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Hall, Bernadette


Like a number of New Zealand women writers, poet and playwright Bernadette Hall did not begin to publish until her 40s, but quickly cemented her reputation as one of the country’s more distinctive poetic voices. She was the 1996 Burns Fellow at Otago University and in 2004 shared an Artists in Antarctica Fellowship with friend and collaborator, Dunedin artist Kathryn Madill. The author of over nine poetry collections, her work has been published in a range of national and international anthologies. Hall was the 2006 Victoria University Writer in Residence and in 2007 held the Rathcoola Residency in Donoughmore, Ireland.


Place of residence: North Canterbury
Primary publisher: Victoria University Press
Rights enquiries: VUP, PO Box 600, Wellington, c/- Fergus Barrowman
Publicity enquiries: As above

FROM THE oxford companion TO new zealand literature

Hall, Bernadette (1945 –) is a poet and playwright. She was born in Central Otago and has an MA in Classics from University of Otago.

Her first collection of poems, Heartwood (1989), was described by Ken Arvidson as ‘the work of a poet of very individual sensibility’. Three subsequent collections, Of Elephants etc (1990), The Persistent Levitator (1994) and Still Talking (1997), have cemented her reputation as one of the more distinctive poetic voices to have emerged since the late 1980s. Her work is characterised by a crisp, often cryptic, lyricism, combined with a visionary intensity. 

Note: this entry has been updated

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

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Additional Information

Bernadette Hall was the 1991 Canterbury University Writer in Residence. The residency is designed to foster New Zealand writing by providing a full-time opportunity for a writer to work in an academic environment, and is open to writers in the fields of creative writing: fiction, drama, and poetry.

In 1992 Hall won the Aoraki Festival playwriting award with her play Glad and the Angels.

While continuing her professional life as a high school teacher, Hall went on to produce two more collections of poetry. Settler Dreaming (VUP) was published in 2001. In 2002 it was shortlisted, along with books by the Australian writers John Tranter and Les Murray, for the inaugural Tasmania Pacific Poetry Prize. Featuring design and artwork by Kathryn Madill, it was also shortlisted in the 2002 Spectrum Print Book Design Awards.

The Merino Princess: Selected poems (VUP) with artwork and design by Kathryn Madill, was published in 2004. ‘Hers are poems whose technical finesse resonates and performs. They are the work of a questing, generous, civilised mind, one that quite knows what its values are and says so in ways that are definingly unique.’ Vincent O’Sullivan

The Merino Princess… is triumphant evidence that Bernadette Hall has arrived on the local version of Mt Parnassus in style … Hall’s work succeeds by being ultimately tough-minded and wary … Hall sails up like the Flying Nun, a ‘persistent levitator’ buoyed by her own lightness of being and her linguistic felicity…’ David Eggleton, The Listener, February 19-25, 2005, vol. 3380.

At the end of 2004, inspired by a trip to Antarctica, Hall retired from high school teaching to focus her energies on her writing. The Way of the Cross was published in 2005 to mark the Centenary of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch. It contains fourteen poems by Hall and photographs of the Stations of the Cross sculpted by Llew Summers which are installed in the Cathedral.

The Ponies
(VUP), a collection of Antarctic poems, was published in 2007. ‘The Ponies is a subtle and sophisticated book…. Staring at the wide white page of Antarctica, Hall sees through the optical illusions of its swirling vapours to its magnetic core, the numinous ground where myth and meaning are generated.’ David Eggleton, The Dominion Post.

The Ponies is concerned with the unsettlement of one’s view of things. In the Antarctic poems, Hall takes the voice of previous explorers to demonstrate that the ‘hazardous beauty’ exists more as an exploration of an inner world than a physical reality. It’s a quality of intimacy that the poems share with the rest of the collection…This collection is profound and beautiful, not least because (the poems) speak gratefully of the integrity and restorative possibilities of the poet’s craft.’ Isabel Haarhaus, New Zealand Herald.

For 10 years Hall was the poetry editor of Takahe magazine. Subsequently for 5 years she was poetry editor for the Press. In 2002 she co-edited Big Sky, an anthology of Canterbury poems (Shoal Bay Press). In 2006 she edited Like Love Poems, (VUP) selected and mostly unpublished work by her friend, the Wanganu painter and poet, Joanna Margaret Paul. ‘We owe an immense debt of gratitude to Victoria University Press and, in particular, Bernadette Hall for bringing us this beautifully produced, fastidiously and intelligently edited collection.’ Hugh Roberts (The Listener, June 24, 2006).

She has received several major awards for her writing. She has been writer in residence at the University of Canterbury (1991), Burns Fellow at the University of Otago (1996), was awarded  the Antarctica New Zealand Arts Fellowship in 2004, and held the writer’s fellowship at Victoria University (2006) where she was attached to the International Institute of Modern Letters. In 1997 she took part in the International Writers’ Programme in Iowa, and in 2004 she shared an Artist in Antarctica award with her friend and collaborator, the Dunedin artist, Kathryn Madill. In 2007 she held the Rathcoola Residency in Co. Cork, Ireland.

Hall’s work has been widely published in journals, magazines and newspapers, and in anthologies. These include Great Sporting Moments (ed. Damien Wilkins, VUP, 2005); Contemporary NZ Poets in Performance, edited by Jack Ross and Jan Kemp (AUP 2007 includes a CD); Moonlight, edited by Andrew Johnston (Godwit 2008); Swings + Roundabouts, edited by Emma Neale (Godwit 2008). Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets, edited by Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack ( VUP 2009). She has performed her work on radio and at festivals both here and overseas. In 2007 she took part in a WOW tour of the Bay of Plenty with Elizabeth Knox, Deborah Challinor and Vince Ford. A film treatment of her poem ‘snap’ made by Third Party Productions was played on Artsville, TV One in 2005.

She has poems included in Best New Zealand Poems 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007. The poems are as follows: 2001 The Lay Sister; 2005 The History of Europe; 2006 The White Dress; 2007 Under Erebus; 2008 Leda at the Bilabong.

Bernadette Hall was the 2006 Victoria University Writers' Fellow.

Her essay on the art of Kathryn Madill is included in Look This Way: New Zealand writers on New Zealand artists edited by Sally Blundell (AUP, 2007). In 2008 Hall became a founding staff member of the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

The Lustre Jug (Victoria University Press, 2009) is a collection of poetry that draws on her experiences in Ireland on the six-month-long Rathcoola Fellowship. The Lustre Jug was a finalist in the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Hall's poem 'The Fox' was included in Best New Zealand Poems 2009. The online anthology was edited that year by Robyn Marsack. Bernadette Hall was editor of Best New Zealand Poems 2011.

In 2013 she was named Patron of the Hagley Writers' Institute in Christchurch. She was also a member of the judging panel for the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

The Judas Tree (Canterbury University Press, 2013) is a collection of poems by Lorna Staveley Anker and is edited by Hall. Poet Lorna Staveley Anker (1914-2000) wrote memorable poetry in her later years that arose from her childhood memories of World War I, along with her experiences as a 'war widow' in World War II. This publication recognises her as New Zealand's first woman war poet.

Life & Customs was published by Victoria University Press in 2013. Hamesh Wyatt reviewed the collection for the Otago Daily Times, writing that the book 'is relevant, radical and entertaining. It will make you grin like a child.'

Poems from her earlier collection The Way of the Cross have been used by the Dunedin composer, Anthony Ritchie, in his Stations Symphony which was premiered by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra on the 22 February 2014. This marked the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake which struck Christchurch in 2011.

Last updated: August 2015

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writers in schools information

Bernadette Hall is available to speak to students aged 13-18 years. She can discuss poetry, creative writing, and a special topic, Antarctica. Her preferred number of students is 40 or below, and she is happy to perform to large groups as well as smaller groups. She has held fellowships at Christchurch Girls High School, Rangi Girls School and Hagley Community College. She has also had experience taking workshops for gifted students. Bernadette Hall is able to participate in tours outside her region.

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Media links and clips

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Phone 0064 4 801 5546
Level 4, Stephenson & Turner House, 156 Victoria St, Te Aro
Wellington 6011, New Zealand