Tag Archives: Tim Upperton

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Tim Upperton’s ‘Nobody knows’


Nobody knows


Many things make me sad these days,

the days make me sad, how they fade

into night so soon, how today

becomes yesterday, and then

last year, then seven years ago

when my mother died. She never

minded the passing of time,

getting old. Such a beauty she was.

Divorcing at seventy was a surprise.

She used to sing, sometimes, in a high voice,

‘Nobody knows – the troubles I’ve seen,’

and towards the end she’d sing,

‘Nobody knows …’ and then trail away,

and we knew and didn’t know.



Tim Upperton’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published in many magazines including Agni, Poetry, Shenandoah, Sport, Takahe, and Landfall, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011), Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).






Poetry Shelf audio spot: Tim Upperton reads ‘So Far We Went’





Tim Upperton reads ‘So Far We Went’ from A House of Fire



Tim writes:

This villanelle is from my first book, A House on Fire (Steele Roberts, 2009). It was later anthologized in Villanelles (Everyman, 2012). Villanelles are almost always sad (there are exceptions – Wendy Cope has written some funny ones). The repetitions inherent in the form circle, return, like old griefs or regrets. It’s a form that seems – at least to me – in tune with our current moment.

Tim’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published in many magazines including Agni, Poetry, Shenandoah, Sport, Takahe, and Landfall, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011), Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).




Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Sarah Jane Barnett picks ‘The Starlings’ by Tim Upperton


The Starlings


Anger sang in that house until the scrim walls thrummed.
The clamour rang the window panes, dizzying up chimneys.
Get on, get on, the wide rooms cried, until it seemed our unease
as we passed on the stairs or chewed our meals in dimmed

light were all an attending to that voice. And so we got on,
and to muffle that sound we gibbed and plastered, built
shelves for all our good books. What we sometimes felt
is hard to say. We replaced what we thought was rotten.

I remember the starlings, the pair that returned to that gap
above the purple hydrangeas, between weatherboard and eaves.
The same birds, we thought, not knowing how long a starling lives.
For twenty years they came and went, flit and pause and up

into that hidden place. A dry rustle at night, fidgeting, calling,
a murmuration: bird business. The vastness and splendour
of their piecemeal activity, their lives’ long labour,
we discovered at last; blinking, in the murk of the ceiling,

at that whole cavernous space filled, stuffed like a haybarn.
It was like gold, except it was more like shit and straw,
jumbled with their own young, dead, desiccated, sinew
and bone, fledgling and newborn. Starlings only learn

a little thing, made big from not knowing when to leave off:
gone past all need except need, enough never enough.


Tim Upperton
from A House on Fire, Steele Roberts, 2009



Sarah Jane Barnett:

Since I first read Tim’s poem, it’s been my favourite by an Aotearoa writer. When I was a kid living in Christchurch, a hive of bees lodged themselves in our bathroom’s exterior wall. We could see them go in and out through a tiny hole in the stucco concrete. They’d land, pause for a moment on the hole’s lip, and disappear into the hollow. Eventually my parents had them fumigated.

There is so much to admire in Tim’s poem – the vibrating yet unpretentious language; the gentle comparison he creates between the labour of the family who ‘gibbed and plastered’ and the labour of the starlings’ ‘bird business’; his use of the collective noun, ‘murmuration’. I recommend listening to Tim read the poem to really see how good it is.

For me, the emotion of the poem comes from the family trying to ‘muffle’ the starlings. It makes me think about growing up in a house where ‘anger sang’ but was never acknowledged, and the way a child will push their fear and feelings down by concentrating on something else: starlings for example, or bees.



Sarah Jane Barnett is a freelance writer and editor. Her poetry, essays, interviews and reviews have been published in numerous journals and anthologies in Aotearoa and internationally. She has two poetry collections: A Man Runs into a Woman (finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards) and WORK (2015). Her poems often inhabit the lives of others, and ask how we find connection and intimacy when affected by trauma. Her essays explore the multifaceted theme of modern womanhood. Find out more here.

Tim Upperton’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published widely in New Zealand and overseas, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011), Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).












Poetry Shelf talk spot: Tim Upperton on hidden lives


A lifted stone

Much is hidden from us. Behind the smooth, painted and plastered lining of the walls of my living-room, where I sit and write, less than a metre away from me, creatures are stirring, and have their secret life. Sometimes I hear the dry scuttle of a mouse, but other, smaller creatures – woodlice, whitetail spiders, click beetles, ants – these creatures are silent, and seldom reveal themselves. Occasionally I notice a daddy-long-legs swaying slightly in the corner of the ceiling, or, in the early hours, as I trudge to the bathroom, a solitary chocolate-coloured cockroach spreadeagled on the wall, stunned by the light. The borer chews a hole in the skirting board, with only a little brown dust to show for its industry. I imagine it deep in the wood, nestled like a rabbit in its burrow, its scrap of life ticking.

When I was a child I was obsessed with these hidden lives. I would carefully remove the pale, pupating huhu grubs that lay buried in rotting stumps like pharaohs in their tombs, and keep them in jars of damp sawdust until they emerged as winged beetles, still white and frail-looking, their long antennae testing the air. I would turn over planks of wood to see what lived under them, brown beetles, black, shiny, soft-bellied spiders with white egg-sacs, grey hump-backed slugs, orange slimy flatworms. On the windswept beach where my family camped each summer, I would crouch on the reef at low tide, the sea a distant, uneven roar, like traffic, and I would lift the weed-encrusted stones in the rockpools to expose the creatures that teemed underneath. Glassy shrimp, almost invisible, would dart backwards. Brown cockabullies would flash past the cautiously retreating hermit crabs. Anemones would wave their thin arms among the inert kina and cushion starfish. It seemed very strange to me that all these creatures coexisted under the stone, as in a darkened house, in a kind of dormancy, until I lifted the roof and the light fell upon them.

Now, as I turn on the tap to fill the kettle, I hear a gurgling in the plumbing, and I remember the water-supply at the street has been turned off for some hours as contractors are digging a trench for the installation of fibre-optic cable. The cable – really many cables bundled together, each insulated in bright blue sheathing – lies along the grass berm, but soon it will be buried and I will never see it again. Beneath the ground it will ferry data between my computer and the world beyond. The water is back on, and in a sort of convulsion it bursts from the tap, orange with rust, and flecked with clots of green-black algae. And this has always been there, the flakes of rust and the algae, inside the pipe that leads to the tap – if I look closely, I can see a rind of green algae at the spout, surviving despite the chlorine-treated water that rushes through it every day. It has been there the whole time, the outside of the tap is gleaming chrome but this belies what it is like inside, where no light shines, where rust collects and algae grows.

My eldest child, an adult now, writes poems. His poems are sometimes enigmatic, they evoke a feeling, a mood, but I don’t always understand them. I want to, perhaps out of a desire to understand him. It’s as if the poems might reveal to me something about him that is hidden, as if they are a stone that might be lifted. But it’s no good me asking what they mean. He just shrugs and grins. We both know the strangeness of poetry, the impossibility of paraphrase, it’s what makes us come back, to read the same short poem again. There it is, the poem, on the white page with nowhere to hide, yet concealing some of itself. And this is true of all the poems I love most. I memorise these poems, even as they withhold their meanings, to take them into myself. They feel a part of me, just as my liver and kidneys and heart are parts of me, hidden inside my body, working in ways I don’t understand to help me live.


Tim Upperton

(excerpt from a longer work that will be published in a collection of essays, Strong Words, by Otago University Press)


Tim’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby, was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published widely here and overseas, and are anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (2011), Villanelles (2012), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (2014), and Bonsai (2018).












A taste of friendship: an audio sampling – four poets reading in Palmerston North



I am heading to Palmerston North next week to do a a few things at the RealM Manawatu conference so thought I would organise a poetry reading with friends.

Johanna Aitchison, Helen Lehndorf and Tim Upperton don’t live in the same city as me, I’ve hardly ever met them, but I have had enduring friendships with their writing. When I was trawling through the poetry archives for a year or so, for Wild Honey, I was captivated by friendships among the early women poets. These involved exchanging letters, drinking tea and sharing secrets but also included sustained engagements with each other’s writing. I liked that.

I got to thinking about the diverse communities we write in and how we also have support crews whether people or poetry: poetry friendships. I most certainly do.

So on Wednesday 13th June, at 6.30 pm,  I will be in conversation with Helen, Johanna and Tim at the Palmerston North Central Library. In the meantime you can hear a poem from each of us  – an online miniature poetry reading.


An audio tasting platter



Photo credit: Barira Nazir


Johanna Aitchison reading ‘Cockroach’


Johanna Aitchison is a doctoral candidate at Massey University examining alter egos in contemporary lyric poetry. Her hobbies are running, op-shopping, and she’s always keen for a good karaoke session.








Helen Lehndorf reading ‘the things you are not ready for’


Helen Lehndorf is a writer and writing teacher. Her book ‘The Comforter’ made the New Zealand Listener’s ‘Best 100 Books of 2012 and her poem ‘Wabi-sabi’ was selected for Best New Zealand Poems in 2011. Her second book, about the practice of journaling, ‘Write to the Centre’ was published by Haunui Press in 2016. Her essay ‘The Sensory Seeker’ appeared in Massey University’s 2017 anthology ‘Home’. She loves permaculture, community activism and helping people access their innate creativity.




Author photo - Poetry Magazine.jpg



You can hear Tim Upperton read ‘My Lazy Eye’ at The Pantograph Punch here

and he reads ‘The truth about Palmerston North’ with a discussion by the editors at Poetry Foundation here



Tim Upperton’s second poetry collection, The Night We Ate The Baby (Haunui Press), was an Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist in 2016. He won the Caselberg International Poetry Competition in 2012 and again in 2013. His poems have been published widely in magazines and journals including Sport, Landfall, NZ Listener, and North and South in New Zealand, and Poetry, Shenandoah, and Agni in America.  His work is also anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (Victoria University Press), Essential New Zealand Poems (Random House), Villanelles (Everyman), and Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (Dartmouth University Press). He reviews books occasionally for the NZ Listener, Metro, The Pantograph Punch, Landfall, and The Spinoff, and is completing a Creative Writing PhD researching the poetry of Frederick Seidel.




And here is me reading ‘School House Bay’:







Poetry evening (2).png









The NZ edition of Poetry




I know I find it hard to listen.

I read too much. I often need a drink.

It isn’t the world that makes us think,

it’s words that we can’t come up with.

Sure, I can work up fresh examples

and send them off to the committee.

But the poetry is in the bird. And in the pretty.


Bill Manhire, from ‘Polly’


International poetry traffic is so often dependent upon fortuitous connections. The degree of familiarity with poetry from elsewhere is utterly paltry compared with the degree of familiarity I have with local writing. Yes I have studied American and British poetry but I am more aware of the luminous stars in these poetry constellations than the grassroot outings.

On the other hand, we are no longer dependent upon ocean voyages and the constraints of distance, but to what degree does our poetry travel (compared say with fiction)? Or our poetry conversations extend beyond our lapping tidelines.

I am acutely aware of my impoverished relations with contemporary Australian poetry. Perhaps Joan Fleming and Amy Brown could guest edit a local journal with an Australian focus? But then again our journals are often annual and offer vital but scant opportunities for local poets.

This is not the first time an overseas journal has showcased New Zealand poetry, but it is perhaps the example I am most excited by. The editors – Stephanie Burt (USA), Paul Millar (NZ) and Chris Price (NZ) – have worked hard to present a distinctive and diverse overview of our current poetry. The selected poets cross all manner of borders: age, geographical location, style, university affiliation, gender, ethnicity. This matters if we want to move beyond the legacy of white male predomination, urban bias and privileged poetry models. I cannot name a NZ journal that has achieved such movement.

Yes the five books Daisy Fried reviewed – from the fifteen 2017 publications she was sent – were all Victoria University Press. Her selection certainly does not reflect the contours of that year, and we can all stand on the sidelines and shout (or sing) about the books we loved, but I have no issue with reviews reflecting individual taste. However I do take issue that a short intro and five VUP books can respond to her opening question: ‘How to characterise a national poetry?’ Why would you even try! It is a personal take on five excellent books.

The rest of the journal is an altogether different joy. The effect of reading is symphonic in the different hues and chords. Every single poem lifts off the page and catches both ear and eye. Such freshness, such lightness, darkness, musicality, room to breathe, surprising arcs and links and undercurrents. I keep swaying between Anna Jackson’s glorious bee poem and the flickering titles that coalesce in Nina Powles’s offering or the infectious wit of James Brown, Ashleigh Young and Tim Upperton.  I am pulled into the bite of Anahera Gildea, Chris Tse and then Tayi Tibble and stop in the tracks of reading. Travelling with Janet Charman and the revelatory suite makes me weep. Switching to Anne Kennedy and the momentum coils and overlaps and poetry transforms a starting point into elasticity on the line. Bill Manhire flips me over into the second stanza, and the lacework of reading – intricate yet full of holes – offers mystery, surprise, wit, curious things.


The time of breathing into clasped hands

hovering over a lighter to make a flame


not knowing

that an angry man threw his eyes into the night


the belly of his shattered father

weeping rain for separation of earth and sky


Jessie Puru from ‘Matariki’



The editors did not feel beholden to poetry that targets versions of New Zealand/ Aotearoa; our poetry might do this and then again it might not. The poems have the freedom to do and be anything whether they spring from spoken-word rhythms or  talkiness or thinginess or anecdotal revelations or sumptuous Baroque-detail or story or slanted humour or cutting political edges.

The poets: Anna Jackson, Kate Camp, Michele Leggott, Therese Lloyd, Jessie Puru, Essa Ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, Robert Sullivan, Kerrin P. Sharpe, Hera Lindsay Bird, Dylan Horrocks, James Brown, Murray Edmond, Jenny Bornholdt, Anne Kennedy, Bill Manhire, Nina Powles, Janet Charman, Anahera Gildea, Bernadette Hall, Vincent O’Sullivan, Courtney Sina Meredith, C.K. Stead, Chris Tse, Tim Upperton, Gregory O’Brien and John Pule, Faith Wilson, Ashleigh Young, Albert Wendt, Steven Toussaint, Erik Kennedy

This issue is a cause for celebration – I absolutely love it – and my celebration will take  the form of a subscription. New Zealand poetry has been well served – congratulations!


Poetry here


everything I never asked my grandmother

I can understand but I can’t speak

no one has played that piano since

New Zealand is so far away from here

let me translate for you the poem on the wall


Nina Powles from ‘Some titles for my childhood memoir’

Tim Upperton critiques Manifesto Aotearoa at Pantograph Punch



Full review here. This is terrific writing that raises issues on poetry and the whole business of political poetry.  I realise that statement is ambiguous – so take it to mean both the review and the anthology!


Two cheers for democracy: A review of Manifesto Aotearoa


‘One hundred and one political poems, by nearly one hundred and one poets – who knew we had so many? Yet it’s odd, in an anthology as generous and inclusive as this, how you notice who’s missing. It’s a shame that outstanding political poetry from the past is outside the ambit of this book – the broadsides of Whim-Wham, Glover, Baxter, Fairburn and Frame would have provided a rich historical context for this contemporary offering.

Co-editor Philip Temple rightly points out that there’s another anthology-in-waiting here. I particularly missed Bill Manhire’s ‘Hotel Emergencies,’ and among other practising poets, I also missed Helen Lehndorf, Jenny Bornholdt, Ashleigh Young, Hinemoana Baker, Stefanie Lash, Bob Orr, Tim Jones, Sarah Jane Barnett, Sam Hunt, Helen Heath, and Apirana Taylor (there’s an excerpt from Taylor’s ‘Sad joke on a marae’ in Temple’s introduction). But this is an invitation-to-submit volume rather than a survey of what’s already out there in books, magazines and online, so maybe some poets simply missed the memo. (I missed the memo.) And maybe some poets just don’t have a political poem in them. But maybe every poem is political. And if that’s too woolly and undefined, then what is a political poem, exactly?



‘Poetry on the page, in New Zealand at least, seldom raises its voice, so when it does, you prick up your ears and listen.

But the strident, raised voice of many of the poems here also bothered me.’

Poetry Shelf The Summer Season: Poets pick poems – Tim Upperton 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, Lifted  Victoria University Press, 2005.


The eldest of my children published a poem in a recent issue of Sport about the two of us. The poem ends, “We don’t like Kevin but we both like ‘Kevin.'” I forget who Kevin was, but of all the poems of Bill Manhire’s that I admire, this one, “Kevin,” this secular prayer, is the one I admire most. It reminds me of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” another secular prayer: what is there, when we all must die, and we have lost religious faith? Arnold finds an answer, of sorts, in personal relations: “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!” Manhire finds it in human continuity, perhaps the poetic tradition he has inherited, which includes Arnold: “There are mothers and fathers, Kevin, whom we barely know.” The man “breaking off the arms of chairs, / breaking the brute bodies of beds, burning his comfort / surely to keep alive” is no doubt a metaphor, but I think of the great Russian poet, Marina Tsvetaeva, in the winter famine of 1918-1919, who did exactly this. This poem conveys harsh truths, unironically, sympathetically, and in its hopelessness – as in Arnold’s hopelessness – there is a glint of hope, or consolation. Perhaps the only afterlife is in “the dark furniture of the radio” – one of those stained oak radios of my childhood, its transistors humming, a vehicle for the voices of the living and the dead. “They lift us” – “lift” being a particularly resonant word for Manhire – in the way that hymns lifted previous generations. This is such a sad, desolate poem, but every time I read it, it cheers me.

Tim Upperton


Tim Upperton’s poems have been anthologised in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems (VUP) and Essential New Zealand Poems (Random House). His second book, The Night We Ate The Baby (Haunui Press), was a finalist in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in 2016.

A week of poems: Tim Upperton’s ‘On the eve of my 53rd birthday’



On the eve of my 53rd birthday

After Gregory Corso


Once I was very small but then I grew up

and other things were small and nothing hurt

like it did when I was sixteen, and again

at twenty-one. Fifty-fucking-three!

The poems I wrote and the poems I shouldn’t

have written but they’re done now and in books

nobody, absolutely nobody,

ever reads. There was some craziness,

and sometimes I was alone and other times

I was not alone, and alone was better

but I was lonely. To be honest,

the craziness didn’t amount to much.

The confessional stopped working about

the time I had things to confess, and now —

now I’d have to spend the rest of my life

in there and still never get to the end

of it, fuck it, I may as well carry on.

My hair was long and straight but went springy

in my thirties then straight again but not

as straight as before. Now it’s mostly grey

but I don’t really care about it.

I let it grow and grow and then I cut

it all off. I imagine it growing

when I’m lifeless in my coffin, masses

of it, which is unpleasant to think of

and anyway not yet. I want more life

in front of me than I have behind me,

but that’s not about to happen. I want

a bell down there, in the wormy darkness,

like in the Edgar Allan Poe story,

or a buzzer, a buzzer I can press

and somebody to listen just in case.


©Tim Upperton