Poetry NZ Issue 37
Issue 37

Owen Bullock

Michele Leggott, Rizwan Akhtar, E. Kristin Anderson, Stu Bagby, Joy Blair, Sarah Broom, Jennifer Compton, Geraldine Day, Sue Fitchett, Jan FitzGerald, David Flynn, Basim Furat, Michael Hall, Alice Hooton, Hayden Hyams, David Ingram, Ian Irvine, Arthur Kimball, Will Leadbeater, Jessica Le Bas, Helen Lowe, Ron McGurk, John Millett, Michael Morrissey, Janet Newman, Michael O'Leary, Jacqueline Ottaway, Sarah Penwarden, Kerry Popplewell, Patricia Prime, L. E. Scott, Eric Paul Shaffer, Kerrin P. Sharpe, Barry Southam, Michael Steven, Elizabeth Sullivan, Ginny Sullivan, Philip A. Waterhouse, Don Winter

John Horrocks, "Truth telling: Michael Morrissey's poetry"

Jack Ross, "Africa by Alistair Paterson"

Books and magazines in brief:
Alistair Paterson

This issue features the poetry of Michele Leggott, one of New Zealand's most consistently innovative poets. She is this year's New Zealand Poet Laureate. Three sample poems can be found here: The labours of someone as un-Herculean as myself by Will Leadbeater, Outlaw by Don Winter, and tell your mama by Michele Leggott.


Many poets are focused primarily on getting their work into print. Sometimes, I feel this acts to the detriment of the reading of poetry. Few poets seem to have an overall vision for poetry as an art form. Such an idea is debatable and relative in any case. But an editor is forced into some kind of overview. At the moment I feel that New Zealand poetry, whilst exciting and filled with possibility, is rather polarised by the work of those who have accepted the influence of semiotics and post-modernism and those who haven't. Yes, any form can work, but when an editor reads a poem that he or she feels could have been written 80–100 years ago, there's a reluctance to publish. An editor is in a position of reading many works by a great number of poets writing more or less at the same time. This creates a 'yawn' factor when the same techniques and preoccupations crop up, which, I have to say, they do. If poets were to read as widely as possible from contemporary poetry, they would surely benefit. Twelve years ago, when I first submitted my own work to Poetry NZ, it was suggested to me that 70 per cent of a poet's success depended on the reading they did. I felt insulted, because I had always read a lot of poetry. But I had not read much contemporary poetry. I soon found, because poetry was important to me and because I wanted to learn, that this advice was significant. Some poets seem able to assimilate artistic changes without much theoretical reading. This is the type of person who learns by doing, by experience and doesn't need a theory to make the action possible. Others benefit from having a larger model to work from. After a while we find what suits us best, and it doesn't matter what that is, as long as we try to imbue our poetry with a fresh view of the world through the agent of language and its ability to reconfigure perceptions of what reality might be.

Owen Bullock

The labours of someone
as un-Herculean as myself

When I awoke
I was exhausted
after carrying an encased
grandfather clock
up Queen Street
towards where the old entrance
to the Herald building
used to be,

but even before I started
on this arduous journey
I'd been shown a
double-page spread
of classified advertisements
still to be checked
against the original copy —

then the panic attack
kicked in
when I saw the hands of
the large roman-numeral clock
above the two semi-fluted columns
of the Guardian Trust
pointing to ten
when I should have started work
at eight.

— Copyright Will Leadbeater, 2008.


Maybe you've known a guy
half crazy, plain stupid, or just itching to be free,
who tapes don't try to find me
to the refrigerator door, and is never
heard from again, not even a phone call
or a post card. He changes from work clothes
into black scuffy boots, blue jeans, dark
t-shirt and a motorcycle jacket, hides his face
under a cowboy hat. He hails loneliness
like a cab, breaks every promise
he ever made to himself.
What balls, the men
at the factory say. Braver than a suicide.
But they hope they don't catch
what he has. And he winds up
drifting transient as a dream
not in some Kerouac utopia, but beneath
the random lettering of a broken marquee.
And he stumbles at dusk
to listen to a revivalist swollen
like a tent in trade for a few hours
in a warm bed. He forgets
what's missing in his life,
stops telling himself the lies
we need to make sense, to survive,
and he believes nothing
is always what's left
after awhile, and nothing he does or has done
needs to be explained.

— Copyright Don Winter, 2008.

tell wour mama

it's the third of March   your birthday
and you would be seventy nine   my sister
wishes you were around to talk about
making mouths work   oromotor dyspraxia
in the beautiful language of clinicians
I see the little horse projected
in the stairwell by strong morning light
the equinox is on its way
mama we miss you   twenty five years
motor out of our mouths   yes
five foot four and shrinking   we'd like
to have had those years those jokes
those tickings off   the light has shifted
on its bearings   birds eat the figs
apples fall from the trees
let me tell you about the sky-blue stick
whose stories have just begun

Te Kikorangi we could call it
almost as good as the blue from Kapiti
we eat when the good times roll
pick it up and the weight of the sky
but also its cool panorama
communicate in a nano that sends
your fingers to find the silver collars
the white on blue smile of magnolias
traced out in reverse   and the circlet
hammered with tiny nails by the silversmith
who wanted to leave them proud   fire seeds
talking back to the birds in the trees

and I would know you   looking up
from the page   by the feel of you
blue chalk going down on the pavement
as the skies open   if I were blind
not a white stick but a sky mama
a pole of wind for the child
waving wildly about in the tree

I open the window after the storm
that washed away the chalkers' poems
almost as they were written   white on blue
the sky smiles again   the stick unscrews
in four pieces   it is a pool cue mama
looking for a good time to come
its stories are at work in our mouths
as the birds fly up in a white spray
that begins their autumn migrations

— Copyright Michele Leggott, 2008.