Riemke Ensing

(b. 1939)

"All those / accumulated moments gathered as ancestors / intent on discarding time. Moving from sorrow / towards a preference for light" - 'Day of Remembrance: The Ancestors', Riemke Ensing

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  • The Aotearoa & Waiata New Zealand Poetry Archive
    This recording, bibliography and introductory essay are kindly provided by collaboration with the Aotearoa & Waiata New Zealand Poetry Archive, a pioneering resource of modern & contemporary New Zealand poets reading their work, devised and created by Jan Kemp and her team. For further details, please click on the link above.

Select bibliography

  • Private Gardens: An Anthology of New Zealand Women Poets (editor), Caveman Press, 1977
  • Letters: Selected Poems, Lowry Press, 1980
  • Topographies: Poems, Prometheus Press, 1984
  • Spells from Chagall, Griffin Press, 1987
  • The 'K. M.' File: and other poems with Katherine Mansfield, Hazard Press, 1993
  • Like I Have Seen the Dark Green Ladder Climbing, Pear Tree Press, 1995
  • Dear Mr Sargeson ..., Cape Catley, 1995
  • Finding the Ancestors, privately published, 1999
  • Tarawera - Te Maunga Tapu, Pear Tree Press, 1999
  • Talking Pictures: Selected Poems, HeadworX Press, 2000
  • O Lucky Man: Poems for Charles Brasch, Otakou Press, 2009
Born in The Netherlands, Riemke Ensing moved to New Zealand in 1951. A distinguished poet, Ensing’s life has also been spent as a tutor at The University of Auckland (NZ), where until recently she was an honorary research fellow, as an anthologist, a visual arts essayist and reviewer, and a leading campaigner for Amnesty International.

As a poet, Ensing came to prominence as editor of the first substantial anthology of New Zealand poetry by women, Private Gardens (1977). Since then, she’s published eleven volumes of poetry. In her Talking Pictures: Selected Poems, University of Otago Emeritus Professor of English, Dr. Lawrence Jones comments, “Ensing has her own voice and eye and frame of reference in her poetry, and the Dutch origins are a significant factor in this uniqueness, contributing a European quality which has made an increasingly rich mix with a range of New Zealand (and other) elements.”

The effect of her European childhood is most evident in poems which, while astutely scrutinizing the past, pay honour to history and to learning from its mistakes (‘Day of Remembrance: The Ancestors’, ‘War Biography’). This is also apparent in her rich, deep readings of these poems, for her delivery is more stylistically consistent with European poets than New Zealanders. The past, remembering and paying tribute to it, also plays an integral role in poems devoted to lineage and multicultural observations of history (‘Finding the Ancestor’, ‘Crossings’). As she writes in ‘Crossings’, a poem about the waters edging New Zealand and their resident taniwha (legendary Maori monster), “Here history is close./ You hear it in the rhythms of wind roaming/ where dark meets light and sea joins earth/ in celebration of journeys, the pathos of space/ where the heart lies.”

Thematically, Ensing’s poems also touch upon the act of writing (‘Poem’, ‘Life’), the spiritual landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand (‘Birds Passing the Night’), childhood and domesticity (‘To Robbie Who Is Five and a Half’), and the inclusion of other cultural customs and literatures (‘Shoah’, ‘Day of Remembrance: The Ancestors’). Ensing’s arresting readings of these poems pay close attention to their details. From chrysanthemums in ‘Life’ to the paspalum, lichen and freesias in ‘Finding the Ancestors’ and her references elsewhere to wind, rain, sky, fauna, ocean, moon and stars, Ensing chronicles New Zealand’s simple beauty, while registering the politically fractious Europe she left when she was twelve.


2002 Buddle Finlay Sargeson Fellowship

2012 Kevin Ireland Poetry Competition (winner)

2012 Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry

2012 Janet Frame Memorial Award (runner-up)

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