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Spotlight On Aotearoa's Poets Shines Bright

25 Aug 2023

Poets from across Aotearoa - from award-winning to emerging - share their mahi to celebrate National Poetry Day.


Happy National Poetry Day, Aotearoa!

No matter where you are across the motu - you can find ways to get involved in the official NPD calendar here. There are some amazing events and opportunities to let you experience poetry and give it a try yourself.

In yesterday's Lowdown, this year's Ockham New Zealand Best Book of Poetry finalists gave their thoughts about what makes this day special and how poetry is more accessible than some think.

Today - in the 26th edition of National Poetry Day - those same four women have supplied poems for The Big Idea to publish so you can get your own taste. They're joined by another poet, yet to be published, in Liz Skinner. Her poem is a personal journey of beating cancer and dreaming of a reliable body - will all five of these amazing works showing that inspiration and creativity can come from anywhere. 

If these spark your imagination, you can find much more online, including this selection from 2022 including Aotearoa greats like Tusiata Avia, Courtney Sina Meredith, Anne Kennedy and Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Waitangi Day 2019 By Alice Te Punga Somerville  (Te Āti Awa, Taranaki) 

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You walked out to the car

as soon as you heard me pull in the driveway. 


              Do you talk to your landlord often? 


I had left for Auckland at 6am with a grieving husband

so he could fly home to bury his grandmother. 

I was exhausted, even with two coffees on board,

and buckled-in baby had just woken again. 



            Your landlord…


Then something about the way our tree should be trimmed 

where it hangs over your driveway.


I couldn’t agree more; we had planned to do it this weekend

if things hadn’t unfolded they way they did in Suva. 


              We own this house. 


And that’s the bit you couldn’t comprehend: that we weren’t tenants. 


              But the Fijian guy, isn’t he your partner? 


As if melanin was magic that could cancel out mortgage documents,

builder’s reports, land deeds, council permissions, rates, and all that insurance.  


As if families like ours whose Māori and Fijian words float over your fence

are disqualified from something you think is only for people like you. 


              No, he’s my husband. And we own this house. 


I wanted to pick up baby, and I wanted to pick a fight: 

the eternal Waitangi Day dilemma. 


But more than that, I didn’t want to made to feel uncomfortable

about a tree, or home ownership, or being Māori, or marrying someone from Fiji.


The slow-motion genocide that is life under siege in a settler colony 

Is undertaken by quiet conversations, small unbreakable silences, comments left to fester,


an expectation of neighbourliness that means it’s okay for you to assume we don’t own a house

but it would be rude for me to draw attention to your assumption. 


179 years sat there between us, looking from one side of the fence to the other,

wondering who would make the next move. 


(No move is your move, or at least it scores a point for you.)


              Why did you think we were tenants?


You said something illogical but it didn’t matter:

we both knew what had gone on here.


Despite everything, I smiled to myself: I had decided to write a Waitangi poem today.

I’d been thinking about metaphors while I sped through acres of literal violence: 


So many Waikato killing fields, farms on stolen land drenched with Banaban bones, 

past the faded sign for a café called Cook’s landing.  


And then the poem walked out to the car 

as soon as it heard me pull in the driveway.


GINGER FLAKES by Khadro Mohamed

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did you hear the news? about Hawa 

I heard she’s given up on speaking 


it happened yesterday 

when someone told her she reminded them 


too much of her mother. a tall woman with an 

East African nose, and Ghanian skin            


a woman with a heavy hand who uses too much 

hawaji in her curry and not enough ginger flakes in her tea 


she climbs date trees with her bare hands, harvests fruit 

and makes cakes for the elderly man with a missing eye next door


a woman with far too many thoughts in her mind

each one bleeding through her skin and forging a 


path to her heart


so, she sits back and lets her mother’s 

ghost do all the talking


Gunk (mereology) by Joanna Cho

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Photo: Campbell Stonehouse.

I want to go to couple’s therapy but my boyfriend says

Why do you have to pick at small issues, why can’t you look at

the bigger picture? but he contradicts himself because he

goes to the gym every day, spends 1.5 hours on the erg, and

some people notice the dust on skirting boards and know that

if it doesn’t get wiped it’s like lint building up in belly buttons,

turns into a grey spiral,

a tropical cyclone that devastates,

and small things lead to big things, small things are big things

like how people say the worst thing in a threesome is

when you catch the others sharing a certain look

and some people

catch the length of dashes and double spaces quicker

than their own behaviours, for some people

correcting a straight apostrophe or a spelling mistake is

their way of showing care and respect

for the project, and when I’m spiralling it can help to focus

on the micro, to floss, because

small things make up big things, a flower always blooms

in the right conditions—a pink hibiscus on a bright blue day—

and some people appreciate the tailoring of a good suit,

find their favourite art combines technical expertise and conceptualism,

for example, and I don’t want to go on about it but

it’s not crazy to find peace in fixing tenses,

satisfaction in spotting anomalies in patterns,

happiness, even, in helping polish the chandelier so that it shines

the way it wants to, cos I mean

when everything is symbolic, isn’t precision vital,

true intended meaning kind of important, and when it comes down to it

don’t you see how he tops up everyone’s water before his own,

the way he brings you your slippers in the morning,

his extensive vocabulary and

understanding of philology, his talent for giving feedback

that unearths potential,

through a client-centred-therapy approach, and

his stash of red pens,

his wireless printer,

his MacBook Pro,

his Microsoft Word subscription................................?????

(This poem was written for Whitireia Publishing's forthcoming book called Everything I Know About Books: An insider look at publishing in Aotearoa, which is being launched in October.)

Anahera Maire Gildea (Ngāti Tukorehe)

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I wish my body was a Corolla by Liz Skinner


I wish my body was a Corolla

It would pass every check with a tick

It would start every morning 

with a humble brrrrm

and deliver me, sensibly 

to my destination.


I wish my body was a Corolla

Probably a white one, or in blue

it would stand out 

just enough in the darkness

to stop me from a collision

when intersections of life

could mangle 

even most humble 

and reliable of us.


I wish my body was a Corolla

It wouldn’t crave diesel

or anything high octane

It would get around on unleaded

without eating cakes

It would just tiptoe

a carbon footprint

as it zipped effortlessly

around the block

and through the decades,

beaming its headlights

into the darkness

at the end

of the tunnel.


I wish my body was a Corolla

It would cruise

up and down

the peaks and troughs of life

with sturdy breaks

to compensate

for life’s high speed crashes

Then, slow down time

when life feels like

it’s a robber getting away

with your best stuff-

parts of you 

that can't easily be replaced

by the mechanic 

down the road.


I wish my body was a Corolla

It would be so replaceable

or upgradeable

If the motherboard 

or engine crapped out

My kids wouldn’t mind

a replacement motherboard

That would be better

than a replacement mother.


I wish my body was a Corolla

That’s why you buy them

instead of one prone 

to numerous breakdowns

that might be more flash

‘Coz electric seat warmers and 

European styling

won’t help you when

your body is broken.


In my next life I’ll be a Corolla

I’ll go and go ’til

I’ve gone ‘round the clock,

with one