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Conceived during a drive home after a night out, Fergus Barrowman announced to his audience of Elizabeth Knox and Damien Wilkins (his then sober driver) as they rounded the Basin Reserve, that he wanted to do a literary magazine—and the name would be Sport.
1988 seemed to be the right time—the literary scene was slowing down, Landfall was in a slump, other literary journals had a lifespan of four or five issues, and in Barrowman’s fourth year at Victoria University Press a change was in the air for the literary scene. The sole aim was to provide writers, in particular emergent ones, with a platform. Barrowman recalls the first issue featured “Barbara Anderson, Jenny Bornholdt, Anne Kennedy, Elizabeth Knox and Damien Wilkins [who] were all just before or after their first books; they look like the establishment now”. Their categories have expanded—they once eschewed poetry, seeking a more serious or pure publication, Wilkins referring to Granta as their initial model. They have since seen a light of sorts, and allowed poets back in the game.
Currently in its 43rd edition, it has moved from twice-yearly to annual publications. While publications have slowed as life interfered, the collection has never strayed from their ethos of good new writing, each issue a mutually enjoyable phenomenon for writers and readers alike. For Barrowman this issue particularly lends itself to poetry; “the poetry is fantastic, and very diverse. I kind of wish now I’d put all the poetry together so that was even clearer. And I like the way the essays often feel like fiction, and vice versa. Story-telling and hard thinking are alive in both genres.”
In the introduction to Sporting Moments, Wilkins reflects on his own reading approach to Sport—that which focused only on what appealed to his current engagement—a condition, he says, of reading as a writer. Sport lends itself to this approach, as it moves between authors and modes in no distinct method or, I suppose, a method not obvious to the reader. I found a similar approach emerged as I peeled through the pages—stopping over names I felt I might have heard, or liked the cadence of; finding words that grabbed me, and ideas that enticed me.
Kirsten McDougall’s non-fiction piece, as Barrowman identifies, feels very much like fiction. Her prowess as a poet lends itself to alleviating non-fiction of the weight of true-to-life. McDougall remembers a fling from a Wanaka winter when she was 21. Nino was a European traveller, who was very much unlike anyone she had met before, and she never saw again. Thanks to the internet, McDougall’s story finds a place of nostalgia, and nestled closely is an insistent sense of regret; her story reminds the reader of the profound depth youth can reach.
Ashleigh Young’s short story takes a domestic nuance, and draws out infectious dramatic tension. It is particularly pertinent for those who share their lives, both with a person, and also creation. Young’s control over the words conjures a hand that breaks from the page, grabs you by the scruff, and pulls you, willingly, into the story. She balances her gears perfectly, as though waiting for a hill start; a melancholic need to be alone, to create, is found in the same stroke as the delight of being in love.
Faith Wilson’s poems show the diverse range of her pen; from a deeply sensual and emotive poem of love and youth, you see her words evoke an ocean of emotion. Her words are vulnerable and learning; the scenes and emotions are utterly familiar. In her other poems a voice of our generation, of her heritage, of this place, and of strength, emerges as her language stops you in her tracks. Her brother, a barista at Vic Books, in a puerile comment, told me she writes about sleeping with a guy in their parents’ bed.
And Maria McMillan, in another stroke of strength, writes a listicle essay charting the currents of females in New Zealand Literature, and their subjugation. In an interesting format, which lets analysis take on a more creative mode, she aptly draws out the complexities of female, and is simultaneously daunted by the complexities, and repulsed by simplifications. Her response to Yvonne Todd’s exhibition Creamy Psychology particularly stands out, as it turns the exhibition into a cautionary tale of the standards of female beauty.
Sarah Jane Barnett’s long form poetry takes on a fresh and important new voice—an Ethiopian migrant settling in New Zealand. Through research and interviews, Barnett is able to offer insight to a community of New Zealand whose voice is negotiating its footing. Her masterful ability to tell a story through poetry is exercised here once again.
The collection also features work from recently published authors such as Chris Tse, Morgan Bach, James Brown, Tim Upperton, David Coventry, a very well considered and important essay by Giovanni Tiso—and the list simply continues, in a wonderful display of our creative capital.
The collection is named Sport, Barrowman tells me, as a joke—a direct reference to the cultural divide that severs our country. It is with completely appropriate irony that I write this while I pretend to watch the Hurricanes be destroyed by the Highlanders. “See? You just can’t help getting swept up into it all… SPORT!” my flatmate proclaims, misreading my polite feigned interest as genuine. Because at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, we’re all in this together, and we really gave it our all.