Letters – Issue 121

Concerning points

We thank New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa and Airini Beautrais for the largely positive review of Manifesto Aotearoa 101 Political Poems (NZB Summer 2017), but its final points are concerning. Airini Beautrais refers to “cringe-worthy instances of cultural appropriation or casual racism; fall-backs on the old tropes of misogyny”. We don’t think a reviewer can make such claims without relevant quotation – especially when a reader’s interpretation can be highly subjective. No-one else has drawn our attention to these failings, so we are anxious to read her evidence. Further, Dr Beautrais uses the collection to consider the “general state of politics in our poetry” and says “we’re not there yet with publishing and awarding women poets, Māori poets and poets of colour”. She concludes, “The slip-ups in this anthology serve to remind us of the work still to be done”, a statement you chose to highlight. Yet, in Manifesto Aotearoa, 60 per cent of the poems included are by women and there is a good representation of “Māori poets and poets of colour”. As for the poets not included, we cannot be held responsible for those who chose not to submit work, despite widespread publicity and calls for submissions and, in some cases, direct approaches. We followed a democratic process but in every democracy there are always those who choose not to vote.

Philip Temple and Emma Neale
Co-editors Manifesto Aotearoa


Airini Beautrais replies:

I thought Manifesto Aotearoa a timely and worthwhile anthology, and was honoured to be included in it. In reviewing the anthology, I chose to give space to quoting the poems I found most successful or interesting. The concerns I raised were indeed part of my response as a subjective reader, but were limited to a minority of poems. The wider concerns I have regarding publishing are more a reflection of societal privilege, and while the composition of this anthology may not echo the general New Zealand publication statistics (poet Janis Freegard regularly assesses these), I wanted to make mention of the situation. I would expect any anthology of political writing to spark further political thinking, discussion and debate. I hope Manifesto Aotearoa will remain a resource and reference point for many years to come.


Fostering a space

I write to point out an inaccuracy in Nick Ascroft’s letter in New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa (Summer 2017). Responding to my commentary “No country for old men” in the Winter 2017 issue, Ascroft writes: “The ho ho ‘No country for old men’ heading signalled a distancing of the magazine from the views espoused, and you can guess why.”

I do not know what the magazine’s attitude to my views is, but clearly Ascroft wishes to believe it is a negative one, and, by a logic that eludes me entirely, has interpreted the title of my piece as evidence for this. I can however state with confidence that the choice of the line from W B Yeats as title for the piece was entirely mine, and not grafted on by New Zealand Books, as he asserts.

Ascroft characterises my critique of Hera Lindsay Bird’s poems as “on the wonk” (whatever that means), and suggests it cannot outweigh “sales, followers, fame, attention and praise”. Indeed, but perhaps the purpose of thoughtful criticism is not to outweigh such phenomena, but to achieve separation from them. Its purpose is surely to foster a space where thinking and critical appraisal become more, rather than less, possible, including of course critical appraisal of the criticism itself. Such a space can only come into being with sufficient separation from the pressures of the group mind: that is, sufficient separation from “sales, followers, fame, attention and praise”.

The remainder of Ascroft’s letter speaks for itself.

Paul Schimmel

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