Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, No. 24. October 1, 1968
Books — Soft bound satire
Soft bound satire
Denis Glover has become, more by his personality than his writing, a New Zealand "character". His reputation depends not so much on the quality of his output but on his personal appearances, verse reading and seasonal light verses in The Listener. He is a commentator on everyone, everything from Governor-Generals to suburban gardeners, from the United Nations to the Dairy Board. His latest collection Sharp Edge Up complements his earlier collected volume of "serious" poetry and covers all this range and wider.
Glover has established himself as a successful, reputedly major, New Zealand poet. In his light verse he achieves his purpose of amusing and occasional needling. Where his humour is gentle more than humour comes through. We can sense his sympathy, his understanding of people and although the rigid rhyming pattern remains, it is modified by these sentiments.
Bill Branch was a local fireman,
A volunteer of course,
And hated any sort of blaze
In home or shop or gorse
Fire engine red we followed him dead,
Headlights blazing full ahead.
It's not a thing I think about
But when death and I must meet
I won't care for the traffic lights
Or the traffic in the street.
Dip me no lights, just drive ahead,
I'd hate your battery to go dead.
The section of love poems under the collective title "Summer Flowers" also shows the benefit of this lighter hand. They are cheerful and simple yet escape the patness of the often too obvious pun or twisted line.
Denis Glover has written an introduction enticing people to buy his book which immediately recalls the enticement of Spike Milligan in the Penguin edition of Puckoon. In some of his more frivilous short poems Glover displays much of Milligan's rather zany, gentle humour. For example his short "Envoi":
"I cannot lick a postage stamp
But dear, I think of you:
You lips are bright and rather damp
And they are sticky too."
Again parts of Glover's poetry are curiously similar to the lyrics of some of the more recent Beatle's numbers. In "The United Nations" for instance:
"Jekyll beat Hyde or Hyde beat Jekyll—
Pieces were taken one by one, I won,
Poor comfort. The Budget was on the air
But (me or I/me) we didn't care."
Like the Beatles, Denis Glover often succeeds with off-beat honesty, deliberate concentration on life's ordinary, everyday aspects: "The Price of Fish", "Apples", "The Dairy Board" and "Fill in this Form". He is frequently very perceptive, for example the difficulties of small magazine publication are recognised in "Reflections of a Printer". Where he deliberately sets out to draw blood, against a group rather than an individual, he generally balances the satire with enough humour to blunt the bark—"To Any African Nigger President", "Thoughts of a Reporter at a Synod Meeting" and "Colonial Policy".
At the same time as this talent is recognised, although Clover is accepted as a commentator, a New Zealand poetic Muggeridge, is this gentle generalised attack the most effective weapon against the Establishment? The role of the commentator is to heckle and denegrate, and Glover tends to use pin-pricking rather than biting when worrying his victim. Today polilieal commentators like David Frost are permitted a more scathing, disrespectful tongue and although Glover's mosquito nips are extremely irritating when they draw blood from the victim, his satire generally arises from an amused criticism rather than from a true anarchist wit or ridicule and harrassment.
Unlike Fairburn Clover's light verse has not the lasting quality of Fairburn's. They are very much of the time, tending to skim the surface of an idea, playing with words, rather than exploring situations in depth. His short verses become fashionable, smart and often last only as long as their instant impetus.
Glover for a generation or so at least has become part of our national heritage, a folk figure of student congresses and guest appearances, the frolicking drinking image of Dylan Thomas and several of Glovers own New Zealand contemporaries. Whether his verses will survive beyond the New Zealand anthologies will depend on whether the future New Zealand has room for characters and writers of light-hearted verse. I hope so.
The present collection is badly bound compared with the hard-bound collection of serious verse, Enter Without Knocking (from Pegasus) and the slim volume of Kevin Ireland's poetry Educating the Body reviewed earlier this year, but it is hoped that Glover collects enough milk money to see a less seungy edition somewhere in the wild future.
Denis Glover: Sharp Edge Up, a volume of verses and satires. Blackwood and Janet Paul, Auckland, 1968, $1.95.