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.



Monday, 15 February 2016

Indexing Poetry NZ



Joseph Severn: Shelley at the Baths of Caracalla (1845)


Her's the text of my latest post on The Imaginary Museum [14/2/16]:
“Now my summer task is ended,” wrote Shelley, as he reclined in a rowboat, having just completed his massive 12-canto epic Laon and Cyntha (1817).

My summer’s task has been somewhat less creative - though I have to confess that at times it seemed every bit as arduous - compiling a comprehensive online index for the journal variously known as New Zealand Poetry Yearbook (1951-1964), Poetry New Zealand (1971-84), Poetry NZ (1990-2014), and – now – Poetry New Zealand Yearbook (2014-?).

Over the past 65 years, 67 issues of this magazine have been issued by publishers including A. H. & A. W. Reed, Pegasus Press, John McIndoe, Nagare Press, Brick Row Publishing, Puriri Press, Massey’s School of English and Cultural Studies, and – now – Massey University Press.

These 67 issues, edited by 16 editors, contain 6784 pages of material: editorials, essays, reviews, and – of course – many, many poems, reviews and essays by 947 authors (but who's counting?).

And what have I learned from this extremely laborious exercise? Well, I suppose it’s given me a renewed appreciation for the sheer coverage achieved by this journal in its two-thirds of a century of existence. Who, among New Zealand’s canonical poets and writers, isn’t there? Adcock, Baxter, Curnow, Doyle, Glover, Hyde, Manhire - you name them, chances are they're there (as you can readily verify by visiting the Author index page).

And then there are the overseas contributors: Charles Bernstein, Charles Bukowsky, Robert Creeley, August Kleinzahler, Les Murray - again, the list goes on.

How should you use the index? Well, the quick answer is to go here, where I've given some brief instructions on the subject.

If you're curious, though, I'll just remarks that it is – in conception, at least – as simple as I can make it. There’s a separate page for each issue, with images of the Front and Back Covers, Title-page and Copyright details, and the Table of Contents: together with any details I can find about such matters as the Contributors and the Subscription Details - on average, ten separate images per issue.

If you want to know about a particular issue, you can either link to it from the right sidebar of the site, or – alternatively – from the Contents or Site-Map pages.

If, however, you want to know what a particular author has published in Poetry New Zealand over the years, you can go to the Author Index page, which provides a numbered list, alphabeticised by surname, together with chronological details of each writer's contributions. You can imagine how much fun it was putting that together!

No doubt there are still many typos and other errors left, though I've tried to proof-read it as carefully as I went along. 1,000-odd A4 pages of material provides scope for a good many mistakes, however. I’d appreciate it very much if you would alert me to any lacunae you detect, and promise to correct them as soon as I can. You could start by checking the details of your own contributions to the magazine over the years, perhaps.

For the rest, I’m not really proposing that anyone should try to read this monstrous compilation for pleasure, but hopefully future researchers into modern New Zealand poetry may find it of some use. It’ll certainly be a great help to me as the present editor of the magazine.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Free pdf download of latest issue of PNZ



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


Yes, you heard right. All of the contributors to this issue of Poetry NZ Yearbook have agreed to make their work available on a free pdf download from the PNZ website here. (Look near the top of the left margin, in little red letters: "Free PDF download." Click there).

We've sold pdfs of the past few issues of the magazine (issues 46-49), and will continue to do so, but this time you can have it for free if you wish.

This is most unlikely ever to happen again. From next issue on sales and marketing will be handled by our new publisher, Massey University Press, who will presumably be selling their own e-book version of the magazine.

Of course, we're secretly hoping that you'll love the issue so much that you'll order your very own copy of the print edition, but that's up to you and your conscience.

This is meant simply as a gift to poetry-lovers everywhere, and I hope you'll receive it in that spirit.



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


Sunday, 24 January 2016

Te Reo surge in latest Poetry NZ [22/1/16]



Dr Robert Sullivan (6 September 2015) photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd


This article, based on a press release by Jennifer Little, Senior Communications Advisor at Massey University, appeared on the Voxy.co.nz website on 22 January 2016:

The question ‘what is New Zealand poetry?’ is the overriding one for editor Dr Jack Ross, as he sifts through hundreds of submissions for Poetry New Zealand. His answer? We need to hear more Māori voices.

To remedy his observation that Māori poets have been overlooked in New Zealand publishing, he invited Māori poet Robert Sullivan to feature in the 50th issue and be Dr Ross’s second as managing editor of Poetry New Zealand, the country’s longest-running poetry journal. The volume includes an insightful interview with the poet canvassing a range of issues such as biculturalism, poetry and identity.

Dr Sullivan, who has Irish and Māori (Ngāpuhi) ancestry, shares his views on the ethics and entitlement of non-Māori writers using Te Reo. "I used to think if you’re not Māori you shouldn’t be using Māori terms because you don’t understand the significance, but I’ve changed my mind about that," he says in the interview. "I think it’s better to promote the use of the language. But bringing it into poetry - well, readers of poetry can be quite pernickety. They’ll look it up, and they’ll actually deepen an understanding of Māori poetics."

Sullivan, who heads the creative writing programme at the Manukau Institute of Technology and edited a 2014 anthology of 60 Māori poets titled Puna Wai Kōrero: An Anthology of Māori Poetry in English (AUP), says he’s discovered more Māori poets since the book was published. "The story of Māori poetry in English and the story of Pasifika poetry in English is, I think, one that still needs to be told."

He says the National Kapa Haka competition, Te Matatini, represents hope for the future of poetry in Te Reo Māori. "They might call it dance, but the lyrics are all poetry. And it’s flourishing. It’s got its own spot on Māori television … it’s not just haka that are being performed, there are waiata, love songs, tangi."

His ten new poems featured in Poetry New Zealand delve into childhood memories of growing up in Auckland, as well as tributes to his parents and grandparents.

In his introductory editorial, Dr Ross makes the case for biculturalism as an underpinning element in defining New Zealand poetry. "For all its faults and omissions and blind spots, the Treaty remains the foundation of our state, and we can’t ignore the principles of biculturalism embodied in it," he writes.

And while he welcomes the concept of New Zealand "poetries" as a: "rich gamut of cultures and language which now exist in our islands expressing themselves in many languages and forms", he feels that "no definition of New Zealand poetry which attempts to sideline or depreciate poetry and song in Te Reo can be taken seriously."

He hopes more Māori poets will submit work in the future, in English and Te Reo Māori.

The 286-page volume, published last November by The Printery at Massey University, comprises poetry and prose poems by some 80 poets, including well-known names Elizabeth Smither, Owen Marshall, Peter Bland, Alistair Paterson, Siobhan Harvey and David Eggleton.

New Zealand poets based overseas and newcomers to New Zealand from diverse ethnic backgrounds are all part of the line-up, with a number of contributors either based in, or originating from, Bosnia, Canada, the United States, Scotland, Australia, and Japan.

Massey University writers include award-winning poet and Master of creative writing graduates Sue Wootton and Janet Newman, and award-winning poet and PhD in creative writing graduate Dr Johanna Emeney, as well as creative writing tutors Dr Matthew Harris and Dr Bronwyn Lloyd, and lecturer Dr Bill Angus.

Essays, commentary and reviews on new poetry publications by a host of local literary talents provide incisive explorations of some of the newest voices on the New Zealand poetry scene.

Dr Ross has signalled further changes to the publication, with the next issue to be published early in 2017 by Massey University Press - a new press launched in 2015 and headed by veteran publisher Nicola Legat. To shorten the length of time some contributors have had to wait for a decision, he’s decided to confine submissions to a three-month period: from May 1st to July 31st of each year, beginning in 2016.

Dr Ross - a poet, editor and critic who teaches fiction, poetry, and travel writing in the School of English and Media Studies at Massey’s Auckland campus - in 2014 replaced distinguished poet, anthologist, fiction-writer, critic and retiring editor Alistair Paterson, who oversaw Poetry New Zealand for 21 years.

The journal originated in 1951 when poet Louis Johnson began publishing his annual New Zealand Poetry Yearbook.

Was there a stand out poem for Dr Ross? "It's hard to single out any one person from so stellar a list of contributors, but I found the two pieces sent me by young poet Emma Shi sounded to me like messages from a strange new country I'd never visited before. She is, I believe, a powerful new talent whom I hope to hear much more from in the future," he says.




Jennifer Little, Senior Communications Advisor at Massey University