Wes Lee lives in Paekakariki. 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 (Eyewear Publishing, 2017); Shooting Gallery (Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2016). And a chapbook of short fiction Cowboy Genes (Grist Books, University of Huddersfield Press, 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 Poems, Poetry 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 Saboteur Awards Best Anthology 2017 in London. She has been selected as a finalist in a number of high profile poetry prizes including The London Magazine Poetry Prize, The Troubadour Poetry Prize, and commended in the Poetry London Prize. Most recently she was shortlisted for The Overton Prize 2018 for a sequence of poems, at Loughborough University in the UK; selected by American poet Eileen Myles as a finalist for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2018, and awarded the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019 by Massey University Press.
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.
'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 grappling with contemporary issues... illuminated by sharp-eyed observation, personal insight and, most of all, a generous sense of our shared humanity... Wes Lee is a poet with an artist's painterly sensibility, a musician's fine ear, an affinity for strangers and their plight.' — 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
'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
'The Things She Remembers #1 is a truly remarkable piece ... It completely transfixed me.' — Jack Ross, Poetry New Zealand Prize, Massey University Press, 2019
'If I had to pick a standout poem, I would point to The Things She Remembers #1 by Wes Lee. It's a terrific poem, that's certainly one to remember.' — Harry Ricketts, Book Review — Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2019, Nine to Noon, June 4, Radio New Zealand National
'I was hooked by Wes Lee‘s winning tour-de-force of a poem, The Things She Remembers #1. Phrases accumulate like a rollercoaster memory pulling you along in a blaze of sharpness and surprise.' — Paula Green — review of Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2019 - NZ Poetry Shelf
'The winners of the Poetry New Zealand Prize for 2019 are especially enthralling. Wes Lee’s first prize poem The Things She Remembers #1 is a swoon of images that shout and burst.' — Emma Shi, Book Review — Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2019, The Reader: The Booksellers New Zealand Blog
By the Lapels is available from Unity Books, Fishpond, or direct from Steele Roberts Aotearoa.
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
‘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.
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.
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
‘In Wes Lee’s beautiful chapbook of short fiction, the shadow of death looms.’ — Michael Stewart, Cafe Assassin, 2015