Poets’ Night In

The weekend of the 4th and 5th of April was to have seen a gathering of poets at Matahiwi marae in Hawkes Bay, where David Eggleton, current New Zealand Poet Laureate, would receive his laureate’s tokotoko, carved by Jacob Scott. Like most public gatherings at present, this couldn’t happen, though it will, later in the year.

Not doing something creates an opportunity to do something else in its stead and over the next few weeks we are featuring poetry to mark the weekend we couldn’t have. We begin with poems by David and the fellow poets he invited to join him at Matahiwi: Michael O’Leary, Jenny Powell and Kay McKenzie Cooke.

Then, from next week, there will be poems by former Poets’ Laureate: Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Smither, Michele Leggott, Cilla McQueen, Ian Wedde, Vincent O’Sullivan and Brian Turner, in solidarity with David, fellow poets, and friends of poetry everywhere.

Laureate readings began as part of the programme for the Te Mata Poet Laureate, and Bill Manhire started these with a reading in the Barrel Room at Te Mata Estate.

Poets’ Night Out has been part of the Matahiwi weekend since 2014 and has become a fixture in the cultural calendar of Hawkes Bay. Given present circumstances, it seemed appropriate to adjust that banner to Poets’ Night In for the first selection of poetry.

Poet, teacher and horse racing enthusiast, Marty Smith, has been an essential part of all our Laureate visits to Hawkes Bay, both at Matahiwi and as MC for Poets’ Night Out. So, let’s imagine we have a seat at the Havelock North Function Centre and Marty is about to introduce the evening of poetry.

Peter Ireland

Tēnā koutou, Tēnā koutou, Tēnā koutou katoa

Here in Hawkes Bay, where I am, it’s warm and bright; so still you can hear all the notes in tūī’s song, and even the thrushes and starlings. It was like this last Saturday, a day to welcome a Poet Laureate onto Matahiwi marae to receive a tokotoko. Early autumn, still unseasonably warm, the sun still in the leaves in the carpark where people would get out of their cars, come to hear David and his guests read for Poets’ Night Out. That day is still coming, whenever when, and may it be such weather again.

It’s very quiet. You can see a long way from here. There are no cars on the road that goes across from Bayview to Napier; there are no planes at the airport, not even parked. There’s this enormous silence, so still you could hear things growing. And into this come the poems, some known, some freshly grown and picked in these strange times, by David and his guests, Kay McKenzie Cooke, Michael O’Leary, and Jenny Powell. They have put them together for our celebration, Poets’ Night In.

Cheering on from the balconies to tautoko David are Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Smither, Cilla McQueen, Michele Leggott, Ian Wedde, Vincent O’Sullivan and Brian Turner.

It’s quiet enough to hear all the notes in these songs. May they be like cats’ eyes, glowing in the dark, watching over, and watching out.

Please join me in celebrating our Poet Laureate, David Eggleton. David, we’re all clapping.

The Archaic Order

Inside a fubsy dream,
bees treasure summer,
its gorse and bloom entanglements,
its gravid hush before the storm,
in lilac or violet flexure of irises.

Daylight is burnished by bird wings,
by the lazy ripple of the wind.
Crickets hop about as spiders abseil,
flies waft to hie themselves hither and yon,
a hedgehog rambles beneath brambles while tabby cats yawn.

A sunshower trips the light fantastic,
with pitch contour shifting upwards,
to be fainter and fainter, and away,
leaving rooftops drenched in raindrop finery,
so the hydrangea-headed suburb shines.

Sargeson Towers

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Not in narrow seas light fires of no return,
nor where blows the wind of fruitfulness,
but at dead low tide amongst brooding mangroves,
while the crab scuttles, the lone gull crarks,
and the mudflat poets gather buckets of cockles.
A plumb bob swung through an open portal
might leave us no wiser as to where we are,
but think of it as Auckland in the 1950s,
crossing the pitch and toss of the Waitemata
on a harbour ferry, to the fabled poverties
of the North Shore bohemians trying to survive
in Grog's Own Country when bliss it was to be alive,
under an overstory of mythic timber heights,
lately cut down and burnt to black stumps.
Thus a window opens in a villa's kauri heartwood,
and a hooting ruru eyes doubtfully the dawn.
Oh, for the days when every town had a fountain,
jetting coloured water, pinks and greens, like a dream
of what might yet be spouted in Takapuna, where
Keith Sinclair plays tea-chest bass, Smithyman's at the forge,
and in sackcloth and ashes McCahon sips bodgie's blood.
From Bruce Mason's navel, thespians wander and yarn,
stewing on the rhubarb of a play's first night.
Then the smoky green, countersunk, koru spiral,
sly mileage of a coastal steamer, a yacht groping a zephyr,
dense gloom, hidden light, Grafton Cemetery vapours,
volcanic caves glowing with spittle of worms.
A thousand city planning boo-boos owned up to;
that barge Glover sat in, poled by King Rex Fairburn,
shorewards to the tootle and fife of good old Sarge,
leading the way to jugs of gleaming Lemora,
and a sugar-sack full of withering lemons,
beneath a skull-white George Wilder moon.
In the Lounge Bar, ladies perch on the good chairs,
as if pubs might be shrines to higher thoughts;
in the public bar, blokes get soused on bowsers of booze,
swearing the longest word they know is corrugated-iron.
They howl, miaou, bark, bray; they yell hooray.
Outside, sparrows settle on toetoe plumes to peck away.
Enter the poet with face like a map of New Zealand,
A.R.D. Fairburn, all his china ducks lined in a row,
announcing free pot-shots on for young and old,
as the beer goes flat and the ashtrays stale.
Here's the New Zealand of how are you getting on,
here's the New Zealand of get out of it yah mongrel,
New Zealand of get stuffed, get a gorse bush up yah,
New Zealand of get back to from where you came,
get away and never darken our Customs Shed again.
Then Rex steps forth like a pukeko risen from manuka,
the alchemical man with gladiator sandals,
saying don't talk wet and pour us another one.
He's got an affinity with eels, with damsels and dragonflies,
launches into his riverrun of Finnegan's wakespeak,
claims he's lost his marbles, but most of them are in his mouth.
Like flagpole halyards whistling in the wind, sings Rex,
of the blab of the pave, the paper boy's call,
a wolf whistle from the railway station bookstall,
the blokes raising crown-and-anchor on tar-spotted canvas,
Maurice, Maurice and Maurice tapping typewriter keys,
ivory towers making hay bales into learned academese.
Bob Lowry's on the rocks with the Opononi dolphin;
R.N.Z.A.F. Mason makes his books into flying boats,
and skates them off the end of the Devonport Wharf.
Then hail crashes like a flail to clear muggy air,
for romantic North Shore's dead and gone,
it's with A.R.D. Fairburn in the graveyard,
and so is the Sarge, and all the Sons of Sarge,
and now only brand-new Sargeson Towers stand
as deluxe living for those with ready cash in hand.

David Eggleton

A Working Holiday in Wanaka     

(Lake Wanaka, 1938)

Attracted to the mirror of a solitary tree,
attached to the willow-weeping of stark branches,
we trial the angles of beginning.

Petals of sun graze on the drift of water
as singular cells of paper light


Weak sun-spill through summer’s parasol husk
dapples the lake’s gentle edge.

Gold tinged roam of hills
ripple and rise in a history of place


Mounds of tussock retreat
to the saffron shade of hills.

Mountains range in shy peaks


Mountains ruffle a pearl sky.

Through empty branches
a stillness of sky enters the lake


Sky enters lake
lake is sky.

Love’s Elevation                                                                          

(Rita Angus and Douglas Lilburn)

In him                                                                  you made landfall                       
anchored yourself                                  in his likeness
explored high country passes
                     surveyed the relief
                     of love’s elevation.

In his eyes
your glacial melt

In his hands
your jagged protection

In the shock of passion
a shift of fault lines.

Cartographers of the unsaid
both of you
reached the source                                               of a new edge.                       

Jenny Powell

Jenny Powell
Image: Craig Cumming
Jenny Powell is a Dunedin poet. Her most recent collection is "South D Poet Lorikeet" (Cold Hub Press, 2017). She is currently researching and writing poems based on New Zealand artist, Rita Angus.

Brown Purple Haze

The brown purple haze
Hung over old Sydney town
The surrounding bushes blaze

Breathing its dragon breath
The fiery red Rainbow Serpent
Brought destruction and death

All down the line of land
Central and South coast burned
Also too the areas inland

The first-nation people
Knew to move on when the fires
Covered the skies brown purple

Then the others came
With their guns and convicts and plans
To build towns and cities that remain

In the same place with millions
Of people: buildings, railways and
Roads from which you can’t just move on

So the fires and the beds still burn
A billion animals and several people consumed
No one knows when it is their turn

The whole nation may yet go walkabout
My brother, his family, my cousins and the rest
Australia my be beset by eternal drought

The lucky country has lost its bet
There is a price to pay for driving people over the edge
So the brown purple haze of guilt has yet

To expunge the memories of dream-timers
Whose loved-ones were driven over cliffs
Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide & Perth
Great icons of Western Kultur & birth
Yet, the brown purple haze is upon their brain
To recognise the memories of dream-timers

With Serah at St Heliers

(for Serah Fesolai)

Sitting together, two old friends
A gentle breeze in the air, we
Talked, with Rangitoto behind
Swaying trees on the beach front.

Like the trees we were at ease
As the evening sun’s last light
Shadowed the darkening sea
Which shimmered along the small

Waves breaking onto the beach
As buses stopped at regular
Intervals near the table we ate
From, perhaps to remind us

We both had come from difficult,
Poverty stricken backgrounds;
To gently tell us how special it
Is for the two of us to be able

To experience the finer things
In life, a glass of wine, a bowl
Of seafood chowder, and a plate
Of whitebait fritters, in such beautiful

Surroundings. Remembering my
Time in Auckland last year when,
Like two children who had discovered
The giant’s house, you would

Visit me nearly daily in Westmere
Saying it was almost like the time
We shared a house together in
Mt Albert all those years ago.

So, take this poem as the poem
I have always meant to write to you

Alofa – Michael

Michael O’Leary

Michael O'Leary standing outside a KiwiRail train
Image: Dave Johnson
Michael O’Leary lives on the Kapiti Coast. His writing includes five novels, non-fiction publications, a book of his artwork, and ten volumes of poetry: including a selected poems, "Toku Tinihanga"; collected railway poems "Main Trunk Lines; and Collected Poems": 1981-2016, all published by HeadworX.  His Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop imprint has published over 180 titles of New Zealand literary works (mainly poetry), and in 2019 celebrated 35 years of publishing.

warding off

Again today
the mid-afternoon flight
of two oyster catchers

pale, low cloud,
riding the grey light
in quick, flick-knife flight,
not missing a beat,

winging it, avid
for the ocean, their cries
sounding out
a kind of homesickness, or

a repeated one-note song
that is both a warning
and a warding off. I saw them
the same time

– easy now
to remember particular
sightings and sounds

in these numbered days
of confinement.
And at night
I hear their calls,
in each note
transmitted grief

by the dark.
These birds always travel
in pairs, stick together,
insist not all is well.

glass paperweight

Friend, I hold your birthday present,
this glass paperweight,
and test its measure of sand
turned by fire to liquid then
to clear and solid containment. An entire world
I am able to hold in one hand, to look
inside and see an ocean frozen in motion

where indigo-and-dandelion cat’s eyes float
on candy-striped waves of periwinkle
and mint. Suspended
in the rounded space that such a snow globe
sphere allows, the artist’s trademark
flower flies with starfish wings — petals of a lily
worn to a skeleton of filigreed sunlight,

like the frayed remnant of a dress
in a coloured, Instagram photograph
yellowed with age, or leaked sunlight
from that day over fifty years ago now
when we both discovered
a common disregard for the shallow
and the popular and laughed at how easy

it would be to become friends for life, surely
sensing back then the possibility that all
could be weighed and kept, like the heat
from the fiery core of the globed planet
on which we both stood and turned and even now,
keep on standing, spinning under a golden,
lily-sky spent from the weight of sun.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Kay McKenzie Cooke
Image: Kate Cooke
Kay McKenzie Cooke lives in Dunedin. Her fourth poetry collection is being published by The Cuba Press and at this point is scheduled for release in June 2020.

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