Fell, Cliff

Fell, Cliff


Primary publisher
Te Herenga Waka University Press

In Brief

London-born Cliff Fell is a poet, essayist, musician and book reviewer who settled in New Zealand in 1998. He has worked variously as an archaeologist, filmmaker, bank-clerk, truck-driver, bartender, and roadie. His poetry has been published widely here and overseas, and his 'Motueka Song', a radio-poem about the Motueka River, was broadcast on National Radio. Fell won the 2003 Victoria University Adam Prize, and his first collection, The Adulterer's Bible, was named Best First Book of Poetry in the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.


Fell, Cliff (1955- ) is a poet, essayist, musician, and book reviewer.

Cliff Fell was born in Hatch End, London in 1955, to a New Zealand father and an English mother. Before settling in New Zealand, Fell travelled widely, living and working in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He had a number of different jobs, including time spent as an archaeologist, film-maker, bank-clerk, truck-driver, and roadie.

His poems have been published in the United Kingdom and New Zealand in magazines, chapbooks and anthologies, including The New Exeter Book of Riddles (Enitharmon, London, 1999) and the online journal Turbine. His poem ‘Ophelia’ was selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2003. 'Motueka Song', a radio poem about the Motueka River was broadcast on National Radio.

In 2002 Fell graduated with an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University. He was the first poet to win the Adam Prize. His first collection, The Adulterer's Bible was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press (then Victoria University Press) in 2003. The Adulterer's Bible also received the New Zealand Society of Authors Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry at the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

The title of The Adulterer’s Bible is taken from the notorious 1631 edition of the King James Bible in which the printer omitted the word ‘not’ from the seventh commandment. The book contains a number of interwoven narratives of adultery. In The Listener, Peter Bland wrote that the collection is ‘amusing and inventive…rich sensual detail’ and called it ‘a fine first book’ that ‘signals both an interest in the accidental mysteries of language and a taste for the erotic’.

In 2004 Fell wrote and produced 'Motueka Song', a radio poem about the Motueka River which was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National. It later became one of the principal motifs of Travelling River, an arts-science collaboration funded by Creative New Zealand and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.

In 2006, ABC (Australia) broadcast a radio performance of The Adulterer's Bible in their Poetica Programme. Later that year, Fell accidentally discovered Bob Dylan's reworking of lines from Peter Green's translations of Ovid's Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, which was widely circulated in the press and on the internet.

Fell was awarded a Creative New Zealand new project grant in 2004. His second collection, Beauty of the Badlands (Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2008) journeys from local contemplations of Ernest Rutherford's birthplace in the Moutere hills, to a road trip through Mexico and the southwest of the USA.

Three of Cliff Fell's poems have appeared in the annual online anthology and showcase of New Zealand poetry, Best New Zealand Poems: 'Ophelia' appeared in BNZP 2003, 'Ovid in the Antipodes' in BNZP 2006 and 'The M at the End of the Earth' was also the subject of a video collaboration with the NZ painter and video artist Kate Walker, which was shown in Hotspot a 2007 joint exhibition at the Suter in Nelson.

Finding origins in previous work The Adulterer's Bible, The Good Husbandwoman’s Alphabet, published in 2018,saw Fell collaborate with artist Fiona Johnstone and photographer Ivan Rogers.

Fell works as a lecturer in Creative Writing at the School of Arts at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. He lives with his partner Pammy and daughter Nina.

Fell participates in Read NZ Te Pou Muramura's Writers in Schools programme.


Updated July 2022.