I bought a number of poetry books last year, because several of my favourite New Zealand poets brought out new collections. I thought it was a great year for New Zealand poetry, and that I was fairly familiar with all the new offerings.
I was surprised, then, when the shortlist was announced for the Montana New Zealand book awards. Of the three poetry finalists, I had read one but don't own it. (I borrowed it from the library). The other two weren't known to me at all. I guess I will have to get reading.
The judges commented that it was an especially fine year for poetry, and they could easily have chosen five. It set me wondering what the criteria are. There is a separate award for the best first book (although there is no shortlist this year, unlike in previous years, so I'm not sure how it will be chosen). So, do the judges favour mid-career poets? The two I own which I thought would make the shortlist for sure are both by very experienced poets who have won before - Bernadette Hall's "The Ponies" and Vincent O'Sullivan's "Blame Vermeer". Do the judges decide that it is time someone else had a chance? Or are the finalists chosen entirely on merit - did they feel that these two weren't up to the writers' previous standard? I can't see it myself, though as I haven't read the ones that were chosen, I can't really compare yet.
One of the three finalists, Johanna Aitchison's "A Long Girl Ago" , is a debut collection. Will the "best first book" be chosen from the main category finalists? If so, she would seem to be a shoo-in.
According to a book shop newsletter I received today, "the judging panel takes into account enduring literary merit and
overall authorship; quality of illustration and graphic presentation; production values; general design; the standard of editing and the impact of the book on the community.
I'll be very interested to find out the winners in July