Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part Four

There are some things to dislike about summer nearing its end, but one of the good things is that, as the days draw in, the monthly poetry reading sessions in Wellington resume.

Earlier this week, I went to the first sessions for the year of two of Wellington’s longer-running poetry reading sessions: Poetry at the Ballroom Cafe in Newtown on Sunday afternoon and then the New Zealand Poetry Society (Facebook | Twitter | Web) at the Thistle Inn on Monday night. The respective lineups were:

* Ballroom Cafe: open mike (good mixture of performance and “page” poets), musician (jazz pianist Gilbert Haisman), and guest reader (poet Pat White). I had to leave before the end of Pat’s reading as I had something else on immediately afterwards, but there is a quiet power to his poetry that becomes evident as he reads it.
* New Zealand Poetry Society: open mike (one of the best I’ve heard at the NZPS), guest reader (poet Teresia Teaiwa).

I enjoyed both sessions very much, but the absolute highlight from me was hearing Teresia read. I’d heard her read a few poems before, but the way she put the reading together and wove her poems in with a narrative was an absolute treat. If you get the chance to hear her read, I advise you to take it!

All being well, I’ll be doing some more guest readings this year, partly on the back of Men Briefly Explained. The first of these will be in Porirua in April as part of the monthly Music at the Metro series – I am looking forward to it.

I don’t believe I will be required to sing, but if I was, I would naturally sing this, since it’s referenced in the Men Briefly Explained poem Queens of Silk, Kings of Velour:

The New Zealand Poetry Society’s 2010 International Poetry Competition

The New Zealand Poetry Society’s annual International Poetry Competition, Verse and Haiku, is under way, with Open and Junior Sections. The Junior Open and Junior Haiku sections are open to students who are 17 years of age or younger on 31st May 2010. Please visit our website at for full competition details and to download the entry forms. Last year’s results, including winning poems and judges’ reports, are also on the website.

Entries must be received by 31 May 2010.


Open: 1st – $500; 2nd – $250; 3rd – $100
Open Junior: 1st – $200
Primary/Intermediate: 1st runner-up – $100; 2nd runner-up – $50
Secondary: 1st runner-up – $100; 2nd runner-up – $50
Haiku: Top five haiku – $100 each, plus First Prize Winner receives the Jeanette Stace Memorial Prize of $150.
Haiku Junior: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Primary/Intermediate – $50 each; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Secondary – $50 each

In addition, the writer of the haiku considered the best of the two sections receives the Jeanette Stace Memorial Prize of $100. All prizes are in New Zealand Dollars.

All winning and commended poems, along with other selected entries, will appear in the New Zealand Poetry Society’s annual anthology in November 2010, to be edited by Barbara Strang of Christchurch. It is not necessary to buy a copy of the anthology in order to have a poem included, as the selections are made blind (i.e. without identifying information).

This year’s judges are:

Vivienne Plumb (Auckland) – Open Verse
Tony Beyer (New Plymouth)– Open Haiku
Lynn Davidson (Nelson) – Junior Verse
Karen Peterson Butterworth (Manawatu) – Junior Haiku

Further enquiries can be directed to: Laurice Gilbert, The Competition Secretary, PO Box 5283, Wellington 6145, competition (at)

A Launch Becomes A Farewell: Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, 1925-2009

We set out to launch Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand on Monday night, and ended up farewelling a great New Zealand poet as well: Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, who died aged 84 on Monday.

Other obituarists have done a good job of describing Alistair Campbell’s life and work. I did know know him personally, though I was lucky to hear him read twice, but his collection Kapiti: Selected Poems, 1947-71 is one of my very favourite books of New Zealand poetry, and remains an inspiration.

Of course, the Voyagers launch was not planned to be a commemoration of Alistair Campbell, but it turned out that our lineup of readers, and our lineup of poems, encompassed many connections with him, so that one series of readings served two ends.

Most of the readers read two poems from Voyagers: one of their own, and one by another Voyagers poet. The full lineup was:

Puri Alvarez: “Saturn’s Rings” + Meg Campbell, “The End of the World”
Marilyn Duckworth: Fleur Adcock, “Last Song”
Chris Else: “Hypnogogia” + James Norcliffe, “the ascent”
Robin Fry: “Lift-off” + Peter Bland, “An Old Man and Science Fiction”
Niel Wright: Ruth Gilbert, “Still Centre”
Tim Jones: “Good Solid Work” + James Dignan, “Great Minds”
Rachel McAlpine: “Satellites” + Harvey McQueen, “Return”
Jane Matheson: “An Alien’s Notes on first seeing a prunus-plum tree” + Simon Williamson, “Japan 2030”
Harvey Molloy: “Nanosphere” + Richard von Sturmer, from “Mill Pond Poems”
Michael O’Leary: “Nuclear Family” + Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, “Looking at Kapiti”
Mark Pirie: “Dan and his Amazing Cat” + Louis Johnson, “Love Among the Daleks”
Vivienne Plumb: “Signs of Activity”
Helen Rickerby: “Tabloid Headlines” + Tracie McBride, “Contact”
Mike Webber: “My Personal Universe” + David Eggleton, “60-Second Warning”

We heard poems by Alistair Campbell himself, by his first and second wives (Fleur Adcock and Meg Campbell), by his sister-in-law (Marilyn Duckworth), and, as Mike Webber revealed, by a descendant of Te Rauparaha, about whom Alistair wrote so often and so memorably. What’s more, Nelson Wattie, Alistair Campbell’s biographer, was also present, and came up after the readings to give a moving account of Alistair and his life.

It was a good feeling to be part of a launch that managed to be both a celebration of a new anthology, and a commemoration of a great poet’s life and work.

Voyagers Sets Sail With A Great Crew

Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand is making its public debut at the New Zealand Poetry Society monthly meeting in Wellington on Monday 17th August. The meeting, which starts at 7.30pm at Wellington’s historic Thistle Inn, will feature local poets with work in Voyagers reading two poems each: one of their own poems from the anthology, and one other poem from the anthology that they particularly like.

The featured poets will include:

Puri Alvarez
Chris Else
Robin Fry
Tim Jones
Rachel McAlpine
Jane Matheson
Harvey Molloy
Michael O’Leary
Mark Pirie
Vivienne Plumb
Helen Rickerby
Mike Webber

I’m really pleased that so many poets have agreed to come along for Voyagers‘ maiden voyage!

As usual, the Poetry Society meeting will start with an open mike, so it’s a good opportunity to come along, read your own work if you wish, and listen to some fine poets read poems from Voyagers.

There will be copies of Voyagers available for sale at the meeting, but if you’re not going to be there and would like a copy, you can buy Voyagers from as a paperback or Kindle e-book; New Zealand Books Abroad; or Fishpond. You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

Good Times, Bad Times

I had a good time at the launch of Before the Sirocco, the 2008 New Zealand Poetry Society anthology, which includes the winning poems (in open and two junior categories) from the NZPS 2008 International Poetry Competition. A packed and appreciative audience at Turnbull House heard poets from all over the country read poems included in the anthology. There was a sizeable Christchurch contingent, and I had the pleasure of meeting Joanna Preston for the first time, and Helen Lowe for what turns out to have been the second time.

Then I went home and had a less good time watching the results of the 2006 [err, make that 2008] New Zealand General Election come rolling across the screen. The outcome was a conclusive win for the right, with a National-ACT-United Future coalition government set to be installed within the next few days. My biggest fear about this is that the modest – very modest – gains which have been made in climate change policy under the previous Labour government will be rolled back, and in particular, that King Coal will be enthroned as the “answer” to New Zealand’s energy needs. It’s going to take a big effort ot prevent that outcome.

To finish on a positive, though, I’m writing this while watching the concluding minutes of a very exciting Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup football (soccer) quarterfinal between Japan and England – currently locked at 2:2*. Having watched and enjoyed the semi-final and final of the recent senior Women’s World Cup, I expected to enjoy these games, but they have even better than I expected: full of skill, commitment, excitement and some wonderful goals, and almost completely free of the cynicism, cheating, time-wasting and boorishness that so often mars the men’s game.

New Zealand’s Young Football Ferns were very unlucky not to progress from the group stages of the tournament into the quarterfinals. A lack of polish in front of goal meant that they lost their first two matches 0-1 and 1-2, but in their final game, against South American champions Colombia, they more than made up with it with a 3-1 victory. You can see NZ striker Rosie White’s hat-trick here, uploaded by an enamoured fan.

The game was played in absolutely atrocious conditions: a howling northerly gale and driving rain. Being there and seeing the game live felt like a badge of honour. I’m delighted I went, and now looking forward to seeing how many of the same players perform in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Chile in a few weeks’ time.

The semi-finals and final of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup are still to come (semifinals Thursday 13/11 in Christchurch at QEII Park, final and 3rd/4th playoff Sunday 16th in Auckland at North Harbour Stadium). If you get the chance to go along to these games, do take it!

*England won in a penalty shootout – another thing that doesn’t happen in the men’s game!

Before the Sirocco

The New Zealand Poetry Society is launching its annual anthology, this year entitled Before the Sirocco and edited by Joanna Preston, in Wellington at 6pm this coming Saturday, New Zealand election day. Here are the details:

Date: Saturday 6 December

Time: 6pm

Venue: Turnbull House, 11 Bowen Street (near the Bowen St/Lambton Quay corner)

What it’s all about: Take your mind off elections for a couple of hours! Come along to the launch of the New Zealand Poetry Society’s 2008 anthology, Before the Sirocco, and hear poets young and old read their work from the anthology — including winners and runners-up in the Poetry Society’s annual International Poetry Competition.

The buzz: The NZPS anthology launch is one of the few occasions on which poets from around the country get together. If you want to take the temperature of the New Zealand poetry scene, this is the place to be – and you’ll get to hear some great poetry as well.

Plus, you can buy a copy of Before the Sirocco there. Isn’t the cover great?

Ruth Dallas, 1919-2008

Yet another obituary for a fine New Zealand poet. After Bernard Gadd and Hone Tuwhare comes news that Ruth Dallas has died.

In my opinion, Ruth Dallas isn’t as well known, or as well read, a poet as she deserves. She grew up and began writing poetry in Invercargill (for readers from overseas, this is New Zealand’s southernmost city, well away from the country’s main centres of population). She later moved to the university city of Dunedin, where she lived for the most part away from the literary scene. While her work had some powerful supporters, such as Charles Brasch, her poetry (and children’s books) were strongly located in the Southland landscape, and this did not appeal to a number of metropolitan critics.

The empty landscapes of Southland may not be for everyone, but I grew up there, knew and loved the places she was writing about, and found her concise and elegant poetry all the more evocative the further I moved from my Southland roots.

I recommend that you look for her Collected Poems (2000), check out her poem Calm Evenings online, and read her obituary in the Southland Times. In her quiet way, she was a major New Zealand poet, and certainly the pre-eminent Southland poet; and in her quiet way, she will be greatly missed.

A Reading and a Deadline

The news today consists of two items:

First item: I’ll be the guest reader at the next monthly reading session of the New Zealand Poetry Society. That’s taking place on Monday 17 March, from 7.00pm [not 7.30pm as listed earlier – sorry!], in the Paramount Theatre Lounge in Courtenay Place, Wellington. There’s a cafe and a bar to hand, and (judging by February’s session) a nice, relaxed atmosphere. Entry is by koha, which often entails a gold coin donation.

The format is that we start with an open reading session, where you can bring along your own work to read if you wish, then there’s a short break, then I read for a while, then there’s a Q&A session if anyone has any Qs they’d like me to to A. I’ll be reading a mixture of poems from All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens and newer work. We’ll finish round about 8.30pm. Hope to see you there!

Second item: there’s just under a month to go until the submission deadline for Issue 26 of JAAM Magazine, which I’m editing. You can find all the details at Submissions have been coming in, but there’s room for plenty more.

Creative NZ Slashes Poetry Society Funding

Like Helen Rickerby, I attended the February meeting of the New Zealand Poetry Society, and enjoyed hearing Johanna Aitchison reading from her first collection, the excellent A Long Girl Ago. Only one thing marred the evening: the news that Creative New Zealand, the Government’s arts funding agency, has halved the level of the Poetry Society’s funding for 2008.

I was upset to hear this, for several reasons. The first is that it means that the Poetry Society’s hard-working coordinator, Laurice Gilbert, has had her paid working hours cut right back. This is tough on her, and also means that she’ll be able to put less time into updating the Society’s website, arranging guest poets, promoting meetings, editing the Society’s excellent newsletter a fine line, and generally advancing the cause of New Zealand poets and poetry. The Poetry Society is the only national organisation with that specific mandate, and as being a New Zealand poet is neither an easy nor a remunerative life, poets need the Poetry Society to continue its good work on their behalf.

But what bothers me most is that Creative New Zealand is completely unaccountable for this and other decisions. In the literary field, CNZ funds individual writers’ projects; subsidises literary magazines and the publication of New Zealand books; and funds literary organisations. Each year, the Poetry Society applies for funding; each year, they wait; and each year, they get a reply from Creative NZ which simply advises them how much they’ll be receiving. There’s no explanation of how that amount is arrived at, or what factors are taken into consideration. There’s no warning of an impending funding cut, and there’s no consultation before the decision is taken.

Because its decision-making process is so opaque, the recipients of funding – and those who apply for funding, but are turned down – have no grounds for confidence that decisions were arrived at fairly. In the case of the Poetry Society funding, was the funding cut the right decision, based on the merits of the Poetry Society’s case and of competing funding applications – or is it just that CNZ’s latest crop of literature advisors don’t like the Poetry Society? Only CNZ and its advisors know the answer to that, and until some transparency and accountability are brought to bear on CNZ’s processes, the rest of us can do little more than speculate.

[Disclosure: Funding applications for several books in which I’ve been involved have been made to Creative NZ. Some have been funded; more have not. I have not applied to CNZ for funding for specific new writing projects. I am a member, but not an officeholder, of the New Zealand Poetry Society. I am the guest reader at the Poetry Society’s next monthly meeting – Monday 17 March, 7.30pm, Paramount Cinema Lounge, Courtenay Place, Wellington]