Friday 9 September 2022

Given Poems – National Poetry Day 2022 – Adults

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: help, different, warrior, thankful and dream.

You can read the winning poem Prognosis by Sarah-Kate Simons along with the judge's comments here and the poems from the Under-16s category here.

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different dog

your Shadow’s taken to me
i’m thankful she’s come round
i was beaching     lolling in the shallows
no fleshy butcher’s bone
no touchstone casserole
you know how royally i drift off
but she barked me back     my empath
warrior i’ve been nursing your hairspring
turntable     made it sing
bring it on home to me
yes, that’s where it’s at
was it your hand parked wine
my way     my help meet     arming me
up for the ponderous night?
that’s when our bed we electrified
with physical poetry     morphs into
a gurney frayed to blisterhood
with languidity     you     dead
are a different dog in the dark
i promised     when you went     i’d see people
but talking’s a rope ladder
dangling from the sky
streets are spindly piers
dissolving into the sea
safer to fold paper seven times
small into silent talismen
and clove-spike oranges into     pom-
anders     my warm apples of amber
the Christmas kowhai we planted out
for its vivid architecture so heimlich
was glanced by lightning     I saw
its life rings laid bare     honey i drizzled
over its sizzled cambium
it murmured remember     or did i
dream that     I’m a spiracle
a glass eye     a window pane

Anita Arlov
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

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4 points on a compass
after ‘Song About a Child’ by Oscar Upperton


a flight test or
parent of destination

rising like clarity
something to work toward

maybe a simple deep-seated
desire in a maze of hypotheses

on the updraft
hammering heartbeat

the steady surging
of feather and bone

soaring warrior
the very definition of truth


a bird in the hand
and a whole feast

of screaming seagulls
a fitful flock of feckless

flapping amid a tangle
of towering surveillance

keeper of secrets
the deep unknown

a bustling collection
of currents and rips

a whole buffet
of blind intersections


shepherd of the labyrinth
temptation smorgasbord

city of lies and misdirection
confessions whispered in a dream

wave upon wave of letting go
the silence of tides

and relentless tension
of planet and moon

a turn-style of ‘help’
confused constructs of signs

pointing this way and that
just thankful for a poorly drawn map


are you a thunderstorm

of shifting glass?
captain, first mate, or passenger?

the ever-present

a twisting spindle
of sour grapes

trust the footprints
in the shifting sand

a different story worn
ragged in the storm

Jenna Heller
Ōtautahi Christchurch

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This place

I find myself on these port hills again
thankful for the rigidity
of Melicytus alpinus and the spines
of books. I write lines
over dreams since the day a puriri
caught in my throat. I am struck
by my lack—I dream of cats
my cat. We attached

when he was a hard-headed ball
of fluff in my hand; he looked up
with defenseless eyes, so I defend him
for dragging in rats
from the slope, and stoats with holes
in their throats—a gift. I take it
outside, but I’m careful
he does not see
my betrayal. I have a gift

for seeing what is different—
right from thrust upright,
as in tectonic plates—this fault
jolting the haves and have-nots
onto the streets below. Shaking
hands while in transit, I found
no warriors or migrants here, only
two sides to me, a creation
through cataclysmic division
I was taken from my natural mother

at birth. Like a kitten I bonded
with another family, I helped them find
the fluttering in their throats
and they gifted me
this place, somewhere between
pain and port

Gail Ingram
Ōtautahi Christchurch

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a handful of seeds on air

We saw it
round the world,
this moment of the
occupier on the
street, the soldier
in his uniform
with big gun
at the hip
to shoot the
way clear to Kiev
might have thought
this grandmother
was just being rightfully
thankful, coming
forward as if in
welcome, stuffing
with persistent fingers
a generous helping of
sunflower seeds into
his chest pocket, and
patting it down, his thinking
it so a foolish dream
, when
she explained matter
of factly that these
seeds would ensure
some good would come
of his dying there, helping
the earth come forth
in flower, and we saw
how this gesture was
the mark of a different
kind of warrior, the oldest
one of all who simply
will not submit, that
being their only

Peter Le Baige
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

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The Ecstasy of St Theresa

Well this is different, for a small town protestant.,
but somehow reassuring about the Youth For Christ rallies.
The instant everything kicks off: boy angel’s
sly smile, slender spear poised for entry,
rumpled fabric at the Saint’s breast coyly lifted,
Cornaro menfolk gathered to ogle. Everything
rising, yeastily, as Simon Schama writes
including Theresa, deep in her dream
as in stone, worked up, thankful, levitating
to the exult of pain. She got herself here,
gave herself over, no help required,
blew the tiny sparks beyond understanding
into conflagration, a warrior beast for God.
The hardest thing to find is a subject,
Bernini said, reaching deep into
her thicket of justifications to grasp the nub,
lighting the spectacle with every trick.
No way to look with an innocent eye
- Schama again. Orgasm implied,
her ecstasy ours to try as angel, saint,
onlooker, creator. He’s turned her inside
out, made sure we all know, traded the garden
yet again for knowledge. Invite an audience
to view the rapture of the mind’s chapel,
if they light a candle, that’s on them.

Gillian Roach
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

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Her hip was decidedly dickey
She was not as flexible as before
Various joints were complaining
She had trouble getting up from the floor

She was not as young as she was
Bits of her were definitely ageing
Inside she didn't feel any different
But the outside was certainly fading

So it was time to get some help
It was time to stop mucking around
Before her get up and go had gone
Some form of exercise had to be found

Yoga seemed the logical choice
She welcomed it with warm embrace
Soon she would feel twenty again
Dream on! If only that were the case

The poses were near on impossible
With names like ‘warrior’, ‘pigeon’ and ‘tree’
Every muscle she possessed rebelled
She desperately wanted to flee

Would anyone notice if she left?
Could she creep out the door unseen?
Thankful for a moments distraction
She speedily fled from the scene

So if she wasn't going to exercise
In order to be able to rise and shine
She was just going have to live with it
And drink a helluva lot of wine

Julie Draper
Waipu, Bream Bay, Northland

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Pervasive Apathy

I’m not an eco-warrior
I offer little help to ‘fix’ the world
No different from millions, others
thankful for distractions, distracted:
     Netflix and chocolate
     War, isolation
     Rising costs and a redundancy
     Ram raids, political promises
     The school-run, Instagram
     Physio, Chiro, the Podiatrist
     An exhibition, birthday plans
     A good sleep...

The basement floods again and
I dream of summers in the 70’s
organise insurance, repair services
complain to friends and family.
There’s nothing else for it.

Arwen Flowers
Helensville, Auckland

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If I were once to see with clarity

If I were once to see with clarity,
a different warrior, when—
the birth of justice, law and parity,
hinged not on swords, but pen—

Pen recording vaster dreams,
pen recording vote,
pen prescribing terms of peace…
contracting laws, denote…

not anarchy, violence, guns or bomb,
Thankful, we, that all along,
Literal minds in literacy,
Courteous hearts in synchrony,
Can lay down bullets, take up pen,
Can help devise solutions when
Compromise has some common place—
Ceding ground is no disgrace
If common good and common ground
Can more than once be sought and found…

How much better off are we,
if pen, not war, might set us free?
Empathy, pen and equal voice…
A better path
for sounder choice?

Hayley Solomon

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The dreams don’t help.
They remind you of different places
left behind in the river of time.
Returning to the world, blinking,
not sure whether to be thankful,
the screens overflow
with nightmares of their own:
sinister clowns, necromancers,
teenage warriors stumbling
to erasure in the hiss of static.

Victor Billot

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Deity descending

Earthbound, you came down in pale stabs
of light, feather footed you were
the shameless spirit of a young warrior
emboldened by sepia memories

                    a thousand years too young.

Where your heart used to be sparrows waltzed
to the rhythm of your burning breaths, but it was
a different tune now, too loud to fit
on the tip of your tongue.

And so, the stars dissolved into a clouded haze &
there was nothing I could do to help but drink
the sunlight from your skin & listen to the suck
& slide of a single vanished summer.

You rebelled, your words a turquoise chill against
the fearsome flames of an unpolished world
you loved so much but others did not care for &

the weight of their dreams carried the salt silently
stinging your winter wounds.

Enough, you said, your last words rusty blooms
against the cold slap of an ancestral wind that clung
to my hair—

                    fragile broken things they were, thankful
                    for a safe place against the oncoming tide.

Kim Martins

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Gracias a Dios

Help came from Honduran girls as words,
handpicked, like ripening fruit, held
between their fingers on A4 card,
voiced in brisk Latina tones. A different
year might yield a different crop from a different
piece of Earth. Imagine, for instance, words
proceeding from Rapa Nui moai. What
would they utter, and in what warrior tongue?
I am thankful for every word in every
tongue—hebraic, dravidic, turkic, ugric,
verbs, nouns, hybrids, compounds, articles
and particles. When one day I wake to learn
I've dreamt in Matagalpa, I will thank God
with palms upturned as if receiving rain.

Mark Edgecombe
Tawa, Wellington

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Hello Miss!

I dream of you sometimes
Carefree, tall, different from the rest
Standing at the edge of Trevi fountain
Tossing coins over your shoulder
For a promise of return

You turned quickly, watched them sink down
Beneath surface-rippling spouts of acqua blue
To rest below the reflection
Of ancient warrior marbled feet

I’m thankful for times spent with you
When this lions roar-like world seemed tame
Before those global pandemic times
And senseless, destructive Ukraine war crimes

You pushed help across the borderlines!
‘Being not completely useless’, you said
Now it seems you’re lost for words
A sinister long-distance silencing of voice

Yet from my antipodean memory rises two
Whispered seductively close some heady years ago
Once upon a Roman god-like loving time, you said…
'Hello Miss!'

June Pitman-Hayes

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Leaving home

From the thick plastic window we see
a patchwork quilt of paddocks
and the sky pegged out like a sheet
left on the line in the rain.
Our plane is a small warrior
sea birds help it along by dreaming
but we're thankful because this world is
in the same place we left it.
Bush-clad plains blur to deep green
laid out like cloth on a wood table.
The Strait is a sinkful of dirty dishes
that rocky shore is just a different kind
of crumpled blanket
with satin edge.

Melissa Wastney

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From sleep
The trio held a dream
                      into their stirring

           embraced the cloying taste of honey
           thankful for freesia’s sweet scent
           smarted from a bee’s sting

So, each rose to the day
                      With different expectations

Unfulfilled yearning for seduction yet to come
           Eager anticipations for an early spring
                      The need for warrior armour to help
defend from the insect world—

                                 hedonists and optimists

Sue Barker

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Matariki is
It is not what Papatuanuku can do for you
But what you can do to help Papatuanuku

The pressure of our hands upon the earth
laying a predatory cat to rest under a thankful kohekohe seedling
chickens nesting a clutch of fertile eggs
your eyes full of the long summer
amongst the warrior trees flexing in the changing wind
when we walk down the road
as a different shade of sky folds over
and the blue distance draws near shadows
of clouds over the oceans heart
beating with the velocity of our dreams
and certain rivers swollen by misfortune
accelerating towards tipping points
with the scent of history lingering
like the fires of discontent
when we know everything is global, everything
in the turbid flux of slow falling fine humid rain

Piet Nieuwland

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starved by socials

we were the girls who were starved
of love                 of touch                 of cake

especially cake

we survived on rabbit food
did you know a cucumber is 96% water?

we survived on water

the side of a plant furthest from the sun elongates its cells
so the plant droops
                towards the sun
                                towards sustenance

we could not reach what we needed
so our teeth and tongues grew
                towards love        touch       cake
                                             towards sustenance

the plant cannot undo the drooping
                even when it has had enough sun

we could not keep each other at arm’s length
                even when our kisses left puncture marks

we dreamt
of love                 of touch of cake
as if it would help our cravings
ease our
but woke up to our hearts                 skin                 stomaches
digesting themselves

but at least my collarbones
make my instagram posts sexier

we were the daughters of underfed warrior women
never thankful for the intergenerational hunger
that was our birthright

we become insatiable women
filling the gaps between our ribs with words
sisters with starving souls
and bleeding hickeys
and killer captions
we become living shades

what makes us different to the dead ones?
gluttony’s a sin, so
hell has       so       much       cake

Harshitha Murthy
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

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