Poetry lovers prevail

The Listener’s decision to axe its weekly poem was understandably met with dismay by poets who have few regular outlets for their work.

The Listener readers were equally upset:

Please put the poem back
A lot of time and effort is put in by poets, publishers and readers to get poetry into public places. When poems reach the walls of galleries or cafes, the signboards of buses and trains or the surfaces of beaches and pavements, public response is positive and everyone is reminded that poems live in the world as well as on the page.

So, why has the Listener decided to discontinue its weekly poem, the one place in this country that prints a poem that reaches 286,000 potential readers every seven days? Cost? I wouldn’t think the current fee – $150 a week – is too high a price to pay for the preservation of an honourable tradition that tells us poetry engages hearts and minds wherever it goes. Please put the poem back.
Michele Leggott
Associate Professor of English at the University of Auckland and Inaugural NZ Poet Laureate

Cultural barbarity, like WH Auden’s reindeer, moves silently and very fast. Until now, I didn’t count the Listener among the barbarians. In his speech at the Listener’s 65th anniversary celebrations, former head of Creative NZ Peter Biggs recalled the importance of the magazine in his youth, and how its “regular publishing of poetry and fiction have sustained a deep love of all things literary, New Zealand poetry in particular”.

From the editorship of Oliver Duff in 1939, through the Holcroft years and beyond, the Listener has brought the poems of James K Baxter, Allen Curnow, Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare, Cilla McQueen, Fleur Adcock, Denis Glover, Lauris Edmond, Glenn Colquhoun, Karlo Mila, Michelle Leggott, Ian Wedde, Bill Manhire, Jenny Bornholdt, Rachel McAlpine, Vincent O’Sullivan, Denis Glover, Elizabeth Smither, Sam Hunt and ARD Fairburn – to name a tiny sampling of the poets represented in its pages – to a general readership.

The Listener was one of the very few places where people who did not subscribe to Landfall encountered contemporary New Zealand poetry.

Not any more. This week a number of poets would have received a letter (I don’t like to think I was the only one) from the Arts and Books editor to say a poem accepted for publication way back when will not be published after all.

The American poet William Carlos Williams once wrote:
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
Getting the news from poems has just got a little more difficult.
Tim Upperton
(Palmerston North

And the Listener listened:

 Arts and Books editor Guy Somerset responds: In light of the heartening responses we have received on this issue, it is clear that for many of you our poem is a core function of the magazine. Poetry, by its nature, is a quiet medium, and we have perhaps been misled by the silence with which it is greeted in our reader surveys. With this in mind, we have revisited the decision, and will continue to publish poetry.
As always, the Listener will remain the one place where you can find extensive reviewing of New Zealand poetry, along with other literature.

I’m pleased because while my own efforts at poetry always descend into doggerel, it is my favourite artistic medium and, as some better qualified to comment than I am put it:


Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition.  ~Eli Khamarov, The Shadow Zone


Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.  Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.  Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.  ~Carl Sandburg, Poetry Considered


Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.  ~Percy Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, 1821


Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.  ~Plato, Ion


Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.  ~W.B. Yeats


Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.  ~Percy Byshe Shelley 


The poet doesn’t invent.  He listens.  ~Jean Cocteau 


 Poetry is life distilled.  ~Gwendolyn Brooks


 Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.  ~Thomas Gray


Poetry is to philosophy what the Sabbath is to the rest of the week.  ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827

It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things.  ~Stephen Mallarme


Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement.  ~Christopher Fry


Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.  ~Novalis 

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