NZ Poetry Day: Zoetropes, by Bill Manhire


A starting. Words which begin
with Z alarm the heart:
the eye cuts down at once

then drifts across the page
to other disappointments.


Zenana: the women’s
in Indian or Persian houses.
Zero is nought, nothing,

nil – the quiet starting point
of any scale of measurement.


The land itself is only
smoke at anchor, drifting above
Antarctica’s white flower,

tied by a thin red line
(5000 miles) to Valparaiso.

London 29.4.81

Reproduced by kind permission of the author, Bill Manhire.

Tim says: This poem captures better than any other I know both the sense of isolation which so many New Zealanders feel, and the sudden, irrational pride in reading any mention of our little country, no matter how trivial or fleeting, in the world’s media. Here we are, floating somewhere between Chile and Antarctica, hoping someone will notice us…

Bill Manhire is one of New Zealand’s best-known poets. “Zoetropes” was published as the title poem of Zoetropes: Poems 1972-82, and republished in Collected Poems (2001), available in New Zealand and internationally from Victoria University Press, and in the UK from Carcanet.

Coming Attractions, Bloggy Goodness, and A Little Bit of History

Coming Attractions

As Helen Lowe pointed out to me recently, I haven’t run many interviews with poets on my blog this year. But this is about to change! Because Montana Poetry Day is on Friday 24 July, several poetry books are being launched on or about this date, and I will be interviewing three poets with books just on the shelves: Mary Cresswell, Joanna Preston, and Tim Upperton. I’m also going to review Mark Pirie’s verse novel Tom.

As promised in Part 1 of Down in the Flood, I’m going to marshal my thoughts on the topic of creative writing about climate change, and I am hoping to have another guest blogger add some informed comment to my usual wild speculation in the fairly near future.

And, of course, I’ll fill up the remaining posts myself with a tantalising mixture of celebrity gossip, multi-level marketing schemes, and anecdotes about our cat. Who is good at catching mice, but less good because she keeps insisting on bringing them inside and releasing them in our lounge.

Hello, Bloggy Goodness!

In the left column, you’ll find links to a lot of fascinating blogs, both New Zealand and international, which I try to visit and check out when I have time, either directly or through Google Reader. One day, I’ll add a list of blogs with recent updates, but that time is not yet.

I don’t have time to visit half the blogs I would like to half as often as I’d like (to misquote Bilbo Baggins), but here’s a few I’ve found myself drawn to lately (in addition to blogs I’ve previously posted about here and here and here and all the way back to here):

  • Jack Ross doesn’t post often, but what he does post is usually fascinating. I found his recent post on the Tolkien industry especially interesting.
  • Thoughts from Botswana, by Lauri Kubuitsile, is a fascinating insight into living and writing in Botswana.
  • When it comes to the hard, cold practicalities of commercial publishing, there are few places more reliable – and at times more sobering – than Jane Smith’s How Publishing Really Works.
  • And here’s an even scarier blog for writers trying to get publishers and agents interested in their work!
  • Kay McKenzie Cooke is a fine poet whose blog made for weather is not only interesting to read, but lavishly illustrated. A thing of beauty!

A Little Bit of History

There’s a historical writing competition on in my old home town, Gore. Here are the details (thanks to Rosemarie Smith for this information):



Buildings, Businesses, Breadwinners and By-standers

If buildings could talk, what stories would they tell?

Entries should be essays of 1500 words or more, with photographic illustrations if possible, on a topic relating to a specific building or business in Gore, Mataura or the rural districts. Essays should contain some original research, and preferably have some emphasis on the period 1930-60.

Entries to be delivered to:

Gore Historical Society
16 Norfolk Street
PO Box 305
by 21 September 2009

There is one remaining workshop to assist with research and writing: Tuesday 23 June and 21 July at 7.30pm, St Andrews Hall, Gore

Further information: 208 7032 or 208 4822 or heritage (at)

Coverage and The Season

It’s blowing a gale outside. Here are two poems united by the wind. Both were first published in North & South magazine.


He went south with the housing market
to a cottage facing the sea,

spent his last pay cheque
on Swannis and draught excluders.

Coverage was minimal.
He called his children

from the top of a nearby hill,
struggling through gorse, matagouri —
the visible teeth of the wind.
He got through at last

and begged until she put them on.
Given the chance, the kids talked

and talked: sports, school, when
they could fly down to see him.

That depends, he said, and then
they were breaking up —

fugitive crackles, then silence
under a polar sky.

Coverage was first published in North & South (May 2007) and is included in Swings and Roundabouts: Poems on Parenthood (Random House, 2008), edited by Emma Neale.

The Season

The mountains reconvene.
An avalanche of voices
thrums the heavy ground.

Precise, confidential,
the wind reports the news
it gleans from pavement tables:

the All Black’s private pain,
the public intellectual’s
ceaseless quest for vengeance.

The mountains shake their balding heads.
The culture of celebrity
has pushed them to the margins –

there are no peaks on the social pages.
Aspiring no longer, they allow the wind
to hustle away with the clouds.

Eroding, reminiscing, the mountains shake their
heads. Snow falls, forgotten dandruff,
through the ever-warming air.

The Season was first published in North & South (August 2007)

These are not the first poems I’ve written on the topic! The Weather and Wind Walks the Hand are other examples. Many of them seem to combine the wind with parenting: perhaps that’s because, the night my son was born at Wellington Hospital, there was a southerly snap and a power failure. The backup generators came on to power essential services, such as the incubator Gareth was placed in for a day or so. I remember standing by the end of Kay’s bed, feeling the cold and watching snowflakes swirl past the window. That sort of thing leaves an impression.

PS: I’ll be taking part in Montana Poetry Day events in Upper Hutt on Friday 18 July. The full schedule of events in Upper Hutt is available.