Soho Square IV
Bill Manhire (ed),
Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1991, $39.95
Vital Writing 2, New Zealand Stories and Poems 1990-1
Andrew Mason (ed),
Godwit, Auckland, 1991, $29.95
Soho Square has developed a formula of lively writing from all over the Anglophone world, mixing the famous with the newcomers. The fourth issue is New Zealand’s turn in the spotlight, with Bill Manhire as editor and seventeen New Zealanders amongst the 38 authors. The result is a 288-page delight. In his introduction Manhire likens this kind of anthology to a roomful of interesting party-goers. He has skilfully picked up his guests’ diverse conversational themes and arranged their offerings with considerable cunning. The many wry drawings add to the zest of the occasion. Salman Rushdie is here, Angela Carter, Seamus Heaney, Charles Causley, Elizabeth Jolley. But the newcomers and the New Zealanders are not at all outclassed. There are memorable stories from Owen Marshall (‘Tomorrow We Save the Orphans’) and Margaret Mahy (‘The Illustrated Traveller’s Tale’) which sit well alongside the book’s other outstanding items, including Helen Garner’s ‘A Vigil’, Philip Davison’s Irish vignette ‘The Fishmonger’ and Michael Ondaatje’s poem ‘Breeze’.
Vital Writing 2: New Zealand Stories and Poems 1990-1 has a similar concept and format, though a more limited scope and less lavish production. Editor Andrew Mason seeks to present a cross-section of New Zealand short fiction and verse over a twelve-month period by selecting pieces he has particularly remembered and enjoyed. Any collection that claims to be representative lays itself open to challenge, and this reviewer couldn’t help noticing that there are only six South Islanders among the 30 chosen authors, and that several poets who published acclaimed collections during the period are not included. The strict rule of one item per author is hard on the poets, some of whom cannot be adequately represented by one short lyric. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy and admire in Vital Writing 2, especially prose from Owen Marshall, Annamarie Jagose, Lloyd Jones and Shonagh Koea, poems by Bill Manhire and Gregory O’Brien. Historico-critical considerations aside, this volume, like Soho Square IV, is a great read and makes an excellent gift book.
Charles Croot is Head of English at Kaikorai Valley High School and Director of Otago University’s Creative Writing Summer School.