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

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 45

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

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.


“Like Water Flowing,” by Margaret Mackay (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is a story that will delight everybody. It is a novel of life in northern China and because of the apparently faithful picture it gives of the simple Chinese country folk and the Chinese countryside has a particular interest at the present time. “East is East and West is West,” has been the theme of many a novel, but here the scheme is worked out in a new light. Indeed, Pearl Buck in commenting on the novel has claimed that it is a story which has never before been told—the story of the Eurasian in China. The heroine is the beautiful daughter of a cultured Chinese mother and English father. Her romance with a young English officer turns to tragedy because of her mixed nationality. The several men who subsequently come across her path are most interestingly portrayed. And in the background are the author's most colourful pictures of Chinese life and character.

“Four Men and a Prayer,” by David Garth (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is a novel that will appeal to everybody with its colour, romance and excitement. Colonel Sir Loring Leigh is found dead in his English home. Presumably a case of suicide, for he has been brooding over the fact that he has been chashierd following a Courtmartial. His four sons think otherwise and search for the individual or individuals who “framed” him. They go to India, Morocco and Buenos Aires and meet romance and adventure. The novel teems with excitement.

“The Little Black Princess of the Never Never,” by Mrs. Aneas Gunn (Robertson & Mullens, Melbourne) was first published in 1905. The latest edition in booklet form has been adapted for use in schools. This little book, with its vivid pictures of native life in Australia, is a small Australian classic.

“Ego of Youth,” by Willow Macky, is an artistically produced booklet of verse carrying the imprint of the Griffin Press, Auckland. I gather from the introduction that Willow Macky is a young person and of her the introducer, J. W. Shaw, holds high hopes for the future. Willow Macky has talent and seeing that the verses were written between the ages of eight and fifteen they show wonderful maturity. She has supplied accompanying decorations which are dainty and artistic.

“Koala,” by Charles Barrett, C.M.Z.S. (Robertson & Mullens, Melbourne) is the second edition of a booklet descriptive of the Australian bear. In letter-press, photographic illustration and format, the booklet is a pleasing production.

“Air-Raid Precautions in Peace or War,” by L. Buchanan (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is a timely booklet bringing home to people of the Southern Hemisphere the fact that the advent of a world war must set us thinking about problems of air defence.

“Shibli” Listens In.

The cheap reprints being published by New Century Press, Sydney, are making big sales in New Zealand.

There are rumours of an Australian monthly publishing a New Zealand edition.

A New Zealand publication that has found success is “The Student's Digest,” published by L. J. Cronin of Wellington. The paper explains current world affairs in a simple and concise way for teachers and students.