Like Fiona Farrell, Bernadette Hall spent six months in Ireland courtesy of the Rathcoola Fellowship, and like Farrell, she has produced a superb new collection of poems that feed off the Irish experience.

Many of the poetry books I have reviewed this year have produced glorious music and I would be hard pressed to pick a favourite, but The Lustre Jug is a book to dawdle over. Give this book to a student of poetry to demonstrate the way a poem can make music.

Often it is best to absorb poetry through your skin and senses, like you do a painting at first sight or an opera upon first hearing, and with Hall's book I want to do this. But I also want to stop and admire the way inspired technical choices lead to such movement and grace.

In the fabulous poem The Fox, a real-life fox becomes luminous on the page, while also standing as a metaphor for poetry itself. On the one hand you fall into the crisp description of the scene, while on the other, you are led to ponder how poetry breaks apart routine, everyday language, and speechlessness.

The sounds come together as a melody that needs to be replayed and listened to for the pleasure that words can give the ear. Sleek words such as "wet," "hot" and "cuts" sit in contrast to words that twist and stretch such as "stickiness" and "thumbprint". There is the pull of alliteration such as "dark and dankness" and the melodic flourish, the inspired audacity, of placing "bell" shortly after "swirl": "She'll be able to pause there, for a while, sip water / while the dogs swirl and bell in front of the big house."

One poem recycles eyewitness accounts of the potato famine and includes a recipe that enables you to eat potatoes at their most vile.

Another poem, more anecdotal, navigates blackberry picking in the relentless Irish rain. Every poem is worth savouring. Diana Bridge returns to her signature theme, classical Chinese culture, in her latest collection, Aloe, and in my view it stands as one of her best.

The Chinese poems bring to mind still-life paintings, such as those by Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. It is as though Bridge's poems can frame an object, a moment in time, a selected scene, and bring a plethora of exquisite detail into sweet focus. Yet just as Morandi's paintings break out of the confines of stillness, so do Bridge's poems. It feels like an oxymoron, but these poems present a calm while shimmering with so much more, with perception, observation and precision.

The central poems move away from the Chinese themes and explore an intriguing range of subject matter: Freud, a cellist, the Botanic Gardens, an Elizabeth Thomson exhibition, the business of writing poetry. One poem, the urge to bury, reveals how poetry translates things that are deeply human, such as grief, loss, joy or rage, into words that embrace a white hot, emotional core.

This poem is of such moving simplicity it transcends a singular occasion: "as I honoured / the old urge to bury / trusting / nothing but earth / with my loss." Jen Crawford uses language to achieve a different kind of fluency in her latest collection, Napoleon Swings. She plays around with how words nestle on the page, slip and leap and bend in the air.

Crawford's poems bear traces of lyricism, syncopated grammar and billowing gaps; features that mark her as a poet who wants to take risks. If you are after a poet who makes conversation that is easily understood then Crawford is not the poet for you, but if you are after a poet who is willing to juggle words in offbeat ways then her levels and sidetracks will make poetry magic for you - "your tiredness and that you did well. / building a wall around it. like a harbour with boats clinking".

The slender volume, with its handcrafted appeal, is another inspired production by Michael Steven's Soapboax Press.

The Lustre Jug
by Bernadette Hall (Victoria University Press $25)

* Paula Green is an Auckland poet and children's writer.