Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Since early this morning, Tuesday October 28, The Bookman has been fielding phone calls and e-mails from irate poets and poetry readers about the Listener's rumoured axing of their regular poetry publishing.

Three poets, two in New Zealand and one from Australia confirmed they had received back poems which had been previously accepted with a note to the effect that they ( NZ Listener) was no longer going to be publishing poetry.
Talk about the you know what hitting the fan!
This remark from a publisher was typical of the many that poured in - publication of single poems in the Listener, as you know, has always been something poetry volume publishers look to along with other factors as a means of determining the potential saleability of a volume to the market.

And from a poet - Some of us will likely stop buying The Listener. I have bought it for over 40 years and what attracted me in particular was the fact that every week it published a story and one or two poems.

And from another poet - and the literary world is downgraded again. Not Somerset's fault of course; but it's sad if you think of the great Listener tradition under Duff and Holcroft, and the great poems by Curnow, Glover, Baxter, Louis Johnson etc that appeared

Two others suggested it was time to start a new magazine but generally there was just a widespread sense of grave disappointment with many commenting thet the Listener was the only mainstream magazine with serious literature coverage and poetry was an important part of that literature.
Oops I thought, with this level of criticism and concern flying around the digital waves it was time to contact the man in the hot seat, Guy Somerset, Arts Editor at the Listener, and see what was really going on and what he had to say.
Here then is his somewhat encouraging response to my enquiry:

If ever there were proof that New Zealand is a nation of poets, it is the correspondence the Listener has received since we suggested on Friday that we would have to stop running original poetry in the magazine.

The decision had not been taken lightly – it was an agonising one, given the rich heritage of the magazine’s poetry, of which all at the Listener are proud. The Listener is winner of the Montana award for best book pages for the past two years running, and its commitment to New Zealand literature is second to none. We remain just about the only part of the mainstream media where you will find substantial reviewing of New Zealand poetry, and this will continue to be the case.

However, as we head into global recession, the Listener, like other media, is having to rein in spending in order to weather a downturn in advertising. Painful as it is to make such choices, it was thought there were other areas in the arts and books section that needed to take priority for both money and space: book reviews, music, art, etc. The Listener has an obligation to cover all the arts to the fullest extent it can – not just literature.

We were also mindful that poetry was not something readers had spoken of in any of our recent surveys. However, in light of the comments since Friday, it is clearly something we underestimate at our peril. We are heartened at the response of our readers and welcome further comment on the matter. In the meantime, we are revisiting our decision in order to see if we can find the necessary savings elsewhere and perhaps a more secure regular spot for poetry.

Whatever happens, the Listener will honour the poems it has already accepted, and will publish them over the coming months. Who knows, as many of you have pointed out, one of them may be the next James K Baxter or Allen Curnow.

Guy Somerset
Arts & Books Editor
New Zealand Listener
The Guardian has a poem each week, here is this weeks selection.


Mary McCallum said...

Astonishing and very sad. But all credit to Guy Somerset for his considered explanation and for thinking about re-visiting the decision.

Who'd have thought poetry would be an early casualty of the 'credit crunch' - fingers crossed something can be done.

Thanks for your quick reporting of this, Graham.

Anonymous said...

This is as you suggest somewhat encouraging. I would like to thank both Guy Somerset for being willing to listen to his readers' concerns and for his courage to reconsider decisions already taken, and to you Bookman for providing an instant forum for such literary issues and for your passion and enthusisam for all things bookish.

Anonymous said...

Hooray and a huge sigh of relief. I truly was re-considering my subscription. Having a poem published in the Listener (some time ago now) was one of the great moments for me as an emerging writer (still emerging). It is a literary milestone for some of us, and this is verified by the quote from an un-named publisher about determining saleability of a volume to the market. Good on your Bookman for tackling this issue and getting a response from Guy Somerset who obviously isn't to blame for the decision but who is "Listen-ing" to us.

Anonymous said...

Well done Graham for keeping us all informed

Anonymous said...

As one of the writers who had a poem returned, I'd like to add my thanks to Guy for his responsiveness. On hearing the news, I cancelled my Listener subscription - I'm sure pique played its part, but also a more general disappointment - the Listener has been a publisher of new poetry for nearly seventy years. I'm glad to withdraw my cancellation, and hope to read poems in the Listener for years to come.

Tim Upperton

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Glad to hear this decision being reconsidered. Janet Frame was another great NZ writer first published in the LISTENER.

The excellent arts section is the only attractive aspect of the Listener for me now that it has become so blatantly right wing. I already cancelled my sub because of that, and if they turned their back on NZ literature as well then there would be nothing to recommend even browsing it at the supermarket.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Guy Somerset, and presumbaly his editor, let's hope sanity prevails. The Listener has been such an important friend of poets for virtually the whole of its existence.I'm old enough to remember a fair way back into its history and it is a proud one in the field of literature.I hope it's reputation is preserved.
Thanks to you too blogger. Well done.

Anonymous said...

All power to the poets…..and all hail Bookman……

Anonymous said...

I reckon that even more disturbing is that there are no longer book reviews in the DomPost, and I assume the same is true of Chch Press, Waikato Times and the rest of the Fairfax daily stable. Instead, there is a tragic little Saturday magazine whose title I cannot recall, which contains a few thumbnail reviews of books (very few NZ-published). Isn’t it interesting how as sports and business pages of newspaper swell, arts page shrink.

Anonymous said...

I concur with comments to date (but wont be hugely surpised if Guy's willingness to reconsider the decision get stymied...) The only thing that keeps me browsing - and buying the occaisional copy (I didnt resubscribe to the Listener this year)-are the review pages, the poem, & the very occaisional piece of good journalism.

Rural Lass - the Press still has in-paper book reviews, but less of 'em.

Anonymous said...

How would axing a form of insight into the human condition help us through the 'credit crunch'? Surely we need the solace, thoughtfulness and wit of poetry (and the other arts) even more when times are hard.

Does publishing a poem or two per week really affect the budget so, well, ad-verse-ly? Will they cut the letters, too, and the Life in NZ column? No opinions, poetry, or laughter, please: we're New Zealanders.

If this plan does go ahead, I'm cancelling my subscription.

Anonymous said...

Surely it cannot be true, that The Listener will no longer publish poetry.

The Listener's tradition of publishing poetry is part of New Zealand's history. It is our most important medium, weekly, accessible to far more people than are our literary journals. It has done more to bring poetry into people's lives, to enrich them over the decades, than has any other publication.

What will take its place? More syndicated columns bought cheaply from abroad? I hope there will be a large, indignant concerted response in the form of emails, letters and phone-ins to The Listener. Not, of course, that it is the fault of the editor but of the Australian owners.

Chris Cole Catley

Anonymous said...

It's hugely disappointing but perhaps not all that surprising given the way the Listener has been heading for some time. Can we believe it's all to do with profit or simply the owners' contempt for the least commercial art form? Poetry is always subversive.

Tim Jones said...

I stopped buying the Listener when it got rid of its previous Environment columnist after he upset climate change sceptics, but I agree that the Arts and Books section has continued to function as a reminder of the quality journalism the Listener once stood for, and Guy deserves credit for keeping it that way. I hope that he does succeed in having the weekly poem reinstated.

Anonymous said...

The Listener poem is like the birdsong on Radio NZ National! It's something readers can steer their weeks by.

One of the beauties of the Listener over the years has been its variety of choices on offer - politics, investigative journalism, history, fiction, poetry, reviews, the fine arts, letters, cartoons, chess, Suduko. Cutting the poem seems like the Listener tying off one of its own life sources.

To paraphrase a Listener journalist and author, when did publishing the highest calibre of writing ever lose a magazine a readership?

If a poem is, as Robert Frost once said, 'a momentary stay against confusion', 'an arrest against disorder', then doing away with poetry in the magazine seems rather like a culture giving up hope.

I'd like to support Guy Somerset in any attempts he makes to wrest the poem back on to the page.