6 Dec 2014

Gregory O'Brien's New Zealand poetry highlights for 2014

From Saturday Morning, 11:32 am on 6 December 2014

Poetry with Greg O Brien
Gregory O'Brien. Photograph by Jason O'Hara.

Gregory O'Brien is a painter, poet, curator and writer, and his exhibition of paintings, Whale Years, is showing at Tauranga Art Gallery to 8 February 2015.

Greg discussed his highlights of New Zealand poetry in 2014, a banner year, and lists his awards below.

Young Country by Kerry HinesYoung Country by Kerry Hines (AUP, ISBN: 978-1-86940-823-7) gets the prize for book production of the year: design, typography, print-job, concept, illustrations (William Williams' remarkable views of 1880s New Zealand) and a plaintive, endlessly resonating text. Gallery: images from Young Country by Kerry Hines

The inaugural James Joyce Memorial Award for unabashed, unfettered but utterly justifiable experimentation is shared by two essential books: Sam Sampson's Halcyon Ghosts (AUP, ISBN: 978-1-869-40816-9) and Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle's Autobiography of a Marguerite (Hue & Cry, ISBN: 978-0-473-28412-1).

Horse with HatThe Kim Hill Prize for poetry book cover goes to Marty Smith's Horse with Hat (VUP, ISBN: 978-0-86473-927-8), cover by Brendan O'Brien (who is the brother of Greg, so the younger O'Brien had no comment to make on this deliberation!)

The award for The Poet With the Best First Lines goes to Caoilinn Hughes, author of Gathering Evidence (VUP, ISBN: 978-0-86473-926-1). Among the opening lines here gathered are:

  • When the avalache came down on us  ... ('Avalanche')
  • As we watch the seated evening across the field  ... ('On the content of brackets')
  • We are experiencing a delay due to a body on the tracks  ... ('We are experiencing delay')
  • Heaven knows the planets are not silent in their orbits  ... ('Harmony of the spheres')

Tree SpaceMaria McMillan, author of Tree Space (VUP, ISBN: 978-0-86473-928-5), takes the prize for Best Poem Titles:

  • 'You would be immersed in bees'
  • 'Irena is in an earthquake having just fallen out of love'
  • 'They are roaring through the clouds very assuredly'
  • 'How they came to privatise the night'
  • 'Sometimes we remind ourselves terribly of ourselves'

Maria McMillan and Louise Wrightson – author of Otari (Otari Press, ISBN: 978-0-473-28879-2) take out the Green Prize for 'nature' poetry. (Appropriately, they are co-leaders in the field of Green.)

Frances SamuelThe prize for the Shortest Poem of the Year (from a book of remarkable poems, not all of which are short) goes to Frances Samuel for Anorexia, from her collection Sleeping on Horseback (VUP, ISBN: 978-0-864-73972-8).
'Anorexia'
electric doors
don't sense her

Best book by a poet which is not exactly a book of poetry: Stephanie de Montalk's How Does It Hurt? (VUP, ISBN: 978-0-864-73969-8).

The book that made me think about what it is that poetry does, and how our relationship with our language is central to our humanity: Dirty Politics by Nicky Hager (Craig Potton Press, ISBN: 978-1-927-21336-0).

A notable political poem in a year blighted by dirty politics: Kevin Ireland's  A song for happy voters, from Feeding the Birds (Steele Roberts)

A favourite poem of the year: Avoid by Tim Upperton from The Night We Ate the Baby by Tim Upperton (HauNui Press, ISBN: 978-0-473-28839-6);

A remarkable book worthy of much wider recognition: Odysseus in Woolloomooloo, Bob Orr (Steele Roberts).

Best title of the year: How to be dead in a year in snakes, Chris Tse (AUP).

The 'Something is Happening Here' award for a remarkable and energising literary arrival: Leilani Tamu with The Art of Excavation (Anahera Press, ISBN: 978-0-473-29004-7).

In a photo-finish between the four main university presses and the staunch independents, the poetry publisher of the year, by a nose, is Cold Hub Press in Lyttelton. In 2014, Cold Hub not only published impeccable editions of selected poems by Peter Olds (You Fit the Descripton, ISBN: 978-0-473-29803-6) and Michael Harlow (Sweeping the Courtyard, ISBN: 978-0-473-27420-7), they also effected a change in the local publishing scene by releasing bilingual collections from Latin American writers (among them Dunedin-resident Rogelio Guedea and Nicaraguan Ernesto Cardenal). Where did Cold Hub come from? Where are they going? I have no idea. But all power to them.

You Fit the DescriptionI believe in Books of the Day or the Week or the Month, but not so much Books of the Year. However, if I had to nominate one for 2014 it would be You Fit the Description: Selected poems of Peter Olds (Cold Hub Press). This is a great summary of Olds' poetic output – it captures the measure of the man. If you like Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, James K. Baxter or Geoff Cochrane you'll adore Olds. The book is an exquisite production with a rock-solid introduction by Olds' near-contemporary, Ian Wedde. A life's work, very much alive and going strong....