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Unthawing, Hugh Roberts

Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908-1945
John Newton
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776561629

Telling the Real Story: Genre and New Zealand Literature
Erin Mercer
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776560851

If there is a better book on New Zealand literature than John Newton’s Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908-1945, I have not read it. Rarely, indeed, have I read a work of literary history in any field of its calibre. Wise, human, witty and compassionate, this is that rare – oh, too rare – book of literary scholarship one would unhesitatingly recommend to the non-specialist reader: to anyone interested in New Zealand literature, obviously, but anyone with an interest in New Zealand history, the history of modernism, cultural developments in the West in the mid-20th century, the history of feminism; the list could go on. I live in the United States and have already begun to enthusiastically recommend the book to friends who I know have barely heard of New Zealand and could not name a New Zealand author to save their lives. Wearing his impressive learning lightly, Newton has managed to find a critical voice that addresses the reader as an equal, acknowledges the possibility – the desirability, indeed – of alternative hypotheses, lays his own enthusiasms and biases on the table, and honours the complexity and integrity of the authors he discusses, even when he radically disagrees with them. If more literary critics could write in this way, one would be far more sanguine about the future of the profession.

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Posted in Literature, Review

So wide, can’t get around it, John Newton

James K Baxter: Complete Prose
John Weir (ed)
Victoria University Press, $200.00,
ISBN 9781776560370

James K Baxter’s Collected Poems which appeared in 1979 remains the most monumental object in New Zealand verse. But it contains a mere 700 poems; the total corpus is said to approach 3000. There’s a fat hardback edition containing some but not all of Baxter’s plays (he wrote about 30). It’s anyone’s guess how much shelf-space the letters will eventually occupy – but a single correspondence, the letters to Noel Ginn, already runs to 570 pages in Paul Millar’s edition of 2001. All this from a writer who died at 46. Laurence Baigent describes locking himself in the bathroom to try to get away from Baxter’s barrage of talk: “But even then, like the baying of the hound of heaven, Baxter’s voice pursued him through the door panels,” writes John Weir in his introduction. Others have recounted the same manic deluge. And Baxter seems to have written as compulsively as he talked.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Non-fiction, Review, Short stories

Beyond beige, John Newton

A Rainbow Reader
Tessa Laird
Clouds, $25.00, ISBN 9780987659378

Plato, I learned recently from the wonderful Maggie Nelson (Bluets, 2009), wanted to banish not just the poets from his republic but also the painters. They were “mixers and grinders of multi-coloured drugs”; colour itself was a menace, a kind of narcotic. But then as David Batchelor argues in Chromophobia (2000), nothing much has changed in western culture in the intervening centuries. The closer you come to the domain of elite taste (the styliest bar, the most exclusive boutique) the more you are reminded that colour is not cool. Bright tones are for pimps and foreigners, for children, for primitives, for hippies and mad people. Who paints their living room other than off-white? Who goes to art school dressed in anything but black?

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Posted in Art, History, Non-fiction, Review

Finding the poetry, Michael Hulse

Gleam  Sarah Broom Auckland University Press, $25.00, ISBN 9781869407704 The Baker’s Thumbprint Paula Green Seraph Press, $25.00, ISBN 9780473236311 Family Songbook John Newton Victoria University Press, $25.00, ISBN 9780864738394 Enough Louise Wallace Victoria University Press, $25.00, ISBN 9780864739131 The sad

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Combing the romantic inheritance, Iain Sharp

Lives of the Poets John Newton Victoria University Press, $25.00, ISBN 9780864736284   Goya Rules Harvey McQueen HeadworX, $24.99, ISBN 9780473160401   Walls to Kick and Hills to Sing from Murray Edmond Auckland University Press, $24.99, ISBN 9781869404581   When

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Poem — John Newton

The Assassination of Kenneth Koch   At old St Mark’s, in the bowels of the Bowery, he reads from his mighty poem for peace, wherein are contained, by his own estimation, all the Pleasures of Peace that there could possibly

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Pioneers of bicultural spirituality, Paul Morris

Ratana: The Prophet  Keith Newman Raupo, $40.00, ISBN 978014310972 Double Rainbow: James Baxter, Ngati Hau and the Jerusalem Commune  John Newton Victoria University Press, $40.00,  ISBN 9780864736037 Pakeha and Maori find themselves in Martin Heidegger’s phrase “thrown” together in our

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Posted in Health, Māori, Non-fiction, Review

After Adorno, John Newton

Critical Theory, Poststructuralism & the Social Context eds Michael Peters, Wayne Hope, James Marshall and Steven Webster Dunmore Press, $39.95, ISBN 0 86469 233 1 Our culture’s aversion to theory is a theme which has been rehearsed numerous times. My favourite

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Posted in Literature, Review
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