Erica Stretton reviews Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook 2023 on Kete


Erica Stretton has reviewed the new Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook 2023, edited by Tracey Slaughter, on Kete Books: 

‘Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook 2023: after-burn is a conflagration, the cover licking flames, the featured poet Tyla Harry Bidois giving no quarter in her poems of blood, stabbings, iron and pythons. Editor Tracey Slaughter notes that “a poem refuses to let us be shut down, locked out, cut off,” and after-burn is filled to the brim with that sort of poetry.

Aotearoa’s longest-running poetry magazine has an updated title this year, to better reflect our heritage, diversity and “kaleidoscopic but tightly-woven core.” Inside, the trusted format we know and love: ten poems and an interview with Bidois; 110 new poems by a selection of New Zealand’s finest poets, a mingling of experienced and emerging voices; an essay focusing on esteemed poet Michele Leggott; a discussion considering Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpai and LGBTQIA+ Writers from Aotearoa and finally reviews of 29 poetry books published this year.

Bidois speaks of the need to “develop that narrative in writing honestly, as well as taking care of the reader’s welfare. Confronting things is wonderful…” and confront things this poetry does. Mingling a modern voice with mythology, it seethes with violence and blood, and there’s no allowance for indecision or gentleness. In Darling (vi.) even laughter is a weapon:

“though I like

to laugh, and what silliness it is, those clapping lungs,

so much nothing; the light, the light;

I think it injures monsters, this sound”

But the jewel in this book, the New Poems section, brings together many windows into the world. The poetry could be distilled to the perennial human fascinations: death, love, parenthood, climate, inequality. But that would be to ignore all the subtle distinctions and wry observations that give the words so much weight.’

Read the rest of the review here.