Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2023 captures the spirit of the times


The latest edition of the online anthology Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems is now live, featuring 25 poems chosen by Poet Laureate Chris Tse from nearly 4000 published in 2023.

“These are the poems that surprised and delighted me the most, that made me pause to sit in my own discomfort or revel in another poet’s joy. Above all, they’re the poems I thought other people need to read.”

His chosen selections, he says, are the “poems that stood out to me for the way in which they navigated inner and outer worlds, or gave life to the poets’ hopes for themselves and their communities.”

The fiery public debate around Tusiata Avia’s poem ‘The 250th Anniversary of James Cook’s Arrival in New Zealand’ that was unfolding when Chris Tse was editing the anthology speaks to the continuing power of poetry to provoke and challenge.

“Here and around the world, we are seeing creatives caught in campaigns of misinformation and bigotry, sometimes driven by those in power,” says Tse in his introduction. “The effects of this are concerning: for example, cultural institutions have cancelled events featuring writers who are outspoken against genocide, and tired anti-queer and racist rhetoric is being used to threaten writers and performers, and fuel the surge in book bans.”

The 2023 edition showcases established figures such as Michele Leggott, Sam Duckor-Jones, John Allison, and Tracey Slaughter alongside 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Award Poetry finalist Isla Huia, and introduces newer poets such as Ruben Mita, Jessica Hinerangi, Geena Slow, and Loretta Riach, who are making their first appearance in Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems.

The voices in this anthology engage with times past as well as looking to the future. They contain multitudes of experience and perspective, delight in moments of love and desire, confront the ongoing impacts of colonisation, show us the many ways in which the political is deeply personal, and in the process offer a mirror on the world as it is, along with tantalising glimpses of where we might be heading.

These are poets writing from the range and depth of human experience. Hannah Mettner offers a youthful experience of that infamous measure of fitness, the ‘Beep Test’, as a lens through which to view the adult world. Emma Shi considers the distances of immigration, what remains and what is lost, while Rushi Vyas uses a memory of a father’s Rolex to explore the work of facing our cultural inheritances, of choosing what we want to keep alive, and what we are prepared to relinquish. Hana Pera Aoake gives us a meditation on the anxieties she holds for her newborn daughter’s future, while harold coutts offers an exploration of passion, intimacy and lust. Dan Goodwin’s boy in Wyoming meets his dream man in a bar, while Stacey Teague unpacks the way pop culture, specifically Kylie Minogue’s gold hot pants, alters the chemistry of your brain.

Series editor and International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) senior lecturer Chris Price says, “The poet laureate has given us a gathering of poems that are very much of this moment, recording the crises we are facing, reflecting the diversity of our culture, and celebrating the way human dreams and desires persist in the face of all obstacles.”

The International Institute of Modern Letters at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington has published the anthology annually since 2001, with support from Creative New Zealand. Every issue has a different editor, selected from Aotearoa’s literary world.

Ōrongohau | Best New Zealand Poems 2023 can be viewed online at www.bestnewzealandpoems.org.nz



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