Oliver, Stephen

Oliver, Stephen



In Brief

Stephen Oliver is a poet who has also worked as a newsreader, a journalist, and a copy and feature writer. He has published numerous poetry collections, and his writing has appeared in a range of journals and anthologies. John Allison describes Oliver’s ‘writing [as] richly textured, a sensual music. The rhythms are muscular, pointed by a sure sense for lineation.’ Much of his poetry is also freely available online, including his collections, Unmanned, Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000, and Deadly Pollen.


Oliver, Stephen (1950 - ) is a poet who has published widely, with poems translated into German, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian. In addition to being a poet he has at different times in his life been a newsreader, an announcer, a journalist, and a copy and feature writer.

Oliver was born and raised in Wellington. After completing a one-year diploma course in journalism at Wellington Polytechnic he left New Zealand. Before settling in Australia for 20 years, Oliver lived and worked in Greece, Paris, Vienna, London, San Francisco and Israel. He returned to New Zealand in 2007.

Oliver’s first collection of poetry Henwise was published in 1975. He has since completed nine additional volumes including & Interviews (1978), Autumn Songs (1978), Letter to James K. Baxter (1980), Earthbound Mirrors (1984), Guardians, Not Angels (1993), Islands of Wilderness – A Romance (1996), Election Year Blues (1999) Unmanned (1999) and Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000 (2001). In addition to the above collections Oliver’s work has also been widely anthologised in both Australia and New Zealand.

Peter Goldsworthy in the Australian Book Review described his poems as having 'near perfect balance'. John Allison in New Zealand Books describes Oliver’s 'writing [as] richly textured, a sensual music. The rhythms are muscular, pointed by a sure sense for lineation. The book is equally rich in images, marvellously evocative'.

Two new poetry titles from Stephen Oliver: Deadly Pollen (2003) and Ballads, Satire & Salt - A Book of Diversions, illustrated by Matt Ottley, (Greywacke Press, 2003). The latter is distributed in New Zealand by Titus Books. Deadly Pollen was translated into Spanish (Polen Mortal) by the Chilean poet Sergio Badilla Castillo.

Dr. Nicholas Reid, writes on the API Network (Australian Public Intellectual Network) literary site of book reviews, 'Stephen Olivers anthology of 2001, Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000, brought together the work of a poet who combines an astonishing facility for image with a complete assurance of voice, while showing a deep engagement with the poetic tradition . Two new collections, Ballads, Satire & Salt and Deadly Pollen, will do much to extend that reputation.'

About Deadly Pollen, Will Roby of Word Riot writes, 'Stephen Oliver makes a turn in language in his latest release, Deadly Pollen, a collection of new and recently published poems full of both original and mystical references. Conversation, myth, image, symbol . . . The author says his book "represents an ongoing exploration of damage to our larger cultural environment" and uses his work to "pay homage to historical memory". Oliver calls poetry "an exercise of loss and preservation".'

JAAM wrote of Ballads, Satire & Salt - A Book of Diversions (2003) that it is 'a collection of mostly comic, political and nonsense verse...lively and technically impressive...a vigorous addition to our fund of light verse.'

Either Side The Horizon was published by Titus Books, 2005.

CD ROM King Hit recording features poems by Stephen Oliver and music by Matt Ottley. IP Digital [Interactive Publications] Brisbane, Australia. For more informaton go to the IP mini-site.

About Harmonic, Nicholas Reid from Antipodes, write: 'Stephen Oliver’s new book, Harmonic, is a tour de force, and I doubt that Australasian letters will see a more important volume of poems in this decade. If his gift in the past has been for the beautifully crafted lyric and the brilliant image, here we have the series of major poems that should cement his reputation, once and for all. ...the volume as a whole has an architectonic, a movement from an early crisis of metaphysics to a final home-coming, in a brilliant series of poems that celebrate the real.'

Harmonic is available in New Zealand, February 2008, through Interactive Publications, Brisbane, Australia. Use the link for further details.

APOCRYPHA is a chapbook of poems, published by Cold Hub Press, based in Governor’s Bay, Lyttelton. Patricia Prime reviewed the collection in Takahe 71, ‘From the first poem…it is evident we are in the presence of an acutely sensitive poet whose powers of expression and clarity of vision are equally matched… If Oliver is fighting for forms and attitudes which seem out of step with the dominant trends of contemporary poetry, he is doing it with a firm grasp of poetic form, with skill, and with his own sublime elegance of imagery, sound and phrasing.’

Stephen Oliver’s volume, Intercolonial, is a long narrative poem published by Puriri Press in 2013. Melbourne poet and editor Judith Rodriquez writes, 'Intercolonial, fittingly, ranges wide - it’s oceanic - transtasman, transatlantic - both impressively researched and visionary. McCormack, at its centre, may be ‘Dionysius morphed into Cormac Mac Airt’ - his dreamscape comprises the coming of the gods, the Romans, the Vikings, the Maori. Stephen Oliver gives us a Wellington as shape shifting through myth, history and childhood as any of McCormack’s hauntings; set him at any of the way stations and we are caught in the swirl of seas, the changing landforms and cities, human doings, minds and stories. A compulsive read.

Oliver’s latest collection, GONE: Satirical poems: New & Selected, brings together a diverse range of metrical constructions including villanelles, sonnets, raunchy ballads and whimsical ballades. Nicholas Reid writes of the collection ‘If Oliver laments a world without cultural memory, as he does in the title poem of the collection, ‘Gone’, he does at times show that supreme gift for image which makes him for me one of our major poets … there ought to be a place in our aesthetics for satire—and also for the ballad, for the poet on holiday. It takes a particular skill (one Oliver owns to a high degree) to write with the kind of verve which enlivens rhythms which are comically rough, and to create characters with mythic reverberence’ (Landfall Review Online, November, 2016).

Jefferson Gaskin writes in Antipodes, ‘Composed over the course of the last few decades, and displaying an enormous range in voice and form, these poems find focus in the struggle between art and amusement, both with respect to the writer who creates and the audience that consumes. Consequently, while always entertaining, the poems also often possess a subtle power to disturb and provoke, an effect that in the best examples leave you almost feeling guilty for having so much fun while reading them.’

In 2017, Oliver will release Manifesto: A Political Analogy (Otago University Press).

Last updated September 2016.


Stephen Oliver is available for school visits as part of the Book Council's Writers in Schools programme.


Updated January 2017.