Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2019: new voices on the wind

The 2019 edition of the online anthology Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems is now live, featuring 25 poems chosen by acclaimed viral poet Hera Lindsay Bird.

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) has published the anthology annually since 2001, with support from Creative New Zealand.

Lindsay Bird, described by recent UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy as “the most arresting and original new young poet”, set a high bar for the necessarily subjective job of Ōrongohau  | Best New Zealand Poems editor.

“I tried to come to this process with a closed mind and a suspicious heart,” she says, “because there’s nothing better than the feeling of being won over by a piece of writing.”

Many of the poems that won her over are by young writers, including Freya Daly Sadgrove, Nithya Narayanan, essa ranapiri, Tayi Tibble, and the youngest poet ever featured in the anthology: 15-year-old Maha Al Mansour, who came to New Zealand from Syria in 2017 and whose poem, ‘The Garden’, evokes an unreachable homeland.

These emerging voices are engaged with identity and obsession, grief, displacement and survival, colonisation and climate change, hope and apology and defiance. They are reckless and tender, despairing and funny, often in the same breath.

Threaded through them are powerful reflections on mortality, memory, and vulnerability from established poets such as Geoff Cochrane, Michael Harlow and Lynn Davidson. Meanwhile, a year on from the murders at Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, Tusiata Avia’s hard-hitting ‘Massacre’ takes aim at a history of racism and denial.

‘Massacre’ is one of a number of poems that can also be listened to on the site. And in another Ōrongohau  | Best New Zealand Poems first, Ruby Solly accompanies her poem, ‘Six feet for a single, eight feet for a double’, on ngā taonga puoro/traditional Māori musical instruments.

IIML Director Professor Damien Wilkins says, “The cross-generational and cross-cultural nature of this year’s chosen poems gives a sense of different currents running together and taking us somewhere new.”

Professor Wilkins says the timing was right to introduce a te reo Māori name for the collection, gifted to the IIML by Dr Mike Ross, Pukenga/Lecturer in the University’s Te Kawa a Māui/School of Māori Studies.

As Dr Ross explains, “Ōrongohau is a ‘new’ word combination that attempts to convey a Māori perspective. It can be translated in different ways: your news/views/thoughts/feelings/ are heard; your fame [is carried] on the wind. It doesn’t make subjective judgements about quality, the wind can blow in from anywhere.”

Ōrongohau  | Best New Zealand Poems 2019 can be viewed and read online at www.bestnewzealandpoems.org.nz.

For more information contact Professor Damien Wilkins at damien.wilkins@vuw.ac.nz.