Jack Ross, ed.: brief 27 (July 2003)
I never get used to it – these resurrections
– Solaris, dir/writ. Steven Soderbergh (USA, 2003)
Season of the remakes
The Gulf War
What happened to Gibarian?
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There are no answers
I can tell you
what is happening
but I don’t know
if that’ll tell you
what is happening
I’ve just beaten my way through the bush to Tryphena. I’m in a valley on the way to Rosalie Bay. Everything’s fine. Establishing a writing, walking and sitting schedule.
Will keep in touch,
It gave me immense pleasure to select Richard von Sturmer as the inaugural holder of the brief writers’ award. He’s on Great Barrier even now. I’ve admired his work for a long time, so it ‘s extra-nice to be able to contribute some space and time for him to pursue it. That’s on the plus side of the ledger.
On the minus side, we seem to be living in a world where aggressive war has shifted from a war-crime to a duty. It seems particularly curious to divorce “terrorism” from the conditions which give it birth, and treat it instead like some kind of pathological condition …
I suppose I should stop perpetually looking for the beam in my neighbour’s eye, though. Another interesting piece of correspondence in the last couple of months has been a pamphlet by F. W. Nielsen Wright, entitled “A Comparison of JAAM and Brief as the Two Leading Literary Magazines of Aotearoa since 1995.” The implicit compliment in the title is soon undermined by such statements as: “Brief has always been the showcase for what must be the most insignificant group of writers in Aotearoa … wedded to dogmatic theories about writing, in some cases for forty years now.”
Some of us go so far as “espouse dadaism”, or at the very least “a very mechanical concept of intertextuality.” It’s hard to see precisely what point Wright has to make about the two journals, since he’s appeared in both. He is, however, clearly far more sympathetic to JAAM: “the leading Aotearoa literary magazine throughout its time … particularly strong in reviews and interviews.”
The essay was apparently prompted by the 48-page brief index we issued earlier this year (“the smartest looking publication the Writers Group has put out, no doubt in the interests of making a good presentation for their magazine and for themselves”), which perhaps accounts for its concentration on impressive-sounding statistics:
… of the 301 poets who appeared in ten standard anthologies of Aotearoa since 1990, 24 of them also appear in Brief (or just on 8%). That is to say, 25.26% of Brief contributors appear in the 10 anthologies.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, no fewer than 62 (or 20.6%) of those anthologised appeared in JAAM: “(Note the proportionality 8% v 20.6%)”. When it comes to publishing books of poetry – since 1990 – 24 brief-contributors contrast with 73 JAAM-contributors). But then brief 1-26 only printed 95 people, against JAAM 1-19’s 350.
While there’s a certain fascination in all this – mainly in contemplating what a horrendous number of writers there are in NZ (“500 plus poets … have published books of poetry in Aotearoa since 1990”) – one can’t help feeling, at the same time, that it’s a little misguided. Of all the criteria to apply to a literary magazine, how many people it prints is surely the least informative. (Mea culpa, though: I can see how my rather tongue-in-cheek preface to the index could lend itself to this kind of thinking).
Just for the record, though – my criteria for the material I accept or reject for brief are more-or-less as follows:
- merit as a piece of writing: it must display skill or (at least) serious intentions
- interest to brief readers (insofar as I can forecast their tastes and proclivities)
- unlikelihood of appearing in any other NZ literary magazines, either for reasons of taste, or length, or style, or ideology
Number 3 is the most unusual provision, and therefore the one most worth stressing. In general, I feel that unless a piece must appear here, it shouldn’t appear here. Readers will have to judge this issue’s “new faces” for themselves, but you can rest assured that they were included on their own merits, and not in order to up my inclusion statistics in some future index of NZ’s literary gatekeepers.
brief 27 (2003): 3-4.
brief 27 (2003)