Bill Nelson

Root Leaf Flower Fruit

210mm x 138mm
Publication date:
14 September 2023

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Shortlisted for the 2024 Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry

NZ Listener Best Books of 2023

A woman lies helpless after a stroke, her family gathered. Her grandson, healing slowly from a head injury after coming off his bike, takes leave from his job and family to prepare her rundown house and farm for sale. As he works, he sifts through what remains of his grandmother’s daily life. Then, after an auction result for which he was not prepared, and echoing her desperate flight years earlier, his uncertain return leads to a haunting and unguessable destination.

Root Leaf Flower Fruit is a verse novel about slow time – the turning of the seasons, the farming of land, the generations of a family – and about sudden, devastating interruptions.

'This intriguing verse novel leads us at a walking pace – sometimes tumbling and scraping – across country and suburb, and volatile seasons. There are pivots in perspective and a rich sense of deep time as we encounter nature, injury and recovery, and a settler farming legacy. Bill Nelson’s writing has a sonic quality, protean line breaks, and surprise story threads. The final section with its hint of the New Zealand gothic, is gripping.' —Ockham NZ Book Awards

'Nelson’s book-length poem is an extraordinary act of art-making. The writing is visceral: Nelson writes the weather, the mud, the rain, the roots, the beats of bodies. There is a beautiful rendering of human cycles (interrupted as they are by death, injury, and emotional upheaval) against the entropy and flourishing of the land around and underneath. I was so impressed by the ambition and the beauty of this book.' —Claire Mabey, The Spinoff

'It’s quite a feat to create a novel-length poem like this. Bill Nelson has done it with panache. . . . The final walk of the grandmother is a tour de force of style and painfully realistic.' —NZ Listener

‘This book kept surprising me. I loved its fascination with the body’s sleights of hand, and the careful attention it paid to childhood, memory and other buried things.’ —Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes and Bird Life

Root Leaf Flower Fruit seems to me to be a sort of Pākehā whakapapa, or a yearning for it, and a commentary on the ways in which Pākehā reach for connection to place and people but sometimes miss. The most beautiful passages describe the body failing while the whenua continues its seasonal rotation. I was completely absorbed by this story song of a grandson and grandmother trying to connect both to the world around them and to their sense of self.’ —Tina Makereti, author of The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke and Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings

‘Funny and destabilising, Root Leaf Flower Fruit is a haunting insight into the “pattern of a damaged brain slowly healing”.’ — Lawrence Patchett, The Spinoff


Bill Nelson's first book of poetry was Memorandum of Understanding (2016). His poems have appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Sport, Landfall, Hue & Cry, Shenandoah, The Spinoff, Minarets and The 4th Floor, as well as in dance performances and art galleries and on posters. In 2009 he won the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry from the International Institute of Modern Letters, and he is a founding editor of Up Country: A Journal for the NZ Outdoors. He lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara with his partner and two children, and his dog, Callimachus Bruce.


Cover design: Todd Atticus

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