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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!

I have news.  It concerns poetry and spiders.

When I was about eighteen, I started writing about the adventures of a character called Alice Spider.  And I kept on writing about her, on and off.  A couple of decades after I started, I realised all the little Alice fragments were part of a prose poem sequence.  Sections of Alice have since been published in Turbine, AUP New Poets 3, JAAM and US-based Anomalous Press.  And now Alice is getting her very own chapbook, courtesy of the wonderful folk at Anomalous.  And it’s not just any old chapbook – it’s 3 types of chapbook: a  limited edition of 26 handmade, letterpress-printed chapbooks with images by Jill Kambs (I’ve seen the proofs and the book looks beautiful), as well as a regular, offset-printed chapbook and an e-book.   Very exciting!

This would not have happened without Mary MacCallum’s Tuesday Poem site – the Christmas before last, the Tuesday poets all had a “secret Santa” poem-swapping session, where we paired up with other Tuesday poets and posted each other’s poems.  I was paired with US poet Melissa Green, who writes stunningly beautiful poetry.  Melissa graciously hosted Alice on her blog,  where she was spotted by Anomalous Press and invited to appear in their new journal, and now Alice is moving on to her next adventure.  Many thanks to Cat Parnell and Erica Mena of Anomalous Press for this opportunity and to Jill Kambs for making beautiful books.  I”ll post a photo when the books arrive.

Also, Anomalous Press has just announced its first chapbook competition.  Entry fees are $US15 and all submissions will be considered for publication in the Anomalous Press journal.  There is a separate category for translations.

Last year, I posted about a little survey I’d undertaken of publishers’ websites.  I looked at the gender of poets published in 2009 by AUP, VUP, Steele Roberts, Seraph Press, Earl of Seacliffe Workshop, Cape Catley, Titus Books and OUP (the ones that sprang to mind).   I was interested to discover that, of the 31 books I found, 18 (58%) were by women and 13 (42%) by men.

Well.  Subsequently, I discovered that the Journal of Commonwealth Literature very conveniently publishes (amongst other things) an annual round-up of all the poetry books published in New Zealand during the year.  This included publishers I hadn’t been aware of at the time, such as Soapbox Press.  Thanks to the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, I was able to get a much fuller picture. 

The real balance was the opposite to what I’d found: of 74 poetry books published in 2009, 42 (57%) were by men and 32 (43%) were by women.  Most of the presses I’d inadvertently excluded were small presses publishing one or two volumes apiece.  However, one publisher (Kilmog Press, which makes truly beautiful handmade books) published 12 volumes in 2009 – surpassing all other publishers on the list, for which they are to be commended.  Only one of these books was by a woman, though, which skewed the results significantly.  (Maybe Kilmog Press will have an entirely different profile for 2010, but the results aren’t available yet, so we will just have to wait and see.)

Focusing on the three major poetry publishers in New Zealand (with 8 books apiece): Auckland University Press and Victoria University Press each published 5 women and 3 men; and Steele Roberts had 4 of each.

So how does all this stack up against the previous year?  2008 looks a little different for the big three: AUP published 2 women and 6 men, Steele Roberts  5 women and 7 men; VUP 3 of each.   But if those two years are typical, the gender balance looks as though it might even out over time. 

The other publisher with significant numbers in 2008 was the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop (1 woman, 4 men), followed by Headworx (1 woman, 2 men & 1 joint publication by a woman and a man); Original Books (2 of each) and Soapbox Press (1 woman, 3 men).  The grand total for 2008 was 32 books by women (36%) and 55 by men (63%), with the remaining 1% the joint publication (by Meg Campbell and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell).

What can we conclude from this?  Female poets are well represented overall with the major publishers; male poets seem somewhat over-represented with the smaller presses.  Is this because small presses are more likely to be run by men, who prefer poetry by men?  Are men more confident about putting together a collection and submitting it?  Are women more likely to do MAs in Creative Writing* and therefore more likely to approach a university press?  Who knows.  You can expect another exciting instalment of this next time I get my spreadsheets going.

* I rather think they are, which raises another interesting question – why?  Do male poets think they know it all already?  Are female poets more open to the idea that they might still have a lot to learn?  Are men more likely to take the alternative, small press route?  I think there’s a thesis in here somewhere and if someone would like to pay my mortgage for the next few years, I’d be happy to take it on….

One of the things I do to entertain myself is make spreadsheets.  Some people may find this sad, but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.  Recently I conducted an unscientific little survey of single-author poetry books published in New Zealand last year, looking at the websites of several New Zealand publishers (AUP, VUP, Steele Roberts, Seraph Press, Earl of Seacliffe Workshop, Cape Catley, Titus Books and OUP).  For each book, I noted whether the poet was male or female and whether he or she was a “new” poet (ie hadn’t had a volume of poetry published before).

 The list of publishers is not comprehensive and no doubt there are other books that ought to be in my spreadsheet.  Also, not all the publishers listed the year of publication on their website, so there may be one or two books on the list that properly belong in another year.  Still, I think I’ve got a reasonable sample.

 And I found the results rather interesting.  Of the 31 books I found, 18 (58%) were by women and 13 by men (42%).  New poets accounted for 11 of the books (35% of the total) – quite encouraging I thought.  And of these 11 new poets, 8 were women (73% of new poets) and 3 were men (27%).

 One of the reasons I embarked on this exercise was because I’d been looking at a recent anthology of Australian women’s poetry (Motherlode – looks great, by the way and thinking about similar British anthologies and wondering where the anthologies of women’s poetry in New Zealand were.  And I thought, maybe we don’t really need a separate anthology because female poets are getting published just as often as male poets here (not that I’m suggesting the Australian anthology was simply an exercise in affirmative action – I understand it was more about collecting poems concerning motherhood from a female perspective). 

 In any case, I thought I’d have a look to see if women were as likely as men to get published in New Zealand.  And it seems we are.  Last year, anyway, women were a little more likely to be published, especially amongst new poets. 

 Would I get the same results if I counted pages or words rather than volumes?  Possibly not.  The books by male poets included a James K Baxter selection and a substantial Vincent O’Sullivan collection, which could have tipped the balance the other way.  

 So what’s going on?  Is it that women are writing more poetry?  I’m not sure about that.  Open mic sessions, poetry slams and other poetry readings seem to draw respectable numbers of blokes on to the stage.  Poetry journals have no shortage of poems by male authors. 

 Is it that women more likely to put those books together and send them out in the first place?  Poetry-writing classes seem to be dominated by women, so maybe men and women are just taking a different approach to the whole enterprise.  (I’m generalising, I know). 

 It would be interesting to repeat the poetry book survey for, say, 1999 and 1989 and see if the gender balance has been shifting over time.  It would also be interesting to do the same thing for poetry published in other countries.  (I might even give that a go sometime). 

 Was 2009 an atypical year?  Will those percentages reverse in 2010?  I really couldn’t guess – but I’d love to know what others think.

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