Poetry round-up

Hamish Wyatt reviews the latest in poetry works.

James Brown
Victoria University Press

James Brown’s Selected Poems is his seventh collection. He has been a finalist at the New Zealand Book Awards three times and teaches at Victoria University.

This latest effort is a wonderful selection of more than 140 poems - a beautiful book with an author photo taken by Robert Cross.

Over the years I have enjoyed “Emu”, “How I Met My Wife” and the telltale poem “I Come from Palmerston North”. They are all here. Sadly,  “The Brown Wiggle” and “The Ideal Present” do not make the cut this time around.

Brown’s voice speaks to the bored and disillusioned in all of us.

Brown has argued that, rather than hearing a poem read live, reading on the page gives the reader more power - to skip, reread, study, pause, think, go away, come back - and in so doing offers the poet greater opportunity for complexity and subtlety. There is less chance that the poem will seem incomprehensible, which it might if it were read live.

These poems are simple and direct. They stir up a sense of apprehension, anxiety and optimism. In short, Brown shares the same desires as the rest of us - even if he expresses them in a language that is utterly his own.

“Other Ideas”

So there we all were at last. All three of us.
We were mature, talked hard and long into the night,
as if the words would somehow cause less fuss.
If this is wrong, then maybe this is right,
we reasoned, but … what a load of shite.
In the morning it was me who caught the bus.
You came down to see me off, your night
face still lovely in your morning hair, unbrushed.

This is dazzling stuff.


Kay McKenzie Cooke
The Cuba Press

Kay McKenzie Cooke lives in Dunedin, was brought up in Orepuki and Gore, and now spends part of her year in Berlin.

Upturned is her fourth book of poems. She knows how to express grief and joy, loss and discovery.

Her debut collection Feeding the Dogs (Otago University Press, 2002) won the Jessie Mackay Award at the 2003 national book awards.

Upturned is a book full of ghosts, though not terrifying at all.

Cooke pens poems about her family members and has a keen eye for detail.

“Purple roses of Gore” concludes:

… Gore has its points
of interest – a fish, a styley clock with Westminster chimes,
a hundred-and-something-year-old ponderosa pine,
an aviary with a kea and a peacock.
It has fashion and coffee shops and rugby-coach farmers
with heavy fists clambering out of dusty utes to punch
coins into the parking meter.
It has purple roses.

Cooke is one of our mature poets with an acute grasp of the transience of both melancholy and contentment.


Rachel McAlpine
The Cuba Press

Rachel McAlpine is 80 years old and has penned more than 30 books during her career.

McAlpine has been constantly inspired by her parents. Her father was an Anglican vicar. More than 60 poems appear in this new work.

McAlpine brings back the masterpiece “Before the Fall” from 1983:

After the bath
with ragged towels
our Dad
would dry us
very carefully:
six little wriggly girls
each with foamy pigtails
two rainy legs
the invisible back we couldn’t reach
a small wet heart
and toes, ten each.
He dried us all
the way he gave the parish
Morning Prayer:
as if it was important
as if God was fair
as if it was really simple
if you would just be still
and bare.

“Tantrum” looks at how McAlpine is “likely to die at the lucky old age of 99”. She knows just how to turn a phrase and, of course, she is stretching out an incredible legacy.

McAlpine’s poems are warm and witty.


John Tane Christeller
The Cuba Press

John Tane Christeller’s study of plants and insects has helped him put together this vivid and eclectic work.

The scientist and artist come together to produce poems, screenprints and woodblocks.

Christeller is at his best when he writes about the value of things. He resists easy laughs and sentimentality.


“A Lullaby”
The sun will sink
The stars begin to shine
Your eyelids will droop
Your dreams will creep
These things will happen soon, my little one
The mists will swirl in the valleys
The rain will fall on the plain
So a sapling can grow there
And bring forth flowers
These things will come to pass, my little girl.

Christeller lives in Palmerston North and also writes in te reo. This is an appealing new voice.


Mary Maringikura Campbell

Mary Maringikura Campbell is the daughter of Alistair Te Ariki and Meg Campbell and lives in the family home of Pukerua Bay.

Yellow Moon brings together poems that cover her family, ancestry and socio-political observances from her daily life.

“Ethel Mary”

Did you pause before you walked out to sea?
Did you turn and face the shore?
Were your children forgotten?
Did you feel they would be better off without you?
Grandmother I too have contemplated
Were you lonely or filled with rage?
I wish I knew
Standing on my feet, these thoughts are like vultures
Grandmother I understand why you did what you did
too many storms
Let’s hold each other just for a moment.

Campbell’s poems teem with textures and lovely lyrical flourishes. These are poems full of controlled aggression and moody intent.

Hamesh Wyatt lives in Bluff. He reads and writes poetry

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