So I’m now the poetry editor for an online literary journal based in India ― how did that happen?
From where I’m writing I can look out the window (there’s always a window when someone’s writing isn’t there?) and see a large palm tree and a bigger liquidambar next to it. Both trees are part of the section of an old wooden house that’s currently empty, waiting for a tenant. It’s spring and I can see flowers on many plants. It’s a comfortable scene.
By New Zealand standards, Hikurangi, where I live, is a low income town. The local primary school is ranked decile 1, which means it serves a poor community. At the other end of the scale is decile 10, for schools in the most affluent parts of the country. These decile ratings determine access to different programmes funded by central government.
To the west of our house is the Hikurangi Swamp, though it’s not a swamp anymore. What used to be the largest inland swamp in the southern hemisphere with an abundance of bird life was drained for farming ― right now, that means cows. New Zealand has become a large dairy farm, producing milk (usually milk powder) for the world. Fonterra, the cooperative that New Zealand dairy farmers belong to, is the biggest dairy company in the world. There’s a Fonterra milk-processing factory just south of Hikurangi, where some local people work.
I used to work part-time at an art school in the nearby city of Whangarei, teaching and in my last year running an art gallery. Ten years was enough though.
Having helped out at the local primary school with my own kids (currently aged 10 and 7) I thought I would train to be primary school teacher. It would be a change and there was a reasonable chance of getting a job. But a few months into the training I realised this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be part of another institution, I didn’t want to be told what to do, or have to do all the paperwork that’s currently ruining teaching in New Zealand. I wanted some freedom, and I wanted to write.
I’d recently had my first book of poetry published. That was a big thing. The book had received some good reviews. My poems were being accepted in journals and magazines. At 41, should I take a risk and see if I could piece together an income from writing? Sandra, my partner, has a business, which after years of hard work was doing OK, and we could cut back on our spending. I could do the housework, grow more food in the garden, be at home everyday when the kids got home from school, and be with them during the school holidays. It sounded attractive.
The first thing I did was start up a monthly broadsheet for poetry, reviews and interviews with creative people in Whangarei. It would be distributed in cafes, galleries and other arts venues. I could make some money from selling advertising.
The income has been modest, but it’s working so far. Take Flight is fun to produce. I don’t have a boss. I get to support some of the good creative things that are happening locally.
It doesn’t fill all my days though. Worried that I had to be doing things ― the idea that you’re not working is frowned upon in New Zealand ― I also volunteered at the Hikurangi library once a week. I tried coordinating the sharing of surplus garden produce amongst people in the community (something that needs more time and effort). And I got an email from a writer friend saying that Open Road Review needed a new poetry editor.
The previous poetry editor, Leah McMenamin, was a New Zealander. The position didn’t pay, but surely an interesting opportunity. And I was taking pleasure from seeing my poems posted on Facebook actually reaching people in other countries, which had opened my eyes to taking an international view. So I applied for the position and Kulpreet said yes.
Reading all the poems submitted for Issue 7 of Open Road Review was an enjoyable experience. Many of the poems weren’t what I liked in poetry, and having to make a small selection from over a hundred poems is hard ― you’re saying no to a lot of poems ― but in reading them all I did get a glimpse of the people who wrote them.
As a big cricket fan my only real engagement with India had come through watching hours of cricket on TV since I was a young kid. What do you learn about another country and its cultures from professional sport, packaged for the global television market? Not as much as you learn from reading the poems of a country’s poets that’s for sure. I know something of Chile through Pablo Neruda, America through Charles Bukowski, England through Phillip Larkin. Now I have the opportunity to learn more about India.
It was a privilege to read all the poems and I look forward to reading those submitted for future issues. I expect that slowly I’ll get to know and appreciate new cadences, sentiments and intentions for poetry. I took on this position to learn and experience something new.
Everything you write always leaves out far more than you can say, but that’s my answer to the question of how I happened to become the poetry editor of Open Road Review. Through the window I can see that it’s clouded over, and after spending a few hours writing I need to clean up the breakfast dishes and do the jobs I’ve written down on my list for the day.
I’m closing this window for now.
To read a selection of Vaughan’s poetry go to www.vaughangunsonpoetry.com