The All Blacks of Literature


The All Blacks of Literature

I feel qualified to write this post.   I like rugby.   I spent many Saturday afternoons in the sixties glued to the blue Bakelite radio that sat on a ledge above our green fridge, listening to rugby broadcasts.   The announcers back then had to use their voices to generate excitement and they succeeded.   I can still visualise Don Clarke converting the Kel Tremain try with his legendary kick at Athletic Park from behind the 25 yard mark with the goalposts shifting in the wind.  Or can I?   It’s a legend now and it doesn’t matter, it’s as if I saw the whole thing live.

Somehow after all those Saturday afternoons listening to rugby, many of them international test – not to mention the Lions tours in the sixties when I was beginning to notice not just football form – has turned me into a somewhat unreasonable rugby enthusiast.   I have to watch that I don’t become one of those one-sided bores who forget to applaud the opposition for good play.    My nationalistic fervour knows no bounds and I yell at the television demanding tackles and accusing the referee of bias unless he agrees with me (even though I still don’t really know the finer details around the ruck or all the off-side rules).    So, yes, I feel somewhat qualified to make this post.

The New Zealand Post Book Awards short-lists have recently been announced.  You knew that didn’t you….  what, you didn’t know?   How is that?   Well it’s simple really, because there has been almost no fanfare whatsoever.    This has been the case now for some years.     The pinnacle perhaps of a writer’s career and their triumph, a short-listing in the awards, is barely observed.   Unless, like me, you follow the local literary blogs, you might never know.   But you are bound to hear if Dan Carter’s groin is still hurting, or if Piri Wepu is gaining weight, or Ma’a is replacing Sonny Bill.   Yes, there will be blow-by-blow accounts of their injuries and predictions about upcoming matches and match fitness.   Can you imagine if there was a page devoted to author fitness?

I imagine it running something like this.

The team has been announced, and this year we have Fiona Kidman out on the wing, Owen Marshall is the tight-head prop or possibly hooker, and Eleanor Catton is the newbie at fly-half.   Craig Cliff is trying out for full-back, replacing Carl Nixon, but this is a trial period and the selectors are watching their fitness and form closely.    The forward pack of Emily Perkins, Charlotte Grimshaw, Jenny Pattrick, and Vanda Symon are working well with their different strengths, ensuring excitement and potential tries.    Alice Tawhai is the dark-horse who seems to go on the bench in-between rather spectacular games and I think she is overlooked when she ought to be picked.   She’s one of my favourites but shy about publicity which is not always good when the selectors are out their choosing their teams.    Charlotte Randall is another who seems to sit quietly on the bench and then when called upon scores almost immediately.

In the line-out, you can absolutely rely on Owen Marshall throwing in a perfectly straight ball, never missing and always generous, and he’s called on time and time again, and never falters.    Witi Ihimaera is a bit of a show pony who the crowds love and when he’s on form, you have to say, there’s no-one else to watch on the field – a scene stealer for sure… plays many positions.  Barbara Else and Stephanie Johnson have just come off the bench and made an excellent impression.  C.K. Stead and Maurice Gee, sometimes in the stands now, but they are frequently called on for advice to the coaches and can never been truly ruled out… both still on form.    The same goes for Margaret Mahy and Joy Cowley – part of the original winning forward pack and really never quite surpassed but generously letting some of the younger players have a turn and lending a hand at practice.

There are so many upcoming players who could make the team, many of them MA graduates from the university talent pools.   But you can’t always overlook the resilience of the rural sector, the late starters with good club games, who given a chance, can score runaway tries like Sasha De Bazin and Tanya Moir.  

And of course, all our legends who’ve battled and won the international games for us – Knoxy, Jonsey, Gunn, Grace and Hulme, house-hold names, never to be forgotten, surely.

Frankly, there’s just too much talent both on and off the bench and I’m going to stop now, having failed to mention many hugely talented players.    I mean how will I choose, who subs who?           Yes, I’ve decided, after picking some of my literary All Blacks, that it’s just not going to work. I can see the scrum and the line-out becoming far too technical for its own good and I’d worry that the game plan would become more important than the score with absolutely no regard for the spectators and long periods of consideration before passes were even made and then some would have to be re-played, possibly even erased, and there would be endless resorting to video replays for accuracy.   I think we’d have a fall-off in ticket sales and the inability to tackle, sacrificed for admiration for outstanding play by the opposition would hinder the whole point of the game.

Plus our writing athletes would suffer OOS, writers block, gain weight, lose weight, gain weight and nobody would care – they just wouldn’t care.   They might write best sellers and get shortlisted for international prizes, but the public just won’t be interested.   They are not going to make a full-page on the back or the front of the newspaper.

Although in France, they might.  I have heard that Fiona Kidman was recently in Paris where Le Figaro wrote (about her Frank O’Connor short-listed collection ‘The Trouble with Fire’) – “that there seemed to be more to New Zealand than Peter Jackson and the All Blacks, there was Fiona Kidman.    We knew that didn’t we?

Yes, I’d have liked to pick the First XV of Literature, but it would have proved impossible really with so much talent and shifting form – impossible.   Plus  I think the lack of interest from the New Zealand public would mean we’d never get the money for a stadium  – nope, I’ve abandoned the idea already.   I think the Sunday Star Times has the right idea, just forget about books and publish more salacious scandal and scandalous fashion.

4 thoughts on “The All Blacks of Literature

  1. Caroline

    Of course, missing from your team of greats are the pioneers, Mansfield, Davin, Shadbolt and of course Frame who despite her erratic playing was a stayer.


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