To celebrate National Poetry Day, Jessica Lim revists the Pantograph Punch archive. Here she shares five poets who’ve served as her personal roadmap in understanding the art.
I don’t have a degree in English Literature.
I fell in love with poetry, age 14, when the novel I was reading ended in the middle of a sentence…
No imparting message.
It was perfect…
At the time, contemporary poetry had only recently shattered all I knew of conventional language – its rules and grammar – reassembling it into something more familiar.
11 years ago, the Pantograph Punch published the article ‘Eight Contemporary Poets I Love and Two Dead Guys’ (Parts I and II) in anticipation of National Poetry Day. The articles assemble the work of ten poets who shaped author Hera Lindasy Bird’s understanding of poetry. And, in turn, it shaped my own understanding of poetry.
A poet disclosing their favourite poetry after years of reading is extremely generous.
It’s like making a blood sacrifice into the metaverse with no hope of return.
It’s casting a bottle into the 17th-century ocean, containing the final transcription of the missing fragments of the Rosetta Stone, in the hope it will be discovered by a future linguist interested in archaeology with only philanthropic intent.
To make a record of it, if only to offer a glimpse into the darkest recesses of a discipline perhaps better understood as a reflection of human transgression. The inherent desire to indulge in our own emotional excess in hyperbole.
‘Eight Contemporary Poets I Love and Two Dead Guys’ became my own private roadmap map to poetry.
An unwitting site of pilgrimage to constant discovery.
Like a poem torn from The New Yorker, carried in your breast pocket til frayed and torn.
And, upon returning to the article, I often wondered if others would return to the same place…
11 years later, I write to resurrect the Pantograph Punch archive, in celebration of National Poetry Day.
Partly because of my love for the archive.
Partly because making a record of your favourite poetry when you know you already love poetry seems so self-indulgent that it almost seems untrue.
Partly because no discussion of contemporary poetry could be complete without Hera Lindsay Bird.
Carving out a space for poetry in the real world isn’t easy, because now everyone has three jobs and a vitamin D deficiency. Perhaps one of the most compelling things I’ve learnt through writing is that it should always be meaningful for the reader, who voluntarily offers their time to read your work.
Though the exercise of record making seems pointless when you consider the history of the world before you (art, fashion, technology, guilt) – Poetry and art remain divine.
In the following passages, I share the work I have discovered in my continuous reading since…
1. Chelsey Minnis
Once I was really sad, and then I read Chelsey Minnis. And suddenly, I emerge from my dazzling grief… driving down some open coastal highway in a convertible Chevrolet, hair flicking in the wind… When I think:
“The moon is mine and all the craters are mine” and “I control the sea.”
Poetry is a very petty art.
It’s like, yeah, “I like to write poems… but I don’t like seeing through a tiny telescope all the way to Hell”. Still, you must smile to yourself, decadently. Before realising you invited a pretty attractive burglar into your home, with tea and biscuits.
Later you realise you invited him into your home a year ago, and he’s actually your boyfriend.
You were just too busy making self-congratulatory jokes with yourself, as well as filing the burglar’s tax refunds, to notice…Chelsey’s great verses include:
Oh, how many times I’ve hurt you!
And each time is precious to me.
You lock the door, in the hope he will never return…
Before exacting the most precise revenge, the day after you remember meat-eating flowers exist. You break into your enemies’ homes, to fill each room with them.
Chelsey’s poetry is ridiculous. It’s like reading an in-joke that you were never a part of. Poetry is great, because it helps us recognise our own conceit. Imagine declaring your own insincerity with reckless abandon…
Do you want me to write a poem? Then hold my flask.
Excerpt from Zirconia………Bad Bad (Fence, 2019).
Poetry should be “uh huh” like baby has to have it…”
I like to write poems…but I don’t like to see through a tiny telescope all the way to hell..
It is my privilege to write poems during the day…My last look was very bad! I wore it just for showing off
…velvetized by thoughts
Excerpt from ‘Eight Poems by Chelsey Minnis’, The Stockholm Review
I am sorry for slapping your face!
And now let me begin 77 sunsets without you.
Let me whisper into your dictaphone.
“I murdered my pet canary.”
Behold my dazzling mental illness like a chandelier.
Now we’re going to go down to the bottom and see if we like it.
I’m going to maul your head with my words.
I have to gesture with a turkey leg while I argue all my points.
This poem is a display case for expletives.
And all the baby dolls have recorded cries.
This is the time to be congenial but I can’t make it.
I’m the type who never likes your type.
Don’t you see?
We’re filthy in love.
Let’s get some rice thrown on us.
2. Emily Skillings
Emily Skillings’ work cuts through human realities and unrealities by centring the two-dimensional nature of social media in material truth. In her poem ‘Girls Online’, girls line up in uniform squares just like a rehearsal, or Instagram.
Almost a painting,
Shoulders overlapping …
One says: I’m myself here.
The poem is narrated with an unsettling lightness, which is at once distant yet somehow self-aware.
Their affect turns real life into a game set in some dystopian theme park.
I love this poem for its continuous reference to clothing, as shorthand for our material reality, which tightens like a corset, “the ribbon core … shirts in various shades of ease … littered with small cuts.” Which reveals its violence:
One will choose you, press you into the ground.
You may never recover.
The first line is a row of girls,
twenty-five of them, almost
a painting, shoulders overlapping,
angled slightly toward you.
One says: I’m myself here.
The others shudder and laugh
through the ribbon core that strings
them. They make a tone tighter
by drumming on their thighs and
opening their mouths. The girls
are cells. The girls are a fence,
a fibrous network. One by one
they describe their grievances.
Large hot malfunctioning
machines lie obediently at their sides.
Their shirts are various shades
of ease in the surrounding air,
which is littered with small cuts.
One will choose you, press you
into the ground. You may never
recover. The second-to-last line
has a fold in it. The last line is
the steady pour of their names.
3. Gregory Kan
Gregory Kan’s poetry depicts a world at once fragmented, yet stunningly complete. The author’s command of language is so exacting he could transmit even the slightest click across centuries in a way that makes the real world seem almost terrestrial.
Below I have included two excerpts of Greg’s work, from his first collection of poetry This Paper Boat (2016), and ‘There is a house that we are in’ from Best New Zealand Poems 2017.
Gu Hun Ye Gui – a ghost who has died
far from her family. She waits
for a kind person to guide her home. She never
Wants to be seen, but likes the idea
Of being found.
In This Paper Boat, Greg delicately threads narrative fragments of his own history with the work of poet Iris Wilkinson (aka Robin Hyde), who he refers to only as (I.).
Writing of his family history and compulsory military duty, Greg depicts the human experience with a disturbing and cool consistency.
Excerpt from This Paper Boat
In 1926 I. arrived in Sydney under the pretence
of seeing a specialist about her damaged
knee. Her pregnancy born of a loveless
affair. Christopher Robin Hyde changed his
mind about coming into the world. The little
face I. touched was still warm, very dark,
the mouth turned down. The eye is a region
of calm weather surrounded by a ring of
Thunderstorms. The houses of Sydney and
its purple-dark faces crowded through long
Arcades. The Iris is responsible for controlling
the amount of light that can reach the
retinal wall. Insufficient adaptation to dark
environment is called night blindness. I.
decided thereafter to write only under the
child’s name, Robin Hyde, knowing that he
would be forgotten for her own safety an eye
within an eye.
To talk of Greg’s poetry, one must talk of it in the context of glass.leaves, a text manipulator that he wrote and coded.
What interests me about glass.leaves is that it shifts the understanding of traditional writing. The user can both sample work in its computation of procedures. A machine will learn from and respond to you based on your desires, shifting the possibility of authorship through its execution of “strange loops”.
There is a house that we are in
When you have your back turned
I have my back turned
Sometimes when you have your back turned I turn around
And look at your back
Sometimes when I turn around and look at your back
You turn around
And then we look at each other
I want to go where you go
And be loved by you there
Where we are filthy and continuous like real things
Where we fall to the bottom of our seventeenth century bodies
And roll against each other like barrels of silk
Where a lake dreams us up as its centre
And we turn wide circles with our faces
Where our eyes grow suicidally beautiful
With imperfect and exquisite plans
I know without needing a picture of it
This place where we are safe enough to repeat ourselves
I want to seem to you the very same thing that I seem to myself
And I want to seem to myself the very same thing that I am
No hunger to speak of
But to speak with
I tie a knot and for a while
I will not let it breathe
4. Lucie Brock-Broido
Talking about your favourite poets with other poets is tough. You ask the same question, “Who are your favourite writers?”, and it’s difficult to pull out a new card. Like yeah, we’ve read it all before. Lucie Brock-Broido might be the most opaque poet I’ve ever read. Which might commonly be understood as a bad thing. Though her diction is underscored by her near compulsion to use every new word uncovered [“she couldn’t help it”], her poetry still feels somehow legible.
Tonight is my ten thousandth night.
It happens in the middle of my twenty-seventh year.
I am one third done with this.
Her work is like an embellished barrette drawn from the hair of an Edwardian child. Discovering Lucie’s work felt like uncovering a stunning Roman artefact three thousand years from now…
In an interview published by Guernica, Lucie says, “I came to poetry because I felt I couldn’t live properly in the real world.” Its extremities and circumstance, its thwarted desire. I think her writing is suspended somewhere between reticent humour and tragic opulence – Lucie is one of the only deceased poets I write of. Whose work remains luminescent, audacious, wilful.
Birdie Africa For Stanley Kunitz
My father calls me Wolf.
He says that I will see things other people will not see
at night. When he holds me, heat comes out
of his big arms & I belong to him
In the cold of Christmas time he rocks
me and his deep lap in the great shadow of a comforter.
We are wool on wool,
back & forth, singing these songs
whose words I can’t even say out loud.
I think they’re about God who keeps us in his paws.
My mother watches, standing at my window, arms
folded to her chest. One fingerbone
of moonlight reaches in, tapping on the lock
of her face, restless, not like a mother wolf
but lit like she is going
But when I wind my arms around
him, put my face into the dimmed scoop
of his neck, he smells like good warm fire
like dark sweet dreams.
I am birdie now and I don’t know why a squat at the edge of the top of our row house and I am without wings I think Philadelphia is in gentle now bad things Echo up and down our neighbourhood at night I think we wound the people of our street I am hurting myself I can tell I can’t tell time you know.
5. Eileen Myles
While Eileen Myles’ has a prolific body of work, I cannot claim astute knowledge of it. Still, ‘Peanut Butter’ is a poem I love for its simplicity. The poem is not at all about peanut butter. I believe it earns its place for its masterful narrative that captures the everyday of the human experience as it tumbles through a gorgeous, aberrant non-linear history.
I am always hungry
& wanting to have
sex. This is a fact.
If you get right
down to it the new
butter is no damn
good & you should
buy it in a jar as
always in the
you know. And
I am an enemy
of change, as
you know. All
the things I
embrace as new
fact old things,
the sensation of
being dirty in
body and mind
summer as a
time to do
nothing and make
no money. Prayer
as a last re-
as a means,
and then a
with no ends
in sight. I am
absolutely in opposition
to all kinds of
goals. I have
no desire to know
where this, anything
is getting me.
When the water
boils I get
a cup of tea.
read all the
works of Proust.
It was summer
I was there
so was he. I
I would like
to be used for
my death. Not
only my body
will be compost
but the thoughts
I left during
my life. During
my life I was
a woman with
hazel eyes. Out
is a crooked
body I think
of as stripes
which I have
love along. We
in ponds &
I write be-
back. My thoughts
about you are
they are useless,
to get you
because I have
you & you love
me. It’s more
like a playground
where I play
with my reflection
of you until
you come back
and into the
real you I
get to sink
my teeth. With
you I know how
to relax. &
so I work
is out of control
you tell me &
that’s what’s so
it. I’m immoderately
in love with you,
knocked out by
all your new
I have always
known be the
very best there
is. I love
you from my
one day was
just like the
love, a sand-
wich in the
a tiny step
in the vastly
the Sun. I
Header: The Palace Theater, New York, 1945. Photograph by WEEGEE. Courtesy Gallery Zabriski, Paris.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.