Blog Archives

Listening for the voice, Janet Hughes

Coming to it: Selected Poems
Sam Hunt
Potton and Burton, $30.00,
ISBN 9780947503802

Poeta: Selected and New Poems
Cilla McQueen
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988531281

Watching for the Wingbeat: New and Selected Poems
Pat White
Cold Hub Press, $40.00,
ISBN 97804734444204

A “Selected Poems” doesn’t confer quite the accolade of a collected, with its connotations of canonisation. But the poet is more likely to have a hand in shaping it, and to be around to enjoy it; it is more likely to privilege reading pleasure; and it’s simply more likely to happen. Back when publishers were powerful arbiters and gatekeepers, a selected poems affirmed a career and a reputation. Now that there are more gates and fewer keepers, the fact of a selected probably carries less freight.

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Words uncaged, Tim Upperton

How to Defeat the Philistines David Beach, David Beach, $25.00

Winter Eyes Harry Ricketts, Victoria University Press, $25.00

A Fine Morning at Passchendaele Kevin Ireland, Steele Roberts, $25.00

Poetic forms are a bit like zoos. When I was a child, zoos had much smaller cages, and the lions and tigers and leopards would pace up and down inside them. You could see the animals, but you were also really aware of the bars on the cage. I don’t know if the animals were bored, or seething with anger. They would get to the end of the cage and turn around and pace again, and what I wanted more than anything was to see them break out of their cage. The same is true when I read a sonnet, or a villanelle, or a sestina: I’m most interested in those moments when poems chafe against the forms that constrain them. Zoos are different now, the cages are bigger, less obtrusive, and the animals have room to roam. Poetic forms are different, too. A sonnet, for instance, has 14 lines, except when it’s an American sonnet, when it might have 20, or more, or fewer. It has a volta, or turn, after the octave, except when it has no turn at all, and it follows a Petrarchan or Shakespearean rhyme scheme, with sonorous pentameters, except when it’s in loose, unrhyming couplets, like Baxter’s “Jerusalem Sonnets”.

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Shivers of emotion, Tom McLean

Dan Davin: A Field Officer’s Notebook: Selected Poems
Robert McLean (ed)
Cold Hub Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780473430689

Robert McLean here presents an edited selection of Dan Davin’s poetry, collecting a body of verse seen as having value in itself rather than attempting a scholarly edition or detailed exegesis. A brief contextualising introduction emphasises the influence of WWII on Davin.

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Yearning and erasure, John Horrocks

He’s so MASC
Chris Tse
Auckland University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 1781869408879

The Facts
Therese Lloyd
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561810

Dark Days at the Oxygen Café
James Norcliffe
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776560837

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Keith Westwater – Poem

To Avis Elaine The flowers you loved strew the shores of my first seven years Sometimes, in flower shops they shout out their names gerbera gladioli iris Sometimes they sing to me from a bouquet only half-made peonies pansies sweet

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Thoughts well-wrought, Damian Love

View from the South
Owen Marshall (Grahame Sydney photographer)
Vintage, $40.00, ISBN 9780143771845

It often seems to be the case that novelists, when they turn to verse, move with a more relaxed gait, a less self-conscious regard, than those whose passport to the Republic of Letters declares them to be Poets. I am glad that Owen Marshall is not a Poet. This happy circumstance leaves him free to write poetry. There is no straining for originality in his verse, no exhibitionist sensitivity, just a quiet confidence in the value of well-wrought thought.

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Back on the rock, Janet Hughes

The Ski Flier
Maria MacMillan
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561131

Vanishing Points
Michele Leggott
Auckland University Press, $28.00,
ISBN 9781869408749

Tightrope
Selina Tusitala Marsh
Auckland University Press, $28.00,
ISBN 9781869408725

Poetry seems to have reclaimed what someone called “the big speech” – eloquence, public speech, heightened language. Poets are reaching to expand their audiences and expressive range. It’s as if the bard has climbed back on the rock, tiring of contemplation and private conversation. These three poets are highly distinctive voices, using varieties of big speech to deserved acclaim in very different ways.

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An account of trauma, Michael Hulse

Allen Curnow: Collected Poems
Elizabeth Caffin and Terry Sturm (eds)
Auckland University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9781869408510

Allen Curnow’s poetry is a transcript of trauma. “Morning by morning incorruption / Puts on corruption”: this most fundamental of thoughts, borne in upon every one of us as the time of our lives moves from childhood to what we call understanding, and onward, is not Curnow’s alone. The experiences of mutability, transience, and destruction, are universal. “A child returned / Discerns in quicksand his own footprint / Brimming and fading, vanishing.” The evidence that whatever begins in joy, hope and openness is swept away in the indifferent whirlwind lies before us everywhere. Time with a gift of tears. 

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A swarm of poets, Airini Beautrais 

Manifesto Aotearoa: 101 Political Poems
Philip Temple and Emma Neale (eds)
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947522469

 

New Zealand poetry in English has a long and complex tradition of politically-charged work: from colonial balladeers, through 20th-century heavyweights like Allen Curnow (as himself and as Whim Wham) and James K Baxter, to more recent poets including Bill Sewell, Robert Sullivan, Dinah Hawken and Hinemoana Baker. Despite this tradition, and perhaps in line with a neo-liberal mood-shift towards individualism and consumerism, an attitude has existed in recent years that there isn’t much political content in our poetry, or that it doesn’t belong there. Sullivan, in his 2010 sequence Cassino: City of Martyrs, bluntly calls such an attitude out in the lines “New Zealand / and its official status quo disdain / for political verse as if it was anything but.” Appearing against this historical and contemporary backdrop, Philip Temple’s and Emma Neale’s Manifesto anthology is a timely and welcome project.

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The wisdom of things, Anna Smaill

The Yield
Sue Wootton
Otago University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780947522483

The Internet of Things
Kate Camp
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561063

There is beauty to be had in yielding, Sue Wootton’s collection suggests, both to the natural world and to language. The collection’s title comes from its final poem, a quiet ode to an apple tree. Resurrected from its first life as a “dehydrated sapling”, the tree has thrived against the odds. Evidence of its battle remains in its posture; the sapling has developed

a lean, the whole tree on an angle,
as if surrendering in deference
to persistent pressure, as if leaned
upon,
giving in or giving up to what
prevails

 

The poem ultimately suggests that, rather than resignation, the tree’s lean is a mode of enabling sacrifice: it “let[s] go” in order to “put out arms, become a fruitful crux”. In conserving its energy the tree enables a different kind of yield – the crop of “yellow apples, blushed, /…Tart and crisp, delicious.”

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