10 Questions with Tracey Slaughter


Q1: Another bumper edition of Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, this time for 2022. How many poems were submitted?

The submission screen went on for miles! Poems poured in from all parts of Aotearoa and across the globe — a wealth of offerings, which made the process of narrowing down the final cut both a deep honour and a mighty challenge.


Q2: One assumes it’s a great struggle to make your final selection. What’s the hallmark of those poems that made it through?

Intensity of voice, presence, sensory engagement were qualities that set the final pieces apart, no matter how wildly divergent their focus or form: whether the piece was hot-blooded and raw, or finely balanced and delicate, whether it attacked or lamented, caressed or dissected, there was a sense of a speaking voice setting its words on the page with full charged awareness of both sound and silence.


Q3: Last year the selection was markedly Covid- and lockdown-inflected. Was there a shift of tone and mood in this year’s batch?

There was far less direct address of the pandemic in this batch of poems — as if we’d frankly had a gutsful of Covid and weren’t talking to it anymore, and certainly weren’t writing it any bloody odes! The background ache of the era might be there in the weather of the poems, but the foreground has been filled by a much wider range of human dramas, figures, needs and experiences.


Q4: The featured poet for the 2022 edition is Wes Lee. Why should readers sit up and take notice when they hear that name?

A Wes Lee poem is a detonation — you don’t come away from it untouched. Readers may already be aware of her fierce, indelible, unflinching writing, as Wes has been publishing searing work for a number of years, both here and overseas — these poems are yet more call to get excited about one of Aotearoa’s most distinctive, hard-hitting voices.


Q5: The review section of this year’s edition is comprehensive and generous. What are you aiming for here, as editor?

There’s precious little column space available for poetry these days, so it’s crucial that the rich array of collections that arise each year are given visibility. We’re hoping these pages bring readers an awareness of, and hunger for, fresh full-length work in Aotearoa — if our New Poems section whets their appetite with an alluring sample of individual tastes, we want them to be aware of the pleasures that await if they go out and indulge in whole collections!


Q6: That section shows that, once again, 2021 was a very busy year for poetry publishers. What’s going on?

It feels to me that while the key publishing houses keep firing with established and exciting new names, there’s also an upsurge in smaller indie publishers taking risks, stretching the field and making their own burning mark. Long may that diversity last!


Q7: The winner and two runners-up in the schools’ competition are included in the mix. What struck you about the poems from the very young writers this year?

Not just included in the mix: they shine there! And for such young voices, they more than hold their own amidst the spread of more established poets, showing us all how this thing called poetry is done, with vulnerability, mana and muscle. The high school entries were a knockout once again this year, full of both fire and control, beat and poise: it was a thrill to read through such dynamic living proof of the strong hands poetry is in!


Q8: If there was an award for the most bewitchingly titled poem in this collection, to which poet would it go?

 This is tough to pinpoint, but here’s a list of the titles I wish that I’d written: Wes Lee’s ‘Doll’s Eyes are God’s Eyes’; Tyla Bidois’ ‘the childhood means nothing’; Ime Corkery’s ‘The Taxidermied Wife’; Jordan Hamel’s ‘if you read this backwards blood becomes wine’.


Q9: And for the most fiendishly complex?

Mark Prisco’s ‘dsytopia’ for his (as ever) cool, eclectic and bare-faced refusal to give any polite f%#ks whether you follow his narrative thread or not: ‘you Sir/are a f%#king criminal/Will the howling winds never cease?’


Q10: Looking forward to launching this edition and hearing some of the poets read?

There’s nothing like hearing the live voice of the poet unlock the sound from the page: that’s a moment that never stops delivering a palpable thrill, whether in the small circle of a workshop or on a wider stage. So yes, I can’t wait to fill the launch of this issue with some heart-thumping, temperature-raising performances — and to celebrate face-to-face with some of the many stunning voices that have brought this issue to life.