Writing in Whangarei

Vaughan Gunson

Vaughan Gunson’s new poetry collection

book cover1

To purchase Vaughan Gunson’s poetry collection this hill, all it’s about is lifting it to a higher level (2012) go to the website of the publisher Steele Roberts. Or send a cheque for $20 (includes postage) to Vaughan Gunson, 71A George Street, Hikurangi, Whangarei (with return address).

“This is a book I’ve been keenly awaiting. We’ve printed a number of Vaughan’s poems in Poetry New Zealand and I’ve come to admire and respect what he writes. His poems merge his concerns for the human and natural worlds into a unity that reflects the human condition and its expression in internal and external experience.”
 - Alistair Paterson, ONZM

“Vaughan Gunson’s this hill, all it’s about is lifting it to a higher level is a startling collection of poetry. Buoyed by Gunson’s eye for the unusual and precise and his cadent tongue, the book mines new and familiar territory in surprising and exciting ways.”
 - Siobhan Harvey, Takahe poetry editor andNational Poetry Day organiser

To listen to the Arts on Sunday (9 Dec 2012) Radio NZ interview with Vaughan Gunson click here.

Take Flight 4 out now

Click on image to download PDF of Take Flight 4 featuring poems by Michelle Elvy, Piet Nieuwland, Aaron Robertson, Arthur Fairley, Jac Jenkins, Martin Porter and Vaughan Gunson.

a pub in Kaitaia on Anzac Day

by Vaughan Gunson

a space with more room
than what’s needed
pushes back
the hazy night crowd, watching
the play
at the pool table.

the young sailors
wearing ridiculously white
square collar shirts, low-cut
revealing tufts of hair
on their backs.

they look
like guys I went to school with,
not men
standing on a ship
in the Dardanelles.

then there’s the boys
in Wu-Tang jackets
wondering what the fuck
I’m doing here.

the woman in the yellow jersey
with the fluffy neck
sinks the black
in a corner pocket,
there’s few claps of applause.

her opponent,
a grey bearded gentleman in shorts
goes over to her, they embrace
& kiss each other
on the cheek.

everyone who’s been watching
turns to talk
to someone else.

I raise my glass
to the Wu-Tang boys

who smile back.

I saw rhombuses that looked like diamonds

by Vaughan Gunson

I saw a lady with a blue rinse
the same as her car

I saw a dead moth floating
on a pyre of plastic

I saw weary flowers
wrapped in paper packets

I saw sunlight hitting
like a shower of ice

I saw a thin man dancing
on stage
above a metal furnace

I saw the breeze
brush the blossoms
of cherry trees

I saw soft leaves of grass
to step on

I saw rhombuses
that looked like diamonds

& I know
that no matter how hard you throw a marshmallow
it’s never going to hurt.

why do it?

by Vaughan Gunson

I guess it’s because
if you don’t write it down
tell it to your neighbour
plant it in the ground
it all just slips away

which is where
it’s going anyway
but we want, at least
to feel some friction.

Language and Place on the Edge: Six Poems

Aaron Robertson

Vers au Vert

From centre to circumference
we drift, crossing this great expanse
to speak in tongues considered pure
by uninitiated ears.

Old words, once tentatively used
then fashioned thin as life imposed,
become an enigmatic code
charged with the trace of others’ deeds.

Deprived by empire of a waiting
embrace, language devolves, begetting
forms like those strange conventions now
spoken in parliaments of two.

Vaughan Gunson

Big Love Song #17

the golden night has locked down
the unreal day gone, thank you, for now.
the persistent thud of a million feet
stamping the ancient cobblestones.

I laughed, the outrageous image of you
seated next to a fat satyr from Hellene,
your thigh raised to the sky
tapering to a desirable end.

the threatening cataclysm
is more than a grim tattoo.
the responsible hordes hold in their hands,
for the first time, the battering-ram.

Martin Porter

The Tree at the Edge of the World

Clawing onto the cliff

Face into a salty purge



It has given up flowering


On exhausted soil

Rooted in the underworld

Grasping at the air

Where the dead

Leave the living.

This is the tree

That clings to the edge

Of the Earth.

Piet Nieuwland

the altar of wind

 my country is an idea born on the altar of wind

 earths deep blues carried on galloping horses

 lizards names etched into knotted stone archways

 we drink cups of obsidian Columbian coffee laughing

 in blood drenched gardens candles melt tanekaha perfumes

 nikau palms dance cities of moonlight frenzies

 WairoaRiverveins nourished by children throwing petals

 a thousand tui chant dawn prayers

 from puriri groves kneeling on aging hills

 the skies cloud mask pours nipples of rain

 voices of birds name the deserts language of maps

 flocks of black coated women expand covering all distances

 matuku moana call from blue fired clay minarets

 on your breasts whole kukupa sheens breathe in

 what you breathe out

 you are venus bathing like an orchid

 in loves memory of the moment

 kahawai inhabiting a river mouth

 hear pebbles hiss in your depths

 your hands move in cascades of feathered leaves

 mottled oyster skin a pale silk of ice trembling

 your name is a gift of lavender in luxuries of passion

 my heart a burial ground in the mutilated colour of dunes

 as drops in the tide we evaporate into manuka fires

 flying on humid rituals under tents of mirrors

Michelle Elvy

The Other Side of Better 

Running up a hill
tripping upwards
falling downwards
making deals with the devil
or God — whichever works better

Radio’s on
Bush is burning
I turn it up and feel me yearning
for your devil grin and thunder heart
or God — whichever is better

As I listen and wait
I soon find myself
in a song
it’s you and me…
in tune
It’s you and me who won’t be unhappy…

in love and singing
this is better

Bernard Heise


Sleep. I can’t.
Alcohol – much too much.
Drinking began yesterday.
Crashed car and burned house.
You left.
I destroyed
everything. Everything
destroyed. I
left you.
House burned and car crashed
yesterday. Began drinking
much too much alcohol.
can’t I sleep?

NOTE: The Other Side of Better by Michelle Elvy and Cause–Effect–Cause by Bernard Heise were originally written for 52|250: A Year of Flash

big love song #21

by Vaughan Gunson

after the Futurists

we sing a curious love, conceal our fear
between dull habit & fitful energy.
but courage, yes, & some audacity
is the essential element of our poetry.

’til now we’ve exalted a pensive dance,
ecstatic seconds, the gnawing sleep.
no violent action, or feverish reprise
breaks our stride; no irresponsible leap.

our world’s found a new beauty: a distance near,
a lasting hold, truer than Madonna’s smile.
we can hymn the circling seasons, run
the orbit of the Earth, & maintain our guile.

before the music starts

by Vaughan Gunson

I’ve had a shower,
got changed
into a nice shirt,
put on mauve coloured
square-toed shoes.

placed upon my head
a baggy cap.

poured a whiskey,
taken a sip.

pushed the button
on my laptop, waited.

looked at the face
of Garcia Lorca
on the spine
of his collected works.

thick dark eyebrows,
hair combed back,
he’s waiting, too.

the computer
has finished starting up.

four minutes past nine.

I take another sip
of my drink.
it tastes good,
as does everything
so far.

a short sharp skid
of noise,
the record’s ended.

I get up & turn it over.
place the needle, hear
so clear
the first scratches
the music starts.

I go back to my desk,
sit down.

a car pulls up outside,
two friends.

they knock on the door.

I let them in.

inside the museum

by Vaughan Gunson

at one of end of the room a grinning idiot,
at the other a dying man, trying to hold
himself to the wall, his struggle alone.
a slave brings in a bowl of red wine

which she pours into each of our cups.
on the ceiling an aristocratic dandy
lifts an arm towards God, the angels recoil
& the artist says how much he knows.

the revolution of reason is talked about,
Socrates says it comes, reaching for his cup.
someone has spilt yellow paint on the floor;
outside, people cross a bridge in the rain.

a woman in agony holds her dead child,
a picture of terror that won’t go away.
not even when you see the joker, standing
with his legs apart in multicolored tights.

in walks the leader, smoking a pipe
& wearing a full length silk gown.
he takes a look at the poster on the wall
& says he doesn’t understand why

some armies must be defeated, wars won.
he doesn’t notice the bags of coal above his head,
or the black dust on his shoulders & in his hair.
he ambles over to the pious monks

sitting in deckchairs, contemplating their own.
they don’t hear the noise of soup cans
being stacked up high on the shelves, or
the tower being built, only to fall down

on its shadow—or the bulldozers being used
to make something that will last.
beside the spilt paint a sign has finally
been placed which says “WET PAINT”

& through a window in the prison wall
children fly their kites up into the sky.

to American poets of the 1940s & their parties

by Vaughan Gunson

tired birds tweet, up the back
of a gorse covered hill,
not from a window ledge, London.

everything here tied up
in the air of all the familiar chaos
that ends the day.

I’m listening to Maria Callas,
reading a story of poets
when they were young, dangerous

with a glass of Laphroaig,
a smoky peatiness on the tongue
for boasting, for entertaining guests

who know how to talk
about Auden, Elliot & Proust,
Yeats, Thomas & MacLeish

who won’t mention the war
at 3am, but into another round
of Shakespeare, then Donne.

all our directions home

the taonga are placed on the sand.
taiaha stand quivering in the wind

speaking to the rōpū of sand-diggers
fire-lighters, early morning risers.

the people of this place mix easily
with us manuhiri, come to watch.

the greenstone mere from long ago
today, smashes the seashell in half:

a clean break between where we’ve
come from & where we are now.

we talk on the wind—impatience,
the ragged wave, sinks into the sand.

we listen to a story of sea birds—
how in the evening, their bellies full

they’ll spiral upwards on the wind.
when high enough, the leading birds

will cry out & begin to fly straight
in the direction of their island home.

the birds on the sea, watching this
lift off & follow, flying to the horizon.


you who first rise up on the wind
to see which way for us, we promise

to follow. call out loud from above
& we in our numbers will fly!

the tide turns, we gather the taonga,
put them in the boot of the car

& drive to the whare, where we eat
together silently—before, one-by-one

we rise to the heights & speak
of all our directions home.

-Vaughan Gunson


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