Poetry Shelf Friday talk spot: Murray Edmond on Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics




‘To stiffen the sinews, to summon the blood’: Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics


Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics will be 15 years old in 2020. The latest issue contains a memoir of the last years of Baxter’s life, an essay about Mary Stanley’s poetry, an essay about David Merritt’s poetry and production systems, an essay about David Kaarena-Holmes’ poetry, and a reflection on the fictive lives of poets. But no poems. And no reviews of recent books of poetry. That’s what it’s like at Ka Mate Ka Ora. We don’t publish poems and we don’t run short reviews (though longer review-articles are definitely part of our kaupapa).

Ka Mate Ka Ora was designed to fill a gap – the lack of in-depth discourse about poetry and poetics within Aotearoa’s literary community. I guess you can say we are a specialist magazine, a niche product for an informed market. But this ‘informed market’ has many links to international poetries and poetics, which is where the electronic format is crucial. And this means KMKO is more than ‘just’ an academic journal. (I know that ‘just’ is not ‘just’!).  If you haven’t seen the magazine before and want a look, or if you want to go back and revisit this or that issue, click here.

Throughout Ka Mate Ka Ora’s existence, we have sustained a policy of looking outward to what is going on elsewhere via reports from local roving reporters: Pam Brown on Australian poetry (issue #1), Anne Kennedy on Hawai’i poetry (#3), Anna Smaill on poetry in London (#5), Murray Edmond in China (#5), Lisa Samuels in Spain (#12) and Erena Shingade from Mumbai (#16).

The magazine is open access on-line. Its inception dates back to a time when the internet was more innocent and idealistic. We are still holding out for this ideal.


But times pass and worms turn and poets die. Over its 15 years obituaries have also become a regular feature: we have said haere ra to Dennis List, Mahmoud Darwish, Jacquie Sturm, Leigh Davis, Martyn Sanderson, Trevor Reeves. Rowley Habib (Rore Hapipi), Russell Haley, Heather McPherson, Gordon Challis and John Dickson. This list is interesting because each of these names occupied a crucial niche situation in New Zealand poetry at various times; yet none would quite qualify for that brief eternity of media attention that is shone in this age of reincarnated celebrity on certain kinds of literary names at their passing. I like to think that Ka Mate Ka Ora’s attention to such figures as those listed above will provide a valuable doorway through from the future to the past.

The majority of issues of Ka Mate Ka Ora have been composed from the careful editorial selection, aided by outside readers, of unsolicited contributions. But there have been at least four ‘special’ issues. Hone Tuwhare’s death warranted an issue-sized response, and Robert Sullivan took over the editorship for this (#6). Then there have been issues about ‘Words and Pictures’ (#7), James K.Baxter (#8) and Translation (#11).

Special issues tend to bring in a swathe of special contributors, whereas an issue that consists of four or five substantial essays errs in favour of depth rather than spread. More than 100 different writers have contributed to KMKO over the past 15 years. Contributors range from those who are poets themselves to academics, to Masters and Doctoral students who are often both poets and scholars, plus photographers, illustrators, archivists, printers, designers, songwriters et al.


The contents of KMKO have become cumulative, as the editorial in the latest issue highlights in relation to the catalogue of contributions about James Baxter:


John Newton, ‘”By Writing and Example”: The Baxter Effect,’ No.1, Dec. 2005.

Paul Millar, ‘Return to Exile: James K. Baxter’s Indian Poems’ plus the unpublished Indian poems, No. 3. March 2007.

Dougal McNeill, ‘Baxter’s Burns,’ No. 8, Sept. 2009.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, ‘”Reason not the Need”: John Newton and James K. Baxter’s Double Rainbow,’ No. 8, Sept. 2009.

Francis McWhannell, ‘Hunt’s Baxter,’ No. 8, Sept. 2009.

Reproduction of Baxter’s ms. Of ‘Jerusalem in Winter,’ No. 8. Sept. 2009.

John Petit’s photographs of Baxter at Hiruharama, Dec. 1970, No. 8, 2009.

Stephen Innes,’ The Baxter Papers at the University of Auckland Library,’ No. 8, 2009.

Paul Millar and Miranda Wilson, ‘”The Fire-bird Singing Loud”: James K. Baxter’s Relationship with Composer Dorothy Freed,’ No 15, July, 2017.

Keir Volkerling, ‘James K. Baxter – an Evolving Memoir,’ No.17, Oct 2019.


Threading one’s way through these disparate works of criticism and literary historiography, it is possible to trace the developing case study of Baxter criticism as it has taken shape in the 21st century up to (and with Keir Volkerling’s piece, even beyond) the recent controversy of Baxter’s ‘me/too moment’ with the publication of the Letters in 2019.


Ka Mate Ka Ora is named after the first line of what can be labeled Aotearoa’s most well-known and, at times, most controversial poem. The crass, commercial and appropriative imitations of the haka form that now get mounted world-wide with depressing regularity, do not touch upon Te Rauparaha’s words. The words of haka have always been of the most charged and sensitive kind. Robert Sullivan, in his editorial in issue #1 quotes Timoti Karetu with regard to this kind of kind of short, intense haka, he ngeri, to the effect that such a form is designed ‘to stiffen the sinews, to summon up the blood’: life or death?

I have been the editor of Ka Mate Ka Ora from the first issue until now. I have been greatly assisted in this role by Hilary Chung, Michele Leggott and Lisa Samuels. We are planning a new issue for 2020, #18, so if you wish to send a contribution, first spend a little time looking through some issues, then read about us by clicking on the red ‘about’ at the bottom right of the magazine’s home page, and email to Murray Edmond at m.edmond@auckland.ac.nz. All contributions are sent out for at least one reader’s report.


Murray Edmond



Murray Edmond’s recent books include Back Before You Know (2019) and Shaggy Magpie Songs (2015), two poetry volumes; Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing (2014); and Strait Men and Other Tales, (2015), fictions. He is the editor of Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics (http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/ ); and works as a dramaturge (Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis’s Mrs Krishnan’s Party (2017) and Welcome to the Murder House (2018) and Naomi Bartley’s Te Waka Huia, 2017/ 2018). Also directed Len Lye: the Opera (2012).

Back Before You Know (Compound Press, 2019) has been longlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards.





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