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Abundance of young voices in latest Poetry NZ

From the cover of the 2017 Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, published for the first time by Massey University Press

Young poets are out in force alongside established scribes in the latest Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, the 67th issue since 1951, and published for the first time by Massey University Press.

Poet and managing editor Dr Jack Ross says the 352-page volume, launched this week – with 128 poems, as well as essays and reviews of 33 new poetry collections  – includes many new, young poets writing “hard-hitting, honest, beautiful poems”.

They include Emma Shi, winner of this year’s Poetry New Zealand poetry prize, worth $500 and judged by Dr Ross, for her poem it’s ok to lie if you mean it.

“Emma Shi is one of those rare people who appears to have been born with a kind of poetic perfect pitch,” Dr Ross says. “Her work is strange, and suggestive, and disturbing. It has a lot to do with illness, and death, as well as the intricacies and perfections of nature. There’s something quite awe-inspiring about her talent.”

Second-prize ($300) went to Devon Webb, for Note to Self, and third prize of $200 went to Hayden Pyke, for his poem You Say You Got to Leave Someone.

This volume is the fourth edited by Dr Ross, a senior lecturer in the School of English and Media Studies. In a Massey University Press online Q&A, he notes there is a lot more poetry being written in New Zealand these days, especially by younger writers. Why?

“I think that some combination of the ease of digital distribution with a general sense of despair about the state of the world has made it seem, all of a sudden, more relevant to people than ever. If you want to attract the attention of the mighty, it’s probably more effective to write a poem than an editorial nowadays,” he says.

Dr Jack Ross, Poetry NZ's managing editor

New voices alongside well-known poets

This edition’s featured poet is Auckland-based Elizabeth Morton, whose poems Dr Ross says “have a kind of otherworldly air to them, which fascinates me. I love reading them, and featuring her seemed like the best way of getting to see more of them. She’s undoubtedly a writer of great technical talent, but I guess what really attracts me to her work is its uncompromising nature. She goes places other people are afraid to go.”

Readers can sample 21 of Morton’s poems and an interview with her in the book. Well-known contributing poets in the volume include Michele Leggott, Owen Marshall, Elizabeth Smither, Riemke Ensing and Anna Jackson, as well as essays by Janet Charman, Lisa Samuels and Massey University creative writing lecturer and poet Associate Professor Bryan Walpert.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017 was launched at the Devonport Library on Tuesday, with 10 poets in the book reading their work. The edition is available at good bookshops and can be ordered online from Massey University Press. Read the full Q&A with Dr Ross here.

Poetry NZ poetry prize winner for 2017

it’s okay to lie if you mean it

we tell ourselves we’re doing a good thing. a

little girl tugs on my sleeve, asks, why are

you here? her mother sends me an apologetic

smile, but doesn’t take her away. i’m not quite sure.

a younger girl lies on her bed, face scrunched up,

and i almost want to run away. we use

soft voices here, pretend we know why. her

father says thank you and i shake my

head, say, no, i don’t deserve it.

i talk to a small boy who builds castles with

cardboard and glue. the nurse comes in

with a needle and i hold his hand, tell her to be

quick, the syringe like a prayer – maybe this time.

we make spaceships out of air and name them

after stars, say, we are going to the moon. say,

it is so beautiful here. it is so beautiful.

© Emma Shi


Cover designed by Jo Bailey, Thomas Le Bas and Fay McAlpine


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