Book Reviews: Sport 39 and Landfall 221

By David Hill

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Sport 39 ed by Fergus Barrowman
Victoria University Press $30

Landfall 221 ed by David Eggleton
Otago University Press $29.95

Book cover of Sport 39. Photo / Supplied
Book cover of Sport 39. Photo / Supplied

James K. Baxter wrote once (I paraphrase from lapsed memory and lost book) that most authors like to picture their words being read by grave scholars in studies and beautiful graduates in tutorials. The truth, said Baxter, is that they're usually read by resentful adolescents in exam classes and posturing undergraduates in cafes.

So who reads our literary magazines? Not enough people, is the common editorial lament. Submissions can exceed subscriptions. That's why some are so ephemeral and some bear a budget-shaped resemblance to high school end-of-year publications.

Not so Sport and Landfall. They're substantial (300 and 200 pages) and stylish (top paper, friendly binding, colour and clarity). And note the issue numbers. Someone should make a TV programme about them. Call it Survivor.

Sport is the more cerebral, experimental, self-conscious of the two, with more young contributors who know that nobody has ever seen things the way they have (true), and everybody needs to be told (less true).

A number of names are new to me, which shows only that I need to increase my reading of literary magazines.

This issue features Sport's short fiction winners. That's fairly short, as in Lawrence Patchett's close narrative of grief and belief on a 19th century Otago road, and very short, as in Kirsten McDougall's wry take on parental extremes.

There's an "Allen Curnow at 100" section, an inventive concept which includes part of the late - yes, and great - Terry Sturm's biography of the matching poet, plus pieces from James Brown, Vincent O'Sullivan and Bill Manhire on Curnow's likes and locales.

Any further summary of contents has to come with apologies for sins of omission. In other prose, Cate Palmer deftly deconstructs the toothfish and Sylvie Thomson quietly follows a nice young guy. Lynn Jenner builds cleaving images of bereavement, and William Brandt's multi-levelled story confronts an ultimate male terror.

There are a lot of poems by a lot of poets: generosity of range and examples is one of Sport's strengths. Among major names are Bob Orr, Peter Bland, Elizabeth Smither, Bernadette Hall, Ian Wedde, Geoff Cochrane and Anna Jackson - surely one of our wittiest word-players.

Helen Rickerby has atmospheric urban encounters, Brent Kininmont has fortuitous Oriental accidents, and I really like Catherine Vidler's poem-gardening.

The autumn Landfall ("Outside In") is a neat compilation of the experienced and the eager, with plenty of fiction, verse, and the odd verse fiction.

There's also impressive non-fiction. Wystan Curnow is in Tuscany, working on his Colin McCahon book, gallery-visiting, people-studying and eating. You'll like the trousers in McCahon colours.

Tim Corballis takes a look at city centres. David Brown goes eyes wide open into Azerbaijan, and inexplicably goes missing from the contents list.

We have nicely rendered and nicely reproduced artworks: Russell Moses' cool, revelatory acrylics; Maureen Lander's enchanting ferns. There's the usual review section, authoritative and sometimes acerbic.

There's also a strong pulse of poets. Mary McCallum wins the Caselberg Trust prize with a limpid, liquid lyric; Michelle Amas comes next with a rending rush of gratitude.

Big names here, too: Alistair Paterson, Brian Turner, Leonard Lambert, Wedde again, Alice Miller. Fiction ranges from the versatile Jennifer Compton's bushfire-threatened cleanout to Albert Wendt's family functions and misfunctions. Any complaints re these two issues? Entrails are - inevitably - examined rather frequently. Cleverness sometimes compromises communication. And editors really must keep cuteness out of biographical notes.

But let me mention a strange reviewer in our local paper, who keeps insisting that New Zealand writing is in an appalling state, having dismissed several authors featured in these magazines as "boring ... dreary ... simply not good enough". Reading Sport and Landfall affirms that the said reviewer is ... strange.

David Hill is a Taranaki writer.

- NZ Herald

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