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James K. Baxter Complete Prose Volume 4


page 158


The Ancestral Face

1859Archibald and Margaret McColl and their family arrive as immigrants at Port Chalmers, Dunedin, on 12 September. Soon afterwards they move to Brighton.
1861John and Mary Baxter and their family arrive on 28 January. They move to Brighton.
1874John Macmillan Brown is appointed to the Chair of Classics and English at Canterbury University College.
1876Helen Connon (born 1860?) becomes one of his students, the first woman student of the University of New Zealand.
1879Mary McColl marries John Baxter at Winton on 16 August. Helen Connon and John Macmillan Brown become engaged.
1880Helen Connon becomes the second woman in the British Empire to graduate BA.
1881Helen Connon graduates MA with first-class honours in English and Latin, the first woman to graduate with Honours from a British university. On 13 December Archibald (Archie) McColl Learmond Baxter, the second child of Mary and John Baxter, is born in the family’s sod cottage at Brighton.
1882Helen Connon becomes second Principal of Christchurch Girls’ High School.
1886John Macmillan Brown and Helen Connon marry on 9 December. They have been engaged for seven years.
1888Millicent Amiel Brown is born on 8 January.
1897Viola Lockhart Brown is born on 16 November.
1903Helen Brown dies on 27 February.
1905Millicent Brown begins studies at Presbyterian Ladies College in Croyden, Sydney.
1908She completes a BA at Sydney University. James Keir Hardie, Scottish socialist and Labour leader, gives a public address in Dunedin. Archie Baxter is greatly impressed and decides that if he ever has a son he will name him James Keir Baxter.
1909Millicent Brown enrols at Newnham College, Cambridge.page 159
1911Millicent passes Part I of the Tripos.
1913Millicent begins a PhD at Halle University, in Germany.
1914First World War begins. Millicent returns to New Zealand.
1917Archie Baxter, a conscientious objector, is arrested, gaoled, then forced aboard a ship which sails for England on 14 July. From there he is forcibly deported into the war zone.
1918Archie is brutally tortured (No. 1 Field Punishment) by military authorities in Belgium. He survives and returns to New Zealand in September.
1920John Macmillan Brown becomes acting professor of English at Otago University College. Millicent accompanies him to Dunedin. Deeply impressed by a letter Archie Baxter wrote to his parents she attempts, ultimately successfully, to meet him.
1921Archie Baxter and Millicent Brown marry on 2 February. Archie buys a small farm at Kuri Bush, south of Brighton.
1922Terence John Baxter is born on 23 May. He is named after the Irish republican patriot Terence Joseph MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, who died on 25 October 1920 while on a hunger strike.

Dunedin and Christchurch: the Early Years

1926James Keir Baxter is born in a Dunedin maternity home on 29 June. His first and middle names commemorate James Keir Hardie, the militant Scottish socialist and Labour leader whose words and activities inspired Archie.
1931The Kuri Bush farm is sold and the Baxters move to a cottage at 13 Bedford Parade, Brighton. JKB attends Brighton Primary School when he turns five.
1933He begins writing poetry at the age of seven.
1935John Macmillan Brown dies on 18 January. The Baxters move to Whanganui where Jim attends the Friends’ School. His brother Terry is already a pupil there.
1936Viola Macmillan Brown and Angelo Notariello marry. He is her former singing-master.
1937The Baxters sail to Europe and England. After visiting the site of Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plains where he had been imprisoned Archie dictates to Millicent his wartime memoirs. (We Will Not Cease was published by Gollancz in 1939.) The boys attend a Quaker school at Sibford Ferris in the Cotswolds.
1938On 15 September the Baxters set sail for New Zealand. JKB returns page 160to Brighton Primary School.
1939JKB returns to Friends’ School, Whanganui; this time as a boarder. Second World War begins.
1940Archie buys the big two-storeyed next-door house at 15 Bedford Parade. JKB returns home from Whanganui. On 5 February he is enrolled at King’s High School, in South Dunedin.
1941In December Terry is incarcerated for refusing to fight in the war.
1942On 9 August JKB begins corresponding with Noel Ginn, Terry’s friend in detention camp. Their letters are mainly about poetry. Ginn is JKB’s true audience for his poetry and his ideas. JKB passes University Entrance Examination.
1943He gains Higher Leaving Certificate.
1944He enrols at Otago University College in English, French, Latin and Philosophy. He is awarded the Macmillan Brown Prize for original poetry. He begins to drink heavily. In August he and his mother visit Terry in detention camp. JKB then meets Noel Ginn for the first time. In Christchurch they meet Lawrence Baigent at the Caxton Press. Astonished by the quality of JKB’s poetry Baigent agrees to publish a selection. In the end-of-year examinations JKB passes only two of his four subjects. To help him break his drinking habit his parents arrange work for him on a dairy farm at Purakanui.
1945In opposition to his parents’ wishes JKB refuses to return to university. In March he begins work at an iron foundry. The publication of Beyond the Palisade, his first poetry collection, makes him a celebrity. Allen Curnow includes some of these poems in A Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-45. In Christchurch at Easter JKB meets some of Baigent’s literary and artistic friends. In September he leaves the iron foundry to begin work on Wanaka Station in Central Otago. On 15 November he returns to his family home. Terry returns home about this time and the brothers have to adjust their relationships with each other and their parents. JKB is drinking heavily, sometimes for days on end. Unlike Terry, girls do not regard him as sexually attractive. This fact depresses him.
1946JKB wins and loses Jane Aylward, a medical student. This has a catastrophic effect on him. In the same year he develops a friendship with Jacquie Sturm, the only Māori student on campus.
1947During 1946-47 he works at various labouring jobs, lives off the land, and hangs around the university. Towards the end of the year he moves to Christchurch – to get help from a Jungian psychologist, put distance between himself and his mother, and get back in touch with the literary set there. Jacquie Sturm also decides to move so that she can be taught by Professor Sutherland. JKB does odd jobs when he is desperately in need of money and hangs around the university, page 161becoming literary editor for Canta, the students’ newspaper. He associates with Lawrence Baigent, Denis Glover, Bill Pearson and Colin McCahon – much of this time is spent drinking. When he becomes a proof-reader at the Christchurch Press in November he spends time with Allen Curnow, who also works there. Financially, JKB is very poor. Jacquie is marginally better off.
1948Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness, his second poetry collection, is published to general acclaim. His alcoholism flourishes to such an extent that at times he feels suicidal. Wanting to recast his life he turns to religion and on 4 November 1948 he is received into the Anglican Church. Jacquie is a witness at the ceremony. About this time he asks her to marry him. Despite questioning or opposition from both sets of parents the couple marry on 9 December in St John’s Cathedral, Napier. At this stage JKB has no money or job.

The Wellington Years

1949 In January they live for a time with Jacquie’s married sister in Wellington. About March they move into a cottage in Park Road, Belmont, in the Hutt Valley. JKB finds work at the Ngauranga abattoir. On 27 May he talks to the university literary society on ‘Why Writers Stop Writing’. The chief reason he advances is lack of religion. Wellington academics and the literary set welcome him. Hilary Anne Baxter, their first child, is born on 18 June.
1950The Baxters move to an old house with shared facilities at 105 Messines Road in Karori. Ian Gordon, professor of English, supports the young couple, as does Harold Miller, the university librarian, and his wife Edith. The Millers, who are Anglican, also support them in their spiritual lives. Their son John becomes a particularly close friend of JKB’s. Enrolling at university JKB studies Greek History, Art and Literature part-time and associates with a group of university poets including Bill Oliver, John Thomson, Alistair Campbell, Louis Johnson and Pat Wilson. JKB leaves the abattoir and on 6 March becomes a postman. His first Listener book review appears this year.
1951On 17 January JKB loses his job as a postman when he is found drunk and asleep in the Karori post office. He is accepted as a student at Teachers’ College and begins his course on 1 February. The vice-principal W.J. Scott and a lecturer named Anton Vogt are especially stimulating in JKB’s life, as is Louis Johnson, who becomes his best friend. Everybody, it seems, is drinking too much, but JKB is drinking more than any of them. This does not prevent him from page 162giving a brilliant talk at the New Zealand Writers’ Conference held in Christchurch in May. It is entitled Recent Trends in New Zealand Poetry and is published in the same year by the Caxton Press.
1952John McColl Baxter, JKB’s and Jacquie’s second child, is born on 29 October. JKB’s teacher-training course finishes this year. Poems Unpleasant is a collaboration with Louis Johnson and Anton Vogt.
1953The Fallen House, JKB’s third major poetry collection, is published. He is now a fulltime university undergraduate on a salary paid by the Teachers’ College.
1954JKB begins teaching at Epuni School, Lower Hutt. In June he delivers the Macmillan Brown Lectures at Victoria University. They are patchy because there are gaps in his knowledge and he writes much of them while fiendishly drunk. But parts are very good. Late in the year the family moves to more spacious quarters at 166 Wilton Road. JKB becomes a co-editor of Numbers, a literary periodical set up, chiefly by Louis Johnson, as a counter-balance to the editorial policies of Curnow and Brasch. JKB studies part-time at the university. He passes Latin II but fails English III because he cannot handle the Old English component. His besetting sins are alcohol and sex. Late this year he joins Alcoholics Anonymous.
1955Receiving a substantial legacy from the estate of his great-aunt Hester Seager he gives an equal share to his parents and his brother Terry, and then spends the remainder on a house at 41 Collingwood St, Ngaio. This year he graduates BA from Victoria University.
1956At the end of Term One he resigns from Epuni School and joins the School Publications branch of the Department of Education as a sub-editor, responsible for producing bulletins for use in primary schools. He begins work on 16 May. He is especially interested in producing readers for Māori children and this puts him in touch with Rod Finlayson, whose short stories often have Māori settings. JKB’s short story ‘To Have and to Hold’ suggests that his marriage is under severe strain.
1957Publication of The Iron Breadboard, studies in New Zealand writing. These parodies cause resentment in some New Zealand writers. Also published is The Night Shift, poems on aspects of love (with Charles Doyle, Louis Johnson, and Kendrick Smithyman). With occasional exceptions, JKB’s drinking is now largely under control. In September he tells Finlayson that he is giving serious thought to becoming a Catholic. Later that month he agrees to undertake the course of instructions which is necessary before he can be conditionally baptised. Jacquie is deeply offended because the news comes out of the blue. In addition, she has been brought up to dislike Catholicspage 163 and she and the children are members of an Anglican parish. Her frustration and anger are so great that in October she orders him out of the house. He lives at the Boulcott Street flats for a time; then moves to 212 Sydney Street West, nearer his workplace and the railway station. (He goes by train to visit his children on weekends.) In December he prepares for his conversion by making a week’s retreat at the Cistercian Monastery, Kopua, Hawke’s Bay.
1958On 11 January he is received as a Catholic at the Church of St Mary of the Angels in Boulcott Street. In Fires of No Return is published, his first Oxford University Press poetry collection. The most recent poems in it are affected by his struggles against alcoholism and the influence of George Barker. They are less successful than his earlier poems. His radio play Jack Winter’s Dream is presented by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service. He is given a UNESCO Fellowship to attend a conference in Japan about school textbooks. Afterwards he will go to India to search for ideas which will allow Asian influences to permeate New Zealand educational resources. Chosen Poems, a pamphlet of poems, is published for him to give away. He leaves from Auckland on 16 September, having previously arranged for Jacquie and the children to join him in India. This is an attempt at reconciliation. After the conference ends JKB flies to India. During a stopover in Bangkok he has sex with a prostitute. Three weeks later Jacquie, Hilary and John arrive by ship at Mumbai. They take a train to New Delhi and stay in a house JKB has already leased. JKB travels reasonably widely, usually by train, and is exposed to the poverty, health and social problems of Indian society. These will affect him all his life. Jacquie and JKB feel closer to each other and a significant measure of reconciliation is achieved.
1959He returns to a fuss over the State Literary Fund’s financial support of Numbers, which carries a story by Richard Packer deemed to be obscene. On 29 May JKB resumes work at School Publications. His poems ‘Mr Baxter’s Evening Liturgy’ and ‘Spring Song of a Civil Servant’ reveal that he is sexually frustrated. His play The Wide Open Cage is produced in Wellington by Richard Campion. Capricorn Press publishes Two Plays: The Wide Open Cage and Jack Winter’s Dream.
1960The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse causes controversy because of Allen Curnow’s aesthetic of New Zealandism and restrictive editorial policy.
1961In early January JKB and John Weir become friends after beginning a correspondence that will last for the remainder of JKB’s life. Howrah Bridge and other poems is published by Oxford University Press. It contains a group of poems written in India. Richard Campion page 164 produces JKB’s play Three Women and the Sea. This year JKB is appointed a PEN representative on the advisory committee of the State Literary Fund.
1962On 9 February JKB tells John Weir that he has applied for a job as a watersider. He fails to get the job. He writes sketches for Horse, his autobiographical novel, and tells Weir on 8 October that he intends to ‘salt it away’ for a time in order not to scandalise potential readers.
1963He resigns from School Publications and on 11 March begins work as a postman. Between 17 and 23 July he takes an active role in the union’s campaign against management during a lockout occasioned by the posties’ refusal to deliver sample packets of soap powder. This year he is also engaged in a dispute between Louis Johnson, editor of New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and the State Literary Fund Advisory Committee caused by the Committee’s refusal to give a grant to assist publication unless Johnson withdraws several poems, including two by JKB. JKB resigns from the Committee. On 22 August Jacquie’s mother dies in Jim and Jacquie’s home. JKB has helped nurse her during her last days. In September/October he writes ‘Pig Island Letters’, a poetry sequence dedicated to Maurice Shadbolt. Death of Bob Lowry in December.
1964A Selection of Poetry is published.
1965JKB becomes more involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement. ‘A Bucket of Blood for a Dollar’ and ‘The Gunners’ Lament’ are published as broadsheets. On 3 July Archie and Millicent Baxter are baptised as Catholics. JKB is present as a formal witness. On 15 August they are confirmed.

Return to Dunedin

1966JKB returns to Dunedin as Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. He and his family live in a university house at 660 Cumberland Street. On 27 August he applies for an extension, claiming to have delivered six talks and written ninety poems (including the sequence ‘Words to Lay a Strong Ghost’) in the current year. Pig Island Letters is published. He gets to know Peter Olds this year.
1967His anti-war writings and activities continue. He writes articles for Catholic journal the Tablet. ‘A Small Ode on Mixed Flatting’, The Lion Skin, The Man on the Horse and Aspects of Poetry in New Zealand are published. Campion produces The Spots of the Leopard. Patric Carey produces The Band Rotunda (15 July), The Sore-footed Man (4 September), The Bureaucrat and The Devil and Mr Mulcahy (inpage 165 November). JKB decides to stay in Dunedin in 1968 and tells Weir in a letter dated 14 July that he will work for the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin after his tenure of the Fellowship ceases.
1968JKB works for the Catholic Education Office. He writes more Tablet articles and a virulent anti-war poem ‘A death song for Mr Mouldybroke’. In August he speaks to the annual assembly of the National Council of Churches. In November Mr O’Dwyer’s Dancing Party is performed at the Globe. During this year his daughter Hilary begins looking for independence. His son John wants to leave high school for art school – JKB and Colin McCahon talk him out of it. JKB feels burnt-out and a failure as a husband and parent. He begins visiting Peter Olds and his friends in their Dunedin flat; stays talking for hours; the ‘submerged teenager’ begins to come to the surface in JKB. In late March he has a powerful spiritual and emotional experience which he describes to John Weir in a letter, first remarking, ‘The Lord has gripped my heart in His fist and I am full of terror and joy.’ This experience causes him to feel called to go to Jerusalem (New Zealand) in the following year where he will live close to a Māori community and plan the development of a community home for homeless young people. He considers that his wife Jacquie might then be returned to him ‘on the Maori side of the fence’.

The Jerusalem Years

1969On 7 January JKB tells John Weir in a letter that he regards separation from Jacquie as inevitable. Soon afterwards he leaves for the Cistercian Monastery at Kopua in Hawke’s Bay where he makes a retreat. By the end of the month he goes to Jerusalem, walking the river road barefoot. He stays at the presbytery and meets some of the local Māori. After a few days he goes to Puhoi where he stays with Michael and Dene Illingworth. Michael once lived with Ngāpuhi in the Bay of Islands and now advises JKB about the prospect of his becoming acceptable to Jerusalem Māori. JKB returns to Auckland to stay with Hone and Jean Tuwhare in Birkdale. Hone arranges a job for him at the Chelsea sugar refinery. (One result is the poem ‘Ballad of the Stonegut Sugar Works’.) He meets Trixie in the Auckland Domain who invites him to share his home in Park Road, Grafton where a moving population of young addicts doss on mattresses on the floor. A night light burns to show that all are welcome. Trixie also services three houses in Boyle Crescent. After Easter JKB and Trixie move to No. 7, where junkies live. JKB meets people in the street or page 166at the Domain and brings them back there. Gill Shadbolt helps. The house is the target of police raids. (‘Ballad of the Junkies and the Fuzz’, dedicated to his son John, gives expression to his experiences at Boyle Crescent.) About July/August he moves back to Jerusalem. After a short stay he goes to Wellington to get permission from Mother Philippine, superior-general of the Sisters of Compassion, to use the nuns’ cottage at Jerusalem on a long-term basis. John Weir intervenes to support his request. During JKB’s Wellington visit he stays with his family and becomes convinced that shifting to Jerusalem is the right decision. He moves into the cottage there on 17 September. Colin Durning visits him. ‘Sonnets to Colin Durning’ (‘Jerusalem Sonnets’) are written this year. Publications include The Rock Woman, selected poems (Oxford), The Flowering Cross (articles from the Tablet) and The Day Flanagan Died (play).
1970Jerusalem Sonnets, poems for Colin Durning is published. In April Patrick Carey produces The Temptations of Oedipus. JKB is present when his father Archibald Baxter dies on 10 August.
1971In early January 1971 he meets Mike Minehan in Auckland. He invites her to join him at Jerusalem. In February he joins NgāTamatoa to attend an anti-Treaty protest at Waitangi. By May there is a shifting population of about forty residents in the Jerusalem community. Some stay a month, some a year. They are aged from seventeen to twenty-five. When Frank McKay asks JKB what he hopes to achieve JKB replies, ‘I give them my friendship and they give me theirs.’ He advocates ‘five spiritual aspects of Maori communal life’ upon which the community depends: Arohanui: ‘the love of the many’; Manuhiritanga: ‘hospitality to the guest and stranger’; Korero [discussion]: ‘speech that begets peace and understanding’; Matewa [contemplation]: ‘the night life of the soul’; Mahi: ‘work undertaken from communal love’. These principles are proposed in Jerusalem Daybook which is published this year. In late July he makes a great impression with his lively social criticism while addressing a youth festival sponsored by the Union Parish of West Dunedin. The buildings used by the community at Jerusalem are dilapidated and in April the Whanganui County Council demands improvements. Rumours are rife throughout New Zealand about free sex and drug-taking. At the beginning of September the Jerusalem community is closed down by the owners of the houses because of over-crowding. By the 7th only four members remain. On the 17th JKB announces that he intends to start a new community at Takapau in Hawke’s Bay. Late in September he returns to his family home in Ngaio. He enjoys his stay there but feels that he might become strangled by page 167comfort and moves with a group of homeless young people into an abandoned house at 26 MacDonald Crescent. In December Truth reports that the house has been condemned by the City Council. JKB and the other occupants are ordered to leave after a six-week stay. He responds in ‘Truth Song’. He moves briefly to another abandoned house in Macfarlane Street on Mt Victoria.

In late February he is back at Jerusalem for the second phase of his community. By agreement with the owners of the houses it is limited to ten members who regard him as their adoptive father. In May he stays for several weeks with Eugene O’Sullivan at Newman Hall in Auckland. At this time O’Sullivan suggests that JKB write a commentary on the prison letters of St Paul. (This became the posthumously published Thoughts on the Holy Spirit.) On his return to Jerusalem JKB begins to write Autumn Testament, completing it by mid-year. He also writes ‘Confession to the Lord Christ’. In late July he stays with John Weir at Rochester Hall in Christchurch before going on to Dunedin for Impulse ’72, a youth festival arranged by the Union Parish of West Dunedin beginning on 30 July. At this time he is much affected by his reading of the experiences of the prophet Jeremiah, the misunderstanding and suffering he endured. Returning to Christchurch he gives Weir the manuscript of Runes, his final poetry collection (published by Oxford University Press in the following year). He also reads A Walking Stick for an Old Man to a gathering at Rochester Hall, and gives a poetry reading at the university, telling Professor Garrett afterwards, ‘I don’t think I am going to live very long.’ During his southern visit his spirit seems to be generally more peaceful, more realistic, somewhat rejuvenated by Pentecostal beliefs.

JKB stays briefly with family in Wellington, then returns to Jerusalem about the end of August. He realises that he does not have the energy to administer the community. He farewells the residents and moves to Auckland, to a community house in Carrick Place, Mount Eden, which is owned by Kathy. He is excessively thin, burnt out and disillusioned by the failure of his efforts at community building. Kathy identifies failure and panic in his expression. He remarks that he seems to need to receive greater amounts of love and care. He considers remarrying. For some weeks he visits a retired psychiatrist each day to talk about the fact that he had not felt loved by his mother when he was a child. He still attends Mass each day whenever possible. He brings people back to his Carrick Place address. Urged by Kathy he dresses a little better, trims his beard, and finds a job assembling electrical components. But he has been too long out of work and is soon fired. In early October he writes ‘The Tiredness of Me and Herakles’.

page 168

JKB goes on a speaking tour to schools north of Auckland. On 13 October he attends a parish youth camp, taking part in programmes, but displaying little energy. On the 15th he returns to the Catholic presbytery in Whangarei where his former Wellington friend Father Jim Beban persuades him to write a reconciling letter to Mother Philippine of the Sisters of Compassion. On the 16th he goes to the Illingworths at Puhoi. He spends much of the time lying down. He complains of feeling very cold. Talking incessantly he says that a blend of Marxism and Christianity is needed to solve the social problems which are causing the plight of street kids in Auckland. On the 18th he asks Michael to arrange for a jazz band to play at his funeral. On Thursday 19 October he writes ‘Ode to Auckland’ at the dining table after breakfast. Later that day he returns to Auckland, to Carrick Place. He goes out to dinner that night. While walking home he has to stop frequently for breath. On Friday 20th he visits prisoners at Paremoremo, keeping up his practice of twenty years.

On Saturday 21 October he goes to Jean Tuwhare’s at Birkdale and asks if he can stay a few days. During the afternoon he works in the garden. He wakes on the morning of Sunday the 22nd complaining of chest pains. It is Labour Weekend but Jean’s doctor agrees to open his surgery at 7.30 p.m. During the afternoon JKB has a sauna in Takapuna with a friend of Jean’s. He tells her that he loves Jacquie but that his creative gift means that he needs freedom to move around. In the evening Jean drives him to the doctor’s rooms in Glenfield Road. She leaves, imagining that JKB and the doctor will talk for some time. He is to phone her when he needs to be picked up. The doctor wants JKB to undertake a full physical checkup but is told that he is too busy. There seems to be no sign of an imminent problem. The doctor is then called out to another patient. Just after he leaves JKB has a violent heart attack while standing outside the surgery. He manages to cross the road to No. 544 where he is admitted and lies on their sofa. Jean is phoned. She comes at once. Then the doctor returns. While JKB is being treated and spoken to by the doctor he has another heart attack. The doctor attempts CPR but JKB does not recover. He dies at the age of forty-six. The great stream of prose and poetry ceases to flow. On 24 October the Dominion newspaper’s street poster reads ‘James K. / Baxter / Friend. / 1926-1972’.

On 25 October his tangi is held on the marae at Jerusalem. Father Wiremu Te Awhitu, his old friend and supporter, celebrates the requiem Mass. John Weir concelebrates, along with other priest friends of JKB’s. Frank McKay gives the eulogy after Weir feels too upset to accept Father Te Awhitu’s invitation. About eight hundred people gather in this remote place up the Whanganui River to express page 169their feelings for the man who lived voluntarily in extreme poverty in the hope that his efforts and example would make New Zealand a slightly more loving, more compassionate, place.