mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 11: Spring 1993

One Conversation Many Monologues

One Conversation Many Monologues

There’s a story a one-time bureaucrat tells of how, as a young civil servant, he had to accompany a visiting Japanese diplomat around the South Island. The visitor was interested in English literature and the bureaucrat had been advised by the programme organiser in Wellington that Baxter had invited them to dinner on the night of their Dunedin visit—it was 1967 or 68, while the poet was Burns Fellow.

He and his guest arrived and sat drinking for a while. Janet Frame turned up. And the evening wore on. Dinner was not served. Eventually the nervous 25-year-old started worrying that perhaps there had been a misunderstanding and there might not be any dinner. At an opportune moment, he ducked into the kitchen to discover nothing, in fact, was in the oven.

He then contrived to manoeuvre the Baxters, Janet Frame and the Japanese guest out the door, into the waiting Government car, and off to a Turkish restaurant. Drinking under-the-counter red wine, the civil servant spent the rest of the evening talking to the two women while Baxter, at the other end of the table, soliloquised to the Japanese visitor. It sounded like one of his NZ Tablet sermons—only longer, and punctuated every few minutes by an ‘Ah so‘ from the attentive audience.

page 148


Following in the Baxterian tradition of the theatre-poet and also the poet-as-monologist, Alan Brunton offers an idiosyncratic and multi-dimensional take on Baxter. While he is as insistent in both authorial presence and voice, his staginess is undercut by a proliferation of the enigma—he relishes the oblique and the far-flung. Whereas the elder poet’s work might have emanated from ‘a fuggy room at the top of the stairs’—an identifiable source-Brunton has warehouses full of words, personae, costumes and stage-sets at his disposal. He’s in the entertainment business, even if, at times, it can be a very pessimistic and inward looking affair.

. . . these days we agree
it’s a Lesser Developed Country
why, what the State passes as MILK
is mostly water
and the wine mostly SUGAR and aerosol propellant
and gasoline unavailable
so what?
I’m older
it’s the age of acceleration . . .

(from ‘The Summons’, Slow Passes, AUP 1991)