Lifting the lid on New Zealand literary treasure

The writings of New Zealanders — young and old, unknown and well known — feature in all the usual places, but how do we discover and access the many literary treasures hidden from view?

Previously, Index New Zealand (INNZ) blogged about the database’s coverage of the New Zealand music scene. In this blog I focus on the literary content, sourced from a wide assortment of New Zealand newspapers, magazines, journals, and podcasts in the database. The spotlight is on literature, but along the way I will also cover: the current Poet Laureate, and her Google poem; budding New Zealand writers; songs about jumping plant-lice; and teaching resources.

Information overload vs information motherlode

Since her announcement as NZ Poet Laureate in August 2017, Selina Tusitala Marsh has authored a lively National Library blog and featured in events at the Library and elsewhere while continuing her work teaching and advocating for Pasifika poetry and literature.

Selina Tusitala Marsh
Selina Tusitala Marsh and the Statue of Liberty. Image from Selina Tusital Marsh. 

What is the depth of INNZ’s coverage of this prominent literary figure and her work, I wondered. A search on the database revealed our oldest record for Marsh was a film review in a 2000 issue of Contemporary Pacific. But the record that stood out from the rest was Marsh’s poem ‘googling tusitala’. This poem is a delightful description of the information tsunami that hit Marsh when she typed ‘tusitala’ in the Google search box. Out of curiosity, I compared searches. A Google search for ‘tusitala’ brings 486,000 results (in 0.62 seconds), some are about the Poet Laureate; an INNZ search for ‘tusitala’ brings 90 results, all about the Poet Laureate. The difference in volume versus relevance was striking; it inspired me to write a version of Marsh’s original poem to showcase some of her work.

‘INNZing’ tusitala*

brings 90 records
brings Guys like Gauguin (audio poem, Blackmail Press, 2009)
brings She’s a fast talker: Alumna Selina Tusitala Marsh is opening doors into Pacific literature (Ingenio, 2009, p.10)
brings Teaching Pacific literature (Mai Review, 2010 )
brings ‘I come going from place to place from the origin’: notes toward a tradition of fast moving poems (Ka mate ka ora, 2011)
brings The body of Pacific literature (Mai Review, 2010 )
brings Black white desiring (Best New Zealand poems, 2015)
brings Selina in London to visit the Queen; Unity (Ingenio, 2016, p.5)
brings The land has eyes: Pear ta ma ‘on maf (review, Contemporary Pacific, 2007)
brings Hone said (Ka mate ka ora, 2008)
brings Tightrope (Te Karaka, 2017, p.55)

brings ‘A tribute to the passed’ (Animals’ voice, Win 2016; p.34-36, includes poem ‘Humanimal’ by Selina Tusitala Marsh)

(*Hypertext links contained in this poem are functional)

Poem by Selina Tusitala Marsh etched on a colonnade
‘Humanimal’, Animals' voice, Win 2016. Photo by Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Budding poet laureates, indexing of

Staying with the Poet Laureate for now, Marsh had her first poem published at age 12. Could there be poets laureate out there who are writing and being published (and indexed) right now? To find a potential candidate I searched in Write on , a magazine that showcases the work of students of The School for Young Writers in Christchurch. Two promising writers stood out: Jake Parsons, whose work appears in issues from 2010 to 2016 (Year 7 to Year 13), and Elizabeth Steel, now Year 13, who the publishers say has written for Write on for 10 years. These might be names to watch out for in the future! (Currently, Write on is print only, so INNZ records are the only way to search its content.)

Write on magazines spread on a table
Covers of issues of Write on. Photo by Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Now, and then

INNZ currently indexes some 30+ literature-related titles. The publications are a mix of online (websites and archives), print-only, start-ups, long-running titles, poetry, short stories, Pasifika, Māori, children’s writings, audio poems, etc. Older titles such as Landfall (indexed since 1947) sit alongside smaller, less well-known literary journals like Ika and Potroast. But New Zealand literature also appears in unlikely places, like New Zealand doctor and Forest and Bird. Consider this offering by vegetable grower Anthony Tringham, Song for psyllid, in Grower (Sep 2008; v.63 n.8: p.34). The poem can be found, among other means, by searching on the subjects Potatoes and Poetry.

Capturing the content of literary publications is important for several reasons. Many titles are short-lived; many appear in print only. And, as National Library cataloguer, co-editor of online literary journal Sweet mammalian, and award-winning poet, Hannah Mettner points out, ‘Long before authors have books, they’re writing and publishing in journals, and often they’re the best place to look for new and interesting pieces of writing, both by established authors and brand new ones!’

Over 30 literary publications once indexed by INNZ no longer exist. Some expired after just one publication. The independent zine Vital writing: New Zealand stories and poems ran from 1990–1992 and contains works by eminent academics and writers, such as Annemarie Jagose, Keri Hulme, and Lloyd Jones. Another, the small poetry press run by Back Shed Press, Side stream: poetry from the fringe, was published from 2007 to 2011. The February 2009 issue contains a poem by the Poet Laureate, ‘Solauaouaga: to where the clouds run’. INNZ has indexed both Vital writing and Side stream in their entirety. And, news just to hand from publisher Tony Chad is that his title Valley micropress, which will close at the end of 2018, was in its 21st year.

Covers of Vital Writing
Covers of the first and final issues of Vital writing. Photo by Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Wanted! Kiwi stories!

In late 2017, Howick College’s Jane Ryan asked a school librarian listserv for suggestions on free online short stories with a New Zealand, Māori or Pacific flavour for an accelerate year 9 class. Prompted to check out INNZ, she discovered over 600 records of online short stories by New Zealanders. Jane sent out ‘a BIG thank you to the National Library’ for this ‘treasure trove’ of stories and poems, noting that she particularly liked the short stories in Trout for the junior accelerate class and Best New Zealand poems, Turbine, Snorkel and Listener short stories for senior students.

Such feedback is always welcome as it confirms that the database is doing its job — making the content of New Zealand publications more visible and findable, connecting New Zealanders with their own stories, and helping schools with resources. And for the record, at last count, based on searches on the genre headings Poetry, and, Short stories, INNZ has 26,172 poems (6,487 online) and 7,074 stories (1,133 online).

Magazines on a table.
Some periodicals indexed by Index New Zealand. Photo by Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, N.Z.

Wanted! Kiwi writers!

If the Poet Laureate has her way, more New Zealanders will be writing poems and stories. In her 2016 lecture to the New Zealand Book Council (page 24), Marsh encourages young New Zealand writers to ‘tell their own tales’. She is even known to have canvassed Graham Henry’s wife about getting All Blacks to write poetry. ‘Boys, literacy, poetry, athletes, how might we make this work?’ she enthused, ‘I’m happy to run workshops for hallmark athletes and get them writing poems.’ Marsh may be heartened to hear that this may already be happening. On page seven of the Write on Summer 2015/2016 issue, under the article title ‘Rugby review’, Kevin Fagan, Year 4, shares his poem, ‘Trophy diamonds’:

Like diamonds stashed away
In an abandoned mineshaft
Cups and shields glimmer
Inside the cabinets
Of the rugby clubrooms

If you know of other literature-related journals/magazines we could be indexing, please email us at

INNZ is currently indexing (online serials in bold)

  • 4th floor literary journal (2005- ) – Whitireia students’ creative writing
  • Annual (Annual Ink) (2017- ) – Writings and illustrations for 8 to 12 year-olds
  • Anthology (Waitakere Writers) (2007- ) – Poetry, short stories
  • Atlas literary journal (2018- ) – Creative, nonfiction writing on medical topics
  • Best New Zealand poems (2001- )
  • Blackmail press (2001- ) – Poet orientated e-zine
  • Broadsheet (Night Press) (2008- ) – Poetry
  • Contemporary Pacific fiction (2006- ) – NZ and Pacific poetry, short stories
  • Deep South (2007- ) > – University students’ art, literature, poetry, review and theatre
  • Fast fibres poetry (2014- )
  • Fine line (2007- ) – Poetry
  • Horizons (Nelson, N.Z.) (2017- ) – Short stories, poetry
  • Ika (2012- ) – Manukau Institute of Technology students’ short stories, poetry
  • J.A.A.M (1995- ) – College prose and verse, artworks, reviews
  • JNZL: Journal of New Zealand literature (1983- ) – Literature, history and criticism
  • Ka mate ka ora (2005- ) – Poetry, history, and criticism of poetry
  • Landfall (1947- ) – Short stories, poetry, reviews
  • Magpies: talking about books for children (1997- ) – Children’s books, reading
  • Mayhem literary journal (2014- ) – University of Waikato online literary journal
  • Minarets : a poetry journal (2012- )
  • New Zealand author (2009- ) – Authorship
  • New Zealand books (1991- ) – Book reviews
  • Ora nui (2012- ) – Māori literature, NZ literature, Māori authors, tuhinga kōrero
  • Pasture: literary ground-swell (2011- ) – Literature, poetry
  • Poetry notes (2010- ) – Poetry, poets<
  • Poetry NZ (1990- )
  • Potroast (2009- ) – Poetry, short stories, art
  • Re-draft (2016- ) – Teenagers' short stories, poetry
  • Snorkel (2005- ) – Australian and New Zealand creative writing
  • Sponge (2017- ) – Pacific area science fiction , poetry
  • Sport (1988- ) – Poetry, short stories, novel extracts, essays and art
  • Takahē (1989- ) – Short stories, poetry
  • Toitoi: a journal for young writers and artists (2018- ) – Works by children aged 5–13
  • Turbine (2001- ) – Victoria University students’ fiction, non-fiction, poetry, visual work
  • Valley micropress (1997- ) – Poetry
  • Write on (2009- ) – Children’s short stories, poetry

Previously indexed by INNZ

  • 100 lovers, Taamaki Makaurau (1994) – 20th C poetry
  • Al Dente (1987) – 20th C literature, art
  • Antic (1987–1990) – Post-structuralist and feminist literary theories
  • Auckland live (1992–1994) – 20th C poetry
  • AUP new poets (Auckland University Press new poets) (2002–2011) – 20th C poetry
  • Australian & New Zealand studies in Canada (1989–1994) – Literature
  • Boomer (1991–1992) – Student poetry, short stories
  • Booknotes (2000–2013) – Literature, authors
  • Brain (1989) – Art, fiction, comics, politics, music, fashion, media
  • Bravado (2004–2010) – Bay of Plenty literary arts magazine
  • Charivari : short story magazine (1991–1992)
  • Crosscurrent (1987–1989) – South Pacific, multicultural art, culture, history, ideas
  • Comment (1959–1982) – Literature, social conditions, politics
  • CommonTatta : quarterly literary journal (1993–1994) – 20th C poetry, short stories
  • CRNLE reviews journal (1992–1993) – Commonwealth literature, book reviews
  • Descant (1989) – University of Toronto graduates’ writings
  • Fresh (2006–2016) – Poetry
  • Glottis (1998–2003) – 20th C poetry, short stories
  • Hue & cry journal (2007–2014) – Short stories, poetry, prose, art
  • Islands : a New Zealand quarterly of arts and letters (1972–1987) – 20th C literature
  • Journal of Commonwealth literature (1986–1996) – English literature
  • London magazine (1991–1995) – Short stories poetry
  • Meanjin (1987–2007) – NZ writings in Australian journal of literature and ideas
  • New tales of the South Pacific (2011) – Oceania fiction, short stories
  • Nineteen-o-splash (2006–2011) – 21st C poetry, short stories
  • Other voices (1991–1993) – Short stories, poetry
  • Pitch engine (2007–2008) – 20th C literature, New Zealand Writers Guild
  • Printout: literature and arts magazine (1991-1997) – 20th C literature, art
  • Quote unquote (1993–1997) – Book reviews, arts, popular culture
  • Reading forum NZ (1989–2012) – Reading, literacy
  • Semaphore magazine (2007–2011) – Short stories, poetry
  • Side stream (2007–2011) – Poetry
  • Span (1989–2008) – Commonwealth/Pacific poems, short stories, culture
  • Starch : a New Zealand literary journal (2011) – Poetry, literature
  • Trout (1997–2012) – New Zealand and Pacific poetry, prose, reviews, interviews, artwork
  • Untold (1987-1988) – 20th C literature
  • Vital writing (1990–1991) – 20th C literature
  • World literature written in English (1987–1996)
  • Write up (1999–2005) – 20th C literature, New Zealand Writers Guild, later called Pitch engine

Read more about the history of INNZ (pdf, 3.6MB)

Search Index New Zealand

For permission to use the magazine cover and issue images in this blog, we gratefully thank: Jessie Gilchrist (Animals’ voice), Imogen Coxhead (Landfall), Andrew Wood (Takahe), Charlotte Gibbs (Toi toi),  Frances Faulkner (Vital writing), and Melanie Dixon (Write on).

By Nelly Bess

Nelly is an indexer with the National Library’s Index New Zealand team.

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Paula Green October 23rd at 9:50PM

This is terrific! Have you thought about indexing some of the things I do on Poetry Shelf? Especially the interviews with NZ poets - perhaps the audio of NZ poets reading , the poems by NZ poets, the reviews? It is such a NZ poetry resource.

Fiona Oliver October 26th at 9:42AM

Such an interesting perspective, Nelly, and a fantastic insight into the richness of poetry publications at the Library - thank you!

Fiona November 13th at 11:33PM

How about indexing the journal brief. It's been going for over 25 years and has featured many well known local writers and poets.

Eleanor Rimoldi November 18th at 10:28AM

You previously indexed Charivari short story magaine. Someone gave me her collection of copies from #1Dec. 1991-#7October 1992. There are also two newsletters - one seems to be an announcement of the magazine, and the other is January 1992 an update on progress. (Some of these are multiple copies.) I do not have space to store them. Any suggestions on what to do with them? An archivist at heart, I hate to throw them away!