Tag Archives: Pantograph Punch

At Pantograph Punch: A fabulous Nina Powles letter from Shanghai



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Nina Powles – the author of one my favourite 2017 poetry reads (Luminescent) –  writes of her experience living in Shanghai and two New Zealand authors who preceded her: Agnes Moncrieff and Robin Hyde. I also recommend Nina’s little chapbook, Girls of the Drift, that invents a letter conversation between Jessie Mackay and Blanche Baughan.

See the Pantograph Punch feature here.



‘The way I write about home changes when I’m away. The sea gets bluer, the hills become sun-drenched. But our ideas of ‘home’ and ‘away from home’ are becoming increasingly less fixed; they are no longer polar opposites but different, parallel ways of feeling and being. I am one of a growing number of New Zealanders who feels at home in two different cultures and in multiple places in the world. Writing to and about home from somewhere else is more than just an act of maintaining connection or keeping a record. For those of us who identify as mixed race, we are trying to keep hold of something, to tether ourselves to somewhere familiar while we go off in search of other homes, both old and new. ‘

Nina Powles









Are NZ poetry reviews an endangered species?




I have a swag of poetry books from 2017 that I have not yet got to – but over the next months I am flagging them through a suite of Summer Postcards.

How important is it that our poetry books get reviewed?

Poetry books get so little attention in the media these days. NZ Books still offers a handful of poetry reviews.  Not sure about Takahe. There is Landfall-on-line steered by poet Emma Neale and the occasional attention in print media (Siobhan Harvey in The Herald). For members there is the quarterly NZ Poetry Society Review. There are a few reviews at The Spin Off or in The Listener. Poetry (USA) recently did a NZ cluster and you find some in the Poetry New Zealand Annual. Pantograph Punch has supported poetry, but until they can pay reviewers a decent amount, they are no longer doing reviews.


From The Pantograph Editors:

The Hardest Call

Because of these changes, we’ve made the difficult decision to hit pause on publishing reviews. It’s been one of the toughest decisions we’ve made.

During the existential crisis of 2017 (refer above) we came to the somewhat crushing realisation that in underpaying our writers (sometimes as low as $50 a review), we were contributing to a structure that systematically devalues those writers and privileges voices who can afford to write for low pay. In trying to support critical culture, we were simultaneously contributing to its decay.

It’s one of the hardest decisions because it feels so contradictory: we’re stopping doing one of the exact things we believe in the most.

We strongly believe in critical dialogue, and one of our areas of focus for 2018 is finding a way to bring reviewing back. We’re committed to creating a sustainable pathway for future critics, so one of the things we’ll be doing is creating a fund which will be dedicated to commissioning reviews. Our commitment is to be able to pay reviewers a minimum of $300 per review, and if you feel as strongly about this as we do, we invite you to donate to that fund here.

Pantograph Punch


You can read the full piece and contribute to the funding call here. They favour posting less (one a week) and building a climate of critical dialogue. This is exciting news. Bravo PP!


We are hungry for critical forums. Joan Fleming recently started a vital discussion on reviewing with her Facebook friends:


The Question of Claws

As I step into a new role at Cordite Poetry Review – that of NZ Commissioning Editor – I have been troubling my head about how critical to be of New Zealand poetry books that strike me as undeveloped. Particularly when I’ve admired a writer’s poems in journals, and am frustrated by their book; or am struck by the first few stunning poems of a collection, which then disappointingly levels out. It is tough to be honest in a poetry culture that is so intimately small. Often in our poetry reviewing, there is gentleness where I want rigour, and there is faint praise where I want productive disagreement. We are overly careful because we are reviewing friends and colleagues. We don’t want to offend. It is tricky. Do aesthetic battles push writers to better writing, or ought we to only support and encourage each other, trusting that we are all already pushing ourselves?

On the one hand, the stakes are so low: there is no money, there is no fame (except for the occasional meteoric anomaly!), and poetry is hardly a career. On the other hand, the stakes are painfully high. We are talking about our raw-edged souls on the page here. In a Facebook thread, I asked the question (provocatively worded, I suppose): “Should we be showing our claws more often?” For claws, read: Do I dare to write a thoughtful yet unfavourable review?  I hope to think there is nothing in me that wants to tear down other writers because of agendas, grudges, or jealousies – but we all have our lenses and leanings, our sometimes-unconscious preferences and biases.

I, myself, am trying to thicken up my own dreadfully thin skin. A solution to this bind (and this is not an original thought – I think Ellie Catton suggested this way back) is to foster more trans-Tasman reviewing: New Zealand poets reviewing Australians, and Australians reviewing New Zealand books. At Cordite, we’re doing a little of this. We have lots of NZ books on our review list. I wonder if a New Zealand publication might take up this challenge? (Pantograph Punch: I’m looking at you!)

Joan Fleming


Last week I posted a piece on my Poetry-Shelf aims to see if it was worth keeping up the blog. Is it relevant? Does it matter that I do this? I want to post poems and do reviews, interviews, news, events, musings on local and international poetry. And at times involve other people (as I have done), but in the current drive for decent payment, how can this possibly work?

I strongly believe we need a go-to-place for NZ poetry that crosses borders of all kinds. I like the idea of a mix of reviews (long and short) so that a decent number of published books catch your attention. Ha! so there is a new James Brown out! Or Joan Fleming is reading from a new book at TimeOut (if only!). 

To have a long review of your book where the reviewer has paid utmost attention is ideal. But to have no reviews and feel like your book has drifted into the ether is heartbreaking.

I posted this on Joan’s Facebook feed:

I review books on my blog that I love. My life is too short to absorb the toxic fallout of writing about books that I don’t love. I aim to celebrate and explore what a book of poetry might do.

I so often read negative reviews that incense me because the writers seems straitjacketed by a narrow reading and clear bias (I don’t like experimental poetry but here I am reviewing it kinda thing!). Or poets and reviewers who insist there are certain things a poem must do, and if it doesn’t, then it is a failure.

I am not afraid to put my claws out when an important book warrants it – as with the AUP literary omnibus. That attracted utter venom towards me on social media and affected me in all kinds of other ways – but I would still do it. My doctoral thesis (Italian) challenged the way the academy is driven to deconstruct and tear apart, rather than forge connections and produce different intellectual models of thought.

That said, in a world that continues to privilege the status of white men, we still need claws to unpick the ideas that shape us and that we so easily become immune to and accept.

Ellie Catton once used the word kindness in talking to students about writing. Our PM has used the word in view of governing a nation. I want to review out of kindness. That doesn’t mean I will say things I don’t mean when I talk about your poetry. It doesn’t mean I only say good things. It means I pay attention to the fact a human being has written it. It means I work hard to find path ways through a book that might present itself with shuttered windows on foreign pathways on a first reading.

Sometimes the bridge between the reader and a book fails. When I can’t cross that bridge, I am going to share a book where I can.

I believe we can have critical discussions and write out of state of kindness.

This may not be the majority point of view, but it is my view. I have almost finished a book that rescues some of the women from the past who have been misread, unread, muted and sidelined by men with their claws out because in their view the women were not writing poetry.

We, as women poets, have come a long way since our banishment to the shadows, but things are still not ideal. So I will continue to be part of the small (and it is SO very small) group of writers who go public on what they love (outside institutions, financial reward and so on, so beholden to nobody) because I want you (in the widest reach a pronoun is capable of) to fall in love with poetry and what a poem can do.

As I said at the Poetry & Essay conference in Wellington in December this is a matter of JOY!



Vaughan Rapatahana challenges sexism in NZ Literature @pantographpunch


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As you can imagine this article hits home sharply, especially as I am writing a book on New Zealand women’s poetry. My book aims to open multiple pathways into what was, at one point, viewed as a foreign country: women’s poems.

We have come so far, especially in view of Pākehā women – unbearably less so if you are not white-skinned – but I still find examples of gender bias and blindness, alongside the dynamic, fertile and eclectic visibility of women writing, critiquing, publishing, winning, speaking out, showcasing, connecting.

Thanks Vaughan, Sarah Jane Barnett and Pantograph Punch for provoking us to think and rethink.

Read the piece here.


A taste:

In a searing and articulate essay, Vaughan Rapatahana takes Aotearoa New Zealand literature to task for locker room schoolgirl-grooming, women-baiting, and sexism that arises from a violent and suppressed masculinity. 

You, being a modern poet
Must write real he-man stuff
So you will take slabs of prose
And cuts it into chunks like this;
There need be no rhyme nor reason in it …
No top-notch New Zealand poet any longer
Writes ballads like Jessie Mackay
Or bird-songs like Eileen Duggan
Or lyricisms like Helena Henderson
Or tree-poems like Nellie Macleod …
And anyway they‘re only women

(‘Without Malice’ by Alien in O’Leary 179-180).

Introduction, an historical overview

Yes, I have read all the books, all the pertinent material pertaining. New Zealand has always been a sexist society, a patriarchal panoply of male power, controlling and suppressing female prowess – as so well exemplified in its literary structures. Sexism in literature is a reflection of a wider societal sexism whereby a deliberately constructed literary masculinity ruled up until the 1970s or at least the 80s. Historian Jock Phillips pronounced in 1987 that ‘the traditional male stereotype is now weakening in New Zealand’ (289), while academic Kai Jensen pronounced, ‘…the mid 1960s…was the end of a thirty-year sequence of growth, dominance and decline in what we may call “high masculinism”’ (107). While the latter admitted to some continued sexism in New Zealand Letters from male writers after this time, it was now, ‘a tenuous residual presence’ (157).





On Pantograph Punch: ‘In the Meantime: Shipwrecks of the Self’ by Ingrid Horrocks


In the Meantime: Shipwrecks of the Self

Ingrid Horrocks considers her time at Princeton during 9/11, how the public and private selves combine, how the last decade and a half of world events make the future seem uncertain, but how we can begin again.

In the summer of 2001 I looked after a large sunny house on the edge of the Princeton campus. The house had a small neat garden with pink and yellow roses in beds between gravelled pathways. The summer began quietly but by its end everything felt different. I was a year into a doctorate, and for reasons I still find hard to explain, I keep returning to this period when the world seems at its most intense and precarious: when I have moved between cities and when my daughters were born; but also, when world news seems too terrible to hear, when I heard of the Paris terrorist attacks, and over the week when Donald Trump was elected U.S. president.

On the evening before the house owners, Bridget and Jonathan, went away for the summer they invited me around for dinner. Bridget was editing her new book at the kitchen table when I arrived, while outside the early summer evening gradually honeyed into a deep scented yellow around the trimmed roses. Roxy, their cat, moved from one bench to the next to lap up the last warmth, and upstairs their new baby slept. I remember sitting in the dining room in a quiet, wine-softened state, for once released from the crippling sense of homesickness that had suffused the past year.

After Bridget and Jonathan left, the house became the centre of my new social group. One night we all arrived back from a party and I found I’d locked myself out. Two of the physics boys, Joel and Jeff, all of us a little in love with each other, helped break a window so we could get in, the shattering glass somehow thrilling in the warm night.


Full article here. It is so good!

Sarah Jane Barnett interviews Steph Burt for Pantograph Punch

How We Are: A Conversation with Steph Burt

On the occasion of Steph Burt’s visit to New Zealand, Sarah Jane Barnett talks to the American writer and critic about living as two genders, poetry, criticism and the body.

Poet and critic Stephen Burt has been described as ‘one of the most influential poetry critics of his generation’ (NY Times). Burt is a professor at Harvard University and has published three full-length collections of poems – Popular Music (1999), Parallel Play (2006), and Belmont (2013) – along with several chapbooks, most recently All-Season Stephanie (2015). Burt is also well known for criticism, most recently, The Poem is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them (2016).

In 2012 the New York Times Magazine ran a profile on Burt with the headline ‘Poetry’s Cross-Dressing Kingmaker,’ identifing the poet and critic for the first time in public as transgender. Burt – who answers to Stephen, Steph, and Stephanie – has since written about having two genders in poetry and in essays such as ‘My Life as a Girl’ and ‘The Body of the Poem.’ Photo of Steph by Alex Dakoulas.

Sarah Jane Barnett: First, would you like me to call you Stephanie or Stephen, or simply Steph? In December you’re giving a public masterclass in Wellington called, ‘Close calls with nonsense, or how to read new poetry’ (the class sporting the same name as your book which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). What has brought you to New Zealand?

Steph Burt: Steph or Stephanie in person; Stephen is the name on the books. This summer I’m an Erskine Scholar at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch; they’ve brought me over – and by they I mean the university, but also the wonderful critic and Baxter scholar Paul Millar – so that I can teach a summer course in modern poetry. Of course I’ll be doing some readings and public events, in addition to traveling around both islands with our family, while I’m here.

SJB: You have such enthusiasm for helping people read poetry. Did you grow up with this love of language and literature? You’ve said, ‘I understand the world best, most fully, in words’; can you talk about what happens when you read a poem? I often think that poetry moves through the mind to create an experience in the body – that reading is performative and the poem is created new each time. What do you think about that idea?

SB: I think it’s correct. My colleague Helen Vendler (echoing a letter of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s) has described lyric poetry as a score for performance by the speaking voice: the poem becomes yours when you take it into yourself, which also means taking it into your body, your voice: both the body you have, and the body you wish or imagine that you ought to have.

That’s a general model for what happens when we read lyric poems. When I myself read a poem I also feel like I’m testing out the sonic and the semantic relations among all the words, to see whether I’ll want to come back to them. A good poem is a poem that I want to come back to, again and again.



Full interview here

Pantograph Punch reviews Nick Ascroft’s new poetry collection


for the full review by Airini Beautrais go here

Junctures and Meaning: A review of Back With the Human Condition by Nick Ascroft

Nick Ascroft has garnered a reputation as a comic poet, and rightly so: anyone who’s seen him in performance can attest to the hilarity of his lines.

Back With the Human Condition, Ascroft’s third collection of poetry, is studded with highly entertaining and performable pieces. There’s ‘Juju,’ an ode to a fabulous haircut; ‘The Lord of Work,’ a list or litany poem with a punchline ending; ‘Five Character Descriptions I Am Too Lazy to Novelise,’ which shifts between the nonsensical and the macabre; and ‘Waiting For the Toast to Pop,’ the best poem on the subject of toast I have come across.

Comedy’s not the only string to Ascroft’s poetic bow. While many of the poems are clearly the work of a humourist, I also had the strong sense throughout of being in the company of a semiotician. This feeling continued with the poem titled ‘Never Was a Semiologist.’ With a background in linguistics, Ascroft is clearly interested in signifier and signified, and many poems in the collection eschew accessibility for complicated plays-on-words.