Thursday, June 25, 2009


The release of Joanna Preston's collection, The Summer King, in a major event on Montana Poetry Day (July 24).The Summer King is Preston's first collection, published by Otago University Press, ($29.95), but I believe it is a collection of considerable significance for the following reasons:

Preston was the winner of the inaugural Kathleen Grattan Award--now NZ's richest poetry prize and administered by Landfall-- for a previously unpublished poetry collection. The manuscripts submitted for the award were judged by Fleur Adcock and The Summer King was selected above entries by several well known NZ poets. This is an impressive achievement for a relative newcomer.

But although a "relative" newcomer, Preston already has some prior achievements to her credit: in 2007 a selection of her work was published as part of UK publisher Carcanet's prestigious New Poetries series (in this case New Poetries IV); this series is known as "one to watch" in terms of identifying outstanding new international voices in poetry.
In addition, Preston's poem "The Pride of Lions" was selected by Les Murray for publication in Best Australian Poems 2005.

Having previewed The Summer King myself, I can well understand why Adcock's Kathleen Grattan Award decision went the way it did. Preston is unusual on the contemporary NZ poetry scene in writing narrative poetry but her work is also distinguished by strength of structure; her command over the poetic form, including line endings, metre, and the rhythm and flow of the poetry; the emotional power of her work, and its range, from raw to delicate; also her mastery of the subtle nuance as well as not shying away from more in-your-face imagery.
In short, in my view, The Summer King is a landmark collection that may well prove to be seminal in staking out a fresh approach to NZ poetry in the 21st century.

In terms of Beattie's Bookblog readers, Joanna's personal background may also be of interest: an Australian by birth, she grew up on a station in the NSW hinterland, married a New Zealander, which led her to become a resident of Christchurch, but a three year residence in the UK allowed her to complete a MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan, which is known internationally for having poets of the calibre of Shenagh Pugh and Gillian Clarke on its faculty.
Helen Lowe is a Christchurch based novelist and poet who has had poetry and short fiction published and anthologised in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States and hosts a monthly poetry feature for Women on Air, Plains 96.9 FM.
Helen's first novel, Thornspell, is published by Knopf, Random House USA, and her second The Wall of Night, is scheduled for release by Eos, HarperCollins USA, in September 2010.

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