Kiwi col­lec­tion shines de­spite sins of omis­sion

The Auck­land Univer­sity Press An­thol­ogy of New Zealand Lit­er­a­ture

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Peter Pierce

WITHIN the past three years, two vast an­tipodean lit­er­ary col­lec­tions have been pub­lished: the Mac­quarie PEN An­thol­ogy of Aus­tralian Lit­er­a­ture (2009) and now The Auck­land Univer­sity Press An­thol­ogy of New Zealand Lit­er­a­ture. Pre­dictably, con­tro­versy has been pro­voked by each.

The main crit­i­cism of the Aus­tralian book, tren­chantly ar­gued by Peter Craven, was that it in­cluded in full the ma­te­rial al­ready col­lected in the Mac­quarie PEN An­thol­ogy of Abo­rig­i­nal Lit­er­a­ture. This, he judged, skewed the bal­ance of the an­thol­ogy and could di­rectly be re­lated to the omis­sions of au­thors that were noted and re­gret­ted. A sec­ond level or­der of com­plaint in­volved the scant cov­er­age of Aus­tralian drama, but that was due to the dif­fi­culty of ad­e­quately rep­re­sent­ing a play by ex­cerpts.

The storm over the New Zealand an­thol­ogy has taken a sim­i­lar course. Protests fo­cus on omis­sions (more than 30 names are listed with an ag­grieved air by var­i­ous re­view­ers of the book). More im­por­tant (and ac­knowl­edged by the edi­tors) are the self-ex­clu­sions of Alan Duff, au­thor of Once Were Warriors, and of Vin­cent O’Sul­li­van, poet, nov­el­ist, ed­i­tor, racon­teur, an­thol­o­gist and — with CK Stead — New Zealand’s finest liv­ing au­thor.

O’Sul­li­van ex­plained his de­ci­sion thus: ‘‘ There are some won­der­ful things in this an­thol­ogy ... But it is also nar­row and pre­scrip­tive. To be in the crowd scenes for the spec­ta­cle of the new tablets brought down from Mount Kel­burn [home of Vic­to­ria Univer­sity in Welling­ton, where the co-edi­tors, Jane Stafford and Mark Wil­liams, teach English lit­er­a­ture] did not much in­ter­est me.’’

In an­other dam­ag­ing blow to the in­tegrity of the an­thol­ogy, Stafford and Wil­liams failed to reach agree­ment with the es­tate of Janet Frame, one of New Zealand’s renowned au­thors, as to what a fit­ting se­lec­tion of her work would be.

There were fur­ther grounds of protest. Stafford and Wil­liams are a wife and hus­band team. They have been ac­cused of pre­fer­ring po­ets pub­lished by their own univer­sity’s press and also grad­u­ates of ‘‘ Bill Man­hire’s cre­ative Edited by Jane Stafford and Mark Wil­liams Auck­land Univer­sity Press, 1162pp, $65 (HB) writ­ing class at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity’’ (‘‘a trans­for­ma­tional force in New Zealand writ­ing’’, in the edi­tors’ gen­er­ous view). Among the lat­ter are Bar­bara An­der­son, Jenny Born­holdt, Elizabeth Knox and Emily Perkins. If the in­ter­nal weight­ing of the an­thol­ogy (all 2kg and 1162 pages) is to­wards the past few decades — the most re­cent ex­cept is from Hamish Clay­ton’s 2011 novel Wulf — the cov­er­age of the colo­nial pe­riod is am­ple, var­ied, some­times sur­pris­ing, of­ten rich, as be­fits the par­tic­u­lar re­search in­ter­ests of the edi­tors.

Who have they gath­ered? There are other mar­ried cou­ples — Fleur Ad­cock and Alis­tair Te Ariki Camp­bell, JC (Jac­que­line) Sturm and JK Bax­ter, Mary Stan­ley and Ken­drick Smithy­man. Present and former New Zealand poet lau­re­ates are in­cluded: Ian Wedde and Hone Tuwhare. Also as­sem­bled are al­co­holics, bal­ladeers, bush bat­tlers, com­mu­nists, ex­pa­tri­ates, grad­u­ates of the Maori Te Aute Col­lege, veter­ans of World War II and a num­ber of writ­ers who freely and fre­quently moved be­tween New Zealand and Aus­tralia, among them Henry Law­son, Jean De­vanny, Dou­glas Ste­wart and Ali­son Wong (who came to this coun­try in time for her first novel, As the Earth Turns Sil­ver, 2009, to be short­listed for the Prime Min­is­ter’s Lit­er­ary Awards).

If the ‘‘ out­door life of the New Zealand male’’ is cel­e­brated by Barry Crump, it is more am­biva­lently treated in John Clarke’s char­ac­ter Fred Dagg in The Gum­boot Song. This mis­cel­lany of au­thors sounds fa­mil­iar. We might al­most be talk­ing of Aus­tralians, or an Aus­tralasian lit­er­ary sphere, or even rem­i­nisc­ing about the lost ‘‘ Tas­man world’’ that fore­most New Zealand his­to­rian James Belich posited, and that he ar­gued ended in 1901 with a fed­er­a­tion of Aus­tralian colonies that New Zealand did not join.

The an­thol­ogy ad­vances

chrono­log­i­cally,

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