Best of the best

We were pleased to see The Best of Best New Zealand Poems getting an enthusiastic review from Terry Locke in the new issue of the Journal of New Zealand Literature.  When a review opens like this

 The title of this book is a double superlative whammy and does a good job of attracting attention. The big question, of course, is that having gained attention, does the book sustain and reward it.

you worry for a moment about what’s to come. Then you read on, and at the words

 My simple answer is yes, and I’ll explain why.

you heave a sigh of relief.

We were pleased with the review, which at seven pages in length is substantial. But we were particularly interested in Terry Locke’s comments on the poets’ own commentaries, which from the beginning have accompanied BNZP’s annual selections.

The commentaries function differently. One sort provides an insight into the composition process. An example is Andrew Johnston’s account of how he came to write ‘The Sunflower’, a poem which is one of my picks for the book as a whole. The account itself is manifestly intertextual, with references to Swinburne, Ashbery, the King James Bible and the painting of Anselm Kiefer. This sort of commentary cues the reader’s appreciation of craft. . .  Another sort of commentary is illustrated here, from Rhian Gallagher:

“My father was, as they say, a man of few words. He came out from Ireland in his twenties, worked on building the hydro dams down south and then in the freezing works, hard manual labour. The physical act of burying him was my brothers’ and my eulogy to him. The poem comes from these real events. There is a nod in the poem to something of the ritual involved in a Catholic ceremony while at the same time wanting to break through the potential veneer when ritual turns into an empty vehicle.”

This kind of commentary functions as an interpretative cue. Juxtaposed with the poem, it enters into dialogue with it and the ensuing relationship contributes to a reader’s meaning-making process. . . for me, the commentaries were irresistible, contributing enjoyment and enhancing engagement with each poem anthologised.

If you’d like to subscribe to the Journal of New Zealand Literature, you can do so through their website. The current issue is particularly lively, with reviews, learned articles, thoughtful polemic, and a piece of memoir from current NZ Poet Laureate Ian Wedde.

You can listen to most of the poets in The Best of Best New Zealand Poems reading their poems here and full information about the anthology is here.

On 23 July as a curtain raiser for National Poetry Day on 27 July, Chris Price will introduce a baker’s dozen of the 25 poets whose work was chosen by Bernadette Hall for the 2011 issue of Best New Zealand Poems. We welcome Hera Bird, Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Janis Freegard, Rob Hack, Dinah Hawken, Anna Jackson, Helen Lehndorf, Kate McKinstry, Bill Manhire, Harvey Molloy, Marty Smith, Ranui Taiapa and Tim Upperton.

Check out the full Writers on Mondays programme here.