Letters – Issue 6

Sculptures for Seville

Among the many items in New Zealand books for June of this year which it has given me pleasure to read, mark and inwardly digest is the article on Sculptures for Seville by Tony Stones, written by Vincent O’Sullivan, with the illustrations on page one. I have already admired what I have seen of Stones’ statue of Jean Batten, whom I had the pleasure of teaching during her school-days in Auckland, and on this basis I can appreciate Vincent O’Sullivan’s comment that Stone has always had the knack of catching personality – surely a first requisite in statuary, though not always achieved in the past. The sad obscurity of Jean’s death in Spain was largely due to the fact that at that time there was no New Zealand embassy in Spain, which is the geographical antipodes of New Zealand. Now that that situation has been remedied it seems fitting that the same New Zealand sculptor should have been commissioned to create the sculptures of Pacific explorers for the New Zealand pavilion at Expo ’92 in Seville.

Vincent O’Sullivan concluded his article by remarking that it would be good to think that Tasman might find a standing place above Golden Bay and Cook and Kupe somewhere along the numerous bluffs of the Wellington Coastline. My reaction to this is: why Wellington? True, Wellington is our capital city, but I feel impelled to point out that people throughout New Zealand are vitally concerned with the explorations of Kupe, Tasman and Cook. Indeed, there is already a more conventional statue of Captain Cook in Victoria Square in Christchurch, and there is a monument to him at Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough; where he frequently took his vessels for overhaul and his crews for refreshment. As a child I attended the unveiling of this monument in 1912. Though born in Wellington I was then living with my family in Blenheim. I would dearly like to see Tony Stones’ statues of Kupe, Tasman and Cook, or replicas of them, in appropriate places in New Zealand.

Muriel A Bradshaw, Christchurch


Muriel Bradshaw died, aged 92, as this issue was going to press – Ed.



Quite preposterous

My attention has been drawn to a recent issue of your journal in which you comment on an alleged ‘pinchpenny attitude’ of this newspaper in regard to non-payment of book reviewers. This came as a surprise. To my knowledge no editor over the last 10 years has received any complaint from reviewers about our policy, which allows the reviewer to keep the copy of the books (often expensive tomes) which they write about. I have certainly received no such complaint in the last four years.

In her article about the ‘reviewer of the year’ contest, Fiona Kidman fails to mention the question of whether reviewers are allowed to keep review copies of books or return them to the newspaper’s library. She is also completely astray in her comments suggesting that the reviewers for this newspaper are being ‘blackmailed’. It is quite preposterous to say that this newspaper has threatened to abolish our book pages (of which we are justifiably proud) if the reviewers ask for money. The fact is simply that the question has not arisen; if it had done so cancellation of all book reviews would certainly not be an option that springs to mind.

Geoff Adams, Editor, Otago Daily Times



Making it plain

I cannot help but agree with the point made by Heather Murray (Letters, June 1992) about the indiscriminate ‘lumping together’ of volumes of poetry in your review columns, but I also have to sympathise with Anne French’s response: that exigencies of space allow an editor to offer only so many words per book.

The reviewer is often then in the invidious position of having to deal, such is the nature of poetry, with a dense and concentrated work of the imagination with only a few well-chosen words at his or her disposal. The tendency towards Olympian judgements can therefore be understood, if not necessarily forgiven, when the hapless reviewer is not given space to include the supporting detail or the nature of the reasoning which led to the judgements.

How important it is, therefore, that the reviewers get things right. When so little space is available, any error casts doubt on the integrity of the evaluation.

In this respect I have some problems with Max Anderson’s review of David Howard’s In the First Place (Hazard). For a start, it is not Howard’s first collection. His chapbook Head First was published by Hard Echo Press in 1985.

Secondly and more perplexingly, Anderson comments, ‘Howard’s act of titling each poem with the name and date of artists from Van Gogh to Clairmont, makes plain his debt to Robert Lowell’s Life Studies …’ How does it make this plain? The fact that Lowell addressed poems to Madox Ford and Santayana and included their dates seems to me to be a somewhat tenuous foundation upon which to erect the edifice of a debt.

Those who have followed Howard’s work will be well aware that his debts are almost entirely owed to European models. Howard is quite frank about this in his titles. His work does not derive from American poets, and certainly not members of the so-called confessional school. Although Howard’s poems are often personal, more often the voice adopted is that of a persona, regularly a variant of the voice of a given Spanish, Italian, or French poet.

Given the difficulties I have with his apparent premises, and given the syllogistic progression of Max Anderson’s argument, I am left wondering about his conclusion that Howard has not made any great contribution to Lowell’s style, (whether or not that style has ‘outlived its usefulness’ – whatever that means).

James Norcliffe, Christchurch



More in-depth reviews, please

I read with interest Heather Murray’s letter commenting on Anne French’s combined review of three collections of poetry, as well as Wendy Pond’s pleas for the ‘best books to be reviewed at length by well-read critics with different theoretical perspectives …’. I had just been having similar thoughts about the reviews of Lloyd Jones’ Swimming to Australia and Peter Wells’ Dangerous Desires. Dangerous Desires won the NZ Book Award and Swimming to Australia was shortlisted for that and the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Award. Important books in the current publishing scene and yet neither book rates a review of its own.

Why is it that New Zealand publications have the tendency to lump short stories and anthologies in the same review? Even the New York Times Book Review does not do it. The New Zealand books editorial answers this only in part by saying that ‘It is central to the role of a reviews journal such as this to create a climate of appreciation in which books flourish beyond the notion of instant publication and just as quick depreciation …’. To be sure, but the central point to my mind is whether reviewing 66 publications in one issue promotes the appreciation and sale of books to a greater extent than to review fewer books but in more depth?

I believe New Zealand Books should resist the temptation to try and review every publication that comes its way and use the quarterly format to advantage by commissioning more quality ‘in-depth reviews which give so much more satisfaction to the reader, the author and probably the reviewer.

In general, I think New Zealand Books an excellent publication. I find the page size comfortable, the layout clear and uncluttered and I love the quality of the paper. My subscription renewal is also in the mail.

Eleanor Martin, Wellington



A question of precision

When I opened your June issue, before I had read a word, I experienced great pleasure from absorbing the elegant and harmonious layout of the journal, akin, come to think of it, to my joy in Denis Glover’s early Caxton Press printing.

Imagine then my feelings on reading Wendy Pond’s letter. First her ineffable condescension in thanking you ‘for your gallant endeavour’ instead of on your accomplished achievement; her implication that you do not print ‘a selection of each quarter’s best books to be reviewed at length by well-read critics with different theoretical perspectives’ – which to my mind is precisely what you do print – and finally the gobbledy-gook of ‘New Zealand Books contributes to the aspirations of our era to affirm New Zealand’s unique vision’. She should be set to translate that into Latin, whereupon its meaninglessness would become immediately apparent.

Shirley Smith, Wellington




With reference to your otherwise excellent film review of Chunuk Bair in the June issue, this film is directed by Dale Bradley, and not by Leon Narbey.

Lindsay Shelton, New Zealand Film Commission


Editor’s note

In the March 1992 issue Mark Stocker reviewed Denys Trussell’s Alan Pearson: His Life and Art. (‘There is no sense of detachment in Trussell, while empathy merely embarrasses  … ). Later, too late for the June issue, T P Garrity wrote at length, taking issue with Stocker. (‘Trussell’s book is an intelligent, perceptive and sensitive factual account … ).

Denys Trussell, receiving the March 1992 issue in London, also wrote at length. (‘Stocker addresses none of the larger historical, cultural and art-historical ground for discussion ..). Unfortunately, we do not have space for this correspondence. Read the book.


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