Landfall 220 ed by David Eggleton
Otago University Press $29.99
After an interregnum of six years - 10 issues - following the "retirement" of Justin Paton (the quotation marks are an intriguing addition by the publisher) in 2004, during which "guest editors" steered the ship, Landfall has a permanent editor again. David Eggleton is a well-known poet and even better-known critic and a natural fit for what has traditionally been regarded as New Zealand's premier literary journal.
As the publisher notes, Eggleton brings Landfall "home again", to Dunedin, where both the journal and the editor are based. He restores a sense of place to it: many of the contributors are Dunedin-based or strongly associated with the southern city. He also brings his immense acumen to the critical section: it seems the publisher has identified "the Landfall Review" (both the division of the printed volume and Landfall's new online presence) as a point of difference worth developing.
The reviews contained in Landfall 220 are a good start, and easily the most satisfying portion of the issue. Particular highlights are Jan Kemp's idiosyncratic review of Steal Away Boy, a selection of the poetry of the late David Mitchell, edited by Martin Edmond and Nigel Roberts, and the editor's dissection of Francis Pound's The Invention of New Zealand: Art and National Identity 1930-1970.
There is a fair array of poetry presented, and there's something there for everyone (I especially liked Koenraad Kuiper's risk watch, his evocatively described grass-smoking cows and his meditation on op shop ties). I liked Harvey Molloy's Google Earth, and was intrigued to note his translation of the Anglo-Saxon poetical conundrum Wulf and Eadwacer, which must be in the New Zealand zeitgeist at the moment: Penguin will shortly release a novel largely inspired by the same poem.
And by far the most unexpected pleasure to be found in Landfall 220 is the judge's note, contributed by Vincent O'Sullivan, that accompanies the announcement of the winner of the 2010 Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry, Jennifer Compton (it would have been nice if the journal featured a sample of the award-winning work, just as it would have been good to see the third runner-up in the Landfall Essay Competition by Tim Corballis, which is mentioned in judge Cilla McQueen's dispatches).
The two essays that do feature - the winner, by Ian Wedde, and the runner-up, by John Newton - are nicely written and provide food for thought. Wedde's piece is an elegantly told account of a return to his childhood home, reflecting on his relationship with his (older by a few minutes) twin brother and the emergence of his own, distinct writer's knack for perceiving extra dimensions in the everyday.
Newton's is rather more prickly and intellectual, an essay in the more academic sense, but makes a strong case for the influence of European refugees on the culture of the New Zealand of the mid-20th century - like a light shower in an intellectually arid land. Newton is emerging as a decidedly useful sociologist of New Zealand art and letters.
The photography, by old hand Max Oettli and up-and-comer Andrew Ross, is beautiful. My favourite was Oettli's shot of a doormat printed with the slogan "You Make Quality Happen" placed, mise-en-scene, with signs of dereliction, although I also liked Ross' dreamy silvertone of Matarua Falls very much.
The weakest department is the short fiction, where the standard is workmanlike without being at all distinguished. There's much to admire about Latika Vasil's The Sand Mandala, with its adroitly managed twist, and about Tony O'Brien's Buried Life, but the others, while smart enough, seemed to lack depth.
Overall, though, Landfall appears to have a steady hand on the tiller. The king is dead (and so are his stewards): long live the king.
John McCrystal is a Wellington writer.