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