‘Out where I live,
the hills rise steep and harsh
from the sea, but on some evenings
they seem to light up from within,
and the gullies soften and overflow
with shadows, blue against the yellow’
– from The Australian Girl, by Alistair Campbell.
Meg and Alistair Campbell live on the lip of a clifftop which drops almost vertically to Pukerua Bay on the outskirts of Wellington. When they first stood on this bluff over 30 years ago, they ‘knew’ that this was where they had to live. Today, the view from the back garden is, as Meg describes, ‘stupendous’: behind the house rise the yellow slopes of Mount Welcome; below, the sea lies flat in the three beaches of Pukerua Bay and up the long curve of the Kapiti Coast: platter for the purple-grey silhouette of Kapiti Island. The Campbells built this house in 1961, and it has since become the base from which they both write poetry, and Meg coordinates Rawhiti Press – publishers of Kapiti Poems.
Rawhiti Press – named after Rawhiti Road, which straggles up the hill to the house – was established in 1983 and produced the sixth edition of Kapiti Poems last year. The original Kapiti Coast Poems was a one-off collection of the work of local poets. It was then published as a more or less annual magazine, and the past two editions are books of poetry from throughout New Zealand. Although the Press has expanded the base for the work in Kapiti Poems, production of the books has remained firmly centred in and about the Kapiti Coast, Most of the Rawhiti Press committee members live in Pukerua Bay, the covers designed by a local artist and photographer, and the book printed in Porirua and Upper Hutt.
Rawhiti Press began and survives on the premise that people should be valued for whatever they can offer. Both the editorial philosophy and the structure of the Press committee reflect this. Kapiti Poems contains work from recognised poets and unknown writers; the press is run by ‘a group of friends … just really the people who wanted to come along and were interested’. This has lead to an unstructured publishing style. Material for each issue is gathered through letters to previous contributors and word of mouth. Membership of the press varies according to who is available for work at the time. With one exception, committee members have all been women, which has reinforced the need to be flexible as Press work is moulded around family and other responsibilities.
Meg admits that the Press organisation is ‘completely ad hoc‘ and ‘utterly unprofessional’, but asserts that it works well and reflects the philosophy of the books and the poetry contained in them: ‘I can’t think of any other way we could’ve had the sort of format that we did. We wanted to be able to include say some people with some sort of difficulties in education and so on … people who didn’t think of themselves as writers’. The autobiographical notes on contributors describe a varied group of experienced writers, prize-winners, and self-proclaimed dabblers, from 19 years old to over 80. The editorial committee values any sincere attempt at poetry, which has resulted in the unusual juxtaposition of academically respected New Zealand poets (such as Lauris Edmond or Alistair Campbell), alongside Sam Hunt, alongside the next-door neighbour – no questions asked; no comparisons made. Naturally the work of recognised writers does lend weight to the publication, and their contribution is an important element of the book’s success: ‘better-known writers wanted to help – they thought what we were doing was pretty plucky and they could see that we were doing our best, that we loved doing it’.
In the spirit of equity, no one makes money from Kapiti Poems. Every edition has been produced through voluntary work. Production costs are met – just – through grants from organisations such as the Todd Foundation and various Arts Councils. But the book is now well established and popular enough to survive. The most recent edition had a print run of 300, almost one third pre-sold.
Meg Campbell herself has had three collections of poetry published, all by husband Alistair’s Te Kotare Press. This was the seed of the idea for Kapiti Poems: ‘I had the example of Alistair publishing his own poems and mine and saw it was possible to publish things privately. I had had a rather privileged beginning in poetry and felt sorry for the others who didn’t have that way in.’
Meg only discovered herself as a poet after moving to the Pukerua Bay house. She had a number of jobs – as nurse aide, dentist’s receptionist, bookshop assistant – but ‘never worked very successfully’. Like many women she then focused on producing a family and left the writing to Alistair: ‘to have two writers in the family would be really bad … but eventually I got drawn into it’. Writing has since become the focus of her life, and her next project is a novel funded by the QE II Arts Council.
Rawhiti Press enters its tenth year with the release of a newly published edition of Kapiti Poems, but this sixth edition will be the last, ‘There won’t be a committee any more … They want something different, maybe they’ve got everything out of it that they want … so I think it’s good that it has come to an end, and nice that it’s about ten years’. But Rawhiti Press has always been flexible. Committee members have come and gone; the format of Kapiti Poems has switched between book and magazine; and publication has been irregular at best, with lulls at times of up to 3 years. The committee has more than once felt it had published the final issue. Perhaps they will once again find that Kapiti Poems remains ‘an entity in its own right’, and seems to go on regardless.
Past and present members of the Rawhiti Press Committee: Meg Campbell, Maxine Montgomery, Pat Reesby, Tina Callwood, Marg Martin, Anne Beaumont, Maureen Aitken, Miriam Smith, Des Swain, Lynn Davidson, Lynn Allen, Helen Avis, Mary Campbell, Fletch Christain.