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May 3, 2019


#AWW2019 Poetry NZ Cilla McQueen

by N@ncy


  • Trivia:  If you ever read this collection of poems
  • …I will save you some time.
  • It took me 2 days to find the meaning of Maori words
  • mentioned in three poems: About the Fog, Reprise and
  • Talking to My Tokotoko.
  • “Hopupu Honengenenge Matangi Rau
  • …which in Maori means
  • the long water which bubbles, swirls and is uneven”.
  • #YourWelcome


Who is Cilla McQueen?

  1. Mcqueen was Born in Birmingham, England
  2. …and moved to New Zealand when she was four years old.
  3. She ranks amongst the finest poets of her generation.
  4. Trivia: Three New Zealand Book Awards
  5. Trivia: 2009 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement
  6. Trivia: New Zealand’s Poet Laureateship (2009-2011)
  7. In The Radio Room, Poet Laureate Cilla McQueen
  8. travels space and time, throwing thoughts (Poem: Bookworm)
  9. from Bluff NZ , her corner of the world, to  the ancient Celtic islands
  10. of her ancestors. (St Klida, Island Mull) (Poem series: Elements 1,2,3,4)


Conclusion:     My notes about a few poems….


Poem: The Ghostly Beast 

  1. Reference: 15th C Scottish history
  2. Macdonalds of Clanranald…carry off booty van rival clan
  3. …rough estimante 600 cows.
  4. McQueen describes fear of people  “in the bothy” (cottage)
  5. Sounds of “song of a storm, roiling tempest”
  6. “…a lowing so close”
  7. Is it a our cow or the  ghosts of stolen cattle?
  8. Conclusion: No  emotional impact but I do
  9. learn that McQueen bases many poems
  10. on her Scottish heritage.
  11. #BadChoice  for kick-off poem in collecton 😦


Poem: About the Fog

  1. Reference: feelings about loss (mother)
  2. McQueen’s personal journal…
  3. …pages destroyed  b/c book left on a table
  4. ….during a foggy night.
  5. …”vanished thoughts”
  6. washed away “…as if by tears.”
  7. Blue ink turned  “…turquoise wash
  8. …word-slivers….beld edges”
  9. Conclusion: very moving poem
  10. #TimeForKleenex


Reading tip:

  1. I read this poem 1 x … it made no sense.
  2. I’m too close to the text, to eager to understand
  3. …hence see nothing!
  4. Then I wrote each stanza in longhand,
  5. absorbing each sentence as I went on.
  6. That is the best way to ‘read’ poems.
  7. You just have to invest some time and
  8. effort to distill the poet’s message.
  9. Sometimes objects art not things.
  10. Objects are news…that is part of the puzzle.


Poems:  Altar (Elements 1)

  1. Reference: Island of Mull– 15th C MacKinnon’s Cave
  2. Deep inside lies a large, flat slab of rock, known as Fingal’s Table
  3. used as an altar by hermits and early followers of the Christian church.
  4. The first part of the poem
  5. …refers to the ‘sin’ of killing
  6. the Great Auk bird on St. Kilda, Scotland 1844.
  7. The second part refers to a Greek mythical figure of
  8. a warrior Amazon.
  9. She offers the spirits a gift as does…the narrator.
  10. The poem is bookended:
  11. Part 1: laid our sin on the altar
  12. Part 2: laid our prayer on the altar
  13. Conclusion: this poem needed some
  14. research to understand it (Great Auk).
  15. No emotional impact…just historical interest
  16. #Dud


Poem Beacon (Elements 2)

  1. Reference: Island of Mull– 15th C MacKinnon’s Cave
  2. This was very different compared  to Altar (Elements 1)
  3. I thought there would be a connection
  4. ….but the contrast was the best part!
  5. McQueen uses beautiful lyrical language to
  6. give us an image of a beacon of light
  7. leaping from “altar to altar, island to island”.
  8. Conclusion: Images linger; fascinated
  9. McQueen makes a (lighthouse) beam come to life …
  10. “a quartz shiver”….with ” quicksilver feet’!
  11. #Magical


Poem: Bookworm

  1. Reference: Martin Martin from the Island of Skye.
  2. 1690s he decided to visit St. Kilda and
  3. record the natural history and culture.
  4. This was a frustrating read.
  5. I must have read it 10 x…!
  6. It feels as if McQueen read the historical
  7. document by M. Martin and just left her
  8. thoughts drift: “tell past to know time present”.
  9. She compares herself with a (title) bookworm
  10. that tunnels through books
  11. …as she does through memory.
  12. Literary device: 
  13. antimetabole (reversal of words)
  14. “…on dark ground white words, on white ground dark words.”
  15. This device can be pithy and powerful
  16. …but it fell flat in this poem.
  17. Conclusion: exasperated…only  wish Ms McQueen
  18. could  explain this poem to me.
  19. make matters worse
  20. …my reading glasses broke today
  21. so I was forced to read this through “old lenses”!


Poem: Foveaux Express 

  1. Reference: ferry between Bluff and Stewart Island
  2. McQueen compares poetry to the catamaran ferry ride.
  3. Ferry: it is ‘swift as the stroke of a pen…text in motion’
  4. Poem: “…gimballed (supported) on muscling swells (waves)
  5. …word-ware cargo.”
  6. Conclusion: McQueen tells me why I should read poems:
  7. Poetry takes you apart, puts you back different”


Poem: Lens

  1. Literary devices: filled with …alliteration and assonant rhyme
  2. webbed wash-house windows
  3. dusty dwang (building), bee-sting blue-bag


Poem: Ripples

  1. This poem is considered one of the best poems of New Zealand
  2. The Poets mentioned in “Ripples” are Joanna Paul (1945-2003)
  3. and Hone Tuwhare (1922-2008).
  4. #Impressive


Poem: Soapy Water

  1. McQueen is so clever!
  2. #Hysterical!


Poem: Three Elaborations

  1. After reading several poems like this one
  2. ….topic is about a beloved one who passed away.
  3. …gone with Ganyede, beloved one,
  4. to fill the crystal glasses of the gods.
  5. …you swore to send a message back from death…
  6. …empty VB bottles queueing by the sink
  7. …all gone – the house as quiet as Miss McKenzie’s old piano…
  8. I can assume Hone Tuwhare was
  9. Cilla McQueens life partner after her divorce in 1986.
  10. I can find no biographical information to support my
  11. assumption…just a ‘woman’s intuition’ that Hone was the
  12. #LoveOfHerLife.



Poem: Coastling (Elements 3)

  1. I took a page out of Mcqueen’s book and
  2. …let MY thoughts drift after reading this poem:


  • I meet myself coming the other way.
  • Distinguish between two grains of sand.
  • No power on earth can change me,
  • nothing pins me down.
  • Within my high and low I belong to none.
  • A sacred slate where law is written.


  1. Conclusion: Title: Coastline
  2. I imagine a  beach and
  3. …the poet gazing at her footprints (“…met myself”).
  4. Nothing “pins me down”.
  5. Footprints are washed away
  6. …by the next wave (“belong to none”).
  7. The next step she makes  is
  8. …on “a sacred slate where law is written.”


Poem:  Mining Lament

  1. This is  playful poetic pantoum!
  2. A verse form composed of stanzas in which the
  3. second and fourth lines
  4. ….are repeated as the
  5. first and third lines of the following stanza.
  6. 10 lines and McQueen stretches the poem to 20 lines
  7. ….a pantoum!
  8. She repeats lines so subtly
  9. …that if you read it without a warning
  10. you would think it contains 20 separate lines of poetry!
  11. #BrainTeaser


  1. NOTE: the last line of a pantoum is the same as the first,
  2. making this a form of ouroboros type.
  3. The ouroboros a SYMBOL in the form of a snake
  4. …consuming its own tail.
  5. The poem ends where it begins
  6. ….a never-ending circle.
  7. How cool is that?
  8. #WhoSaidPoetryIsBoring


What is my favorite poem in the collection?

  1. It has to be a poem of friendship for 2nd Poet Laureate of
  2. New Zealand Hone Tuwhare. (1922-2008).

Poem: Letter to Hone 1

  1. I so impressed by the tenderness and
  2. affectionate words McQueen uses to celebrate this poet.
  3. I can only assume this is a tribute  to him just after his death.
  4. He passed away in 2008 and
  5. …this collection was published 2010.
  6. I don’t usually post the poems I read…but this one
  7. I must share:
  8. Note: Matua Tokotoko = Maori  carved walking stick
  9. …that is a symbol of great respect.


Letter to Hone 1

  • Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko
  • sacred in my awkward arms,
  • its cool black mockings
  • my shallow grasp


  • I was
  • utterly blown away.


  • I am sitting beside you at Kaka Point
  • in an armchair with chrome arm-rests
  • very close to the stove.


  • You smile at me,
  • look back at the flames,
  • add a couple of logs,
  • take my hand in your bronze one,
  • doze awhile;


  • Open your bright dark eyes,
  • give precise instructions as to the location of
  • the whisky bottle
  • on the kitchen shelf, and of two glasses.


  • I bring them like a lamb.
  • You pour a might dram.



Last Poem: Your Eyes

  1. Of course…no mistake
  2. Hoen T. was McQueen’s  soul mate.
  3. Trivia: Yvonne mentioned in the last line
  4. is the NZ writer Yvonne du Fresne (1929-2011)


Last thoughts:

  1. Unlike poems by
  2. Jericho Brown (USA, raw, gritty)
  3. Gerard Fanning (IRELAND, nostalgic, playful)
  4. Therese Lloyd (NZ, heartbreak, visiting Ed Hopper’s paintings)
  5. Cilla McQueen’s poems were exhausting!
  6. I mean this in a good way…she makes me think.
  7. Her best poems are about her grief losing Hone Tuwhare.
  8. Also best  poems include the ones in which
  9. …McQueen shows us what is like at…
  10. the  end of the world in  New Zealand her hometown
  11. Bluff in Southland is the country’s most southerly tip,
  12. Subjects: weather, animals, whaling, oystering, shipwrecks, the sea.
  13. She has a sharp eye for particularly New Zealand detail.
  14. “my Tolotoko(Poem: About the Fog)
  15. A tokotoko is a traditional Māori carved ceremonial walking stick.
  16. ..a symbol of authority and status for the speaker holding it.
  17. bronze totara” (Poem: Crazy Horse)tree in New Zealand
  18. “In a kowhai two bellbird sing…” (Poem: In Hand) –
  19. small tree and  bird  prevalent to New Zealand (greenish colors)
  20. McQueen’s most  difficult poems are based on
  21. …Scottish myth, legend and history.
  22. It requires more research to understand
  23. …just a few snapshots in the poems.



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