Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer with a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia. Her work appears in numerous international journals. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee. Her third novel Ash will be published by Mākaro Press (NZ) in 2019 and her flash fiction collection Soul Etchings will be published by Retreat West Books (UK) in 2019.
TAKAHĒ: WHEN THE BIRD HATCHED
In 1988 David Howard rang me and asked if I’d be interested in editing the fiction section of a magazine called Cornucopia. This had been established by Ray Mutton in 1984 and now had a new Managing Editor, Gabriel Didham, who wanted to take it in a more literary direction. Tony Scanlon was part of the team and he drew the illustrations for the magazine. After we produced a couple of issues it soon became clear to David and me that a new type of magazine with a new direction altogether was needed and thus Cornucopia died a quick and relatively painless death in the winter of 1988.
A new editorial board was formed comprising David as Poetry Editor, myself as Fiction Editor, Tony as Art Editor and Ray as Administrator and typesetter. As we discussed possible names for the new magazine, we also mentioned with some trepidation the number of literary magazines that had appeared over recent years only to rapidly become extinct through staff burn-out and lack of finance. My husband, Chris, immediately came up with the name Takahē. This bird was thought to be extinct by the late nineteenth century, but was rediscovered in 1948, surviving and thriving in a remote area in Fiordland. We all loved the name and agreed it resonated perfectly with our hope and optimism for the survival of the new magazine. Issue 1 was published in Spring 1989 and David’s editorial in that issue summarised the metamorphosis from Cornucopia to Takahē:
Literary journals are an endangered species in New Zealand. The precursor of Takahē was Cornucopia, which died this winter after a financial haemorrhage and poor veterinary care from its editor.
Takahe is a more robust bird. It intends to traverse the literary landscape on short, thick legs. It will move through the tussock where younger writers live and accompany them to the foothills of reputation and readership. On the long journey it will flap its wings at reviewers, peck at the kneecaps of subscribers for sustenance and reproduce itself every three months.
Why not come along?
Those early issues of Takahē look amateurish now compared with the glossy bird it has grown into, but we did what we could with the limited technology and finance at our disposal. When we selected the poetry and short fiction for each of the four issues per year Ray typeset the text and Chris, with occasional help from our son Benjamin, formatted the pages. The team met, usually at our house, to manually cut and paste each page, before we were able to find a way to do this on the computer then Tony took the pages away to photocopy. We all met again to staple the pages, put them into envelopes and post them to subscribers. To finance the operation, we all contributed our own money until the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council (later to become Creative New Zealand) decided after the first three issues were published that Takahē merited an arts grant. For her help in securing this we have much to thank Rosemary Wildblood, the Arts Council Manager of Literature, not least for her belief in what we were trying to achieve.
Our shared vision was to publish an eclectic range of high-quality writing that included established and emerging writers. A glance over the first four issues shows names such as Owen Marshall, Judith White, Anthony Holcroft, David Eggleton, Barbara Anderson, Michael Harlow, Elizabeth Smither, Michael Morrissey, Mervyn Thompson and Harry Ricketts alongside the unknown. Most submissions came from New Zealand, but we published a few from overseas too. One of our aims was to give feedback on each submission rather than a terse rejection slip and we took pains with promising new writers by encouraging them to re-write and re-submit. Some of those new writers who were first published in Takahē went on to win major awards.
As the number of submissions grew the individual feedback eventually became unsustainable. The huge increase in submissions meant we also needed more editorial input. Mike Minehan joined David from issue 2 and in 1991 Bernadette Hall became joint Poetry Editor, taking over from David in 1992 when he resigned to work on his own writing. In 1993 Jim Norcliffe became part of the team as joint Short Fiction Editor with me. As the workload continued to expand, and mindful of the need for new energy and fresh ideas, we invited Isa Moynihan to join the team in 1993 as Marketing Manager and Cassandra Fusco in 1993 as Art and Cultural Studies Editor. Mark Johnston replaced Ray Mutton as Administrator in 1994 and I took a year’s leave of absence while I lived in Brazil during 1995. By the end of that year I was halfway through writing a novel so I resigned from the editorial board, confident that Takahe was in good heart.
Those early days of getting Takahe up and running were characterised by hard work, enormous energy and enthusiasm, camaraderie and a huge amount of fun. In the ever-shrinking habitats for creative writing it is immensely gratifying to see this bird not only surviving but thriving.
The above essay prompted the thought that it would be apropos to briefly outline the interesting history of the striking takahe logo. It dates to around 2002 and was originally conceived by Ngāti Raukawa artist John Bevan Ford (1930-2005) while staying for two months with our recently retired reviews editor, Cassandra Fusco and her husband Joseph, on his return from a residency at the Changchun Sculpture Park in Jilin, China.
Ford was a member of what art historian Damian Skinner has called “the Tovey Generation” of young Māori artists who, as primary school teacher trainees, were given specialist training as arts and crafts advisers, as part of a scheme put in place between 1946 and 1966 by the then national superintendent of arts and crafts in the Department of Education, Gordon Tovey (1901-1974). Many of these artist teachers, like Ford, would go on to become prominent figures in the development of modernist Māori art.
Ford was deeply committed to the role of shared symbolism and abstraction in affirming the role of remembrance and the spirit of reciprocity and compassion between communities and cultures. He also believed strongly in the power of the past to shape and influence the present and the future.
The stylised takahe logo was inspired by Central Otago Māori rock drawing sites Ford had studied. Fusco brought the drawing to the takahē board of the day, who enthusiastically endorsed it as the new logo, replacing an earlier one borrowed and modified by the magazine’s first art director, Tony Scanlon. The new logo was debuted in Issue 45.
Thanks to Cassandra Fusco for her help in fleshing out these details.
Andrew Paul Wood
Art and Essays Editor