Poetry NZ, New Zealand’s foremost poetry magazine, guest edited for this issue by Nicholas Reid, presents the finest new writing from this country and elsewhere. Each edition offers poems by talented newcomers and developing poets as well as those of already acclaimed and established writers. This issue features the poetry of Courtney Sina Meredith. Three sample poems can be found here: Ielusalema by Courtney Sina Meredith, Nurses wear quiet shoes, walk fast, talk loud by Hayden Hyams, and Exposure by Janet Newman.
The recent publication of Jane Stafford’s and Mark Williams’s The Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature raises all those questions that anthologies always raise.
Even if it weighs in at nearly 1150 large pages of small print; even if it requires considerable muscle-power to heave onto one’s lap; there is no way that this, or any other anthology, can be truly comprehensive. Controversially, the Stafford/Williams volume, intended as a survey of New Zealand prose and poetry since earliest Pakeha settlement, omits a number of familiar names. Whether for copyright reasons, or for reasons of the editors’ taste, there is no Janet Frame, no Vincent O’Sullivan, no Alistair Paterson, no Richard Reeve. Then there is that matter of agenda. No matter how capacious it may be, any anthology is at some level a matter of personal choice. Not only are the editors guided by their taste, but they are implicitly making a statement about what is, and what is not, noteworthy in the national canon. To some extent, indeed, to compile an anthology is to define what the canon is.
And here some alarm bells must ring, especially in the matter of poetry. Enthusiasts, editors and poets themselves read poetry in magazines, chap- books and those slim volumes in which most poetry is first published. But the wider poetry-reading public (students, school-teachers and more casual visitors to poetry) tend to encounter the beast mainly in anthologies. If it is not in the anthologies, then ipso facto it does not exist. And one anthology will inevitably be influenced by those that have gone before. The anthologists’ exclusions and omissions become virtually irrevocable.
This is not to condemn anthologisation. Much less it is to make a jab at one particular anthology. It is simply to note what defining power anthologists have. Who can deny that, for a couple of generations at least, Allen Curnow’s 1945 Book of New Zealand Verse defined what New Zealand poetry was? Among other things, it helped promote the myth that there was little of merit before R.A.K. Mason and the poets of the 1930s.
In this issue of Poetry New Zealand, Mark Pirie offers a stimulating look at some earlier New Zealand poets whose work, thanks to Curnow et al, was overlooked, ignored, mislaid or otherwise lost to view. Pirie nowhere suggests that some towering literary figure has been buried. But his diligent research does show that, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was much New Zealand poetry of merit that rewards a new hearing.
The challenge to anthologists’ verdicts is an ongoing project.
— Nicholas Reid
Elijah plants a tree, thinks he sees mum
his dead mum moving like seaweed in bloom
in front of his house there a palm-like tomb
is open for all hands and wings to come
praise his mother in tapa, like a nun.
She has no children no burgeoning swoon
of flies and men to brush like morning dew
from shoots too small underfoot where blood runs.
Lately the sun has set the garden pink
when he pulls in from work with his girlfriend
the backyard dirt feels like grains of concrete
no water, beer, or piss the soil will drink.
They make love in the kitchen and deaden
his mother’s voice, so drowned by lives complete.
— Copyright Courtney Sina Meredith, 2013.
It’s a normal old day. It is autumn. It is beautiful. It is thin and clear. It
is a walker’s day. They just took blood from your chest.
To feel, ‘normal’, I comment on your nails, ‘Deep crimson, very
autumnal.’ ‘One of the nurses painted them,’ you explain, ‘something
to do with dark colours, U.V. damage. I wouldn’t have black. I can’t
I nod and say ‘oh’ and then nothing.
You settle back into looking out of the window. It’s a good view from
here. I can see the Newcall tower a few blocks away and think of Anna
back at work, working her through the lunch rush. I start to tell you
how things are going at the restaurant but you look so tired. I didn’t
think. You are probably trying to stay awake on my account. I make
my excuses and leave for the restroom.
When I get back you’re asleep. Your lunch is cooling, untouched, on
a tray beside you. Little wisps of steam are snaking up from a centre-
hole in the plate cover. They look very beautiful in this stark place.
You told me you look forward to meal times because they are the only
thing that gives your day shape. You look very thin.
My mum and dad and John arrive. We speak in whispers, an
unnerving family catch-up surrounded by white elephants and nurses.
The nurses speak in a jovial fashion. The elephants do nothing but
grow. A doctor arrives to wake you for a procedure. You smile weakly,
as do I. I excuse myself. It is the last time I will see you.
— Copyright Hayden Hyams, 2013.
Before the ridge
they rested against
the trunks of totara
on the eastern flank.
grey rumps of packs,
sheathed, the compass
Past the tree line
into the brittle
and relentless wind
not to look up
when the thwack
of the chopper
sounded. By the time
were stuck with sweat.
The conductor shed his
and was lashed
by the whip of
Perched on the
outcrop he raised
his baton. They
formed a semi-circle
finding footholds on
Songs of violins
flew as the camera
the lens they were stark:
black coat tails, black dress
against the brindled earth.
— Copyright Janet Newman, 2013.