Poetry roundup

Hamesh Wyatt reviews recent works of poetry.

Geoff Cochrane
Te Herenga Waka University Press

Geoff Cockrane died in Wellington last year. He spent almost all his life there, producing 19 collections of poetry. 

Selected Poems brings together his greatest hits.

Over the years he has bestowed brilliance upon us.

Often there are stunning gear shifts - but he always knew how to hit the sweet spot between spontaneity and something expertly crafted.


Between the city and me

was only an ancient door

I’d painted orange.

Mounting treacherous steps,

Peter Olds brought sausages and plonk.

The wardrobe contained

a thousand and one empties.

In the fullness of time,

someone would smash the big mirror. …


I like how you can feel both the desperation and abiding hope. If you like your poetry full of jaded horrors and rare mercy, this impressive looking book is the one to buy.


ed. Anne Kennedy
Auckland University Press

Anne Kennedy says in her introduction to Remember Me: “There’s a reason we say ‘off by heart’ when we commit words to memory: to remember a poem is to hold that poem close to your heart”.

Some collections of poetry are a little hit and miss. Not this one.

It is full of bangers: Whakatauki, odes, poems of love and of nature, of whānau, history and politics.

From Ruth Dallas, “A Girl’s Song”:


When love came


down our street

Scarlet leaves


round our feet,

sang the girl, sewing.

He told me

he would

come again


the avenue

turned green

sang the girl, sewing.

How could I know,

or guess,

till now

The sadness

of a

summer bough,

sang the girl, sewing.


If you want one book of poems to get for 2023, especially for those who stay away from this genre, Remember Me contains no dull moments.

It is lean, mean and amazing. There is even a helpful section: ‘‘How to memorise and recite a poem’’.


ed. Carrie Rudzinski & Grace Iwashita-Taylor
Auckland University Press

Performance poetry has taken off in Aotearoa over the past decade. Rapture brings together 90 performance poets, rappers, spoken-word artists, slam poets, theatre makers, genre blenders and storytellers.

Laura Williamson, Tusiata Avia and David Eggleton all make appearances, as you would expect.

Eggleton’s “Matariki” begins:


Matariki’s eyes are fiery in the night.

Feather-shawled mountains gleam their beaks.

Great trunks, sawn through, tumble and tilt.

Bold carvings, auctioned in whispers,

echo as prophecies, sung by wind-swept trees,

The hāngi steams Captain Cookers, basted in juices. …


Rapture is fun, brash, colourful and catchy. This is one place to tap into the diversity of voice, talent, experience and desires of real writers, real poets, real people who live with us.


Kerrin P. Sharpe
Te Herenga Waka University Press

Kerrin P Sharpe’s fifth poetry collection is Hoof. The whole thing is an invitation to travel by train through the poet’s world.

The train that begins each of the three sections of this slender book gives the reader time to stop and stare.

“the park”:

At cricket practice

he whacks the ball higher than ever

wows his team

then collapses not kidding

not breathing

his Labrador a circle of worry

the leaves in an uproar

sirens sirens sirens

Early next morning, the park

is a quiet place

we cross

because we can


Using minimal punctuation, Sharpe contains a dry, worldly wit, enough to forestall a thunderhead of heartbreak.

This little book wraps desire, violence and sadness into a tight bundle.


Tusiata Avia
Te Herenga Waka University Press

I am sure this will get lots of attention. Tusiata Avia is not mucking around.

A reader can easily spot her sweep, stomp, bounce and muscular power.

Avia is as uncompromising and brutal as ever in her poems.


“Why don’t I have a big Tongan husband or Dwayne Johnson to help me?”


Vampires are always white

and here I am fighting one,

hard, like really goddamned fighting –

blood all over me,

worse than in a butcher’s shop,

worse than wrestling a bleeding swine,

blood fountaining everywhere.

Someone hand me a cross, I yell

and I press it to his forehead but nothing happens. …


Who can forget Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004), Bloodclot (2009) and Ockham Award-winning The Savage Coloniser Book (2020)? 

Big Fat Brown Bitch illustrates the confidence of a poet at the height of her powers.


Dani Yourukova
Auckland University Press

Dani Yourukova is ‘‘a queer Wellington writer with great hair and a bad personality’’.

Transposium is part philosophy thesis and part psychosexual ancient Greek fever dream.

There is lots of joking around, dropping wordplay and allegories that evade pat readings.

I particularly enjoyed the choose-your-own-adventure apocalypse.

“All my plants are dead and I’m pretty sure it’s your fault” ends:


… My cactuses are doing okay, but sometimes they get a little critical when I come in late with two shades of lipstick on my teeth.

‘Don’t you care about the environment?’ they bristle, spines in the shapes of rhetorical question marks.

‘All of the bees are dying and no one cares if you’re in love or not

except you.


Yourukova puts together poems full of the intoxicating effects of love and sex. At times there is elegance and restraint, but the texture of snap and crackle soon rise to the surface.

Transposium is good time poetry that deserves a big audience.


Kristen Phillips
The Cuba Press

One of my favourite stories is The ACB with Honora Lee (2012) by Kate De Goldi. 

Dad, You’ve Got Dementia by Kristen Phillips carries on the thread of coping with an ailing loved one.

Phillips recently returned to New Zealand to be with her dad. Short poems, usually no more than a page, make up this lovely reflection on how to stay connected with those we love.

“Banana & Milkshake” ends:


… It’s a hot day, and as I walk to the shops I

remember what so many others have written and

spoken about, that when someone you love is

dying or has died the world keeps turning. I

want to tell the woman who I order the

milkshake from that this is my dying dad’s last-ever


I take it back to the hospital; Dad is having his

evening cares, so I leave it with the staff, who put

it in the fridge and say they’ll make sure he gets it.


This is fierce, brave, intelligent work that serves up heartbreaking clarity and wisdom.


Isla Huia
Dead Bird Books

Talia is the debut collection from Isla Huia.

She gives voice to a critique of hometowns, an analysis of whakapapa and a tribute to her whānau.

Huia certainly knows how to create beautiful odes to difficult relationships.

Many of these poems dwell on loneliness and lost loves.

“7. julia” begins:


young Julia, if i could reimagine the uterus

i would say there is so much light here already

but even that light might not include

How To Pronounce Your Cousin’s Name

or how to manoeuvre this 98% fat free revolution.

instead, you will ask me what hell comes after this one,

is it colder, does it have the same teeth?...


Some of these poems are long, meandering and demand concentration.


Rushi Vyas
Otago University Press

Rushi Vyas may have his roots in the United States, but he now lives here in Dunedin.

 When I Reach For Your Pulse is his debut and reaches into a deep silence about personal and universal tragedies.

Vyas hits on those eternal themes of love, struggle and death.

The first bit of the opening poem “Effigy” sighs:


I waited all my life for my father

to die and when he finally did I heard

the whip of voices caged within

his skull…


This is a sharp, precise book in both the emotion and message.  There is no playful extravagance; more an intoxicating look at what could be possible.

I am sure there will be more to come.

Hamesh Wyatt lives in Bluff. He reads and writes poetry