Format Aside

Just one more sleep before the launch of the latest issue – takahē 88! Even if you can’t make it to the launch party at the Woolston Hop tomorrow night, I hope you’ll raise a celebratory glass with us to mark the occasion. Or perhaps lift a mug of coffee in salute as you brighten your morning by browsing the samples that will be posted online. Or tap a biscuit against a mug of tea as you flick through the pages of your subscriber’s copy, fresh from its wrappers.

Discover … who won the 2016 Takahē Poetry Competition, and why; what happens in the the Embassy of ’Waiki; which body part our guest poet has penned an ode to; whether Gavin’s gift of pancakes had the desired effect; the extent of sheep’s awareness of the music of Joan Armatrading; why Julia Holden painted 1000 portraits of actor Geoffrey Rush; and what exactly another poet says she could prove “if I had another life / and another husband”.

These and many more poems, stories, essays, articles and reviews await your pleasure in the pages of takahē 88.
Go on, you know you want to.

Poetry selections for takahē 88 now done

weary-editorThe poetry selections for the next issue – takahē 88, due out in early December – have all been made, and the issue sent off to layout. It’s looking really good, with a couple of contributors making their first appearance in print, alongside some of the most respected names in New Zealand literature. Just what we like to see.

Interestingly, this is the first time I’ve had more male than female poets in an issue. I don’t attempt to have any sort of gender balance going on – plenty of times I have no idea of the gender of a particular contributor until they send me their author photo! – but the trend over the last few years’ worth of issues has been roughly two-thirds female to one-third male. Which is a reasonably good approximation of the overall ratio of submissions, as it happens, with the trend over the last twelve months being an increase in the number of submissions from male poets. From a geographical perspective, we’re getting a lot more submissions from overseas – lots from the USA, quite a few from Australia and the UK, and then a scattering from other places. It’s great that takahē is known so widely!

There is, however, still one place left in the issue that has yet to be filled: the winner of the 2016 poetry competition. I’m really looking forward to finding out the results, because we’ve had some spectacular poems taking it out in the past. I’ll be combing through the rest of the entries to see if there are some that I’d like to snaffle for the April issue of takahē, so even if you don’t managed to get placed in the competition, you may still hear from me.

A brief note about the reading periods for the poetry section. I read all the submissions during the first two or three weeks of each reading period, and make the selections as I go. Everything that comes in after I start selecting is held over to the next reading period. To minimise the amount of time you’ll need to wait between submitting and getting a response, your best bet is to submit in the week or two before the reading period starts. I know the times seem a bit strange, but due to the time needed in preproduction we actually have to have everything done and ready to be laid out and proofread a good eight or so weeks before the issue is published. Hence the reading period being just after the new issue comes out. But this can actually work in your favour, at least in terms of remembering to send in your submission: as soon as you’ve finished reading current issue, send in a submission for the next one!

Why I chose it – Matt Elliott’s “Gathering at the Shoreline”

Sometimes it can be difficult to pin down what exactly it is about a particular poem that tips the balance from hmm, yes, maybe to yes, yes, definitely yes. Other times it’s really simple. As in this case. With Matt Elliott‘s Gathering at the Shoreline it was the line ‘bodies / shaped by other bodies’. I fell in love with it, then and there. Didn’t you?

The poem itself is deceptively simple – fourteen lines, nothing longer than six syllables. Simple, descriptive, over as quickly as a first cautious toe-dip into chilly water. The original poem had some slightly different lineation, and there was one line from the first version that we both agreed could use being rewritten, but the changes didn’t amount to much more than tying up loose laces and tucking stray bits of fringe under a bathing cap.

It’s a wonderfully visual poem. These are old ladies, not just old women. It’s the sort of scene Beryl Cook would have painted – can’t you see the look of concentration on their faces as the make their way over the rough beach down to the water? Maybe they all meet there regularly, to swim together. Or perhaps they’re there on their own, individuals taking to the sea. Maybe they recognise other regulars, give them a nod of recognition. But then it’s back to the business at hand, and the waiting water.

The most obvious thing is to note how rarely it is that elderly women appear in poems, except as cliches. Women over a certain age are, in our culture, virtually invisible. If they make it in to a poem, it tends to be as dried-up old biddies embodying a Gather ye rosebuds kind of warning, set in opposition to someone altogether younger and more flower-like. Or they’re batty old things smelling of cats and stale biscuits. Either way, it’s not a positive depiction. It’s not something that you think yes, I want to be like that! We get uncomfortable thinking about the physicality of anyone much older than our own parents, so Old Women Are Not A Fit Subject of Poems (Except As Witches or Madwomen, In Which Case It’s Fine). But these women feel … real. And while there’s nothing romantic about the way Matt describes them, they’re anything but caricatures. From their tender feet to their bathing suits / and bathing caps, the description is just right. Even the deliberation of the line break – it makes you see the items of clothing as separate, like pieces of armour. The way you can imagine each item being unfolded, shaken out, put on, smoothed into place. It isn’t just a costume. It makes it a ritual.

These are not going to be women who strut and preen – that wonderful phrase, bodies shaped by other bodies. Mums. Grandmas. (Or Grandmothers – there’s a difference between the two, and given the glassy-eyed stare, the latter sounds quite likely.) Old ladies, taking some time away from the shared part of their lives. The bits of their days where other bodies make demands – family, friends, neighbours. Husbands, perhaps. All the other bodies, and their wants and needs. But this is their time away from that. We know this is a regular occurrence – they do it daily. And I can’t help seeing it as morning – it’s just them, the gulls and the sea. And they aren’t strolling down to the water’s edge, the way we do on warm afternoons. There’s no splashing, no laughing, no children and dogs and sunshine. The sea is glistening, and they stop, hands on hips for a moment, at the water’s edge. Maybe it’s cold. Or maybe they’re just sinking in to the moment, getting ready to plunge in and start swimming. Taking a breath. Whatever the reason, you can feel their focus, can’t you? (That wonderful ambiguity about who it is – gulls or ladies – who stares glassily at the sea.) I can’t help seeing these as the kind of old ladies who will swim miles and miles, fearless and seemingly tireless.

And all this from a mere fourteen lines. A gem of a piece.

Viva the elderly ladies! Long may they flourish, and may their towels be always where they left them! And may more poets sing their praises!

 

Poetry selections complete for takahē 86

Format Status

“The Arts – Poetry” by Alfonse MuchaAll the selections for the poetry component of the next issue have been made, and sent off to the tender ministrations of our layout designer, Peter Fitchett. (Yep, all this stuff happens quite a while in advance of the publication date of the issue.)

Our guest poet for takahē 86 is Robert Sullivan, and we have poems from fifteen contributors, ranging geographically from Otago to Auckland, via Scotland. It’s looking like a very interesting issue, with a real mix of topics. There’s a slightly higher-than-average number of humorous poems, and quite a few examples of formal work (what can I say – I’m a sucker for both, done well).

 

Poetry in takahē 85

“Lucrezia as Poetry” by Salvator RosaAny day now, the most recent issue of takahē – #85 – should be arriving in letterboxes all over the country. I hope it pleases you as much as it pleases us, especially in the wake of having to cancel the winter issue of the magazine.

The guest poet is ex Poet Laureate, Vincent O’Sullivan, who has a delicious offering of eight poems – you can read one, the lovely Anniversary, here. One thing to mention is that Vincent made a small change in the poem in the time between us sending the issue off to the printers and the writing of this post. The version here on the website is his corrected version. (Be interesting to see if anyone notices what it is that has changed …)

We also have the winning and second placed poems from this year‘s Poetry Competition (you can read the judge’s report here), as well as the work of twelve other poets, hailing from places as various as Toronto (Canada), Tauranga, New Plymouth, Hastings, Palmerston North, and Wanaka. (Not to mention Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.)

T85 iconIn the New Year I’ll be posting about one of the poems in this issue in a bit more detail, and talking about what it was in that poem that made me choose it. Until then, have a wonderful summer break, and may your reading time be long, luxurious, and heavily based on takahē!

Joanna