Elizabeth Smither

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Elizabeth Edwina Smither MNZM (born 15 September 1941 in New Plymouth) is a New Zealand poet and writer.

She worked as a librarian.[1]



Elizabeth Bishop knew that her type of poem was hard to do well, and she published sparingly. Elizabeth Smither, by comparison, publishes prolifically. In each book there are some very good poems, the kind that you rediscover later with delight. But many of the poems in The Lark Quartet, as much as we can see where they want to go, don’t quite make it. I wished they had been left longer and worked harder so that their quickness and lightness at the level of ideas could ripen into something more lasting in language.[4]

Smither writes concise, intelligent poems that sometimes exhort, sometimes muse, sometimes simply watch. Smither generally does not rhyme, though ‘Rhyme, Unrhyme’ playfully comments on this by rhyming in stilted couplets and ending by saying, of a causal conversation among working-class New Zealanders on a train, ‘if it rhymes it takes away all their hopes’.[5]

Elizabeth Smither’s poetry book Horse Playing the Accordion is a lively exploration into the ordinary instances of life. Smither alternates between revealing life’s most sublime and solemn (in the case of her funeral poems) instances. We can only marvel as Smither gathers an array of moments, placing them before us to feast on.[6]

Oblique, amused, always probingly intelligent, Smither’s muse is too wry, too self-aware, to demand disciples or to found a “school”. Reading her poetry leaves us the opposite of spellbound.[7]




  • Smither, Elizabeth (1975). Here come the clouds : poems. A. Taylor.
  • You’re Very Seductive William Carlos Williams (1978)
  • The Sarah Train (1980)
  • The Legend of Marcello Mastroianni’s wife (1981)
  • Casanova’s Ankle (1981)
  • Shakespeare Virgins (1983)
  • Professor Musgrove’s Canary (1986)
  • Gorilla/ Guerilla (1986)
  • Animaux (1988)
  • A Pattern of Marching (1989)
  • A Cortège of Daughters (1993)
  • The Tudor Style: Poems New and Selected (1993)
  • A question of gravity: selected poems. Arc Publications. 2004. ISBN 978-1-900072-75-5.
  • — (2007). The year of adverbs. Auckland University Press.
  • Horse Playing the Accordion (Ahadada Books, Tokyo & Toronto, 2009)
  • The Love of One Orange
  • — (2013). The blue coat. Auckland University Press.
  • — (2013). Ruby Duby Du. Illustrated by Kathryn Madill. Cold Hub Press.


  • Jenny Bornholdt, Gregory O'Brien, Mark Williams, eds. (1997). An anthology of New Zealand poetry in English. Oxford University Press New Zealand,. ISBN 978-0-19-558338-0.
  • Vincent O'Sullivan, ed. (1987). An Anthology of twentieth century New Zealand poetry. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-558163-8.

List of poems[edit]

Title Year First published Reprinted/collected
Last sister Smither, Elizabeth. "Last sister". Inertia. 4.
A cortege of daughters Smither, Elizabeth. "A cortege of daughters". Inertia. 4.
An error on a quiz programme Smither, Elizabeth. "An error on a quiz programme". Inertia. 4.
Two security guards talking about Jupiter 2007 Smither, Elizabeth (April 2007). "Two security guards talking about Jupiter". Snorkel. 5.
The self, for Antigone Kefala 2008 Smither, Elizabeth (March 2008). "The self, for Antigone Kefala". foam:e. 5.
Plaits 2008 Smither, Elizabeth (March 2008). "Plaits". foam:e. 5.
Night horse 2014 Smither, Elizabeth (Autumn 2014). "Night horse". Meanjin. 73 (1): 16.


  • First Blood (1983)
  • Brother-love Sister-love (1986)
  • The Sea Between Us (2003) 2004 Finalist for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards

Short Stories[edit]

  • Nights at the Embassy (1990)
  • Mr Fish (1994)


  1. ^ http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writers/smitherelizabeth.html
  2. ^ "Prizewinner wants to be All Blacks poet". Taranaki Daily News. 10/09/2008. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ "Lilian Ida Smith Award Recipients" (PDF). Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  4. ^ http://andrewjohnston.org/leggott.htm
  5. ^ "Nicholas Birns reviews A Question of Gravity by Elizabeth Smither". Jacket 30. July 2006.
  7. ^ Hugh Roberts (September 15–21, 2007). "Serious Play". The Listener.

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Hone Tuwhare
New Zealand Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
Brian Turner