Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets: An Anthology Eds Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack (Victoria University Press and Carcanet 2009) RRP $40 ISBN 9780864735997

Keith Nunes

Another New Zealand poetry anthology? Do we need this? Yes we do! It's an inspired collection with a wide breadth of poetry flavours and techniques; a wonderfully entertaining and informative introduction; and illuminating words from the authors about their works and motivation.

The publication gives credence to the nation's poetical voice. Once a group of far-removed colonists squeezing out a laconic style of poetry, New Zealand's troupe of poets now sound forceful: dynamic and Pacific with a natural knowing that northern hemisphere writers can lack.

A certain predictability haunted New Zealand poetry early on with over-bearing ‘Mother' England dominating its voice. But once the irreverent and confessional poets of America took hold, so we turned the corner into a bright new way. This book highlights that transformation and gives some of the best a chance to explain where they're going and what they're seeing on the way.

The anthology begins in 1986 and not only highlights the group of poets who started to make a name for themselves, such as Bernadette Hall and Jenny Bornholdt, but also charts new directions sets by ‘names' - Allen Curnow and Bill Manhire. Younger writers too get a say, with Tusiata Avia, Robert Sullivan and Glenn Colquhoun commenting in their own way on New Zealand's multicultural society.

No beating around the bush, let's just bring them out into the daylight - the 20 poets are: Tusiata Avia, Jenny Bornholdt, James Brown, Geoff Cochrane, Glenn Colquhoun, Allen Curnow, Fiona Farrell, Bernadette Hall, Dinah Hawken, Anne Kennedy, Bill Manhire, Cilla McQueen, Gregory O'Brien, Vincent O'Sullivan, Elizabeth Smither, C.K. Stead, Robert Sullivan, Brian Turner, Hone Tuwhare and Ian Wedde.

And I won't forget the two editors who are just as interesting as the poets: Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack. Johnston is a Kiwi poet who lives in Paris with his wife and two sons. He won the 1994 New Zealand Book Award for poetry for his first book, How to Talk. He is an editor of the International Herald Tribune and edits The Page, a digest of the web's best writing on poetry. Marsack was born and grew up in Wellington and now lives in Glasgow with her family. She gained degrees from Victoria University in New Zealand and Oxford University, then worked as a publishers' editor until taking up the post of Director of the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh in 2000. She has translated several books from French and contributes to journals and the Scottish press.

I enjoyed the poets' explanations of their work but I particularly fell for Bernadette Hall's comments: "I like the ‘yes but ...' of poetry. The way it digs deep and isn't too concerned about answers. The way it's to do with head and heart. The way it links everything up."

A partnership publication by leading British poetry publisher Carcanet and our own Victoria University Press, this is a fascinating look at the soul of New Zealand poetry.