Every year I spend several days hunched over a spreadsheet doing a bit of a round-up of who had a poetry book published in New Zealand the previous year, so you don’t have to. I’m interested in whether our national literature can be seen as representing the diversity of our population, because I think it should. I look at gender and ethnicity, based on how people describe themselves (or are described by others) on their websites, author pages, etc. Generally I try up to 3 websites and a quick check of who’s in Puna Wai Korero and if I don’t find any mention of ethnicity, I assume the poet is Pakeha/European. It’s not an exact science, but it gives a rough idea.

Now I’m up to 2015 (the most recent information readily available) and, well frankly, this is embarassing. Only two of the poetry books published in 2015 were by poets with Māori heritage and two more mentioned Pasifika heritage. Two further poets mentioned mixed European and Jewish heritage. Everyone else, as far as I could make out, was Pakeha/European. There were no Asian poets with collections published in 2015.

Here is a sad little pie chart:


By way of comparison, only 74% of people described themselves as Pakeha/European in the 2013 census (15% Maori, 12% Asian, 7% Pasifika, 1% MiddleEastern/Latin American/African – it doesn’t add to 100% because people can indicate more than one ethnicity).

Things are a bit more egalitarian on the gender front, but men were published more (57% of books compared with 43% by women), down from the heady days of 2012 where numbers equalised. Here’s how it looks over time:


Total numbers of poetry books are looking reasonably healthy, with 70 titles published in 2015 (compared with 73 in 2014). Victoria University Press were the winners in terms of overall quantity (10 titles), with Wellington’s Original Books in second place (7 titles) and Auckland University Press, Mākaro Press, Otago University Press and Steele Roberts joint third (6 titles each). Various small presses made up the rest of the list.

You can read previous posts on this subject here:







and if you have read it yet, here’s the link to Brannavan Gnangalingam‘s Spin-off article on subtle racism in New Zealand literature.

My source for the books published in 2015 is the Journal of Commonwealth Literature. I’ll get around to fiction in due course. And if you were wondering about reviews (whose books get reviewed), data for 2015 are still trickling in from an intrepid band of volunteers and I’ll try to do something on it when I can.


52 Men

Sometimes I buy a book and find myself wishing I’d written it (while at the same knowing I couldn’t, because, well, I’m someone else and I can only write the way I write – disappointing though that can be when I was hoping for something more like Jeanette Winterson or Haruki Murakami).

Louise Wareham Leonard (New Zealand-born but mostly New York-based) is one of those writers whose books I always wish I’d written. I loved her novels: Since You Ask and Miss Me A Lot Of and I’ve been just as impressed with her latest work,  52 Men (published by Red Hen Press).

52 Men is a series of vignettes involving main character Elise’s interactions with different men, followed by a longer piece concerning disturbing events from her childhood and teenage years. The vignettes would each stand alone as flash fiction, but together they form a mosaic of Elise’s life, each encounter building our understanding of her as a person. So you get the depth of character development you might expect from a novel, but in a series of snapshots. It’s an interesting technique and it works. In further crossing of genres, the author describes 52 Men as autobiographical fiction, which I take to mean somewhere between the remembered and the made up.

But wait, there’s more! Louise Wareham Leonard invited other women to record a short piece of their own writing about men and launched a series of podcasts.  The recording I contributed (I Meet A Man in a Bar) was based on a piece I wrote twenty years ago and recently rediscovered. You can listen to 52 Men the Podcast on Soundcloud.

Fancy some Brooklyn-inspired writing? Next Friday 25th November 2016, I will be reading from ‘The Year of Falling’ along with the excellent Maggie Rainey-Smith and the fantastic Jenny Bornholdt at the Brooklyn Deli (199-201 Ohiro Rd, Brooklyn, Wellington, NZ). There will be music from Wellington band The Brooklyns and wine & food from the Deli. Hope to see you there!


This Saturday, I’ll be at LitCrawl. If you’re in Wellies, you should be too.

I shall be reading at Hashigo Zake 25 Taranaki St at 6pm with the stunning line-up of Chris Tse, Gem Wilder and Emma Barnes.

Here’s our blurb:

When you write from a minority perspective, whether it’s your sexuality, your gender, your mental health or something else about you, there’s an expectation you’ll perform those parts of yourself.

We choose what parts of ourselves we offer, reveal and share. We decide what we gift of ourselves to the audience. We’re not just queer writers. We’re writers. We’re not just genderqueer writers. We’re writers. We’re not just mentally ill writers. We’re writers. We’re all of these things and none of them. Come along to hear some writing loosely organised along non-heterosexual lines across genders and experiences.  We’re wrapping up ourselves as gifts and we’ll rip the paper too.

Featuring Chris Tse, Janis Freegard, Gem Wilder and Emma Barnes.

There are rumours  that at least one cape may be involved and I can neither confirm nor deny the possibility of a hat. But hey, if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are are many other exciting LitCrawl options to choose from and you can read all about them here:



The first day we drank orange juice at Frankfurt airport and found our way to the right terminal and a bus took us to our plane which seemed to be miles away and then the plane taxied for so long we joked that they were driving us to Stuttgart, then there was a forty minute flight and Julian and Ingrid met us at the airport and we got lost on the way home but we were happy to be lost in Germany and then we met Ingrid’s mother, Rosa, at their house in Schechingen and we all ate cheese and Brezeln and Leberwurst and yoghurt and drank coffee and in the afternoon we rested and then walked to the local supermarket and Julian went off to the youth camp he was helping with and in the evening we ate chicken and I was asleep by eight o’clock.


The second day we picked apples off the ground in Ingrid’s garden and peeled them and cut out the brown bits and the bits where the insects lived and we gathered wood in a wheelbarrow and set the grill from the swing frame and moved the concrete blocks under it to make a kind of barbecue and we baked the apples into a Torte and bought many varieties of Wurst from the Metzgerei and many types of Brötchen from the Bäckerei and people came to Ingrid’s garden where there was music and singing and we had a party and a lovely time and that was the end of the second day.


The third day we woke at five am and went wandering and saw corn fields and crows and slugs and wheat and a hot air balloon and we said Guten Morgen to cyclists and walkers and when we got back we made coffee and Fredy bought a huge quantity of bread rolls and cheese and egg salad and cold meats and Ingrid boiled some eggs and we had another feast and Rosa sang a folk song about Tirol which is where Patrick (Julian’s brother) was travelling with his girlfriend and later we bought more food and beer and wine from a supermarket that had New Zealand wine on offer, then we went for a walk via the cemetery where Ingrid’s dad is buried and saw where some new houses are being built and it was hot, hot, hot so we came back and in the evening we went to the local Scheunenfest and ate Salzkuchen which is a little like pizza and drank Pils and Weizen and listened to the oompah band which Ingrid’s mother loved and you haven’t been to Germany until you’ve heard an Abba medley by an oompah band at the local barn festival.


The fourth day I was sick, having caught Peter’s cold but I didn’t want to miss out on a trip to Schwäbisch Gmünd so while Ingrid and Fredy and Rosa went to the Münster for the Sunday Catholic service, Peter and I looked around the town and took a million photos and had coffee and Pfirsichnektar with Ingrid and Peter and then we came home and Ingrid made me herbal tea from what looked like linden leaves and a chrysanthemum head and I slept and slept and read The  Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window And Disappeared and later I got up and der Fredy made a delicious soup and Ingrid lit a fire in the A-frame woodburner in the lounge and then it was time for bed.

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On the fifth day I was greatly recovered, perhaps because of Ingrid’s herbal tea and Peter and I made breakfast for ourselves and Rosa, and we put some washing on, then Peter and I went for a walk to the edge of town past a barn that was full of cows, with swallows flitting in and out, and we were out in the countryside very quickly and saw the fire station and we bought postcards and juice (Bananensaft and Apfelsaft) at the supermarket, then Ingrid came home from work and we visited the Rathaus together, then Ingrid made a salad and heated up some soup and our washing dried quickly and we took Ingrid’s mother to her home nearby that she shares with Ingrid’s sister and her Mann and we went for a drive with Ingrid to Eschach to see her mechanic about an oil leak and discovered her car was running on three cylinders and we called in at a supermarket where an eccentric Italian man showed us his customised bicycle and after we came home, we went for a long walk on the St Jacob’s pilgrimage (Besinnung am Jakobsweg) and saw the Schechingen-Klotzhöfe and another hot air balloon and came back and made pasta for tea and drank rosé (me) and Bier (Peter).

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On the sixth day, Peter and I bought bread rolls and Brezeln from the Bäckerei and felt brave for buying things in German and ate them with cucumber and the cheese and cold meats that Fredy’d bought earlier and then we read and wrote and Ingrid came home from work and we collected more apples and Fredy took us all to Schwäbisch Gmünd and Peter bought us coffee and cake at the same place as last time then we went to Stuttgart and walked through der Schlossgarten and saw lots of construction and the Fest being set up and the huge Schloss and heard buskers and met Patrick and Anja and Fredy shouted us a delicious meal at a Schwäbisch restaurant (Der Buschpilot) where I ate Linsen (lentils) mit Spätzle (noodles) and Wurst and Salat and drank Wulle (a type of beer)  and we walked back through the gardens to Patrick and Anja’s where I used their Internet (because Ingrid’s wasn’t working) to check in for our Ryan Air flights and it was a relief to finally have boarding passes but it took ages and everyone was falling asleep and Fredy drove us home and it was after midnight and we saw from the guitar in the hall that Julian was back from his camp.


On the seventh day, Peter and I bought bread and cheese and salmon from the little supermarket and I got Briefmarken for my Postkarten and Peter and I sat and wrote the postcards out at Ingrid’s outside table and we went to look at the Schechingen church which was stunning inside and Rosa came back and Julian woke up, which meant I lost the bet with Peter (which was a kiss) because I said Julian would have risen early to go cycling and would already be halfway to Bremen by then and Ingrid came home and Peter and I went with her to visit the man with Parkinson’s she goes walking with once a week and we all walked together then played a memory game with picture cards and Peter and I learnt some German words and in the evening Julian took us to see Ian, his dad, who made us curried sausages and we drank beer and back at home we had wine with Ingrid and Julian and they gave us Hirschbräu T-shirts and we saw der Igel (the hedgehog Ingrid feeds each night) and were sad to be going.

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And on the eighth day we flew to Manchester.

Waiting for the bus tour…

So, this is where I’ll be on the shortest day of the year:


Dear Jeanette Winterson, I should really stop reading your books because sometimes I happen on that one perfect sentence that floors me and I can’t read on. A good simile can cause me to well up like a – um – well in a flood and I have to put the book down and lie quietly in a darkened room for a bit. At that point, I tell myself I’ll never write again, why bother, I’ll just stop now, because I could write all my life and never write something one tenth as good as that simile, so I might as well just wallow in my welling which is as much about feeling sorry for myself as it is about appreciating the beauty of a good phrase. I’m that shallow.

Dear Jeanette Winterson, sometimes all I read is one paragraph and then I sigh and put the book down. Sometimes I can only manage the first sentence. I have read the first paragraph of ‘The 24 hour dog’ at least a dozen times. I have read “He was soft as rainwater” (it’s not the same when I type it) a hundred. It’s better in the book. I have to read it in the book.

Dear Jeanette Winterson, I promise I am not deranged. At least no more than most people. I have a perfectly normal life involving a day job, a partner, a cat and a rough approximation of something that bears a slight similarity to a writing career. My offerings however are as mud next to your polished diamonds. (Or maybe not diamonds, on account of the dodgy labour practices, maybe rubies. Do you like rubies, Jeannette Winterson? Not that I’m planning to get you any.)

Dear Jeanette Winterson, I saw you at a literary festival in Dublin years ago where you were warm, engaging and entertaining. There was a book-signing queue afterwards, but there was no way I could have joined it. It’s true I tend to come across like a grinning idiot when meeting authors I admire, but that doesn’t usually stop me. I still haven’t decided about the queue at the forthcoming Auckland Writers Festival. I’ll just have to see how I go.

Dear Jeanette Winterson, I would happily buy your next note to the electricity company, should you choose to publish it. I am pleased I live on the same planet as you. Thank you, thank you, thank you a thousand times for all the words.



Wordle: janisfreegard.com

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