New Zealand

There’s an old Irish saying: ‘If you want praise, die. If you want blame, marry.’ I could add from personal experience, ‘If you really want blame, edit a poetry anthology.’ While poetry is relatively popular, it often seems that more people write it than read it. As a result, poets can be desperate for affirmation and recognition, managing their careers more jealously than investment bankers. What too often gets lost in all the log-rolling and back-scratching is the poetry. We turn to anthologies for help, hoping to find in small, palatable doses good poets we can choose to read in depth. We find anthologies representing nations or geographical regions, literary periods, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations, forms, categories like postmodernism, post-colonialism, eco-poetry, and themes like love or madness.

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The art of poetry is alive and well in New Zealand in the 1980s. In spite of the economic recession which has decimated literary journals and made the publication of poetry more than ever a dubious commercial proposition, in terms of both quality and quantity New Zealand poetry has probably never been stronger. There are a number of factors contributing to this situation. One is that, leaving aside isolated colonial precursors, poetry as a continuous history in New Zealand is a relatively recent affair going back only fifty or sixty years. Consequently, the stream has become broader and deeper with each passing decade, and yet the beginnings of the tradition are still (as it were) concurrent through the survival and continued activity of poets such as Allen Curnow, now in his seventies, who published his first book fifty years ago. There are in the 1980s poets active from every subsequent generation which has fed into the stream: poets from the 1940s (Louis Johnson, Kendrick Smithyman, Alistair Campbell), poets from the 1950s (Ruth Dallas, W.H. Oliver, C.K. Stead), poets from the 1960s (Vincent O’Sullivan, Hone Tuwhare. Michael Jackson), poets from the 1970s (Sam Hunt, Bill Manhire, Ian Wedde), and finally poets who have emerged within the last few years (Meg Campbell, Keri Hulme, Cilla McQueen), to mention only representative names.

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The house of fiction in New Zealand, neither a large not crowded dwelling at the best of times, has emptied somewhat dismayingly over the past year or two with the deaths in rapid succession of four highly respected long-term tenants: Ngaio Marsh, John A. Lee, Frank Sargeson, and M.K. Joseph, the first three of whom have been in residence for almost fifty years.

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In late August, it took only a few days for the Taliban to secure control of Kabul in the wake of the final withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan. The breakneck speed of the takeover was accompanied by images of mass terror, alongside a profound sense of betrayal. As in the closing days of the Vietnam War in 1975, the international airport quickly became the epicentre of scenes of chaos and collective panic, as thousands rushed onto the tarmac in desperate attempts to board the last planes out of the country. Queues stretched for kilometres outside the country’s only passport office. It is still too early to tell whether the Taliban’s promises of a more ‘inclusive’ government and amnesty for former collaborators of the Western forces will be met. What is certain is that Western governments owe them safe passage, though, from the announcements coming from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office in late August, it seems unlikely this will be properly honoured.

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Pip Adam’s third novel, Nothing to See, is a multifaceted and complex work. The complications begin immediately, as we meet the protagonist, Peggy and Greta, who are a recovering alcoholic. The odd combination of the singular and plural here is intentional. As far as appearances go, Peggy and Greta are different individuals with separate bodies and separate minds. Nonetheless, they share one life in an arrangement made difficult by the discomfort and lack of understanding they face at every step. They became two at the lowest moment in their history, when the crushing weight of trauma and alcohol addiction became too much for a single person to bear. One individual whose choices were limited to recovery or death thus became two.

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Australians and New Zealanders know it as the Tasman Sea or more familiarly The Ditch: for Māori, Te Tai o-Rēhua. Significant islands in this stretch of water are Lord Howe and Norfolk. As seen from New Zealand, the island most Australians probably don’t know offhand and, when they are told about it, might feel inclined to reject its name as, well, cheeky: it’s West Island – Australia in short.

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A new anthology of bite-sized New Zealand poems is freshly out from Victoria University Press. VUP is the Wellington-based publisher closely associated with the University’s renowned creative writing school, known affectionately (or pejoratively, depending on your affiliation) as ‘The Bill Manhire School’ ...

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Poetry books that focus on memory, recuperation, and loss are common, but it is rare to find poems that speak about such matters as sparely and eloquently as these do. Bill Manhire’s new poems are bony and sinewy, resonating with an awareness of public and personal grief. Although these works often speak by indirection, many of them pack a real punch. As Manhire p ...

A History of New Zealand Literature is a rewarding collection replete with the pleasure of new information that is both strange and strangely familiar. I commend it for both its intrinsic interest and, for Australian readers in particular, as one means of redressing Australia and New Zealand’s mutual ignorance of each other’s literary histories and cult ...

Potiki by Patricia Grace

by
November 2016, no. 386

At the outbreak of World War II, the British novelist Anna Kavan began a journey around the world that brought her, ultimately, to New Zealand. Her two years there in a ...

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