New Zealand Poetry: Is It A Metropolitan Closed Shop?

As I blogged about last week, I was the guest reader at Hawke’s Bay Live Poets on Monday night – and I had a great time! A number of people who had heard me read (and whom I had heard read) at the first New Zealand Poetry Conference held in nearby Havelock North in 2013 took part in the evening, plus many people I hadn’t met previously.

The evening, compered by my welcoming and generous host Bill Sutton, started with a very high-quality open mike session – poems by turn moving, thought-provoking, and in at least one case absolutely hilarious. After the break it was my turn, and after a bit of a slow start – I hadn’t read for quite a while, and it showed at first – I got more and more into it, and judging by the reaction of the friendly audience, they did as well – so I ended up feeling very pleased with how the night had gone.

Talking to people during the break and after the reading, I was reminded of my experience in 2011 when I was a guest at the Readers and Writers Alive! Literary Festival in Invercargill: in both Invercargill and Hawke’s Bay, I met and heard writers whose work was clearly good enough to be published in magazines and anthologies and collected in book form, but who didn’t think it was a realistic ambition for someone in their position to break into what they saw (not inaccurately, in my view) as the Wellington/Auckland literary axis.

The success of poets such as Marty Smith make it clear that this can in fact be done; but (I suspect) from the non-metropolitan parts of New Zealand, the “mainstream” of New Zealand literature seems like one cosy club where everyone knows and publishes everyone else, and which sets a high bar for ‘outsiders’ to jump. The reality might look different to those who live in the cities – in Wellington, for example, there are distinctly different, although sometimes overlapping, International Institute of Modern Letteres (IIML) and non-IIML scenes – but I suspect this view is more true than many of us would care to admit.

The 2013 New Zealand Poetry Conference, which Bill played a key role in organising, helped to break down those barriers: I hope and expect that the New Zealand Poetry Conference 2015, to be held in Wellington in November, will include poetic voices from across the country, and not just end up as another metropolitan talking shop.

3 thoughts on “New Zealand Poetry: Is It A Metropolitan Closed Shop?

  1. Poet Jenny Powell and myself (aka JnK Rolling) have over the past two or three years taken to dipping our toes into the poetical tributaries in the outer regions of Otago & Southland … Middlemarch, Palmerston, Gore, Winton and Orepuki to name a few and I am happy to report that the rural poetry scene is thriving – but largely in unpublished form.

  2. Thanks, Kay – that's good to hear, and I enjoyed reading about your Orepuki journey on your blog.I wasn't meaning to imply (and hope I didn't) that poetry was not flourishing outside the cities – but that my impression had been, from visits to Invercargill and now Hawke's Bay, that many poets there whose work was most definitely publishable felt that they had no meaningful chance of being published by the major poetry publishers (at least the North Island ones).Clearly, there are many counterexamples – such as yourself! – but that was a perception I've repeatedly encountered.

  3. I understand where you are coming from and agree heartily. You and I are on the same page. I think many fine South Island poets are in despair when it comes to being published by major publishers, whether the poets be from cities or towns. Are all NZ poets getting a fair bite at the apple?

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