Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

'The Signs, the Traces of My Feeling': Editing the Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature

Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

'The Signs, the Traces of My Feeling': Editing the Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature

Article excerpt

Mark Williams and I spent three years, from 2009 to 2012, editing a new anthology of New Zealand literature for Auckland University Press. Almost 1300 pages in length, it covers a historical sweep, as the blurb puts it, 'from Captain Cook to Jenny Bornholdt', 1769 to 2011. There are approximately 200 individual authors and 400 works of poetry, fiction, song and graphic novel, from elegy to doggerel. Although the work 's remit is literary, it uses, where useful or illuminating, travel accounts, essays, public documents and letters. The volume is arranged within a historical and thematic editorial framework with a general introduction, shorter section-specific introductions, biographies and bibliography.

It was the hope of The AUP Anthology's publishers that the volume would find a place on the bookshelf of every home in New Zealand and be gifted at every festive celebration for the next half-century. It is not my purpose here to further these ambitions, but they are not entirely fanciful. New Zealanders like telling themselves about themselves. Michael King 's History of New Zealand was and is a long-standing best seller. Seemingly scholarly publications such as Harry Orsman's Dictionary of New Zealand English or W.H. Oliver and Claudia Orange's multivolume Dictionary of New Zealand Biography have attracted a wide general (local) readership.1 'New Zealand' sections of local bookshops have tables groaning with works of relentless self- reflection, all with, implicitly or explicitly, in the words of Janet Frame, 'self-conscious loving dedication[s]',2 from us to us.

As editors, we had for some time planned to use the paragraph that contains this phrase, from Frame's novel Towards Another Summer, as an epigraph for our introduction:

She opened the Book of New Zealand Verse which in New Zealand she had always kept by her bed but which she had been unable to read during her stay in Great Britain. She touched the familiar red cover, noting with pleasure the clear bold printing, the beautiful m's and n's like archways, the lintel t's, the delicately-throated r's. . . . She glanced through the long introductory essay, a selfconscious loving dedication to 'these islands', and then began to read some of the poems.3

The quotation seems to us to do a number of things. It registers the materiality of books-Frame's reader expresses a sensual delight in her volume's cover, its colour and feel, the visual seductiveness of the typography and design, part of the publication process in which we as editors have been pleasurably though peripherally involved. That Frame's character only 'glanced through the long introductory essay' was a little disappointing to us after the time we have spent writing and arguing with each other about our introduction, but was made up for by the character's obvious pleasure at beginning to read the contents.

The quotation seemed to us to acknowledge the community of readers, an essential and central part of any active national literature, and to acknowledge Allen Curnow, and his role as a seminal anthologist. But it is also a snapshot of a historical moment, the first encounter of the mid-twentieth century decolonised reader with a literature of their own -however much we as later, skeptical critics might feel we want to nuance, reinterpret or qualify that moment. And, as such, it seemed, in an historically-based anthology, appropriate to acknowledge our literary history, albeit one which might have aspects of the mythical.

When I came to write this paper I realised I had missed the quotation's most intriguing detail. Why has Frame's protagonist been 'unable to read' Curnow's anthology 'during her stay in Great Britain'? What did this signify: a depth of homesickness where any reminder of home is too painful to contemplate; or something more complex? Are national anthologies particular as to the location of their intended audiences, home or away? For Curnow's 1945 Book of New Zealand Verse, were 'these islands' a necessary reading locus? …

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