Sport 11: Spring 1993
Two or So Young Men
Two or So Young Men
Two young poets grappling with the Baxterian mode are John Newton and Robert Sullivan, the former picking up on the rural, moralistic, death-obsessed, early Baxter (but permeating it with layers of irony and an almost postmodern detachment). Newton’s narratives run along similar rails to Baxter’s, but there isn’t a Message, a Truth, at the end of the poem to clobber the reader with.
Images associating nature and suffering arise in Newton’s poetry, but they aren’t as metaphorically loaded as Baxter would have made them:
. . . Packed in the shade of the big macrocarpa
this morning’s shorn sheep heal
and rock in the heat.
(from ‘Lunch‘, Tales from the Angler’s Eldorado,Untold 1985)
Sullivan’s ‘Tai Tokerau poems’ revisit and revise the voice of the Jerusalem Sonnets Baxter, only Sullivan’s poems manage a reconciliation between the urban and rural environments (something Baxter’s could never facilitate). Sullivan’s poems embrace a broader community of people, influences and images than the tightly-knit fabric of Baxter’s Jerusalem community and his poetry of that period. In doing so, the iconography of Sullivan’s poems is more random and less orchestrated than Baxter would have had it. The younger poet picks up on the working-or-student class, intimist interiors, the bric-a-brac particular to any given time and place, dismantles the hierarchic arrangement of iconography, and presents ‘reality’ as found and lived.
Like David Eggleton, Sullivan embodies the Poet come down from the Holy Mountain, his ethics and ideals somehow still intact. Sullivan is prepared to have these ideals coexist with what is down here, for meanings to emerge from the jostling and interpenetration of the Belief and the Reality. There’s a youthful optimism in Sullivan, contrasting with Baxter’s bleakness, his sense of a man winding down to his own death—and seeing society, at large, mirroring this personal decline.