BooksDecember 16, 2016

Best books of 2016: the five best books of poetry


There ain’t no Friday Poem today. Instead, the Spinoff’s team of experts have chosen their favourite five books of poetry published in 2016, and guarantee that each book would make a really good Xmas gift.

Hera Lindsay Bird (Victoria University Press, $25) by Hera Lindsay Bird

hera 3
Not the cover of her book

There are 17 people in New Zealand yet to buy this surprise smash-hit of the year, and they ought to do something about it before Xmas. Bird’s debut was the most startling new thing to come out of New Zealand poetry since oh well quite a long time with poems such as “Keats Is Dead So Fuck Me From Behind”, now regarded as the “Stairway to Heaven” of local literature. The whole book is alive with one incred image after another, good jokes, the heart laid bare.


I am falling in love and I don’t know what to do about it

Throw me in a haunted wheelbarrow and set me on fire


Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell (Victoria University Press, $50) by Alistair Te Ariki Campbell


Born in Rarotonga, 1925, died in Wellington, 2009; this is the definitive collection of the absurdly handsome poet, featuring his own “Stairway to Heaven” of local literature, his stone-cold classic Kapiti Island poem, “The Return”.


And again I see the long pouring headland,

And smoking coast with the sea high on the rocks,

The gulls flung from the sea, the dark hooded hills

Swarming with mist, and mist low on the sea …


Getting it Right: Poems 1968-2015 (Otago University Press, $25 ) by Alan Roddick

Only have a small image? Make it into a big collage.
Only have a small image? Make it into a big collage.

Talk about The Return! Roddick was MIA for 49 years – he wrote his first book poems in 1967, promptly took off to work as a dentist, and made his comeback this year with Getting It Right. It was worth the wait; he writes spare, thin lines, exact down to the letter, including his Freudian poem about an incident in childhood, when “the General Manager’s wife” revealed her lingerie at a party:


It was rose-coloured silk, and I know

my parents won’t speak of this, ever.


Fale Aitu Spirit House (Victoria University Press, $25) by Tusiata Avia


Many regard this astonishing collection of verse to be the favourite to win the poetry award at next year’s Ockham national book awards; it’s bursting with images, colour, feeling, as her poems travel across the Pacific to America, and, powerfully, to Gaza, with the most political and important poem published in New Zealand in 2016.

I cannot write a poem about Gaza because Fatima in Gaza city has 58 seconds to evacuate her house with her babies before the missile strikes and the only way out is the sea. She has seen pictures on TV of babies thrown into pools and swimming instinctively.


Salt River Songs (Potton & Burton, $25) by Sam Hunt


This is yer guaranteed, A-grade book of poetry from the lyric master of Kaipara. He makes every line looks simple and you know he’s gone half out of his mind trying to achieve that magic trick; and the thing is, it works, all the time.


Death called by the other day –

no one was home at the time.

A note, ‘Sorry I missed you’,

stuck under the front door mat.


Keep going!