My American Chair
A remarkable new collection by one of this country’s best-loved poets.
White lies, hip replacements and ballet with a sawhorse. Parisian drycleaners and the brush of the grass in Central Park. In My American Chair, Elizabeth Smither leads us through serendipitous encounters, the uncanny in the ordinary, the intricacies of friendship and ruminations on mortality. Assured, intimate, witty, revealing – this is a poetry collection to treasure from one of our most beloved voices.
When you purchase them you must allow –
five stems, fifteen buds, only two half-
open – for their circumference to come
flouncing, bowing, bending in two days’ time
like fifteen girls who have changed into
white debutante dresses or five women
who have danced all night and come home with the milkman.
— ‘The white lilies open’
Elizabeth Smither has written six novels, six collections of short stories and eighteen poetry collections. She has twice won the major award for New Zealand poetry and was the 2001–2003 Te Mata Poet Laureate. In 2004, she was awarded an honorary LittD from the University of Auckland for her contribution to literature and was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. She received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2008. Her most recent book, Night Horse (Auckland University Press, 2017), won the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.
‘Highly influential and widely read, Elizabeth Smither is one of New Zealand’s finest and most significant contemporary writers. Her poetry transcends national borders with its exquisite artistry and careful observation of life’s rhythms. My American Chair is a dazzling work, revelling in language while also considering its vulnerabilities. Smither’s poems explore what it means to be moved and even changed by serendipitous encounters.’
— Cassandra Atherton, Deakin University
‘Elizabeth Smither’s world is the people she knows, the places she visits, the animals she encounters. As they appear in her work they take on mysterious, sometimes surreal, qualities. Her imaginative world is charming and enchanted, peculiar, whimsical, and often very funny.’
— C. K. Stead
‘The freshness of Elizabeth’s vision, her altogether metaphorical way of looking at the world, constantly surprises. Then there is the course her poems take, rising into something which hits, or is very like, the sublime. Her work is replete with a humanity that draws the reader in, moves us and stays with us, achieving what the Chinese call “the meaning beyond the words”.’
— Diana Bridge
‘W. H. Auden once defined poetry as “a game of knowledge, a bringing to consciousness, by naming them, of emotions and their hidden relationships”. This definition suits Smither’s poetry, too, with its sophistication, its wit and humour, its playfulness, its candour, its tenderness, its exploration through simile and metaphor of the unexpected relations between things.’
— Peter Simpson