The author photo

A few months ago my friend and photographer Matt Bialostocki took the author photo for my second book. I trust Matt. He’s a good photographer and a reader of my poetry so I knew he wouldn’t make me look too pretty. This seems a funny thing to want, to not look pretty, when I spend what is probably too much of my time (smoothing clothes, checking teeth, concealing blemishes and greys) in that attempt.

Looking back on what I wrote about the photo for my first book I was interested in looking ‘serene,’ as though those six years of hard slog to get the book written and published hadn’t actually happened. I think that’s what women do sometimes. We hide the struggle. There’s probably a reason why my second collection ended up being called WORK, and such a short title required a ridiculous number of emails between myself, the book’s editor Amy Brown, and publisher Chloe Lane. But that’s it — even the title took work, as did raising my kid while writing the book, and finishing my PhD. I still feel an ache in my chest when I think about it all. My first author photo ended up being confrontational, or as my publisher said, ‘A bit rock chick.’ In other words, perfect.

author photo

Photograph by Duncan Forbes.

The poems in WORK are all about work. The emotional kind; the dedication the characters have to their vocations. The people in my poems have come through some event and are working their way back to normal. Many of the poems are about womanhood and what that can look like: motherhood, loverhood, intellectualism, gender — the brawl of it all. I wanted a photo that would not compromise any of this.

Novelist Amanda Filipacchi wrote a piece recently about her author photo called ‘How to Pose Like a Man.’ Of preparing for her photoshoot she said, ‘I flipped through a book of Ms. Ettlinger’s photos to get a sense of how authors typically dressed for their portraits. I made a startling discovery: The male and female authors posed differently. The men looked simpler, more straightforward. The women looked dreamy, often gazing off into the distance. Their limbs were sometimes entwined, like vines…I decided that I wanted to pose like a man.’


Novelist Amanda Filipacchi. Photo by Marion Ettlinger.

I loved this article, in part because it sparked conversation and camaraderie on Twitter between female writers. The thing is, Filipacchi is posing like a man, but she’s also posing like a woman. The article reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a friend years ago. She said she avoided appearing feminine at work because she wanted to be taken seriously. I also want to be taken seriously, but to so without diminishing myself. I want to be unapologetically feminine and also be seen as having something important to say. I think about my contemporaries, the female authors that inspire me with their writing and also their determination and complex inhabiting of the world. There are so many – but here’s four.

Anna Smaill

Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes.

Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle

Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle on the back cover of her collection, Autobiography of a Marguerite

Joan Fleming, author of Failed Love Poems

Joan Fleming, author of Failed Love Poems and The Same as Yes. Photo by Kate van der Drift.

Morgan Bach, author of Some of Us Eat the Seeds. Photo by Grand Maiden.

The final photo was one that Matt shot between poses. We were standing on my deck which is right beside the trampoline and sandpit. Our property rambles down into a council reserve, so the photograph looks as though I’m standing in the bush. I remember I was tired that day, and a little rumpled and self-conscious. The book wasn’t entirely finished, but I felt a new surety about the poems I’d been writing. Matt caught me off guard — mid-gesture, my attention drawn by mess or noise, or undone tasks, or, and this is what I’d like to think, by how big and mighty it felt to be writing the book, how superbly terrifying.


WORK Book Launch!

WORK_full cover

You are warmly invited to join Hue & Cry Press and Sarah Jane Barnett in launching WORK.

Thursday 22 October at 5.30pm, reading 6-6.15pm.
Vic Books, Victoria University, 1 Kelburn Parade, Wellington.
All welcome!

In these six long poems Sarah Jane Barnett explores how people fight for a normal life. Set in Ethiopia, Paris, Norway, and New Zealand these astonishing poems take you into the lives of others—a grieving man leaves Ethiopia at the end of the civil war; a polyamorous couple have a child; a woman hunts a black bear on a New Zealand sheep station. Original and spellbinding, these poems walk the line between poetry and fiction.

During the launch Sarah will read from ‘Ghosts,’ a speculative poem set in Norway’s northernmost town, Svalbard. The poem includes dialogue between the characters Diane and Fowler, who will be read by Wellington writers Therese Lloyd and Matt Bialostocki. Get ready for a performance!

Read an excerpt of ‘Addis Ababa’ on this website. 
Read an excerpt of ‘The Woman who Married a Bear’ on Up Country.
If you can’t make the launch, WORK can be pre-ordered from Hue & Cry Press store.

Tuesday Poem: ‘Addis Ababa’ from WORK


This excerpt is from ‘Addis Ababa,’ which is one of six long poems in my forthcoming collection, WORK. The poem is about a man who is trying to rebuild his life after his wife dies in the final skirmish of the Ethiopian Civil War. It first appeared in Sport 43, and on RNZ reviewer Harry Ricketts called it the standout poem of the issue.’ I actually made one of those excited half-squeals, the embarrassing kind you can’t keep in. Anyway, another excerpt from WORK was on Up Country last week (along with a little piece I wrote about Canadian moose being released in Fiordland in the early 1900s).

WORK will be released on Thursday 22 October. EXCITING launch details to come!

Two Interviews: Paula Green and Myles Lawford talk about The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems

Two Interviews: Paula Green and Myles Lawford talk about The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems

The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems

The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems, by Paula Green and Myles Lawford, was voted for by children and young people from all over New Zealand to be a finalist on the children’s choice list in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Paula Green has worked closely with children in creating her poetry, and it is no wonder that this collection is on the list. Reviewer Tim Gruar says, on the Booksellers NZ blog, ‘There’s a nice collaboration going between author Paula Green and illustrator Myles Lawford in this quirky little collection of onomatopoeic and physical verse.’

This post is part of a blog tour that Booksellers are running for the Children’s Choice finalist list for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Booksellers have given me a copy of The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems to give away – to enter, just leave a comment below!

We put questions to Paula and Myles about how The Letterbox Cat came about. Paula is first up:

1. As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to put together this collection in particular?

I have been collecting picture poems in notebooks for years and I finally decided it was time to put them in a book. I love using words to make a picture on the page and then to make sure those words sound good. All the other poems arrived by surprise. It might be seeing the crazy way our dog swims or where our cat sleeps. Or the way the sky looks. I just think: that’s a poem! I love using real life and real things in poems as that can make a poem sizzle, but like Margaret Mahy, I also love the power of imagination. Most of all I aim to make a collection that sounds good.

2. Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?

Once Scholastic agreed to publish the book (I was over the moon! Not many children’s poetry books get published in NZ sadly), then they took over. For me there were no big challenges (some of my books have had tyrannosaurus challenges!), it was just cupcake pleasure. When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried! When I saw Scholastic had given the book a Dr-Seussy feel I jumped with joy on the spot.

3. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?

When I write poems for children, I want the poems to sound good and catch the ear. I want my poems to go into the poetry playground and have fun. Going down a poem slide or digging in the poem sandpit can be funny, serious, imaginative, challenging. Playing with words can make your skin tingle just like when you whiz down the slide. I want my poems to hook the five-year old and the twelve-year old. I think poems can travel an age stretch more easily than novels and stories.

4. Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?

I dedicated it to my brother Warren and his lovely wife Banu. She’s from Turkey so it felt like a nice welcome gift to our family and to New Zealand.

5. Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?

Margaret Mahy’s The Word Witch because she was the queen of word play. Any collections by Peter Bland because he is an expert on the way poems can sound so good and dazzle with imagination. A truckload of poetry collections from USA: I love anything by Calef Brown, Valerie Worth, Karla Kuskin and Shel Silverstein. The dictionary! This was one of my favourite books when I was young and I would read it in bed with a torch. I loved finding strange words. I loved mashing words together so they sparked or sung. And the book I loved to sit on the (make-believe) stairs and recite from: AA Milne poems. Bliss.

6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?

I love doing things outside like running swimming walking cycling gardening boogie boarding skiing. I don’t care if it is raining or windy or freezing because the Great Outside blows all the spiders webs clear out of my head. Then I am ready to write a poem! I like doing things inside like cooking (especially dinner!), doing cryptic crosswords, watching films and TV shows. Hanging out with my girls. I like cooking tasty new things, sharpening my mind with tough puzzles, sharing the warmth and love that makes a family special. Family is more important to me than anything.

Myles Lawford was influenced by Quentin Blake in his images for The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems:

1. What was your approach to illustrating each of these books?

For The Letterbox Cat I wanted fun little images, nothing too finished as to distract from the poetry, mainly influenced by Quentin Blake and Ronald Searle.

2. Tell us a bit about the journey from storyboards to published work for each book. What was the biggest challenge you faced in illustrating each of the books?

The challenge of The Letterbox Cat was to find interesting interpretations of each poem. I would come up with a few ideas for each and then present these to the editor for approval.

3. How closely were you able to collaborate with the writers? Do you prefer to work this way?

Actually, I don’t talk to the writers at all during the entire process, only at the end when the book has been printed is the first time I talk to the writers to see how they feel. Thankfully I haven’t had any disappointed writers yet. Fingers crossed. We try and split the two processes of writing and illustrating so that one doesn’t influence the other.

4. What was your favourite thing to draw when you were at primary school – did you have a “party trick”?

When I was at primary school I spent most of my time drawing for my classmates, at a cost. I charged people for helping them illustrate their homework and projects. Nothing too outrageous, an ice cream here, a steak and cheese pie there.

5. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or illustrating, and why?

I’m a big fan of computer games, the conceptual design in gaming was always something I wanted to do, whether it being designing new characters, races, architecture or environments. I find myself sketching ideas all the time due to something I might of seen in a game or from a movie. I a child at heart, I’m not ready to grow up just yet.

If you want to know more about Paula’s work, check out her two dedicated poetry blogs, The Poetry Box – a NZ poetry page for children and NZ Poetry Shelf.

For a review of The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems, check out the Booksellers NZ blog.

Yesterday’s feature was Maori Art for Kids, by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke, which was featured on the NZ Green Buttons blog. Monday’s feature will be the third of our five non-fiction titles, New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions, by Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic. This will be featured at Booksellers NZ’s blog site.



This week I flew to Auckland to see a special edition of Hue & Cry journal. It was commissioned by ST PAUL St Gallery for the exhibition The things we talked about, which looks at how ‘speaking, reading, writing, research: each may be understood as a gesture of self-definition, as part of an unfolding autobiographical narrative.’

The Hue & Cry edition Window/Mirror is in the gallery’s front window and came out of a conversation between myself and artist Ruth Buchanan. Ruth currently lives in Berlin so our conversation was an email blind date. The starting point: a question about whether our art practice was a form of self-definition. The exhibition catalogue states that Window/Mirror ‘comes to the space as a vinyl text on the window and a series of suspended posters that change each week during the exhibition.’ The idea of suspension appeals – to write to each other required a suspension of our everyday doing. Ruth’s emails would turn up, challenging me, and I’d have to respond to keep the conversation going. I imagined her at a big wooden desk, or, like me, at a kitchen table. Over a month we tried to wring out the relationship between art and self-definition, at least for the two of us.

ST PAUL St Gallery

ST PAUL St Gallery

ST PAUL St Gallery is usually closed on a Monday, so when I arrived Abby Cunnane, who curated the show, turned on the lights and video pieces, holding up her remote as if in salute. I spent an hour in the gallery and at times felt quite moved. It’s an exceptional collection of pieces and voices, with work by Moyra Davey, Dorine van Meel, Ruth Buchanan, Marie Shannon, and Alicia Frankovich. On opening night there was also a performance by lightreading (Sonya Lacey and Sarah Rose). Shannon’s digital work The Achaean Faxes (2012) especially made me think about the lifespan and function of a conversation. Shannon edited faxes from her partner Julian Dashper during his residency in Germany in 1995 (Dashper died in 2009) paired her new narrative with a mournful cello piece. It made me think about how we not only use conversation to define ourselves, but to cross distances and connect, whether that be from Berlin to Wellington, or to a time decades ago.

ST PAUL St Gallery


ST PAUL St Gallery

Images, top to bottom: Lover (2011) by Alicia Frankovich; The Achaean Faxes (2012) by Marie Shannon; One of the three curtains that form An image of a solid (2012) by Ruth Buchanan

Window/Mirror (2015) was edited by Chloe Lane and Andrea Bell, and designed by The International Office.

Book Launch: Native Bird by Bryan Walpert

Bryan Walpert was my doctoral supervisor, and he’s one of the most beautiful and interesting writers I know. I’m excited about his new collection, Native Bird, which will be launched at 4pm, Sunday 19 April at the Fringe Bar in Wellington. Native Bird will be launched as part of Makaro Presss Hoopla Series. You can read three of his poems on this blog: Horse Story,’ Operation, October,’ and ‘Objective Correlative.’
About Native Bird
In his anticipated third collection, award-winning poet Bryan Walpertwho arrived here from the U.S. a decade agowrites of what its been like to be an observer or birdwatcher in a land whose physical and cultural geographies he is still learning to name. With his trademark precision and insight, Bryan weaves meditations on the life and songs of birds into his observations on living as a new settler in wind-charged Manawatu. Working at the shifting borders between homes and hearts, prose and poetry, call and song, this is an arresting collection that speaks to us all.
About Bryan Walpert
Bryan Walpert’s poetry has been published in New Zealand, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. He’s won the James Wright Poetry Award from the Mid-American Review, the NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition, the RSNZ Manhire Award for Creative Science Writing, and an Australian Dialogica Award for writing about poetry, and has been short-listed in other major international awards, notably the Rattle Poetry Prize (U.S.) and the Montreal International Poetry Prize. The author of two previous poetry collections (Etymology, A History of Glass), a short fiction collection (Ephraim’s Eyes) and a scholarly book on poetry and science (Resistance to Science in Contemporary American Poetry), Bryan is an Associate Professor in the School of English & Media Studies at Massey University.

Wellington invite