Top ten poetry books published in Aotearoa in 2019
So, I've been reading some end of year 'Best of Lists' for poetry in Aotearoa, and is it just me, or is there a real North Island bias?! Is a contributing factor that we only have one university press in the Mainland? Christchurch poets in particular may suffer due to the fact Canterbury University Press doesn't publish poetry.
My list picks the books I've been reading or want to read, and undeniably it includes some of my friends' books. Lists miss out names, and if your name has been missed, dear struggling poet, it's only because I'm biased like everyone else, including the paid reviewers whose job it is to write the official lists! I try and read local because the poets I hear at Canterbury Poetry Collective and other readings I've attended this year at National Poetry Day Events, Catalyst, Write On School for Young Writers and Caselberg Prize Giving have been outstanding. Don't let's forget them, North Islanders.
(South Island poets in bold)
Deadpan ( OUP 2019) by James Norcliffe is James' tenth poetry collection, and I think it's my favourite so far. The cover captures James' trademark style – poems contained, observant, full of dry wit but at the same time deeply touching. Why isn't this on those famous reviewers' lists?
Diana Bridge's Two or More Islands (OUP 2019) is a beautiful collection. This stunning writer uses her knowledge and experience of the great Asian cultures to write poems that engage with our own Western hearts and story. Her poems made me think of finely crafted sculptures; Intelligent and tactile.
Ruth Hanover's Other (Cold Hub Press 2019) is humane poetry, following and responding to the plight of seekers of asylum and refugee stories; poems of mediation and empathy, poems for our times. A chapbook and first collection by Ruth, it's a beautiful book and fully deserves to be on this list.
In Victoria Broome's debut collection How We Talk to Each Other (Cold Hub Press 2019) the poems sing of Christchurch, family, past and present. Honest and engaging, this suberb writer is well-overdue for publication twice short-listed for the Kathleen Gratton, I defy you not to love this book.
Lynley Edmeades Listening In (OUP 2019) has picked a topic I think is not only timely in a world where everyone is shouting to be heard, but she also pushes form and plays with language, which, most of all, is what I think good poets do, and is particularly important to do in these times when language is being manipulated to extreme ends to create fake news. I love that she does this with wit and craft.
Landfall 238 edited by Emma Neale (OUP 2019) Full of brilliant poets (and flash fiction writers including Zoë Meager and Margaret Moores). Enjoy poems by these accomplished writers – Chris Stewart, Janet Wainscott, Jane Charman, Jeni Curtis, Cindy Botha, Liz Breslin, Marisa Cappetta, John Allison, Iona Winter, Janet Newman, Johanna Emeney, Lissa Moore and Albert Wendt, to name a few.
A Place to Return To by John Allison (Cold Hub Press 2019) is also by an accomplished writer. His poems remind me of the beautifully crafted photographs he shoots of our local Christchurch landscapes. Often wistful, always elegant and well-crafted – another enjoyable read.
Time to sing before the dark (Caxton Press) by Helen Bascand was published posthumously in December 2018 but I felt it needed another airing on this 2019 list because the poems are beautiful, imagistic, witty and intelligent. Check it out.
Wild Honey: Reading New Zealand Women's Poetry by Paula Green (Massey UP 2019) has received a lot of press and features on many lists. Strictly it is a discussion of poetry, with poetry included, rather than a book of poems, but it includes some wonderful poets, from the past and present, and some my very favourites: Fleur Adcock, Johanna Aitchison, Tusiata Avia, Sarah Jane Barnett, Diana Bridge, Rachel Bush, Fiona Farrell, Janet Frame, Alison Glenny, Bernadette Hall, Siobhan Harvey, Helen Heath, Keri Hulme, Anna Jackson, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Frankie McMillan, Lisa Samuels, Sue Wootton and Karen Zelas.
Last but not least, don't forget my book! I know it's cheeky to include, but poets struggle to be read at the best of times so, here I am, shamelessly promoting Contents Under Pressure (Pūkeko Publications 2019) by Gail Ingram. I haven't seen a book like it this year, aiming to push genre, told as a novel in poetry, each poem also standing on its own. It's a paean to Christchurch and the street art that sprang from the cracks after the earthquakes; art as a healer for the main characters, mother and her teenage sons, suffering from mental stress and toying with drugs, in the aftermath of a disaster.
I'm sneaking in number 11, and I'm sure you'll forgive me because, I cannot go past the latest issue of takahē, which is often overlooked by the mainstream press, though not by the best NZ writers out of the land – Fleur Adcock (PM Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry 2019, and with her own collection out this year, which is already deservedly on other lists Fleur Adcock's Collected Poems (VUP 2019)) is takahē's guest poet for this issue, along with poems by Elizabeth Smither, Ruth Arnison, Amanda Hunt, Doc Drumheller, Vivienne Ulrich and Tony Beyer (who also has a chapbook out on my reading list Friday Prayers (Coldhub Press 2019) and looks terrific). If takahē 97 isn't on your reading list this summer, you're truly missing out on one of Aotearoa's leading journals of literature.