Oliver, Stephen

Oliver, Stephen



In Brief

Stephen Oliver is an Australasian poet and voice artist who has also worked as a newsreader, a journalist, and a copy and feature writer. He has published more than 20 volumes of poetry, and his writing has been translated into 4 languages and appeared in a range of international journals and anthologies.

John Allison describes Oliver’s ‘writing [as] richly textured, a sensual music. The rhythms are muscular, pointed by a sure sense for lineation.’ A regular contributor of creative nonfiction and poems to Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature, much of his poetry is also freely available online, including his collections, Unmanned, Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000 and Deadly Pollen.

Oliver, Stephen (1950 - ) is a poet who has been widely published. He was born and raised in Wellington, where he completed a journalism course, but after travelling and living in countries across Europe, he settled in Australia for 20 years. As well as writing, Oliver has worked variously as a newsreader, a journalist and a copy and feature writer. He returned to New Zealand in 2007.

In the late 1970s, Oliver signed on with the radio ship The Voice of Peace 1540 kHz broadcasting in the Mediterranean out of Jaffa, Israel.

Oliver’s first collection of poetry Henwise was published in 1975. Nine following volumes include & Interviews (1978), Autumn Songs (1978), Letter to James K. Baxter (1980), Earthbound Mirrors (1984), Guardians, Not Angels (1993), Islands of Wilderness – A Romance (1996), Election Year Blues (1999), Unmanned (1999) and Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000 (2001). In addition to the above collections, Oliver’s work has also been widely anthologised in both Australia and New Zealand.

Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000 was reviewed by Nicholas Reid on the API Network (Australian Public Intellectual Network) literary site of book reviews as being ‘the work of a poet who combines an astonishing facility for image with a complete assurance of voice, while showing a deep engagement with the poetic tradition.’

Peter Goldsworthy in the Australian Book Review described Oliver’s poems as having 'near perfect balance’ while John Allison in New Zealand Books describes Oliver’s 'writing [as] richly textured, a sensual music. The rhythms are muscular, pointed by a sure sense for lineation.’

A regular contributor of creative nonfiction and poems to Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature, Oliver's poems have also been translated into German, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.

In 2003 Oliver published two further titles, Deadly Pollen and Ballads, Satire & Salt - A Book of Diversions, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Greywacke Press, 2003). Deadly Pollen was translated into Spanish (Polen Mortal) by the Chilean poet Sergio Badilla Castillo. Deadly Pollen was reviewed by Will Roby of Word Riot as a turn in language . . . a collection of new and recently published poems full of both original and mystical references.’ JAAM wrote of Ballads, Satire & Salt - A Book of Diversions (2003) that it is 'a collection of mostly comic, political and nonsense verse . . . lively and technically impressive . . . a vigorous addition to our fund of light verse.'

Oliver published Either Side The Horizon in 2005 (Titus Books). In 2007 ‘King Hit’, a spoken word compilation, featured a selection of Oliver’s poems accompanied by Matt Ottley’s original compositions.

In 2007, Oliver also published Harmonic, a poetry collection described as a ‘tour de force’ by Nicholas Reid from Antipodes. The reviewer doubted ‘that Australasian letters will see a more important volume of poems in this decade’ with the collection ‘a brilliant series of poems that celebrate the real.’ Harmonic was available in New Zealand from 2008, through Interactive Publications, Australia.

Published by Cold Hub Press in 2010, Apocrypha is a chapbook of poems, based on Governor’s Bay, Lyttelton. Patricia Prime reviewed the collection in Takahe 71, stating ‘From the first poem . . . it is evident we are in the presence of an acutely sensitive poet whose powers of expression and clarity of vision are equally matched . . . If Oliver is fighting for forms and attitudes which seem out of step with the dominant trends of contemporary poetry, he is doing it with a firm grasp of poetic form, with skill, and with his own sublime elegance of imagery, sound and phrasing.’

In 2013 Oliver released Intercolonial, a long narrative poem published by Puriri Press. Melbourne poet and editor Judith Rodriquez writes, that Intercolonial is a ‘compulsive read’, both ‘impressively researched and visionary.’ She continues, ‘Stephen Oliver gives us a Wellington as shape shifting through myth, history and childhood as any of McCormack’s hauntings; set him at any of the way stations and we are caught in the swirl of seas, the changing landforms and cities, human doings, minds and stories.’

In Takahē, Patricia Prime writes ‘Stephen Oliver is one of New Zealand’s finest poets.’

Oliver’s collection, Gone: Satirical poems: New & Selected, brings together a diverse range of metrical constructions including villanelles, sonnets, raunchy ballads and whimsical ballades. Nicholas Reid writes of the collection ‘If Oliver laments a world without cultural memory, as he does in the title poem of the collection, ‘Gone’, he does at times show that supreme gift for image which makes him . . . one of our major poets . . . there ought to be a place in our aesthetics for satire –and also for the ballad, for the poet on holiday. It takes a particular skill (one Oliver owns to a high degree) to write with the kind of verve which enlivens rhythms which are comically rough, and to create characters with mythic reverberance’ (Landfall Review Online, November, 2016). Jefferson Gaskin agreed, writing in Antipodes that Oliver’s poems have the ‘subtle power to disturb and provoke, an effect that in the best examples leave you almost feeling guilty for having so much fun while reading them.’

Also writing in Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian and New Zealand Literature, Nicholas Birns suggests ‘We should look for the genuine commonalities between Australia and New Zealand rather than reinforce existing distinctions. It is here that I find the poetry and prose of Stephen Oliver so valuable.’

In 2016 Oliver’s poetry featured in Writing to the Wire Anthology, edited by Dan Disney and Kit Kelen (University of Western Australia Publishing), and in 2017, in Manifesto: A Political Anthology (Otago University Press), edited by Emma Neale and Philip Temple.

Oliver's latest collection LUXEMBOURG was published by Greywacke Press, Canberra, in July 2018. (Copies can by obtained by emailing greywackepress@gmail.com)

In a review in The Australian newspaper, Geoff Page wrote:
‘Stephen Oliver, as evidenced from Luxembourg, his nineteenth collection, is plainly a skilled and substantial poet with an admirable range in both genre and technique. His underlying impulse may be lyrical but the political is hardly less important. There is also an enjoyable slice of comedy and satire — and a variety of forms which include blank verse sonnets and numerous prose poems. There’s also a recurrent medieval colouration in some of his New Zealand poems, especially when allegory is involved … Oliver uses it effectively to reimagine landscapes and infuse them an extra depth.’

Luxembourg was listed as one of the ten best poetry collections published in 2018 by the NZ Listener.
A comprehensive review of LUXEMBOURG by Nicholas Reid of Canberra can be found here at Ragazine Literary Journal.

In 2020, Oliver published The Song of Globule / 80 Sonnets (Greywacke Press, Canberra 2020), a collection of 80 sonnets pursue the oneiric preoccupations of a young woman living in Sydney who, if not suffering from multiple personality disorder, is certainly a fantasist. Her sensibilities are continuously informed by a chorus of legendary heroines, both real and mythological.

Also in 2020, he released Heroides / 15 Sonnets(Puriri Press). Writing in The Australian, Geoff Page wrote ‘Stephen Oliver … is plainly a skilled and substantial poet with an admirable range in both genre and technique.’

In a review for Takahē, Patricia Prime writes: ‘… one of the deepest and most enigmatic voices in New Zealand poetry. To be profound and enigmatic is this poet’s talent.’


Stephen Oliver is available for school visits as part of the Read NZ's Writers in Schools programme.


Updated June 2017.