The Tram Conductor’s Blue Cap

Michael Harlow

*no longer in print. Available in ebook.


‘With not a cabbage tree in sight, the European modernist in Harlow has made great poetry in New Zealand and we are lucky to have him.’ – Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Landfall


Poetry, Michael Harlow writes, is when words sing. In The Tram Conductor’s Blue Cap, words do sing; they also shout and whisper, riddle and recur, express and evade.

Though these poems are often allegorical and philosophical, the real underlies the imagined (while the imagination invents the real), so we meet a stranger in the Oyster Bar at Grand Central, we travel to Athens and Mexico and Troy, we hear from Sappho, Marco Polo, Cavafy and Emily Dickinson. And at the centre of the collection is a tram conductor, ‘inside a story that dreams / him’. As a habit of imagination, these poems circle and cultivate patience, anticipation, memory, opportunity, delight and regret.

Fans of Harlow’s previous, accomplished collection, Cassandra’s Daughter, will be thrilled to find this poet in assured voice: building up ‘one word one word and then / another, waiting for the light to come / stealing in’.



Michael Harlow was born in the USA in 1937 and travelled extensively before arriving in New Zealand in 1968. His book Nothing But Switzerland and Lemonade (1980) was the first book of prose poems published in New Zealand, his Giotto’s Elephant was shortlisted in the 1992 book awards, and he has published four other collections of poems with Auckland University Press. He has been editor of the Caxton Press poetry series and poetry editor of Landfall. He represented New Zealand at the 2006 Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín, Colombia, and the IV Internacional Seminar of Writers, ‘Frontiers in Movement’ in Monterey, Mexico; and at the 2007 Festival Internacional de Poesía de Granada, Nicaragua, and at the IV World Poetry Festival in Caracas, Venezuela. He was the Robert Burns Fellow and the Caselberg Artist in Residence in 2009.


Shortlisted for NZ Post Book Awards: Poetry 2010.


February 2009, 230 x 165 mm, 64 pages
Paperback, ISBN 9781869404307, $24.99