Poetry NZ Issue 26
Issue 26

Alistair Paterson

Poetry by:
Stephen Oliver, Rob Allan, Joshua Auerback, Peggy Aylsworth, Jane Blaikie, Owen Bullock, Tony Chad, Cyril Childs, Barbara Crooker, Bron Deed, Blair Ewing, Robin Fry, Ira Gustavson, Paula Harris, Karen Harryman, May Iremonger, David Ingram, Konrad Kuiper, Leicester Kyle, Jessica Le Bas, Elisabeth Liebert, Andrea MacPhearson, Catherine Mair, Adrianne Marcus, Betty Ann Matthews, Kirk Middlemiss, Pooja Mittal, James Norcliffe, Jacqueline Ottaway, Vivienne Plumb, Jenny Powell-Chalmers, Joanna Preston, Nadine Ribault, Jack Ross, Pip Sheehan, Knute Skinner, Olwyn Stewart, Virgil Suárez, Catherine Swanson, Richard Taylor, Jocelyne Thébault, Marcus Turver, Sara Zettervall

Tracey Slaughter

Alistair Paterson

This issue offers a fresh look at the work of expatriate New Zealander Stephen Oliver whose poetry has recently been making a considerable impact in Australia and elsewhere, and is gaining wider recognition in his country of origin. Over forty other poets are also published in this issue, from New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, France and the United States.

Three sample poems can be found here: Heaven by Stephen Oliver, The Symbolist professes everything by Joanna Preston and Drowned in Mist and Silence by Nadine Ribault (trans. Jean Anderson).


If poetry is contemporary at all, it's in the way philosophy, architecture, science, mathematics, law, political systems, music and art are contemporary. It examines what's been done before, reflects on the imaginative and creative present, and looks towards the future. 'Isms' of the past – classicism, romanticism, vorticism, Dadaism, modernism – have attempted, and to varying degrees as is presently the case with postmodernism and 'language' writing, have succeeded in doing exactly this. Currently though, poetry seems to be in a state of confusion.

Strangely and to a large degree, this confusion appears to have been brought about by that most immediate and universal of communicative developments – the internet. We could have hoped it would have been otherwise, that a medium with the capacity to by-pass the traditional means of publishing poetry would have universalised public interest in it and enhanced its quality. While not quite universalising public interest it is, however, providing a wide and international distribution of verse that would formerly have been confined to the countries and the even narrower locations of the cities in which it was written. This ought to be to poetry's advantage and eventually is certain to become so. Presently however, the internet doesn't appear to be doing this as successfully as it ought to.

Certainly, from an editor's point of view, this is how things seem – perhaps because the internet as well as publishing some of the best work available also presents a great amount of poetry that otherwise mightn't see the light of day – poetry that in many cases, and contrary to what most editors are looking for, tends to revert to many of the literary techniques and methodologies of the past. Of course this wouldn't matter if at the same time these methods and techniques were modified and further developed to meet the demands of the present and point to the future.

Poets learn from the poetry around them and if it's outmoded or reactionary that's the kind of poetry many of them write, unknowingly eschewing innovation and originality, slowing their development as poets and making the business of magazine editing all that much more difficult. While there's always room for poetry of every kind and persuasion, Poetry New Zealand hopes that poetry's present stage of representation on the internet will soon pass and that the potential this recent development has to serve poetry will result in its becoming the quality medium everyone knows it's capable of.

Alistair Paterson, March 2003


Heard about it before but where?
No way rocket ships can get there.
A thought can't and a thought is free
Though it requires far less energy.
We are caught between the devil
And deep desire for space travel.
A swallowing of all that light
And no sign of life, it's not right.
Surely we would have heard by now.
The Ancients often held powwow
With the Gods—yet they believed it!
History played the slickest trick
When Heaven started as city-state.
(Popes tried it on, but much too late.)
Gravity pulls us back to earth,
Something to do with human worth.
If God in his high Heaven blinks
You hear him gargle in your sinks,
When solar winds emit a groan
Knocking out your cellular phone
Or stopping lifts between the floors
(We spend half a life trapped indoors)
When magnetic storms play havoc
And Wall Street bulls start the panic,
Or the godwit flies left to right
Scrambling for its seasonal flight
And crows fly backwards in chevron
From Mullumbimby to Darwin—
Whisper into your neighbour's ear
What one poet sang in Good Cheer
(Never the one to scrimp and save)
'Each day's a holiday from the grave.'

The Wellington poet and satirist, Denis Glover, once quipped: "Like all great fiction, I enjoy reading the Bible." He also said, "Every day's a holiday away from the grave." This took place during a 'live' television interview in the mid-'60s. He was famously drunk at the time.

— Copyright Stephen Oliver, 2003.

The Symbolist professes everything

A darkened room with a mirror
facing a mirror. Enter—
reflections of reflections
coil behind you

where I am waiting.

A rose made of flesh,
pink-soft and warm, echoes
under your fingertips.

Taste it.
Tame it.
Take it

A plain with a curved edge,
horizon drawn in cloud black.

In the centre of the myth
a thorn tree.
In the centre of the tree's thorns
a bird.
In the bird's shrewd eye
your face.

— Copyright Joanna Preston, 2003.

Drowned in Mist and Silence

One day the creature wanted no more contact with the world and with the vast expanse of the sky. To others, to the limitless madness of their way of thinking, to their acts of massacre, she denied herself.From the claws of the wild beasts, from the raging hooves of the dashing horses, from the terrifying shapes of the clouds, from the searching winds of the storms, from all the anguish, she had tried to protect herself. Against the immensity—believing it sincerely—of the sorrow that had doubtless wounded her, she had turned her back. Sun, moon, gardens, volcanic peaks, human melancholy—happiness! no, that suffering which we take to be happiness!—fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, friends—nothing. Creature of the air and of the dawn, she had one day, taking fright, decided to survey the shadow lands, the watery kingdom—feather by feather, drop by drop, stream by stream, I come nearer to what I desire—land of tree ferns, such a dark kingdom that the boundaries could not be seen except in the imagination, land drowned in mist and silence, where sap trickles through the long skirts of night—land risen from the night, from water and music—dappled with slanting rays of artificial light, sufficient only to see that there was nothing more, neither before nor behind her.
There, the sky was no more, nor the seasons, and plant life knew no rest.

From the green ocean emerged only the furled croziers of the ferns like a giant flotilla of telescopes.

The creature had lost her wings and her colours and her feathers, no one would have dared to call them feathers any more. Her face was filled with the past—light unseen by any human! light so beautiful! see! in disarray! faraway, the journey to find a homeland, resolved! see, a note peals from the leaves of the trees whose crowns are never seen—a face filled with the past, creped eyelids blinking in the middle over two little black and oily olives and her tail—old rudder, I know, will no longer guide me—was thinned in the green half-shadows.

Not the least moribund, frail, deprived of strength, the creature henceforth tottering, clearly fallen from grace—and this mantle of leaves which will cloak me with this life—lame, infirm, wasting away—will be my life!—but she could still stand and run, a vestige of herself.

A prodigy!
Life beneath life.
Between tree and native soil.
A benediction!

With her long beak, rummaging right and left, she disturbed the leaves, dug into the soil, buried her nose up to her eyes, down to the abyss then, blowing the dust of the earth from her nostrils, she set off again, with a leap and a skip, sudden and impetuous: fleeing the enemy, eating beetles and spiders, that shapeless mass of hidden lives which trample and poison one another and stick slimily one one another's tongues—madness!

On the verge of extinction now that she had exiled herself from everything, she hastened to swallow up space, to learn the world below and to see other things. She drank her fill of stagnant water and at that delicious spring discovered a taste for clouds and for the sea and when she sang listeners thought they head her, like a Roman mourner, weeping...

All is lost, just my eyes... just my eyes left to lose... j-just my eyes left to lose.

— Copyright Nadine Ribault, 2003 (translated from the French by Jean Anderson).