Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon

Tuesday 8 February 2022 1:42pm

James NorcliffeLtO Norcliffe website

The book

James Norcliffe's eleventh poetry collection, Letter to 'Oumuamua, follows his recent receipt of the prestigious Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. In this wry and witty collection – addressed to the first interstellar object ever to be detected in our solar system – Norcliffe applies a cool, clear eye to human life on Earth. Our foibles and absurdities are laid bare, but so too is the human capacity for love, desire, sorrow and regret.

Norcliffe's succinct observations traverse the personal and the political. Grounded in the local but encompassing the global, they range through subjects such as commuting, insomnia and faltering health to the contemplation of current events and issues such as gun violence and climate change. The landscapes and settings of these poems are vividly evoked, often in terms of human impact. Birds, 'knowing what we are', take flight at the approach of a person; a coal range is the acknowledged centre of a West Coast family's survival.

Often very funny, and always deeply felt, Norcliffe's Letter to 'Oumuamua describes a world where every day is both everyday – gritty, material, bread-and-butter – and also luminous and precious: a 'day like no other'.

The little ones bring us stories.
They want us to read to them,
to embroider the bright illustrations and make them even brighter.How can we resist? Lying is in our blood.

From 'Wolf Light'

'James Norcliffe's name on a book cover is the nearest you can get these days to a guarantee of quality. Letter to ʻOumuamua is full of Norcliffe's characteristic perspective-bending vignettes, yes, but late love poems, climate requiems, and elegiac looks back at a West Coast youth also demand our attention and make us feel. This is work that refuses to sugar-coat.' – Erik Kennedy

'As always, James Norcliffe has written poems that combine the wit of a movie pirate captain with the golden ear and silver tongue of a troubadour. But do not be deceived. While you laugh, Letter to 'Oumuamua will slip a point as serious as a scalpel between your ribs, and leave you in stitches (minus a kidney). Moving, funny, dark in all the right ways, this brilliant collection will keep you awake at night.' – Joanna Preston


James Norcliffe is a poet, children's writer and editor. He has published 11 collections of poetry and 14 novels for young people. His first adult novel, The Frog Prince (RHNZ Vintage), was published in 2022 and his most recent poetry collection, Deadpan (Otago University Press), was published in 2019. He has co-edited major collections of poetry and short fiction, including Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (RHNZ Vintage, 2014), Leaving the Red Zone (Clerestory Press, 2016), Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, 2018) and Ko Aotearo Tatou: We Are New Zealand (Otago University Press, 2020). He has had a long association with the Canterbury Poets' Collective, takahē, the ReDraft annual anthologies of writing by young New Zealanders and, more recently, Flash Frontier.

Publication details

Paperback, 230 x 150mm, 96pp
ISBN 9781990048517, $25

BOOK LAUNCH: Letter to 'Oumuamua was launched at Scorpio Books on Thursday 23 February, 2023. Read more about the launch here

Reviews & Interviews

Letter to 'Oumuamua #7 on the Nielsen BookScan New Zealand Bestseller list for Fiction (for the week ending Saturday 25th) Read

Review: 'Art and Confusion' and 'Penguin Modern Classics' are excellent explorations of how we react to art and literature 'The Coal Range' and 'The Granity Museum' are outstanding examples of realist poetry, recreating the lives of West Coast toilers. Terrific.' – Nicholas Reid reviews Letter to 'Oumuamua for the New Zealand Listener, March 11–17 2023 Issue.

Review: 'James Norcliffe, recently awarded the 2023 Margaret Mahy Medal, writes with a pen fuelled by the physical world, and a sense of interiority that allows both confession and piquant ideas. His writing is witty, thoughtful, fluid and rich in movement … It's James's best book yet. Glorious.' Paula Green for NZ Poetry Shelf

Review: 'For a collection that takes a long hard look at human foibles and limitations, often from a high, almost detached perspective (perhaps the icy gaze of the passing interstellar object referred to in the title), Letter to ’Oumuamua is substantial, in-depth, penetrating – all of which is to be expected ... Norcliffe is indefatigable in showing us both the beauty and fragility of life, often in strikingly beautiful ways.' James Roderick Burns for the London Grip

Extract: 'Picnic in the cemetery' from Letter to 'Oumuamua by James Norcliffe extracted for Cityscape Christchurch Magazine
Read poem here

Review: David Hill reviews Letter to 'Oumuamua for Nine to Noon, RNZ Listen
James Norcliffe speaks about writing and Letter to 'Oumuamua with Kete Books Read
Review: Erica Stretton reviews Letter to 'Oumuamua for Kete Books Read
Interview: James Norcliffe speaks to Ruth Todd about Letter to 'Oumuamua on Bookenz, Plains FM Listen

Buy now

Back to top