Tag Archives: Stuart Airey

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Given Poems for National Poetry Day 2020 – the winners

GIVEN WORDS thanks everyone who sent their poem with the five words chosen from Las Moscas (‘Flies’) by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. They received 144 poems and have made a selection from these to publish here on Given Words. The winning poems have been selected by the poets Mikaela Nyman, Jordan Jace and Charles Olsen. (You can read about them here.)

You can read the judges’ comments here.

GIVEN WORDS is delighted to announce the winning poets. The winner of Best Poem is Stuart Airey for his poem I am a Blue Whale Heart, and the winner of the Under-16 category is Sarah-Kate Simons for her poem Attic. They will receive books courtesy of Landing Press and The Cuba Press respectively as well as being translated into Spanish and published on Palabras Prestadas. More details of the book prizes can be found here. Congratulations from Given Words, Landing Press and The Cuba Press.

Below are the winning poems. You can read the judges’ selection of the rest of the poems from adults here and from under-16s here. All the entries had to contain the words: letter, childhood, fly (the animal), greedy and dream.

I Am a Blue Whale Heart

In this current re-make of me I am becoming the heart of a blue whale
I dreamt myself an angel but this wasn’t enough
He was wondrous but stuck
like a fly in amber

You can hear a whale heartbeat from 2 miles away
which is the distance I want to be from unleavened nurse smiles
and the choice of ensure or tube

No tampering with the drip lines
Friends I am un-distending
I wonder as my zipper finds free air
whether Eve had to eat the whole apple

I liked my angel
counting calories and grams together
his feather vane minutiae

A whale heart aorta is as big as a dinner plate
Why does food have such gravity?

My angel’s face was an open letter
to each whispered treatment
our greedy midnight exercises

A whale heart – blue – is as heavy as a Lion (adult, male)
which is exactly what you need
for beautiful dying

I wish I could take my angel’s place
sleeve my childhood into the wall

When a whale dives deep its heartbeat slows
slows in the black to 2 beats per minute
just 2 beats left to still to marble


Stuart Airey, Hamilton


all the days of childhood collected in sepia
photographs in the crevices of
the boards watching the greedy dust
descend to settle on their faces

age has curled up their edges into love hearts
like the shape she used to replace the dots on
her i’s; tiny lopsided hearts that flood the pages
of the stack of letters resting in the bottom of
the rickety suitcase, its faded travel stickers

peeling off and flaking away like the nails on fingers
pressed to an anxious mouth and these funny little
dreams of things swirl up like moths from the piles
of outgrown clothing and fill the air with their wing powder
turning the musty scent of forgotten things into a phantom

of lily of the valley; the lid of the harpsichord crammed against
the broken dollhouse is propped open on a sewing box
and in the murk of memories there’s a song tiptoeing up the keys
— or is it just the bluebottle fly scratching its wings
against the windowpane and whining to be set free


Sarah-Kate Simons, age 15, Canterbury

Stuart Airey lives in Hamilton with his wonderful wife and has three children who have mostly left home. He writes poetry as therapy or possibly for more perplexing reasons. He has been a Sarah Broom finalist and was shortlisted for the Julia Darling Memorial Prize. Stuart has been published in the Molotov Cocktail Journal with a short story and third place in the Shadow Poetry Award. These successes have managed to pay for several cups of coffee. He has dabbled in multi-media performance poetry and dreams of being a jazz pianist. His poem entry for given words is an honest attempt to enter the thoughts of those suffering from anorexia as well as being more widely read.

Sarah-Kate Simons is a 15 year old home-schooled girl from rural Canterbury. Her day job consists of schoolwork and volunteering at her local wildlife park, where she gets to walk the llamas. She loves to go on biking and tramping holidays with her family, and tries her hand at all sorts of arts and crafts. She is also the proud owner of a very naughty puppy named Missy.
Sarah-Kate eats, breathes and sleeps writing in all its forms—poetry, flash fiction, short stories and novels. She can often be caught talking to thin air as she tries to figure out time travel for her latest novel or peeking into nooks and crannies in search of her next poem.

A conversation and poem from the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize finalists: Stuart Airey




Horse on the Ice


at first horse and rider rode easily

it was cold and bright across the ice

the frozen lake

we can’t feed you all

you’ll have to go to New Zealand

the next ride was still clear

a little mist hugged the surface

perhaps joinery carpentry building

then a little icy fog formed on the brow

some sort of motorcycle racing

a fall at night and a broken wrist

permanently numb fingers on one hand

now the rider dismounted halfway across

knelt down to get a closer look

if you peered carefully there were fine cracks

a web of spidery blue veins

a small stone bridge in the Lake District

uncle Franks boat accelerating an arc

to test the waterskier

but not last week last month last year

the horse and rider snorted steam

riding faster the crack of hooves on ice

the sure clip of memory

its web of fissures and creaking pressures

he was sure we were sure i was sure

we were all nearly quite certain

it could take the weight


©Stuart Airey



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

In primary school I loved Louis Untermeyer’s Golden Treasury of Poetry especially the limericks and ‘The Highwayman’. There’s a fair bit of a lull after that until my brother passed away and then I turned a lot to The Oxford Book of English Verse – particularly Thomas Hood’s ‘The Sea of Death’. A few years back I discovered the Bloodaxe ‘Staying Alive’ trilogy which opened up a whole new world of modern poems and poets, particularly shorter ones. (Poems that is). I started writing more seriously about this time. Favourite writers would be Carol Ann Duffy, Wislawa Szymborska, Stephen Dunn and especially Alden Nowlan – a Canadian genius and earthy, accessible poet.


What do you want your poems to do?

I think that first of all I write for myself. I have discovered that quite often the poem is telling me something about myself that I couldn’t get to another way – a sort of self-therapy I guess. If I’m writing about an idea or a feeling it’s a way of turning it over and looking at all the edges. Sometimes it’s the poem that tells me how I’m feeling. After that though I definitely enjoy sharing (mostly) the poem with others and seeing if it touches some vital part of being human. It’s a real kick when others find layers of meaning that I was unaware of or hadn’t really intended. Some are written just to be enjoyed, a bit of a laugh or even more visceral.

A few to provoke though this rarely raises much angst.


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

I find this quite a difficult question. As none of my poems have (yet!) been published I had quite a few to select from for the competition. I have submitted to a few journals and competitions, as yet unsuccessfully, so I found it really hard to gauge which poems I should put in – actually I think I got a little cavalier with the entry. I think ‘Mercury’ fell into place as the last to be picked as it’s one of the earliest poems I wrote and got excited about. I love the word Mercury so much I’ve written several poems all with that title but the one I’ve included is the original.


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

I’ve found that poems come to me in quite different ways. Usually the best or at least easiest to write is when a first line comes out of the blue, closely followed by the last line. I’m not sure exactly what the prompt in these instances is, whether a scene or a feeling or just a thought. Perhaps a glimpse into someone’s life. Then there are poems that start with an idea or a feeling I want to convey. These are a little harder to write but if the idea or feeling is quite solid they carry through and if they don’t they often morph into something else. I love it when the poem ends with so much more than it started with. I have also written a few poems to a particular theme (one was borders) – these are usually a little slower to start but once momentum kicks in they get there. There’s a lot of polishing that goes on. It’s a real high when a poem is finished.


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

So I think you mean if I could detach myself from the poems in a sort of impartial way? In that case variety, accessibility and aftertaste.


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?

Carol Ann Duffy, Paul Muldoon, Carolyn Forche, Stephen Dunn, perhaps John Burnside. Would have loved to have heard John O’Donohue live but at least we have Youtube.




Stuart Airey graduated in Optometry from Auckland University in 1986 and has worked in this role for over 30 years. He also has a post-graduate Diploma in Theology from Laidlaw College. He is married with three children and lives in Hamilton. Apart from dabbling in short stories in high school Stuart began writing poetry more seriously after the Christchurch earthquake which resonated with personal loss in his family. Stuart has enjoyed performing some of his poetry in a series of dedicated evenings featuring a mix of drama, audio-visual, lighting and special effects. His poems are currently unpublished and he feels he is very much on the threshold of an unknown yet inspiring path.



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. 

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”.