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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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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

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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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Jewels and binoculars, Murray Bramwell

Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963–2016
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
Canterbury University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781927145883

Dylan Junkie
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
Mākaro Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780994137807

It is a harsh fact that we live in a world where there is far more published poetry than people willing or able to read it. Over the past 50 years, poetry has ceased to be a common currency. It is less often a core component of literary studies in either high-school or university curricula. For most people, poetry has become esoteric and increasingly formidable. Few nowadays have ever read more than a handful of poems, let alone committed lines to memory. There are many reasons for this. A significant one is that since the 1960s some of the best poetry has gone to live in Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”; the canon is now plugged into the body electric. Of course, lyrics still matter for people, but only when encased in melody and beats.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Sustained fullness of feeling, Damian Love

Tell Me My Name
Bill Manhire
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561070

 

Some Things to Place in a Coffin
Bill Manhire
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561056

It is often a revealing act. To translate, to imitate, to inhabit in some way a distant genre, is to offer a unique window. We have a glimpse of what the author is drawn to, but also how he differs from it, what he brings to a tradition and what it brings to him, what he takes from it and what he does not.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Young, gifted, female and brown, Elizabeth Crayford

Fale Aitu|Spirit House
Tusiata Avia
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776560646

Tail of the Taniwha
Courtney Sina Meredith
Beatnik Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780992264895

Lucky Punch
Simone Kaho
Anahera Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473367510

Before Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu|Spirit House was published, she made a point of telling her mother what she’d written, to which her mother replied, “It all needs to come out.” Avia tells us this in an endnote, but it could stand as epigraph to all three books. Reading Avia’s work alongside Courtney Sina Meredith’s Tail of the Taniwha and Simone Kaho’s Lucky Punch is to be immersed, sometimes uncomfortably, in contemporary Pasifika culture from a female perspective. Each writer’s voice is distinctive, yet similar themes crop up again and again. Anyone who’s read Albert Wendt’s Leaves of the Banyan Tree, or Sia Figiel’s more recent Where We Once Belonged, both set in Samoa, will not be surprised by the level of violence in these new works. However, the “all” that Avia’s mother implies is alive and kicking in New Zealand in the 21st century.

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Posted in Literature, Plays, Poetry and Review

Infectious enjoyment, Fleur Adcock

Night Burns with a White Fire: The Essential Lauris Edmond
Frances Edmond and Sue Fitchett (eds)
Steele Roberts, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947493448

This enjoyable anthology doesn’t pretend to be anything but an act of loving homage; as the editors admit, they did not plan a scholarly book. It consists of poems and a smaller number of extracts from Lauris Edmond’s prose writings, edited by the two people whose names are on the title page, but largely chosen by Lauris’s friends, admirers, and members of her family, who were asked to submit suggestions. The arrangement is thematic, progressing through childbirth, family love, friendship, Wellington, travel and other topics, and ending with a powerfully affecting section about death. It includes a timeline, a bibliography, and an index of contributors; one of the incidental pleasures of reading the collection is to cross-check titles of individual pieces with this index to see who chose what.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

“No country for old men”

Sydney-based New Zealand writer Paul Schimmel surveys the Hera Lindsay Bird phenomenon from across the ditch

Since Hera Lindsay Bird’s volume of poetry Hera Lindsay Bird was selected for the so-called long-list for the New Zealand book awards in poetry, and subsequently for the short list, I have become aware, from across the ditch, that a small-scale cult-like phenomenon seems to be emerging around her.

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Posted in Comment and Poetry

Rewards, challenges, surprise, Roger Robinson

The Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell
Victoria University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781776560677

Alistair Te Ariki Campbell always surprised us.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Poetry and politics, Sarah Sharp

Robert Burns: Poet and Revolutionist Harry Holland (Dougal McNeill ed) Steele Roberts, $30.00, ISBN 9780947493172 Writing during the 1920s, Harry Holland describes the celebration of Burns Night as an event which unites Scots around the world: be the Scot where

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

A slap in the face with a mohair glove, Anna Jackson

Hera Lindsay Bird Hera Lindsay Bird Victoria University Press, $25.00, ISBN 9781776560714 I have been reading Hera Lindsay Bird like a waitress pouring myself into the coffee … and then drinking it all before I get it as far as

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review
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