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Naming the Beasts

Tuesday 8 February 2022 11:05am

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.

Reviews and Interviews

Paula Green reviews Naming the Beasts on NZ Poetry Shelf Read
Elizabeth Morton speaks to Morrin Rout about Naming the Beasts on Bookenz, Plains FM Listen
Hamesh Wyatt reviews Naming the Beasts for the Otago Daily Times Read
Elizabeth Morton speaks to Lynn Freeman about Naming the Beasts on Standing Room Only, RNZ Listen
Good Books Wellington Q&A with Elizabeth Morton Read
Erica Stretton reviews Naming the Beasts for Kete Books Read
Manon from Time Out Bookstore review Naming the Beasts for 95bFM's Loose Reads Listen
Elizabeth Morton speaks to Michelle Elvy for Flash Frontier Read

Publication details

Paperback, 230 x 150mm
ISBN 9781990048388, $25