Since 2008, I’ve been looking at the numbers of poetry collections being published in New Zealand, by gender, and more recently, by ethnicity. I was a bit slow getting to the 2013 stats, but here they are, along with the figures for 2014.
So what’s changed?
In 2013, publications were evenly split between male and female authors for the first time since I’ve been looking at them. Men were a little ahead again in 2014 (55%), but it’s still markedly different from 2008, when close to two-thirds of poets with collections published that year were men.
What’s really exciting is that after a steady decline from 2010 to 2013, the overall numbers of poetry collections is starting to increase again.
The publisher landscape has also changed quite a bit. In 2008, the three “big” poetry publishers in New Zealand were Steele Roberts (12 publications), Auckland University Press (8) and Victoria University Press (6). Other outfits to put out more than one publication that year were the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop (5), Headworx (4), Original Books (4), Soapbox Press (4) and Chihuahua Press (3).
In 2014 however, romping to the lead is Lyttleton’s Cold Hub Press with 20 titles to their credit. Stalwart Steele Roberts came in at 14, Victoria University Press at 11 and Auckland University Press at 8. Wellington’s Makaro Press, if you include the 6 books published under their Submarine imprint, published 9 collections.
What’s the same?
Poets with published collections are overwhelming Pakeha, way more so than we would expect if we looked at the population breakdown from the latest census. (Note: doesn’t add to 100% as people may have multiple ethnicities.)
Only 5% of poets who published collections in 2014 were Maori (whereas Maori made up 15% of the NZ population), 3% were Pacific (cf 7% of the population), 1% Asian (cf 12% of the population – no pressure, Chris Tse) and 1% Middle Eastern/Latin American/African (cf 1%). Yes, Pakeha have an ageing population and are therefore more likely to produce published poets than more youthful sub-populations, but that’s not enough to account for the disparity.
Well, I do. I want to see a rich, diverse published literature that more closely reflects the range of poetic voices of this country. Also, I care about equity of access to goods and services and that includes access to being published (wait – didn’t someone sign a Treaty way back when?)
But surely it’s all based on merit? And women have got the vote now – what more do youse sheilas want?
Merit is subjective. If it’s only Europeans judging the merit of poetry, then there’s a chance we’ll miss something that a different group would find meritorious or inspirational or recognise their own lives in.
Whatevs. Where do the figures come from?
I rely on the Journal of Commonwealth Literature which includes an annual round-up of the literature of Commonwealth countries. I copy the list of published poetry collections from there into an Excel spreadsheet and bake it into pies (just kidding – I don’t bake). The journal comes out late in the year that follows the year in question which is why there is a delay. I can’t be certain the list is complete, but I feel sure that the good folks who compile it have done a thorough job.
How do you know everyone’s gender and ethnicity?
Ah, I’m not promising this is 100% accurate. I go to at least 3 websites (eg author pages on publisher websites and the NZ Book Council writer files) and I try to work it out from that. If there is nothing at all to suggest that a poet is not European/Pakeha, I count them as Pakeha. I do this because I figure when you’re part of the bigger group, you are less likely to identify yourself as such. I think it’s a reasonable assumption. Only a handful of poets actually say they are Pakeha, but some say they were born in the UK or US or mention that their ancestry is Irish, so I go by that.
Why is it just collections? Why don’t you look at poetry in journals and so forth?
Because I have a day job. But, you know, you should totally go for it.
Have you thought about looking at reviews?
Funny you should ask. I am part of an intrepid bunch of volunteers who are trawling through 2015’s many and varied reviews of NZ books as we speak (and not just for poetry ). If you’d like to join our merry band, please do leave a message on this site.
Wishing you all a merry 2016, filled with poetry and wonder.
Links to previous posts on this topic: