The International Literary Quarterly

August 2010


María Teresa Andruetto
William Bedford
Richard Berengarten
Jorge Luis Borges
Sampurna Chattarji
Rubén Dario
Rosalía de Castro
Siobhan Harvey
Carla Guelfenbein
Marion Jones
Andrea Labinger
Suzanne Jill Levine
Hernán Neira
Paschalis Nikolaou
Nicolás Poblete
Wena Poon
Richard Reeve
Polly Samson
Maree Scarlett
Ana María Shua
Katri Skala
Elizabeth Smither
Sridala Swami
Nasos Vayenas
Mauricio Wacquez
Peter Wells
Alison Wong

Issue 12 Guest Artist:
Catalina Chervin

President: Peter Robertson
Deputy Editor: Jill Dawson
General Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Sampurna Chattarji
Sarah Churchwell
Hollis Clayson
Sally Cline
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Siobhan Harvey
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Laurie Maguire
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Paschalis Nikolaou
Martha Nussbaum
Sari Nusseibeh
Tim Parks
Molly Peacock
Pascale Petit
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Élisabeth Roudinesco
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
Rebecca Swift
Susan Tiberghien
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Jeff Barry
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Romantic and Avant-Garde Personalism in Two Contemporary New Zealand Poets by Richard Reeve  


I was recently told a story about Brian Turner (b. 1944) and Jack Ross (b. 1962) sharing a motel at a poetry festival, at which the former maintained little conversation with his Auckland counterpart but instead stared anxiously at the television in pursuit of cricket scores. Turner, a recent Te Mata poet laureate,i former national-ranking sportsman, and grizzled South Island environmentalist, is certainly widely read in world modern poetry, but his interests lie not so much with the experimentalist avant-garde as with the hermetic nature worship of Maria Rainer Rilke and Robinson Jeffers. Ross, a highly erudite experimentalist with a bent for translation, has in the past fifteen years poured out prismatic field-form pastiches of narrative and poetry (material ranges from Sumerian tablets to Marie de France, and literary influences from Laurence Sterne to Ezra Pound). Turner is a pastoral regionalist, Ross a cosmopolitan internationalist; Turner is an impressionist, Ross a textual cubist; both are in some sense romantics, and both use a wide selection of technical conceits, but their differences are separate canyons in the landscape of New Zealand poetry.

The cricket anecdote speaks volumes about what one might expect of the ‘I’ in New Zealand poetry, and what this says about New Zealand poetic and cultural reality. New Zealand poetry is a fractured, contradictory mass of opinion, text and ideology. Even its objective correlative, ‘New Zealand reality’, which the major New Zealand poet Allen Curnow (1911-2001) critically championed for forty years (‘Reality must be local and special at the point where we pick up the traces: as manifold as the signs we follow and the routes we take.’ii), is subject to vagary and dispute. For some, like postcolonialist critic Steven Turner, ‘New Zealand’ is an oppressive settler concept, and Curnow’s ‘reality’ little more than an ideological codification.iii While the two poets would doubtless agree on many political issues, their objectives as poets are very different in respect of their locations and outlook, and these objectives reflect the line taken by earlier writers on what the term ‘New Zealand’ poetry is deemed to constitute.


Some history. At the time of European colonisation, Aoteoroa New Zealand is estimated to have had approximately 100,000 Maori, a proud, vitalistic and warlike Polynesian people, with 95 per cent of the population located in the North Island. Until 1860, Maori significantly outnumbered Pakeha (Europeans), but it was apparent to all that the balance was changing rapidly. Following the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, most Chiefs of iwi (tribes) across both Islands formally recognised the governance of the British Crown in exchange for the establishment of a protectorate in which tino rangatiratanga (‘The wisdom and order of the Chiefs’) was observed. However, within seven years, the New Zealand Wars had broken out, with hitherto disparate iwi commonly aggrieved at the manipulation of the Treaty by colonists to acquire land, and resultantly forming an embargo on land sales called the Kingi Movement. The British, notably through Governor George Grey, reacted by attempting to crush what they now expediently perceived as a mutinous revolt, and their task was made significantly easier by the spread of disease. By 1882, the Maori population had been decimated, though this cultural apocalypse had bred Biblical-style Christian Maori Prophets from which contemporary Maori-Christian denominations like the Ratana and Ringatu Churches derive their origins.

A predominantly Anglophile modern settler state was transplanted on the burnt stub of earlier settlement. Maori, however admired by these new colonials, were regarded as a dying race that needed to be brought up to pace with the aspirations of European civilisation. But Maori did not die, instead undergoing a cultural revolution. Moreover the new colonial culture and traditions proved hollow and superficial for a generation of Pakeha intellectuals following the Great Depression. This generation developed what Curnow retrospectively called an ‘anti-myth’: a modernist reconstruction of Pakeha history.iv While Curnow, initially a South-Islander, recognised the transplantation of settler culture on a previous settlement, rather than embracing New Zealand as part of Polynesia, his critique concentrated on inauthentic European belonging to a primordial, extra-human New Zealand frontier.v Subsequent generations of intellectuals, again led by poets such as James K. Baxter (1926-72), Hone Tuwhare (b. 1922), Ian Wedde (b. 1946), Alan Brunton (1946-2002), Cilla McQueen (b. 1949) and Michele Leggott (b. 1956), regarded Curnowian modernism as itself a whitewash of New Zealand’s place in

While a simplification, the tension between generations in their various reactions to this colonial history certainly informs the different sense of the ‘I’ adopted by Turner and Ross, though neither of these poets is an express advocate of Maori perspectives, as other poets have been. New Zealand history, and the role of poets in New Zealand history, can be read in each of them, with Ross finding the Curnowian imperative to respond to land and place less important than Turner, and Turner less attuned to the multiplicity of cultures informing contemporary New Zealand than Ross. The Curnowian anti-myth, while denouncing the values of previous generations, was nonetheless stridently nationalist; it was a programme of reform on a national level, and egalitarian inasmuch as Maori and Pakeha were presumed to constitute nation-state identity equally. Conversely, internationalists like the 1930s poet Robin Hyde, Baxter, or Brunton, sceptical of the ideological imperatives of Curnowian nationalists, would identify more with tribalism than with perceived nationalist constructs.

Turner’s interest in sport marks him out as in some sense a nationalist, an embodier of egalitarian virtues on which the ideal of the settler nation-state built itself, and thus someone who can identify with the common interest of national sporting success. Yet in his poetry, this nationalism has consciously and explicitly been converted to tribalism, with debatable success in a poem like ‘Southern Tribesmen’, on account of the critical pressures placed on the nationalist construct:

We hear a lots about
cultural sensitivity, about rights

about atoning, about the need
to apologise. Done. Now we can get on
with listening to the creek

making music as the moon rises
while my sense of belonging here
rises defiantly out of the dark.

Turner, the celebrated Pakeha indigene, lives both inside and outside of nationalism, at once an embracer of its core values and, as a noted environmentalist, a fierce critic of many of its objectives (the poet is notable for his opposition to giant hydro schemes and wind farms). His poetic voice, with its echoes of international contemporaries like Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and Les Murray, is commonly an attempt at elevated or metaphor-enriched speech; one can almost imagine—indeed, the effect is recurrent and deliberate—patinas of silence like the buzz of bees, wind, or the mercurial chatter of a river, as the background for the moment of utterance. Poetry for Turner, in other words, is significantly staged elocution; his thematic objective is mystic limpidity, in which the ‘I’ resonates the tensions of the subjected self against an historical and existential landscape.

Ross’s views on poetry are linked with the objectivist tendency in New Zealand poetry that arose out of Auckland in the late 1960s, when arts critic and champion of the avant-garde, Roger Horrocks, now Professor, began teaching Modern American Poetry at Auckland University to the likes of Brunton, Ian Wedde and Alan Loney (b. 1940), introducing them to Ezra Pound, Charles Olson and Robert Bly among others. Ross has certainly read independently of the influence of this older generation, but there can be no doubt that the field-form experimentalism of Brunton in particular has at some stage influenced him, as it has Ross’s Auckland contemporary, Michele Leggott, if just inasmuch as Brunton may have shown Ross that New Zealand culture and society was mature enough to sustain unselfconscious experimentalism.

Auckland nach dem Regen


       at the ‘City of Sails’ motel.
It’s hard to convey how strange that is:
dark, skid-marked streets; day after day
of grey ...
             Who the fuck’s there?

This excerpt from Ross’s ‘Situations ii: CBD’—with its would-be Max-Ernst evocation of Auckland in German, mixed typography and mélange of idiom—shows the influence of seventies poets, though Ross certainly possesses an idiosyncratic voice. The New Poets (in the 1970s) did not feel threatened by perceived obligations of subject matter, voice and attitude that gripped previous generations.vii Like Brunton’s work, Ross’s poetry is commonly spread out across the page, clustering into shapes or mimicking quotidian framed text such as a Personals ad or a shopping list. Ross feels much less need to speak directly to his countrymen than Turner—his role as a poet is less vatic, ennunciatory or prophetic—though his work is nonetheless unthinkingly engaged in tbe social fabric of present-day Auckland.

In their recent collections, Taking Off and Chantal’s Book,viii Turner and Ross exemplify different, culturally inflected responses to the question all poets face about the ‘I’: how to use it in poetry? Even where the first-person pronoun does not actually surface in a poem, the act of giving personality to composition is commonly a masquerade, shielding the more primitive sense of vulnerability which accompanies that basic psychological self-reflexivity, the embarrassing act of producing art. Poetry is navel-gazing, onanism, as Byron rudely said of Keats;ix it is not simply natural, which is why indeed its linguistic conceits are celebrated. And all poets are great liars, as Yeats observed, suspended in private dramas.x Both Turner and Ross, professional poets, take pains to exploit this creative vulnerability, to hover on the edge of embarrassing themselves while trying to keep control of their conceits to validate this potential embarrassment as art.


Extending Turner’s punnery, one might describe Taking Off as about flight. The title of Turner’s collection references equally the recluse, the imagination and human spirit, the rebel and the stray. The cynic might point out that the title is also a gimmick; from the very beginning, romantic stereotypes of the wild colonial spirit have been imported to the poetic occasion, though in fact the lives of Turner’s readers are dominated by mundane exigencies like earning an income. Turner, it must be said, is cognisant of this; indeed, there is an element of defiance in his poetry, a resistance to the pragmatic ordinations of social authority, and retreat from the cluttered spaces of suburbia. The lyrical or meditative self waxes indignant at pettiness, expediency, selfishness or greed, but this indignation is tempered with a semi-rustic tendency to succinct wisdom or ostensibly distinterested observation. And inherent in this wisdom is the poet’s Heraclitean recognition of flux—wind in the sepulchres on the hillside,/.../ wind in the rushes by the stream’xi—in the face of which the ‘I’ might be regarded as little more than a ghost grasping fatalistically at some empirical foundation from which to hang its politics.

This hovering between different meanings that Turner exemplifies in his title derives from an entrenched poetic tradition stemming ultimately from the high Romantic reappraisal of cultural aretefacts like folk poetry in the late eighteenth century. Just as Wordsworth could find immortal truth in the ‘old, unhappy, far-off things’ sung casually by a solitary reaper, and Coleridge would in 1816 affect the character of an antiquated folk-ballad tradition when appending marginal glosses to the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, in the twentieth century A.E. Housman, an erstwhile pagan, brilliant classicist and later an atheist, would knowingly distill the tragic youth of Achilles and Hector in apparently simple ballads about English ‘lads’ doomed to early death.xii With a few reservations, Turner would probably agree with Housman’s argument in his essay ‘the Name and Nature of Poetry’ that poetry must first and foremost plunge into feeling;xiii yet neither poet is simply advocating pure Keatsian sensualism or, for that matter, Rimbaldian derèglement, but rather something a little like Heidegger’s Being-in-the-world, articulated in ‘Cliff Walk’:

All I know is a space between earth and sky,
the space between far away and close at hand,
all of it swathed in blue and green.

Turner and Housman, as Robert Frost and Les Murray, advocate a mature wisdom of the senses: Wallace Stevens’ ‘palm at the end of the mind’, indeed Wordsworth’s daffodil, is for Turner ‘the bony glitter of the wind’ in tussock.xiv

No less than Heaney (Ireland), Murray (Australia), Derek Walcott (Trinidad), Curnow or Baxter (New Zealand), Frost or Richard Wilbur (America), Turner is distantly a nationalist in the Yeatsian mould: a modern poet whose private apostrophes on issues of idiosyncratic national identity are coordinated into an art-form of stances: what I have earlier called ‘staged elocution’. The later W.B. Yeats’ expressly political, tribally imbued voice (‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone;/ It’s with O’Leary in the grave’xv) recognised the ancient enmired in the modern; and this sense of history forged a voice of intelligent disaffection which became the prototype for modern Romantic nationalism across the Anglophone world. In this nationalistic art, natural landscapes figure dominantly as the motif by which identity is individuated, as is evident for instance in Curnow’s aforementioned anti-myth. Whitmanesque cities figure much less in any of the above poets’ works than neo-Yeatsian rural landscapes.

As apostrophes—staged elocution for a projected but absent audience—Turner’s poems are self-conscious acts rather than involuntary or truly private outpourings. The apostrophe justifies metaphor-enriched speech; the private drama enacted provides a practical foundation for art, its praxis by its nature in some respect a contrivance. Turner’s private declaration in rhyming quatrains, ‘Legacy’, epitomises this contrivance grounded in private drama:

I have come to accept
I am my father’s son,
that he and I, together,
are cartridges in a gun.

In such apostrophes, it is important that the poet is always in some sense a character, the identity of whom is obviously closely associated with the ornery biological specimen that grips the pen but by no means exactly the same: the person Brian Turner adopts the poet-character author-function ‘Brian Turner’ when composing poetry. Thus the ‘I’, to borrow Paul Ricoeur’s terminology, is ‘distanciated’.xvi It is objectified and characterised, bearing ideological weight in respect of the context in which it is deployed; the biological specimen strategically avoids personal embarrassment by developing a contrivance, but the humanity of the poetic ‘I’ derives nonetheless from its groundedness in ornery vulnerability.

Taking Off is to this end full of poetic songs of one sort or another. These include: poems using an anaphoric repetition of personalised clauses (like ‘I take’ in the poem ‘Take Heart’, whose stanzas vary their first line from ‘I take heart’ to ‘I take my medicine’); coarsely rhyming poems like ‘Country Boy’, which captures the escapades of South Island country lads in a Housmanesque alien universe; gnomic, semi-ironic soundbytes such as ‘Cricket’ (‘A game about which/ you can know very little/ and say anything/ and be right sooner or later.’); and lyrical meditations, often striking a Candide-like attitude to the tribulations of the wider world in favour of fishing or nature recreation in the Central Otago environs (as in ‘The Angler’: ‘the river, which// never gives tongue to contrition/ in a language to which/ we subscribe, runs clear beneath/ a no best-by blue sky.’). Even where the first-person pronoun is not in use, personalism of a sort is at play: Turner’s poems bear a recogniseable ideological imprint, and the song-reminiscence technique is consistently employed to achieve pathos while avoiding sentimentality.

‘From Bracken’s Lookout, Dunedin’ exemplifies the exercise in staged elocution that Turner indulges in. No major writer, the nineteenth-century poet Thomas Bracken (1843-98) is nevertheless famous for having written the national anthem ‘God of Nations’ and the Tennysonian lyric, ‘Not understood’. Since Curnow’s Pakeha postcolonialism, New Zealand poets have been shy of identifying with the poetaster Bracken, but a visit to the hilltop cemetery where Bracken lies prompts Turner to muse:

We’re in between here, and so much
that’s passed and present is taut
with a longing for permanence.

This is concentrated speech, metaphor and theme ostensibly naturalised by such gestures toward conversation as the contraction ‘that’s’; a disaffected romantic nationalist in a different time, himself prone to sentimentality, strains to relate how Bracken’s resting place haunts him. While the poem is no song, Turner relies once more on resonant, even frustrating, ambiguity. In the assertion ‘Extravagance/ is not part of a southern legacy’, he might be supposing Bracken’s inability to understand an austere southern climate, or he may be explicitly refusing to commune with Bracken’s ghost, or both; whatever, as with his songs, the underlying message is once again opening oneself to the fleeting world, ‘lost and found’, this time on a swing under the Dunedin sun.


Jack Ross is similarly coy. ‘I’ is his central character, adrift in a failing, lust-driven affair across both Islands of New Zealand, accompanied by a crowd of dead poets, thinkers and characters, as well as some local signposts for flavour.­ The presiding aesthetic of Chantal’s Book is hybridity: semiotic manipulation features alongside assertions made by a Werther-like romantic,xvii mock-heroic puns and salacious detail. Though a very different poet to Turner, the Auckland poet similarly exploits his own vulnerability as an emotional grounding that makes pastiches of text from the centuries, in tandem with his own thoughts, often moving statements about our common loneliness in a startling reality. Measured against this background, his self is a composite, barely shielded by the text but of course also produced by it. Aware of this, Ross subtly caricatures himself. He is happy to admit what for many might be too-private thoughts by framing them in their context-dependent, multiplex historical reality, a reality in which irony is the prismatic echo of cultures trying to understand themselves in time.

On the one hand, Chantal’s Book is little more than a translation-filled diary of the rise and fall of eros, pathetically dedicated by the poet to his one-time lover. Yet it is also a published volume of poetry by a well-read poet:

You know my favourite saying by now:
‘Nature abhors a vacuum.’

I don’t know, though, if you understand
how momentous these emotions are for me­ ­
how intense, unheimlich. I think about
you every day, see you round every street corner.

The passage above, from the second poem in Chantal’s Book, ‘Melting the Ice Block’, presents no sophisticated narrative devices to interpret, nothing secret to decode. Ross’s voice is obviously contemporary, but vocabulary like ‘unheimlich’ (‘out-of-kilter’; ‘homeless’) from Heidegger or perhaps Ernst Jünger possesses an old-world gravity, which Ross very consciously allows to settle on his locale, as if acknowledging that the word has a right to belong in an intellectually mature, internationalist New Zealand context. With the comic pick-up line, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’, in the preceding stanza, ‘unheimlich’ illustrates the mercuriality of idiom at work.

While the critique of failed love which dominates Chantal’s Book is genuinely conceived and indeed has a therapeutic purpose, the undertaking is everywhere reminiscent of the dialogical gestures of American Language poets like John Ashbery, Denise Levertov, Jorie Graham and Ron Silliman. This excerpt from ‘Shades of Meaning at Cape Foulwind’ (the location is real) exemplifies the structures of the self in which the poet is interested:

her shoulder      Chantal
hot in this new sun
supine not stable      seals cry down below
Lying      present participle      Seize
the moment
Why? Is it momentous?
no      or glad?      sweet?       somewhat       yes
side-swiped a car three miles back
my fault       or his
one slip       or less
entanglement with business       Tartarus of day
An aphid passes
greetings green

Ross is not the first poet to use field-form typography or parataxis; nonetheless, the mood evoked of distracted stream-of-consciousness is a fine example of poiesis. His linguistically modulated self engages with the continuum of experience that this new context—a lookout above the Cape and the notional chance to touch Chantal’s shoulder—affords. The italicisation, ‘present participle’, represents the yielding (Heidegger would call it Ereignisxviii) of this sensual continuum to Ross’s self-consciously textual self. And while the framework of the poem persists, the indifferent grind of the universe also persists, embodied in Chantal’s cryptic rejection of his advances and the surrogate arrival of an aphid, ‘green/ comrade’, that concludes the poem.

An internationalist, Ross’s new-world New Zealand ‘I’ is pervasively historically constituted. This is manifest in the wide selection of epigraphs he chooses—from Lady Murasaki, author of the tenth-century Japanese proto-novel The Genjii, to Renaissance thinker Giordano Bruno, to a fridge magnet or graffiti—and also in the translation pieces that recur throughout Chantal’s Book. Poems are diary entries, day-to-day semiotic experiments such as transcriptions of public-toilet graffiti, outcomes of the erotic context to which he has submitted himself and which his book’s dedicatory title celebrates. This doesn’t mean that the entries are artificial; however, they have certainly been guided by an ‘academic’ impulse, in New Zealand poet Kendrick Smithyman’s New-Critical sense of the term: an impulse for which ‘language [is] a force to be respected to the point where one could properly talk about the autonomy of language.’xix Like the later Smithyman (1922-95), with whose work he has engaged in depth,xx Ross is sufficiently comfortable with the autonomy of language to display himself openly in the manner of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions as an artefact to be examined.

On a number of occasions, in shades of the great Confessionalists like Samuel Pepys, Rousseau and the Marquis de Sade,xxi Ross unsanitarily includes prurient detail, such as the following diary entry about masturbating with Chantal on the beach:

Went for a swim in the icy-cold waters off Okains Bay to cool down a bit after playing with C’s pussy through her bikini panties. Water straight from Antarctica, through the empty leagues of the South Pacific. Water turqoise blue against the tawny lion-sand colour of the hills. I was very cold when I returned & Chantal proceeded to warm me up by playing with my cock with her hand while I pulled down my shirt to hide this activity from prying eyes. Luckily the beach is vast & the cars and people were some distance off. I fingered her till she came, but was left tumescent when a red car pulled up in front of us. A boy got out and started dancing round in the sand with admirable unselfconsciousness.

Dated ‘Tuesday, 11th January—3.05 pm’, this entry is both ridiculous and striking, particularly its final throw-away line. Its close cousin is the sensualism of Albert Camus’ beach-loving Meurseult in L’Etranger. The two ampersands remind us that the passage is intended as a biopsy of private human existence; in another diary entry elsewhere, Ross comically informs us that ‘P. was in charge at the Uni’, adopting an antiquated custom in English Letters of retaining the anonymity of clearly real people but punning on a metamphetamine epidemic that has featured widely in New Zealand media.xxii There is a point, in other words, to all this secret detail, which is that, as for Derrida and the later Smithyman, for Ross language has no borders, and the Language poet must attend to this overflow in respect of his obligation to chase up the unexamined life.


Ross and Turner, in their different approaches to personalism, exemplify a longstanding conflict between land and culture regarding New Zealand identity. Proverbially, they are town mouse and country mouse. Turner’s southern tribesmen regard themselves as gatekeepers of frontier values: they are latter-day apotheoses of the Curnowian anti-myth, Pakeha who have ostensibly grown to understand, respect and treasure the prehistoric land that their forefathers once destroyed in the name of progress. Ross conversely, who belongs to multicultural Auckland with its constituent Chinese, Maori, Tongan, Samoan, Somali, Afghani and Vietnamese populations, among others, would see the monocultural limitations of Turner’s model of New Zealand identity. If Turner’s ‘I’ is more likely react to threats to New Zealand heritage like the damming of the Waitaki River, Ross would doubtless be the more vocal of the two about human rights issues such as the immigration status of Ahmed Zaoui.

It is quite possible that Ross likes cricket too, but the Auckland poet is much less likely to perceive the fickleness of the nation in the vicissitudes of the current team than Turner, and to this end less likely to squander the opportunity to discuss poetry with another poet in favour of a televised sports event. Turner’s cricket match is a distillation of tensions that may occur at a personal and national level; while not art, cricket embodies the competitive straining which undergirds the Pakeha postcolonial psyche. The national team’s prowess and plight are likely to appeal to the sense of drama which similarly pits the ‘I’ against an often elemental natural frontier in Turner’s poetry. Ross, on the other hand, is a more dispassionate observer, for whom the event, as the poetic ‘I’, can be accorded no greater status than an isolated event in the inherently disparate human landscape. Sporting matches for Ross are merely more collisions of interest, with a possible side effect of entertainment value, in the tumult of the global marketplace.


i Te Mata Wines sponsors the New Zealand Poet Laureateship, which is awarded every two years to a leading New Zealand poet. Thus far there have been five poet laureates: Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare, Brian Turner, Elizabeth Smither and Jenny Bornholdt.

ii Allen Curnow, Introduction, The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, Auckland: Penguin, 1960, p. 17

iii See Stephen Turner, 'Settlement as forgetting', Quicksands: Foundational histories in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand ed. Klaus Neumann, Nicholas Thomas and Hilary Ericksen, Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1999, pp. 20–38.

Stephen Turner is not related to the poet.

iv Allen Curnow, Collected Poems 1933­73, Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1974, xiii.

v Historian Keith Sinclair has, in the present writer’s eyes, overstated what he called ‘The South Island Myth’: ‘It is worth noting that that almost all the writers whose work expresses this attitude were South Islanders. It is a regional myth, which has little appeal in the North Island, with its monuments to ancient Maori occupation and its denser population. It should be remarked that this South Island myth has been rejected in recent years by younger men and women who have accepted their role as writers without worrying unduly about being New Zealand writers.’ Keith Sinclair, A History of New Zealand, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959, p. 301. For an alternative, contemporary account see Richard Reeve, ‘The South Island Myth: Observations on the poetics of mystery in Cilla McQueen, David Eggleton and David Howard’, keynote address, Bluff 2006 Poetry Festival anthology (Jun. 2006),

vi See: Alan Brunton, ‘Holding the Line: Contested Contexts in Recent Verse’, in Opening the Book: New Essays on New Zealand Writing, ed. Michele Leggott, Mark Williams, Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1995, pp. 24965.

vii See Arthur Baysting (ed.), The Young New Zealand Poets, Auckland: Heinemann, 1973; Murray Edmond, Mary Paul (eds.), The New Poets: Initiatives in the 1980s, Wellington: Allen & Unwin, 1987.

viii Brian Turner, Taking Off, Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2001; Jack Ross, Chantal’s Book, Wellington: Headworx, 2002.

ix See Frederick Raphael, Byron, Thames and Hudson: London, 1982, p. 165.

x W.B Yeats, Letters On Poetry From W.B. Yeats To Dorothy Wellesley, London: Oxford University Press, 1940, p. 69

xi Turner, ‘Wind’, Taking Off, p. 57.

xii William Wordsworth, ‘The Solitary Reaper’, The Oxford Authors: William Wordsworth ed. Stephen Gill, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984, p. 319; Hartley Coleridge (ed.), The Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge 16th edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 186 and n.; Introduction, The Works of A.E. Housman, Wordsworth Poetry Library: Ware, 1994, vxi. Housman’s great work is titled A Shropshire Lad.

xiii ‘I think that to transfuse emotion—no to transmit thought but to set up in the reader’s sense a vibration corresponding to what was felt by the writer—is the peculiar function of poetry.’ A.E. Housman, ‘The Name and Nature of Poetry (1933)’, A.E. Housman: Selected Prose ed. John Carter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961, p. 172.

xiv Turner, ‘Behind’, Taking Off, p. 14. The other poetic references are to Wordsworth’s ‘The Daffodil’ and Wallace Stevens’ ‘Of Mere Being’.

xv W.B. Yeats, ‘September 1913’, Collected Poems, Macmillan: London, 1995, p. 120.

xvi Ricoeur has written, ‘the world of the text constitutes a new sort of distanciation that could be called the distanciation of the real from itself.’ See Paul Ricoeur, ‘The Hermeneutic Function of Distanciation’, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences trans. John B. Thompson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973, p. 142.

xvii As in Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s eponymous character.

xviii Heidegger’s enigmatic concept Ereignis may be translated as ‘the event of ‘Appropriation’. ‘The appropriating event is not the outcome (result) of something else, but the giving yield whose giving reach alone is what gives us such things as a “there is”, a “there is” of which even Being itself stands in need to come into its own as presence.’ Martin Heidegger, ‘The Way to Language’,On the Way to Language trans. Peter D. Herz, New York: Harper Collins, 1982, p. 127.

xix Kendrick Smithyman, A Way of Saying: A Study of New Zealand Poetry, Collins: Auckland, 1965, p. 4.

xx Ross for instance has written notes and an introduction for Kendrick Smithyman’s Campana to Montale: Versions from Italian (Auckland: The Writers Group, 2004), and published a number of essays on Smithyman’s work.

xxi For example, from Rousseau: ‘I have displayed myself as I was, as vile and dispicable when my behaviour was such, as good generous and noble when I was so. I have bared my secret soul as Thou thyself hast seen it, Eternal Being!’, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions trans. J.M. Cohen, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1953, p. 17.

xxii Ross, ‘[Monday 24th January—8.20 am]’, Chantal’s Book, p. 91.