Aotearoa New Zealand writer, poet and academic Briar Wood is of Te Hikutu ki Hokianga Ngapuhi Nui, Scottish, Cornish, English and Portuguese descent. Her poetry has been published in a number of international journals and anthologies, including Albert Wendt, Robert Sullivan and Reina Whaitiri (eds.), Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English (Auckland University Press, 2003). Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in English, teaching creative writing, critical theory and literature at London Metropolitan University.
Wood’s poetry reflects her growing up in Mangere East in South Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand, and the global reach of her current working existence between Europe and Aotearoa New Zealand. Whether it is the placements and displacements offered by references to and connections made between Muriwai, on the West Coast of Auckland and Perranporth, Cornwall in ‘Between the Flags’ or the positioning of narratives between Camden Town and Bilbao in ‘Shell Work’, Wood’s work and her attentive, gentle-voiced readings of them here evoke a sense of place, while locating versions of self in language that is always fused to a feeling of dislocation. In all senses, her poems are simultaneously about being insider and outsider, the included and excluded, and navigate the liminal possibilities of the in-between. Her measured enunciation of poems such as ‘Blown Glass’ and ‘Firing the Pots’ do more than evoke their subject matter - acts of artistry and crafting. They tease out of the poems the ways in which they turn on how forms, symbols for existence, shift and transform into other states of being in the processes of creation and contemplation. To augment this, Wood embraces multiple languages (particularly Te Reo Maori and English) in her poems, and deploys multifarious, international fauna and flora references. In ‘Between Flags’, for instance:
“The green stars of tī kōuka
cordyline australis or Cornish palms
punkish at Perranporth…”
symbolise how the poet melds disparate languages, locations, atmospheres and dimensions in a work where a need to belong and the complexities of putting down roots is an ongoing concern. Here, as tī kōuka/ the New Zealand cabbage tree and palm trees on the Cornish coast are planted beside each other in the poem, they can flourish there, situated but separated across the space of the page, in a manner emblematic of the routes being thematically travelled by the poet and reader.