The Kindness of Strangers: On New Zealand’s Literary Journals

1 November 2018

With the ease and space available for starting a new literary journal today, there also seems to come the potential of some slipping away. I often think about Starch, a beautiful hardcover journal produced by Kilmog Press, that boldly announced its arrival on the local literary scene in 2011 with Starch: A New Zealand Literary Journal; Volume One. I was proud to have my work included in that first issue and to hold the physical object in my hands. The names that appeared in the contents page were impressive, including David Eggleton, Elizabeth Smither and Chris Tse. A second issue appeared in 2012, but a third never came. I remain intrigued by what became of this journal and I tried to get in touch with Dean Harvard of Kilmog Press to find out, but he did not wish to comment.

Another that I miss is Hue & Cry. The journal released its first issue in 2007, and following its eighth issue in 2014, seemed to go on permanent hiatus. Its founder, Chloe Lane had an interesting perspective that helped me consider things in a different light. Lane is now based in the US. She says that ‘the longer I have been based in the US, the harder it has been for me to keep in touch with all the good things that are happening with new New Zealand writers. It was always very important to Hue & Cry that we were seeking out new writers – not just publishing the writers we already knew and loved. And doing that while I’m based in the US felt increasingly disingenuous. Which I guess leads into your next question – why couldn’t I just hand over the reins? The short answer: I guess I never wanted to? I think there’s something nice about how a journal reflects the personalities and interests of its creators. And, for me, though we worked with some amazing contributing editors – Amy Brown and Ashleigh Young, for example – Hue & Cry was very much a reflection of myself, Lawrence Patchett, and Andrea Bell, as well as our designers Duncan Forbes and Elaina Hamilton, and our personal interests. Handing over Hue & Cry to a group of different editors wouldn’t be impossible, but lending my support to new young voices developing the skills they need to make their own journal is more interesting to me than a Hue & Cry 2.0.’ When I asked Holly Hunter whether she saw the plight of some of our short-lived literary journals in New Zealand as a concern, her response echoed some of Lane’s thoughts: ‘Yes and no. To some extent there’s got to be a survival of the fittest element to journals – publishing is still a business.’

I considered why I find it so difficult to accept the end of a journal’s lifespan. I remember being floored by Miranda July’s New Zealand Festival session in 2016. She presented a sort of chronological career catalogue and explained that a lot of her projects had been performance-based and in that way temporary. For me, the biggest revelation about this was that, for July, the temporary nature of her projects was just fine. I suppose that being in the industry of the production of books runs in stark contrast to that principle: there is usually something to hold onto after the creative process has finished. So if a journal ends its run after a few years or a few issues, does that mean it was not a success? Is the journal any less a success than a longer-running title? My feeling is that it depends on what the intent behind starting the journal was. The sentimental side of me loves the fact that journals create their own histories and build up a legacy over time. If you take Sport and Landfall out of the equation, which most people (rightly or wrongly) associate with the relative stability of our university presses, New Zealand literary journals would not have much to boast about in terms of longest running publications. Poetry New Zealand and Takahē come to mind, but even Poetry New Zealand seems to have been run as a sort of relay event, brought back to life whenever someone came along with the passion to revive it. Both Hue & Cry and Mimicry were, in essence, founded on a desire to see new voices published, but also as an enjoyable side-project or for experience on the founder’s part. With Starling, I desperately wanted to give younger writers a hand up. Perhaps it’s that driving force that I feel so passionate about protecting long-term. Protection requires structure, and that feels elusive to me.

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