dimarts, 26 d’octubre de 2010


In the 1950s and 1960s Curnow got caught up in intergenerational and interregional conflicts with the younger Wellington-based writers Louis Johnson and Baxter, especially in connection with his reviews in Here Now of the early issues of Johnson’s New Zealand Poetry Yearbook (1951–52) and then the contents of his own second anthology, The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1960), the publication of which was delayed by disputes about his selections and introduction.

Curnow has written about this episode: ‘My critical positions, as understood from my reviews and anthologies, inevitably came under some fire: whether from an older generation who thought me unjust to respected poets of their time, or from writers younger than myself who believed themselves underrated, and who interpreted any emphasis on a New Zealand particularity or "common problem" as a restrictive desideratum—so to speak, a charge for admission to my anthologies which they were not prepared to pay.

Such challenges came to a head in 1957–58, when a second anthology The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1960) was on the point of publication in the United Kingdom. A set of galley-proofs fell into the hands of young Wellington poets employed in the School Publications Branch of the Education Department. Letters were rushed off to England threatening a concerted withdrawal by several poets the threatened walk-out didn’t eventuate. But publication was delayed two years. Invited to undertake a sequel to the 1960 Penguin, I refused.’

Debate about the contents of the anthology and its fifty-page introduction (a key document in New Zealand criticism) figured prominently in literary discussion in the 1960s. One passage in particular—‘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. Whatever is true vision belongs, here, uniquely to the islands of New Zealand.

The best of our verse is marked or moulded everywhere by peculiar pressures—pressures arising from the isolation of the country, its physical character, and its history’—became celebrated, seen by some as an important truth memorably expressed, while others—usually younger—took it as prescriptively nationalistic. There were clarifications and elaborations of Curnow’s views in the lectures ‘New Zealand Literature: The Case for a Working Definition’ (1963) and ‘Distraction and Definition: Centripetal Directions in New Zealand Poetry’ (1968). These lectures, the anthology introductions and other miscellaneous pieces were eventually collected in Look Back Harder: Critical Writings 1935–1984, edited by Peter Simpson (Auckland University Press, 1987).

After A Small Room with Large Windows (Oxford University Press, 1962)—a selected poems published in the UK which contained only two previously uncollected poems—Curnow published no further verse collection until Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects appeared in 1972. From the perspective of the end of the 1990s it is apparent that this brilliant sequence of eighteen poems initiated a new phase of his poetic career.