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The Listener's Best Poetry Books of 2019

The 10 best books of New Zealand verse from 2019, as chosen by Nicholas Reid.

COLLECTED POEMS by Fleur Adcock (Victoria University Press [VUP])

Greatness in 550 pages. A poet’s half-century-long career between covers, from ironic young woman to one wiser and older; and little of it dated.

UNDER GLASS by Gregory Kan (Auckland University Press [AUP])

One unified, complex poem in which a dream landscape stands in for a whole life’s journey.

TO THE OCCUPANT by Emma Neale (Otago University Press [OUP])

Broad and humane range from a skilled poet moving between small domestic experience and real tragedies.

NIGHT AS DAY by Nikki-Lee Birdsey (VUP)

An assured debut balancing experimentation with frank expression in exploring a dual American–New Zealand identity.

A PLACE TO RETURN TO by John Allison (Cold Hub Press)

Old-school, but welcome, civility from an experienced elder poet looking at landscape and high culture.

LISTENING IN by Lynley Edmeades (OUP)

In prose poem, list poem and free form, an examination of communication itself.

LAY STUDIES by Steve Toussaint (VUP)

Most unexpected collection of the year. Demands much of the reader, but rewarding in its philosophical questioning.


A jewel of a book, unafraid to use mythology in delineating the human condition.

MOTH HOUR by Anne Kennedy (AUP)

Free verse in a sometimes angry and sometimes witty lament for the poet’s lost brother, which becomes a critique of a whole society.


The poet can be cryptic, but her “found” poems, and poems of personal statement, add up to a commentary on the very nature of art.

This article was first published in the December 7, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.