Poetry NZ Issue 36
Issue 36

Owen Bullock

Marissa Johnpillai, Joe Bacal, Robert James Berry, Tony Beyer, Iain Britton, Sarah Broom, Patrick Carrington, Tony Chad, C. E. Chaffin, Craig Cotter, Shirley Deuchrass, Eric Dodson, Blair Ewing, Jan FitzGerald, Gary Forrester, Robin Fry, Bernard Gadd, Alice Hooton, Becca Joyce, Jan Kemp, Harvey Molloy, Edward Mycue, John O'Connor, Mai Van Phan, Mark Pirie, Kerry Popplewell, Anna Rugis, Elizabeth Smither, C. K. Stead, Ginny Sullivan, Jocelyne Thébault, Jo Thorpe, Suzanne Vaassen, L. M. Wallace, Rodney Williams, Saint James Harris Wood

Nicholas Reid, End of Snapshots by Bernard Gadd
Siobhan Harvey, Becoming Someone Who Isn't by Jill Chan

Books in brief:
Owen Bullock

This issue features the poetry of Marissa Johnpillai, an innovative young poet from Christchurch. Three sample poems can be found here: Concern for the sky by John O'Connor, Dylan by L. M. Wallace, and pissu gaeni (mad woman) by Marissa Johnpillai.


Poets often write about nothing or, rather, the phenomenon of nothingness. The poet alludes to something which can't be known; it is the 'other' in poetry. Some of the time, that nothing seems to have a sense of identity, a 'something' about it. This is both curious and appealing. Another common referent is light. Poets want some kind of light to work its way into their lines. Again, it has a sensibility to it, which is more than something which illumines or makes clear. Poets sometimes adopt forms and adapt old ones. They need to be wary of the trap form can create but open to the fact that a form may take poets into spaces new to them. Occasionally in Poetry NZ you'll read examples of a specific form. The flow of lightness of language is sometimes found in the spoken word, and this often underpins the poet's work. Some poems are close to dialogue, albeit lifted above it in order to avoid the mundane. The familiar, or the 'truthful', in terms of accurate rendering, is what makes the words buzz in our ears and makes poetry what it is.

Sad news for this issue is that Frank Pervan died last year. He was an occasional contributor to and a regular supporter of this and many other literary magazines. He will be missed.

We were also shocked to hear of the death of Bernard Gadd. The more we think about Bernard's work and literary activities, the more reasons we have to be grateful to him for the contribution he's made to New Zealand literature. His poetry has continued to develop late in life, encountering as it did difficult historical periods and dealing with challenging themes. He was an exponent of haiku and the related forms of tanka and haibun, and made a significant contribution to the development of those forms in this country. He worked hard to make the best local writing available to students, editing several anthologies of short stories and scripts for New Zealand schools, as well as the 1960s and 1970s poetry anthology Real Fire (Square One Press, Dunedin, 2001). Some of his most recent work was featured in Poetry NZ 34. It's a privilege to be in a position of being able to pay tribute to him. It is fitting also that this issue contains some of his last poems and a review of his latest book, End of the Snapshots. We lament the fact that there will be no more new work from Bernard.

Noted poet Meg Campbell died on 17 November, the day before her latest collection was to be launched. Our sympathies are with the partners and families of each of these departed friends. If New Zealand poetry continues to flourish, to experiment and explore, it is, in part, because of the legacy that these generous-hearted and unique poets have left us.

Owen Bullock, March 2008

Concern for the sky

Some days it simply rained
no point in saying otherwise
blue clouds
red clouds
& clouds with clown faces.
That was summer

The number of honesty boxes
increased in those months
as did the number
of beggars

someone painted the roads green
& the next morning council
lawn mowers
whizzed up & down
beside the parks
& gardens

That was the trouble:
a story without
real characters

a plot without a theme
just parts of speech
hanging out
here & there

everything at loose ends
& the loose ends themselves
having no beginnings

— Copyright John O'Connor, 2008.


His hat.
The brim.
The white stripe
running down his trousers.
The way he says 'train'
and 'die'.
The way you can barely make out
anything else.

The rattle at the end of each line.
The heels of his boots,
and the way his legs look like toothpicks
and bend in at the knees.
How it's 'gea-taar' instead of 'guitar',
and the way he doesn't fill the gaps
between songs
with talking or comedy.

How the opening act apologise
for having to open for him.
The way he doesn't say thank you at the end,
just stands in a row with his band,
shuffles his feet, awkward arms.
The way he's probably just a normal guy —
uses old receipts to wrap gum
or leaking pens in.

Or a normal guy — leaves used tea-bags
where he shouldn't.
Probably just a normal guy —
thinks 'Yes. I am Bob Dylan.'
when somebody asks,
because who else would he be?

The way he'd probably agree with you —
he did look better younger
with all that crazy hair —
but that he's sixty-six now,
and can't help getting old
just like everybody else.

— Copyright L. M. Wallace, 2008.

pissu gaeni (mad woman)

while her hair was still black, she'd rub
it with gingili oil. tug & make two rat tails.
tie ribbon like a school girl.
put powder in the parting with her thumb.

her blouse stretched against the front
hooks so there were peepholes,
& from certain angles you could see brief
concaves where her breasts met.

on the bus, in shops,
even along the street,
she took her chances
with the arses & groins of men:

brushing pants with the backside
of her hand, the rounds of her thighs,
now & then pressing in
with her pelvis.

one evening, a drunkard tried to rape
her behind the toddy tavern, pushing mad
woman hard
into a concrete wall.

she pulled a box-cutter from somewhere
& slashed & slashed.
the next day, her uncle with two of his friends
went & beat the bugger up.

some years later,
when she'd become grey everywhere,
she took to wearing a bedsheet wrapped
around her legs like a dhobi.

she'd crouch near the taxi halt, poking
her purple tongue out & lifting
to show her dark place to any boy
passing through that way alone.

— Copyright Marissa Johnpillai, 2008.