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Sport 11: Spring 1993

Two Houses

Two Houses

There’s certainly a book sitting around waiting to be written about New Zealand poetry in the 1970s, the atomisation that took place—a frenetic movement between and beyond the imposing figures of James K. Baxter and Allen Curnow.

The noisy collision between the writer and his universe as enacted by Baxter is in marked contrast to Allen Curnow, whose work centres on an orderly relationship between the personal and the public worlds—something he achieved (and is still achieving) through a poetic distancing, filtration of experience, a high mindedness or good-taste, an impeccable order. A far cry from Baxter’s unruly house! The break-neck energy that drove Baxter’s poetry was what Curnow, arguably, sought to remove from his writing. Relying on an intellectual and temperamental equilibrium, Curnow was engaging a different sort of motor—in the end a longer running, more maintainable mode of poetic travel. One that wouldn’t derail him by age 46.