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Sugu Pillay’s thought provoking work shifts effortlessly between New Zealand – with a seamless integration of Maori themes – and Asian locales, especially India, but is also informed by classical thinkers and artists. A challenging read, with its allusiveness, but one with rewards for those open to its startling juxtapositions and time warps.

The title is from Flaubert’s comment: “Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat our tunes for bears to dance to when all the time we long to move the stars to pity”.

Previously titled In Medias Res, the collection was Highly Commended in the 2012 IP Picks Best Poetry Awards and is a collection of mostly published poems from 1995 to 2012.

Sugu Pillay

Born and raised in Malaysia, Sugu Pillay has postgraduate degrees from Victoria University of Wellington and the University of London. Awarded a Creative New Zealand Grant in 1997, she completed her collection of short fiction, The Chandrasekhar Limit, which was published by The Writers Group, Auckland in 2002. In 2009, her play, Serendipity, premiered in Wellington. Her second play, Salaam Pukekohe, was co-winner of Playmarket’s 2010 Write Out Loud script development programme.


A former resident of Christchurch, Sugu now lives in Wellington.

BuyIP Flaubert's Drum - Sugu Pillay

ISBN 9781921869945 (PB, 114pp)
140mm x 216mm

AUD $25 USD $18 NZD $28 GBP £12 EUR €14

ISBN 9781921869952 (eBook)

AUD $12 USD $9 NZD $14 GBP £6 EUR €7

The poet moves from deep and measured observation of the world around her to leaps through space and time, drawing on allegory and myth to sustain her powerful images. At times, the reader senses the voice of an outsider looking in, ever sharp of eye and ear, alert to nuances that may escape those on the ‘inside’, transforming what she sees and hears into a colourful kaleidoscope that she makes triumphantly her own.
– Fiona Kidman, DNZM, OBE, multi-award winning author

When Sugu Pillay looks at a landscape she sees its history as well as the presence of its skylines, waters, vegetation and human inhabitants. She sings as an immigrant, talks as someone familiar with the land and laughs as a human who lives in many places. She fills a ‘new’ country with a rich inheritance from an ‘old’ one. She writes with love of both. These are poems to read slowly and savour.
– Nelson Wattie, author, translator and editor

In Sugu Pillay’s poetry “the word and the world/feed on each other” . Cities, countries, cultures, customs, jostle in her poems from a mind well-stocked with images, stories, and quotations from  myriad sources. She draws around her like a many- coloured cloak luminous fragments from the multiple worlds and word-worlds that are her complex heritage.  These rich and supple poems instantly draw the reader in but also repay close reflection and re-reading.
– Peter Simpson, Director of The Holloway Press, University of Auckland, author and editor




Sugu Pillay reading from Flaubert's Drum at Wellington Central Library, during the IP New Zealand tour in September, 2012:

Sugu's New Zealand Book Council profile

Sugu's New Zealand Society of Authors page



Mission Bay

She steps on rotting seaweed
crunched shells bloated bells
her wet feet scoop space
a landscape the width of a glance
gulls with staring eyes
circle restlessly overhead
the heat is everywhere
even in the cool crystals
rising in the air over the sea
in daring stained glass allure
its memory embedded
in collapsing waves
memory & myth, theatrum mundi
this is how the world gets lighter
no matter what the story
of the Bay seething in its rays
its waters to the brim
& not a drop spilled

Joggers, stomach sucked in
nostrils flaring hair whistling
circle a coastline taken root
in pohutukawa red
picnickers wild with sun in their eyes
toast the good life with plastic wine
Rangitoto keeps watch
now as in Heaphy’s watercolour
not black lava, not red sky
just green, remote, forbidding
had it not witnessed The Platina
sail into the Waitemata harbour
with the Governor’s house on board?
this foreign body in its eye!

She sits down framed
by umbrageous foliage
Picasso’s beached woman
embracing the body of the sea
its fish, loaves & flotsam
eyes wide open & wanting words

In Medias Res

In tumbled sport the sea collects
stories from shore to shore
drawing in with a kiss
running out with the tide

It’s on these mythic shores
she chose to make her home
…… a vagrant, a player
who holds nothing & whom nothing holds
granted only, by a questionable sea,
to gaze at the land of (her) choice

Here, Sargon of Akkad
here, Horus, here Moses, here Karna
all set adrift by their mothers in waters
laden with the world’s stories

This could also be the shore
the boats set sail to drop triangular cakes
for fish to nibble

Ch’u Yuan’s leaping fish hum softly
flaunting tensions distributing seeds
of die gestundetete

The ancient & the now walk in step
the past collapsing over the present
I wait & wait till you
blow my mate to me

Kannaki stands in the shadows
Kovalan & Matavi exchange verses
on the enigma of clause embedded love
their delirious tongues fly across
the open wound of a cleft breast

Ilanko floats up

With bloated indignant eyeball
commands a proper telling
of the moral (sting?) in the tale

(articulation is but a plank
over the abyss)


one of life’s grenade throwers

walking into a Constable
had the good sense
to disappear in time

untidiness of purpose

if a woman is a river
he put the pain there
Joyce did

touch trope & tryst

for inferred coherence
try a flower plucked
loves me not

a persuasion of the real

we’re cells
in the body of God

what does this poem know?

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