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News in Brief: the boys are still winning; the girls haven’t yet caught up.

Since 2008, I’ve been looking at the Journal of Commonwealth Literature’s annual summary of what was published in New Zealand the previous year.  Despite a general perception that more female poets are being published here, it’s actually the other way around.  Here’s a little table showing that, in each year since 2008, male poets account for around six in every ten poetry books published in New Zealand; female poets for about four.

          F           M
2008 36% 63%
2009 43% 57%
2010 42% 58%
2011 43% 57%

Where it gets interesting, is breaking the books into those published by “larger” poetry publishers (and in here I’ve included AUP, VUP, Steele Roberts & Random House – who put out Hone Tuwhare’s collection in 2011) and those published by smaller presses (such as Headworx, Seraph Press, Titus and Earl of Seacliffe).  Women outnumber men at the larger presses (18 female poets and 15 male poets in 2011), while men outnumber women at the smaller presses (9 female poets and 22 male poets in 2011 + one person I couldn’t put into a gender box from their initials).  So that probably explains why people have a sense that more women are being published.  It would be interesting to look at sales figures too.

Previous posts on the matter:

Disclaimer: I haven’t checked all the books listed by the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, but I did notice they had included at least one novel on their list of poetry books (which I omitted from the analysis) – Mark Stephenson’s No Second Chance.

And because this is the internet, here is a picture of a cat.


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!



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November 2020

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