Jane M. Simpson

Jane Simpson was born in England to artistic parents, but grew up in New Zealand. She has a PhD (Otago) in religion and gender in New Zealand (1939–59), and has articles in international journals and chapters in books. In the 1990s she taught social history and religious studies in universities in Australia and New Zealand. Her poems have been published in journals including takahē, Poetry NZ, Meniscus and Social Alternatives, and in a number of anthologies. Candlewick Kelp, a chapbook, was released by Poets Group in 2002. She currently works in Christchurch as an English language tutor and editor. Her adult son also lives in Christchurch and is training to be a teacher.


Jane reads and discusses her work on Bookendz, a Christchurch internet radio program

Jane on LinkedIn

Aotearoa Sound Archive of Jane's poetry


where zebra crossed
the millennia melt
dishes point to the sky
a purple smudge
holy theatre from flat
roofs business as usual
below where concrete
crumbles diggers waitthe heavens are a turtle
shell pricked
quick dusk then darkness
stars sparklinga grain of sand the smallest bone
the tooth of an ancient
rat in Al Gharbia
scientists study on the bridge
for crocodiles
when the Himalayas
were young

English only please
the first lesson in
the old desert
school, the national
anthem insistent
as tinnitus

windows blackened
like a crazed wadi

my student paces
the stacks, Arabic books
the government says
take up too much space,
softly touches their spines
chews her gum

pouts and ignores the sing-song
small talk we must teach
these women, then breaks
the English Only rule
and the rule we have given
up on – Mobiles Off

tries half the lesson
to get through to the enemy –
the newly-created Abu
Dhabi Education Council

keeps repeating
stock phrases, takes
the yes-men on –
her language book scarcely opened
when the bell rings. We go past
the cups; the ritual welcome
to her classroom, cardamon tea

Date palms lattice, curve with the sun, briefly
hospitable. Couches define our majalis
where widows meet. Their heavy eyelids belie
sparkling eyes, conversation competing
with the traffic’s roar.

Amna, the youngest, unwraps
more dates from neighbours’ trees.
Her son revs his broken toy car, steals stares
from great aunties, squeals at their fake indignation,
eyebrows raised as they sip tea
through their indigo burkhas:

no visor for a medieval knight,
but a fine line from forehead to mouth,
an exaggerated smile, cheeks soft,
a frame for stories.

Palms play, dresses flame vermillion. No
black abaya, where no men go.

Family archive
My grandmother lives
in my kitchen cupboard
in pressed pages, Granny
Irene, fresh air and her
Fröbel training, raw not refined –
slipping cut-up oranges
down my throat at bedtime.

In my kitchen cupboard
there lives, in small neat writing,
an unnamed Hungarian neighbour.
She fled to England with her
fail-safe coffee cake recipe:
equal parts butter, sugar, flour –
dictated and filed
in our family tree.

Amish women live
in my kitchen cupboard.
Kochrezepte zur Verlobung
a gift without translation.
And now, Gisela, all elegance and silver,
threads beads with women friends –
the hand-painted wedding silk
ravishes us from across the bed.

On the bottom shelf, with the oils
and vinegars, lives an elephant –
in doodles, when the dahl
took too long to cook –
pulikachal and tamarind
stain the paper.
Memories, still raw,
sting my nostrils.

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