Book Award lists should promote debate. Ideas and issues should be raised. As long as judges and authors don’t come under personal attack. It is a time of celebration, let’s not forget that, but it is also a time when diverse opinions may draw attention to our healthy landscape of books.
I have just started writing a big book on poetry by New Zealand women. I have carried this project with me for a long time, and it something I care about very much indeed. It is a book I am writing with a great sense of liberation and an equal dose of love.
I bring many questions to my writing.
The shortlist for poetry and fiction in the Ockham NZ Book Awards includes 0ne woman (Patricia Grace) and seven men. There are no women poets.
This is simply a matter of choice on the part of the judges and I do not wish to undermine the quality of the books they have selected. However, in my view, it casts a disconcerting light upon what women have been producing in the past year or so.
Women produced astonishing books in 2015. I reviewed their poetry books on this blog and praised the diligent craft, the exquisite music, the sumptuous detail, the complexities that challenge and the simplicity that soothes. I have lauded books by women that have moved me like no other, and that have contributed much to the possibilities of what a poem might do.
I am gobsmacked that not a single one made it to the shortlist.
Men have written extraordinary poetry in the past year, but so too have women.
Today is International Women’s Day. In celebration of this, here is a selection of poetry and fiction I have loved in the past year and would have been happy to award.
This list is partial. Please add to it. Some of these women are my friends, so yes there is unconscious bias. Some of these women I would recognise in the street, some I would not.
Eleven Poetry Books by women to adore
(I have reviewed all these to some degree on Poetry Shelf or interviewed the poets)
Emma Neale Tender Machines This is a domestic book that is utterly complex. Yet it moves beyond home to become a book of the world. The music is divine. I am utterly moved. The Poetry Shelf trophy is yours Emma.
Joan Fleming Failed Love Stories Poetry that dazzles and shifts me. This book is on replay!
Holly Painter Excerpts from a Natural History Startling debut that blew me out the window and made me want to write
Sarah Jane Barnett Work Poetry that takes risks and is unafraid of ideas. Adored this.
Johanna Aitchison Miss Dust Spare, strange, surprising, wonderful to read.
Anna Jackson I, Clodia and Other Portraits The voice gets under my skin no matter how many times I read it. So much to say about it.
Jennifer Compton My Clean & The Junkie This narrative satisfies on so many levels.
Airini Beautrais Dear Neil Roberts Risk taking at the level of politics and the personal.
Morgan Bach Some of Us Eat the Seeds Beauty of the cover matches the surprise and beauty of the poetry within.
Hinemoana Baker waha/ mouth This poetry lit a fire in my head not sure which year it fits though. But wow!
Diane Brown Taking My Mother to the Opera This is poetry making pin pricks as it moves and gets you chewing back through your own circumstances.
…. and this is just a start. Ha! Serie Barford with her gorgeous mix of poetry and prose.
Yep I am going over board here just to show you that women have footed it with the best of the men. Whichever year you look at, a different set of judges would come up with a different mix of books. Yes let’s celebrate that worthy shortlist but let’s also remember that canon shaping only revels in and reveals part of the story.
Fiction (I haven’t read so widely here and have a wee stack to get too – Laurence Fearnley and Charlotte Grimshaw here I come!)
Anna Smaill The Chimes This book – plot character, setting, premise, events – still sticks to me. The sentences are exquisite. Some books you lose in brain mist. Not this one.
Sue Orr The Party Line I see this book becoming a NZ classic – a novel of the back blocks. The characters are what move you so profoundly. So perfectly crafted.