Book Review: “Five O’Clock Shadows” by Richard Langston

Front cover of Five O'Clock Shawdows, a poetry collection by Richard Langston

I’ve heard Richard Langston read a number of times over the years, and always enjoyed his work, but at the Southern Writers at Te Awe Brandon Library event in October 2020 I was particularly struck by how much I enjoyed the poems from his new collection Five O’Clock Shadows, published by The Cuba Press. So I was keen to read them as well as hear them – and Five O’Clock Shadows, Richard’s sixth collection, doesn’t disappoint.

Richard enjoys a lot of stuff I also enjoy: Dunedin, Wellington, cricket, music. A collection that includes a poem about Brendon McCullum’s 302 vs India at the Basin Reserve, and a poem about how marvellous Dunedin is, has already gone a long way towards securing my loyalty. But it’s some of the poems I’m not pre-wired to enjoy that most stand out for me here – such as “Bsharri, Lebanon” and “Sons”. This is a fine, humanistic collection.

(For the avoidance of doubt: I do not in any way identify with the subject matter of the poem “Snoring”. Not at all.)

Two New Books: “Upturned” by Kay McKenzie Cooke and “I Wish, I Wish” by Zirk Van Den Berg

I’ve been catching up with my reading over the holidays – here are two new books worth your attention, both published by The Cuba Press.

Upturned is a new poetry collection by one of my favourite poets. I Wish, I Wish is the second volume in the Cuba Press Novella series – my climate fiction novella Where We Land was the first in this series.

Upturned by Kay McKenzie Cooke.

Kay McKenzie Cooke is one of my favourite poets. Her poetry connects with me on both levels that really matter to me: emotion and language. For me, there’s an extra level of connection in that Kay was born in Murihiku / Southland, where I grew up, and some of her poems feature places I know well and times I’ve experienced.

But even if you have no connection with Southland – or for that matter Berlin, where a section of this collection is set – these poems are likely to speak to anyone who enjoys beautiful, resonant writing that is strongly connected with land, people and memory.

These poems are both highly skilled and very welcoming – this is poetry that invites you in rather than fences you out. So even if you don’t usually read poetry, give Upturned a try. You won’t regret it.

Front cover of Upturned, a poetry collection by Kay McKenzie Cooke

I Wish, I Wish by Zirk Van Den Berg

As the title signifies, I Wish, I Wish is a fairy tale – but it’s a very down-to-earth one. Mortician Seb’s monotonous life is abruptly upturned after he meets a dying young boy called Gabe. At the start of the novella, Seb is thoroughly stuck in an unsatisfying life that’s going nowhere, and by the end … well, read it and find out.

This novella works because Zirk Van Den Berg steers away from sentiment while communicating the protagonist’s emotions effectively. This is a very well-written book, with neat touches of humour that offset what could otherwise be too moralistic a narrative. I wasn’t sure I wanted to start 2021 by reading another story about death, but before long I was caught up in this novella, and I think you will be too.

Front cover of I Wish, I Wish, a novella by Zirk Van Den Berg

Southern Writers at Te Awe Brandon Library – 20 Oct 2020

From the Wellington City Library blog:

Image shows books by poets taking part in the Southern Writers event
20 October 2020
Te Awe Library – 29 Brandon Street
12.30pm to 2pm

Join the Facebook event:

This event inaugurates the Te Awe event space, with six fine poets and prose writers giving a very special lunch time reading. All hail from Dunedin or Southland.

They are:

Kay McKenzie Cooke, Richard Langston, Tim Jones, Nick Ascroft, Madison Hamill and Jenny Powell, with Mary McCallum reading some of the late Elizabeth Brooke-Carr’s work.

So why not take this rare opportunity, grab your lunchtime sandwiches or buy one from the Te Awe café, and enliven your lunch listening to some of New Zealand’s finest poets reading from their works. Enjoy.

Hop across to the Wellington City Library blog for further details of the poets and their latest books!

Images of authors taking part in the Southern Writers events

A Vase and a Vast Sea

Adrienne Jansen and Jenny Nimon talking about the new anthology "A Vase and Vast Sea", which is also pictured

I’ve very happy to say that my poem “Tuesdays” is included in the new anthology from Escalator Press, A Vase and a Vast Sea.

Pre-sales are now open for this anthology – get in quick, because it’s a limited print run.

From the Escalator Press blog:

Escalator Press is pleased to announce an upcoming publication, A Vase and a Vast Sea. You may have heard that the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme and its journal, 4th Floor, were brought to an end last year when the polytechnic discontinued almost but not all writing courses. The news was a blow to many of us in the literary community, who valued the support the Programme gave to the writing community of Aotearoa.

To mark the 27-year legacy of the Creative Writing Programme, Escalator Press is publishing A Vase and a Vast Sea – a collection of poetry and short prose selected from 4th Floor.

This collection is a reunion of writers such as Renée, Maggie Rainey-Smith, Barbara Else, Rata Gordon, Alison Glenny, Tim Jones and Adrienne Jansen, and is an essential keepsake of New Zealand literature and a much-loved writing course.

Watch the video:

An Interview With Meliors Simms

Meliors Simms is a contemporary landscape artist, radical crafter, a science fiction poet and an old-school blogger. She makes icebergs, islands and even whole continents from vintage blankets, wool and thread. Her sculptures look like cuddly landscape features yet carry serious environmental messages about the impacts of our everyday choices on the world around us. This August she is exhibiting art about mining in Melbourne and about Antarctica in Hamilton, where she will be reading poetry as well.

Meliors’ poem Ponting’s Genius was the Tuesday Poem on my blog this week.

The photo above shows Meliors with a work called Sastrugi. Photo by Jody Saturday

Meliors, a simple question, but one that may have a complex answer: why are you so interested in Antarctica?

It is mysterious, dangerous, vulnerable and beautiful. The lack of flora and fauna (and pigments) focus our attention onto patterns and textures of snow and ice, sky and sea which I find very exciting to interpret visually. Its short, intense human history and its long, surprising natural history both provide thrilling stories that bear endless iterations. And ultimately at this distance, it’s a blank canvas for the imagination.

If you had the chance to visit Antarctica, would you?

Um, this is tricky, because if I was offered an opportunity to go I would probably accept. But really I’m ambivalent. On one hand it would be amazing, inspiring and unlike anything else I could do. But on the other hand Antarctica is an incredibly vulnerable environment about which I am intensely concerned. I don’t think Antarctica needs me as just another tourist, although I’m willing to be persuaded that I might have something of value to offer in exchange for a free ticket.

I spend a huge amount of time thinking about Antarctica and my imagination seems adequately fed through second hand sources. The compliments about my work that I treasure the most are from people who have spent time in Antarctica, who tell me I’ve captured the essence of the place.

And besides, its jolly cold and a bit scary down there.

You are both an artist and a poet, and for the Imagining Antarctica exhibition in Hamilton, you are giving a poetry reading / artist’s talk as well as exhibiting visual art. How do the practice of art and the practice of poetry work side by side – and for that matter, how on Earth do you find the time to do both?

The Imagining Antarctica exhibition at ArtsPost

Ha! I don’t really find time to do both. The past months of intensely preparing my exhibitions has been a poetry drought. Writing seems to be woven through my creative life in an irregular abstract way rather than as a disciplined practice. There are times when I write a lot, but more times when I write little or nothing. Last year was very productive though, and most of the poems I wrote then relate to the art I am showing now, hence the poetry reading and artist talk event.

Reading and looking at the entries on your excellent blog, I am struck by the hours and hours of work that goes into creating them. Can you describe your process of making them, such as the icebergs?

Most of the work I make these days starts with an old woven wool blanket which I cut into contour pieces. I needle felt each layer with a nice plump cover of unspun wool and then attach the layers together using blanket stitch. The icebergs are three dimensional, sculptural pieces so there’s a lot of layers and a lot of needle felting to get the three-dimensionality.

I use a similar technique to make wall relief pieces which may use only a couple of layers of blanket and little or no felting, but can be much bigger and even more time consuming to make. My biggest work, ‘My Antarctica’ a scale relief map of the entire continent, took me about eight months to make. I can make a little iceberg in a week.

Meliors standing in front of My Antarctica. Photo: Marion Manson (ArtsPost)

Over time I have perversely chosen to make my stitching cruder (even though hundreds of hours of practice has made me a better stitcher). I want my work to look unmistakably handmade. With some of my earlier embroidered pieces viewers would assume it was machine stitched, and I decided I didn’t want any ambiguity about that. I ‘d rather have people saying ‘I could make that’ and so to consider what it means to stitch something by hand. I want people to contemplate the hours and hours that go into my making.

Why did you choose the craft medium, and these crafts in particular, to make your artworks (and, does the wording of that question imply a dichotomy that doesn’t or shouldn’t exist?)

Contemporary art is a very broad field in which there are lots of interesting craft practices to be seen. I choose craft as my means of creative expression both for the pleasure and the meaning of my making. Slow meditative hand stitching is very sensual and satisfying. By choosing hand made rather than machine made, and doing it myself rather than farming the work out to low paid women in Asia, my work implicitly critiques the economic as well as environmental impacts of industrialised consumerist culture.

You were recently in Melbourne for the opening of the “F**k Your Donation” exhibition, which includes your installation “Spoil”. How was that experience, and is this part of a continuing involvement in the Australian arts scene?

Meliors’ installation “Spoil” at “F**k Your Donation”

Melbourne is a fantastic city for the arts, and especially for craft practices in contemporary art. It is a real thrill to show in a gallery there for the first time, and have such an enthusiastic response to my work. I hope to go back for more soon.

One thing I know we have in common is our love for Kim Stanley Robinson’s writing, and in particular his Mars trilogy. What’s so great about those books?

Well, KSR’s novel Antarctica turned me into a fan of Antarctica as well as speculative fiction when I first read it some 15 years ago. That book, and the Mars and Washington trilogies resonate with me as extremely plausible near-future-histories that aren’t dystopias. I like his strong, complex female characters; frustratingly rare in the genre. I reread all seven novels reasonably regularly and I appreciate the detail as well as the broad sweep of his vision. But mostly because he’s very good at making it seem possible that we 21st century humans could dig ourselves out of the dreadful mess our species has created, and I often feel the need for that spark of hope.

KSR’s writing has had a huge influence on my visual, textile arts. For example I’ve turned again and again to his descriptions of the textures and colours of Antarctica as I’ve stitched. He’s a wonderfully visual writer. In more direct homage, I once made a series of small embroidered ‘Mars gardens’, visualising the greening of the red planet as practised by Sax Russell and others in his trilogy.

Three of Meliors’ “Mars Gardens”, after Kim Stanley Robinson

Do you have any writing projects on the go that are separate from your art projects, and how do you see the balance between your art and your poetry developing in the future?

Right now I don’t have any particular writing projects. Rather, I’m content to let occasional poems arise spontaneously, most often in very close relationship to the visual art I’m working on, particularly at the early, conceptual stages.

Are there particular artists and poets whose work you enjoy that you’d like to encourage readers of this interview to check out?

I’m pretty excited about sculptors Ruth Asawa ( and Mandy Greer ( I also recommend the photographs of Edward Burtynsky (, and the fantastic video about his work called Manufactured Landscapes. Two of the poets I am enjoying most at the moment are Janis Freegard and Bernadette Hall.

Where people can see Meliors’ work

That Tingling Feeling

How To Order A Tingling Catch

I had hoped to do a full past about A Tingling Catch, the newly-published anthology of New Zealand cricket poems edited by Mark Pirie, but time has slipped away. I still hope to write that post next week, but in the meantime, I can let you know that A Tingling Catch is an excellent collection which libraries and cricket fans alike should make sure they have.

A Tingling Catch has its own blog, and Mark has now put up a post on How Do I Order A Tingling Catch? It’s worth checking out.

Helen Lowe’s Aus/NZ F&SF Author Series

To celebrate the Aus/NZ publication of her new novel The Heir of Night, Helen Lowe asked a number of Australian and New Zealand fantasy and science fiction authors (plus Julie Czerneda, a Canadian author with strong Aus/NZ connections) to contribute to a series of guest posts on her blog on why they love fantasy and/or SF.

The series as a whole makes fascinating reading. My own contribution, on J. G. Ballard, Kim Stanley Robinson and pitching a tent in the wide space between, was picked up and republished on the big US blog io9, which was a nice bonus for both Helen and myself.

Fallen / Niedergang

A couple of years ago, a poem from my first collection, Boat People, was selected for inclusion in Wildes Licht, an anthology of New Zealand poetry with German translations, edited by Dieter Riemenschneider.

I was pleased not only because it always feels good to have work anthologised, but also because I have an interest in literary translation, and a particular liking for books which have the original on one page and the translation on the facing page.

Subsequently, however, due to a change in publishing arrangements, the manuscript had to be shortened, and mine was one of the poems cut. I was disappointed about this, but since Mark Pirie and I had undergone exactly the same process while finding a publisher for Voyagers, I recognised that this is just one of the realities of the publishing process.

Dieter was kind enough to send me the translation of “Fallen” that would have appeared in “Wildes Licht”, and give me permissions to publish it here. The print version has some indentation which didn’t work well online, but that apart, here are “Fallen” and its German translation, “Niedergang”.


Driving through Mandeville. Empty windows, empty houses,
a craft shop sprung like fungus from the bones of the dying town.

The cenotaph stands roadside. Blunt, unwearied,
it commends to our attention the names of the anxious dead.

They grew, these Southland towns, on the graves
of the children of Tane. Mandeville, Riversdale –
Myross Bush, Ryal Bush, Gummies‘ …

the land groaned with the weight of their money.
As the tribes were pushed to the margins, fat lambs
grew fatter. Knives flashed cold on the chains;
eels tumbled and writhed over offal.

Now, thistles nod in the hard-pan fields. Children
are a letter from the city, a ten-hour drive at Easter.
The wealth
went with them. No mirror glass monuments here.

But the Council keeps the graveyard clean; and our dust
settles impartially
on the sign: “Country Crafts – Buy Here!”
and the sign that their dead live on, and will do so, chiselled in stone,
till new trees and new ferns drag them down.


Eine Fahrt durch Mandeville. Hohle Fenster, leere Häuser,
ein Kunstgewerbeladen wie ein Pilz aus den Knochen der sterbenden Stadt entsprungen.

Das Ehrenmal am Straßenrand. Plump, unermüdlich
empfiehlt es uns, sich der Namen der Toten zu erinnern.

Sie wuchsen, diese Südlandstädte, auf den Gräbern
der Kinder Tanes. Mandeville, Riversdale –
Myross Bush, Ryal Bush, Gummies’ …
das Land stöhnte unter der Last ihres Geldes.
Während die Stämme an den Rand gedrängt wurden,
setzten fette Lämmer mehr Fett an. Messer blitzten kalt an den Ketten;
Aale wandten und stürzten sich auf die Innereien.

Jetzt nicken Disteln auf den pfannentrockenen Feldern. Kinder
sind ein Brief aus der Stadt, eine Zehnstundenfahrt an
Ostern. Der Wohlstand
zog mit ihnen fort. Keine Spiegelglassdenkmäler hier.

Doch der Stadtrat hält den Friedhof sauber; und unser Staub
senkt sich unbefangen
auf das Schild ‘Einheimisches Kunstgewerbe –
hier zu kaufen!’ und das Schild, dass die Toten weiter leben und weiter leben werden,
in Stein gemeisselt,
bis neue Bäume
und Farn sie niederziehen werden.

An Interview with Frankie McMillan

Frankie McMillan is an award winning short story writer and poet. She held the CNZ Todd Bursary in 2005 and this year was the winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition. She lives in Christchurch with her partner (in a 130 yr old house) in the inner city. She is a keen cyclist and lives within biking distance of family members and her workplaces: The Hagley Writers’ Institute and Christchurch Polytechnic.

Frankie, your first poetry collection, Dressing for the Cannibals, was launched on Thursday 20 August as part of the Christchurch Central Library’s 150th anniversary celebrations. How did the launch go?

It was great, thanks. A bit of chaos beforehand; the venue was changed an hour beforehand from the second floor of the library to the upper staffroom floor (where alcohol was allowed). Michael Harlow almost didn’t make it; he’d booked the wrong flight, and Robyn who was to speak on behalf of the library was too busy stuffing people into lifts, to be there for the speeches! About 50 -60 people were there, some fine speeches were made by David Gregory (Sudden Valley Press) and Michael Harlow. Live music was played, kids ran about, books were signed and the wine didn’t run out!

You’ve had poetry published extensively, and your poem “My Father’s Balance” won the NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 2009. But let’s suppose someone is coming to your work completely fresh. What would you like to tell that person about your poetry, and about Dressing for the Cannibals?

My poems are characterised by humour, accessibility, with an often faux naïf narrator who makes observations about how it is we are ‘so mysterious to ourselves and to the world.’ The poems are fictional but have an underlying emotional truth. They reflect my interests; theatre, folklore, memory, family and the peculiarities of being human.

Themes vary, from the nature of illusion – there’s some tricksy type poems about the world of magic shows and travelling circuses to power – who holds it on a world scale or in a family context. (The poems on cannibalism were prompted by a childhood horror of being eaten.) There are a number of prose poems in the collection, a form I find really exciting to work with.

I hope the reader always knows where they are in one of my poems, but not necessarily where they are going.

Are you a poet for whom the formal aspects of poetry are particularly important?

No, the formal aspects are secondary to what I see as the exploration of an idea. I attend to certain poetic elements and the overall structure but am led more by the process whereby words/thoughts are attracted to each other. (The premise that the first idea is often the best idea possibly reflects my training in improvisational theatre.)

Dressing for the Cannibals has a very striking cover, and I see from Helen Lowe’s preview of the book on Beattie’s Book Blog that the cover painting is by your daughter, Rebecca Harris. Was this painted especially for your book, or was an existing work that just fitted perfectly with what you had in mind for the book?

The painting, Night Visitor, was of an existing work (2006) which was part of a series exploring the early contact between Maori and Pakeha. There is a sense of mischief in Rebecca’s work which resonates with my writing and yes, it fitted perfectly with the book’s themes. (Rebecca is represented by Milford Galleries.)

I recently interviewed Joanna Preston, and elsewhere she has commented that Christchurch is the Motown of the New Zealand poetry scene. (I think she was talking about the level of activity and productivity rather than a penchant for perfect pop singles.) I know that you’re an active participant in Christchurch poetry events; do you agree with Joanna that Christchurch is a particularly happening place for poetry at the moment – and if so, why do you think this is?

When I came back to Christchurch eight years ago, I was amazed at how many poetry groups there were but even more surprised at how many poets belonged to more than one or two. Recently a few of us ex IIML graduates living in Christchurch (fiction and poetry) have expressed an interest in getting together so possibly yet another group will form! Why do writers, poets, in particular, have a hunger for belonging to groups, I don’t know. I do know the poetry group (of which Joanna is a member) has been enormously helpful to me but possibly so too would a fiction group of which there seems relatively few in Christchurch.

I have noticed previously that poets seem to be more likely to get together, and work together, than fiction writers. Why do you think this is?

I suppose the obvious answer is that poetry, being a small form, lends itself well to discussion – there are usually no more than thirty lines to consider, unlike a 3,000 word short story or much longer novel. In a two hour meeting up to eight people can receive feedback on at least one poem each. Performance poetry can also be tried out on a small group to gauge a response. Also I think some newcomers to writing try poetry first and like the the support/feedback a group offers.

We each had our first short story collection published in 2001: in my case, Extreme Weather Events, in yours, The Bag Lady’s Picnic – and, in fact, we read on the same panel at the Christchurch Book Festival in 2002. Are you writing fiction at present? If so, what fiction projects are you working on?

I’m about two thirds of the way through another short story collection. Recently my work has been chosen for Best NZ Fiction, 2008 and 2009 (Vintage) which has been encouraging. Now that my poetry book has been launched, I’ll probably alternate between the short story collection and further poetry.

How do you work? Do you have fixed times when you write, or do you grab a few minutes’ writing time whenever you can?

I’m a binge writer. I think it’s more sensible to write each day but because my teaching and family responsibilities can’t always be timetabled I work flat out when I’ve got the time. I often seem to be working to a deadline which makes me incredibly focused. In that state I can work up to six hours without a break.

Which writers (of fiction and poetry) have been most influential on your own work, and which writers do you most enjoy reading?

Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Flannery OÇonnor, Annie Proulx, William Trevor and Lorrie Moore have all been enormously influential on my work. To that I’d have to add playwrights, Beckett and Pinter. New Zealand influences have been Owen Marshall and Shonagh Koea.

Poetry influences have been varied. I like this quote from Bill Manhire:

The thing you know already is the last thing you want your poem to record. Apart from anything else you want the words you use to be part of a process of discovery, part of the poem’s life not simply a recording mechanism for an entirely familiar set of observations.

And here’s one from Billy Collins:

Poetry is my cheap means of transportation. By the end of a poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disorientated at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield.

NZ poets that I enjoy include Michael Harlow, James Norcliffe, James Brown, Chris Price, Bernadette Hall and Cliff Fell. Prose poem writers include Russell Edson, Robert Bly and Charles Simic.

Do you have more readings or other events lined up to mark the publication of Dressing for the Cannibals? If so, where can people see and hear you?

No, the launch activities are all sadly finished. My next public reading is under the banner of 5 NZ Poets at Our City, Worcester St Christchurch on October 2nd. Fliers are coming out with more details.

Working in the halfway house
by Frankie McMillan, from Dressing for the Cannibals

I pick up bad habits like smoking
on the back porch after lights out
and a tendency to see dead people

passing across the sky as stars
say, Freddie Baxter, who jumped

from the Takaka bridge his pockets
weighted with stones, he’s there
next to the South Celestial pole

Yours was a slow reckoning
not until spring did your bones
turn to chalk. There’s nothing

to dying you said and a small
pride lit your eyes as if you’d

mastered the trick; a clever horse
tapping its name out in letters

would you laugh to know I still
wait for your crossing, matches
in hand to frighten the dark.

Availability details for Dressing for the Cannibals

ISBN: 978-0-9864529-0-1

At present books can be purchased
– in Christchurch from Madras Café Books, Scorpio and University Bookshop.
– in Wellington from Unity Books and University Bookshop
– in Auckland from Parsons and the University Bookshop (UBS)

You can also direct order Sudden Valley Press: email canterburypoets (at)

Book Review: Letters from the Asylum, by John Knight

Letters from the Asylum, by John Knight, published by Sudden Valley Press, distributed by Madras Cafe Books. RRP NZ$25 (incl postage).

John Knight is an Australian poet. You can find an interesting interview with him, and a bio, here. There is a lengthy and very well-put-together review of Letters from the Asylum by Patricia Prime at the Stylus Poetry Journal. I won’t attempt to be as comprehensive in this review, but I’ll begin by saying that I enjoyed reading this collection by a poet whose work I’d never read before.

Letters from the Asylum
begins with a lengthy introduction by John Knight, in which he mentions his terminal cancer, and also endeavours to situate himself, poetically and personally, within the context of postmodernism and psychoanalysis. Not being a huge fan of either, this introduction made me nervous about what was to follow; but John Knight’s poetry wears its theoretical underpinnings very lightly – in fact, the titles of poems often bear more evidence of “theory” than the poems themselves.

Much of the subject matter of this book isn’t easy. It encompasses the deaths of several people close to John Knight; his own illness and impending death; and also, facing the wider world, the deaths of many, near and far, known and unknown, in war. Some of the poems which are about the generalised horrors of war are excellent, such as “Pantocrator [Insert Year]” (p. 70), but in the main, the poems I responded to most are those in which these issues are made concrete in the lives of individual people, such as “…and burned the topless towers of Illium” (p. 24), about a Greek woman, “no friend of the Colonels”, now living in Australia, with its lovely closing couplet:

I left, too embarrassed to return or explain.
I’ve forgotten my Greek, and her name.

Another fine poem that deals with the death of one person, in this case by suicide, is “somewhere south of eden” (p. 36). It has a shorter line than most of the poems in this book, and for me, this works very well with the subject matter:

spike your hair
make up your face
it’s the last act

place the list
in your pocket
do not leave a note

Though the overall tone of the collection is sombre, the book is not without hope, if not for this life then for another. It ends with “Resurrection…” (p. 93), and that poem ends on an upward note:

Leaving the stones and the small wet world
whose sky meets air with water, turn
to the sun through the skin of the sky
and wait for the changing. Dragon no longer
but a prism of light shot across
the still pond. Quick, I’m gone!

John Knight is a fine poet, and this is a fine collection.

Astropoetica: Mapping The Stars Through Poetry

In 2003, I came across a call for submissions for a new webzine, Astropoetica. Its mission statement was “Mapping The Stars Through Poetry”, and editor Emily Gaskin had the excellent idea of launching it with a Constellations Issue: at least one poem for each of the 88 constellations recognised by the International Astronomical Union.

“That sounds like a good idea,” I thought, and set about finding some Southern Hemisphere constellations that would by the overly-prosaic Abbe Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille – you can see the poems at the bottom of this post. Octans is the constellation which contains the South Celestial Pole.

Later, I had poems in a couple more issues, including two in the Solar System Issue – these two form part of the Mars sequence in All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. But, not having written any suitable poems for a while, I was especially pleased that my poem Losing Weight was included in the latest issue.

I’m not the only New Zealand poet to be included in Astropoetica: Mary Cresswell has been published there several times, and Su Lynn Cheah had two poems, including a particular favourite of mine, Insects, in the Constellation Issue.

It isn’t easy to keep a small-press magazine appearing so consistently, especially when you’re paying the contributors. Emily Gaskin has done both poetry and astronomy a great service with Astropoetica, and if you are interested in either, I recommend it.

Three Constellation Poems

Antlia, the Air Pump

The good Abbé
had a telescope, and time
and a cloth ear
when it came to names

Abbé Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille
You’d think a name like that
would awaken a sense of rhythm
in the most prosaic of men

a sense that would guide his choices
as he looked up
from the Cape of Good Hope
at a southern sky crying out for names

But no. He wished to honour
Robert Boyle, great father of the Air Pump
Antlia Pneumatica and Machine Pneumatique
that’s the name he lumped me with

Dogs, bulls, and virgins
wrapped in their antiquity
chased me from the north
with their mortifying laughter

Later someone had mercy
shortened me to Antlia
People now think
I’m named after ants or antlers

Squint and you can see me
crawling through the southern sky
keeping my head down
as air leaks from my broken heart

Horologium, the Clock

Clock, clock
Tick tock
In the southern sky
Counting down the lonely years
All are born to die

Clock, clock
Tick tock
Entropy remains
As your stars drift out of reach
Leaving only names

, the Octant

I was there when the Yamana
sailed south from Cape Horn
in their flimsy bark canoes
and found a world of ice

I was there when the Maori
dared the Southern Ocean
in twin totara logs
sailing from Te Waipounamu

There for Ross and de Gerlache
Bellingshausen and Borchgrevink

Nothing much to look at
Not shining like Polaris
But when they came to the South Pole
I was there

When Roald Amundsen
planted the flag of Norway
at his best guess at the Pole —
I was there

When Robert Falcon Scott
lay down for death to claim him
Somewhere high above the blizzard
I was there

There for Mawson and Shackleton
for Hillary and Byrd

Nothing much to look at
Not shining like Polaris
But when they came to the South Pole
I was there

Above the chattering of tourists
and the scientists’ endeavours
Above the melting and the greening
I’ll be there

When the sea level rises
and the ice turns into water
Or when a new ice age beckons
I’ll be there

There for artist and astronomer
Protester and prospector

Nothing much to look at
Not shining like Polaris
But when they come to the South Pole
I’ll be there

Antlia was included in All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. Horologium and Octans have not been collected in book form.