new zealand electronic poetry centre

Elizabeth Smither 

Friday 23 August 7.30-10pm  once and for all
Saturday 24 August 10.15 – 11.30am  scoop:  ten poets read new poems
Sunday 25 August 4.00pm  poets laureate 

'I scribble rather than write, very rapidly in notebooks. . . . Sometimes I visualise a more leisurely, scholarly kind of existence: writing mornings, walking and reading in the afternoon. I am extremely suspicious of the artistic process. If it wasn’t for the occasional result the whole thing would be an enormous waste of time.'  (The Journal Box)

Born 1941. Lives and works in New Plymouth, prolific writer Elizabeth Smither is New Zealand’s Te Mata Poet Laureate. She is also a librarian and a journalist. She has spent much of her life in New Plymouth where she still lives and works. She has two sons and a daughter.

She published her first collection, Here Come the Clouds, when she was in her mid-30s and ‘at once established her distinctive, even idiosyncratic, poetic manner. The short poem, usually but not always unrhymed, witty, stylish and intellectually curious, has remained her forte . . . ’ (Oxford Companion to NZ Literature). She has since ‘written some of the best short lyrics ever produced in this country’ (Gregory O’Brien, Listener).

Although perhaps best known as a poet, with some 13 collections of poems to her credit, she has also written novels, short stories, children’s books and an autobiography and has edited several books for publication. Her work has also appeared in many periodicals and anthologies. Her Auckland University Press publications include Professor Musgrove’s Canary (poetry; 1986), A Pattern of Marching (poetry; 1989; winner of the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, 1990), Nights at the Embassy (fiction; 1990), The Tudor Style (poetry; 1993), The Journal Box (autobiography; 1996) and The Lark Quartet (poetry; 1999).

She is one of the 12 New Zealand poets reading from their published work on New Zealand’s first poetry anthology on CD, Seeing Voices (AUP), which was released in November 1999. Her latest title from AUP, The Lark Quartet, won the 2000 Montana New Zealand Book Award for poetry.

Elizabeth has received widespread recognition for her writing in many awards and distinctions, which include a Writing Bursary (1977), the Freda Buckland Award (1983), an Auckland University Literary Fellowship (1984), a Scholarship in Letters, twice (1987; 1992), a Literary Fund Travelling Bursary (1988) and the Lilian Ida Smith Award (1989).

In her ‘spare time’, she likes ‘reading, watching cricket, gardening, travelling and dining out’.

Listening to The Goldberg Variations

A dream of piano playing: I would rise
from a long disagreeable dinner party
where some had been insulted, some ignored
(I was of the ignored, the cheek turned aside

the gaze downward, the heart raw)
when someone opposite, a gentleman in tails
would whisper low or pass a note
Do you like hearing the piano played?

Quietly we rose and slipped through the door
until, several doors dividing, where
the air grew quiet and sounds faded
stood a venerable piano with a candle sconce

at which the gentleman seated himself
with (first smile of the night) a flick of tails
a shooting of cuffs, a conspiratorial look
and began to play The Goldberg Variations.

On the polished floor I sat in my evening dress
slipped off my sandals and my elbow gloves
rested my head against a piano leg
and let all varieties of grief and love

flow into resolution and a method
for is not life of stairs composed
of climbing melody and deep repose
and this minute by minute’s easing

as the white hands with their little hairs
on second knuckles rose and tried
to slip between the keys until
a smile, about the time of Quodlibet

accrued. In the distance chairs were held
and scraped back and napkins tossed down.
‘Who cares they’ve gone?’ some brute said
as the last notes brought their solace like a plate

and the gentleman in tails got up and snuffed
out the candle between a third finger and a thumb.
I rose too, stiff and resolved, and walked
through the door that opened on the street.


© Elizabeth Smither.



Last updated 18 July, 2002