BooksMay 18, 2023

Celebrating the poetry winners from the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards


Two poems from this year’s winners of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards poetry categories, Alice Te Punga Somerville and Khadro Mohamed.

worst place to be a pilot

by Alice Te Punga Somerville

watching west papua on tv
but they don’t say that:
the british voice-over guy keeps calling it indonesia.

the show is about young english pilots
who fly planes around dramatic mountains:
there are opportunities here they didn’t have at home.

new routes are added every year between west papua
and the rest of indonesia:
young white men enabling the spread of things they don’t understand.

‘we are the people bringing them freedom’
says a 38-year-old with a well-ironed shirt:
‘it’s like the glory days; it’s like catch me if you can.’

i wonder what reality tv show they would have made
in 1840 in the far north:
worst place to be a whaler? trader? missionary? chief?

a polynesian woman is watching west papua on tv
her melanesian husband snoring gently beside her:
his wantoks are on the screen, and hers?

nothing changes in the pacific:

except the fact we forget sometimes

in our own                                            renamed                                            islands

that we’re a part of it.


– From Always Italicise: How to Write While Colonised (Auckland University Press), winner of the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry.

Ginger Flakes

by Khadro Mohamed

did you hear the news? about Hawa
I heard she’s given up on speaking

it happened yesterday
when someone told her she reminded them

too much of her mother. a tall woman with an
East African nose, and Ghanian skin

a woman with a heavy hand who uses too much
hawaji in her curry and not enough ginger flakes in her tea

she climbs date trees with her bare hands, harvests fruit
and makes cakes for the elderly man with a missing eye next door

a woman with far too many thoughts in her mind
each one bleeding through her skin and forging a

path to her heart

so, she sits back and lets her mother’s
ghost do all the talking


– From We’re All Made of Lightning (We Are Babies Press/Tender Press), winner of the Jessie Mackay Prize for Best First Book of Poetry.

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