Bubble Burst Book List: Emily Writes

We’re sneaking ever closer to bookshops being able to deliver more than just the government mandated essentials. Many are already taking online orders in preparation for the shift to level 3 next week. Today we have Emily Writes sharing her extensive Bubble Burst Book List with us.

Emily Writes is a mum of two and author of the bestselling Rants in the Dark and the parenting collection Is it bedtime yet?  Rants in the Dark was recently made into a play that toured New Zealand. Emily is a columnist with The Spinoff.


Head Girl by Freya Daly Sadgrove (Victoria University Press)

I just bought this today online at The Twizel Bookshop and I’m so excited. I saw Freya Daly Sadgrove read from her debut collection at a charity event and I was absolutely hooked. Fangirl for life! But then Covid-19 happened and I’ve had no way to get Head Girl. I’m going to be waiting by my mailbox when we hit level three! I’m not a poet myself but I love to read poetry and I’m starting to get a good collection. Freya’s reading from Head Girl made me laugh and almost cry within seconds and I love work that moves me to that level. She’s going to be huge I just feel it in my waters.

Southern Nights by Naomi Arnold (Harper Collins)

Not a day goes by that I haven’t wished I’d bought this book before lockdown! But I’m looking forward to my local Unity Books opening so that I can buy this one from there and start star gazing with my children. I’ve heard so many great things about this book and the way Naomi Arnold writes about the traditional stargazers and Te Whanau Marama, our family of light. I would read anything she writes (so I hope she never writes Gareth Morgan’s biography) she is such a powerhouse writer. There’s so much heart and passion in her writing no matter what the subject is. I also felt like I followed her writing this book through Instagram so I feel very invested!

Taking the Lead by David Hill and Phoebe Morris (Penguin Random House)

I’m about to order this one online at The Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie. My children are huge fans of this series on New Zealand leaders and adventurers. We already have First to the Top about Sir Edmund Hillary, Speed King about Burt Munro, and Jean Batten’s Sky High. We just need Sir Peter Blake’s Hero of the Sea and the Joan Wiffen story Dinosaur Hunter. But since my boys are both Jacinda Ardern superfans I thought I’d buy this one and save my pennies for the other two. My little ones love inspiring stories of real people and Jacinda Ardern’s story is a lovely message for kids in lockdown.

Auē by Becky Manawatu (Mākaro Press)

I have severe FOMO because everyone is talking about this book. I need it. I want it. I must have it. Becky Manawatu is incredible and I can’t wait to read her novel Auē. It’s the first novel from the Westport journalist and if you’ve read anything she’s written you’ll know how good it will be. I really trust Catherine Woulfe (The Spinoff Books’ Editor) as a reviewer and she has raved about it, calling Becky Manawatu’s writing “wild, intuitive sort of magic”. I could not agree more with that description so I’ll be buying this one online at Scorpio Books in Christchurch when I’ve got some cash!

Nothing to See by Pip Adam (Victoria University Press)

It’s not even out yet but I am So! Excited! Basically all the exclamation marks. I’ve heard Pip read from Nothing to See a few times and I know it’s going to be a masterpiece. I’m a Pip Adam superfan and I just cannot wait. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for a book. Can you believe it comes out on my birthday? Can you believe?! I’ve already pre-ordered and you can too.

Politics in the Playground by Helen May (Otago University Press)

The third edition of Politics in the Playground: The world of early childhood in Aotearoa New Zealand tells the story of early childhood education and care in Aotearoa. Helen May used to be the Dean of the University of Otago College of Education but probably more importantly – she’s worked as an ECE teacher, a primary teacher and a secondary teacher. She helped create Te Whāriki the ECE curriculum. This is a must-have for nerds obsessed with ECE and teaching politics.

The Goddess Muscle by Karlo Mila (Huia)

If I’m allowed to include another not-yet released book I have to include Karlo Mila’s The Goddess Muscle due on 31 July. This is Karlo Mila’s third book of poetry after the incredible and award-winning Dream Fish Floating and A Well Written Body. Karlo Mila’s writing is something you feel all through your body as you read. It feels like it touches every part of you. I don’t know where it will be published but I assume it will be through her original publishers Huia and as soon as it’s on pre-order I’m getting it.

I am a Human Being by Jackson Nieuwland (Compound Press)

There are just too many great books coming out in June. I have to include one more. Jackson Nieuwland’s debut collection I Am A Human Being. It’s available on pre-order now and I’m very excited. Jackson is easily one of the most exciting poets out there. I’ve had the privilege of being on a panel with them and I am so excited every time I see a new poem of theirs online. In the meantime while you wait, read this incredible essay and tell me this isn’t the most stunning and important writing you’ve read in forever. Talking about the writing of one of my most absolute favourite poets (and favourite humans actually) Chris Tse, Jackson said “Putting this kind of work out into the world takes a lot of bravery.” They’re so right and that bravery will change the world.

Bubble Burst Book List: David Eggleton

Today’s Bubble Burst Book List comes courtesy of Poet Laureate David Eggleton. 

David Eggleton is a past recipient of a Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, an Ockham New Zealand Book Award, and the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. His two most recent poetry publications are SNAP, a limited-edition collaboration with artist Nigel Brown and printer John Holmes for the Otakou Press, and Edgeland and other poems, published by Otago University Press in 2018. An arts critic and a book reviewer, he is the current New Zealand Poet Laureate.


Time hangs heavy in these perforce largely sedentary times, sequestered in an iso-bubble, and one reads in marathon bouts, able to tackle at last the monumental novels on the teetering coffee table stack, from Richard Powers’ The Overstory (Vintage), an eco-warrior narrative, to Neal Stephenson’s weird mega-riffs on bio-technology and myth in Fall or, Dodge in Hell (HarperCollins). But eventually one longs for something new to read smacking of the local, and to this end I can barely wait to be able to go back into an actual bookstore and browse, skimming my eye across the neatly assembled new releases and dipping in and out of promising titles before making some hard choices.

To this end, Dunedin’s University Book Shop is ideal for my typically dilatory and roundabout approach to catching up on New Zealand books that have been out for a few months and that I was slowly but steadily making my way towards.

For me these books include Peter Simpson’s Is This the Promised Land? (Auckland University Press), Volume Two of his thorough-going study of Colin McCahon, which I am eager to place alongside my copy of the first volume Colin McCahon: There Is Only One Direction 1917 -1959, purchased from University Book Shop last year.

Also still catching up with last year, I want to get hold of Gregory O’Brien’s Always Song in the Water (Auckland University Press), a sequence of essayistic journeys and discoveries in the form of an oceanic epic, which is partly his account of personal consciousness-raising about where exactly we are at this moment in time in the South Pacific, and the unmooring of the great waka of Aotearoa and its launching out into the wider Moana.

I am also keen to read the second volume of Witi Ihimaera’s memoir Native Son (Penguin Books). While its title echoes that of Richard Wright’s classic Native Son, a harrowing novel of deterministic black oppression in Depression-era Chicago, it is a story  which I hope will help illuminate the state of race relations in New Zealand in the middle years of the twentieth century.

A newish collection of poetry that I would like to track down as soon as the lockdown lifts or permits is Jenny Bornholdt’s Lost and Somewhere Else (Victoria University Press), Which I gather is mostly explorations and epiphanies through the landscape and seasons of Central Otago, seen with fresh eyes when the Wellington-based writer was living in Alexandra for a year.


Bubble Burst Book List: Chris Tse

With bookshops around the country closed, readers have been forced to shop their home bookshelves and work their way through the books they had at hand when New Zealand went into Level 4 lockdown. But that hasn’t stopped us from dreaming about visiting our favourite bookshop, and browsing the shelves for a new title to take home and cosy up with. Bookshops will be back, and when they are, we’ll be ready and waiting for them. 

We’ve asked some of our favourite people to share what books they’ll be rushing out to purchase when the bookshops of New Zealand open their doors. 

First up is Chris Tse. Chris is the author of two poetry collections published by Auckland University Press: How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, and HE’S SO MASC. He is currently co-editing an anthology of LGBTQIA+ Aotearoa writers. 

Chris Tse - June 2019 - resized

Whatever the world might look like post-lockdown, I’m most looking forward to being able to see my friends and fellow writers. It’s been wonderful being able to hang out and hear from them virtually, but there’s nothing like running into people and catching up at a launch or an event. Trips to Unity Books and VicBooks are definitely high on my list once they’re allowed to re-open.

 The first book I’ll be looking for is Michele Amas’ posthumous collection Walking Home (VUP). Michele’s is a voice we lost too soon but I’m so grateful that we’ll soon have more of her poetry to read and savour.

 Sticking with poetry, there are a couple of other new collections I’m looking forward to picking up: The Lifers by Michael Stevens (OUP) and Pins by Natalie Morrison (VUP). I managed to get a copy of Michele Leggott’s Mezzaluna: Selected Poems (AUP) before we went into lockdown and I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a beautifully designed book and has been a dream to dip in and out of over the last few weeks.

Shakti by Rajorshi Chakraborti (Penguin) is also high on my list. Everything I’ve seen or heard about it has been glowing, praising its timeliness and thought-provoking storytelling.

 And I can’t wait to be able to wander through some secondhand bookshops again. Even though I’ve managed to catch up on my own to-read pile, seeing what everyone else has been reading and recommending is definitely going to make me question how I’ll fit all my post-lockdown purchases in my tiny house… 

Book Review: Selected Poems, by Brian Turner

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_selected_poems_turnerIn a single poetry collection you’re able to tell what is currently occupying a poet (it might be personal, like their family breakdown, or esoteric, like the role of science in art) and their next work usually comes with its own obsession. But over the life of a writer there’s often one or two ongoing concerns – ideas or questions or worries – they simply can’t put down. These lifelong concerns (which have been hiding in the folds of all their work) suddenly become clear in collected works. That’s true of Selected Poems by Brian Turner.

In this book, Victoria University Press has collected a selection of poems from Brian Turner’s forty plus years of writing poetry. These poems are presented chronologically, starting with some from the Commonwealth Poetry Prize winning collection Ladders of Rain (published in 1978), and followed by a small selection from each of his previously published collections up until Night Fishing (published in 2016). It finishes with a sizable collection of Turner’s previously uncollected work.

Often thought of as a ‘nature’ or ‘environmental’ poet, Brian Turner told Tim Watkins in 2005 that ‘half of my poems are actually about the politics of relationships or relationships themselves.’ And he is of course right. Over and over in this collection he returns to a concern about the interior of interpersonal relationships. There in his poems are failing relationships, observations about the parent and child relationship, and questions about how best to love and to remember that you have loved. In Furrows of the Sea, from his 1981 collection, he writes of a child in tears at his own failures and a father trying to respond – ‘He is hopeless / at keeping anything / to himself, and I / am even worse / at hiding anything / of value from him.’ Years later in Twilight Days (published in 2005) we see this parent and child dynamic again bewildering the poet, but this time he is a grown child and his mother is in tears – ‘She wouldn’t say / what had made her cry, / mainly because she preferred / not to lie…’

Despite this, reviewers do often classify Turner as a landscape poet and for good reason. There is no getting away from nature in his work. The seasons roll in and out of the collection as he captures their literal manifestations and their figurative effects on people who seem to change with them.

Along with seeing what concerns have stayed the same for the poet, we also see in collected works the way that their perspectives have shifted. As the years progress Turner becomes more obvious in his growing environmental concerns, sometimes becoming so blunt as to lose the poetry in preference for the message. His early works on New Zealand and New Zealanders are witty, he looks at us with amusement such as in the 2001 poem Semi-Kiwi. In the poem the speaker is no good at the ‘great Kiwi DIY tradition’ but he can back a trailer expertly, ‘so all is not lost.’ Only ten years later however his len has turned sardonic. In the poem titled New Zealanders, a Definition there is only the sole line ‘Born here, buggered it up.’

Brian Turner’s poems for the most part of not formally inventive – he sticks mainly to the left of the page with three of four word lines in fairly even stanzas. It doesn’t hurt his work however, for even as poetry movements and trends have come and gone he has continued to write moving, memorable poems. The previously uncollected work shows this, some are among the best in the collection, including Athens and Andros where ‘mythology / reminds us we’ve long been both / creative and destructive everywhere.’

Poetry is a funny thing – ‘difficult’ is a compliment, ‘easy to read’ is a sneer. But this collection is easy and enjoyable to read because Brian Turner has opened himself up to us as New Zealanders for over forty years. And he continues to invite us into his questioning – even while being grumpy at our destructiveness.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod 

Selected Poems
by Brian Turner
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776562183

Book Review: Luxembourg, by Stephen Oliver

Available in selected bookshops. 

cv_luxembourgLuxembourg – Google it to find a tiny European state with spires that point to infinity, cobbled streets, canels through the city. But the blurb on this collection of poems draws us away from Luxembourg, telling us that these are the poems of a New Zealand poet returning home after twenty years in Australia. It’s hard to ignore the word hiding in plain sight in the title – lux – meaning light. Indeed, there are stars and sunsets, twilights – in many poems the light carries with it a ‘darkening into dawn’ of old world versus new. Perhaps the light is the light of understanding.

I might start by saying that my mum picked up the book from my shelf and was unimpressed with the first page’s description of ‘Desiccated, middle-aged matriarchs’, in the poem Dreams of Flying. Further in, in a poem called Undercover I found:

…This is rural New
Zealand, where every woman over forty
looks like Janet Frame in a parallel universe
of the under privileged… 

These gripes aside, Oliver has a well-respected place in Australasian poetry. It seems a ripe time to admit that these are the first poems of Oliver’s which I have read (though this is his nineteenth collecton). It is on the basis of this collection that I call him a landscape poet. He writes about people, but it is in his consideration and depiction of the hills and valleys, skies and trees, that the poems carry the most beauty, weight, and originality of phrase. The poet’s language and eye is that of the painter as sights are drawn, spilt like paint on canvas rather than described, as in the poem Undercover:

The moon was half. As though the act
of clearing a space in the partially clouded
sky had worn itself away…

…The glass bowl tilts overhead

In the poem Road Notes, there is ‘fog / broiling off rounded hills’, the poplars rising ‘wind washed’. The ordinary sometimes appears; in the poem Dilapidated Dream – the poplars are ‘sentinels’, but also the stunning, as in the poem In the Blink: ‘Drought is the story of absences, equidistant / and everywhere.’ In the poem Apocrypha, Oliver describes houses like ‘a handful of croutons thrown over lumped up hills’. Descriptions of ideas are also catching, as in the poem Road Notes: ‘Memory has pulled tent pegs and moved on. / A sadness of light is all that remains, the mould broken’.

With the exception of a few poems close to the end of the book which caught me with their real feeling and humanness (the poem The Lost German Girl, and the closing lament for the friend who has died), the people in this book seem to be mostly vessels for the poems’ ideas. Not that the human is absent – fossils are ‘substances by which we sense / ourselves’. But the poems are highly intellectual, philosophical, scientific even, asking how and why we exist – Oliver is a name-dropper, a myth-dropper, a place-dropper. I needed a dictionary. The translation of the title poem, ‘Luxembourg’, into German is a nice touch, and the occasional Spanish or Latin phrase contributes to a feeling of intense working. The book is interposed with prose poems, a form growing in popularity. These tell stories and develop character, following a similar rhythm to the free verse which is more numerous.

Places in New Zealand appear – Te Kuiti, Piopio – I am happy to find the poet on the West Coast. But they submerge beneath the ripples of global citizenship that dominates Luxembourg. I keep coming back to the question, what lies at the heart of this collection? Why is it by the lamplights of Luxembourg or Europe or even Alaska that the poems choose to find a place in the world? It will take more than my two readings to interpret the heart of Luxembourg.

I do love the cover, and I’ll admit that as an old-fashioned romantic who loves landscape descriptions I chose the book because of its cover – the opera singer rendered in black and white, her heavy made-up, haunting eyes, staring into the unknown. She seems set in time – quite unlike these poems.

Reviewed by Susannah Whaley

by Stephen Oliver
Published by Greywacke Press
ISBN 9780646986968

Book Review: Sam Hunt – Off the Road, by Colin Hogg

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sam_hunt_off_the_road.jpg‘Tell the story. Tell it true. Charm it crazy’. So says Sam Hunt as his maxim for writing. In Off the Road we have an extended conversation between the author, Colin Hogg and the subject, Sam Hunt. But this book is not just ‘this is your life’, oh, but you’re not dead yet.

Colin Hogg has been a long-time friend and has already written about Sam Hunt in Angel Gear: On the Road with Sam Hunt. This was 30 years ago and the book cleverly includes some chapters from Angel Gear telling background stories and on the road tales. The friendship between Hogg and Hunt is the basis of the book and their interviews range from deep thinking introspection to alcohol-induced babble. It is all here.

But it is wonderful. The gems start on the title page with a 1987 photo of author and subject. The black and white photos support the rambling text. There are images of Sam, the sea, the shelf, his toes, the trees and his poems. The poems are right through the text, old and new. The references to other poets, to writers, to academics to drinkers and to inspiring women. This book is a celebration of the collection of things which give us meaning and beauty.

While there is biographical information included, it is part of a story and not just a listing in the dictionary. Hogg allows Hunt to recall his Father, and his Grandfather, but keeps him on track with questions to shape the responses. I learnt a lot about Sam Hunt but also began to see that the poems were part of who he is, not apart from him. As Hogg commented ‘poems fall from him like leaves from a tree’.

There is a darker side to the book. The process of aging is a constant companion and Hunt seems to see death stalking him. Sam Hunt’s decision to stop touring was a huge one. Over half his life has been lived on the road. His gigs cover every possible dot on the New Zealand map. Solitude is also mentioned as he lives almost as a recluse. As Hogg says, ‘mortality bounces through his conversation like a big black beach ball’.

And this leads to the parting comment at the end of the book. After reading the first drafts, Hogg received a phone call with a clear instruction from Hunt.

‘Sam is happier than earlier reported. Put that at the end.’ So he did.

I enjoyed catching up with a poet who has greatly influenced my life. As a young writer, I sent him my offerings, along with every young aspiring schoolkid. He replied a number of times, and some poems were published. Those letters are my treasure, much to my adult children’s amusement. Is Sam Hunt a National Treasure? You just need to listen to the lilt and lift of that voice to know the answer.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Sam Hunt – Off the Road
by Colin Hogg
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781775541226

Book Review: A Passage of Yellow Red Birds, by Robin Peace

Available in bookshops.

cv_a_passage_of_yellow_red_birdsRobin Peace’s A Passage of Yellow Red Birds is a wonderful collection immersed within nature. Peace also explores how human life is intertwined with the landscape.

Traveller’s tales is a stand out poem that pulls at the heart with talks of departure. It starts with a description of how it feels like to leave:

the pull away south, the tug of earth,
the lift into night sky somewhere
far from stars, metal wings tilting
flash the city braceleted below.

Here, Peace presents such a brilliant image of a city seen from the air, lit up by the hum of civilisation. After leaving, Peace moves to explaining the feeling of arrival. But, as it is with travelling, it is soon time to leave again. In this way, Peace explores that bittersweet loop of having to leave just as you’ve started to become familiar with a new place. And then Peace presents a string of further images from the plane that are just as wonderful:

Mongolian deserts: hectares of sand,
brown arms flung out with salt-encrusted sores.
Small waters fingered by trickling, dry stories,
ephemerally bright.

Peace is so very in touch with her landscapes, as she also shows in her poem Oslo autumn. She describes falling autumn leaves as:

emissaries, summoned
down to litter boats,
slide boots on pavements

And Peace delicately references her own home as she stares at the autumn around her. To her, Oslo is

A hemisphere excess
of naked trees that
draws up all I know
of southern green.

Since Peace is so in tune with the nature around her, she also builds up the idea that nature is symbolic of a world that is flourishing and at peace. As long as nature thrives, then us humans live happily amongst it, too. In The dove wait, Peace waits for these birds and what they represent. Without them,

Your fingers blue. Your breath
comes in gasps and stalls and
starts again.

And the tenderness of Peace’s love of nature truly shows in her poem All of it. The setting is a funeral and nature makes a wonderful appearance throughout different parts of the scene. There is an Indian cloth, earth in colour and embroided with flowers. Then Peace describes a multitude of flowers, all in layers. These seem to be the flowers of the “your” that was evoked in The dove wait:

magnolia, rangiora; purple-blue
lavender, bluebell, iris, ranunculi;
pink-red rose, poppy, primula

The list of flowers goes on and on. And since they come from someone’s garden, I can imagine that there are a whole host of memories that can be evoked from each flower. Memories of planting the flowers intially, to caring for them and watching them bloom. Nature lives alongside human life and accompanies it. And Peace wonderfully ends the poem with this connection again. She explains how there, they stood

and looked to release your view across the plain
toward that forest of your embattled love.

Peace’s love of nature fills her life and others with such colour. A Passage of Yellow Red Birds is a wonderful read for anyone who loves the delicate way the earth creates such beautiful backdrops to human life.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

A Passage of Yellow Red Birds
by Robin Peace
Published by Submarine
ISBN 9780995109261

Book Review: poeta, by Cilla McQueen

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_poetaThere are two things which I think make a great selected works collection and they are nothing to do with the metric foot or rhyme; they are much more prosaic. When I open a selected works of poetry I want to see initial publication information and notes. The poems don’t have to be in chronological order, thematic organisation is often more interesting, but I like to know where they fit. And I want the gossip behind the poems.  Cilla McQueen’s selected and new poems collection, poeta, wonderfully provides both.

Selected poetry books which collect and gather a poet’s work are important. They give new life to work which might be out of print and are great for those studying the poet.  They are however often lengthy, the poetry doesn’t necessarily propel you through the pages and I approach the reading of them more to discover the poet than the poetry. poeta is very much like this – what stood out to me most while reading it is the quality and length of McQueen’s career and her continuous experimentation with form.

From her first collection, Homing In in 1982, McQueen has constantly produced work.  The first decade of her career in particular seemed to be jam-packed, with work appearing in poeta from five collections printed during that time. This opportunity, fueled no doubt by McQueen’s own hard work but also by an ongoing commitment from her publisher at the time, allowed her to build a body of work and an identity as a poet. Reading poeta I found myself wondering whether a poet writing in New Zealand today could develop the same career and sheer body of work over their 30 years of writing.  New Zealand will be the poorer if the answer to that question is ‘no’.

McQueen’s experimentation and her desire for her poetry to embody all possibilities is clear in this collection. Older poems experiment with aspects like punctuation (or the lack of it) and building narrative, while the new poems clearly play with internal white space and the page. Though most poems are free verse and many are lyrics, you also occasionally see her mastering traditional forms.

McQueen’s poetry is rich in metaphor and image and ranges across many concerns and themes. Often strongly grounded in place, from Bluff to Berlin, poems such as ‘Living Here’ capture a New Zealand condition, an isolation and complacency which remains even if we are no longer ‘just one big city with 3 million people with / a little flock of sheep each so we’re all sort of / shepherds.’ ‘Crikey’ is an example of a fun love poem while ‘Fuse’ is a powerful political poem without being overtly angry. McQueen has the skill of taking poems in unexpected directions.

poeta is a book for those who enjoy deep dives into New Zealand poetry. But more than that it is a book whose very ability to exist creates reflection. How can we ensure that poets today can continue to flourish, to WORK, in New Zealand across a lifetime career?

Reviewed by Libby Kirkby-McLeod

by Cilla McQueen
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531281


Book Review: Coming to it, by Sam Hunt

Available from bookshops nationwide.

cv_coming_to_it.jpgComing To It is a collection of selected poems from throughout Sam Hunt’s career (though it also includes many new poems). To review a poet who’s been working for over 50 years, who’s so well known, who’s been recognised by the Prime Minister and the Queen is a funny thing. So much is already established. Most reviews of it so far have been as much reviews of the man − his touring, his drinking, his remote eccentric lifestyle. They become reviews of Hunt’s contribution to New Zealand literature and identity.

But I’m not able to write a review like that. So let’s put it all − the man, the history, the career − to one side and look only at the poems which are in turns clever, lovely, funny, questioning and, the smallest of handfuls, out of step with the times.

Hunt is thought of as a poet whose lines aim to reflect natural speech yet they are full of rhyme and craft; it is not everyone who can overhear a conversation in a pub and turn it into a poem.

Most of the poems in the collection are grounded in Aotearoa − in the natural and manmade paths in Rangitikei; in the choppy waters of Cook Strait; in the salt of tidal rivers in Oterei and Kaipara. They are proudly focused on our communities, our place and the travels of the poet throughout it. The poem Notes from a journey is an example where the towns, the waters and the people all embody Hunt’s pride in this country.

He returns throughout the poems to those he loves − his mother, father and brothers; his sons. These are in turn touching and enchanting. In ‘No bells’ for example, the loss of his mother on the same night as the bamboo windbells on his verandah break are tied together to portray an irreparable sudden silencing. In the last poem, Brothers (which is perfectly placed) we find Hunt in the gaps, the white space around his brothers.

His poems about his lovers, and his descriptions of women generally, generate less delight for me. Women who love him in the poems are expected to accept that he will never be completely available to them; to be with him is to accept a level of loneliness. I find this especially difficult, this ‘arm’s reach’ attitude, from a poet and performer who treasures a deep connection with his audiences. While he is charming spectators, those who most deserve his attention are, like the partner in the poem My white ship, expected to accept:

The ethic of my love
For you remains that I
Am a lone sailor of
The night; captain of my
White ship: and though you be
A good day’s mate, your fight’s
Too weak to rise with me…

In another poem a desirable woman is compared to an unbroken horse; in another a woman’s domestic violence scars are mused over but hey, despite that black eye she is still a ‘sort of mystic hooker’. I wish these poem, and the rest of the poems in the collection, were labelled with a first publication date. Rightly or wrongly, it matters to me whether this was a view from decades ago or from today.

Oh dear, I haven’t managed to review just the poetry have I? I have, like most other reviewers of Coming To It, come back to Hunt himself. And perhaps that was inevitable, because Hunt has always said his subject is his experience and this opening up of a New Zealand life for decade after decade is the ultimate gift his poetry has given us.

Reviewed by Libby Kirby-McLeod

Coming to it
by Sam Hunt
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503802

WORD Christchurch: Fast Burning Women – Selina Tusitala Marsh and Tusiata Avia

Fast Burning Women
featuring Selina Tusitala Marsh and Tusiata Avia

Selina Tusitala Marsh’s list of accomplishments needs a fair amount of time allocated to it’s recitation. Marsh is no layabout, and as her friend Tusiata Avia says after introducing her, ‘That CV is from earlier this year so you probably have to add about ten more things to it.’ tusiata selina.JPG

The focus of this session was on the juggling required of a woman in Selina’s position: Poet Laureate, lecturer and researcher, mother, runner, Writers in Schools ambassador, traveller, friend, wife, aunty….the list goes on. How does one keep so many plates spinning? How to stay a multi-tasking fast-burning woman without becoming a burnt out woman?

The pairing of Avia and Marsh meant we got a personal insight into just how Marsh is able to keep going. The two are friends, very similar in lifestyles and values, perfectionists who push themselves hard. Their closeness was evident in the easy manner in which they joked with each other, while championing and advocating for each other at the same time.

Avia opened up about her own story of burn out that saw her bedridden for 18 months. Incredibly, on the days she was able to get out of bed, she would still force herself to work. It wasn’t until the exhaustion started affecting her mentally and emotionally that she started turning down work. But how does someone get to this stage? A statement by Jesse Jackson that resonated with Marsh goes some way to explaining: ‘If you want to succeed as a person of colour you have to be excellent all the time.’ Avia points out that women of colour need to be doubly excellent.

And so how does Marsh not burn out? What tools and tips does she have for those of us who feel the mother guilt, who battle perfectionism, who are working under the weight of the communities we represent? Who does she look to for inspiration? Her answer came in the form of Oprah Winfrey’s book What I Know For Sure. As Marsh read it she realised what was missing from her own life, in comparison to Oprah, was a trusted friend, a sister to call on, and most importantly, a soundboard. Someone who got it. ‘I was Oprah without a Gayle.’ So Marsh and Avia embarked on what they call their earbud relationship. One where they call each other almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and check in, providing advice and counsel.

With Avia at the end of the telephone, Marsh is able to carry the tokotoko of the Poet Laureate wherever it takes her. She is able to ask for what she needs. She is able to share her load. Marsh noted: ‘When I was able to redefine what support means to me and my life, that’s when I found support.’

Both Marsh and Avia continue to write and create through the many challenges they face. An audience member asked Avia how her illness had affected her writing and she begins with coyness, saying she hasn’t written much. ‘That’s not true,’ Marsh corrects her. She knows Avia is working on a new book, and you can see the pride she has in her friend, Shine Theory in action. Marsh is working on a graphic novel (‘I’ve always doodled; Spike Milligan is my idol.’). She wants to make poetry accessible to all communities.

Leaving the session my friend remarked that most New Zealanders don’t know how lucky we are to have Selina Tusitala Marsh as our Poet Laureate. Everyone who attended Fast Burning Women knows, and we also know how lucky Marsh is to have Tusiata Avia at the end of the phone line, spurring her on.

Reviewed by Gem Wilder

Tusiata Avia will appear in two more events during WORD Christchurch 2018: 

Black Marks on the White Page: A Roundtable
Sonya Renee Taylor: The Body is not an Apology