Roger and Helen Parsons had a room devoted to New Zealand books in their now-closed Wellesley-Street shop (Parsons Books, Auckland). In my mind it contained the most comprehensive selection of New Zealand poetry I have seen in a local bookstore, apart from the second-hand ones. Helen diligently kept a terrific backlist of New Zealand poets and stayed up-to-date with new releases. You could also find exquisite, hand-bound poetry books that were verging on art. This was where I launched my own books for a number of years, as it provided both a convivial place to celebrate my new arrivals and a chance to applaud these dedicated booksellers.
Great Bookshops for Poetry
Bookshops still stock poetry, but as poetry attracts such a niche market, the selection on offer becomes increasingly limited. Last year, I decided to be an unofficial ambassador for children’s poetry in New Zealand – to celebrate and promote children’s poetry books (and the reading and writing of it) in every way I could.
I created a page, Great Bookshops, on my blog New Zealand Poetry Box, to showcase bookshops that stocked a fabulous range of both local and international poetry books for children. I included details and photographs of shops such as The Children’s Bookshop in Wellington, and the Children’s Bookshops in in Auckland and Christchurch, both Unity Books, Next Page Please, The Women’s Bookshop and Time Out Book Shop in Auckland, Rona Gallery and Marsden Books in Wellington, Page and Blackmore in Nelson, and Dunedin’s University Bookshop.
I invited local authors and poetry fans to make recommendations that I have included on the page, and it is still evolving. I thought this would be useful for parents, children and teachers – and those like me who hunt for poetry in other towns. What stood out were the shops that created striking poetry-display stands—this is where you go to browse and buy.
Children’s In-Store Events
I love the idea of creating events in some of these inviting spaces – events that would draw in an audience of children, parents and teachers through the hook of poetry. Thus I am inventing a Poetry Hot Spot Tour later this year to celebrate a new book I have coming out but also to promote poetry for children at a national level. Such a tour is not something you can do all the time, but I welcome the idea of working with individual stores in my unofficial role as ambassador.
Miniature poetry events for children might include:
- Poetry readings. Get local children to come in and pick a poem to read out loud, or local authors, or celebrities that want to support national literacy and share their passion for poetry.
- Create an event attached to a moment (real or invented) that might involve a competition and/ or a reading. You could use NZ Poetry Day, ANZAC Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Earth Day, Arbor Day or midwinter day, or create animal poem day, or celebrate the start of Spring, a sports event, save-our-seas day, Grandparent’s Day or Native Bird’s Day with poetry.
- Involve your local schools and/or your regular child customers – on the last Thursday of the month at 3.30 have a poetry read-athon or a poem tree or chalk poems on the pavement.
- Display a poem of the week or month.
- Draw the community into your shop and celebrate the power of poetry to spark the imagination of children and their love of books.
So what of the adult poetry books? Some bookstores launch poetry books, and display new releases in prominent positions – I launched my most recent collection at Vic Books in Wellington last year. I have picked up a Poetry Book of the Month when I am in Unity Books in Wellington. Helen Parsons used to email (and still does via her Parson’s Library Supply) a list of new poetry books to interested parties that included schools, universities, libraries and readers keen on New Zealand books. Unity Books in Auckland often has personal tags from staff on books – letting us know their favourites. Carole Beu runs events in her shop, The Women’s Bookshop (see myself and Sarah Laing there last year,left) that draw in a poetry audience, but she also dedicates her energy offsite to the Ladies Litera-Tea where poets are a regular part of the line-up.
With knowledgeable staff who read and write poetry, Dunedin’s University Bookshop launches books and directly supports other poetry readings.
In-Store Events for Adult Poetry
I do love the idea of our local bookstores becoming community hubs for poetry.
- Why not host a love-poem reading for Valentines Day – invite a few local poets, but also invite your regular customers to come and read a favourite love poem?
- Or, similarly to above, create a poetry occasion that befits ANZAC Day, Labour Day, Waitangi Day, Daylight Saving, Human Rights Day, Children’s Day, International Women’s Day or Earth Day.
- How about a Midwinter poetry reading with mulled wine and a mix of local customers, authors and celebrities reading a favourite poem?
- Window displays are also a poetry draw card (as an Aucklander I’m often stalled by displays in Time Out Book Shop or The Women’s Bookshop).
- If you mail out to customers, as a number of bookstores do, invite a local poet to include their top poetry picks.
- Carole Beu displays a card of the week (which I often end up buying!) — how about a poem of the week?
- Page and Blackmore, amongst other things, run a fun poetry competition around Poetry Day (eg must contain words from shortlisted titles)
- Page and Blackmore have had a poetry flash mob outside their store featuring Taradale High drama students, see image below.
An invitation In my travels through New Zealand, I encounter so many passionate and dedicated booksellers. I think perhaps it is time to create a Great Bookshops page on my adult-poetry blog (NZ Poetry Shelf). So if you stock New Zealand poetry and poetry in general, and have innovative ideas or events let me know on the details below. I do hope a New Zealand bookstore takes over from Helen and stocks backlists of poets along with new releases and the books of smaller presses—with an email list and an online presence (why not a poetry blog?) to keep customers up-to-date on stock. Such a bookshop could become the go-to place for those who love and support New Zealand poetry.
by Paula Green, poet and children’s book author
Paula Green has two new books out this year: The Letterbox Cat and other poems (Scholastic) and A Treasury of New Zealand Poetry for Children (Random House).
If you stock New Zealand Poetry for adults or children, please let Paula know at email@example.com.