Monday, 1 August 2022

Given Words from Honduras 2022

Our director Charles Olsen has been invited, together with Colombian poet Lilián Pallares, to teach poetry with the Our Little Roses Poetry Fellowship in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, later this year, so we asked the girls from the Our Little Roses orphanage to choose their favourite words. They have sent us their words with artworks and their reasons for choosing each word.

We invite you to write a poem which includes the five words and send it to us before midnight on 26 August, National Poetry Day. Please see the full rules below.

We will award prizes for the Best Poem and the Best Poem by Under-16s. The winners will receive books courtesy of The Cuba Press (see below).

And the five words are…

(If for some reason you cannot see or hear the words in
the video you will find them at the bottom of this post.)

The rules:

– The theme is up to you.
– The poem must include the five words.
– The words can be in any order.
– You may change the tense of verbs and change nouns between plural and singular. (For example help can be a noun or a verb, and can change to helps, helped or helping, but not the adjective helpful. And the adjective thankful cannot be changed to the adverb thankfully.)
– Maximum length 200 words.
– Entry is free and open to all NZ citizens and residents.
– Only one poem per person.
Poems by under-16s must also include the age of the poet. We would prefer parents or teachers to send the poem on the child's behalf.
– FOR TEACHERS: You are very welcome to get your classes to participate, but please help us out by only sending in a selection of up to 10 of the best poems from your students. We have prepared a lesson plan for teachers.
– Participation means you allow us to reproduce your poem on Given Words.
– The deadline for entry is midnight on 26 August 2022.

Submit your poem by email including your full name and town of residence to:

To receive updates about the competition please subscribe to our newsletter here. We only send emails related with this competition and you can easily opt out at any time.

Winning poems will be selected by Charles Olsen, Mikaela Nyman and Sophia Wilson.

Mikaela Nyman is a writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction in English and Swedish. Born in the Finnish Åland Islands, she now lives in New Zealand. Four years in Vanuatu, a sister’s death and a cyclone (TC Pam in 2015) changed her life. Her PhD research focused on creative writing, rhetorical alliance and ni-Vanuatu women’s voices. Her first novel Sado (2020) is set in Vanuatu. Her first poetry collection, När vändkrets läggs mot vändkrets (2019) was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize 2020. It connects the islands of her heart: the Åland Islands, Vanuatu and New Zealand. Together with Rebecca Tobo Olul-Hossen she is a co-editor for Sista Stanap Strong: A Vanuatu Women’s Anthology (2021) to commemorate Vanuatu’s 40th independence anniversary.

Sophia Wilson is originally from Australia, and is now based near Ōtepoti Dunedin where she runs a small organic farm and animal refuge with her Asian-born partner and three daughters. Her poems have appeared in a variety of literary journals and anthologies and been recognised in awards including the Kathleen Grattan Prize, the Robert Burns Poetry Competition, the Hippocrates Prize and the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize. Her small fictions have placed in National Flash Fiction Day competitions and been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and the Pushcart Prize. Sophia Wilson's website.

Charles Olsen (Nelson, 1969) is an artist, poet and filmmaker based in Spain. His third poetry collection in Spanish and English, La rebeldía del sol ('Rebellious Sun') has just been published in the Antonio Machado collection of Olifante Ediciones de Poesía, in Zaragoza, Spain. Read more on Read NZ Te Pou Muramura Writers Page.

About the prizes

The winner of Best Poem will receive the poetry collections Five O'Clock Shadows by Richard Langston, Body Politic by Mary Cresswell, Michael I Thought You Were Dead by Michael Fitzsimons and Shelter by Kirsten Le Harivel, courtesy of The Cuba Press

The winner of Best Poem by Under-16s will receive the book Spark Hunter by Sonya Wilson, which is a finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children this year and is published in the Ahoy! imprint of The Cuba Press

(The five words are: help, different, warrior, thankful and dream.)

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Given Words from Honduras, 2022

Watch this space for the next edition of Given Words — this year the words have been chosen by girls at the Our Little Roses orphanage in Honduras — for Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day in New Zealand 2022. On 1 August we will publish here their five words which you have to weave into a poem and send to us by the end of National Poetry Day 26 August.

We will be awarding a prize for the Best Poem and a prize for the Best Poem by Under-16s. The winners will receive prizes courtesy of The Cuba Press. In addition the winning poems will be translated into Spanish and published on the Spanish version of the project Palabras Prestadas.

If you want to be the first to know what we are doing please subscribe to our newsletter here. We only send emails related with this competition and you can easily opt out at any time.

You can also follow us on Instagram @givenwords

For further enquiries you can contact us at

In the meantime you can enjoy the poems from last year in the previous posts.

Friday, 17 September 2021

Noho Mai – Given Poems 2021

Ngā mihi ki a koutou for sending your poems with the five words from the poetry film NOHO MAI. We received 177 poems and have chosen 45 to publish here on Given Words. The winning poems have been selected by Mikaela Nyman, Michael Todd and Charles Olsen, while Peta-Maria Tunui provided advice on poems in te reo Māori, and we’d like to open with Peta-Maria’s reflections on the use of te reo in many of the entries:

‘In poetry we experiment with words, sounds, double meanings. We take a turn of phrase and embed meaning that can be felt beyond the ability to express it in words, just as a second language gifts the ability to express concepts and depths that don’t exist in the first. How powerful then, to use these two tools in cohesion to explore depth and meaning. Learning a second language, especially one that has been traumatically removed from your whakapapa by colonisation is hard. Playing with and enjoying language is an important part of the learning, development and healing journey. The inclusion of te reo across the entries reflected a growing confidence to engage with te reo in new ways and spaces. It was particularly encouraging to receive a number of entries completely written in te reo. I hope this experience inspires writers to continue to explore the intersection between their poetic expression and te reo Māori.

‘I have heard mātauranga Māori described as the ability to look to the taiao (natural world) to recognise the signs, patterns and to understand the lessons and guidance to be received in our own contexts. There were beautiful examples of this woven through the entries, reflecting on parallels drawn from the wind, the night and the black-backed gull — both literal and metaphorical. There were many facets of reflection on the presence and connection to our ancestors, a concept which is front of mind in indigenous oratory, art and expression. These kupu opened up space to explore the layers contained within them and each entry brought fullness to this exploration by approaching from a new perspective, demonstrating the way in which mātauranga is a collective act.’

Charles comments on behalf of the judges: Poems go beyond words, they connect places, ideas, impressions, traces of time and memory. Was it the film NOHO MAI that inspired the many references to the sea, or was it the black-backed gull/karoro? Has the pandemic brought thoughts of the fragility of life, or was it the words tūpuna/ancestor, hau/breath, or even pō/dusk? There were also light-hearted moments: kite-flying in Wellington, gulls pinching fish and chips, a poetry rendition in a Fifth Form English class. As always, it is a pleasure and privilege to compare notes and read the insights of the other judges, who this year are Mikaela Nyman and Michael Todd. I recommend reading our selection of poems first and then coming back here afterwards to compare notes!

Beginning with the under-16s, perhaps the most original karoro was a drawing in A Bridge of Smoke, a poem that traverses themes of culture, ethnicity and belonging, and opens with an evocative image as ‘my Năinai [Chinese for grandmother] burns red envelopes brimming with paper money’. Another evocative opening is that of The Hush, ‘They decided to harvest the light/Picked it through the ceilings/Of mouldy tents/And washed their faces in stars’. We are left wondering where the poem was set; are we in Aotearoa during land wars, or with refugees in a war-torn country? And are the ‘screams’ from soldiers or planes, or are they of gulls punctuating the hush? Both breath, ‘valued/More than any gold’ and the black-backed gulls that ‘mimic the planes’, were creative uses of these words. Mikaela commented, ‘this poem both moves and troubles me. The poet has managed to bring in an outside world and, in doing so, enlarged the world of the poem too.’ We could also mention the opening of The Wings of Dusk where ‘The karoro wheels high above the harbour/the cloak of dusk tied to its feet/slowly dragging the stars into the sky./It soars on the hau of our ancestors.’ Or the way the five words interlaced with such a personal poem as October, where the karoro marks a moment in time and the confusion, the things left unsaid, regrets and compassion, have the feel of a secret whispered into the air. In the end it was Eventide which caught our imaginations, although we all had different readings of the first lines, Michael describing how the ‘familiar image of a moth throwing itself at a porch light is made new through an almost baroque elevation (alabaster and indigo making me think of fine palaces and lavish clothes)’, while I associated ‘alabaster moths’ with the idea of white tombstones, and a dying breath as they ‘flutter on indigo shadows of dusk’. We were impressed by the physicality: ‘I press my toes into the cold sand’ and the ‘inbreath and outbreath of the sea’, which Mikaela pointed out is mimicked in the jagged line-lengths of the poem itself. These make the later ‘breaths drowned in risen tides’ all the more visceral. Sea ripples through the poem, from the title, Eventide, through ‘moored’ or ‘spills’, and even the ‘tips of white against the black’ contains a visual analogy with waves. It could be read as a Covid-19 death but equally, it could be from another time; in my case the death of a grandparent from emphysema years ago, far away on the opposite side of the world. The closing simile of the karoro contrasts beautifully with the delicate moths of the opening line.

Turning to the poems from adults, the pandemic is also present in Contact Tracing, a powerful short poem that traces the feeling of isolation, and Mikaela highlighted the original use of the given words in ‘Dusk holds winter coast/Ancestors have nothing to say/Your troubles aren’t theirs’ and the opening ‘breath of the ocean’. The wonderfully titled in the sky burns a garden/ahi invites us in to a personal history with the conversational ‘Really the loss began…’ which has a strange ring to it because, as Michael says, ‘the family history mapping is all about unions, about coming together rather than losing.’ It is a beautiful and honest picture of a koro by their mokopuna, acknowledging the ruptures in the family, ‘An ache in every chop of the axe./In every cry karoro trail through a breaking sky, grief.’ Nevertheless, the unseen presence of ngā tūpuna runs through the poem in ‘Yet there’s fire. Ahi.’ or ‘Pō. Dusk. An ashen sky/raises unseen stars.’ A sense of alienation is also the subject of Fold with ‘My roots don’t feel like roots at all/but barbs in a feather’, and we can feel this search for belonging as we travel from ‘an origami bird’ to ‘the Karoro’ to the ‘ancient Pouākai’. One poem that stood out for us was Hiki te hoe. As Mikaela said, ‘Fabulous rhythm and sound with the repetition of the paddling of the canoe, you want to chant it out loud. It feels like you are literally in “The pull/The row/The drag/The flow”’. Michael commented ‘I was so immersed in the experience of this meditative poem that I barely registered the use of the five words — it felt natural.’ It has a beautiful sense of homecoming and connection with the three hearts: ‘my puku-heart’, ‘head-heart’, and ‘heart-heart’. The poem we were finally drawn to was After visiting the IC ward. As Mikaela said ‘It has grown on me and stayed with me. It is much more subtle than the title implies, leaving space for interpretation. It is a philosophical and meditative poem, yet at the same time grounded in specific detail (“your bed occupying/a place between dark and light”, “pin feathers of an albatross wing/tipped slightly”)’. The poem is also full of sea birds, tern, black-backed gulls, albatross, and references to the sea. I read the final part ‘flying in the mind’ as an internal dream where the albatross represents the impossible journey of the spirit (‘infinite nautical miles’) while the ‘driftwood’ is carried home by the waves to a place of belonging. The idea of being ‘between two worlds’ runs throughout the poem and despite this, there remains hope with the ‘flicker of light’ and ‘another chance to keep going’.

We are delighted to announce the winning poets. The winner of Best Poem is Pat White for his poem After visiting the IC ward, and the winner of the Under-16 category is Savarna Yang for her poem Eventide. We would also like to award a Special Mention to Aine Whelan-Kopa for her poem Hiki te hoe. They will receive books courtesy of Mākaro Press and The Cuba Press. Congratulations to all three from Given Words, Mākaro Press and The Cuba Press.

Below are the winning poems and the Special Mention poem. We also invite you to read our selection of the rest of the poems from adults here and from under-16s here. All entries had to include the following five words in either te reo Māori or English, or a mixture of the two: pō/dusk, hau/breath, tūpuna/ancestors, hiki/raise, and karoro/black-backed gull.

After visiting the IC ward

You might think at dusk
that a black-backed gull, and the terns
would be flying for the rookery.
The fishing folk with an empty basket
might trudge homeward, instead of
standing longer on those moving dunes
dividing shore between offshore tūpuna
and inland ancestors, here sea birds
just like words tie the waves’ surge
to lives between two worlds.

Another chance to keep going as if
every breath matters, coming to
rattling rest, as waves do over shell
and pebbles shifting over and over
the planet’s body, one grain of sand
at a time. Your bed occupying
a place between light and dark
the soul poised to raise a voice
in praise of one more day
giving thanks, flying in the mind
to where uplift drafts will raise
pin feathers of an albatross wing
tipped slightly to infinite nautical miles
over the breaker’s lip, reflecting
water movement into light carrying
driftwood to be dragged home.
for burning like the flicker of
life burning in your chest.

Pat White


alabaster moths flutter
on indigo shadows of dusk
I press my toes into cold sand,
listen to the inbreath and outbreath of sea
and I remember my tupuna tāne,
how he died moored to a ventilator,
breaths drowned in risen tides
far from his whānau

the moon spills silver over ocean ripples
I raise my face to the sky
through a blur of tears
the first stars form an outline of wings,
tips of white against the black
I imagine my tupuna
flies free as a karoro

Savarna Yang, aged 13
Otepoti, Dunedin

Hiki te hoe

I got goosebumps today
When Tāwhiri breathed
And I heard the words
When I opened my heart
To tūpuna
They whispered
Hoea te waka
Hoea te waka
Hoea te waka
Like a chorus
And on the beat
It hurt like hope
But felt like home
I’m sorry I ever told them to go
Hoea te waka
Their words sing on
In my puku-heart
As wiriwiri
In my head-heart
Sways the pūriri
In my heart-heart
There's aroha
And that's everything
It pumps my veins
Out of and into
The pull
The row
The drag
The flow
Hiki te hoe
Hoea te waka
I’m moving on
Out of te pō
Cool waters misty
Like a lake before dawn
Hoea te waka
To where karoro flies
Hoea te waka
To where the green flash glows
Hoea te waka
To where the four winds blow
Ngā hau
Hoea te waka
Along the long awa
Guided by whispers
And one hundred tuna
Black and blue
Hoea te waka
By starlight
To sunlight
With Hine ā Maru
And you

Aine Whelan-Kopa
Tāmaki Makaurau

About the Poets

Pat White lives just out of Fairlie in the South Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand. There he works as a writer and painter, with his wife Catherine, a musician and painter. He has published a number of volumes of prose and poetry since the 1970s, including; How the Land Lies, (VUP 2010) prose memoir essays, Watching for the wingbeat; new and selected poems (Cold Hub Press 2018). He was editor of Rejoice Instead: Collected poems of Peter Hooper (Cold Hub Press, 2021).
His entry in Given Words honours the experience of a son who was in an Intensive Care Ward four years ago. Such events hone our appreciation of every breath, and the need of each of us to give thanks for the miracle of ordinariness that is daily life.
‘This afternoon the sun is shining, soon it will be time for a glass of red wine while sitting looking at the mountains to the west. Who knows a poem may be gifted on a gust of wind … if we sit quietly enough?’

Savarna Yang is thirteen years old, home-schools, and lives near Ōtepoti, Dunedin. You can often find her spinning and weaving wool from her pet sheep or baking mountains of cookies (especially over lockdown). She plays football for her local team but unfortunately they have lost every single game this season… She loves writing short stories and reviews.
Of the inspiration for her poem she says, ‘My grandparents live overseas, in Australia and China. I haven't seen them for a long time and maybe I won't get to see them again. In Aotearoa, we had an elderly friend nearby we loved like a grandparent. They died in hospital during lockdown when we could not visit to say goodbye.’

Aine Whelan-Kopa lives in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and grew up in very small rural, coastal towns in the Hokianga and Taranaki. She is of Ngāti Hine, Te Hikutu o Hokianga, Ngāpuhi and Irish descent. Being bi-racial has been challenging and impactful, writing and art are ways for Aine to express herself and explore her identity. The mix of te reo Maori and English in her poetry is a natural extension of the way she talks.
Aine is a student majoring in psychology and aims to use art therapy to help children affected by trauma. Whānau, whenua, atua and taiao are the cornerstones of her connection to Te Ao. Hiki Te Hoe was written as a note to self that in order to get to where you want to go you need to pick up the paddle and start to row.
Aine loves running and chocolate equally, because life is about balance.

Continue reading our selection of poems from adults here and from under-16s here.