An anthology can be a tricky thing – how do different writers fit together? How can a collection keep the reader interested? It’s the first time that I’ve come across the Griffith review and it’s certainly admirable for an Australian publication to explore New Zealand life through poetry, prose, essay and memoir. The collection gives Australian readers an in-depth look at New Zealand, as well as New Zealand readers a thoughtful reflection on their changing national identity.
Ranging from poetry about arriving in New Zealand for the first time to rather technical essays about the economic strategies of the country, this collection challenges and informs through the high quality of writing and passion of its contributors. The varying lengths of pieces and the loose structure of the collection give the writers space to develop their ideas in way that a newspaper or magazine article isn’t able to accommodate. The results are often very engaging.
Although many contributors hold PhDs, the articles never alienate readers and the broad audience that it caters for means that it has something to offer anyone that is interested in New Zealand today. I found myself skipping back to absorb delicate verses between memoir pieces about sport and economic commentary about New Zealand’s future. It is almost required reading for anyone who is inclined to pick up a copy of The Listener. I find it doubtful that many other nations would present such a comprehensive and balanced portrait of themselves from their leading thinkers.
My particular highlights from the anthology range from the very non-academic – a sofa-bound analysis of New Zealand’s X Factor is a surprisingly moving examination of Māori identity – to well-researched articles about the expansion of Auckland and how inequalities in education can be addressed. Along with the expansive look at New Zealand, portraits of interesting figures such as Steve Adams and Glenn Busch, as well as historical essays and reports on the recovery of Canterbury all contribute to the texture of the collection. The humour and skill of the writers to engage the audience – Kate Camp’s caustic observation of a whale being flayed in Iceland is a brutally honest and hilarious examination of the role of the observer – in their individual ways make it a perfect collection to dip in and out of. Of course, the number of contributions means that some are more of a miss than a hit, but it hardly detracts from the scope or success of the collection.
This collection successfully takes the pulse of a nuanced and exciting country whose literary talent is given ample space to grow, thanks to the Griffith Review.