A Glassy Sort of Rainbow
This is part of a series of essays co-commissioned by the SRB and non/fictionLab that foreground experimental approaches to the question of value in the sphere of arts and literature. ‘A Glassy Sort of Rainbow’ is a companion piece to ‘Differant Curioes‘ by Martin Edmond.
Sometimes when you’re between New Zealand and Australia … if you look down you can see a rainbow circle in the sea. A glassy sort of rainbow, like a big bowl. I always get the window seat so I can see it, because it’s beautiful.
A self-described psychic healer and reckless inventor of stories, who is sitting next to the narrator of Ashleigh Young’s essay ‘Window Seat’, regularly experiences this visual spectacle when flying across the Tasman Sea. Young’s collection Can You Tolerate This? (2019) also travelled this route after it was awarded the Windham–Campbell prize, leading to publication in Australia by Giramondo in the Southern Latitudes series. Before COVID, there was a healthy traffic in people between Aotearoa and Australia, but the movement of physical books has always been more constrained. Just as certain weather conditions must be present for a rainbow to be visible, so the environment has to be right for literary titles from Aotearoa to be seen and noticed in Australia.
Once considered the same region, created through interactions with each other which are now downplayed, the former colonies were almost federated in 1901. Laura Tingle’s 2020 Quarterly Essay, The High Road: What Australia Can Learn From New Zealand, argues that a catastrophic global pandemic has given us every reason not just to look at and compare how New Zealand is dealing with existential crisis, but to see our two countries in light of a new exceptionalism
We have had an experiment, a point of comparison, in all these things occurring across the Tasman all these years, if we just chose to look.
With the advent of the trans-Tasman bubble, we are paying closer attention to Aotearoa – yet this does not necessarily translate into reading each other’s books. Research by Shef Rogers suggests that New Zealand books do not circulate as freely or widely in the digital age as people might imagine, and certainly not in Australia. His study demonstrates that the majority of books are surprisingly static, that it is the least mobile books that may have the greatest role in shaping a local print culture, and that New Zealand is not exceptional in exhibiting this characteristic.
Wallace Kirsop once observed that historians of the book have tended to stay within ‘national tunnels’, thereby neglecting the methodological lessons to be learnt from the experience of neighbours or even colonies (or neighbouring colonies in the case of Australia and New Zealand). An exclusive focus on the nation tends to obscure the existence of countless trans-Tasman publishing networks developed over the last two centuries.
Once extensive, the number of publishing transactions declined markedly after World War Two when the two countries began to look beyond one another, towards the metropolises of the Northern Hemisphere. In the face of this withdrawal, informal networks of literary sociability, usually driven by writers themselves, have allowed rare exchanges to take place. This trans-Tasman literary sociability is usually informally rather than being institutionally managed, offering the possibility for an expanded sense of community. It’s the expatriates who tend to recognise that there’s a blindspot in our vision, preventing us from apprehending latent literary value.
A zone of transit
Known as Te Tai-o-Rēhua by Māori, the Tasman is often invoked when discussing
literary connections because it has been a zone of transit for millenia. After invasion, the two countries were yoked together as ‘the colonies’ or ‘Australasia’ in innumerable almanacs, handbooks and colonial editions.
Colonial writers tended to view both sides of the Tasman as their publishing domain, indicating the existence of links between New Zealand and the east coast centres. Helen Bones observes that the dynamic is ‘trans-Tasman’ rather than ‘Australasian’, in the sense that ‘cities in New Zealand and on the eastern seaboard of Australia arguably had stronger connections to one another than Sydney did with Perth or Darwin.’ Mark Williams and Jane Stafford argue that the homogeneity of the trans-Tasman market during the colonial period is demonstrated by the frequency with which New Zealand poets, short-story writers and novelists were published in Australian periodicals and New Zealand readers subscribed to and read The Bulletin, The Native Companion, and The Lone Hand. The Bulletin published many New Zealand authors, often under the heading ‘Maoriland’.
As well as sharing space in periodicals, the neighbouring colonies were also conflated in imperial publications for both expedience and profit. Colonial editions at special prices were a form of British publishing of fiction for the colonial markets that lasted for over a century. Nineteenth-century novels, in three volumes or one, were too expensive for mass sale in Australia, New Zealand and other colonies. The colonial editions, which were cheap and freely available, suited British print capitalism because they were distributed to ‘safe’ markets. Graeme Johanson argues that the colonial edition began in 1843 as a ‘hasty, experimental expedient, and ended in 1972 as a cornerstone of British-Australian control over production, distribution and sale of books in Australia.’
Early poetry anthologies were evidence of a sense of a trans-Tasman totality, which was strong at the turn of the century but had largely disappeared by 1950. Two of the earliest anthologies used the name ‘Australia’ to include New Zealand. This is the often the case with anthologies purporting to represent both colonies, the smaller country being automatically combined with the larger one, with space allocated unevenly as a result. Reviewing three collections of Australian and New Zealand poetry edited by Douglas Sladen, Oscar Wilde remarked on the ‘the extraordinary collection of mediocrities whom Mr. Sladen has somewhat ruthlessly dragged them from their modest and well-merited obscurity.’ Despite this damning indictment, Australia and New Zealand were routinely combined in volumes such as the 1948 trans-Tasman Jindyworobak anthology, edited by Gloria Rawlinson and William Hart-Smith.
Lawrence Bourke observes that Māori literature appeared earlier in New Zealand anthologies than Aboriginal literature in Australian anthologies. Traditional Māori literature first appeared in The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1960) edited by Allen Curnow whereas ‘We Are Going’ by Oodgeroo Noonuccal was anthologised in New Impulses in Australian Poetry (1968) edited by Thomas Shapcott and Rodney Hall. Notably, Noonuccal’s famous poem stands alone in two subsequent anthologies in 1981 and 1986. By contrast, poems by Hone Tuwhare and Alistair Campbell are contained in anthologies by Vincent O’Sullivan and Fleur Adcock in 1976 and 1982 respectively. These editorial choices may reflect the very different demographics, geography and contact histories that characterise each country.
Māori and Aboriginal poets contributed to occasional Indigenous poetry anthologies from the 1970s onwards. Evelyn Araluen argues that anthologies were critical to marginalised poetic communities in Australia and its surrounds: ‘Anthologies were a way for disparate indigenous communities across the Pacific to find connection, solidarity and relationships around questions of decolonisation and identity.’ While not strictly trans-Tasman, these anthologies brought First Nations voices together but have been tended to be overlooked, partly due to their miniscule print runs.
Due to the nationalist climate that emerged after World War II, trans-Tasman anthologies were scaled back in favour of separate nation-based editions. In Curnow’s 1947 Landfall survey, Allan Curnow and A.R.D Fairburn claimed that the inclusion of New Zealand material in Australasian anthologies reinforced the ‘colonial hangover’, asserting that Australian influence ought to be resisted at all costs. The Australian version of fin de siècle decadence which sprang up in response to the bush ballad tradition, was described by Fairburn in the 1956 Anthology of New Zealand Verse as ‘a fake pagan Australian art which left imitation goat-tracks all over New Zealand poetry.’
These days trans-Tasman anthologies are rare, except those with a specific focus on topics such as women’s short fiction or travel writing. Special trans-Tasman issues of literary journals pop up occasionally – Cordite Poetry Review and Overland and Kill Your Darlings have run these in the last five years – serving samples of New Zealand writing to Australian readers.
In The World Republic of Letters (1999) Pascale Casanova argues that the global literary economy is structured around the principle of a centre of cultural production extending outwards to the peripheries. In her view, there is a hierarchy of literatures, the oldest having the most cultural capital and the newest, such as those from Australian and New Zealand, being relatively thin and impoverished. Casanova seems unduly harsh when it comes to the quality of literature from the Antipodean peripheries yet the publishing dynamic she describes has undoubtedly shaped the development of literature in both countries.
It can be difficult for authors even to find a publisher if the topic does not fall within well defined ‘national tunnels’. Writing about her difficulty with publishing her book West Island: Five twentieth-century New Zealanders in Australia (2019), Stephanie Johnson reproduces comments from prospective publishers:
It’s a New Zealand book, said the Australian publisher. It’s an Australian book, said the New Zealand equivalent. Australians don’t want to read about New Zealanders, said the Australian. Vice versa, said the New Zealander.
Ironically, the twentieth-century authors she discusses in West Island – Jean Devanny, Douglas Stewart and Dulcie Deamer – faced similar difficulties, showing that not much has changed. Migration between countries can still curtail or break a literary career, unless an author has solid networks to sustain them.
The late Rosie Scott, a New Zealand-born writer who migrated to Sydney in the 1980s, was outspoken about the impoverishment produced by uneven publishing processes: ‘I find it very strange but even on the most basic level, publishing, the books are not nearly looked at enough by either side.’ Scott suggests that the British publishing houses ‘wanted to keep the channels of access for themselves, and they just mistrusted too much of an easy intercourse between the two countries, because it took away their power.’
The colonial book market was largely dominated and defended by London publishers throughout the twentieth century. John McLaren argued that
… no part of society maintained the imperial pattern more consistently than the publishers and booksellers who exploited an Australian market held captive by its distance from the owners of capital.
In 1896, British publishers organised themselves into a formidable trading association as a measure designed to regulate book markets covering the whole of the British empire. As Richard Nile notes, the Publishers Association of Great Britain regulated prices in the British domestic market and instituted fixed trading margins between wholesale and retail prices of books throughout the empire, just as Canada had no choice but to join the US market. The ‘big two’ – the UK and the US – in a kind of quid pro quo deal, left each other’s markets alone – an imperially ‘carved up’ globe.
Hilary McPhee writes in Other People’s Words (2001):
The Territorial Copyright Agreement carved the world up into copyright zones. The main English language markets were crudely and anachronistically divided into two – North America and its territories and Britain and its traditional export markets stemming from Empire and including Australia and New Zealand. Books published in the States, but not acquired by British publishers, rarely came to Australia.
Any publications originating in Australia and New Zealand – except newspapers and other local periodicals – went through London printers, publishers and booksellers. Local publishing houses such as Angus & Robertsons and Reed Books had to adhere to market conditions established by British publishers. McPhee laments that, ‘the books we read in Australia were largely the result of decisions taken somewhere else.’ Indignation about this state of affairs prompted her and Diana Gribble to set up an independent publishing house in the late 1970s.
In 1989, the Territorial Rights clauses of the Copyright Act were the cause of a storm in the Australian book industry, according to Jill Kitson, a storm which led to efforts to reform the Copyright Act. It was recommended that the Act be amended to allow parallel importation only when local agents do not supply stock ‘within a reasonable time.’ Crucially, the parallel import restrictions have allowed Australian publishers to combine buy-ins of overseas titles with publication of local books.
By contrast, the New Zealand market, which, since it lifted these restrictions in 1998, is now open, meaning that international editions are common when it comes to books derived from overseas. Stuart Glover of the Australian Publishers Association asserts that: ‘the removal of import restrictions on the New Zealand book market in the 2000s had disastrous consequences for the local industry including a drop off in local publishing and book sales.’
Traditionally, whether intended or not, the best way to succeed as an author was to leave altogether, publish literary works in England or America which then came back to New Zealand through a publishing chain. This was how the works of most well-known Australian authors arrived on the shores of Aotearoa. Nowadays, when a New Zealand author who is represented by an independent house signs a contract licensing world rights to that publisher, the book is likely to be routed back to New Zealand via Australia, which is not quite as circuitous – but there’s still no straight path to success.
Degrees of frustration
The Australasian world was a single entity in the eyes of British publishers and booksellers during the period 1870-1930. The later date of British colonisation of Aotearoa meant that it was regarded as an extension of the Australian market. In the twenty-first century, colonial publishing practices continue to haunt the local industry. The days of automatically combining Australia and New Zealand in ‘Australasian’ anthologies may be over but publishers report that ‘ANZ’ rights are usually bundled together and rarely split up. To find out more, I undertook brief interviews with industry figures who have knowledge of the trans-Tasman book market. During a zoom call, Craig Gamble from Victoria University Press commented that ‘the way publishing works, hasn’t encouraged cooperation between Australia and New Zealand.’
The approach of multinational publishers seems to be to keep their stables separate – promoting local books to local audiences (within the boundaries of the nation) rather than promoting books to neighbouring audiences. The titles which cross over tend to be prize winners or those which cater to niche, special interest groups. In an email exchange, Tim Coronel, the General Manager of the Small Press Network remarked:
One thing I’ve always found odd is how little Australia and New Zealand publishers work together. Many New Zealand books are just not available in Australia, which I find bizarre.
Text Publishing has found a neat solution to the obstacles besetting trans-Tasman publishing through their support of the annual Gifkins prize.The Gifkins Prize is made possible by a financial commitment from the late Michael Gifkins’ family and Text Publishing. Administered by the New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa, the prize enables Text to publish the winning book into both territories under their own banner. This is a model that Hachette has adopted with their Richell Prize in honour of Hachette Australia’s CEO, Matt Richell, who died suddenly in July 2014. Sam Coley’s State Highway One – a New Zealand road trip novel – won the 2017 Richell Prize for an unpublished manuscript and it was published by Hachette into Australia in 2020. This prize money allowed Coley to drive the full length of the country in 2017-2018 and properly research the places mentioned in the novel. New Zealand-born Coley wrote it to explore the idea of home, having lived for some years in London before moving to Australia.
Elizabeth Knox’s The Absolute Book provides insight into the unexpected trajectories of a few New Zealand titles. It was first published in New Zealand and received a good critical response, which was unsurprising given Knox’s established reputation. Victoria University Press distributed it in a small way to Australia, via John Reed Books, and sales were healthy, but only after it received an exultant review in Slate. Dan Kois’ post entitled ‘This New Zealand Fantasy Masterpiece Needs to Be Published in America, Like, Now’ in January 2020 prompted a bidding war. It was was picked up by Viking in the United States, then it went to Michael Joseph in the United Kingdom, both of which are imprints that are part of the Penguin Random House Group. Craig Gamble observes that there were hundreds of orders direct to the VUP website after the US attention, but ‘it took that breakthrough for it to get any traction overseas or in Australia.’
Dan Kois went on to write a jacket blurb for Pip Adam’s speculative novel Nothing to See (2021) which was first published by VUP in 2020 and released in Australia this year by Giramondo in the Southern Latitudes series. For the protagonists Greta and Peggy, who mysteriously split from the same woman, Australia is a place which exudes heat, causing things to ignite. Dust is picked up from a desert on the larger continent and blown over them, threatening a faster apocalypse: ‘The heat felt too slow, like the end would come too slow. The dust seemed like something to breathe in one final time.’
New Zealand author Rose Carlyle’s The Girl in the Mirror, a crime book with international settings, had an easier path by contrast with The Absolute Book, because Allen & Unwin decided to publish it out of Australia, avoiding difficulties with rights, as Allen & Unwin automatically has New Zealand rights, being based there. As the success of Rose Carlyle’s Girl in the Mirror illustrates, if an author is published by a multinational or Australian-owned house in New Zealand, there’s no real problem. ‘But for the indie publishers’ agent Martin Shaw argues ‘it’s much harder: the lack of the distributors which used to exist in NZ (Tower Books, Dennis Jones) now means that they have to sell rights, and the numbers are unlikely to add up, especially for literary fiction.’ Shaw recently brokered a deal between VUP and the University of Queensland Press to publish Ingrid Horrocks’ non-fiction book Why We Swim in Australia, demonstrating that innovative connections can be made.
There are material barriers for small New Zealand publishers to publish in Australia, simply because they have no actual physical presence here. Due to the lockdown in Australia, stocks of books in New Zealand bookshops diminished substantially, aside from those by local authors. Guardian Australia reported that delays of four to six weeks contributed to a boom in the consumption of New Zealand literature. This dependence on Australian warehouses for stock was intensified by the prior closure of some local warehouses in New Zealand to reduce expenses. Although some publishers such as Allen & Unwin could see what was coming and ordered stock to fill the gap, others were blindsided.
New Zealand presses face a degree of frustration when it comes to promoting books in Australia. Distributors are able to connect with local bookshops but they cannot offer the sustained support that Australian-based publishers have the capacity to provide. That’s not to say that visibility and accessibility are not issues for Australian independents, only that it’s even harder for New Zealand books to break through and find an audience. Print on demand has been proposed as a partial solution for New Zealand publishers who do not have ready stock, yet it remains too expensive to be a realistic option.
An argument made by some Australian publishers when rejecting titles represented by New Zealand publishers is that without the New Zealand sales, it would not be worthwhile financially (despite the small size of the NZ market). Alex Adsett, an Australian agent, reports that a few small Australian publishers pay ‘export’ royalties on sales to New Zealand, despite the sales and distribution infrastructure being the same as sales within Australia. Sales to New Zealand may not always be significant, Adsett says, but she feels that it is unreasonable to offer the author a lower royalty on these sales when the territories are treated as one.
Born from a kind of boredom
As David Damrosch has observed, literature is almost always experienced by readers within a given national context, and more particularly within the national market in which people study, teach, peruse book reviews, and buy most of the books that they read or download. The idea of a national literature requires a certain loyalty on the part of ‘good’ literary citizens. Since Australia and New Zealand have so often been conflated within the one region, the apparent indifference of readers to texts from across the Tasman, Lydia Wevers argues, may be ‘born from a kind of boredom, a boredom which is to some extent generated by the dutiful reader’s maintenance of home territory and nationalist expectations.’
Michelle Hurley from Allen & Unwin (New Zealand) makes the point that New Zealand fiction can be ‘commercially challenging’ in the Australian market:
I think every country has a thirst for telling and reading their own stories, understandably. And when we do look beyond ourselves, perhaps we look further afield than our Antipodean neighbours for other stories, given how familiar they often feel.
Book readers may be most interested in their own culture, and small publishers in each country are well placed to meet those interests.
There’s an assumption that we already know our neighbouring culture therefore we don’t need to read about it. ‘Too similar to be interesting, too different to be the same?’ poet Helen Rickerby suggests. We think we know our neighbouring culture but in fact we don’t know each other as well as we think we do. The gulfs between people living in the same nation are unfathomable enough.
First Nations networks
In his essay ‘Beyond An Angel at My Table’ publishing in 2016 in this publication, Andrew Paul Wood argues convincingly that Māori writers are ‘the most interesting thing about New Zealand literature’. As Sezzo writes in Kill Your Darlings, the Māori word for Australia is Te Ao Moemoea:
Since the first recorded Māori arrival in the 19th Century, Te Ao Moemoea, The Land of the Dreaming, has become an exotic fantasy – we dream of a better life here with jobs, beaches and freedom from Pākehā discrimination.
She counterposes this dream with the reality of low paid work, incarceration and lack of affordable healthcare for Māori in Australia. Sezzo refers to Patricia Grace’s short story ‘Ngati Kangaru’ which revolves around ‘the people of the kangaroo’ – Māori who live in Australia – and their plan to return to Aotearoa and repossess land, using the tactics of Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s New Zealand Company systematic colonisation scheme which disenfranchised Māori and parcelled up land for white settlers in the nineteenth century.
Witi Ihimaera writes in the Author’s Note to his controversial novel The Trowenna Sea (2009) that the transportation of Māori prisoners to Tasmania ‘had been virtually erased from New Zealand history’. It was not until Richard Flanagan mentioned it to Ihimaera that he discovered the intriguing story of Hohepa Te Umuroa, who was convicted of insurrection and transported as a convict to Tasmania with four other Māori in the 1840s. In Ihimaera’s version of the story, the boat arrives in Hobart Town and Hohepa is humiliated by the crowds who have turned out to ‘witness his shame.’ ‘Let me die now! Do not nail me to the cross! Aue, aue..’ Unexpectedly, a red-haired woman named Ismay calls him in the traditional manner of the Māori ‘Welcome brave men of Maoriland’. Then a great roar erupts from the crowd and lifts him up. Ismay’s eyes are glowing with aroha and she says: ‘Come to land now.’
The larger continent promises greater financial rewards for Māori writers that may not always eventuate. The work of established figures such as Ihimaera and Grace travels easily, mostly via major publisher Penguin Random House, but others may struggle to find channels to the Australian market. Ngāi Tahu author Becky Manawatu’s Auēhas been a multiple award winner and bestseller in New Zealand; however, it is only just catching on over the Tasman. It has been compared with Keri Hulme’s The Bone People and Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors because its protagonist is a young Māori boy who suffers domestic violence. In the words of Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch, who was also one of the international co-judges of the Ockham literary award, ‘there is something so assured and flawless in the delivery of the writing voice that is almost like acid on the skin.’
As part of the Melbourne Writers Festival Digital in 2020, Manawatu and Winch discussed the ‘dark’ and ‘heavy’ feelings they experienced as winners of prestigious fiction prizes in their respective countries. They both admitted to harbouring shame about winning a big prize because they were each telling stories that did not belong to them alone. Winch remarks:
the praise felt as heavy as the criticism, vibrationally, it felt like a lot to be responsible for, especially when I’m talking about culture, I’m talking about community, I’m talking about language. It doesn’t just belong to me, it belongs to all Wiradjuri mob.
This intimate conversation served to raise the profile of Manawatu’s Auē in Australia through association with a First Nations author who is better known to local readers, particularly after she won the Miles Franklin and Prime Ministers literary awards.
As a Melbourne-based Māori crime author, represented by multinational Hachette, J.P Pomare has sidestepped problems of distribution. His debut novel Call Me Evie is located in Melbourne and the town of Maketu on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, while his subsequent book Tell Me Lies is set in Melbourne. The popularity of the genre has offered Pomare a shortcut to reach crime readers in both countries.
Gomoroi poet and scholar Alison Whittaker’s book Blakwork is finding an audience after she appeared at the New Zealand Festival of the Arts in early 2020. Blakwork, has been influential for Māori writers and readers, as Anahera Gildea’s review on Radio New Zealand attests. Gildea argues that Blakwork offers ‘strong and deep korero around the white gaze’. Exchange between First Nations writers in Aotearoa and Australia is likely to keep flourishing, along with cross-Indigenous collaboration.
The poets I knew made their money like everyone else, as teachers or bartenders, but what they did for poetry and for each other, was most often given away. They weren’t trading for reputation or influence – none of us had any of that yet. But we had the pleasures of exchange.
Eula Biss suggests the possibilities for a communitarian poetic economy that she once lived within herself. Of course, poetry does not exist outside of the publishing industry yet it’s rare that it makes a profit, except for some surprising success stories like Hera Lindsay Bird’s eponymous first collection. ‘The poetry scene’ Pam Brown writes, ‘runs on an oily rag smell basis’.
Influential New Zealand writers Curnow, Fairburn and their coterie intentionally turned away from Australian poetry in the late 1940s, but now it’s the poets who are most vigorously connecting the two literary communities. Far from an overnight phenomenon, this dynamic has been building momentum for at least twenty years. Australian and New Zealand poets connected through a Subverse gathering in 2001. Helen Rickerby comments that she was struck at the time by how many of the Australian poets at Subverse were writing verse novels, perhaps due to the influence of the late Dorothy Porter. From 2010, Michele Leggott, Helen Sword, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Pam Brown helped to produce a series of trans-Tasman poetry events in Sydney & Auckland. The first incarnation was the Home & Away Trans Tasman poetry symposium which was comprised of events in Auckland and Sydney featuring a huge number of poets from both countries. Another notable event was Short Takes on Long Poems at Auckland University in 2012, which mixed up a program of poets from both countries. Deakin University’s Poetry & the Contemporary symposium in 2011 also helped to foster productive overlaps, followed by a series of conferences on biographical poetry at Victoria University of Wellington in 2014 organised by Helen Rickerby, Anna Jackson and Angelina Sbroma.
The journals Cordite Poetry Review and Minarets have also brought poets together in productive ways. Minarets editor Chris Holdaway says that ‘Cordite has always been my main window on Australian poetry, and it does also seem to publish a significant amount of New Zealand work.’ His working relationship with fellow editor Pam Brown has its roots in her selection of some of his writing for an issue of Cordite. Holdaway assembles and prints the magazine – and Compound Press books – from recycled materials in his own home. He says that the editorial direction of Minarets is driven by guest editors and their proclivities. ‘To the extent that there has been a deliberate reach it has been through selecting guest editors with more of a view on Australian poetry than I personally have.’
Cordite increased its New Zealand content after the TRANSTASMAN issue opened the door wider in 2015. Bonny Cassidy’s editorial quotes Stephen Oliver to justify its lack of hyphenation:
We have the term, ‘transatlantic’. We deserve the term, ‘transtasman’, given the cultural, economic and migratory exchanges which historically exist and continue to promulgate between the two countries …Today, I feel the term ‘transtasman’ is entirely apposite to the digital age of instantaneous communication and that TRANS-TASMAN is now both limited and dated.
Since this issue, New Zealand books of poetry have been regularly reviewed in Cordite and writers such as Hana Pera Aoke, Jackson Nieuwland, Caro DeCarlo, and Gregory Kan are featured in the interview pages. Kent MacCarter, the managing editor of the Cordite Poetry Review and Cordite books, has extended a welcome to Aotearoa writers for the last decade or more. MacCarter talks about the informal exchange in the field of poetry, which has historically been concerned with swapping and bartering of various kinds.
A significant amount of poetry publishing exists as a cottage industry that, while not absent from the machinations of commerce, enjoys a global network of borderless exchanges, audience cross-pollination and immediate D2F (direct to fan) distribution options that novels and non-fiction simply cannot offer a reader, writer or publisher.
The lack of money involved with poetry seems to encourage more consistent personal exchanges between the two literary communities. The need to turn a profit from other forms of writing prevents the kind of bartering and swapping that has historically occurred in the field of poetry, particularly through chapbooks. Noah Eli Gordon argues that the chapbook in particular has allowed poets ‘to enter into a shared life of the imagination while swerving around the dominant paradigms of economic and social space’. As with the trading of chapbooks, the traffic in poetry via journals such as Minarets and Cordite enables a wider sense of community.
Joan Fleming observes that ‘there are periodic quarrels in New Zealand about the state of poetry reviewing, with the argument often made that in a nation of less than 6 million people, with a small and insular literary community, the poetry reviewing culture tends to damn books with faint praise.’ A solution to this is for Australian poets to review New Zealand collections, and vice versa. In this way, the field can be expanded to encompass a wider pool of readers and thinkers.
Poet Amy Brown, who has thoughtfully charted her transition from the New Zealand literary scene to its Australian counterpart, notes that it would be simpler if there were an Australasian poetry market, rather than two separate countries requiring different distributors and publishers:
But, I’d be happy to sacrifice sales and ease of distribution to allow both “markets” to maintain their idiosyncrasies, if amalgamating the two countries would lead to a softening of the edges of poets’ identities. I’m not at all sure that it would though – poets seem less bound by national identity than by other identities or preoccupations.
In ‘Window Seat’, the narrator awakes from a blank sleep in her plane seat and registers a sadness that she always feels on flights between countries: ‘I can’t help thinking about the past and future and where I will end up. The geographical limbo seems to emphasise a limbo I feel in myself.’ The trans-Tasman invokes the narrator’s ennui because of its indeterminacy, yet it also offers a space of passage and the opportunity for a refracted view of our nearest neighbour.
Pip Adam, Nothing to See, (Artarmon NSW: Giramondo, 2021).
Eula Biss, Having and Being Had, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2020).
Helen Bones, ‘Accident or desire?: Linked archives and the trans-Tasman literary scene’ Script & Print, Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 197-211 (198), 2018.
Laurence Bourke, ‘Maori and Aboriginal Literature in Australian and New Zealand Poetry Anthologies: Some Problems and Perspectives’, New Literatures Review 25 1993: pp. 23-29.
Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007).
Bonny Cassidy, Editorial, TRANSTASMAN issue, Cordite August 2015.
Robert Chapman and Jonathan Bennett (eds.), An Anthology of New
Zealand Verse (London and Wellington: Oxford University Press, 1956).
Stephanie Convery, ‘”The whole canon is being reappraised”: how the #MeToo movement upended Australian poetry’ Guardian Australia, 4 April 2021.
David Damrosch, ‘World Literature as Figure and as Ground’ (2014).
Anahera Gildea, Book review of Blakwork by Alison Whittaker (2020).
Noah Eli Gordon, ‘Considering Chapbooks: A Brief History of the Little Book’ Jacket 34, 2007.
Jill Kitson, ‘Towards Global Publishing (2)’ Meanjin pp. 67-71, 1990.
Wallace Kirsop, ‘Christopher Brennan’s Reading’, Southerly vol. 68 no. 3 (231), 2008.
John McLaren, ‘Publishing in the twentieth century’, The Book in Australia Essays Towards a Cultural and Social History, (eds) D.H. Borchardt and Wallace Kirsop, (Clayton, Victoria: Australian Reference Publications in association with the Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies, Monash University, 1988).
Hilary McPhee, Other People’s Words (Melbourne: Picador, 2001).
Richard Nile, The Making of the Australian Literary Imagination, (University of Queensland Press, St Lucia 2002).
Shef Rogers, ‘Reflections on National Structures as a Basis for Print Culture Histories in the Twenty-First Century’ Script & Print Vol. 38 No. 2 p. 101, 2014.
Rosie Scott, interview with Laurel Bergmann, Hecate vol xviii, no. ii, p. 43 1992.
Sezzo, ‘What Does it Mean to be Māori in Australia?’ Kill Your Darlings (2021).
Jane Stafford and Mark Williams, ‘Introduction: “A Land Mild and Bold, Diffident and Pertinent”’ Nineteenth-Century Novels Collection, NZETC.
Lydia Wevers, ‘The View From Here: Readers and Australian literature’, JASAL