Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 24. 28th September 1972
Books — Let it Die
Let it Die
The buck stops here, the ego-trip comes home to roost and it is Crow. Three bucks, precisely, for a pretty, decadent little book. Thank God some read the signs and abstained.
The preciousness astounds. Chan, in his three-page "Editor's Indulgence" (complete with picture of smiling Oriental person), comments on "...incest, or clubiness (sic) in N.Z, writing." He has a point, This is like a second instalment of that forgettable little book. "Postcards from Paradise." R. Glover & M. Young are both here So is Stephen. 3 pages, 8 poems worth. Nothing makes me sick. The romanticism of all three is cloying and effete.
"Tell us, what is it you do exactly to justify your existence?" -Louis Simpson.
What's worth reading? Well. Smithyman, of course. Brunton, Edmond, Haley. Loney. Southam ruins the potential of his pieces with that disturbingly prose-y feel which pervades much of his recent work (see Landfall 102).
Baysting at least has wit on his side, except when he gets personal (auckland, april) or reminiscent/nostalgic (tahunanui beach), and we've all heard "theatre". Damned by and for their slightness, many of his poems still exhibit an ability to write well, to pick the right words and speech nuances (Met. quoting texts..., the mayor ). and to order material. One wishes he could, or would, use these talents in a more substantial way. He plays things far too close & safe.
Smithyman is graceful, evocative, precise. Sometimes to the point of fussiness. There are nice Berrymanish echoes, though, and he's still far and away our best & most consistent poet.
Edmond's "The Files" is pretty ambitious. His short, lyrical things in Freed 4 indicate where his real strengths lie. Some of "Night Shift", too, a few Landfalls back. Not, by and large, the "Grafton Notebook". Anyway, "The Files" tends to be marred by an intense neuroticism (masochism?), cliched descriptive passages ("a sound as gentle as the rain", "a bone crushed soft as putty"). his current readings in biology etc (E-Z. Part III, anthro. (Part V, the Bog People - a popular book - see Louis Simpson's "The Peat-Bog Man" (Adventures of the Letter I), and Seamus Heaney's beautiful "Tollund Man" (Wintering Out). There is also a too-easy identification, a la Stead ("I was Fort Detrick and Porton Down, Lake Eire (SIC ). Lake Geneva," etc. ) The whole thing reads, as someone remarked, like "Haley with a conscience."
Brunton is surreal, eclectic, blues and pop-songish as ever, but has humour & style, is entertaining & good to read, compared with the Shellback saga.
Haley continues the process of disintegration, lately seen in "Golden Acre" (Edge) and "The Anomaly Stakes" (Cave), in his "Synthetic Cities". Elusive, evasive, badly-spliced Burroughs, far too long, and ultimately disappointing because he won't get to grips with anything. He needs a change, is at the bottom of the bag of tricks (an analogy with Sam Hunt is tempting), and has produced nothing in the way of a landmark since "Hoardings" (AF Ybk 1970).
Loney's perplexed, faintly fretful "Mahinerangi Notes" has all his faults & virtues. It's too long, too scattered, and composed of too many parts that could be cut-in at random with almost any of his other works, He's got the material, but lacks the structure that makes one poem stand apart from another.
Olds has promised much for a long time. Strange that he should escape his convoluted Ginsberg phase, find a new clarity and simplicity (see "The Habits You Left Behind", Caveman Press), and then slip back into a self-indulgent revel in his own myth. "Talkin" where the warm wind blows" sees him drown in a sea of self-pity, dope, and bin-nostalgia. It's Huntish, too.
Someone should undertake a study of the problem. Modern N.Z. poets for some time have tended to confuse Art and Life. Some examples.
Baxter as alcoholic young Rimbaud wrote alcoholic/ young Rimbaud (bawd) poems, as Catholic wrote Catholic poems. Then created in his boredom the self-image of junkie-Saviour and guru he has tried to live, and write, up to ever since. Where can he go? Don't you think the old buggar gets tired of role-playing just as we get tired of him?
Johnson thought his boring poetic resulted from a boring staid existence So he split. The poems surely didn't improve, And - even more crucial, in the N.Z. context - whoever hears Lousis Johnson's name mentioned any more?
You make your myth and you he in it Some type themselves, caveat emptor - Stead, self-styled "stainless-steel academic poet"; Curnow, eminence grise, our very own Moses, It's the poetry that suffers for it
Perhaps it's a question of imagination, One used to think the younger poets had that quality. But the same things happened. They were regarded as the literati's Hell's Angels expected to rave, to screw indiscriminately, to booze up large A phase, for some, a way of life, for the rest. They do it, then they go home and write about it. Oneself as constant subject and inspiration is usually a bore. Maybe you end up destroying yourself. But, it poets exist to write poetry, what are they doing playing at being poets, and doing damn all about writing, and making it better?
To return to Charlatanry. A meaty subject Langford's "Bushido", long poem/cycle/ sequence which sets out to explore the warrior theme through history, apparently. The parts develop no synthesis, there's very little happening. The poem is bookish, monotonous (choke, spit, lungs, belly, black beast, dark cave secret cavern, eye of the sun, hands and thighs ), cliched, and the violence is superficial, Spillane & Hammer-horror stuff (knife, gashed holes, smashing his skull, brains, allover my hands, etc.) What no sperm? There must be other, more adequate ways of tackling death, war, sacrifice, rape, bloodshed & lust? If not, forget it.
D.S. Long shifts from "the image of the borrow pit" (mainly from William Fox) to ditto of the mirror, trying again & getting nowhere. Yes, the Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Found Poems crops up again. The last bit reads like Peter Sellers' horrific Nanny (Now, children, after we've axed Mummy to death & strung Daddy up...) There are 8 acknowledgments for source material, including one to himself, for "Borrow Pit" (Caveman Press) One hopes he finds his confidence, after all that. Quite simply. Long is avoiding the issue - which, one might assume, is the writing of poems.
Needless to say, these are the highspots of the book. There are some rather boring photos and two prose pieces which look remarkably uninteresting. Oh yes, Ngahuia's in some filthily coy & chaste Lesbian Love scenes, & Stephen has even written a poem for her, called (rather obviously) "Ngahuia is A Woman" How's that for getting to grips with the real issues in Life' Perhaps he's hoping for a success de scandale.......
Needless to observe that, of the 35 contributors, no less than 22 are domiciled in Auckland. (Who said parochialism was dead? See Freed at Last) Many are no doubt Stephen's friends, as one might judge from the letter (see below) and recent literary politics.
There is also, somewhat surprisingly, a touch of the Common Market. Brian Warwick, domiciled Mt. Eden, has a poem called "Leaving", a blatant, word-for-word rip-off from Jacques Prevert by way of Alan Brownjohn (see your Penguin Modern Poets 14). The Phantom Hoaxer lives!
All in all, a tedious exercise. Harry's not the only Wank, it seems. After last year's abysmal kit of scraps, one could have wished for more than 600 per cent price-hike and a glossy memorial to affected eccentricity & egomanic self-indulgence. 60 per cent of this should never have seen the light.
Arts Festival Yearbook 1970 remains the only one worth remembering This particular litter Confection was paid for by You dear reader I know you haven't spent 3 bucks on a copy, but there's an old adage about a few cents here, a few cents there, and here & there is all that lovely lolly you pay out at the beginning of each year.
For God's Sake Let it Die.
But, for all this the letters are a high point. "Dear Stephen, hello brother. ..." - a mawkish recounting of doings, comings, goings, and life's little misfortunes - the sheer Sufferigs of your local artist-type, the dreamy long-hail with the pencil and paper, scribbling on the cable-car, on the bus, the train, in the pub, in the caf., in the grot.
The skin crawls It is so unforgivable. Some have been angered by Chan's presumptuousness in publishing their private communication. He should be shot. There's plenty of ammunition here, for anyone who reckons poets are pricks, farts and wankers of the first degree.