Poetry & Gender in New Zealand Publishing Part 2

Last year, I posted about a little survey I’d undertaken of publishers’ websites.  I looked at the gender of poets published in 2009 by AUP, VUP, Steele Roberts, Seraph Press, Earl of Seacliffe Workshop, Cape Catley, Titus Books and OUP (the ones that sprang to mind).   I was interested to discover that, of the 31 books I found, 18 (58%) were by women and 13 (42%) by men.

Well.  Subsequently, I discovered that the Journal of Commonwealth Literature very conveniently publishes (amongst other things) an annual round-up of all the poetry books published in New Zealand during the year.  This included publishers I hadn’t been aware of at the time, such as Soapbox Press.  Thanks to the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, I was able to get a much fuller picture. 

The real balance was the opposite to what I’d found: of 74 poetry books published in 2009, 42 (57%) were by men and 32 (43%) were by women.  Most of the presses I’d inadvertently excluded were small presses publishing one or two volumes apiece.  However, one publisher (Kilmog Press, which makes truly beautiful handmade books) published 12 volumes in 2009 – surpassing all other publishers on the list, for which they are to be commended.  Only one of these books was by a woman, though, which skewed the results significantly.  (Maybe Kilmog Press will have an entirely different profile for 2010, but the results aren’t available yet, so we will just have to wait and see.)

Focusing on the three major poetry publishers in New Zealand (with 8 books apiece): Auckland University Press and Victoria University Press each published 5 women and 3 men; and Steele Roberts had 4 of each.

So how does all this stack up against the previous year?  2008 looks a little different for the big three: AUP published 2 women and 6 men, Steele Roberts  5 women and 7 men; VUP 3 of each.   But if those two years are typical, the gender balance looks as though it might even out over time. 

The other publisher with significant numbers in 2008 was the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop (1 woman, 4 men), followed by Headworx (1 woman, 2 men & 1 joint publication by a woman and a man); Original Books (2 of each) and Soapbox Press (1 woman, 3 men).  The grand total for 2008 was 32 books by women (36%) and 55 by men (63%), with the remaining 1% the joint publication (by Meg Campbell and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell).

What can we conclude from this?  Female poets are well represented overall with the major publishers; male poets seem somewhat over-represented with the smaller presses.  Is this because small presses are more likely to be run by men, who prefer poetry by men?  Are men more confident about putting together a collection and submitting it?  Are women more likely to do MAs in Creative Writing* and therefore more likely to approach a university press?  Who knows.  You can expect another exciting instalment of this next time I get my spreadsheets going.

* I rather think they are, which raises another interesting question – why?  Do male poets think they know it all already?  Are female poets more open to the idea that they might still have a lot to learn?  Are men more likely to take the alternative, small press route?  I think there’s a thesis in here somewhere and if someone would like to pay my mortgage for the next few years, I’d be happy to take it on….

10 comments

  1. This is fascinating Janis. I have to say that I had the idea in my head (probably forgetting your previous post about this topic) that more poetry books were being published by women, and that poetry in NZ was becoming dominated by women, but actually that’s a big fat lie. To me, there do seem to be more women poets, but maybe that it’s just that I know more women poets, and that, as you say, more women are doing things like creative writing courses. I think it is certainly true that more small poetry presses are run by men – there are very few others run by women. (I’d be interested to know about others actually – there was one called Street Women Press in Palmerston North, but I don’t think they’ve published anything for a while. I’m sure that can’t be the only one.) Speaking from my own experience, small presses are much more likely to publish people who are known to us in some way – though it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a personal capacity – it could be that we know the person’s work – and perhaps men might be more likely to know and like work by other men, or it might just be that they know more men. I do know that one of the small presses you mention was looking for more work by women last year.

    I hope you’ll keep up your study. It’s really interesting.

  2. Interesting indeed! I think the following, related questions would also be interesting to pursue:

    * Are significant numbers of New Zealand poets having books published outside NZ, and if so, what’s the gender balance of those poets?

    * How many of the poetry books being published each year are first collections? How many of these are by women, and how many by men? (My hunch would be that more are by women)

    * What is the average age of women and of men having poetry books published? (Again, my hunch would be that the average age would be younger for women)

    I’m aware that I’m suggesting these in the happy knowledge that I won’t have to do the work…

    My own suspicion is that there’s a demographic shift occurring within published New Zealand poets, so that most of the younger poets are female, which is why I suspect women will have stronger representation within those producing first collections, while men will typically be older and producing second or subsequent collections. Which raises another question:

    * If one tracks poets who have a first collection published, will the number of subsequent collections published over (say) a 10-year period differ for women and for men?

    As for the MAs, my understanding is that women are much more likely to do creative writing courses, including MAs in Creative Writing, but I’m not sure what are the main factors in this: male ego/confidence, differential pressure on males to ‘be the breadwinner’ (if that still exists); or is it simply a reflection of my hunch – if it’s true – that most young poets are women?

    • Thanks to you both for those interesting comments & observations.

      @ Helen – In support of the theory that men might be more likely to know and like poetry by other men: recently I went to a poetry reading at Te Papa where a number of poets were reading poems (by others) that they liked. The women tended to read poems by both male and female poets, with a roughly even gender split; the men almost exclusively read poems by otehr men. This was a very small sample, on just one occasion, but it was quite a noticeable difference. And of course there’s nothing wrong with this, unless it means that (perhaps subconscious) gatekeeper bias favours publication by men, and women aren’t getting the same opportunities. I think Seraph Press has a hugely important role among the small presses.

      @Tim – There were a couple of overseas publications on the list, such as one from Interactive Press in Australia (a man) and one from Bloodaxe Books in the UK (a woman), but yes it would be interesting to know more about overseas publications of NZ poets.

      I suspect you’re right about more first collections coming from women – I’ll have to do a bit of sleuthing on that sometime. But I’m not yet convinced that more young poets are female – if the open mikes are anything to go by, there seem to be plenty of young male poets about (but maybe they’re not the ones submitting to journals).

      Another thing I didn’t look at previously was the volume of poetry produced by men cf women in those years, eg by page count. I’ve just had a quick look at the books published in 2008 and page count (where known). Dividing them into chapbooks (which I decided would be anything under 40 pages), full-length books (41-100 pages) and long books (101+ pages) shows that the longer books were far more likely to have been written by men: 2 books by the same female poet – Janet Frame – out of a total of 11 (18% female; 82% male). This tends to support your demographic shift theory, with older male poets being the ones more likely to have selected works coming out. But men also dominated the chapbooks, with 65% of publicaitons cf 35% (in line with what Helen says about the small presses) . The full length collections were a bit more even: 40% female, 58% male and 2% both (Alistair & Meg Campbell).

      • In that case, the evidence doesn’t support my theory! My impression (though I haven’t done the maths) that most of the published poets i know are female may be biasing my view on the gender balance of published NZ poets as a whole. I guess I’m wondering, where are all these male poets who publish chapbooks and collections? Maybe the answer is that most of them are not in Wellington…

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