NZ and US Poetry Duets

Book launches are really a good way of discovering new writing and also hearing writers read their work. There is one coming up that I am quite excited to attend. Later this month Bill Manhire will launch three books of ‘duets’ between American and New Zealand poets that have been edited by New Zealand poet and essayist Alice Miller and Americans Zach Savich and Mark Leidner. While I am a fan of many New Zealand poets, a particular type of North American poetry sparks for me (out of the three poets I am studying for my PhD only one is a New Zealander), so I’m quite interested to see how these New Zealanders and Americans have been paired by the editors.

The New Zealand poets featured in this series include well known Wellington poet James Brown who is paired with American poet Dora Malech who taught creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters a few years ago. I am especially interested to read this collection because, from my perspective, their work appears quite different. Brown’s poetry seems to purposefully work against lyrical tradition whereas Malech, from what I have read, can be quite lyrical. Both display a pointy sense of humour in their poetry which I think will tie their work together.

The next pairing is Sam Sampson, an Auckland poet whose book Everything Talks won the NZ Society of Authors award for the best first book of poetry last year, and Andrew Grace who I haven’t had the pleasure to read. I scanned some of Sampson’s work last week while browsing in a bookstore and was surprised to find complex and constructed shape poetry that I haven’t seen in recent New Zealand publications (see this poem in Best NZ Poems 2008). His lexicon reminds me of Christian Bok in technicality and tone so I am intrigued to read his work.

The third duet is between Joan Fleming, a good friend of mine and one of New Zealand’s brightest new poets, and Emily Toder who I also am excited to read. Fleming’s work can be wistful and dreamlike and I think she uses this light touch to draw the reader into poems that show the world in a new way. Her most recent work has been mostly prose poetry and short narratives and is really very good.

I encourage you to come along and listen to some New Zealand poetry. Duets will be launched on Monday 12 July, 6pm at the Southern Cross Bar on Abel Smith Street. Please RSVP by 8th July to You can find out more about these poets on the duets website.

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