Fanny Howe, Pam Rehm, Peter O’Leary, Joseph Donahue, Jennifer Moxley, Devin Johnston, and David Mutschlecner.

Since moving to New Zealand in 2011, my horizons have broadened. It’s easy to take one’s national biases for granted, even easier if you’re an American. My interactions with NZ writers, often with strikingly different tastes and canons, have both tempered my prejudices and forced me to reflect critically on why I value certain poetic qualities over others. The ‘Pound tradition,’ for example, hasn’t made nearly as big an impact here as it has in the US. Michele Leggott is my favourite exception. Her poetry – not to mention her critical work on Zukofsky, Lola Ridge, Eileen Duggan, and Robin Hyde – has taught me a great deal about what a ‘late modernism’ in New Zealand might absorb from domestic traditions, a major consideration as I wrote Lay Studies. John Dennison’s poetry, whose sources are mostly homegrown (Bethell, Curnow, Baxter), has been equally important.

Work and study opportunities have taken my wife and me in recent years to the UK for extended periods of time. From Black Mountain I inherited a partisan prejudice against T.S. Eliot, which had made much of contemporary British poetry unintelligible to me. But I have been steadily reassessing Eliot’s work and consider myself a reluctant convert. As such, I’ve lately been exploring a tributary of British poetry whose wellsprings are the history of that land and its ancestral religion. David Jones’s The Anathemata and his essays on sacramental poetics have become indispensable resources. So too the work of Kathleen Raine, C.H. Sisson, Christopher Logue, Rowan Williams, Thomas A. Clark, Alice Oswald, and Toby Martinez de las Rivas. But the greatest revelation has been Geoffrey Hill: a staggering, dangerous genius who has blown my preconceived notions about poetry to smithereens.

I have been narrating my shifting loyalties within modern poetry, but I find that my work begins to asphyxiate whenever I am too long away from Dante, the Provençal troubadours, and the English Metaphysicals.


Paula: Fascinating. I too find my relationships with certain poets and ways of writing poetry shift over time. Two words stand out for me here – ‘sonic’ and ‘asphyxiated’ – because they are key to my reading of your new collection Lay Studies. The aural experience is paramount yet so too is the way the writing is oxygenated, given life. When I listened to ‘Aevum Measures’ I was breathless, in a trance-like state, and felt like I was in a church. The music was the first arrival on my body, the first poetry joy, with the rippling currents of chords and sonic play. Cadence oxygenated me as reader. Were these two factors – sound and breath – significant as you wrote?

Steven: Absolutely. At heart, I’m a student of Pound’s ‘A Retrospect’ and Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse.’ Both of these manifesti, in different ways, ask the writer to strive for an ‘absolute rhythm’ (Pound’s term), a way of discovering one’s own meaning, in a particular poem, by listening attentively, obediently to ‘the acquisitions of [one’s] ear and the pressure of [one’s] breath’ (Olson). Pound elsewhere called this ‘the tone leading of vowels.’ The syllable becomes the basic unit of composition, and the test of the poet’s integrity rests on the integrity of the line (‘the dance of the intellect’ among syllables) and its relationship with other lines. With practice – by writing, by reciting, and especially by studying great poets – I have tried to learn how to intuit whether this integrity is present, in my own work and in the work of others: Does the lineation possess that subtle sense of necessity, vitality, earnestness? Or do the moves feel arbitrary, enervated, ‘counterfeit’? These questions are my first principles of composition, my ‘bullshit detector’ or ‘examination of conscience.’

‘Aevum Measures’ isn’t dogmatically Olsonian. It’s written in a fairly regular iambic tetrameter/dimeter, what Olson calls ‘closed’ or ‘non-projective’ verse (with special digs at Eliot). And yet, he may have overlooked the fact that certain ‘hieratic’ or ‘high’ emotions, thoughts, and ends announce themselves to consciousness in ancient accents, declaring their continuity with older forms. Pound understood this, I think, his ‘metronome’ proscriptions notwithstanding. I hadn’t decided on the metric scheme or the repetition of the line ‘abide more tritone idle mode’ in advance. These events emerged ‘organically’ in the process of composition, a teleological tug that made itself heard gradually as a regular pulse.


abide more tritone idle mode

the dominant’s a leaky still


for quiet divination

for every thought

a finger on

the fret-

board’s shifting centre

where nothing dearer

than the pure heart’s

purring minor

requires demonstration


from ‘Aevum Measures’


Paula: When I listen to the ‘regular pulse’ of ‘Aevum Measures’, I am not dissecting its craft, I am feeling its craft like I feel music before I react to other features. The reading experience might be viewed as transcendental – an uplift from the physical world and from routine. I am suggesting I let myself go in the poem. Does this make sense? And is it, on another level, a way of being spiritual in a ransacked world?

Steven: It makes a lot of sense, and I am gratified to hear that you could lose yourself in the music of the poem. What you describe sounds somewhat like Keats’ notion of ‘negative capability.’ That is to say, if the sonic architecture of the poem is doing its job, then the reader is ‘capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’ at the semantic level. Not that the semantic level – what the poem is literally ‘about’ – is insignificant. The music would be thin and feeble without varied syntax, rich diction, logical continuity and metaphor. And yet, the poem’s semantic sense is ‘heightened,’ elevated out of the ‘horizontal’ realm of mere communication, information, or transaction by its participation in ‘vertical’ patterns of sound whose ‘meaning’ is intuitively felt, as a kind of felicity, but cannot be rationally reduced or summarised away.

And you hit the nail on the head when you point to the spiritual implications of this phenomenon. Walter Pater said that all art ‘aspires to the condition of music.’ Over the past several years, I’ve come around to a different a view. While writing Lay Studies, I fell under the influence of a number of Christian theologians of an Augustinian-Thomistic persuasion, especially Catherine Pickstock, to whom one of the poems in the book is dedicated. She suggests that liturgical doxology is the art toward which all others strive, a gesamtkunstwerk performing the narrative of salvation history. As such, the worshipper willingly submits herself to a mode of expression, praise, that is both recollective and anticipatory. The rhythm of liturgy – interpreted as a gratuitous gift, contoured by procession, repetition, and return – offers an implicit critique of the violence, entropy, and fatal self-enclosedness of historical time. I believe poetry can approach liturgy by analogy. A training in prosody might help us to see the world, ourselves, and our speech-acts sacramentally, as vertically conditioned by grace.


Must be a stumbler, bleeder,

as some floccus remains here, carded

into ragged sleeves by barbed wire.

I believe in a God who can learn


to work new spindles, new pupils

uncomprehending the reasons

light rosins in winter, and still

spill clumsily, bleeding.


from ‘Agnus Dei’  97


Paula: Abstract thought and spiritual layerings are so important in the collection – yet so too is physical detail. What attracts you to the arrival of the physical in a poem?

Steven: Chesterton said ‘the greatest of poems is an inventory.’ I’m not sure about that, but I think I know what he was talking about. The poems I most love to read, and try my best to write, are taken up with thingness. By this, I mean they attend to concrete particulars, of the world and of the mind. I mean also that the poem itself can be understood as a thing, a made thing, with a physical, substantial reality of its own.

We seem recently to have entered a phase in the cycle of literary fashion that favours self-expression over thingness. Or maybe the self has become poetry’s privileged thing. On this understanding, the poem is treated as a dispatch from an essential core of selfhood. I tend to think of poetry instead as a species of artefacture, closer to sculpture or musical composition than self-portraiture or memoir. Not that those two understandings are totally incompatible. It’s more a question of emphasis.

And it extends from what I was speaking of before with respect to a liturgical or sacramental understanding of poetry. I follow David Jones here: The poet is a ‘sign-maker’; she uses signs in a particular way, applying uniquely poetic formal pressures upon them, so that they become, in a sense, what they signify. The poetic sign isn’t merely a communiqué; it makes the thing it represents really present. This intensified attention to particular words, particular things – in their horizontal and vertical relationships, in their present and historical denotations and connotations – can be seen as a kind of custodianship. Jones writes that ‘Poetry is to be diagnosed as “dangerous” because it evokes and recalls, is a kind of anamnesis of, i.e. is an effective recalling of, something loved.’ Poetry, as an exercise in loving attention to what is real and lasting, proposes an ethos inimical to a culture of disposability and distraction. These concerns were at the forefront of my mind during the composition of Lay Studies.

So, I suppose the ‘abstract and spiritual layerings’ of the work are indivisible from its ‘physical’ layer. I only have access to the one though the other. To answer your question in an entirely different way, I write poems (hopefully) to be read out loud, declaimed even! The most ‘abstract’ poem becomes a physical reality when recited.


The subtlest consolations

arrive in waves


one had neglected

to observe.


The way children

when they sing

forget to breathe.


from ‘Pickstock Improvisations’


Paula: I find the traffic between the abstract, the spiritual and the physical in your poems both prolific and productive. I also pick up on the phrase ‘loving attention’ because to me that it is a key in your work. Complexity and diverse acts of re-collection are shaped by attentiveness.

Reading the collection is a tonic.

Do you ever wonder, as I do at times, what good poetry is in a world under threat? Does doubt affect you?

Steven: We are living through a time of crisis, and all forms of cultural expression are being subjected to tests of utility. But I think there is a danger in overlooking how this very utilitarian calculus (‘What good is poetry?’) threatens the integrity of language.

Poetry is like a crucible in which the language of the day is subjected to enormous pressures, revealing its volatile constituents: latent histories of usage, repressed subtexts, forgotten connotations, contemporary clichés and dead metaphors, and new possibilities for utterance. Composition is an intuitive negotiation between the intellect, the imagination, and the ear. The will to ‘say something’ is chastened by the demands of form, which can act as an important counterforce to the unchecked ego and its fragile certainties. When poetry is weaponised, as just another mallet in the activist’s bag, I fear it forsakes this more primary function: to keep our language honest.

When I first read your question, I interpreted it as a question about quality: What makes for good poetry in a time of crisis? For me, this is the more important question to ask ourselves now. The past few years have produced some brilliant examples of poetry with explicit political content. They have also produced examples of tin-ear sloganeering, unctuous virtue-signalling, and gross oversimplification of the political paradoxes of our time.

As I suggested before, I think the difference is one of integrity. Good poetry has structural integrity, is well-made. But I also use the word in the sense of ‘responsibility.’ Robert Duncan wrote, ‘Responsibility is to keep / the ability to respond.’ I’d modify that slightly and say good poetry helps its readers to become response-able. It hones faculties we need in order to respond well to the world. And I would say that good poetry makes itself vulnerable to response; it trusts in the reader’s intelligence and curiosity and invites readerly collaboration in the form of further creation and genuine feedback. I think the reason why Dante’s Commedia or Denise Levertov’s post-conversion lyrics from the 1980s, to name just two examples, have served as interlocutors in Lay Studies is because I have detected within those poems this kind of ‘good faith.’ They don’t foreclose or pre-empt my freedom of interpretation. They possess what I would call an active ambivalence as opposed to the passive ambivalence of political quietism (I owe this distinction to long conversations with Auckland-based art critic Anthony Byrt). They are rife with doubt, contradiction, tenuous discovery, and yet both attest to the need to keep making, speaking, and acting in the face of such overwhelming provisionality. We throw the word ‘brave’ around a lot today, but the poems that seem to me to be truly risking something tend to exhibit this character.



Victoria University author page

Karyn Hay in conversation with Steven on RNZ National

Poetry Shelf audio spot: Steven Toussaint reads ‘Aevum Measures’






Steven Toussaint reads ‘Aevum Measures’

from Lay Studies, Victoria University Press, 2019


Steven Toussaint was born in Chicago in 1986. He immigrated to New Zealand in 2011. He is the author of the poetry collections, Lay Studies (2019) and The Bellfounder (2015), and a chapbook, Fiddlehead. His writing has also recently appeared in Poetry, Commonweal, The Spinoff, Sport, and The Winter Anthology. He has been recognised in the past few years by residencies at The University of Waikato and the Michael King Writers’ Centre and with a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship. He is currently pursuing graduate study in philosophical theology at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.



Victoria University Press page

Steven Toussaint in conversation with Karyn Hay RNZ Lately







Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Karyn Hay in conversation with Steven Toussaint @radionz

Screen Shot 2019-07-17 at 9.33.40 AM.png

This is a terrific conversation –  listen here.

Lay Studies VUP

at the Spinoff:  ‘TMI: An essay on contemporary poetry in Aotearoa/New Zealand’

‘This much is obvious: something electrifying is taking place in New Zealand poetry. I became a permanent resident of this country four years ago, and at that time I privately considered verse here to have grown a little stale. While stand-out collections frequently knocked me over – among them Amy Brown’s The Odour of Sanctity (2013), Chris Holdaway’s Six Melodies (2014), and John Dennison’s Otherwise (2015) – my general impression was that a nostalgic suburban quietism had captured the style, tone, and subject matter of New Zealand poetry, calling to mind James K. Baxter’s warning to denizens of this ‘Happy Island’ that ‘one of the functions of artists in a community is to provide a healthy and permanent element of rebellion; not to become a species of civil servant’. Since then, however, a talented cohort of writers in their 20s and 30s, many of them women, LGBTQ, and people of colour, have exploded onto the scene in a searching and incendiary spirit, and have transformed the literary landscape irrevocably.’

Steven Toussaint, from the Spinoff essay


 Lay Studies will be launched at Time Out Bookstore on Friday July 19th 6-8 pm







Monday Poem: Steven Toussaint’s ‘The Neoplatonist Theatre’





In the neoplatonist theatre

audience exists, a couple


of victims of the new

conscription, waiving


all their outrage,

waiting in the cockpit.


One’s a former gallery

serf, feeding frozen


grapes to animals

not born to work


their mandibles that way.

One expresses gently


the gland whence prayers

discharge, a man


who sits and glares

at his companion, lost


in the foreignness

and novelty of names


his gland would praise

but can’t forgive.


Some overeager, out-

of-tune apologist


announces tea

and biscuits in the vestibule.


Neither budge, rooted

in middlebrow certainty


that a single righteous

and timely volume


of samizdat applause, lodged

like a socket wrench


in the uptake, would stay

the launch of a still


more secretive

and stylized soliloquy.


©Steven Toussaint


Steven Toussaint was born in Chicago in 1986. His books include Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014) and The Bellfounder (The Cultural Society, 2015). He lives with his wife, the writer Eleanor Catton, in Auckland.

Poets on Tour: Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan take to the road, July 2017

Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan have written up their poetry road trip. I am so hoping this becomes a thing – two poet friends on tour with new books.    



Flow_cover__41926.1492985261.jpg  The_Ski_Flier__98472.1493171166.jpg

both Victoria University Press, 2017

We’ve known each other since the early 2000s, and both of us have been writing poetry for even longer than that. Some common threads in our work include feminism, social justice, environmentalism, and an interest in the possibilities of form. Over a cup of tea one afternoon in Maria’s lounge we agreed that as we both had books coming out this year, we should go on tour. Maria had been working hard in non-poetry related paid gigs, Airini was battling some difficult personal circumstances, and some time on the road reading with other women poets seemed like just what the doctor (of creative writing) ordered.

Somehow the tour got planned amidst the mad mess of everyday life. Sarah Laing kindly agreed to let us use her drawings for promotional purposes. Airini made a DIY poster with the help of scissors, glue, wallpaper and blu-tack. The word went out. The car got packed.


On Friday 14 July Airini held a book launch for Flow: Whanganui River Poems, at the Whanganui regional museum. Maria was the main support act on the night, reading from her recently-released The Ski Flier (Airini had also read at Maria’s launch a month earlier). Jenny Bornholdt read a poem by Joanna Margaret Paul. Other local booklovers read some favourite Whanganui-linked poems. VUP publicist and talented novelist Kirsten McDougall gave a fantastic launch speech.


Accidental ankh, Dannevirke

In the morning it was coffee, porridge and a quick trip to Whanganui’s famous SaveMart ‘The Mill’. Then onto the back roads of the Manawatu with a battered road atlas and smartphones which were largely ignored. We made it over the Pohangina Saddle, and lunched on launch leftovers in Dannevirke, where we discovered a church with a possibly accidental (we think maybe not) ankh – a perfect opportunity for posing with our books. On to Napier where it appeared we had entered a time warp. Airini’s dirty old Honda suddenly looked new alongside the vintage cars sweeping around the waterfront, driven by flappers and dapper gentlemen. The thought occurred to us that it was Deco weekend.



Beattie and Forbes Booksellers with Marty and Emily

Beattie and Forbes Booksellers is a must-visit independent bookstore near the sea in Napier. They opened up on a Saturday evening so we could read, with Marty Smith and Emily Dobson. Old friends and new turned up, along with members of local poetry groups. It seems that anywhere you go in New Zealand, there’ll be a poetry group of some sort, and a reading will draw at least some of them out of the woodwork. A highlight of the evening was Emily reading a poem owing a debt to her young daughter, called ‘Thea’s ‘gina song,’ which ended ‘It’s a ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-BAGINA!’ Both Marty and Emily are accomplished poets and readers and it was a privilege to read alongside them.



Maria at Waiomu Cafe


Sunday 16th we set off from Marty’s picturesque country house, on our big drive through to Thames. The roads had opened, but were still lined with snow.  We made it to our reading at Waiomu Beach Café with five minutes to spare. The café is in a beautiful spot and draws in regulars driving around the Coromandel coastal road. It’s run by Maria’s cousin Julie, who was an amazing host. Airini also met some extended family members at the reading. More FM were there, and interviewed us. We read in the outdoor courtyard, adjusting our volume according to the passing traffic. Over the road, a cop issued speeding tickets. A kereru landed in a tree alongside. We posed for more book photos under the pohutukawa, took Julie’s dog for a walk, and enjoyed the scenery.



The Big House, Parnell with Tulia and Emma

Thames seems like the kind of place one could stay in forever, but on Monday morning we carried on to Auckland.  We parked the car and went to hear a reading at the Auckland Art Gallery with Steve Toussaint, Simone Kaho, Elizabeth Morton, Johanna Emeney and Michael Morrissey. Everyone read well, but a disgruntled audience member booed, hissed and heckled during question time at the end. Chair Siobhan Harvey did an excellent job of shouting him down. We looked at each other and wondered if this was how poetry readings always went in Auckland. But our reading that evening at the Big House in Parnell, with Simone Kaho and Tulia Thompson, was a very warm and homely affair. Many of the house’s 25 occupants joined us by the fire to listen and talk, and housemate Emma also read some of her poems with us.



Airini at Poetry Live, Auckland


Tuesday night’s gig was Poetry Live, at the Thirsty Dog on K Road. Like the Big House, Poetry Live is an institution that’s been going for decades. We were lucky to be there for the farewell to regular MC Kiri Piahana-Wong. There was a great turnout and the venue and audience were friendly and welcoming. We read by turns in our guest poet slot, feeling like proper rockstars against the backdrop of a drum kit and stage lighting.

By Wednesday we were tired, and ready to head home. We stopped for tea and toasted sandwiches in the Pink Cadillac diner in Turangi. We parted ways at the Desert Road, after which Maria had some variable hitchhiking experiences, and Airini zig-zagged back and forth around the mountains navigating road closures. We’d had a great time and were looking forward to the second leg.


Vic Books in Wellington with Pip and Freya


The next leg kicked off on Friday 28 July with a lunchtime reading at Vic Books. We were joined by superstars Pip Adam, reading from her brand spanking new The New Animals, and Freya Daly Sadgrove, whose poetry is performative and highly entertaining. Maria read her poem, inspired by Pip, ‘In which I attain unimaginable greatness,’ in which the narrator attains superhero powers, achieves amazing feats, and at the end declares ‘This is how I begin. This is my first day.’



Palmerston North with Helen and Jo

Palmerston North City Library on Saturday evening was possibly the highlight of the tour. The library is a great place to read, hosting numerous literary events throughout the year. The big windows feature poems by local Leonel Alvarado, and pedestrians have a way of peering in through the letters, wondering what’s going on in there. We’d decided on a dress up theme of ‘80s trash with our fabulous co-readers Helen Lehndorf and Jo Aitchison, which got us some funny looks in New World, but definitely improved our performances. Helen’s hair was particularly spectacular. We had a small crowd but a great vibe. A kebab and whisky party kept us awake until the wee small hours.



Maria at Hightide Cafe

Helen’s chickens laid us our breakfast, and we revived ourselves with bottomless pots of tea. Maria’s superpowers became evident when she managed to drive us safely to our last gig, Poets to the People at Hightide Café in Paraparaumu. The sun was setting over Kāpiti as we drank coffee and listened to the open mike. Again, this is an event that’s been running for years, and there’s a sense the regulars know and love one another. We went home to a beautiful roast cooked by Maria’s partner Joe. The tour was over, but the fight continues! We had some great conversations in the car over those two weeks, and some good catch-ups with family and friends along the way. There was a lot of fighting talk, a lot of laughter and also a few tears. A big part of the tour was affirming ourselves as poets, mothers and radical women, and by the end of it, our unimaginable greatness was hard to deny.


Airini Beautrais and Maria McMillan, September 2017



my conversation with Airini

my review of The Ski Flier

VUP page for Airini

VUP page for Maria





2017 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellows announced – two poets – Congratulations!

New Zealand poets Steven Toussaint and Gregory Kan have been awarded the prestigious 2017 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship. This is the first time two poets have been the recipients of the fellowship.

The poets will have the opportunity to focus on their craft full-time, with each having a six-month tenure at the Sargeson Centre in Auckland, and sharing an annual stipend of $20,000.

Originally from the United States, Steven Toussaint is looking forward to seeing where the fellowship takes him, as his writing is often troubled by our increasingly digital environment.

“The digital age has opened up wonderful opportunities for new kinds of communication. However, it has also scattered our attention in many different directions. At times I feel concerned that my attention is strained by all the media and digital attractions that exist around me,” he says.

Steven will use the fellowship to work on a new book of poetry, which will consist of individual poems with unifying themes about religious imagination.

Steven’s published works include a chapbook, Fiddlehead, which was published in New Zealand in 2014, with his first full length book, The Bellfounder, published the following year in the United States.

Gregory Kan says the fellowship provides a wonderful platform to help writers gain traction in an unrestrained world of literature.

“The digital age has meant that we have more writing than ever before – it’s a form that was previously only accessible to a privileged group, but is now more pervasive than ever which is fantastic,” he says.

Gregory will be using the fellowship to work on another book of poems. He will be consolidating pieces of already completed work as well as writing new pieces which interrogate the writing of biography and autobiography in this era of overwhelming and spectacular information.

Gregory published his first book this year, This Paper Boat with Auckland University Press, which is on the Okham NZ Book Awards long list for poetry. His work has been published in numerous literary journals, as well as contemporary art exhibitions and catalogues.

Frank Sargeson Trust Chair Elizabeth Aitken-Rose says she is delighted with the calibre of this year’s fellows and is excited to see them take their work to the next level.

“The current technological revolution is shining a light on some wonderful talent we may never have known about before – and this was quite evident in the quality of applicants we received this year,” she says.

“Being a writer in the digital age gives writers unprecedented opportunity, yet this can make it more challenging for writers to cut through and have their voice heard. This is particularly the case for poets, we are very excited to have two poets win the Fellowship this year.

“The fellowship will assist Steven and Gregory in gaining traction in this highly competitive environment, giving them a platform from which they can continue to build their careers and time to dedicate to their projects.”

The fellowship will run from 1 April 2017 to 30 November 2017. Steven will have the first stint at the residence with Gregory finishing out the tenure.

In 2016 the fellowship was awarded to Diana Wichtel and Breton Dukes. Other previous winners include Alan Duff, Michael King and Janet Frame.

The fellowship has been recognising and supporting some of our greatest talents for more than 30 years, says Grimshaw & Co Partner Paul Grimshaw.

“It offers vital support to New Zealand writers to focus, uninterrupted, on their work,” Grimshaw says. “They are contributing to New Zealand’s literary landscape and we are very proud to support them.”

Further information on the Fellowship is available here. Any queries can be directed to Elizabeth Bennie at elizabeth.bennie@grimshaw.co.nz or on +64 9 375 2393.