Imaginative Possessions: Tusiata Avia, Fiona Farrell, and Other New Zealand Poets in JAAM

st pauls and earthquake

While browsing through the bins at The Paper Nautilus, came across an unfamiliar publication: JAAM, which stands for Just Another Art Movement, an annual journal of writing published in Wellington, NZ. This particular issue – #29, published in 2011 shortly after the devastating earthquakes in New Zealand, includes pieces that reflect the upheavals, and suggest a form of recourse: as guest editor Anne Kennedy writes, “…we need imaginative possessions and imaginative action….We in the Pacific may find these indestructible goods and deeds necessary to place ourselves.”

And isn’t that a purpose of art, to place ourselves in some constellation of meaning and sense? So while our physical spaces may be vulnerable –“ the house on the sand” – the poet fixes a place for it in our memory, even if it is not our own particular memory, but a shared sensibility conveyed by the artist’s words.


St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Island Church

-Tusiata Avia

No Evidence

Of the backs of women’s heads piled high with loops of hair

White hats pierced through like the side of Christ

No evidence

Of the train of ministers lining up all the way around the block

to their multi-storied home in the sky

No evidence

Of the baptisms, weddings and funerals of everyone we know

Of the gauzy clouds of White Sunday

Children hurtling out of the sky like hailstones

Shouting the words of the saints over and over

No evidence

Of the tiny pockets of air inside the mouths of women

The clicking of gum and the echoing of it up into the vaulted ceilings

Up into the ears of God

No evidence

Of the sopranto, alto, bass

Of the men in their suit jackets and skirts

Bent and shuffling over the raspberry blood in sweet little glasses

Passing us, down through the 70s

Where they flapped to Englebert and Tom In the church hall

No evidence

Of Yellow Ree-vah, Yellow Ree-vah

You’re in my mind and in my soul

No evidence

Of their straight backs in the 50s, their sharp suits

The brylcreemed profiles handsome as movie extras

Returning us to Paradise.


We all snake forward into the tangled steel spaghetti

The spliced Corinthian columns

The disappeared gothic dome

The foolish man who built his house on the sand.

We all fade into the archaeology

Of an ancient and invisible people

The Samoans, cook Islanders, Niueans, Tokelauans

And Tongans of Cashel St and Madras.



Quake poem 5

The tarp

-Fiona Farrell


Our roof is broken.

Tiles cracked. The

chimney shattered.

The light gets in,

slivers of air slicing

to soft pink heart.


Our roof is broken.

When the rain falls it

will scribble decay on

the ceiling. We will lie

in our white bed and

read above our heads

the end of things.


Our roof is broken.

We should cover it with

plastic, tie the tarp tight

at each corner so that

when the wind blows

it will not lift the lid

beneath which we lie

in our white bed, two

bare bald crinkled things.


We will look up as the roof

lifts. The air will come in,

tickling our stuff with

speculative fingers, rain

will fall on our bare faces.


But we are too timid for

the tarp. The ladder sways.

There is so far to fall.

We might never stop.


Then Hayden comes in

his new truck. He runs

up the rungs, walks on

broken tile. He ties the

tarp while we stand

below, looking up:

bare, bald, crinkled.


And that night we lie

in our white bed as

rain falls.








on Hayden’s new tarpaulin.


Other selections in JAAM 29 include Lynn Jenner’s Four Russian Pieces

“For the borscht you will need six boats of garlic, a plastic container of sour cream contaminated with heavy metals, a long slow river, two big breasted grandmothers, four scavenging bears, one mass grave, one mother, two diamonds, two litres of unskimmed chicken stock, three big potatoes, five hundred grams of cabbage and three beetroots. This will be enough to give six people two servings. It is the Russian custom to fill up your guests to the top.”

Paula Green’s picaresque poem Day, imagining Jane Frame* and Frank Sargeson* “in a dinghy on Lake Pupuke/in the middle of the night under a milky moon…..To be awake when everyone else is sleeping/puts the world in sharp focus/even in the dark on the lolloping waves.”

Murray Edmond’s lyrical Clown on Skates “life lived until your holes were full of shoes/five dollar wallet worn out with singing”

And Erin Scudder’s dreamy California Quintet – The Idea of California:

“Hockney painted/the idea of water./His blue waves/reach me/all the way/from L.A…..Do not say/I do not know it./I know it/Like you know the moon.”

JAAM includes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and artwork, and can be found here.

Cover image for JAAM 29 by Jocelyn Carlin.

Janet Frame is a writer you should get to know, if you haven’t already. Among other works, she wrote  The Rainbirds, Faces in the Water, and An Angel at My Table (made into a film by Jane Campion).

Frank Sargeson was the pen name of Norris Frank Davey. He is considered one of New Zealand’s foremost short story writers.




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