Jack Ross

Notes on NZ poetry

Coda

A question of faith

K Rd
Plastic People / photograph: Jack Ross

Michele Leggott’s poem “shore space, ” from her 2009 book Mirabile Dictu, imagines 1930s New Zealand writer Robin Hyde taking a bus trip through Auckland’s North Shore, and running into various groups of local writers as she does so:

          she would be pleased
this spring afternoon above the bays
where gorse and mangroves present
a united front and choko vines run wild
she would be pleased to see Jack Ross
and friends rolling in with a box of books
and a sausage sizzle to do a fundraiser
for a poet who has run out of cornflakes
on the other side of the world   Robin Hyde
is living on baked beans and disprins
soon she will leave the places we can see
and walk the seaward road that glistens
with disappearances

It’s a pleasant pastoral vision of friends and collaborators falling over each other to help out, be supportive, advance the art of poetry in an atmosphere of mutual good will.

State-of-the-Nation poems (6)

Michele Leggott, “peri poietikes / about poetry” (2009)

mairangi bay
Mairangi Bay / Photograph: Jim Ross

The closer one gets to the present, the harder it gets to pontificate convincingly about the significance of it all (which might be seen as casting retrospective doubt on earlier assertions and certainties, also).

I’ve chosen for the last of my State-of-the-Nation poems peri poietikes by Michele Leggott, from her book of laureate verses Mirabile Dictu: “wonderful to relate”. Not, you’ll note, mirabile visu: “wonderful to see” – Michele is legally blind, and has been fighting a long rearguard action against macular degeneration for almost twenty years now.

I first heard the poem on a wintry night in Titirangi, one of Auckland’s western suburbs, in the heart of the Waitakere ranges. A group of us had been invited to a joint Poetry Day reading upstairs in the Lopdell House gallery, and Michele was trying out her latest device for live performance: an ipod with the poems already recorded on it, so she could recite them line by line after her own voice coming through an earpiece.

State-of-the-Nation poems (5)

Kendrick Smithyman, “If I Stepped Outside, in May ’93” (2002)

Margaret Edgcumbe
Study, typewriter, banana palms - photograph: Margaret Edgcumbe (1996)

My good friend and fellow-poet David Howard writes in to question my use of the epithet “unquestioned Top Bard” for Bill Manhire in my previous post. He also comments that “we weren't 'all' lost in the postmodern forest of the 1980s” …

I did wonder (as I said in my reply to him) if anyone would react to my canonisation of Manhire:

I can't say I think Top Bard an enviable job, but it does seem to me to have passed from Rex Fairburn to Allen Curnow in the 50s, and thence to Bill Manhire in the 2000s -- I'm speaking of influence and cultural dominance, you understand, not necessarily poetic merit ...

And as for those thickets, I guess I was thinking more of Academics than poets (the principal audience for the website). Again, meant to be a bit teasing ...

State-of-the-Nation poems (4)

Ian Wedde, “Barbary Coast” (1993)

devonport
Auckland Skyline - photograph: Michael Dean

1946 was a good year for poets. Along the fruits of that bumper crop were Alan Brunton, peripatetic troubadour and (co-) founder of radical theatre troupe Red Mole; Bill Manhire, Dean of the Wellington school and unquestioned Top Bard of the country; Sam Hunt, restless road warrior and heart-sore lyricist – and Ian Wedde, New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2011-13.

It’s Wedde [pronounced Wed-dee, not Wed, in case you were wondering] I’d like to talk about here. He’s far harder to characterize in a couple of gimcrack phrases than most other local poets. That’s if he really is a local poet. There’s always been something of an air of the largeness of outside in Wedde’s work from the very beginning.

What's in the mags?

brief 44 / 45 – Oceania (2012)

brief 44-45 - Oceania
photograph by Scott Hamilton / cover design by Brett Cross

It’s not that easy to keep a literary magazine going in New Zealand. Longevity is, of course, not always the point of such projects. Sometimes a journal – Oriflamme (1939-42), Morepork (1979-80), AND (1983-85), the pander (1997-99) achieves its aims in a few issues, and can then be safely consigned to the library shelves – or the backrooms of secondhand bookshops.