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Interview: Anne Kennedy talks about AUP New Poets 10

Anne Kennedy is the author of three novels, a novella, four books of poetry, and many anthologised short stories. Her first book of poetry Sing-song was named Poetry Book of the Year at the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. The Darling North won the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry and Moth Hour was a poetry finalist at the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Anne has also won the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award and has held fellowships at the University of Auckland, the IIML, and at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. She has taught creative writing for a number of years in Hawai‘i and Auckland. Most recently she edited Remember Me: Poems to Learn by Heart from Aotearoa New Zealand. Anne talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about AUP New Poets 10 and the poetry featured.

AUP New Poets was established by Elizabeth Caffin, who was editor of Auckland University Press for two decades from the mid-80s. Her idea was to showcase emerging poets who had not yet published a book but had a body of work that readers would enjoy, and that perhaps could lead to a solo book. It worked! The series was well received. Poets who first appeared include the current NZ Poet Laureate Chris Tse, Rebecca Hawkes, Ria Masae, Claudia Jardine, and Anna Jackson – who went on to edit five issues of New Poets!


Can you tell us a little about each of the three poets?

They are all extraordinary writers, in different ways.

Tessa Keenan (Te Ātiawa) writes with an amazing lyricism and yet their voice has heft. Keenan often juxtaposes ordinary things (like a fan heater) with sacred places, emotions, and the legacy of their tūpuna. The effect is to beautifully represent how being in this place can feel, how there are layers of meaning in everything thing and moment.   

romesh dissanayake is a fiction writer as well as a poet. His debut novel When I open the shop appeared recently from THWUP to acclaim. It’s no surprise, then, that these poems often tell stories, about the strange things people do, about place (including his original home of Sri Lanka), about the edgy newness of contemporary life. The tone here is thrilling, unpredictable, yet tossed-off.

Sadie Lawrence’s poems are remarkable distillations that set down what it is to be young, to be in love, to feel different, to notice unusual sights and connections. These poems are highly fashioned, very musical, yet they sound like a young person bravely and uniquely telling their story.

Although they are all different, there are things these young writers have in common. They have used craft to make their poems really work. They have sought out ways to sound original and daring. No one else writes quite like them – how it is to be, to see, to wonder. In other words, they are real poets!


Volume 10 in this series is a significant milestone. How was it editing this volume with that in mind?

It wasn’t so much that this is the 10th issue, as the big shoes I stepped into in editing my first New Poets. I follow Elizabeth Caffin, who started the series, and Anna Jackson who took up the torch and ran with it (sorry, my shoes metaphor is getting a bit mixed here, although they could be running shoes). Anna recently edited five stunning issues. I knew I had to do a good a good job! As it turned out, after selecting the three writers, it was exciting fun.


Once the issue was complete, I did think, gosh, number 10 – there’s something going right here.


Do you have a favourite poem by each poet? What is the poem and why is it your favourite?

Hard to choose, and I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow.


But I do love Keenan’s sequence, ‘Some Other Pā’ which so powerfully brings their selection to a conclusion with distinct and sometimes raw clashes:


                        When I go to the urupā on a sunny day

I bring my UE Boom

and play ‘Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word’.

Or I bring some old, wooden knitting needles. (2. ‘Ōtaka’)


And dissanayake’s


                        it’s me,

                        coiling the vape

                        rounding off the bedposts

                        squeegees for hands ( ‘she waved and i’)


And Lawrence’s


                        I was shedding my velvet, an obesity

                        of gore. I was building my ant farm

                        palace, maggot sandcastle township. I

                        I live in the mourning of normalcy.

                        it lives in me. (‘Ode to the Autism Diagnosis Report’)


What did you do to celebrate finishing the edit of this book?

We’re having a launch at Unity Books, Wellington, on Wednesday 29 May. All welcome!


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Apart from New Poets 10, I loved Kiri Piahana-Wong’s Tidelines, a gorgeously voiced meditation on trauma and survival.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

New Poets 11!

Auckland University Press


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