The nicest anthology of New Zealand literature I’ve read, writes reviewer Greg Fleming.
REVIEW: sport is our most exciting literary periodical since 1988 when it was designed by (the late) Nigel Cox, Elizabeth Knox, Fergus Barrowman and Damien Wilkins – apparently in Wilkins’ Ford Escort van as the group roamed the Basin Reserve.
sport ended for various reasons: the new media offered alternative publication avenues, the funding issues and keeping them afloat became too much for Barrowman who had to sport tasks – assisted by a roster of often unpaid editors – around a full-time job at Victoria University Press. He made the difficult decision to end it last year as the pandemic struck.
As Barrowman’s introduction clearly shows, performing something like sport at Aotearoa in New Zealand is a difficult and thankless task – even though the literary talent on display is world class.
The good news is that latecomers can now taste the wonder that sport was thanks to this generous 600-page anthology – a tote of Sports biggest pieces that mix poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction from well-known names (Elizabeth Knox, Eleanor Catton and Bill Manhire) and young talent like Cate Palmer, Ruby Solly and Tayi Tibble – whose hilarious and cutting edge editors introduce the final edition of Sport 47 (which appeared with a hot pink cover) is reprinted here.
* What I’m reading: Fergus Barrowman
* A City of Writers and Writing – Wellington Mapped Through Books
* The Absolute Book by Kiwi author Elizabeth Knox is making waves abroad
In his introduction, Barrowman says he based his selections on “how the immediate re-reading of each story, poem or essay rekindled the excitement I felt when I first read it.” I tried not to question myself “- and readers can be grateful for this instinctive approach, as the result is the most enjoyable anthology of New Zealand literature that I have read.
sport, always a little ahead of its time, has aged well. Anthologies can be a chore – so keen to include the right people and tick off the issues of the day that it can all feel a bit claustrophobic, sclerotic. No risk of that here; be it an essay on the lasting impact of The Front Lawn song Andy by Pip Adam, a classy poem by Sonja Yelich (yes, Lorde’s mother) or a frontline report from bullied mothers with young children – Kirsten McDougall’s Clean hands save lives – this wonderful anthology keeps surprises to come.
Despite the variety of genres and writers covered here, and Barrowman’s insistence on a “no-manifest” selection process, sport Is have recognizable DNA. Clean writing is a given; there’s also an enduring punk attitude that values vitality and energy and approaches issues from unexpected angles – (and it’s not a matter of age – sport was one of the first to publish the Barbara Anderson, then in her sixties.)
This verve, for lack of a better word, always differentiated him from the more calm. Landing and it is the one that – with a few exceptions – spans 600 pages. Barrowman notes, with some pride, that CK Stead canceled his subscription when guest editor Gregory O’Brien included the photography in Sport 15.
Each reader will find his favorites here. I was drawn to the icy elegance of a previously unseen Eleanor Catton ancient story, Avalanche descent; the tense criminal history of the Breton dukes An isolated road; The touch of Eamonn Mara Dog farm, Food game and the ironic blues “other woman” of Tracey Slaughter Motel des Cigales.
Some writers here – Catton, Knox, and Ashleigh Young – have become stars of literature; others, for some reason, are little read today. The superb story of William Brandt Broken, which culminates in a visit to the emergency room after a nasty accident suffered in the throes of passion, is an example; he is only one of many here whose past works I will now look up.
Globally, sport shows that our writers have come a long way in the past 15 years; we are more comfortable in our own skin, not looking over our shoulders for permission or praise. Tayi Tibble puts it best: “I hope you find this edition particularly gang, hot and flossy.” Yes, yes and yes.
A game of two halves: the best of sport 2005-2019 edited by Fergus Barrowman (Victoria University Press, $ 35)
* This notice was originally published on Books by Kete and is reproduced with kind permission.