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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.
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.
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:
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:
2015 is feeling like the year of anthologies. I’m very pleased to have work in these three little beauties:
‘Sunset at the Estuary’ is a tribute to the late Dianne Beatson who, with her husband, Peter Beatson, offered writing space in a lovely house in Foxton, as well as founding the Foxton Fellowship. The book contains a selection of poetry and prose from some of the many writers who have benefited from their generosity, including Sue McCauley, Chris Else, Alison Wong, Adrienne Jansen and Mandy Hager. It’s published by Rangitawa Publishing and edited by Dorothy Alexander and Joan Rosier-Jones. Over the years, I’ve spent a number of productive long weekends with writing groups at the Foxton house, which I’m very grateful for.
Also released recently is ‘Of Paekakariki’ – poetry, prose and illustrations about (you guessed it!) Paekakariki. It’s edited by Sylvia Bagnall and published by Michael O’Leary’s Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop. Contributors include Roma Potiki, Dinah Hawken, Apirana Taylor, Sam Hunt, Frances Cherry and Leon Uris (who was stationed there during the war). I read my contribution along with many others at a very enjoyable launch in St Peter’s Hall.
Cover illustration by Alan Wehipeihana.
And finally, there is ‘The Poetry Bug’ from Parthian Press in Wales. It’s an anthology of poetry about insects, collected by butterfly expert John Tennent. The collection offers much humour and rhyme and the poets range from Horace and Virgil to Pam Ayres. Quite exciting to have my little cockroach poem from ‘Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus’ rubbing shoulders with offerings from the likes of Tennyson, Rossetti, Whitman, Goethe and Dickinson. Also, it’s in hardback, which is always nice.
The Old Man and the Sea
Sun, sea, salt, fish stink,
Blood, fish scales and petrol fumes,
“Sea’s like piss on a plate,
She’s fresh as a fart in springtime.”
We strain pulling nets into the boat,
Laden with green, red and orange weed,
Doggies, snapper and a stingray or two,
“Fishing’s not what it used to be.”
Probably never was,
The old man goes apeshit,
“Come on, pull, you useless bastard,
You’re like a one-armed paperhanger,
Useless as tits on a bull.”
Gleaming sky turns grey,
Tangaroa gets restless,
And Tawhirimatea a bit stroppy.
“She’s blowing like 40 bastards,
Sea’s coming up rough as guts,
Rain’s coming down as fast as whores’ drawers.”
The old man laughs at the waves,
And we’re off with a hiss and a roar,
Then it’s down the pub for a few quick ones,
“A few beers and a bit of a yarn.”
The old man at the bar,
A Pakeha Maui
In his plastic sandals,
A nylon net
For his grandmother’s jawbone,
A string of obscenities
For his Karakia.
by Peter Clayworth
from Otago University Students Literary Review Centenary Edition 1888-1988
Dr Peter Clayworth is a Nelson-born historian, researcher and writer who now lives in Wellington. Peter is also my partner. He wrote this poem – about fishing trips with his dad – many years ago. Last week he read it out at his dad’s funeral in Nelson. Peter’s father had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, while he was over in Golden Bay white-baiting – doing something he loved in a place he loved. He was 83. Rest in Peace, Henry Clayworth: mechanic, fisherman, whitebaiter, spinner of yarns.
I will be reading at an event in Lower Hutt on Friday evening. Here’s more:
Poems of Place; Landscape Poetry and Open Mic
We live in a land of hills, river and sea. We experience wild changes in our weather and our remoteness affects who we are as a people in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Much of our literature and poetry reflects our unique landscape. This National Poetry Day event held in Lower Hutt will feature writers reading their landscape poetry and reflecting on what this means for them. There will be an opportunity during the open mic for people to read their own or their favourite author’s poetry on the subject of nature, landscape and the environment. Everyone is welcome, poets, poetry-lovers and those interested in the local environment. Featuring the poets Anne Powell, Harvey Molloy, Kerry Hines, Keith Westwater, Tim Jones, Adrienne Jansen, Kerry Popplewell, Keith Johnson and Janis Freegard.
Entry Details: Free. Open to all ages. Sign up for the open mic on the night.
Date/Times: 28 August, 7.30 – 9.30pm.
Location: St Marks Complex 58 Woburn Road, Lower Hutt. Opposite the Lower Hutt Library
Further Info: www.facebook.com/events/667972266672138/
A number of people have kindly enquired as to the wellbeing of ‘The Year of Falling’ and ‘The Glass Rooster’, so I thought it might be time for an update. I do feel as though I have released hand-reared orphaned wild things out into the world to seek their fortunes and I’m very much hoping they don’t fall into a ravine or get eaten by bears.
So how’s The Glass Rooster?
Thank you for asking. He’s been somewhat elusive lately, but is no doubt striding about happily somewhere looking for hens to impress. There was a sighting on Beattie’s Book blog in June, where Elizabeth Morton gave the book a very nice review which starts:
“Grab your knapsack. Pack for all conditions. Janis Freegard wants to be your travel companion, and she has a cross-country junket in mind. ‘The Glass Rooster’ takes you through forests and oceans, deserts and space, all the while chaperoned by the eponymous bird who ‘was nothing if not well-travelled’. An unlikely tour guide, perhaps, but he will strut and call and pose for photographs like the best of them.”
And what about The Year of Falling?
There have also been some lovely reviews. Emma Bryson on Beattie’s Book Blog, said:
“Quirky, funny and inspiringly touching, Freegard has a knack for writing scenes which are painfully human. I watched as Selina’s life start to drift away from her, and screamed in frustration as she ‘reasoned’ her way into further trouble. And I became a silent observer (albeit slightly tearful) as the stoic Smith dealt with the heart-breaking complexities of losing a friend, raising a child, and caring for a sister.”
“This is a story of searching for one’s self, trying to identify and then hold onto the important things, and finding a place to call home whether it be a physical place, or simply in your own head and heart. There is hope, forgiveness, joy and love. It is a wonderful story, I very much enjoyed reading it. I really hope this book gets widely read and promoted, because it certainly deserves to.
And Catherine Roberston said in the NZ Listener: “…the pace and assuredness quickly increase, building layers of tension and pleasingly ambiguous characterisations that hold interest to the end.”
I’ve also had some very nice emails, texts, Tweets and Facebook messages from people saying they’re enjoying the novel or were up all night reading it, or they really like one of the characters, which is exactly what any writer loves to hear when wondering whether anyone will ever read the book you spent years fretting over.
Where can I buy them?
Indie bookstores like Unity Books (Wellington and Auckland), University bookshops, Page and Blackmore (Nelson), Almo’s Books in Carterton and some Paper Pluses (like the one in Coastlands on the Kapiti Coast). They’re also available directly from AUP and Makaro Press and online retailers like fishpond.
I was chuffed to see both books squeaked into the Indie Top 20 list for 20 June 2015, which means I am on a list with Patricia Grace, Kate Atkinson, Anne Enright, Atul Gawande, Helen MacDonald and other great writers.
Many thanks to everyone who’s bought, read or plans to read the books, who’s requested them from their local library, reviewed them, rated them on Goodreads or told me they enjoyed them. Makes it all worthwhile.