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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Elizabeth Smither talks about My American Chair


Elizabeth Smither has written six novels, six collections of short stories

and eighteen poetry collections. She has twice won the major award for New Zealand poetry and was the 2001–2003 Te Mata Poet Laureate. In 2004,

she was awarded an honorary DLitt from the University of Auckland for her contribution to literature and was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. She received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2008. Elizabeth talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us about your latest collection of poetry, My American Chair.

Cassandra Atherton at Deakin University asked if I would like to write a collection for MadHat an American poetry press in North Carolina; Sam Elworthy and Auckland University Press became joint-publisher. I chose the Matisse chair and Katie Kerr designed the cover. Elizabeth Caffin put the poems in order.


What inspires your poems?

It can be anything. Watching a tui hang upside down while eating an apple at the bird feeder. Thinking how I liked the Etruscan sculptures in the British Museum; writing a poem for Cilla McQueen celebrating oysters; thinking when a friend said ‘You need teeth to play the clarinet’ what a wonderful title it would make.

What was your routine or process when writing this collection?

My usual routine is to have a reading/writing poems session about once a week. I surround myself with favourite poetry books and new poets I have discovered; I listen to the Concert programme while I write. I might have a glass of wine.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

‘Ombra mai fu’ from Handel’s Serse sung by Christopher Lowrey (a beloved plane tree)

‘With cat-like tread’ (Gilbert & Sullivan) The Pirates of Penzance (ridiculous pirates)


If you had to choose a favourite poem, what is it, and why is it your favourite?

Perhaps ‘Night time words to Ruby’ trying to persuade her to go to sleep, recognising she is longing to stay awake; the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this collection?

The collaboration, the attention from both publishers; Cassandra’s emails. Discovering the amazing typeface (Sigurd) and the interior design.


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

‘A Waiter in Paris; Adventures in the Dark Heart of the City’ by Edward Chisolm. A young Englishman, down on his luck, attempts to become a French waiter. It’s got everything: a hellish kitchen, dirty tricks, stolen tips and in the end an enduring camaraderie.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m trying to write some novellas.


Auckland University Press

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