Wes Lee

'The body remembers in Wes Lee’s poems, pronouncing its truth in strange flashes, loading her pages with dark stills from an unconscious screen — yet simultaneously Lee articulates her lines with tense poetic control, sharpening language to scalpel point against the places the body is silenced. It is this use of acute poetic practice to chart the psyche’s bloodied spaces — to tap through sheer craft to the carnal baseline of memory and its charged contortions, to front through a fierce, honed wielding of form the ‘blast holes’ where trauma has forged the body — that has always left me awed in reading Lee’s work, accosted, exhilarated, struck.' — Tracey Slaughter, 2022

Wes Lee lives in Wellington. Formerly a lecturer in Fine Arts and Graphic Design at Auckland University of Technology, she has a Master of Philosophy in Fine Arts, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Drama from The University of Auckland. Her latest poetry collection By the Lapels was launched in October 2019 by Steele Roberts Aotearoa in Wellington. Previous poetry collections include Body, Remember launched in London as part of the Lorgnette Series (Black Spring Press, 2017); Shooting Gallery (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2016). And a chapbook of short fiction Cowboy Genes, winner of The Grist Chapbook Prize (Grist Books, University of Huddersfield, 2014). Her writing has appeared in a wide array of literary journals and anthologies in New Zealand, Australia and the UK including Best New Zealand PoemsPoetry London, The London Magazine, The Stinging Fly, Westerly, Cordite, Magma Poetry, Landfall, Poetry New Zealand, New Writing Scotland, The Stony Thursday Book, The New Zealand Listener, Australian Poetry Journal. She has won a number of awards for her writing including The BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award; The Bronwyn Tate Memorial Award; The Dan Davin Literary Award; The Short Fiction Prize (University of Plymouth Press); The Over the Edge New Writer of the Year in Ireland; The Grist Books Chapbook Prize (University of Huddersfield). She has been selected as a finalist in a number of high profile international poetry prizes including The London Magazine Poetry Prize, The Troubadour Poetry Prize, and commended in the Poetry London Prize. Most recently she was awarded the 2024 Free Verse Prize by The Poetry Society in London; the Heroines/Joyce Parkes Women's Writing Prize 2022 in Australia, and the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019 (Massey University Press). Selected as a finalist for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2018. Shortlisted for the Poetry London Pamphlet Prize 2023 in London; the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award 2023 (Otago University Press); the NZSA Peter & Dianne Beatson Fellowship 2022; the Alastair Reid Poetry Pamphlet Prize 2022 in Scotland; the Booranga Prize for Best Poem (Charles Sturt University); the NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize in 20212022, & 2023. And selected as featured poet in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2022 by Tracey Slaughter.


  • Poetry







By the Lapels

By the Lapels is Wes Lee's second full-length collection of poetry. An oblique narrative told in fragments, scenes half-glimpsed. The poems unfold, adopting a variety of poetic personas, interrogating the body, interrogating memory, highlighting a tenuous sense of existence, a constant negotiation with being in the world.

'This is poetry that is emphatic in its capacity to endure. It is the song playing on the car wireless, which greets the first-responders at the scene of a crash. It is witness and black-box . . . Wes Lee's collection strips sentiment right down to its agonised nerves. It is the brutal, beautiful crash-landing into the world, the terror of a newsfeed, the animal who has 'seen too much: imprinted / on her retinas' . . . Pain is something to carry, and Lee carries it elegantly, and with fierce instinct. The determination is dogged, vital and excruciating . . . In a literary scene increasingly fronted by the gaudy and the cynical, these words quake the page with their truth.' - Elizabeth Morton, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2021, Massey University Press

'In her second powerful collection, By the Lapels, Wes Lee shows that she shares Tony Beyer's deeply mulled poetic impressionism. The book reads as a novel-like narrative, each poem a slanted entry point to the ongoing story. The first offering 'The Things She Remembers' is a case in point. A list poem of snatched image-moments... As in subsequent verses in the collection, this almost-comic set up, combining absurdity with poetry, becomes - through a series of sharp authorial observations and linguistic twists - something tragic and profound.' — Siobhan Harvey, Landfall Review Online, July 2020, Otago University Press

'By the Lapels is a diverse, edgy read . . . illuminated by sharp-eyed observation, personal insight and, most of all, a generous sense of our shared humanity.' — Patricia Prime, Takahe 98, April 2020

‘The work is full of dark intimations and melancholy ... One is pummelled by life and weirdly joyous at the incredibly frank state of arrival of their own being in writing.’ — Eileen Myles The Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2018

‘I was delighted by her ability to explore form and deploy a lucid, image-laden, evocative sense in her writing ... I kept thinking as I read these poems what they constantly achieve is aligned with the logic of écriture féminine, and of what Irigaray promised us women writers would eventually achieve: ‘Don’t weep. One day we will learn to say ourselves.’ — Jen Webb, University of Canberra

'One of the best reading experiences I've had this year.' - John Levy (Silence Like Another Name, 2020)

'This is very powerful writing that doesn’t flinch from difficult, sometimes painful subjects. Dense with visual imagery. Haunted by a sense of enclosure in so many different locations. ‘The wildness I carried away with me’ seems to be the right phrase for the narrator and the reader after this collection.' – Kerry Featherstone and Carol Rowntree-Jones, The Overton Poetry Prize 2018

By the Lapels is available from Unity Books, Fishpond, or direct from Steele Roberts Aotearoa.

Body, Remember

Eyewear Publishing launches Body, Remember in London as part of the 2017 Lorgnette Series.

Body, Remember takes its title from the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, who, in sensuous imagery, illuminates the persistence and power of the body-memory of desire. Conversely, in this pamphlet, Lee addresses the body's capacity to hide, to deceive, and draw a veil of silence, to create a blank space within when faced with trauma. 

'In this powerful pamphlet, Wes Lee investigates how the body can play the role of both subject and object ... It is this lack of being that Lee captures so well, this idea that everything’s present but something’s still missing.' — Callan Waldron-Hall, Sphinx: Poetry Pamphlet Reviews and Features 2019

'In a beautifully coherent cycle of 20 poems, Lee explores the memory of childhood trauma in its bodily immediacy. Unembarrassed, she speaks it aloud, inhabiting the poetic space without shame ... Lee's minute-by-minute physical reactions, the stuff that happens with breathing and muscles and skin, are never pathologised or pitied — instead we are invited to trust in their concrete, corporeal logic and bear witness, as the body does daily, to the terrible events that they index.' — Elisabeth Kumar, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020, Massey University Press

‘These poems are quiet, controlled and sparse, with an accurate ear for rhythm. Body, Remember is a satisfyingly cohesive collection, each poem adding something to the previous and the next. I found them intense, strong and immensely powerful.’ — Diane Brown, Landfall Review Online, Otago University Press

‘In Body, Remember, Wes Lee catalogues a ‘domino of broken things’ with deft poignancy and dark humour. She draws our attention to the fact, that even as we read and breathe, our bodies are in a state of breaking.’ — Michael Stewart

‘Wes Lee's beautiful, sobering collection gives a skeleton upon which to hang the intangible. It speaks to transience, to trauma, to the inevitability of time passing.’ — S. J. Bradley

‘Amazing poems... very powerful.’ — Rosanna Hildyard

Body, Remember is available in bookstores in the UK, and can be ordered online from the Poetry Book Society, and direct from Eyewear Publishing in London.

Shooting Gallery

Launched by Steele Roberts Aotearoa in Wellington (August, 2016), Shooting Gallery is Wes Lee’s debut collection of poems.

Shooting Gallery is stunning. The poems are assured, brave, and many have already been published in a wide array of NZ and international journals... The body is prime. And although throughout the collection pain and indignity are often a given, there is also a glorying in the physical, the sensual; there is verve, and poems that punch the air celebrating survival... It is striking that in these poems, no one is judged. The first thing that Wes Lee concerns herself with in Shooting Gallery is the humanity of each person. Here, the last shall be first, and she ensures that, in this marvellous collection, we know why this should be the case.’ — Carolyn McCurdie, Takahē Magazine

‘“The body is where you begin” could be a tag for this whole book of short sharp poems that knock against your skull. There’s a woman living in a car, there’s a clown living in you, there’s a couple living in a barn with a dog and a boar, there’s a memory living in a hotel, there’s a self living in a mirror ... A book stuffed with tough stuff.’ — Murray Edmond, NZ Poetry Shelf

‘With remarkable economy, Wes Lee conjures striking poetic images of the contemporary world.’ — Demos Journal

‘Written with breathtaking simplicity, this is a collection of devastating beauty and power. It's rare to find poetry that can convey so much, with such brevity. Wes Lee's poetry will transport you.’ — SJ Bradley, The Big Bookend

‘There are times in this tough-minded and tender-hearted book when you are persuaded that your odds are not good. On the other hand there are moments – and moments matter for Wes Lee – when the balance of the universe tips back in your favour.’ — Murray Edmond, Landfall 233: The 70th Anniversary Issue

Shooting Gallery is available in independent bookstores around New Zealand, and can be ordered direct from Steele Roberts in Wellington, or Fishpond.

Cowboy Genes

Launched at the Huddersfield Literature Festival 2014, Cowboy Genes brings together a selection of Wes Lee’s short fiction.

Cowboy Genes is published by Grist Books at the University of Huddersfield and is available from Amazon, Fishpond, and Inpress Books.

‘A poignant and accomplished short story collection.’ — Jazz Croft, NZ Booklovers

'There is real depth, complexity and darkness to these five stories. If you like the kind of work that David Lynch makes - dark human stories with an air of strangeness then this will be way up your street. The quality here is outstanding.' - Dr Mark Ellis, Amazon uk, 2019

‘In Wes Lee’s beautiful chapbook of short fiction, the shadow of death looms.’ — Michael Stewart, Cafe Assassin, 2015

Cowboy Genes can be purchased from Inpress Books in the UK.

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2022

'Includes over 30 pages of poems & an interview by this year's featured poet, Wes Lee.'