When I commented on Montana Poetry Day the other day, I didn't say that the winner of the poetry section of the New Zealand book awards was announced that day. It was Janet Charman for "Cold Snack".
I haven't yet read the book, which was out of the library last time I looked. I was surprised at the finalists, but put it down to being less familiar than I thought with the New Zealand poetry scene. It turned out I wasn't the only one.
The New Zealand Listener said:
"Everyone was so taken aback by the truncated shortlist for the fiction category.... , the three poetry finalists passed by unnoticed.... it wasn't long vefore eyebrows were being raised at the selection of Cold Snack by Janet Charman and A Long Girl Ago by Johanna Aitchison....from a field that had included much admired new collections from CK Stead...Vincent O'Sullivan...Jenny Bornholdt...and perhaps especially, Andrew Johnston."
Personally, I would add to those four Bernadette Hall with The Ponies
Anyway, Janet Charman was the eventual winner, although I was hoping it would be Fiona Farrell, the third finalist, for The Pop-Up Book of Invasions
And then there was the best first book award for poetry. The newspapers didn't bother to report this one so I had to poke around the website to find out. In previous years, there has been a shortlist for this category. This year there wasn't, and I wondered how it would work. Since one of the three poetry finalists was a first book (Johanna Aitchison's), did that mean she would be the winner? That's how it turned out for fiction - Mary McCallum for The Blue was on the short list. But the best first book for poetry went to Jessica Le Bas for Incognito.
I'm happy that she won as I have heard her read on a number of occasions, and she is a fine poet. Still, I'm a little confused that her book wasn't considered good enough to be nominated for the main award, but won over one that was. Perhaps it was a different set of judges.
It also set me wondering. I was very surprised that this was her first book, since she has been writing for a good many years. It seems that there are two sorts of poets in New Zealand - those who do all sorts of interesting and varied things in their lives (Jessica was in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s with the UN) and publish poetry later in life - and those who go straight from school to university, into the Creative Writing courses, and publish in their twenties. It seems the latter group get picked up by the university presses and publish their first books much more quickly. The non-Creative Writing course graduates have to rack up far more publications in various journals to establish their credibility before they can find a publisher willing to take them on.
I could be wrong of course, but that's my impression.
Here's a poem from Jessica - it may or may not be her best, but it's what I could find online:
Incognito my Love