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Bornholdt, Jenny


Jenny Bornholdt is a poet and anthologist. Her poetry has been praised for its freshness and concealed depths. The author of numerous collections, Bornholdt was the winner of the 2002 Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship and received the 2003 Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award. In 2005, she became the fifth Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate. Bornholdt is married to poet Gregory O’Brien, with whom she has edited several anthologies, and critics have noted the sense of an ongoing conversation across their respective work.

FROM THE oxford companion TO new zealand literature

Bornholdt, Jenny (1960 –), is a poet and anthologist. She began writing seriously in 1984, and has since published This Big Face (1988), Moving House (1989), Waiting Shelter (1991), How We Met (1995) and Miss New Zealand: Selected Poems (1997). Almost without exception, critics have praised her poetry’s freshness and the concealed depths in its lucid explorations of the simple and the familiar: ‘many poems … ring like the reassuring chime of crystal glass or with the resonance of a perfectly fired bell.… They reveal the hidden.’ (Bill Direen, NZ Listener, 17 June 1995).

Characteristic of her idiosyncratic take on the world is the way language and relationships serve similar functions in her verse. She clearly delights in language, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of how it can fashion and refashion existence, and an acute awareness of the mutability of meaning: ‘O deceptive mouth / covering up / for the heart like that’ (‘My mouth was singing’). She enjoys wordplay: be it a deliberate, self-conscious reiteration of themes and vocabulary to bind sequences of shorter, lyric poems; or the employment of ‘found language’ to surprising effect, as happened with the sign on a shelter in the Wellington Botanic Gardens that supplies the title for Waiting Shelter. Manhire’s teaching techniques are evident behind the eighteen pieces of the first section of How We Met, for which Bornholdt drew inspiration from a recording of north-eastern Estonian song cycles—a variation on a creative writing course’s stock exercise involving the use of something (anything) as a catalyst to set in motion the creative process. Like words, relationships regularly elude definition in Bornholdt’s poetry. She makes full use of autobiographical detail, but usually as a starting point for an imaginative act that, while inventive and unexpected, invariably finds its way back to the individual or the personal relationship—‘The long arms of the family rest / along the shoulders of the world’ (‘We Will We Do’).

Bornholdt is married to poet Gregory O’Brien, and critics have noted the sense of ongoing conversation occurring between their respective collections; as well, he makes occasional cameo appearances in her poems. With O’Brien she co-edited My Heart Goes Swimming: New Zealand Love Poems (1996), and with O’Brien and Mark Williams: An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English (1997), which won the 1997 Montana Book Award for Poetry.

Author entry from The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature,
edited by Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie (1998).

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An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English, edited by Jenny Bornholdt, Gregory O'Brien and Mark Williams, received the Montana Poetry Book of the Year award at the 1997 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

These Days was published in March 2000.

Bornholdt was the winner of the 2002 Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. Her poetry in Summer, published in 2003 by Victoria University Press, record the experiences of her family through the summer when she held the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship in Menton, France. Summer is warm, witty, engaging and accomplished. The superb cover is by award-winning designer Sarah Maxey, and the line drawings are by poet, essayist, artist (and Jenny's husband) Greg O'Brien.

'Jenny Bornholdt is one of New Zealand's best-loved poets. She allows her poems to immerse themselves in marvellous details of everyday life. Constantly through the years she has served up poems rich in anecdote and incident... Jenny writes about all the important things in life: love, sex, family and memories. Summer is another slim volume full of shimmering lovely thoughts... Summer is full of mellow magic.' Otago Daily Times

Bornholdt was a recipient of one of the 2003 Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Awards.

In 2005, Jenny Bornholdt became the fifth Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate. Administered by the National Library of New Zealand and funded by the New Zealand Government, the Poet Laureate is selected biennially and receives an award of $50,000 per year.

The Colour of Distance New Zealand Writers in France, French Writers in New Zealand was published in 2005 by Victoria University Press and co-edited by Gregory O'Brien.

Bornholdt had a poem included in Shards of Silver (Steele Roberts, 2006), a book investigating the interplay between photography and poetry.

The Rocky Shore, published by Victoria University Press in 2008, is an autobiographical collection of poetry. The collection was awarded the Montana Medal for Fiction at the 2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

Jenny Bornholt was the 2009 Victoria University Writers' Fellow. She was also interviewed by Harry Ricketts in the anthology, Words Chosen Carefully, edited by Siobhan Harvey (Cape Catley Ltd, 2010).

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