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Monday 31 August 2020 10:21am

Janet Charman

Longlisted for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry in the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

The book

Charman Pistils websiteChuck open the curtains
slap of sun
clothes sworn never to be worn again
put on
that nipple revealing pocketless top
buttoned to the neck
these thrush egg blue pajama pants
extra large elasticated waist
deranged lights pulled free of browned green tree
rubbish ornaments
find a respite with the League of Nations dolls
packed away on a case by case basis
Palestine Kashmir Timor Darfur Parihaka
rearrange the furniture so the kids
don't feature
eat up the fruit

− 'Xmas–New Year'

The Pistils is a dispatch from the cusp of change. It appears at the severing of a 40-year relationship following the illness and death of poet Janet Charman's partner during the Covid restrictions.

Here, she chronicles her experience with transition – to the digital age, to single life, to carbon neutral. She dissects her Pākehā sensibilities towards colonizing privilege as well as her gender-critical feminist's astonishment at attacks from allies in the realm of sexual politics.

In The Pistils, Charman regards her separation from her grown children in the light of her own parents' deaths. And she looks to a future in which the crises she anticipates, both personal and environmental, are treated as no less inevitable than they will be mysterious.

The author

Janet Charman is one of New Zealand's sharpest and most subversive writers. In 2008 she won the Montana Book Award for Poetry for her sixth collection, Cold Snack. In 2009 she was a Visiting Fellow at the International Writers' Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University. In 2014 she appeared as a Guest Reader at the Taipei International Poetry Forum. Her collection 仁 Surrender (2017, OUP) chronicles her writing residencies in Hong Kong and Taiwan. This is her ninth collection of poetry.

Publication details

Paperback, 230 x 150
ISBN 9781990048333, $25

Reviews & Interviews

Interview: Janet Charman on Standing Room Only with Lynn Freeman Listen

Review: “Janet Charman's ninth collection of poetry, The Pistils, is both harsh and soft, generous and sparse. In performance of the book's title, the poems' dynamics and tones dilate and contract, reacting innately to nightfall and sunlight. The female body exists here, fortified and violated, alongside ruminations on childhood, cereal, television and the digital world. It's a collection of delicate balance and clear, unapologetic voice.” – Sophie van Waardenberg for Academy of New Zealand Literature. Read the full review

Review: Chris Tse reviews The Pistils for Nine to Noon Listen

Review: “Reading Pistil is exhilarating. I am loving this book because it is vulnerable and open, it is edgy and crafted, and because it shines a light on how it is for women. We still need that persistent light. We still need poetry that misbehaves as much as it makes music on the line. The poems call out and call for, stand out and stand for. It is a stunning collection.” – Paula Green for NZ Poetry Shelf. Read the full review

Review: “Crafted, woven with feminist ideology and navigating the intersections of memory, gender and politics, Janet Charman's The Pistils is an accomplished work.” – Siobhan Harvey for Kete Books. Read the full review

Review: “These are taut and manicured poems from one of our strongest voices … If you like your poetry classical, primal and immediate The Pistils truly works.” – Hamesh Wyatt reviews The Pistils for the Otago Daily Times. Read the full review

Review:“Charman is not a one-issue poet, and her practice is varied, full of a surprising number of tricks." – Erik Kennedy reviews The Pistils for Landfall Review Online. Read the full review

Review:"Janet Charman's poetry is no wallflower, despite the insistence of a diminutive pronominal 'i'. The poems in her ninth collection, The Pistils, shrug off their petals and storm the pages with the politic and the personal, with cutting wit and the blunter edges of the domestic scape, hazed with memories of bach gardens and picnic sets. The 'i' moves between poems, holding its own in a world in which literary significance is determined by men, but in which women are defiant … The Pistils jabs its elbow into the patriarchy, in a shock of poems where plant morphology and women's sexuality come together, full-frontal and bold." – Elizabeth Mortonreviews The Pistils for Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook 2023

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