TIGHTROPE
by Selina Tusitala Marsh
(Auckland University Press, $28)

The third book by new New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh is a dark but ultimately jubilant meditation on existence.

From the early Led by Line to the last verse Ka'ena: Leaping Point, connection and interconnection - of blood, word and experience - reigns. For instance, Unity, a poem Marsh performed for the Queen, considers the mutability and shared spaces found in the people, cultures and beliefs spanning the Commonwealth.

While others, such as Apostles, Tantrum Tightrope and Like the Time You Were Four overlap memory, encounter, family and struggle.

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One step away from grief we may be, but Tightrope also reminds us, particularly in its cadent, performative language, of the joys that make life worth living.


ORDINARY TIME
by Anna Livesey
(Victoria University Press, $25)

Aucklander Anna Livesey's book is another sumptuous third collection. Like the author's previous books, her latest is reflective and perceptive.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, new mother Livesey's subject is parenthood, infanthood and ancestry.

All this is symbolised by the second poem in the book, These First Days Have a Special Quietness, in which the narrator is both observant and gently philosophical, "... feet up, focus on bodies ... on healing, sleeping, feeding".

Verses such as Speech and Comprehension and I am a Person in Love with Nostalgia examine child-parent relationships with the fondness and scrutiny of the psychologist; poems like Artificial Intelligence and Observational Drawing expand the parental bond out into the wider world and its thematic quandaries (War, Religion, The Arts).

Parents and poets alike will find profound consequence and craft here.

THE TRIALS OF MINNIE DEAN
by Karen Zelas
FIELD NOTES
by Mary Cresswell
(Submarine Press, both $25 each)

Two new collections from Makaro Press' Submarine Books are delights. Christchurch poet-playwright Karen Zelas' The Trials of Minnie Dean is a creative interplay of verse, biography and image.

Here the prosecution of iconic Dean, the first - and only - woman to be hanged in Aotearoa, is navigated like a Greek Tragedy. From the sympathetic I care to the epistolary Police telegrams 3 March 1891 and the later Excerpts & experts, the interrelationship of protagonist, witness, victim, crime and bystander is examined, and the contradictions of Victorian morality exposed.

Meanwhile, as the title suggests, Field Notes by Kapiti Coast's Mary Cresswell is steeped in the richness of travel and landscape. Lambton Quay, Copenhagen, California, Konigsberg and elsewhere are navigated poetically while literary and actual itinerants such as Crusoe and Shackleton become subject and symbol. Cresswell's structures are taut, her language lissome, leading us from opening lines, "Don't expect miracles/ only surprises" into a book of amazements.

POCKETS OF WARMTH
by Stu Bagby
(Antediluvian Press, $25)

Former gravedigger, occasional gardener, wordsmith and editor, Stu Bagby's fourth collection is as thoughtful as it is succinct.

The Paremoremo poet writes of a past both bewildering and buoyant. For instance, the love poem Poem for Sheila distills lifelong romance into accessible images and striking denouement.

The same can be said for such verses as The ode to public smoking, Aunt Beryl and the sequence poem Letters to Leicester. In all, Pockets of Warmth reinforces that this septuagenarian writer deserves a wider readership.

Short takes is a weekly round-up of books from specific genres and appears on Saturdays in the NZ Herald's books section in Weekend.