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Thought it was time for a new header photo, so I’ve chosen the Moeraki boulders.  I took the photo when Peter and I were visiting Dunedin a couple of years ago, and we took a day trip to Moeraki (lunch at Fleur’s Place – yum) and Oamaru.

Speaking of photos, a while ago, I mentioned on this blog how one of my poems (Three Hummingbirds) had appeared in an altered state on another website.  After a couple of false starts, I was finally able to make contact with the site’s owner and, happily, we agreed on a solution.   I still prefer the full version of the poem, which you can read here, but here is the extract on Tom Davis’  unask photoblog (you’ll need to scroll down a bit).  It’s a great idea for a site, I think.  Poetry and photography seem to go very well together.

(The bit in the poem about the cup, the wardrobe and the spaghetti is based on a real conversation I had.)

Here are a couple more photos from the trip:

Sometimes (in libraries or bookshops), poetry gets classified as “non-fiction”, which always interests me.  It seems to imply that it is real, true or factual.  Sometimes, of course, poetry is all these things and sometimes it is completely fictional or even absurd. 

Poets often play with the truth to make the poem better.  I’m thinking of a conversation between Sam Hunt and Hone Tuwhare that Hunt relates in his recently published memoirs “Backroads”.  He’s referring to Tuwhare’s poem “Flood” that finishes:

“Shall I be able to ford

the river soon: visit

a lean Aunt?”

Hunt says he asked “Who was your lean Aunt, Hone?” and received the reply “I don’t know; it may have been my mother.”

But, of course “visit my mother” wouldn’t work nearly as well as “visit a lean Aunt”.

So, it pays not to take poetry too literally.  Certainly, much of my own poetry is completely fictional, although I often weave reality and imaginings together.  I would be alarmed to think people were regarding some of the things I’ve written as factual, or that when I write about “she”, I’m always really  referring to myself.  For the record, I don’t suffer from trichotillomania (a complusion to pull out one’s hair).  Also for the record (because people sometimes think the “you” in my poems refers to my current partner), I don’t cook chicken for dinner for Peter and me.  Nor do I think for one moment that the astronaut artist Alan Bean is putting backyard dirt on his paintings.  I’m sure he is a man of integrity; the poem is purely speculative.

But most  poetry has a kind of truth about it, even when it’s not factual.  Does that make it non-fiction?  No more than a novel or a short story, perhaps.  I think poetry sits best in a category all of its own.

Speaking of poetry, tomorrow (Sunday 21st Feb 2010) is the first of the Ballroom Cafe monthly poetry sessions. 

Poetry Cafe, Wellington, NZ

Sunday 21 February 2010, 4pm – 6pm
Ballroom Cafe, cnr Adelaide Rd and Riddiford St, Newtown

This will be a regular Wellington event on the 3rd Sunday of the month – a mix of open mic, music & guest poets.  A fine complement to the regular Poetry Society gigs on Monday nights.  I’m looking forward to it!

One of the things I do to entertain myself is make spreadsheets.  Some people may find this sad, but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.  Recently I conducted an unscientific little survey of single-author poetry books published in New Zealand last year, looking at the websites of several New Zealand publishers (AUP, VUP, Steele Roberts, Seraph Press, Earl of Seacliffe Workshop, Cape Catley, Titus Books and OUP).  For each book, I noted whether the poet was male or female and whether he or she was a “new” poet (ie hadn’t had a volume of poetry published before).

 The list of publishers is not comprehensive and no doubt there are other books that ought to be in my spreadsheet.  Also, not all the publishers listed the year of publication on their website, so there may be one or two books on the list that properly belong in another year.  Still, I think I’ve got a reasonable sample.

 And I found the results rather interesting.  Of the 31 books I found, 18 (58%) were by women and 13 by men (42%).  New poets accounted for 11 of the books (35% of the total) – quite encouraging I thought.  And of these 11 new poets, 8 were women (73% of new poets) and 3 were men (27%).

 One of the reasons I embarked on this exercise was because I’d been looking at a recent anthology of Australian women’s poetry (Motherlode – looks great, by the way and thinking about similar British anthologies and wondering where the anthologies of women’s poetry in New Zealand were.  And I thought, maybe we don’t really need a separate anthology because female poets are getting published just as often as male poets here (not that I’m suggesting the Australian anthology was simply an exercise in affirmative action – I understand it was more about collecting poems concerning motherhood from a female perspective). 

 In any case, I thought I’d have a look to see if women were as likely as men to get published in New Zealand.  And it seems we are.  Last year, anyway, women were a little more likely to be published, especially amongst new poets. 

 Would I get the same results if I counted pages or words rather than volumes?  Possibly not.  The books by male poets included a James K Baxter selection and a substantial Vincent O’Sullivan collection, which could have tipped the balance the other way.  

 So what’s going on?  Is it that women are writing more poetry?  I’m not sure about that.  Open mic sessions, poetry slams and other poetry readings seem to draw respectable numbers of blokes on to the stage.  Poetry journals have no shortage of poems by male authors. 

 Is it that women more likely to put those books together and send them out in the first place?  Poetry-writing classes seem to be dominated by women, so maybe men and women are just taking a different approach to the whole enterprise.  (I’m generalising, I know). 

 It would be interesting to repeat the poetry book survey for, say, 1999 and 1989 and see if the gender balance has been shifting over time.  It would also be interesting to do the same thing for poetry published in other countries.  (I might even give that a go sometime). 

 Was 2009 an atypical year?  Will those percentages reverse in 2010?  I really couldn’t guess – but I’d love to know what others think.

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