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Best New Zealand Poems series

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Title: Best New Zealand Poems series  
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Subject: New Zealand literary awards, Jenny Bornholdt, Anna Smaill, Poetry anthologies, Ahmed Zaoui
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Best New Zealand Poems series

The Best New Zealand Poems series, begun in 2001 is an annual online selection of poems chosen by guest editors. The program is run by the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. The poems are all significant to the NZ environment. It is supported by a grant from Creative New Zealand.

The series, which is "shamelessly modelled" on The Best American Poetry series, takes one poem each from 25 New Zealand poets, the first annual editor, Iain Sharp, wrote in his introduction to the 2001 selection. The poems must have been published that year either in magazines or books. A new editor selects the poems each year.[1]

"A steady association with the country is sufficient" to be considered a "New Zealander", Sharp wrote.[1]

Bill Manhire, head of the International Institute of Modern Letters, is the series editor[2] and writes a "Welcome" section to each annual collection of poems in the series. Sharp wrote in his introduction that he discussed the nature of the series with Manhire.[1] In his introduction to the 2005 selection, Andrew Johnston wrote, "I couldn’t include a poem from Manhire’s latest and best book, Lifted, because he is effectively the publisher of Best New Zealand Poems."[3]

"We feel that this publication is a real case where the internet has made possible an initiative which — in New Zealand — would simply not be viable in terms of conventional book publishing," Manhire said in early 2007. "Most of all, it breaks through the distribution barrier which prevents New Zealand poetry from reaching an international audience." Most visitors to the Web site come from overseas.[4]

Unlike Best American Poetry, each year's selection is identified by the year in which the poems were first published, not by the year in which the selection is put out: so the 2001 list, for instance, came out in 2002.


  • Assessments 1
  • Annual selections 2
    • 2001 2.1
    • 2002 2.2
    • 2003 2.3
    • 2004 2.4
    • 2005 2.5
    • 2006 2.6
    • 2007 2.7
    • 2008 2.8
    • 2009 2.9
    • 2010 2.10
  • Notes 3
  • External links 4


The New Zealand Book Council has called the online series "a superb entry point for readers unfamiliar with the work of particular writers, and a treasure chest of information for students of New Zealand literature".[4]

The features on the series web site, including links to publishers, New Zealand literary sites, poet biographies, and poets' comments on their work — provides a "'more bang for your verse' approach" that Shelley Howells, a columnist for the New Zealand Herald, called "more satisfying than simply reading a poem on a page".[5]

Annual selections


The editor, Iain Sharp, is books editor of the Sunday Star-Times and himself a poet and critic. In his introduction, Sharp wrote that although he has a preference for poets like Billy Collins, he tried to include a variety of poets in his selection. Sharp also wrote that he found it impossible to properly excerpt Michael O'Leary's book-length love poem, He Waiatanui Kia Aroha, or take a single poem out of Hone Tuwhare's Piggyback Moon because none "seemed quite to capture the warm, rebellious spirit of the whole."[1]


This year's editor, Elizabeth Smither, recalled what Allen Curnow, a New Zealand poet who died in 2001, said about "the visceral nature of true poetry. ‘Try poking it with a stick and see if it’s alive,’ was Allen’s test for a poem and it has been my first line of selection." Smither also used her assumptive "editor's privilege" to wedge in a 26th poem at the end of her introduction: Jon Bridges' "Poem for the Beasts".[6]


This year's editor, Robin Dudding, citing a similar comment by John Ashbery in The Best American Poetry 1988, discounted the idea that the best 25 poems of a country can be picked, since any editor will be inevitably biased and won't be able to find all the best poems. It might be better to call the selection "OK New Zealand poems", Dudding indicated.[7]

"There seem to be two possible selection approaches: attempt to find worthy examples of as wide a range of poetic expression as possible; or plump for the poems that you like best, even if there is the risk of too markedly revealing one’s own taste or lack of taste," Dudding wrote. He and his wife, who helped with the selection, "plumped fairly firmly for the latter course."[7]


Emma Neale, this year's editor, in her introduction proclaimed Ahmed Zaoui's "In a Dream" (translated in a "chain of versions" in brief 31, Spring 2004), "if not the best, then the most important poem this year", because of the political issues involved in Zaoui's circumstances (or as Neale put it, for "its role as a nexus of politics and aesthetics"): He sought refugee status in New Zealand and had been imprisoned for two years, as of the time Neale wrote, on suspicion of ties to terrorists. She added that he hadn't been brought to trial "in accordance with United Nations human rights conventions." Although Auden said "Poetry makes nothing happen," Neale said a poem can lend support to a political cause powered by other means.[2]

"When I read a fine poem," Neale wrote, "there is usually a sense of actively arriving at layers of new knowledge, of discovering experience, or even belief, simultaneously with the speaker or personality in that poem. All of the poems I’ve chosen exhibit something of this character."[2]


In his introduction, Andrew Johnston (this year's editor) wrote that New Zealand poetry used to be very much like British poetry still is today, which he described as "domesticated", "unsurprising", "well-behaved" and closely following "a single register, the poet getting quietly worked up about something in the plainest conversational tone."[3]

The influence of American poetry loosened up New Zealand's poets, according to Johnston, so that the nation's poetry today has a variety of voices and styles, and there is also a tolerance in the country for different kinds of poetry. Bill Manhire and Ian Wedde were two of the poets who helped bring about the revolution, he added.[3]


The editors for 2006 were literary couple Anne Kennedy and Robert Sulivan, both of whom were listed in the previous year's selection. The editors commented that 2006 seemed to have produced proportionally far fewer poems by Maori and Asian writers than appeared in other years. They speculated that such writers were either not seeking publication, or not achieving it. They noted that "So much in writing, from our experience, depends upon the encouragement of publishers, editors and educators."[1]

"In selecting this year’s Best New Zealand Poems we did our best" the editors said, "to scout the diverse ethnic and intellectual communities that New Zealand poets belong to." [2]. Despite the editorial emphasis on diversity, 11 of the 25 poems selected were published in association with Victoria University. Of the remaining 14 poems, 8 were published in association with the University of Auckland; leaving just five poems that were not released under the aegis of either University. [3]

The fact that both poets reside in Honolulu, and had to rely in part on "the help of the Institute of Modern Letters team who sent us care packages from home" may account for this curious distribution. However, the editors themselves emphasise the broad range of poetry they scoured to create this list. "As well as reading books by individual poets, we read poems from anthologies, magazines, arts journals, e-journals and other websites." [4].


The year's guest editor is Paula Green, who wrote that Chris Price's poem, "Harriet and the Matches" was the "scorchingly best" poem, which she reprinted in her introduction, although Price's work was not on the list of 25 selections. In her introduction, Green gave a list of "a simultaneous cluster of best poems" by these poets: Saradha Koirala Erin Scudder, Harry Rickett, Ashleigh Young, Helen Rickerby, Tusiata Avia, Sue Wootton, Marty Smith, S. K. Johnson, Kay McKenzie Cooke, David Howard, Jennifer Compton, Wystan Curnow, Richard von Sturmer, Sue Reidy, Charlotte Simmons, Rae Varcoe, Fiona Kidman, Jack Ross, Airini Beautrais, Amy Brown, Katherine Liddy, Thérèse Lloyd, and Scott Kendrick. As had Kennedy and Sullivan in the previous year's introduction, Green complained that there weren't more Maori and Asian poems published during the year. But there were plenty of submissions overall, she wrote, "At one point in January the stack of best poems on my floor stood at 20 cms."[8]


2008's guest editor was James Brown.


2009's guest editor was Robyn Marsack.[9][10]


2010's guest editor was Chris Price.


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ a b [5] Web page titled "Best New Zealand Poems 06 Announced" dated 3 April 2007, accessed 14 April 2007
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ Web page titled "Best New Zealand Poetry 2007 / Introduction" at the Best New Zealand Poetry website, accessed 25 April 2008
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^

External links

  • Web siteBest New Zealand Poems
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