Tag Archives: we are babies

Poetry Shelf review: Khadro Mohamed’s We’re All Made of Lightning

We’re All Made of Lightning, Khadro Mohamed, We Are Babies, 2022

from ‘A Nomadic Odyssey’

Khadro Mohamed, originally from Somalia, lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Her writing has appeared in a number of Aotearoa online journals. She acknowledges her attachments to Somalia, Aotearoa and Egypt in her poetry, and her writing becomes a form of home.

I have finished reading We’re All Made of Lightning and I am still breathing in the poetry. I am making lists for the months ahead of me, packing my emotional and physical bags, finding nourishment in the writing of others. Willing poetry to make a difference to the way we inhabit the world, to the way we move through the day. Willing poetry to be the window that opens up the wide expanse of who we are. How we are.

You are not violet
You are not hands filled with morning light
You are not skin made of bone
Of tears pooling int the corners of my eyes
You are not the pāua shells that cling to the end of your hair

from ‘You Are Not’

An early poem, ‘The Second Time’, opens upon Egypt, and I am immediately transported to an aunt’s home, to the physicality of place that ignites all senses, to the food shared, the conversations, the evocative writing that compares an Egyptian autumn to ‘ripened sweet corn and sweet potato skin’.

Khadro’s debut collection is prismatic, probing, resonant with heart pulse. The book is still sitting beside me on the bed sparking multiple lights into the room. The lights of elsewhere which are infused with the lights of here, the lights of here which are boosted by the lights of elsewhere. Each poem is tethered in some glorious and moving way to whakapapa, to homelands, to self. To the awkwardness of speaking another tongue. To the life that is etched, tattooed, imprinted upon skin. Feelings. Longings. Epiphanies.

The book is sitting bedside, and I am thinking home is a state of mind we carry in our hearts as well as on our skin, and that it is relationships, and it is the physicality of place that feeds all senses and that can be so badly missed.

Khadro is asking for story and song. How to speak? And she is speaking within the honeyed fluency of her lines, with recurring motifs: herbs and tea, storm, typhoon and hurricane, ghosts and rain, ash and pain, chocolate and dates, drownings and rescue.

She is showing the searing wound, the challenges of being a young Muslim woman in a different home. She is responding to the barely pronounceable impact of March 15th. And there it is. The intolerable virus: a hatred that is fuelled by the colour of skin, a language spoken, one’s lineage, one’s dress or food or religion. Here in Aotearoa and across the world.

The book is beside me on the bed, and I am willing poetry to make a difference. And for me it does. To pick up this astonishing book of vulnerability and strength, of journey and vision, is to take up Khadro’s invitation and step into her home, into her poems, to share her tea and listen to her songs, her stories, her hope and her comfort. In her endnote, which she admits she had trouble writing, she thanks the reader. I am thanking Khadro and We Are Baby Press for a book ‘worth holding onto’, in multiple milky star ways.

from ‘Today, After March’

We Are Babies page

Poetry Shelf review: Cadence Chung’s Anomalia

anomalia, Cadence Chung, We Are Babies Press, 2022

scrapes and yellow bruises on her knees, she
is learning the terrain, learning that some things
cut and some things stain, she is learning
that the sky above is full of balls of light
that you can’t touch or feel or taste
she is getting used to the injustice of it all.

 

from ‘specimen ‘332: the astronomer’

anomalia is Cadence Chung’s debut collection, and was written during her final year of secondary school in Wellington. She has been writing since she was young, and began publishing in her teens. Cadence has made two demo albums and her musical Blind Faith was staged at her secondary school in 2021. She hit the poetry headlines with ‘Shadows / shades’, a poem she wrote in response to NZQA using a poem by white supremacist and murderer Lionel Terry in a Level 2 History exam.

The collection’s opening poem, ‘abstract’, underlines how anomalia heightens a sense of the imprecise, the irregular. Stare at a word long enough, say it often enough, and it slips into the unfamiliar, the unpredictable, the unsteady. The word ‘abstract’ may reference a summary that acts as prelude or doorway. It may be ideas that stand as theoretical window. Or the removal that signals a clearance from expected settings. The word/idea/flashpoint bounces me back to the title of the book, and I am musing on how a word wobbles on the line, how this thought or that gesture, this appearance or that choice, deviates from expectation.

Poetry is a perfect place to contest everyday anomalies. The word may wobble on the line, but the word on the line can emit light, can resist subjugation. And Cadence’s poetry demonstrates this.

Poetry is a perfect place to celebrate the present tense, to make use of the gerund, the present participle, in order to keep moving: to keep searching, collecting, surrendering, dissecting, loving, pretending, existing, recurring.

Cadence’s collection is a curious curiosity cabinet with its recurring motifs and themes: cicada, vivisect, blood, science, anxiety, specimens, antique shops, milk(y), love. But it is more than that. It is more than physicality. Cadence has probed into the tender flesh of being human, with scalpel and penetrating lens, and laid the seeping wounds and insights into the clearing that is poem.

There is the insistent and constant need to classify, sort, catalogue or vivisect the specimen. The specimen may be a gathered object, a body’s organ, but I also see it as self. The poet is driven to sort, classify, catalogue, vivisect self. It is the beating heart, the fragile state. It is elusive and unknowable. Self is placed in display cabinet. Self becomes cabinet. Self becomes poem. And if the specimen is dismembered, split open, if the self is vivisected, this is poetry of pain, hurt, danger, vulnerability.

The floating and ambiguous ‘me’ is more than body parts. It is astonishing to peer into the glass cabinet of the poem and hit the sharp edge of anomaly. Where the most important things (I love you) are incommunicable. Where sorrow is easily categorised but matches no category. Where uncertainty is a certainty. Where life is sonnets and getting tender about mushrooms, a flirting moon. And life is ‘patching together / every scrap and semblance i know of’. Also from the poem ‘that’s why they call me missus fahrenheit’: ‘Because everything’s too bitter / to not suck on the sweet bits’.

Oh and scientist poet, poet scientist, becomes dissident. They long to subvert the results, the order – and gore becomes glitter cluster. From ‘anatomy’: ‘keep trying to understand the strange strange anatomy / of existence’.

The collection has hooked onto my skin, down my breathing passages. The poetry is provisional anchor. Searchlight. Distress signal. Gritty field. Self reflection.

anomalia is a breathtaking debut.

like i have admired
everything in my life
with recklessness
and without hesitation

how could i not?
when there are
drawers full of herbs
pictures of distant towns

ripped waistcoats
long-gone family crests
love letters to dispense
from heart-covered machines

for a penny each
how could i not?
when i am so used
to being collected

like dust between pages
like sludge in a gutter
like eyeliner on skin
left to sit

how could i not?
when i am lonely so
everything reminds me
of love

 

from ‘tuesday afternoon, my beloved’

We Are Babies page

Rebecca Hawkes launch speech

We Are Babies pick ‘anatomy’ on Poetry Shelf

Poetry Shelf review: Nicole Titihuia Hawkins – Whai

Whai, Nicole Titihuia Hawkins, We Are Babies, 2021

One of my hopes for Whai is that it shares a message that we aren’t ever just one thing. We are as expansive as Te Moana Nui a Kiwa and beyond.

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins, VERB Wellington Q & A

I never used to read endorsements on the back of books but now I do. Once I have finished reading my own paths, bridges and delights. I read them because in the past year or so, they have been astonishingly good. Little kegs of poetry community boost. If I put them together in a book it would underline why I read, write and comment upon poetry in Aoteraroa New Zealand. Eye-catching reminders on what poetry can do. Above all: short, tangy, sweet windows that send you back to read the collection again (in my case), with gusts of refreshing new air.

Emma Espiner, essa may ranapiri and Karlo Mila take delight in Whai

I have things to share about Nicole Titihuia Hawkin’s debut collection Whai, but one part of me wants you to find a quiet nook and find your own bridges and poem trails. I love it so much – the way from the first page the rhythm pulls me in, a rhythm that is life and that is writing. We are welcomed into a space that is whanau, marae and connection. That is breathing the past, the present and the future. That is fed upon potatoes from warm earth, and by words that are nourished on warm tongues. It is discomfort, it is scars and it is let down. It is to be held close and it is to sing. Oh so much to sing, with waiata the energy force, the structure, the passed-down precious melody that sings mother father ancestors, the earth, sings names and naming, singing out in protest, singing in te reo Māori.

Nurture the hypothetical
cultivate an organic perennial
to grow, to tend, to prune, to water

Even in the longest days
sun can come shining in

Looking at you
marks a change
of the seasons
my heart on the precipice
of full bloom

from ‘Companion Planting’

Ah, so much to say and feel. There is light and there is dark. There is the hidden and there is the out in the open. It is blazing and it quiet and it is movement.

I have been thinking how certain poetry books catapult you from the everyday – where the wifi streams, kina shells gleam, periods arrive, bulbs are planted – and moves you to interior realms. Intimate, hard to pronounce, a heart pulse. How the occasion of reading becomes both personal and necessary.

On my blog, my poetry engagements often send me into luminescent poetry. Luminescent because poetry shines multiple lights on humanity, and this matters. It might be one woman writing and living, transforming and translating: navigating experience, existence, ideas, sensations. Getting political. Embracing the personal. Staying sharp, tender, deeply relevant. Nicole does exactly this in Whai, and it’s sublime.

I don’t know enough about the tipuna I’m named after
but when I read she was a weaver
I feel her stitching tāniko
into the bodice of my insides

She says it doesn’t hurt that much
When I breathe in
hundreds of tiny holes expand
but her pattern holds its place
like the ocean holds the stars that got us here

from ‘Rainbow Piupiu’

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins (Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Ngāti Pāhauwera) is a novice writer, avid home-baker and proud aunt. She lives in Pōneke and works at a local high school teaching English, Social Studies and tikanga Māori. Nicole is also involved in pastoral care and facilitates Kapa Haka. Nicole has collaborated with other writers to host ‘Coffee with Brownies’, which are open mic events for people of colour to share their work in safe spaces. She co-hosted ‘Rhyme Time’, a regional youth event, with Poetry in Motion, to encourage a diverse range of youth to perform their incredible poetry. Nicole has work published by Overland, Capital Magazine, Blackmail Press and The Spinoff Ātea and credits her courageous students with inspiring her to write.

Whai was longlisted for the 2022 Mary & Peter Biggs Award for Poetry.

Follow Nicole on Instagram.

We Are Babies page

VERB Wellington Q & A with Nicole

Poetry Shelf: We Are Babies pick poems – ‘Rainbow Piupiu’

Poetry Shelf: Emma Espiner picks ‘Typecast’

Elizabeth Heritage review at Kete Books

Poetry Shelf review: Rachel O’Neill’s Requiem for a Fruit

Requiem for a Fruit by Rachel O’Neill, We Are Babies, 2021

Rachel O’Neill’s second collection Requiem for a Fruit continues a preoccupation with prose poetry that resonated in their debut book One Human in Height. The opening poem, ‘It’s an interesting time’, epitomises the delight that poem compression offers. Revelation jostles alongside the unspoken. The image of a ‘rusted coat’ startles, and then pokes and prods as ‘amour’.

In an endnote, Rachel acknowledges readers who are at home in their imaginations. They quote a grandmother’s line from a poem: ‘life is a great mystery, and then that mystery ends’. Mystery, Rachel suggests, is the magnet tug of storytelling. Storytelling reflects and feeds who we are, our origins, where we are going, with an imperative to listen. Listening helps us to ‘reason and act with humanity’, they suggest. This feels overwhelmingly important; this need for us to bend in and listen, to keep recounting who and how and where we are, past present and future, no matter the genre or subject matter.

‘From the homely catacomb in the living room my mother can see the stars.’ from ‘I dream I bury a machine’

And yes, mystery matters in Rachel’s prose poems. The real shimmers then moves to become off-real, startling and strange; and then slips and slides back to the everyday, the usual, the humdrum. I read each poem and see it as a startling painting, or a short film where the mise en scene trembles and quakes and expands the set with mystery connections. There is anecdote, revelation, fantasy, wit, confession. In ‘The commonplace’, a woman is dressed in a ballooning skirt, and she may be part woman and she may be part boulder. The aunt invites the woman/boulder to help herself from ‘the earth in the bowl where the potatoes should be’. What an image! Mystery in the commonplace. It’s also where the seeds are, according to the uncle. The aunt needing to locate the commonplace with its seed bounty: ‘Where’s that?’ What delicious ripples. What a way to be held to a page.

You can move through the book tracking the mystery whiffs, debris, clues. You can also pick up a thread and follow different routes through the narrative maze. Try love for example. Or the mother. Try wit. You can revel in the character festivity. Track and stop awhile with wives husbands love interests mothers fathers a Church of England clergyman children a companion a guest. In fact you are a guest in these poetry alcoves, bringing your own disposition, your own craving to absorb and expand, hum and ah ha.

Put this book in your tote bag or leave it on the kitchen table. You can pick it up and read a single poem, then let that poem drift and settle as you move through the day. It’s magnificent. Electrifying. I recommend it highly as Bernadette Hall does on the back of the book.

‘The relationship is new, yet the love is a stone.’ from ‘The love interest’

Rachel O’Neill is a Pākehā storyteller who was raised in the Waikato and currently lives and works in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Kāpiti Coast. Rachel enjoys collaborating with writers, artists and filmmakers on publications, exhibitions and works for screen, and they are a founding member of the four-artist collaborative group, All the Cunning Stunts. A graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts (BA/BFA) and the International Institute of Modern Letters (MA), Rachel was selected for the 2017 Aotearoa Short Film Lab, received a 2018 SEED Grant (NZWG/NZFC) for feature film development, and held a 2019 Emerging Writers Residency at the Michael King Writers Centre. Their debut book, One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press) was published in 2013. As a queer non-binary storyteller Rachel strives to represent the longing for connection and the humour and strangeness that characterise human experience.

A version of ‘Almost exactly the love of my life’ appeared on Poetry Shelf

We Are Babies site

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: LAUNCH FOR Rachel O’Neill’s Requiem for a Fruit

Event description

We Are Babies and Jhana Millers Gallery would like to welcome you to the launch of Rachel O’Neill’s second poetry collection, Requiem for a Fruit.

Requiem for a Fruit continues Rachel’s exploration of the form of prose poetry, to astonishing results. The poems in this book cast a slant lens on the everyday, opening up a world of possibilities and curious characters. With imagined and real dialogue, these characters converse and live as fully on the page as they would in the known world. O’Neill covers topics from love to interstellar travel, from the domestic to the absurd. Here are dowagers and dogs, a robot mother, husbands hiding behind fire trucks, and families made of stone. The landscape they populate is without reason, yet full of fruit.

Registration for this event is required so please register here for a free ticket. Our capacity for safe distancing is 40 people. Vaccine passes will be required. You can enter from 6pm, we will check your ticket at the gallery entrance and you will be asked to sanitize your hands and scan the QR code. Manual contact tracing also available. There will be copies for sale before and after the speeches and Rachel will be happy to sign them for you. There will be no food or drinks available under current alert level restrictions.

Poetry Shelf Spring Season: We Are Babies pick poems

We Are Babies is made up of Carolyn DeCarlo, Jackson Nieuwland, Stacey Teague, Ash Davida Jane, Nat-Lîm Kado, and Ya-Wen Ho. Our kaupapa is to create a space for writing and writers that might not be able to find a home elsewhere. We are focused on publishing work by LGBTQIA+, disabled, Māori, Pasifika, BIPOC, and otherwise marginalised writers. We also have a particular interest in works in translation, debut and out-of-print books, and experimental writing. We are open to works of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and hybrid forms.

We Are Babies is in its first season. In November/December, we are publishing Whai by Nicole Titihuia Hawkins and Requiem for a Fruit by Rachel O’Neill. These books are currently available for pre-order at wearebabies.net. In March, we will be publishing Anomalia by Cadence Chung and We’re All Made of Lightning by Khadro Mohamed. We chose the following poems as representative of what these collections have on offer. We hope you enjoy their work as much as we have been.

On Nicole’s poem:

This poem was the inspiration for the cover of Nicole’s book, which is taken from a photograph of a multi-coloured piupiu made by Rita Baker (aka Flaxworx), a contemporary artist working in the Far North. This poem describes Nicole’s grandmother, whose legendary rainbow piupiu lends itself to the title of the poem. The tone Nicole uses here is so encapsulating of this collection as a whole–pride in kōrero o mua, a kind of nostalgia for things she didn’t get to experience, and the process of affirming of her heritage. These poems are heart-wrenchingly personal, but written in a way that brings the reader along on her journey. So much aroha.– Carolyn DeCarlo

On Rachel’s poem:

I’ve been a fan of Rachel O’Neill’s writing for almost a decade now and this might be my favourite poem of hers I’ve come across in all those years. I remember hearing her perform it at a reading at our house. She had the audience in convulsions. I was so glad to come across this poem again when Rachel submitted her manuscript. It brings a grin to my face every time I reread it. It might just be my raison d’être. – Jackson Nieuwland

On Cadence’s poem:

This poem is one of many gems from Cadence’s forthcoming collection, with language so lush it drips with imagery. As a teaser for what’s to come, the poet takes herself apart piece by piece, and puts herself under the microscope. It reminds me of the old nursery rhyme that says girls are made of ‘sugar and spice, and everything nice’, only Cadence turns the question back on itself and reveals the process of dissection, slightly gruesome and certainly not nice. – Ash Davida Jane

On Khadro’s poem:

I’m really lucky to be editing Khadro’s manuscript, there are so many magical moments contained within it, and this poem is a perfect example. Its rich and beautiful language builds a bridge between Aotearoa and Africa. It reads as a love letter to her homeland and herself. – Stacey Teague

The poems

Rainbow Piupiu

I don’t know enough about the tipuna I’m named after
but when I read she was a weaver 
I feel her stitching tāniko
into the bodice of my insides

She says it doesn’t hurt that much
When I breathe in 
hundreds of tiny holes expand
but her pattern holds its place
like the ocean holds the stars that got us here

I don’t know anything about kākahu
but when I hear she made cloaks from juicy kererū
I can feel her weaving muka
into my shoulder blades

She says to hold still
When I breathe out 
they move in rhythm  
rows on rows of feathers align
like the tides with the winds that carried us here 

I’ve never heard of a Rainbow Piupiu
but when I’m told she made one
I can feel her binding the cords
around my soft waist 

She says she had ten babies by my age
When I swirl my hips the piupiu dances
each dyed band melts into another colour
like her blood into the salt that brought us here

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins

A reason for everything

One day there is a reason for everything. Except, the following morning there are no reasons, only raisins, just like the philosopher warned you. The next day you go to work and your colleague asks, ‘What’s your raisin, though?’ You hand your colleague a bit of paper. On it you have written, ‘What if there is no raisin?’ Your colleague can’t handle the implication that all men walking the earth are without a single raisin, that even the smallest of raisins is missing. That night you can’t sleep. Being unconscious and prone and partially paralysed for up to eight hours without a raisin no longer seems sensible. If only there was one good raisin left in the world, you think. If only it could be found.

Rachel O’Neill

anatomy

i am made from milk teeth, not yet weaned
        from this world though it may try
to pull itself from my wet pink gums 

i will hang on to its grit for a moment 
       and a moment and a moment
longer. i am made of dandelion fluff

spinning like spokes into living rooms
      and kitchens and trying to find
a home somewhere, a place to seed

and stay. all i want is for someone
      to divide me into neat parts and lay
them all out, so i can see

the pesky veins that cause my blood 
     to swim, the blushing heart that
tries to love more than it can chew through

o, silly organs of mine, i would say
     you fools of longing, lust and time
hot and carnal and really nothing like

a seed or petal—o to be made of pretty
     white taffeta or downy petals
instead of such heavy instruments 

that weigh me down. o to have
   people take out their tweezers and glasses 
to have them examine me and pull

me apart, marvelling at each lovely
   piece that comes out—the heart
the spleen, the liver, the brain

sparkling like jewels
   crisp as bug wings
and with just as much glister

Cadence Chung

IF I GO BACK

//

if I ‘go back to where I came from’ I will take everything with me.
my mason jars with fireflies, my golden bangles, my morning coffee.
I will take my earth, my horned melons and stories of cleopatra
I will take that rug, the one you love so much, with the golden
tassels and delicately picked butterfly wings. I will take my turmeric

my henna, my lemongrass and my acacia leaves.
I will take my language, heavy and soft in the palms of my hands
I will tuck my afrobeats and hip-hop in my back pocket
I will carry the moon in my bindle, my chocolate in a zip-lock bag

I will carry my baobab and the cash you owe me in my backpack
and then you’ll be left with naked kings and queens with concave
bellies and hollow, scooped out eyes because their fancy fabric, thin
sclera and jewelled crowns belong to me too.


Ama Ata Adioo once said ‘what would the world be without Africa?’ and
I think I know now. it would no longer grow roses, it would be
void of lyrical words and sweet orange pulp that melt on my tongue
the earth would be scaly and dry, the wind would not whistle.
there would be a dent in the air every time you took a breath. there
would be no myriad of reds and purples dancing across the sky.

Khadro Mohamed

The poets

Cadence Chung is a poet, musician, and student at Wellington High School. She has been writing poetry since she was at primary school, and since then has loved writing, whether it be songs, short stories, or poems. Outside of poetry, she draws inspiration from classic literature, Tumblr text posts, and roaming antique stores.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Nicole Titihuia Hawkins (Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Ngāti Pāhauwera) is a novice writer, avid home-baker and proud aunt. She lives in Pōneke and works at a local high school teaching English, Social Studies and tikanga Māori. Nicole is also involved in pastoral care and facilitates Kapa Haka. Nicole has collaborated with other writers to host ‘Coffee with Brownies’, which are open mic events for people of colour to share their work in safe spaces. She co-hosted ‘Rhyme Time’, a regional youth event, with Poetry in Motion, to encourage a diverse range of youth to perform their incredible poetry. Nicole has work published by Overland, Capital Magazine, Blackmail Press and The Spinoff Ātea and credits her courageous students with inspiring her to write.

Follow her on Instagram.

Khadro Mohamed is a 20-something year old poet residing on the shores of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She’s a tea lover, a photo enthusiast, an occasional poet… and that’s pretty much it. You can find bits of her writing floating around Newtown in Food Court Books and online.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Rachel O’Neill is a Pākehā storyteller who was raised in the Waikato and currently lives and works in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Kāpiti Coast. Rachel enjoys collaborating with writers, artists and filmmakers on publications, exhibitions and works for screen, and they are a founding member of the four-artist collaborative group, All the Cunning Stunts. A graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts (BA/BFA) and the International Institute of Modern Letters (MA), Rachel was selected for the 2017 Aotearoa Short Film Lab, received a 2018 SEED Grant (NZWG/NZFC) for feature film development, and held a 2019 Emerging Writers Residency at the Michael King Writers Centre. Their debut book, One Human in Height (Hue & Cry Press) was published in 2013. As a queer non-binary storyteller Rachel strives to represent the longing for connection and the humour and strangeness that characterise human experience.

Follow them on Instagram, Twitter or their website.

We Are Babies website

Poetry Shelf Spring Season

Tara Black picks poems
Victor Rodger picks poems
Peter Ireland picks poems
Emma Espiner picks poems
Claire Mabey picks poems
Sally Blundell picks poems
Frances Cooke picks poems