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Green, Paula


Paula Green is a poet, reviewer and children’s writer. She has written a number of poetry collections and edited several anthologies. She has two popular poetry blogs, NZ Poetry Box and NZ Poetry Shelf, and is active in visiting and touring schools to talk about poetry. She was awarded the University of Auckland Literary Fellowship in 2005. Green has been a judge for the NZ Post Book Awards, the NZ Post Secondary School Poetry Competition, and the inaugral Sarah Broom Poetry Prize in 2014. Her recent publications include a collection of her own poems for children, The Letterbox Cat and Other Poems (Scholastic, 2014), and an anthology of children's verse, A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children (Random House, 2014). 


GREEN, Paula (1955 - ) is a poet and children’s writer. Outside of her own creative writing, Green runs two popular websites, both of which she updates regularly: NZ Poetry Shelf, a site comprising reviews, interviews and other articles of poetic interest, and NZ Poetry Box, a poetry page that inspires children to engage in the reading and writing of poetry.

Her first collection Cookhouse (1997) draws on images of food and cooking, and on her knowledge of the Italian language (Morris has a PhD in Italian from the University of Auckland). In the NZ Listener Gerry Webb describes the writing as 'musical, sensuous, tender, quickwitted...she sketches subtle emotional shapes that only real writing talent can bring to light'.

Green has been a featured poet in Poetry NZ and has appeared in the British journal Fire. With Michele Leggott, she organised the only fringe event at the inaugural Auckland Writers Festival, the first of a series of Cafe Readings at the University of Auckland.

Chrome (2000) is Green's second collection. It is divided into four 'colour coded' parts which correspond with the central aspects of Green's life: her yellow self, her rose-red mother, her green-as-grass father, and the blue ripeness of poetry.

Paula Green's third poetry collection is Crosswind (Auckland University Press, 2004), a lyrical collection in three parts. The first evokes New Zealand landscapes and Italy, and includes love poetry. 'Lounge Suite', the middle section, consists of poems written in response to works by contemporary New Zealand artists - who have, in turn, created images especially for the book. The final section, 'Westbound and floating', recalls the popular music of the 1970s as well as the poet's youth.

Green was awarded the University of Auckland Literary Fellowship in 2005.

Her first children's book, Flamingo Bendalingo: Poems from the Zoo, was published by Auckland University Press in 2006. The collection is written by Paula Green and 50 children, with illustrations by Michael Hight. The work was listed as a 2007 Storylines Notable Non-Fiction Book.

Making Lists for Francis Hodgkins (Auckland University Press, 2007) is Green’s fourth collection of poetry. Green says, ‘Bearing in mind the number of artists in my family tree, my youthful desire to paint, my ongoing pleasure in encountering art of all descriptions and my long relationship with a painter, as I lay in bed for months recovering from an illness I decided to write an autobiography in the light of art.’

Green edited Best New Zealand Poems in 2007 and was a judge for the NZ Post Secondary School Poetry Competition in 2008.

The Terrible Night (Random House, 2008) was illustrated by Chris Grosz. Macaroni Moon (Random House, 2008) is a collection of funny poems for children.

Green's sophisticated picture book, Aunt Concertina and her Niece Evalina (Random House), with oil paintings by Michael Hight, was released in October 2009. In 2010, it was listed as a Storylines Notable Book.

In Green's poetry collection Slip Stream (AUP, 2010), the poems express the author's personal story of breast cancer, from an initial mammogram to operations, radiotherapy treatment and recovery. The poems account for the passing of time by focusing on procedures done, books read, appointments made, food cooked and dreams dreamed.

Paula Green co-edited the anthology, 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry (Random House, 2010) with Harry Ricketts. 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry was a finalist in the General Non-Fiction category of the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

In 2012, Random House published an anthology of love poems, Dear Heart: 150 New Zealand Love Poems, selected by Paula Green. She says of the anthology: 'I have arranged the poems as though I were composing a symphony rather than sticking to a chronological rule, because I wanted poetic music along with poetic heart. Now it is over to the reader to explore the different echoes, the unexpected juxtapositions, the contours of tone, the historical links and disconnections, the contemporary exposures.'

Green published a collection of her own poetry in 2013, called The Baker's Thumbprint (Seraph Press).

In 2014, she published The Letterbox Cat and Other Poems (Scholastic), which is a collection of poems for children, illustrated by Myles Lawford. The Letterbox Cat was shortlisted for the LIANZA Children's Book Awards. It was awarded the Esther Glen Medal for Junior Fiction in 2015, and won the Children's Choice Non-Fiction Award at the 2015 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young adults.

 A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children (Random House), edited by Paula Green and illustrated by Jenny Cooper, was published in 2014. Within this collection, the poetry of beloved authors like Joy Cowley, Margaret Mahy, Denis Glover and Jenny Bornholdt is featured alongside poems written by New Zealand children. The Treasury was listed as a Storylines Notable Non-Fiction book in 2015.

Last updated April 2016.

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writers in schools information

'Paula Green is available to talk to students of any age. Topics she is prepared to discuss are poetry, writing, stories, being a writer, reading, and books. She is happy to speak to classes of any size, and will run workshops by prior arrangement.

KAPAI: Kids Authors Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
In West Auckland.

What books do you read?
I like reading a range of books: children's books, novels, short stories, picture books, poetry, non-fiction. I like finding a book that I cant bear to leave, that takes me away from the world I live to somewhere completely different, or that lets me see the world I live in differently. A recent example of this was Elizabeth Knox's wonderful Dreamhunter. I wanted the book to last and I love inhabiting the world she had built up for me.

Who is your favourite writer?
I don't have one. Margaret Mahy is a treasure, Lemony Snickett, Cornelia Funke, Susan Cooper, Louis Sachar, Maurice Gee, Kate De Goldi, Elizabeth Knox, Jack Lasenby.

I read a lot of New Zealand poetry: I love Jenny Bornholdt, Michele Leggott, Greg O'Brien, Hinemoana Baker, Robert Sullivan, Anne Kennedy, Anna Jackson, Ian Wedde, Richard Reeve, Murray Edmond, James Brown, Kate Camp, Michael Harlow, Allen Curnow and Tusiata Avia.

How do you think up your ideas?
There is a magical reaction between something I see, hear, experience, feel, or remember and the words in my head. In that magical moment, I find the seeds of a poem. And it is of course completely unpredictable.
I do like working on large projects in my head though, big things that are made up of little things. So with Flamingo Bendalingo, I decided I would write poems that would all come from the zoo. Why the zoo? I have gone to the zoo countless times with my daughters and have never got bored. We always see something different.

What is the best thing about being a writer?
I really like creating things in my own private time and space, but I also love sharing those creations with other people. In other words, as a writer I work by myself a lot (which is very satisfying) but I also work with other people (which is stimulating). I like working through the publishing process and I like performing my work in public and talking about it with different groups of people.

Some questions from Primary Schools students

What sort of pets do you have?
Three cats: Weetbix, Agile and Charlie. Charlie was a stray kitten that turned up at our house with a whole bunch of stray cats and we couldn't find the owners, so we adopted him. To begin with he made himself at home by chewing up all our papers in the middle of the night and decorating our floors with paper flakes. I wrote a poem about him which is in Peter Wells' The Cats Whiskers.

What is your favourite colour?
The greens of the bush and the blues and blacks and whites of the ocean at Bethell's Beach near where I live.

What is your favourite food?
Anything to do with rice: sushi, risotto, curry. Anything to do with vegetables: salads, salads, salads. Anything to do with fruit, especially the juices I make. Anything to do with chocolate, especially chocolate birthday cake.

What is your favourite movie?
Shrek, Edward Scissorhands, Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Nanny McPhee, Casablanca, Rear Window, Vigil, Blow Up, Italian movies...

What is your favourite game?
Scrabble, cricket, volleyball, charades.

What is the most fun thing about being an author?
Being able to write every day, seeing the book when it is just back from the printers, and performing my poems in public.

How do you make books?
After I have finished writing all the poems I show them to my publisher to see if she likes them. If she does, she shows them to someone else to see if they think it will make a good book. Then comes the fun part: we choose the picture for the cover, the way the words will look inside, and the size and shape of the book. Then we check it over and over again for mistakes. Finally, it goes to the printers and binders. The whole process takes ages, especially when you have illustrations.

Where do you go for your holidays?
We either go to beaches such as Matapouri and Sandy Bay in Northland because we love boogie boarding, kayaking and lazing in the shade reading, or we go to the South Island because we love the mountains and the spectacular scenery. We go to Central Otago every year. Last year, Michael, Georgia, Estelle, and I all rode the Central Otago Rail Trail. It took us six days because we stopped a lot. We like holidays that are a mix of doing things outside and lazing about reading. Every year we like to go somewhere new in New Zealand.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I don't know if I should tell this story, as usually I was very good at school, but one day, for no reason I can think of, when I was walking past a classroom, I picked up a lump of dirt and threw it in the window and watched it fly. It hit a poor girl on the head! The teacher came out and made me take the lump of dirt to the Principal. As I walked up to the office, and yes my legs were shaking as I had never been in trouble before, I picked away at the lump until it was qute little, a lumpette! When I showed the Principal the tiny lump of dirt and said that I had thrown it in the window and it had hit a girl on the head, I think he was astonished it had actually managed to do that.

Some questions from Secondary School students

How did you get started?
I have always written but it wasnt until I was much much older that I decided to try and get published. I had a poem published in Landfall and then Auckland University Press accepted my first manuscript. I started out writing all kinds of things, stories, poems and even a novel. I still like to write in various genres. While I wrote my first three poetry books, I also write a doctoral thesis on Italian literature.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
Auckland poet, Michele Leggott, was a big inspiration when I was first published but before that I found inspiration in a wide range of writers and still do.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
The first piece of advice is to read and read. If you want to write poety, read poetry, read what you like but also be adventurous and read outside your comfort zone. The second piece of advice is to learn the craft by reading, taking workshops, and by exploring the traditions from which our writing comes. My third piece of advice is take risks, to be experimental, to try writing a poem one way, then change the rules and try it differently. I confess that I am a big fan of both tradition and innovation. My fourth piece of advice is not to let negative criticism get to you (there may be truth in it, but there may not) and to be open to positive criticism. Remember any one poem will be judged in a thousand different ways. Finally, if you want to write, then that is what you must do: write and write and write. Let the work sit for a bit and see what you think after a day or week or a month.

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
Yes. I am firstly and lastly a writer for the love of it.

What were you like as a teenager?
I had ideals about the world, about right and wrong, I wanted to eat healthy food, I loved learning, I loved reading, I loved listening to music. In the end I felt let down by my school. My English teacher used to criticise my writing in a way that knocked me back rather than encouraged me. I became so disenchanted with school I opted out of the education system for a few years.
I decided to hitch hike round the South Island with a friend but it took us a month to get from Whangarei to Wellington and by then my money had run out. I got a room in a huge flat near The Terrace and painted pictures on clothes to sell at the markets and did various clerical and waitressing jobs. I got to the South Island several years later!
Finally, after travelling and living overseas for ages, I came home and wrote the draft of a novel. I then decided to go to university and absolutely loved it.

Is there anything else you could tell us about yourself?
When I was younger I had a motor bike. One day I went to fill it up with petrol but instead of filling the tank I filled my crash helmet that I had slung on the handle bars. As soon as I noticed, I yelled OH NO! and squirted everyone with petrol as I tried to get the hose back. I then tried to tip the petrol in my helmet into the tank. I was wearing bright red and rain gear and as I went to pay the man I slipped over and skidded on my back along the floor, holding the money up to pay. The man leaned over the counter, shook his head from side to side, and said: 'So where exactly did you come from?' When I left I had to put the stinky helmet on my head and finish my journey home. This is a one hundred percent true story!
Once I went to a restaurant in the north of Scotland with Michael. We were the only people eating in it and there seemed to be only one man working there, but he pretended to be a crowd. He took our orders and went into the kitchen and made a racket like he was ten people, slamming cupboard doors, yelling at non-existent people. I ordered fish and the first mouthful was ok, but but by the middle I realised the other half of the fish was still frozen. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw him go and squeeze all the cakes on the dessert trolley, so when he asked if we wanted dessert, we said no. I mentioned this in a little poem in Cookhouse.

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