The Situation: Bernadette Hall

The Situation 2020

Tēnā koutou katoa

‘The Situation 2020’ is a kind of Poet Laureate's Choice of work from Aotearoa New Zealand poets for the Poet Laureate blog. Essentially, it will be a portfolio of poetry, posted over the next while, from a range of poets whose work I have enjoyed reading recently: interesting poems for interesting times.


— David Eggleton

from Fancy Dancing  

1. in conversation with the little cherry tree

So, there’s Duke Street and Castle Street and Great King Street

and Cumberland Street where the sign’s been wrenched off

(it’s such bad history ) and Malvern Street and Hunt Street

and Dundas Street where the big boys once threw Iti’s schoolbag

into the river. And there’s North East Valley right

at the edge of the compass where each of the wooden houses

has a carved architrave. There’s all the clamour

of the Santa Santa Parade, and Willowbank with the Compte de Paris

climbing all over the workmen’s cottages which brings us,

quite naturally, to the triplication of the Pacific heart

and the House of the Silver Triniti. And what about the music,

what about the groundlessness of the Lydian mode,

free of burden? To have flowered once is that reason enough,

my dear yedoensis, so heavy I’ve had to tie up your white aerials.

2.he kōrero pukapuka

Soft rain all night and the gravel paths fill up

with water. There are holes in the plumey grass,

that’s where the sheep are.  A child rattles

silver bells in a yellow frame. Waves bunch up

like Christmas. I left four of my rings in the green

tray when I passed through the Guardhouse.

Susan rang security from the library and I collected

them on my way out.  Such is my tiredness.

He’s learning things the hard way, the man

in the ugly prison track-pants. Every day he’s faking it

like the dream of big, easy chairs along a sun-washed

verandah.  But there’s no sunlight here, just a 22 hour

lockdown. ‘I wonder if I’ll see you round the traps,’

he says, ‘that’s if you ever manage to dig yourself out.


A white sun held on a stem in the courtyard,

a rough paddock of barley grass and barbed wire.

The way the house is inhabited, starlings

in the water-trap, bumblebees under the shed.

The gauzy nets they’ve hung up in the old woman’s

room. ‘Did somebody die here once?’ ‘Yes.’

You want to meet the poet? Well, you’ll have

to take the inner city link bus and get off

at Three Lamps. He’ll tell you about the hemisphere,

the complex relationship between two parts

and a whole, where time is collapsed horizontally

and vertically.  As for your lover, sliding a fingernail

along your arm, well, that’s another story,

the way you mirror each other, Spiegel en Spiegel.

— Bernadette Hall

Bernadette Hall biography

Woman with a hat on leaning against a wall looking at a painting.
Artwork:FLIGHT by Robyn Webster. Image by Julie Williams. 

Bernadette Hall lives at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. A new collection of her work, ‘Fancy Dancing, new and selected poems 2007–2020’ will be published by Victoria University Press (VUP) in October this year. It includes a series of artworks by the Christchurch artist, Robyn Webster. ‘Flight’ is one of these.

Bernadette has a history of collaboration with the Dunedin artist, Kathryn Madill. For example in ‘The Merino Princess, selected poems 1989- 2001’ published by VUP in 2004. In September, their YA novella, ‘SUL, an Antarctic fable’ is due out from Scythe Press. It features 22 new paintings by Kathryn. The two had shared an Artists in Antarctica Award in December 2004.

In 2015 Bernadette received the Prime Minister’s Award for literary achievement in poetry and for her contribution to New Zealand literature. In 2016 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

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