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Tuesday 8 February 2022 9:36am

Morton Beast cover websiteElizabeth Morton

Shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award 2021

Today they smelled gas in the playground but found it to be sewage.
And here, the beige livery of a garden left all summer.
And here, rat bait tucked into the elbows of a workshop frame.
Yesterday, they lit a Catherine wheel and couldn't put it out.
We mow where the grass had burned, rake the rotting windfall
from the plums. Today the sky is orange from the bushfires.
Yesterday my uncle said it's a storm in a teacup,
like a teacup has spilled over the Tasman Sea and the fire alarms
are birds, black and wailing, the shrieked bodies of eucalyptus.
I don't know whether Gondwana is fact or a metaphor for poets.

– From 'Fire'

The book

Naming the Beasts is a menagerie of poems about the gnarlier aspects of being a creature of this world. Within these pages wilderness and suburbia collide. The 'I' in these poems takes many forms: a wolf, a waterbuck, a bird 'stuck circling the carnage'. Whether soaring above or prowling through the neighbourhood, Morton's beasts bear witness to an unremitting vision of pain and ecological damage.

As the flames climb higher, the beasts in this collection are left to wander and live out their lives. There is love and loneliness, passivity and rage. Yet there is always hope. Hoof and hide, fang and gut, these images and insights are those of an artist in a war zone intent on chronicling beauty in a world that's falling apart. Morton's poems take a bite out of the world around us, as they explore reality through the vitality and immersiveness of their imaginative powers.

"The beasts that leap from an Elizabeth Morton poem have always taken my breath away, set my consciousness and solar plexus 'on a collision course with wonder,' the whole world of my heart gone up in smoke. She's a poet of unholy talent and savage tenderness, her poems 'as real as the rupture of day' – we may all be animals who speak, but no one else speaks like this. Like Anne Sexton, she uses poetry as a cage to let the animals out – only a rare and visionary poet, a poet writing at the height of their powers, is brave enough to dare to pen them all within one book. Naming the Beasts is an awe-inspiring feat." – Tracey Slaughter

'Elizabeth Morton's Naming the Beasts is poetry gold. It is the kind of book you savour slowly, absorbing brocade textures, the sumptuous threads, the surprising patterns, satisfying layers. This is poetry that is sonorous, sensual, startling.' - Paula Green


Elizabeth Morton grew up in suburban Auckland. Her poetry and prose have been published in New Zealand, the UK, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and online. She holds an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Morton has accrued many literary acknowledgements for her work, and her previous collection of poetry, This is Your Real Name (OUP, 2020), was longlisted for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry in the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The manuscript of Naming the Beasts was shortlisted for the 2021 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award.

Publication details

Paperback, 230 x 150mm
ISBN 9781990048388, $25

Reviews and Interviews

Interview: Elizabeth Morton speaks to Morrin Rout about Naming the Beasts on Bookenz, Plains FM Listen

Interview: Elizabeth Morton speaks to Lynn Freeman about Naming the Beasts on Standing Room Only, RNZ Listen

Interview: Good Books Wellington Q&A with Elizabeth Morton Read

Interview: “My hope is that, by showing the world as awesome and awful, both, there is some respite from homogenous bleakness. We live in interesting times, and I think that it will be our interest in these times, and our interest in their storytelling, that sustains us. Curiosity and hope are entangled things. Writing from a place of curiosity will, I reckon, keep a light at the end of the tunnel.” – Elizabeth Morton speaks to Michelle Elvy for Flash Frontier. Read the full interview

Review: “Elizabeth Morton's Naming the Beast is poetry gold. It is the kind of book you savour slowly, absorbing brocade textures, the sumptuous threads, the surprising patterns, satisfying layers. This is poetry that is sonorous, sensual, startling." – Paula Green reviews Naming the Beasts on NZ Poetry Shelf. Read the full review

Review: Hamesh Wyatt reviews Naming the Beasts for the Otago Daily Times Read

Review:“…the collection watches lives roll on through a broken and burning world: it aches with the effort of recording beauty and primeval instinct, hunting for hope amongst the chao” – Erica Stretton reviews Naming the Beasts for Kete Books. Read the full review

Review: Manon from Time Out Bookstore reviews Naming the Beasts for 95bFM's Loose Reads Listen

Review:“It is her richest book so far, lexically, and its often-sumptuous wordscapes give the poems a unique texture ... Morton is not just thinking in language, she is thinking through language, and we are watching the process. This is poetry as a kind of fMRI scan, an in-flux map of neural activity” – Erik Kennedy reviews Naming the Beasts by Elizabeth Morton for Landfall Review Online. Read the full review

Review:Naming the Beasts reads like a series of dispatches from the brink of collapse: a view of the apocalypse as witnessed by the creatures who know it best. These inventive poems explore what it is to navigate this troubled time bomb of a world, as Morton leads us through landscapes both urban and wild, both familiar and strange, both desolate and cluttered with life, so that we may examine the skins we live in and the slippery things we truly are.” – Anuja Mitra reviews Naming the Beasts for A Fine Line Summer 2023 issue

Review: "Elizabeth Morton does not flinch, does not look away from the flicker or the flame, the wreck or the still-curling smoke. Naming the Beasts collects a menagerie of her finest works yet, prowling and pressing against the glass pane of the page. But any sense of division between us and the page is notional. There is intimacy in her use of address throughout … The language is lush, at times beyond my vocabulary, but the sounds and textures carry me through and invite me to test language out in my body for sense. This is not a book to be swallowed in one sitting. it demands attention, and I read it one poem at a time, carrying its images with me through my days." – Aimee-Jane Anderson-O'Connor reviews Naming the Beasts for Poetry Aotearoa Yearbook 2023.

Review: "In her new collection, luxuriously laden with disquieting imagery and metaphor, Elizabeth Morton presents the world as one where humans have obtrusively inserted themselves ... These poems need multiple reward repeated visits. Dense with imagery that flits and changes from line to line as Morton weaves between the real, the imaginative, and the hypothetical, among other layers, so each re-reading will evoke more ideas." – Jessie Neilson reviews Naming the Beasts for takahē.

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