Sugar Town's rush hour fills choke points below
the biggest exclamation mark on death row,
concrete hypodermic lit by gamble fever,
the watchtower needle struck by weather.
Kite flying in forked lightning, ant trails,
skull headlands whose houses gleam gold teeth,
I nibble at the corners of dark cloud reef.
Woks singed over flames in food halls,
white pelts fur gutters after hail falls.
Forklifts carry pallets and engines growl,
off hot pavements steam plumes, thunder resounds.
Yellow petals tumble in memorial gardens,
a mānuka bud is a song in the city of sails.
The siren calliope serenades harbour mermaids,
anorexic spectres waver in door plate glass.
Lights a pimple rash on pinched neck of isthmus,
the container ship glides under blood orange moon.

David Eggleton

The Letter Zed

From zealot to ziggurat,
that zeitgeist, that zoetrope,
is Zealandia, son,
wear it on your lapel for your mother's sake.
Zugzwang ran the zoo,
and the zoo was an ark
for Zealandia and all who thrived there,
at the end of the alphabet,
knowing they were lucky last,
possessing the Anzac spirit and abundant lemon zest.
Even zambucks carrying a concussed player
zonked from the paddock,
zigzagged to the ambulance.
Those in Zephyrs and Zodiacs
bound down State Highway One,
heading home on a metal throne with rubber
tyres, knew they sat at the zenith.
Their zipped-up zippers shone,
their ziffs purred with satisfaction,
Zespri was their favourite sorbet.
Zowie! they went, zooming along,
catch the zeds from those over there.
We're zippy, but they are just zizz,
just z-listers in zombie droves.
Thataway, zanies chill, out of zone,
singing zip-a-dee-aye, zip-a-dee-eh,
zip-a-dee-doo-dah day, to zydeco.
They make zippo or zilch gestures,
they launch zingers from a phone,
each a zillionaire living on pure air,
till zapped by the self-same bug-zapper
that one day will zap
Zealandia back to zero.

David Eggleton

Len Lye's Wind Wand

Bendy baton, swizzle stick, swagger stick parade,
a pole vaulter's pole catapulted skyward,
performing spells at breezy dawn;
a spiral inside a clear glass marble,
a twister bearing the bob of a marker buoy.
Within its moist fog coat, the mountain is coy,
the bee rides the daisy flower back and forth.
Tall wand, a dowser's twitcher, down to earth,
curves to the gusts, inclines to the view,
floats with sphere, a bubble on air;
and then conducts an auction tender
between the mountain and the silver sea,
forest and bird, flax and river,
town and country, wave and whisper,
mountain white as Te Whiti's albatross feather.

David Eggleton

Taking a Line for a Walk: The Poetry of Peter Olds

(Text of a talk I gave at Noticing Peter Olds, an informal symposium on the poetry of Peter Olds, organised by Jacob Edmond, Jenny Powell and Anna Jackson, and the University of Otago English Department, and held on Friday 27 September, 2019 in the University of Otago Business School building.)

New Zealand poet Peter Olds, photographed in Dunedin, October 2014 by Grutness. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I want to argue that in the poetry of Peter Olds, any day is a good day for taking a line for a walk. As his numerous small publications over the years indicate, his poetry steadily accumulates day by day, made up of lines jotted down and going in and out of notebooks. These lines are the notations of a self-trained observer — gnostic gnawings on the bare bones of reality mayhap, but they always grounded in empirical observation, in tactile factuality. Whereas for some poets to make chin music is to offer a ruminative chewing on the cud of cliché at the pitch that flying insects enter the room, Olds resists falling into that trap by a certain alertness, a certain mental toughness, and by his hard graft of material fought for and processed in an attentive logic of sounds, as in the poem 'Bad Omakoroa' from the 2001 collection Music Therapy, published by the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, which opens:

            Walking past the place where Mrs D
            was smashed to death by a speeding car
            as she crossed the road to check her letterbox.
            A pheasant breaks loudly from
            the avocado, flies out of sight
            behind a hedge of feijoa.
             A blue heron circles the sky.
            Pukeko scatter from a vegetable plot.

Peter Olds, rather like Seamus Heaney, digs with his pen. He digs into his own sensibility, he digs up memories and so digs the song of himself, and we dig it, too, as we read, finger-clicking figuratively along with him, digging that bop, that beat, that mysterious current of energy that flows through the ordinary made strange, or at least made curious, absurd, wry, droll, memorious, and recalled as through a glass, darkly.

The poem 'Butcher shop' in the booklet Reaching for the Baxters (published by the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop in 2007) begins:

            I'm in the Rhubarb Café drinking delicious English breakfast.
            This café's a converted butcher shop ...
            ...                             you can imagine blood splattering up
            the pretty white tiles ...
            [and so on, and then the poem twists mordantly]
            ...                                 ... Trini Lopez begins to
            shout 'If I had a hammer' as I walk out into the blinding sun and
            across the bridge to the spot where I last saw L, late one night

            just before Christmas ...
            ...                                 and we walked together down the length of
            Highgate shouting and yakking our heads off, and hating Christmas.
            And three weeks later they found her dead in someone's woodshed.

Like James Joyce in his novel Ulysses, Peter Olds is interested in what a single day may be capacious enough to hold, but whereas for Joyce June 16th, Bloomsday, became the day of days, holding all others in a mystical chalice or Grail, day incarnate and revelatory, Peter olds positions every day as superabundant, or at least full of promise, full of quicksilvery essence, oceanic existence.

Take virtually any poem for proof of this. Take 'Graveyard Beach, Omimi', published in Music Therapy:

            And thousands of sandflies hover over
            the smooth-worn cow dead in the rocks
            skin blackened by salt & sun, goose eggs
            laid in its bones, belly evaporated.
            Two other fresh-dead cows fallen over
            the cliff at night,
            legs broken, wedged in rocks.
            One plucked goose stiffened in the
            attitude of flight. Four ewes
            dead from giving birth in a creek-slit
            on the edge of the slippery shore.
            Three paradise ducks circle the sky,
            their high-pitched calls mingling
            with the sounds of thousands of sandflies.

Quite an apocalyptic vision, a modest apocalypse, perhaps, but its sentiments endorse those of John Betjeman in his poem 'Slough': '... swarm over death!'

And so — life, death, greed, humanity, poverty, gentrification, Methodism, bees, love, spirituality, medication, buses, trains, clapped-out pre-War Fords, and an immaculately restored white Oldsmobile Convertible with pink vinyl hood: these are some of the threads, some of the chains of coincidence, continuity and being that run through and animate the verses of Peter Olds, his personal vision rolled round in earth's diurnal course with rocks and stones and trees.

Looking over the diary-like oeuvre, the  methodical corpus of this poet, it is inevitably now vast, a kind of moth-eaten musical brocade, to steal a line from Philip Larkin, embroidering on days where we live.

Poem titles give some idea of special days, through truly every day is special, even unique: 'Anzac Day in the Rooming House', 'Hiroshima day/ 11 am (for Yuri Matsuma)', 'A Cold August Night in the Captain Cook Tavern', 'Morning Picture of South Dunedin'.

Now, you may say such titles suggest a stasis, merely pictorial representations of one damned thing after another. But you would be wrong. Olds is a master of laconic comedy, offering us  delicate absurdist perceptions robustly expressed: childhood winter mornings in an antiquated Christchurch, a portrait of his father as 'a clergyman sitting up in bed ... rolling a racehorse cigarette', a glancing view of a dog described as ' a walking/ chucked-out bargain basement carpet'.

Bringing it all back home, nailing those thoughts, hunkered down in various attics, garrets, boarding houses, flats, Olds weaves a consciousness of the moment into a personal mythography, as in this from 'A plate of lamingtons' in You Fit the Description: the Selected Poems of Peter Olds, (Cold Hub Press, 2014):
            The smoke on the hill's from the crematorium,
            OK if you're into backyard fires and don't suffer delusions.
            You could have nightmares worrying about the future,
            who moves in next door,
            shall we sell the second car,
            you'll have to walk to work,
            jog off the cholesterol.
            You've got a job,
            you've got a cellphone,
            I've got a lamington —
            I must come again
            I must come again.

But if  Peter Olds is a bard of the modern urban alienated condition, where did it all begin? It began back when the word was God, and his voice palpable in a1940s Sunday School. It began when a girl asked Marlon Brando in the movie The Wild One as he revved up his motorcycle, where are you going? And he replied, 'Oh man, we just gonna go', echoing Jack Kerouac's On the Road: 'Where we going, man?''I don't know but we gotta go.' And so go became the watchword of the beat generation, reaching New Zealand and its 1950s bodgies and widgies, and reaching Peter Olds, too, as he recalled in his 2012 jukebox poem 'Love Me Do/1963':

            We helped the minister's wife cut layers
            of rotted cloth off drunks
            yellow-skinned with booze
            in the hostel shower ...
            we were 'The Boys',
            Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney imitators.
            At the slot of a coin on Ponsonby Road,
            Auckland turned on a needle.

That socio-cultural restlessness led him off the rails, too, as he wrote in 'On Probation' in Lady Moss Revived (Caveman Press, 1972):

            I their shiftless longhaired masterpiece
            edge towards the courthouse
            to face the animal of nightmares ...

These were the Elvis years, the Beatles years, the borstal years, the Dylan years, pop, hippies, psychedelics, the heart of the Sixties and out the other side, post-revolution, post Zabriskie Point, into R.D. Laing anti-psychiatry country, navel-gazing, boiled cabbage and rooming houses, sherry, port wine and roll-your-owns, and on into therapy, abstinence, Zen Buddhism — a relentless psychic cartography winding out of the beatified, beatnik self.

Peter Olds was one of Ginsberg's original angel-headed hipsters in this country, hopped up on Mandrax under the bright red neon HYDRA bacon factory sign that loomed over Ponsonby ridge at Three Lamps. In those days, poets had mana as figureheads of the counterculture, the spiritual children of William Blake, celebrating spontaneity of feeling and expression. Rejection of materialist values was a virtue and madness itself was considered a kind of holy state, a form of inner enlightenment. And yet the truth was always more complex. Peter Olds was there in slum landlord Spring Street, or in a doss house in Wellington Street, a crash pad in James K. Baxter's Boyle Crescent, and writing furiously, getting it all down day by day on paper, though days themselves were elastic back then and sometimes snapped back and even split into pieces.

There were the early phantasmagorias, compounded of amphetamine psychosis, delerium tremens and Visions of Johanna: words, words, words, the incurable itch leading to poet to commit pen to paper — all of a piece with the poet's quotidian routine, years ago today, when he shuttled like a yoyo between Auckland and Dunedin, thumb out looking for the ghost of a 1937 Ford with a V8 motor barrelling down the highway, and looking to catch a ride or a poem or both.

Even back then Olds was a flaneur, keenly observing, keenly noticing, while taking a line for a walk. As he wrote in 'In Auckland', published in 1972's Lady Moss Revived:

            Tonight I am walking to the point of your face.
            Climbing through another part of town,
            the boundaries of a large suburban shell —
            the junk-yard where the poverty-angels fade —
            where dark-skinned beer-lovers
            grab for the warmth of a dim pie-shop light,
            where the man seems to be going in circles,
            where each face beside me looks wild
                                    and driven from its home —
            lips kissing the sky of illusion goodbye
                                    into the crooked chimney tops —
            drunk for another day
            another dollar dead.

I'd like to finish with the first part of a poem which we could take as a kind of ongoing manifesto for this poet, one that emphasises a hunter-gatherer quest for experience, for epiphany, for spiritual sustenance. It's the start of a poem entitled 'Surfcasting instructions' which first appeared in the 2005 Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop booklet After Reaching for the Baxters, and the poem itself is dedicated to the late John Dickson, poet and legendary sidewinding raconteur.

            You need the agility of a spear-throwing warrior
            the feet of a high jumper

            and the deft hand of a pool-player.
            You need to run head first

            fearless into the frothing surf, and
            in an instant of non-thinking, cast your line —

            swivel round like a shot-putter and bolt back

            into the tussock sandhill like Jack lovelock
            bony finger extended skyward off

            the running line,
            the line itself streaming over your shoulder

            out of the twelve-foot rod's hot bamboo tip
            the bait sinking fast down through beery foam
            to the crab-holed floor.

Chain Lightning

A new poem from Murihiku, the tail of the land.

Chain Lightning

I who was harlequin, left jewelled green
on tor bulwark in baroque eyelid dream
through solar rays absorbed down gilt crevice,
salamander by lightning flash, storm-pillaged,
stock-still when matagouri counts each thorn,
I feel the tohunga within, while piercings drum
forecasts of breath that blows this land warm,
and cobwebs shade where mokomoko dart
from those rays gorgon-headed geckos bask;
before heavy clouds race their dark backing
over tussock hairshirt with flagellant hail.
As whistle stones flute higher and higher,
the sleet tattoos dirt to a blind white eyeball.

David Eggleton

Tēnā koe David

David Eggleton. Image David Mckenzie
David Eggleton is Aotearoa New Zealand’s Poet Laureate for 2019-2021.

David began reciting his poetry at rock music gigs in the early 1980s and remains interested in presenting poetry across as many media as possible, keeping poetry live, relevant and vital.

His poetry has featured in murals, short films, on T-shirts, in shop window displays, written on pavements and included in art gallery exhibitions.

His first collection, South Pacific Sunrise, was co-winner of the PEN Best First Book of Poetry Award in 1987. His seventh collection, The Conch Trumpet, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.

David received the Prime Minister's Award for Excellence in Poetry in 2016 and in 2018 Otago University Press published David’s eighth collection, Edgeland.

He edited Landfall between 2011 and 2018, and the free street arts magazine The Cafe Reader between 2014 and 2018. A noted arts reviewer, he has received the Reviewer of the Year Award six times at the New Zealand Book Awards.

David Eggleton has been described as a beatnik bop poet, performing with the perpetual motion of a jiver down at a rock and roll dance-hall on Saturday night. He has also been called a visible ghost-writer, an anonymous voice-over, a shape-shifting poet in the street — a freestyling surrealist and lyrical word-spinner rhyming to a rhythmic beat.

Of his own poetry, David has said it is ‘one long poem, describing the epic voyage of my life’ and that it ‘expresses my passion for the communal experience of living here, in this green archipelago in the South Pacific.’

Former Poet Laureate Cilla McQueen observed of David’s poetry that it is ‘informed with indigenous understanding and discerns the post-colonial legacy with a satirist’s sharp eye for humour and incongruity.’

David is of Rotuman, Tongan and Palagi descent. He lives in Otepoti/Dunedin.


Up here, seagulls float like kites on thermals.
Down there, a car canters like a racehorse
through pasture, towards Aramoana.
The giant wharf cranes of Port Chalmers
stand like steel giraffes in a story book,
and time is reluctant to turn the page.

A fishing boat’s wake is carving a V
in the freckled salty skin of the sea,
furrowing its calm green translucence,
until the sun squeezes juice from quarter
of a lemon onto the veiling, foam-white,
dissolved wings of a billion butterflies.
Pick up that foam, pick it up and drape it
across the dry riverbeds of the skies.

David Eggleton

Tokotoko Takes the Stage - From Jurassic Park to Jacinda' - ha!

Selina and Tusitala Kapura at an event to celebrate the life of mountaineer, adventurer and humanitarian, Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born 100 years ago on 20 July 1919.

At the event, Selina performed her new poem about Sir Ed called 'Hillary’s Step'. The poem is featured on an installation of the same name at Christchurch Airport.

Tokotoko takes the stage - from Jurassic Park to Jacinda' - ha!

L to R: Professor Neil Quigley,  University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor, Sam Neill, actor, writer, producer, director, and vineyard owner,  Tusitala Kapura, Selina's tokotoko,  Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Poet Laureate and Professor Clive Gilson, Chair of the Hillary Centenary Steering Committee.

Poet Laureate Award call for nominations

Kia hiwa ra!
Kia hiwa ra!

The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa is seeking nominations for the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award.

Poetry is a quintessential part of New Zealand art and culture, and through the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award the government acknowledges the value that New Zealanders place on poetry.

The Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library will appoint the New Zealand Poet Laureate after reviewing nominations and seeking advice from the New Zealand Poet Laureate Advisory Group.

Nominees must have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand poetry, and be an accomplished and highly regarded poet who continues to publish new work. They must also be a strong advocate for poetry and be able to fulfil the public role required of a Poet Laureate. The role includes engaging with a wide range of people and inspiring New Zealanders to read and write poetry.

Candidates are expected to reside in New Zealand during their tenure as Laureate.

The term of appointment for the next Poet Laureate will run until August 2021.
Nominations close on Wednesday, 24 July 2019 at 5pm.

Please email your nomination to

Email is preferred, but you can also mail your nomination to:

Alexander Turnbull Library
Attention New Zealand Poet Laureate Award
PO Box 12349

Send any enquiries about the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award can be directed to

Feb 2019: Dubai Literary Festival

An invitation to the Dubai Literary Festival marked Tokotoko’s first foray into the Middle East — we only managed to get detained once!

We had been scheduled for several events: a live interview with the National Broadcaster; a sole session as the New Zealand Poet Laureate; and as a guest poet for the famous Desert Stanzas event. Tokotoko and I rode our first camel, took in our first desert sunset, and shared our story:

Selina and Tusitala Kapura riding a camel.

Tusitala Kapura and desert sunset.

At the book signing afterwards, I was still AMAZED at how the poem ‘Fast Talking PI’ travels across cultures, countries, and continents.

Tusitala Kapura, a friend and Selina.

Tusitala Kapura, another friend and Selina.

Tokotoko and I trekked up the iconic Burj Khalifa. 

Tusitala Kapura and Burj Khalifa. 
The writers in our tower tour were gambling on whether me and Tokotoko would get through Security.  

James Owen, head of the charity organisation WIJABA (The World Is Just ABook Away ) and author of the book of the same title, explained to Security that Tokotoko was a ‘walking stick’ and elbowed me to limp my walk past metal and bomb detectors — much to the incredulity of my fellow writers.

After a nail-biting 35 seconds from the first to the 145th floor, we walked around the observation deck to survey Dubai — incredible to think that a mere 15 years ago, very few of the massive khaki lego-block city were in place. The money, the man and women power, required to build these structures from the desert floor up was mind-boggling!

Tusitala Kapura and tower tour group at top of Burj Khalifa.

Of course, the best thing about Dubai wasn’t just the incredibly eclectic, often logic-defeating architecture, or the endless flow of 5 star international cuisine, or the stunning hospitality (from flying Emirates Business Class, sponsors of the event, to the provision of free tours) or the fact that I didn’t spend one dollar while away, but the 5 star writers with whom we connected.  Here are some of us, on top of the Burj Khalifa.  Riz Khan lower left.

Tokotoko and I are inundated with photo requests from top-o-the-tower tourists. We happily oblige. The last extended Indian family insist that their great grandfather pose with us.  We are held up and lose track of the other writers.  While trying to exit through the gift shop, a man asks to see, then asks to photograph, then asks to hold the Tokotoko — which turns out to be the local lingo for ‘detain’. 

While calling his superiors, he refuses to let go his grip of Tokotoko.  I wasn’t letting go either.  Stalemate.  I could see the headlines: NZ Poet Laureate Trapped in Tower! Then James and Rhiz Khan wander out of the gift store, laden with mini tower magnets, assesses the situation, and start laughing at my impending imprisonment.

Maybe compared to all the global conflicts Riz — BBC’s first ‘Asian’ correspondent and co-founder of Al Jezeera — has witnessed and reported on, this is a littley.  But for me,  the thought of
 a) Tokotoko being detained;
 b) and me with it, was no laughing matter.

 As soon as Rhiz mentions whose guests we were — Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of the Emirate of Dubai sponsors the festival, and also a poet, '40 Poems From the Desert', — we were politely given our own elevator for an expeditious exit.

‘Look at the long queues we’ve managed to cut!’ giggles James.
‘Now this is service! It reminds me of that limerick, there once was a ...’ begins Riz

 I nearly knock their heads together with the tokotoko.  

Riz holds up his phone to take yet another photo.  ‘One more shot Selina - pretend you’re going to prison!’ 

Tusitala Kupara, James Owen, Selina.  
Me and Tokotoko and the lovely James Owen, who shares a birthday with Jane Goodall (he later sent me a film of both of them blowing out their candles).  Jane was one of his interviewees in The World Is Just A Book Away.  We’ll be doing a podcast together in the near future.

Both James and Riz adore Tokotoko — the  tales of poetic worldviews and travel; of being touched by people and in turn, being touched. Riz reaches out during those dark days after the Christchurch terrorist attack.  I reach back with a poem.

Christchurch Mosque Shootings

Poet, how are you to write?
How are you, on our darkest day
To find and offer light?

I’m texting with Riz
Who offers
Offers love and peace
An emoji of praying hands
For our Muslim brothers
And sisters lost
In mosques
In Christchurch.

Riz mirrors
The horror of an open
Mouthed world weeping
For Masjid Al Noor
For Linwood Masjid

Poet, it must be of a Big Love
Aroha Nui

A Strong Love
Aroha Toa

Of which you must write.

A big, strong, call to arms

Of love

Its relentless embrace
Surrounding us from
All parts
All places
In this world.

We are 200 ethnicities here
We are 600 languages here
We remain so.

For if my evangelistic In-Law
Finally walks through
The dark and dusty village
Of her beliefs about ‘muslims’

Finally sees herself
Kneeling in a mosque
Head scarved
Hands steepled in prayer
Sees her own bowed body
Bloody in worship
Sees the same spirit
Shafting through the air

Then there’s the light, Poet,
There’s the light.

Riz sends me pics
From Windsor
He’s wearing his Al Jeezera sweatshirt
He was the BBC’s first ‘Asian’ Correspondent
He’s warming up in
A dawning sun inhaling fog’s breath before
The Long Walk.

Through Riz’s eyes I hear how the rest of the world held its breath as they watched Jacinda carve out a new space in global leadership — one filled with authentic care, compassion and action. The Burj Khalifa we’d been up only the week before, its 180 stories a canvas for spectacular light shows, was now lit up with an image of our own Jacinda wearing a hijab. 

I’d only spent a week in Dubai, the younger, more liberal sibling of the more conservative Abu Dhabi, but two words kept spinning round my head the whole time: opulence and surveillance. 

After discovering I couldn’t make any video or phone calls through FaceBook, Facetime, Watsapp, or Skype, I felt claustrophobic. Although I could still text, if I wanted to hear or see my family or friends I had to go through the one national owned telecommunications company.  Beyond the luxury of the hotel, I felt too self conscious to run — despite the availability of running maps for tourists.  

I only saw one other woman jogger and she was covered head to foot and running in the heat.  I’d only brought my usual running tights and t-shirt.  If it’s possible to feel actively watched and ignored at the same time, then that’s how I felt. 

So, for Dubai to project a 180 story high image of an unmarried, non-Muslim, woman — only the second global leader to give birth while in office — well, there lie the real stories.
And because we all know how important our festival Volunteers are…

Tusitala Kapura, Selina and Dubai Literary Festival volunteers. 

Christchurch Mosque Shootings

Poet, how are you to write?
How are you, on our darkest day
To find and offer light?

I’m texting with Riz Khan
Who offers
Offers love and peace
An emoji of praying hands
For our Muslim brothers
And sisters lost
In mosques
In Christchurch.

Riz mirrors
The horror of an open
Mouthed world weeping
For Masjid Al Noor
For Linwood Masjid

It must be of a Big Love
             Aroha Nui

A Strong Love
             Aroha Toa

Of which the poet writes.

A big, strong, call to arms

Of love

Its relentless embrace
Surrounding us from
            All parts
                         All places
In this world.

We are 200 ethnicities here
We are 600 languages here
We remain so.

And if my evangelistic In-Law
Finally walks through
The dark and dusty village
Of her beliefs about ‘muslims’

Finally sees herself
Kneeling in a mosque
Head scarved
Hands steepled in prayer
Sees her own bowed body
Bloody in worship
Sees the same spirit
Shafting through the air

Then there’s the light, Poet,
There’s the light.

Riz sends me pics
From Windsor
A dawning sun inhaling fog’s breath
The Long Walk.