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May 14, 2018 | by  | in Arts Books |
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Best New Zealand Poems 2017

Compiled by New Zealand’s Poet Laureate, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Best New Zealand Poems 2017 is an impressive collection that showcases the brilliance and extraordinary talent of 25 of New Zealand’s leading and emerging poets.

While each poem is compelling and interesting, I have selected a few of the standout works to review.

Liz Breslin’s cut-and-paste found poem, “The Lifestyle Creed”, is a wonderful subversive satire. She has conflated organised religion with the cultural religion of health and wellbeing, with the words taken from the Catholic Nicene Creed and nutritional advice from an Alzheimer’s blog.

Another excellent poem is Jiaquio Liu’s “With Love”, which focuses on their struggle with religious education and fighting to find your identity outside this structure. This personally relatable poem feels completely refreshing, as the jarring line breaks and their impressive use and re-use of words and motifs feel modern and unique compared to some of the other poems in the collection.

As a fan of her work before reading Best New Zealand Poems 2017, Hannah Mettner’s “All Tall Women” is a great edition to the collection. This poem has some of my favourite lines: “I stood in the back row for class photos, with the boys. Mum was always proud of this. As though all tall women are feminists.” Very relatable to this 5’10” lass.

One of the more exciting poets on the rise is Emma Shi, and her poem “skipping dead insects across the ocean” is a raw and heartbreaking representation of the repression of the spirit. There is a great sense of tragedy when the poem ends and there has been no sense of escape or freedom.

Chris Tse’s “Like a queen” and Louise Wallace’s “Ahakoa he iti he pounamu | it is small it is greenstone” are both brilliant poems from two of New Zealand’s leading poets, and each is a showcase of their brilliance and significance in the contemporary poetry scene.

Gregory Kan’s poem “There is a house that we are in” is an absolute highlight and was my favourite poem in the collection. The poem is subtle yet expressive, as the feelings of passion and yearning between the two figures are so compelling and believable. Kan’s poem also has one of my favourite lines from the entire collection: “Where we fall to the bottom of our seventeenth century bodies.”

With the collection being published online, there are also some audio recordings of the poets reading their poems. This added another dynamic to the overall reading experience, as the text on screen was more alive — you are able to hear the inflections, pauses, emphasis, and emotions behind the written words.

There were some poems in this collection that were not to my taste, as I have always struggled to enjoy longer poems (largely due to a very short attention span). However, they were still enjoyable to read.

The Best New Zealand Poems collections are always a treat to read, and highlight the majesty of the poetry scene in New Zealand, from the well-established power houses to the budding up-and-comers about to take the poetry world by storm. The 2017 collection is no exception, as it is a brilliant mixture of personal stories, dark humour, and an interesting and complex exploration of human emotion. I thoroughly enjoyed reading works from poets I already knew, as well as being introduced to new poets that I instantly loved and will read in the future.

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