Flash Frontier

Poetry: Fiona Farrell, Nouns, verbs, etc.

Interviews and Features

About Nouns, verbs, etc.

Nouns, verbs, etc. is Fiona Farrell’s fourth book of poetry, a ‘Best Of’ including some of her greatest hits, taken from Cutting Out, The Pop-Up Book of Invasions, The Inhabited Initial and adding a few new gems as well. More about the book can be found at her publisher, Otago University Press.


We begin with a poem related to this month’s theme.

The Door

Our door won’t shut.
Anything might enter.
A man with a sack.
Water. Doubt. Or
the street light that
sways like a question
mark above the camellias.

Our door won’t shut. It
won’t keep the questions
out. It won’t keep the
answers in. And all the
books might tumble
out, like bricks. Not
sentence, phrase or
meaning. Just bricks

with scratches.

The old woman’s story

from Nouns, verbs, etc.

Once upon a time there was
a story.
It lived in the mouth of an
old woman.
It was an bad-tempered story
that kicked the door in and
threw plates. It did not behave

But she gave it shelter.
She had made it herself.
She had fed it with her own
blood. She had spat her own
stomach into its straining
beak. She knew why it cried.

The story had a belly
swollen with history.
It wore a wig torn from
the old woman’s hair.
It was given to scratching.
It howled all night.

Then a man came along.
He went to the woman’s mouth
and took her story out for a walk.
He made friends with it and
smoothed its matted coat.
He wiped away its blood and
brushed its hair.

It was a good story now and
When people saw it we said, ‘Ah,
now that’s a nice story!’ We smiled
and patted it and let it into their
living rooms to lie on their sofas.
The people gave the man money
so that we could hear the story
and the man grew rich. He was
known as ‘the man who had the

And the old woman’s mouth was
a dark cave. It echoed. The old
woman saw her story sometimes,
walking to heel and amusing the
crowd. She felt empty.

But one day, she found a tiny
bump under her tongue.

It was a seed trapped in her

And it was growing legs.

Fiona Farrell publishes poetry, plays, fiction and non-fiction. She has received numerous awards, including the New Zealand Book Award, Creative New Zealand’s premier Michael King Fellowship and the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship. In 2007, she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction and in 2012, the ONZM for Services to Literature. She has been a frequent guest at festivals throughout New Zealand and overseas. As a newcomer to the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival board, she is currently enjoying participating in preparations for the 2021 Dunedin Writers’ Festival.

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