A woman is kneeling in a stream

Sharp stones jab her knees,
her calves ache with cold.
She is on all fours,
the water whirls
around her white wrists.
If it were calmer,
she would see her reflection,
but the river is churning
because here it narrows
and the bank becomes
an unexpected drop
hidden by long grass.
Small feet running
will go over before
they even know
there’s danger.

The woman is looking
for a tiny foot gouge,
a skid on a bank,
a scrap of skirt.

She feels that life is
rushing out of her
as fast as water,
she feels as though
she will never
stand up again.

Photo by Françoise Padellec

Adrienne Jansen is best known for working alongside migrants to New Zealand to record their experiences, but poetry is where her roots are. ‘Poetry makes you stop and pay attention, to the physical world, to the internal world, and to language,’ she writes. ‘Spending a lot of time with people for whom English is not their first language—is maybe their fourth, or fifth—makes you aware of the beauty and precision and power of language, and of losses between languages.’ 

Adrienne has a deep interest in the accessibility of poetry. Many people grow up believing that poetry is too difficult for them. But poetry is on a long continuum—from very difficult to very simple—and there is great poetry at every point on that continuum. I want to write poetry that is accessible, but offers layers of mystery as well.

Adrienne is the author or co-author of fourteen books, which include three collections of poetry, four novels, and a Moroccan cookbook. She has held Winston Churchill and Stout Centre fellowships, founded the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, and more recently co-founded Escalator Press. She is a teacher, writer, and editor, and lives in Titahi Bay, north of Wellington.

Jansen comments: ‘“Woman kneeling in a stream” is about a small specific physical situation, while behind it much drama is playing out. It’s also about detail. All of that matters to me in a poem.’

Poem source details >


Adrienne’s website
Adrienne’s New Zealand Book Council writer file