Poetry & Gender in New Zealand Publishing 2008 – 2010

This is the third year I’ve looked at how many female New Zealand poets have had books published in New Zealand compared with the number of male poets.  And for three years in a row, men have outnumbered women.  Here’s a little table with the number of books.  The percentages at the bottom are the proportion of poetry books by women over the three year period compared with poetry books by men.

Year Number of books by female poets Number of books by male poets Number of joint books Total books for the year
2008 32 55 1 88
2009 32 42 74
2010 35 49 84
99 146 1 246
40.2% 59.3% 0.4%

So, of every ten books, about 4 are by women and 6 by men.  (The joint publication was Alistair and Meg Campbell’s excellent book of love poems).  Here’s the link to last year’s post.

I wondered if I’d see any difference if I looked at the number of pages of published poetry by gender.  (This excludes journals and magazines; it’s just books.)  There’s not much difference, at least not for 2010.  It works out at 42% of poetry pages written by women; 58% by men.

Thanks to the Journal of Commonwealth Literature for the lists of published poetry books.

Does it matter?  Well I rather think it does.  I expect a nation’s literature to reflect the diversity of its population and a forty/sixty split isn’t quite cutting it.  I suspect the ethnicity stats wouldn’t stack up either, but I don’t know enough about the published poets to know how they would identify themselves.  Another project, another time.

Possible reasons for the lack of gender balance:
Men are writing more poetry? (seems unlikely)
Men are more likely to submit their work for publication?
Editors are more inclined to publish male poets?
There’s a historical factor skewing the figures, with older established poets more likely to be male (I’m thinking folk like J K Baxter here, as well as living poets).

Who knows?  In the meantime, for more excellent poetry by people of a variety of genders and nationalities, have a look at the Tuesday Poem site where a jointly written global birthday poem is unfolding as we speak!


  1. Actually, most of the mystery males are quite familiar names, Tim. 2010 saw the publication of books by James K Baxter, Peter Bland, Iain Britton, Stu Bagby, Owen Bullock…and that’s just the Bs! I certainly don’t begrudge any of the chaps on the list their publications (hmm, is that why they’re called chapbooks?) but the balance does seem a bit skewed. I wouldn’t want to see it skewed too far the other way either. A nice even 50:50 (or is it 51:49?) would do the trick.

  2. Perhaps we need to factor in editors’ details also? I just did a top-of-my-head tally of 15 NZ journals: 7 with a sole-charge male editor, 7 edited by collectives (incl class groups), 1 with a sole-charge woman editor.

  3. I love that you do this Janis. It really just shows once again how perceptions don’t always match reality. And shows that we have a way to go.

  4. […] Janis Freegard has recently undertaken another of her annual surveys of New Zealand poetry book publishing and gender, which indicate that ‘of every ten books, about 4 are by women and 6 by men’. The posts associated with the surveys (and comments) outline her process and include some interesting questions and discussion. This entry was tagged beato, nineteenth-century photographs, photography, poetry, publishing.Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment […]

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