A version of this paper by Edward Burns, titled “So I Went on Looking at Pictures: Gertrude Stein’s Last Decade,” was delivered as part of Sundays at the Met, April 29, 2012, in conjunction with the exhibition The Steins Collect.
Karen Randall started Propolis Press in 2001. My introduction to the press was Rosmarie Waldrop’s Within the Probabilities of Spelling, produced in an edition of just eighteen. A few years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Karen in person in New York, and a few years after that, I had the pleasure of including her edition of Christina Strong’s The New York School in Poem & Pictures. Other poets published by Propolis include Nancy Kuhl, Elizabeth Willis, Jane Rice, and Randall’s own poems. The images in all of the books are created by Randall, who is the leading authority on four-color letterpress printing on gampi.
She is currently collaborating on an artists’ book with Lee Ann Brown entitled Bagatelles for Cornell, which includes three poems written in homage to Joseph Cornell accompanied by Randall’s digital collages printed via cyanotype and gum bichromate photography, as well as mixed relief techniques. She is also collaborating with Anne Tardos on Ginkgo Knuckle Nubia, a segment in The Dik-dik's Solitude (Granary, 2003).
I think that we’ve had enough generalizations about various different types of New Zealand poetry for a bit. It’s time to descend to cases. But which poems should we talk about?
There’s not much point in doing a mini-anthology of my favourite contemporary poets. In any case, that’s something I’ve already been asked to do for Jacket2. It appeared last year as the feature “Look and look again: Twelve New Zealand Poets.”
Instead I thought it might make sense to concentrate on big-issue public poetry: those “state-of-the-nation” poems which poets more often find themselves writing by accident than actually sitting down to compose (or so I suspect, anyway).
Robert Lowell specialized in such poems: “For the Union Dead”, for example – or “Waking Early Sunday Morning.” It’s a form of engagé, ex cathedra discourse which many modern readers are understandably suspicious of, but when you reread those Lowell poems, or Derek Walcott’s superb sequence “The Schooner Flight,” or even Philip Larkin’s “The Whitsun Weddings,” it becomes clear that there are ways of avoiding pompous attitudinizing within this mini-genre.