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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 11., No. 9. 28th July 1948

Caxton Poets

Caxton Poets

The first three volumes of the Caxton poets series have recently been published. No. 1: William Hart-Smith, Christopher Columbus; No. 2: James K. Baxter, Blow, Wind of Fruitiulness; No. 3: Charles Brasch, Disputed Ground. As usual, the books are models of typography, although the format is cot altogether pleasing, and the addition of an erratum in the, Baxter volume is now rare in a Caxton book.

Christopher Columbus, by, William Hart Smith, is announced on the title-page as "a sequence of poems," but the continuity is not self-evident. Episodes relating to Columbus' journeys are the main subject for the verse, and are narrated either by Columbus, his crew, or Hart-Smith. The realisation by Columbus of the intrigues of jealous courtiers in the court of Ferdinand is well portrayed. Pathos and disillusionment affect the style in nearly all the later poems.

. . . those
who do deliberate evil cannot abide
the paltry, stupid evil a man does
who meaneth only good!
Therefore they condemn me . . .

(The Town of Isabella.)

The delusive beauty of the women of the new world is the theme of one of the bitterest poems in the "sequence"—

. . . but found in human flesh . . .
something to make us stagged back to boats
as in a dream
to die in leprous rot and slow decay.


The cynicism of a poem ostensibly lamenting the death of a savage who was unfortunate to be one of nine that were baptised is attractive—

... let us rejoice herein
that one is surely saved, the only one.
He will be lonely in Heaven.

But the best poem in the book, is I think "Cipangu." It is [unclear: simple], almost humble, and a poem that [unclear: is] worthy of inclusion in any anthology. It expresses the [unclear: restlesmess] of Columbus and his desire to prove to the world that they were living on a globe.

Masters, a ship, a ship, for my youth dies!


The influence of the New Zealand highlands is evidently deeply felt by James K. Baxter, as seen in a selection of titles—"The Thistle," "O, Wind Blowing," "Sun and the Green Sap," "Haast Pass," "Snowfall." "Snow." But the plains and the sea also play their part.

In "Letter to Noel Ginn II," Baxter writes—

An 8-hour day is not conducive to
The exercise of one's imagination.
So I have found alas that my true station
Is still among the academic crew
Whom I despised for undue cerebration
That leads to withering of the heart and thew.
No doubt I'll find a niche where I can grumble
About the clique that pay me for my pen.
And drink with other intellectual men,
And gain some slight prestige, however humble,
With a little bitter poem now and then.

Baxter's poetry seems to be changing. To those who are aware of his previous occupation, it would be quite justifiable to attribute some of the poems in this volume to the obligatory feeling Baxter has "To write a little bitter poem now and then." It may well be possible that Baxter's rugged virility is in danger of being clouded by this affected intellectualism. "Envoi," if the work of an older poet, could be interpreted as a sign of decadence, and some titles fall far below the high standard of the rest of the work.

But these are minor blemishes, in some measure acting as a foil' to the earnestness and undoubted sincerity of the majority of the poems.


Disputed Ground, the third collection, by Charles Brasch, is written in a more formal style. The poems are collated in three groups, but the order in which the titles appear could. I think, be adjusted to give a better arranged anthology. In "Henly-on-Taieri" Brasch has captured on paper one of the rarer moods of the Taleri, a mood that is not consistent with the cheerful meanderings of the river between Outram and Waihola. Charles Brasch does not harp on one particular subject, but varies his style and theme to give a pleasant collection of serious and whimsical poetry. This volume is, in my opinion, one of the best collections of a single poet published since the war.

In preparation for the Caxton Poets are collections by J. R. Hervey, Charles Spear. Allen Curnow, R. A. K. Mason, Basil Dowling and A. R. D. Fairburn.

. . . .