The Oceanic Feeling (2021)

Cover image: Katharina Jaeger (by courtesy of the artist) /
Cover design: William Bardebes (2020)

The Oceanic Feeling. Drawings by Katharina Jaeger. Afterword by Bronwyn Lloyd. ISBN 978-0-473-55801-7. Auckland: Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021. 72 pp.


  1. The Oceanic Feeling (7/1-18/10/17)

  2. Family Plot

  3. Lone pine (14/1-5/12/14)
  4. Family plot (26/6-12/8/15)
  5. When you’re the only one (30/9-19/11/17)
  6. Oh br/other! (6/1/16-13/7/17)
  7. This morning Sylvie (16/1/16-7/5/17)
  8. Zero is lying down today (18/1/16-22/10/17)
  9. What to do till the sentinels come (11-23/4/18)
  10. Rituals (9/1/16-7/5/17)
  11. My Uncle Tommy (15-23/4/18)
  12. 1942 (17/9-4/12/16)
  13. Very superstitious (4/1-21/8/16)
  14. Playing the long game (29/1-29/10/16)
  15. Are Kiwi women (30/1-29/10/16)
  16. Rather a shock (15/1/16-7/5/17)
  17. Family skeletons (10/1/16-7/5/17)
  18. Self-analysis (11/1/16-7/5/17)
  19. Checking into Facebook (31/1-5/12/16)
  20. A borrowed life (30/9-2/10/17)
  21. Psych 101 (7/1/16-4/1/17)
  22. What do you want? (8/9-13/10/18)

  23. Ice Road Trucker

  24. Ice Road Trucker (7/2-30/3/15)
  25. Two Fords (17/7-12/8/15)
  26. Stranded Polar Bear (21/11-14/12/19)
  27. Indexing Poetry NZ (5/1-29/8/16)
  28. Turning at the doorstep (21/1/16-19/10/17)
  29. The perils of public art (8/1/16-7/5/17)
  30. Communications committee (14/1-4/12/16)
  31. Oral exam, 1990 (1/1-21/8/16)
  32. Everything ages too fast (27/1/16-7/5/17)
  33. Restructuring (20/2-12/3/20)
  34. Kissing the Blarney Stone (23/4-29/8/16)
  35. Skins, 1981 (22/2-14/4/19)
  36. Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef (17-19/11/17)
  37. Mark (21/6-12/8/15)
  38. Reindeer games (27/12/17)
  39. The Mysterious Island (18-26/4/15)
  40. Antigone (29/5/14; 18/4-13/6/15)
  41. Shorts:
    • Birds of Passage (12/11/14-7/2/15)
    • Auckland Anthem (30/3-15/4/12)
    • Hunting in Palmerston (after Su Shi) (6/9-17/10/13)

  42. Translations

  43. On Early Trains (after Boris Pasternak) (26/1-7/2/15)
  44. Bangalore 2002 (after Boris Pasternak) (30/12/14-7/2/15)
  45. 1913 (after Apollinaire) (21/6-12/8/15)


Jack Ross’s latest collection combines poems about ‘families – and how to survive them’ (in John Cleese’s phrase) with darkly humorous reflections on Academia and various other aspects of modern life. It concludes with some translations from Boris Pasternak and Guillaume Apollinaire.

The book also includes a suite of drawings by Swiss-New Zealand Artist Katharina Jaeger, ably explicated in an Afterword by Art Writer Bronwyn Lloyd.

'… picture yourself on a Gold Coast beach, the wind idly leafing through the pages of a much-annotated copy of Benjamin’s Arcades Project on your lap; as ‘Baudelaire’ flashes by in your peripheral vision, you disinterestedly observe a sleek conferential shark feeding – though far from frenziedly – on a smorgasbord of swimmers, whose names end with unstressed vowels and whose togs are at least a size too small. The water is the colour of an $8 bottle of rosé. I find reading Ross – to borrow his victims’ parlance – kind of like that.'

- Robert McLean, Landfall Review Online

Born in Zurich in 1964, Katharina Jaeger studied art at Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich before emigrating to New Zealand in 1986. She has a Bachelor of Design from Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (now Ara Institute of Canterbury), where she currently teaches in the Visual Arts Programme. Katharina has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally for over two decades. She was a finalist for the Parkin Drawing Prize in 2017 and her most recent solo exhibition, Billow, was held at PG Gallery 192 in September 2019.

Bronwyn Lloyd is a freelance art writer and textile artist who lives in Mairangi Bay. She completed a PhD on Rita Angus’s Goddess paintings at the University of Auckland in 2010. Since 1999 Bronwyn has been publishing articles and catalogue essays on New Zealand painting, applied art and design, as well as fiction: her first book of short stories, The Second Location, was published in 2011 by Titus Books. Her series of needlepoint amulets, Under the Protection, was exhibited at Masterworks Gallery in November 2020.

Jack Ross has published five poetry collections, three novels, three novellas, and three books of short fiction, most recently Ghost Stories (2019). He was managing editor of Poetry New Zealand from 2014-2019, and has edited numerous other books, anthologies, and literary journals. He lives in Mairangi Bay on Auckland’s North Shore and teaches creative writing at Massey University. You can find further information on his blog, The Imaginary Museum, at

Sources & Acknowledgments:

Warmest thanks to publishers (and designers) William Bardebes and Emma Smith, of Salt & Greyboy Press.

I’d also like to thank Katharina Jaeger for her generosity in allowing me to use some of the beautiful ink on paper drawings from her ‘Prunings’ sequence. Also Tony Bond for his fine photographs of these images.

I remain very much in debt to Bronwyn Lloyd, Thérèse Lloyd, Tracey Slaughter, and Michael Steven for valuable editorial advice, and Bronwyn in particular for her insightful afterword to the collection.

Many of the pieces included here have been previously published, some in different forms. Thanks again to the editors and publishers of all those anthologies, websites and journals for permission to reproduce them here. For further details, please visit

Crissi Blair: Salt & Greyboy Press (2019)


In a 1927 letter to Sigmund Freud, French writer Romain Rolland coined the term "the oceanic feeling" as a way of referring to that "sensation of ‘eternity’," of "being one with the external world as a whole," which underlies all religious belief (but does not necessarily depend on it). In his reply, Freud described this as a simple characterisation of the feeling an infant has before it learns there are any other people in the world.

Those of us living in the midst of the world's largest ocean, the mighty Pacific, may have our own understanding of this 'Oceanic feeling.' At any rate, those are some of the ideas underlying this, my sixth full-length poetry collection.

Many of the 44 poems included have been published previously in periodicals or online (a complete list of these is available here). The book also features reproductions of ten ink-on-paper drawings - titled collectively 'Prunings' - by Swiss/NZ artist Katharina Jaeger, together with an Afterword by Art Writer Bronwyn Lloyd.

The poems are grouped in two sections. The first, 'Family Plot', discusses some of the stresses and strains associated with my - I suspect fairly typical - family history. Dementia, filial discord, madness, suicide ... need I say more?

The second, 'Ice Road Trucker', named after a North American Reality TV show, examines the compromises and vexations of contemporary life, in and out of the Academy. Again, I hope these themes and events are sufficiently representative to strike a chord with readers.

The book concludes with some versions of poems by Russian poet Boris Pasternak and French-Romanian poet Guillaume Apollinaire.


Salt & Greyboy Press

RRP: $NZ 20.00 (+ postage)

William Bardebes: 'Printing' (8/2/21)

Reviews & Comments:

  1. Tracey Slaughter, Launch speech for The Oceanic Feeling (March 11, 2021):

    It is one of the miracles of poetry that a scant handful of words arranged on a page can build around us a cathedral, the spatial ache and echo of unsayable feelings somehow cast aloft from a thin imprint of sounds.

  2. Paula Green, "Poetry Shelf review: Jack Ross’s The Oceanic Feeling." NZ Poetry Shelf (August 19, 2021):

    The poetry seeks perspective in the corrugations and felicities of the everyday. In the little and larger events that shape and have shaped life. That nurture love, that spark a sense of humour, that trigger contemplation. The poems occupy the present but they also recuperate the past. I am moved by this.

  3. Tim Saunders, "Finding Shelter in Time and Space: The Death of Music Journalism by Simon Sweetman (The Cuba Press, 2020), 90pp., $25; Shelter by Kirsten Le Harivel (The Cuba Press, 2021), 84pp., $25; The Oceanic Feeling by Jack Ross (Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021), 72pp., $20." Landfall Review Online (October 4, 2021):

    Jack Ross’ poems are at times dark but sprinkled with humour and sequestered in time and place. There are skeletons here, scattered through every page. An impression of finding shelter in isolation. A sensation of limitlessness. An oceanic feeling.

  4. Mark Prisco, "Review of The Oceanic Feeling by Jack Ross (Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021), 72pp., $38.99." Poetry NZ Yearbook 2022 (March 14, 2022): 341-43.

    You've got to feel for him.

Complete Review:

Paula Green. "Poetry Shelf review: Jack Ross’s The Oceanic Feeling." NZ Poetry Shelf (August 19, 2021):

Here I go reviewing a book again with the subterranean feeling I experienced last March, barely articulated, drenched in uncertainty, fearing for the well being of Aotearoa, fearing for the well being of our frontline workers, fearing for our understaffed hospitals, fearing that supermarkets will deal with aggressive behaviour from some shoppers, yet full of gratitude for our Government’s swift response, for everyone choosing to stay at home and wear a mask. The subterranean Covid effect saw me drifting around the house yesterday with Jack Ross’s new poetry collection, The Oceanic Feeling, in my hand. Not writing a word. Word-drifitng in and out of countless books. Worrying about Afghanistan. Listening to Reb Fountain. Worrying about Haiti. Sydney. All the people living alone. The homeless.

The title is so fitting. The oceanic feeling.

Layer it up. Stand by the ocean and get an intake of ocean beauty. Sit at my kitchen table looking onto the tail end of the Waitākere ranges and my potential for worry is oceanic. Below the surface in my blood and bones. Above the surface in those intruding thoughts that I try not to let settle at the station.

I love this title. This beautifully produced book with its white cover and striking image holds an ocean of feeling. Add in the white space, the unsaid. Add in the physical, the images that glint and hold your attention.

The cover drawing is by Swiss-New Zealand artist Katharina Jaeger, and is part of the suite of images included in the collection. Bronwyn Lloyd’s afterword explores the connections between the drawings and the poetry. Katharina was inspired by her father’s manic pruning, and rather than use the the pile of clippings as prunings, drew them instead. Bronwyn makes a vital link between prunings and the skeletons in the artist’s closets, in the poet’s closet, and by extension in our closets.

Poetry is both pruning and planting and, at times, opening the closet door is to shine a light on the tough, the difficult, the surprising.

Jack’s terrific new collection does just this. The poetry seeks perspective in the corrugations and felicities of the everyday. In the little and larger events that shape and have shaped life. That nurture love, that spark a sense of humour, that trigger contemplation. The poems occupy the present but they also recuperate the past. I am moved by this.

The book is essentially in two sections, like two halves of a heart, with ‘Family Plot’ alongside ‘Ice Road Trucker’. Family poems alongside poems that consider the academy, poetry journals, travel, public art, reading, thinking. There is also a tiny cluster of small poems and of translations.

The poetry peers into the mist, and swivels to embrace the clearly sighted.

A sublime example is ‘What to do till the sentinels come’. The poet’s mother (I am making this assumption) has forgotten to feed Zero the cat when they are away. The cat hides in the garden shed, unfed. Here is the mist and the close at hand. The poem as the pruned twig.
it’s not that my mother
neglected her task
on purpose
she’d written in her diary

it’s just that her mind
now fills in blanks
with certainties

not doubts
there was a slight pause
before that “fine”
all I know is our cat

left alone
in the storm
my mother alone
in the fog of her brain
In the opening poem, ‘Lone Pine’, a tree crew are pruning the pines. The physical scene unfolds, and in reaching the visual impact of the tallest tree with its branches stripped bare, the loss doubles back. This is the pruned branch laid on the page: ‘standing bare / just like my father at the end’.

2021 is the season of memoirs. Long form and all revealing.

And yes, The Oceanic Feeling is a form of memoir. Fragmented. Selective. Revealing. It is also a form of engagement with both ideas and feelings. Poetry as a way of discovering chords between here and there, this and that, now and then. So many layers. So many connections. ‘Family skeletons’ does this. The sister with her suicidal thoughts, witnessed throwing a rope over a tree, who later succeeds with pills, is both presence and absence. Again I am picking up a branch laid upon the page and I am feeling it deeply.

Ah, I am moving in so many directions, as I read Jack’s collection, from the cars loved and then replaced, to bookshelves and superstitions, to wrangling over the colours of a graduation hood, to a university department lovingly built up over time, to be faced with cutbacks.

What makes this book resonate so deeply with me is movement. Physical and emotional movement. Not on a grand over-the-top flare of sentimentality but in small measured steps that favour contiguity. I relish the shift between what is easily witnessed in the everyday and what is much harder to fathom, what is retrieved in glimmers and shards across time. it is a collection that warrants a prolonged sojourn. Glorious.

I am going to leave you with ‘What do you want?’. The poet is in a Feilding library, having driven down for a function. The poem swerves and I am utterly affected.
What do you want?

said the librarian
in Friendly Feilding
to come in from the cold
was my reply

we’re closing an hour early
for a function
the function I’d driven down for
I walked away

he’s crying
but he doesn’t know
why he’s crying
said my sister

to the primer one teacher
who wanted to know why
I guess I do too
I guess I do

I was small and afraid
of a brand-new place
so many people
but what remains

is kindness
my sister
trying to help

Jack Ross
Jack Ross works as a senior lecturer in creative writing at Massey University. He is the author of five poetry collections and eight works of fiction, most recently Ghost Stories (Lasavia Publishing, 2019) and The Oceanic Feeling (Salt & Greyboy Press, 2021). He blogs here
Jack reads from The Oceanic Feeling

Notes to The Oceanic Feeling

Jack reads and comments on ‘1942’

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