Writer and Performer

Welcome to my site. I live in Dunedin, New Zealand and have been writing for most of my life. For a long time, I thought poetry would be my only writing genre, but now my creative instincts have guided me outwards to explore a wider range of forms and collaborations.


Latest Publication

South D Poet Lorikeet  Available in all good bookshops or  from the publisher  NZ $29.95

South D Poet Lorikeet (2017)

Available from Cold Hub Press / NZ$29.95


I am the bird who appears in your dreams
I am the bird whose song you hear
I am the flash of feathered blaze
I am still a surprise to you


In South D Poet Lorikeet Jenny Powell, with her customary acuteness and lightness of touch, writes of girlhood, difference, displacement, losing one’s footing, peering into the looking glass. Permeated with colour, time, identity and love, these new poems deconstruct and reconstruct and curve in unexpected directions, with keywords that repeat and bind like fine strands, and themes that twist and replicate like the patterns of DNA.


HeadworX publications. These are now available as ebooks:


Sweet Banana Wax Peppers (1998)

“One of the most striking and engaging aspects of Jenny Powell-Chalmers’ first book of poems is her highly imaginative way of seeing, and listening to the curves of the imagination: a curiosity about and regard for the fascination of fictions, and the eccentric in the ordinary and the commonplace.”

- New Zealand Books




Hats (2000)

“It is the range and fluency of her language that stand out. She is one moment practical, then tender, then opulent and sensual. She confronts issues of death and beauty with clarity and humanity. And underlying it all is her quick eye for the offbeat and the completely absurd.”

- New Zealand Listener


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Four French Horns (2004)

“This is a spritely book full of clever ideas. Since her debut collection, Sweet Banana Wax Peppers, she has worked with personal and domestic themes and then added something extra. Once again, she gives the reader a collection full of wide-awake poems.”

- Otago Daily Times


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Viet Nam: a poem journey (2010)

“It is a stylish and at times emotional volume, always balancing energy with peace and a narrative of colour and movement, vegetation, crowds, heat, bustle and the smells and sights of a country new and strange but somehow known. I felt it was all there, Viet Nam and a smattering of Aotearoa.”

- New Zealand Poetry Society

Poetry published by Cold Hub Press

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Ticket Home (2012)

Soft cover chap book / Sold out

Exploring a variety of locations and experiences, the poems in Ticket Home tap into our universal desire to feel ‘at home’. Some have autobiographical starting points, others have a clear base in specific places, while Powell’s careful observations transform ordinary events into the extraordinary. We are compelled by her particular blend of rich imagination and sharpened imagery to journey with her . . . perhaps to seek our own tickets home.

- Cold Hub Press


Trouble ( 2012)

Soft cover chap book / $19.95

Many of the poems in this new collection from Jenny Powell share a concern with independence, celebrating the sensitive upholders of rebellion, the confused as well as the savvy, “raggedy-assed and looking for trouble”; from the “kid ready with a piece of fence”, “rabbits picking / the wrong time to run” and a “grunge-punk” queen of the night (her “hair / touched up with paua shell pink”), to the “mother who fell / into her wardrobe archive of memories” and a cantankerous old man in a nursing home (“when his soap goes missing the staff are to blame”), and finally the poet herself, letting go “for a blind leap”. One poem records a staircase encounter with Janet Frame, another imagines Frances Hodgkins as a reluctant resident of the Frances Hodgkins Rest Home. Always, as she observes and engages, the poet’s subtle wit and sympathetic imagination are apparent.

- Cold Hub Press

Click here to read a poem from 'Trouble'...

Memoir / Health


The Case of the Missing Body (2016)

(Jenny is Available for book discussions )

Published by Otago University Press

Available online here / NZ$29.95

The Case of the Missing Body is the true and unusual story of Lily, who has no sense of her body. She has struggled with the effects of this her whole life.

Desperate to try anything to ‘be normal’, a nevertheless sceptical Lily agrees to begin work with her physiotherapist in a gymnasium. One extraordinary day, working in the gym, Lily discovers she has shoulder blades. All her life she has thought people only felt their heads, with thoughts trailing along, in and behind them. Now she has shoulder blades.

There is nothing easy about what is to follow. Neither Patrick (the physiotherapist) nor Lily could have predicted it. But with help from professionals, the writer of this beautiful, moving memoir becomes her own detective, searching for clues to help her find her own body.

- Otago University Press


Comments at Beatties Book Blog

Corpus conversations about medicine and life

New Zealand Book Council Book of the Month

Powell reads an excerpt

Collaborations - Poetry


Double Jointed (2003)

Inkweed Press / Out of print

Jenny Powell-Chalmers collaborates with Rob Allan, Martha Morseth, John Allison, Larry Matthews, Emma Neale, John Dolan, Peter Olds, Claire Beynon, Trevor Reeves and James Norcliffe.

In her writing with each poet the work transforms into something beyond the separate voices. For Powell-Chalmers, the collection is about exploring the reproduction of chamber music. Seeking the close  interaction between musical voices she attempted to replicate this poetically in a series of duets with each poet.



Locating the Madonna (2004)

Published by Seraph Press

Locating the Madonna is the outcome of an experiment in collaboration and poetic influence by poets at opposite ends of the country: Powell-Chalmers in Dunedin and Jackson in Auckland.

The poets decided, as Jackson says, ‘to steal from each other’, after they met at a poetry festival in Brisbane. They posted poems back and forth, each responding to the voice and ideas of the other in their own work, harmonising with each other. When placed together in the collection, these poems could almost be the work of one poet.

They found themselves drawn to the recurring image of the Madonna, who appears in the poems in many guises and situations. More than a religious symbol, she tramps on solid earth, she visits shopping centres and film festivals. She is at once mysterious and domestic, and through her the poets explore the themes of motherhood, family and home.

This collection resonates with the truth that it is hard to be the perfect mother, wife or family member; that that love and guilt sometimes go hand in hand. Written with beauty, clarity and often humour, the poets have created a rich and enjoyable collection.

Follow this link to read about Powell’s contribution to collaborative poetry: 

J & K Rolling - Touring Poets

Together, Dunedin poets Jenny Powell and Kay McKenzie Cooke form J & K Rolling.

Well known for their travels around the hinterland of Otago and Southland, they

frequently target rural areas that have not had poets visiting before. As well as reading some of their own poems, they include open mic sessions, which encourage local poets to read their own work. 

Click here to read about the adventures of J & K Rolling

Collaborations - Multi Genre


Sunday Capone (Short Film)

Athenaeum Theatre, 2000 Dunedin Fringe Festival

Sarah Jones, Matthew Frost

Jenny Powell

Wyeth Chalmers



Montecillo Child

(Available for future performances)


Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

Jenny Powell

Jenny Powell and Simon O'Connor

Music Composition and Sound Design:
Kerian Varaine

Projected Images:
Jenny Powell, Kerian Varaine, Simon O'Connor, with assistance from Toitu

Kerian Varaine

Talking House with assistance from Toitu
Oral histories recorded by Jenny Powell

Barbara Power, Kiri Beeching, Simon O'Connor

Montecillo Child: The After-effects of War

Tom McCarthy was part of the Gallipoli Otago Mounted Rifle Contingent who landed at Anzac Cove and fought on Chunuk Bair in August 1915. A piece of shrapnel remained in his head until he died, turning in its own cycle and causing major epileptic seizures.

He arrived at the Montecillo Red Cross Convalescent Home in 1923 and was a resident there until he died in 1973. In 1928 he married Jessie Kelman and their daughter Nola was born in 1931.

Montecillo Child combines dialogues and poetry, sound and projected images. The dialogues are taken from oral histories given by Nola (the 'Montecillo Child') and her cousin Grace.

Actors read from their scripts, with the words and their voices becoming part of a larger composition. Sometimes they read poems, written to capture certain events with a pared-down intensity. Along with the audio soundscape and projected images, these components combine to present a snapshot of Tom McCarthy’s family life and a wider social picture, where the after-effects of war continue to influence multiple generations.

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Alive in Berlin

(Available for future performances)

Underground Market, 2017 Dunedin Fringe Festival

Writer and Performer:
Jenny Powell

Simon O’Connor

Composer and Sound Designer:
Kerian Varaine

Phoebe Lysbeth Kay MacKenzie

Rosemary McBryde

Talking House

2017 Dunedin Theatre Awards, Lighting Finalists: Alive in Berlin

2017 Dunedin Theatre Awards, Outstanding Script/ Narrative/Libretto Finalists: Alive in Berlin          

Alive in Berlin is a 50 minute multimedia performance that mixes spoken word - poetry, prose and one-person 'dialogues' - with projected images and new music compositions. It offers glimpses of autobiographical detail that collide with imagined histories, some whimsical and some much darker. It has been described as being like a concerto, where music and projected images amplify and play off the text. It has also been described as more of a jazz piece; a sonic or video piece or an installation.

There is one live performer, supported by video projectors and amplifiers, which give Alive in Berlin a greater sense of size and complexity than is often the case with conventional solo performance. Dynamic shifts of scale from tiny, condensed images to expansive projections, fill the performing space.

Alive in Berlin focuses on issues of fragmentation and displacement, both historical and geographical. Dunedin New Zealand changes to Berlin, and Gore or Invercargill, (even further south in New Zealand), to Paris. Alive in Berlin is not theatre in any conventional sense. It is  exciting and unsettling, designed to tilt the audience off balance.


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Totitu’s Song Opus 202b

Commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of Saturday Morning Music Classes in Dunedin, 2018

Dunedin Town Hall

Anthony Ritchie

Jenny Powell

Over 500 children and young people.

Toitu is the name of a small stream feeding into the Otago Harbour at the original landing place for Dunedin. Tributaries that feed into Toitu can be found in Dunedin’s town belt. 

I chose Toitu as a metaphor for Dunedin’s Saturday Morning Music Classes. From small beginnings, as in the youngest children who learn the basics of beat and rhythm (like Toitu travelling through the green heartbeat of the town belt), Toitu, and the older children, develop new elements in their stream of musical learning until they can freely participate in the global language that music offers.
— Jenny Powell
Picking up on Jenny’s thoughts about the text, I imagined a ‘snowball’ effect in the music, starting with one voice line and growing into a full orchestra of hundreds. In the piano version this is, of course, not possible! However, I used the river imagery to create a flowing effect in the music, along with a folk-like melody that suggests Nature. The song is also an affirmation of young life.

The song was written for children’s choir but can be performed by any age. Although written for S.S.A. it is mainly unison and simple 2-part.
— Anthony Ritchie

Version for choir and piano is available here:



Place of Birth

Dunedin, New Zealand


ATCL, Wellington Polytechnic Certificate of Music, Victoria University-University of Otago  BA, University of Otago  BEd, Dunedin Teachers College Cert Tchg, University of Otago MEd, Massey University Albany, PGCert Ed Psych


Jenny Powell began her steady output of poems at age 13. During secondary school she learnt the french horn and went on to study music at Wellington Polytechnic. Following this she began an arts degree at university, worked part-time in a bookstore and continued playing the horn, including in the National Youth Orchestra of New Zealand. Powell eventually moved back to Dunedin, completing her degree and working in numerous part-time positions. She trained to become a school teacher.

In 1998 her first poetry collection, Sweet Banana Wax Peppers was published, followed by Hats, Four French Horns, and Viet Nam; a poet’s journey.

Her interest in poetic experimentation led to two collaborative collections, the first being Double Jointed with ten other poets, and the second being Locating the Madonna written with poet Anna Jackson. Her other poetry collections are Ticket Home, Trouble and South D Poet Lorikeet. She has dabbled in short stories, and has written an investigation into the body/mind connection; The Case of the Missing Body.

Her interest in collaboration is reflected in two performance pieces. The first to be staged was Montecillo Child, for soundscape, images and voices. The second was Alive in Berlin for music, film and performer.

Powell and NZ composer Anthony Ritchie have written Toitu’s Song, a commissioned work for children’s voices and orchestra.

Awards include being a finalist in the UK Plough Poetry Prize, two times finalist in the Aesthetica Creative Arts Award (UK), short listed in the Welsh Poetry Competition, runner-up in the UK Mslexia Poetry Competition, shortlisted in the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award, shortlisted in the inaugural NZ Book Month ‘Six Pack’ Competition, and winner of the Dunedin Chinese Garden Harvest Moon Poetry Competition.


Contact Jenny

If you would like Jenny Powell to speak about The Case of the Missing Body, or contact her regarding performances of Montecillo Child or Alive in Berlin,  please use the contact form. She will also respond to general inquiries.

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