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Ensing, Riemke
Writer's File

Riemke Ensing

Auckland - Tāmaki Makaurau
Ensing, Riemke
In brief
Born in the Netherlands, poet Riemke Ensing has distinctively synthesised European and New Zealand influences. After arriving here in 1951, Ensing came to attention as editor of the first New Zealand anthology of women poets, Private Gardens. She has published numerous collections, often engaging with art, politics and other poets, and her selected poems were published in 2000 as Talking Pictures. Ensing has taught New Zealand literature at Auckland University and in 2002 she received the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship.


Ensing, Riemke (1939 –), is a poet who has distinctively synthesised European and New Zealand influences. Born in Groningen, Netherlands, she arrived in 1951 and came to attention as editor of the first New Zealand anthology of women poets, Private Gardens (1977).

Her own work developed slowly and deliberately as she reflected on her European heritage and absorbed local literary trends. Her first volume, Letters (1982), emphasised in its title a self-consciousness about the literary process that has continued to characterise her writing.

Her reputation as poet and scholar has grown, especially with three books published in 1995: Dear Mr Sargeson, written in homage after visiting Frank Sargeson’s cottage; Like I have seen the dark green ladder climbing, a response to paintings by Eion Stevens; and Gloria-in-Excelsis, an edition of the poetry of Gloria Rawlinson. Ensing’s interest in art, evident in her reviews and her catalogue of Stanley Palmer’s paintings (1992), overflows into her poetry in an arresting and original way. Her practice is similar to collage, drawing attention to the density of her texts by making their allusiveness visually apparent on the page itself.

Her European background is manifest in the subject matter of many earlier poems, from Topographies (1984) to Spells from Chagall (1987). She began to absorb New Zealand voices with The KM File and Other Poems with Katherine Mansfield (1993), mostly written for the Mansfield Centenary Conference in 1988. They integrate echoes of Mansfield’s voice through quotations, autograph signatures, photographs and illustrations.

Such experiments in layout and typography are key to Ensing’s fusion of her own cultures, re-establishing fragments from New Zealand literary icons and placing their past words in a present context. Thus many of the poems are prefaced by dedications. She teaches New Zealand literature at Auckland University.

Ensing published two books in 1999: Finding the Ancestors was a response to the first Dutch Language and Literature conference in New Zealand, while Tarawera — Te Maunga Tapu is a response to the mountain, and the paintings of Margaret Lawlor — Bartlett.

Riemke Ensing's Talking Pictures: Selected Poems (2000) includes the best of Ensing's poetry from 1984 to 2000.

‘Equally comfortable with Māori and Oriental subjects and motifs, she nevertheless writes unmistakably out of a European heritage,’ writes Peter Whiteford in the NZ Listener.

‘Other features of Ensing's poetry are the very direct voice that emerges from time to time in overtly political poems, and the postmodern way of making spatial arrangements and connections.’

In a speech at the Dutch Embassy reprinted in Kite, Vincent O'Sullivan says: ‘In a sense, its the artistic cheek of Riemke's work that I so often respect. There's little she wont have a go at.’

Ensing is one of the recipients of the 2002 Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship.

Ensing had a poem included in Shards of Silver (Steele Roberts, 2006), a book investigating the interplay between photography and poetry.