Almost a year ago I took on the position of chair of the takahē Collective Trust, a position I am finding most rewarding. As of this last weekend I am also going to be joint poetry editor with Gail Ingram and I am looking forward to being part of a great team.
The reading and selection of submissions always presents a challenge. After all, what one likes is so subjective, and yet an editor must judge on many other criteria than personal likes and dislikes. That is where working together as a team is so valuable. As a writer, I know the disappointment of rejection and the elation of having a piece accepted, and I also know that the former is likely to occur more often than the latter. Feedback is vital to encourage writers to revise, edit and then resubmit pieces. Knowledge of the kind of writing more suited to one journal than another also helps.
To me, selection of a work to include in a journal has always hinged upon its suitability to that issue. Does it fit with other pieces that have been selected? A poem, for example, may be very good but not suit the tone or subject matter of the other poems that have been selected. It can be as arbitrary as that. But always the selection has been made on the literary merit of the piece. Recently, however, there have been other challenges for editors. Times change, and the question has arisen, should we also judge a piece on the provenance of the writer. The #MeToo campaign is making lots of people – editors, authors, readers – think more about trust and ethics in publication and literary citizenship than ever before. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have made it easier for such issues to be brought into the spotlight. Recently readers have challenged journals that have published pieces written by those who have been known to be involved in violence to women or where editors have been suspected of similar behaviour. It is worth reading articles such as “Why I Pulled my Winning Story from a Literary Magazine” by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew. Andrew agonized over whether to be associated with the journal that was to publish her piece after becoming aware of the sexual misconduct of one of the editors. She commented: ‘That magical motivation factor [of having a piece published] diminishes when an editor or publication is tarnished to the point that you no longer believe in them. Creating something, whether it’s publishing work in a magazine or acting in a movie, is about lending your talent—and, as such, is an implicit show of support for the project. As a contributor, your name will be associated with the magazine, the movie, the publishing house, whatever it is. It will be connected to that work for long as it exists and, sometimes, even longer. Beyond questions of association, there are also those of trust. As writers, we must be able to trust our editors to treat our work with care; actors must do the same with directors, and so on. Such power dynamics are often marked with vulnerability.’
Another widely publicised case is that of Stephen Galloway in Canada, which has divided the literary community. Authors like Margaret Atwood have been criticized for supporting Galloway who was fired on suspicion of sexual harassment. Commentators have perceived that ‘the dispute bears the marks of a generational rift, with a preponderance of older, established writers rallying around Galloway and a wave of younger writers denouncing them.’ Some have argued that it is not so much an issue of integrity but of due process being denied to Galloway. Either way, it has people debating the issue of accountability.
Such cases raise all sorts of tricky questions for me as an editor. How much does a piece of writing stand apart from the person who wrote it? It would be sad, extremely intrusive and nigh on impossible to publish if it came to a police check with submissions. When we see powerful leaders of the ‘free world’ engaged in trying to stifle the freedom of the press, here is another example of possible interference in the integrity of the writer to express what they wish. Yet, at the same time, there will be those who have had their work accepted who will have suffered abuse in some form or other, and do they wish to have their work published next to the writing, however meritorious, of someone who has been known to perpetrate such abuse? As I said, tricky questions. To answer only that common sense should prevail begins to sound like an easy way out. Editors must therefore exercise that common sense circumspectly, while at the same time being aware of the various experiences of their readers, and the complexity of the questions being raised.
In the past year, the team at takahēhas undergone a number of changes. I would like to welcome on board Gail Ingram (joint poetry editor), Jaya Mangalam Gibson (layout), Brad McNeurb (webmaster), Zoë Meager (competitions secretary), Sarah van Eyndhoven (secretary), and Louise Waghorn (data base and reviews editor).
We must also, sadly, farewell those who have provided stalwart service over the years. The Board’s thanks goes to Catherine Fitchett (data base) and Peter Fitchett (layout), James Norcliffe (poetry editor), and Cassandra Fusco (reviews editor). Cassandra’s historical knowledge of the development of takahēwill be very much missed.
Chair of the takahē Collective Trust Board
Joint poetry editor
The AGM of the takahē Collective Trust Board will be held at 38 Otara St, Christchurch on Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 10 am. Any inquiries can be made to 021 1676998.