Poetry roundup

Hamesh Wyatt reviews recent works of poetry. 

Andrew Johnston
Te Herenga Waka University Press

Andrew Johnston, a former proof reader at the Otago Daily Times, has published five collections of poems, two of which have won a national book award.

His Selected Poems is a beautiful book which plays his greatest hits.

Johnston has a finely judged sense of presence and occasion. He loves people

. Johnston’s mastery of the elaborate sestina form. It is no accident a pencil sharpener appears on the cover.



For three years it was winter.

I saw my brother there,


his face glazed with ice

through which his eyes


still tried to shine. He was

so cold he didn’t know


it was winter for three years;

when his mind began to thaw


how his face

ran with tears.


Elizabeth Smither
Auckland University Press


Elizabeth Smither’s 19th collection of poems is a dazzling new work from one of our finest poets. Her Night Horse (2017) won the New Zealand Book Award for poetry.

Smither enjoys looking at life. More often than not she is funny, playful, tender and terrific.

This latest lot finds Smither listening to music, shopping, dining out and getting a new hip. She brings children, grandchildren, trees, flowers, furniture and aging into thereader’s orbit.

Smither is clean and crisp in this latest effort. “Cilla, writing” begins:


We are the shortest laureates. But this afternoon

Cilla almost touches the sky, writing

on her motel balcony, two storeys up.


Her head in its peaked cap, her pen

are outlined in a strange significant shadow

a little laureate traced by Rouault


and in the shadows a shorter laureate watching

admiring her application, her skywriting. …


SAY I DO THIS: POEMS 2018-2022,
C K Stead
Auckland University Press


C K Stead is one of our most significant voices.

He thought he was running out of time but still fits in topics like the pandemic, climate change and war.

He once said: ‘‘I think of writing a poem as putting oneself in the moment, at the moment - an action more comprehensive, intuitive and mysterious than mere thinking’’.

As he gets older Stead is calm, measured and his tone hides the acute emotion implicit in many of these new poems.

Stead revisits My Name Was Judas (2006) in a short sequence which carries on the story how Judas tried to save his boyhood friend.


“Psalms of Judas, 3”:

When we were boys

and played together, and sometimes fought

his mother told me

I was too clever by half;

I didn’t know what she meant.

Her eyes held on to their secret

like a stone in a stream. …


James Norcliffe
Otago University Press

James Norcliffe recently launched his 11th book of poems Letter to ‘Oumuamua.

The title poem addresses an interstellar object that enters our solar system.

Norcliffe knows how to look at our flaws, limitations and how we can be strange.

His poems temper this with our desire for love, sorrow, regret and where we come from.


“Picnic in the Cemetery”:

Why the cemetery?

It was peaceful and there was plentiful parking.

What did you eat?

A boiled egg as white as the alabaster statuary I cracked it on.

Anything else?

Two cheese sandwiches washed down with a glass of Chablis.

You did not feel it was sacrilegious?

I did not think the dead would mind my continuing to eat.

What did you learn?

I was reminded of my impermanence; something I shared with the cheese sandwich.

What did you take with you?

The memory of cracking an egg on an angel.


Jake Arthur
Te Herenga Waka University Press

Jake Arthur is a younger voice who delivers 50 poems in this, his debut collection.

His poems are unsettling, romantic, startling and, most importantly, memorable.

Arthur knows how to make the alarming strangeness into something interesting and exciting.

His satire “Springer Motors, 1976” constantly probes what could be possible   “Lung” does not wallow in pain, but owns it and burns it into a robust, uncompromising vision of endurance:

Once I held a pillow over his head, as a joke.

‘Don’t be a drama queen’, I said, when his eyes bulged.

Then he passed out.


Lying by the pool in the sun,

me in my togs, him in his jeans,

he reached over and put a hand on my chest–the right side,

I shivered, though he wasn’t cold.

My chest rose and fell.

He took his hand away.


Michael Harlow
Cold Hub Press

Michael Harlow is a multi-award-winning poet and Jungian therapist. He knows how to employ imagination, motive, symbol and mythology in his latest collection of prose poems Renoir’s Bicycle.

He constantly explores new terrain in his work. This man cannot sit still.

Many of these poems come home strong.

Harlow knows how to put together a winning combination of swagger and vulnerability. “A loaf of bread” concludes:

Children frozen in their play, stare at her. And look

at each other as if already they know the unspeakable.

This has been going on for centuries. For centuries,

carrying behind her back, a loaf of bread, half-eaten.


Leah Dodd
Te Herenga Waka University Press


Past Lives is Leah Dodd’s debut collection. She may write when her toddler sleeps, and spends most of her time dancing with him to Talking Heads, yet she still knows how to put together a classy group of poems.

You can feel Dodd trying to escape from the harshness of life, and she reveals so much dirt and disarray.

I loved her series of bus poems. “Summer” is a juicy one. It begins:

rent money / even after you moved out /

while I collected mugs / rumpled books

sun-faded to Sally Lunn pink / spent Christmas

alone / eating cheap Swiss chocolate and /

smoking out the window / the cherry tomato plant /

staked up by the door stayed dead /

brown / reluctant / …


Mike Beveridge
Quentin Wilson Publishing

Mike Beveridge returns to a time when poems had rhyme and rhythm in his Poems for Remembering. Beveridge played rugby, attended Canterbury University before running a book and record shop. He now lives in Whangamata. He spreads 89 poems over nine

chapters. Many are about coming of age. “Poem for Miss Jones” takes Beveridge back to falling in love with poetry. Other poems just look at love. Family is important like “In Queen Charlotte Sound”. Beveridge licks the bruise:

I shan’t stay long; the grief I’m going through

Less piercing than the thought I’ll never sight

Those sturdy three small girls here in full flight,

When happiness was all we ever knew.


Sarah Lawrence, harold coutts, Arielle Walker
Auckland University Press

AUP New Poets 9 has new work from Sarah Lawrence, harold coutts and Arielle Walker.

Lots of breathtaking verse and insights.

This series is trailblazing stuff and calls on the reader to remember these names.

“Good people” by Sarah Lawrence:


Good people die slowly. You’ll die fast

In a freakshow headline, a clickbait tease.

That’s something my body said. I didn’t ask. …


This is not grim or pessimistic, rather bittersweet and realistic.


ed Tracey Slaughter
Massey University Press

New Zealand’s longest-running poetry journal is into its 57th edition. Somehow after chewing through 1000 poems Slaughter selects 150 new from 110 talented authors.

Locals Victor Billot, David Eggleton, Eliana Gray, Sophia Wilson and Sue Wootton all appear.

This is a big one: more than 400 pages.

Tyla Harry Bidois is the featured poet. Her work is ecstatic, politically charged and terrifying at the same time.

The winners and runners-up in the school competition are also announced.

More than 30 recently published New Zealand books are reviewed too.

This is a pile-up of ideas, a ball of fire in a book.


Hamesh Wyatt lives in Bluff. He reads and writes poetry