Tag Archives: Victoria University Press

Poetry Shelf review: Therese Lloyd’s The Facts



Therese Lloyd  The Facts Victoria University Press 2018


For three months I tried

to make sense of something.

I applied various methods:

logic, illogic, meditation, physical exertion,

starvation, gluttony. Other things too

that are not necessarily the opposite of one another,

writing and reading for example.

But the absurdity of the thing

made all attempt at fact-finding evaporate;

a sort of invisible ink streamed from my pen

the more data I wrote down: facts are things driven,

as Anne Carson says, into a darkening landscape where other people

converse logically.

from ‘The Facts’


Therese Lloyd’s new collection resides in a captivating interplay of chords. You could say that any poetry book delivers chords whether aural, visual or thematic, and in the light of ideas and feelings. This book does it to a stunning degree. Once you start hunting for them – whether in harmony or not, between poems or within a single example – the rewards are myriad.

Hera Lindsay Bird endorses the book on the back cover: ‘The Facts is mesmerisingly beautiful, and shocking in its intensity. This is already one of my favourite New Zealand books. It won’t make you feel better.’

I didn’t read the back until I had read the poems as I like to start a book with a clean reading slate (if that is possible).  I am thinking of the way reading this book sets up an arc between comfort and discomfort; we are the interlopers into what Therese chooses to let us see.

We enter a collection in debt to a doctoral thesis (IIML), and I am curious about the ideas picked up in the academic component.

This might be the first cluster of chords: shifts between ideas and feelings provoked by the writings of poet Anne Carson and the experience of a broken marriage and a toxic love affair.  This might be an impetus to navigate relations with art, in itself forging a chord with Anne.

I am absorbing the chords as though they flicker between light and dark – and the poem resembles a cinematic space with the external world, and its pressing demands, blacked out so it is just you and the poem. This what flicks for me:

love notlove

truth lies

Carson LLoyd

facts notfacts

pain joy

mother daughter

daughter husband

daughter lover

presence absence

beginning end

end beginning

beauty beauty

deep breath shallow breath

here there

intimacy distance

heart mind

sweet sour

slow stalling

debris order

miracle incidental

share notshare

exposure kept hidden

where you live where you don’t live

mixed clarity

see see

poet poem

poem story


At the core of the book the title poem, the standout-lift-you-off-your-feet poem, achieves the blinding intensity that Hera speaks of: raw, surprising, probing, accumulative, fearless, cutting, detail rich, lucid, testing. On either side the poems offer more subtle chords. Yet any element in my list for ‘The Facts’ might drive a poem. I particularly love the surprising turns of ‘Mr Anne Carson’.

Therese’s collection takes you deep into personal experience that gets hooked up in the poetry of another, in matted ideas and the need to write as a form of survival. It makes you feel as much as it makes you think. It is a riveting read.



I moved all the holiday reading

to the spare room

to keep the literature and the art books


I say squarely in the middle

of the fluffed-up sunroom sofa, I am


not to disturb the cushions

cushion—a curious word

its function of support

is ancillary to its attractiveness

and that’s why cushions have covers

in colourful fabric—I become

an ornament

another word I like

because everything here is decoration

everything here is placed

The story of the things here is not new


from ‘Mr Anne Carson’


Victoria University Press page








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




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

The one far place I know

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

there’s that dark, celestial glow,

heaviness of the cave, the hive.


Music. Someone warms his hands at the fire,

breaking off the arms of chairs,

breaking the brute bodies of beds, burning his comfort

surely to keep alive. Soon he can hardly see,

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

and it’s some terrible breakfast show.


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

They lift us. Eventually we all shall go

into the dark furniture of the radio.


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



Note from Peter:

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

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

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

How could one not feel addressed by Kevin?

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


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

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


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Poetry Shelf Spring Season’s poetry fans: Lydia Wevers picks Jenny Bornholdt

Then Murray came


It was the morning for

selling the car, but

when I went out to start it,

it wouldn’t go. Greg went

to get petrol on the bike. I

rang the A.A. Then Ray

arrived. I said I’m sorry, he

said don’t worry and looked at

the car and at the wheels and

in the boot and said she’s a lovely

old thing. He tapped the coil

and the fuel pump to try to

make it go. Greg came back

with petrol, but that didn’t help.

Then, because there was nothing else

to do, we went inside and had coffee

and Ray smoked and talked about

going to Outward Bound and sleeping

and losing a stone.


Then Murray came.

He drove up the hill in his yellow

A.A. car, shaking his head. Got out and said

I was sure you were having me on. Last time I was

here you said you were selling it

and the other day I saw you walking

through town and I thought ‘thank god she’s

sold that thing’. He cleaned the carburettor

and laughed. Put more petrol in, replaced a

filter. I said I wasn’t joking, there’s

someone here who wants to buy it. Murray

laughed and said sure. No, no, I said, it’s

true. Ray. See, there he is, up at the

window. Murray looked up and Greg and Ray

waved. How much is he paying for it? asked

Murray. I started to say and he stopped

me. Said no, on second thoughts, don’t tell

me. I don’t want to hear about this.

Ray came down and took over

holding up the bonnet of the car.

What’s your name? he asked Murray.

Murray, said Murray. Well I’m

Ray, this is Greg and this is

Jen. Hello Murray, we said.

And then the car started.


©Jenny Bornholdt from How We Met, Victoria University Press, 1995




Note from Lydia: I laughed aloud when I first read this poem. Selling a car which won’t start, Greg getting petrol on the bike, Ray smoking and talking about Outward Bound, it is a micronarrative of intense suburban familiarity and yet… also heroic (‘then Murray came’), touching about relationships (‘ I thought thank god she’s sold that thing’ ) and an acute register of local idiom while also suggesting the Pinteresque deeps that lie behind what is said. How much is he paying for it?  asked Murray…no, on second thoughts don’t tell me’.

‘Then Murray came’ has lodged in my head. It shows me the world I live in, but freshly, deeply, newly, wittily. And at the end, after Murray has come (I’d like to know Murray) the car starts.


Lydia Wevers has recently retired as the Director of the Stout Research Centre at Victoria. She is a lifelong reader of New  Zealand writing and a literary historian.


Jenny Bornholdt has published ten books of poems, the most recent of which is Selected Poems. Her collection The Rocky Shore was a made up of six long poems and won the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 2009.

She is the co-editor of My Heart Goes Swimming: New Zealand Love Poems and the Oxford Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English.

Jenny’s poems have appeared on ceramics, on a house, on paintings, in the foyer of a building and in letterpress books alongside drawings and photographs. She has also written two children’s books.




Poetry Shelf interviews Anna Livesey – ‘Every time I have published a book I have felt a part of myself caught in amber’



Ordinary Time Victoria University Press, 2017


‘I want a little quiet, a piece of the day

where the baby and I soak in our own silent language.’


from ‘Speech and Comprehension’


Anna Livesey has published two previous poetry collections, Good Luck (2003) and The Moonmen (2010). She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University and was the Schaeffer fellow at Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2003.  Her new collection, Ordinary Time has just been published by Victoria University Press. With these new poems, personal experience is paramount because this book, with its roots and wings in the miracles and challenges of parenting, is an intimate exposure. Lines are agile, things pulse, gaps pollinate, and the glorious, challenging, curvatures of motherhood are brought searingly close.


 The interview




‘Having not been out for days I have very little to add—

save that the house is sweet and clean, the baby safe and fed.’


from ‘Synthetic Thinking’


Before I enter your new collection of poems, I stall on the title: Ordinary Time. Poets have often used ordinary things as a gateway to the less ordinary, as a way of refreshing little patches of the world about us, whether experience, sensation or physical object. Yet the title goes deeper for me, particularly having read the word ‘parenthood’ in Jenny Bornholdt’s quote on the back cover. It feels like you are boldly staking the domestic space and the mothering role as a necessary and fertile springboard for writing. How does the title resonate for you?

Anna: One of the things I think about a lot (for whatever use it is), is our moral responsibility to the world we live in – who we should care about, who we should care for. What events – horrors and wonders –  should we allow to get under our daily carapace and work on us? Especially in this world where the news of disaster is never far away. There’s that phrase about extreme weather events: “the new normal”. Hurricane Irma – the new normal. Degradation of democracy in the States, Spain, parts of Latin America where it was once thought it be bedded in – the new normal. The end of Francis Fukuyama’s “the end of history” – the new normal.

The book starts with Peter Singer, a moral philosopher who basically says – “we are all equally valuable so we are wrong to value ourselves, our families, our tribe above those who are ‘other’…”.  And I believe that, but I also believe it is an impossible and inhuman doctrine. To me this is the puzzle at the heart of this book and the title. My beautiful, blessed, mundane life of glorious domesticity and early motherhood with my children, husband, friends and family and warm dry house with full cupboards exists in the same reality as Syria. Where children as beautiful and as beloved as mine are dying. Both of these realities are “ordinary”.

To survive and function and care for those who are most immediately our responsibility we need (or at least I need) to take refuge in the shared human mendacity of closing up our carapace and giving an emotional shrug. And in fact I think this is not really the “new” normal, but just normal – the Hobbesian description of the human condition – “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” – continues to hold true. (And as I type this I think – and what is the point of poetry in all this anyway?)

And then on the other hand – the title poem talks about the late winter time when the magnolias all around Auckland are covered in their magical flowers. They look like aliens or supermodels, all lanky grace and outrageous decoration. Then the flowers fade and the “green leaves of ordinary time” appear and the magnolias just look like normal trees for another year. So yes, the title is also a nod to the magic and mania of those first early weeks with a new baby, and how they refine and change one, as a parent and inevitably as a writer.


‘(…) Across the road two magnolias, one pink, one white. In the days

since we came home I’ve watched their stark flower-spiked branches

soften and go pastoral—the green leaves of ordinary time climbing out

of the wood.’


from ‘Ordinary Time’


Paula: That nagging doubt about the value of writing poetry is a tough one. What difference does it make to the Syrian crisis, the ordinary families there that love their babies, eat, sleep, celebrate and mourn? Perhaps one response is that in translating your experience you contribute to a global poetry conversation that opens windows on how we live with our different hungers, failures, connections, kindnesses.


‘I am a person in love with nostalgia

and this unfits me for every moment of living but the one just past.’


from ‘I Am a Person in Love with Nostalgia’


You record the early weeks of motherhood and the poems undulate through fatigue and joy, routine and insistent questions. I love the way you pull things from the past into the patterns of the present. I particularly love ‘I Am a Person in Love with Nostalgia.’ It feels like there is nostalgia for former selves, but you also make a precious baby moment glow that might be a future nostalgic memory hub. What kind of returns does poetry represent for you?


Anna: The returns of poetry. Let me first be contrary and take returns in the sense of “what you get back”. In my previous book, The Moonmen, there is a poem called “Bonsense”. Bonsense means “good sense” – ‘bon’ as in the French “bonne”, for good (and indeed the Scots “Bonnie” – beautiful, cheerful – which is my daughter’s name). The poem is about the returns of poetry, and of art, the non-essential, in general. It is addressed to a dear poet friend who had a job caring for a very very small library in a small town in Montana, and ends:


“From the chest of your books

you enjoin belief

in outposts of minature sense or nonsense,

or going further, antonym, bonsense—

the elaborate folly of the heart and brain,

built curlicued, baroque.


What bonsense is this, a tiny horse, a tiny library?

The great iced cake of relationships,

the ornamental pony of compassion,

the perennial shout (SHOUT) of shared exclamation.”


The central idea here is that compassion and art spring from the same core impulse. Imagination/transportation/identification/recognition/the marvellous… these are human characteristics and lead to our greatest baroqueries – the welfare state, poetry, breeding horses too tiny for any purpose but to be admired. I don’t feel that poetry needs to “do” or “contribute to a conversation”. I think the return of poetry is merely for it to be.

And the returns in the sense of nostalgia. Every time I have published a book I have felt a part of myself caught in amber. And through my three books the amount of “me” that is there like an insect in the settled gum is greater than before. And in this book, as you observe, “me” has expanded out and encompasses my babies. As I am writing this to you, it is day one of Bonnie being fully weaned. Yesterday she had her last ever feed and five years of being pregnant, breastfeeding or both came to an end for me. So to have that moment at the early cusp of our relationship captured and kept in a way that I love, that moves me back into that moment perfectly, is infinitely precious. A memory outside myself. That is the personal return of poetry.


Paula: I loved that. For me, it is exactly why poems that venture into the domestic or the personal are utterly productive for reader and writer.


‘When my mother died she had spent

a long time in darkness.


When my grandmother died she had spent

a medium time in darkness.


When my daughter was born she had spent

a short time in darkness.’


from ‘Quotation’


That phrase ‘caught in amber’ really resonates, and that poems can be an intimate way of catching a present moment to savour the future. Is there a poem in the collection that particularly resonates with you? I found myself haunted and, as that word rightly implies, returning to ‘Quotation’. I was entranced by the generations of women and by the distinctive dark and light.

Anna: That’s like asking if I have a favourite child! I’m pleased you asked about “Quotation”. It’s a funny little poem – the opening lines include a quotation from William Calos Williams, of course — “Danse Russe”. In that poem, Williams is talking of himself, dancing naked, singing (go and read the poem now…! Such an image it is), waving his shirt around his head. His poem ends “Who shall say I am not/ the happy genius of my household?”.  My grandma was a brave woman (a WREN, among the first five WRENS to be choosen to go on a troop transport as decoders), but also a modest, genteel, English/Irish Catholic of her time. And so the image of her secretly dancing naked, admiring herself as Williams does, is part of the joy of that poem for me. And then there is the word “genius”. In my poem, as in Danse Russe, it means, essentially, “the soul of a place” – the genius loci, the ancient Roman concept that all places have a soul. So my poem is saying… who shall say that this modest woman, looking like a snuggly grandmother to me, her little grand-daughter, was not in fact a wild dancing creature, the secret, gleeful soul of the old farmhouse.

And then I just miss her so. And the farmhouse that had every aspect of a fairytale farm – my Grandpa made all the bread, there were hens and herbs and a sheepdog, a shy white cat, treasures from India (war service), a dressing table with mirrors that folded out and could be made to reflect themselves into infinity. Winegums in the pantry for story time. Easter in the garden. Woollen blankets. Grandpa’s blue farming overalls. Sunday roast – “from our own sheep”. I want every single part of it back, including and especially them.

(I should note here my family have a terrible weakness for writing books. My mother was a published historian with several books to her credit. My Grandpa wrote several local histories of the Wairarapa and a five volume self-published autobiography (Yes. Five volumes. And very interesting they are, at least to me). My grandma trained as a speech teacher in her 60s and then wrote plays which her students performed in the garden at Perrymead. She also wrote short stories for us, her grandchildren, and several of them were read on radio. So I am not just missing the rural idyll and the unstinting love of Grandparents, but also missing a formative place, where books and language and storytelling and performance were part of everyday life.)

In this poem, and in ‘Privacy’, and several other poems in the book, I was thinking about a passage from Simone de Beauvoir’s memoir of her mother’s death, A Very Easy Death. In the book she is looking for keepsakes for her mother’s friends, after her mother has died. She writes: “Everyone knows the power of things: life is solidified in them, more immediately present than in any one of its instants.” (C.f. Williams: “no ideas but in things”). So that’s the desire behind taking their house and putting it in my house — I want to “quote” their life in my life through their things.

The poem ends with another quotation, from Yeats, “John Kinsella’s Lament for Mrs Mary Moore”. Again, if you don’t know the poem, go and read it. It’s a song of grief for a witty, wise, sexy old woman (I have always loved this poem and it continues to appeal as I grow a little older myself and hope to be appreciated in the round, (even and despite my flaws), as John Kinsella appreciates Mrs Mary Moore). The repeated refrain is “What shall I do for pretty girls/ now my old bawd is dead?”. Mrs Mary Moore is, literally, a bawd. And so again this is a naughty joke on my part. My grandmother was a witty, wise, sexy older woman. She absolutely die to see that written down! But I love having that thought about her.



‘is this how my mother felt

this fear, this,


I want to mother better than I was mothered.

I can say this because she is dead.’


from ‘Bay Leaves’


I like the idea of a poem as keepsake. A way of preserving familial relations in the manner of a photograph album, a daily journal or a shoebox of mementos.

The collection offers myriad rewards for the reader. It is a bit like peeling back layers of living to expose the challenges along with the miracles or joys. I am drawn to the way the world rubs into the private life: the child washed up on the beach makes the mother hold her child that much closer. Perhaps the poems that struck deepest faced the mother, the mother no longer here, the mother who prompted the poet to look at her own mothering. Were these difficult poems to write?

Anna: No they weren’t. The difficulty was in the long years of decline. My mother was a writer, so writing feels like a very real way to honour her. Making art felt like salvaging something.


Paula: Do you think, in this move to the overtly personal, other things such as musicality, changed a little too?

Anna: I deliberately wanted some of these poems to be clumsy. Awkward subjects deserve an awkward sound. That’s not something I would have been comfortable with in my earlier work.


Paula: Were you tempted to include endnotes as some poets do? I can go either way. Endnotes open up poems in ways I don’t necessarily anticipate, adding avenues of delight, but conversely might limit my own freedom to explore and delve within the myriad possibilities of a poem.

Anna: My first book, Good Luck, had endnotes.  There was a lot of found poetry and I wanted to reference where it had come from.  With this book I thought about end notes, very briefly. And then I thought: who has the time??? And also I didn’t want to explain the poems – either they do their own work or they don’t.


Paula: Did you read any books while writing this that affect how and what you were writing?

Anna: Czeslaw Milsolz’s Roadside Dog – a little book of prose poems, limpid, narrative, engaged, straightforward, complicated, personal and full of the world. The best bits of Ordinary Time are really just a crib of Roadside Dog. Raymond Carver – again, the direct voice of his poetry. The beautiful poem, “The Haircut”, of his referenced in “Because I’m a Human”. Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is the book that “Reading Books About the War” lifts off from. Tove Jannsen, the Moomintrolls – moments of recognition in literature affect me profoundly, especially when they are parent/child, and Tove Jannsen does these so beautifully. I am always reading Janet Frame’s poetry, and hoping for a little of her perfectly awkward insight to rub off. And then also the manuscript of my dear friend Lauren Levin. Her work is quoted in the last poem in the book. She has just had a truly wonderful book published – The Braid. If you care about poetry and about women and about the world and about justice and about beauty you should order it. And Heather Tone’s Likenesses. There are several poems for Heather in The Moonmen, and she and her luminous, curious, outsider-mind writing are a constant inspiration to me – how to live, how to write.



Victoria University Press page
















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


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




Note from Nicola:

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

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


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

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


A poem from James Brown’s dazzling Floods Another Chamber and Gregory O’Brien’s launch speech (the envy of all poets!)



Postmodernism Explained

You’re dreaming. In the
dream you fall asleep and dream
you’re writing. If to

write is to reflect
what you’ve already read, and
thus to reread, to

read is also to
rewrite. What are you saying?
Wake up, you tell me.

©James Brown 2017
And for an extra sample you can read the magnificent ‘Janet and John Go to the Book Launch’ here


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The launch speech:


James Brown comes from Palmerston North

There are numerous questions that arise, like a lowland mist, from this collection, as from all of James Brown’s books: For a start, why did he ever leave his home-town of Palmerston North, to which he is so manifestly linked. Or maybe he did never leave? Or when is he due back there?

Taking this, Brown’s sixth poetry collection, as a kind of provocation, two Fridays ago I drove north to Palmerston North and checked in for the night at the Hotel Coachman, a neo-Tudor confection on Fitzherbert Avenue. Not far from ground zero—the address where Brown spent his formative years—I had decided to read this new collection on its home turf—on the south side of ‘the bustling go-ahead city at the heart of the Manawatu Plains’ as Brown once memorably wrote.

According to the Palmerston North Creative Giants website:

‘Of all Palmerston North’s Creative Giants, poet and short fiction writer James Brown stands out…’ Expectations of the new book were, accordingly, running very high in Room 102 of the Hotel Coachman. In the company of an increasing platoon of sopping tea-bags and an intermittently boiling kettle, I lay down and made my way across the flat, bicycle-friendly territory of Floods Another Chamber. . .

Despite the fact she appears in Brown’s new collection a much-remarked-upon four times, Jenny Bornholdt had earlier in the day declined the invitation to accompany me northwards on this hyper-literary excursion. . . Alone, I was consigned to my carpark-facing double room—$160 the night, which included breakfast in a rowdy dining area filled with travelling salesmen and at least one sports team. While the scrambled eggs resembled a Manawatu wetland and the spread, generally, was lacklustre, I was up to my ears in Brown’s book by breakfast time, which made it all not so bad. In fact it was as if James Brown had scripted the whole thing.

Later I drove past the Palmerston North Public Hospital, where the poet was born at 12.40am on April the 1st, 1966; a moment’s respectful silence, also, near the birthplace of Sarah Laing and the childhood home of Karl Maughan—and on Broadway Avenue where painter Pat Hanly, aged 15, was an apprentice hairdresser at Bert Pratt Limited.

The early things in life determine how we evolve. In Brown’s villanelles and quatrains, I can detect the orderly grid of the Palmerston North street plan, and the inspirational, idiot wind that crosses it. This is the place where, as Brown writes in ‘Childhood’, the days ‘inched by… Glue, glitter, galaxies. Things shone. Broke. You laughed / until you cried. There was no escape.’

While James Brown delights in poetic constraints, and is dazzling within them, he can also blast away and, like the late night motorists on Fitzherbert St, has been known to throw beer-cans and drop donuts, or their literary equivalent. . . On the subject of provincial psychology, ‘Erotic Snowdome’, from the new book, contains possibly the best, rudest line in all of New Zealand verse—or first-equal with Hera Lindsay Bird. (You’ll have to read the poem to discover this for yourselves.)

Brown is the New Zealand poet laureate of torpor, resignation and exhaustion (or maybe loss of interest), with intermittent bouts of fanatical bicycle riding. The miracle is that he can make it all so interesting and darkly humorous and weirdly moving. The poems are characterised by a process of subtle inversion whereby the personal is rendered impersonal and the impersonal becomes personal. The end result is a poetry that is simultaneously lop-sided and true. At times, it’s like L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, but definitely, to use a word from Brown’s book, funner. . .

Like the hometown, the poetry gains a certain intensity through its sprawl, pragmatism, volubility and absence of long term planning. . . Just as Palmerston North has its New Zealand Rugby Museum, Brown embraces the sacred paddock and has written the odd rugby poem (most recently ‘True Blood’ in Warm Auditorium). For such a flat place, Palmerston North casts a long shadow. Echoing the city’s single Beds R Us outlet—at 133 Rangitikei St—Floods Another Chamber includes a similarly stocked poem titled ‘Beds R Us’. . . With its conference centre, in-house training and local dialect, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa—Brown’s recent long-term place of employment—configures in much of his poetry as a kind of rehash of Palmerston North, but on three or four levels.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, there are a great many poems in Floods Another Chamber about the other place, Wellington, but as any true son or daughter of Palmerston North will tell you, Wellington is only the southernmost suburb of Palmy—a feeder city or satellite. All roads, as indeed all bike lanes, lead to the one true Square.

After giving a talk at the Palmerston North art gallery—which was the other reason for my trip north two weeks ago—I fell into a conversation with a member of the audience, a district planner. When I put it to him that Palmerston North was just a theme park based on James Brown’s poetry, he appeared not to hear me and proceeded to outline, in some detail, the myriad cycle lanes that the council was now investing in—riverside bike trails, designated lanes, scenic diversions. . .  According to my new friend, the place would soon be like Copenhagen—although with Fonterra and DB in the ’hood, and the Manawatu River rolling through and occasionally flooding everything. Having just read James Brown’s new book, it was crystal clear to me that the city was preparing itself for the imminent return of its most illustrious son, its cyclist-poet laureate.

Floods Another Chamber is our latest, biggest chance to bask in the life and work of a genuine Creative Giant of Palmerston North and of everywhere in the world that does not call itself Palmerston North. The overnight trip to Palmy is an optional extra. In some very fundamental ways, this indispensable collection will take you there anyway.

Gregory O’Brien October 2017


James Brown’s previous poetry collections include Go Round Power Please (1995), which won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award, Lemon (1999), Favourite Monsters (2002), The Year of the Bicycle (2006), and Warm Auditorium (2012), as well as the useful nonfiction booklet Instructions for Poetry Readings (2005). He edited The Nature of Things: Poems from the New Zealand Landscape (Craig Potton Publishing, 2005), the literary magazine Sport from 1993 to 2000, and the online anthology Best New Zealand Poems 2008. James teaches the Poetry Workshop at Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters.




VUP Launch – Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908–1945 by John Newton


Victoria University Press invite you to the launch of
Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908–1945
by John Newton

on Wednesday 11 October, 5.45pm–7.15pm
at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington,
12 Waiteata Road, Kelburn, Wellington.

Refreshments will be served.
Hard Frost will be available for purchase courtesy of Vic Books. PB, $40.

The launch for Hard Frost will be preceded by a seminar given by John: “‘All the history which did not happen’: Allen Curnow’s critical nationalism”. The seminar commences at 4.10pm at the Stout Centre. You are welcome to attend both the seminar and launch.