POETRY NEW ZEALAND YEARBOOK 2017
EDITED BY JACK ROSS (MASSEY UNIVERSITY PRESS, $ 34.99)
This belongs in the section of your bookcase you’ve set aside for quiet little miracles that we can only be grateful are still part of our literary life. The periodical published its 50th edition last year. You probably missed the newspaper features and the special edition of Seven Sharp – or, indeed, any recognition in this magazine. Here’s hoping the editor and contributors were invited to have a nice cup of tea with Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Maggie Barry.
This year’s garden of poetic delights features the work of 97 poets and almost as many voices, themes and moods in a tightly formatted volume. Depending on how you calculate these things, at least three generations of poets are represented. There is work in te reo Maori and English. Contributors include venerable names such as Ensing, Leggott, Marshall and Smither, who take their place in the alphabetical queue with newcomers and mid-career poets. Few poems are more than a page long – needs must when space is constrained.
This year’s featured writer is Liz Morton, a real page-turner of a poet whose “Googling Refugees” combines the personal and political with a pitchperfect combination of fury and sorrow.
But the most remarkedupon feature of the book is likely to be Janet Charman’s provocative psychoanalysis of Allen Curnow, focusing on his hostility to women poets as part of a wider examination of his critical misogyny and its legacy. Non-participation in World War II and a determination to rid poetry of a taint of feminisation, says Charman, led a generation of men to over-react in claiming poetry as a masculine activity.
Increasingly today, poetry is a virtuous circle of folks reading and writing for each other and a few outside their immediate circles. The idea of a return to mainstream enthusiasm for poetry – which was probably never that great but certainly greater than now – is hardly plausible, but that shouldn’t discourage efforts, such as this book, to bring it about.