dimecres, 27 d’octubre de 2010

ALLEN CURNOW (5)


The increasingly elaborate and highly wrought texture of poems of the 1950s, such as ‘Spectacular Blossom’ and ‘A Small Room with Large Windows’, gave way to a more openly textured verse, often vividly colloquial, imagistic, and idiomatic in expression while still precisely calculated in its effects. Also with this book a new landscape made a forceful entry into the poetry—that of the bush-clad hills and wild beaches of Auckland’s west coast, in particular Lone Kauri Road and Karekare Beach; as Curnow explained in a note in Selected Poems 1940–1989 (1990): ‘I have spent most of my summers and weekends there since 1961.’

If this beach-and-bush locale represents a kind of ‘fixed foot’ in the universe of Curnow’s later poetry, the other ‘foot’ has continued to roam widely through time and space, drawing in experiences from overseas travel in Europe (including a spell as Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton) and the United States, and also exploring personal and family history to a much greater extent than before.

American settings are especially important in Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects, in which Washington DC serves with Lone Kauri Road as coordinates by which the sequence is mapped, so to speak. Family history figures especially prominently in the title poem of An Abominable Temper & Other Poems (1973), a ten-part sequence in which the poet adopts the persona of his great-grandfather, H.A.H. Monro, to create a portrait of his father, Peter Monro—the man with ‘an abominable temper’, the poet’s great-great-grandfather —who settled in the Hokianga in the early nineteenth century.

In An Incorrigible Music (1979), another book-length sequence, Karekare again provides the ‘home’ coordinate (as in, e.g., ‘Canst Thou Draw Out Leviathan with an Hook?’—the title is from the Book of Job) while Italian settings both historical and contemporary provide the ‘away’ coordinate, notably in two powerful multi-part poems, ‘In the Duomo’ (the account of a murder in Renaissance Florence) and ‘Moro Assassinato’ (which takes its subject from the assassination by terrorists of a contemporary Italian statesman, Aldo Moro).

You Will Know When You Get There: Poems 1979–81 (1982) is a more various sequence containing a number of outstanding short lyrics, some of which appear to focus on the imminence of death, as, for instance, in the title piece and ‘The Parakeets at Karekare’, while the suburban Auckland of the poet’s city residence figures in such poems as ‘The Weather in Tohunga Crescent’. In ‘A Fellow Being’, a further ten-part sequence, the poet explored his coincidental connection to an Aucklander of an earlier time, the entrepreneurial American dentist and feller of kauri forests, Dr F.J. Rayner.

Increasingly through the 1980s and 1990s, Curnow began making poems out of incidents from his Canterbury childhood. While there were isolated earlier poems of childhood reminiscence, e.g. ‘Country School’ from 1941, such poems became much more prominent in The Loop in Lone Kauri Road: Poems 1983–1985 (1986), and in the previously uncollected poems in Continuum: New and Later Poems1972–1988 (1988)— which brought together five books from the 1970s and 1980s—and Early Days Yet: New and Collected Poems 1941–1997 (1997).

Between poems with Karekare settings and the poems with childhood Canterbury settings an elaborate pattern of contrasts and oppositions is implicitly established: youth and age, south and north, Canterbury and Auckland, east and west, Pacific and Tasman, plain and bush. An example of such patterning is the implied connection between two late ‘car’ poems, ‘Early Days Yet’—in part a recollection of travelling the long dusty roads of rural Canterbury with his clergyman father in a model-T Ford—and ‘The Game of Tag’, a poetic fiction (in the Wallace Stevens sense of imaginative construct) in which an old Falcon is driven ‘like a bat / out of Hell’ around the twisting corners of Lone Kauri Road by the poet’s ‘spray- / gun-toting rival’ whose death note is the spray-painted roadside graffito ‘THANKS FOR THE TAG’.