How it started
Back in 1995, three friends were taking a break in the staff room of our university library. We were talking about food and the way recipes were being included in books about travel, in novels and autobiographies. We were librarians and it was easy to see that food as well as recipes were becoming very popular.
But what about poetry? Yes, each of us had favourite poems whether from New Zealand or elsewhere that used food in some way. What would happen if…? *
Two of us, Janny and Judy, decided to find out. We had access to a comprehensive collection of poetry published by New Zealanders. In the University Library there was a special room with air conditioning called The Glass Case. We were given key access after-hours and the use of a photocopier. We made an appointment to see a publishing editor who liked our proposal. Encouraged by the enthusiasm and support, we set to work.
Photo taken through a restaurant window in Ahuriri, Napier, N.Z.
Librarians like books, of course, but what they also thoroughly enjoy is organising, sorting and presenting knowledge so that it is easily accessible. They love doing research too. That last part was easy. We started at one end of the shelving and worked our way along the rows. We exercised individual editorial responsibility unless we were doubtful or especially excited about a particular find. The pile of books with paper markers grew. Janny photocopied each poem.
18 months later, we carried our heavy green box of photocopied and sorted poems back to the publishing editor. Janny had compiled indexes and a bibliography. Judy had drawn small vignettes for the headings of each section and calligraphed section headings for the folders. We handed it over.
A letter arrived: the selection committee deemed the project not suitable for their type of publishing house. Now what were we to do?
We set to writing letters to as many publishers as we could think of. No-one was sufficiently interested. One publisher perhaps was and asked that we forward the manuscript. We photocopied everything, packed it into an identical green box and posted it. Nothing, however, eventuated. The original green box sat on Judy’s shelf for years undisturbed. ...
*On Friday 16 March 2018, the three friends met up for lunch once more at a little café below Albert Park in Auckland, NZ. Mag had come from Thames in the Coromandel, Janny from Groningen in the Netherlands and Judy from Whanganui.
From left to right: Mag, Janny and Judy.