diumenge, 24 d’octubre de 2010


His first collection of poems Valley of Decision (1933)—printed, like Kiwi and Phoenix, by R.W. Lowry—reflected a crisis of religious vocation pointing towards his decision not to be ordained, taken the following year. Biblical imagery and language remained an important element in all his writing.

In 1934 Curnow returned to the South Island. During a brief period on a South Canterbury farm he corresponded with Iris Wilkinson (Robin Hyde) and Alan Mulgan at the Auckland Star. He then found a job on the Christchurch Press. In Christchurch he quickly established a lifelong friendship and collaboration with Denis Glover and began contributing to Caxton Press publications, such as New Poems (1934) and Another Argo (1935).

Three Poems and a brief prose manifesto, Poetry and Language, were published by Caxton in 1935. He also contributed verse and prose to the radical periodical Tomorrow (1934–40), often under the pseudonyms ‘Amen’ and ‘Julian’. A shift in his poetic manner is observable in Enemies: Poems 1934–36 (Caxton, 1937), which reveals an awareness of contemporary English poetry (including Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Auden, Day Lewis, Spender, MacNeice, Dylan Thomas and William Empson—some of these influences came in a bit later) and a sharper consciousness of the New Zealand scene, both social and physical.

These tendencies continued in his next three books, Not in Narrow Seas (Caxton, 1939), Island Time (Caxton, 1941) and Sailing or Drowning (Progressive Publishing Society, 1943), which demonstrate growing technical mastery and a progressive widening of thematic scope. These books display a tight focus on details of New Zealand’s landscape and history and on its situation as a small island nation in the wider world—a consciousness further accentuated by the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, and the widening of the conflict to the Pacific from late 1941.

From the mid-1930s Curnow contributed frequent reviews and articles to the literary pages of the Press, and, after 1941, to the Caxton miscellany Book. A Present for Hitler, the first of several volumes of topical satirical verses—most of them originally printed in the Press (and from 1952 also the New Zealand Herald) under the pseudonym ‘Whim-Wham’—appeared in 1940.

During the war years, Curnow—who by this time had a young family—spent his nights sub-editing foreign news at the Press and his days working on The Axe, a verse play with a Pacific setting (performed on stage 1948, 1953, published Caxton, 1949) and an anthology, eventually published as A Book of New Zealand Verse 1923–45 (Caxton, 1945). This seminal anthology included the work of sixteen poets, most of whom (Ursula Bethell, J.R. Hervey, D’Arcy Cresswell, Beaglehole, Fairburn, Mason, Glover, Hyde, Charles Brasch, Basil Dowling, Anton Vogt, James K. Baxter and Curnow himself) had been published by Caxton during the previous decade.

The selection, together with Curnow’s forty-page introduction, provided the first coherent and substantial representation and analysis of New Zealand poetry and has remained a landmark publication. The introduction was most noteworthy for his identification of recurring elements among the themes and images of the poets, in which he saw evidence of ‘some common problem of the imagination’ particular to the New Zealander’s situation.