Poetry NZ Yearbook 2018
Yearbook 2018

Design: Jo Bailey, Thomas Le Bas and
Fay McAlpine ⁄ Typesetting by Kate Barraclough.

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from Massey University Press

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Jack Ross

Feature Poet:
Alistair Paterson

Other Poets:
John Allison, Hamish Ansley, Ruth Arnison, Stu Bagby, Tony Beyer, Joy Blair, Erick Brenstrum, Iain Britton, Owen Bullock, Nicole Cassidy-Koia, Jill Chan, Alastair Clarke, Jennifer Compton, Harold Coutts, Mary Cresswell, Brett Cross, Semira Davis, Tricia Dearborn, Doc Drumheller, David Eggleton, Johanna Emeney, Jess Fiebig, Catherine Fitchett, Sue Fitchett, Alexandra Fraser, Maryana Garcia, Callum Gentleman, Michael Hall, Sophia Hardy, Paula Harris, Gail Ingram, Susan Jacobs, Lincoln Jaques, Tim Jones, Sam Keenan, Mary Kelly, Raina Kingsley , Gary Langford, Katrina Larsen, Wes Lee, Henry Ludbrook, Olivia Macassey , Caoimhe McKeogh, Robert McLean, Natalie Modrich, Fardowsa Mohamed, Margaret Moores, Shereen Asha Murugayah, Heidi North-Bailey, Keith Nunes, Jessamine O Connor, Bob Orr, Jacqueline Crompton Ottaway, Lilián Pallares ⁄ Charles Olsen, I. K. Paterson-Harkness, Mark Pirie, Joanna Preston, Lindsay Rabbitt, Mary Rainsford, Essa Ranapiri, Vaughan Rapatahana, Sahanika Ratnayake, Ron Riddell, Gillian Roach, Jeremy Roberts, Lisa Samuels, Emma Shi, Sarah Shirley, Jane Simpson, Ruby Solly, Laura Solomon, Bill Sutton , Richard Taylor, Loren Thomas, Nicola Thorstensen, Vivienne Ullrich, Roland Vogt, Richard von Sturmer, Janet Wainscott, Devon Webb, Mercedes Webb-Pullman, Robyn Yudana Wellwood, Albert Wendt, Sigred Yamit, Mark Young

Owen Bullock: All the world is a page: Alistair Paterson’s play for voices
Jeanita Cush-Hunter: Dying to Matter: In Defence of Confessional Poetry
Ted Jenner: i. m. T. E. Hulme, ‘the father of Imagism’
Robert McLean: Arma Virumque Cano – A Reply to Janet Charman
Reade Moore: The Quiet of Boiling Oil: The life and poetry of Ellen Conroy

Ella Borrie, Mary Cresswell, Hamish Dewe, Johanna Emeney, Matthew Harris, Bronwyn Lloyd, Robert McLean, Peri Miller, Elizabeth Morton, Jeremy Roberts, Jack Ross, Laura Solomon & Richard Taylor

Books & Magazines In brief:
Jack Ross

POETRY NEW ZEALAND, New Zealand’s longest-running poetry magazine, showcases new writing from this country and overseas. It presents the work of talented newcomers and developing writers as well as that of established leaders in the field. This issue features a voice from the tradition: Alistair Paterson. Managing editor of Poetry New Zealand for twenty years, Paterson is the author of nine books of poetry and three of prose, including (most recently) Passant: A Journey to Elsewhere, a memoir of his early years, which came out from British publisher Austin Macauley in late 2017. Two sample poems can be found here: Stopping by a cornfield late in the afternoon by Alistair Paterson, and Us (for my sisters) by Fardowsa Mohamed.

Editorial: A Live Tradition

To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.
— Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI

Just as our previous issue focussed on younger poets, this one has as its overarching principle ‘the tradition’ – however you want to define that term. In pursuit of this aim, I’ve chosen to feature the poetry of Alistair Paterson.

Alistair was the managing editor of Poetry New Zealand for twenty years, from 1994 to 2014, and before that he edited Mate ⁄ Climate between 1974 and 1981. He is, however, principally a writer. Alistair had a poem in the very first issue of New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, in 1951, and since then he’s published nine books of poetry and three of prose, as well as editing numerous other books and journals.

He represents, then, a very important thing: perseverance in the writing life. Alongside this, though, his tireless work showcasing the talents of others shows a generosity of spirit which is also an essential part of the sense of poetic community I wish to celebrate here.

There’s another aspect of Alistair’s career which is perhaps less well known: a pronounced taste for experimentation and theory. As a result, Alistair’s poetry has never stood still. The free-flowing, associative poems he is writing today seem to me to represent a considerable technical advance on the more formal long poems of his middle years. Whether or not other readers agree with this diagnosis, the one constant factor in his writing is undoubtedly change.

For an author to be creating interesting new work after seventy-odd years of writing is not a phenomenon for which there are many parallels. Thomas Hardy published a book of poems in his 88th year; John Masefield in his 89th; Allen Curnow in his 90th. Alistair Paterson’s poetry now spans a similar period, but neither Hardy nor Masefield could be said to have kept up with new developments in poetics to the extent that Paterson has. Only Curnow provides a real precedent.

There’s a strong focus on mortality in many of the 21 new poems included here. How could there not be? What’s perhaps more noticeable is the delight and curiosity about nature, travel, time, the sea that most of them still display. Paterson’s energy seems inexhaustible. His wide acquaintanceship with so many of our poets, old and new, makes him in many ways the perfect embodiment of the ideal of a local tradition.

The Pound quote I began with speaks specifically of a live tradition. That’s the real point, I think. Of course it can be interesting and valuable to celebrate the past, but it’s what the past has gifted to the present that really matters. Good poems don’t die, but grow in the memory, inspire us to speak out about our own times, our own problems, our own causes of celebration or despair.

The same can be true of essays and reviews, more strongly in evidence than ever in this issue. As well as a long interview, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to include Owen Bullock’s essay on Alistair Paterson’s long poem The Toledo Room (1978), and thus to provide maximum coverage of his work to date.

Alongside this, you’ll find a passionate defence of Confessional Poetry against its many, many detractors by poetry student Jeanita Cush-Hunter; an eloquent centenary tribute to T. E. Hulme, the (s0-called) ‘father of Imagism’ – and certainly founder of a certain notion of the Modernist poetic tradition – by poet and classicist Ted Jenner; and an amusing account of a family poetic tradition by Reade Moore.

More controversially, perhaps, Robert McLean has written a reply to Janet Charman’s essay ‘A Piece of Why,’ included in the previous issue of Poetry New Zealand, in which he takes issue with Charman’s avowedly psychoanalytic reading of Allen Curnow’s choices as an anthologist.

Celebration and inclusiveness are one thing, but it must be emphasised that the right to disagree is also part of a ‘live tradition.’ Both Charman and McLean argue passionately in support of their positions, but on the issues, never ad hominem. Both, it seems to me, deserve a hearing. Perhaps it’s my evangelical upbringing, but I must confess that I’ve never been able to feel that there was much to be feared from robust debate.

The review section here, too – larger than ever – is not short of strong opinions, cogently expressed. In her generous and thought-provoking review of our previous issue, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017, poet and literary critic Paula Green announced as her own guiding principle, that: ‘A good poetry review opens a book for the reader as opposed to snapping it shut through the critic’s prejudices.’

I would certainly agree with that – in theory, at any rate. A book should always be given the benefit of the doubt, if at all possible. Unfortunately one cannot always leave it at that. George Orwell, in his essay ‘Confessions of a Book Reviewer,’ puts the issue very neatly: ‘If one says … that King Lear is a good play and The Four Just Men is a good thriller, what meaning is there in the word “good”?’

If we like and admire all books, then it’s much the same as liking and admiring none. Differentiation is the point of criticism, after all, and sometimes one bad review can teach us more than catalogues of praise.

To conclude with another quotation from Pound’s Pisan Cantos:

The wind is part of the process
The rain is part of the process1

Of course there is another important point to make about book reviews. The masthead of the Poetry New Zealand website has always read ‘International Journal of Poetry and Poetics.’ There have certainly been questions in the past about just how many international publications can be mixed with the local product without obscuring the central raison d'être of the magazine.

This issue, for instance, includes reviews of 33 books. 23 of these come from New Zealand publishers. Of the remainder, five come from Australia, one from Hong Kong, one from Spain, one from the UK, one from New York, and one from Hawai’i. However, seven of these ten constitute single-author collections by New Zealand writers. The other three are anthologies. Of these the first, 5 6 7 8, is an Australian-published sampler of work by four poets, two of whom are transplanted New Zealanders; the second, A TransPacific Poetics, has a New Zealand-based co-editor, includes substantial local content, and was in fact launched here in July 2017; in fact only the third, Zero Distance: New Poetry from China, might seem an anomalous inclusion. When I explain that its editor, Yiang Lujing, is studying at Victoria University of Wellington, and has contributed translations to earlier editions of Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, the status of his work as a deliberate attempt to introduce contemporary Chinese writing to a Pacific audience may seem clearer. It is, of course, fortunate that we were able to find a reviewer, poet and critic Hamish Dewe, who is bilingual in Chinese and English.

It might be objected that few of these books are likely to be found on the shelves of local bookshops, but this is an uncomfortable reality for much poetry publishing in New Zealand now. In any case, in the age of online ordering, international books are often easier to obtain than those issued by some of our less tech-savvy local publishers!

The second round of the Poetry NZ Poetry Prize has been as much of a delight to judge as was the first one. I’ve ended up making the following choices:

First prize ($500): Fardowsa Mohamed, for ‘Us’
Second prize ($300): Semira Davis, for ‘Hiding’
Third prize ($200): Henry Ludbrook, for ‘The Bar Girl’

Fardowsa Mohamed’s poem is, quite simply, magnificent. Its breadth of theme, its honesty and directness speak of a whole region of experience which I long to know more about.

It’s always a good sign when a poem scares the life out of you. Semira Davis’s poem is clipped and condensed, but there’s a sea of pain submerged under its surface. And yet, among other things, one would have to admit that it’s also very funny!

Henry Ludbrook’s ‘The Bar Girl’ is lush and romantic – or should that be pervy and voyeuristic? – all at the same time. It expresses perfectly a very real feeling, and that’s probably why I found it irresistible.

There are 87 poets in this issue (besides Alistair Paterson, our featured poet). There are also 6 essayists and 13 reviewers – though many of these have also contributed poems: 98 authors in all.

If variety is the spice of life, then I think you’ll find it here. I’m particularly happy to be able to present new work by some of the great luminaries of our Antipodean Poetic tradition: Jennifer Compton, David Eggleton, Sue Fitchett, Ted Jenner, Bob Orr, Albert Wendt, Mark Young, and many, many others.

The preponderance of poems here comes from younger writers, though – some still in their teens – which is as it should be. More than 300 separate submissions were sent in for this issue, which made the selection particularly difficult. My long-list of possible inclusions was over 200 pages long, and had to be gradually winnowed down to what you see here.

So please don’t be discouraged if you sent in work and had it rejected. Perseverance, and receptiveness to change: those are the two principles embodied in Alistair Paterson’s long literary career – keeping at it, despite all disappointments and discouragements; above all, always being ready to try something new.

Dr Jack Ross, September 2017

1 Pound, Ezra. ‘Canto LXXIV.’ In The Cantos of Ezra Pound. 1970. New York: New Directions, 1996. 455.

Stopping by a cornfield late in the afternoon

Along the edge of the river
near the trees – elms, oaks planted
in the nineteenth century we
stop – leave our bicycles,
go into the field across the road
where the corn’s sweet cobs locked
in the green sheaths that protect

them from wind & rain, have
ripened & are ready for picking –
which we do because my father
says he’s been given permission,
& we’re allowed to take them.

We choose what seem the best,
put them into the bag we have with us,
carry them home & set them
to cook, when they’re ready
take them out, put them on plates.

I remember
that summer we stopped by
the river – not because the corn was
so sweet but because I don’t think
my father told us the truth.

© Alistair Paterson, 2017

for my sisters

Mother, you did not expect to find yourself
in this forest of strange trees.
This ground does not taste
of the iron your tongue knew.
in the velvet of the night we heard you sob
in the room next door, our ears pressed to the peeling paper.
we locked fingers and prayed. someone next door
saw braided-head girls in a circle
praying to a peculiar god
and snapped their curtains shut.

Everyone congratulates me
on the scholarship. Your parents
who have suffered can finally exhale
said the white man at the ceremony.
But I think I hate this degree.
I want to do good and make a difference
but I have no idea
how to be in this foreign land.

the world broke & crumbled today
– there you go – trying to tape her back
into a perfect sphere,
trying to spit water
on the raging fire.

know that this earth is your body. your words are
the Pacific Ocean tides that wash & purify
your legs are the Mountains that anchor, your heart –
the Land that gives. every where you stand is your home.
Earth is the African Woman
who gave birth to the first Man.

We were watching late night Al Jazeera, shaking our heads,
when uncle called. A pregnant cousin we have never met has died.
The TV breaks to a Red Cross appeal.
You hold me on the sinking couch
as we mourn those whom we never knew.

© Fardowsa Mohamed, 2017