Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Mixtape
In case you can't get to a Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day 2017 event, a bunch of Aotearoa poets made you a mixtape. It's your own personal poetry reading at home. Someone pass the snacks.
1. ‘The flying fox and Che Guevara’ by Serie Barford
2. 'Moko' by Ben Brown
3. 'Sacred Days' by Kay McKenzie Cooke
4. 'Ripples' by Cilla McQueen
5. 'Birth' by Jenna Heller
6. 'Second Probe' by Gail Ingram
7. 'Still – The Boys' by Chris Tse
8. 'The Unmade Bed' by Harry Ricketts
9. 'Wild Dogs Under My Skirt' by Tusiata Avia
10. 'Daughter' by Michelle Amas
11. 'Graveyard Poem' by Sue Wootton
12. No Ordinary Sun' by Hone Tuwhare
13. Extract from New Sea Land by Bill Direen
14. 'Poi Girls' by Louise Wallace
15. 'Fiddlehead' by Steven Toussaint
16. 'Pussycat' by Selina Tusitala Marsh
Who Picked What
Kiri Piahana-Wong – Pubisher at Anahera Press
‘The flying fox and Che Guevara’ by Serie Barford
In ‘The flying fox and Che Guevara,’ Serie Barford seamlessly weaves domestic concerns with the wider history of the Pacific. Reciting in her inimitable style, it’s a powerful work.
‘Moko' by Ben Brown
Ben Brown’s recitation of his well-known poem ‘Moko’ oozes mana. This poem is a great introduction to his wider body of work. Both Serie and Ben’s collections containing these two poems can be found at Anahera Press.
Emma Neale – Poet and novelist
'Sacred Days' by Kay McKenzie Cooke
I love the way Kay’s poem so acutely notices the extrinsic details of small town New Zealand, yet also swells with the sense of internal exile, outsiderhood, of the reality of the small town and high school only being bearable if the speaker allows herself to blunt it by entering dreamscapes. Kay’s speaking voice, ‘at the back of the throat’, somehow conveys this sense of depths withheld, too; of the past adolescent self not being able to articulate the inner division even as it’s felt so intensely and becomes branded into her memory.
'Ripples' by Cilla McQueen
I’ve chosen Cilla’s poem ‘Ripples’ for the precision and sensuousness of her performance; her almost contralto speaking voice always makes me think of whisky and crushed velvet…of night clubs in candle light, low couches, languid hours. The reach of the poem itself makes me feel that time expands, and all the while, the poem makes room for friendship and loss. It’s a capacious, warm-hearted poem even as it deliberately jinks and swerves in focus.
Lucy-Jane Walsh – Editor at Sponge an online spec-fic journal
'Birth' by Jenna Heller
I picked these two poems because they represent two very different but striking ways to approach science fiction poetry. The first poem, 'Birth,' uses language and imagery that we associate with science fiction, comparing pregnancy and birth to the violence and beauty of planets in space. I particular love the line, 'a wrinkle moon of existence,' which to me perfectly describes a new-born child.
'Second Probe' by Gail Ingram
The second poem, 'Second Probe,' plays with science fiction tropes. Much of the poem is written in the voice of an alien, which is artfully performed by the author, Gail Ingram, in her clip. I love the layers of ideas in the poem. Gail playfully compares cervical smears to alien probes, and examines the colonisation of New Zealand through the lens of an alien invasion. Every time I read this poem I find another joke or thought that I missed.
Sarah Jane Barnett – Poet and Books Editor
'Still – The Boys' by Chris Tse
Chris breaks my heart with this poem about boys loving boys, longing, frustration, and dancing.
'The Unmade Bed' by Harry Ricketts
I first read this poem in Just Then, the collection in which it appears, and then heard Harry read it in person. The poem was written in response to the painting Triste Presentimento (1862) by Gerolamo Induno. The poem reminds me of standing in European galleries and imagining the lives of the people depicted in the pantings.
Anne Kennedy – Poet and novelist
'Wild Dogs Under My Skirt' by Tusiata Avia
'Wild Dogs Under My Skirt' already has a daring, dark life on the page, but in this performance it becomes something different, somehow pushy and loving at the same time. Tusiata expresses the raw thing beautifully, which to me is the essence of poetry.
'Daughter' by Michelle Amas
The gorgeous voice of the late Michelle Amas: As an actor, Michelle's renditions of her own poems are stunning, and we're lucky to have them. As poems, these mother-daughter small stories from Michelle's one book are iconic. (It's not your strike rate that matters but your home runs.)
Victor Billot – Poet
'Graveyard Poem' by Sue Wootton
It may be because I am a fellow Dunedinite like poet Sue Wootton that I identify with this poem. Dunedin’s cemeteries (especially the Northern Cemetery) are old and evocative, and I can see them in my mind’s eye when I read this poem – the decaying headstones, the ragged trees. I love the imagery, the density and physical presence of the language; the almost gothic undertow that is finely balanced with the everyday moments experienced by the living. The poem illustrates our transience in a world where 'it’s right to be so afraid of love,’ yet it ends on a note of gentle defiance: ‘the leaves rustle underfoot: risk it, risk it.’
'No Ordinary Sun' by Hone Tuwhare
The calm formality of the reading gives this an extra punch. There is not much to say about this one that hasn’t been said before. I like Tuwhare’s poems which often use sharp humour, but this measured meditation on humanity’s capacity for self-destructive evil is deadly serious, quiet and carries a terrible stillness within it.
Lynley Edmeades – Poet and academic
Extract from New Sea Land by Bill Direen
There's an exceptional quality to the way Direen reads/performs his work – it has a kind of sing-song quality, even when he's speaking. This extract is a kind of litany inside a litany inside a litany; the repetition lends itself to being in sound. I love the way this extract starts and ends with a piece of improvised incantation. He's a musician of words.
'Poi Girls' by Louise Wallace
I heard Wallace read this poem many years ago at Te Papa, and I think it really comes to life off the page. There's an emphatic rhythm to the piece, the beat of the poi as exemplified through the refrain, especially in the way she reads it herself – just the right amount of pause. I reckon only Wallace could get away with putting both 'bumheads' and 'you egg' in a poem, too. A great piece of New Zealand poetry, sonically immortalized.
Airini Beautrais – Poet
'Fiddlehead' by Steven Toussaint
The first recording I'm linking to is Steven Toussaint reading his chapbook 'Fiddlehead' on the NZEPC's 'Six Pack Sound' series (2015). I was lucky to be in a workshop with Steven during the writing of this poem, and saw the draft taking shape on the page. Hearing the poem read aloud heightens appreciation of its aural qualities. This poem has many layers of meaning: taking as its starting point Dante's Purgatorio, imagining Rangitoto as the southern island of Purgatory, and overlaying this with the contemporary Auckland landscape. It's also strongly sound-driven, and at times the focus on sound serves to defamiliarise the language, making the listener hear each word as more than a unit of meaning.
'Pussycat' by Selina Tusitala Marsh
The second recording is Selina Tusitala Marsh reading 'Pussycat', her response to appearing as Commonwealth Poet at Westminster Abbey. The accompanying YouTube slide-show, upbeat backing music and nursery-rhyme beginning make this poem initially appear purely humorous. But as Selina reads on, we hear some enormous and frankly uncomfortable themes emerging. By the end of the short clip there's a big lump in my throat, every time. Again, sound is important to this poet. The poem is stocked with rhymes and is rhythmically fitted to the music.