Thursday, 16 February 2017

Yearbook 2017 Launch Details!

The poets are descending on Devonport Library to celebrate the publication of the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook 2017, edited by Jack Ross and published by Massey University Press.

Michele Leggott & Olive (photograph: Tim Page)

The book is being launched by Devonport’s own Michele Leggott, and the evening will include readings by ten poets, including Yearbook 2017’s featured poet Elizabeth Morton.

Elizabeth Morton (photograph: EM)

Words, wine, smiles .... It will be a night to remember!

Where:Devonport Library, 2 Victoria Road, Devonport
When:Tuesday 14 March, 7.30pm till late
Cost:Koha appreciated

A Devonport Library Associates Event

And here's the media press release, courtesy of MUP's dynamic press officer, Sarah Thornton:

Friday, 16 December 2016

More free PNZ downloads for Christmas

Nicholas Reid, ed: Poetry NZ 46 (2013)

Alistair Paterson, ed: Poetry NZ 47 (2013)

Nicholas Reid, ed: Poetry NZ 48 (2014)

Jack Ross, ed: Poetry NZ Yearbook 1 (2014)

As a special Christmas treat, and also by way of an apology for letting a whole year go by without an issue of Poetry New Zealand, we've decided to make the complete pdf files of issues 46, 47, 48, and 49 available as free downloads from the Poetry NZ website.

We'd been selling them previously for $NZ 10 each, but from now on all four of them (as well as issue 50) will be free to a good home. Look near the top of the left margin of the each issue's webpage. You'll see, in little red letters: "Free PDF download." Click there.

As part of the changes necessitated by the shift to our new publisher, Massey University Press, we will be selling each annual issue separately in future, and no longer as part of a one or two-year subscription. Our existing obligations under the old subscriptions policy will, of course, be fulfilled, but Poetry New Zealand Yearbook will henceforth be sold through the MUP website, as well (of course) as in good bookshops everywhere. You can still buy copies of the current issue through the Poetry NZ website, but from now on the payments will go through MUP.

This offer of the free downloads is also meant as a thank you to all those valiant subscribers who’ve kept the magazine afloat for so many years. It goes without saying that we’re still going to need your support to continue, but it now seems more practical to market each issue as a discrete item, rather than as part of a package.

Jack Ross, ed: Poetry NZ Yearbook 1 (2014)

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Interview on The Review Review [13/12/16]

"I Take Poetry Pretty Seriously."
A Chat With Jack Ross, Editor of Poetry New Zealand

This interview, by contributing editor Sanjeev Sethi, appeared in the The Review Review on 13th December 2016:

From the bowels of New Zealand breezes in Poetry New Zealand, each issue fragrant with literary flowers in the shape of poems, stories, reviews encapsulating rich and rewarding fare. Curating this creative smorgasbord is Dr. Jack Ross, the accomplished and erudite poet-writer-academician. A PhD in English from Edinburgh University, Ross is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Massey University's Albany campus.

Briefly tell our readers about yourself?

I work at Massey University, where I’ve been teaching various types of writing for the past twenty years. The principal focus of my own writing has, however, always been poetry, even though I’ve also published a number of novels, essays and other works of fiction and criticism.

As well as that, I run a blog, The Imaginary Museum [], devoted to bookish matters generally.

Poetry New Zealand, “devoted exclusively to poetry and poetics,” started in 1951. Over the years, how do you see its evolution?

Poetry NZ began as an alternative to the centralising trends in New Zealand writing at that time, after the war, when New Zealand had just completed its first century of colonial occupation. The democratic and open-minded approach of its first editor, Louis Johnson, has (I hope) continued to inspire it in each of its various incarnations.

The longest-serving editor has been Alistair Paterson, who presided over the magazine for twenty years–from 1993 until I took over in 2014. He introduced a strong focus on poetics and experimental writing, as well as trying to forge stronger links internationally: with the UK, the USA, and also non-English-speaking writers, such as the French poets of New Caledonia.

A basic question: what is a good poem? Do you think this definition is culture-specific?

For me, a good poem is a piece of writing which is lively and provocative enough to force me ask myself if it really is a poem. In that sense, yes, it’s a personal as well as a culture-specific definition, since my own boredom with what I see as tired and conventional solutions to the problem of (as Kafka put it) “breaking the frozen sea within you” may not apply directly to other readers. They might see a book of neo-Shakespearean sonnets as enchanting, while I might see them as pointless and hackneyed. That’s not to say that I think it impossible to write a good poem in conventional metrical forms nowadays: just that I feel some significant re-imagining has to have taken place to make it really qualify as what I would call a poem.

While reading a submission can you gauge which part of the world the contribution is from?

Sometimes. Not always. One advantage of electronic submission methods is that I often have no idea where an author is from. It is, in any case, very secondary to me in comparison to the question of whether or not I like their work.

According to you, which part of globe is creating the best contemporary poetry?

New Zealand. No, seriously, I think in an age of mass communications it’s impossible to see any regions as particularly privileged creatively. I do think our poets write as well as anyone, though. There’s always been a do-it-yourself, anything-goes mentality here that encourages our writers to try crazy and offbeat things. I like that a lot. We haven’t been trained to avoid the usual mistakes, and the results can often be quite spectacular.

What must a submission have not to get a No from you?

Statistically, a massive number of submissions to the magazine will receive a “No:” at least two thirds of the work that’s been sent in, in fact. I regret that, but it does mean that I can let through only the pieces I’m really certain of.

Sending just one poem rather than our recommended selection of five is a good way to get rejected. Often it’s the last poem, the afterthought, in a group of submissions that really grabs me.

Another way to get rejected is to write so carelessly, with so many typos and grammatical errors, that it’s clear that your work has scarcely been edited. At times one wonders if it’s even been reread by its author! If you take no pride in the exactness and precision of your words, you can hardly expect me to supply that for you.

A naïve, direct poem by a first time author can often be very good. I’m sure I include some such poems in every issue. In general, though, just as with any other art, if you don’t know anything about poetry: hardly read it, are ignorant of technique, have never studied its history, that’s not really a great start.

I take poetry pretty seriously: it fascinates me, in fact. But it’s just like learning a foreign language: you can pick up a few phrases on the street, and eventually learn to get by in conversation, but you’ll never be really fluent unless you devote time and energy to it.

Any favourite themes?

I do try to be pretty eclectic in my tastes. I must confess to a bit of prejudice in favour of poems with a narrative dimension, though. If your poem tells a story, it’ll probably get my attention more quickly than if it indulges in complicated wordplay or lengthy landscape evocation.

Do you think a vibrant critical climate helps in nurturing poetry?

Absolutely. Very much so. At present Poetry NZ maintains a ratio of roughly one third critical writing (essays, interviews and reviews) to two thirds poetry. I’d like–if possible–to increase that over time. I’d be quite happy to see the ratio running half and half.

There really is no point in a cacophony of voices all shouting as loud as they can–many of them, alas, more interested in promoting their own careers than improving the quality and appeal of their work–if there’s no strong structure of critical writing and thought behind it.

I try to commission reviews of as many as possible of the poetry books that appear in New Zealand, as well as a number of international ones. As I’m sure you know yourself, though, reviewing is a difficult and thankless task, and it does require a certain subordination of the ego which not everyone is willing to make.

Any last words?

Yes, I’d like to conclude by saying that while the main focus of Poetry NZ must remain an anatomy of the nature of the poetry produced in this country – in itself a massive task – the last thing I think we should be doing is cutting ourselves off from international trends in poetry. Poets from elsewhere will always be welcome to submit to us, and there’s absolutely no requirement for them to address – or even think about – specifically “New Zealand” issues when they do so.

If you send us your best work, we’ll be happy to include it. And that goes for work in translation and dual-text, too. New Zealand is both a multicultural and a multi-lingual society now, and a true reflection of its poetic identity involves vital questions of language as well as culture.

As a postcolonial state, New Zealand (like many other countries) is only now beginning to come to terms with the theft of land and sovereignty from its indigenous inhabitants, the Maori. That’s as much of a poetic as a political issue for us. We have to try to imagine our way out of these blank walls of hatred and suspicion, try to create a harmony based on mutual respect and justice.

Sanjeev Sethi has published three books of poetry. This Summer and That Summer (Bloomsbury, 2015) is his latest. His poems have found a home in Solstice Literary Magazine, Off the Coast Literary Journal, Hamilton Stone Review, Literary Orphans, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Pyrokinection, Café Dissensus Everyday, Section 8 Magazine, The Jawline Review, The Helios Mss, Right Hand Pointing, Revolution John, Futures Trading, The Aerogram, The Mind[less] Muse, Creative Talents Unleashed, Chronogram, Duane’s Poe Tree, The London Magazine, The Fortnightly Review, Ink Sweat and Tears, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Amaryllis Poetry, New English Review, The Galway Review, A New Ulster, In Between Hangovers,  The Open Mouse, Otoliths, and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India

Monday, 17 October 2016

What should a magazine called Poetry NZ look like?

Poetry on the Move Festival (University of Canberra, 2016)

I was asked to act as one of three longlist judges for the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor's Poetry Award this year - though the final decision was left to distinguished British poet Simon Armitage.

The organisers were, however, kind enough to invite me to attend the prizegiving ceremony, and also to deliver a paper and a reading while I was there. This is the text of the paper I gave, entitled "A Magazine called Poetry New Zealand: What should it look like?"

[photograph: Shane Strange (16/9/16)]

Since 2014, I’ve been the Managing Editor of Poetry NZ, New Zealand’s oldest poetry journal – founded in 1951 by Louis Johnson, and produced by numerous editors and publishers since then. But what should the magazine look like? Bicultural? Multicultural? Local? International? Or a mixture of all of these?

Louis Johnson, ed.: NZ Poetry Yearbook 1 (1951)

Louis Johnson started off with a fairly straightforward agenda in 1951:
In launching the first issue of Poetry Yearbook, the editor and publishers are attempting to establish an annual collection of the best New Zealand poetry. [7]

And yet, from the very beginning, it’s apparent that he expected controversy:
In particular is it recommended to those in our midst who are still hear to exclaim “New Zealand poets – have we any?"

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, or (as Winnie the Pooh paraphrased it): “The more it rains, the more it goes on raining.” Johnson goes on to say:
It is evident from this collection that New Zealand poetry is not a mushroom growth, but something that is developing its own traditions and characteristics – something that is being shaped by many different hands in different ways; and something which, at its best, will stand alongside the poetry of any English-speaking country.

There are a couple of important points here. First: that the only way to see what New Zealand poetry really consists of is to collect examples of it and see (he proposes to do this by showcasing “some four or five poets … each year … their work shown in greater detail” [8], a project which eventually evolved into the present system of one featured poet per issue).

Second: that the poetry of New Zealand is to be considered alongside that of any other “English-speaking country” – no obeisance is made here to possible bi-cultural (let along multi-cultural) approaches to the question of New Zealand identity, always implicit in such discussions.

Allen Curnow, ed.: A Book of New Zealand Verse (1945)

It’s worth noting here that Allen Curnow’s first canon-building (and still controversial) Book of New Zealand Verse had appeared in 1945, only six years before, and its second, enlarged edition was published in the same year as Johnson’s first Yearbook.

What’s more, the first issue of Landfall, still our leading literary periodical, had come out in 1947, just four years before. It was an open secret at the time that Louis Johnson started his magazine at least partly as a reaction to the somewhat restrictive policies of Charles Brasch, Landfall’s founding editor, as well as the nationalist agenda set by the prefaces to Curnow’s anthologies.

Louis Johnson, ed.: NZ Poetry Yearbook 11 (1964)

NZ Poetry Yearbook folded in 1964, after a controversy about the refusal of a grant by the New Zealand literary fund. I quote from the note included with that issue:
This is the controversial issue of the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook which has become a cause celebre in the columns of the daily Press, in Truth, and in the New Zealand Listener as a well as a number of other journals. With this issue, the New Zealand Literary Fund refused to make its annual grant towards production unless six poems (three by James K. Baxter, two by Richard Packer, and one by Martyn Sanderson) were withdrawn from the manuscript.

In proceeding with the publication without a grant, the publisher and editor have decided to present the book as it was originally planned to appear. There has been nothing added (apart from an explanatory note on the book’s late appearance) or removed from the original.

Despite this show of bravado, this eleventh issue was Johnson’s the last. Due to various machinations by Allen Curnow, who apparently resented its too “inclusive” editorial policy – it could no longer attract sufficient funding.

Frank McKay, ed.: Poetry New Zealand 1 (1971)

It’s become fashionable to see the NZ Poetry Yearbook and its successor, Poetry New Zealand, which began in 1971 under the editorship of distinguished Academic (and James K. Baxter’s biographer) Frank McKay, as entirely different things. McKay’s introduction to his first issue makes it clear just how closely he modelled it on its predecessor, however:
Poetry New Zealand is a development of Yearbook. I hope it will publish the best poetry being written in this country and the work of the most promising new poets … Nor should one forget that the appreciation of new work often takes time. One should, I think be generous to emerging writers. This is part of Mr Johnson’s liberal tradition I should like to retain. [9]

I’d like to draw attention to this “liberal tradition” of generosity to “emerging writers” as another vital part of the magazine’s legacy.

Elizabeth Caffin, ed.: Poetry New Zealand 6 (1984)

Poetry New Zealand printed many of the same people as NZ Poetry Yearbook, and began with a very similar editorial orientation. It was forced to shift from this handsome hardback format in 1978, however, when the “pressure put on publishers by the economic recession and the dwindling market for poetry” forced a move from Christchurch-based Pegasus Press to Dunedin-based John McIndoe, who shrank it from 120 to 90 pages, and issued it in soft-cover. It limped along for another couple of issues, then folded in 1984.

David Drummond, ed.: Poetry NZ 1 (1990)

What most people mean when they refer to Poetry New Zealand is, however, the bi-annual journal launched in 1990 by David Drummond of Massey University in partnership with Oz Kraus’s Brick Row Publishing of Auckland. The plan was originally to entrust each issue to a new editor, but this proved difficult in practice to implement, especially after Drummond’s untimely death “just before issue 2 was released” [Oz Kraus, “Editorial,” issue 30, p.10].

Drummond did have time, however, in his editorial for the first issue, to mention the inspiration he’d taken from Louis Johnson, a “significant ancestor”, as well as the fact that “Poetry NZ presupposes, and aims to fill, a gap”:
Consciously at least, it will ride no bandwagon, follow no particular clique or school. The name, evoking as it does earlier journals, seeks to indicate that Poetry NZ follows in a fine tradition, that its pages are open to all who write well. [5]

This conscious refusal to follow cliques or schools is another important aspect of the magazine’s history.

Bernard Gadd, ed.: Poetry NZ 7 (1993)

After issue 7 in 1993, there was a brief hiatus before the magazine was taken over by Alistair Paterson, with a new format consisting of one featured poet per issue, and a section at the back reserved for reviews and essays.

Alistair edited the magazine single-handedly for the next decade, until issue 35, when he began to intersperse issues edited by a variety of guest editors, including Owen Bullock (35, 36, 37 & 45), Siobhan Harvey (39 & 44), Nicholas Reid (41, 43, 46 & 48), and myself (38).

Alistair Paterson, ed.: Poetry NZ 47 (2013)

To detail the policy of the magazine over these two decades would be a little difficult, but I’d like to mention here Alistair’s strong interest in poetics and literary theory, and his consequent belief that “meaning exists in our minds rather than on paper or in phonemes.” Here, for example, is a quotation from the last editorial he wrote, for issue 47 in 2013:
Poetry … should present an aesthetic which isn’t held together solely by the conventions and formalities of reason and language but by the shape and feel of the total experience that arises from it.

Jack Ross, ed.: Poetry NZ Yearbook 1 (2014)

It was in 2013 the retirement of John Denny of Puriri Press, the magazine’s longtime designer and publisher, made it impossible to go on as before, so he and Alistair began discussions with me for the rehousing of the journal within Massey University.

After consultation with my colleagues in Creative Writing, some of whom now form part of the journal’s Advisory Board, we decided that this was too good a chance to miss, and so, from 2014 onwards, Poetry NZ has been located within the School of English and Media Studies at Massey University’s Albany campus.

You’ll notice the rather striking image selected for the cover of the first issue under this new dispensation:
Renee Bevan’s “Stream of thoughts, a whole year’s work” … shows what happens when you burn a whole year’s worth of your own carefully crafted journals, pulverise the ashes to dust, and then tip the results over your head. It’s an arresting notion, certainly – a kind of blaze of glory: a moment of confusion and blindness succeeded by light.

I went on to draw a parallel (no doubt somewhat hubristically) with the kinds of poems I was hoping to include in the journal in future: “sparks of light in an ocean of stultifying babble, laser-beams penetrating the Stygian darkness of our contemporary linguistic wasteland” - or something like that, anyway.

Jack Ross, ed.: Poetry NZ Yearbook 2 (2015)

In my second issue as editor, I tried to shift the debate onto the politics of biculturalism: hence the choice of a cover by Māori artist Karl Chitham and of Māori-Irish poet Robert Sullivan as our featured writer.

In my preface, I questioned the emphasis on English as the sole medium of exchange for New Zealand poetry:
There’s a certain undeniable convenience to confining oneself solely to the English language. As Governor William L. Harding of Iowa put it, in response to criticism of his WWI regulation banning church services in foreign languages: “There is no use in anyone wasting his time praying in other languages than English. God is listening only to the English tongue.”

Words such as “multiculturalism” are, however, as we’re no doubt all well aware, often used as mere masks for monocultural hegemony. Nation-states are happy enough to celebrate “difference” as long as it involves no cession of sovereignty or real political power. My preface continues:
So, while I welcome the concept of New Zealand poetries rather than New Zealand poetry: the rich gamut of cultures and languages which now exist in our islands expressing themselves in many languages and forms … I continue to feel that no definition of New Zealand poetry which attempts to sideline or depreciate poetry and song in Te Reo can be taken seriously.

At the end of 2015, Nicola Legat, head of the new Massey University Press, made a proposal to take over the publication and distribution of the journal. The first issue under these new auspices will appear at the beginning of 2017, and thereafter at the beginning of each year.

My Mother feeding a wallaby (1940s)

Issue 3 will touch on the question of poetic relations between New Zealand and Australia. I am myself half-Australian, and a number of recent Australian books issued by Vagabond Press and other publishers will be reviewed in it.

To summarise the principles I’ve gleaned from my predecessors and the experience of editing the first three issues, then, my view of what Poetry NZ actually should look like runs roughly as follows:
  1. Collect the materials and see (Louis Johnson) – rather than just theorising blindly.
  2. Encourage the new (Frank McKay) – rather than simply validating the status quo.
  3. Eschew cliques & schools (David Drummond) – to the exclusion of other voices.
  4. Don’t fear theory (Alistair Paterson) – even if it irritates some of your contributors.
  5. Don’t try to ignore politics (Jack Ross, Yearbook 2) – just because they’re difficult.
  6. Be honest about geography (Yearbook 3) – where we actually are in the world.
  7. Don’t settle for a single solution - to any question, let alone this one.

Shane Strange: "Jack" (15/9/16)

NB: One suggestion made to me at the cocktail reception after the talk was that my list had left out the most important factor of all: fun.

I have to say that I think that's an excellent point. You don't have to be pompous and po-faced just to prove you have serious intentions: a magazine like this should always try to be fun and entertaining to read.

Launch Party (Massey University, Albany Campus, 2014):
l-to-r: Alistair Paterson, Elizabeth Morton, Richard von Sturmer, Iain Britton, Michele Leggott, Olive the guide-dog, Lisa Samuels, Jack Ross, Dagmara Rudolph & Kirsten Warner

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Do PNZ submissions have to be unpublished?

The question above came up once or twice during the submissions period.

Given that that's now closed for the year (any new poems you'd like to send me will have to wait until next year: 1st May to 31st July 2017), I thought I might add a few notes on the matter.

Literary magazines have traditionally been the first port of call for new work by writers, before it is collected in volume form. For this reason, you have to submit judiciously. If your work is accepted and printed by a magazine, however obscure, that rules it out of competition for other magazines.

Some people draw a distinction between publication for profit and free publications (private websites, cyclostyled circulars, etc.) They understand that they can't print the same piece in different magazines simultaneously, but they don't see listing it on their own blog as "publication."

No doubt the point is debatable, but I have to say that my own definition of publication is release through any publicly accessible medium of exchange. So, yes, putting up a poem on a website is "publication." Sending a few copies out to friends for comment is not.

For the record, then, Poetry New Zealand - except in a few exceptional cases - is interested only in hitherto unpublished work. If you submit a set of poems to us and other magazines simultaneously, it's best to admit it up front, rather than sending follow-up emails withdrawing particular pieces which have been accepted elsewhere.

And what are those "exceptional cases"? Well, occasionally we might like to choose a poem from a privately circulated chapbook, or to resurrect an old piece from decades ago. These, too, form a legitimate part of the currency of a magazine.

If you know it's been published elsewhere, but you still submit it to us, chances are I may not notice. If I find out later, though, I have to say that I will feel cheated, and my opinion of your trustworthiness as a writer will be greatly diminished. I've seen allegedly "unpublished" poems go on to win substantial prizes, when I myself remember including them in some magazine or other. Nine times out of ten you won't be caught - but if you are, the consequences can be quite dire.

Best to be upfront from the very start, I think. What are you in this poetry game for, anyway? To win prizes or to write better? The two don't always go together.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Poetry NZ open for submissions (1/5-31/7/16)

From today (Sunday, May 1st: Mayday) onwards, Poetry NZ is open for submissions for the next yearbook. This will be appearing in Late February / early March next year, from our new publisher Massey University Press, and thereafter at the beginning of each year.

Submissions close on 31st July.

For further advice on how to submit, please look at this page on our website. Please note: no more than five poems at a time, of any length, on any theme, in any style. This editor has also written a few advisory comments of his own in this post, below.

As well as poetry, we're also interested in essays and other prose comments on poetics and allied subjects. Remember, too, that all poems sent in for this issue are eligible to be considered for the Poetry NZ Poetry Prize, as mentioned in another post below.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Poetry NZ Poetry Prize

I mentioned in the editorial for PNZ Yearbook 2, that we (Massey University Press, the journal's new publisher, and the Massey School for English and Media Studies, its present institutional home) were hoping to establish a new poetry prize.

After a certain amount of discussion and debate, we've come up with the following plan:
$500 first prize
$300 second prize
$200 third prize
There is no entry fee, nor do we stipulate any length, theme, or style for the poems under consideration.

Every submission accepted for the next Poetry NZ Yearbook - between May 1st and July 31st of each year - will be eligible for the prize, which will be judged by the editor of that particular issue: in this case, myself.

The judge's decision is final, and no correspondence about the competition will be entered into.

If you do want to submit work to the journal but do not want to be considered for the prize, please let us know when you send in your work. Otherwise everyone with a poem or poems in next year's issue is eligible for one of these three prizes.

The winner will be announced, and the prizes awarded, at the booklaunch for the new yearbook in early 2017. For further details, please continue to consult this blog.