Harry Leslie Smith 1923-2018. RIP.


Harry RAF.jpg



Harry Leslie Smith

was a secular saint

defended the poor

when the rich were robbers

selling off the state

to the highest bidder



Harry Leslie Smith

knew war and hunger

loved his enemy

marrying a German

falling in love

in the ashes of Hamburg


Harry and Friede



Harry Leslie Smith

when Friede died

grieving and needing

a reason to live again

picked up his pen



and declared once more

war on the enemies

of common humanity

Thatchers and Pinochets

apostles of the market



Harry Leslie Smith

showed how it’s done

the world is a finer place

Harry now you’re gone



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The Wahine storm 1968…


The ferry Wahine, listing heavily amongst fog in Wellington Harbour, 10 April 1968.

Image: The Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.



six poems celebrating the end of the mechanical and the dawn of the virtual





I was born the day

New Zealand was

but in England. It was

a terrible winter, but soon,






The ex-Royal Navy frigates

named after Scottish lochs

bought in 1948

we translated into

Tutira, Rotoiti, Hawea.

My father sailed for the new

world in 1949, leaving

us behind to follow. His ship

made land at Crete en route

to mihi to the dead.




Later in the New Zealand Railways

we returned to the nineteenth

century: Ngahere, old Westland, timber

laden mill lokies creaking to the railway

yards. There was no television

but imaginary worlds.





Memoir has a bunch of

issues: you half forget what

you’re making up. Coronation

Street in black and white with

static. Mum was back in a kind

of Liverpool but really it was

1968 and the Wahine Storm






Yes, that storm. I was there and remember

it from the television: black hulk, black night.

Later, in Australia, ploughing way

out in the sticks on nightshift, men

were walking on the moon. They

had computers. We did not know

about computers, kangaroos ghosting

through the tractor headlights.





Lived through three kinds of

centuries: cell phone, laptop, online families. Came

all this way from anchor chains to

Facebook. Tomorrow will shimmer

like a line gone missing.




Jeffrey Paparoa Holman   2003-2017.


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2014-12-14 11.23.00 HDR




those he did not kill

he maimed

those he did not maim

he thwarted

those he did not thwart

he tortured

those he did not torture


those he did not poison


those he did not break

he quartered

those he did not quarter


those he did not vanish



flames of fury

burning angels

lakes of blood

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on the day

2016-02-19 16.17.24

on the day

on the day of my death

I will be

eating eggs and banana

stroking my parrot

drawing her profile

sculpturing gratitude

yes I will still be threading

my grandmother’s needles

and laughing all the way

to the holiness bank

to withdraw my life

to close all accounts

to vanish quite suddenly

quoting Vallejo

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Bob’s not my uncle…


Bob Jones says he was kidding…

So, is he really kidding here?

“As there are no full-blooded Maori’s in existence it indisputably follows that had it not of been for migrants, mainly Brits, not a single Maori today, including Professor Temaru, would have existed. So excluding individuals who might be miserably suicidal, and instead like 99.999% of us actually like being alive, its long overdue for some appreciation.”

Namely, if it hadn’t been for non-Māori ancestors, Māori wouldn’t be here today? That is, Māori needed to be colonized? This is satire? The tūpuna of Māori today needed the British to come along and save them? That’s what he’s saying. And by the way, he can’t even be bothered to get Professor Pou Temara’s name right.

How about this, for example: transfer his thinking to the genocide of multiple Native American peoples and you have, “If it hadn’t been for us colonists, not a single Indian, (including e.g, Professor Craig Womack, Emory College), would have existed”.

That’s a piss take? Underneath the attempt at humour – if that’s what it is – we have the same tired old racist stereotypes. The petition may have no effect, as some are claiming, but I respect the Renae Maihi who started it. She let it be known many of us don’t like this demeaning approach to our brothers and sisters, our fellow citizens, our neighbours; if we’re going to have knighthoods, let have some knightly behaviour, as befits  the honour.


And by the way, the over-reaction of a lawsuit sends a message that has a chilling effect: “I’m rich and powerful and opinionated, I can say what I like, but if you disagree, I’ll see you in court and shut you down”. Whatever happened to speaking the truth to power?



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Opening the Tinderbox

2018-02-05 14.23.58

Super Bowl LII vs Megan Dunn’s Tinderbox. No contest.

Right now a bunch of superbly muscled oafs are waiting at half time somewhere in Minneapolis to get on with the game that is more Stop-Go than the roadworks up at Kaikōura. Me, I’m sitting here writing an appreciation of an obscure memoir they will never hear of, probably. Almost definitely. Obscure to them, of course, not to me. It’s 22-12 right now to the Eagles, who I somehow hope will kick Patriot ass (US spelling), but really, I don’t care. If I remember on the way, I’ll update the score, or as the witty author of the book I’m going to rabbit on about might write, “The timer went off”.

Yes, it’s about writing to order by word count and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Borders Bookstores and City Lit Adult Ed (both London) and the University of East Anglia Creative Writing Programme (Norwich) and eventually, the IIML in Wellington, c2013 (previously on Lost, The Manhire School). Yes, and Harry Ricketts – a genius tutor – and finally, some proofreading needed. That’s what Kim Hill said too. But then again, who cares? The Press which I read everyday for The Little Things strip and the death notices has a very laissez faire attitude to the way letters come together and separate these days, so I guess it’s in the water.

It’s still 22-12 to the Eagles in Minnesota. One thing I really loved about this brilliant memoir – which, it seems, rose like a memoir out of the ashes of a failed novel strangled at birth by the copyright powers of I believe, Bradbury’s family (I refuse to use the Phoenix metaphor, as I don’t believe Megan Dunn would approve) – is the way she slips from scene to scene, changing the narrative from gritty winter commuter life in London’s streets and tubes, to disquisitions of Truffaut’s failed film of the Bradbury book and something approaching hero worship of his coiffed leading lady, Julie Christie.

And the sharp, droll way she can send up film and LitCrit while at the same time showing you she’s well read, as well as hopeful:  “Insdorf pronounced the film Truffaut’s passionate homage to literature, to the written word. Ditto. My homage to Fahrenheit 451 was going to be a searing feminist rewrite of Bradbury’s classic, like Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, only blonder”. Knowing what Jean Rhys rewrote is helpful here, but my attention was on the flip blonde joke; the book is full of seriously funny send-ups in which the writer does not take herself so seriously, that she ends up making another misery memoir out of her OE adventures in love, bookselling and writing classes.

One reason I liked it so much was that it covered ground I’ve been tramping over myself for the past eighteen months in a memoir of my own, and if that’s tad narcissistic for a piece of literary criticism, well let me tell you, (1) this is fan mail here, not the LRB or the NYRB, or even the Pantograph Punch (which can do just that) and, (2) lots of reviews are deeply self-involved and self-promoting, so let’s be real here. Eagles 29, Patriots 19.

It’s just such a great read, I want to share my happiness: the fact that I worked in Waterstones, did courses at City Lit in London and came home in 1997 from ten years in the UK, six on the front line in Charing Cross Road, to wind up doing a creative writing course in poetry here at Canterbury, is icing on my cake, that’s all. You might have none of that to add to the mix as a reader, but it doesn’t matter, when the writing is so funny, and bold and precise, in capturing the human heart at work and play, trying to set free what this creative human being really wants to do with her life (writing), while distracted by the terrible need to pay bills, and cruelly, having to do that by selling the work of other writers (a realization finally drove me out of the Big W ranch, and back home for a late run at the line).

So I guess this is three cheers for Tinderbox, and a thank you to the author for writing so well about what this journey means; an encouragement to listen to what our dreams are saying, and crack the odd good joke along the way when you tell your story (Spoiler Alert: fans of Jodi Picoult might get pissed off with some sections). Anyone who has had to dress up to flog stuff off (booksellers, Harry Potter launches); any poet who has looked for their book, any book of verse in Whitcoulls, poor fools (“The poetry section in Wellington was skimpier than a g-string”); any writer or other creative soul who sees their years of effort turn to sand and trickle away can still take heart from this writer’s courage and chutzpah – when the rubber meets the road and what confronts one is a huge STOP sign.

“I filed the hard copy of the letter from the (Bradbury) estate in my underwear drawer where it remains with pairs of nylon pants that no longer fit”. Snap! She bests here old Kipling’s “triumph and disaster” image from “If”, with lingerie  and a touch of carpe diem. My next rejection letter is going in the drawer with my 1995 Bob Dylan T-shirt (ok, I gave it away long ago, but if I still had it, it wouldn’t fit me, either). Eagles 32, Patriots 32. Sic transit gloria mundi. Somethings are funnier than Super Bowls. This book is way out in front.

Well, the Eagles won. Tom Brady fumbled at the death. Let’s see if he can get up again and make something good out of it all, like Megan Dunn did when her F451 crashed and burned. 41-33, if you care.

2018-02-02 21.59.54

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A time to share, a time to care…

Back in July, I wrote this letter to The Press, which they printed. It seems to me that it is exactly what I want to say again today, so here goes. I hold in my heart today that Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters and James Shaw can begin the weighty task of leading us out of Rogernomic’s dark heart into a compassionate light. They have promised to make a start and we will support them – and hold them to it. Kia kaha, kia ū, kia manawanui!


“Peter Townsend’s article (26 July) on proposals for a living wage is an apologia for employers and by implication, the failed neoliberal experiment forced on New Zealand workers from the 1980s onward.


Talk of growth tied to improved productivity is hollow, seen in the light of deregulation, the destruction of trade unions, individualised contracts and swingeing 1990 benefit cuts that together, shrank the buying power of ordinary New Zealanders, damaging the local manufacturers and retailers he claims to represent.


Recent research has shown up the claim that increased productivity necessarily lifts wages. According to the Oxford University political scientist R. W. Johnson, from 1948 to 1973 American productivity rose by 97 percent and real wages by 91 percent.


Yet in the neoliberal era from 1973 to 2015, productivity went up 73 percent, real wages only 11 per cent, made manifest in this country by the obscene growth of inequality, housing unaffordability and homelessness. Ideology drove down wages even as productivity rose.


We need a living wage but even more we need the state back in finance, utilities, regulatory responsibility and massive investment in the public weal, running intelligent deficits to make this country the home of a fair go for all.


Do we need another disaster like the earthquakes to remind us that government borrowing and investment is a perennial need in a just society? It is the state’s role to ensure that its citizens are cared for, that we may enjoy equal access to all public goods. If this includes a living wage, an acceptable standard of living for all, then let’s have more of that and less of laissez faire, naked in tooth and claw.”


And now, here are some of the key policy objectives reported in The Press today:

  • ban overseas speculators from buying existing residential properties
  • stop the sell-off of state houses
  • increase the minimum wage
  • set a target to reduce child poverty
  • resume contributions to the NZ Super Fund
  • tertiary education charges and loans
  • Families Package – support replacing tax cuts to the better-off
  • let’s have a strong environmental clean up too, while we’re at it

If this programme is implemented, I believe we can hold our heads up again on the world stage, unlike today, when Taika Waititi gets accused of treason for pointing out the blindingly obvious: we’re going downhill and need to back up. Let’s do it!

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