Friday 11 September 2020

Given Poems for National Poetry Day 2020

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who sent their poem with the five words chosen from Las Moscas ('Flies') by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. We received 144 poems and have made a selection from these to publish here on Given Words. The winning poems have been selected by the poets Mikaela Nyman, Jordan Jace and Charles Olsen. (You can read about them here.)

Charles Olsen comments on behalf of the judges: We have travelled from India to Papatūānuku’s backbone, from the Arctic ice melt to Bream Bay, by bicycle, school bus, whale, on wooden horses, on the Wahine ferry or in the backseat of a car, through day dreams, childhood memories and Stephen King novels, with a letter written to a house, with pesky flies and all sorts of greedy. One of the best parts of the journey was comparing notes afterwards and it’s been a privilege for me to read the insights and interpretations of poets Mikaela Nyman and Jordan Jace. I recommend you first go on your own journey through our selection of the poems and then come back here afterwards to compare notes… although we try not to give too much away!

Of Weather report Jordan comments ‘I see the extra punctuation in this poem acting like literal waste, remnants in landfills and litter. This way the degradation of the Anthropocene enters formally into the poem.’ Of Freedom’s mum stole our Stephen King books he says ‘I love the detail of the silent boyfriend, the chicken, and the speaker being “between two worlds”. I imagine childhood and whatever comes after, and I especially love the line “alone with our childhoods”, a tender line like an exposed wrist.’

Rearview had us all captivated, it’s opening two stanzas seeming to suggest something very dark, perhaps sexual violence or child molestation, but the turn of events leading to, as Mikaela wrote, ‘the guilt of the Dad who never “comforts his face” or the remaining child (“he turns your sheets blindly”) is rendered with such clarity and tenderness. And it’s a most imaginative use of that fly.” Mikaela also wrote of the ‘very eerie atmosphere’ created in The Gift, ‘we are not quite sure how serious the situation is with regards to the woman’s mental well-being. The last line “which she now gifts back to us” is brilliant. It seems to suggest she is reclaiming her life, empowerment, forgiveness. Or the total opposite: delusion, a caving in. This is about a gift that is not a gift, a gift that goes both ways, Terrifying and sad.’

I was particularly drawn to the rattling sound of words jostling together in the poem The Dancing Bicycle and the way the five words are introduced with alliteration: ‘spit and grease and a greedy dream’, ‘the cat’s eye of childhood’, and ‘like the sun-drunk buzz of a fat fly’. Or the haunting atmosphere of The Last Equation as 'The day sinks beneath all waterlines' and the peculiar clues running through it: 'Birds stay still', 'Backbone unhinges', 'the Underwood' or 'a finger of sun pressed across a King James'.

Our journey finally led us to I am a Blue Whale Heart with its inner journey. Mikaela commented ‘Every single metaphor and word counts. Life as a balancing act: the heaviness and the lightness. The greed vs the abstaining. The external vs the internal forces. So tightly woven. Breathtaking and very poignant.’ Jordan said ‘This poem makes me think of imagination, I would love to imagine like this! The preoccupation with weight makes me read the poem slowly, as does the wonder in its voice.’ For myself, I stumbled at first over some of the details on my first reading but the poem plays beautifully with the metaphors of angels and the Blue Whale heart, revealing powerful images that contrast with the (mis)perception of the idealised body, from the heaviness of the Blue whale’s heart to the tiny fly trapped in amber, and the marble that awaits the sculptor’s hand. And 'I wish I could […] sleeve my childhood into the wall' is such a moving image of compassion.

In the under-16s category our youngest poet is just six years old! It was amazing to receive so many poems and also that quite a few schools participated, some adapting the given words to explore different forms of poetry, like the visual diamante poems created by pupils of New River Primary in Invercargill, combining word play, visual design and computer skills. We provided a class plan for teachers to help get pupils thinking about and playing with the words and look forward to more schools participating each year. Finding a balance when comparing poems by children of different ages isn’t easy. As Mikaela said for one of her choices, ‘Okay, tiebreak between a 15 year-old and a 7 year-old both exploring similes. It feels unfair whichever way I decide.’ In any case, we’ve tried to reflect the wonderful variety of poems across the age spectrum in our selection.

Of the wonderfully titled until we are hollow, Mikaela commented on how creative it is with ‘a hint of darkness at the end. I love the hollowing out of the bird – and presumably, the writer if the title is to be taken literally – the “letters of flies”, and the detail of grass left in “hollow trees marked with child’s lipgloss”’. She was also struck by the opening of The River, ‘“Where the leaves are neon green/A red panda roams the land of childhood”. I can visualise the L-shaped colour field of tulip blooms, such a great image. And I love the “One eel silently slithers through/The water/He dreams of rising”, which could be read literally as the rising of the eel, or as the invisible narrator dreaming of some great deed, to make it a bit more complex and intriguing.’

Jordan commented on how imaginative the poem Cherries is, with its ‘equation of fruit to an individual-collective historical memory, and the risks it takes with lines riffing rather than following a sequence (“is the childhood of cherries/the letter C meaning receptiveness”). There were so many dazzling lines and thoughts: “Migrating with the colonists in the 1600s/is the childhood of cherries” and “such small fruit, holding the millennia of history”’. Of The children with no parents he loved ‘how this poem troubles the idea of a childhood – “kids of childhood” as opposed to other kinds of kids – how it thinks through a troubled utopia, and how it sees a new world without the strictures of our present understandings or imaginings of certain species, “tigers/They were as gentle as ants”’.

I was attracted to the variety of images created from the five words in Snippets, including the simile of 'snippets of youth,/Like flies on the wall at night' and moments like the 'dream suspends…' Images weave through the poem, the 'scribbles' of the first stanza reappearing in 'screaming crayons' that transform into 'monstrous worms' and the rhythm, play of sounds and alliteration is very creative. The whale reappears in the untitled poem beginning 'A crisp morning…' with its deep empathy with nature. With a more narrative structure and prose style it still has some lovely sound-play with humans/heave and flush/flutter/flies/flesh.

This time our journey brought us back home. In Attic ‘the writer has explored some imaginative similes (travel stickers like flaking nails; dreams swirl up like moths)’ comments Mikaela, and ‘I love the idea of a song tiptoeing up the keys and that you could possibly hear a fly scratching its wings’. Jordan commented that Attic is 'elegantly written and densely packed with interesting and surprising images that move the poem along gracefully'. This poem had some original uses of the five words: 'greedy dust', 'funny little dreams' and the more specific 'bluebottle fly'. 'Dreams of things swirl up […] and fill the air with […] wing powder' is very evocative and becomes oneiric with 'the scent of forgotten things…'. The active language (only two lines lack verbs) creates a curious contrast with the usual stillness of an attic, and for me the final line beautifully captures the sensation of waking from a strange daydream and the peculiar parallel between our unconscious thoughts and the outside world.

We are delighted to announce the winning poets. The winner of Best Poem is Stuart Airey for his poem I am a Blue Whale Heart, and the winner of the Under-16 category is Sarah-Kate Simons for her poem Attic. They will receive books courtesy of Landing Press and The Cuba Press respectively as well as being translated into Spanish and published on Palabras Prestadas. More details of the book prizes can be found here. Congratulations from Given Words, Landing Press and The Cuba Press.

Below are the winning poems. We also invite you to read our selection of the rest of the poems from adults here and from under-16s here. All the entries had to contain the words: letter, childhood, fly (the animal), greedy and dream.

I am a Blue Whale Heart

In this current re-make of me I am becoming the heart of a blue whale
I dreamt myself an angel but this wasn’t enough
He was wondrous but stuck
like a fly in amber

You can hear a whale heartbeat from 2 miles away
which is the distance I want to be from unleavened nurse smiles
and the choice of ensure or tube

No tampering with the drip lines
Friends I am un-distending
I wonder as my zipper finds free air
whether Eve had to eat the whole apple

I liked my angel
counting calories and grams together
his feather vane minutiae

A whale heart aorta is as big as a dinner plate
Why does food have such gravity?

My angel’s face was an open letter
to each whispered treatment
our greedy midnight exercises

A whale heart – blue – is as heavy as a Lion (adult, male)
which is exactly what you need
for beautiful dying

I wish I could take my angel’s place
sleeve my childhood into the wall

When a whale dives deep its heartbeat slows
slows in the black to 2 beats per minute
just 2 beats left to still to marble

Stuart Airey


all the days of childhood collected in sepia
photographs in the crevices of
the boards watching the greedy dust
descend to settle on their faces

age has curled up their edges into love hearts
like the shape she used to replace the dots on
her i’s; tiny lopsided hearts that flood the pages
of the stack of letters resting in the bottom of
the rickety suitcase, its faded travel stickers

peeling off and flaking away like the nails on fingers
pressed to an anxious mouth and these funny little
dreams of things swirl up like moths from the piles
of outgrown clothing and fill the air with their wing powder
turning the musty scent of forgotten things into a phantom

of lily of the valley; the lid of the harpsichord crammed against
the broken dollhouse is propped open on a sewing box
and in the murk of memories there’s a song tiptoeing up the keys
— or is it just the bluebottle fly scratching its wings
against the windowpane and whining to be set free

Sarah-Kate Simons, aged 15

About the Poets

Stuart Airey lives in Hamilton with his wonderful wife and has three children who have mostly left home. He writes poetry as therapy or possibly for more perplexing reasons. He has been a Sarah Broom finalist and was shortlisted for the Julia Darling Memorial Prize. Stuart has been published in the Molotov Cocktail Journal with a short story and third place in the Shadow Poetry Award. These successes have managed to pay for several cups of coffee. He has dabbled in multi-media performance poetry and dreams of being a jazz pianist. His poem entry for given words is an honest attempt to enter the thoughts of those suffering from anorexia as well as being more widely read.

Sarah-Kate Simons is a 15 year old home-schooled girl from rural Canterbury. Her day job consists of schoolwork and volunteering at her local wildlife park, where she gets to walk the llamas. She loves to go on biking and tramping holidays with her family, and tries her hand at all sorts of arts and crafts. She is also the proud owner of a very naughty puppy named Missy.
Sarah-Kate eats, breathes and sleeps writing in all its forms—poetry, flash fiction, short stories and novels. She can often be caught talking to thin air as she tries to figure out time travel for her latest novel or peeking into nooks and crannies in search of her next poem.

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

Given Poems for National Poetry day 2020 – Adults

Here is our selection of the entries for Best Poem for the Given Words competition for National Poetry Day. They all had to contain the five words letter, childhood, fly (the animal), greedy and dream.

You can read the winning poem I am a Blue Whale Heart by Stuart Airey along with the judge's comments here and the poems from the Under-16s category here.

❆ ❆ ❆

Weather Report

The wheel turns
From a whispering silky sea / weightless turquoise sky
To ribbons of air unwinding skeins of letters
Of a leaden sky / grey metallic green ocean
Torn surf flecked with stretched foams and pale blues
Bream Bay coastal current vectors twist and roll
On this periphery of ragged headlands and islands
The horizon not a line but a zone of incrementally
Rising undulations driven in from Antarctic ice shelf melt
Arctic melt, glacier melt, permafrost melt, thermal expansion
Mesmerizing in their fresh salt laden intrigues
That leaves on the high tide flotsam / jetlag line
A pig (sow), bloated, fly-blown on a spit (sand)
Bunch of bananas (lady finger) edible
Plastic star jump toy (green)
Fragments of childhood memories (happy) and distressed
The swells find they have no-where else to go
Fall into a jumble of meter and structure
Theories of cultural greed, life / art
As object / dream / practice / process
Also described as sea level rise crisis panic

Piet Nieuwland

❆ ❆ ❆

The Dancing Bicycle

the ink-black bicycle leaps into the sky
carbon components jostle out of position
expand away from the diamond-shaped

frame held together with spit and grease
and a greedy dream of flying like you are
ten again and the rear carrier rack is full of

sheet music with a string of eighth notes
jumping off the staff, trembling in burnt
umber – crank, chainring, derailleur, even

the wheels spin an open letter to your soul
allegro bicicletta! danza! danza! twirl in the
cat’s eye of childhood – stay gold ponyboy

let the old jumble bike jitter down the dirt
track like the sun-drunk buzz of a fat fly
circling just as our spiral galaxy spins in the

wind-whipped rhythm of corduroy, the spray
of unregulated laughter – the trick? keep your
feet off the ground, your hands off the brakes

Jenna Heller
Ōtautahi – Christchurch

Notes: Inspired by the painting Dancing Bicycle by Zoran Tairovic, 2019;
and ‘stay gold ponyboy’ is from The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

❆ ❆ ❆


You are sitting in the back seat after
your sister kicks your dad in the face, breaking his glasses.
His face is quietly bleeding
(and you think you have swallowed a fly).

All of his sticky silence is for her
and you hold your own ribs tight because
you want your heart to not be so greedy
(but you’re sure you’ve swallowed a fly).

The seat beside you is empty. He turns the bright key
and childhood is receding in the rearview
as she screams in someone else’s arms, as the road noise rises
rough as the inside of your throat
(where you swallowed the fly).

Dad’s face is invisible. Dark is falling
in one direction only (behind you) –
trees hard-edged on the ridge ahead, black
as the letters of her name on the form they exchanged,
black as pine, with the sun behind
feeding itself to the horizon
(fatter than a swallowed fly)

The hours carry you home. Dad’s fingers never reaching
to comfort his face. He turns your sheets blindly
and you climb into bed alone, give yourself
to the small cold hands of a better dream
(that you’ve swallowed a fly. That you’ve only swallowed a fly.)

Susan Wardell

❆ ❆ ❆

This Last Equation

The day sinks beneath all waterlines.
Birds stay still in the trees; no wind.

Taste the silence. Sniff the fear.
Sitting immobile, touching the essence

of near-death. Backbone unhinges
ankle sinks into mud and guts.

In a half-dream, I return to my childhood
bedroom, visualising every detail.

The wallpaper; the Underwood with the
sheet strangling the spool, empty of letters.

The bed where several before
me have taken their last breath.

A finger of sun pressed across a King James.
I awake; someone sniffs beside me. A sob.

A greedy fly swirls round the crinkled
tin lid of tainted meat. Even its life means more.

We wait in that predestined peace, wait
for the siren to rip through. If I

stood up now I may just get to see
the first rays of sun in time.

Lincoln Jaques
Tāmaki Makaurau – Auckland

❆ ❆ ❆

The gift

She sits in barren dreams,
pulling the wings and legs off flies.
She stuffs these into envelopes,
along with a letter absolving us of our lust and greed.
Forgiving us for tearing off her own wings
and cutting her legs asunder.
All so we could steal her childhood,
which she now gifts back to us.

Rory Nelson Moores

❆ ❆ ❆

Freedom’s mum stole our Stephen King books

she returned only three: Misery, Thinner, and It
I wanted to call her a greedy book thief but instead
I stayed quiet, twelve & between two worlds

Freedom’s mum made us chips and fried chicken
told us through her three missing teeth
about crystals & The Celestine Prophecy

she stayed inside with closed curtains
leaving us at night    alone with our childhoods
to watch movies and Freedom’s sister and
                  the pet chicken
which dropped pellets onto the sofa
& pecked flies from the air

Freedom’s mum has a psychology degree
and a boyfriend who doesn’t speak, only smokes
with car windows up
she doesn’t notice our necks
when we come home smelling of bourbon
                  of boys, dark-eyed and illiterate

mum wrote her a letter years later
when her phone cut off & they had to ‘shift’
she wouldn’t let me read it but
I caught the words hope, girls and bruise

I stop seeing Freedom & a decade later
I have read every Stephen King book
picture deep fryer oil flicking hot on the pages
after each last page    I dream dark
about Freedom’s mum
                  and the monsters we live with

Leah Dodd

❆ ❆ ❆

The first house of memory

I wrote a letter
to the house
the other day.
The house
with the blue
pantry doors
and asbestos
in the garage

It arrived and sat
on the kitchen
dress-up parades
of wedding veils
and Oma’s old

One dog and then
One cat and then
no cat.
Flies with pimento
eyes flirting
with the ever-sticky
It saw children

silver bowls
on their heads.
A smattering
of rosehips
and the dissection
of those rosehips
by grinners
wielding butter-knives.

It sat
in a bubble
of childhood
privy to
the perpetual
tearing open
of paper bags
filled with
crumbed mushrooms.

It sat
in an almost
dream, under
the layering
of pass-the-parcel
with newborns
and the maggots
under the cardboard
left in the garden rain.

The door
keeps opening
and closing
and I am greedy
to step over
the threshold,
to slide the chain
of the latch
behind me.

Lily Holloway
Tāmaki Makaurau – Auckland

❆ ❆ ❆

Home Is The Place I Dream Of

I dream of a home I’ve yet to call.
Dream of my feet planted in a blanket of
a trillion, earthy stars.
Eyes tracing the points of the shoreline;
a treacherous map to God’s divine treasures.

I dream of peaking over the edge.
Of planting my toes in Papatūānuku’s backbone,
bridging the gap between life
and death.

I dream of belonging. Though,
my bones have never bathed within these waters.
drank from the Manuka tree or sang with the Tui.

I dream of an unknown place, folded
into a letter and stamped with the piece of my heart
that sleeps between the pages of
childhood bedtimes and
ancestral scriptures.

I dream of a sand fly, washing in
blessings from the Waiapu river.
I wear his wings to be everywhere at once,
to belong where I’m told I don’t.
When I grow weary,

I dream of his greedy bite.
Dream of falling into the sting of my pillow and
back into the home I’d always known-
eleven thousand, five hundred and fifty miles away.

where buildings scalpel the sky and
pigeons sit on spikes of freedom;
gargoyled and unpromising.

Tahla Krosschell
North West of England

❆ ❆ ❆

Sort it out

I once carried everything along with me.
I feared the loss of childhood
in the combustion of the world.
I was sentimentally attached,
and each stray object hummed
with the dreams it was soaked in.
As years mounted, so did the things,
the crumpled paper, photographs, tokens.
A letter from my first girlfriend.
A Shell Oil patch on a childhood jacket.
Schoolbooks ink blotted and tickets
to places been, dappled with fly shit,
to places walked through, over and under,
with tears, love, mostly the boredom
of jobs, greedy for my time,
that funded this accretion of experience.
Like listening to a shell:
the scratching of time leaks out.

Victor Billot

❆ ❆ ❆


Chaos of consonants knock’d
Round fat greasy vowels mock’d
(On childhood tongue forgiven)
Stern word skeletons are block’d.

Now the day dreamed word feasts run
Greedy speakers’ falseness spun
(On adult tongue full blam’d)
Letters shine: toxic vision.

Letters, words: dusty, brittle
Mottled, lost in our spittle
(On aged tongue forgotten)
Dung for flies, all else means little.

With more care of words we could
Make the music that we should
On global tongues for healing
And hum the world t’ward good.

Gaenor Brown
New Plymouth

❆ ❆ ❆

Brown Quota

You come over here,
With your greedy hands,
And families unwelcome.

You are flies that stick,
Where we do not want you.

How dare you want more,
Than we give you,
How dare you aspire to letters,
That were never meant for you.

C’s get degrees from Universities,
That have special brown quotas.

You are lucky we let you,
Onto our land of milk and honey,
Where your dream should be,
What we dream for you.

How do we unstick,
These thoughts from childhood,
Our programmed minds,
That my brown skin,
Is a threat to your existence,
Your way of life.

Elissa Baledrokadroka

❆ ❆ ❆

given (the speed of) words

my sisters and i are riding wooden horses down an old hallway;
imagination’s fertile plains unfurling silvered slopes,
wild stampedes, a moon sliver of childhood where dream
was portal to galaxies, winged flight from rugged cliffs and

words voyaged for weeks before appearing on our horizon;
a grandparent’s tremulous hand transmitted to page —
familiar, beloved, the letter cherished like a pressed leaf,
and death seemed a slow and distant season.

this week, death could crawl in on the bent legs of an insect,
slip insidiously from a lover’s palm, a child’s cheek,
or across the threshold like a phantom, greedy for air.

disaster’s tally washes up on cyber-sands;
words en masse, disposable prose;
linguistic plastic riding in on a millisecond wave
reporting the world’s grandparents —
how fast they’re drowning — or the sun running high fevers,
the elderly earth gasping.

above the reeling news screen,
there is a slow, thick fly on the wall,
chronically imprinted to interpret rot, as nectar.
it hasn’t moved for hours, biding its time;
waiting, wordless —hungry, for my decay.

Sophia Wilson
Woodside, Otago

❆ ❆ ❆

Ombra - Scene for a Ghost or Shade

4am footprints howl in our heads, here
is our hurt, our sad story, our strong note

hurled across time, lodged in our hand —
made hope, our softly polished bodies

from the ordinary melisma of days
a strange dream voice sucks a whole

greedy chord of fear and loss and
attention, the open door, the menacing

presence, the stuckness, the moment
when we are bereft, a ferocious whimper

resonates, places itself in a strange savage
centre of aprons and shoving and crying

“Oh Melvie, Melvie, don’t do this
to me Melvie, please, please!”

scones scattered across the floor, red soup
slashed across the wide window and the girl

who was about to leave childhood forever said
“Don’t want it eh, well all the more for me.”

the slick backhand smashes her spoon into
her mouth and, oh that’s pretty, she thinks

there in my bowl, the same colour but it’s not
tomato is more orange, mine has a blue tint

She stood. She said more words. One was
a loud swear word. Her leaving letter.

Flies gathered on the sunny window pane
sipping, sampling, censoring.

Jenny Dobson
Waipawa, Central Hawkes Bay

❆ ❆ ❆


Heptagon housescapes
Each a vignette of dark and light
Beyond the memories of childhood

A hum as loud as a refrigerator in summer
The business of flies in murmuration
Punctured by the styrofoam squeaks of a fantail

Squished and splattered between dreams
Letters origami’d into the folds of lost attic loves
Pages greedily nibbled till they are gone.

Lara Sanderson

❆ ❆ ❆

greasy fly

it was that childhood
Houdini act, when all
hope lost i took
the teacher’s letter
and stuffed it into
the hedge after
stepping off the
bottom step
of the bus.

the whole thing
came later back to
haunt me, spurred
in endless summer
of clouds like yachts
in aerial races and
blue morning tides,
by a fly that bit the
corner of my mouth
one afternoon

overstepping the
night into dream,
the greedy fly
of guilt, the winged
greasy fly,
an eye like
dark blue enamel
with a slot to post
a letter in, my
teacher’s hand
popping it into
that gap, for this
foul postman to
ferry it to into
my parent’s
all hope

Peter Le Baige

❆ ❆ ❆

Given this

I gave you the thread of the islands of the heart and yet
               here we are
The fire is high and greedy for fat and yet
               the pig still dreams
A fly finds a hundred ways to say the same thing and yet
               here I am
Not everything we feel in childhood can be swum in and yet
               the islands float
You pass letters to the boatman as if they are playing cards
               he has the thread now
I gave you the sweet roast pork but you find as many ways as the fly to say

Kate Waterhouse
Westmere, Auckland

❆ ❆ ❆

This Child Is

This child is no fly; although their wingspan
Is as short as his childhood, (as all of ours are),
Equal greediness for the love he can
Tease out of your heart, air-proof as a jar.

This child is no moth; don’t swat him away
From warm bulbs you could share so easily,
Curled in folds of once-safe blankets that fray
In the darkness a child should never see.

This child is no wasp; don’t teach him to sting,
Lure his mind into black and gold fetters,
Make him buzz with anger when he might sing,
Or write hate, when he hardly knows letters.

This child is a child; as clear as that seems,
There are some who give him an insect’s respect,
As though an ant, in their sky-scraping schemes;
It’s our duty (who else’s?) to protect
This child, that he might take wing in his dreams,
And sail higher than adults dare expect.

Loredana P. Kint

❆ ❆ ❆


Childhood games with you, Fly:
the plastic swatter game
the dishcloth game, lethal as a whip-crack
the hand-clap-just-above-you game
the electric zapper game that fries you with a sizzle
and feels like cheating.
Tinker tailor soldier sailor with your corpses
then out to play in the sun.

Years later
living with a man
I have a pet spider named Hidey
whose home is a crack between handbasin and wall.
There’s nothing in the antiseptic bathroom to feed a spider
so I perfect my old skills
leaving you just alive enough to struggle and kick
till Hidey emerges with his coy side-step
his greedy embrace.

The man watches silently.

The day I leave I stuff a suitcase with clothes and broken dreams
listening for the snarl of the V8 engine
the heavy tread in the hallway.
As I scrawl a letter he’ll never read
you alight on the table before me
your wings at a jaunty angle
and look me dead in the eye.

I want to take Hidey
but he won’t come.
I leave him to the tender mercies of the man
and the can of Doom under the sink.

Vicky Jones

❆ ❆ ❆

Nights Disturbed By Lateral Images & Latent Memory Of Flies

the dream materialises
at night
after screen time
a lit quadrilateral in dark
duplicate images on a susceptible brain
hungering for sleep

rectangle rhombus trapezium kite
each infested with lunging missiles defying oblivion
black letters incarnate on wing
mapped trajectories
like persistent flies in humid heat
irritation brushed away again & again
in vain
their programmed loop undeterred
fresh from our toxic waste & rot

multiplying maggots
hold the horror of childhood’s writhing memory
they return in the adult-scape psyche
with recurring unrest inciting insomnia
consuming the humanoid mind
greedy for remnants of reason

Suzanne Herschell
Eastbourne, Lower Hutt

❆ ❆ ❆


Little fly
Your wriggly childhood spent in a stagnant pool
You emerge ravenous, greedy
Ruthless little blood-letter
You strike while I dream.

Roger Anderson
Point Chevalier, Auckland

❆ ❆ ❆

The Bougainvillea Drops its Flowers

The India of my childhood was 62 Friends Colony. Faded letters on a sign at the end of our street. We had to point taxi drivers in the right direction. Beside our house goats scavenged, all greedy eyes and protruding ribs. Flies hovered in never-ending circles. Earth, dry and hard.

We heard the musicians first, dancing and singing. Then saw the elephant, almost too large to fit down our narrow street. A white-turbaned bridegroom high on its back. Garlands of yellow marigolds. Frangipani. In the far distance a bride waited, her red sari heavy with gold thread and embroidery. Every step weighted.

Outside by our gate, the dhobi set up his board. Heated his iron. Pressed clothes. My seersucker blouse. A nightie, cotton skirt. The cook prepared his speciality, Tipsy Pudding. My mother sat, played another game of Patience. Through the window, our lawns were green and the bougainvillea dropped red flowers. Evening scent of jasmine entered dreams.

Marjory Woodfield

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In an old woman’s dream,
what I see is a faded piece of paper
abandoned on that sun-bleached chair
warm from our sitting playing ladies with
pebble tea cakes, and buttercup teaspoons,
pouring make-believe tea from a tiny pot.
Greedy to capture more of the memory of you,
I pick it up, and there is your name
in uneven childhood letters, and
a splatter of fly spots, looking just like
tiny drops of tea.

Susan Jane Howard
Matakana, Warkworth

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Under-16s – Poems for National Poetry Day 2020

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 contain the five words letter, childhood, fly (the animal), greedy and dream.

You can read the winning poem Attic by Sarah-Kate Simons along with the judge's comments here and the poems from the adults' category here.

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The Children With No Parents

I fell asleep
I had an unrealistic dream
Kids of childhood
With no parents
Houses that had letters
Teleported to them.
There was one greedy child
He didn’t have pet flies
Like the other children
He had pet eagles
And tigers
They were as gentle as ants.

Max Dixon, aged 7

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until we are hollow

the flies in my childhood
the bird, his dark travellers coat, in recovery position on my grandfather’s lawn
we approach / too close / his eye swarms white
greedy for him until he is hollow
one rears its head and flicks out.
we don green plastic-rimmed bug-eye glasses, shattering worlds with tessellations
ink dots on the white ceiling. the letters of flies. striped wipes remove their magnum opus
adhesive flowers pressed to windows, filtering light like cheap stain glass – my mother’s tacky flytraps
flies fairies would ride when I still believed in fairies
fairies who’d carry me to safety when I dreamt outside
fairies eating the grass at night. the grass we put in hollow trees we marked for them with child’s lipgloss
i still remember / the bark alive / with plastic sparkles
fly husks sucked dry on window frames my sister tried to feed her pet spider
flies in the fridge that one time
flies picking at everything around me
flies and fairies pulling the world away

Pieta Bayley, aged 15

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Wahine Voices

We watch the waves,
slide across the deck,
feasting on our childhood,
dancing with our arms.

                                                   2018: Photograph
                                                   I watch the waves,
                                                   tackle the boat,
                                                   swallow the shoes,
                                                   run with iwi

We watch the hills,
stand unfazed,
the waves continue,
to blur our view.

                                                   I watch the hills,
                                                   they continue to stare,
                                                   they continue to dream,
                                                   so much they do care

We watch the sun,
Tugged out of view,
yet the waves,
attack like a fly,
attack, attack

                                                   I watch the sun,
                                                   swallowed by the greedy storm,
                                                   splashed by the waves,
                                                   coated in grey.

We watch our luggage,
the waves unlock,
strewing our letters,
across Karaka Bay.

                                                   I watch their luggage,
                                                   The waves play catch
                                                   The tiaka now only holding,
                                                   its broken handle.

We watch the waves,
Fill us with anger,
push us around.
Send us / separate us.

                                                   I watch the waves,
                                                   finally part,
                                                   the iwi float away,

Evie Johnson, aged 15

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Bright colours burst in front of my eyes,
Lavender petals tickle my fingers,
A shine of vibrant currant peel,
Beckoning me forward,
A small circular cherry lies in my palm,
Such a small fruit, holding millennia of history
Bees buzzing by, pollinating the soft fruit
Birds fly by, chirping in unison
A fly swimming through the air,
Plucking a cherry off the tree, biting into the flesh
Oozing scarlet juice, staining my teeth
Flavours explode deep within the flesh,
I taste history all the way back from the stone age.
Discovered between the Black and Caspian seas
The cherry
A symbol of renewal
December rolls around,
The cherries are picked,
A stone embedded in the centre,
Its dream to live on for millennia
Greedy sparrows indulge in the fruit
Migrating with colonists from Europe in the 1600s
Is the childhood of the cherries
The letter C meaning receptiveness
The cherry, receiving history
Growing in the sun.

Trelise McEwan, aged 12

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Bare feet slap hard against concrete,
She drives forward, broom in hand,
A loyal steed, galloping across the universe,
Chalk scribbles of hearts and rainbows beneath,
Dissolved, smudgy from the rain’s laughter.

I see her race the light shining down,
A scintilla from the mall’s ceiling glass,
She slides across the butter-milk burnished marble,
Smashing unapologetically into a red-headed woman,
Undeterred, she resumes the rivalry.

The dream suspends before my eyes,
Behind them, too, like veins,
Childhood memories, they call them,
I want to reach out and touch
My young, pink fingers,
Never to forget.

Two friends lost willingly in the drama,
As we feign ‘Cats’, mewling, hissing,
Slinking across the hallway,
Greedily licking water from bowls,
Our dog gawks at us in bewilderment.

Stubs of screaming crayons,
Pressed too firmly against sheets of paper,
Forming unruly letters,
That resist straight forms and create
Monstrous worms, linked by their tails.

I can discern snippets of youth,
Like flies on the wall at night,
I know they’re there, but darkness
Cloaks them in woven night sky,
Those memories veiled before me,
Please don’t forget.

Thalia Peterson, age 13

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The greedy sea

Every day the sea gets hungry
It decides to have a snack
Some sand, then some trees, houses
Cities dropping like flies
The sea gets greedy
Chomping on childhoods, love letters on the beach
All into the belly of the beast
Fueling dreams of an empire

Freya Atkins, aged 12

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For the love of plastic

The greed of the man stole the life of so many.
He stole the smiles of children.
the hopes of a brighter future
for those that chose to dream.
The flies dug deep into the flesh of the young bird.
The youngsters’ life stolen by greed and wealth.
The juvenile Toroa found dead.
with a plastic bottle wedged in its stomach.
The birds’ childhood taken away in the wind.
to a distant land where the greedy man can’t be found.
Where letters for change are heard.
and loud cries echo along the cliffs
of hope and dreams.

Freddy Toddhunter, aged 15

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The river

Where the leaves are neon green
A red panda roams the land of childhood
Tulips bloom in summer
Making the ground look like a
Colourful silky blanket
Shaped like the letter L
The sky is bright blue
With fluffy, pure white clouds
In the heart of the land
A river flows
Swans elegantly glide on the water
One eel silently slithers through
The water
He dreams of rising
Flies buzz along the surface
Greedily looking for food

Ivy Martin, aged 7

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A crisp morning breeze flushes over the beached whale, Its eyes flutter closed as greedy flies lay waiting to feast upon its thick flesh.

A dream of safety and peace calls to the whale as it fights to survive; the dream echoes and sings, numbing the whale’s dying mind.

The whale feels the cool splash of water hitting its face, letters and words rumble; the whale recognised human’s voices. “More water! Go! We don’t have much time.”

The whale feels the fog that clouds its mind recede slightly; Yes. It enjoys the tingling sensation as it regains feeling in its tail.

The whale lets out a cry that pierces the otherwise still beach. The whale gets laughs and cries of relief from the humans in return.

It reminds the whale of the childhoods it used to witness as it soared beneath the water; the smiling faces looking down upon it as it sang its favourite tune.

The whale sings its thanks as the humans heave it back into the water.

Emma Van Schalkwyk, aged 12

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By the playful beach

The sun gleamed in freedom.
The sea splashed and swayed,
more than I could've imagined
from my precious childhood.
On this grateful beach,
the greedy seagull
stomped his feet red as a rose
and shooed the flies away.
He was trying to steal
my deliciously melting
strawberry ice cream.
It was summer.
Letters dreaming to fly.
Near the playful beach,
the trees floated into their dreams.
Exceptional to look at.

Anna Kim, aged 10

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Beneath each childhood
Some fulgent dark
Of memories hid
And spread by lark.

The letter knife
Below your bed
Would stay just there,
Till turn of head.

All children’s nightmares
Nobody’s dream
Fantasy and fact,
Split at the seam.

Eyes in the twilight,
Malevolently glinting
Shushed, quiet whispers
A secret, it is hinting.

The black fairy tales,
Long since gone wild
Your towering fears
No longer mild.

A fly upon the night stand,
Throwing shifting shadows,
Fragments of monstrosities,
Mirrored in the windows.

Is it truly selfish, greedy,
To want a good night’s sleep?
Hush, hush, my darling child.
In darkness, only one shall creep


Saphra Peterson, aged 13

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I’m really sorry that you’re sick,
And I hope soon you will feel better.
It took me a lot of time and effort,
Just to write this letter.

We've sure had a funny childhood,
You and me,
In this crazy year of 2020.

When covid broke out,
We all thought we would be fine,
But now it’s spread,
We can’t go out to dine.

Lockdown was a bit of a dream,
Wasn’t it,
My family and I,
Finally, we were a team.

We played cricket on the street,
Zoom meetings with my class.
Lazy pj days,
And Soccer on the grass.
Hey, did I tell you about the fly?
It landed on my dog’s nose,
He ate it,
And my sister started to cry.

“What if a thousand flies grow inside of him?”
The look on her face was really quite grim.

My brother is greedy,
He really is a pig.
Yesterday he ate the whole bag of chips!
I'm surprised he isn't real… big.

So that's what I put up with,
During lockdown,
It was fun,
But the thought of going back into it,
Makes me frown.

Kaitlyn Robinson, aged 12

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Long luscious grass crawls between my fingers
Enormous trees stretch up to the sky
Honey bees drown in the flowers
Letters edge out of the mailbox
Gumboot sinks into thick mud
Flies race forward and back
Butterflies fling into the open
Gushes of water from the roto rainers slide down my face
Greedy cows wrap grass round their tongues
Birds flutter up and away
Cats pounce onto their prey
Smells of pollen climb into my nose
My childhood belongs here
My dreams stretch long and wide

Masha Pospolitak, aged 13
Selwyn House School, Christchurch

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Drowning sunshine of fever,
Golden glitters of youth.
Never felt ever so eager
To meet you at the booth.

Long, sullen restless nights haunting
My fantasies of wondrous times.
Too wild, relentless to remind
Those old days free of crimes.

I dare not to dream of dawn
When wind caressed over the lawn
Where happiness sparkled from childhood.
Memories enlighten our sisterhood.

Last time when flies buzz,
Summer breeze pigmented the sky.
We sat together, singing
Promises of no goodbyes.

Miss having you by my side,
Two hearts beating as one.
Harmonising the morning lark,
Like meteors with the dark.

May as well cover up them
Greedy gusts from hell with
Letters of young naive faith
Born from hopes we embrace.

Xiaotian (Kitty) Xu, aged 15
Epsom, Auckland

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The letter “F” made me remember
Of a greedy fly whom I met in December
It kept me bugging me from the sky
As if my childhood dream had come alive
I tried to swat it
However it flew even high.
I jumped over the mountain
And caught it in my hand
Letting it only free
After it had apologised.

Maanvir, aged 6
Papatoetoe, Auckland

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Greedy Cat Walking

Greedy Cat walking about
Flies buzzing
Dogs barking
Bunnies hopping
Cows mooing
Sheep baaing
Crocodiles writing letters
Hippos dancing
A childhood giraffe singing
Then there’s me…
In bed dreaming.

Cooper Paterson, aged 10
Otatara School

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Childhood memories

Our childhood dreams of happiness were like rubbing warm oil into our skin, then suddenly being lit into a roaring nightmare.

Our excitement was comparable to that of a fly when food is placed upon a table.

Our hands were greedy as we reached for cake, but we shrank back when mother growled, “That’s for the visitors!”

Our joy was contagious when a letter slid into the post box but was followed by a wave of disappointment when it wasn’t for us.

Sanura Lokuliyanage, aged 11
Rolleston, Christchurch

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Fortnite Dreams

Kingston and Evan, aged 8/9
New River Primary, Invercargill

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standing there, greedy little imps grabbing at watermelon, spilling juice all over our
brand new trousers

mother staring lovingly at us and wiping away mud and grime

my letter to santa claus, sent over hundreds of thousands of millions of miles, wrote on messily in

pink crayon

while i fell asleep with my head full with a dream and a stocking stuffed to bursting

swatting away a fly as it invaded my favourite play room, laughing as mother sung us soft lullabies and we listened to the

little black radio

on her bedside table. giggling through the years of

lots and lots of

this was childhood 

Micah Bradburn-Hay, aged 13

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