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Edited Publications

Ko Aotearoa Tatou: We Are New Zealand

Ko Aotearoa Tatou is a book conceived by Michelle Elvy who enlisted me and Paula Morris to help edit. Prompted by the terror attack on the Christchurch Mosque, it brought together works celebrating the diversity of voices within the Aotearoa New Zealand community. The final result published by Otago University Press was a beautiful showcase with a stunning cover by Dunedin artist Claire Beynon.

Ko Aotearoa Tātou | We Are New Zealand was launched at WORD Christchurch Spring Festival on Friday, 30 October 2020. 

The starting point for the anthology was the statement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the March Christchurch attacks: ‘Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it…we will not, and cannot, be shaken by this attack.’

The book includes prose, poetry and visual art that explores, investigates or interrogates life in contemporary New Zealand. A celebration, yes, but also an examination of who we are, with young voices new to publication and well-known poets, storytellers and essayists.  

The editors thank everyone who has been part of this project. We received a wide range of wonderfully crafted responses to the call for submissions, from Kerikeri to Bluff. Some were teenagers still at school; some were in their 80s. Most lived in New Zealand; some were New Zealanders currently living overseas. Submissions roamed from a Chinese restaurant in Christchurch to a fruit-packing factory in Opōtiki to a cemetery under Grafton Bridge in Auckland to a high school in Hastings, and from London to Finland to Vienna to Iran.

The editors also thank the team of consulting editors, without whom we would not have discovered such rich content.

Special thanks to Otago University Press and Creative New Zealand.


Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand

Michelle Elvy, editor of the online journal Flash Frontier enlisted me and Frankie McMillan, as we were each flash fiction and prose poem practitioners, to help edit Aotearoa New Zealand's first major collection of flash fiction. We pitched the idea to Catherine Montgomery of Canterbury University Press who was enthusiastic and Bonsai was the result.

Here is the CUP blurb from their website:

Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand

Edited by Michelle Elvy, Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe

August 2018 
296pp, paperback 
215 x 165mm 
ISBN: 978-1-927145-98-2 

‘Slippery, and exciting … The stories come at you directly, and then turn askance, and then slap you in the face’ Allan Drew

Bonsai brings together a pioneering collection of flash fiction and associated forms (prose poetry and haibun) from 165 writers in Aotearoa New Zealand, along with intriguing essays on this increasingly popular genre. In 200 small stories of no more than 300 words, where the translucent boundaries between prose and poetry are often transgressed, we discover a vast array of human experience.

Here, children race snails, shoot tin cans, learn to fly, and look for Antarctica in a drain pipe, while Schrödinger’s cat dreams of life and death, a dog licks away a woman’s tears, and a peacock guards its human family. Family tensions spill over during trips to the beach, couples get together and fall apart, babies are born – or not born – and parents die. You might find yourself dancing like the cool kids, listening to a neighbour sing in the dark, or watching a tractor catch fire. There are perfect moments in miniature as dew falls on a spider’s web and strangers make eye contact.

Composed with precision in a form where every word counts, these carefully chiselled works are provocative, tender and endlessly surprising.

Michelle Elvy  is a writer and editor of flash fiction whose recent work appears in New  Micro Fiction (WW Norton, 2018). Among her many editing roles she is editor at Flash Frontier.

Frankie McMillan  has been called ‘our maestro of flash fiction’. Her book My Mother and the Hungarians, and other small fictions (CUP, 2016) was long-listed for the Ockham Book Awards.

James Norcliffe  is a poet, editor and writer for children. He is editor at Flash Frontier and has published nine collections of poetry, including Dark Days at the Oxygen Café (VUP, 2016).

Bonsai is published with the support of Creative New Zealand.


Leaving the Red Zone

In the aftermath of the 2009-2010 Canterbury earthquakes, many people were responding in poetry. I saw many of these as poetry editor of the Christchurch Press. Joanna Preston & I thought it would be a good idea to gather the best of these in a collection. There were so many the book became quite large. Glyn Strange of Clerestory Press was keen to publish and the book was launched with much acclaim at The Laboratory in Lincoln township.

The Canterbury earthquakes were, at the same time, a set of universal and deeply personal experiences. To me the strength of this collection is how it brings these two together: the shared and the personal. Here we have 150 or so very idiosyncratic takes on the events. There are such a variety of responses, of voices, of attitudes, of styles: metrical, prosaic, elevated, colloquial, lyrical, meditative, cynical, elegiac and drop-dead funny.

There are poems that dive under the table capturing the immediacy of the moment and there are reflective pieces that follow Wordsworth’s dictum about recollecting emotion in tranquillity.   The earthquakes spurred creativity. That’s no reason to have them of course, but people riding Fiona Farrell’s horse were shaken up and bucked about, and so were their imaginations, and often their very language.  

Here are amazing poems, open eyed and honest, poems to read and re-read. Like so many other communities in our city and neighbourhoods our poets have come together.

Leaving the Red Zone is edited by James Norcliffe and Joanna Preston and published by Clerestory Press, Christchurch. All proceeds will go to the Mayoral Earthquake Relief Fund.

Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page

In 2014, Siobhan Harvey, Harry Ricketts and I thought it a good idea to revisit the Bill Sewell and Lauris Edmond anthology Essential New Zealand Poems ( Godwit, 2001). We wanted an inclusive collection, 150 poets each represented by a single poem. Random House under their Godwit imprint published the collection in a beautiful edition.

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Here is a review of the book by Elizabeth Morton in The Reader The blog of Booksellers New Zealand


Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page, edited by Harry Ricketts, Siobhan Harvey and James Norcliffe

Posted on July 17, 2014


Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (2014) weighed heavily in my hands. It had some major shoes to fill. Its predecessor and titular sibling of thirteen years earlier, edited by Edmond and Sewell, was my first guide to New Zealand poetry. A veritable treasure trove − I found New Zealand poetry pioneers Bethell, Fairburn, Mason within the pages, as well as shiny new gems from the likes of Emma Neale and Vivienne Plumb. With time, I wondered at the title. The word ‘essential’ troubled me. Could New Zealand’s rich body of poetic works really be sieved through to reveal its ‘essence’?

In this latest anthology, Harvey, Norcliffe and Ricketts approach this issue head on and, with admirable candidness, describe the collection as ‘Some Rather Good New Zealand Poems the Three of Us Rather Like’. Moreover, the new collection has an adjunct title, ‘Facing the Empty Page’, taken from a poem authored by Elizabeth Nannestad. The problem of ‘essence’, though scarcely resolved, seems to be shrunk.

Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page is a literary slumber party, where old-hands and newcomers coalesce. Baxter is bedfellow with Hinemoana Baker, Kiri Piahana-Wong is bunked down with Alistair Paterson. The assemblage is egalitarian, insofar as each author is represented by one poem. Poets are arranged, not chronologically, but in alphabetical sequence. Such an arrangement lends itself to surprises. A page turned can occasion a completely new mood and style. Bub Bridger’s comedic ‘A Christmas Wish’ jolts the reader out of Diana Bridge’s meditational and exquisite ‘Jars, Bubble Bowls and Bottle Vases’. Approaching the book from cover to cover, the reader is sent on an affective rollercoaster. And though giddiness may ensue, the buzz is something addictive.

This anthology, unlike its predecessor, kicks off in the 1950s. So while Curnow is included, Bethell and Mason are not. This is a shortcoming, perhaps, but it does serve to open up the field to a greater number of lesser known contemporary poets. Helen Heath, Courtney Sina Meredith and Ashleigh Young are new kids on the block but, in each case, their poems hold their own.

The book itself is testament to the survival of books as pulp and ink. It is a handsome production − cloth bound, and peppered with haunting greyscale images of New Zealand landscapes. These images serve as reminders that this poetry is ‘earthed’, that the works within were born into the New Zealand context.

Yet many of the pieces featured extend beyond their geographical location. Fleur Adcock’s ‘Having Sex with the Dead’ introduces Greek mythology, Koenraad Kuiper’s ‘Tales’ hauls in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Then there are poems that take us on trips through our very own streets. We are in Titirangi with David Eggleton, the Maniototo with Kevin Ireland, Banks Peninsular with Denis Glover. And James K Baxter enlightens us about Auckland, that ‘great arsehole’ of a city.

This is a beautiful and considered collection. Essential or not, this book is worth getting your hands on.


Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775534594

Big Sky: A Collection of Canterbury Poems

In 2001, Bernadette Hall and I thought it a good idea to gather together a collection of poems about Christchurch and Canterbury embracing as many aspects as possible. David Elworthy of Shoal Bay Press agreed that it was a timely project and the book was published in 2002.

This generous and exciting collection brings together poems of Christchurch and the hills and plains beyond. Like the patchwork pattern of fields so characteristic of the Canterbury Plains, the book is a mosaic of moods, colours and variety. Poems of the past mix with poems of today; old favourites rub shoulders with new voices. Reflective poems, quirky poems, passionate poems, wry poems; poems that will move, amuse, startle and delight. Together they make up a memorable picture of the region and its people.This is a collection you will want to return to again and again. The editors, Bernadette Hall and James Norcliffe (both of whom have lived and worked in Christchurch for many years), are distinguished New Zealand poets.

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The cover shows David and Wendy Ault's Madras Cafe Bookshop, the venue for the CPC Readings over many years

Voiceprints 3


Voiceprints 3 was a CPC (Canterbury Poets' Collective) 2011 publication. The back cover reads:

For the last twenty years a small team of dedicated volunteers (the CPC) has organised a season of poetry readings in Christchurch each autumn.

    To celebrate the 20th anniversary, the committee invited all those who read in 2010 to contribute a poem to this anthology Voiceprints Three, which in itself resurrects a lost tradition of publishing the best of the readings.

   The result is this rich and diverse collection which preserves something of the flavour of the wonderful sessions at the now departed Madras Cafe Bookshop, our venue in recent years.

    Here then is the wit, the lyicism, the experimentation and the tradition that makes these readings so memorable.



Passport Stamps

Passport Stamps was a festschrift for John Allison a stalwart of the Christchurch poetry scene who was about to depart to Australia. The  2001 chapbook was edited by David Howard and me and included nineteen poets, almost all from Christchurch. After living in the Dandenong hills near Melbourne for several years, John has returned to Christchurch where once again he is playing a significant part in poetry nationally and locally.

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