Highly Commended: Poems by Janet Newman

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Highly Commended: Poems by Janet Newman

Janet Newman is from Horowhenua. She travelled to Dunedin to read her two highly commended poems at UBS for our International Poetry Awards evening on Thursday 29 November 2018. Read her two poems below.

Oh! Kee-o Kee-o

Last night, cutting potatoes,

butterflying chicken, a hawk

framed itself in my kitchen window,

its gentle rocking glide

interspersed with lazy wing-beats

so easy it was difficult to recall

that it was hunting for carrion

not flying freer than I felt

as I hovered over my chopping board


the way, next morning I was framed

in the windscreen,

easy behind the steering wheel

but hurrying to work,

another hawk––or perhaps the same hawk––

gripping road kill, slow to gain traction

in air without height, hefting the possum

with wing-beats

inaudible above the clamour

of the engine and Radio New Zealand’s

9am bird which unbelievably,

I thought afterwards,

was the mating

kee-o kee-o

of the swamp harrier,

a sound nothing like

the dumb thump

against the bumper.


Lines 4,5 and 23 are from http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/swamp-harrier



I was driving on Great South Road, Otahuhu,

that old garrison town, past the memorial  


to Marmaduke Nixon, the colonial colonel whose

volunteer cavalry sacked Rangiaowhia in 1864.


He is buried there, far from the remains of those unnamed

villagers who burned in the whare. A Hobart stone obelisk


ascends the sky like the Phoenix Palm in my garden

where, beneath, karakas are multiplying.


I planted hinau, ngaio, koromiko

but the self-sown karakas are everywhere rising


through my mulch cover, my blood and bone.

The hoary palm conforms


to agapanthus borders, shelterbelts of pines,

in wind and calm drop fronds


with heavy spines, toxic thorns.

The chainsaw jags.


I could drill holes in its trunk,

inject 10mls glyphosate undiluted


or leave it:

majestic, ugly.


The gangly karakas wend to light, pour green

over the weft of fronds greying in shade beneath


the colossal plinth. If they could speak

with their throng of leaves they might chime,


old man, lie down with the land

in your own rotten time.

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