2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards – the shortlist

Well the finalists have been announced. A few surprises, and some of them even challenge my natural cynicism. The full list can be found in a number of places online, but I’ve used Beatie’s Book blog today.

This year’s panel consists of Professor Mark Williams, Jane Westaway and Margo White, with Bernadette Hall as the poetry category advisor.

For those of you who are interested in such things, the full list of conditions, requirements and criteria can be found here, but for the rest of you, this is what the judges are meant to consider:

Poetry Category

Judging Criteria

The purpose of this award is to reward literary excellence in poetic works. The winning work will, in the opinion of the judges, be a significant addition to the literature of New Zealand.

Judging Guidelines

i) Language: What does the poet do with language? Is language used in original ways to fasten the poetry in the imagination and memory?

ii) Technique: Is the poet proficient in the use of form, patterning, rhyme scheme and lineation?

iii) Originality: Does the overall aesthetic effect and appeal of the work go beyond technical proficiency? Are issues explored in real depth in nuanced tones?

iv) Integrated whole: Does the work produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts? Do the poems work together harmoniously to create a sense of unity, clarity and completeness? Are themes developed coherently?


Sounds reassuringly thorough, doesn’t it? And yet, year after year …
This year’s nominations for Best Poetry Collection are:

  • Get Some, Sonja Yelich (Auckland University Press)
  • The Lakes of Mars, Chris Orsman (Auckland University Press)
  • The Rocky Shore, Jenny Bornholdt (Victoria University Press)


and for the Best First Poetry Collection:

  • Everything Talks, Sam Sampson (Auckland University Press)
  • The Propaganda Poster Girl, Amy Brown (Victoria University Press)
  • The World’s Fastest Flower, Charlotte Simmonds (Victoria University Press)


Despite appearances to the contrary, these are not the only two publishers of poetry in New Zealand. Where are the entries from HeadworX, Steele Roberts, Sudden Valley, Otago University Press … ??

In the interests of being able to make an informed comment on the merits (or otherwise) of the collections, I’ve been to the library and borrowed the first three. I’ll report back when I’ve had a chance to digest them. 

18 Replies to “2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards – the shortlist”

  1. I certainly wasn’t impressed with last year’s nominations – interesting to see that Bernadette Hall is the poetry category advisor, after her collection The Ponies wasn’t nominated last year. It almost seems to me that if you have won previously, and have several successful collections, you are at a disadvantage.
    We can’t know, I suppose, whether or not the other publishers you mention submit collections for consideration (I don’t think Sudden Valley Press has published anything in a while, it was always a backyard sort of thing depending on the voluntary time and effort of one or two people).
    I have read Sam Sampson’s collection and couldn’t get into it, but I did find a radio interview on line in which he talked about the work and read some of it. I found it seemed much more musical and appealing when read aloud.

  2. I wasn’t meaning to be harsh about Sudden Valley, just factual. Given the lack of big publishers, we need the small voluntary ones. I think they did a great job.

    1. No, I know you weren’t. But I’m happy to report that they do still exist. And they’re definitely a couple of levels of credibility above the author-mill type of publisher.

      For those who are bemused or interested: Sudden Valley Press is a Christchurch poetry publisher. Technically I should be referring to them as Canterbury Poets Combined Presses. They actually have three imprints – Sudden Valley for standard poetry collections; Poets Group for chapbooks, “light verse”, and “experimental” work; and Canterbury Poets Collective for anthologies. The editors are John O’Connor, David Gregory and Barbara Strang.

      I think I can feel a post on the different types of poetry publishers coming on …

  3. It is far from cheap for publishers to enter a book in the Montana NZ Book Awards. As the entry form at http://www.booksellers.co.nz/documents/mnzba09_entry_forms_information.pdf states:

    9. An entry fee of NZ$100 (including GST)
    will be charged for each submission. A fee of
    NZ$150 (including GST) will be charged for
    publishers who are not members of Booksellers
    New Zealand.

    For books with a print run of fewer than 1,000
    copies an entry fee of NZ$85 (including GST) will
    be charged. A fee of NZ$125 (including GST) will
    apply in this instance to publishers who are not
    members of Booksellers New Zealand.

    In addition, publisher have to supply five copies of each book entered.

    Given these costs, I suspect a vicious circle operates: small poetry publishers won’t submit unless they think the book stands a good chance of winning because of the cost, so the University presses dominate the entries, so they usually win, so there’s even less incentive for smaller publishers to enter.

    I would like to see the entry fee reduced considerably, at least in the poetry category.

      1. I’ve looked right through the entry form & conditions (that’s dedication for you) and I can’t find any other sets of fees.

        Maybe Glenn Colquhoun and Sam Hunt would have initial print runs of > 1000 for their poetry books. I certainly haven’t for poetry, but my short story collection Transported had an initial print run of 2000.

        1. Dedication indeed!
          And it’s great to hear that Transported has a decent sized print run.

          Back to the original point. My original reaction was partisan outrage. But I’m trying to be level headed about this. The cost of entering is (for most poetry publishers) 15 copies (5 with entry and 10 for finalists – and there’s no point entering unless you’re prepared to be a finalist) plus $125.

          Is that really prohibitive? I know margins are tight, but what do those numbers actually represent? How many copies essentially ‘wasted’ (for want of a better word) would that equate to? Or is it as case of not costing so much on its face, but not making enough difference to be worth even that outlay?

          Either way, they’re calling for public submissions on the awards process here:
          so there’s certainly an opportunity to put a case forward for a change.

  4. This is my first visit to your blog, Joanna, and I’ll be coming back. I know that the submission fee is a barrier for some publishers. I’d like to see it dropped so judges can review more of the works out there. I agree with Tim: University Presses dominate the nominations because they pay the fee and the small presses find it more of a challenge. Just ask the non-University Presses about the fee and I bet that they will tell you that this is why their names don’t appear. University Presses publish poetry because they love poetry (true!) but also the Presses help to support creative writing courses. That’s fine but it’s skewering the awards.

    1. Welcome, Harvey! Glad you like what you see.

      I guess the argument in favour of having a fee is that it prevents “frivolous” submissions – the downside of self-publishing is the lack of editorial validation, and we all know of self-published books of poetry that are utter rubbish. (Note my deliberate non-mention of all the UP books that are also utter rubbish …) So I suppose they feel that this reduces the burden on the judges. (Quick question – does anyone know what the judges are paid, or how many books they are expected to consider? Would it be a burden to add another half dozen submissions, or just a blip?)

      But I agree that it desperately needs to be opened up. Maybe a cap on the number of books any one publisher can submit? A “first submission free!” offer to the small presses? Or maybe the problem is that poetry publishing is utterly different to fiction publishing. As it stands, there is only one set of fees, regardless of what sort of book is being published. Given that the print-runs of poetry books are likely to be way smaller than fiction and non fiction, using the same fees does seem a bit ludicrous.

      Hmm. Well, they’re calling for public submissions on the process. Sounds like they should be getting quite a few from the poetry community.

  5. Can someone send me contact information for Sudden Valley Press? It doesn’t seem to have its own website, and I’m trying to order their titles for the Archive for New Poetry at the University of California, San Diego. Thanks.

    Rob Melton, Curator
    Archive for New Poetry
    UCSD Libraries
    La Jolla, CA, USA

    1. Hi Rob,
      they don’t have a web presence I’m afraid.
      I’ve forwarded your contact details to two of the editors, so they should be in touch soon.

  6. Thanks, Jopre. I’ve now heard from Barbara Strang. BTW, UCSD now has the largest collection of 21st century New Zealand poetry & fiction in the Western U.S.

    Rob Melton

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