A note from the Arts and Essays Editor on issue 91

One of my favourite parts about the role of Arts Editor is that not only do I get to choose the artist featured in each issue, but also decide on the cover. This is a task of immense responsibility. It’s the face of the magazine and the first thing that people see. It’s not necessarily just about promoting an artist whose work I find interesting (though that’s a big part of it), or even my own personal aesthetic preferences: it’s also about considering how it reflects the magazine’s contents. Does the art have something to say to an audience of readers and writers? Would it intrigue the casual browser in the book shop? I probably also tend to favour Canterbury artists (though not exclusively), because of the geographical character of takahē. These and a clowder of gut feelings, obscure reasonings, and socio-politco-anthro-historio-cultural considerations flit through my mind when I make these decisions.

Marie Le Lievre’s work ticks all those boxes. I chose the front cover image Charm Lore from her 2016 Bulletproof Falling series for a number of reasons. The works in the series bring together painting, drawing, inkjet printing, abstraction and figuration, in the same way takahē brings together so many different forms, styles and genres of writing. Charm Lore stood out for me in particular. At the heart of the image is the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, wife of the the pharaoh Akhenaten, and thought to have been crafted by the sculptor Thutmose in around 1345 BCE. With the abstract forms weaving around her head like ideas, or pouring forth from her mouth like words, I thought her an excellent metaphor for a writer.

Thanks to Marie, and her Wellington dealer Bartley + Company Art for the use of the images. More of her work can be seen there or through Christchurch’s Jonathan Smart Gallery. Marie is also having a major solo show of new work with Bartley + Company Art in early 2018. Thanks also to Dr Maria Walls for her thought provoking teasing out of Marie’s work.

With my Essays hat on, can I also say how delighted I am that Alie Benge, author of the essay “Immigrant” in this issue, is the co-winner of Landfall‘s 2017 essay competition. “Immigrant” is a remarkable exploration of the history of Croatian migrants to Auckland and the community as it exists today. I was captivated by the language, Alie’s eye for detail, and her ability to paint a picture in words, in a piece of writing that is at once both deeply personal and a thoughtful consideration of the broader social context. It managed to be both a personal essay, and an important snapshot of recent history, but also thoughtfully engage with issues around national identity, marginalisation, assimilation, and the question of what being a “New Zealander” might actually mean.

I am so very happy to be able to offer takahē‘s warmest congratulations to Alie.



takahē magazine is delighted to announce the winner of our inaugural essay competition 2017.
The team would like to thank all entrants for participating. We acknowledge the high standard of entrants and wish them well in their future endeavours.

It’s Not a Life by Robyn Maree Pickens

The winning essay will be published online in takahē 90





Highly commended: Canoeing to Jerusalem by James Ackhurst
Special mentions: License to Laugh by Emer Lyons, and Tūrangawaewae by Nadine Millar

Judge’s Report – Erin Harrington, Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Canterbury and emeritus  takahē Essays Editor:

This is the first time takahē has run an essay competition off this type, and it was interesting to note a few prevailing trends in the pieces submitted. Many entries were personal essays or works of memoir. Certain themes dominated, especially issues surrounding belonging, nationhood, whakapapa, history, memory, and identity. Some stayed quite close to home, while others looked further afield, offering intriguing perspectives on topics as varied as everyday items, crime and punishment, geology, and infrastructure. It was heartening, too, to see a genuine variety of perspectives, with Māori, Pākehā, Pasifika, and immigrant points of view all present. This made for some very entertaining and enlightening reading.

The essays that most caught my eye were those that demonstrated a flair for language and prose, put forward a clear argument or point of view, and exhibited a degree of sophistication in the way that they explored their chosen topic. While many of the best retained a first-person perspective, they used this as a point of departure; they generally looked out, rather than in. In doing so, these essays were successful in exploring sometimes weighty and complex topics and ideas with a combination of thoughtfulness, wit and insight.

The winning essay, “It’s Not a Life”, starts with an anecdotal account of the author’s experiences in the sort of draughty, damp, mouldy houses that characterise New Zealand’s shameful housing stock, and then uses this as context for a perceptive account of power, poverty and art. This is a well-considered and detailed essay that demonstrates a flair for language and a dry sense of humour. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

While there is only space for one winning essay, I would also like to particularly congratulate the authors of three other essays: “Canoeing to Jerusalem”, a piece about James K. Baxter, poetry, and national literatures; “Licence to Laugh”, which interrogates sexism and the representation of women (and men cross-dressing as women) in theatre, comedy and television; and “Tūrangawaewae”, which explores the importance of stories and storytelling in our personal and national histories.

I appreciate the efforts of all those who entered work. Ngā mihi nui.

Introducing the Essays section

Those of you who are particularly sharp-eyed will have noticed that what was once the Cultural Studies section has been renamed Essays. This has been done largely for the sake of clarity, for the term ‘cultural studies’ can be a little opaque. The shift is also designed to signal clearly the sort of writing we would like to promote and share with you: works of creative non-fiction and cultural criticism that engage with culture or cultural practice in New Zealand and the South Pacific, with the term ‘culture’ being read in a broad and inclusive way.

I look forward to reading your submissions and am happy to answer any queries. You can find more specific guidelines on content and length under ‘Submit’.