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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 2 (May 1, 1939)


Victoria Street, Christ-church, apart from its antique shops, has other artistic interests. In that street, some time ago, I saw a modest building, the home of the Caxton Press.

Over a period of years I have purchased a number of New Zealand books bearing the Caxton imprint—books of typographical excellence. I had, too, corresponded with the presiding genius, Denis Glover, and was eager to meet him in the flesh. When I entered the building I saw three young men bending over a table. They looked up at my approach. The tallest of the trio was Denis Glover. I shook hands with the clever young poet-printer, and noted his interesting face and thoughtful, humorous blue eyes. His partners were Leo Bensemann, a talented young artist, and another younger fellow by name, Drew. I was glad to meet them for I have always been an enthusiast of good printing. Glover has written unsual verse and has shown that he is a keen disciple of Eric Gill. Some of his typography is a credit to the printing craftsmanship of this country.

Denis Glover and his companion craftsman deserve all the support that can be given to them. I was pleased to note that these Caxton enthusiasts are establishing themselves, for in the centre of their printing room was a new and imposing automatic printing press. This I presume is for their bread and butter lines, for they will continue to produce occasional booklets of verse and prose where type and format blend artistically with the printed word.

And now for a few words for the latest Caxton production. “Not in Narrow Seas,” by Allen Curnow. Side by side with thoughts in phrase concerning the history of the Canterbury settlement is printed verse of protest against the manner in which the country and its people have responded to modern development. It is “the straining hearts despair” of a visionary who can see little but sordidness and distress in the manner in which the Dominion has progressed. It has ever been thus with the young poet whose prerogative is to stub his toes against imagined or exaggerated obstacles. In his dark hour let Allen Curnow look at the typography and format of his book. He will find it most consoling. At least in one place in “James Cook's pig farm” (as he calls New Zealand) there is the art and beauty of creation.

* * *

A reader of this page asks the following interesting question:

“In various reviews of novels dealing with early life in New Zealand I have noticed that a critic will sometimes say ‘This is an excellent novel, but it is not the epic novel of New Zealand.’ What exactly is
Ex Libris G. M. Van Wees A Dutch Bookplate.

Ex Libris G. M. Van Wees A Dutch Bookplate.

meant by the epic novel? What is required of it? Should it portray fully every aspect of life and conditions in early New Zealand? Or should it be epic in its narrative style?”

Now an epic novel is hardly the correct description, for the adjective is usually associated with poetry. The essentials of an epic poem are a dignified theme, complete unity and an orderly progression of action. Applied in a wider sense in a novel the same qualifications would no doubt be expected. Obviously what my correspondent wishes to know is what are the essentials of a great New Zealand novel. It must be a work of genius, descriptive of the life and atmosphere of the Dominion and its people. It must have plot, action and character. It must be true to life as life exists and has existed in New Zealand. Perhaps “Promenade” is the most imposing story ever written about this country but it is not the great New Zealand novel. Let us hope that this important literary event may happen during this Centennial year.

* * *

A worthy addition to the library of New Zealand verse booklets comes from Whitcombe & Tombs, Auckland, in Helen Brookfield's “The Fugitive Poems.” Miss Brookfield reveals herself as a woman of fine thought and character. Her verse has art and charm. She introduces herself, as it were, in the opening poem, “The Poet.” Here she is seen communing with Nature, digging “for wisdom with a spade,”

Till earth made plain the truths that harbour
In the soil whereof we're made.

page 46

Lighter music is heard occasionally—true Irish melody also in her poem, “Stolen Away.”

* * *

An invaluable reference booklet is the Union Catalogue of New Zealand Newspapers compiled by Dr. G. H. Scholefield. Although published over a year ago a copy came my way only recently. I have already had occasion to refer to it a number of times. The list comprises details of all the newspapers preserved in public libraries and press offices in this country.

I welcome the opportunity of saying a word for the Handcraft Press, Wellington, represented by Noel Hoggard. His latest booklet, “Ballet in New Zealand,” is the story of the ballet, particularly in relation to the recent New Zealand tour of the Covent Garden Russian Ballet Company. The story is told interestingly by Eric de Mauny and there is an introduction by Anton Dolin.