Poets from the Hazard Press and AUP, Max Anderson

In the First Place
David Howard,
Hazard Press, Christchurch, 1992, $19.95

Slow Passes
Alan Brunton,
Auckland University Press, 1991, $24.95

Karitane Postcards
Rob Allan,
Hazard Press, Christchurch, 1992, $19.95

Return to the Earth
Graham Lindsay,
Hazard Press, Christchurch, 1992, $19.95

Embracing the Dark
Mike Minehan,
Hazard Press, Christchurch, 1992, $19.95

David Howard’s debut collection In the First Place contains at least one poem, the short ‘For Fernando Pessoa’, which shows that his sense of what makes up poetry is right. Not that poetry is the only art form in which our deepest desires are pursued, as a section of Howard’s book devoted to paintings in a portrait gallery implies. Howard’s act of titling each poem with the name and dates of artists from Van Gogh to Clairmont, makes plain his debt to Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, but one could not say that they make any great contribution to a style which one sometimes feels to have outlived its usefulness.

As Peter Simpson shows in his introduction to what represents a decade’s work, Alan Brunton is another New Zealand poet for whom American poetry from Modernism onwards represents a decisive influence. There are several reasons for this, not least being that American poetry since Pound offers alternatives to the repressive‑seeming English tradition. In Brunton’s case one explanation has to do with the role of the poet-hero which Pound, Eliot and Williams in their respective ways developed. Brunton has always had large ambitions. The title poem begins: 

I wanted to find where/ paradise/ could be/ didn’t realise it could be so easy

 

Here, and in the rest of the poem, the interest in paradise which Brunton shares with Ian Wedde is played out not on some intellectual high ground but in a fairly normal, everyday setting; paradise does come easy. For Brunton poetry is simply something that ‘never stops talking, is always looking for words’. This is a very modern definition, and one which is a little limiting to what unfashionably might be poetry’s higher potential, but it captures something of the essence of Brunton’s work.

Rob Allen’s Karitane Postcards is a 100-part long poem which ‘lives in the place of language to capture the “real”‘. The ‘real’ is precisely located at Karitane but, with due deference to post-modernism, makes itself highly inclusive of worldly events:

The moral dimension society as shapely/ honouring the treaty/ moving from the East the people flee West/ to share the structures of democracy/ the idea the words sliding out from under/ signified from signifier

 

Allan’s poetry has too much the sense of an intellectual synthesis to be truly creative, but it certainly updates the areas which Ian Wedde in particular has investigated.

Like Howard’s book, which includes photography by Paul Swadel, Graham Lindsay’s Return to Earth is illustrated with the graphics of Bryan Harold. And it follows Karitane Postcards in slotting itself into a continuum of artistic endeavour in New Zealand, dedicating poems to such figures as Kevin Cunningham, Cilla McQueen and Ralph Hotere. The poem addressed to Hotere, ‘South’, writes of:

A social diagram by Robert Ellis in which/ people pop out of doors/

out of clouds out of ships’/ funnels shadows of themselves and then,/

inbred with sea …/ he/ is from the north

a passage which emphasises Lindsay’s interest in the interaction of art and reality, particularly landscape, and his southernness. But this, again, is a book I read without experiencing the genuine glow of literary satisfaction.

In the last two lines of ‘For Amy’, a first birthday poem presumably written for Mike Minehan’s daughter, she observes that:

a woman out to gather from the dark/ in these times is taking chances …

Ostensibly referring to the ‘hank of hair’ Minehan has collected, the lines are really about the book’s subject, Minehan’s need to embrace ‘the dark places within me and (learn) to love and accept them’. This provides the basis for an exploration of the position of women which is both thorough and penetrating.

 

Max Anderson is an Honours student in the English Department of Victoria University of Wellington and has also published poetry.

 

 

 

 

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