Essential New Zealand Poems in the spotlight again

This rich and rewarding treasure of a book featuring a 150 poems by 150 New Zealand poets, ‘has been shortlisted in two categories at the 2015 PANZ Design Book Awards including best NZ book cover of the year.

Although these awards recognise the talent which went into the design of the book, I feel that the accolade is a huge endorsement of the book per se, including the poets’ work,  as one of the categories recognises layout of the poems in the book’. [Siobhan Harvey]

Essential New Zealand Poems in the spotlight again

Broadsheet / Issue 15 now online


broadsheet, no.15, May 2015, features award-winning New Zealand poet Riemke Ensing. The issue celebrates her significant contribution to New Zealand poetry and features some of her newest, unpublished work. Others included are: Vincent O’Sullivan current Poet Laureate, Rosetta Allan, Nick Ascroft, Anita Arlov, Karen Zelas, Jan Kemp, Judith Haswell, Iain Britton, Dorothy Howie, Annie Newcomer (USA), Kevin Ireland, Simon Fleck, Madeleine Slavick, Alistair Paterson and Peter Bland.

Download Issue 15 here

Broadsheet / Issue 15 Cover

Broadsheet / Issue 15 Cover

Mark Pirie of Night Press does the honours

15 years after editing and publishing my Selected Poems Talking Pictures (HeadworX, Wellington,2000) Mark Pirie ‘thought it would be nice to do a feature in honour’ and produced his 15th New Zealand poetry issue of  broadsheet under the Night Press imprint because he selects and edits these well produced ‘classy little numbers’ at night after finishing his day job to pay for them.

Along with eight of my own poems, Mark has ‘continued the tradition of broadsheet  features by inviting  some of my friends to contribute to the issue’ .There is a wide ranging variety of work including recent poetry from Vincent O’Sullivan ( the most recent NZ Poet Laureate), Alistair Paterson, Judith Haswell, Annie Newcomer (USA), Kevin Ireland, Peter Bland, Dorothy Howie, Karen Zelas, Rosetta Alan, Anita Arlov and Jan Kemp among others.

The broadsheet issues are printed as limited editions but are available on-line by clicking here

Nigel Brown’s exhibition, “Albatross Neck” opening at Artis Gallery in Parnell, Auckland


A large group of friends and supporters  gathered at Artis Gallery on the evening of Tuesday 21 April 2015, to launch Nigel Brown’s exhibition Albatross Neck  – a series of mostly large paintings  built around Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner  (see catalogue by Denys Trussell).

Nigel and I go back a long way. He did the graphics for my Topographies  (Prometheus Press, 1984) and I wrote some poems and a comment for his Black Frame: Work from 1964-87 show at Lopdell House, March 1988. The booklet accompanying the exhibition was produced by Michael O’Leary and Sue Thomas for the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop.

Interestingly, a very early work of 1964, ‘The Ancient Mariner’ began that exhibition and so there is a lovely sense of continuance here for me, in so many respects.

Riemke Ensing, William Dart, Margaret Lawlor-Bartlett

Riemke Ensing, William Dart, Margaret Lawlor-Bartlett

In the photo taken by  Don Abbott, I am  with the ever delighting-in-life William Dart, editor of Art New Zealand  for whom I have written many articles over the years, and artist Margaret Lawlor-Bartlett, a founding member of VAANA ( See Paintings for Peace, Art New Zealand 39, Winter 1986) and with whom I have also collaborated on art projects over the many years we have know each other since the early nineteen sixties.

I interviewed her for the Cultural Icons (No. 15)  series at The Depot Gallery, Devonport. A prose piece entitled Face Up , triggered by paintings from her oeuvre,  appears in the Canadian publication  Descant  88, Spring 1995.   In response to Margaret Lawlor-Bartlett’s   Tarawera Volcano Unmasked  paintings, I wrote a series of poems entitled Tarawera Te Maunga Tapu.   These were set and printed in a limited edition by Tara McLeod of the Pear Tree Press, using part of one of Margaret’s  drawings for the cover as well as her magnificent ruru woodcut to accompany the poem ‘Birds passing the night.’ The poems had their first public reading at the absolutely crowded out launch of Margaret’s exhibition at Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga O Te Arawa, 18 September 19998.  In 2003, Margaret initiated a visual response by 7 artists to my poem ‘Towards 14 Ways of looking at Pohutukawa’ . Entitled ‘Maungauika North Head Artists’ Project, the exhibition was shown between February and March 2004, at the restored North Head Summit Barracks, Devonport, Auckland, and formally opened by the then Prime Minister, Helen Clark.

Another beauty from The Pear Tree Press

Tara McLeod of The Pear Tree Press is recognized as ‘the best limited edition hand-print book-maker in the country’. His private press works are held in libraries and collections all over the world. 
It is a great privilege to work with him and I have engaged his expertise on a number of occasions with beautiful and fine results which have always given joy and pleasure.
I was delighted therefore to be asked to submit a poem for his recent 2014 printing of 8 POEMS. This book, described by Tara as ‘Typographical illuminations set in metal type’ is letter press printed in a limited edition of 30.
It is an unusual book, comprising  nine thick black card pages ( ring bound) wrapped in a cardboard cover ( 240 x 210 ) printed in two bright colours  – blue and red. Inside, printed on separate, and loosely glued-in pages,
we find poems by David Howard, Peter Olds, Judith Haswell, Paul Thompson ( see Shards of Silver ), Denys Trussell, as well as Brian and David Gregory.  My own contribution, ‘ Being There’  is a fold out  ( 360 x 210 like the 
other poems). Set in italics ( except for  the title which is in bold  and a haunting, faded sea-urchin shell green), the poem, coloured a deep carmine or rust red, seems to float on water as if capturing the essence of the Venice
 setting in which the scene moves among ‘gondola / bold as a bird gliding through moonlight / watching the sights preen themselves in reflection.’ There’s a lovely elusive quality here suggested both by the type and the colour 
and the way Tara has drawn green lines of waves to move the poem along on the page. Another wonderful treasure from The Pear Tree Press and Tara McLeod’s imagination and skill.

Kite Flying with Fabulous Boats

It is probably unusual to find poems in a sailing magazine, but among fabulous  photographs and articles about old ( and newer) boats, The Mahurangi Cruising Club Yearbook 2014  devotes  a number of it very glossy pages to 
just that. In amongst stunning images of gaff-rigged and nostalgia-invoking photos of old treasures still to be found racing on the Auckland harbour on Regatta Day, poetry editor Ian Free has managed to treat the readers of this 
fine annual record of the club’s activities, to a number of poems – all beautifully illustrated.  W.H.Auden starts off  his sailing experience by ‘butting through scarps of moving marble’ on p.8.  Then ‘my own Turu Manu’  takes off 
‘ready to  fill the sky with jubilation’ above ‘the sea like pewtered paua shells shivering with excitement’ (p.21). On page 75 Michele Leggott has her ‘Oystercatcher’  and then over the page, a generous double spread of more
 poems, photos and images, including Wensley Willcox and the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz with his poem entitled ‘Islands’. It’s a real excitement to be in there with them, and on the sea ‘living with stories’ among the Ranger, 
the Waitangi, the Jessie Logan, the Moana and the Breeze and all those splendid ‘modern classics’ making their mark. 


I was delighted when Ruth Arnison of Dunedin asked if my poem entitled ‘Love Affair’ (for Katherine Mansfield* ) could be included in the Autumn 2015 issue of Poems in the Waiting Room which is an arts based health charity
 distributing poems to medical centres, rest homes,hospitals, hospices, prisons etc. The cards are A4 size folded in three so that between eight and ten poems can be featured. New editions of the cards are printed and distributed
 every season and selections are made from contemporary ( especially NZ) poets, older poems, haiku and poems for children. The poems are selected for readers’ enjoyment and are in no way  a vehicle to deliver social / health
 messages The print run and the distribution has gradually increased over the years and presently 6000 cards every season are sent throughout most of the country.
Further details, photos and short biographies of the featured and contributing poets can be read on <https://>
* Riemke Ensing, The K.M File and other poems with Katherine Mansfield, Hazard Press, 1993. 

Giving yourself to Life

I was delighted when author Deborah Shephard asked if she could use a line from my poem ‘Love Affair’  for the title of her new book  Giving yourself to life – a journal of pain, hope and renewal, Calico 2015.
In her introduction, Deborah Shephard points out that ‘Mansfield too lived with debilitating ill health and died at just thirty-four from a heart condition and the ravages of tuberculosis.
 In the poem, Katherine Mansfield is sitting in one of the many little hotels in the south of France where she stayed while seeking a cure for consumption. 
Her guest has failed to arrive and she is dining alone at a table with a white napkin’.

Love Affair

You wrote the table

was laid

for two

but nobody came

so you dined opposite

a white napkin.


It’s called giving yourself

to life.

Through the window

a quiet branch

has the evening

to itself


“And there it was. In the course of interpreting Katherine Mansfield’s experience, Riemke Ensing had captured the essence of how to life in the midst of ill health, adversity, misunderstanding, despair and aloneness. 
You can find a way to be and to feel alive by being receptive to the beautiful world in which we live, by ‘giving yourself to life’.”
I am indeed honoured to be part  of this very special journal which traces twelve months of a chronic pain condition with such courage, optimism, determination and perseverance. 
She mentions Matisse in old age  – his ‘irrepressible creativity and how it carried him through a time of suffering’.  Her reflections on literature, art, the beauty of her garden, the kindness and generosity of family and friends, 
and of course the Canterbury earthquake and how it affected her and other people’s lives, are a helpful reminder that one can rise above adversity even if at times the struggle seems almost too devastating. 
Her message is to ‘never give up. Keep on trying.’

pdf icon GYTL-Cover-B-25-July.pdf

For the love of Books

It was a sheer delight to have O Lucky Man – poems for Charles Brasch,  Otakou Press, Dunedin 2009  exhibited at a stunning display of contemporary fine press  and artists books at the Auckland Central Library 
between 20 October 2014 to 22 February 2015.  ’25 books selected of the best international and national examples of fine art book makers’, were displayed  in the designated  Sir George Grey Special Collections area. 
The book, designed, handset and printed by Tara McLeod of Pear Tree Press and frequent resident printer at Otakou Press, was enhanced by images from Inge Doesburg.
The exhibition can be found online at Heritage et al.

Caselberg Writer’s Residency, Broad Bay, Dunedin.

Late February 2015, I was unexpectedly offered a two week writer’s residency at the Caselberg Trust house in Broad Bay, Dunedin. The invitation came out of the blue, and as I had been in low spirits for some time, an entirely welcome one. It meant I could concentrate on writing without interruptions or distractions. Having no idea what to expect, I was overwhelmed – not only by the physical beauty of the site, but by the comfort and delightful atmosphere of the cottage with its glorious views, its light, its art and books, but more importantly the stunningly welcoming reception on arrival. One of the trustees, Lesley Hirst, met me at the airport and drove me to Broad Bay, stopping on the way to buy provisions, and offering rides for further such necessities. On the table, as we entered the cottage, a huge box of freshly dug vegetables and ‘a welcome to this place’ card from Robert West. He is the secretary of the Trust, as well as a painter and a keen gardener. The large vase of sweet peas also on the table, delicately scenting the room, grown ‘among the vegetables, as they won’t grow anywhere else’. The next day, Lesley Hirst and Janet Downs ( another member of the Trust) treated me to a delectable lunch which included a dish of slow roasted tomatoes grown in their astonishingly large and splendidly maintained, organized garden. We sat outside as the weather was brilliant and remained so during my whole stay. Not once during those days between 20 February and 6 March was it not bright, dry and sunny. The sky full of energy. In the house, overlooking the waters of the Otago Harbour and across to the hills and islands near Port Chalmers, and next to the crib that used to belong to Charles Brasch, everything was spotless and ordered and arranged to make my stay as congenial, easy and comfortable as possible. Wood had been chopped in case a fire was needed. Delicious home-made jams suddenly arrived on the doorstep. It was a bit like travelling back to the country I had first been introduced to in the very early 50’s. The brochure advertising the cottage, describes it as a ‘Power House of Creativity’ and it certainly was that – not only in terms of visiting writers, artists and musicians, but through the very work of the members of the Trust themselves, both in transforming the original house and garden into the haven it is today, as well as their ceaseless activities to raise funds to support and encourage creative endeavours. The boat house at the bottom of the section is without question an extra bonus. How stunning to sit on the water, as if in a boat, on this magnificent harbour that constantly changes its colours and personality. Initially the steps down to the boat shed were almost inaccessibly steep for me ( and maybe some others as well) and I had some considerable difficulty going both down and up as my arthritic knees and ankles need replacing. In no time at all, Lesley was at work, with the willing labour of her holidaying English guests Rachel and Cherry, adding to and widening steps, and generally making the track more manageable. Loads of metal from the quarry in Dunedin were collected in Lesley’s pick-up truck and shoveled into buckets at the top of the steep incline and then carried to fill in the new steps. After days of this Herculean activity ( what is the feminine equivalent of Hercules I ask? ‘Hercula – funiculi, funicula’ instantly replies Lesley, and we all laugh) I was able to walk down comfortably. It is like going into another world. You don’t want to leave.