Friday 8 September 2023

Given Poems 2023 – Winning Poems

Last year I was invited to share one of my poems on Un poema cada semana (A poem a week) by the philosophy teacher Antonio Martín who encourages his students to think critically about, and find inspiration in, poetry. He also shares my interest in poetry film and was keen to collaborate so we set up a project for students at López de Arenas Secondary School, Marchena, Seville, Spain, to make ‘word films’. From these, I chose the five words for this year’s competition: broken, reflection, disappear, path and paint.

In the class plan for teachers this year I included an invitation for students to make ‘word films’, and as well as receiving a record 220 poems I have received a wonderful collection of ‘word films’ from pupils at Te Parito Kōwhai Russley School in Christchurch. They had a lot of fun making them and were also excited about the poems they wrote travelling all the way to Spain! There is still plenty of time (until the end of November 2023) to send in your word films, which could be chosen for next year’s Given Words. With the ubiquity of mobile phones and free video-editing apps, it is easy to make word films, and maybe we´ll inspire young poets to start turning their poems into poetry films as well… For details of how to participate see: EXTRA ACTIVITY — ‘WORD FILMS’

And for those of you interested in how poetry and film can work together, the inaugural Aotearoa Poetry Film Festival will take place on 2–3 November in Wellington and showcase the diversity of poetry film produced both in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas. I feel very lucky to have been invited to participate on the festival jury, so hopefully I'll see you there!

Returning to your poems, we have enjoyed reading all 220 of them and have chosen 49 to publish here on Given Words. The winning poems have been selected by Mikaela Nyman, Sophia Wilson and myself, Charles Olsen. (You can read about us here.)

Charles comments on behalf of the judges: It always surprises me how the poems we receive are so varied. Art and artists, sparrows, funerals, illness, inner searching, memories of Granada and Mediterranean skies, family history, neighbours, play… The same five words appear in all of them, but seem chosen for each poem.

I’m very grateful to Mikaela Nyman and Sophia Wilson for their reflections and insights into each poem. I will highlight below some of our reactions to the poems, but you might like to scroll down first to the winning poems and read the poems from adults here and by under-16s here before returning to compare notes.

Beginning with the adults category I particularly enjoyed the poem On Sparrows, which takes a drab everyday bird and through comparisons with desolate imagery subtly turns them into beings of inner beauty as ‘they swirl like litter in the streets’. Mikaela noted how it ‘captures our cityscapes, full of concrete and imported grey birds with fabulous lines like “the grey concrete notes of a brutalist birdsong”’.

Salisbury Park also caught our attention. Mikaela describes it as ‘a tight poem packed with emotion about the death of an innocent baby, hinting at potential foul play and letting the socioeconomic divide seep in. There seem to be gang members in this gathering that stands “grief-knotted on the path”’.

Nana’s Garden intrigued me. I love how four of the five words are strung together with ‘plashets on the path, paint broken reflections’. The description of the ‘turtle woman’, ‘her lacquered back’ and the ‘shattered shell’ provide clues but in the end we don’t know who the ‘shattered shell’ belonged to, the poet/grandchild, the mother, or Nana herself? The story seems a simple one about Nana’s garden but it leaves a sense of tragedy with feet on different paths but also reflects on the special relationship that can grow between grandparents and grandchildren.

The Asylum for Lost Words opens with great lines that took me into a child’s way of looking. The poet/parent ‘assemble[s] salads from sticks’ and reflects on ‘unravelled childhood memories’. It takes us inside the playfulness and fantasy of childhood and on into a place where ‘borrowed memories slide in through cracks’ and objects detach from their names and break into separate consonants. Is this a sideways look at childhood and the way we build language through play and fantasy, building and discarding as we go? Or is it a darker reflection on the memories that carry into our adult lives? Sophia described it as ‘a thoughtful poem about the interrelationship between language, memory and identity’.

When we read the Under-16s poems we know how old each writer is, but with the adults poems we don’t, so it is often a nice surprise to find younger writers stand out in the adults category, like the writer of The Search who is 17. Mikaela said ‘I love the sense of mystery this poem evokes and the slant rhymes. Clearly, it’s not merely the pet lambs that are missing.’ Sophia describes how ‘the narrative shifts back and forth between the poet’s microcosm of grief and the unfathomable breadth of space in which they grasp impossibly for what is lost’.

We were all captivated by My Mother, Deciduous. It is full of magical metaphor. Sophia described it as ‘a beautifully written poem, in which “the sun  that warmed” and “the moon that / painted possums in...branches” give way to a “slab slate sky” and “broken memories / [that] clutter downpipes and gutters”. Encroaching cold and shortening days convey a world closing down. The final line of the poem suggests sudden and unpredictable loss and is particularly moving.’

And finally we settled on the poem transmutations. Sophia described it as ‘a compelling poem in which the poet engages with narcissus who is both a “fantasy” and as real as their own “stranded self”. The poem’s landscape is one of “bloated secrets of corvine consequence” and birds who consult among “glyphs of pines” and a body that grows “spurs / & a ring of teeth like a lamprey” The title and the deftness with which the poem shapeshifts in imagery and form perfectly reflects the narrative of broken and rippling transformation’. Mikaela commented ‘the poem sits beautifully on the page. The city is brought to life as a character in its own right, wet and with a lap full of stagnant water, “swallowing itself—deep throating its darker desires”’, and she also highlighted the examination ‘of the poet’s broken self as he/she “skulks through the undergrowth” and grows “a ring of teeth like a lamprey”’. The striking images are accompanied by a lovely feeling for sound and rhythm, which move side to side like ‘the agitation of water’ or waft in ‘a twist of white smoke’.

Turning to the poems by under-16s, the mathematical poem Non-Euclidean Geometry caught our attention with its playful use of the words. Sophia commented ‘This poem immediately caught my attention with its clever use of ABC, its play on mathematical concepts and its multilayered meaning. It had a mathematical sparseness that was both clean and effective. An excellent and original effort’.

I particularly liked the simplicity of Broken Reflections and how it creates a beautiful image with its original way of looking and listening ‘the sound of the waves/as they calmly crawl up the sand’, how the sun becomes ‘a broken reflection/in the endless sea’ and the final path is one of the most original, the ‘orange beams’ … ‘a path to nowhere.’

The young writer (aged 9) of Snow was one of the few to use words in te reo Māori. Mikaela highlighted poetic lines of this 'beautifully crafted' poem such as ‘Snow paints the mountain/the colour of kōtuku’. Also by a young writer (aged 7), Dear Grandma is wonderfully constructed around the five words and has a particularly moving message.

With the word reflection many poets took the mirror’s reflection as their theme. One that stood out for its originality was A Shadow Is Not A Reflection. ‘An insightful poem that speaks through metaphors of mirrors, reflections and boundaries,’ says Sophia, ‘“Gentle blush” on one side of a wall contrasts with “painted blood” on the other, highlighting the discrepancy between the poet’s internal world and external appearances’.

We enjoy poems that create a scene and tell a story. Sparks Fly is very visual in its description of a ‘lonely town’. Mikaela highlights how the poem ‘evokes a mood of gloom and doom. This really is a godforsaken town where “flames lick at the peeling paint of the worn houses,/eating the rotting wood like a hungry animal”. It’s eerie, no one seems to live there, only a poor dog is left behind’.

It is also fun reading poems that take us to far away places. Sophia commented on Dear Traveler ‘I really enjoyed the confident liveliness of this poem that imaginatively transports the reader on a journey. There is a wistful poignancy in the final line “I always wanted to see the world”’.

In the end we chose the poem The Broken School. It is concise and has fun with the words, with each idea underlined by the use of rhyming couplets. Mikaela comments on this ‘gutsy sociopolitical commentary on the New Zealand education system. A scathing view from the inside by a student who’s unafraid and unapologetic, even though they still have many years to go before they’re allowed to exit the system’. She highlighted its ‘assured voice and delivery’ adding, ‘I can’t wait to see where this writer will go next’. The underlying humour of the poem forms a nice contrast with the darkness of the theme and the final stanza underscores the poet's dark vision of the broken school.

We are very grateful to all who participated, ngā mihi ki a koutou. We love taking time with each poem and feel privileged you have shared your poems with us. As Sophia says, 'there were so many terrific entries this year—poems that prompted tears, laughter or thrilled with their freshness and roar.' Especially in the under-16s category, we try find a balance between the ages (from 5 to 15 this year!) and although your poem may not have been selected this year we encourage you to keep writing and having fun with words!

We are delighted to announce the winning poets. The winner of Best Poem is Elliot Harley McKenzie for their poem transmutations and the winner of Best Poem by Under-16s is Boh Harris for his poem The Broken School. This edition we would also like to award a Special Mention to Tim Saunders for his poem My Mother, Deciduous. The winners receive books courtesy of The Cuba Press and Massey University Press. Congratulations to all on behalf of Given Words, The Cuba Press and Massey University Press.

Below are the winning poems and Special Mention. 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: broken, reflection, disappear, path, and paint.


narcissus, would you lie with me
hold my hand in yours, unknotting
your animal posturing—

you’re a fantasy with sickle-shaped locks
the lover’s softness discomposed
by sorrow

with bloated secrets of corvine consequence
birds consult among the glyphs of pines
while i contemplate the woodstack & skulk through the undergrowth

phlegmatic temperaments turn savagely to choleric
i shuck my body, grow spurs
& a ring of teeth like a lamprey

narcissus, the city is swallowing itself—deep throating
its darker desires, the soft lap of stagnant water rustles
in the overhanging branches

the plane’s thundering path
houses a wet paint smudge
on the hillside

my signal flickers
a cold block of shadow
a glimmer sliding through, soon to disappear

the room rocks in a vibrant cascade
crashing towards a pounding future
the agitation of water—a body of stretched new snow

the predictability of ritual, proliferate cheek to cheek
a new world of desire germinating
until it roots so concrete

a fertile silence
narcissus gazes at their own broken
& rippling reflection

a stranded self wafts up in a twist of white smoke
its plaintive self-interest so blatant
beneath the lights.

Elliot Harley McKenzie
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

The Broken School

At lunch not a word is allowed to be spoken.
I think our whole school system is broken.

There are no mirrors to see our reflections.
So it's hard to fix our imperfections.

Every day a teacher disappears.
Is it from theft or out of despair?

There’s not enough money for paper or paths.
Nobody smiles and nobody laughs.

You won't see a wall that's not chipped.
Even the paint is trashed and ripped.

Every day I endure this stuff,
yet my parents don’t think I've had enough.

Boh Harris, aged 12
Ōtautahi Christchurch

My Mother, Deciduous

My mother, deciduous,
tries to recall the breeze
she never saw,
the sun that warmed her,
and the moon that
painted possums in her branches.

She clasps sunlight
and the long-abandoned nests
of birds in fingers
exposed to elements,
naked to the touch,
while wild reflections of us
speckle the path below her
in patches
gently rustling.

She reaches bare hands
to a slab slate sky
like a stone angel
quietly beseeching eternity.
Broken memories scatter,
clutter downpipes and gutters,
reveal secrets and words unspoken.

My mother, deciduous.
As the days noticeably shorten
and become decidedly colder,
the possums disappear
without warning.

Tim Saunders
Palmerston North

About the Poets

Elliot Harley McKenzie (they/them) is a pākehā poet living in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. They have previously been published in Starling, Best New Zealand Poems, Tarot and Sweet Mammalian. Elliot enjoys listening to audiobooks, bouldering, ceramics and their job as a support worker for people with disabilities. Their poetry is inspired predominantly by love, heartbreak, queer identity, ecology and visual art. The poem transmutations looks back on a past relationship, exploring turbulent emotions and fragmented memories alongside the myth of Narcissus.

Hi, I’m Boh Harris. I am 12 years old and I've been at Write On School for Young Writers for nearly 2 years. My top two interests are creative writing and drama. When I grow up I would like to be an actor and an author. Poetry isn’t my forte but I am happy with the outcome of this poem and will continue to do more poems in the future because I thoroughly enjoyed writing this piece.

Tim Saunders farms sheep and beef in the Manawatu. He has had poetry and short stories published in Turbine|Kapohau, takahē, Landfall, Poetry NZ Yearbook, Headland, Flash Frontier, Broadsheet, Best Small Fictions, RNZ and he also won the 2018 Mindfood Magazine Short Story Competition. Tim placed third in the 2019 and 2020 National Flash Fiction Day Awards, and was shortlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. His first book, This Farming Life, was published by Allen & Unwin in August, 2020. His second book, Under a Big Sky, was published in August, 2022.

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

Given Poems – National Poetry Day – Adults 2023

Here is our selection of the entries for Best Poem for the Given Words competition for National Poetry Day. They all had to include the following five words: broken, reflection, disappear, path, and paint.

You can read the winning poem transmutations by Elliot Harley McKenzie and also My Mother, Deciduous by Tim Saunders, which received a Special Mention, along with the judge's comments here and the poems from the Under-16s category here.

❆ ❆ ❆

On Sparrows

listen for the sparrows
and the way they paint these walls
with the grey
concrete notes
of a brutalist birdsong
           sharp (around the edges)
seek enough and you might find
an echoed trace of beauty

I look among the sparrows
           into them, and
           inside their forms
a boundless universe disappears
in the layering of feathers
brown as the foot-trodden path in the grass
a subliminal reflection
           of our mass-production world
churned out, they swirl
like litter in the streets

on a grimy bench in Queenstown
           they & I
wait out the rain together
as all the passing silhouettes
           hurry, hurry on
but I have time
to consider the petitions
of the bright-eyed, fearless
souls that circle me
I toss their mass a broken crust of pie
           and watch them seize the manna.

Shaun Stockley
Palmerston North

❆ ❆ ❆

The Search

Pet lambs always disappear before they have to see us eat roast mutton
Small mercies you don't give me
Over your tracks you paint iridescent oranges purples pinks
Colours stolen from the James Webb telescope that we can't make out with the cones in our eyes

And they say you were taken
They say you ran away
They say pieces of you will wash in with the tide lobotomised and unrecognisable
Served with roast potatoes and mint sauce
And the police don't have a telescope at the first Lagrange point
They can't trace the path you went down
Just name the road you were last seen on and flash their search lights through the forest
Dredge the river

But there are broken fragments of solar systems left in your wake
The tilt on venus different where you knocked it with your muddied white nikes
I take down number plates in the park and question all the astronauts
"Do you know where the pet lambs went?"
Reaching into the pond I grasp at the space between reflections of stars
The night runs through my fingers

Emma Philips
Ararua, Northland

❆ ❆ ❆

Salisbury Park

The cavalcade roars past us as we stand,
grief-knotted on the path, cars red, black, paint
patched, passengers pale, stoic, chur, chur, chur bro,
heads jerk upwards, a reflection of solidarity
for a whanau broken by a baby’s death
and the horror of wailing sirens, a screaming mother
police officers asking questions
again and again,
demanding answers.

Today, after the funeral,
the tears, photos, poems, the karakia for the tiny baby,
for us, we step past the bulldogs, the thick-set men,
leather-clad, fists-balled, the women all in black,
and the Corrections officers,
to hug the bereaved, knowing we are all the same,
despite it all,

and together watch red and pink balloons disappear skywards.

Lynda Scott Araya
Kurow, North Otago

❆ ❆ ❆

The Asylum for Lost Words

Past the castle of nonsense dreams
In which I assemble salads from sticks
And my son keeps a grizzly bear on the back lawn
There is an asylum for lost words
And unravelled childhood memories

I follow the question marks
In fluorescent paint
Narrowed eyes and heads cocked to the side
Line the path
It’s not a safe part of town

The asylum has a day visit room
For borrowed memories
They slide in through cracks and disappear
Then condense into my schema
Escaping back into reality

There is a locked ward full of objects detached
From the syllables of their names
Each image’s reflection multiplies
And links to erroneous consonants
At least these ones know they’re broken

Meg Norris
Palmerston North

❆ ❆ ❆


My face’s reflection has
skipped across like a
smooth stone, to fully
arc over your retina,

filling out like a
sail under way, captained
by the luminous surface
of your eye. I

will disappear with every
eclipse, every blink and
turn away, our orbits’
intersecting path broken for

a time, and then
inspired photons will paint
me again, like Seurat,
with a Pointillism of

sparking light on the
canvas of your vision.
When you return, shining,
heavenly, that boisterous army

will rebuild that path
in waves of riotous colour,
a carnival of particles,
a quantum of love.

Chris Parsons
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Fifty Cents To Watch Me

I’m walking for feel-good on a Disney-blue morning
just broken in this new pair of Nikes when
there’s a boy swivel-dancing his bike at me

fifty cents to watch me ride over my brother

on the path there’s a ramp and a much smaller boy
Jason Momoa aged ten disappears
for One Blockbuster Mammoth Power-up

kid brother lies flat against the ramp’s riser
his committed bones are no reflection
on his level at Minecraft or music

they perform for me      it’s like hearing a weirdly
personalised mix list      or meeting Hawaiian nephews
for the first time      in butterfly breath I declare
my pepeha      swear to stand between my boys
and a balaclava bullet in the mall

swinging home, the cherry trees have gone berserk
tui fool about bonkers on the syrup
a picket fence in apricot paint wasn’t there before
and even a kingfisher

Anita Arlov
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

❆ ❆ ❆

Nana's Garden

We plant the seeds this deep
Nana says, plunging a forefinger into the soil
as a daytime moon waxes lyrical.

Nana's broad flat bare feet splash
plashets on the path, paint broken reflections of
this wise turtle woman.

Her lacquered back bends 'neath the weight
of stored tales, of warriors and tricksters, celestial navigators,
of my mother who disappeared into the mist.

A shattered shell left on a desolate beach.
Yet down on my knees in my grandmother's garden
—that's where I found my feet.

Joy Bell

❆ ❆ ❆

cognitive dissonance

plath’s mirror is broken;
i see a terrible fish rise towards me, yes,
but the reflection isn’t aged—it’s a skeleton, it’s
the outline of my bones
pressing through my flesh.

i disappear so easily, it takes
one misstep & I’ve vanished into the woods again,
far from the only path
& i can’t even allow myself the breadcrumbs to get back.
in this way, i become lost
over & over under sickening canopies.

i spread myself so thin in there
I’m transparent, I’m a crêpe of a person;
some chef’s skilled hand
paints me onto a hot pan—
& i slip past cooked to burning,
becoming unfit for my purposes.

i am impotent within
the mirror; the woods; the kitchen
with horrors so fully under my control
but out of my hands
& my mind, too, again.

Hebe Kearney (they/them)
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

❆ ❆ ❆

(NZ International Film Festival, 2023)

Anselm Kiefer was born in a bomb
shelter two weeks before the end
of WWII. Immediately, his mother

pressed plugs of softened wax
into her son’s newborn ears
to shield him from the enemy.

Above ground the broken
voices of another
unwinnable war.

At 78, an arc-welding wizard
unmasked against the fierce
toxicity of memory, Anselm

treads a tightrope between
burning straw and molten
lead. Paint pot, brush

or flaming torch in hand,
he cycles the twin hallways
of density and weightlessness.

His studio’s vast, a contained
yet infinite space, itself
a portrait of this man

in whom life’s disjunctions,
even when he does not speak,
are in perpetual conversation.

Trapped in the copper
lining of his eye, the reflection
of a winged palette, feathers

a-tremble; emblem of service,
held up to the sky. A smear
of colour threatens

to disappear down the jagged
path into a forest of birches,
a visitation of stiffened white

ballgowns stock-still and silent
among the trees. Glass shards
arrested in fabric folds

prevent them/prevent
us/prevent Anselm
from taking off across

the unscarred landscape
back to the bomb shelter
in Donaueschingen.

His mother’s lullaby above
the falling bombs a constant
that never leaves him.

Claire Beynon
Ōtepoti Dunedin

❆ ❆ ❆

in tempera

the ‘old master’
as they called him,
and called him too
‘more a ha’penny
maestro of the
pewter jug’,
pigment on his
cuffs, had tried
to paint ‘death’
in tempera,
a clear mismatch of
medium to base,
and in his haste
careless flecks of
broken egg-shell
stayed plied
upon the canvas,
cemented along
the brushstrokes
just as they were.
the ‘old master’
had painted ‘death’
much as the times
described him,
on horseback,
a skull set within
hood on sweep
of cloak, one bony
hand on scythe,
the other clutching
back the reins,
a figure in reflection
on a path rounding
like a sundial’s
shadow on the hours
those non-existent
eyes the clotted
dark into which
the age would
except that
figure of a
horseman at
our shoulder,
even in
our century
when we had
so much of
death to see,
this essential
form never
cut &
dried to
cut &

Peter Le Baige
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

❆ ❆ ❆

Night Visions

from my window I see spheres      alabaster white
spots of light that dance then disappear
& silhouettes in the underbrush
stealth below perigee moon’s slow rise
over the sharp harbour ridge

these trees I planted once for shelter
are bathed in an aura      painting memory & soul
the palette appropriated by night’s
monochromatic daub

I watch headlights glide down the street
strobe between limbs & leaves towards me
turn      & red taillights recede to distant dots
indecisive blooms in the dark’s pointillism

others streak past      broken beams writing
a litany of lines threading through tree trunks
their thick impasto canopy against sky
reaches for the huge moon moving

in the same direction settlers drove sheep
along a path through dunes around the coast
horseback      before cars & the road by my window
to the lighthouse streaming its code
littered reflections over the sea’s restless language
lunar magnetism drawing our tides

I can hear them coming      a dull rumble
in the deep dusk      sight of bleating clouds
& the sigh of history

Suzanne Herschell
Eastbourne, Lower Hutt

❆ ❆ ❆

A Total Lack of Armour

The poetry of
today was nothing short of
absolute engagement

The river of words
never broken, collecting
a panoply of reflections, if a total lack of armour

While many long disappeared
were remembered with tears
none failed to raise some take on a smile

There was dark chocolate
with sea salt
Retro tunes, bitter memories, sweet tea

Robert Plant was the Golden God
Alison Krauss his unlikely fiddler
The Devil sprawled on the couch in the lounge

Open graves
pumped randomly excellent tunes
that never go out of style

Why these things?
Why here?
Why now?

Stone upon stone was laid against the clock
A community of budding stonemasons
The urgently serious chatter of their varied chisels

Cartographers paint
connecting paths to ensure we will always
find a way back to remembering

all the words we know
To collecting every new
one we feel

I saw the fire flowing
in each pen stroke I witnessed

Bee Trudgeon

❆ ❆ ❆

when we were young

i used to dream of a return to Granada
of eating oranges for breakfast
letting the cool breeze in
through sheer curtains and cracked
windows offering
the reflection
of mountains and sea

we visited in the new year
during an unfathomably hot winter
the ice was disappearing
from Sierra Nevada
and locals shared their worries
about the changing climate

we followed the path of three kings
sucking candies
tossed for children
through the streets of a tiny village
nestled in the heart
of La Alpujarra

we bathed in the hot waters
of Santa Fé’s thermal spring
off the beaten dirt track
easing aches in communal healing
painting mud lines
down the length of my spine

when we returned to the valley
sunset broke brilliant red
across Mediterranean skies
we sat and sang laughing
around the cackling fire
as my mother’s guitar
spun stories through the night.

Jose Thomas
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

❆ ❆ ❆

Meet The Neighbours

Two roads diverge in a park.
For all the difference that it makes
I choose the path less trodden
Honestly expecting more
People. More people.

Welcome swallows dart round real quick
Like eager neighbours with muffins
And advice on when to put the bins out—
Not the night before unless you want
Your chardy bottles broken by hooligans.

The knees of the swamp cypress
Peek up along the bank of the stream
Like knobbly meercats. Imagine
Them with googly eyes! These rascals
Should be given their own instagram page.

Who says this neighbourhood is quiet?
Counting their reflections
Two posh swans with fluffy progeny
Make eight. A duck might introduce you
To an entire Anatidae community.

The trees have been here longest.
Wild, like you wouldn't believe!
Someone ought to paint them
Their zany twigs and miscreant leaves
Before they disappear. Now
There's a project for you.

Gillian Roach

❆ ❆ ❆


My grandfather does not speak of it;
he impiously pours pearl paint
over the Star of David he was born with.
The edges are broken now,
scarred over pink from
You can still see the intersecting triangular path
if you look very closely.
I don’t think my mother has one and
I’m too scared to ask:
Did it disappear on its own?
Did you burn it off in your 20s?
Did the mark of the beak
sink back into your flesh
when Grandad told you about Latvia?
Do I have one?

Is my Anglified reflection a result of the Reich?
Is this pearl paint splotch on my palm
the mark of a beak or a birthmark?
I polish it anyhow—
I will not carve it clean
like my mother.

Matilda Hinton
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Porcelain Ballerina

Emerald-green sea of stiffened tulle
swirling just below bended knee

sand-encrusted crescendo of waves cresting
foaming, moving gently toward the shoreline

twirling en pointe, porcelain ballerina dances passionately
upon the high-tide mark

her reflection momentarily suspended in time
upon the surface of an over-populated rockpool

long-lashed sea anenome close their eyes, and limpet mines cling
as Neptune lashes necklaced baubles over broken edges
of mother-of-pearl

we sit quietly among the sizzling banks of kikuyu
watching the sun paint orange across in the west, and day disappear

afterwards, we run along the well-worn path toward home in the darkening dusk

You carry our sandcastle’d buckets and spades.
I, my backpack; our ballerina doll tucked safely inside.

June Pitman-Hayes

❆ ❆ ❆

Dusk has the flavour

Today dusk has the flavour
of greasy grey mud
The calm is unsettling
on the harbour channel
where moored yachts align
with the outgoing tide
A kōtuku ngutupapa
feeds undisturbed
by sifting the shallows
in wide arcs

But for the path of a fishing boat
disappearing into the distance
there are no ripples
The broken piece of pottery I toss
fails to skip, instead
plops messily
leaving a sticky reflection
of clouds painted
in silvery cinereal shades

Piet Nieuwland

❆ ❆ ❆


Counted among the gods
his path disappeared at water's edge,
broken reflections ripple like old paint

David Griffin

❆ ❆ ❆

Lone child

All you have is your reflection
batting a ball against paint on the wall.
Your open palm makes up the game
to touch colours or lines—
points for no windows broken.
Your rhythm nestles
into the edge
of now and the future.

It is a path of all play today.


Katrina Ward
New Plymouth

❆ ❆ ❆

Hellscapes for the young

Suspended in darkness,
Before the wide screen gaming console,
He stares into encoded depth.
At his shoulder I stand and watch.
Into hellscapes for the young
We plunge.
Catacombs of perdition.
From their holes, bumbling demons
Scream from flayed mouths,
Jiving on broken paths of fire
To a squelching bump’n’grind soundtrack.
I look harder
Into malign reflection.
Over the border, smartphones livestreaming all.
Mud boiling through cities painted by pestilence.
Homes disappear, swallowed whole by the inferno.
On the flat lands, metal barbs flower on soft limbs.
Just beyond the curve of tomorrow,
You can hear them coming along—
Demons jogging over the bridge, making good time.
Keeping to schedule, on track!
On their way to the promised land, promised land.

Victor Billot
Ōtepoti Dunedin

❆ ❆ ❆

rainbow like the trout

tension tight
rod tip shakes
water splashes

the line breaks


look down
the reflection of loss
disappointment in the air

his biggest fish
back to the deeps

look up
the sky is painted
rainbow like the trout

back up the path
to drift back down again
like the rainbow trout

Tom Butterfield
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

The Itch

The journey back is the path I have not taken
            though I crave it

as if it were the one to cast an anchor
            to draw me in
as if it were the one to shift
            in ocean’s swell.

My struggle,
as one who had been grounded
            is sweet delay
growing, for I know what is to come.

Yet—it is in my upward glance
            that I see myself
painted on the underside of waves
            a reflection, offering truth.

I am afraid.

Am I more than what I was
            before being laid upon the ocean floor?
Is there enough of me to say
            that I have grown?

Or worse, am I beyond past’s reach
            a stranger with strange ways
an interloper
            who knows nothing of the sun?

So, I sit, spying through the broken light
            dining on moments I carried with me
rolling them over my tongue
            seeking flavour that has long since disappeared.

            Instead, is it the anchor I’m left to savour
and the itch that grows that I know I cannot scratch.

Craig McGeady
Ōtepoti Dunedin

❆ ❆ ❆

Something About the Light
There is another world and it is in this one.
—Paul Éluard

There is something about the light this winter.
It forges a tenuous substance to sustain us
somewhere between the living
                                                  and the dying,

somewhere between the haunted ring of broken bells,
the patina of weathered paint, the paucity of guides––
navigation without maps, a mystifying presence,
like one of those treated windows, a reflection
                                                  rather than a revelation.

Every evening, I track the moon. As each imperfect
sphere approaches and passes its fullness,
I walk to the beach, follow the path
of moonlight on water to the other world
                                                  before I disappear.

Philomena Johnson
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Given Poems – National Poetry Day 2023 – Under-16s

Here is our selection of the entries for Best Poem by Under-16s for the Given Words competition for National Poetry Day. They all had to include the following five words: broken, reflection, disappear, path, and paint.

You can read the winning poem The Broken School by Boh Harris along with the judge's comments here and the poems from the Adult's category here.

❆ ❆ ❆

Non-Euclidean Geometry


Let me paint a picture;
Where the shortest path
              A to B
                            Is not a straight line,
Where linear reflections
              Are not necessarily linear,
The edge of geometry,
              Where logic breaks;
Where common sense
              Is useless and alien;

Let me paint a picture;
Where an object can
              Disappear, and reappear
In somewhere new;
Where discontinuities
              Are continuous,
Where angles need not
              Sum rigidly;
              Where angles in triangles
              Need not sum 180;
But can be fluid;
A flowing river
              Of mathematical ideas.

Let me paint a picture;
Where two parallel lines
Where the cornerstones
Of geometry
Where nothing can ever be
              As it seems.
This picture
              Not rigid;
              Not fixed;
              Free to do whatever;

This picture,
It is
              And of course,

Luke Manson, aged 14
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆


Snow paints the mountain
the colour of kōtuku.
A forest grows
the cloak of Tāne.
A kea scales
high above the messenger
of the mountain.
A path disappears
into the reflection
of ice
A sky in the broken

Alfred Lash, aged 9
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

A Shadow Is Not A Reflection

Oh mystic mirror, who is fairer:
you; bathed in golden light,
or I, your twin, who lurks
in your darkness behind.

I watch as you dab gentle blush
across your alabaster cheeks
and I paint blood on mine
to copy your every move;

to try to even be half the person you are,
because I know that you,
the angel of that utopic reflection,
are good, while I am not.

Though one glass divide,
you squint at those flaws of mine
then you pull cloth over your eyes
and pretend I don’t exist.

Don’t you think that it would be better
for me to disappear? Of course you do.
It is better than broken boundaries,
better than shattered glass and of course:

The Truth: that you and I are one identity,
two sides of the same wall, and you
had simply gotten the better side,
and with that, my better side.

But I know that, with the truth, you do not agree,
I know that this is the path you chose,
and I do not hate you for wanting
to be our facade which others see.

Miranda Yuan, aged 13
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Broken Reflections

I sit and listen
to the sounds of the waves
as they calmly crawl up the sand
while I watch the sun disappear

a broken reflection
in the endless sea

the sunset paints
an autumn colour in the sky
orange beams shoot from above
creating a path
to nowhere.

Laylah Broughton, aged 12
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

My Sandcastle

On the side of my sandcastle
I place little pieces of broken seashells
as small as a newborn baby's palm.

The painted path is small chips
I stole from my sister's lunch.

On the top of my castle is
my mum’s small makeup mirror
in which I can see my dripping wet reflection.

But then in comes the mighty tide
causing my beautiful sandcastle
to disappear under the wild waves
never to be seen again

Soon after I can hear my mum ask,
'Have you seen my mirror?'

Emily Halliday, aged 12
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Sparks Fly

Sparks fly into the starlit sky,
casting an orange haze over the lonely town.
Flames lick at the peeling paint of the worn houses,
eating the rotting wood like a hungry animal.
A matted grey dog darts out of the smoke,
pausing to examine the danger before
it disappears behind one
of the few untouched houses.
The flames continue to swallow up buildings,
Devouring everything in its path.
The dog yelps as sparks fly towards it,
trying to get away from the amber glow.
It scrambles into a musty puddle,
gazing at the water as the reflection
of the flames grows bigger.
The wind howls,
throwing handfuls of orange flurries into the sky.
The dog bounds away,
leaving the broken town behind.

Amy Gilbert, aged 13
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Dear Traveler,
Please paint.
Paint me the world.
Paint the sky in Norway
and the snow globe of Iceland.
Paint the stars in Chile
and the circus tents of Mexico.
Paint Lake Matheson
I want to see your reflection among the stars.
Paint me comets and
paint me the path
of Parisian winds
paving avenues.
Paint the Inca Trail and
one day I’ll join you.
We’ll count mountaintops from the Lost City and
we’re going to swim
in a cenote.
Do you think of me?
I want you to paint Dubai.
You last wrote to me from India.
You said you might just
into the orange sunset
of their sky.
Paint me castles because
I hear
you’re in Bavaria now.
I hear you’re looking for
dusty windows and polished tales.
Paint them.
I don’t care if you aren’t an artist
or if you can only trace broken lines
under broken stars
and a broken sky.
Paint it for me.
I always wanted to see the world.

Brianna Searle, aged 15
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Rollicking Words

Writing makes
    A path
    broken mirrors
    mocking phones
    gruesome groans
    chirping birds
    whispering breeze
    swirling leaves
    roaring nights
    gruesome fights
    angry lights
    colourful paint
    buzzing bees.
    cool green trees
    evil stares
    raging thunder
    gnawing hunger
    sky-blue days
    beautiful names
    reflections smile
    you and me
    this and that
    yes and no
It never ever disappears.

Saoirse, aged 12

❆ ❆ ❆

Dear Grandma

It was sad when when we needed to leave your sight
and disappear from sri lanka

I look at my reflection
the spark in my hazel-brown eyes
and I think about you

Now I feel like the path to you
has broken

I really wish that you can stay in new zealand
forever and do fun stuff like painting

Tenushki Rangasinghe, aged 7
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆


I feel sorry for her,
her innocent smile
was disappearing,
her eyes
once lit up with happiness
are now filled with hollow
her perfect mask,
slowly breaking
and no one can blame her,
the golden path she painted
was crumbling,
taking everything she achieved
with it,
I feel sorry for you,
I say,
staring at my reflection
in the broken mirror.

Pranisha Chetri, aged 13
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Te Wheke Marae

Morning dew
Pīwakawaka leave
A path of feathers

Golden rays shine
The marae gleaming
Carefully engraved pāua

Shimmering fountain
reflections in the water
Paint the cover of the cascade

Levelled log
Broken bark
Beetle bungalow
delicious kai
Hunger disappears

Libby Foulds, aged 10
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Memories of the mirror

Broken glass on a tatty burgundy carpet
Forgotten in the attic’s corner
Winds a path over the ruined fabric
Mottled images merge and disappear
Painting a shattered, shapeless image
Sharp edges hidden by cold beauty
The golden frame grieves for the splintered glass
Remembering a small girl
Smiling into her reflection
Remembers being moved to the attic
The dusty air clouding its shiny surface
The crash as it shattered
The cat as it scampered away from the mess it made

Amelia Finlay-Smits, aged 12
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

My oasis

Standing on the path of Jasmine
The flowers flowing in the breeze
A warm flow through the canopy
The pinks are like paint
Splattered all around
Walking slowly down the path
To the clear crystal lake
Sitting down on an iron rock
Staring down at my reflection
Suddenly the stillness has broken
An old duck has landed on the lake
With an old broken wing
If you were there you would look at it
And worry
But when I look at something like that
It makes me calmer
As the duck swims around it fixes its wings
And flies away from the lake
It disappears
I walk away from
My oasis

Hannah Phillips, aged 11
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Something lingers

A broken legacy, memories flutter.
A whisper of what was and what was not.
In an old rotting house up on the hill of Anapai beach,
a reflection of mother, daughter and the ones before them.
A blank canvas paints a path to the past.
The old kāinga shimmers, silver and gold
as if bound by memories.
Some scurry, huddling close to the safety of the walls.
Some run across green fields, proud to be free.
For centuries the old house endures, forbid they disappear.
The call of tūī lost in the wind.

Zoey Skelton, aged 11
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

The Mirror

There was a magic path.
It was leading us to the mirror.
The mirror was broken.
The reflection disappeared.
We painted the wooden frame.

Manheer Singh, aged 5

❆ ❆ ❆

Hey Dad

Hey Dad,

Sometimes, I wish I had your skills:
being able to paint well;
walking straight tall and proud on the path;
able to make problems disappear;
and never breaking dreams.
I wish I was a reflection of you—
that would be awesome.

Jimmy Kitchingman, aged 13
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

The Daisy Will Grow Again

Sun falls
Ocean quiets
Sky darkens

A glimpse of sunlight
On the water
Reflects an image

The hair of the hill sways
Dancing on the path
Up, Up, Up

A silhouette
Walks with another
On dirty shoes

She slowly starts to fade
Once the sun has disappeared
'It’s time to go to bed'

He grasps on to her words
Looking at the empty space
Where she once was

She is gone
Gone with the sun
To reappear tomorrow

Now only
A distant memory
A song that plays

Feelings shattered
He tries to look for a reflection
In the stars

She is broken
Looks from a distance
But can’t touch

The sun will rise again
She will return
Only to leave

A delicate hand
Reaches out
To paint

The canvas remains
Forever will be blank

She will always return
Her canvas blank
The ocean in her ears

Sofia Tivers, aged 13
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Thanking the trees

Walking through the path
my light brown hair cascades
down my back
My wispy bangs touch
the bottom of my eyebrows
blowing around in the wind
The reflection of the trees
dance in the river
The broken sticks crunch
The slim kahikatea roots
disappear deep underground
Leaves fluttering to the ground
paint this poem

Parker Ma, aged 11
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Waiting for the Turtles

My hands disappear into the cold sand,
I look at the ocean

The reflection of the blue moon
paints a broken path
across the water

I feel as cold as the waves

Max Bell, aged 11
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Broken Hearts

There is a silence in longing,
That only comes about when you pretend to be beautiful,
With vanishing time and a bout of

Painted faces,
Hold yourself together,
Painted hearts,
Broken hearts,
Wallow in silence.

The day you disappeared,
My bones had never ached as badly,
As when stormy winds were blowing,
Tearing travellers from the path,
From the path of what?
The path of golden-silver silence.

Your favourite flower,
Remember me,
Do not forget me,
It is past those weary days,
Now we sit in silence.

A cold reflection,
Shattering mirrors,
A hollow mask,
Listen to the nightingale scream,
A paint marked ivory heart,
Forked tongue in a poisoned mouth,
You are not the same,
Dancing in a darkening silence.

Gold bound,
Stream dancing,
See the song birds whispering,
A wretched return,
Of vanishing things,
Staggering down the rabbit hole,
I am sick of the silence.

Make it up,
Made up,
Fantastic and frantic,

Two theatre masks,
Dead birds and withered flowers,
Spit out poisoned words,
Cracked bones,
The paint has washed away,

There will be no more silence.

Jasmin Prior, aged 15

❆ ❆ ❆

After the shock

The puddle ripples as the ground shakes.
Screams flee the city
They disappear into a cloud of rubble
A fragmented path crumbles at the touch
Paint flutters of the cathedral
As it falls to the ground
The shaking begins to stop
The broken reflection of the puddle
Staring back at the cracked city
10 years later
The same puddle cracked but repaired
Buildings rebuilt to stand
The Tuis sing once more
Leaves fall as the seasons change
The wounds left behind
Healing by the second
The puddle ripples
Now becoming a pond
A home for a family of ducks

Almu Cameron Parra, aged 11
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆

Arctic Ice

Broken ice
crashing into
cold, dark waters.
My reflection
rippling through
the ocean.
Polar bears
disappearing as fast
as ice cream
in the sun.
Paths obliterated.
paints the ground.

Aneel Bartlett, aged 10
Ōtautahi Christchurch

❆ ❆ ❆


a view projected to disappear
the narrow stone path
green tunnels
reflections above the
bird bath

silver droplets
cascading down
the broken wood
beyond the grand piano
walls of light paint

she lies next to the searing fire
with a cup of tea and a gingernut

stolen land
stolen memories
stolen peace

she remembers cows in the garden
the welcoming hole in her fence

her fingers write stories
on the keys of her grand piano

the beams hold the past
the old farmers watch over her
through pink skies

Violetta Dacre, aged 14
Ōtautahi Christchurch