Essential New Zealand Poems and doggerel


Essential New Zealand Poems and doggerel

Essential New Zealand Poems book cover

I had the interesting honour recently of speaking to a group of writers completing a memoir course. It was a thrill for me to be invited and in particular, because they had been given my recent Landfall essay ‘Who is Left’ to read and compare with an article by Rosemary McLeod, one of my absolute favourite journalists.

My essay is a personal interrogation of my motivation for not just attending, but actually liking Anzac Day commemorations. Rosemary McLeod had written about stolen war medals and her distaste for the proposed new and very large local war memorial in the old Buckle Street Museum building.

I did not disagree with Rosemary’s piece. I rarely do. She usually nails it for me. I react privately to something in the news and then find that Rosemary can articulate it eloquently and intelligently and I mostly find myself nodding in agreement. I remember returning from my ‘OE’ in the mid seventies and opening up the Listener to read Rosemary McLeod – it was the first time I had read such smart, funny and insightful local journalism. I became a fan and have remained one.

So, there I was on a wet Saturday, talking to other aspiring writers about my journey as a writer, feeling somewhat amazed (flattered) that these students had read both my essay and Rosemary’s article. I’ve been one of those students many times in my journey as a writer. We hope that by listening to others we will unlock a secret door to our own creativity – a short-cut even, or a road-map.

And so, I told the students about what I now call my epiphany. That I was driven to writing passionate rhyming verse about my teenagers, one with dreadlocks and the other a green Mohawk. The epiphany came as I stood in a local mall with both lads and a letter from the local high school principal demanding that the green Mohawk be modified. We found some hair dye and he went from an emerald-green to Gothic black but I must say green suited him a lot better. Out of this, came the doggerel. And out of that, I gained a place on one of the first under-graduate poetry writing courses (now de rigueur) up at Victoria University in the late 1990’s – one of the 12 disciples with Greg O’Brien (not the Last Supper, but my first).

I had no idea that my rhyming verse, was in fact, doggerel. I had no idea what doggerel was, as I’d not heard the word before. I grew up with my mother reciting lines from ‘The Sentimental Bloke’ by C.J. Dennis, and we always called it poetry. So, here I was in Greg’s class with real poets (people who’d actually been published), and my own rather amateurish doggerel, as I discovered. But too, it can’t have been all bad, as there must have been an essence of something for the university to have taken the chance on me and invited me on to the course.

How proud am I, a decade or so later that one of the poems that I started to write during that course, is included in the newly published anthology ‘Essential New Zealand Poems – facing the empty page’… to be between the superb suede-like orange-flavoured covers with so many poets that I admire – too many to mention, many of them now friends.

9 thoughts on “Essential New Zealand Poems and doggerel

    • Thank you, Mary. I went to the readings last evening up at Vic Books and it was a lovely moment looking back at where this creative journey began in the old Von Zedlitz building across the road – and too, catching up with Greg O’Brien who did a reading. Lucky poem to be in two anthologies and I’m very proud of the work we did together on the Eastbourne anthology. I quite like the sub-title – Facing the Empty Page even more than Essential Poems – it’s pretty much what we do all the time eh?


  1. Just absolutely wonderful to see your poem in this very impressive collection, Maggie! I am in no way surprised and I only wish I had been in the memoir class audience listening to you talking about your Landfall essay 🙂 Big congrats once again!!


  2. Peter Farrell

    First of all Maggie, congratulations on your recent achievements. I constantly use you as an example of what can be achieved by talent, hard work and sheer bloody minded persistence! Your thoughtful Landfall piece is an interesting and persuasive take on the meaning of ANZAC to New Zealanders. As an immigrant, I have struggled to understand quite why we are so enthralled with the First World War. Your writing and a recent visit to Le Quesnoy in France have helped me understand that better. Rosemary McLeod’s piece also brings some balance to the subject. I hope your essay gets a wider readership particularly during the next twelve months when we are likely to see a surfeit of jingoism in this country.


    • Thank you so much Peter for stopping by to comment. I really appreciate your comments. I’m just reading Margaret MacMillan’s ‘The War that ended Peace’ on my Kindle (book club read) and so far, fascinating. A few men who made such disastrous decisions for all the wrong reasons… And of course, right now such precarious times and you have to hope that sanity will prevail.


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