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Interview with Liberty Beck

By | Interview | No Comments

Poem about a family past wins National Schools Poetry Award

Liberty Beck, student at Takapuna Grammar, is the 2023 winner of the National Schools Poetry Award. Liberty won the award with her poem X-MANGOES-X-SNAKES-X-RED PAPER BOATS-X.

X-MANGOES-X-SNAKES-X-RED PAPER BOATS-X is a poem I’ve been writing for a while now, and it’s a story I’ll be writing for a long time” Liberty says. “Writing this was, in some ways, a meditation—a means of trying to listen to fragments of the stories of my family through others who share and sing it.”

The National Schools Poetry Award is run by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) with funding from Creative New Zealand, and sponsorship and promotional support from Wonderlab.

“I am still in disbelief and still registering it,” Liberty says of her win. “Sharing writing is often so vulnerable and special.”

As the winner of the National Schools Poetry Award, Liberty received a $500 cash prize, a $500 book grant for her school library, a year’s membership of the Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, a year’s membership of the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA), and a year’s subscription to leading New Zealand literary journal Landfall.

Along with the other finalists, Liberty will also attend a one-day poetry masterclass at the IIML led by poets Leah Dodd and Morgan Bach.

Liberty started writing poetry as a way of creating art for and listening to herself.

“Writing allows me to ask personal questions while letting the ambiguity of such questions exist without an answer,” she says. “It has also become something of a record of stories that would otherwise disappear; writing poetry (and any form of writing) can become a kind of revolt against forgetting.

“I love how freeing poetry can be—it gives you leeway to be as blunt or enigmatic as you want. I never have to try to force a story into a form that is dishonest to how it wants to be told.”

She says her ultimate dream is to keep on writing, and to keep her writing and her poetry as something that serves her and others—whatever that might look like. She would also love to create a collection of different writing mediums in book form one day.

“I know the process of writing doesn’t always look and feel so idyllic, but I have also always loved the idea of writing away in a Ghibli-esque cottage.”

In the immediate future, Liberty also plans to study Literary and Creative Communication, one of the subjects offered as part of the University’s Bachelor of Communication.

“I’ll be moving away from home, which is a bit nerve-wracking—but I’m really excited.”

Liberty has some advice for fellow aspiring poets.

“As long as we write with sincerity—however that looks like for us—someone in the world will be able to resonate with our writing. Above all, honouring the way we want to tell stories is the best way we can listen and become an audience to ourselves (this is me giving a pep talk to myself too).

“Also, try collecting things that resonate with you in some way. Making playlists, collages, or keeping a box of loose ephemera and scribblings help me when I am reaching for something to write about. And keep all your drafts—they are still very much alive.”

X-MANGOES-X-SNAKES-X-RED PAPER BOATS-X will be published in the Spinoff Books section on 25 August 2023 at 2 pm



Transparent eyeball – Natalya Newman

By | 2022 runner up | No Comments

Transparent eyeball

It is easy to pretend to be everything.

A mother picks up a stack of bricks to mend her wall,
a child runs through sprinklers,

a bird flies too high and breaks its wing,
blood and feathers and hollow bones.
The heart of a hummingbird
locked in a box.

Did you hear?
The hummingbird has the biggest heart.
2.5% of its weight.
Surely a human heart is similar?
Google and the growing number of tabs
suggest otherwise.
Weird that a hummingbird
has a bigger capacity to love,
but not weird at the same time.
Humans are assholes.

A tree falls and keeps growing.
A house crumbles under the weight of thunder.
A secret longs to be held,
and your eyes roll over themselves
like plastic in a child’s ball pit.

Life is the shadow of death
that can only be seen in starlight,
and when Joy sleeps,
it dreams of Despair.

A shopping cart is exposed at low tide,
rusting and lonely with its two back wheels
reaching for the sky.
It was submerged when I last walked past.
Sunlight dancing across dull metal
and making it look like something magical
rather than something forgotten.
I took a picture.

Sometimes I just want to be held
like a lover on the battlefield.
A sword through my chest and
my blood spilling over the floor
and her
like cheap wine.
It would be nice to be
held with no consequences,
with no second guesses about tomorrow
because there are none left.

Truth deceives us more often than death.
Has the grim reaper ever lied to you?
Or Hades, with his helm of shadows?
Instead fear Aletheia, for the truth
lies in her hands.

I think the shadow behind me is growing.

You are transparent.
Or translucent?
No matter,
for you are not here
and you are not you
and I am an afterthought.

Seeing all and being nothing.


Natalya Newman
Year 13
Huanui College



South – Caitlin Jenkins

By | 2021 award winner | 11 Comments


our streets grow tread marks in the pattern of tapa cloth,
the men in blue roam them recreating
Da Vinci —
bronze skin mona lisa.
who knew your last supper would be a $2.50 Big Ben pie and a bottle of stars—
will we ever breathe the same freedom
as our brothers north and west?
cause oceania’s waves feel a little too familiar in the backseat
gps broken cause somehow it only circles round these streets—
you are but a direction on auckland’s map,
folded tightly into the plastic corners of
red and blue led lights,
police siren jams but not the jawsh 685 type
… forever branded as the bottom
the south of new zealand…
but it’s okay,
we’ll tau’olunga on their disrespect
wake them up at dawn with our cheehoos
breathe a brown colour palette back into their colourless minds
love us enough to not need it from anyone else
grow with each other
be strong with each other
block out their white noise with white noise
fill the cracks of Aotearoa’s pavements with more reasons to love south…
and put us back on the map…
unfold us out of the plastic corners of red and blue led lights
help reverse the damage of our roots with the healing of our new generations
cause leaves still bloom even more beautiful after the fall
for when our streets grow tread marks
we’ll repaint them with coconut oil and fala paongo,
when the world wants our faces to kiss the concrete
we’ll still be safe in the arms of papatuanuku
cause when things go south—
we’ll deal with them like south—
with the love our roots nourish us in….
bronze skin mona lisa,
who knew your last supper would be a feast of the colonised minds…
undo the bleaching of your brown colour palette
refill them with all shades of you
cause no direction will define where we’re really from,

Caitlin Jenkins
Year 13
Papatoetoe High School


Some Of All The Parts – Ella Paterson

By | 2021 runner up | No Comments

Some of all the parts

Tuinga te Ururua…
burn off the undergrowth

15 March

You lied to me about hate
I was told guns belonged in action movies
for Batman to chase away the bad guy
My TV lied to me today

———————————————It’s a gun it’s a gun it’s a gun
————————————————–he’s got a bloody gun, get down

His hate is here
staining the silver screen
fanning out the blood of the fifty-one
on New Zealand’s darkest day.
His hate is here
in the hollow faces and hospital beds
in a facebook livestream
in the middle of a Friday prayer
tapu to the fifty-one

They are us
the fifty-one

They are us
flowers swathed in cellophane
handwritten notes upon the damp ground
desperate whispers upon a throng of white crosses
They are us
Welcome brother

They are us

Peace be unto you

9 December

You lied to me about greed
I thought being greedy meant
taking too many cookies from the jar
My newsfeed lied to me today

—————————————-It’s level 1
———————————————It’s level 2
————————————————–4…… run

Upon a craggy crater
ignored by a bunch of businessmen
blinded by dollar signs
the plume was grey and thick
A boat of tourists put
upon a craggy crater
forty-seven shiny faces arrived
twenty-two didn’t come back
swaddled in a coffin of pumice
and powdered ash

All for the benefit of
a fistful of pennies
All for the benefit of
a fully lined pocket
All for the benefit
of 13 people
who valued their bank account
more than the pulse of twenty-two hearts.


You lied to me about racism
I was taught that New Zealand
‘wasn’t racist’
My instagram feed lied to me today
Racism is here
in the curve of a sunrise
in the shadows of a doorframe
in the howl of a dog

—————————————-Where’s your passport
———————————————Where’s your passport
————————————————–Where’s your fucking passport?

The humiliating mantra shot
through the doors of the panthers
on not one morning
not two mornings
not for a whole month of mornings
but for years and years of mournings

Forgive us
for the way we turned your mornings
into a callous hourglass
which forced you to count down the hours of the moon
Forgive us
for the work that tore apart your flesh
and your family
Forgive us
for the shame you felt
Dragging your patterned tapa cloths
in the wake of a bleeding sun
Forgive us
for making your home a cage
with shackles designed from ignorance

But maybe most of all

forgive us

for the way we stripped away your mana
and hid unashamed in broad daylight
when we so carelessly
stole away yours.

…Kia tipu whakaritorito te tipu a te harakeke
so that the new flax shoots may grow


Ella Paterson
Year 12
Tauranga Girls’ College



Today My Sister – Penelope Scarborough

By | 2021 runner up | No Comments

Today My Sister

Today I poured water onto my plate at dinner,
in hopes my sister would notice
stuck a fork in my hand
and made a drawing for her
out of the soggy bread pieces.

Tonight my sister dropped her cigarettes under the dining table
before our dog wedged them under the rug.
She held me by my throat until I admitted to being a thief,
left bruises where there had been kisses
then dumped the remnants in a flowerpot
and left my tears swimming in the dirt.

Today I looked at my sister’s pack just a little too long,
graphic photos of murdered lungs
sobbing behind bars of bones, imprisoned in plastic packaging.
Knew tonight I’d have nightmares of them
taking shelter inside my sister’s ribcage.
Knew tomorrow she’d happily make a bed for them to stay.

Today I watched my sister stir her cereal almost reluctantly,
eyeing the clorox bottles on the shelf.
Two litres of death measured out in a plastic pot.
Knew she wished it wasn’t milk
she’d poured into her bowl at breakfast.

Tonight I watched my sister exhale a ghost from her mouth
but it wasn’t quite cold enough outside.
It filled the room and wrapped around me in a solemn hug
as if to whisper
“We’re sorry for what’s coming.”

Today I would grow quietly
so as not to disturb her,
muscles aching from neglect,
and miss another birthday
for a rehab visit
only to realise I’d turned 17
before I was 13.

Today I’d wear my sister’s sweater,
stained with smoke and regrets.
soiled with a permanent nihilism.
Ignore how immune it was
to the fruitless attempts of our laundry powder.

Tonight I’d sob on the wooden floor
that we found her on.
The floor that felt no empathy for me or for her.
Let the moon press its face up against the window
and stare down on me with pity.

But tomorrow,
I’d spit our memories into the bathroom sink.
Bittersweet saliva dripping from my mouth and hands
Watch those days slip through the cracks in the porcelain
before clawing to get them back,
so I could press them between the pages of a book
and stomach one more mouthful

And on her last day
I’d fill my sister’s room with smoke
Inhale deeply and close my eyes,
taste her laugh on my tongue,
how it lingered raw in the air
Hear the sound of her eyes
blinking quiet tears in the dark.

And though I didn’t believe in ghosts,
I knew she’d find a way to haunt me somehow.
Though the smoke slowed my heart
It wrapped around me
in a solemn hug
As if to say,
“we’re sorry.”
It wasn’t quite enough to pretend it was her.



Penelope Scarborough
Year 13
Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu



Bus Stop Morning – Janet Guo

By | 2021 runner up | 2 Comments

Bus Stop Morning

we jump to shake off the frost
defying our bags of gravity, textbooks and overdue ass-ignments
you ask how many hours i got last night
i sheepishly hold up a hand
you go in for the high five until realisation hits you
and you return with a thwack on my head
my huffs are stifled in the puff of exhaust
fumes that trail behind the screeching bus
it doesn’t ever seem to notice us until it’s too late

we waste all the time we will ever need
and you wage war upon our unbeatable enemies
of Work, demanding our meagre offering of sleep
of Time, pushing us into the gaping mouth of society
of Age, swarming us with impending responsibility
“work is for the weak
we have time on the bus
just catch up on your sleep”

shuffle on the bus, wear our mask, bag our seats
i fit into your neck like lock and key
your hair my makeshift curtain
that strokes my eyelids shut
and the
lull of the bus
rocks me back to a carefree past
when the future was
than    Credits    Applications    University

—————————————–   zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz –

you never knew what to do on the mechanical commute
eyes boring out the window, sitting in the music video that you’ve played a thousand times
the beeeep-shudder-jolt of every stop pacing the tempo
synced along to the freshest earworm living in your head
you watch the footpath roll past us like cassette tapes
layered people, gliding backwards, puffing frozen clouds
the weight of my head on your shoulder, anchoring you in
this moment
one less of what we’ll have left
no more than what we’d ever ask for

the Clock ticks past 8:45, every second herding more students into their classes
the Shepherd will beat us with yardsticks made of detentions for our tardiness, but
you press the button for every stop anyway.


Janet Guo
Year 12
Hillcrest High School



Laughing – Holly Willis

By | 2021 runner up | One Comment


I’m checking 
Proof reading as I write 
You can catch it if you look close enough 
I mouth my sentence after I have said it 
Nervous tick mmm 
Retracing my steps in the sand 
Inspecting how deep I sink 
Where my weight is

I speak low and monotone 
you make me self-conscious 
I don’t lift my legs enough when I walk 
it’s more like a shuffle across the carpet

Mmm I say 
I laugh too loud 
It’s trying to make people relax I think 
(it doesn’t)

Don’t worry about me, look I’m laughing 
I texted the helpline last night 
I’m pretty sure my mother doesn’t find me interesting
I’m really really scared of not being interesting

I think that I’ve been neglected my whole life 
and I can’t tell you that without laughing

You’re interesting 
she says 
you are mysterious

Riddles are only interesting until they are known

You won’t like what you find 
You dig deeper and deeper 
No water just pebbles and rocks

The stubborn ground you stab your shovel into 
The way your shoulder hurts when you lift it above your head

I hate my room and everything it stands for 
When it’s messy I cannot go in there 
I can’t look you in the eye 
There’s something on my face 
Do not say it 
I’m laughing but 
you’re all not laughing but
I’m wringing my hands

looking out the window
patting my hips 

hiding my face 
making little sounds 

don’t worry about me 

I laugh it off


Holly Willis
Year 13
Wellington Girls’ College


Dirge – Jackson McCarthy

By | 2021 runner up | One Comment


For Ngaire McCarthy

Nandos, like the chicken restaurant, is what I called my nana
Who stood at Poppa’s grave next to me but turned to the side
Looking so staunch and serious, chin and neck and moko kauae
Like a cardboard cutout against the tense blue sky
The universe wrapped its arms around her
Whispering in her ear, telling her secrets
She knew everything before we did
Like at that moment she saw
The next few months of her life laid out before her
Saw doorways and hospital beds
And knew that when all was said and done
We’d be back at work chopping beans and baking pastries
This is how we honour our dead
We do not mention flesh; no pink, no grey
But turn toward the stars as if she’ll be rocketed up there amongst them
Kia ora, somehow crying sounds like laughing
Kia ora, somehow I am singing before there are words
Into the skies
Of Matariki.


Jackson McCarthy
Year 12
St Peter’s College



Cultural Tripartite – Angelina Zhou Narayan

By | 2021 runner up | No Comments

Cultural Tripartite


Lining up for the Japanese curry, I look around
See how I’m shrouded by flowing hanfu, proud patterned layers of the hanbok
Picking out a loose wire from the kameez I bought in a Fijian department store a few years back
The royal blue is restricting, the flash intertwining gold pressing against my chest
The stares are what a hen painted into a peacock gets
The compliments are what you give a pretty ornament from the souvenir store.
I’m often told I don’t look Indian
When I get home, I claw my way out of the gauzy layers
They cling to my skin, then my culture is once again
Folded neat, stashed compact in the same bag the cashier gave me.


Saying grace, anticipating the kai
I look, and the sense of belonging isn’t there
But trays of tuna swim in coconut milk, an entire pig rests upon crumpled foil
Mountains of bread slathered in butter
I gravitate towards the scent of curry, roti
Politely decline the sapasui
I cling to my Chinese mother to fend off the foreign feeling
What’s an Asian woman doing at a Pasifika event?
Then they look to my iTaukei dad, and we’re no longer outsiders.


Stilted greetings, switching tongues
Wishing I could interpret their lilting vowels, the steady-stream-flow of syllables
They switch the setting when their eyes see me, they ask
Do you eat chicken feet?
When I come to dim sum, I don’t order fried rice
That shows how cultured I am
They say I’m pretty for a mixed-blood
Can you speak Mandarin?
Not really, but I can say what fried rice is.


Angelina Zhou Narayan
Year 13
Burnside High School