CREATURELY: In Praise of New Poetry from Aotearoa

By | 1 October 2020

Not all of the collections that affected and impressed me are surveyed here in detail. I couldn’t dance with everyone. But if you read Nikki-Lee Birdsey’s Day as Night (Victoria University Press), that skilful slow-burner, and Gregory Kan’s lauded collection Under Glass (Auckland University Press), they might give you the airy, pierced sort of feeling they gave me. Steven Toussaint’s intellectually complex and reverential book Lay Studies (VUP) might make you work for its gifts, a labour well spent. Erik Kennedy’s 26 Factitions (Cold Hub Press) and James Norcliffe’s Deadpan (Otago University Press) might be your delightful bedfellows as well, performative and self-effacing in equal measure. You might get properly unsettled by Vana Manasiadis’s Grief Almanac (Seraph Press) and Anne Kennedy’s Moth Hour (AUP), those impressive grief-works of formal risk-taking, and Paula Green’s The Track (Seraph Press) might sing you a fractured, urgent dailiness that will get right under your skin. These smart, deep-thinking, and worthwhile collections all merit your time and care.

However, with or without you, the rangatahi ecosystem looks to continue flourishing – thanks in great part to its indie darlings. A crop of newbie journals has appeared and are doing wonderful things. The journal Stasis came online as an urgent pandemic project and kept folks whet during the mental mushification of the lockdown. Saltwater Love, Tupuranga, and Oscent are handsome new online projects whose kaupapa is to make space for Indigenous, POC, and/or marginalised voices. Alongside hot new books from the big and small presses and issues of the usual grand dame lit journals, established-Indie (is there such a thing?) journals Starling, Sweet Mammalian and Min-a-rets all put out stellar issues this year. A few COVID grants made a few things possible. There is never a great deal of funding floating around, but poetry seems to find a way. Like bunting made of scraps and rags, NZ poetry is thwacking its many tongues against the stultifying air of received discourse and making everyone look up.

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