Tag Archives: Tusiata Avia

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about kindness

Kindness, the word on our tongues, in this upheaval world, in these challenging times, as we navigate conflicting points of view, when our well being is under threat, when the planet is under threat, when some of us are going hungry, cold, without work, distanced from loved ones, suffer cruelty, endure hatred because of difference. Kindness is the word and kindness is the action, and it is the leaning in to understand. I had no idea what I would discover when I checked whether poetry features kindness, and indeed, at times, whether poems are a form of kindness. I think of poetry as a form of song, as excavation, challenge, discovery, tonic, storytelling, connection, as surprise and sustenance for both reader and writer. In the past year, as I face and have faced multiple challenges, poetry has become the ultimate kindness.

The poems I have selected are not necessarily about kindness but have a kindness presence that leads in multiple directions. Warm thanks to the poets and publishers who have supported my season of themes. The season ends mid August.

The poems

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where the salt sings in the air

And the tūī rests in the tree outside our kitchen window

And the sun is occluded by cloud, so that the light

does not reach out and hurt our eyes

And we have eaten, and we have drunk

We have slept, and will sleep more

And the child is fed

And the books have been read

And the toys are strewn around the lounge

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where I sit at my desk, working for hours

until the light dims

And you are outside in the garden,

clipping back the hedge and trees

And then I am standing at the sink, washing dishes,

And chopping up vegetables for dinner

We sit down together, we eat, our child is laughing

And you play Muddy Waters on the stereo

And later we lie in bed reading until midnight

Give me an ordinary day

Ordinary days

Where no one falls sick, no one is hurt

We have milk, we have bread and coffee and tea

Nothing is pressing, nothing to worry about today

The newspaper is full of entertainment news

The washing is clean, it has been folded and put away

Loss and disappointment pass us by

Outside it is busy, the street hums with sound

The children are trailing up the road to school

And busy commuters rush by talking on cellphones

Give me an ordinary day

And because I’m a dreamer, on my ordinary day

Nobody I loved ever died too young

My father is still right here, sitting in his chair,

where he always sits, looking out at the sea

I never lost anything I truly wanted

And nothing ever hurt me more than I could bear

The rain falls when we need it, the sun shines

People don’t argue, it’s easy to talk to everyone

Everyone is kind, we all put others before ourselves

The world isn’t dying, there is life thriving everywhere

Oh Lord, give me an ordinary day

Kiri Piahana-Wong

The guest house

    (for Al Noor and Linwood Mosques)

In this house

we have one rule:

                                                     bring only what you want to

                                                leave behind

we open doors

with both hands

passing batons

from death to life

come share with us

this tiny place

we built from broken tongues

and one-way boarding passes

from kauri bark

and scholarships

from kāitiaki

and kin

in this house

we are

                                               all broken

                                               all strange

                                               all guests  

we are holding

space for you

                                               stranger

                                               friend

come angry

come dazed

come hand against your frail

come open wounded

come heart between your knees

come sick and sleepless

come seeking shelter

come crawling in your lungs

come teeth inside your grief

come shattered peace

come foreign doubt

come unrequited sun

come shaken soil

come unbearable canyon

come desperately alone

come untuned blossom

come wild and hollow prayer

come celestial martyr

come singing doubt

come swimming to land

come weep

come whisper

come howl into embrace

come find

                                                a new thread

                                                a gentle light

                                                a glass jar to hold

                                                                         your dust

come closer

come in

you are welcome, brother

Mohamed Hassan

from National Anthem, Dead Bird Books, 2020                        

Prayer

I pray to you Shoulder Blades

my twelve-year-old daughter’s shining like wings

like frigate birds that can fly out past the sea where my father lives

and back in again.

I pray to you Water,

you tell me which way to go

even though it is so often through the howling.

I pray to you Static –

no, that is the sea.

I pray to you Headache,

you are always here, like a blessing from a heavy-handed priest.

I pray to you Seizure,

you shut my eyes and open them again.

I pray to you Mirror,

I know you are the evil one.

I pray to you Aunties who are cruel.

You are better than university and therapy

you teach me to write books

how to hurt and hurt and forgive,

(eventually to forgive,

one day to forgive,

right before death to forgive).

I pray to you Aunties who are kind.

All of you live in the sky now,

you are better than letters and telephones.

I pray to you Belt,

yours are marks of Easter.

I pray to you Great Rock in my throat,

every now and then I am better than I am now.

I pray to you Easter Sunday.

Nothing is resurrecting but the water from my eyes

it will die and rise up again

the rock is rolled away and no one appears

no shining man with blonde hair and blue eyes.

I pray to you Lungs,

I will keep you clean and the dear lungs around me.

I pray to you Child

for forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.

I will probably wreck you as badly as I have been wrecked

leave the ship of your childhood, with you

handcuffed to the rigging,

me peering in at you through the portholes

both of us weeping for different reasons.

I pray to you Air

you are where all the things that look like you live

all the things I cannot see.

I pray to you Reader.

I pray to you.

Tusiata Avia

from The Savage Coloniser Book, Victoria University Press, 2020

sonnet xix

I’m thinking about it, how we’ll embrace each other

at the airport, then you’ll drive the long way home,

back down the island, sweet dear heart, sweet.

And I’m thinking about the crazy lady, how she strides

down Cuba Mall in full combat gear,

her face streaked with charcoal, how she barges

through the casual crowd, the coffee drinkers,

the eaters of sweet biscuits. ‘All clear,’ she shouts,

‘I’ve got it sorted, you may all stand down.’

What I should do, what I would do if this was a movie,

I’d go right up to her and I’d say, ‘Thank you,

I feel so much safer in this crazy world with you around.’       

Geoff would get it, waiting at the corner of Ghuznee Street.

It’s his kind of scene. In fact, he’d probably direct it.

Bernadette Hall

from Fancy Dancing: Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2020

Precious to them

You absolutely must be kind to animals

even the wild cats.

Grandad brought me a little tiny baby hare,

Don’t you tell your grandma

I’ve brought it inside and put it in the bed.

He put buttered milk arrowroot biscuits, slipped them

in my pockets to go down for early morning milking

You mustn’t tell your grandma, I’m putting all this butter

in the biscuits.

Marty Smith

from Horse with Hat, Victoria University Press, 2014, suggested by Amy Brown

kia atawhai – te huaketo 2020

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whānau

kia atawhai ki ā koutou whanaunga

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoa

kia atawhai ki ā koutou kiritata

kia atawhai ki ā koutou hoamahi

kia atawhai ki ngā uakoao

kia atawhai ki ngā tangata o eru ata mātāwaka

kia atawhai ki ā koutou ano.

ka whakamatea i te huaketo

ki te atawhai.

kia atawhai.

be kind – the virus 2020

be kind to your families

be kind to your relatives

be kind to your friends

be kind to your neighbours

be kind to your workmates

be kind to strangers

be kind to people of other ethnicities

be kind to yourselves.

kill the virus

with kindness.

be kind.

Vaughan Rapatahana

The Lift

For Anna Jackson

it had been one of those days

that was part of one of those weeks, months

where people seemed angry

& I felt like the last runner in the relay race

taking the blame for not getting the baton

over the finish line fast enough

everyone scolding

I was worn down by it, diminished

& to top it off, the bus sailed past without seeing me

& I was late for the reading, another failure

so when Anna offered me a lift home

I could have cried

because it was the first nice thing

that had happened that day

so much bigger than a ride in a car

it was all about standing alone

in a big grey city

and somebody suddenly

handing you marigolds

Janis Freegard

first appeared on Janis’s blog

Honest Second

The art of advice

is balancing

what you think

is the right thing

with what you think

is the right thing to say,

keeping in mind

the psychological state

of the person whom you are advising,

your own integrity and beliefs,

as well as the repercussions

of your suggestions in the immediate

and distant futures—a complex mix,

especially in light of the fact that friendship

should always be kind first,

and honest second.

Johanna Emeney

from Felt, Massey University Press, 2021

A Radical Act in July

You are always smiling the cheese man says, my default position.

The cheese, locally made, sold in the farmers market,

but still not good enough for my newly converted vegan friend

who preaches of bobby calves, burping methane, accuses me

of not taking the problems of the world seriously enough.

Granted, there is much to be afraid of: unprecedented fires,

glaciers melting, sea lapping into expensive living rooms,

the pandemic threatening to go on the rampage again

and here still, lurking behind supermarket shelves,

or in the shadows outside our houses like a violent ex-husband.

Strongmen, stupid or calculating are in charge of too many countries,

we have the possibility of one ourselves now, a strong woman,

aiming to crush our current leader and her habit of kindness

while she holds back global warming and Covid 19

with a scowl. I can see why friends no longer watch the news,

why my sons say they will have no children,

why pulling the blankets over your head starts to seem

like a reasonable proposition but what good does that do

for my neighbour living alone, who, for the first time

in her long-life, surviving war, depression

and other trauma is afraid to go outside?

Perhaps there is reason enough for me not to smile,

one son lives in China and can’t come back for the lack

of a job. The other lives by the sea, but in a shed with no kitchen.

I hear my stretcher-bearer dad in his later years, talking

of Cassino and how they laughed when they weren’t screaming

how his mates all dreamed of coming home and finding

a girl. Some did and so we are here, and in being here

we have already won the lottery. So, I get up early

for the market, put on my red hat to spite the cold,

and greet the first crocus which has popped up overnight.

I try not to think it’s only July and is this a sign

and should I save the world by bypassing the cheese man

and the milk man who names his cows?

My dad was consumed by nightmares most of his life,

but at my age now, 69, he would leap into the lounge

in a forward roll to shock us into laughing. A gift,

though I didn’t see it at the time. Reason enough to smile,

practise kindness and optimism as a radical act

Diane Brown

Seabird

I have not forgotten that seabird

the one I saw with its wings

stretched across the hard road.

One eye open,

one closed.

I wanted to walk past

But the road is no place

for a burial –

I picked it up by the wings

took it to the

water and floated it

out to sea,

which was of no use

to the bird, it had ceased.

I like to think someone

was coaching me in the small,

never futile art,

of gentleness.

Richard Langston

from Five O’Clock Shadows, The Cuba press, 2020

Four stories about kindness

I had lunch with Y today, and she told me over gnocchi (me) and meatballs (her), about how she joined up with another dating website. She quickly filled in the online forms, all the ones about herself and her interests, until she came to one where she had to choose the five attributes she thought were the most important in a person. She looked at them for a while, and then grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out the thirty possible attributes in a list. She read the list. She put it down and went to bed. The next morning when she woke up she read the list again. She found her scissors and snipped around each word. She laid each rectangle on the table, arranged them in a possible order, shuffled them around, and then arranged them again. She went to work. When she came back in the evening they were still there, glowing slightly in the twilight. She sat down in front of them and made some minor adjustments. She discovered, somewhat to her surprise, that kindness is the most important thing to her. She went back to the web page and finished her application. Very soon she was registered and had been matched with ten men in her area. Soon after she had thirty-five messages. The next morning she had forty more. She deleted the messages and deleted her profile. Then she wrote five words on a piece of paper and pinned it to her wall.

*

I phone A, whose father is dying. Whether fast or slow, no one really knows, and no one wants to say it, but we all know this will probably be his last Christmas. She was, at this very moment, she tells me, writing in our Christmas card. She tells me that she’s been thinking a lot about kindness. About people who are kind even when it’s inconvenient, even when it hurts. I tell her she is a kind person. ‘There are times’, she says, ‘when I could have chosen to be kind, but I didn’t. Wasn’t. I’ve said things. Done things. I don’t want to do that – I don’t want to make people feel small.’ I think of my own list, my own regrets. It’s weeks later before we get our Christmas card. ‘What’s this word here?’ asks S, as he reads it. ‘Before lights.’ ‘Kind’, I say. ‘The word is kind.’

*

J is a scientific sort of person, and she wants to understand relationships, so she does what any good scientist would do and keeps a notebook in which she records her observations. She watches. And listens. And then she writes. She writes about the good ones, and about the bad ones. Her subjects are her friends, her family, her acquaintances and people she meets (or overhears) while travelling. None of them have given ethics approval. (She hasn’t asked.) She considers the characteristics of each relationship, both good and bad, and in-between. It is almost halfway through New Year’s Day and we are still eating breakfast. While her study is not yet finished, and so all results are of course provisional, she tells us one thing is clear to her already: that the characteristic shared by the best relationships is kindness.

*

I am talking to C in the back yard at the party and I tell him that the theme of the moment is kindness. He tells me that while, yes, he thinks kindness is important, he thinks he is sometimes (for which I read ‘often’) too kind. He puts up with things, he says, that he should not. He lets people have their way. He doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, but he doesn’t want to be a doormat anymore. I’m not always the quickest thinker, but I know there is something wrong here; I think I know that there is a difference between kindness and niceness, kindness and martyrdom. I am sure that being kind doesn’t mean giving in, going along with things you don’t like, denying yourself. I’m sure that being kind doesn’t mean you can’t give the hard word, when needed, doesn’t mean condoning bad behaviour. I try to explain this to C, who is kind, and also is a doormat sometimes, but I’m not sure he understands what I’m saying. I’m not sure if he heard me. Probably because we are both too busy giving each other advice.

Helen Rickerby

from How to Live, Auckland University Press, 2019

Letter to Hone

Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko

sacred in my awkward arms,

its cool black mocking

my shallow grasp

I was

utterly blown away.

I am sitting beside you at Kaka Point

in an armchair with chrome arm-rests

very close to the stove.

You smile at me,

look back at the flames,

add a couple of logs,

take my hand in your bronze one,

doze awhile;

Open your bright dark eyes,

give precise instructions as to the location of the whisky bottle

on the kitchen shelf, and of two glasses.

I bring them like a lamb.

You pour a mighty dram.

Cilla McQueen

from The Radio Room, Otago University Press, 2010

The poets

Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Tusiata’s most recent collection The Savage Coloniser Book won The Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Poetry Book 2021.

Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist, and poet who runs Creative Writing Dunedin, teaching fiction, memoir and poetry. She has published eight books: two collections of poetry – Before the Divorce We Go To Disneyland, (Jessie Mackay Award Best First Book of Poetry, 1997) Tandem Press 1997 and Learning to Lie Together, Godwit, 2004; two novels, If The Tongue Fits, Tandem Press, 1999 and Eight Stages of Grace, Vintage, 2002—a verse novel which was a finalist in the Montana Book Awards, 2003. Also, a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers, Vintage, 2004; and a prose/poetic travel memoir; Here Comes Another.

Johanna Emeney is a senior Tutor at Massey University, Auckland. Felt (Massey University Press, 2021) is her third poetry collection, following Apple & Tree (Cape Catley, 2011) and Family History (Mākaro Press, 2017). You can find her interview with Kim Hill about the new collection here and purchase a book directly from MUP or as an eBook from iTunes or Amazon/Kind.

Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), and a novel, The Year of Falling. She lives in Wellington.  http://janisfreegard.com

Bernadette Hall lives in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She retired from high-school teaching in 2005 in order to embrace a writing life. This sonnet touches on the years 2006 and 2011 when she lived in Wellington, working at the IIML. Her friendship with the Wellington poet, Geoff Cochrane, is referenced in several of her poems. Another significant friendship, begun in 1971, was instrumental in turning her towards poetry. That was with the poet/painter, Joanna Margaret Paul. A major work that she commissioned from Joanna in 1982, will travel the country for the next two years as part of a major exhibition of the artist’s work.

Mohamed Hassan is an award-winning journalist and writer from Auckland and Cairo. He was the winner of the 2015 NZ National Poetry Slam, a TEDx fellow and recipient of the Gold Trophy at the 2017 New York Radio Awards. His poetry has been watched and shared widely online and taught in schools internationally. His 2020 poetry collection National Anthem was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (2021).

Richard Langston is a poet, television director, and writer. ‘Five O’Clock Shadows’ is his sixth book of poems. His previous books are Things Lay in Pieces (2012), The Trouble Lamp (2009), The Newspaper Poems (2007), Henry, Come See the Blue (2005), and Boy (2003). He also writes about NZ music and posts interviews with musicians on the Phantom Billstickers website.

Poet and artist Cilla McQueen has lived and worked in Murihiku for the last 25 years. Cilla’s most recent works are In a Slant Light; a poet’s memoir (2016) and
Poeta: selected and new poems (2018), both from Otago University Press.

Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and she is the publisher at Anahera Press. She lives in Auckland.

Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between homes in Hong Kong, Philippines, and Aotearoa New Zealand. He is widely published across several genre in both his main languages, te reo Māori and English and his work has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish. Additionally, he has lived and worked for several years in the Republic of Nauru, PR China, Brunei Darussalam, and the Middle East.

Helen Rickerby lives in a cliff-top tower in Aro Valley. She’s the author of four collections of poetry, most recently How to Live (Auckland University Press, 2019), which won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. Since 2004 she has single-handedly run boutique publishing company Seraph Press, which mostly publishes poetry.

Marty Smith is writing a non-fiction book tracking the daily lives of trainers and track-work riders as they go about their work at the Hastings racecourse. She finds the same kindness and gentleness there among people who primarily work with animals. On the poem: Grandad was very kind and gentle; Grandma had a rep for being ‘a bit ropey’. He was so kind that when my uncle Edward, told not to touch the gun, cocked it and shot the family dog, Grandad never said a thing to my heartbroken little uncle, just put his arm around him and took him home.

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Twelve poems about faraway

Fourteen poems about walking

Twelve poems about food

poems about home

poems about edge

poems about breakfast

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Twelve poems about faraway

Slea Head: Dingle Peninsula Michael Hight, 2020

Poetry is a way of bridging the faraway and the close at hand. A poem can make the achingly distant comfortingly close. Poetry can be a satisfying form of travel, whether to the other side of the world, to the past or to imagined realms. Reading poems that offer the faraway as some kind of presence, I feel such a range of emotions. Moved, yes. Goose bumps on the skin, yes. Boosted, yes. This is such a fertile theme, I keep picturing a whole book moving in marvellous directions.

I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who continue to support my season of themes.

The Poems

Remembering

if you can you can try to recall

the sun across the roof and you

knee-deep in childhood playing

near the fence with the storm

of daisies still impressionable

in the way of dreams still

believing leaves had voices

and you might then remember

curtains drowned in burnished light

how at night the sky emptied

into a field of stars leaching out

the guilt you’d soon forget unlike

the woman you called Nana who kept

knitting you hats while you kept not

writing back and maybe then you’d know

the injustices you had no part in

the lady who bought your house how

she ravaged your kingdom while

you were away oh these memories

spiralling into memories into

nothing this helter skelter art of

remembering this bending

over backwards running out of light

Anuja Mitra

from Mayhem Literary Journal, Issue 6 (2018)

Drifting North

Acknowledgement to David Eggleton

She said we discussed post

structuralism in a post modern

context. She said in order

to remember such crucial

poetic phrases she had bought

a small exercise book in which

to record them.

It was, she said, a book

of semantic importance.

She said we considered

the deception of disjointed

parody and the fragmentation

of shallow consumer culture.

I can only remember

a girl

in her pale blue cardigan

drifting north

in a zither of light.

Jenny Powell

from Four French Horns, HeadworX, 2004

apricot nails

I want to paint my nails apricot
as an homage to call me by your name
and the fake italian summer I had last year — 

fake because
I didn’t cycle beside slow streams or
in slow towns

Instead I lay on a 70 euro pinstripe lounger
and couldn’t see the water
only other tourists

And the apricots I ate
came from peach spritzes at sea salt restaurants
and clouded supermarket jars

But all the shops are shut
and the closest nail colour I have
is dark red 

I want to be somewhere in northern italy
with light green water and
deep green conversations

I want to pick fresh apricots from drooping branches
and kiss a boy I shouldn’t
on cobblestone paths against cobblestone walls

I want to lick a love heart on to his shoulder
so that when he gets on a train
my hands shake like a thunderstorm

and I can’t cycle home past
the fields we held each other in
and mum has to pick me up from the station

I want to walk down a staircase
with winter at the bottom
waiting to sweep me into snow

I want the phone to ring when the sky is white
and hear an apricot voice 
ripe and ready to be plucked from the tree

he’ll say how are you
and I’ll slowly leak

Rhegan Tu’akoi

from Stasis 5 May 2020, picked by Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

Wearing Katherine Mansfield’s Shawl

Seventy years on, shut

in a cardboard box in the basement

of City Hall, you might think

the shawl would have lost

its force to charm, the airy fragrance

of its wearer departed, threads

stripped bare as bones,

yet here it is, another short story:

it felt like love at the Hôtel

d’Adhémar the moment you placed

the silk skein around my shoulders,

the dim red and rusty green fabric

and a fringe gliding like fingertips

over my arm, a draught of bitter

scent – Katherine’s illness,

Virginia’s sarcasm – and

yes, a trace of wild gorse

flowers and New Zealand, not

to mention the drift of her skin

and yours during the photograph,

the stately walk through the town.

Fiona Kidman

from Where Your Left Hand Rests, Godwit, Random House, 2010

Sparks

On the occasion of the Sew Hoy 150th Year Family Reunion, September 2019

Here in this earth you once made a start

home treasure watered with sweat, new seeds

a fire you can light and which gives off sparks

the gleam of gold glowing in darkness

an open door, warm tea, friendships in need

here on this earth you once made a start

sometimes you imagined you left your heart

elsewhere, a woman’s voice and paddies of green

a fire which was lit, remembering its sparks

but even halfway round the world, shoots start

old songs grow distant, sink into bones unseen

here in this earth you can make a new start

with stone and wood you made your mark

built houses of diplomacy and meaning

a new fire was lit, with many sparks

flame to flame, hand to hand, heart to heart

150 years, sixteen harvests of seed

here, in this earth, you once made a start

A fire was once lit. We all are its sparks.

Renee Liang

Heavy Lifting

Once, I climbed a tree

too tall for climbing

and threw my voice out

into the world. I screamed.

I hollered. I snapped

innocent branches. i took the view

as a vivid but painful truth gifted

to me, but did not think to lay down

my own sight in recompense.

All I wanted was someone to say

they could hear me, but the tree said

that in order to be heard I must

first let silence do the heavy lifting

and clear my mind of any

questions and anxieties

such as contemplating whether

I am the favourite son. If I am not,

I am open to being a favourite uncle

or an ex-lover whose hands still cover

the former half’s eyes. I’ll probably never

have children of my own to disappoint

so I’ll settle for being famous instead

with my mouth forced open on TV like

a Venus fly-trap lip-synching for its life.

The first and last of everything

are always connected by

the dotted line of choice.

If there is an order to such things,

then surely I should resist it.

Chris Tse

from he’s so MASC, Auckland University Press, 2018

My city

drawing blank amber cartridges in windows

from which we see children hanging, high fires

of warehouse colours, a reimagining, my city fluttering

far and further away with flags netted

and ziplining west to east, knotted

and raining sunshine,

paving cinder-block-lit-tinder music in alleys

where we visit for the first time, signal murals

to leapfrog smoke, a wandering, my city gathering

close and closer together a wilderness

of voices shifting over each other

and the orchestra,

constructing silver half-heresies in storefronts

to catch seconds of ourselves, herald nighttimes

from singing corners, a remembering, my city resounding

in and out the shout of light on water

and people on water, the work of day

and each other,

my city in the near distance fooling me

into letting my words down, my city visible

a hundred years from tomorrow,

coming out of my ears and

forgiving me,

until i am disappeared someways and no longer

finding me to you

Pippi Jean

Looming

I call it my looming

dread, like the mornings I wake

crying quietly at the grey

in my room, like whispering to my sleeping

mother – do I have to

like the short cuts I can’t take

like the standing outside not breathing

like my hand on the doorknob

counting to twenty and twenty

and twenty.

Tusiata Avia

from Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Victoria University Press, 2004

mothering daughter

I am coming home to myself

while watching

my mother going away from herself.

Every move you make

an effort

so much slower now, mother

like your body is trying to keep pace

with your mind

everything about you reads as

tired

but sometimes I read as

giving up

FUCK THIS! silently salts my tongue

a tight fist slamming the steering wheel

gas under my foot

tears choking my ears

smoke swallowing my chest.

I am a mother:

Mothering her son,

a motherless daughter mothering her mother.

It’s hard somedays not to be swallowed.

Grace Iwshita-Taylor

from full broken bloom, ala press, 2017

Memoir II

Preparing for death is a wicker basket.

Elderly women know the road.

One grandmother worked in munitions, brown

bonnet, red stripe rampant. the other, a washerwoman:

letters from the Front would surface, tattered.

You must take the journey, ready or not.

The old, old stream of refugees: prams

of books and carts with parrots.

Meanwhile the speeches, speeches: interminable.

When the blood in your ears has time to dry: silence.

The angel will tie a golden ribbon to the basket’s rim.

You will disappear, then reappear, quite weightless.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

from Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963- 2016, Canterbury University Press, 2017

fever

moving away from the orchard plots,

laundry lines that sag under the macrocarpa.

moving away from the crystalline skies,

the salt-struck grasses, the train carts

and the underpasses. i astral travel

with a flannel on my head, drink litres

of holy water, chicken broth. i vomit

words into the plastic bucket, brush

the acid from my teeth. i move away,

over tussock country, along the desert

road. i chew the pillowcase. i cling

my body to the bunk. the streets

unfurl. slick with gum and cigarettes.

somebody is yelling my name. i quiver

like a sparrow. hello hello, says the

paramedic. but i am moving away from

the city lights, the steel towers.

and i shed my skin on a motorway

and i float up into the sky.

Elizabeth Morton

from This Is Your Real Name, Otago University Press, 2019

Black Stump Story

After a number of numberless days

we took the wrong turning

and so began a slow descent

past churches and farmhouses

past mortgages and maraes

only our dust followed us

the thin cabbage trees were standing

in the swamp like illustrations

brown cows and black and white and red

the concrete pub the carved virgin

road like a beach and beach like a road

two toothless tokers in a windowless Toyota

nice of you to come no one comes

down here bro – so near and

yet so far – it takes hours

not worth your while –

turned the car and headed back

shaggy dogs with shaggy tales

Murray Edmond

from Fool Moon, Auckland University Press, 2004

The Poets

Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Tusiata’s most recent collection The Savage Coloniser Book won The Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Poetry Book 2021.

Murray Edmond, b. Kirikiriroa 1949, lives in Glen Eden. 14 books of poetry (Shaggy Magpie Songs, 2015, and Back Before You Know, 2019 most recent); book of novellas (Strait Men and Other Tales, 2015); Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing (2014); editor, Ka Mate Ka Ora; dramaturge for Indian Ink Theatre. Forthcoming: Time to Make a Song and Dance: Cultural Revolt in Auckland in the 1960s, from Atuanui Press in May, 2021.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman is a Christchurch poet and non-fiction writer. A poetry collection, Blood Ties: selected poems, 1963-2016 was published by Canterbury University Press in 2017. A memoir, Now When It Rains came out from Steele Roberts in 2018. He makes his living as a stay-at-home puppy wrangler for Hari, a Jack Russell-Fox Terrier cross. Hari ensures that little writing takes place, while psychogeography and excavating parks happen daily. Recent work has appeared in Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, an essay on prison reform, and poetry; also, an inclusion in The Cuba Press anthology, More Favourable Waters – Aotearoa Poets respond to Dante’s Purgatory.

Grace Iwashita-Taylor, breathing bloodlines of Samoa, England and Japan. An artist of upu/words led her to the world of performing arts. Dedicated to carving, elevating and holding spaces for storytellers of Te Moana nui a Kiwa. Recipient of the CNZ Emerging Pacific Artist 2014 and the Auckland Mayoral Writers Grant 2016. Highlights include holding the visiting international writer in residence at the University of Hawaii 2018, Co-Founder of the first youth poetry slam in Aoteroa, Rising Voices (2011 – 2016) and the South Auckland Poets Collective and published collections Afakasi Speaks (2013) & Full Broken Bloom (2017) with ala press. Writer of MY OWN DARLING commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company (2015, 2017, 2019) and Curator of UPU (Auckland Arts Festival 2020).

Pippi Jean is eighteen and just moved to Wellington for her first year at Victoria University. Her most recent works can be found in Landfall, Starling, Takahe, Mayhem, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook among others.

Fiona Kidman has written more than 30 books and won a number of prizes, including the Jann Medlicott Acorn Fiction Prize for This Mortal Boy. Her most recent book is All the way to summer:stories of love and longing.  She has published six books of poems.In 2006, she was the Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton.  The poem ‘Wearing Katherine Mansfield’s shawl ‘is based on an event during that time. Her home is in Wellington, overlooking Cook Strait.

Renee Liang is a second-generation Chinese New Zealander whose parents immigrated in the 1970s from Hong Kong. Renee explores the migrant experience; she wrote, produced and nationally toured eight plays; made operas, musicals and community arts programmes; her poems, essays and short stories are studied from primary to tertiary level.  In recent years she has been reclaiming her proud Cantonese heritage in her work. Renee was made MNZM in 2018 for Services to the Arts.

Anuja Mitra lives in Auckland. Her writing has appeared in TakaheMayhemCordite Poetry ReviewStarlingSweet MammalianPoetry Shelf and The Three Lamps, and will appear in the AUP anthology A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand. She  has also written theatre and poetry reviews for TearawayTheatre ScenesMinarets and the New Zealand Poetry Society. She is co-founder of the online arts magazine Oscen.

Elizabeth Morton is a teller of poems and tall tales. She has two collections of poetry – Wolf (Mākaro Press, 2017) and This is your real name (Otago University Press, 2020). She has an MLitt in creative writing from the University of Glasgow, and is completing an MSc in applied neuroscience at King’s College London. She likes to write about broken things, and things with teeth. 

Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet and performer. Her work has been part of various journals and collaborations. She has a deep interest in music and used to be a french horn player.

Chris Tse is the author of two poetry collections published by Auckland University Press – How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards) and HE’S SO MASC – and is co-editor of the forthcoming Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers From Aotearoa.

Rhegan Tu‘akoi is a Tongan/Pākehā living in Pōneke. She is a Master’s student at Victoria and her words have appeared in Turbine | Kapohau, Mayhem and Sweet Mammalian. She has also been published in the first issue of Tupuranga Journal

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

Eleven poems about the moon

Twelve poems about knitting

Ten poems about water

Poetry Shelf congratulates Tusiata Avia, the Ockham NZ Book Award Poetry winner (ten things she loves, a poem, an interview)

Such heartfelt congratulations to Tusiata Avia, a much loved poet who has and who continues to inspire generations of poets. Yes Pasifika poets, yes young women writing, and yes, most importantly, yes us all. Her award-winning book is magnificent. She places herself in these necessary poems: her ravaged heart, her experience, wounds, scars, thinking, feeling, urge to speak out, sing, perform, no matter the price, holding out history, the coloniser, the colonised, Ihumātao, the Australian bush fires, translating for the gutted woman, the abortioned woman, her mother, her daughter, her lovers, but at times she is disabled with epilepsy, her father a presence, and she places a prayer for her daughter, for the stars, water, lungs, and for the reader, here in these poems, she places a prayer. Extraordinary.

Ten things I love

1. A photograph: The photo is of Sepela – exactly 10 years ago, a week after the big earthquake when we escaped to Hinemoana’s who lived in Kapiti then.

2. A poem by someone else: All they want is my money my pussy my blood by Morgan Parker (and pretty much anything from her book, There are more beautiful things than Beyonce.

3. A song: Back to Life by Soul II Soul

4. A book: Hurricane Season, Fernando Melchor, trans. Sophie Hughes, New Directions, 2020 (my favourite book of 2020)

5. A movie: My Neighbour Totoro

6. A place: South Sinai coast, Egypt

7. A meal: taro (cooked in the umu) and palusamu

8. A poetic motif: Can’t think of one, but I can think of a form I love – the pantoum.

9.  A place to write: Where ever the ‘thing’ is happening (see Five questions below)

10. A poem from my book (Tusiata did a stunning performance of this at the awards PG):

250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand

Hey James,

yeah, you

in the white wig

in that big Endeavour

sailing the blue, blue water

like a big arsehole

FUCK YOU, BITCH.

James,

I heard someone

shoved a knife

right up

into the gap between

your white ribs

at Kealakekua Bay.

I’m gonna go there

make a big Makahiki luau

cook a white pig

feed it to the dogs

and FUCK YOU UP, BITCH.

Hey James,

it’s us.

These days

we’re driving round

in SUVs

looking for ya

or white men like you

who might be thieves

or rapists

or kidnappers

or murderers

yeah, or any of your descendants

or any of your incarnations

cos, you know

ay, bitch?

We’re gonna FUCK YOU UP.

Tonight, James,

it’s me

Lani, Danielle

and a car full of brown girls

we find you

on the corner

of the Justice Precinct.

You’ve got another woman

in a headlock

and I’ve got my father’s

pig-hunting knife

in my fist

and we’re coming to get you

sailing round

in your Resolution

your Friendship

your Discovery

and your fucking Freelove.

Watch your ribs, James

cos, I’m coming with

Kalaniōpu‘u

Kānekapōlei

Kana‘ina

Keawe‘ōpala

Kūka‘ilimoku

who is a god

and Nua‘a

who is king with a knife.

And then

James,

then

we’re gonna

FUCK.

YOU.

UP.

FOR.

GOOD.

BITCH.


Tusiata Avia

Five questions

Is writing a pain or a joy, a mix of both, or something altogether different for you?

A mix, for sure. Often, I don’t feel like writing – unless I have an experience (internal or out in the world) that I feel the need to write about immediately. At times like that, I feel a sense of urgency, sometimes verging on desperation, to stop whatever I’m doing and write. I have pulled the car over on a busy motorway and searched for a piece of paper to scribble it down . I’m not great at the discipline of writing every day.

Name a poet who has particularly influenced your writing or who supports you.

I don’t read her so much these days, but I love Sharon Olds. She helped me to write more openly – to be honest and vulnerable.

Was your shortlisted collection shaped by particular experiences or feelings?

Colonisation, racism, illness, a bit of Covid – all the relaxing stuff.

Did you make any unexpected discoveries as you wrote?

The whole book was unexpected. I was writing another book called Giving Birth To My Father, which took ages. After a while (quite close to my deadline) I realised it wasn’t ready for the outside world. The Savage Coloniser Book had to come together really quickly, if I wanted it published for 2020. I knew I had a few poems that were very ‘2020’ lying about. I wrote to those poems in a short amount of time.

Do you like to talk about your poems or would you rather let them speak for themselves? Is there one poem where an introduction (say at a poetry reading) would fascinate the audience/ reader? Offer different pathways through the poem?

During poetry readings/ performances I used to think the poem should speak for itself but many poems really need an introduction, particularly when people are not experiencing them on the page.

Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.

Poetry Shelf review

Selina Tusitala Marsh’s review at ANZL

Poetry Shelf: Tusiata‘s ‘Love in the Time of Primeminiscinda’ (The Savage Coloniser Book)

Tusiata reads ‘Massacre’ (The Savage Coloniser Book)

Leilani Tamu review at KeteBooks

Faith Wilson review at RNZ National

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Ten poems about clouds

A while ago the world seemed unbearably bleak and dark, and whenever the world seems bleak and dark, an idea unexpectedly falls into my head like rescue remedy. I had bought a bundle of UK poem booklets that came with an envelopes from the wonderful McLeods Bookshop in Palmerston North on my Wild Honey tour. Each featured ten poems on a theme and I loved the idea of sending one to someone just when they needed a poem boost (The Women’s Bookshop in Auckland stocks them I see). My rescue remedy was to host a season of themes over autumn and winter – with me picking poems but also inviting some poets to send poems and suggestions. The response has been overwhelming. Rescue remedy de luxe!

I wanted the presence of the theme to range from subtle to loud so I struggled over the preposition in the title. It might be a poem after or towards or with or from or by or under or hinting at a theme. Not necessarily about! It might simply be a single word resonating. A cameo appearance. I had 15 themes, but Alison Wong suggested ‘Light’, and Hinemoana Baker suggested ‘Land’, so 17 poetry themes will be appearing over the coming months.

If this had been for a print anthology, I would have spent several years reading and selecting, going to libraries, bookshops, agonising, agonising, agonising. But my rescue-remedy plan meant staying at home and returning to my vast New Zealand poetry collection which as you can imagine after Wild Honey is rich in women’s books. I felt like I wanted to do a whole book on each theme so many poems sung out.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my rescue remedy. It means a lot. You cannot imagine what a delight it has been to return to books I have loved over the past decades and to savour new poems sent me. To feel poetry work its magic.

Ten poems about clouds

The Sky

The sky thinks it is a flock of birds.

Then it thinks it is a cloud.

It also thinks it is widespread words.

Sometimes it looks up at the stars,

imagining other skies,

and sometimes down at the water

where it thinks it sees more stars.

At such times it believes itself to be a god.

But no such luck, poor sky! Soon enough

it is saying hello sir and madam

what a nice day it’s turning out to be

and can you perhaps spare a dollar,

thank you, thank you kindly. The sky

can still hold a small cloud in its hands.

Today it does so, and it rains.

It held our old home that way, too,

awkward and vertical and cold –

the snow caught fire as each day died.

But yes, it is safer here on the flat.

A man comes by with coal in a wheelbarrow,

muttering, muttering. He wants

to sell us warmth, his feet don’t leave the ground.

We think that we will always miss the sky.

It says look up whenever we look down.

Bill Manhire

from Wow, Victoria University Press, 2020

The Sky as a Metaphor for Everything


We can’t tell if the sky
is clinging


to night or happy
to welcome this new morning—


everything in this existence
wrapped up and encapsulated


in the changing colours and
how we constantly remark on clouds’


silly, ever-shifting shapes,
how fast they travel, and so on.


Truthfully, we hate
how light always wins


in the sky, in rooms,
in movies where it’s a stand-in


for goodness—
but never in our real lives.


Though our eyes do adjust
eventually, and we get by—


like the sun rising
in the morning in the sky.

Jane Arthur

from Craven Victoria University Press

Clouds

roll

south of the volcanoes.

You cut mushroom gills

soft as moth wings

that fluttering in the belly.

Bread rising on the water tank,

look out to patchy light

on the hills — moving.

Try to forget the names

of everything and call

them out new like rain

dropping on lava.

Steam born and gone

in the same instant.

A thought of one

you still look up to see

isn’t there.

Morgan Bach

in JAAM 33, 2015

Long White Clouds

all anyone ever does around here is / grow weed and stare / into burnt-

out houses / into the rabbit hole / into the cards / into the skin /

and roll their cars / their eyes / their r’s / their cigarettes / and kick

snow / kick rugby balls / kick each other / kick bad habits / only to

find another / like an eel / in the creek / in the backyard / in the

dark / in winter / and try to kill it on the rocks / chase the girls /

in a shed / a bathtub / a bed / with wet fingers / eyes / tongues /

and T-shirts / from spilled beer / spilled cum / spilled blood / spilled

secrets / bad boys / with bad skin / bad tattoos / and bad reputations /

because here / all anyone ever does is / swear / across their hearts /

at referees / at other drivers / taking to the road / cos all anyone

ever wants around here is / out / of home / of the closet / of the

relationship / of the sixth-storey window / open it / to the cold / to

the clouds / to the sky / cos all anyone ever does around here is / dive /

Tayi Tibble

from Poūkahangatus, Victoria University Press, 2018, picked by Amy Brown

Spelling Out Goodbye

“This doesn’t seem to be working,” he said quietly, “Perhaps we should try it another way. “Like this!” He split his shoes, laughed all the way to the top of the roof. “The plane will be coming soon,” he said, “Before that, would you help me out and make me a cheese sandwich?”

“Cheese,” said she, “Of course.” She clattered off like a train carriage. When she returned he was snuggled up on the nearest cloud with his breath spelling out hello goodbye. He left his pocketknife in his pocket, stuffed stars by hand into black-eyed plastic bags. He said catch as he floated them down to her. 

Johanna Aitchison

in Miss Dust, Seraph Press, 2015

Couple

(after Magritte)

The couple with clouds in their heads

are just outlines cut into a wall

so what you’re seeing is what’s behind

on cloudy days it’s clouds

on rainy days water.

Tusiata Avia

in Wild Dogs under My Skirt, Victoria University Press, 2004

I had never seen you so open

Crumpled on the couch saying 

seventh of the seventh

you seemed to be between 

trying to get up and sinking further.

A soft redness about you

and a kind of shift somewhere,

to dreams, or clouds,

not things we usually have been 

to each other. 

Later, you folded the card sent from the office

inside his cap that served

on the deck of a warship in Korea.

Kept it beside you for weeks

until one day it was gone.

Wes Lee

appeared in The New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology 2020

Weather

Winter rain beats on the windows;

there is cloud-hidden snow

on the hills.

In our space, built for the elderly,

warm air encloses thoughts

of long ago:

the coal range, pots of soup

and rain.

Helen Jacobs

from A Habit of Writing, The Cuba Press, 2020

Reflections (clouds)

dawn               the sky is splattered

by my juicy mandarin,

the sea                        a mirror

of tears soon to fall.

watching —

we capture the skyline,

grey lines folding like pursed lips.

wrapped in thick ash and two woven wings,

the sun sets a foot on our city

one eye blending

across            an open sea.

E Wen Wong

Baba Yaga

Lyall Bay is often the scene

of tempests, everything pelted

with salt water, rust spreading

like ill humour. The police

are often patrolling in Lyall Bay.

When the cumulonimbus sit like fat

white cauldrons steaming with cirrus,

look our for brush strokes-

someone’s been sweeping the sky

clean as linoleum after an accident.

Amy Brown

from The Propaganda Poster Girl, Victoria University Press, 2008

Johanna Aitchison has published three collections of poems, Miss Dust (2015), a long girl ago (2007), and Oh My God I’m Flying (199). She was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference (Tennessee) in 2019; and her poetry has been published in New Zealand, the U.S., and Japan. Her poem “Miss Dust in a Motel Room” is forthcoming in Landfall 241.

Jane Arthur lives in Wellington, where she is the co-owner and manager of a small independent bookshop. Her debut poetry collection, Craven, won the Jessie Mackay Award (Best First Book) at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards.

Tusiata Avia is an internationally acclaimed poet, performer and children’s author. She has published 4 collections of poetry, 3 children’s books and her play ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ had its off-Broadway debut in NYC, where it took out The Fringe Encore Series 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. Most recently Tusiata was awarded a 2020 Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.

Morgan Bach is a poet recently returned to her home town of Wellington, where she also works as a bookseller.

Amy Brown is a writer and teacher from Hawkes Bay. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne (where she gained her PhD), and Literature and Philosophy at the Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School. She has also published a series of four children’s novels, and three poetry collections. Her latest book, Neon Daze, a verse journal of early motherhood, was included in The Saturday Paper’s Best Books of 2019. She is currently taking leave from teaching to write a novel.

Helen Jacobs, aged 92, was born in Pātea and wrote her first poem nearly fifty years ago in response to a TV programme on nuclear war, publishing her first collection of poetry in 1984 and becoming actively involved with the poetry community in Christchurch for many years. She adopted the name Helen Jacobs to keep her writing separate from her life as local body politician, environmental activist and art advocate Elaine Jakobsson. Helen lives in a retirement village with the art she has collected over the years and a balcony of pot plants, delighted the world continues to offer her things to write about.

Wes Lee lives in Paekakariki. Her latest poetry collection, By the Lapels, was launched in Wellington (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2019). Her work has appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Poetry London, Turbine, Poetry New Zealand, Westerly, The Stinging Fly, Landfall, The New Zealand Listener, Australian Poetry Journal, among others. She has won a number of awards for her writing, including, The BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award. Most recently she was awarded the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019 by Massey University Press, and shortlisted for The Inaugural NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize 2021.

Bill Manhire founded the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington, which a little over 20 years ago became the International Institute of Modern Letters. His new book Wow is published by Victoria University Press in New Zealand and Carcanet in the UK.

Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui/Ngāti Porou) was born in 1995 and lives in Wellington. Her first book Poūkahangatus won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in 2019. Her new collection Rangikura will be published in June by Victoria University Press.

E Wen Wong is a first-year Law and Science student at the University of Canterbury. She was the winner of the 2020 National Schools Poetry Award.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Warm congratulations to the Ockham NZ Book Awards shortlisted poets

The finalists in the 2021 Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry are:

Funkhaus by Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)

Magnolia 木蘭by Nina Mingya Powles (Seraph Press)

National Anthem by Mohamed Hassan (Dead Bird Books)

The Savage Coloniser Book by Tusiata Avia (Victoria University Press)

Full shortlist and judges’ comments here.

“Poetry collections published in Aotearoa in 2020 show a wealth of exceptional and original work.  It’s an exciting situation for New Zealand poetry. The four shortlisted collections are striking, all exhibiting an acute global consciousness in difficult times,” says Poetry category convenor of judges Dr Briar Wood.

I was so excited about the poetry longlist, I spent the last few months celebrating each poet on the blog. What sublime books – I knew I would have a flood of sad glad feelings this morning (more than on other occasions) because books that I have adored were always going to miss out. I simply adored the longlist. So I am sending a big poetry toast to the six that didn’t make it – your books will have life beyond awards.

I am also sending a big poetry toast to the four finalists: your books have touched me deeply. Each collection comes from the heart, from your personal experience, from your imaginings and your reckonings, from your musical fluencies. The Poetry Shelf reviews are testimony to my profound engagement with your poems and how they have stuck with me.

Over the next weeks I am posting features on the poets: first up, later this morning, Tusiata Avia.

Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM are long-time arts advocates and patrons – particularly of literature, theatre and music. They have funded the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry at Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters since 2006, along with the Alex Scobie Research Prize in Classical Studies, Latin and Greek. They have been consistent supporters of the International Festival of the Arts, the Auckland Writers Festival, Wellington’s Circa Theatre, the New Zealand Arts Foundation, Featherston Booktown, Read NZ Te Pou Muramura (formerly the New Zealand Book Council), the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Featherston Sculpture Trust and the Kokomai Arts Festival in the Wairarapa. Peter was Chair of Creative New Zealand from 1999 to 2006. He led the Cultural Philanthropy Taskforce in 2010 and the New Zealand Professional Orchestra Sector Review in 2012. Peter was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for arts governance and philanthropy in 2013.

 

Poetry Shelf celebrates the Ockham NZ Book Awards Poetry longlist: Tusiata Avia reads from The Savage Coloniser Book

Tusiata Avia reads ‘Massacre’ from The Savage Coloniser Book (Victoria University Press, 2020)

Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.

Victoria University Press page

Poetry Shelf review

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Brilliant longlist of Ockam New Zealand Book Awards just announced

Poetry Shelf has reviewed

The Savage Coloniser Book Tuisata Avia, Victoria University Press

Far Flung Rhian Gallagher Auckland University Press

National Anthem National Anthem, Dead Bird Books

Wow Bill Manhire, Victoria University Press

Pins Natalie Morrison, Victoria University Press (an interview)

This is Your Real Name, Elizabeth Morton, Otago University Press

I Am a Human Being Jackson Nieuwland, Compound Press

Magnolia, NIna Mingya Powles, Seraph Press

CONGRATULATIONS to all the poets. This is the best longlist I have seen in years. I have loved all these books to a sublime degree. I am also delighted to see a mix of university presses and smaller publishers, and those inbetween. I plan to review Hinemoana and Karlo’s books over the coming weeks (Goddess Muscle, Karlo Mila, Huia Press and Funkhaus, Hinemoana Baker, Victoria University Press).

Ockham New Zealand Book Award page

Poetry Shelf: 8 Poets pick favourite 2020 poetry reads

For end-of-year Poetry Shelf wraps, I have usually invited a swag of writers to pick books they have loved. It has always turned into a mammoth reading celebration, mostly of poetry, but with a little of everything else. This year I decided to invite a handful of poets, whose new books I have loved in 2020, to make a few poetry picks.

My review and interview output has been compromised this year. I still have perhaps 20 poetry books published in Aotearoa I have not yet reviewed, and I do hope to write about some of these over summer.

The 8 Poets

Among a number of other terrific poetry reads (Oscar Upperton’s New Transgender Blockbusters for example), here are eight books that struck me deep this year (with my review links). Tusiata Avia’s The Savager Coloniser (VUP) is the kind of book that tears you apart and you feel so utterly glad to have read it. Tusiata has put herself, her rage, experience, memories, loves, prayers, dreads into poems that face racism, terrorism, Covid, inequity, colonialism, being a mother and a daughter, being human. An extraordinary book. Rhian Gallagher’s Far-Flung (AUP) is a sumptuous arrival, a book of exquisite returns that slowly unfold across months. Her poetic craft includes the lyrical, the political, the personal and the contemplative in poems that reflect upon the land, experiences, relationships.

Rata Gordon‘s Second Person (VUP) is fresh, layered and utterly captivating. This is a book of birth, babies, death, the universe, love, motherhood, water, sky, wildlife. It is a book that celebrates the present tense, the way we can inhabit the now of being. Reading Mohamed Hassan’s new collection, National Anthem (Dead Bird Books), opens up what poetry can do. It widens your heart. It makes you feel. It makes you think. It gets you listening. It makes you think about things that matter. Humanity. Family. Soil. Ahh!

Bill Manhire‘s Wow (VUP) will haunt you – so many of these poems have joined my list of memorable poetry encounters. The baby in the title poem says ‘wow’ while the big brother says ‘also’. This new collection sparks both the ‘wow’ moments and the ‘also’ moments. Get lost in its glorious thickets and then find your way out to take stock of the ordinary (and out-of-the-ordinary) world about you. Like Rhian’s collection this is a book of poetry astonishments. Natalie Morrison‘s (VUP) debut collection Pins is exquisite, both melodious and tactile, economical and rich. There is both a quirkiness and a crafted musicality, resonant white space, yet perhaps a key link is that of narrative. I filled with joy as I read this book.

Jackson Nieuwland‘s I am a Human Being (Compound Press), so long in the making, lovingly crafted with the loving support of friends, with both doubt and with grace (think poise, fluency, adroitness), this book, in its lists and its expansions, moves beyond the need for a single self-defining word. I knew within a page or two, this book was a slow-speed read to savour with joy. Nina Powles‘s Magnolia (Seraph Press) is the book I am currently reading. I have long been a fan, from Girls of the Drift to the glorious Luminscent). Nina’s new book is so immensely satisfying as it navigates home and not-home, identity, history, myth, the lives of women – with characteristic nimbleness, heavenly phrasing, open-heart revelations, the senses on alert, the presence of food, multiple languages. Reading bliss!

The poets and their picks

Tusiata Avia

I’m a terrible book buyer. I tend to read books given to me (because I’m cheap like that) and the shopping-bag full of books my cousin, playwright, Victor Rodger, lends to me on the regular. He has the best taste! I should probably be a better reader of New Zealand poetry in particular, but I reckon I’ve got enough things to feel guilty about.

The top three on my list of books I have read this year and love:

 

Funkhaus by Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)

I love the way Hinemoana uses language to make the ethereal and the mysterious. I’m happy to not immediately be able to pin down meaning; her language allows me to be suspended between what it does to me and what it means. Poems like the incantatory Aunties and Mother – which I think of as more ‘rooted’ – make me want to sit down immediately and write a poem. In fact that is exactly what I did do when I read this book. I love a book that makes me write.

An American Sunrise Joy Harjo (WW Norton & Co)

An American Sunrise is Joy Harjo’s most recent book of poetry. Joy is Poet Laureate of the United States. I love everything Joy Harjo has written. And I mean everything. She Had Some Horses (from an early book of the same name) is one of favourite poems of all time. Elise Paschen says of her, “ Joy Harjo is visionary and a truth sayer, and her expansive imagination sweeps time, interpolating history into the present.”. I would add to that she is taulaaitu, mouth-piece for the ancestors, gods and spirits. While you’re reading Joy Harjo’s poetry, read Crazy Brave, her wonderful autobiography. It will stay with you forever.

National Anthem by Mohamed Hassan (Dead Bird Books)

When I was looking for favourite lines in this book, I couldn’t decide, sooo many – like small poems in themselves. Mohamed speaks with an iron fist in a velvet glove. His poetry is elegant and beautiful and it tells the damn truth. Someone needs to tell the damn truth – about March 15, about being Muslim in New Zealand (and in the entire western world), about the things that happen so close to us – and inside us – that are easy (and more comfy) to avert our eyes from.

Some favourite lines from White Supremacy is a song we all know the words to but never sing out loud: ‘Please come and talk on our show tomorrow/ no don’t bring that up/…

‘This isn’t about race/ this is a time for mourning/ this is about us/ isn’t she amazing/ aren’t we all’…

‘Let us hold you and cry/ our grief into your hijabs’…

Who can tell these stories in this way but a good poet with fire in his fingers, love and pain in equal measure in his heart and feet on the battleground?

There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce Morgan Parker (Tin House)

I have to add, There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker to every list I write forever. In my opinion, no reader of poetry should miss this. If it doesn’t grab you by the shoulders, the heart, the brain, the belly – you might be dead. From the epigraph: ‘The president is black/ she black’ (Kendrick Lamar). Morgan Parker is PRESIDENT.

Rhian Gallagher

The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (HarperCollins) edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris features translations of 20th century poets from around the world and is packed with surprises.

Amidst all the books I have enjoyed during 2020, this is the one that I have read and re-read and continue to come back to. It was first published in 2010. I have been slow in coming to the book. 

When a poem in another language is re-cast into English, through the empathy and skill of a translator, it seems to unsettle notions of line, rhythmn, word choice and form. Translation pushes and tugs at the boundaries of the ‘rules’ and introduces a kind of strangeness. This strangeness I experience as an opening; a feeling of potential, slippery as a an eel to articulate. It recalibrates predetermined notions and generates excitement about what a poem can do or be.

There are well-known names here: Cavafy, Lorca, Akhmatova, Ritsos, Milosz, Symborska among others. There are also many poets previously unknown to me, and many whose work is either out of print or difficult to source. It’s a diverse, inspiring array of poetic voices and, as Kaminsky says in the introduction, puts us ‘in conversation with a global poetic tradition’.

Making discoveries is one of the great pleasures of anthologies. I now have a brand new ‘to read’ list.

Rata Gordon

When I’m reading something that inspires me, I have the urge to inhabit it somehow. I find that entering into a creative process by writing with, and around, another’s words helps me to absorb them into my internal landscape. This poem was created with snippets of some of the poetry I have met recently.

Soon, we are night sailing (Hunter, p. 71)

This is the closest you can get to it:

the void, the nothing,

the black lapping mouth of the sea

and the black arching back of the sky. (Hunter, p. 71)

One still maintains a little glimmer of hope

Deep down inside

A tiny light

About the size of a speck

Like a distant star

Is spotted on the horizon this dark night (Boochani, p. 26)

Swish swish swish

as quiet as a fish. (Ranger, p. 13)

… holy women

await you

on the shore –

long having practiced the art

of replacing hearts

with God

and song (Walker, p. 7)

Today you are tumbling towards her like the ocean.

… you are becoming nearer and nearer to someone other

than yourself. (Hawken, p. 49)

I have … imagined my life ending,

or simply evaporating,

by being subsumed into a tribe of blue people. (Nelson, p. 54)

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter (2017, Picador). (Not strictly poetry, but the book feels so much like a long poem to me). Line breaks added by me.

No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani (2020, Picador).

‘Autumn Leaves’ by Laura Ranger. In A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children edited by Paula Green (2014, Random House).

Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker (1975, The Women’s Press).

Small Stories of Devotion by Dinah Hawken (1991, Victoria University Press).

Bluets by Maggie Nelson (2009, Jonathan Cape). Line breaks added by me.

Mohamed Hassan

Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book (Victoria University Press)

A few weeks ago, I sat in the audience at a WORD Christchurch event and watched our former poet laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh read a poem from Tusiata Avia’s new collection. It began as such:

Hey James,

yeah, you

in the white wig

in that big Endeavour

sailing the blue, blue water

like a big arsehole

FUCK YOU, BITCH.

The hall fell pin silent and a heavy fog of discomfort descended from the ceiling, and I sat in the corner brimming with mischievous glee. It was a perfect moment, watching two of the country’s most celebrated poets jointly trash the country’s so-called ‘founder’ in the most spiteful way imaginable. The audience squirmed and squirmed and I grinned and grinned.

This is how Avia’s book begins, and it never lets up. As the title subtly implies with a hammer, Avia has things she wants to say, and doesn’t care how people feel about them. She delights in the spiteful, burrows down into the uncomfortable and the impolite and pulls out nuggets of painful truths with her bare hands. They are all truths that must be said bluntly and Avia drills them home.

In Massacre, Avia reflects on her youth fighting the demons of Christchurch, and asks us if our ‘this is not us’ mantra is divorced from the history carried in the land, haunted instead by the white spirits that rose to claim lives on March 15.

The book crescendos with How to be in a room full of white people, a dizzying poem that traps us in a single moment in time and forces us to witness and squirm and eventually, hopefully, understand what it is like to be the only brown body in a foreign space, in all its literal and metaphorical significance.

This has been my most cherished book this year, bringing together Tusiata Avia’s firecracker wit and her uncanny gift of conjuring worlds that feel vivid in their weight and poignancy. Abandoning all diplomacies, this is a blazing manifesto for honest and confrontational poetry that speaks with an urgency that puts me as a writer to shame, and demands more of me at once.

Bill Manhire

Jenny Lewis, Gilgamesh Retold, (Carcanet)

I love the way poetry re-visions the past, especially the deep past. I’m thinking of books like Matthew Francis’s reworking of the Welsh epic The Mabinogi and Alice Oswald’s Memorial, a book that abandons the main storyline of Homer’s Iliad in favour of narrating the death scenes of minor characters, accompanied by extra helpings of extended simile. I’d always known about the Epic of Gilgamesh, which I have owned for about 40 years in a yellow 1960 Penguin paperback. I’ve hardly opened it, but it’s one of some nine translations of the poem that Jenny Lewis has consulted for Gilgamesh Retold, published by Carcanet some four thousand years after the stories first circulated in oral form. (Her publisher at Carcanet, Michael Schmidt, has himself written a much admired book about the poem’s origins and afterlife)

Locally Dinah Hawken has worked with this ancient material, particularly writing about Inanna, the goddess of beauty and fertility and, sometimes, war, who is one of the major figures in the Gilgamesh cycle. Dinah’s feminist sense of the ancient stories accords with Jenny Lewis’s decision, as the blurb says, to relocate the poem “to its earlier oral roots in a Sumerian society where men and women were more equal, … [where] only women were allowed to brew beer and keep taverns, and women had their own language – emesal.”

It’s as well Inanna has such a significant role in Gilgamesh, for otherwise it would be a tale about male adventuring and bonding (Gilgamesh and Enkidu) and the discovery that even the greatest heroes can never overcome death. The world of Gilgamesh also gives us a Flood, which matches and in some ways outdoes the Old Testament. I love the way Jenny Lewis has retold these stories. She doesn’t try to pad them out to produce the sorts of coherence and pacing that contemporary readers and movie-goers find comfortable, while her phrasings have an unreductive clarity and a genuinely lyrical grace. The most audacious thing she has done, and has carried off brilliantly, is to use different metrical forms to reflect the ways in which a range of different custodians/retellers have voiced and revoiced the story. You admire the 21st-century poet’s craft even as she inducts you into a baffling and unfamiliar world. All stories, Gilgamesh Retold tells us, are made by many voices, and the best of them will journey on through many more.

And now I must try and summon up the courage to give the latest version of  Beowulf a go!

Natalie Morrison

Gregory Kan, Under Glass (Auckland University Press)

My esteemed colleague, with one hand around his Friday swill-bottle: ‘I hate poetry – no one cares, no one reads it anymore.’

Gregory Kan, with two suns infiltrating the long ride on the train
to Paekākāriki, illustrates otherwise: Under Glass lulls like a really disquieting guided meditation.

After lockdown, it is the first book I read outside our ‘bubble’.
Threading through an internal landscape, somehow a place I recognise.
‘Here, there are two suns. The ordinary sun is in the sky overhead. The other sun
is eating its way out from inside me.’

Certain lines, with their mystical insistence, snag on me and come back again from time to time:
‘Everything that surrounds the second sun is not part of it but nonetheless makes it what it is.’
It’s as if some lines have been dreaming of themselves. The book invites a gentle inspection. A glass bead held right up against the eye. A shutter flipped open over a stark interior.

‘When you move
a look moves inside me
and eats there what I eat.’

Once, a kind individual in Paekākāriki, their hands busy with a teapot, told me: ‘Those who know what it is,
fall on it like starving people.’

When Litcrawl comes, we make our way to some of the events. The room has sucked a crowd in.
Spells for 2020, with Rebecca Hawkes, Rata Gordon, Stacey Teague, Arihia Latham, Rachel McAlpine and Miriama Gemmell (thank you for your entrancing words), reminds me of how poetry is still something people might come in search of. Visitations of bees, airline heights and morphing walls. There is a sense of relief.

A crowd still feels like a dream, and a dream still feels like the sea. Gregory writes that ‘the sea is a house made of anything. The sea is a story about anything, told by someone unfit for storytelling. More than what I can know, and much more than I can understand.’

Under Glass, which wasn’t exactly written for this year (no ordinary year), seems to slot into it.

My steamed colleague, with one hand steadying the banister: ‘I guess Bob Dylan is okay, though.’

Note: I asked my colleague’s permission for quoting him. He said he was fine with it, as long as a mob of angry poets didn’t come knocking.

Jackson Nieuwland

2020 was the year we finally got a book from Hana Pera Aoake (A bathful of kawakawa and hot water Compound Press). I had been waiting for this for so so long. It’s a taonga that I am incredibly grateful for. Ever since I first read Hana’s work they have been one of my favourite writers. Their writing is both clever and wise, of the moment and timeless, pop culture and fine art, Aotearoa and international.

This is a book I will be returning to over and over again for inspiration, electrification, nourishment, and comfort. I would recommend it to anyone.

Other poetry books I read and loved this year: Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, The Book of Frank by CA Conrad, hoki mai by Stacey Teague, Hello by Crispin Best, and Head Girl by Freya Daly Sadgrove.

Nina Mingya Powles

For most of this year I could only read things in fragments. I could only hold on to small parts of poems, essays, short stories in my head before they floated away. This year I sought out poetry by Indigenous writers. Of these two books, the first I read slowly, dipping in and out like testing the surface of cool water. The other I read hungrily all at once.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Graywold Press) reminded me why I write poetry, at a time when writing anything at all felt impossible. Diaz’s heavy, melodic love poems circled around my head for days: “My lover comes to me like darkfall – long, / and through my open window.” But it is her writing about water and the body that changed me. In this book, water is always in motion, a current that passes through time, memory and history. Her long poem “The First Water of the Body” is a history of the Colorado River, a sacred river: “I mean river as a verb. A happening. It is moving with me right now.”

A bathful of kawakawa and hot water by Hana Pera Aoake (Compound Press) came to me when I needed it most, nourishing me and warming me. I haven’t yet held a copy of the book, but I read it on my laptop over two days and have carried parts of it around in my body ever since: “I speak broken French and Português into the broken yellow gloaming.” A bathful of kawakawa and hot water is a searing, lyrical work of poetry, memoir, and political and cultural commentary. Like the title suggests, it was a balm for me, but also a reminder of the ongoing fight for our collective dream of a better world, and most importantly, that “racism is not just a product of psychological malice, but a product of capitalism.”

Poetry Shelf review: Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book

Tusiata Avia, The Savage Coloniser Book, Victoria University Press, 2020

I have just read Selina Tusitala Marsh’s brilliant review of The Savage Coloniser Book at the Academy of New Zealand Literature, and if you read one book review this year, from first line to last line, read this. It pays sublime tribute to Tusiata Avia’s book at a personal level and at a wider level. This is a taster:

The Savage Coloniser Book poetically documents our wounds, and by doing this provides poetic catharsis. Avia goes through the wound – colonisation, slavery, genocide and racism – and back through it several times. It’s an uncomfortable read in many places. Some might avert their eyes, refuse to lift off their own bandages to see, but it’s a wound that belongs to all of us and one shared by people of colour the world over. These are wounds that leak into our day-to-day lives, whether you’re paying in a bookshop or praying in a mosque, whether you are having coffee with blithely racist friends or standing in a protest line.

Tusiata Avia places herself – her ravaged heart, her experience, wounds, scars, thinking, feeling, her urge to speak, sing, perform, make poetry, no matter the price, the energy needed, holding history out, with tempered rage, with unadulterated rage, quietly, loudly, singing, shining, her heart on the travesties, the coloniser, the colonised, on the Pākehā who crossed lines into abuse, and into the light there, right there the unspeakable abuse that needs to be heard, whacking Captain Cook from his pedestal, sighting Ihumātao, the Australian bush fires, ‘The white fella houses go up in smoke. // They start living in caravans / like they’re the dispossessed’, and the refugees, in lines of sight, heart lines ear lines, ah the point of the blade when you hear the Manus Island refugees, the plundering of lives and loves and dreams and ways of being across time, the plundering of the land, the living growing nurturing land, ‘you might even have to remove a mountain’ to get to the ore, Jacinda’s house colonised by a Polynesian family, worried daughter listening to Jacinda and her daily Covid briefing, translating for worried mother, worried daughter, finding her mother’s Broadsheets, the gutted woman, the abortioned woman, her lovers, her daughter who wants her mother to be more specific, but she is disabled with epilepsy, saying thingy to beloved daughter, disinfectant wiping surfaces for her beloved mother, in the time of Covid, in the time of reckoning, the near death, again the near death, epilepsy on the floor, her passed father a presence, the white people who claim white as colour, and more, and worse, and notes for the critic with their suffocating paradigms and agendas, racism, and standing in the room with the white people who are finding it hard to be white and just won’t shut up, and she places a prayer, a prayer for water, her daughter, the stars, lungs, child, air, the reader and more – in her poems, in these necessary poems.

dear Tusiata

hold your book to my ear

hold your book to my eye

hold your book to my lungs

hold your book in my bloodstream

hold your book up for my forebears

hold your book up for my friends and family

hold your book in my heart

hold your book, hold your book

love Paula

Selina Tusitala Marsh’s review at ANZL

Poetry Shelf: Tusiata‘s ‘Love in the Time of Primeminiscinda’ (The Savage Coloniser Book)

Tusiata reads ‘Massacre’ (The Savage Coloniser Book)

Leilani Tamu review at KeteBooks

Faith Wilson review at RNZ National

Victoria University Press page

‘Protest is telling the truth in public … We use our bodies, our words, our art and our sounds both to tell the truth about the pain we endure and to demand the justice that we know is possible.’ DeRay Mckesson, On the Other Side of Freedom  (quoted at front of book)

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Tusiata Avia’s ‘Covid in the time of Primeminiscinda’

Covid in the time of Primeminiscinda

I’m not listening to Jacinda

I’m going to my friend’s party and all the herbalists are there

listing all the things:

Thieves Oil, whiteywood, kānuka, honeysuckle, pōhutukawa,

horopito, elderberry syrup.

It’s really easy, they say, all you have to do is go for many

miles into the wilds, recognise the right things, pick them,

dry them in a confusing and special way, boil them, decant

them, strain them into pure glass bottles and seal them.

You’ll be lucky to find them for sale anymore.

This freaks me out so I go home.

Level 1

I’m listening to Jacinda

I’m telling myself that I’m staying the hell away from herbalists

and Facebook

I’m sitting in cafés with the panickers, the terrified and the lonely.

I know there is plenty to panic about.

I’m staying six feet away

chatting to the old man with the stroke in his arm and his leg.

How are you? he asks. I’m good, I answer.

I’m watching the surprise in his droopy eye

and his lopsided smile.

I’m talking to the German Hare Krishna, who owns the café,

and asking her how she copes with everyone coming in

and eating their anxiety and leaving saliva on the plates.

They’re just stimulated by all of this, she says, but I have Krishna

and I will be all right.

Level 2

I’m waking up at five in the morning and I’m thinking maybe

Jacinda has become my Krishna

Hare Jacinda

Rama Primeminiscinda

I take her picture down and light my incense to nothing at all.

I’m asking my eighty-six-year-old mother to ring me half

an hour before she comes into the same room as

me and my daughter, so I can disinfect:

the light switches and the door knobs and the cupboard handles

and the fridge door and the microwave door and the knife-

drawer handle and the taps and the dishwasher door and the

bench and the tabletop and her dining-room chair and the

back of her chair and the landline phone and the TV remote

and the heat-pump remote

and then I walk quickly to the other end of the house

and disinfect the toilet and the flush button and all the light

switches and the taps and the empty towel rail.

I keep reminding my daughter:

Imagine Uncle is lying on the floor with his feet here and

his head there, that’s how far you have to stay away from Granny.

I speak loudly to Mum (cos she’s pretty deaf):

Stay away Mum, stay away.

Before my brother and my niece arrive for the last time,

my daughter is deep-frying panikeke

I say the word dangerous more than fifteen times

then I’m standing under the shower and forcing myself to

breathe

just leaving her with the boiling oil and standing under

the water and trying to breathe. I am just having a shower I am just

having a shower I am just having a shower.

I’m listening to Jacinda and clicking on her message to the nation

and the full media briefing she does afterwards

and the science woman with bright pink hair who shows us how

to wash our hands.

I am calling a briefing for my mother and daughter.

I am Jacinda

I’m plugging myself in to the TV and turning the volume up

loud enough that my daughter

has to cover her ears

and my mum can hear.

Are you ready, I ask them? Are you ready?

Level 3

Jacinda is saying tomorrow is lockdown

I know my daughter is out of sanitary pads and I’m not sure

if the taxis will keep running, so, I’m going to Wainoni

Pak’nSave with six zillion other people.

Jacinda told us to shop normally.

I’m telling myself: Shop normally shop normally shop normally

I’m forcing myself to buy one packet of toilet paper

and four cans of baby beetroot. A woman is taking photos of all

the different kinds of sanitary pads to send to her daughter.

She steps back and bumps into me. I’m trying not to freak out,

I’m forcing myself to walk slowly around the supermarket

walk slowly walk slowly walk slowly.

I’m going back to the health and beauty aisle and searching for

Rescue Remedy and not finding it

I see a guy I met on Tinder ages ago and didn’t sleep with

and he says, Well, how do you tell the story?

and gives me a look as if it is a thing that neither of us

could know, as if it is a thing perhaps no one could know.

In the carpark a couple of young bogans

stick their heads out of the car window

and cough as loud as they can, laugh and drive off.

I’m reading what the microbiologist has said about

disinfecting.

You have to let it sit for ten minutes

or you’re just moving the bacteria around.

I thought I was doing a good job keeping my mum safe.

I thought I was keeping her safe, so if she does die,

at least I will know I did all the right things

but I’ve just been moving it around.

Level 4

I’m listening to the bugle call in the kitchen.

Jesus isn’t coming back or Armageddon

or even the end of Level 4

but here is the moment of silence, so I stop

whatever ten-minute meal I am making

and remember those who have fallen: the Anzacs and the Covid

cluster down the road at the Rosewood Rest Home.

Tusiata Avia from The Savage Coloniser Book Victoria University Press, 2020

Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Her latest collection, The Savage Coloniser Book, has just been published by Victoria University Press.

Victoria University Press page