Poetry roundup

Hamesh Wyatt reviews recent works of poetry.

Anna Jackson
Auckland University Press

Anna Jackson has published six collections of poetry. All of them are excellent.

Rather than churning out her own stuff, this time around she explains her informed love of poetry.

This is a great mix from the ancient to the tweeted and asks the big question of why poetry has a hold on a reader.

It talks of sprawl, form, letters, odes as well as the afterlife.

Anne Kennedy, Ash Davida Jane, Hera Lindsay Bird sit with James K Baxter, Jenny Bornholdt and Louise Gluck.

It begins with a quote from Anne Carson: ‘‘I think a poem, when it works, is an action of the mind captured on a page, and the reader, when he engages it, has to enter into that action.’’


Rebecca Hawkes
Auckland University Press

Rebecca Hawkes was a star in AUP New Poets 5 (2019) with her sequence “Softcore coldsores”.

Her debut full-length collection Meat Lovers is tender and brutal, seductive and repulsive.

This Wellington poet and Canterbury farm-girl perfectly captures rural life as well as a coming of age.

There might be the odd nod to Peter Olds in “Mince & Cheese” and Bernadette Hall in “Perendale princess” but it is her lush, unrestrained voice that captures the reader in the likes of “Flesh tones”:

… VII  … She
thinks about the first ewe she found with flystrike,
although of course she smelled the poor thing first,
before seeing the animal's whole back writhing horribly
with maggots. A squirming city beneath the green-
stained wool. Eaten alive. Even meat doesn't
deserve that treatment. …


Ed by Adrienne Jansen, Joan Begg, Rebecca Chester, Wesley Hollis & Roman Ratcliff
Landing Press

This latest poetry and prose anthology is about housing. Anger, contentment, longing, fear and loss fill these pages. The editors originally got 450 pieces to pick from. Poetry of everyday life deserves to be celebrated. Bits from Michael Hall, Siobhan Harvey, Thalia Henry, Tui Bevin and Jilly O'Brien make the cut.

“Central heating” (Jilly O'Brien)

this log burner-lit
livingeatingsleeping roomhas a fever.
remain clammy cold.

Notes at the end of each piece really work.


Chris Tse
Auckland University Press

Chris Tse seems to be appearing everywhere at the moment. Super Model Minority completes a loose trilogy of books and is a spirited and confronting new collection. Tse loves exploring his inner world. These new poems are vibrant, engaging and delightful.

He delivers the same emotional punch he handed out in AUP New Poets 4 (2011).

Tse knows how to pen poetry to make boys cry. “The Magician -Notes on distraction” is a sustained six pager that was written and performed at the gala night of the 2019 Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival.

One uncompromising insight is the closing poem “Funeral arrangements for the end of the world”:

All the clocks have been stopped and all the
cell towers have crumbled, their harsh greys
taken by the slow greens of dystopian vines
and weeds. To say goodbye is to give
yourself a chance to wake up, but how do
you bury an entire world? …


Frances Samuel
Te Herenga Waka University Press

Frances Samuel's debut collection of poems was Sleeping on Horseback (2014). Even back then she was working as a museum exhibitions' writer.

Museum is her follow-up. Samuel contradicts the stereotype of the dusty old museum in this latest collection of poems.

She paints intricate, graceful, beautiful pictures that have a sense of wonder. “You Bury Me” ends:

…It is not so strange then
this strange ritual
where I open your hand
fill your palm with dirt
then tenderly close your fingers around it.

These are poems of genuine personal intimacy.


Alan Roddick
Otago University Press

Alan Roddick’s third collection of poems Next examines the past, observes the present and speculates on the future.

CK Stead has called Roddick a ‘‘cool’’ poet: reserved, controlled, decent, funny and intelligent.

His poems reflect his life, like hanging out with Charles Brasch.

He writes often about being here in Dunedin.

“At Bluecliffs”:
I'm at the fishing hut, the furthest end of
that curving blade of a beach whetted by tides,
and there's your dad, comfortable on the doorstep,
knocking the dottle from his pipe, thumbing in
a fresh fill of his favourite tobacco,
and Murray's Erinmore Flake sweetens the woodsmoke.

Migration, family, friendship, aging and mortality are considered among these 40-odd odd poems, but it is his language and emotion that will grab the reader.

Roddick is strong and fascinating.


Gregory O'Brien
Auckland University Press

Gregory O'Brien painted the cover of Roddick's come-back book Getting It Right (2016).

A few years ago he held the Henderson Arts Trust Award in Alexandra. Much of this latest work comes from this time.

This is a lovely production, and as always in his art and in his verse O'Brien is clear and precise, bright, fresh and often surprising. The paintings in this latest collection are not just meant to be illustrations for the poems — they have hung in galleries.

There is a lot of focus on home in this work, but Chile and Ireland also make an impact. O'Brien loves his family.

“For Jen at Three O'Clock” ends:
… The track
from Horseshoe
to Fiddler's Flat, and the round trip
via Home Hills Runs Road, with us
and upon us, these days on earth, and
against us the possibility
of elsewhere. A layering of
piripiri, gentian,
with us, a rare climbing moss,
only us.

Oscar Upperton
Te Herenga Waka University Press

New Transgender Blockbusters (2020) was Oscar Upperton's debut collection of poems.

The Surgeon's Brain changes the focus to the life of Dr James Barry.

He was a brilliant military surgeon who was a transgender man living in the Victorian era.

The whole work is mesmerising, quirky and insightful.

Many of Upperton's poems explore exactly what Barry is thinking; his passion and purpose.

From “Good words”:
… A child is dying, drying, rung out like a rag.
Alongside her house runs an open sewer.
Did she play there? Yes, says the mother.
She was always playing in the river ...

Upperton writes without a smirk and shows how Barry treated others in this brilliant and beautiful drama.

The Surgeon's Brain is a treat.

Hamesh Wyatt lives in Bluff. He reads and writes poetry