Absolute newcomer hard press is the most experimental, and the most self-consciously anti-mainstream, of the bunch surveyed here. Their catalogue consists of a total of three titles. Evangeline Riddiford Graham’s Ginesthoi is a tough-talking, conceptual collection of wry history jokes and direct addresses – to archival papyrus fragments, to text, to meaning, and to Cleopatra herself. Dan Nash’s To the Roaring Thing Blended maintains a zine-like rawness. Typos and typographical quirks are left intact, and the book is illustrated with Nash’s lucid dream drawings, which radiate the same dark frantic energy as the poems. My personal favourite is Manon Revuelta’s girl teeth, a slight yet deeply striking debut by an author who exhibits an intense self-awareness and a lightness of language that is her result of deep thinking, worked and worked:
Learning to be near you seems to be to learn to be near the world by sewing down a flapping pleat in a conversation that we are carrying around together like a sack of leaves. (from ‘For my Father’)
hard press is something like the younger poetry sister of art presses Clouds and split / fountain, which has expanded into a studio and project space. Editors Owen Connors and Anna Rankin are both poets and artists themselves, and Anna speaks of art, writing, and publishing as interlinked practices that all facilitate the testing of the ‘elasticity of established conventions.’ Connors says hard press arose from frustration and enthusiasm both: frustration with ‘the monopoly university publishing houses seem to gain over emerging writers’, and with the lauding of poets who, as Rankin says, are writing work that is ‘dull, insipid and nostalgic for a past that never even existed.’ The surplus energy for reading and championing urgent, vivid work beyond the norm, is nourished by their community of writers and artists. While ‘of course we don’t want to work only with our friends,’ says Rankin, ‘that’s difficult because we know so many good writers.’ Connors characterises the first triad of books as having a ‘deep concern with the off stage, be it history or somatics … the writing seems to focus on the ripples and not the stone.’ The forthcoming triad – books by Allie Eagle, Gregory Kan and Samuel Te Kani – has a pulse that both editors describe as spiritual or incantatory in nature. It will be thrilling to see what emerges next.
While funding for small publishing projects remains highly competitive and distressingly difficult to access, Creative New Zealand have changed their funding rules in recent years so that independently published projects can (at least in theory) access some resources. More likely, though, small presses in New Zealand will continue to run on joy, enthusiasm, and rage.