Tag Archives: Victoria University Press

Poetry Shelf summer reading: Amy Brown’s neon daze

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neon daze, Amy Brown, Victoria University Press, 2019




The title of Amy Brown’s new collection neon daze hooked me. Having published extracts from the book on the blog, I knew the collection came out of motherhood. I mused on the way you can be caught in a blazing daze as you invent your own mother role. How moments can also gleam with light, the miracle of a newborn baby you are responsible for. Not everyone chooses or can be mothers and there is no standardised mothering role. Thanks heavens. Women have written mother poems for centuries despite denigration from men. I came across the denigration in my Wild Honey travels, but I also came across a rich harvest of mother poems that shed light on the multiplicity of experience, experience that shaped the way poems were written as well as the content. I also encountered relentless doubt – doubt about whether what women were writing could be claimed as poetry when it retained a domestic or maternal focus.

I still encounter this!

At the Poetry & Essay conference in Wellington (2017), I sat with Amy, Joan Fleming and Brian Blanchfield over lunch and we talked about how being a mother does not shut down the option of being a poet, of being a published poet, of being read and valued. And most importantly, about the significance of publishing poems about motherhood, about sons and daughters and domestic matters.

Amy’s glorious evocation of motherhood tests how poems form on the page. neon daze raises questions about both writing and mothering and resists turning away from the difficult, the intensely private. There is a sense of inquiry, contemplation and play, along with the doubt and constrained time. Amy discusses the genesis of the title – she had ‘Neonatal’ to being with and then began playing:


(…) Too clinical to be appropriate now,

I play with the cursor, like the baby plays with the

nipple when he wants comfort rather than food.

I keep Neon: a bright, new, elemental word

like a swipe of highlighter over these days

in the calendar. I add Days, then change it

to Daze. This is where I am, in a floodlit

stupor, so bright I can barely see, like in Dante’s

Paradise, shadowless knowledge so pure it’s empty.


from ‘9 October 2016’


Amy admitted she told people she was writing even when she privately thought ‘this writing didn’t count’. She kept a verse journal for three months after her baby was born – subsequently editing and adding footnotes which pick up on a word or idea prompted by the poem.  The footnote titles track a mind musing, raising questions, allowing doubt to surface and resettle. They are like an infinitive-verb poem:

to admit, to edit, to push, to sate, to repeat, to define, to expect, to hallucinate, to dream, to dance, to address, to winter, to resolve , to heal, to regret, to visit, to abstract, to doubt, to donate, to sever, to touch, to cringe, to name, to eat, to earn, to permit, to wake, to care, to wean, to wave, to finish

The footnotes ( I want to call them something else) form their own vital presence, not as asides, but as a sequence of numbered prose pieces that enervate the poetry.

I cross the bridges between poems and prose. Sometimes I make a clearing for the poem and surround it with silent beats like the white space on the page. Sometimes I dwell on the pirouetting trains of thought in the prose and let the questions gain momentum. I am particularly interested in Amy’s double self-exposure in both poetry and prose. The writing is called into question. Is it poetry? Is it poetry of value? Does it make a difference that the writer is a woman? A mother? What lines are crossed? What lines are tested?

I am affected by this collection because it draws me deep into the challenges of writing and motherhood. How can I write when I am so depleted? How can I write anything of worth? I still feel this.

The poetry exposes both physical and emotional realities. At times it underlines the relentless day-in-day-out routines that both exhaust and provide uplift, while at other times the poetry holds a scene (still, luminous) for us to absorb. This is a personal record of mothering: of baby stages, breastfeeding, a need to avoid baby bragging, to settle baby to sleep, to listen to baby coos and baby cries. This is a personal record of climbing to the rock summit, behind baby and father, like a baby mountain goat up the less than easy walk. The poem reverberates with feeling (sharp, understated, complicated)


(…) I have seen you fall, your father replies.

And I think it has something too do with you thinking

you are a mountain goat. The words are said tensely

as he holds his left arm around you and balances

with his right palm against a rock. The sky is

granite too – shimmering, hard and slick.


from ’16 0ctober 2016′


For me neon daze satisfies on so many levels. Lines spring out with musical and visual agility. Scenes shimmer with a sensual underlay. The poetry is fluent, intricate, detail-rich. A question could stall me all day such as the thorny issue of writing the lives of others; of making public what is intimate and private. Amy admitted when she was younger she ‘had no qualms / about giving air and light to what now / seems better off private’. But now she is more inclined to keep secrets yet is compelled still ‘to expose private parts of life’. She claims: ‘now I see that even if it is just / me on display, there is still a problem: / I no longer own myself’. After Amy heard Jenny Bornholdt read a poem about the death of her father and her friend Nigel Cox at the Poetry & Essay conference she asked Jenny a question:


During the reading, Jenny invited questions, so I asked about the responsibility of writing about loved ones – Where I asked, do you draw a line? I don’t, she replied, firm and gentle at once. I don’t draw a line.


from ’26 To Permit’


Ah, this is a question pertinent to the making of neon daze. But the strongest presence is the mother poet, the poet mother. I am drawn into her world, her challenges, her delights, her epiphanies. She has placed herself on show but she had to think equally hard about putting her son and husband in the poetry frame. This questioning of the line Amy may or may not cross, and the various revelations she makes that place family and friends in good and bad lights, affected me as I read. How to write those closest to us?

I love this book. I love navigating the alleys and the undergrowth. I love coming across the hard stuff and then falling into a piquant scene. The mother rests on the sofa with her baby sleeping and watches the men in the garden working. This exquisite juxtaposition of stillness and movement is heightened by the poet’s movement of thought. She meanders from clods of earth and labour to dreams of the future, of what may or may not be. It enters me like the wind. I am replete with the movement of this book. Grateful this book exists.


What if, I wondered, looking at Alison Lester’s illustrations

of things parents want to give their child – a cosy bedroom

with a view of a tree full of wattlebirds; a garden rippling

with tulips and roses; a perfectly weeded vegetable patch

with benign insects for a child to discover; friendly cats,

dogs and horses; a rock pool full of rainbow-coloured fish;

a kaola above us in a tree; a woollen blanket and a steaming

mug of tea at the fireside. What if we never have a garden?

Or pets. or perfect holidays. At least he will know

that we wished such pleasures would be his. This book

is a petitionary prayer of sorts, and I realise now

that the answer to these requests is here, dilapidated

and overgrown and snake-infested, but here.


from ‘8 October 2016’




Amy Brown is a poet, novelist and teacher. In 2012 she completed a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Propoganda Girl (VUP, 2018), which was shortlisted in the 2009 NZ Book Awards, and The Odour of Sanctity (VUP, 2013), a contemporary epic poem. She is also the author of Pony Tales, a series of children’s novels.


The Spin Off – ‘Turning on the Light Ladder: Amy Brown on motherhood and writing neon daze

Radio NZ – Harry Ricketts reviews neon daze

Poetry Shelf – excerpt from neon daze

Victoria University Press author page










Poetry Shelf summer reading: Lawrence Patchett’s The Burning River


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The Burning River Lawrence Patchett, Victoria University Press, 2019



Complete immersion in a novel is a wonderful thing. A precious thing. I have just spent the past few days inhabiting Lawrence Patchett’s The Burning River and it feels like I will carry this gripping book with me for a long time. It is exquisitely crafted, the sentences flow like honey, the rhythms are perfectly in tune with the subject matter. But it is the way this novel represents narrative as a form of listening that has affected me so much. It takes place in the unsettling and hazardous future of a re-imagined Aotearoa New Zealand. However, this strange and estranging future, with near dead rivers and herbs that heal, is dependent upon the author paying close and astute attention to our past. Especially to the past narratives of Māori and Pākehā, both entwined and in conflict. Different groups of people are connected by bloodlines, languages, cultural rituals and behaviours, and a fierce need to survive and protect family. The novel foreshadows the ominous state of the world, yet it offers hope, bridges, restorative moves. It maps the state of an individual heart. I am so affected as I read – reading is both despair and joy.

Let me say this again: I have never read a work of such acute listening, of attending to whānau language song trading nurturing nourishing planting remembering singing kõrero.

In his acknowledgements, Lawrence thanks Araon Randell  for assistance in making ‘the altered “patchwork” world of this world deeper and richer.’ The Burning River is like a patchwork quilt, comprising many luminous and connected pieces, stitched together with such caution, feeling, integrity, vulnerability, aroha, enduring mahi, attentiveness. It becomes a narrative quilt that you hold about your shoulders as you face a world that is burning and flooding, that is wounding and maiming, that is hungry and overfed, that is tending and loving.

I adore the presence of te reo because it is part of the fabric of the storytelling – not as an exercise, not as an exotic frill – but as an essential and uplifting belonging.

This novel is a significant arrival. Find a stretch of time and immerse yourself in its extraordinary currents. If you only read one book this month make it The Burning River. I have written this very small tribute off the cuff of finishing the book, in that half-mourning state where the real world seems unreal, because I still occupy the burning river, because now I am longing even more for everything to be good and fair and humane.


Ngā mihi nui Lawrence

thank you, thank you, thank you


Victoria University Press author page








Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Nick Ascroft’s ‘The Plotz’


The Plotz


Phlegmatic, I’m not one to plotz or wax

nostalgic for a life that could’ve been.

I bumble forward, shuffling in my tracks

to work and back again. The kitchen’s clean.

I use Excel to calculate Kate’s tax.

I had once dreamt I’d be a libertine,

admired for simile and malaprop.

The 90s raised me up then let me drop.


Back then, each anecdote would cost you corkage,

my poems swigged on flasks, were furious

and hot with psychedelic flash and squawkage.

I blazed, affectedly bi-curious.

These days I just complain about the mortgage,

all other matters somehow spurious

and flat. I spend the evening sudsing plates

and pots, in fear of rising interest rates.


Not one to plotz, I’m private, careful, flaccid.

How did I change? One moment I wear blouses,

vinyl shoes, I’m pulverised on acid,

the next I’m at the bank discussing houses

or circling with a whiteboard marker ‘hazard

class’, a tucked-in shirt with belted trousers.

I want to understand, to tweeze this tuft.

Did I grow up? Or was my brightness snuffed?


Before I went under a nom de plume,

before the bank had made a covenant

with me to slavishly add commas to

abhorrent documents for subsequent

emolument, I lived in Oamaru.

(I still took money from the government,

the dole.) And from that opposite of Eden,

I drag the band with me down to Dunedin.


I trip the halls like velvet under

my beret, a lip-stuck elf with pointed toes.

I study language, thought, but wonder

why, in chief, so few enjoy my gigs, or prose.

A typically blind-spotted blunder:

I’m unchanged it seems. Less fresh of gill, less rosy

eyed, perhaps, but so alike in fact

of taste and dreams. My foibles are intact


at least. The years gallumph like this. I shake

songwriting off and go for verse. They’re kinder,

literary types. I’d tried to break

our demo to a label not inclined to

it. Pete from Snapper said we’re a mistake.

I graduate, am single (dumped), and find a

bookshop gig. It’s 1998.

I chase a girl, and demonstrate I’m straight


by kissing boys just to ensure we will

avoid the sin of overegging hetero.

My gender freedom is sartorial.

Free too from time, I dress embracing retro.

London is more dictatorial.

It frowns. And though years pass before I let go,

it schools me how to look more apropos,

to come across more man than man-mango.


The movie I’d self-finance of my life

(the casting option either Aquaman

or Jesse Eisenberg – and here my wife

can roll her eyeballs) would compact a span

of years into a weekend on a knife-

edge. Sleeping at a bus stop backward, fanned

around my bag, cold in PVC,

I doze, am homeless, terrified, but free.


Above, the stars are smothered by the smog.

I’m outside Heathrow, stuck until the Tubes

resume. They treat a person like a dog.

To bed, they say, till six. Go to your rooms,

you Londoners. The pubs lock up the grog.

But airports, they’re all hours, one presumes?

Two coppers sweeping shake their heads, say no.

I make it through the night outside, then go.


I stay with Andy’s friends near Glastonbury.

I have no job and live on money sponged

from Kim, back home, who’d said if drastically

required I could use her card – I lunged –

and cash from Mum as well, left spastically

behind in Wimbledon. Their flat’s implunged

in odour, but they offer me a niche

to kip in, and tobacco with hashish.


The two are always smoked together, all

day long and every day by him in whom

I see a British doppelgänger, tall

and slim, long hair. It’s not the constant fume

emitted from his lips that splits us, or will

once I partake. It’s that he bears a gloom.

That’s Britain, and its thrashing underclass.

He takes a kicking in an underpass.


The nights unfold with dramas of the poor.

A day’s work picking peas from yellow turf.

We mark the solstice drumming on the Tor.

At Argos, blag a tent, intending to return

it after camping in the mud before

the policy – ‘no questions’ – comes to term.

The festival itself is glad, we’re gladder

still we stole in with a home-made ladder.


Returning back to Wimbledon, I claw

my horde of traveller’s cheques in glee

then crash out in the sticks, a room, well, floor

some kid – the dealer of whose ecstasy

I’d met – extends an open offer for.

This stranger’s kind. I rest my neck rent-free.

One sleeps more, if turns less, when in a bed,

but cushions brace my hip and ease my head.


The weeks rotate. I get a ten-hour job,

but till I’m paid, possessing no per diem,

I can’t examine ethics like a snob.

I think, ‘They’re not as hungry’, when I see them.

‘These tourists shouldn’t miss a couple bob,’

and fleece them as they ramble the museum.

That is, the cashier does, when she miscounts

their change. I simply balance the amounts.


Asleep, the kid I stay with moans and keens.

Still dossing every evening in the sticks,

the tube and bus is just within my means

but only once perfecting certain tricks

to keep the Travelcard inside my jeans.

I search under his bed, there’s porn, the pix

are strange to me: in each the women flick

their eyes to where above there hangs a dick.


Two times I sleep at Jon’s. His place is bleaker:

Paddington, guests not allowed, and stinking.

My presence irks his girlfriend, one Tameka.

I was naive to leave New Zealand thinking

that I’d just stay with Jon, the pleasure seeker.

The cops raid our speakeasy. But a winking

dealer passing sells us . . . oregano!?

‘Race traitor!’ chirrups T like a soprano.


The lowest point before I get a proper

bedsit of my own in Saint John’s Wood,

is when I beg Tameka for a Whopper,

and she assents, annoyed to feel she should.

This is the seed. I never want to cop the

look again. And so ends childhood.

The film returns. I’m at the bus stop, cold,

inhaling in short draughts. The credits roll.


I grow I think from this. I learn the scaled

threat of non-conformance. It’s no shame

and easier to navigate regaled

as others, smart, domesticated, tame.

Another view is that in fact I’ve failed

to change a jot. That I remain the same

pretentious fool and cautious pragmatist,

and always was a dry protagonist.



Nick Ascroft, from Moral Sloth, Victoria University Press, 2019



Nick Ascroft has released four collections of poetry through Victoria University Press. The latest, Moral Sloth, appeared in November. Kapka Kassabova once said of his face that ‘it shines through the obscurity of life like / fake gold’. Burn.


Victoria University Press author page


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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jenny Bornholdt’s ‘Crossing’




Driving across town

she feels plain

and botanical.


At a crossing

there’s a man

with a cake, girl

with a tune.

Four young people

wheel a bed,

headed for a house

where a young woman

might read, love a man/some

men, might hold their bodies

close and welcome some parts

of those bodies

into hers.


Years later

she might see these men

in suits and on television and

many years later

might pass one, a house painter,

as she drives to buy

paint, for heaven’s sake.


Now, nearing sixty,

this woman loves her husband


When she turns the compost

and finds the flat wrinkled body

of a mouse,

she remembers the time

he rang her in Scotland

to say he’d seen one in the pile

and what should he do?


She shovels the remains

of the mouse with the rest

of the compost to beneath

the blossom, which bows

low and graceful over neglect,

which abounds, as it does,

wonderfully, in the garden of the

southern house they move to

for a time.


He’s up to his ears

in sadness, both of them aghast

at landscape. Being asthmatic

he is immediately attractive

to animals – at the lake

a fox terrier pup takes shelter

under his chest as he lies down

on a towel after a swim.

In the kitchen a mouse

bumps into his foot. Drama

in the house! Not for the first

time. These were rooms

of costume, scenery,

leading ladies and men

on the front terrace, leaning

on architect Ernst Plischke’s rail,

stone warm underfoot, snowed

mountains as backdrop

while the deep, broad river passed

below them, always

on its way.


Jenny Bornholdt, from Lost and Somewhere Else, Victoria University Press, 2019



Jenny Bornholdt is the author of many poetry collections, including The Rocky Shore (Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry winner, 2009) and Selected Poems (2016). She has edited several notable anthologies including Short Poems of New Zealand (2018).

Victoria University Press author page


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Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Jane Arthur’s ‘Situation’




Kākā have been screaming across the sky.

I’ve been thinking up jokes to tell myself.

One of the dogs pisses on the floor as soon as I leave the room.

The other dog follows me around the house.

There are a lot of dogs in the neighbourhood.

I am sure they know how to behave.

They don’t bark so much.

I’ve been preoccupied with what others think again.

I’ve been trying not to let people down.

Nights are not long enough.

Lately there’s been more sun than I would’ve expected.

I keep the weather report open in its own tab and check it often.

The internet has most of the answers I’m looking for.

Some of my questions come up at inconvenient times.

Some are just hard to explain.

Like, when people say ‘I want you inside me’

do they sometimes mean cannibalism?

Or that they want to inject your fluids into their veins?

Or do they only ever mean something plainly sexual?

Don’t laugh, it’s not always obvious, and

sometimes desire can make us hungry or violent.

Maybe healthy emotional behaviour wasn’t modelled to us as children.

So we bite. We draw blood. We take things that aren’t ours, I don’t know.


Jane Arthur, Craven, Victoria University Press, 2019




Jane Arthur was the recipient of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize in 2018, judged by Eileen Myles. She has worked in the book industry for over fifteen years as a bookseller and editor, and has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University of Wellington. Born in New Plymouth, she lives in Wellington with her family. Her first poetry collection, Craven, was published in September 2019 by Victoria University Press.

Victoria University Press page








Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Nick Ascroft’s launching Moral Sloth



You are warmly invited to the launch of

Moral Sloth
a new collection of poetry by Nick Ascroft
to be launched by Ashleigh Young

Tuesday 12 November, 5.30pm–7pm
Hudson Bar, Chews Lane, Wellington.

All welcome!