(Almost) Every Poet I Have Ever Loved I

To celebrate National Poetry Day, Jessica Lim revists the Pantograph Punch archive. Here she shares five poets who’ve served as her personal roadmap in understanding the art.

I don’t have a degree in English Literature.

I fell in love with poetry, age 14, when the novel I was reading ended in the middle of a sentence…

No resolve.

No imparting message.

It was perfect…

At the time, contemporary poetry had only recently shattered all I knew of conventional language – its rules and grammar – reassembling it into something more familiar.

11 years ago, the Pantograph Punch published the article ‘Eight Contemporary Poets I Love and Two Dead Guys’ (Parts I and II) in anticipation of National Poetry Day. The articles assemble the work of ten poets who shaped author Hera Lindasy Bird’s understanding of poetry. And, in turn, it shaped my own understanding of poetry.

A poet disclosing their favourite poetry after years of reading is extremely generous. 

It’s like making a blood sacrifice into the metaverse with no hope of return.

It’s casting a bottle into the 17th-century ocean, containing the final transcription of the missing fragments of the Rosetta Stone, in the hope it will be discovered by a future linguist interested in archaeology with only philanthropic intent.

To make a record of it, if only to offer a glimpse into the darkest recesses of a discipline perhaps better understood as a reflection of human transgression. The inherent desire to indulge in our own emotional excess in hyperbole. 

‘Eight Contemporary Poets I Love and Two Dead Guys’ became my own private roadmap map to poetry.

An unwitting site of pilgrimage to constant discovery.

Like a poem torn from The New Yorker, carried in your breast pocket til frayed and torn.

And, upon returning to the article, I often wondered if others would return to the same place…


11 years later, I write to resurrect the Pantograph Punch archive, in celebration of National Poetry Day.

Partly because of my love for the archive.

Partly because making a record of your favourite poetry when you know you already love poetry seems so self-indulgent that it almost seems untrue.

Partly because no discussion of contemporary poetry could be complete without Hera Lindsay Bird.


Carving out a space for poetry in the real world isn’t easy, because now everyone has three jobs and a vitamin D deficiency. Perhaps one of the most compelling things I’ve learnt through writing is that it should always be meaningful for the reader, who voluntarily offers their time to read your work.

Though the exercise of record making seems pointless when you consider the history of the world before you (art, fashion, technology, guilt) – Poetry and art remain divine.

In the following passages, I share the work I have discovered in my continuous reading since…

1. Chelsey Minnis

Once I was really sad, and then I read Chelsey Minnis. And suddenly, I emerge from my dazzling grief… driving down some open coastal highway in a convertible Chevrolet, hair flicking in the wind… When I think:

“The moon is mine and all the craters are mine” and “I control the sea.”

Screengrab from Barbie (2023) directed by Greta Gerwig

Poetry is a very petty art.

It’s like, yeah, “I like to write poems… but I don’t like seeing through a tiny telescope all the way to Hell”. Still, you must smile to yourself, decadently. Before realising you invited a pretty attractive burglar into your home, with tea and biscuits.

Later you realise you invited him into your home a year ago, and he’s actually your boyfriend.

You were just too busy making self-congratulatory jokes with yourself, as well as filing the burglar’s tax refunds, to notice…Chelsey’s great verses include:

Oh, how many times I’ve hurt you!

And each time is precious to me.

You lock the door, in the hope he will never return…

Before exacting the most precise revenge, the day after you remember meat-eating flowers exist. You break into your enemies’ homes, to fill each room with them.

Chelsey’s poetry is ridiculous. It’s like reading an in-joke that you were never a part of. Poetry is great, because it helps us recognise our own conceit. Imagine declaring your own insincerity with reckless abandon…

Do you want me to write a poem? Then hold my flask.

Excerpt from Zirconia………Bad Bad (Fence, 2019).

Poetry should be “uh huh” like baby has to have it…”

I like to write poems…but I don’t like to see through a tiny telescope all the way to hell..

It is my privilege to write poems during the day…My last look was very bad! I wore it just for showing off

…velvetized by thoughts

Excerpt from ‘Eight Poems by Chelsey Minnis’, The Stockholm Review 

I am sorry for slapping your face!

And now let me begin 77 sunsets without you.

Let me whisper into your dictaphone.

“I murdered my pet canary.”

Behold my dazzling mental illness like a chandelier.

Now we’re going to go down to the bottom and see if we like it.

I’m going to maul your head with my words.

I have to gesture with a turkey leg while I argue all my points.

This poem is a display case for expletives.

And all the baby dolls have recorded cries.

This is the time to be congenial but I can’t make it.

I’m the type who never likes your type.

Don’t you see?

We’re filthy in love.

Let’s get some rice thrown on us.

2. Emily Skillings

Emily Skillings’ work cuts through human realities and unrealities by centring the two-dimensional nature of social media in material truth. In her poem ‘Girls Online’, girls line up in uniform squares just like a rehearsal, or Instagram.

Almost a painting,

Shoulders overlapping …

One says: I’m myself here.

The poem is narrated with an unsettling lightness, which is at once distant yet somehow self-aware.

Their affect turns real life into a game set in some dystopian theme park.

I love this poem for its continuous reference to clothing, as shorthand for our material reality, which tightens like a corset, “the ribbon core … shirts in various shades of ease … littered with small cuts.” Which reveals its violence:

One will choose you, press you into the ground.

You may never recover.

Girls Online

The first line is a row of girls,

twenty-five of them, almost

a painting, shoulders overlapping,

angled slightly toward you.

One says: I’m myself here.

The others shudder and laugh

through the ribbon core that strings

them. They make a tone tighter

by drumming on their thighs and

opening their mouths. The girls

are cells. The girls are a fence,

a fibrous network. One by one

they describe their grievances.

Large hot malfunctioning

machines lie obediently at their sides.

Their shirts are various shades

of ease in the surrounding air,

which is littered with small cuts.

One will choose you, press you

into the ground. You may never

recover. The second-to-last line

has a fold in it. The last line is

the steady pour of their names.

3. Gregory Kan

Gregory Kan’s poetry depicts a world at once fragmented, yet stunningly complete. The author’s command of language is so exacting he could transmit even the slightest click across centuries in a way that makes the real world seem almost terrestrial.

Below I have included two excerpts of Greg’s work, from his first collection of poetry This Paper Boat (2016), and ‘There is a house that we are in’ from Best New Zealand Poems 2017.

Gu Hun Ye Gui – a ghost who has died

far from her family. She waits

for a kind person to guide her home. She never

Wants to be seen, but likes the idea

Of being found.

In This Paper Boat, Greg delicately threads narrative fragments of his own history with the work of poet Iris Wilkinson (aka Robin Hyde), who he refers to only as (I.).

Writing of his family history and compulsory military duty, Greg depicts the human experience with a disturbing and cool consistency. 

Excerpt from This Paper Boat

In 1926 I. arrived in Sydney under the pretence

of seeing a specialist about her damaged

knee. Her pregnancy born of a loveless

affair. Christopher Robin Hyde changed his

mind about coming into the world. The little

face I. touched was still warm, very dark,

the mouth turned down. The eye is a region

of calm weather surrounded by a ring of

Thunderstorms. The houses of Sydney and

its purple-dark faces crowded through long

Arcades. The Iris is responsible for controlling

the amount of light that can reach the

retinal wall. Insufficient adaptation to dark

environment is called night blindness. I.

decided thereafter to write only under the

child’s name, Robin Hyde, knowing that he

would be forgotten for her own safety an eye

within an eye.


To talk of Greg’s poetry, one must talk of it in the context of glass.leaves, a text manipulator that he wrote and coded.

What interests me about glass.leaves is that it shifts the understanding of traditional writing. The user can both sample work in its computation of procedures. A machine will learn from and respond to you based on your desires, shifting the possibility of authorship through its execution of “strange loops”.

There is a house that we are in

There is a house that we are in

When you have your back turned

I have my back turned

Sometimes when you have your back turned I turn around

And look at your back

Sometimes when I turn around and look at your back

You turn around

And then we look at each other

I want to go where you go

And be loved by you there

Where we are filthy and continuous like real things

Where we fall to the bottom of our seventeenth century bodies

And roll against each other like barrels of silk

Where a lake dreams us up as its centre

And we turn wide circles with our faces

Where our eyes grow suicidally beautiful

With imperfect and exquisite plans

I know without needing a picture of it

This place where we are safe enough to repeat ourselves

I want to seem to you the very same thing that I seem to myself

And I want to seem to myself the very same thing that I am

No hunger to speak of

But to speak with

I tie a knot and for a while

I will not let it breathe

4. Lucie Brock-Broido

Talking about your favourite poets with other poets is tough. You ask the same question, “Who are  your favourite writers?”, and it’s difficult to pull out a new card. Like yeah, we’ve read it all before. Lucie Brock-Broido might be the most opaque poet I’ve ever read. Which might commonly be understood as a bad thing. Though her diction is underscored by her near compulsion to use every new word uncovered [“she couldn’t help it”], her poetry still feels somehow legible.

Tonight is my ten thousandth night.

It happens in the middle of my twenty-seventh year.

I am one third done with this.

Her work is like an embellished barrette drawn from the hair of an Edwardian child.  Discovering Lucie’s work felt like uncovering a stunning Roman artefact three thousand years from now…

In an interview published by Guernica, Lucie says, “I came to poetry because I felt I couldn’t live properly in the real world.” Its extremities and circumstance, its thwarted desire. I think her writing is suspended somewhere between reticent humour and tragic opulence – Lucie is one of the only deceased poets I write of. Whose work remains luminescent, audacious, wilful.

Birdie Africa For Stanley Kunitz 

My father calls me Wolf.

He says that I will see things other people will not see

at night. When he holds me, heat comes out

of his big arms & I belong to him

In the cold of Christmas time he rocks

me and his deep lap in the great shadow of a comforter.

We are wool on wool, 

back & forth, singing these songs

whose words I can’t even say out loud.

I think they’re about God who keeps us in his paws.

My mother watches, standing at my window, arms

folded to her chest. One fingerbone

of moonlight reaches in, tapping on the lock

of her face, restless, not like a mother wolf

but lit like she is going

somewhere else.

But when I wind my arms around

him, put my face into the dimmed scoop

of his neck, he smells like good warm fire

like dark sweet dreams.


I am birdie now and I don’t know why a squat at the edge of the top of our row house and I am without wings I think Philadelphia is in gentle now bad things Echo up and down our neighbourhood at night I think we wound the people of our street I am hurting myself I can tell I can’t tell time you know.

5. Eileen Myles

While Eileen Myles’ has a prolific body of work, I cannot claim astute knowledge of it. Still, ‘Peanut Butter’ is a poem I love for its simplicity. The poem is not at all about peanut butter. I believe it earns its place for its masterful narrative that captures the everyday of the human experience as it tumbles through a gorgeous, aberrant non-linear history.

Peanut Butter

I am always hungry

& wanting to have

sex. This is a fact.

If you get right

down to it the new

unprocessed peanut

butter is no damn

good & you should

buy it in a jar as

always in the

largest supermarket

you know. And

I am an enemy

of change, as

you know. All

the things I

embrace as new

are in

fact old things,

re-released: swimming,

the sensation of

being dirty in

body and mind

summer as a

time to do

nothing and make

no money. Prayer

as a last re-

sort. Pleasure

as a means,

and then a

means again

with no ends

in sight. I am

absolutely in opposition

to all kinds of

goals. I have

no desire to know

where this, anything

is getting me.

When the water

boils I get

a cup of tea.

Accidentally I

read all the

works of Proust.

It was summer

I was there

so was he. I

write because

I would like

to be used for

years after

my death. Not

only my body

will be compost

but the thoughts

I left during

my life. During

my life I was

a woman with

hazel eyes. Out

the window

is a crooked

silo. Parts

of your

body I think

of as stripes

which I have

learned to

love along. We

swim naked

in ponds &

I write be-

hind your

back. My thoughts

about you are

not exactly

forbidden, but

exalted because

they are useless,

not intended

to get you

because I have

you & you love

me. It’s more

like a playground

where I play

with my reflection

of you until

you come back

and into the

real you I

get to sink

my teeth. With

you I know how

to relax. &

so I work

behind your

back. Which

is lovely.


is out of control

you tell me &

that’s what’s so

good about

it. I’m immoderately

in love with you,

knocked out by

all your new

white hair

why shouldn’t


I have always

known be the

very best there

is. I love

you from my


starting back

there when

one day was

just like the

rest, random

growth and

breezes, constant

love, a sand-

wich in the

middle of


a tiny step

in the vastly


path of

the Sun. I

squint. I

wink. I

take the


Header: The Palace Theater, New York, 1945. Photograph by WEEGEE. Courtesy Gallery Zabriski, Paris.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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