While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Best NZ Poems 2007

I’ve been reading two or three poems a day from the best NZ poems 2007, which was released online at the end of last month.

I have now read them all.

One person’s list of 25 poems (2007’s editor was Paula Green) will vary wildly from another person’s list, and anyone sitting down with the express purpose of writing one of 2008’s “best poems” is bound for disappointment. (Although… we know that James Brown will be 2008’s editor, and we can read his list of his ten favourite NZ poetry books here and… no, don’t even go there.)

What I wanted to say was poetry—and writing in general—is very subjective, and anything with “best” in the title needs quotation marks (and footnotes, and apologetic noises in the foreword…), but bringing work together like this provides a great taster of a year in NZ poetry. Sure, some names appear every other year (are they Bedrock or Deadwood? that’s your call), but to an international audience (as the internet permits the anthology to reach) the names are secondary to the poems. Where else these days but the internet can you expect to discover a favourite author/actor/musician/designer through their work first, then backtrack to the biographical (soundbite-worthy) stuff?

I don’t profess to have read every poem published by a NZer in 2007, but my two favourites from Paula Green’s list (in reverse order) were:

‘Sandwiches’ by Elizabeth Smither

When my father died we ate sandwiches…” the poem begins -- a “You had me at hello” moment, though for me, it was toast. And that final image of the skirt striding ahead, “bolder than my feet,” is a cracker.

‘Chemotherapy’ by Geoff Cochrane

On a first reading I knew this poem would stay with me for a long time. The image of the dying man blowing out an unlit candle. The economy words (the title does a lot of work), and their textures. “The wind-minced sea”, which is a strangely violent phrase to begin with, appears bruised when it reappears in the last line… ah!

You could probably extrapolate a few things about my taste in poetry from the above selections. 1) I prefer shorter poems to longer ones. 2) I am drawn to poems about death.

Um, guilty on both counts, I think.

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