Poet Laureate’s Choice, August 2021 | Gregory O’Brien

Poet Laureate’s choice, August 2021

The Poet Laureate's Choice, August 2021 is a portfolio sequence of new poems from poets chosen by the Poet Laureate. Today three new poems from Gregory O’Brien. 


It comes back to you. At the School
for the Deaf, the waltzing class,
           a balloon placed between each couple

to maintain appropriate
      distance. ‘You were that much taller
and then some.’ This afternoon’s

balloon replaced with a flutter
      of hands, as if gathering altitude, as if
                   ‘I could fall from

the height of you’. It comes back
      as a vocabulary or untethering,
            for every outward breath, a breath

breathed in. The space between us that once
         might have whispered ‘I am listening’ or
                ‘I can see you
                                      through the red balloon.’

Gregory O’Brien

Styx, Central Otago, late summer

As it happens over fellfield and peneplain
          as if
     raining. On weedle and wedge
and Mr Haye’s lone metal arm
               as if snowing.

Over blue tussock and somnambulant
               the sun gone
     from bough to bulb and
everything between
     a cricket ball bowled

not particularly well
at nothing
     in particular.

Gregory O’Brien

The Spaniards of Italian Creek

(Speargrass above Lake Dunstan, Central Otago, Aotearoa/New Zealand)

Urchins of this raised
undersea, at once
ocean-bedded and blue sky’d,

your foreign accent
we forgive you,
your barbed inflorescence

upon which our wits too
are sharpened. In this
the gleaming hour or

golden age of
such things, the water race
that runneth under

low land and lupin, spear-
grass and shotgun shell,
chattering, as if to say

we were expecting you
mid-morning, clad in
edelweiss, spinescent.

Blue bells and coral
lichen make up your bed,
the coolest of linens upon which

this armada sails, these
syllables worn and pressed,
sea-eggs of the stratosphere
     in snow’s pocket.

Gregory O’Brien

Gregory O’Brien biography

Gregory O’Brien is a Wellington-based poet, art-writer, curator and artist. He has curated major exhibitions by a number of artists, including Fiona Hall, Rosalie Gascoigne, Noel McKenna, Jo Braithwaite and Euan Macleod. His recent books include Always song in the water — an oceanic sketchbook (Auckland University Press 2019) and a collection of poems, Whale Years (AUP 2015). In 2019, he exhibited paintings, made in collaboration with Euan Macleod, at Watters Gallery, Sydney. Early in 2022, Auckland University Press is publishing a collection of his poems and paintings, House and Contents, and, in September 2022, his extensive monograph on painter Don Binney.

Gregory O’Brien. Photo Bruce Foster

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