Letters – Issue 59

Spiteful review

Is it surprising that Michael Grimshaw was so destructive in his December 2002 review of Snapshots on the Journey? Perhaps, when we notice the self-promotion of his own anthology, compiled with the help of one of the editors of New Zealand Books, we shouldn’t be.

What is surprising though is that this supposedly disinterested academic has managed to misinterpret so much in the book. Snapshots was not intended as a literary anthology or guidebook, but as a way to help people see some of the many journeys through death and remembrance. It has succeeded; many hundreds have taken comfort from the book and even found value in the small introductory sections which Grimshaw, interpreting them as if it were an academic text, dismisses as “didactic, directional”.

People aren’t stupid. Anyone with an appreciation of what people go through as they face death knows that there are many, many ways to approach it, and that there are a host of different responses to grief and loss. People will read poems if and when they feel they need to and, from the feedback we have received, that is exactly what they have done.

Michael Grimshaw then sets up an obscure, fanciful explanation for the photos so that he can sneer at them. But there were no nationalistic intentions – several are not even from New Zealand. 1 meant them merely to complement the text and reinforce the “snapshot” idea. Readers can interpret or ignore the photos as they like – many have commented on their value. Is Grimshaw out of touch with the people who actually read the books he reviews? Ironically, the Australian publisher who has decided to produce an edition of the book has retained them.

The final aid to getting over my dismay at such a spiteful review came when 1 found that the publisher of Snapshots had in fact rejected Grimshaw et al’s anthology, judging its take on spirituality to be churchy and blinkered. New Zealand Books really should be a little more scrupulous in its choice of reviewers if it is to avoid appearing tendentious and detached from reality.

Dr Rod MacLeod



Michael Grimshaw replies:

My review was an attempt to place what is self-proclaimed as an anthology within the wider analysis of what anthologies attempt to do, and the literary and nationalist tradition that they so often occupy – especially in New Zealand. Yes, people are not stupid, but my brief was not to read it as if I was suffering grief, but to discuss its merits as an anthology. This I did. Yes, I am an academic – but I refuse to apologise for that. Am I out of touch? Well, that is for those readers (who may or may not find value in MacLeod’s work) to judge. I stand by my comments: parts of this anthology are excellent, parts are not. It stands within a tradition of New Zealand anthologies and needs to be read alongside others – and within that history. If MacLeod does not want to be properly reviewed, he should instruct his publisher to seek only sympathetic reviewers.

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