“Are you being served?” – writers, readers, publishers and reviewers … ?

Walter Dean Myers, American author of more than a hundred books for children and young adults, wrote about growing up a bibliophile in Harlem but falling out of love with books that failed to offer characters with whom he could relate. James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues changed that. It proved to be both an antidote and a revelation, Myers says, “I was lifted by it, for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with black people like those I knew. By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map”.

Reflecting on Walter Meyers’ experiences – about representations in literature – it strikes me that alongside reading, writing and publishing, reviewing is a weighty task, not to be lightly undertaken and definitely a part of the ‘landscape’.

It has been said that writers write to share their ideas and experiences, to convey meaning and work with others; that publishing is the pivotal event that marks the move from ‘writer’ to ‘author’, and that reviewers, ideally, offer an analysis based on content, style and merit.

A review is an evaluation. It is not enough for it to be based on or anchored in personal taste – bland, glowing or otherwise. Nor is a review an occasion for a display of learning or to promulgate a reviewer’s own ideas on the topic of a fiction or non-fiction work.

Reviews are more than assessments of content, style, and merit. Reviews generate evidence for evaluation and making judgements about the written and published ‘landscapes’ of experience and the values these reflect or omit.

In takahē’s forthcoming reviews there is a wealth of sharing: of ideas and experiences by emerging and established authors, published by small and large presses in Aotearoa New Zealand. Does this selection reflect the diversity of experiences in our communities? We’d like to think so. That said, we are always open to feedback – especially about gaps or blind spots!

As we gather together our forthcoming reviews (a selection that does not necessarily cover all the publications of the season) it is our intention, however imperfectly achieved, to deliver reviews attuned to context and difference that encourage readers to explore and consider for themselves the diversity of ‘landscape’ being written about and published in Aotearoa New Zealand – by commercial, academic and self-publishing presses.

So, what are we writing, reading and publishing? Are you being served? In the list of forthcoming reviews for issues 87 (August, on line and free) and 88 (December) there is a rich mix, some with succinct short titles and some with very long ones! Yes – difference!

In takahē’s 87 (August), there’s Fale Aitu ‖ Spirit House by Tusiata Avia (VUP). I still remember my sense of amazement when I first read her poem (ten odd years ago?), “Pa’u-stina”– ‘I am da devil pa’umuku kirl …’.

In t87 there’s a review of The Blue Outboard, New and Selected Poems by Nicholas Williamson (Black Doris Press) and in which Carolyn McCurdie finds, “care for quality, integrity, craft, are evident in every aspect … ”.

Also in t. 87 there’s a review of Leaving the Red Zone: poems from the Canterbury earthquakes edited by James Norcliffe and Joanna Preston (Clerestory Press). This gathers together 148 poems from 87 poets and in which, according to Dr. Christopher Gomez (a natural hazards scientist), “The brain gains a heart”.

There’s also a review of a collaborative work by a bevy of New Zealand and German poets: Transit of Venus   Venustransit by Hinemoana Baker, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Glenn Colquhoun, Uwe Kolbe, Brigitte Oleschhinski and Chris Price (VUP). Reviewer Janet Newman found that the work “… is not only about the Transit of Venus ­– a significant marker in New Zealand’s colonial history – but also illuminates the differing perspectives of poets from opposite sides of the world”.

And there’s a review of Helena Wiśniewska Brow’s book, Give us this day (VUP) which, Ludmila Sakowski says, ‘demonstrates that memoir can be more than a genre’.

Watch out for some of those longer titles in takahē 87 and 88:

Ko te Whenua te Utu / Land is the Price: Essays on Maori History, Land and Politics by M. P. K. Sorrenson (AUP); Ka Ngaro Te Reo Māori language under siege in the nineteenth century by Paul Moon (OUP); Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand edited by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey (VUP); Artefacts of Encounter, Cook’s voyages, colonial collecting and museum histories, edited by Nicholas Thomas, Julie Adams, Billie Lythberg, Maia Nuku and Amiria Salmond (OUP); and Re-inventing New Zealand Essays on the arts and the media by Roger Horrocks (Atuanui Press).

And keep an eye out for the work of six poets (published by Makaro Press’ HOOPLA Series): Where the fish grow by Ish Doney; Withstanding by Helen Jacobs; Bones in the Octagon by Carolyn McCurdie, Udon by The Remarkables by Harvey Molloy; Possibility of flight by Heidi North-Bailey and Felt Intensity by Keith Westwater, reviewed by Patricia Prime in takahē issue 88 (December).

So – the long and the short of it? Are you being served? What are we writing, reading and publishing?

At the side of my desk is a newspaper article reporting on the falling standards of reading, writing and maths in our schools. MMmmmm …

Cassandra Fusco
Reviews Editor

‘Reading is not optional’ – Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014)

And since you are already online, why not check out takahē’s forthcoming spread of art, essays, fiction and poetry!

Reviews – a little light conversation

Why does takahē publish reviews? Because, like the content of the magazine, reviews reflect on the creative and critical endeavours of our various and varied communities. And why do the reviewers write the reviews? Certainly not for the kudos or the coin! No. In keeping with takahē’s mission, reviewers keep the reflective conversations amongst us – writers, readers, listeners and publishers – flowing. And why do YOU read reviews? Please feel free to add to this conversationreviews@takahe.co.nz

 At their best, reviewers are a generous and searching breed, eyes and ears attentively tuned to the themes, aims and intentions plied by diverse writers. They will comb a text and – frequently scrutinising the wider context – proceed to compare and critique it against earlier works by the author concerned, and/or with works by other writers. In doing so, reviewers will often snare our attention, prompt questions and promote curiosity about a writer’s goals and progress. Indeed a considered review can function in many ways. Most reviewers aim to share and inform with their findings. Their observations and evaluations may encourage writers and foster dialogue. Their critiques can also operate like open letters to publishers concerning not only content, but also matters of editing and design. How many layouts (be it of poetry, prose or academia) achieve alliances of form and content? For some effective collaborations of content and design have a look at the number of small presses reviewed in takahē 86, particularly Giant Sparrow Press (Wellington) and the Black Doris Press (Port Chalmers).

Like the distinctive current of contemporary writing, the little and large world of Aotearoa New Zealand publishing has matured significantly, at long last addressing silences and imbalances and genuinely embracing diversities and differences. In a world that has (as that man said) neither certitude nor peace, let’s hope these ‘conversations’ continue to flow and increase.

Cassandra Fusco

Reviews Editor